Upholding the musical tradition

Thavil vidwan Tiruvalaputhur T. A. Kaliyamoorthy  

The Cauvery delta region has produced several musicians who have been upholding the rich tradition of Carnatic music. Several hamlets in and around Kumbakonam and Mayiladuthurai (erstwhile Mayavaram) have had a major share in the proliferation of nagaswaram and thavil vidwans since time immemorial. Tiruvalaputhur is one such hamlet from where thavil vidwan T.A. Kaliyamoorthy hails. And he talks about his journey thus far…

Your ancestors and initiation…

Tiruvalaputhur has been a part of a very rich and hoary tradition in music. My grand aunt Tiruvalaputhur Kalyani amma was an accomplished Bharatanatyam artist and was famous for her Simhanandanam dance. My paternal grandfather, Vaidyalingam Pillai, was a mridangam vidwan. Tiruvalaputhur Pasupathiya Pillai was my grand uncle. He was a respected thavil vidwan. Many thavil vidwans today are descendants of his disciples. I still remember the big thatched roof shed appurtenant to his house in which all his students stayed. It was guru kula vasam for all of them. At any point of time there would be at least a hundred of them. My initial training was under my uncle Kadirvel Pillai from whom I learnt all the basic aspects of thavil and later I came under the direct tutelage of my grand uncle when I was just seven years old. Nachiar Koil Raghava Pillai was one of his senior -most students. Iluppur Nallakumar Pillai, Nachiar Koil Ramdas Pillai, A.K.Venugopal Pillai and Tiruvazhundur Ramdas Pillai were some of his famous disciples. By the time I was 12, I had started playing at concerts as no formal arangetram system was in vogue then.

And after that…

Those days one had to play in a set and earn a name for himself. My career took off with vidwan Vandikkara Theru Manimamundiya Pillai's set. During processions, I would be seated on a table as I was too young to hold the thavil. I would almost get hidden by it. People watched me play at such a young age with awe. Later I joined Tiruvengadu Subramania Pillai's group. With limited transport facilities, concert tours to far off places were all linked and it would take months before one returned home, unlike today's jet age where we can return home at the wink of an eye. My teachers were furious because I missed school and so they asked me to choose my career. And I quit school.

Any regrets

No regrets at all. I have come a long way in this field and it is almost 51 years since I started performing. It is only when I travel abroad that I feel handicapped by my inability to communicate in English with foreign musicians and audience , particularly when they shower praises or want to clarify doubts. In that sense, today's youngsters are quite lucky, because their exposure equips them for such things.


Naganatha Sivam, who is a gurukkal (temple Priest) in a London temple, has instituted an award in memory of his wife, Gowrimanohari, that is given away annually to a vidwan during the music festival conducted by Karraikudi Mani sir. It was in 1999, when I participated in a tani avartanam concert in London alongside Mani sir that I became acquainted with kurukkal. The attention we received from the gurukkal's family was something very special. His wife was very affectionate and hospitable by nature. Naganatha Sivan is divinity personified. Receiving this Gowrimanohari award during the recently concluded music season, I deem it a special privilege, as I was selected. I have to also thank Karraikudi Mani sir, for having considered me. In 1981, I received the Kalaimamani award. I was the first thavil vidwan to receive the Vizag Music Academy's Sangitha Kala Sagara title.

Concept of Special Thavil

After my stint with Tiruvengadu Subramania Pillai , I played for the Sembanar Koil brothers- Sambandam and Rajanna. The last set I played was for Sivapuri Padmanabha Pillai. After I turned 19, I began to get noticed. Leading nagaswara vidwans wanted me to play for them. While they had their own set, I was a special invitee who would accompany them. This is what is known as Special Thavil (in Tamil it is called as Sirappu Thavil). It is a sort of recognition for the vidwan and his accomplishments. This concept of Special Thavil was prevalent even during the times of Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai.

Association with vidwan Karraikudi Mani

My association with him began during the special tani avarthanam concerts. Playing with him is an experience. Thanks to his efforts, I travelled with him to Australia. There, our music CD was released. This new concept opened the doors to concerts in European countries. It was Mani sir's pioneering effort that resulted in our collaborating with European musicians, which was invaluable. The thavil, thus got international recognition and I dedicate this to the instrument. There was an overwhelming response to our album. My association with him continues even now. We exchange views about concert planning and matters relating to rhythm, patterns, korvais etc.

Artist in your family

One should be divinely destined to become a musician. He should be blessed if he is to become a leading star in the field. I am the fourth generation vidwan in my family. But my children have not have not taken after me. All of them are educated and well settled. Maybe my grandchildren will take up this instrument … but I leave it to God.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 7:21:17 AM |

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