It was a sumptuous aural feast when giants in percussion regaled rasikas with sterling performances during the Palghat Mani Iyer birth centenary celebrations held at Viswanathaswamy temple grounds, Kalpathy.
Mani Iyer, the unassuming genius, revolutionised the art of mridangam playing and the instrument acquired a special status on the Carnatic music circuit, thanks to the wonderful role played by him. The festival held in his memory was an instant success, attracting a large audience on all the three days. The three great artistes featured in the festival were in excellent form and gave their best.
Pudukkode Krishnan, the senior most disciple of Mani Iyer, inaugurated the celebrations. Lalitha Sivakumar, daughter of the mridangam wizard, rendered the invocation – a song in praise of Mani Iyer in a new raga called Maamani, created by her. The speciality of the song was that all the lyrics ended like the strokes of the mridangam.
The opening day featured veteran mridangam artiste Trichy Sankaran in a laya vinyaasam with Bangalore Amrit on the ganjira. In his fascinating performance, Sankaran evoked nostalgic memories of his famous guru, Palani Subramanya Pillai, and the renowned percussionist Pudukkottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai. His powerful display was marked by clarity and rich naadam.
He first took up Misra jaathi Jampa, (10 aksharas) a tala cherished by his guru. Initially, he played the tala in Chatusram and Tisra nadais in the traditional way. Next, he proceeded to Misram and played Misra korvai, a favourite of Mani Iyer, in a masterly fashion. After every turn, he ended with a unique ‘theermaanam' created by him. Preceded by the ‘kuraippu' in Sankeerna nadai, he played mohra in Chatusra nadai.
The second tala he chose was Adi in two kala chowkam. He presented a scintillating display of the korvais, popularised by Mani Iyer and Palghat Raghu. In the madhyama kaala nadais, the strokes ‘taka taka dim kida' with gumki were magnificent. Palani's elegant style was evident in Sankaran's handling of the korvais in tisram. The energetic strokes in Kanda nadai were a treat to watch and listen. The Misra kuraippu, true to tradition, was superb. The concluding Tisra nadai mohra, a speciality of Palani and the Tisra nadai korvai, a favourite of Dakshinamurthy Pillai, played with zest, were awesome.
Amrit (ganjira) proved that he was an equal match to the celebrated mridangam maestro, by his spirited show. He faithfully reproduced the strokes played by Sankaran.
Mridangam maestro Umayalpuram Sivaraman captivated the listeners with his excellent performance on the second day. He used the Roland Rhythm Box for the beats, in the place of manual tala.
Playing the mridangam, following the beats of the rhythm box calls for utmost concentration. That Sivaraman did it with immaculate perfection, spoke volumes about his virtuosity and ingenuity.
Initially, he presented a brilliant tani avarthanam in Adi tala, two kalai. He played korvais in all the five nadais, that is tisra (three), chatusra (four), khanda (five), misra (seven) and sankeerna (nine), in his unique style.
The sonorous naadam along with gumkaaram emanating from his mridangam, held the audience spellbound. The dexterous melkaalam and kizhkaalam strokes – a distinct feature of his style were enchanting. The skillful manipulator that he is, he converted Chatusra nada morah into Tisra nada with ease.
Sivaraman next took up Misra chaapu tala and came out with a spirited display in Chatusram, Tisram and Kanda nadais, in the traditional style. The mohra and korvais played in the concluding stages were awe-inspiring.
Playing the instrument perfectly according to the beats of the rhythm box is no doubt a laudable feat. However, the pleasure of watching the body language of the performer and the interesting interactions between him and the audience were missing in this case.
On the third day,
thavil wizard Aridwaramangalam A.K. Palanivel enthralled the rasikas for two-and-a-half hours, with his mesmerising performance. To sustain the audience involvement for such a long duration in a thavil concert is a great achievement and Palanivel deserves all praise for the same. He was well supported by Kovilur K.G. Kalyanasundaram on the second thavil. Neyveli Radhakrishnan provided subtle accompaniment on the violin.
Palanivel presented a tala maalika, created by him for the occasion, covering the range from five to nine, that is from khandam to sankeernam.
Radhakrishnan played with the double violin, which covers a range of seven octaves. He played five ragas, to match the beats of the five talas.
Starting with Khanda Chaapu, Palanivel played the nadais elegantly. Sweet notes of Gambhiranatta flowed from the violin. The thavil exponent played Thisra nadai in khandam, followed by kuraippu, mohra and korvai. The next tala was Roopakam, and the raga was Malayamaarutham. Palanivel followed the same pattern (as that of Khanda chaapu), playing korvai in trikaalam beautifully. The variety of strokes in kuraippu – ‘taka dina takita' was interesting.
He then took up Misra chaapu, commencing with the korvai, ‘taddinna, takadindinna.' The respective raga was Sankarabharanam. Proceeding to madhyama kaala, Palanivel played different kinds of nadais with amazing skill. The melkaalam in Misram was superb. The splitting of misram during the kuraippu was splendid.
The fourth tala was Chatusra Aekam, (very similar to Adi tala) and the raga was Thodi. The violinist brought out the quintessence of the raga. After the familiar nadai, the thavil duo played trikaala korvais magnificently. In kuraippu, they played the ‘srkattu' in five jathis, with remarkable dexterity.
The last avarthanam was in Sankeerna Chaapu taalam and the raga was the 54th mela, Viswambhari.
Palanivel showcased his extraordinary skill in presenting avarthanam in this tala.
The climax, with the violinist playing the ragas in the reverse order and the thavil masters coming out with a spirited display, was exhilarating.
The role played by the second thavil artiste Kalyanasundaram in his duels and exchanges with Palanivel was significant and deserves special mention.
The festival was unique in several ways. The organisers' bold initiative in arranging three sole percussion concerts, without any vocal or instrumental music (except the brief interludes of violin in the thavil concert), was highly successful. A picture gallery showing Mani Iyer accompanying several doyens of yesteryear was interesting. The festival highlighted the importance of arithmetic in playing percussion instruments.
A number of disciples of Mani Iyer from far and wide took part in the celebrations.
The festival was organised by the Palghat Mani Iyer Memorial Foundation.
With inputs from T.R.Rajamani