The Rhythm Guru

Kaaraikkudi Mani.  

The news that Guru Kaaraikkudi R. Mani will receive a special award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, on the occasion of his 70th birthday and the Sabha’s Diamond Jubilee, was a pleasant surprise. Reason: the veteran has been declining requests from various sabhas to honour him. . In this chat, he talks about his early days, international music groups and his institution, Sruthi Laya. Guru Mani begins: “It is true that I have been fending off requests from many quarters. Receiving awards and titles has never been part of my agenda. At the same time, I never wanted to offend any organiser or organisation. I think I would attribute this attitude to the influence of my guru Surajaananda, with whom I have been associated for almost 20 years.” “I have dedicated my life to the cause of the mridangam. When I was 16, I won the President’s Medal in an All India Competition. Thirty nine years later, when I was conferred the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, I was surprised, as I had not approached anybodyto recommend my name. I have always politely declined requests from Yagnaraman and his son Y. Prabhu whenever they approached me for the ‘Sangeetha Choodamani’ title. I have to appreciate Prabhu for his relentless efforts in convincing me to accept the honour this time.”

Guru Mani reminisces on his early days. “After basic training under Rangu Iyengar, I started playing for concerts. When I joined Harihara Sharma for my next level of training, he changed my approach to the mridangam. However, it was after K.M. Vaidyanathan, who honed my style, that I started receiving special attention.”

‘Nadopasana’ Rajagopalan is another person whom he reveres a lot. It was he who introduced Mani to eminent vidwans and vidushis such as Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, Veenai S. Balachander, D.K. Pattammal and D.K. Jayaraman. Mani considers it a boon to play with such stalwarts who helped him sharpen his playing skills.

Mani later formed the Sruthi Laya group, which he believes brought the mridangam to the forefront. The tani avarthanam concerts with melodies infused were a big hit and his first Sruthi Laya performance was for the Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer Trust.

Talking about his collaborations with several international artists and groups, he says, “The Australian Art Orchestra was on a tour to India, performing at New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. My disciple, Ravichandra, who teaches in Australia, brought them to me for an Indian touch. The Bahudari and Ranjani pieces which I composed for them, were hits. The group plays it to date at concerts around the world. This led to my collaborating with them in their new projects and releasing a CD in Australia.” He continues, “Eero Haemmeneimi, a Finnish musician, was a regular at my concerts whenever he came to India.

At his invitation, I played a tani avarthanam with his 70-piece orchestra. The symphony was named after my house in Jeth Nagar, Chennai - ‘Laya Priya.’

A Japanese Shakuhachi player John Kaizan after listening to Kaaraikkudi Mani’s international discs expressed his willingness to record a fusion album. Noted violin player V.S. Narasimhan, who composed and played for Sruthi Laya series, joined Mani in this Japanese collaboration. Mani also recalls his association with Paul Simon, (of Simon and Garfunkel fame) to play in some of his pieces.

A meeting with his niece dancer Rajeswari Sainath at a concert in Helsinki led Mani to compose the unique Nadai Beda Varnams for her performances. “Impressed by her brilliant footwork, I composed many dance numbers with the accent on rhythm for her shows,” says Mani.

“I had played for bhajans in my early days and for Pithukkuli Murugadass in his devotional programmes. Accompanying Harikatha performances, regular concerts and tani avarthanam concerts, both with Indian and international groups, and composing music for dance – everything just happened,” says the mridangam vidwan, who attributes his success and all else to his parents and Guru Surajaananda’s blessings.

Kaaraikkudi Mani rates his concert for Zakir Hussain’s festival in memory of his father at Mumbai as one of his best. Yet another concert, he says, was the one for the Bengal Foundation concerts in Dhaka. “I played at 1.30 in the morning and the cricket stadium was packed with rasikas. They were new to the mridangam and its sound, yet they stayed back to listen to my 90-minute concert. That is something I will cherish for a long time.” Guru Kaaraikudi Mani wraps up saying that tireless practice is the only solution to excel. He also says that accomplished artists should never forget their roots and all those who helped him/her realise their dreams.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 5:12:31 PM |

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