Music

Thavil beats from Jaffna

Scene from the documentary on thavil vidwan Yaazhpanam Thedchinamoorthy, filmed by Amshan Kumar. Photo: Special arrangement  

Yazhpanam Thedchanamoorthy Pillai may not be a familiar name for most people. But the fact remains that he was a name to reckon with in the field of thavil playing. Veteran percussionists, including the legendary Palghat Mani Iyer, have lauded his playing skills, and even hailed him as ‘the eighth wonder.’

Now, this maestro is the subject of a new documentary made by film-maker Amshan Kumar. But how did Amshan end up making a film on a thavil artist from Sri Lanka?

Says the film maker, “It all started when I accompanied E. Padmanabha Iyer of London to meet art critic Dhenuka in Kumbakonam, during Iyer’s visit to India. In the course of a conversation, the latter spoke about the mastery of Thedchanamoorthy Pillai. Iyer was so fascinated by the description of the vidwan’s extraordinary artistry that he asked me to document his life,” says Amshan.

The two-hour long film captures the life and times of Thedchanamoorthy Pillai, who was unparalleled in his profession those days. Amshan spoke to several friends and admirers, as well as his sisters, daughters and sons, who still live in Yazhpanam, Sri Lanka.

Recalls Amshan, “His playing technique was unique. I was amazed when I heard his recording for the first time. You have to hear him to know how he maintained speed with so much clarity! Musicologist Dr. B.M. Sundaram, who has written a biography of the thavil vidwan, provided plenty of information, besides introducing me to many stalwarts who were connected with the maestro.”

“When I began my work, I only had three photographs and a few recordings. As the film progressed, slowly more details started coming my way. I met the doyen of Carnatic music, R.K. Srikantan, in Bengaluru, who was 93 at that time. He recalled an instance where he enjoyed a young Thedchanamoorthy’s thavil playing at the Dharmaraya temple festival. ‘Ceylon Thedchanamoorthy is a born genius. What vidwat!’ he remarked.”

The film has many thavil and nagaswaram vidwans sharing interesting bytes, besides scholars and musicologists expressing their admiration for the maestro. While Aridwaramangalam Pazhanivel says, “His playing is beyond imagination,” Thanjavur Govindarajan and Tiruvalaputtur Kaliyamurthy find his art unique. There are many global voices who speak of their appreciation for the artist.

The moving portions, however, are the ones where the vidwan’s family talks about his early demise under mysterious circumstances. The poignant notes are palpable.

Amshan reveals, “Sundaram Sir recalls how when he informed Palghat Mani Iyer about a nagaswaram concert at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, in which Thedchanamoorthy was to play the thavil, Mani Iyer immediately decided to go to the concert. He was overawed and commented, which was typical of the mridangam maestro: ‘Thedchanamoorthy is the Eighth Wonder!’

“Sivaji Ganesan was an ardent fan of Thedchanamoorthy. The actor even organised the vidwan’s concert for a family wedding. Unfortunately, I could not find those clippings,” says Amshan Kumar, who however, managed to get clippings of the maestro dressed casually in a Tee, riding a bike or driving a car.

Amshan Kumar says he documented the life of the thavil wizard for two purposes, “one so that the younger generation learns about such a legend who strode the world of rhythm; and two, to show that there was an artistic exchange between India and Sri Lanka earlier and it continues even today.”

(There will be screening of excerpts (from the documentary) at Tag Centre, TTK Road, Alwarpet, Chennai, on October 20, 6 p.m. when the DVD will be released by Dr. B.M. Sundaram, preceded by a short nagaswaram recital by Thirumeignanam Ramanathan with special thavil by Mannargudi R. Vasudevan.)


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 5:53:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/thavil-beats-from-jaffna/article7792535.ece

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