Even at 70, mridangam artiste doesn’t miss a beat

N.S. Rajam began learning the instrument at the age of eight and has been performing since she was 10. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

The resonating tone of c haapu (a mridangam beat) soothes your ear as you enter N.S. Rajam’s house on T.S.V. Koil Street in Mylapore.

Even at the age of 70, her deft fingers create magic on the mridangam which rests on her right ankle.

In the world of Carnatic music, men have dominated the mastering of the mridangam. Very few women artistes have managed to storm the male bastion.

Ms. Rajam is one such exception — she went on to win many titles and awards, including the Kalaimamani, and has also played the instrument in movies such as Avvai Shanmugi.

“I started learning the mridangam at the age of eight and have been performing in concerts since I was 10,” says Ms. Rajam, who is one of the senior-most woman mridangam artistes in the city.

Born in Thiruvarur, Ms. Rajam is the younger sister of flautist N. Ramani and the mother of mridangam artist Nagai Narayanan. “My first guru was my grandfather Azhiyur Ramamritham Iyer. After that, I learnt to play the instrument from Thiruvarur Kunju Iyer alias Rajagopal Iyer,” she says.

When she started performing in concerts, people thronged the hall if only to see a woman play the mridangam.

“I was fascinated by the sound created by the c haapu. There were a few women who used to play the mridangam before I started. Now, they are no more,” she says.

Her husband M. Subramaniam Iyer was proud of her achievements and encouraged her. “He started learning the mridangam and music from me. He insisted we move from Ambattur to Mylapore so I could get more exposure,” says Ms. Rajam.

She teaches students to play the mridangam and veena, and is also active in concerts. “There is an increase in the number of women playing mridangam now. It is a good way to fight stress, especially in today’s fast-paced life,” she says.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 7:51:45 AM |

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