Women nagaswaram players to the fore

They will be performing along with their husbands in Navasakthi series

October 05, 2021 01:54 am | Updated 01:54 am IST - CHENNAI

On a par:  Bageswari with her husband Balaganesan

On a par: Bageswari with her husband Balaganesan

Though women have established their skill in the field of carnatic music on a par with men, not many of them could find an equally important space for themselves as nagaswaram and thavil artistes. In the past, Madurai M.S. Ponnuthai earned a name as a prominent nagaswaram player. Now, Kaleeshabi Mahaboob, a Padma Shri awardee, is a name to reckon with in that field.

“But there are a lot of them. When we extended a helping hand during the pandemic, we came across over 60 women artistes. It was then we decided to feature them during the navarathri festival,” said Lalitha Ram, founder of Parivadini, an organisation dedicated to promoting carnatic music and musicians.

The Navarathri Navasakthi series, to be webcast, will feature nine of them. The concerts were recorded at Kalyanapuram in the presence of the audience. All women artistes were paired with their husbands and accompanied by some of the best thavil players.

“It will be easy for a woman to play [the instrument] with her husband. Unlike other carnatic concerts held in a fixed time, nagaswarm concerts organised mostly in marriages and temples, cannot be confined to a schedule. They will end late in the night and we prefer to team up with our husbands,” said Prabhavathi who will perform the first concert with her husband S.P. Palanivel.

For Ms. Prabhavathi the sailing had been smooth so far because both her father Ramkrishnappa and mother Dhanalakshmiamma were nagaswaram players.

“They sent me to learn from Tirupathi P. Renu, who had taught a lot of women like me. After the marriage, I settled in Bangalore,” she said.

Only men

In Tamil Nadu, the music schools started in 17 districts during the DMK regime between 1996 and 2001 provided an opportunity to women to learn nagaswaram. They can also learn it in the three music colleges in Chennai, Tiruvaiyaru and Madurai.

“When I joined the University of Madras for a BA course in nagaswaram, I was disappointed because my classmates were only men. Since I have learnt the art from my father, I could face the situation confidently,” said B. Bageswari, who is now playing along with her husband P. Balaganesan.

Ms. Bageswari, one of the women artistes performing in the Navasakthi series, also belongs to a family of nagaswaram players. She started learning the instrument at the age of seven from her father P.V.N. Devarajan.

“But how many girls will get an opportunity to learn the instrument at home?” asked Ms. Bageswari, who shifted her base to Tiruvannamalai after her marriage. Her rendering of Shankar Mahadevan’s ‘Breathless’ song on social media recently became viral.

Other performers are: Kaleeshabi Mahaboob and her husband; T.V. Vijayalakshmi and T.A. Viswanathan; S. Santhalakshmi and Soundararajan; T.K. Maheswari and T.C. Karunanidhi; S Shanti and K.S. Senthilmurugan; Prasanna Sivadass and Ochira V. Sivadass; T.V. Sankaree and T.P. Venkatesh.

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