Achievement worth its weight in platinum

STALWART: T.K. Murthy.

STALWART: T.K. Murthy.  


A constant in MS’s team, mridangam vidwan T.K. Murthy goes back 75 years.

Small in stature, big in fame — this is a rough translation of a Tamil proverb and aptly describes mridanga vidwan T.K. Murthy. In a career spanning 75 years he has to his credit several achievements, his energy and sense of humour amazing at 86. Murthy mama, as he is lovingly called by many of his admirers, supplies an interesting titbit about the Mohra Korvai for 108 talams that he had learnt from his guru, even before we settle down for a talk in his house at Madipakkam surrounded by paddy fields just ready for tilling.

For generations Murthy’s ancestors have been the court musicians of Padmanabhapuram Palace, Tiruvananthapuram. His father Thanu Bhagavatar taught him the rudiments and trained him as a vocalist. However Murthy was fascinated by rhythm, more specifically the mridangam and kept listening to gramophone records that he could lay hands on. And he started playing the instrument for local concerts. During a visit to the palace, Thanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, impressed with the talent of eight-year old Murthy offered to take him to Thanjavur to hone his skills.

“When I left Trivandrum I had practically nothing with me but upon arrival at Vaidyanatha Iyer’s house, I was presented with a gold chain, diamond ear rings and a silver (dinner) plate. Vaidyantha Iyer even wanted to adopt me as his son. The royal treatment and the couple’s love and affection…” Murthy gets emotional. Palghat Mani Iyer and Thambusamy were already there to learn.

Guru’s concerts

“We never missed a single concert of our guru when he accompanied doyens such as Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Pushpanavanam Iyer and Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer. Lessons would go on into the wee hours. Thanjavur M. Thiagarajan (TMT), Thanjavur Sankara Iyer and O.V. Subramaniam would frequent our guru’s house and sing for hours and we would play alongside.”

During one of her visits to Vaidyanatha Iyer’s house, Murthy was introduced to the M.S.-Sadasivam couple and little did he imagine that this would blossom into a bond for more than forty years. Although violin vidwans kept changing, Murthy was left undisturbed in MS’s team. After his guru passed away, a depressed Murthy handed over all the jewels back to his guru’s wife and promised to visit her regularly and then left for Madras. Ariyakkudi, Chembai, GNB, Semmangudi and a host of many others had him as their accompanist.

Speaking in the morning session of Music Academy’s December festival, Palghat Mani Iyer made special mention of TKM’s artistry. Murthy cherishes the tribute. Equally precious are the accolades he received from Subramania Pillai, Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Azhagar Nambia Pillai. He feels all these helped him gain recognition at a very young age.

In his own words

His ideas on the mridangam and the players then and now

Murthy strongly feels that the players were treated with greater respect in the olden days and equally appreciated was their playing styles. “I very much doubt whether the same is the case now. I have taught my disciples many tough korvais and other calculations but have asked them to be judicious in playing them,” he says. “None can equal MS or DKP in maintaining the talam. They would nod their heads in approval whenever I played some interesting patterns. Such calibre is hard to find these days,” he adds.

Unforgettable concert

There are many but this one is special. A theatre close to the railway track at Madurai was the venue where MS was presenting a concert. People were squatting on the railway tracks to listen to her. The Trivandrum Express had to be stopped for more than an hour as people, mesmerised by her music did not move. I’ve never seen such a mammoth crowd.

Guru’s advice: “Never look at the VIP row and play a concert. And don’t underestimate that person sitting in a corner of the last row listening with rapt attention. He may have a deep knowledge of classical music.”

How T. Krishnamurthy became T.K. Murthy

“Once when Palghat Mani Iyer was to accompany Musiri on the ganjira, some of the mridanga vidwans refused to give him an equal status on the dais. With Mani Iyer unrelenting, I offered to play the mridangam. Lokanatha Mudaliar, who was then the secretary of R.R. Sabha, felt that my name was too long and would not fit the list that looked crisp like this: Musiri-Papa-Mani Iyer. Hence he put my name down as T.K. Murthy and it came to stay.

Murthy says that there is nothing in mridangam that has not been conceived by his guru and advises that one need not be baffled by the number of aksharas etc in a talam. One has to just simplify the approach which is sheer arithmetic and win over it. His son and AIR composer T.K. Jayaraman demonstrates briefly the 87th talam (of the 108 tala) Binna Chaturmukham which they are slated to perform on July 9, commemorating the platinum jubilee of T.K. Murthy’s appearance in a concert at The Music Academy (Details on Page 5) .

T.K. Murthy cherishes the blessings he received from Maha Periyava and says that this and his guru’s blessings keep him going even now.

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