When he was about two, he exhibited his interest in rhythm by tapping on the table and any other article he could catch hold of. When taken to concerts, he could be espied keenly observing the mridangam artiste on stage. When he was five, his parents, A.N. Siva and Akhila Siva, taking into account his predilections, sent the child to learn the art of mridangam playing. Thus began Manoj Siva’s initial training under Srirangarajapuram Jayaraman. Later he learnt from Kumbakonam Rajappa Iyer and from the renowned maestro Palghat R. Raghu. Within two years, the child proved his talent by winning a gold medal from YMCA, Chennai, for mridangam playing.
Over the years Manoj has grown to accompany stalwarts including D.K. Jayaraman, K.V. Narayanaswamy, D.K. Pattamal, T.N. Krishnan, R.K. Srikantan, N. Ramani and T.N. Seshagopalan. He regularly accompanies the leading artistes of the present generation including Vijay Siva, Bombay Jayashri, T.M. Krishna, Ranjani & Gayatri and S. Sowmya. “At the right moment my parents took the call to put me in mridangam classes,” says a grateful Manoj, who was in the Capital recently for a performance.
Acknowledging the roles played by his gurus in shaping him into a professional artiste, Manoj avers, “Their training was holistic, covering all aspects of the art plus the mental attitude to keep it fresh, constant check over lessons, offering vital tips and nursing my personal imagination — all in an atmosphere of warmth and affection.”
His home environment too was congenial to developing his passion. His elder brother Vijay Siva is a leading vocalist and sister Poorna plays the violin. Was this an advantage? “Undoubtedly! Vocal music goes on from morning to evening in my house. Either Vijay would be singing, Poorna would be playing the violin or my mother would be teaching music. We would have joint practice sessions too. It has helped me to a very great extent while accompanying,” says Manoj.
A top ranking artiste of All India Radio and a recipient of the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar from the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Manoj says he cherishes his experiences accompanying all the leading artistes. “But my stint with KVN Sir (late Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy) shall remain special as it brought key changes in my playing and career.”
Knowing the songs the main artiste performs helps the mridangam accompanist embellish the concert. Elaborating on the subject, Manoj says that sound knowledge of kritis helps in understanding the mood and topography of the kritis. “We not only accompany the talam or the framework of the kriti, but the raga and sahitya bhava too, which enhances the enjoyment of the singer and the listeners.”
What would be his advice to young mridangam artistes who have just stepped into the concert circuit? Manoj recollects that his guru, Palghat Raghu, while advising him to learn the art for the sake of the art, stressed the importance of creating a distinct style of playing by assimilating from the past masters, sticking to genuine music and hard work. “This advice is eternally valid for all aspirants,” signs off Manoj.