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Serene and majestic

S. SIVAKUMAR

In his hands, the sonorous nagaswaram attained a new dimension.


His wish: Thavil vidwans, should fill gaps during alapanas, quickly adjusting to the pace. They should also learn to play the Bhim-Bhim-Bi, a unique nadham where the thavil itself would have to be placed at a particular angle.


Photo: R.Shivaji Rao

Complete musician: S.R.D.Vaidhyanathan.

“I have had the honour of meeting three of our Presidents — Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Abdul Kalam and Prathiba Patil. The photographs are there for you to see,” begins Sembonarkovil Vaidhyanathan, nagaswara wizard and a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akdademi award last year. He continues: “It was the Golden Jubilee celebration of Narada Gana Sabha and I was on the dais, seated next to Mr. Kalam. Natarajan (former director of DD) spoke in praise of my abilities — maintaining four thalams with the aid of my hands and feet. And as the speech was on, Mr. Kalam quietly touched my hand and asked me if those were the fingers that performed this feat. The photographer froze the unforgettable moment.”

He attributes it all to the grace of the Almighty. To the discerning Sembonarkoil suggests “Rakthi Melam,” meaning intricate laya. Its chief proponents were vidwans Govindasamy Pillai, Ramasamy Pillai and Dakshinamurthy Pillai. Vaidhyanathan belongs to this lineage.

His forte

Vaidhyanathan’s forte has been the Mallari and the Pallavi. Doordharshan has done well to capture a concert of his where he “sings” a pallavi of large complexity, with four different thala-streams occurring without interruption — two on the right and left hands and two on left and right feet, the pallavi progressing in its own track.

He has also composed Mallaris in various ragams and thalams, even Nilambari, unlike the conventional Ghambira Nattai. He has carefully notated them and they are available in a ready-to-use form.

Lessons in vocal music from Thiruvazhundur A K Ganesa Pillai and Madurai Mani Iyer helped to hone his skills.

Recollecting the past, he says: “I was Reader at Annamalai University for nearly two decades. There was a four-year refresher course at Annamalai University and I was asked to be in-charge. I was asked to hold a two-hour session for an assembly of music scholars from all over India. It was all about Sarali Varisai and Alankaram in various thalams and scales, much to their surprise, and on how it has immense potential and exhaustive possibilities (Vivaram and Vyavaharam). They had never thought or heard of this prarambha padam being dealt with in such an elaborate manner. This appreciative audience requested me to continue with the subject the next day. On retirement from Annamalai University I was absorbed by Thamizh Isai Sangam (Chennai). I was with the Sangam for four years.”

His brow clouds as he says, “Performers have to put their thought into action before they play and as they play (or sing). Do short concerts serve a purpose? Vidwans of my time played for half-a-day. Music that made you forget your own self and established an emotional connection! Let them come to me. I will convert them into men who understand the significance of music. I will at least pass on my experience to them. I will not rest until results are achieved.” It is pertinent to mention here that Sanjay and Aruna Sairam have had long learning sessions with this vidwan.

The doyen plays to you a selection from his cherished cassette library that has recordings of his performances and those of past masters. And you understand his emotion. The flow of Bhairavi or Thodi or Nattakurinji is immense, serene, multi-dimensional, with non-repetitive prayogas.

Here is a man void of petty concerns, his sight set at lofty ideals. His words carry an air of finality, his stature and gait indicating a man of aristocratic bearing and “un-ageing intellect”.

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