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‘I believe in healthy competition’

G. JAYAKUMAR

Mridangam vidwan, Mavelikara Velukutty Nair, is being honoured by the Music Academy.


Also a vocalist, Velukutty Nair has given many vocal concerts in different parts of Kerala and outside.

Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

Contented: Mridangam vidwan Mavelikara K. Velukutty Nair.

I am excited and extremely happy to receive the award. . It is unique for it is given to seasoned artists who have mellowed with experience, and the award winners are selected by a committee comprising eminent personalities from the field of music.” This is how renowned mridangam vidwan Mavelikara K. Velukutty Nair reacted to the conferring of the Sangita Acharya title on him by the Music Academy. The other prominent awards that he received recently were the Percussive Arts Centre Award 2007 and the Guruvayoorappan-Chembai Puraskaram 2008.

“Our residence, Chettikulangara Erezhu South Nedumpurathu house, was always filled with music. My father, Muthukulam Kumara Pillai, was a famous mridangam player. He had his mridangam training from Thanjavur. He belonged to the first line of mridangam players of Travancore. Until then we did not have artists who really studied the instrument. But we had facilities at home to teach and learn to play the instrument. Students would come from outside, stay there, do sadhakam and return. It was gurukula system.

“Father did not teach me initially. I used to watch others and began to play when I was eight. One day a bhagavatar came to our house, and played the mridangam. My father was surprised, and he decided to teach me. I was then 10. The next year I presented my arangetram at the Mavelikara Kandiyoor Mahadeva temple. The vocalist was Mavelikara Veeramani Iyer. And I received my first dakshina from him, a one rupee coin. That was the beginning,” Velukutty Nair captures the early days in a nutshell.

Most sought-after

He became one of the most-sought-after mridangam players. Being Muthukulam Kumara Pillai’s son was one of the reasons. “Moreover, in those days tabla was not so well known,” informs Nair. But all was not smooth going. His father died when he was 13, and a year later his mother too died.

“My formal education ended when I was in the seventh class. And there were many programmes,” Nair picks up the thread. “By the age of 15, I began to be attracted to new styles of playing, notably that of Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramania Pillai. I heard them play at the Ambalapuzha temple. It was a new experience for me. I decided to try that. The movement of the hands and fingers were scientific. I attempted initially with my own effort. Bhagavathar Haripad Ramankutty Nair, who was my patron, gave me a lot of concerts.

“With a letter of recommendation from nagaswaram vidwans, the Ambalapuzha Brothers, I went to meet Palghat Mani Iyer. I was with him for eight years, staying in his house. Even after that I would visit him every year and be with him for four months. This continued till I was 30. Then, I returned home and began to accompany Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and others.”

It was during this time at 33 that Nair joined the Swati Tirunal Music College when mridangam course was offered for the first time in 1959. He retired from the college in 1982. His disciples include Trivandrum Surendran, Parassala Ravi, Changanacheri Harikumar, Vaikkom Venugopal, Alappuzha Chandrasekharan, to name a few.

Mavellikkara Velukutty Nair is also an A-grade artist of All India Radio. What about being solo on the mridangam?

“Thaniavarthanam gives you scope for showing your talent,” replies Nair. “See, the mridangam has to accompany the vocalist. Even without the violin, you can play the flute or the veena. But the mridangam is indispensable for vocal concert,” he expands.

“In the olden times, the kutcheri used to last for five to six hours,” recalls Nair. This was true of Dakshinamoorthy Pillai and Chembai’s time. I still remember playing for Chembai Swami at Chengannur in that was in 1964. I played four thaniavarthanams. At the end of the fourth, he announced: ‘I will make him play at many concerts, and at my next AIR concert in Madras. He kept his word. That was Chembai Swami. Even Semmangudi had supported me.”

A vocalist

Mavelikara Velukutty Nair is also a known vocalist. He has given many vocal concerts in different parts of Kerala and outside.

The veteran player believes in healthy competition. “Even in our days there was competition. Otherwise, I would not have reached such a position. In my heyday, Mavelikkara Krishnankutty Nair was at the top. I always worked hard to outplay him. He was married to my uncle’s daughter. Similarly, youngsters should strive to reach the top.”

Anything else for the youth. “Many of them think music is full of brigas. That is not true. M.D. Ramanathan impressed with his range and not brigas.” Today, at the age of 82, Mavellikara Velukutty Nair leads a contented life imparting training to the younger generation.

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