Setting the rhythm
Much of the credit for the mridanga's current status must go to Palghat Mani Iyer, reminisces his son and disciple, Palghat T.S. Rajamani
TITANIC PRESENCE Rajamani humbly concedes
If rhythm occupies a central place in the scheme of Carnatic music, some of the credit must go to the legendary mridangam maestro Palghat Mani Iyer . It was through Mani Iyer's remarkable adeptness at accompaniment that the mridanga went from being a mere marker of time into an indispensable component of any musical rendering. The new language of percussion introduced by him established the mridanga in the foreground of Carnatic music and enabled percussion to evolve into a complex art.
Mani Iyer's disciple and son Palghat T.S. Rajamani is a repository of the rhythmic knowledge embodied in Mani Iyer's school of playing. His initiation to mridanga was natural as its sound literally filled the air in his home. The training happened in an informal ambience without the notion of a class at a fixed hour. A major part of Rajamani's learning happened when Mani Iyer used to give advanced lessons to senior disciples. On occasion, Mani Iyer would ask K.V. Narayanaswamy â€” who used to stay with him those days â€” to sing and his own illustrious disciple Palghat Raghu to accompany him on the mridangam. And Mani Iyer would guide them on the khanjira.
Mani Iyer encouraged his son to play for bhajans as it infused him with ideas and helped achieve finger dexterity. When the new concept of double mridanga begin to be experimented with, Mani Iyer would literally lead Rajamani on the stage and expose him to the intricacies of accompaniment. This was the phase when manodharma (creativity of the individual) evolved. Rajamani recollects that before concerts his father would tutor him on what to play and where to effect a change of pattern. If Rajamani followed the instruction mechanically Mani Iyer would shout at him for not having observed the effect the particular nadai (rhythmic movement) had on the audience.
It had to be played for longer time when the audience was savouring its delight, he would argue, and not be changed just to mechanically conform to a pre-planned scheme of playing. In the next concert if Rajamani did so, he would then be reprimanded for not being innovative. The fine elements that go into accompaniment like grasping the rhythmic movement of the main performer, the points at which one must be innovative, the moments when one should pause, and the intuition to judge the pulse of the audience could be imbibed only in a live culture of performance.
Mani Iyer's art, remarks Rajamani, gained profundity because of his intimate knowledge of the songs being rendered. This, coupled with his extraordinary presence of mind, resulted in a rich rhythmic text that raised the aesthetics of the musical composition to great heights.
Mani Iyer's (accompanying legendary vocalist Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar) art and persona are so towering that he never imagined meddling with it
The manner in which he changed his style of accompaniment for the same song rendered by different musicians made one wonder at the infinite possibilities of the mridangam. The typical rhythmic phrases he played for "Yendudi Vedalithi" sung by Alathur Brothers or the tisra nadai (three syllables for a beat) he introduced in "Amba Kamakshi" presented by Semmangudi, for example, are etched in the memory of connoisseurs. It is no exaggeration if one said that the listeners would forget the song and be enraptured by the mridangam accompaniment.
Mani Iyer always violated his own statement that the percussion interlude should not go on for more than six to eight minutes. He clarified that if the percussionists had the power to captivate the audience in rapture, time would no longer be a criterion. Mani Iyer acknowledged that while trying to give a new dimension to his art he drew artistic elements from practitioners of instruments such as the thavil, chandai, thayambakam, and remodelled them to blend coherently with conventional patterns of mridangam and effected a structural and creative transformation.
Some critics observe that the exigent task of establishing the mridangam in the forefront of Carnatic music compelled Mani Iyer to come out with raging and massive sound arrays that seem wild and raw. The next stage of evolution required refinement and order. Rajamani humbly concedes that Mani Iyer's art and persona are so towering that he never imagined meddling with it.
Rajamani comments that these days even youngsters play complicated mathematical combinations since they are exposed to a lot of music and have many facilities, but their playing lacks depth, rigour and restraint, especially in accompaniment.
He feels that this kind of growth is not desirable for the evolution of the art. The other challenge comes from main performers who prefer monotonous, insipid sarvalaghu accompaniment that does not demand them to come out with equally competent musical phrases. Rajamani feels that mridanga practitioners of the present generation must confront this crisis with greater involvement in the art and strive for retaining mridangam's reputation as an evolved percussion instrument.
thathwamasi wrote:Rajamani mama is PMI's first son who is a Mridangist, who accompanied PMI in Edinburgh and many other concerts. He is a giant in Layam. There is a famous story of PMI losing a bet for Rajamani Mama in a laya related problem.
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