Yet another proof and a delightful one (if any were needed), that “Music is the purest form of art, and therefore the most direct expression of beauty, with a form and spirit which is one, and simple, and least encumbered with anything extraneous. … No one of its notes is final, yet each reflects the infinite.” – Rabindranath Tagore (Sadhana, the Realisation of Life)
Vidwan TS Sankaran was Flute Mali’s favorite and most trusted disciple. Apart from imbibing many of his guru’s techniques, he has created several of his own. His music also sometimes reflects his passion for the other great genius piper of the 20th century, TN Rajaratnam Pillai, who hails from the same village as Shri Sankaran. His legacy, and that of his guru Mali, is fortunately being continued through his grandson, Flute Jayanth.
Live recording made on 31 December 1988 – shared by Ludwig Pesch under Creative Commons
The flute has played a key role in India’s artistic life since antiquity. This is evident from writings on dance-drama, mythology, sculptures and paintings. Its playing technique must have been highly developed for a very long time. Different names are used for it, for instance kuzhal (pronounced like “kulal” or “kural”) in Tamil speaking regions; and bansuri in northern India. In poetry, song lyrics, classical dance items and films, words like venu and murali evoke its association with Krishna, the ‘dark skinned’ cowherd and flute player. […] Tagore’s poetry reminds us of the fact that reed and bamboo flutes are the world’s most “democratic” to this very day, both literally and figuratively:
Very often I think and feel that I am like a flute – the flute that cannot talk but when the breath is upon it, can sing. – Rabindranath Tagore whose pioneering institution Santiniketan inspired Kalakshetra | Read more >>
The writing in Sebastian and Sons introduces us to the storyteller in T M Krishna like never before. It’s a non-fictional work written with a novelist’s touch. It makes for a riveting read with the musician’s earnestness to absorb the stories of his subjects and his ability to look at the larger picture shining through. He concurs his approach was unique: “This book was very different writing for me; it was a new form for someone who has largely explored philosophical ideations driven by research (treatises), activism and self-introspection. This is the first time I wrote a book with the approach of a journalist. And it was other people’s stories, which I was trying to make sense of. I completely enjoyed the role of being an observer and a commentator.”
Excerpt from S. Gopalakrishnan’s “Another Listening” newsletter A much awaited book ‘Sebastian and Sons’ by TM Krishna on the evolution of the art of Mridangam making is going to be released on 2 February 2020. ‘The making process is an intellectually, aesthetically and physically taxing one. From acquiring the skins for the circular membranes and straps to the wood for the drum, from curing the material to the final construction, and at the end of it all, making sure that it has the tone that the mrdangam player wants, mrdangam-making is also a highly nuanced operation at every stage. This requires a highly tuned ear and an ability to translate abstract ideas expressed by musicians into the corporeal reality of a mrdangam. Yet, their contribution to the art of the mrdangam is dismissed as labour and repair—when it is spoken of at all.
There are legendary mrdangam players, yes; there are also distinguished mrdangam makers, many of them from Dalit Christian communities, who remain on the fringes of the Karnatik community. Sebastian and Sons explores the world of these artists, their history, lore and lived experience to arrive at a more organic and holistic understanding of the music that the mrdangam makes’.
As a dedication to all major Mridangam makers of the past I dedicate Mridangam solos of three all-time masters, Pazhani Subramania Pillai, Palakkad Mani Iyer and Ramanathapuram C S Murugabhoopathy
There is not only myth, but also vocabulary. “In Tamil, ‘thol’ means ‘skin’ and ‘thattu’ means ‘plate’. Mridangam players will talk about thattu, but not about thol,” Krishna said. “These were all ways of distancing.”
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Aparna Karthikeyan, The Hindu, April 11, 2015 | To read the full story and view more photographs, click here >>
It takes many days to make a block of wood sing. And it takes exceptionally talented craftsmen to do it. The four families who still make the nadaswaram by hand in Narasingapettai (a village near Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu) are so skilled that they almost make it look simple. […]
Selvaraj tells me about his village’s long association with the wind instrument, without which no Tamilian wedding or temple procession is ever complete.
“Nadaswaram is a ‘mangala vaadhiyam’ (auspicious instrument). It originated in this area, in a village near Mayavaram. My great-grandfather, Govindasamy Achari, went there and learnt the craft. “ […]
Traditionally, nadaswarams are made with aacha maram (Hardwickia binate, Indian Blackwood). “But you can’t use fresh wood; it has to be at least 75-100 years old. Young wood will bend and bow. All this wood was once lintels and pillars of old houses.” He points to the pile in his backyard. “But we face trouble transporting the wood. We’re stopped at check-posts and asked for a bill; but which seller will give me a bill for old wood?” Even worse, they’re accused of smuggling sandalwood.
Their worries don’t end with procuring the wood. “You need three persons to make each piece. After deducting all the costs — wood, labour — we are left with Rs.1000-1500 per nadaswaram,” rues Selvaraj. […]
But every morning, they wake up with worries: will they find some acha maram, will their sons sit down and learn from them, will the government recognise their contribution to music…
This article is part of the series ‘Vanishing Livelihoods of Rural Tamil Nadu’ and is supported under NFI National Media Award 2015.