The fingers dance gracefully on the mrudangam producing crystal clear beats soaked in divine nadham making one wonder whether the instrument being played is the mrudangam or a perfectly tuned string instrument. As the maestro unleashes a breathless roll puncuated by appropriate strokes at the appropriate places, the only other sound one can hear in the packed Music Academy hall is that of the unforgiving Roland Rhythm box playing out the 16 beat cycle (Adi tALam 2 kalai) at 90 pulses per second. Exquisite rhythmic patterns follow in different nadais, some at unthinkable speeds with utmost clarity. The enormity of this task is realizable only when one sits down with a rhythm box and tries to play complex patterns in different nadais to the beats maintained by it. If playing to the rhythm box itself is difficult, imagine the challenge to get every syllable at the place where it should be in the tala cycle! Needless to say rasikas and artists in the audience sit wonderstruck, for they are yet again witnessing the “Sivaraman Effect” in “The Summit: Man and the Machine”, the aptly titled finale of a function that saw the release of “Mridanga Cintamanih – A Treasure Trove of Rhythmic Lessons”. They do not forget to show their appreciation when they give the maestro not one but two standing ovations at the end of the program.
Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman is arguably the most outstanding exponent of the mrudangam the world has ever seen and “Mridanga Cintamanih”, a magnum opus, is his gift to the music world. As the cover pack says, it is “a comprehensive, in depth encyclopedia on the art of mrudangam, encompassing the entire gamut of playing techniques from the basic lessons to the art of accompaniment to vocal & instrumental music meticulously designed for aspiring students of percussion” by the maestro himself. The over 22 hours long treasure is split into 7 DVDs (click here for details/buying) and is surely a boon for aspirants and practioners of the art alike.
About the DVD release function and anecdotes shared ….
The dignitaries who had come spoke highly of their association with the maestro and his music. Sri N. Murali, Managing Director, The Hindu, recalled his conversation with Sri M.A. Baby, Minister for Education and Culture, Govt. of Kerala where Sri Baby compared Sri Sivaraman with Maradona, the football legend, to which Sri Murali said he is a combination of Pele’s discipline and Maradona’s brilliance. Sri Baby recalled Sri Sivaraman’s reverance and respect for past maestros by narrating how once he had organized a program in Delhi where Sri Sivaraman was supposed to play the mrudangam for Sri D.K. Jayaraman with Sri M.S. Gopalakrishnan on the violin. Upon learning the legendary Sri C.S. Murugabhoopathy’s presence in Delhi, he had requested Sri Sivaraman to convince Sri Murugabhoopathy to play mrudangam in the concert instead. It was no mean task, for Sri Murugabhoopathy had stopped playing in concerts long back and did not accept any such requests. Instead he wanted Sri Sivaraman to play as he himself was here. Sri Sivaraman managed to convince him by springing a surprise that he would sit besides him in the concert with a khanjira to which Sri Murugabhoopathy replied that not only is he being asked to play, but the great Sri Sivaraman is being paired along with him on khanjira, making the task all the more challenging. He finally relented and rasikas were presented a grand treat with all these greats performing together on the same stage!
Sri Baby also recalled how Sri Sivaraman has co-operated with organizers whenever they have made sincere efforts to give rasikas a great listening experience. He recalled how he has peformed “Vadya Manjari”s with percussionists from the Kerala, playing traditional Kerala drums. Once it seems Sri Baby requested Sri Birju Maharaj to perform along with tabla and mrudangam to which he replied that such things generally cannot be done without having practice sessions with all the artists involved. When told that Sri Baby had Sri Sivaraman in his mind, Sri Birju Maharaj immediately replied that there is no practice required then and that they can directly meet on stage. Sri Baby also recalled numerous performances he has heard of Sri Sivaraman with greats like Pt. Kishan Maharaj, Ustad Alla Rakha, Sri G. Harishankar etc, notable among them being a 2.5 hour percussion ensemble in Kolkata featuring Sri Sivaraman, Pt. Kishan Maharaj and Sri G. Harishankar on the same stage. That must have been quite an experience!
Sri Baby also recalled a 1 hour concert at Rashtrapati Bhavan when Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was in his 90s in which Sri Sivaraman played a 5 minute tani that held everyone spellbound. He also recalled a concert in Delhi with Sri Doraiswamy Iyengar on the veena where Iyengar told Sri Sivaraman that with his mrudangam, it was like two veenas performing.
Smt. Padma Subramaniam, well known Bharathanatyam exponent, spoke about her association with Sri Sivaraman’s music and about its greatness. Sri Madurai G.S. Mani highlighted the importance of playing for namasankeertanam, harikatha and other forms of music and spoke at length about his appreciation of Sri Sivaraman’s art. He also spoke about the difficulties of performing publicly with a rhythm box and how Sri Sivaraman is able to perform this to perfection time and again.
The DVD release ceremony drew to a close with the screening of a short film on the maestro by Sri S.B. Kanthan titled “Naadha Laya Pravaham”. Copies of this film are available in each of the DVDs in “Mridanga Cintamanih”.
The evening saw Sri Sivaraman demonstrate how to accompany for namasankeertanam, harikatha, chaste carnatic classical kritis, tukkadas and bharathanatyam. He also played mrudangam along with western drums.