Music Academy to organise exclusive Nadaswaram concerts starting today

Bengaluru (Karnataka), March 27 (PTI) The Music Academy Madras are all set to organise their first exclusive Nadaswaram festival 'Nadotsavam', a three day event starting on Wednesday in Chennai.

With its Sangita Kalanidhi Award fueling the voices demanding a change in the Carnatic music world, the management of the Music Academy is hoping all that social media traction would result in more people dropping in for 'Nadotsavam', which is scheduled from March 27-29.

“We decided to hold Nadotsavam 2024, even though Nadaswaram does not really draw people in, because it is essential that we support the Nadaswaram – and Thavil – artists. During the Covid time, they were the worst affected musicians. Hopefully, all those people who were suggesting that Carnatic music change its approach, will come to support this effort,” said N Murali, president of the Music Academy to PTI.

Nadaswaram, a wind instrument, is an integral part of ‘mangala isai’ – a form of invocatory music that is integral to Tamil culture. Along with its percussion accompaniment 'Thavil', Nadaswaram leads the auspicious start of festivals in temples and auspicious events like marriages. The instrument is among the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instruments.

But despite its deep spiritual and musical heritage, the instrument is often restricted to inaugural concerts of the sabhas during the famed 'Margazhi' festival in December-January in Chennai. This is mainly because the instrument doesn't get a proper platform, as temples no longer conduct elaborate Nadaswaram concerts.

Murali said that the Music Academy has so far honoured three Nadaswaram vidwans with Sangita Kalanidhi – Thiruveezhimizhalai Subramanya Pillai (1956), Thiruvidaimarudur Veerusami Pillai (1961) and Sheik Chinna Moulana (1998).

Trichy-based Nadaswaram artist S Kasim, who will be performing on March 28 with his brother Babu, recalled how his grandfather, maestro Sheik Chinna Moulana, who popularised the majestic music of the instrument in the western world, was happy when Krishna Gana Sabha finally started exclusive concerts for Nadaswaram artistes in 1987 which was then the first of its kind.

“In fact, I would say, commercially, the 1980s was the golden era for Nadaswaram artists. Although its music is considered sacred among the believers, we needed the sabhas to take it to more people. The week-long Pongal Nadaswara Isai Vizha did a lot in sustaining us,” said Kasim, who comes from a family of musicians that have fostered the art of the wind instrument for 300 years.

Before long, Brahma Gana Sabha in Chennai too started an exclusive festival for Nadaswaram and Thavil, he added.

In a YouTube video tracing the journey of Brahma Gana Sabha’s Nadaswaram-Thavilisai Festival, sabha secretary N Balasubramaniyan explained how about 16 years ago, they took over a five-day Nadaswaram festival organised by ‘Nalli’ Chinnaswamy Chettiar, the founder of the saree empire Nalli.

Fifth generation Nadaswaram player, Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman, who will be performing on March 29, told PTI that Carnatic vocalist T M Krishna too has done a lot for musicians like him.

“Through his NGO, Sumanasa foundation, he has been organising a Nadaswaram and Thavil festival, along with Narada Gana Sabha for the last seven years now and providing us a platform,” said Kothandaraman.

Although grateful that Nadaswaram players are presented with yet another exclusive platform in the Music Academy, Thirumeignanam T K R Ayyappan, a ninth generation vidwan of the instrument, told PTI that nothing can beat temple concerts where time literally stood still, and musicians dipped deep into their understanding of ragas to hold forth.

Not so long ago, when Nadaswaram players were mainly playing in temples and improvising ragas, even established Carnatic musicians listened to these performances to understand the nuances, added Ayyappan, who will be performing with his brother T K R Meenakshi Sundaram on March 28.

“When we accompanied temple processions, which used to wind through many streets and lasted almost the entire evening and sometimes, even night, the vidwans often took up a raga and explored its intricate structures for five hours at a stretch. You can imagine how well versed in music one had to be to achieve that. This kind of improvisation or 'manodharmam', where musicians go from 'alapana' to 'kalpanaswaram', was pioneered by Nadaswaram players. The performance was so intricate that 'rasikas' (music connoisseurs) did not mind walking 10-15 miles, listening to 'kutcheris' (concerts),” said Ayyappan, who is also an assistant professor at Dr J Jayalalithaa Music and Fine Arts University in Chennai.

Ayyappan feels that in the attempt to make Nadaswaram more palatable to laypersons and fit the sabha format, the very essence of Nadaswaram – which allowed musicians to explore ragas in leisure – was lost.

“We need concerts in sabhas, no doubt. But a Nadaswaram player’s skill can only be showcased properly in temple concerts. These should be revived,” added Ayyappan.

Bengaluru-based third generation Nadaswaram player S P Palanivel, who will be performing with his wife Prabhavathi on March 29, said despite many challenges, many youngsters are keen on learning the instrument.

“For them specially, such exclusive Nadaswaram festivals are a godsend,” he added.

But like Ayyappan, he too opined that the real learning for these youngsters would come when they are given opportunities to improvise at length like yesteryear Nadaswaram players.

“For instance, the Music Academy has given us hour-and-a-half slots. It is generous, yes, but people expect us to play short and snappy versions of many ragas. This is not how a Nadaswaram vidwan explored ragas traditionally. But we must survive too. At least it is not a marriage function where we are expected to play ‘Thillana Mohanambal’ songs (a Tamil film starring Sivaji Ganesan as Nadaswaram Vidwan) for instance,” said Palanivel. PTI JR SDP

Disclaimer: This article is published from a syndicated feed and has not been edited by the Deccan Chronicle team

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