Monday, April 27, 2015





                                                   38—PALGHAT RAGHU (1928--2009 )



                                 Palghat Ramaswamy Raghu was born on 9 January 1928 in Rangoon  to Palghat Ramaswamy Iyer and Ananthalakshmi Ammal. As a child, he was immensely talented and inducted into mridangam lessons very early in his life. His first mridangam lessons were from Tinniam Venkatarama Iyer and Trichy Raghava Iyer. Later he learnt the art from Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer, to whose niece, Swarnambal, he was married. He was a graduate in mathematics.


                                His grandfather, Radhakrishna Iyer was a highly respected figure in Rangoon  and was an authority   in Carnatic music. Raghu began his early training under one Sri Swamy at Rangoon. However, it was the visit of Thinniam Venkatrama Iyer to Burma that brought sharp focus to the boy's talents. He had a 'crash course' under Thinniam Venkatrama Iyer for about twenty one days and the teacher was most impressed with his pupil. The family decided to move to Palghat so that Raghu could undergo training with the stalwart, Palghat Mani Iyer. It is interesting to note that other than this , Raghu had no roots or connection to Palghat. The family belonged to Trissur, traditionally.

                               In 1940, Raghu and his family moved to Palghat and he began his training under Mani Iyer. The initial lessons saw the maestro focusing on Raghu's fingering techniques and making changes to suit his style of play. Thus began a long association that went on to see Palghat Raghu as his foremost disciple.


                                     Being Mani Iyer's  disciple was like being a member of his family. Recalled Raghu, " Mani Iyer would go for a walk every morning and I would accompany him, walking just a wee bit behind him. He would discuss various aspects of laya and also quiz me on what I had been doing. I would then say the 'korvai' or 'kanakku' that I was working on and he would listen very intently. He was always encouraging and wanted me to learn more by imbibing from listening than from actual one to one teaching. Mani Iyer was always of the opinion that a mridanga vidwan must know music and vice versa. It was at this time that Palghat K.V.Narayanaswamy would come for practice and I used to accompany him often."


                                         With Papa Venkataramiah on the violin, Raghu got to accompany the great Alathur brothers at the age of fourteen. Papa took him under his wings and they travelled together on many concert tours.Raghu was at this time studying in school in Palghat. He remembers how it was imperative to take the 'selection' exam as a qualifier to write the public exams. He was blissfully scheduled to play for the Alathur brothers in Bombay on the day of his exam! He explained his predicament to his principal. The gentleman asked him to play his concert well and also bring him a recording of the same, if possible! The school exempted him from taking the exam. 


                                   Raghu  continued living in Palghat and traveling from there for his various assignments. In the meanwhile, he did become a part of Palghat Mani Iyer's family by marrying his sister's daughter Mahalakshmi. He had not completed his graduation yet. On the same day, good friend and colleague Palghat K.V.Narayanaswamy married Mani Iyer's Chithappa's daughter.


                              Raghu has the unique credit of combining the two  schools of mridangam- the Tanjore School, which featured his guru,  Shri Palghat Mani Iyer, and the Pudukottai School, cemented by the great Shri. Palani Subramaniam Pillai- into one style of his own, the "Raghu Bani", which, by now, manifests in the traditional definition of progress, as a cult movement endorsed by the  future generation of mridangam players.


                                   Raghu was a percussion master known for his distinctive style of  playing. Using different techniques, he adjusted his playing style to not only different artists and instruments but also captured the bhava and sahitya of music.


                                       Raghu was a constant accompanist to many leading artistes spanning generations such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, G.N.B, Alathur brothers and Madurai Mani Iyer.He played for his peers such as T.N.Krishnan, Lalgudi G.Jayaraman, 'Flute' Ramani and M.S.Gopalakrishnan. Lalgudi Jayaraman teamed up with Raghu for innumerable GNB concerts and recalled  "GNB would refer to him as one of his eyes."



                                         He remembers his first experience with GNB quite vividly. The concert took place at the Corporation school in Nungambakkam. The organizer was known as 'Churchill Kuppusamy' or 'Black Churchill' with reference to his complexion and resemblance to Winston Churchill. He was particular that Raghu must play for this concert. Apparently, GNB was rather preoccupied and did not give much attention to the new boy on the mridangam. But within a few minutes, his comfort level was very high and he had visibly thawed towards Raghu. At the end of the concert, he expressed great happiness and the desire that Raghu must accompany him whenever and as often as he could. 'I felt as comfortable as while singing with your Guru' was GNB's reaction. Palghat Raghu remembers that GNB invited him and KVN to his home the next day for a meal.



                                     Earlier in 1960, Raghu visited UK for the Bath festival and in 1963 he was invited to perform at the Edinburg International Festival. Raghu toured extensively in Europe, USA, Australia, Mlaysia and Singapore. He performed with artists such as Sitar Maestro Pandit  Ravi Shankar , Flute Hariprasad Chaurasia , Santoor Shivkumar Sharma  and Alla Rakha in numerous concerts in India and abroad. He had also been involved in East-West fusion music. He had been visiting professor of music at Wesleyan University  in Connecticut  and University of Berkeley.


                                   Awards came to  Raghu in profusion.He was selected as fellow of the Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi and had received the title of Sangeetha Choodamani. For his eminence in the field of music and his contribution to its enrichment, Shri Palghat R. Raghu received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Carnatic Instrumental Music in 1983.He was the first recipient of the  Palghat Mani Iyer award . He annexed  Padma Shri,  Mridangam Chakravarty award,Kalaimamani (Tamil Nadu) and Sangeetha Kalanidhi .


                            He regularly conducted advanced mridangam classes for the benefit of his students and upcoming mridangam artists.Palghat Raghu's musical traditions are being carried forward by grandsons -- carnatic musician Abhishek Raghuram and mridangam artist Anantha R. Krishnan .  Abhishek Raghuram says of his grandfather --. "I am indeed specially blessed to have Sri Palghat R.Raghu as my grandfather – a loving grandparent, a patient teacher, a strict disciplinarian, a prudent professional and an immortal percussionist. Many a time have I looked up with awe not only at the way he handles his instruments but also at how he nurtures it. His commitment is such that his heart and head ever blend in 'layam and nadam'. In fact, I am indebted to my grandfather, for whatever musical inclinations and proficiency I have imbibed ever since I was an infant. Truly said – for music – he is my prophet."


                                      A disciple recalled  Raghu's  dedication and sincerity of purpose." I have personally known him to test every single of his nearly 25 instruments on all days regardless of whether there is a concert or not by applying the "mavu" to the "thoppi" to ensure they are all in good shape. This must be one of the contributory factors for his superb overall balance between the 'thoppi' and 'valanthalai' apart from the high level of aesthetic sense."