Wednesday, May 6, 2015

MUSICAL ANECDOTES-39 Shri. T.K.Murthy ( 13 August 1924…..)



                                           39. Shri. T.K.Murthy ( 13 August 1924…..)


                                 T. K. Murthy  is a mridangam player who was born on 13 August 1924 to Thanu Bhagavathar and Annapoorani. At the age of eight, without any training,he started playing mridangam. When the doyen of mridangam Tanjore Vaidyanatha Iyer visited his place, he found Murthy playing the instrument . So Vaidyanatha Iyer decided to train him. He took Murthy to Tanjore, where Palghat Mani Iyer and Thambuswami, brother of T. M. Thiagarajan, were also undergoing training. Murthy, was more than a biological son  to his Guru Vaidyanatha Iyer and his wife. They showered love and care on him. Thus, Murthy found his mentor in Vaidyanatha Iyer, to whom he still offers ceremonial oblations and rites as a true son.


                                    "I don't know when and how I started to play the mridangam…," recalls Shri.Murty, "In fact, my parents had asked me the same question when I was nine years old," he explains, embarking on a story. There was a wedding in the family. The thavil vidwan who was accompanying the nagaswaram party had stepped out. It was time for auspicious music to be played, and the little TKM stole the opportunity, picked up the thavil and played it with such élan that all who  gathered were stunned. His mother pulled him to a side, and asked: "How did you play this?!" "I don't know," the little boy casually replied, shrugging his shoulders.


                                  His brother Gopalakrishnan was a percussionist and it became an abiding fascination for the young Murthy. "In those days there was no notebook. I used to play on my slate all the time, and every other day my slate would be ruined, it would break into pieces!" At all school functions, Murthy and his friend Chellamani (Ghazal singer Hariharan's father) used to sing. One day, the Head master, who had by then heard of Murthy's tryst with mridangam, said: "Today Chellamani will sing and you shall play the mridangam". I played. Both of us knew nothing about music or mridangam, but we just did it. Swati Chitra Thirunal King who came to my school was very impressed. "From whom did you learn this?" he had asked me. "Nobody" was the reply; the stunned Maharaja presented TKM with a gold medal. After this, TKM's father realised that there was something more to this than being merely accidental. He bought him a small mridangam for Rs. 3. He had the opportunity to play before the great Tanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer. The stalwart guru was overjoyed listening to the little boy; he went up to his parents and asked if he could adopt Murthy.

                                     They consented, but Murthy's mother requested for two months time. "In two months, my mother was no more…. It is strange how I had always this inner desire to learn from Vaidyanatha Iyer. I would make sure I was present at every concert of his, but was scared to ask. And look at the turn of events! After my mother's demise my father left me at my Guru's house."


                                     Guru Vaidyanatha Iyer was very fond of Murthy. Though there was no formal adoption ceremony, the couple looked after the little boy like their own son. "I never missed my home -- that was the kind of affection my Guru and his wife showered on me. They adorned me with diamond ear rings, a gold chain and a silver plate to eat. I used to sleep beside my Guru. He used to lovingly call me Suttu¸ a sparrow. My life and art is a tribute to them…," he said, his eyes turning moist.


                                When TKM reached Vaidyanatha Iyer's house, Palghat Mani Iyer was already taking lessons. "Mani Iyer was exceptionally talented and how well he used to play!" The two spent several hours with each other – practicing, challenging and honing their artistry. When TKM was 11 years old, he accompanied his Guru to Central Studios in Coimbatore where Musiri Subramania Iyer was singing for the film "Tukaram". Vaidyanatha Iyer who was accompanying Musiri generously asked the young TKM to join. That was his first concert and was showered with appreciation. "I went to the Mysore palace with my Guru for Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer's concert. Chowdiah was on the violin. Again, my Guru asked me to join him. The Maharaja was so pleased with my performance that he gave me Rs. 1000 and organised my kutcheri the following day with the desire of listening to me as a full-fledged accompanist. Even that day he gave me Rs. 1000! My Guru was so pleased…," recalls TKM.


                                   By the age of 15, TKM had earned a very good name for himself as Master Murthy. One morning MS had come to his Guru's house. "Do you know who this is?" my Guru asked MS. "My son. He is excellent on the mridangam. This evening let's have a kutcheri at home and he will play for you." That evening a lasting bond between him and MS was established – for the next 55 years, TKM was her accompanist on the mridangam. "I am perhaps the only mridangam player who played for all the female musicians of that time. Pattamal, Vasanta Kumari, Sundarambal, Brinda and Mukta, everyone of them. They were remarkable. They had given so much thought to their music and achieved such complicated things in laya that it was challenging for the mridangam vidwan.



                                  Murthy made his debut at the age of twelve at Coimbatore in a concert of Musiri Subramania Iyer with Karur Chinnaswami Ayyar on violin and Tanjore Vaidyanatha Iyer on mridangam. He accompanied M.S.Subbulakshmi regularly in all her concerts including those at Edinborough Festival, the United Nations, Europe, United States of America and Sri Lanka and has accompanied all other great artistes. He has played for  eminent artists over five generations, These included Harikesanallur Muthiah BhagavatarAriyakudi Ramanuja IyengarChembai Vaidyanatha BhagavatharSemmangudi Srinivasa IyerM. S. SubbulakshmiMadurai SomasundaramD. K. JayaramanM. BalamuralikrishnaKunnakudi VaidyanathanLalgudi JayaramanT. V. Sankaranarayanan, Mandolin U. Srinivas and others.


                                         Murty is adept  in Carnatic and Hindustani styles. His leanings to Hindustani music can be noticed  when he plays for bhajans and tukkadas  bringing out the nuances and gentleness of the tabla on the mridangam itself. He has played for celebrated musicians of the North like D.V.Paluskar and Narayana Rao Vyas.  The senior mridangam artiste is a respected and popular figure with his rhythmic exploits, uncanny anticipation, subtle tonal variations and rhythmic phrases and patterns.


                                    Although Murthy is a staunch follower of the Thanjavur style of Mridangam,he was highly influenced by the artistry of the legendary Palani Subramaniam Pillai of the Pudukottai school of mridangam playing. This blend of the Thanjavur and Pudukottai schools has become the hallmark of his special style.


                                   His versatility is astonishing -- he played for street drama, puppet show, Bharatanatyam, etc. He plays Ghatam, Kanjira and other percussion instruments with ease. He is a master in Konnakol as well. He is the only Artiste in the world to have composed and played Mohra and Korvai for 35 Talas, 72 Melakartha Talas and also for 108 Talas.


                                   He has dedicated his whole life to the world of Carnatic music.  He is an excellent teacher and has many   disciples such  as J.Vaidyanathan, K.B.Prameswaran,B.C.Manjunath in Mridangam and B.S.Purushottaman, K.V.Gopalakrishnan in Kanjira,etc.


                               He has received a number of honours for his work including the Kalaimamani bestowed by the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award , the Fellowship of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi , the title of Sangeetha Kalanidhi conferred by the Music Academy, Chennai, and the Chowdiah National Award given by the Government of Karnataka.For his contribution to Carnatic instrumental music, Shri T.K. Murthy is elected Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi.He was also conferred with Honorary Doctorate from Arizona University, USA. He was the Asthana Vidwan in Trivandrum Palace. He is a graded "National Artiste" of Prasar Bharathi.


                                   His has peformed  in many countries around the world, such as Sri Lanka, Edinburgh, Rome, United Nations, USA, Germany, Paris, Geneva, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, London ,etc.



                                  T.K. Murthy's achievements and contribution to the world of music is legendary and unparalleled. At every opportunity, he has lamented the fact that the great maestros like Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Palani Subramanya Pillai have not been given their due. The same is true of TKM too. The 92-year-old maestro, who continues to deeply engage with music, has not been conferred a single award by the Government of India.


                                      The Murthy family had been in music continuously for 7 generations now. His son T.K.Jayraman was a music composer at All India Radio and grandson Karthikeya Murthy is a film music composer. 


                                 The veteran Tiger Varadachariar paid a rich tribute to Murthy, at a concert in the presence of Rt.Hon Srinivasa Sastri in the Annamalai University campus. Said Varadachariar, "Small in statue, but giant-like in his mridangam play ".



                                                                             A Controversy

                                           For the last few years, two mridangam players have vied for the number one position in their field. The conflict between T.K. Murthy and Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman boiled over into a major controversy when the latter won the lead musical part in a Tamil film starring Sivaji Ganesan as a mridangam player.

                                      The controversy began with the search for eminent mridangists to play the music for "Mridanga Chakravarthi ", a Tamil film in which there is a mridangam competition between Suchindram Subbiah Pillai (being played by matinee idol Sivaji Ganesan) and his son Kannan (being played by Sivaji's  son, Prabhu).In the film, Sivaji emerges victorious. Since the producers, Bhairavi Films, wanted the competition in the film to be a real clash of super-talents, it was necessary to find the most competent mridangists to play the actual music. Finding the two mridangists was not such a difficult task. The problem lay in deciding which of them would play the victor's music. Indirectly, it implied who was the better musician.

                                   Initially, the producers, Kalaignanam and T.N. Venkatraman took recordings of earlier mridangam performances from both Murthy, 60, and Sivaraman, 47, to decide which one would best suit the Sivaji role.

                                  An uneasy suspense prevailed until the last week of February when the popular Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan (February 27, 1983) brought out an article on the film, categorically stating that Sivaraman was to play the mridangam for Sivaji and Murthy for Prabhu.

                               At the time, Murthy maintained an air of nonchalance. "Subsequently I ran into Kalaignanam, who assured me I was scheduled to play the mridangam for Sivaji, and that the magazine report was totally wrong. He even wanted to ascertain my convenience to fix suitable recording dates during the first fortnight of March," said Murthy. It was later that he received the real news.

                               "That was the last I saw of Kalaignanam," he recalled, "I was away on a concert tour from March 4-14. When I came back, I learnt that the recording had already been completed on March 5 and 6, with Umayalpuram Sivaraman playing the mridangam for Sivaji and Madurai Srinivasan, an All India Radio (AIR) artiste catering to Prabu's role."

                                Sivaraman, on the other hand, claims that he was the one originally booked for Sivaji's role in the film. "Kalaignanam approached me way back in December 1982. I gave him cassettes of some of my performances and he lost no time in getting back to me to confirm my playing the mridangam for Sivaji Ganesan."

                              The producers further complicated the story with their own version of what happened. They insist that originally, neither Murthy nor Sivaraman was booked for any particular role. "The problem with Murthy," they say, "was that he was agreeable to play only for Sivaji, and implicitly in the competition scene."