Interview with Mr. T R Thiagarajan (s/o) Sangeetha Kalanidhi, Palghat. Sri T S Mani iyer

Early days
I distinctly remember my association with Umayalpuram K Sivaraman Mama and it dates back to 1948 in our Lakshmipuram house and later in Tanjavur during 1954. Sivaraman mama is an embodiment of politeness and courtesy, whose only world was his mentor and father, Dr Kasi Viswanatha Iyer. In fact, I believe that, Dr Kasi Viswanatha Iyer was a strict stickler and had a fair knowledge on Mridangam. He was very much a fastidious customer. Regularly monitoring his son’s practise he observed critically– “this person (referring to Sivarama Mama) needs to practice more on the fingering technique associated with playing the mrudangam.

Being a voracious reader, Dr Kasi Viswanatha Iyer had a versatile knowledge that he tutored his son so much that, I would say, Sivaraman mama was his father’s make!

Sivaraman mama was a visiting disciple of my father. He has a great quality – guru bhakti, to the extent that, I have never seen him sit down, ever, in front of my father, the legendary Palghat Sri T S Mani Iyer. Another remarkable quality of Sivaraman mama was his apolitical approach, where he never spoke ill of any one and had a submissive reverence towards all his elders, that distinguished him as a unique personality. He learnt much more than what a resident disciple was capable of learning, by listening to hundreds of concerts that my father Palghat Sri T S Mani Iyer used to play and with his sharp mind, characterized by a strong IQ and dedication that was of the highest level, he fretted out to assimilate all of them.

Sivaraman mama used to work hard and his involvement in the art of learning mrudangam was total. The dedication resulted in him achieving mastery in the art of mrudangam playing, much like what they talk about Sri M S Gopalakrishnan, when it comes to violin. This hard work I would say, resulted in the instrument turning a slave to him (typically, it would be the other way around in the other artistes). This reminds of what my father, Palghat Mani Iyer used to say about Mali who had a grip on the instrument Flute. (“Yandhiraswadheenam” in malayalam).

Concert playing
In 1960s, there were plenty of concerts by stalwarts like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Alathur brothers, etc,. Being a man of vision and wisdom, Sivaraman mama observed and absorbed the nuances of music from these stalwarts. He then studied the musical and the intricate laya patterns woven by Palghat Sri T S Mani Iyer. Sivaraman mama used this pattern effectively as a foundation platform to improve and create his own approach to mrudangam playing.

He was a versatile artist who strove to embellish the concert platform and take it to great heights. As an accompaniment, all would agree that Dr Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer – Lalgudi G Jayaraman – Umayalpuram K Sivaraman was a much sought after combination. He strived to emulate the same with every concert that he played, including that of youngsters.

Sivaraman mama had closely studied and imbibed the style of many accompaniments. Multiple examples can be cited. He deliberately drew from the library of variety of “Sollus” from Palghat Sri Mani Iyer. This is amply demonstrated when Sivaraman mama plays for ‘Amba Kamakshi’. Palghat Sri Mani Iyer himself was a doyen in playing for such songs where for instance, he would play 10 different varieties for the sangathis that Semmangudi would sing thus drawing an instant applause and recognition from all who would wonder, how this was possible instantaneously, on stage.

The other facets of versatility were visible in his performance in Sastri hall, Mylapore where he played for a male dancer (Sri Kamadev) and the function was presided over by Embar Vijayaraghvachariar. More recently his performance with the “Tayambaka” during my father, Palghat Sri Mani Iyer’s commemorative day, demonstrated this unique aspect of his art.

I had the opportunity to listen to a great concert in Music Academy. Mr K R Narayan, then Vice President of India was presiding over the function. Sivaraman mama played an exceptional thani that day. It had all the ingredients of a percussion wizard. The layam, musicalized mrudangam where the thani is an extension of the composition was amply demonstrated.

Innovation has to be done in a cautious manner, within the frame works of established tradition. Sivaraman mama’s ability to create patterns and innovate has always been within the boundary. While many interpretations are available, finally, what matters is the acceptance it gains from theaudience . Today, Umayalpuram K Sivaraman’s playing is accepted by all and this stands testimony to his supreme art. It is the work of a man whose word, deed and actions match.

This was shared as an interview and article on the occasion of the 80th birthday of the Dr. Umayalpuram K Sivaraman