Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman – The Prima Donna of Mridangam by Sangeetha Kalarathna, Sangita Kalanidhi R.K. Srikantan

My association with Mr. Sivaraman dates back to late fifties since when I have been consistently being accompanied by him for my concerts each and every one of which has been simply memorable speaking volumes about his superb artistry. To mention a few such concerts, the one at Malleswaram Sangeetha Sabha. B’lore in 1964, one at Cochin, another one at Mysore and then Trichy are still green in my memory. I have been attracted as much to his matchless acumen as to his wonderful personality too, both of which have accounted much to the success of any concert as an experience and entertainment as well.

His playing technique
Mr. Sivaraman’s virtuosity as a master percussionist lies in the unique style that he has evolved over the years. The combination of tekas, gumkis, sollukattus played with absolute perfection, felicity and abandon which suits any vocalist, tala or kriti add an entirely new dimension and lustre to the concert as a whole and make it a fresh experience. His refined yet sophisticated playing allows him to simply sail along smoothly with the main artist irrespective of his standing, physical fitness and schooling or patanthara.

To dwell upon briefly some of the salient features of his playing technique.

  1. The clarity of strokes executed with ease, control, confidence and the comprehension amply stand testimony to this wizardry. His unquenching thirst and relentless pursuit for perfection is another hallmark worthy of emulation by young aspirants. Moreover his thorough knowledge of compositions, vocal music and its nuances renders his playing and accompaniment a sheer experience which not only a professional musician like me enjoy and cherish but also the connoisseur.

  1. His soft and deft strokes intelligently mixed with sudden loud bursts and meaningful intermittent pauses which remind one the great Mani Iyer’s playing is another example of his dazzling technique which is as thought provoking as it is fascinating.

  1. His nimble fingers caressing the instrument literally verbalize the rhythmical phrases weaving a magical aura around the listeners who are transported to heights of ecstasy. So, it is no wonder that Mr. Sivaraman with his consistent excellence, ample musical sense and sincerity to approach cast a magical spell over the audience and also enhance the musical effect of a concert.

So endowed with a rate sensitivity, fitness and balance combined with a wide repertoire of strokes Mr. Sivaraman truly represents all that is aesthetic and his playing conforms to the popular idiom ‘Carnatic music is both emotional and intellectual’.

His Personality
As an artist Mr. Sivaraman with an evergreen and an ever ready smile on his face and an amiable and encouraging attitudes towards the musicians young and old has naturally earned wide appreciation making him the most sought after mridangist. Alluding affection, admiration and good stage manners, it is no wonder that Mr. Sivaraman confirms to all the requisites of a perfect laya vidwan. This apart, he is always a fountainhead of inspiration for the young musicians too providing them the much needed fillip, co-operation and encouragement. My son Ramakanth vividly remembers one of his concerts at Madras with Mr. Sivaraman on mridangam in which the maestro played a classic tani avartanam for nearly thirty minutes along with Palghat Sundaram on ghatam creating an electrifying atmosphere.

So I think with likes of Mr. Sivaraman around, connoisseurs of carnatic music need not break their heads regarding the preservation, promotion and perpetuation of the fine art of mridangam playing.

I can safely conclude that Mr. Sivaraman as a unique artist handling a unique instrument that is mridangam has definitely ad successfully filled the void left by the great Mani Iyer’s demise and evidently, he is the Prima Donna of mridangam.

(Article written on Dr. Umayalpuram K Sivaraman’s completion of 50 Years of service to Carnatic Music)