Mahavidwaan Palghat Mani Iyer, the name itself conjures up an image of a person who commanded respect and dignity, in the music world, spanning his entire music career.
His contribution to the field of Carnatic music, through his percussive brilliance, was unparalleled.
A few thoughts on how Palghat Mani’s music still holds influence in today’s concerts.
Firstly it would be prudent to understand what was his approach to any concert, starting with
• His preparation of the instruments,
• Mental make up and
• The execution of the thought process, which is spontaneous and extempore.
There are no two opinions about the fact that his knowledge about each and every aspect, which goes into the preparation of the instrument, was of a very high standard. He spent a lot of time, energy and money, in the upkeep and preservation of the instruments. In the words of Sri Semmagudi Srinivasa Iyer “Avar sruti sekara azhage thani(his way of tuning the instrument is also an art)”. Here, there are a lot of take homes, and these aspects are very much relevant in todays concert.
His mental attitude towards a concert as an accompaniment, be it a vocal or an instrumental concert, was one of complete support and embellishment, without interfering with the artists imagination. He had clearly identified and demarcated his responsibility in the success of a concert, and being supportive in nature, it proved to the benefit of all the artists he accompanied.
Then the execution on the mridangam support for the various compositions, neravals, swarams, pallavis, thani, jaavali, thukkudaas etc., is something that was his trademark. He had a very keen music, sruti and laya sense, which added immeasurably to his playing expertise. His style of playing may be categorized as follows
Certain rhythmic patterns (sollukattus), which only he can produce. This, at best should only be marveled at, without emulating or trying to copy.
How he understands the composition on the spot, ascertains the tempo and mood, before playing any sollu (rhythmic beat). This is something, which every percussionist should try and follow to the best of his or her ability, and apply in the present day concert scenario.
Some important aspect of his playing for compositions,neravals, swarams, pallavi, thani, javalis, thukkudaas, etc are
1. His choice of sollukattus, which appears as though they were made to order, for the composition.
2. His non-interference approach, which has been mentioned earlier.
3. His role as a percussionist does communicate, albeit silently, to all the artists in the dais, that he was there for the success of the concert.
4. His ending (porruththam – appropriateness) after the pallavi, anupallavi, charanam, which was nothing but an extension of the composition, and also keeping in mind the edduppu (starting point), was something exemplary.
5. His thani is the most appropriate, considering the composition, the tala, the mood and true to his logic that, he plays as long as, he is able to keep the interest of the audience alive.
The final point, takes me to mention on his dictum, as to who a true vidwaan is
“An artist, who is able to enrapture (mei marakka vaikyarradhu) the audience, and raise their thoughts to a different level, forgetting all their worries, for the assigned time of the concert, is a true vidwaan.”
It would also be prudent to say that people like Sri Palghat Mani Iyer are born once in a century, and we need to celebrate the genius in all possible ways.