MAHADEVA ANNAVI - VEENA & BHARATANATYAM
A distinguished family from Tirunelveli. Senthilvel Annavi headed a line of renowned artistes for five generations and over. Mahadeva Annavi, son of Senthilvel Annavi was a reputed teacher who trained many in veena and bharatanatyam. Thulajah Rajah of Tanjore presented him with a house and lands of over sixty acres. The Tanjore Quartette were sons of Mahadeva.
MALI (T.R.MAHALINGAM) - FLUTE WIZARD............(November 6, 1926 - May 31, 1986)
It is the privilege and sagacity of a chosen few to conjure up grand classical visions of supreme sublimity presenting beauteous graces and portraying graceful beauty. They open up magnificent vistas of art, enchant the cognoscenti and the lay. The spell outlasts their period of glory and fame. Sarabha, the flautist, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Ayyar and Pushpavanam, the vocalists, T.N.Rajarathinam, the nagaswara player and S.G.Kittappa, the dramatist are specimens of this legendary galaxy. To this aristocracy of art belongs T.R.Mahalingam, popularly called Mali. When Sarabha left after two and thirty years in 1904, there was a vacuum with Palladam Sanjiva Rao and others holding charge. It was left to Talagnayar in Tanjore district to present after a lapse of two decades a flute prodigy who staged a quick and massive presence, plundered the hearts of music-lovers and looted all praise! His debut was immediate in 1933 at the age of seven at the Tyagaraja Festival, Mylapore. Like the eastern sun which shoots out sans twilight on the Marina, there was no period of apprenticeship or vegetating. The lad came with his magician's play on the bamboo flute and was crowned king!
His exhilarating flute-play dwarfed the mature, sedate play of palladam Sanjiva Rao, who, incidentally, did not evince interest in taking the boy as his ward. There is no account of Mali following the footprints of Ekalayva but like Uthukadu Venkatasubba Ayyar, he was his own master - with the difference that Mali could not emulate the Uthukadu pattern of sublime private life! Music-lovers thronged Mali's concerts. An eka santha grahi, he saw the contours of raga shapes on the horizon and developed his play pouring out enchanting, titillating alapanas and swaras with the support of his tender lungs. His melody blitzkrieged the music world and the audience sat soaked in transcendental melody, chaste and warm, mind and body tuned to the vibrant but soulful music. Like Venna Balachander, Mali is credited with evolving a style close to vocal rendition that took care of the sahitya and the bhava conveyed therein. Mali's rendition enraptured the audience and he was a legend as a teenager. "Verily a divine messenger in Carnatic music, he knew its boundless dimensions.'
Son of Ramaswami Ayyar, Mali was born at Tiruvidaimarudur and learnt vocal music from Jalra Gopala Ayyar along with his elder brother Gouthaman. He switched over to flute soon. His ascent to the top centre stage was so quick and dynamic that there was difficulty in finding accompaniment as juniors felt dazed while seniors were ill at ease to be sidemen to a boy ! Quite soon, reluctance of seniors gave place to a sush to participate in his concerts ! Mali - Palghat Mani were the select top pair like Miller - Lindwall or Prasanna - Chandrasekhar in cricket and S.G.Kittappa and K.B.Sunderambal in drama. There was perfect identity of approach, anticipation and understanding between the two colossuses in presenting, rhythm supported melody, vibrant music each prodding and complementing the other. The identity did not rest with partnership on the concert stage and forming a grand alliance. Both were prodigies; both shot into fame like the Caesar's veni, vidi, vici; and both left this planet in the month of May ! It is perplexing that unpredictable Mali and stoic Mani could forge an enduring partnership. They were poles apart in personal traits and yet they understood and appreciated the artistic merits of each other well. Mahalingam left a rich crop of disciples in Dr.N.Ramani, Dr. Prapancham Seetharam, T.S.Sankaran. N.Kesi, Dindigul Natarajan, N.S.Srinivasan, K.S.Narayanan and L.Sundaram.
One has heard of Maha Vaidyanatha Ayyar declining to sing 'Giripai' stating that it had become the property of Bikshandarkoil Subbarayar and of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar withdrawing his recording of 'Evarani' when he heard S.G.Kittao's rendition of that song. Mali joined this noble tribe when he asked All India Radio not to broadcast some of his discs on the plea of lack of standards ! A lofty deed in truth.
Padma Sri (1965)
Indescribable softness and exhilarating melody with crisp adherence to tala and identity with sruti were the hallmark of his flute-play. Probably the world of art lost much by his imponderable life.
MADURAI MANI AYYAR
MASTER OF ROMANTIC MANODHARMA.............(October 25, 1912 - June 8, 1968)
He was 'manodharma; improvisation personified; a perfect architect whose spirit of romanticism and adventure carried his rendition to dizzy heights. His brikas sparkled with subtle brakes, sudden flights and a 'happy amalgam of laya and manodharma'. At the concerts of Mani Ayyar, the audience often got so absorbed in the music that it was apt to forget the musician and the existence of accompanists. That was a tribute to the power and energy, the perfect techniques and effortless grace that featured his rendition. His life was a 'tapestry of cerebral brilliance', his style touching the threshold of unorthodoxy.
At the concerts of Mani Ayyar, the audience often got so absorbed in the music that it was apt to forget the musician and the existence of accompanists. That was a tribute to the power and enrgy, the perfect techniques and effortless grace that featured his rendition. His life was a 'tapestry of cerebral brilliance', his style touching the threshold of unorthodoxy. Madurai Mani Ayyar offered a brimful of bhava... more aesthetic, more melodius, more sensuous and caressing. The raga bhava stood out.. punctuated with pregnant pauses.
Sruti bhakthi was Mani Ayyar's virtue. One could notice during concerts his subconscious, subsisting and ever alert care, anxiety and solicitude to the sruti emanating from the tambur to ensure that it did not make the minutest detour, deviation or sruti bhedam. Not infrequently one would witness the eminent artiste taking over the tambur on his lap and engaged in mute, manasikha dialogue with it.
Dressed in white khadi, in tune with the white lotus of the Goddess of Music, Ayyar was an incarnation of native culture, soft-spoken, simple in habits but robust and mature in thought and speech. His engaging soft smile and humility screened his innate genius, eminence, brilliance and the uniqueness of his exposition of every branch of Carnatic music - raga, kriti, neraval, swaram, etc. Mani Ayyar is no more but Mani Ayyar style is still cherished. The absolutely fresh approach, romantic manodharma and the tinge of adventure were all his own, his creation, monopoly and asset. His unique, repetitive phrasing and waves of swaras were captivating and they were part and parcel of his 'horse-gallop style well harnessed and charmingly rendered.
Born at Madurai of Ramaswamy Ayyar and Subbalakshmi Ammal, Mani Ayyar was the brother's son of the melody king, Pushpavanam. It is not out of place to mention that Pushpavanam was the select disciple of Ettayapuram Ramachandra Bhagavathar, eminent vidwan and teacher. Made his debut at the age of twelve (1924) at Alavakottai and then sang at Devakottai before the Saint of Kanchi, the Paramacharya. Had the unique distinction of singing at the First Musical Conference held along with the All India Congress Cmmittee Session in 1927 and receiving a medal. Then ensued hundreds of performances at all sabhas, institutions, etc and to the last he drew admiration.
In 1943, he was honoured with the title of 'Gana Kaladhara' by the Elite of Thanjavur district. In 1959, he was conferred with the title of 'Sangita Kalanidhi' by the Music Acadmey. In 1960, he was given the Sangita Natak Academy Award. Poor health robbed the musical world of full contribution in his later years. He had excellent rapport with his accompanists and the audience.
PALGHAT MANI AYYAR
A COLOSSUS AMONG PERCUSSIONISTS.............(June 12, 1912- May 29, 1981)
Ramaswami, that was his original name, was born at Thiruvilvamalai of T.R.Sesham Bhagavathar and Anantammal. He had his training with Chattapuram Subba Ayyar; K.S.Viswanatha Ayyar of Kalpathi helped him with his 'lakshya' gnanam (knowledge). Viswanatha Ayyar was accompanist in a musical discourse of Sivaramakrishna Bhagavathar. His profound love for the boy made him call Mani, then not yet 10 years old, to take his seat and play on. It was a great day for the prodigy. When Yehudi Menuhin made his debut ar the age of seven, a critic wrote :'This is not talent; This is genius'. It applies to Plaghat Mani too. Then he began to accompany his father and Sivaramakrishna Bhagavathar till Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar took him as acompanist for several of his concerts, thus giving wide exposure to sit with renowned violinists like Marungapuri Gopalakrishna Ayyar and Karur Chinnaswami Ayyar. The flute maestro, Sanjeeva Rao provided him with many chances. Mani had his advanced training under the renowned vidwan, Tanjore Vaidyanatha Ayyar.
A legend in his lifetime, he is an all-time great, a genius at innovation and his scintillating performances were the envy of all others and an unforgettable treat to the audience. The melody, rhythm and the intricate, innovative play were sought after greedily; and he was a crowd-puller. Torrential succession of exhilarating 'Sangathis' and intricate astounding patterns bristling with original innovations bringing out varied pleasing tones and sounds revealed what a genius he was. Withot meaning disrespect to any other, it may well be said that Palghat Mani Ayyar raised the status of the mridangist and of mridangam to dizzy heights. Others may follow. But he was the 'Gavaskar', the first and foremost
Personally he was very simple in appearance, habits and living. An artiste of few words, he would be there on the concert stage all attention to the vocalist or violinist, with few movements - a picture of pristine dignity and composure. It was proposed to honour him with the title of 'Abhinava Nandikeswar' at Tiruvarur. He declined to receive it on the ground that the guru who shaped him to the status he enjoyed had been omitted to be honoured likewise. His virtuous stand is to be noted.
MANI KRISHNASWAMI - VOCALIST.............(b.February 2, 1930)
Daughter of Lakshminarasimhachari and Marakathavalli, Mani hails from Kangeyanallur in North Arcot district. She had her initial training with Jalatarangam Venkataramanayya Chetti and Tiruparkadal Srinivasa Ayyangar at Vellore. After completing SSLC, she joined Kalakshetra, when stalwarts like Tiger Varadachariar (vocal) and Budalur Krishnamurti Sastrigal (Gottuvadyam) were there. After getting 'Sangita Siromani' she had further training under Sangitha Kalanidhi Mudikondan Venkatarama Ayyar in pallavi singing and under Mysore Vasudevacharya in singing special compositions. She learnt violin also. With scholarship from the Govt. of India, she continued her advanced training under Sangita Kalanidhis T.K.Jayarama Ayyar and Musiri Subramanya Ayyar. Mani Krishnaswami claims that she is the most authentic performer of the 'Musiri' school with emphasis on bhava singing. She has specialised in 'laya' also. A versatile musician with a graceful voice and a balanced style, Mani Krishnaswami is a traditionalist in singing. She is an 'A' class artiste with the AIR.
Sangita Vidya Saraswati from Narasapuram (AP) in 1973
Divya Gana Praveena from Desika Karsana Sabha, Chennai in 1974
Sangita Choodamani from Krishna Gana Sabha in 1979
Asthana vidwan at the Tirupathi Devasthanams in 1980
Suswara Sukta Laya Sangita in 1987
Central Sangita Nataka Academy Award in 1987
Nada Kanal in 1988
Gana Kala Chakravarthini from Calcutta Fine Arts in 1989
Sangita Kalanidi from Music Academy
Padma Shri in 2002