"I don't know what impression was created in the mind of Padma Vibhushan. Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadyay, when she saw me in 1981, she presented me with an array of percussion instruments and brought a new one everytime she visited home, ever since, till her death. So, I played only with a laboratory of skin instruments from the age of about four.
In 1993, Khaled-Haj-Brahim's 'DIDI .....', an Afghan album, hit the top-charts and like all other adolescents then, I too was attracted to it, which led to my taking-up playing the Bongos (seriously).
I'm sure by now you can make out that I'm neither a 'so-called Vidwan' seeming to play according to the 'Law Books of Mridangam Playing', nor am I an 'Ultra-Modern Punk' seated amidst flashlights, in a Gatsby, with drumsticks. I only try to improvise and innovate within the four-walls of tradition.
My childhood experiences only deepened my insight in appreciating the 'handed-down' art, than allowing me to appreciate what is being practised by my generation in the guise of Jazz and fusion.
My intro' to rhythm was first with bongos, then drums and allied instruments. I landed on this awesome drum called the Mridangam in about mid 1995! This was an eye-opener, in the sense, I found this 'King of Drums' was clairvoyant with tune, ('Sruti') resonance and I could sing and dance along, with this wonder-drum, whilst the others I had handled till then helped me only in keeping the tempo and maintain and improvise on the rhythm unlike the mridangam which was full-fledged accompaniment. 'Darkness helps appreciate light better' and I took to mridangam.
However, I found that the most essential and best of drugs require 'sugar-coating' at times to cross the tongue. I decided to make mridangam-playing more interesting and in the process discovered that most, if not all the sounds could be brought-out from it.
To embellish my playing, of late, I play on two more mridangams apart from the main one. I tune the main mridangam to the 'Sruti' of the vocalist and the other two to its Madhyamam and Panchamam 'Sruti' respectively. As the reception to this has been quite satisfactory from the audience, I continue to use the 'Tri-Angam' formula in all my concerts which has worked! My grounding in drums has helped me in this ordeal.
My inspiration, role model, whatever you want to call him, is the unmatched 'Super-maestro' 'Mridanga Chakravarthi' Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman sir. I can't attempt to explain his playing... hearing him play will better explain what I intend to say.
To play squash is more fascinating than to play tennis, b'cos the given space is almost halved in the former. To paint a 'Taj Mahal' or to write a 'Thirukkural' on a grain of rice (Arisi) is a wonder, similarly to show the maximum variety, talent and colour within the set-pattern and framework while playing mridangam for Bharatanatyam fascinated me, which is why I took to playing Mridangam for dance.
I feel proud that I can make a mark with a 'safety pin' where others use 'daggers' to do so. Now I can boast of accompanying Ms. Sonal Mansingh for Odissi, Mr. Jayanth Kastuar (Secy., SNA, New Delhi) for Kathak, Dr.Padma Subramaniam, Prof. Chitra Visweswaran, Smt.Anitha Ratnam for Bharatanatyam, Mohini Attam and Modern Dance, to name a few. The experience has been enthralling like having a mixed savory from Grand Sweets! My debut was for my mother, Prof.Sudharani Raghupathy at the Brahmotsavam, Tirupati.
The paper 'Nuances of Mridangam for Dance', which won me the first prize at the 'Natya Kala Conference' of the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in December 2001, was yet another attempt to explore the unfathomable art of mridangam as an accompaniment for dance.
I am still confident to carve a niche for myself with this concentrated, specific, limited 'art-form', as, while in Abu-Dhabi at a dance concert I could impress the very Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Sahab which resulted in our 'Jugalbandhi' concert there, on his invitation. He invited me when he was in Chennai recently and we gave one more concert for an invited audience at the Kamaraj Memorial Hall. You can see that right effort, right insight and right execution in any field can get you even to the moon!
The 3-Mridangam idea was another outcome of my continued study of the technique and execution of mridangam for dance. The language of gestures of the dancer can only be met with the mridangam, as the singer has to adhere to the song, as it should be rendered. So I used the 3-pitch system - Samasruti, Madhyamasruti and Panchamasruti. This is not new at all but no one has tried executing this simultaneously in a concert to give the desired effect. If at all they did, it was with the help of another special effects guy who invariably did not use the mridangam.
For example, when a parrot chirps and the lion roars, while depicting a forest scene in a dance recital, the singer cannot chirp or roar, it is the mridangist who has to bring the effect... I hope you can visualise what I'm trying to explain. Similarly, playing for 'Jathi' sequences cannot be the same like as playing for 'Abhinaya' in Padams and Javalis.
My latest venture is expounding thro' the M-gam, the human emotions which I've named 'Ashta Ruchi' (Navarasa - minus - Shantarasa => Ashta Ruchi). I am collaborating this with the violin to show the adaptability of mridangam to melody. The 3-Mridangam idea is given an explicit try in this too ! The album should be out by December 2002.
Before bidding good bye, I don't know how educative this chat with you is, but I'm sure it'll trigger the passive potential and inspire many art-Scientists who have felt diffident to experiment their 'out-of-the-blue' ideas. Who knows there might be an Abdul Kalam-cum-Zakkir Hussain in the 'Romali-Roti-maker' or 'mobile Street-groundnut-baker' down the road ...."
Anirudha who is a lawyer and the son of dance guru Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy retires to his hometown near Thanjavur and turns to agriculture when he is not playing the mridangam or studying law. If you wish to send your comments on his column mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him to No.117, Luz Church Road, Mylapore, Chennai 600 004. Ph: 044-4994460. E-mail: email@example.com