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Ammannur Madhava Chakyar - A Living Legend
Issue : 216
Published on : September, 2002



3 Sruti Box

5 News & Notes

21 Special Feature

41 On Hindustani Music

49 Random Notes

52 Editor's Note

Front Cover: Ammannur Madhava Chakyar
Graphics by D. Narendran

News & Notes
SNA's Vadya Darasn: Symposium

The central Sangeet Natak Akademi organised, 22-26 July in New Delhi, an event devoted to 'declining' Indian music instruments, comprising a symposium, several demonstrations and performances. It was the second phase of the Vadya Darsan programme organised in March-April this year in New Delhi (see Sruti 214).

The talk sessions were held daily at the Triveni Chamber Theatre; the evening performances took place at the Kamani Auditorium.

Over the five days of the event, a large number of performing musicians, scholars and musicologists had the opportunity to interact with and learn from each other, and also to listen to the unique sounds of several musical instruments whose melodies are, sadly, rarely heard today.

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Special Feature
Ammannur Madhava Chakyar

Ammannur Madhava Chakyar is the greatest exponent of Koodiyattam today, an exemplar of the great Ammannur Chakyars who have scrupulously maintained the tradition of ancient Sanskrit theatre as expressed in Koodiyattam. He is a rare combination of a superb performer and an equally superb guru.

My close association with Ammanur Madhava Chakyar, the octogenarian standard-setter of Koodiyattam, goes back to more than two-and-ahalf decades. During this eventful period, I also had the good fortune to witness every one of the notable performances of this great artist. As a disciple and colleague, I had the priceless opportunity to be with him to witness the rare and precious moments of his life on the stage.

Madhava Chakyar is a living legend, a phenomenal thespian and the grand patriarch of Koodiyattam. Since his debut at the tender age of 11, and over the next 74 years, he has displayed amazing feats of histrionic ability. But it was only after he had crossed the age of 60 that he broke with tradition and took his art out of the temple precincts. Then, only then, did the world at large get a glimpse of his genius. I was a privileged witness to the glorious occasion when his acting career reached its summit. It was on 16 October 2001, in Paris. The performance had been organised by the UNESCO, in honour of its selecting Koodiyattam as a 'masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity'. This proclamation represented the ultimate fulfilment of the artistic labours of Ammannur over several decades.

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On Hindustani Music
The Experience Of Melody: From Dhrupad To Santoor

Whether we hear Malkauns in a dhrupad recital, or in a khayal performance, or on the sitar, sarod, or santoor, we relate easily to the raga in each of these modes of presentation. This is more remarkable than it seems at first sight; for, each of these is a different genre, with not only its own architecture, its own way of relating the melody to the non-melodic facets of music—the poetic, the rhythmic, and the acoustic—but also a substantially different treatment of melody. Collectively, these genres add to the overall richness of the melodic experience of contemporary Hindustani music. And, as alternatives available to our generation of listeners, they oblige us to acknowledge the robustness of our raga-s, which sustain their raga-ness across several categories of melodic experience.

But, there is yet another way of looking at this diversity. It did not evolve simultaneously, but sequentially. Considering the phenomenon in a historical perspective, starting from the dhrupaddominated period (13th to 18th centuries) and approaching the santoor-dominated era towards which we may be heading, we can observe some patterns in the changing music-scape. These patterns suggest a progressive fragmentation of the melodic experience, and a growing emphasis on non-melodic facets of music. This trend has implications for the direction Hindustani music can take in the future.

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Special Feature
Varahur Muthuswamy Iyer

It has been an axiom in politics that it is the middle class that saves the State—meaning that it is the middle class that gives stability to a polity. Perhaps this axiom could be adapted and utilised to place a certain kind of musician among others. While there are a few outstanding musicians who occupy the top of the pyramid and surely the bottom of the pyramid is where the bulk of the musicians would find a place, in between these two categories are those, not too few and not too large in number, who are solidly competent and who constitute the stolid middle.

Varahur Muthuswamy Iyer, who was born in September 1902 and whose birth centenary is being observed hereabouts now, belonged to this 'middle class' of Carnatica. If a Who Was Who of Carnatic violinists in the 20th century were to be prepared, he would surely find a place in it for this reason.

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