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Profile : Madurai Mani Iyer
Issue : 294
Published on : March, 2009


Special Feature : Natya Kala Conference, Sarada Hoffman


Chennai Sangamam makes a difference

It was the last day of the Chennai Sangamam festival when I went to the Government Estate to meet some of the artists. It was a lovely January morning and the sunny weather was enhanced by the warm smiling faces of the artists as they milled around the MLA's Hostel. Some were performing impromptu for visitors like me, others were walking around in groups, yet others were posing for photographs. In a corner, payments were being made to the participants. In a tent, Father Jagat Gasper Raj was addressing some of the artists and thanking them. It was one happy morning.

Going walk about, I was able to speak to a few artists. The Sangamam has clearly made a big difference in their lives. Take weak-sighted Sankarapandian who performs kavadi attam to the nayyandi, magadi and ballu pattu tunes. He started learning the art at the age of seven from his father Ananjaperumal. Today he is 72. The highlight of his life was when he performed for Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958. His wife is a karagam artist and as for his son, he felt that there is no scope in the family profession and now runs a mechanic shop. "How did you come to have such poor eyesight?" I ask. He gives me a beaming smile and says it was because he was drinking too much at one time! And how did he get into that? "Oh my father made me take to it," he says. "He claimed it would make me stronger." But now Sankarapandian is out of the genie's clutches. Before the Sangamam there were opportunities only to perform every Tuesday and Wednesday in the months of Tei (December/ January) and Avani (August/ September). Post the first Sangamam, in which he has been participating since its inception, he has more frequent invitations. He is next scheduled to perform at the Xavier College, Palayamkottai. And does he not find the kavadi heavy? Never, he says. And how long does he propose to continue performing it? For the rest of his life. Click here to read more ...


Madurai Mani Iyer
Mohana Mani - V. RAMNARAYAN

Madurai Mani Iyer. The very name evokes an affectionate, intimate kind of nostalgia. An outstanding vocalist of an earlier era, he was both a pundit’s and a people's musician, whose lilt swayed even the unlettered, uninitiated passerby with its sometimes beseeching, sometimes playful magic of pure sound. He was that rare amalgam of swara and sruti that achieved the ultimate effect of effortlessness; not only in raga alapana and kriti rendering but also in his mellifluous cascades of swara-s did he paint the raga swaroopa with utter fidelity. He was one of the most consistent performers in the midst of many giants of Carnatic music, yet his consistency did not mean repetitiveness; critics and enthusiasts remark on how fresh his music was throughout his career, how fresh it continues to be even today.

A nephew of the celebrated Madurai Pushpavanam, Madurai Mani Iyer fashioned a style all his own, a brand of singing quite unlike any other, in the process winning over a legion of followers. His music was original, without leaving the strait and narrow path of tradition. Much beloved by his rasika-s, peers and seniors among vocalists and accompanists, even that much feared breed of human being, the music critic, Mani Iyer kept it simple, his music a direct line to the divine, in its chaste if unusual vocalisation and obvious surrender to his muse. If his sweet voice earned him the sobriquet Madhura Gana Mani, his evocative rendering of the raga once so thrilled the Mohanam specialist Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, that he hailed him as Mohana Mani. Click here to read more ...


Natya Kala Conference
Ramayana in Performing Arts - APARNA SEETHARAMAN

In this report, we present a fresh perspective – of a Bharatanatyam dancer in her twenties who spent her formative years in India, and has since been living in the U.S.A.

The 2008 Natya Kala Conference at the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha was devoted to the Ramayana theme. In his inaugural address, K. Jayakumar, Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Kerala, pointed out that the Valmiki Ramayana has been translated into numerous languages, with each translator using his creativity and poetic licence to bring the story alive in that language. Such translations buck the Western trend of being completely faithful to the original that severely limits the translator. He also attributed the popularity of the Ramayana to the myriad characters, each so well-sketched out, with the Indian ethos perpetuated by each. But essentially, it is a simple story of a husband and wife and their travails, albeit in an elaborate setting. He also mentioned an oft-repeated characteristic of the Ramayana – that Rama was simply a man (not a divine being like Krishna) who was true to the path of dharma.

While each of the presenters had an interesting viewpoint to share, the following appealed to me the most. Click here to read more ...


Sarada Hoffman – my friend for six decades
- A feature in which one artist writes about another on a personal note

My memory goes back to June 1945 when I, a ten-year old boy, met Sarada, as a young, 16-year old teacher of Bharatanatyam. She was already established and the seniormost performer of the nine-year old institution, with more than eight years of training with the traditional masters who had served Kalakshetra. Since then, she has been a very close friend and then a teacher. Till I embarked on my own journey of Bharatanatyam in 1954, Sarada was my main inspiration. Our mentor Rukmini Devi was ever present around us imparting values of the Indian way of life, Indian aesthetics, Indian philosophy, tolerance towards all religions of the world, Indian textiles, love for animals – the list is endless. But Sarada's close association made me understand and appreciate these values by our constant and valuable meetings throughout my Kalakshetra days.

As an artist, Sarada was perfection personified and tolerated no nonsense inside the classroom. She believes in hard work and total dedication which, to some extent, has been passed on to many of us, her students. We never kept count of the number of rehearsals she would conduct even for a single piece to be performed. I owe my present energy to perform solo margam-s even today, to the hard work which she put in for us when I was in my teens. Sarada has often been blamed for being a very strict disciplinarian and taskmaster. But dancers trained by her, who still continue to perform, must all be obliged to her and would vouch for her method of teaching which emphasised body kinetics. Click here to read more ...

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