A.I.R: Namaskaaram. I would like to record your reminiscences about your gurukulavaasam. Whom you did study with at the very beginning ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: I learnt under Shri Rajam Bhagavathar in
Disciple was Rajam Bhagavathar?
Madurai Mani Iyer: He
was a disciple of Ettayapuram Ramachandra Bhagavatar. My Paternal uncle Madurai
Pushpavanam Iyer and the nagaswara vidwan Madurai Ponnuswami pillai, were also disciples of Ramachandra Bhagavathar.
A.I.R: How long
would you have learnt from Rajam Bhagavatar and when did you start performing ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: I
learnt for 2 years from him. We lived in a portion of his house itself on rent. So, it was very convenient to learn from Rajam Bhagavathar.
Madurai Mani Iyer: After
that, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar established a music school in Madurai
in which Rajam Bhagavatar was appointed as a teacher. So I happened to join that
school. I learnt there too for about a year and a half. After that I started performing in concerts.
A.I.R: Can you
recollect your very first concert where ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: I
had been to the Sivagangai area along with my father who had friends there. My first concert was held there, in a place called
Alavaakottai, during the kumbhaabhishekam festival. Since the organizers of that festival were well-known to my father, my
first concert took place!
A.I.R: Who played
pakkavaadyam (accompaniment) for your first concert?
Madurai Mani Iyer: Nattam
Seetharama Iyer, who lived in Kumbakonam,
played the Violin. Tiruvaarur Kunju Iyer alias Rajagopala Iyer played
A.I.R: How old
were you then ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: I
was 12 years old then.
A.I.R: So you
started performing from then?
Madurai Mani Iyer: Yes
I started performing from then on.
A.I.R: In order
to get so many concert opportunities at that age itself, you must have had help
is in it?
Madurai Mani Iyer: What
helped me was my paternal uncle, Pushpavanam Iyer, had been so famous that people
who had listened to his music would readily agree to hold my concert if someone recommended my name.
Madurai Mani Iyer: My
only responsibility was to perform well in the concert that had been arranged.
Getting the concert opportunity itself wasnt very difficult. Had
to perform well in the arranged concert, thats all. It would make things even easier.
A.I.R: Then, as you got older, your voice would have
Madurai Mani Iyer: Yes, my voice changed. When I first sang concerts,
I used to sing to a shruti of 5 kattai, 4.5 kattai. My voice (shaareeram) used
to be very facile. Later, my voice dropped in shruti, way down to 1 kattai. It
all happened quite rapidly in the space of 2 months. And even at 1 kattai, my voice could only reach the taara Shadja for the highs and the madhya Shadja for
A.I.R: A range
of only 1 sthaayi (Octave)?
Madurai Mani Iyer: 1
sthaayi, exactly, effectively thats all it would speak (!) Singing higher than the taara Shadja was difficult, and
so was singing below the madhya Shadja. Hence I was constrained to sing within
1 sthaayi at that time.
A.I.R: So you
must have done a lot of saadhakam at that time to get a handle on your voice and strengthen it.
Madurai Mani Iyer: I practised for about 3 hours everyday with the tamburaa.
A.I.R: How did
you practice then ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: I
used to set the shruti high and then try to hold the taara Shadja which used to be difficult, but I would practice this
for a while, I would take a suitable raga and practice the phrases D N S, P D
N S, M P D N S etc, along with the
proper bhaavam of the raaga, in order to try and strengthen the Shadja then I
would proceed upward to halt on R and then take a look at G and then try M. I
only managed to reach the M this way. Then I would lower the shruti to 2.5, 2,
kattai and sing the high notes a little easier, and then move to 1.5 kattai and sing
with even more ease. I Had to practice really hard, had to sing open-throated
and practice hard to bring the voice into shape.
A.I.R: In your
career, you must have heard the concerts of a lot of vidvaans. can you talk about it a little bit ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: In
Madurai, I have heard a lot of concerts of Mazhavaraayanendal Subbarama Bhagavatar.
Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, I have heard a lot of his musical discoures he also used to perform concerts, in his performances,
there would be a lot of Tyagaraja compositions and other great pieces, the discourses would be very musical.
Also in Madurai, there was Nagaswami Bhagavatarvaal who sang a lot of Tyagaraja
kritis in his concerts. He would not repeat the kritis he sang from concert to concert in the many concerts I heard! I had a great opportunity to listen to a lot of different kritis of Tyagaraja, all those in vogue as well as many rare ones. he was a disciple of the Walajapet Venkataramana
Bhagavatar, a prime disciple of Tyagaraja.
I have heard concerts of Karaikkudi Brothers
with Dakshinamurti Pillai on the mrdangam, Kancheepuram Naina Pillai, with
Malaikottai Govindaswami Pillai on Violin and Dakshinamurti Pillai on Mridangam etc.
I have heard lots and lots of concerts of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar &
Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer.
Then I have listened to Veena Dhanammal.
And I have listened to lots of performances of great naagasvara vidvaans during temple festivals, and night
processions staying up all night long and walking behind them.
A.I.R: What is
your opinion of current performance methods ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: The
Current performance methods setup by various senior musicians of our time and
their aesthetics, I must say I like it and hold it in high regard. And
I try to proceed along that route as much as possible.
A.I.R: What is
your opinion regarding shruti ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: You
mean setting an aadhaara shruti (base shruthi) it should be set such that the
taara Shadja is easy to reach not too easy however otherwise it would be floating and fragile. It should not be too easy, if you hold the taara Shadja in an extended manner i.e. kaarvai, you should be able
to hold it with firmness and strength, without tiring. Only then
you would be able to sing the further higher notes like R, G, M, easily and attuned
to shruti. A lot of musical phrasing, in
our current music, is in the upper reaches. These are also the notes that are
heard with clarity and which grab the peoples attention. If you sing in the lower octave, people nearby can hear it
clearly and only knowledgeable rasikas would like it.
However, we are required to sing
a lot in the upper octave these days, and for that one should not tire. Even though there are mikes and speakers these days,
one should be careful not to tire, since otherwise you would slip from
the shruti. if that happens, your
singing will not be fulfilling or pleasing. And if you dont satisfy the listeners with your singing in that range, then there is no point in singing in the lower reaches either,
having lost their attention.
The aadhaara Shadja should also be held well and with firmness. Even if you are only able to intone the lower N D P in a soft manner, thats OK. But the taara Shadja is very important, it should be
held with strength and firmness.
singing svaras, i.e. kalpanaasvaras, you seem to have a unique style could you let us know about the evolution of your
Madurai Mani Iyer: Unique
style? Really not. Mazhavaraayanendal
Subbarama Bhagavatar used to sing svaras like this. When I was a student and
a novice performer, I have heard a lot of his music he used to sing svaras even for many rare raagas, his sarvalaghu manner of svara singing used to be very
good. I tried to sing like that and develop my svara singing, my style is a direct outgrowth of that.
for that information. In svara singing,
people sing tisram, misram, etc. what is your opinion on this arithmetic
Madurai Mani Iyer: As long as the raga bhaavam is not spoiled, there is nothing wrong in singing arithmetic swara prasthara with thisra, misra etc.
If the voice admits of this exercise, and if the arithmetic is also interesting, then
there is no problem at all. We can all be happy and enjoy.
People who are well-qualified only should attempt it. Everyone need not feel
a compulsion to engage in this. If we do arithmetic, troubling ourselves, losing raga bhaavam and losing the shruti also in the process, there is no point. The sukha bhaavam in the cutcheri would
be lost. Without losing sight of the overall sukha bhaavam and the raaga bhaavam, when someone who is intelligent, has a strong memory and has had good association with laya vidvaans,
does this arithmetic, then we also can enjoy it and appreciate it.
A.I.R: What advice
do you have for the youngsters who are learning music and desire to perform, and
others who have just begun to perform ?
Madurai Mani Iyer: They
should hear many concerts of the senior vidvaans, ie the established vidvaans. Because, however much they are talented, since they lack the experience, their
music will not be sufficient or fulfilling. They should observe how the senior vidvaans make their concerts a success and
please all varieties of listeners, how they use their voices in a concert hall, how
they employ the various thick and thin shades in their voices, how they plan their concerts, these are all to be learnt only
by direct observation. It does not happen otherwise, however well one sings by themselves or practices their music.
They have to hear the senior vidvaans over and over again, no other way. But,
they dont have to imitate them. It will all jell together over time as they keep singing,
and hearing the senior vidvaans attentively.
They should pay sufficient attention to setting the shruti before singing.
They should give sufficient time to the accompanists to adjust their instruments to the shruti. Before proceeding to sing,
they should attune themselves to the shruti by intoning Sa-Pa-Sa in a manner audible just to themselves. Steadying themselves
thus, if they sing, there would be no problem. If in the midst of a concert, the shruti drifts, they should adjust
it properly and then only should continue. If the shruti wavers, sukha bhaavamm will be lost, the felicity will be lost. The more and more we are attuned to shruti, the easier the music will flow. Hence one must pay great attention to it.
very much for sharing your experiences and your pointers to all aspiring musicians.
Madurai Mani Iyer: Namaskaaram!