VIDWAN TIRUCHY K.R.KUMAR IN MANGALORE, INDIA, JANUARY 2018. BY SUSHMA P MAYYA. PHOTOGRAPHS BY K PRATHVIRAJ SHASTRY. SPONSORED BY WORLD OF ARTCARDS.
Vidwan Tiruchy K.R.Kumar is a 'Top' Grade Ghatam Artist and also recognised in Mridangam. He is working as a Ghatam staff artist at All India Radio, Mangalore since 1986. By virtue of deep interest as a Ghatam Artist, he earned a good name in the field of Carnatic Music. He has developed his own style of playing Ghatam. As a performer his playing technique consists of rich tonal clarity and melodic beauty.
He has provided Ghatam accompaniment to many Top ranking Carnatic musicians. To name a few Lalgudi G Jayaraman, Dr. S. Ramanathan, Madurai Somu, Maharajapuram Santhanam, T. V. Shanakaranarayan, K. V. Narayanaswamy, T. N. Seshagopalan, K. B. Sundarambal, T. R. Mahalingam (Flute & Vocal), Kunnakkudi R Vaidyanathan, M. S. Gopalakrishnan, T. N. Krishnan, N. Ramani, M. Chandrashekharan, Kadri Gopalanath, U. Srinivas and others along with leading top ranking Mridangists and Thavil artists.
At Swara-Laya - full day special violin practice camp, Vid. Tiruchy K R Kumar spoke to Beauty Wall Spot's Sushma P Mayya in Mangalore. In front of 80+ students and parents, Tiruchy K R Kumar spoke about his experiences of learning music under Gurukulam System, the necessity of practice, and other aspects of musical life.
"When Guru teaches, it is not the Guru sitting in front, but the Goddess Saraswathi. If you get that feeling, Guru need not teach you anything, he has to just wish you good in his mind, you will learn all the lessons just like that."
- Tiruchy K R Kumar
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Namaste Sir 🙂
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: Namaskara to one and all. Let me tell you at the outset that I usually do not speak in Kannada. You all are waiting to listen me speak. By God’s grace, I will speak what little I know. I do not claim that whatever I say here is the ultimate truth, there are others who have more knowledge than me. I like humour and as you see, this will reflect in my talk as well as in my body language.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Sir, you are a top grade Artist of AIR. We would like to know more about you. Can you please tell us about yourself and your initiation into music?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: I was introduced to Carnatic music quite early in my life, as my grandfather Thirukkadaiyur Dandapani Bharathi was a vocalist. My father was a teacher, drama artist, writer and a vocalist as well. My mother belonged to the tradition of composing and singing Abhirami Anthadhi at Abirami Amman Temple. Anthadhi is a classification of Tamil poetry in which the last word of a previous verse comes as the first word of next verse. So I got a taste of music and literature very early on.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: So, from the early age you were connected to music.
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: Yes. I grew up listening to concerts. During those times, Carnatic music was given much importance in Tamil Nadu. Once we switch on the radio, we could hear only Carnatic music, apart from news and agriculture-related programmes. Nowadays children grow up listening to film songs and watching TV.
"During those times, learning from the Guru was an arduous experience. I was supposed to reach my Guru’s place at 4:30 in the morning and reach school at 9:30 am. When we reached the Guru’s house, he would be sleeping due to tiredness from the previous day’s concert. We would massage his back and legs before he started the lessons. We would also do household chores at our Guru’s house like bringing vegetables and cutting them."
- Tiruchy K R Kumar
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Sir, you are coming from a very big Guru Parampara. So, please tell us about your guru?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: There are two styles in Laya Vadya Tradition. One is Pudukkottai style and another one is Tanjavoor style. Pudukkottai style has more calculation while playing. Pudukkottai Mammondia Pillai was the founder of this style. And he had three disciples, Palani Muttiah Pillai, Dakshinamurthy Pillai & Ramanathapuram Chitsabhai Servai respectively. My Guru's Guru was Dakshinamurthy Acharya and he was the student of Dakshinamurthy Pillai. And his disciple was Trichy R Thayumanavan and he is my Guru.
When I was 1 year old, my mother and my maternal grandfather took me to Tiruchirappalli Mahaganapathi Temple. My Guru Sri Trichy R Thayumanavan also came there on that day. My grandfather put me in his hands and requested him to accept me as his disciple. Accordingly, at the age of 8, on a Vijaya Dashami day, my father took me to him and enrolled me as a student.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: That's wonderful Sir. Tell us about your Gurukulam experience in learning music?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: There is a vast difference in the modern day music class and the one which I and my contemporaries had. Today children enjoy facilities like AC, fan and other electrical equipment. These things did not exist when we were students. We had to light the kerosene lamp ourselves, which was the only source of light in our Guru’s house. In the darkness, I could not even see where the guru was sitting. It was only when I got a slap, I could realise that my Guru is sitting nearby. So you can make out how good I was at learning. [laughs..]
My Guru used to explain that the capacity to learn differs in each student and there are three 'Buddhis or Senses' in students. One is 'Karpoora Buddhi - Camphor Brain', the second is 'Kari Buddhi - Charcoal Brain' and the third one is 'Baale-dindu Buddhi - Plantain Stem Brain'. I had a co-student who had joined for the classes on the same day of mine. I joined in the morning and he joined in the evening only that is the difference. Today he is in Chennai. He used to grasp everything quickly. That is called 'Karpoora Buddhi - Camphor Brain'. Camphor catches fire immediately when it is brought near to a flame. Secondly ‘Kari buddhi' - Charcoal which does not catch fire easily. I belonged to this category. Lastly, ‘Baale-dindu Buddhi’ or a slow learner. The plantain stem never catches fire. Thankfully, I was not included in this category. [laughs...] 😊
During those times, learning from the Guru was an arduous experience. I was supposed to reach my Guru’s place at 4:30 in the morning and reach school at 9:30 am. When we reached the Guru’s house, he would be sleeping due to tiredness from the previous day’s concert. We would massage his back and legs before he started the lessons. We would also do household chores at our Guru’s house like bringing vegetables and cutting them. You know what, I will tell you a secret. [laughingly..] I can even cook. [laughs..]
"A guru's position is the same as that of a father. When we respect our guru as Goddess Saraswati, we automatically gain knowledge. We must know that he has our best interests in his mind. If a student is praised early on, then every word of praise the child may shorten its practice by half an hour. Then he or she may develop the ego and the child will stop learning This should not happen."
- Tiruchy K R Kumar
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Ha ha ha... [laughs]
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: I even put the rangoli. I have learnt it in my Guru's place. I had to put rangoli before Guru performed the pooja. Like this, I have learnt many small things during my Gurukula vasam. By 4:30 pm our school will be over. By 5:00 pm I should reach Guru's house. Like every other child, I loved playing marbles. If by any chance I went for playing marbles, Guru will immediately send someone to call me. I was a bit fat in those days. Hence he addressed me as Thadiya, a fatso. Don't think the lessons will start immediately on my arrival. There will be some visitor. Guru will ask me to bring coffee from the nearby hotel. Those came as visitors were not ordinary persons. All were big artists like Manakkal Rangarajan, Manakkal Varadaraja Iyer etc. All the Manakkal brothers were good artists. Manakkal is a small place near Lalgudi. Mankkal brothers tala was like a Metronome, so accurate. When someone like this come for singing practice, Guru will ask me to sit for tala. He will play the Mridangam. He will ask me to take the Khanjira or Mridangam. So I get a practice for free. Due to these big artists visit, I got good musical lessons. While learning one should have concentration and devotion. According to me, one should Learn to listen and listen to learn.
We would run errands like bringing coffee for the guests and after returning from school, my music classes would begin again. This would go on till 10.30 pm or even 11.00 pm and our homework would be pending.
I used to be very angry with my guru as he never used to praise me or utter a single word of gratitude. We students used to bring sacks of paddy, boil it in a huge container, dry it and then take it to the mill to convert it into rice. Our Guru would have dinner but never praise us for the hard work done. I could not afford to pay fees for music lessons, but there were numerous occasions when I would have dinner at my Guru's house before going home. I am very grateful to my Guru for all that I have learnt from him.
Learning was not easy during those times. At around 10.00 pm, when we are hungry and sleepy, we will be taught a Korve. We had to recite the Korve the very next morning. There were times when my Guru would send me away for being a slow learner. But I would persist and go back to him to learn. It is with the Guru’s blessings that I have reached this stage of my life and even today, 'Guru Bhakti’ or the reverence for my Guru has not waned. But still, the involvement of the student is of paramount importance. Involvement makes the improvement. We ourselves must take the first step towards learning. Today my Guru is very happy with my achievements. He is happy that I have settled in my life.
My Guru has about 150 students and he gets the credit for producing the highest number of top-ranking artists. My guru is a top ranking artist himself in Mridangam, Kanjira as well as Konnakol.
A guru's position is the same as that of a father. When we respect our Guru as Goddess Saraswati, we automatically gain knowledge. We must know that he has our best interests in his mind. If a student is praised early on, then every word of praise the child may shorten its practice by half an hour. Then he or she may develop the ego and the child will stop learning This should not happen.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Very true words, sir.
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: When Guru teaches, it is not the Guru sitting in front, but the Goddess Saraswathi. If you get that feeling, Guru need not teach you anything, he has to just wish you good in his mind, you will learn all the lessons just like that.
My Guru used to give one example on the devotion and Gurukula-vasam. Many life forms like hens, after laying eggs will hatch it sitting on it. Some other life forms forget after giving birth to its offsprings. The fish lays eggs and forgets about it. After sometimes it suddenly remembers it and its feeling brings out the fish from the eggs. This was explained to me by my Guru.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: So, that was a mutual bonding between the Guru and the student.
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: Definitely. Talking about 'Guru bhakti’, I am reminded of two incidents. My Guru Thayumanavan’s Guru Dakshina Murthy Acharya had told my Guru to mention only Dakshina Murthy Pillai’s name during concerts, as he has achieved 'Samadhi’ and was revered by everyone. That was the kind of 'Guru Bhakti’ or reverence my Guru had for his Guru. Dakshina Murthy Acharya had asked my Guru Thayumanavan to build a temple for his Guru, Dakshina Murthy Pillai who is known as Chinmayananda Mauna Swami who was the Maha Vidwan of Mridangam and Kanjira, as he could not do it himself. He said that this was the 'Guru Kanike’ he expected from his student. My Guru Thayumanavan built the temple or 'Jeeva Samadhi of Chinmayananda Mauna Swamy’ to fulfil the wishes of his Guru at Pudukottai where guru pooja is held every year in the month of Vaishakha on Ashlesha Nakshatra day. Frankly speaking, my Guru never met Dakshina Murthy Pillaivar. But as it was his Guru’s wish, the temple was built without any questions asked. A book on Dakshina Murthy Pillai was also written. This was the kind of reverence students had for their Guru. This reverence that my Guru had for his own Guru's and the reverence I have for my Guru may have turned into blessings for me.
One more example for the devotion towards the Guru. Bhadrachala Ramadas was very well known and had many disciples. He was considered as a saint. Once he fell ill. He had some wound on his leg. Many doctors examined him and suggested a remedy, that someone has to suck the pus from the wound of Saint Ramadas. But it was dangerous to the one who sucks it. All his disciples looked each other and none dared to do that. Hearing about this, one man came forward. He said that if a saint could be saved by him he will give a try and he took out the pus through his mouth. He experienced the flavour of mango juice instead of the pus. The great person who risked his life in curing the great saint was none other than Chatrapathi Shivaji.
What a Guru teaches is just 5 %, the knowledge that one receives due to one’s devotion towards the guru is 500%.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Rightly said. Our devotion and reverence towards our Gurus are enhanced by your narration. When did you give your first concert?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: I had given many small concerts when I was young. In the year 1971, I had performed at the Bayaluru Subrahmanya Swamy Temple. This was a concert 'Seva’ by my Guru and it was organised during a charity programme organised by a famous person named Vadaluru Ramalinga Swamy. In the year 1972, I had performed in a concert held at Mattancherry in Cochin. The concert was organised by V R Rajagopalan, a railway employee. In the invite for this programme, my name was also printed and I still have the invite with me.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: How did you happen to choose Ghatam?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: It is funny to tell you. I actually wanted to learn Mridangam, but I ended up learning Ghatam. There is an interesting story behind this. My Guru had most of the musical instruments at his home itself. Students, as well as well known artists, would come and practice there. I used to learn Mridangam along with two other students. One day when my Guru and the artists who had come to my Guru’s house left, I took out the Ghatam instead of the Mridangam and started playing it. My Guru happened to return at this time and told me to continue with Ghatam practice. My mother was not happy with the choice. But frankly speaking, Ghatam has given me a livelihood.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: What was your ambition as a child? Did you always want to become a musician?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: As a child, I had dreamt of becoming a lawyer. However, God had other plans for me. It is better if we understand God’s plans and work accordingly because you will get what you deserve not desire.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Do you think it is difficult to play percussion instruments?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: Frankly speaking, it is not easy to play any of the instruments. You cannot learn anything easily and what you have learnt easily does not stay with you forever. If you learn something with much effort, it stays with you. You cannot get something instantly and if you get it that quickly, you will not know it's value. Even playing Tanpura requires effort and concentration. Neither is singing easy, as the vocal cords of a person become an instrument here. A vocalist must refrain from eating ice creams and must remember to eat pepper often. Take the case of Morsing. It can be carried easily in one’s pocket, unlike a Ghatam where you have to wait for an auto rickshaw to carry it to a concert. But the Morsing has a thin but sharp rod-like structure. Once you play a few notes, your mouth starts paining and there are chances of the Morsing cutting wounds on the tongue. Even playing the ‘Chende’ will give a bad shoulder ache. Only the person playing the instrument can tell you how difficult it is. I have learnt to play the violin along with my brother. Do not tell this to anyone, as they will invite me to play in concerts! [laughs..] Then I might become a competitor for you 😊 [laughs..]
SUSHMA P MAYYA: What was the turning point in your life?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: The turning point in my life is the program in Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan's house. I was invited to a function there. It was the 60th birth anniversary function of Kunmnakkudi Vaidyanathan. I had listened to his many concerts. I had felt, I could perform better than those who accompanied on mridangam and Ghatam for Kunnakkudi. Anyone in the audience may feel like that. But when he has to go to the stage and perform, he fumbles. When the invitation from Kunnakkudi came, I took my Ghatam and went there. Kunnakkudi was really a great artist. He usually played with a Shruthi or pitch of 3. On my Ghatam it was mentioned a Shruthi 3. But the Shruthi was a bit different. On the stage, Kunnakkudi asked me to set the Shruthi. But I could not set it to his Shruthi and I started trembling. I pleaded with Kunnakkudi that I will sit on the corner of the stage without interfering the concert and requested him to excuse me. He instead set the violin Shruthi to my Ghatam Shruthi and played the violin. Thereafter I accompanied him in many concerts. Such a great artist adjusting his instrument to my Shruthi is really a great thing. I can never forget that. This happened in 1978 and till 1987 I was with him in many concerts.
Another unforgettable incident was with Valayapatti. He was very famous in Tavil. A fly sitting on his Tavil also can be heard by the audience. In front of his Tavil my Ghatam has no effect. Ghatam will not be heard when Tavil is played. Even I was unhappy with my performance with Valayapatti. It is quite different to listen to as an audience and comment, than sit on the stage and perform. But I played with courage and as per the tala. After the concert, Valayapatti addressed me as Lion for my performance. Till the last, he was very affectionate. I got my fame due to my participation in concerts with these stalwarts. I still have the recordings of the concerts I have performed with these two great legends.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: My ambition is to give free musical education to the interested students if I get a suitable place [gets emotional..] If I get your support and God's blessings I will surely do this. I have expressed this in front of my Guru also. Before I leave this world I want to achieve it. That will be my achievement.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: What is your message for youngsters?
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: Feeling of self-satisfaction is very important in life. We must know how far we can stretch ourselves. We must know our limitations as well. Along with self-satisfaction, it is also important to have self-confidence. Do not compare yourself with others. But for all our endeavours, Guru’s blessings are the very foundation. When we walk in the open in the hot sun, our own shadow does not give us any shade. It is only God’s grace or the Guru’s blessings that can save us. 'Mata’, ‘Pita’, ‘Guru’- these three together can save the day. I pray to God daily, asking him to show me the way. It is always better to walk on the right path and ask God to give 'Vidya Daana’ or knowledge to us. I will ask God to bless you with the same.
SUSHMA P MAYYA: Thank you, sir, for being with us today and sharing your musical experiences with the audience. It's really a fantastic interview!!
TIRUCHY K R KUMAR: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me to this wonderful Swara-laya - full day violin practice camp and God Bless You All!!