Promoting Nadaswaram

A. Murugathas - Promoting Nadaswaram

A fest of Nadaswara-Thavil music used to be a rare occurrence in Chennai. The late Yagnaraman of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha floated one such fest for the Pongal season.

But a recent nadaswara-thavil fest in Chennai embraced artistes from all over, including Sri Lanka.


The man behind this event is A. Murugathas. Born in the family of nadaswaram artistes, it was natural for Murugathas to be drawn to the art of playing nadaswaram. He took it up as his profession. But the political situation in his country, Sri Lanka, forced him to leave his native place. Yet, the passion for this art drives this Canada-resident Murugathas to presents festivals.

He is the director of an international organisation in Canada and is also incorporating another organisation in the US. For the arts and the artistes to flourish. Murugathas was in Chennai to organise a 15 day Nadaswara – Thavil festival. He spoke to Revathi of Kutcheribuzz in detail about his passion, mission and future plans for the art of nadaswaram and thavil playing.

A.K.C. Natarajan Clarinet

Tell us about yourself…
Our family had settled in Jaffna, a city located in the northern part of Sri Lanka. I was born in Jaffna. The city has a history of heritage and architecture, which is more than 2000 years old. My father was a nadaswaram artiste. As per the family traditions, I started learning nadaswaram from my father P.S.Arumugampillai. I started playing with my father at the age of 12.
I had my advanced training from Kullikary nadaswara vidwan Kalidas Pillai in Tamil Nadu. As artistes of this auspicious instrument, my father and I played nadaswaram at all the temples in Sri Lanka and in Tamil Nadu also. When did you shift to Canada?
Due to the civil conflict in Sri Lanka, we had to move out of the country in 1987. Jaffna was the most affected place. I went to Singapore first and worked as temple artiste in the Mariammam Temple there. With the help of friends I moved to Canada in three years’ time. I started offering free services of playing nadaswaram during the Friday pujas at the temples in Canada. It continues even today in about 10 temples, in which the artistes from our organisation take part in the pujas on Fridays.

What made you start an organisation for nadaswaram artistes in Canada?
There are many Hindu temples in Canada. People from Tamil Nadu who have come here on business and to work here as well as migrants from Sri Lanka live in Canada. During the temple pujas and the family functions, people were playing recorded music of nadaswaram. Nadaswaram artistes were a few when I went to Canada. I thought – ‘when the Tamil families want to continue the tradition of nadaswaram on all the auspicious occasions, why not bring the artistes from India and Sri Lanka’.

M.P.Balakrishnan & R. Ketheeswaran

Was that easy to bring artistes to Canada?
It was not easy. The climatic conditions are extreme. The inflow tax for the people from other countries needs to be paid. Still I saw the bigger opportunities for the artistes in the country. In India and Sri Lanka, nadaswaram artistes get a very few platforms to display their art, except during the inaugural day ceremonies of functions. In the initial stages, I identified the artistes and coaxed them to come to Canada. Now, we seek applications from them and select them on the basis of merit.

How many artistes are enrolled in your organisation?
At any point of time, there are about 15 artistes who are enrolled for a three-year contract in Canada. Our organisation pays monthly salary to them. They play at temple festivals, weddings and other ceremonies. Just like what we had in Jaffna, in the temples of Canada we play traditional mallari during the procession of Gods in the prakaram. Sometimes even two sets of nadaswaram – thavil artistes take part in an all-night ceremony in the temple.

How did you get the idea of conducting a nadaswara thavil festival in Chennai?
I conduct a one-day festival, every year in Canada. It has been on since from 1999. I have heard my father saying that well to do lawyers, doctor and other professionals used to come to Madras for the December music season even 40 years ago. Being a nadaswara vidwan myself, I wanted to organise one such festival for nadaswaram and thavil artistes.
I have also been conducting the one-day festival in Chennai. This year we celebrated the tenth anniversary. So I wanted to have a bigger festival.

You are away at Canada. How did you manage to get the artistes, programmes locally here?
My friends here helped me, when I spelt out my wishes. Thavil vidwan Tiruvalaputhur Kaliamurthy co-ordinated with the artistes, Kunjithapatham, a marine engineer from Germany and a close friend of mine co-ordinated for the vocal concerts, vidwan Vazhuvoor Ravi, who publishes a music magazine Tamil took care of the public relations and media. In all, we had 220 artistes participating in the 15 day festival including the vocal and other instrument artistes.

Sheik Mahaboob Subani and Kaleeshabi Mahaboob

What is the idea behind having vocal concerts in the nadaswara thavil festival?
We had three nadaswaram concerts each day. You get bored of the same sound if you listen to it for a long time, however good it is! Moreover, we do not want to get isolated as nadaswara-thavil artistes. A musician is a musician, whether a vocalist or an instrumental. The artistes learn from each other many things.

How did you manage to get funds for a big festival like this?
All the friends and well-wishers from Canada helped me. I did not approach any local businesses here. We wanted to see how a 15 day nadaswara thavil festival in a city like Chennai gets rasikas. But it was a surprise to me to see people listening to nadaswara music even at 10.30pm. Perhaps nadaswaram is best to listen to at nights as is the tradition! This motivates me to continue this effort.

So you plan to host a nadaswaram festival every year here in Chennai?
I will continue to go with the one-day festival. May be, a bigger festival like this will happen once in five years in Chennai. I have not decided yet. I am now busy with the new organisation at the US. If the political situation improves, I would also like to conduct such a festival in Jaffna. After all it is long time since the people of Sri Lanka have had the nice music evenings!

What is the new organization at the US all about?
It is similar as that of the Nathaswara Thavil Music of International Inc., Canada. Indians and Tamil who settle in the US and Canada build temples, small and big in there areas. When they think of daily pujas, the temple priest comes to their mind immediately. But not the traditional music that has been a ritual in the temples. Now all the Hindu temples in Canada have nadaswaram vidwans in their daily puja schedule. I thought it should be spread to the US temples also. We have already set up an office at Washington. We are inviting applications from nadaswaram and thavil vidwans from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

How do you select them to come over to Canada and the US?
We insist on officially recognized degrees and diplomas from music institutions. For those who undergo training in gurukulavasa pattern, we go by the credentials of the guru or a local leading vidwan will have to certify the training. They will come on a three year contract. Family is not allowed to travel with them. I receive applications from many artistes from Kumbakonam and the nearby areas. The opportunities are growing. I want more people like me to co-ordinate with the local artistes and bring them over.

Are there other institutions like yours in Canada?
Yes, a few have come up now. I encourage them and give them advice if they need. It is good to have more people, so that people from many parts of the country get benefitted.

Nathaswara Thavil Music of International Inc can be reached at P.O.Box 41514, 1711 McCowan Road, Scarborough, ON M1S-5G8, Canada.
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