S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tributes to Trichy Sankaran

(Most of the contributors to this tribute have referred to Trichy Sankaran respectfully as Sri Sankaran or Sankaran Sir.)

Uncompromising commitment
Chitravina N. Ravikiran

If there is something I have valued most among the luxuries I received as a prodigy, it was my association with some of Carnatic music’s greatest legends and the learning opportunities it provided to a keen aspirant. I was fortunate to be accompanied by some of Carnatic music’s seniormost artists from the age of five, but due to a variety of logistical reasons, it was not until my late teens that I had the privilege of having Trichy Sankaran Sir play in my concert. I had grown up admiring his vibrant and dynamic style which had bolstered in no small measure the concerts of those like Musiri, Semmangudi and Flute Mali. I was very keen to do well in this concert to ensure that ours would be a long combination. I got quite carried away on stage and ended up playing a rather complex pallavi in khanda gati - khanda triputa with a start at 1/10th of the second beat (which I had not communicated in advance to Sankaran). The readiness with which he rose to this absolutely unintended challenge especially in his tani avartanam was a fascinating first-hand study of his high quality experience. It is also a tribute to his diligence that he would call me early in the morning of subsequent concerts to ensure that we were on the same page of any items that we may present. If something is even more special to me, it is his uncompromising commitment to infuse a sheen to every song he follows that makes them glow with an aura larger than life.

The greatest artistes can blend musical versatility with mature temperaments and produce passages of microscopic sensitivity as unconsciously as those of mammoth brilliance. The greatest accompanists are those who are at all times aware of when the main artiste is aiming to impress by making music and when someone is in the process of taking it to the next level of making magic. Sankaran not only belongs to this rarefied league, he has, on numerous occasions, been a catalyst or even initiator of the magic-making. 

I will forever remember the special occasion in the Toronto Tyagaraja aradhana when I was asked to sing a piece after the pancharatna kritis and Sankaran sir was asked to play the mridangam for the same. All of us were pleasantly surprised when another all-time-legend, Umayalpuram Sivaraman sir (who was slated to play in the evening chitravina concert of mine), spontaneously joined as on the khanjira.

He surrenders to the power of tradition
N. Vijay Siva

We have seen an elephant standing near a fruit shop and waiting for the fruit seller to offer it something. It chooses to obey the diktat of the mahout and respect the fruit seller. Had the elephant decided to act on its own, we know what it would be capable of! To be unassuming, accepting and content is what tremendous strength is all about and not physical bashing. The elephant may or may not be aware of its physical strength while observing these qualities but Sri Trichy Sankaran observes them despite knowing the greatness of his genius.
A close watch over his playing, his anticipation and delivery transparently indicates that his approach and reverence are the same whether the main artist is Sri Semmangudi or Sri Santhanagopalan. He sees music standing tall before him and not who is delivering it and submits himself to enhancing or rhythmically cushioning it. This is not to misunderstand his attitude as abject surrender to anything and everything. It is a total surrender to the values and power of tradition. We must bear in mind that he maintains this state of surrender despite knowing the greatest exposure a mridangist can have during his lifetime to global forms of instruments and styles.

Naturally affectionate and unhurting, cautiously treading his chosen style of playing and keeping up a vibrant mood on stage have made him a much sought after mridangist for generations. His persona and talent will continue to inspire every mridangist of the present and future.

Great inspiration
J. Vaidhyanathan

I have always admired Sankaran Sir’s playing. Especially his accompaniment for kriti-s – he being a vocalist himself – embellishes the compositions in such a way that the next time we listen to the kriti it would sound incomplete without his playing.

I eagerly looked forward to the concerts on which he accompanied my father Sangita Kalanidhi D.K. Jayaraman and never missed them. Those were thrilling days when I observeed his playing very closely, at times while I played the tambura for my father’s recitals. It used to be pure brilliance and a wonderful combination of right and left modulations – especially the sukham in the left. His playing was very inspiring and is still so.

I have never heard live concerts of his guru Palani Sri Subramaniam – but whenever I listen to a recording of his, I assume I am listening to Sankaran, such was his guru bhakti and dedication.

I remember a concert of my father’s at the Music Academy when vidwans M. Chandrasekhar (violin) and Trichy Sankaran accompanied him. It was the concert in which my father sang Gangadeeswaram Sankaram Chandrasekharam (in Sindhubhairavi by Guru Surajananda) for the first time. It was such a coincidence and the reaction among the audience was also very lively – as ‘Chandrasekhar’ and ‘Sankaran’ were both sitting beside my father. My memory of my awe of the instant understanding with which Sankaran Sir played for this song -- even though it was the first time he was listening to it — is still fresh in my mind.

All these provide great lessons and inspiration to all of us. I personally feel proud to know to him.

A doyen
K. Arun Prakash

Trichy Sankaran Sir, is a doyen among the percussionists of India. His Pudukottai bani of percussion is known for its aesthetic and brilliant approach of a high order. He was the pet disciple of the legendary Palani Sri Subramania Pillai.

Sankaran’s playing can be described as apt, virtuous, soulful and full of life. It has a remarkable feel to it. The way he accompanies kritis, niraval or swaram is a real treat for the rasikas and a lesson for music students. He plays according to the mood of the music, with the right sollus, embellishing it with grace and poise. Even the edir nadais he plays do not interfere with the mood of the kriti or the vocalist, or instrumentalist. He creates a perfect comfort zone for them, enabling them to give their best. Sankaran’s nadam is a speciality; the sound he produces from meetu phrases and the clarity of his arai chapu in his 'kita taka tarikita tom' sollu are incredible. His deep bass gumkis add a different dimension to the concert. His korvais, abhiprayams and kuraippus have the stamp of the Pudukottai bani and he composes with a sense of integrity, keeping in mind the glorious tradition he belongs to.

Sankaran’s playing always goes with the various colours and shades of Carnatic music that the singer or instrumentalist offers. The overall effect is overwhelming and extremely satisfying.

He transforms the music
T.M. Krishna

It has been a personal honour and pleasure to have been accompanied so any times by Trichy Shankaran Sir. For a person who heard so many recordings of Semmangudi Mama with Sankaran it was a dream come true when he first played with me.

His approach to accompanying is completely different from all the other patterns we hear. His style is true to the Palani bani and he enriches every composition with a parallel emotive layer through laya. This adds to the overall experience making the music rounded and wholesome. Whether it is a keezhkala composition or a small madhyama kala keertana his approach is always to enhance the music without overpowering the music. His accompaniment always gives the singer inspiration to expand his ideas. There have been many times that my flow in kalpana swaras or neraval has been inspired purely by his accompaniment. He provides space for the singer to explore possibilities, at the same time inspiring him with openings with his embellishments.

His approach to sarvalaghu playing is beautiful and gives the word a dimension beyond what people normally associate with it. Sarvalaghu is not about keeping time for multiple rounds of tala but about creating multiple continuous layers of rhythm that seat themselves within the matrix of the tala, with each pattern leading to another. This is precisely what Sankaran does, creating a beautiful flow that transforms the music, depending on the nature of the composition and the sensitivity of the musician.

Similarly his approach to sollu development during a tani avartana is amazing. Each sollu to him seems like a small dot, which then grows both in size and nature until it is complete with all its attributes. Nowadays, when most people are more involved only in korvais, it is beautiful and rivetting that he spends a whole part of the tani avartana only in sollu development without korvais. This leaves all of us breathless.

Sankaran’s toppi is beautiful with his handling of it creating a depth to his valandalai. It is like listening to male and female voices in complete unison with each supporting the other. I hope and pray that he continues his work in music, creating many students who will carry on the Palani tradition.

Better late than never
Vellore Ramabhadran

I have known Trichy Sankaran from the time he lived in Trichy. Even as a boy he exhibited remarkable talent and I was sure he would come up in a big way. He soon became a fine mridanga artist, and honours came his way slower than he deserved. I am very happy that he is being conferred the Sangita Kalanidhi title this Season.


  1. I am delighted to read the beautiful true expositions of various big vidwans and as rightly put by Vellore Sir, Trichy Sankaran Sir should have got all glories long back for his vidwats he has earned from his Gurus.

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