Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Generation Next

Tanjore Praveen Kumar

By K.S. Kalidas

His great grandfather was the illustrious tavil vidwan of yore, Valangaiman Shanmukhasundaram Pillai. His maternal grandfather was Tanjore Upendran, a leading mridanga vidwan of the last century. Music seems to have skipped a generation and found in young Pradeep Kumar, a suitable vehicle for the continuation of the family legacy. As he was born on 31st May 1992, exactly ten months after Upendran died, the family believes that this is not a mere coincidence. It is again no coincidence that Upendran’s good friend Guruvayur Dorai has been Praveen Kumar’s mridanga guru for the last ten years. His arangetram in early 2007 was attended by a glittering array of vidwans and keen rasika-s. This writer was also present and wondered at the mature, precise and clear strokes of the ‘not-yetfifteen’ year old lad in contrast to the typical arangetram performances. He has not looked back since and now he is among the most sought after young mridanga artists. His school, Chettinad Vidyashram encouraged him no end and he was one of the star performers in school and inter-school events, winning many prizes. Now, he is a first year student of engineering in a Chennai college and takes part mostly in city concerts on weekdays and outstation concerts during weekends.

Praveen Kumar’s first guru for three years from the age of five was Nellai Balaji, a good mridanga player in his own right. Since then, Guruvayur Dorai took him under his wing and a senior disciple of his, Uzhavoor Babu taught the young lad most of the basics under the watchful eyes of Dorai. Dorai is an excellent singer too and it was a great advantage to his disciples in learning to play for songs and even pallavi-s in which Dorai is adept. Normally, one or more vocalists or instrumentalists are called upon for such training. The pallavi sessions with the guru used to run in excess of three hours with each disciple taking turns to play the pallavi format in three speeds followed by tani avartanam-s.

From the age of twelve, Praveen Kumar has been receiving the government of India CCRT scholarship without a break.

Praveen has played in virtually all the city sabha-s including the Music Academy, Indian Fine Arts Society, Narada Gana Sabha, Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha and Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha. Outside Chennai, he has participated in concerts in Shanmukhananda Sabha in Mumbai, as also in sabha-s in Pune, Mangalore, Salem, and Palani. In the “Spirit of Youth” festival (2007) he was adjudged the best mridanga player and subsequently, he received the Academy’s “Coimbatore Ramaswamy Pillai Award” the same year. Since then, he has been performing in the Academy every year. In fact, in most sabha-s, after the first year’s performance he has been the automatic choice for subsequent years too. He was also the first recipient of the title “Carnatic Idol” in 2007, an event run by Carnatica.com. He was selected the best junior mridangist by MFAC in 2005 and Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha in 2007.

Like many of his peers, Praveen will face a dilemma when he completes studies – whether to take up engineering or music as his profession. As of now, it is music for him. The actual decision is still a few years away.

(Reproduced from Sruti 315, December 2010)

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