S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Palghat Raghu

Birthdays & Anniversaries
9.1.1928 - 2.6.2009

Raghu always knew he wanted to be a mridanga vidwan. His life story has a slightly different beginning from those of most other musicians. He was born in Burma on January 9th 1928. His father Ramaswamy was a government employee. Raghu inherited much of his music from his mother Ananthalakshmi and his aunt, both very good singers. His mother was his initial source of inspiration. His grandfather Radhakrishna Iyer, a highly respected figure in Burma, was an authority of sorts on Carnatic music. Raghu began his early training under one Swamy at Rangoon. However, it was the visit of Thinniam Venkatarama Iyer to Burma that brought a sharp focus to the boy’s talents. At the end of a ‘crash course’ under Venkatarama Iyer for about twentyone days, the teacher was impressed with his pupil. He offered to teach him during his visits to Madras. With war impending, the family had to relocate to Madras and soon Raghu came under his tutelage. The lessons were about a year old when fate intervened again. The family moved to Palghat in 1940 — as part of the war time evacuation of Madras — so that Raghu could undergo training with the stalwart, Palghat Mani Iyer. It is interesting to note that Raghu had no other connection to Palghat.

The initial lessons with Mani Iyer saw the maestro focusing on Raghu’s fingering techniques and making changes to suit his style of play. Thus began a long association that went on to make Raghu his foremost disciple. To quote Raghu, “I had heard the mahavidwan play and was dumbstruck at his abilities. His playing was so fascinating, I used to wonder if he was really human or divine? Was it possible for a human being to play the way this vidwan did? It was, for me, a dream come true. Being Mani Iyer’s disciple was like being a member of his family. He went for a walk every morning and I accompanied him, walking just a bit behind him. He discussed various aspects of laya and also quizzed me on what I had been doing. I then told him about the ‘korvai’ or ‘kanakku’ that I was working on and he listened very intently. He was always encouraging and wanted me to learn more by listening than from actual one to one teaching. Mani Iyer was of the opinion that a mridanga vidwan must know vocal music and a vocalist mridanga. Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy came for practice around this time and I used to accompany him often.

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