Building on his beats

Building on his beats
Legend has it that Nandi played the mridangam to the cosmic dance of Shiva (Nataraja). Mridangam thus occupies a place of importance in the sacred hall of bharatanatyam. Yet, it is not easy to walk the path ridden with many unwritten and unspoken codes.

One can observe a clear demarcation between vidwans who play for Carnatic vocalists and vidwans who play for dancers.

It is felt that everything in bharatanatyam is preset and rehearsed, leaving no scope for manodharma, whereas in Carnatic music, the mridangam vidwan seldom knows in advance what the vocalist is going to sing for the day’s concert, but yet has the scope to show his prowess in thani avarthanam (appreciation of rhythms). Nevertheless, the mridangam artiste for dance can never be undermined because the rhythm provides the soul, and it’s only in the rendition for the two — mridangam for dance vis-à-vis vocal/ instrumental concert — that it takes a different garb.

Yet, a senior dancer who has learnt mridangam confided, “The acid test that dancers give to a mridangist is to ask him/her to play the rhythmic tonal variations; the creativity of the artiste will come through in that test.”

Hierarchies have existed and continue to exist in many aspects of life. In the context of music and dance too, hierarchical structures continue to flourish. It’s in this atmosphere that KSR Anirudha, a mridangam vidwan and an advocate, balances deftly his two passions.

Accustomed to the sound

It was not unnatural for Anirudha to get drawn to mridangam, which he had heard as a child as he watched his mother, the legendary Sudharani Raghupathy, dance to the beats of its rhythm. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay gifted him several skin instruments when she found the little boy with a remarkable talent for rhythm and percussion. Yet, his mother consciously kept him away from the instrument for as long as she could, encouraging him to concentrate on his studies.

“But it is the forbidden fruit that always leads us on,” says Anirudha. He forged ahead with his academic life, but unknown and unnoticed by his mother, he simply kept at the percussion.

He used everything from chairs to tables. And soon enough, the tables turned in his favour when he was noticed for his talent at his school as a percussionist of immense promise. He was writing jathis and poems besides playing the percussion as an accompanying artiste to lead dancers.

It was in 1998, when he was awarded the Yuva Kala Bharati by Bharat Kalachar that his mother realised that he was serious. It was in 2000, at Krishna Gana Sabha that he worked on the importance of being an accompanying artiste to the dancer, whereby he would only embellish the dancer without upstaging the dancer, exhibiting his prowess on stage.

The paper was received well and dancers began to relook into the way they knew and understood mridangam.

His arangetram in mridangam went unnoticed not because it did not make an impact; it was because no one expected it to be the arangetram of the mridangam vidwan who played so well, when it was actually the arangetram of the dancer.Anirudha thus moved from one phase to another, gliding ever so gently.

Trained well under mridangam maestro Umayalapuram Shivaraman, he also plays deftly three mridangams or triangam — sama, madhyamam, panchamam. He was chosen as the recipient of the Kalaimamani (2003) at a young age. ‘Moorthi chikkadadaru keerthi doddadu’ is what he established when he was once again conferred with the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar award in 2007.

Path of surety

He absorbed and took in so much of dance by observing his mother and watching other leading dancers from close quarters that he knew the path that he was taking. When Sangeet Natak Akademi chose him and created a category, he belonged to a league where mridangam was the bridge between music and dance.

He soon went on not only to write scripts and create soundscape for his home productions (Mamudha, Tripada, Na Margam), but also brought together the best of talents. He didn’t stop thinking about the needs of dancers even when he began practising as an advocate. He not only helped artistes with legal issues, but even brought out a CD of jathis for dancers.

“When you draw a matrix, ask an artist to paint within a square, and exhibit his talent, that is when he can show his strength, overcoming limitations, where his creativity is put to test. Just as roots of a tree search for venues to expand and grow by breaking the shackles of the confining compound wall, seeking sunlight and freedom, so also a creative artiste can never be shackled,” says Anirudha, adding, “That which is real, exists.”

Today, Anirudha wields the sacred mridangam, considered as the instrument that Nandi, the bearer of truth and righteousness, played. It seems so perfect because he has also taken up the responsibility of being the instrument of bringing about righteousness as an advocate.

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