In the Navaratri Navashakti series curated by Parivadini along with ‘Srivathsam’ and Inmathi.com, we feature nine “Nagaswaram Couples”. First in the series is Vid SP Palanivel and Vid R Prabhavathi based out of Bangalore.
Prabhavathi hails from Doddapannandahalli village in Kolar district. Her parents Ramakrishnappa and Dhanalakshmi were Nagaswaram artists and had settled in Bangalore even when Prabhavathi was a toddler. When a young Prabhavathi showed interest in music, her parents felt that the necessary seriousness and rigor in learning music was possible only by learning in a ‘Gurukula’ mode under a non-family member and put her under the tutelage of Tirupati Ph Renu.
While Prabhavathi was making great progress in music, her parents were worried if her marriage could curtail her progress as a musician. It was during that time that Palanivel visited Bangalore for a concert.
Palanivel hails from Santhapuram in Krishnagiri district. Having started his tutelage under Sekkarapatti Chinniah he further went on to hone his skills under Maamoondiah Pillai of the famous Vandikaratheru duo of Mani and Maamoondi in Mayavaram.
As fortune would have it, Prabhavathi’s parents were present when Palanivel played in Bangalore. Impressed both by his adept playing and amiable nature, they reached out to Palanivel’s parents with a marriage proposal.
Sensing better prospects, Palanivel moved to Bangalore and the duo has been giving concerts for over thirty years now.
As their career was in an ascent, the duo continued to learn together first under Nagaswara Vidwan Bangalore M Kothandaraman. Vidwan Palanivel says, “We wanted to expand our kriti repertoire and fine tune our rendition of songs in true ‘Gayaki’ style. We have found a wonderful guru in vocalist Vidushi RA Ramamani. We continue learning from her till date.
The duo has performed in several prestigious festivals (Like the Hampi Utsav) and temple festivals. Acknowledging their talent, several stalwart thavil players have happily accompanied them in concerts.
When asked about the challenges in being a woman nagaswaram artiste, Prabhavathi says, “In general nagaswaram is a tough instrument. It is physically demanding and takes a lot of hard work to attain a reasonable level of mastery. A vocalist or a Veena vidwan can practise the art along with academics. In the case of nagaswaram, one has to exclusively dedicate the time for learning and practise. Most students either stay along with a guru or stay in hostels run by music schools. It is inherently difficult for women to stay away from home. Even if the student is willing, many teachers may not like to accommodate a girl in the midst of students. Unless the parents of the student go out of their way and create an ambience for the girl to learn and practice it is difficult for a woman to grow as an artiste. I have been lucky to have the necessary support throughout my life. I found a good mentor in my husband and was able to improve my music when playing along with him. While I say it is difficult for a woman to establish as a nagaswaram artiste, it does not mean it is impossible. I must also say the hard work indeed pays rich dividends. I do hope more and more women take up this instrument.”
Prabhavathi’s parents were present when Palanivel played in Bangalore. Impressed both by his adept playing and amiable nature, they reached out to Palanivel’s parents with a marriage proposal.
Prabhavathi adds, “Many talented women nagaswaram artistes give up the art after having kids. Support from parents and in-laws become critical in continuous pursuit of the art.”.
In their studded career, Palanivel and Prabhavathi have won several accolades including A-grade ranking from the All India Radio.
When asked to choose an endearing moment in their performing career they recall an instance in Bangalore when they were asked to play nagaswaram as a welcoming gesture to the then president APJ Abdul Kalam. When Kalam reached the venue he was impressed with the music played by the duo and requested them to play the immortal Tyagaraja kriti ‘Endaro Mahanubhavulu’. He made it a point to listen to the rendition fully and only then proceeded to the dais. In his speech, he spoke at length complementing their playing.
In the Navaratri Navashakthi series Palanivel and Prabhavathi’s concert is embellished by the thavil playing of legendary vidwans Mannargudi Vasudevan and Kovilur Kalyanasundaram.