Abul Fazl, who chronicled the reign of Akbar, onnce said about court musician Tansen, “a singer like him has not been in India for the last thousand years.” The same verse could be applied to Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy when it comes to thavil, the percussion instrument used in Carnatic music. Thavil artiste Dakshinamurthy was the musical identity of Jaffna or Yazhpanam in Tamil.
So skilled were his hands on the percussion, two Czech television journalists flew to Sri Lanka in 1961 and filmed his performance. The beats would flow like magic from Dakshinamurthy’s thavil. He was able to play at insane speeds and keep the audience in awe.
Dakshinamurthy was born to Viswalingam and Rathinam at Inuvil in Jaffna district of Sri Lanka in the year 1933. His father Viswalingam was also a gifted thavil artiste. He trained under Nachiyarkovil Raghava Pillai. After training him for one and half years, an impressed Raghava Pillai said that he had nothing more to teach him.
So skilled were his hands on the percussion, two Czech Television journalists flew to Sri Lanka in 1961 and filmed his performance. The percussion would flow like magic from Dakshinamurthy’s Thavil. He was able to play at insane speeds and would keep the audience in awe.
The Nagaswaram troupe known as ‘Peria Melam’ has two nagaswaram vidwans, two thavil vidwans and two more accompaniments. For a nagaswaram troupe, the main players are nagaswaram vidwans while others are mere sidekicks. But the situation in Sri Lanka was slightly different. Thavil artistes were given equal importance.
Dakshinamurthy started playing at a very young age. He would practice for hours some days, even 12 hours in a row. His popularity helped the thavil artistes charge more and it gave them a decent living.
One of the traits of Dakshinamurthy was that he would never carry his instrument for concerts away from his hometown. He would get one on the spot and turn it into his magical instrument. His contemporaries include Yazhpanam Kamatchisundaram Pillai, Inuvil Chinnathambi and P S Rajagopal. He also played thavil with Indian artistes namely Thiruvizhanthur Ramadasa Pillai, Valangaiman Shanmugasundaram, Vadapathimangalam Dechinamurthy Pillai and Needamangalam Shanmugavadivel.
He played in the concerts of Nagaswaram vidwans Thiruvaduthurai Rajarathinam Pillai, Thiruvenkadu Subramanya Pillai, Kuzhikarai Pichaiappa, Thiruvizhimizhalai brothers, Sembonnarkoil brothers, Karukurichi Arunachalam, Namagiripettai Krishnan, M P N Sethuraman and Ponnusamy brothers.
Dakshinamurthy was the predecessor of acclaimed artistes Valayapettai Subramaniyam, Harithuvaramangalam Palanivel, Thanjai Govindarajan and Thiruvalaputtur Kaliamurthy.
One of the traits of Dakshinamurthy was that he would never carry his instrument for the concerts away from his hometown. He would get one on spot and turn it into his magical instrument.
Music researcher Thanjai P M Sundaram said that Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy was a maestro in thavil. He had the complete skillset of a thavil vidwan. He had speed, varierty and clarity like none other. Dakshinamurthy could maintain the pitch and tempo for hours. In nagaswaram concerts, thavil vidwans would get their exclusive time to show their skills. The audience tend to take a small break during this time. But it would not work when Dakshinamurthy played thavil. He would hold the audience with his playing.
He was able to reach speeds which no other thavil artiste would even dream of. It was for a reason Palakkad Mani Iyer called Dakshinamurthy’s thavil talent an eighth wonder of the world.
Needamangalam Shanmugavadivel was his close friend. He invited him to play with Karukurichi Arunachalam’s nagaswaram for a concert at the Chennai Thamizhisai event in 1959. All India Radio took an exception to play the concert well past midnight. He was also given the honour of inaugurating this event.
Sadly, Dakshinamurthy did not live long. He passed away in 1975 at the age of 42. In a short span of life, he was lauded as Thavil Chakravarthy, Karavega Kesari and Karpanai Surangam. He was praised for popularizing thavil not only in Sri Lanka but in countries like India, Singapore and Malaysia.