07 Sep

Well I have been writing all those mokkai jokes and posting mokkai stories for quite sometime now (4 days techinically speaking).

One of the readers had sent me a mail stating – “Neenga comedy nalla panreenga. Konjam apadiye seriousa ezhuthavum try pannunga”.

I guess basically what he meant was – “Comedyin thaaliyai aruthathu pothum. Vera ethavathu try pannu.”

So I thought of writing a very serious matter.

I shall put forth a request to all the readers – “Even if you don’t think this is a serious article, don’t consider this also as one of the comedy pieces. Nambungappa naanum rowdythan.”

Now matterkku povom –

Recently I attended one discourse by Shri. JalagalAnantha swamiyar.

Topic was about Mahabharata.

Swamiyarin words –

“Mahabharata, as we know was in Dwapara yuga. It was a period where Demi-Gods like Karna, Dharma, Bheema, Arjuna, etc existed. Now in Kali yuga also there are few Demi-Gods. Unfortunately all are amsa of Sani bhagawan. This kali yuga would have been very different if such Demi-Gods were born. What to do? History can’t repeat itself.”

Ingethan enakku lighta pori thattiyathu.

Then he started telling the stories of Karna, Kunthi, Pandu, bla bla bla and finished off with the war.

Athu ethuvum en manadhirkul nirkavey illai enbadhai sollavum thevaillai.

Unmayagavey Demi-Gods kali yugathil illaya?. Illai avargal irunthum adhai naam unaravillaya?. Apadiye irundhaalum yaar yaaragathan irukka mudiyum? – kelvigal pala ezhunthana – Aanaal badhil – “???????”.

Siridhu naal kazhithu oru article padithen. “Karnataka Sangeethathin Pithamagar Semmangudi”.

Endha kadavulin amsam yaar yaaridam irukirathu endru vendumaanal theriyamal pogalam. Aanaal history does repeat itself time and time enbathu mattum purindhathu.

Demi-Gods need not be reborn. But their Amsams will be taking birth again and again.

I donno know why Semmangudi was called Pithamaga. But he can definitely be compared with Pithamaga of Mahabharata times – “Bhishma”. One, for his knowledge of the art; Two, for his longevity. Not all qualities of Bhishma can be attributed to Semmu Maamu, but a few can give a glimpse of the same.

This was when I started analysing the musicians and their counterparts in the history.

Innum Greek Demi-Gods story ellam padicha, I think many of the stalwarts’ amsams can be filled up. Yet I restrict myself with Mahabharata and a few musicians.

The following comparisons are made based on the informations and events that were told to me from time to time, from person to person. (he he naangalum CA padikiromnu appo appo intha madhiri disclaimer pottu kaatanumla.) If anything is wrong, please donot mistake me, but do let me know in the comment segment so that I can correct it.

Here, I am going to compare three of the finest archers with three of the finest Mridangists.

It would have been logical had I compared any violin artists (coz avargalum vill vidhaithan purigirargal) with the archers. But the problem is – “enakku violin artists pathi theriyathu.” So enakku therintha three mridangam artistsoda compare panren.


Arjuna as we all know is considered worldwide as the finest archer of his time. He was considered a prodigy by everyone and he was the favorite student of Drona.

The stature of Arjuna can only be elevated if he is to be compared with the person whom I think resemble him. Mr. Palghat Mani Iyer.

Considered as one of the finest archers by many (The site Palghat Mani says he is the greatest Mridangist of all time, (so ithuvum based on information provided to me-dhaan – marubadiyum solren naan CA padikiren)) he understood the nuances of mridangam at a very young age. He was also the favorite student of Shri. Thanjavur Vaidhyanatha Iyer. He took the stage by storm at a very young age.

All the advanced techniques of their respective arts were like “Jangiri-eating” to them, even at a very young age. Mani iyer had the ability to make his mridangam sing.

During the battle, Karna cut the string of Arjuna’s bow many times. But even before he could take the next arrow, Arjuna tied back his strings. Such was his understanding, passion and knowledge of the art. Mani iyer had a large space in his house allotted to mridangams alone. Right from making, testing and tuning them he understood everything about mridangam making and further enhanced his knowledge.

“Villuku oru Vijayanaipol, Mridanga sollukku nam Mani iyer endru sonnal adhu migai aagathu”.

Summary of Similarities:

1)      Both were considered by many as the best in their art.

2)      Prodigy

3)      Royal clan (in music field, in those days, Brahmins were considered equivalent to that of Royals in Archery).

4)      Men of few words (I don’t think Arjuna even made a single decision in his life. Though that cannot be said with Mani iyer, he was a man of few words).

5)      Arjuna saw parrot’s eye (kai valikirathu – I assume you know that story). Mani iyer’s concentration, knowledge and instinct is definitely a God’s gift.

6)      Arjuna had the knack of making someone feel close to him. (My guess). Hence he totally mesmerized the likes of his Guru, Relatives, etc. Same way Mani Iyer knows to play according to the audience and take them in awe.

People may disagree though, in either case, if somebody says that these two were the great ‘est’.


A term that can split the world into two.

Sachin Vs Shane Warne; Messi Vs Ronaldo; Maradona Vs Pele; Senna Vs Prost; MGR (now Jaya) Vs Karunanidhi – ippadi rivals pathi example kuduthukonde pogalam.

But the best rivalry of all time, atleast for me, was Karna vs Arjuna. Nobody lost to each other till the end (Now don’t tell me that Arjuna defeated Karna in the battlefield. It was solely because of Krishna’s Kepmaarithanam and his curses).



Even Lord Krishna exclaimed to Arjuna “Oh Kauntheya!! I consider this Suta, thy equal, or thy superior” (Copy pasted matter).

(Now before writing about Karna I want to make one thing clear. I seriously oppose caste-based discrimination. Now that it is not prevalent much, please don’t take this seriously. Also it is the FCs/OCs who are facing problems because of the caste-based and not economy-based reservations. But in the days of these stalwarts, in both the yugas, such discrimination existed where Kings/Princes held the upperhand in the former yuga, whereas it was Brahmins who occupied centre stage in the Golden era of Carnatic music.)


Elder to Arjuna, Karna was not deemed fit to face the royal princes (during the archery competition) because he was Sutra (Low caste). He got a helping hand from Duryodhana, who made him a king and allowed him show his talents to all. He had other curses as well, as you all know. I don’t want to elaborate on those curses. He longed for his mother’s love. Karna fought against misfortune throughout his life and kept his word, ie was honest under all circumstances.

The comparison could be easily guessed. It is Mr. Pazhani Subramaniam Pillai.

(My brother had written a book on him, in which he compared this legend with Dhruva. History does repeat itself time and time again).


He was a PillaivaaL (not to be confused with vaal pillai – Pazhani was a sadhu). Though Pillais were considered equally good to Brahmins in arts those days, where recognition is concerned Brahmins had the upper hand. He never really got any award. (Padupaavinga oru vengala kinni kooda tharala. This is like serupAla adichifying the Music itself.)

Like Karna’s other curses, Pazhani had a problem (not a curse ofcourse). He was a left-hander. Even his father did not approve of someone to touch the Valanthalai (Right hand side of Mridangam) with their left hand. That was tradition for you.

Just like Karna, who was rejected by Drona, who longed to learn the art,  Pazhani, who also was rejected teaching by his father, longed to learn. Karna never really got his Mother’s love, and so is Pazhani, in this case because of her death when he was too young.

Similar to Duryodhana’s help, Pazhani too was helped by one legend, Shri. Chembai Vaidhyanatha Bhagavathar, to show his talent and become famous. Pazhani remained faithful to Chembai all his life.

(I am not comparing Chembai with Duryodhana. Rendu perukkum sambandhamey illai).

Karna was true to his words, just as Pazhani was true to the art.

I was told that, while playing a Mohrra, if he does a mistake, he will replay it until it comes correctly, highlighting his mistake to the listeners. He was not playing for the audience but for his conscience. His gumki technique was unparalleled.

Karna, as described by Vyasa was very beautiful, well built and unparalleled. Pazhani’s Thani avarthanams were also properly structured, beautiful and obviously unparalleled.

Karna was multi-talented (he can also wrestle, as seen in the picture he is wrestling with Dharma). Pazhani too was multi talented. He has played Kanjira in many concerts, mostly with Mani iyer on the Mridangam.

He was four years older than Mani iyer. Similarly Karna was elder than Arjuna.

Summary of Similarities:

1)      Both had to fight misfortune all their life.

2)      Passion for the art despite their fate not allowing them to pursue it.

3)      Multi talented.

4)      Got helping hands at the time of need.

5)      Loyalty.

6)      Stood by Truth.

7)      Very low recognition.

8)      And most importantly, both are my inspirations.

It was said that when Karna faced Arjuna during the war, it was like the ocean trying to move a mountain with its force. Even the Devas, Asuras, Rishis, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma were watching in awe of the greatest battle they would have ever witnessed.

Mani iyer and Pazhani with Ariyakudi and TNK

Trichy Sankaran once said, “Ivaa rendu perum vaasikiradha paatha rendu Madha Gajangal modhikaraapla irukkum.” (When Mani iyer and Pazhani played together, it was like two Giant Elephants clashing with each other).

Having said the similarities, I would also like to express a difference. Karna and Arjuna were fierce rivals (like MGR and Karunanidhi). Whereas Pazhani and Mani iyer considered each other as their peers and had mutual respect and admiration (like Rajini and Kamal).

Karna also praised Arjuna to Salya when he cut Arjuna’s strings, and Arjuna was easily able to tie it up very quickly before Karna could take the nect arrow, “Now I know why they call him the best archer.”

Same way Pazhani once said;”Mani iyer is like Vaali. He takes half of the strength of whoever plays opposite to him”.


Now for the third archer. Ekalavya.


Again, everyone knows his story.

A hunter (Low caste) by birth. Had a passion for learning archery. Asked Drona. As usual the partial-minded Drona rejected. He made Drona his Manasiga Guru. Learnt the art. Became well versed, more intelligent than Arjuna himself. So Drona went to him and asked for his thumb. He gave it happily. Goddess Saraswathi comes and curses Drona.

He was never a Demi-God. Yet he looked all set to surpass the prowess of Arjuna and Karna.

And we have happily forgotten this unsung Maestro.


Ok, now don’t search for any musician, who cut his thumb for guru. I don’t think so any would have done it. As I said earlier, not all the qualities can be attributed. But quite a few can be related to another Mridangam Legend. Mr. Ramanathapuram C S Murugabhoopathy. Unlike Ekalavya, Murugabhoopathy did play for all the stalwarts. His art was loved by all. His gumki techniques sometime even matched Pazhani’s, if not better. Even at a higher speed, the quality was never sacrificed. His tonal quality of mridangam is second to none.

He learnt his art from his brother. It was his brother who simply understood what his father taught others and re-taught the same to him.

But how many of the listeners today actually know about him?

How many even appreciate such a great musician. In his peak, he was awarded with “Padmashree” and other awards (Thanks to my brother for this info). But in today’s music field, among today’s rasikas, he is clearly overlooked.

I heard that there was an instance (not sure abt it) where one of the concert recording, in which he had accompanied was made for sale. His name was not even mentioned in it. (Just wish there was a Anniyan to stop this nonsense).

Why I chose to compare this person with Ekalvya was mainly because of my Vaitherichal that both are not given proper recognition, which they duely deserved.

Atleast Karna, in this case Pazhani had the fortune of somehow entering into people’s heart.

But how many of us would have actually thought that Ekalavya, in this case Murugabhoopathy was equally good?

We would have (maximum) studied a chapter on Ekalavya in our 5th standard moral stories for children, unlike the other two on whom we will be happily doing our PHDs on.

Here I would like to add a comparison as well – the stupidity of Drona to that of us.

Just like how Drona cut the thumb of Ekalavya, we have cut the status Murugabhoopathy deserved.

Atleast Ekalavya didnot get a chance to prove his talent by fighting in a war, etc. But Murugabhoopathy has accompanied all the veterans all his life. Yet avarukku intha nilai. He even developed talents like T N Seshagopalan, who learnt vocal music from Murugabhoopathy’s brother; and the greatest Kanjira Maestro (for me) Harishankar.

That Drona was cursed by Saraswathy, since his mistake could not be rectified.

But our mistakes can be. Else, we will also be cursed by the Goddess. (Saami unmayave kanna kuthinathaan thirundhuvom endra gumbalakku en anega kodi namaskarangal).

Summary of Similarities:

No recognition, despite being one of the best talents ever in their respective art.

My humble request to all the music listeners – Please appreciate the greatness of these legends. Do not ignore to award them for their contributions to the art.

I am not requesting to underestand the significance of contribution made by Murugabhoopathy alone. There are so many Nadaswaram and Thavil vidwans whose talent remains in shadow, because of our inability to understand their music.

Please donot restrict yourself with some selected artists, because you may never know what you actually miss. And by the time you realise, they may not be there to be honoured.

Anyways, Ippodhaikku ivvalavuthan comparisons yosikka mudindhathu. Vera edhaavathu thonithuna pudhusa add panren.

Ok ok – ivvalavu neram veri kondu pulambinadhukku mannikkavum. Porumayaga padithadharkku mikka nandri.

Mudivaaga naan enna solla varenna – “Naanum rowdyakkum ketela? I can also write serious articles.”


1 Comment

Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Music and Movies


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Anonymous

    January 24, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    Very interesting comparison, and at least the first 2 make a lot of sense! While I appreciate and admire all three, I have to admit, I am slightly biased towards ‘Karna’ (In this case Palani). One other similarity b/w Karna and Palani is that they were both large hearted? (At least that is what I heard). But Palani was apparently a very gentle soul, not so sure about Karna?


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