Doyens of Music

Giving new life to the nagaswaram - Sembanarkovil Vaidyanathan


Nagaswara vidwan, the illustrious S R D Vaidyanathan, and his brother were known as the ‘Sembanarkovil Brothers’. They mesmerised the world with their mellifluous notes.  Their father, S R Dakshinamurthy Pillai, was an aficionado of music. His native town of Mayavaram echoed with the melodious notes of nagaswaram as his father, grandfather and uncles were all nagaswara vidwans par excellence.

Vaidyanathan started his musical voyage at the age of nine when he was tutored by Mayavaram Ramaiah Pillai. What was the difficulty in indulging in vocal music when he could play the nageswaram with great felicity? Thus, his training under A K Ganesan Pillai and the inimitable Madurai Mani Iyer proved to be useful for his future endeavours.

Vaidyanathan started playing varnam just three months after his initial lessons when he shook the musical world by his wizardry. His asura sadhakam made him establish himself as a nagaswara vidwan of rare depth.

His maiden concert at Dharmapura Adheenam at Dharmapuram created ripples in the musical fraternity. Since he could sing well, he wanted to focus on vocal music but his father wanted him to continue the family tradition of playing the nagaswaram.

Vaidyanathan has played in almost all the temples in Tamil Nadu as nagaswaram is an integral part of any temple festival. The idols of gods and goddesses are preceded by nagaswara vidwans playing exotic musical pieces like Mallari.

Adept at playing Mallari, which is his speciality, he is a trendsetter in that he changes the raga and tala pattern of Mallari which has not been attempted before. Known for his creativity, he has composed several Mallari pieces.

An institution by himself, Vaidyanathan is an exponent of Rakthi melam. Rakthi melam is a unique composition which showcases the beautiful intricacies of laya, which is played after Mallari. Vaidyanathan strove hard to give it a new dimension which has raised many appreciative eyebrows. He is the sole torchbearer of the vanishing rakthi tradition.

His music integrates the finest techniques of vocal and nagaswaram.

He was a Reader in nagaswaram at Annamalai University, Chidambaram, and Tamil Isai Sangam. He was also a member of the Audio Visual Board of All India Radio. A top-grade artiste, he has given performances in almost all AIR stations.

He has also played in several South-East Asian countries.

Vaidyanathan’s memorable performance was at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the presence of S Radhakrishnan who was the President of India then. Enchanted by his music, the President eulogised him for his repertoire.

Decorated with a slew of awards, Vaidyanathan feels that recognition from the masses is the highest award.

An octogenarian, he is agile and enthusiastic to impart knowledge to one and all. Many leading vidwans and vidhushis are under his tutelage.

Vaidyanathan is a shining pole star in the musical firmament whose music is a dialogue with the gods.

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