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Google the word Mallari and you are likely to get a ton of information on this beautiful musical form that was the exclusive preserve of Nadaswaram music. Mallari was played when the deity was brought out in procession as part of temple rituals. All temples had resident Nadaswara vidwans and they had norms for what to play, when etc. During the annual festivals special nadaswaram parties came from outside and the music was much more elaborate and the mallaris were more intricate. “Special” tavil vidwans would sometimes be put to test to see if they could match up to the Nadaswaram vidwans. Mallaris would be composed and presented on such occasions. It was all mostly in good spirit with the occasional ego clashes that also resulted in some very high quality music and a few uncomfortable situations! The mallari was usually in Gambhira nattai raga. The Nadaswara vidwan played the basic structure a few times in normal speed first. He then proceeded to perform some variations in different speeds and finally played kalpana swarams. The musical and rhythmic framework that was employed seemed to match the swaying motion of the deity being carried along. The Mallari did not have any words or sahityam. It was just a collection of sollu kattus or solfa syllabus set to a rhythmic structure. Personally for me, the first time I heard a Mallari in a regular concert was by Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan when he played along with Valayapatti Subramaniam on the tavil. Later other instrumentalists have also played this sometimes with the tavil or the usual mrudangam and other upa pakkavadyams. It was around 2002 that I first met my guru Sembanarkoil SRD Vaidyanathan. It was he who taught me some of the Mallaris that he had composed. He had stopped playing the Nadaswaram but would sing quite beautifully. Each time he sang and showed a mallari he would immediately say it would be nice if I could sing it on the concert stage. The first time I sang a Mallari was in a concert at the Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore. Personally for me it was a choice that I made keeping in mind that this was also a part of the temple tradition and would probably suit the occasion. Since then I have found that the Mallari makes for a nice sprightly start to a concert or sometimes as a Viv Richards type explosive ‘one down” instead of the more dependable Rahul Dravid type Pantuvarali! SRD had also composed the same Gambhira nattai mallari in a ragamalika form and this had its own beauty and melody that enhanced the rhythmic structure. It was the ragamalika that encouraged me to consider it as an item for singing in place of a pallavi in the RTP portion. Thus began my idea of a Ragam Tanam Mallari. Gambhira nattai is a raga ideally suited for tanam singing as well and a mallari is suitable for a pallavi, with tri kalam and other laya variations. The ragamalika also gave it the pallavi like texture to weave it along with a raga and tanam. The con side of course is that I cannot sing Gambhiara nattai raga alapana in every concert! The carnatic music concert format has so much to offer in terms of space to innovate, include and exclude things. Much like the size of the canvas that a painter works with, I love this format and the challenge it offers to my creative juices. My guru Shri KSK was a strong supporter of this format and always maintained that just as how the arohanam/avarohanam in a raga or an avartanam in a talam is a limiting factor so too is the concert format. In his own way he was following Quantitative Analysis to optimise a concert experience that provided a refreshing feel to both performer and listener. Sanjay Subrahmanyan Click to download the album Ragam Tanam Mallari –


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