Palani Shri.M.Subramania Pillai
PALANI SUBRAMANIA PILLAI
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Palani Shri.M.Subramania Pillai
PALANI SUBRAMANIA PILLAI
An Innovative Gentle Giant

Palani’s elder brother Nageswaran had landed a job with the then Madras State Government and Palani, not too comfortable with his domineering father and loveless step mother, too left for Madras (Chennai) to live with his elder brother. But before this, a very significant meeting and friendship with the Tavil wizard Iluppur (a.k.a. Malaikkottai) Panchapakesa Pillai (Tavil Panjami) gave a new fillip to his idea of laya intricacies. It was in a nadaswara concert of Madurai Ponnusamy Pillai with Panchapakesa Pillai on the Tavil that they met and Panjami, many years senior to Palani, was captivated by the accurateness of tala that Palani kept up while others had given up.
While in Madras (Chennai), during the first few years, Palani did not get too many opportunities to play and out of those he did get, most were to “laya-heavy” vocalists like Kanjeevaram Nayana Pillai, Chittoor Subramania Pillai and Alathur Brothers. Of course there were concerts with Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Mazhavarayanendral Subbarama Iyer and P.S. Vedachalam Chettiar but all said and done, the number of concerts that he played was nowhere near those that his prodigious talent merited. The reasons for this ‘lack-lustre’ opportunities were his being left handed and his playing technique being ‘laya-heavy’ a factor not welcomed by vocal artists who preferred a mridangam artist who would play ‘sarvalaghu’ – an easy array of nadais without too much ‘laya-structuring’.

Here we should pause to consider the professional relationship that Palani had with Nayana Pillai, Chittoor Subramania Pillai and Alathur Brothers. In the closing decades of 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th, Nayana Pillai reigned supreme as a vocalist and his music was known for his ‘laya-intricacies’. Very often, he would fox the accompanying players on the violin, mridangam, kanjira etc. with his carefully prepared and rehearsed pallavis and korvai-s and would gloat over his “victory” over them. Although his talent was no doubt super, he was essentially a “terrorist” who could, if he so wanted, put his accompanying artists on the mat. Palani, all of 15 years of age accompanied this awesome vidwan in Saraswathi Gana Sabha at Kakinada, the oldest sabha in existence and according to reports, did very well. This itself is not surprising as his father Muthaiah Pillai and his ‘maanaseeka guru’ Dakshinamurthy Pillai provided frequent accompaniment to Nayana Pillai. Palani also played in a fair number of concerts with Nayana Pillai and even more with his (Nayana Pillai’s) disciple Chittoor Subramania Pillai.

With Alathur Brothers, his relationship was even deeper. Alathur Venkatesa Iyer, the father of Sivasubramania Iyer (one of the “brothers”- the other, Srinivasa Iyer was not a sibling but the two sang duo as ‘brothers’) was also very much involved with laya and had great admiration for Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Muthaiah Pillai. For him, the younger Palani represented all that was great in laya – sensitivity, intricacies, traditional values and great dignity – and was very happy to dispatch the ‘brothers’ to Madras (Chennai) at the instance of Palani, who had at last settled down as a reputed vidwan with clout. In fact, it was due to the efforts of Palani that they gave a concert in the Music Academy in the senior slot. Their concert followed the one by N.C. Vasanthakokilam at her peak and many wondered whether the brothers’ concert would click after the mellifluous concert of NCV. It not only clicked but the brothers became a sensation in Madras (Chennai) and Palani’s mridangam support was a major factor in the success of this and several later concerts of the brothers. The threesome were inseparables and they had many practice sessions according to veterans like T.K. Murthy. Palani was responsible in setting up many pallavis, korvais etc. for the brothers. Palani himself had a very deep knowledge of vocal music and it is said that vocalists of the time like the ‘brothers’ and GNB used to request Palani to sing alapanas and kritis. To continue the discussion on Palani and the brothers, Palani had also taught the brothers many Tiruppugazh songs with proper ‘chandam-s’ as also a format called “druvats”. This was disclosed by a very aged vidwan by name Tirugokarnam Ramachandra Iyer but we do not know what this format represented. Palani used to revel in playing for Tiruppugazh songs and he and Alathur Bros. gave concerts exclusively devoted to Tiruppugazh. Invariably Palani used to play tani avardhanams in rare chanda talas in these concerts.

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