Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nadhaswaram Vidwan Ponnuthayi passes away


In South Indian Culture, Nadaswaram plays a very prominent role.  The wind instrument is considered a mangala instrument (auspicious one) and is played in all religious functions, marriages and all good events.  The Mangala vadhyam is usually played in pairs, accompanied by thavil.  Some of the famous vidwans would include :  Thiruvavadudurai Rajaratnam Pillai , Dr.Thiruvengadu Subramania Pillai, Thiruvizha Jaisankar, MPM Sethuraman & Ponnusamy, Sembanar koil brothers,  Namagiripettai Krishnan, Karukurichi Arunachalam, Sheik Chinna Moulana, and more………..

Playing this instrument requires stamina and considerable lung-power and long hours of arduous practice and that is why, it is considered as a domain of men.  In the male bastion, there have been very few women and there was one who stormed into the bastion decades ago and that was M.S. Ponnuthayi.  She chose to enter an untrodden path, with dedication and sheer hard work rose to become a famous exponent.   She was born in July 1929 at Palani, learnt Nagaswaram at age of nine from Natesa Pillai and started performing at a tender age of 13 !. Married at younger age, her husband Chidambara Mudaliar became  the Madurai Municipal chairman and a four-time MLC. Ponnuthayi also rose to greater heights as her music was always in demand across the state.

She performed arangetram was in the 1940s and has performed in concerts alongside  greats like T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai, Tiruvengattaar and Tiruveezhimizhalaiyar.  It is reported that Ponnuthayi has even played in the presence of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.  She regularly played for All India Radio, Tiruchi.  She has played continuously for three years in the late 40s in Sabarimalai, as a thanksgiving to Lord Ayyappan, the presiding deity of the temple, whom she believes, saved her life when she was seriously ill during a concert tour of Kerala. She considers her concert at the Second World Tamil Conference a prestigious one.

Many awards had been conferred on her and some of them are `Nathagana Arasi,' `Nathagana Rathnam,' `Nathagana Nithi,' `Nadaswara Vidwamsini,' and `Kalaimamani' to her credit

She was known for her rendition of “Thodi” and has had the honour of Microsoft selecting to have  a recording of Ponnuthayi's Thodi to be played at its headquarters in the U.S. under the category of Indian Music. Apart from M.S. Subbulakshmi, Ponnuthayi is the only other woman musician from South India to have been featured in an exhibition in Japan several decades ago.

Her husband's death rang a death knell to her art in 1972. Nagaswaram being a musical instrument played during auspicious occasions, Ponnuthai as a widow was relegated as  ‘inauspicious.'  And her last days were spent in penury with a paltry pension, supported her by only son.  The first lady of Nadhaswaram had to accept life philosophically.

 Photo courtesy : The Hindu

It is sad for the Music World that M.S. Ponnuthayi passed away on 17th Jan 2012 after a brief illness.  She was 83. she will ever be remembered as a Woman who by sheer tenacity rose to great heights, remained humble, dwarfed by circumstances and never used her talent for personal gains.  Great virtues indeed. 
A tribute to Nadhaswaram artiste.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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