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In Conversation With Mannargudi Easwaran

Ranjani Saigal

"To become a good artist you require 7200 hours practice. Why 7200? For that is the number of hours you lived in your mother's womb," says Kalaimamani Mannargudi Easwaran who was invited to Phillips Academy to run a short course on Mridangam.

In his musical career that nearly spans half a century, Mannargudi Easwaran has accompanied a wide range of artists, right from the maestros of yester-years to the young stars of today. He has won the prestigious Kalaimamani title and the Sangeeta Natak Academy Award.

Arun Saigal , a student at Phillips Academy received a grant to bring a Mridangam Maestro to Phillips and Mannargudi Easwaran graciously agreed to Saigal's request and spent 10 days at Phillips Academy introducing students to Carnatic music and Mridangam.

Despite being famous, Easwaran is extremely humble. "I am an artist thanks to the blessings of my mother and father, and the kindness of my guru," says Easwaran.

"I started learning mridangam at the age of four, and slowly, I performed when I was eight with small, small programs. I had an Arangetram in 1958. From then onwards I became full-time professional. Since then, I have played a lot of concerts and various cities, countries. I have taught classes in San Francisco State University, Princeton University, and now in Phillips Academy."

Phillips students were mesmerized by the Maestro playing and 1200 students unfamiliar with the Mridangam gave him a standing ovation after his after his performance at Phillips. His brilliance as a teacher was clear as he was in very short period of time able to give students a clear understanding of Talam structure and introduce them to Mridangam.

"In my time picking a Guru involved horoscope matching. My father was told that I had it in my horoscope to become a talented Mridangam artist. He immediately tried to find a Guru. My Guru, instead of talking about fees, asked me to match my horoscope with his. When he was satisfied with the match, he took me in."

"I did not start out thinking I will make this my profession. I have a degree in engineering and in fact I went for an interview to Larsen and Toubro. One of the interview committee members had heard me play and refused to interview me saying I was foolish to seek a career in engineering when I had the musical talent. I am delighted I got turned down for that job. Somehow the musical profession has found me and does not let me go."

He is born in the family of the great Sanskrit scholar, Appayya Dikshitar and wears the Rudraksham that was original worn by his famous ancestor.

His tips for budding Mridangist is simple. "Constantly think of the Mridangam. Keep writing patterns in different talams as they come to you. If you write down a 1000, one or two may turn out to be useful. If you have it written down it will, come to you when you are playing in a kutcheri. Practice is of course key."

He cherishes playing with the musicians of yester-years. But he is also very complimentary of modern day musicians, even fellow Mridangists. "People like Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Palghat Raghu, Guruvayor Dorai, Kariakudi Mani  and others have really made great contributions to music and serve as great inspiration for me," says Easwaran.

"It is a great pleasure to stay at Phillips Academy and work with these brilliant children," says Easwaran.

"Rama was great because His mother's blessing was on Him. Mother's blessing is the key to success. Father, Guru and God come much later. So I say to mothers bless your child and they will be the most successful person in the world."

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Mannargudi Easwaran At Phillips Academy

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