Archive | January 8, 2014

Jaffna thavil “vithuvaan” Thatchanaamoorthy

Thavil vithuvaan  Thatchanaamoorthy is a well-known artiste among the  Jaffna Carnatic music lovers.

For those who are unfamiliar with this type of two sided percussion, here are some details:

A hollow barrel shaped “thavil”  drum is  made of  animal skin and wood.  The barrel of the drum is made from  the wood of jak fruit ( ) and the skin is from water buffalo and goat for the either side of the  barrel. The thavil is generally accompanied  with a wood wind instrument called  “nathaswaram” .  The thavil and Nathaswaram combination is  traditionally played in south Indian and north Sri Lankan Hindu Temples, weddings and at auspicious festivals. These ensembles  have 2 thavils (1st & 2nd)  and 2 nathaswarams.

The best ensembles of T & N  are hailed from  Thanjavoor in Tamil Nadu so it  was indeed  magnanimous   for maestro  Thatchanaamoorthy   to shine among the Thanjavoor thavil  artistes.

Thatchannamoorthi was well received whenever he performend in Jaffna Hindu temples. People gather in droves from far away villages to hear his drumming and  to get a glimpse of the maestro. I have many recollections of the conversations my late father had with my uncles and the other “meLLa” fans of late Thatchanaamoorthi. Legend has it that  on one  temple occasion the genius  played  for nearly five hours!

My memory serves correct, his  recorded ensembles were broadcasted  via the South Indian radio stations almost 40 years ago.  I wish success to his family in the mammoth task of  retracing some of his performances for the future generation to cherish.

Below is an article published on The Hindu where his family is searching for his old recordings:

A Jaffna thavil maestro’s Thanjavur connection

Meera Srinivasan The Hindu JAFFNA, December 22, 2013 

Thakshanamoorthi pillai

Thavil Vithuvaan Dakshinamurthy Pillai remains a peerless giant in the world of percussion

Late Dakshinamurthy Pillai remains a peerless giant in the world of percussion

It was during his few years in Thanjavur that thavil maestro Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy Pillai saw his career peak. It was also in Thanjavur that he got rather disillusioned with the music field. Nearly four decades after his passing away, Dakshinamurthy Pillai remains a peerless giant in the world of percussion. “He was a rare phenomenon. He came, he conquered and he perished,” said Yazhpanam Ganesan, summing up his cousin Dakshinamurthy Pillai’s life.

“Just as he conceived complex rhythmic permutations and combinations, his fingers would effortlessly execute them with utmost clarity,” said Mr. Ganesan, himself a Nagaswaram artist. But until date, the family of Dakshinamurthy Pillai has not been able to retrieve a single recording of his performance in Tamil Nadu.

“We don’t have any video recording, either,” said Yazhpanam Udayasankar, carrying on his father’s legacy. He is the only one among Dakshinamurthy Pillai’s five children to stay back in Jaffna, as a thavil artise. “My brother who lives in Canada also plays the thavil.”

A self-taught genius

Dakshinamurthy Pillai — a largely self-taught genius — went to Thanjavur on the insistence of Needamangalam Shanmugavadivel, a thavil wizard in his own right. “Appa [father] made very good friends there like musicologist B.M. Sundaram, AKP annan (thavil exponent Haridwaramangalam A.K. Palanivel) and Kaliyamurthy annan. They were all passionate musicians, constantly exchanging ideas,” said Mr. Udayasankar.

Dakshinamurthy Pillai had the highest regard for Nagaswaram giant T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai’s music. “He has played for stalwarts like Karukurichi Arunachalam on many occasions,” said Jaffna-based violinist Uthirapathi Radhakrishnan, a nephew of Dakhinamuthy Pillai. He would bring artists from Tamil Nadu to Jaffna for performances as well.

Despite such strong links and artistically rewarding exchanges, the pressures of being a performing artist began daunting him, notes Mr. Udayasankar. “He had no personal rivalry with any artist. They all supported him, but somehow, things did not work out for him.” After some failed attempts at treating his depression Dakshinamurthy returned to Jaffna. He died when he was barely 42. “It is a tragedy that such a genius went unrecognised — both in India and in Sri Lanka,” said Mr. Radhakrishnan.

All that the family has in his memory are a few black and white photographs, one family photograph that looks recently colour-processed. “I was only seven when my father passed away,” said Mr. Udayasankar.


In an era when photographs were rare and audio or video recordings even rarer, much of Dakshinamurthy’s contribution on either side of the Palk Strait was undocumented. Only recently, film maker Amshan Kumar started working on a documentary about the maestro. While one part has been shot in Tamil Nadu, the crew will travel to Jaffna early next year for the remaining portion.

The family has another source of hope. Actor Sivaji Ganesan was a big fan of Dakshinamurthy’s performance.

“At his request, my father played at his daughter’s wedding. If only I could contact his family, I will ask them if they have a video recording of that concert. Watching my father play will be a dream come true,” Mr. Udayasankar said.

Family members of Thavil maestro Yazhpanam Dakshinamurthy Pillai.


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