Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer (1912–1981) was one of the leading mridang players in the field of Carnatic music. He was awarded the Madras Music Academy’s Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1966. Mani Iyer was the first mridang player to win the Sangeetha Kalanidhi Padmabhushan. He received the Sangeet Natak Academy award in 1956. He, along with his contemporaries Palani Subramanian Pillai and Ramanathapuram C.S. Murugabhoopathy are revered as the “Holy Trinity of Mridanga”.
He was born and raised in the old Kalpathy village of Palakkad, Kerala. Mani Iyer came into prominence after accompanying Chembai Vaidyanatha Bagavathar in a music concert at Madras.
Mani Iyer accompanied all the leading vocal artists of his era. He was also the guru for later mridangam players such as Late Palghat R. Raghu, Late Mavelikkara Velukkutty Nair, Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, Kamalakar Rao, Late G. Harishankar (Kanchira), Palghat Suresh, etc. He also taught mridangam to children at the Rishi Valley School started by Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Before Mani Iyer’s arrival in the music scene, the three mridang maestros Nagercoil S. Ganesha Iyer, Alaganambi Pillai and Dakshinamurthy Pillai (who played the kanjira also), dominated the art of percussion playing. The innovations of Mani Iyer changed the style of mridangam playing from just keeping beat for the main artist’s music to being an instrument in its own right. A comment from Y. G. Doraisamy: “It was Mani Iyer who started the now prevalent trend of the mridangam, not just keeping the time with tekkas and moras, but actively accompanying the musical phrasing so as to be a rhythmic running commentary, reproducing on the drum all the subtleties and rhythmic complexities of the musical composition.”
Palghat R. Raghu, a disciple of Mani Iyer, describes his guru as a genius in that he showed music followers the manner of blending with the music of the main artist in handling the kritis of every conceivable mood and tempo. By his consistent excellence he could raise the concert to thrilling heights. He also took his arangetram at age of 8.
He was the father of the noted Carnatic musician Lalitha and was the grandfather of the noted singer Nithyasree Mahadevan. Palghat Dr R Ramprasad, another noted singer is his grandson through his son, also a noted artist T R Rajaram.
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