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Mridangam vidwan G Ekambaram
- Nandini Ramani

May 26, 2013

With the passing away of the veteran dance mridangam vidwan Kanchipuram G. Ekambaram on May 23, 2013 at Kanchipuram, an era of great stalwarts of the Kanchipuram laya lineage has come to an end. The 80 year old exponent Kanchipuram Govindasamy Ekambaram was the son and disciple of Kanchipuram Govindasamy who played mridangam accompaniment to the legendary T. Balasaraswati in her arangetram held at Kanchipuram Amanakshi Amman Temple. The close association and loyalty of the Kanchipuram mridangam artistes to Bala's tradition is very long and unique. This binding link between the two was established from the times of the illustrious Kandappa, guru of Bala. Kanchipuram Kuppuswamy Mudaliar, who accompanied Bala all through her artistic career, was Ekambaram's paternal uncle. Kandappa's familial links with his student Kanchipuram Ellappa who was also a member of Bala's orchestra for some time, completed the Kanchipuram association of Bala.

G. Ekambaram became part of the orchestra of T. Balasaraswati school from 1958. He was trained and shaped for dance accompaniment by nattuvanar K. Ganesan, the illustrious son of Kandappa (who conducted Bala's outstanding performances in India and abroad for nearly two decades and more) and brilliant musician Kanchipuram C.P. Gnanasundaram of the Naina Pillai school, who was Bala's main vocalist after the demise of T. Jayammal.

Ekambaram had the highly refined touches of his uncles Kuppuswamy Mudaliar and Munusamy Mudaliar, well known as "Aapila" in the dance circles of yesteryears. Ekambaram's playing was vibrant and unique in the sense that it not only nourished the Bharatanatyam performance but also brought out his own masterly grip over laya nuances. His style of maintaining the kanakku, playing the cross rhythmic nuances and the display of exquisite nadais were very special that inspired the performers to a great extent. Some of the adavus or the basic steps could be visualized from his play in the rhythmical segments. There was a perfect blend of musicality and the nritta patterns in his approach which actually had a strong underlying rigorous quality that posed a tough challenge for the dancer to handle on stage. His technique was fiery, yet subtle and devoid of dramatization, much suited to the Kandappa-Bala tradition. Ekambaram was admired by many senior musicians, laya vidvans as well as several artistes of the younger generation.

Ekambaram's last performance was on January 20, 2011 when he played for this writer, at Kanchipuram Amanakshi Amman temple, in the same space where Bala's arangetram took place several decades ago. A special event to commemorate this glorious memory was organized by local enthusiasts and preservers of Kanchipuram Heritage who were delighted to honor Ekambaram during this function.

Ekambaram had accompanied Bala a few times and all along played for Priyamvada, the prime disciple of Bala, and this writer and their scores of students in India and abroad from 1958 to 2006. He made several trips to the US, Canada and Europe along with these senior exponents of this tradition. The doyen natyacharya Thanjavur K.P. Kittappa Pillai was very fond of Ekambaram's accompaniment and included him few times in his orchestra. Apart from these, Ekambaram rarely moved out to play for other dancers; thus, his style remained pristine and out of the routine.

Ekambaram, a well-versed vocalist, was an ardent devotee of Kanchi Kamakshi and Lord Muruga. In spite of several personal problems and pressures, he never wished to move away from his native town to seek and enjoy the greener pastures of the Bharatanatyam scene of the urban society. Dr. V. Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, Chennai, of which he was a major part, honored him with a cash award in 2011 on T. Balasaraswati Remembrance Day in the august presence of the Vice Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi and Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. The Centre has been taking care of him all along and especially in the last one decade of his inactivity. Through the efforts of this Centre, Ekambaram had been receiving the Tamilnadu Government Artists' pension from Tamilnadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram. Roja Kannan, former Secretary of ABHAI, took efforts to extend financial help to him under the ABHAI banner.

In the demise of Kanchipuram G. Ekambaram, the field of dance accompanists has lost a unique style of dance mridangam expertise and a very rare exponent of that line.

A prime disciple of T Balasaraswati, Nandini Ramani is the director of Dr. V Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts in Chennai.

Kanchipuram loses another stalwart. May Thiru G. Ekambaram rest in peace. We wish his family strength to bear this loss.
- P. Rajagopal, President Kattaikkuttu Sangam and Gurukulam, Punjarasantankal, Kanchipuram 631502
(June 1, 2013)

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