Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman
Mrudangam Vidwan

To Tanjore – the cradle and nursery of Carnatic music and its masters – belongs Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, the topmost mrudangam vidwan of today. Born on 17-12-1935, he is the son of Dr P. Kasiviswanatha Iyer and Smt Kamalambal. His father, a medical practitioner and himself an accomplished musician, had with insight and intuition nurtured the inborn talents of his son and got him rightly initiated into mrudangam through the gurukula discipline under scholarly practitioners.

Sri Sivaraman learnt this divine art under four great and illustrious masters: Sri Arupathi Natesa Iyer, Sri Tanjavoor Vaidyanatha Iyer, Sri Palghat Mani Iyer, Sri Kumbakonam Rangu Iyengar. The pursuit of this art under the gurukula system for well over fifteen years did not deter him to qualify for law. He is a double graduate of The University of Madras (B.A., B.L.).

Behind the professional glory and mastery of Umayalpuram Sivaraman lies a massive substratum of toil and training. Even as a three year old kid, Sivaraman revealed his ‘laya sense’ playing his fingers on whatever objects they chanced to touch upon and producing diverse ‘talas’ and such an act fetched him the gift of a kanjira from his grandmother. As a boy of ten, Sivaraman had his ‘arangetram’ (first concert) and the debut was held in the precincts of Kalahastheeswaraswami temple in the temple town of Kumbakonam.

His new techniques, innovations and creative ability in accompaniment, solo renditions, and jugalbandhi programmes with his North Indian counterparts have earned him a special place in the world of art, worthy of emulation by other artists. Having made his debut at a tender age of ten, Sivaraman has been in the field as a ‘top notcher’ for half a century now, accompanying a galaxy of maestros of recent past and artistes of great merit today, both vocal and instrumental.

 His percussion career has been a colourful spectrum of accompaniment to a legion of musical maestros in Carnatic music – Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Sri Musiri Subramania Iyer, Sri Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Sri Mysore Chowdiah, Sri Rajamanickam Pillai, Sri Papa Venkataramiah, Sri Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu, Sri Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer, Sri G. N. Balasubramaniam, Sri Madurai Mani Iyer, Sri Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Sri Alathur Brothers, Sri Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, Dr Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Dr M. Balamuralikrishna, Sri Nedunuri Krishnamurthi, Sri Voleti Venkateswarulu, Sri S. Balachander, Sri T.R. Mahalingam, etc. He has to his credit several jugalbandhi concerts with the top artistes of Hindustani music like Pt. Ravishankar, Sri Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt. Ram Narain and top tabla artistes like Pt. Kishen Maharaj, Pt. Samta Prasad, Ustad Allah Rakha, Mr. Zakhir Hussain and others. In these concerts, Sivaraman has won great approbation from his North Indian Counterparts and the audience. 

Besides his professional career, he had undertaken the very laudable task of doing original research in the art of mrudangam. This resulted in his highly acclaimed lecture demonstrations done in all important centres in India and abroad, which enabled him to disseminate knowledge of this divine art to art lovers, music conferences, music seminars and the like. He is the only mrudangam vidwan who has explored and placed before the world of art lovers authentic information on the techniques and nuances of mrudangam for more than two decades. He has introduced the fibre glass mrudangam to Carnatic music for the first time, improvised a mechanical jig to eliminate human error in the moulding of skins for both sides of the instrument and has done research work on tanned and untanned skins for the mrudangam. His analysis of the ingredients of the black patch has given much insight on the overtones produced by different strokes on the mrudangam.

Sri Sivaraman has contributed informative articles on mrudangam in Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha's (Bombay) Journal, Bhavan's Journal; Vadya Kala - a publication of the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras (Ministry of Commerce - Handicrafts, Govt. of India) and to several other journals and publications. He has played mrudangam in several professional recordings and in the special feature 'The Drums of India', in the United States. He has also planned and played in the cassette ‘Garland of Rhythm’ which has given a new dimension to the concept of thani avarthanam (mrudangam solo). He had the unique honour of playing Tala Vadya Kutcheri-s in the Annual Film Fare festival in 1973 and 1975. He also participated in the ‘Tala Vadya Utsav’ at New Delhi in 1985 and played a jugalbandhi concert. He played mrudangam in a special programme known as ‘Mrudangam Drum Set Jugalbandhi’ in Max Muller Bhavan, Madras, along with two leading drummers from West Germany. He has served as a judge in the panel constituted by the Ministry of Education and Culture, Government of India. He has served as a judge in the All India Radio panel, for selection of artistes. He was invited to play mrudangam in the popular and successful Tamil movie 'Mrudanga Chakravarthy'. Sri Sivaraman is a ‘A’ Top Grade artiste in All India Radio and Doordarshan Television. He has presided over the Annual Music Conference of the Indian Fine Arts Society, Madras, in 1984 and was conferred the title of Sangeetha Kala Sikhamani. Sri Sivaraman has been appointed as the Director for ‘Tanjore Vaidyanatha Iyer School for Percussion’ recently started by the Music Academy, Madras.

His innovations include analysis of the ingredients of the black patch on the right side of the mrudangam, on the overtones produced from the right side drum head, synthesis of the traditional and the modern approaches in playing on the instrument, research in using tanned and untanned skins and hides of the instrument, evolving new patterns of rhythmic designs (mora-s and korvai-s), has improvised and is using a mechanical contrivance to eliminate human error in the moulding skins for mrudangam on both sides and he has made a fibre glass mrudangam and used it in concerts.

He has given lecture demonstrations at The Music Academy, Madras; Tamil Nadu Isai Kalluri; University of Madras; National Museum, New Delhi; Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha, Bombay; Karnataka Gana Kala Parishat, Bangalore; Music College, Madurai; Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Coimbatore; Indira Kala Viswa Vidyalaya, Khiragarh; The Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney; and in the United States of America etc. He has gone abroad several times on concert tours and special programmes. He has visited the USSR, USA, Canada, UK, France, West Germany, East Germany, Poland, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Bangkok, Ceylon, Muscat, Bahrain, Australia, etc. In his visit to the U.K., he participated in the Tala Vadya Kutcheri for the Festival of India, 1982, and again for the same festival in New York and Washington D.C., U.S.A., in 1985. He has also been invited to perform concerts and jazz concerts in Sri Lanka and Belgium.

When Sri Sivaraman completed 50 years of service to Carnatic music in 1996, His Excellency Shri K. R. Narayanan, Vice-President of India, honoured Sivaraman at a public function held at Madras on 10th March 1996.

He has been working for the upkeep of the traditional way of playing without sacrificing the modern impact, greater understanding, and wide appreciation for the instrument, dedication to the art of mrudangam, its propagation, and scientific improvisations in the construction of mrudangam. His mrudangam playing is considered to be in a class of its own, winning critical acclaim from the top-most musicians and music lovers.