August 4, 2015
Making music lovers spellbound is South India’s famous Santoor player N. Ganesh, who made Coimbatore his home after migrating to Tamil Nadu from his native Kalpathi (Tamil Brahmin settlement) in Palakkad district.
Sexagenarian Ganesh, who got a placement in Cheran Transport Corporation (CTC) (now Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) as a musician in the CTC orchestra in 1980 recalled the golden days when there was overwhelming response for CTC Orchestra.
Narrating his musical voyage, Ganesh said that Mridangam exponent Chathapuram Subba Iyer also known as Palakkad Subba Iyer was his guru from whom he learnt the nuances of mridangam and later got initiated into Santoor by Erode Madhupal. However, it was Mandalin Raju, the assistant to veteran music director M.S. Viswanathan who fine tuned his skill in playing Santoor, an ancient string instrument, which has its roots in Jammu and Kashmir. He bought his Santoor in Bombay for Rs. 750 in 1985.
“My inspiration to play Hindi songs on Santoor started from listening to playback singers Mohamed Rafi, Shamshad Begum and Begum Akthar. And my visit to recording studios in Bombay further enhanced my music interest,” he said.
His maiden performance was held at Coimbatore Nehru Vidyalaya in 1987, which was well received among the music lovers. Ganesh has been giving solo performances for the last two-and-a-half decades, visiting places across the length and breadth of the country.
Santoor exponent Ganesh, who started his musical career with mridangam, developed the skill to play nearly 30 types of percussion instruments. Ganesh has also played tabla for ‘Qawwali’ shows.
“It was an unforgettable moment in my life when I met accordion maestro Charles Srinivasan at a recording studio in Bombay, who showed me the re-recording work of music director RD Burman’s assistant,” Ganesh recalled.
“Later, I was inspired by the songs in the blockbuster Hindi movie ‘Pakkeeza’ which was initially set to music by Gulam Mohammed, but noted music director Naushad completed the re-recording work for the film after the sudden demise of Gulam Mohammed,” he said adding that he took a liking for Hindustani music after performing at Ustad Allauddin Khan Festival held in Bhopal.
About the string instrument Santoor, Ganesh said has its origin in Persia and it was invented in Mesopotamia between 600 and 911 BC.
A typical santoor has two sets of bridges, providing a range of three octaves. The Indian santoor is more rectangular and can have more strings than the Persian counterpart, which generally has 72 strings.
The santoor is played while sitting in an asana called ardha-padmasana position and placing it on top of the lap. While playing, the broad side is closer to the waist of the musician and the shorter side is away from the musician. It is played with a pair of light wooden mallets or hammers, using both hands.