Naina Pillai

Naina Pillai: A Titan Of His Times

A "full bench" it was — of eight musical exponents well versed in laya seated on the dais in the auditorium of Esplanade Theatre, Madras, located years ago in the same place near the High Court buildings where the Burmah Shell office was functioning. The presiding 'chief was none other than the famous Naina Pillai, the uncrowned laya vinyasa chakravarti at the peak of his prowess. The accompanists were Tiruchi Govindaswami Pillai (violin) Kumbakonam Azhaganambia Pillai (mridangam) Pudukottai Dakshinamurthi Pillai (kanjira) Mannargudi Pakkiria Pillai (konnakole) Sundaram Ayyar (ghatam) Venu Chettiar (dholak) and Seetharamayya (morsing). Not in the least a noisy aberration like Osibisa but a veritable vintage exposition of laya-laden Carnatic music that at once fired the imagination of the rasikas. Even the puritan pundits of sampradaya could not help nodding their heads and sounding the beat in spontaneous response to the musical rhythm. Naina's virtuosity was impeccable — his mastery of pallavi was nonpareil and he revelled in the company of chosen instrumentalists, carrying them along with him ever so much in symphonic smoothness with minimal discordance.

Born on Monday 25 July 1889, Naina was the only, darling son of Kanchipuram Kamakshi Ammal. When he grew up to become a doyen of Carnatic music as the famous 'Naina Pillai', few were Naina's full bench' consisted of violin, mridangam, kanjira, ghatam, dholak, morsing, konnakkole and sometimes an instrument called gettu vadyam. For the better part of his concert career, the kormakkole vidwan Pakkiria Pillai was seated to Naina's extreme left, between the fiddle and the audience, while the kanjira vidwan Dakshinamurthi Pillai was seated right across, to Naina's extreme right, between the mridangam player and the audience. This was the standard seating arrangement according to one contemporary witness, although the arrangement might have been different in some years.