Hyderabad has always produced ‘n’ number of artists who have achieved name and fame across the world for their achievements. One such pearl in the field of Carnatic classical music is PV Ramana Murthy, who is working as mridangam lecturer in Sri Thyagaraja Government College of Music and Dance.
Hailing from Peruru, Amalapuram, Ramana Murthy’s family moved to Hyderabad when he was three years old. His father and guru, veteran mridanga vidwan late Sri Pulletikurthy Rama Rao, was a mridangam staff artist in AIR, Hyderabad. “I started learning mridangam from my father, when I was four years old and started accompanying him for the Carnatic concerts at the age of 11,” says this child prodigy who “grasped whatever was taught immediately”. “In the process, I could finish the syllabus for the examination much earlier, but I was underage. So, Srirangam Gopalaratnam, the then principal, wrote a letter to the government and took permission on my behalf to write the certificate exam at the age of 11, which is to be written at the age of 14,” says Ramana, who is also a civil engineer.
Academically, Ramana Murthy was a good student and he cracked the entrance examination of engineering and got into Kurnool engineering college. “As a student, I never thought that I would take up music as a full-time profession; it’s only after my engineering that I understood where my heart lied. Till then, like every kid, I was balancing studies and music and programmes,” says Ramana, who is also a ghatam player.
Ramana Murthy started playing ghatam along with his father for senior musicians, which he thought he will play only for a few years, but destiny had different plans for him. “Many stalwarts who came from different States preferred my ghatam for their concerts and they always complimented that my playing shadowed the mridangam, and till date I couldn’t stop playing,” he adds.
There are three popular places where every ghatam musician loves to buy the instrument — Chennai, Bangalore, and Maana Madurai which is 40 kms away from Madurai. In Maana Madurai, the ghatams are made by one particular family, who know the exact technique of making. A special grade of soil is chosen and a few special metal powders are added to get the musical sound. Most of the professionals prefer this place to buy their ghatam as this produces a good tonal quality.
A person who learns mridangam, by adapting and learning the fingering techniques they will be able to play many other rhythm instruments like ghatam and kanjeera. “But, I didn’t want to become a jack of all, I chose to be what I am,” says the ‘A’ grade artist in both instruments.
In mridangam, learning is different and accompaniment is different. Mostly, a few phrases might be used in a performance. Though Mridangam is usually seen as an accompaniment, “there is a lot of difference while playing for a male vocalist and a female vocalist. In the same way, the player should balance according to the instrument. How we play for veena we can’t play in the same way for flute. From vocal to instrument, it varies, and from instrument to instrument also, it varies,” explains the musician who has been trained in Palani style of playing mridangam.
As Ramana Murthy belongs to a musical family, he has his father’s mridangams preserved carefully till date. “The mridangam sounds the best as it ages. I am using my father’s mridangam till date, and we need to maintain and treat it regularly. I have nearly 12 mridangams from my father’s days, and 70-80 ghathams. The shell of mridangam is made up of jack fruit wood, which becomes more valuable as it ages. The sound depends on that as well,” says the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha Asthana Vidwan, who has given more than 5,000 programmes in national and international platforms and who also authored mridangam theory and practical book for Silicon Andhra University, USA.