Legendary woman nagaswaram artist Ponnuthai dead

Chennai, Jan 18 (IANS) M.S. Ponnuthai, a legendary woman nagaswaram (traditional Indian music instrument) artist, died at her residence in Madurai after a short illness, her family said. She was 84.

Her grandson T. Vigneshwaran said Ponnuthai passed away Tuesday.

Braving societal opposition, she stormed into the nagaswaram scene — till then a male bastion — when she was just 13.

Speaking to IANS from Madurai, some 450 km from here, Vigneshwaran said: ‘Patti (grandmother) learnt to play nagaswaram at the age of nine, encouraged by her parents and close relatives. But the community was against a girl playing the instrument.’

Born to Subbuthai and Sripathi, who played harmonium, Ponnuthai learnt playing the instrument from Madurai Natesa Pillai and gave her first public performance at Madurai.

Since then, Ponnuthai had given around 3,000 performances. According to Vigneshwaran, she played for All India Radio for a long time.

Once Ponnuthai made her mark in the music circuit, awards and accolades came to her.

‘She was awarded Kalaimamani by the Tamil Nadu government,’ Vikneshwaran said.

Ponnuthai got married at the age of 19 to Chidambaram Mudaliar, a Congress politician.

‘Thattha (grandfather) encouraged patti to continue to play nagaswaram,’ he said.

Vigneshwaran said his grandmother did not run any formal music school to teach youngsters.

‘However, an American girl, Karisha King, came and learnt the instrument at Madurai for a year and one person by name Bhaskaran learnt vocal music,’ he remarked.

Ponnuthai’s music career was affected on her husband’s death. People were reluctant to allow a widow to play the instrument during auspicious events.

Unfortunately, none of Ponnuthai’s children were musically inclined.

‘I am the musical heir of Ponnuthai in the family,’ Vigneshwaran said. He plays mridangam and runs a music school in Madurai.

Ponnuthai is survived by one son, two daughters, three grandsons, six grand-daughters and three great-grand-daughters.