Narayanaswamy Appa was a well known Mridangam Vidwan. He belonged to the late 19th century. The great artiste hailed from the family Appas, an old Maratha Kshatriya family. This family had settled in Thanjavur long ago. They had held high and responsible positions during the rule of the Marathas. Narayanaswamy Appa had learnt Mridangam from the great Vidwan Sivaswami Appa. He picked up the skill due to his attitude and aptitude. Appa was quick to gain the mastery of the instrument and he rose to become a famous Mridangam player. He lived at the Maruthi Swami at Mannargudi. Appa used to have a vision of Maruthi Swami in his dreams and would conduct bhajans based on the orders of the deity.
Appa's performances would radiate his devotion to Lord Rama. He was a very good singer and would play the Mridangam while singing. Appa would play for his own Kalashepams. The devotee of Lord Rama used two Tamburas during his performances. He was the Asthana Vidwan of the Sethybhava Swami Mutt and he would accompany the kirtana chariarRamachandra Bava. The son Vishnu Bava was said to be in the ensemble. This furthered his art considerably. He had a great sense of Sruti. Appa had a number of Mridangams with him. Each one of them was used for the different pitches. He would never tune the Mridangam on the stage. Purchasing a Mridangam was done only after playing it for some time.
Narayanaswamy Appa was very careful with his fingers. He would never use them hard. His fingers did not touch hard materials. He would take the help of a co-passenger while opening the door of a railway carriage. Appa played the Mridangam superbly and his touch would be delicate. Clarity was his forte and this was present even while playing fast patterns. He was a loyal accompanist and his support would enrich the music of the main artiste. Appa was free from stunts or mannerisms. One would never get to see his head or body doing something strange. His posture was graceful.
This interesting Mridangam player had accompanied many great people : Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Saraba Sastrigal, Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavathar among others. Interestingly Appa had been in Government service for sometime. His learning was accompanied by several innovations and improvisations. He was known to be a patient researcher. Appa could bring out the delicate nuances of the Mridangam with remarkable grace. He was known for preparing the left head of the drum with utmost care and would only apply the required quantity of paste in the center. The paste would never come off while he played. The tone that came out due to his strokes on both the sides of the Mridangam would remind one of the Pranava Nadam.
Narayanaswamy Appa used to be at the residence of Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar at the time of the Radha Kalyanam. One day, the pitch of Soola Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar did not match the pitch of Appa's Mridangam. Bhagavathar agreed to make some changes but Appa insisted that he get the right Mridangam for the performance. His Bhajans drew the attention of a number of wealthy music lovers. Zamindars and noblemen would attend his Saturday night recitals. Pandithurai of Ramnad was one of those visitors and he had even rendered financial help to Appa.
Appa's good will was greater than the leading musicians of the time. He was honored by the society of his times. Appa suffered from some eye issues and he had to stay at the residence of Justice Mani Iyer in order to undergo the requisite treatment. One day, Krishna Bhagavathar was celebrating a festival in his house. Appa was requested to give the accompaniment. However, Appa requested Krishna Bhagavathar to begin the performance after the completion of the temple festival nearby. He was not ready to perform amidst disturbances. Krishna Bhagavathar obliged and began his Katha after the temple festival.
The people of Chennai wanted to enjoy Appa's recitals. Appa was hesitant to visit the capital of the Presidency ( Madras Presidency ). He was unsure of his own comfort level. However when Hotelier Swaminatha Sastri offered to take care of his requirements, Appa obliged. Friends brought the famous Sivaganga water by train everyday for Appa. The Rasikas of Chennai were enthralled by the performance. There was a community wedding at Kunnur near Mannargudi. Eminent musicians like Thirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Sarabha Sastri etc., were invited to perform along with Appa. Sir S.Subramanya Iyer wished to listen to all the luminaries that day. Narayanaswamy Appa took on the role of the principal artiste and the other Vidwans became his accompanists. Appa sang and played while the others performed one after the other just as in a Bhajan. The performance was a veritable feast.
Thanjavur Narayanaswamy Appa occupied an unchallenged place those days.
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