has always been a quintessential facet of Carnatic music,
and in the modern generation of percussionists, perhaps
no other individual has mastered the intricacies and
the laya endowments of the ghatam to such a great degree
as Sri Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram. T.H. Vinayakram,
affectionately known as Vikku, has transformed himself
into an international celebrity with his imaginative
and beautiful drumming on the ghatam.
The ghatam, a very ancient percussion instrument of
South India, is a mud pot with a narrow mouth. From
this narrow mouth, it shapes itself outwards to form
a ridge. Primarily made of clay fired with brass or
copper filings with some small amount of iron filings,
the ghatam's size varies according to pitch. In addition
the pitch can be altered to a small degree by the application
of plasticine, clay or water. The ghatam is placed on
the lap of the performer, with the instrument's mouth
facing the belly. The artiste uses his fingers (including
thumbs), his palms, and occasionally, even the fingernails
to produce various sounds. Sometimes, the ghatam is
turned around so that the mouth faces the audience,
and the player is able to play more readily on the neck
of the instrument.
Son of the noted and talented musician and percussionist,
Kalaimamani T.R. Harihara Sharma, who among other things,
played on the mridangam, morsingh, and the gettuvadhyam
(the only stringed instrument used for percussion resembling
the fretless veena, often employed by the famous Kanchipuram
Naina Pillai (1889-1934) as an accompanying instrument),
Vinayakram was a child prodigy. He started his concert
career at the tender age of thirteen. A doyen of South
Indian percussion, not only has he demonstrated his
amazing dexterity in accompanying the great stalwarts
of yesteryear and recent times - Semmangudi Srinivasa
Iyer, G.N. Balasubramaniam, Madurai Mani Iyer, M.S.
Subbulakshmi, and Maharajapuram Santhanam - but he has
also displayed his creative and improvisatory genius
in playing mind boggling rhythms for various fusion
groups, such as Shakti and J.G. Laya. On the Carnatic
music platform Vikku is renowned for his crisp play
and deep knowledge of rhythm. He majestically finishes
many a tani avartanam by throwing his ghatam in the
air and catching it without missing a beat.
Vinayakram first became known in the West in the mid
1970s as a member of the group Shakti, which consisted
of the jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist L.
Shankar, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, and Vikku. The
extraordinary speed and precision of his duets with
Zakir Hussain captivated international audiences.
Vinayakram has a number of titles and awards to his
name, including: "Astana Vidhwan" of Kanchi Kama Koti
Peetam, "Ghatam Nagamani" given by Sri Jayendra Saraswathi,
"Kalaimamini" given by the government of Tamil Nadu,
India, and the First Sangeeth Natak Academy Award for
ghatam in 1988.
In addition to these attainments, Vinayakram became
the first South Indian artist to ever receive a Grammy
Award in 1991 for Best World Music Album for his participation
in Mickey Hart's "Planet Drum" in which he played ghatam
and morsingh. In addition, Vinayakram was a nominee
for the 38th Annual Grammy Awards for Best World Music
Album for his participation in 'Raga Aberi' along with
L. Shankar on the ten string double violin and Zakir
Hussain on the tabla (the piece on this album is a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi
in Raga Aberi set in a tala cycle of 4 3/4 beats). Vinayakram
is also noted for his accompaniment in the first Carnatic
concert given at the United Nations in New York by M.
S. Subbulakshmi in 1966. Currently, T.H. Vinayakram
is the principal of his Sri Jaya Ganesha Thala Vadya
Vidyalaya Percussion School in Madras.
Vinaykram has also published two books: 'Art of Mridangam'
in English and 'Mridanga Pada Bhodhini' in Tamil.