By "music craft", we mean the craftsmen who make musical instruments. This is a much-neglected area in the field of music. We honour musicians but we seldom honour craftsmen without whom there will be no instrumental players. Of the several acoustic instruments, the instruments which have setbacks due to the bulkiness of the instrument, lack of performers and patronage belong to the family of vina; Sarasvati vina, Tambur and Chitra vina. The electronic versions of these get popular due to reasons beyond music. Of course, the performers who are in the limelight patronize their favourite craftsmen. The businessmen patronize craftsmen, but the craftsmen never get what they really deserve. The craftsmen not only suffer on account of lack of patronage, but also due to their lack of education. The younger craftsmen are less and less and if they take to this profession, they more or less become ‘assemblers’ or middlemen. Some venture fretting the veena but without a substantial education in the finesse of fretting. They need to be supported so that this craft continues to improve. At Brhaddhvani, we have been patronizing vina craftsmen for more than three decades. We have honoured craftsmen, such as Palaniappa Achari (1918 to 2003) and Pakkirisami Achari.
The life and work of Palaniappa Achari is well documented thanks to an elaborate illustrative book on vina craftsmanship titled Lautenbau in Südindien: M. Palaniappan Achari und Seine Arbeit (Lute Making in South India: M. Palaniappan and His Work) which was brought out in collaboration with the German instrument maker Dr. Norbert Beyer (affiliated with Museum für Volkerkunde in Berlin).
M Palaniappan was a master craftsman who hailed from Thanjavur. Palaniappan learnt the art of vina making from a very young age. He spent most of his years in Lalgudi and at Trichy with the famous Ramji & Co. who were pioneers in the marketing of these instruments created by Palaniappan for almost 25 years. Today, this craft is being kept alive by the second-generation artisans, his son Natarajan, who has learnt the art from his father from the age of 10.
As a means to revive the dying art and to help these talented craftsmen survive, Brhaddhvani invited this family to Chennai and created a workstation for them. Dr. Karaikudi S. Subramanian has worked with M. Palaniappan and continues to work with his son, Nataraja Achaari in perpetuating the vina making tradition. With Dr. Subramanian’s guidance, Natarajan Achaari has brought several improvements on the vina. He has created more than 3000 tamburas, 1500 vinas and 60 portable vinas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused extensive deterioration in the already challenging livelihoods of craftsmen. They are forced to risk their health and safety in order to secure their living. We at Brhaddhvani are committed to create a safe environment for them to earn their living. We are grateful to all those who connect with our cause.