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Two Jaffna Sisters Playing the ‘Nathaswaram’ and ‘Thavil’ in Male Dominated Music Sphere

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Text and Pix Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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Passionate traditional musical siblings of the peninsula

“Mangala Isai” is a traditional music group that performs at Hindu temples during festivals, Hindu weddings, and at puberty ceremonies. This particular group has two women who play “Naathaswaram” and “Thavil” generally played only by male musicians.

A unique combination of women traditional musicians is a rare treat to the festival goers. Rajeshwary Suntharalingam plays “Naathaswaram”, while Pushparani Thiruchelvam plays the “Thavil”. Both sisters in their early sixties, and for them, it had been a long journey as traditional musicians.

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Rajeswary Suntharalingam instantly creates new renditions

“I began to playing “Naathaswaram” at the age of 9” recalls Rajeswary Suntharalingam (65) with a smile. She was recently felicitated for her tireless service to traditional music by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs when marking the International Women’s Day. Rajeswary Suntharalingam has travelled to India, Malaysia and Singapore to perform at various temple festivals, and Hindu weddings.

Their father Kuttaalingam Maanikkam was a famous “Naathaswaram” player in Jaffna during the 1970s and 1980s.

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Both of their husbands are supportive

“I was inspired by my father, and elder sister to play “Thavil”, and I continue to play with my sister at temple festivals and at Hindu weddings” adds Pushparani Thiruchelvam (63). She has traveled extensively, particularly to India, France, Malaysia, Singapore and Switzerland in order to perform.

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Pushparani Thiruchelvam follows any new rendition created by her sister on stage

Although their parents were willing, and supportive of both of their daughters as they embarked on an unusual career, they had to face numerous challenges in the male – dominated field. In addition, they also had to deal with negative implications within their conservative Jaffna society, all of which they have courageously and together faced.

Both sisters are equally talented, share the space with fellow male colleagues, and passionately play any difficult renditions on stage – always appealing on stage as a pleasant surprise to the audience.

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“Thavil” and “Naathaswaram” are auspicious musical instruments

“Thavil” and “Naathaswaram” tradition has a rich history dating back to 17th century, when “Thavil” and “Naathaswaram” artists were welcomed from South India to Sri Lanka to perform at Hindu temples, and at Hindu weddings in the North. The music forms introduced by these pioneers slowly became ingrained in North of Sri Lankan society, and paved the way for the popularization of South Indian music in Sri Lanka. courtesy: PassionParade

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