Konnakkōl Pakkiri Piḷḷai (1866 – 1937)

It is well known that musical instruments such as violin, mṛdaṅgam, kañjira and ghaṭam accompany in vocal concerts. In a few rare concerts, konnakkōl is also featured as an accompaniment. The mode of rendering orally, the solkaṭṭu (jatis) meant for percussion instruments is termed as konnakkōl. The founder of this art who was also a stalwart in the same was Mannārkuḍi Pakkirippiḷḷai.

Vaidyaliṅga Naṭṭuvanār was born in a family of dancers. He lived at Mannārkuḍi which was their ancestral hometown. He had three sons namely Cokkaliṅga Naṭṭuvanār, Sāminātha Naṭṭuvanār and Gōpāla Nāgasvarakkārar. Cokkaliṅga Naṭṭuvanār's wife Pārvatiammāḷ and the wife of Sivānandam - one among the Tanjore quartette were sisters. Pakkiriyāpiḷḷai was born as the second son of Cokkaliṅga Naṭṭuvanār. As he was born after prayers to the Lord at Nāgūr, he was named as Pakkiri. His elder brother Gōvindasāmi Piḷḷai was a Nāgasvara vidvan. Pakkiri lost his father when he was five years old and he was brought up by his uncle Sāminātha Naṭṭuvanār who trained him in dance. Soon Pakkiri mastered the art and skillfully conducted dance recitals as a naṭṭuvanār. But due to some reason, he was not interested in becoming a dance master. When he was eighteen years old, he stopped performing naṭṭuvāṅgam and started learning to play the tavil. He started training under the local 'svarṇatavilkārar'. He had to be trained only on the aspects of handling the instrument as he was already a master of the basic jatis, solkaṭṭus and laya. In an years span Pakkiri became a notable tavil artist. He became a part of Mannārkuḍi Cinnapakkiri's troupe but had to come out of that after a few years.

Once Cinnapakkiri's performance with the troupe was arranged at a place called Kalkaṇḍārkōvil near Tirucirāpaḷḷi. Cinnapakkiri heard that a tavil vidvan by name Ammāppēṭṭai 'Pakkiri' was performing well and arranged him for the concert. But he did not reveal or inform any details of arranging him to his usual tavil artist Pakkiri. On the day of the concert, the Nāgasvara vidvan of Cinnapakkiri's troupe just wished farewell to Pakkiri and left to the concert. Pakkiri was confused and only later did he know that a vidvan from Ammāpēṭṭai was fixed for the concert. Pakkiri felt that Cinnapakkiri could have informed him before and also that he behaved with pride as a Nāgasvara vidvan. Hence he decided never again to accompany Cinnapakkiri on the Tavil. But a time when he had to decide never again to play the Tavil was also soon approaching.

There was once a concert at a place called Marakkaḍai near Koraḍācēri. Pakkiri had a professional challenge with Vazuvūr Muttuvīrapiḷḷai who had come to play Tavil in the concert that day. He decided not to play the Tavil again. Then he wanted to be part of the concert platform and decided to learn the Mṛdaṅgam. He approached violin vidvan Malaikkōṭṭai Gōvindasāmipiḷḷai in this regard. He declined the offer to be Pakkiri's guru and sent him to Ghaṭam maestro Kṛṣṇayyar in Pazani. On seeing Pakkiri's mastery over laya and his rich voice, Kṛṣṇayyar started to teach him kīrtana-s. Starting as a naṭṭuvanār, he turned a Tavil artist, later wanted to learn Mṛdaṅgam which was also not possible. Pakkiri was upset and went to Chennai. He was depressed for being incomplete in everything. He decided to end his life and went to the seashore. Gōvindasāmipiḷḷai met him in the seashore and learnt his difficulties. He sent Pakkiri with Jalatharaṅgam Ramaṇayya Cheṭṭiyār who had come with him then. Ramaṇayya had known of Pakkiri's greatness earlier from Malaikkōṭṭai Gōvindasāmipiḷḷai. He in turn introduced him to Kāñcīpuram Nāyanāpiḷḷai. Pakkiri and Nāyanāpiḷḷai became close friends. Nāyanāpiḷḷai considered that if Pakkiri was a part of his concerts, he could work out laya aspects better and hence expressed his desire to Pakkiri. As per that, Pakkiri took stage in the year 1910 and the art of Konnakkōl was also born. Since then, till the death of Nāyanāpiḷḷai, Pakkiri was a part of his concerts and came to be known as 'layacuraṅgam' (the goldmine of laya). Even in the concerts in which Gōvidasāmipiḷḷai played the violin, Pakkirippiḷḷai was in the forefront and commenced the layavinyāsas.

Pakkiri had a lot of involvement in Tiruppugazs and was very much devoted to its composer Aruṇagirināthar. He set to tune a number of Tiruppugazs without altering their candas and taught them to many Nāgasvara vidvans. He opined that even the Tavil vidvans should train in Tiruppugaz. With a lot of struggle he set up 'Aruṇagirināthar mutt' at Mannārkuḍi and held its inauguration on 10.02.1936.

It was a practice for anyone who had doubts regarding laya, to approach Pakkiri to clarify it. He will make any vidvan who goes to meet him sing a Tiruppugaz. Nīḍāmaṅgalam Mīnākṣisundarampiḷḷai met him often to clarify his doubts and also considered Pakkiri his mānasīka guru.

Pakkiri was poverty struck towards the end of his life. But even when he did not have food for the day or money, he never accepted the concert offer from anyone whom he considered inferior to him. He never gave up his self respect. If any vidvan who came to meet him took pity and offered money it aroused the anger of Pakkiri. He remained a tiger that seldom tasted grass.

Tirukkaḷar Sundarēsa Dēsikar and Nāyanāpiḷḷai's wife Kuppammāḷ were the ones who learnt music from him. Chitoor Subramaṇya Piḷḷai was one among the many who learnt Tiruppugazs from Pakkiri. Of the ones who learnt Tavil were his brother's son Naṭēsapiḷḷai and the later Morsing vidvan Mannārkuḍi Naṭēsapiḷḷai.

Pakkiriyāpiḷḷai's wife was Taṅkacciyammaḷ. They had a son and a daughter. His son Vaidyaliṅgampiḷḷai was a Nāgasvara vidvan who later took up the art of Konnakkōl in his father's footsteps and became a matcheless performer. Pakkiri's daughter Ammaṇiyammāḷ was the first wife of Pandaṇainallūr Nāṭyakalānidhi Mīnāṭcisundarampiḷḷai's son Muthiāhpiḷḷai. After Taṅkacciyammāḷ passed away, Pakkiriyāpiḷḷai married Āccikkaṇṇammāḷ. They did not have children.

Pakkiriyāpiḷḷai, who was always singing or murmuring Tiruppugaz songs, became one with his favourite deity Aruṇagiripperumān on 2.11.1937 in his seventy first year. The demise of Pakkiriyāpiḷḷai who was praised as layabrahmam by Gōvindasāmipiḷḷai and layacuraṅgam by others, left a blank in the world of laya which can never be compensated.