Here is the story of Bhagyalakshmi Muralikrishna, an immensely talented morsing player. This is an excerpt from a piece by Kirthi Jayakumar, exclusively written for Aalaap
Hailing from a musical family, Bhagyalakshmi Muralikrishna took to a rather rare art form: the morsing. “My father, Morsing Emperor Gaana Kalaa Bhushana Vidwan L Bhimachar is the greatest exponent of morsing in India. My mother S Jayamma, is a singer. My older brother, B Druvaraj is a mridangist and my other brother B Rajashekar is a morsing player of international repute.” With a musical background of such grandeur, there was already impetus for Bhagyalakshmi to take to the field. “Dabbling with the musical background inspired me to learn to play the morsing.” Not many women play the morsing at all – and Bhagyalakshmi feels that she truly is in the minority in the field as a woman morsing player. “My challenge is to show the world that women are no less in playing the morsing in comparison with men. My father has been the greatest source of inspiration for me – he has given more importance to the quality of playing the morsing rather than to my gender - and has guided me on these lines.” However, as disheartening as it is, it is also true that the opportunities to play the morsing as a woman when compared to those that are open to men, are lesser in number. “There may be many reasons for this. I haven’t quite gone into that. Having said that, I must tell you that Ghatam Vidushi Sukkanya Ramgopal is my inspiration – and being a member of her Stree Taal Tarang group is a really great thing. We are being innovative in our conceptualisation and implementation of our ideas when we perform together!”
hear morsing accompaniement at 2:00
This lady holds some unusual credits to her name. Bhagyalakshmi Muralikrishna is one of the few women percussionists in the country, and the first woman to play the morsing in Karnataka. The Bengaluru-based artiste has accompanied several renowned musicians — both vocalists and instrumentalists — in Carnatic music kutcheris across the country.
Bhagyalakshmi is an approved A-Grade artiste of All India Radio, and has performed in more than a 1,000 concerts. Soft and mild-mannered, she packs a punch with her performances. The world of percussion instruments is, in general, a male-dominated one and the morsing itself is an unusual instrument. It has a metallic horseshoe-like ring frame with two parallel forks; and a metallic tongue in the middle, which vibrates when struck or plucked. The instrument is placed between the lips, and played to produce a unique music that involves synchronising the hand movement with the verbal expression of the laya. This is akin to transforming the art of konnakol to produce musical rhythms on the morsing.
Bhagyalakshmi learnt this art form from her father, the legendary morsing artiste Bheemachar. But the circumstances that made her learn the instrument are surprising. When the renowned percussionist H P Ramachar was trying to assemble an all-women percussion troupe, he realised there were no women who could play the morsing. He immediately approached Bheemachar and urged him to train his daughter in the instrument. Bhagyalakshmi was only 10 at that time. Her father had earlier trained his two sons, Dhruvaraj and Rajashekar; but was happy to coach his daughter too. Thus began Bhagyalakshmi’s tryst with the morsing.
She learnt the art form proficiently from her father, winner of the Karnataka Kalashree and GanaKala Bhushana awards. Initially, the process was difficult. The instrument had to be placed between the lips and care had to be taken to ensure that the artiste’s tongue did not come in contact with the slightly sharp ‘metallic tongue’ of the morsing. But Bhagyalakshmi overcame the difficulties and went on to perform at several concerts. She initially accompanied several upcoming and junior artistes. But soon her popularity grew, and now she can proudly proclaim that she has played pakka vadyam for prominent musicians like Balamurali Krishna, M S Sheela, Neela Ramgopal, Soumya, to name a few. Bhagyalakshmi is a well-known face in the Madras Music Academy, and has been part of the hugely popular December or Margazhi music performances.
Concerts & performances
Bhagyalakshmi is a member of the Stree Taal Tarang, an all-women musical percussion ensemble, organised by the renowned ghatam artiste Sukanya Ramgopal. All the percussion instruments like mridangam, ghatam, kanjira and the morsing are played by women artistes. The performances by this rare group is a connoisseur’s delight, and has received much appreciation. Bhagyalakshmi, along with her father and brother, has represented India in the World Jewish Harp Festival held in Amsterdam, where morsing (also known as Jewish harp) players from various countries gather to showcase their talents. The artiste has fond memories of this event, as their tri-member performance of father-son-daughter, was well received and world-class musicians rapturously applauded their unique rendering on the morsing.
While Bhagyalakshmi mainly performs the Carnatic genre, she has forayed into the field of fusion music as well. She played the morsing at Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s Fusion concert, which featured him on the Mohan Veena playing Hindustani music, accompanied by a tabla and a mridangam.
Bhagyalakshmi knows that in two-hour vocal concerts, the percussionists get no more than 20 minutes of playing time. She is happy that people are now more open to watching tala vadya concerts, where the instrumentalists and percussionists are given more time to perform, and can display their mastery of the instrument. She says, “I am glad the morsing has come a long way from my father’s time. It is recognised now as a pakka vadyam and is part of the essential list of additions on stage.” Coming from a family of musicians, she is also happy that her son and nephews are also learning to play the morsing. In fact, three generations of percussionists from the same family — her father, herself and her brothers, and their three children, will be performing together at a unique, first-of-its-kind concert this month.
bonus – morsing solo –