Guruvayur Dorai

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Guruvayur Dorai is one of India's senior-most exponents of the South Indian classical percussion instrument, the mridangam. Initiating his concert performances at the tender age of eight.

Guruvayur Dorai has performed on the concert platform for the past 60 years.

His wide range of efforts in the field of mridangam and music have helped propogate the art around the globe.


The birth of an artist

Guruvayur Dorai was born on 2nd July, 1935 in Guruvayur,Kerala, India , to G S Krishna Iyer and Meenakshi. His father was a sasthri (priest) and mother, a housewife. He has two brothers and three sisters. His sisters Guruvayur Ponnammal and Rajam Rajagopal were consummate vocalists while Guruvayur Rajamani is a violinist and another brother Balasubramaniam is a singer of devotional music.

Early Life

Dorai began to learn mridangam when he was six. His gurus were Late Sri Palghat Subba Iyer, E.P.Narayana Pisharody and Late Sri Palani Subramania Pillai. His first concert (known as Arangetam) was at the famous Guruvayur Srikrishna temple at the age eight when he played for the renowned carnatic legend Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagvatar.


Dorai got married to Seethalakshmi in 1966. Their daughter is married and is in Kuala Lumpur. Their son Kannan, an mridangam artist, was doing research in zoology in the US, died in a road accident in 1993, hours before his marriage.

Professional career

In 1954, Dorai got his break when he played for legendary Nadaswaram artist Sri T N Rajarathinam Pillai. Since then, he has been accompanying famous artists like Balamurali Krishna, Thayagaraja Bhagavathar, T R Mahalingam and others. Many artistes used to visit Guruvayur temple and Dorai was called upon to accompany them on the mridangam. He played for many leading artists at a very young age.

Dorai performed with nearly all the eminent artists including Musiri Subramania Iyer, M.D.Ramanathan, Semmengudi Srinivasa Iyer, M.S.Subhalakshmi, Radha & Jayalaksmi,G.N.Balasubramanium, Dwaram Venkatswamy Naidu, Veena S. Balachander, Chitti Babu, Flute Mali, Mysore T. Chowdiah, Palghat Ghatam Sundaram, Alangudi Ramachandran, G. Harishankar and Nagaswaram artists namely Thiruvengadu Subramanium Pillai in 1951, and Namagiripettai Krishnan, from the 1960's onwards.

Dorai has also performed with leading present-day artists including T.V.Sankaranarayanan , T.N.Seshagopalan, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Chitraveena N. Ravikiran, etc. Dorai has performed with leading Hindustani artistes such as Bhimsen Joshi, Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravishankar, Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. He has been regularly performing abroad since 1958.

Dorai has performed in the USA, the UK, Russia, Canada, Malaysia, etc., beginning his trips abroad in 1958. He has served as visiting scholar in prestigious universities like the University of Washington, Seattle (1977-78) and Western Michigan University (2001 and 2002).

Guruvayur Dorai has also taught at several music schools. He has served as visiting scholar in prestigious universities like the University of Washington, Seattle (1977-78) and Western Michigan University (2001 and 2002). He taught at the Sydney University, Australia in conjunction with Prof. T.N. Krishnan. Dorai has recorded solo mridangam discs in France, West Germany and in India.

Dorai has played all over the world, received several honors, served as visiting faculty to institutions abroad and yet remains the simple man that he always was. He has produced several well known students in the field of Indian classical percussion, including Manaragudi Easwaran, Rohan Krishnamurthy, S.V.Ramani (Mridangam and Ghatam), etc.

The Master's style

Guruvayur Dorai has carved a unique style for himself as a senior Mridangist. Dorai's embellishments during songs are quite simply exquisite. He has the capability of literally presenting the song on the mridangam. Every phrase and sangathi is matched by bold strokes on his mridangam. Due to his vast experience on the concert platform, Dorai's anticipation is uncannily superb.

Two distinct features exist in Dorai's playing, one being his masterful and fluent pats on the thoppi, including his exquisite gumkis. Second being his style during lighter pieces, known as thukkadas. Predominantly incorporating the Tabla style, he has become a trendsetter in this aspect for all mridangists.

The thani avarthanams (solos) of Dorai are highly integrated and generally contain at least one nadai variation. His solos not only incorporate patterns he absorbed from past masters but also his own refreshing ideas.


Dorai is the recipient of many prestigious awards. Notable among them are;

  • Sundara Mridanga Visarada from the AG's Office Recreation club, Chennai
  • Nal Laya Mamani from the Tamil Nadu Nalvazhi Nilayam, Chennai
  • Tal Vilas from Sangeet Peeth, Sursinger Samsad, Mumbai in 1982
  • Nadakanal by Nadakana
  • Mridangam Maestro Palaghat Mani Iyer award, (Percussive Art Centre, Bangalore).
  • Kalaimamani - title conferred in 1990 by the TamilNadu government
  • Asthana Vidwan of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam - 1991
  • Kala Shiromani - conferred by Percussion Arts Center, Bangalore, 1996
  • Laya Gnana Vibushan - title conferred by Yazh Sangeetha Sabha, Perth, Australia in 1965
  • Sangeeth Natak Academy award- 1997
  • Awarded the title of "Laya Chakravarthy" in Austin, Texas


Guruvayur Dorai has played in almost all the prestigious music meets in India and has travelled extensively all over the world. Carnatic music lovers in US are familiar with his style since his first tour in 1974. Notable concerts include;

  • 1982. Accompanied M.S. Subbalakshmi for the Festival of India in Britain
  • 1984. Toured US and donated the earnings for the cause of the blind
  • 1988. Participated in the Festival of India in USSR
  • 1988. Played at the Classical & Modern Music Festival in West Germany
  • 1992. Played at the invitation of Sangeetha Nataka Academy, South Africa
  • 1992. Played in Bahrain in aid of the Somalia Relief Fund
  • 1997. Participated at the Tanz & Folk Festival, Rudolstadt in Germany


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