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Tamilnadu's Contribution to Carnatic Music -
A Bird's Eye-view (by B.M. Sundaram)



Source Acknowledgement:
The following article is taken from SRUTI, India's Premier Music and Dance Magazine , Issue 132, p. 23 (1995). It was adapted from a lecture delivered by B.M. SUNDARAM at the 53rd annual festival of music and dance organized by Sri Tyagaraja Festival Committee in Tirupati. In regard to performers, the author has, with few exceptions, not mentioned the name of anyone living.
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Carnatic music means ancient or traditional music.

Every region in the South has contributed to the richness and glory of Carnatic music but each may claim only a share of the credit. 'Contribution' is a word meaning 'to give or supply in common with others to a common fund or store'; it also means 'to play a significant part in bringing about a result'. In this broader context, it can be safely stated that the many-splendoured contribution of Tanjavur to Carnatic music has played a significant role in its development.

It is generally accepted that the Tamil race and the Tamil language are of ancient origin. Assemblies called Sangams were founded to foster the Tamil language. Three such Sangams, called 'Talaicchangam' (the first Tamil Sangam), 'Idaicchangam' is the middle one and 'Kadaicchangam (the last) had poets, musicians, kings and nobles as members. But even before the first Sangam, another one with the name of Mahendramalai Tamil Sangam is said to have existed, between 16000 BC and 14550 BC. It can be inferred that, for a Sangam to be established, the language, culture and works of the land must have already been well developed by that time. From this, the antiquity and predominance of the Tamil language and people may very well be understood. Brooni, in his The Music of the World, has written: Pythagoras came to South India, learnt about the major seven scales of the Tamils, returned to Greece and reshaped the Greek musical system."

According to scholars, the first Tamil Sangam existed between 14004 BC and 9564 BC (14440 years); the second one between 6805 BC and 3105 BC (13700 years); and the third between 1715 BC and 235 BC (1480 years).

References in literary works

Almost all the literary works of the Sangam age, barring one or two, have been lost, though references to them or quotations from them are found in some later works. Agattiyam, Mudunarai, Perunkurugu, Pancha Bharateeyam and Kalariyavirai were some among the works of the first Sangam period. Tolkappiyam, the earliest available work, belongs to the second Sangam period. The available works reveal that the arts, especially music and dance, were part of the Tamils' life. References to music and dance are said to be found in all these Sangam works, though their main topics are varied. For instance, Tolkappiyam is a grammar, but speaks of music and musical instruments at numerous places. Pathu Pattu and Ettu Togai, like some other works of the third Sangam period, mention music and dance at various places.

Works on music and dance

Besides, there were works exclusively either on music or dance or on both. Indra Kaleeyam of Yamalendra, Isai Nunakkam of Sikhandi, Pancha Marabu of Arivanar, Bharata Senapatiyam of Adivayilar, Kootta Nool of Sathanar and Muraval, Sayandam, Guna Nool, Seyirriyam-- authors not known-- are examples. Pancha Marabu belonged to the third Sangam period. Adiyarkku Nallar, who wrote a commentary on Silappadikaram, has quoted extracts from verses of the Sangam works. Except for these two works, others are known only through references.

Music grammar

Different types of yazh (lute), palai (parent scale) and pann (comparable to the raga of the present day) are mentioned profusely in the Sangam literature. It is a common notion among some music scholars that the division of parent scales (now termed as janaka raga-s or melakarta-s) and the derivative raga-s was first spoken of by Vidyaranya in his Sangeeta Sara, with the name 'jati' for a parent scale. Although it has been quoted by King Raghunatha Nayaka in his Sangeeta Sudha, this work of Vidyaranya is not available. But, a system similar to the present melakarta, as well as Vidyaranya's 'jati', was indicated by the Tamils of the pre-Sangam age, with the term 'palai', oft-discussed and described in Sangam and post-Sangam works.

In ancient Tamil, the seven notes of the musical gamut were termed as kural, tuttam, kaikkilai, uzhai, ili, vilari and taaram. A sthayi (or an octave) was termed as mandilam. Later, say, between 200 BC and 200 AD, these notes also came to be mentioned as sa, ri, ga, etc., as in use today. The Tamils of thc Sangam age of an earlier period also identified the 12 swara-s in a scale employ the shadja-panchama or shadja-madhyama relationships. This type of relationship was called kizhamai by the Tamils. By modal shik of tonic, they devised the seven major palai-s. This graha bheda method, known as 'pannu peyarttal' was discusset in various Sangam works like Ahananooru, Madurai Kanchi and Malaipadukadam. The 'cycle of fifths' was called 'aaya palai'. By decreasing one sruti for two swara-s, 16 kinds of pann-s were derived; this method was called 'vatta palai'. Halving the sruti value in the 12 notes and creating pann-s was 'tirikona pdai'. 'Sadura palai' indicated reducing one quarter of the sruti value of the notes. The ancient Tamils also knew the method by which a scale of seven notes is made out of only five. This was the 'nertiram', which reminds us of thc saptaka that was formed with the five notes of the Saman chant.

The major seven palai-s or parent scales of the music of the ancient Tamils are: Sempalai (corresponding to the present Harikambhoji); Padumalai Palai (Natabhairavi); Sevvazhi Palai (Hanumatodi, but with both madhyama-s); Arum Palai (Dheera Sankarabharanam); Kodi Palai (Kharaharapriya); Vilari Palai (Hanumatodi); and Merchem Palai (Mecha Kalyani). From out of these, 103 pann-s (raga-s) were derived: Perumpann (sampoorna) 17; Panniyal (shadava) 70; Tiram (audava) 12; and Tirattiram (swarantaram) four. The possibility of evolving 15,456 pann-s is also spelled out. Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century, AD) mentions some of these pann-s.

It is fortunate that Pancha Marabu, the Sangam work on music, has survived. It describes, in extenso, all aspects of music, musical instruments and dance, which were prevalent during that period. Silappadikaram of Ilango Adigal and commentaries on it have also thrown open the windows to the musical system, nomenclature and so on of the Sangam period. We get a fund of information about the music of the Tamils in these works.

It is believed that there were a number of works dealing solely with tala-s even during the Sangam age. Tala Eri and Tala Vagaiyottu are examples. Later came Chacchaputa Venba, Tala Samudram, Talakkali Venba, Adi Bharatam, Suddhananda Prakasam, etc. Pancha Marabu has separate chapters for tale and percussive instruments; the 108 tala-s are mentioned in it. It explains terms like 'vattanai' (which means avarta). Reckoning tala-s in the usi mode (syncopation) originated in Maharashtra, but was highly developed by the Harikatha artists of the Tamil soil. Insofar as tala-s are concerned, a new trail was blazed by Arunagirinathar of Mullundrum who lived in the 15th century. His hymns on Lord Subrahmanya, called Tiruppugazh (1360 of them are available), many of which are included in classical music concerts as well, are set in complicated chhanda-s and hence the tala-s have come to be known as chhanda tala-s. They are indeed very difficult to execute. The late Chittoor Subramania Pillai was a master in rendering Tiruppugazh songs in chhanda tala-s. Most concert musicians, however, render these songs in other tala-s which are simple.

Music manuscripts are plenty in the Saraswati Mahal Library. Raga elaborations have been notated and preserved in many of them, as also thousands of compositions that are yet to see the light of the day. Innumerable books on music appeared to offer maximum benefit to musicians, students and researchers. Natanadi Vadya Ranjanam of Gangamuthu Nattovanar, Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsiru of Subbarama Dikshitar, Dikshitar Keertana Prakasika, an authentic version of some select Dikshitar kriti-s by Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, Sangeeta Gayakamrita Varshini of Pandanallur Arunachala Nattovanar, Tacchur Singaracharlu's works, and the works of Veena Ramanulachari and Tanjavur K. Ponniah Pillai are examples. Yazh Nool, a work dealing with a variety of lutes and ancient Tamil pann-s, was written by Swami Vipulananda. Karunamruta Sagaram, the 'magnum opus' of Tanjavur Abraham Panditar, is a voluminous work in two parts and it is astonishing to note how much material he has collected and presented. On the theoretical side, the contemporary source of authority are Prof. P. Sambamoorthy's works, in which he has summarised earlier texts. Only his books are recommended in any University that has a faculty of Camatic music, be it in Andhra, Karnataka, Bombay or Delhi and found part of the syllabus.

Contribution of Tamil Saint-Poets

Tevarams are devotional hymns bequeathed by three Saivite Nayanmar-s: Tirugnanasambandhar, Tirunavukkarasar of the 7th century AD and Sundaramurti of the 9th century AD. Manickovachakar, of a later period, composed Tiruvachakam, Tirukovaiyar, etc. Significantly, in these works, the names of the pann-s in which the hymns were to be rendered have been specified. There is a pann of ancient ongin, with the name of Kausikam, used by the Tevaram composers. This is the very first bhashanga rage and it now goes by the name of Bhairavi. Other bhashanga raga-s may be said to have been modelled on this one. The Chapu tala-s too were probably introduced by the Tevaram composers.

The more than 3000 songs of the compendium called Nalayira Divya Prabandham are the gift of the Vaishnavite Azhwars. Although, the names of the pann-s for most are missing in the printed versions, the pasuram-s were apparently rendered musically rather than merely recited.

The system of Tamil music would not have survived but for the hymns of the Nayanmar-s sud Azhwar-s. Tevaram-s and pasuram-s now serve as a bridge between the ancient Tamil music and present-day Carnatic music.

Compositions and composers

Musical compositions are multivarious, like swarajati, varnam, keertana, kriti, padam, pada vamam, javali and many more.

The very first musical composition came up in the Sangam era. Paripadal is a collection of about 30 musical compositions, in praise of Tirumal (Vishnu) or Kumaran (Subrahmanya) or some other deity. Each song contains the name of the individual who set it to music.

The first swarajati is attributed to Melattur Veerabhadrayya (1739-1786), though it is not known how the village name, Melattur, got prefixed to his name, considering that there is no record to indicate he lived in the village. Swarajati-s are of two kinds. In the series of vocalises taught to beginners in music, there are some with the name swarajati, like Rara Venugopala. In Vizianagaram and Bobbili areas, they are called jetiswara-s. But both seem to be wrong. The very name contains the word 'jati', be it a swarajati or jetiswara and, as such, suggests that jeti should be interspersed in the song, which is missing in these cases. The second kind of swarajati is that used in a dance perfommance, like: E mayaladira, which contains jati phrases also.

Tana varna-s Tana varna-s, used in music concerts, are myriad in number, like their composers. Pachimiriyam Adiyappiah is regarded as the 'tana varna margadarsi' or the pathfinder in regard to tana vamam. He lived in Tanjavur and then in Pudubotai between 1730 and 1766. Two of his varna-s in Ata tale are available. Viriboni in Bhairavi is most popular, while the other one, Madavati in Pantuvarali, is seldom heard these days. Pallavi Gopala Iyer (1788-1832), Tiruvarur Ramaswami Dikshitar (1735-1817), Veena Kuppier, Kottavasal Venkatarama Iyer (1810-1880), Patnam Subrahmania Iyer (18451902) are among other famous tana vama composers. The maximum number of vama-s by a single composer-- about 46-- were created by nagaswara vidwan Koranadu Natesa Pillai (1830-1925). Most of the musicians do not know who is the composer of the Kalyani rage vamam Vana jakshiro in Adi tale for various authors have given different names. The real composer was another nagaswara vidwan, Nagapattinam Veeraswami Pillai, whose manuscripts are now in my possession. He has four more vama-s to his credit with the mudra 'Nagapuramuna Velayu Sami Soundraraja'.

The kriti format was first handled in Tamil Nadu by Muthu Tandavar. It was further used by Margadarsi Sesha Iyengar in his compositions; it is because of this he came to be known as margadarsi or pathfinder. Another early composer who deserves mention in this context is Oothukadu Venkatasubba Iyer. He is reported to have composed hundreds songs but not all have come to light yet.

It was, however, the trio called the Carnatic music trinity-- Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry - that gave a new fillip to the kriti-form and gave it the shape that prevails even today. The three enriched Carnatic music with compositions in their individual styles and it is their compositions that yet constitute the core of the concert repertoire.

All the three belonged to Tamil Nadu, though Tyagaraja's ancestors are said to have belonged to a village in present-day Andhra Pradesh. Tyagaraja's family had lived in Tamil Nadu at least for four generations, as have his descendants later.

Tyagaraja composed keertana-s and kriti-s, besides three operas. It is said that it was only he who introduced sangati-s (thematic variations) to kriti-s. In ancient Tamil music, sangatiwas known as 'viyartti' and sanchara as 'selavu'.

Dikshitar has given us keertana-s and kriti-s, including the navagraha kriti-s and two sets of naveavarana kriti-s. The tana vama Roopamu joochi, in Telugu, is mistakenly attributed to him; it is in fact a composition of Tiruvarur Muthuswami Nattavanar, a disciple of Ramaswami Dikshitar. And, in the group of navagraha kriti-s, only seven are Muthuswami Dikshitar's Smaramyaham on Rahu is a composition of Balaswami Dikshitar, while Mahasuram on Ketu is that of Tiruvarur Veeraswami Nattuvanar, a disciple of Muthuswami Dikshitar. The compositions of Syama Sastry are notable for their rhythmic nuances in particular.

Following in the footsteps of these three, a multitude of composers appeared on the scene including Subbaraya Sastri, Annaswami Sastri, Ananta Bharati, Patnam Subrahmania Iyer, Vaiyacheri Ramaswami Iyer, Subbarama Dikshitar and Ramanathapuram 'Poochi' Srinivasa Iyengar. Among latter-day composers, the contributions of Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri and Papanasam Sivan also deserve mention here.

Arunachala Kavi of Seerkazhi, who lived in the 18th century, composed Rama Natakam in the form of an opera or geya nataka. Similarly, Mudicondan Gopalakrishna Bharati's songs for Nandan Charitram are very popular. A junior contemporary of Tyagaraja born in 1810, he was an outstanding composer and Harikatha artist. He passed away in 1881 (?). Nandan Charitram has been presented on the stage both as drama and ballet; and its songs have entered the concert repertoire via Harikatha discourses.

The very first ragamalika song in the 72 mela raga-s was in Marathi, a creation of Tanjavur Venkat Rao (1817-1900), a student of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayya. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer composed Pranatarthihara, his melaragamalika opus, only later. Muthuswami Dikshitar and later on Kotiswara Iyer 11870-1938), a descendant of Kavikunjara Bharati, composed kriti-s in all the 72 mela raga-s.

Ragam-tanam-pallavi is considered the piece de resistance of a Carnatic music kutcheri. Pallavi-s are set up, of course, not by composers but by performing musicians. Musicians of Tamil Nadu have, ever since concert music came into vogue, contributed a plethora of pallavi-s to the repertoire. But even earlier, in the 19th century, there were musical stalwarts known for their specialisation in creating and rendering pallavi-s.

The post-pallavi segment of Carnatic music concerts, especially those presented in Tamil Nadu, feature other types of composition, mostly in Tamil. These are drawn from works like Tevaram, Divya Prabandham, Rama Natakam, Nauka Charitram, and Tiruppugazh, as well as from the numerous songs composed by others, including pada-s and javali-s and kavadichindu-s.

The genre of songs called pada, soaked in sringara bhakti, came into vogue at least during the 16th century AD. Such songs took birth, influenced by the Sangam classic Ahananooru, the verses of which are replete with sringara rasa. The term pada is ohen loosely used. The sringara sankeertana-s of Annamacharya and his descendants, according to some writers, are pada-s. Similarly, the devarnama-s of Purandaradasa are also termed as pada-s. The pada with an erotic content is said to have gained currency thanks to the compositions of Kshetragna of Mowa and Sarangapani of Karvetinagar. As far as the Tamil country is concemed, Muthu Tandavar of Seerkazhi, a contemporary of Kshetragna, composed many pada-s. Inspired by them, Tanjavur Vasudeva Kavi, Kavi Kunjara Bharati, Vaitheeswarankail Subbarama Iyer, Ghanam Krishna Iyer, Mazhavarayanendal Chidambara Bharati, Chettipattanam Cheenawa and some others composed pada-s and then have become popular.

Based on the pada-s, pada vama-s for Bharatanatyam came into existence, usurping the role of swarajeti-s. The pada vama-s of the Tanjavur Quartet-- Chinniah, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu-- are still popular in the field of dance.

The Tanjavar Quartet composed as well a rich cascade of tana vama-s, kriti-s, pada-s, javali-s and tillanas. Though their compositions are either in Telugu or Tamil, they themselves were Tamils.

The origin of javali, according to some scholars, is traceable to Karnataka. The contribution by way of this musical form, of Tanjavur Chinniah and his brothers, Patnam Subrahmania Iyer, Dhammapuri Subbaraya Iyer, Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar and Tiruppanendal Pattabhiramawa, is remarkable. The bulk of the songs of the genre called javali is in Telugu but many of these composers lived in Tamil Nadu.

A musical form akin to the tillana has been mentioned in the inscriptions of Rajendra Chola I (10th-11th centuries), but the tillana in its present form actually came into existence in Melattur, a small village near Tanjavur associated with the Bhagavata Mela nataka-s. Tillana-s were originally meant for dancing, but gained entry into the concert stage also. A number of tillana-s were composed by the Tanjavar Quartet, while many others have added to the list since then.

Musicians

Without performers music can remain only on books. It is the musicians who present the creative works of composers to the public and keep the classical system of music alive. They need listeners, of course.

The annals of Carnatic music contain the names of numerous musicians of Tamil Nadu who have made a valuable contribution to the preservation, development and promotion of Carnatic music. Some of them can be called path-finders, innovators; others have served the cause by the high calibre and excellence of their music.

The Carnatic music kutcheri as we know today had its beginnings barely a hundred years ago. The early stalwarts of Tamil Nadu who sang for the public were Patnam Subrahmania Iyer, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Coimbatore Raghava Iyer, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar and Madurai Pushpavanam, to name only the prominent vidwans. These were followed by giants who created a public following for classical music, like Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavatar, Kallidaikurichi Vedanta Bhagavatar, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Musiri Subrahmania Iyer, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Kanchipuram Naina Pillai, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, G.N. Balasubramaniam and Madurai Mani Iyer.

Of these, Ariyakudi and GNB were innovators and trendsetters of significance. The former perfected a new kutcheri pattern with variety as its hallmark, while the latter introduced a strikingly new band.

Among women, M. S. Subbulakshmi, D.K. Pattammal and M.L. Vasanthakumari, described as the Female Trinity of Carnatic music by N. Pattabbi Raman, together brought about a revolutionary change in the outlook of the women musicians themselves, and public appreciation of women musicians. The bottom line: the status of women in music was raised.

During the last century, most of the vocalists of Tamil Nadu were vainika-s also. Veena Perumalayya, Veena Rama Kalahastayya, Dasavadyam Krishna Iyer and many more were in the court of Tanjavar. The names of Veena Dhanammal and Karaikudi Brothers, of the recent past, are still cherished by the rasika-s.

Gottuvadyam is a stringed instrument which is given new fanciful names by every artist. One calls it gottuvadyam, another contends it is chitraveena, while a third endearingly avers it is atichitra veena. Perhaps it will some day be credited with a 'sahasranama'! Scholars are of the opinion that the original name of this instrument is 'maha nataka veena'. Whatever may be the truth, it is not known whether any one played the instrument for the public in Tamil Nadu before Sakharama Rao of Tiruvidaimarudur did. Not surprisingly, therefore, he is considered a pioneer. Latter-day artists of Tamil Nadu, like Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, Tanjavur Duraiyappa Bhagavatar and Mannargudi Savitri Ammal, exhibited extraordinary proficiency in playing this instrument. A. Narayana Iyer, D. Kittappa, Madhavachar and few others were also prominent.

The same is the case with the flute too. Sarabha Sastrigal 11872-1904), an eminent flutist, was probably the first one to play in concerts. He was followed by Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Kumbakonam Nagaraja Rao and others. T.R. Mahalingam or Mali, born in Tiruvidaimarudur in 1926, was a prodigy, and a genius turned legend. He introduced an entirely new way of playing Carnatic music on the flute. He passed into eternity in 1986.

Tiruppamburam Swaminatha Pillai was a perfectionist and his anchor-like rhythmic precision had no parallel. After unveiling his portrait in a Madras sabha, Mali said: It was only Swaminatha Pillai who introduced madhyama kale playing on the flute and I took a leaf only from him."

The name of Anayampatti Subba Iyer (1881-1961) became a synonym for jalatarangam. Azhwar Tirunagari Appadurai Iyengar, Madras Ramaniah Chettiar, Avudayarkovil Harihara Bhagavatar and a host of others learnt from him.

Perur Subrahmania Dikshitar and Alathur Venkatesa Iyer were outstanding harmonium vidwans, who played nothing but Camatic music on the keyboard instrument. Many others, like S.G. Kasi Iyer, Uraiyur T.M. Khader Batcha, K.S. Devudu Iyer and Madurai M.R. Vasavambal, and such others helped establish a place for the harmonium in Carnatic music, but their careers were restricted to the drama stage. The role of the harmonium in Camatic music diminished when the musical theatre went into oblivion.

It was Tanjavur Vadivelu who played Carnatic music on the violin for the first time, though, in the opinion of some others, the credit should go to Balaswami Dikshitar. (A musicologist from Karnataka has written that violin was first used for Camatic music in Karnataka, on the basis of a portrait found in the Daria Daulat (Tipu Sultan's Palace) at Srirangapatnam. But he has not indicated who played Camatic music on the violin in that period or indicated what type of music had been played by the lady represented in the said portrait). Anyway, after Vadivelu and Balaswami Dikshitar, stalwarts like Seerkazhi Narayanaswami Pillai, Tanjavar Venkoba Rao, Tirukodikoval Krishna Iyer and Malaikotai Govindaswami Pillai helped establish the place of the violin in Carnatic music. Two of the eminent violinists of the recent past were Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai and 'Suswaram' Tiruvalankadu Sundaresa Iyer.

Although some techniques of playing the mridanga were the gift of Maharashtrians, this percussive instrument has been in use in Tamil Nadu from time immemorial, for dance recitals and music performances held in the royal Courts. The Tanjavur Palace records refer to one Kamakshi Bai, the first known lady-player of the mridanga. The instrument gained a golden touch at the hands of Tanjavur Narayanaswami Appa. Tanjavar Pakkiri Pillai, Kumbakonam Azhaganambi Pillai, Tanjavor Ramdoss Rao, Tanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, as well as other eminences from a different district, like Pudukotai Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Palani Subramania Pillai, were responsible for carving for the mridanga the vital role it enjoys today in Camatic classical music.

Khanjira, the South Indian tambourine, was at one time mostly used in processional bhajan-s, since it is very handy and easily portable. Dr. U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, the great savant of Tamil literature, has mentioned Tiruvidaimarudur Radhakrishna Iyer and Kumbakonam Krishnamachariar as two khanjira players. The instrument was given a lift by the leonine Pudukotai Manpoondi Pillai (1857-1921) who was a formidable figure on the concert platform. Complete rhythmic manipulations came to be used in concerts only from his times. Manpoondi Pillai's illustrious disciple, Pudukotai Dakshinamurthy Pillai, was a wizard in playing the khanjira as well as the mridanga.

The clay pot called ghatam appears to have been handled on the concert platfomm first by CoimbatoreAnantachar. Polagam Chidambara Iyer, Umayalpuram Narayana Iyer, Seranmahadevi Sundaram Iyer, Tiruvidaimarudur Hanumantha Rao and Lalgudi Saptarishi Iyer were other early performers. Later, Palani Krishna Iyer was an eminent ghata artist, but it was Alangudi Ramachandran, a Keralite settled in Tanjavur district, who raised the status of the instrument.

Mukhasangu (corruptly called morsangu or morsing) players were many in Tamil Nadu. Adichapuram Seetarama Iyer and Mannargedi Natesa Pillai achieved eminence by playing this harp skillfully to support Carnatic music.

The recital of rhythmic phrases in dance programmes by the nattuvanar is common. The oral rendering of the rhythmic solfa syllables in music concerts was an innovation of Mannargudi Pakkiri Pillai and the art came to be called as konnakol, though Bharata mentions it as 'vak karana' and some other music works mention it as 'mukhari'. However talented or senior a mridanga or ghata vidwan may be and however young or lacking in talent a vocalist may be, the first place and the central seat on the dais is given only to the vocalist, for it is he or she who renders the sahitya orally. Like the vocalist, it is only the konnakol artist among the percussionists who renders the rhythmic phrases orally. For this reason konnakol artists were given the first place among the percussionists in concerts. Kanchipuram Ekambara Iyer, Mannargudi Vaidyalingam Pillai (son of Pakkiri Pillai) and Vellore Gopalachari were some famous konnakol vidwans.

'Alatti' of the ancient Tamil music became 'alapti' or 'alapana later. Raga alapana in vocal or concert instruments has always been guided by the nagaswara. Similarly, the execution of complicated rhythmic pattems developed to a high degree owes its inspiration to the instrument called tavil. The nagaswara melam consisting of these trio instruments served as the beaconlight to other media of Camatic music. It may not be necessary to describe in detail that nagaswaram and tavil took birth and 'grew up' in the Tamil soil, particularly in the district of Tanjavur. Mannargudi Chinna Pakkiri Pillai, Tirucherai Muthukrishna Pillai, Keeranur Brothers, Tiruveezhimizhalai Brothers and some others were highly proficient in rendering alapana, kriti-s and difficult pallavi-s. Semponnarkovil Ramaswami Pillai had no equal in playing rhythmically terse rakti-s, while Chidambaram Vaidyanatha Pillai was deservingly known as the 'Pallavi Simham'.

There cannot be anyone in the Carnatic music world who does not know or has not heard about Tiruvaduturai Rajarathnam Pillai (1898-1956), whose name is a synonym for the nagaswara. A genius, he added extraordinary and new dimensions to nagaswara music. Elaborate, hypnotising rage alapana was his forte. He was a first rank vocalist too. Before taking up the wind instrument, he was giving vocal duets, in tandem with Tiruppamburam Swaminatha Pillai, who later became a flutist. AIR-Tiruchi regularly broadcast Rajarathnam Pillai's vocal music until 1952. Tiruvidaimarudur Veeruswami Pillai, the first nagaswara artist to be honoured as the asthana vidwan of Tirumalai-Tirupati Devasthanams, was another great in the field.

In the domain of tavil, the celebrities were Srivanchiyam Govinda Pillai, Ammachatram Kannuswami Pillai (he was the nagaswara guru of Rajarathnam Pillai), Ammapettai Pakkiri Pillai, Vazhuvoor Muthuveer Pillai, my father Needamangalam Meenakshi sundaram Pillai, Malaikotai Panchapakesa Pillai, my brother Shanmukhavadivel and Yazhppanam Dakshinamurti. The last mentioned really belonged to Tirtippayattankudi, near Tiruvarur. Meenakshisundaram Pillai ushered in a new era in tavil playing with his own amazing skills and by initiating the concept of special tavil. The appointment of nagaswara and tavil artists to provide ritual services in temples was started by the descendants of Rajaraja Chola who had conquered and settled down in Andhra and had come to be known as the 'Telugu Chodas'.

Contribution of drama theatre

Dramas too helped to foster Camatic music. Todi Sundar Rao (an expert in singing Todi raga and hence the honorific), Khamas Madhava Rao, Govindaswami Rao and innumerable others were stage actors, as well as musicians. S.G. Kittappa was a class apart. Nobody who had listened to him could forget his thrilling voice and music on the stage and his gramophone discs. He lived only for 28 years (1906-1933), but he cast a spell even over knowledgeable musicians and rasika-s. Special trains were run with the name 'Kittappa Special' to hcilitate office-goers to reach the place where his dramas were conducted. Essaying of raga-s like Andolika and Devamritavarshini were probably attempted by none before him. K.B. Sundarambal, his partner on the stage as well as in real life, was a wonderful foil to him.

Drama songs were mostly in the Carnatic idiom, with few exceptions. V.A. Chellappa, Ananthanarayana Iyer, Chidambaram S. Jayaraman, M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar (who became a renowned cinema star) and M.R. Krishnamurthy were other actor-musicians who contributed to the popularisation of classical Camatic music.

Equal credit is due to the composers of stage music also. In this regard, the contribution of Swami Sankaradoss (1867-1922), revered as the father of the Tamil stage, was incomparably bountiful. He was an actor, playwright, lyricist, tunesmith, director and proprietor all rolled into one. In music, he was a disciple of Pudukotai Manpoondi Pillai and perhaps that was the reason for his songs in Camatic raga-s. One could visualise the whole swaroopa of the rage by listening to just one or two lines of a song composed by him.

Regrettably, the latter-day dramas gradually dispensed with music.

Role of Harikatha

Harikatha kalakshepa is a composite art, in which music plays a significant part. It is a heritage bequeathed by the Maharashtrians who settled down in Tanjavar during the Maratha rule. Krishna Bhagavatar (1851-1903) of Tanjavar, who was guided by Morganakar Ram Chandra Bawa, was the pioneer in performing Harikatha in Tamil and propagating it. He modified the mode, but not the format, to suit the non-Marathi audience. Adored as the 'Harikatha Pitamaha', he made Carnatic music an integral part of his discourses. Tanjavur Govinda Bhagavatar, Tiruppazhanam Panchapakesa Sastrigal, Tiruvaiyaru Pandit Lakshmanachar, Mangudi Chidambara Bhagavatar, Chidambaram Srirangachariar, Chitrakavi Sivaramakrishna Bhagavatar, Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, Tiruvaiyaru Annaswami Bhagavatar, Embar Vijayaraghavachariar and many other story tellers also used music to telling effect. The first lady-bhagavatar was C. Saraswati Bai (1894-1974) and the one who followed her immediately was Padmasani Bai, trained by Melattur Bharatam Natesa Iyer. Many Harikatha performers, in due course, became concert musicians. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and Palakkad Anantharama Bhagavatar may be cited in this context. Similarly some who started their careers as concert musicians, switched over to Harikatha, like Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar (who is claimed by Rarnataka as its own) and Chitrakevi Sivaramakrishna Bhagavatar.

Harikatha exponents mostly employed Carnatic music, though some Hindustani raga-s or some folksy tunes also found a place to suit the song and occasion. Though they could not be expected to do a raga alapana in the midst of their discourse, they would reveal the quintessence of a raga when rendering even a single phrase or two.

The role played by kings, nobles, zamindars, petty chieftains and private individuals of Tamil Nadu, by way of patronage to Camatic music is worth mentioning too. They provided invaluable support to musicians by showering rich presents and also presenting grants of land or house or both.

As stated earlier, music cannot thrive unless it has listeners. To train a musical ear is far difficult than to train a performing musician. In Tamil Nadu, sabha-s began playing a significant role in promoting music from about the nineteen twenties. They -and their members- became the new patrons, replacing kings, zamindars and other landed gentry over a period of time. With discriminating listeners increasing in numbers, it became less difficult for musicians to win recognition or laurels in Tamil Nadu, and this fact promoted excellence. However, this is no longer the case.

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