- தமிழ் இசை
Tamilnadu's Contribution to Carnatic Music
in SRUTI, India's Premier Music and Dance Magazine ,
Issue 132, 1995
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.