M Dandapani Desikar (1908-1972) was born at Tiruccenkaattaankudi
(the birthplace of the famous nAyanmAr ciruttoNDa nAyanAr), near
Tiruvarur. He made his debut at Tirumarugal, noted for its Saivite
shrine and for its brilliant nagaswaram maestro Natesan.
He learnt music and tEvAram initially from his father (Muttaiah
Desikar) who belonged to the traditional family of OduvArs (the group that sings
devotional songs in temples). Later, he learnt music from others, including the
violin doyen KumbakONam Rajamanickam PiLLai.
He was a multi-talented composer in Thamizh music.. He was a
musician, composer, teacher and movie actor. He appeared on the music scene when
Thamizh isai was having a renaissance in the 1940s, and contributed so much to
He was teacher from his eighteenth year at the Okkur Lakshmanan
Chettiar Thevara Patasala for ten years and was Professor and Head of the
Department of Music, Annamalai University for fifteen years. He published the
works of Bharati, Padinalvar and several Tevarams, Divya Prabandhams and
Tiruppugazhs in a book entitled Isai Tamizh Paamalai. This book
also includes his compositions which reveal his command over music and the
language. He published quite a few Thamizh music works under the auspices of
Thamizh isaic Cangam.
He gave many concerts while teaching at Annamalai University. His several
awards include �isai arasu�, 'Pandisai Pulavar Kone', 'Thevara Mani', 'Sangita
Sahitya Siromani', 'Tirumurai Kalanidhi', 'Thandaka Vendhu', 'Pannisai Vendhan',
'Isai Pulavar', 'Kalaimamani' from the Tamil nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram,
'Isai Perarignar' from the Tamil Isai Sangam and 'Sangita Natak Academy Award'.
His movies included Pattinaththaar, Nandanaar, Thaayumaanavar, Maanickavaacagar,
and Tirumazhisai Azhvaar, all of which featured his singing prominently.
Some other songs of M M Dandapani Desikar that are rendered
in concert circuits are: unnaiyanRi uRRa tuNai (bhavAni), velanai nI
(AndOLikA), anjezhuttinai nenjilE (rAgavinOdini), Anai mugattOnE
(dEvamanOhari), isaiyin ellaiyai (subhapantuvarALi), pADa vENDumE
(hamsanAdam), aruLa vENDum tAyE (sAramati) and ennai nI maRavAtE
M M Dandapani Desikar's compositions include -
Song Ragam Thalam
Adiyenai kattu arulvai angayarkkanni
Arul uruvan avan aduginran mei anbar
The Hindu reported on June 29, 1973, that M.M.Dhandapani Desigar had passed away
the previous evening at his residence in T. Nagar, Madras. He was survived by
his actress wife Devasena and a number of loving disciples. It was the end o f a
long life that had been dedicated almost in its entirety to the propagation of
Born in 1908 at Tiruchengathangudi in Thanjavur district, said The Hindu, Mr.
Dhandapani Desigar learnt Thevaram, Tiruvachagam and Tiruppugazh from his
father. Desigar hailed from a family that boasted of a strong Oduvar lineage wit
h father Muthiah Desigar and grandfather Murugiah Desigar being well known
exponents. The method of learning was however unusual, for, Muthiah Desigar
would keep his son on his chest and gently lull him to sleep by singing the
Later, as The Hindu recorded, he learnt music formally from nagaswara vidwan
Sadayappa Pillai. He also learnt Tamil hymns from his uncle Manikka Desigar. His
first concert was at a fairly young age at the temple town of Tirumarugal.
He learnt Isai from Kumbakonam Sri Rajamanikkam Pillai for about five years,
said The Hindu. This happened when Desigar was 13 and his father passed away
while on a concert tour of Singapore. The resultant financial difficulties mad e
him seek refuge in his sister�s house in Kumbakonam and there he began learning
music from Pillai. A warm friendship was to spring up between guru and sishya,
so much so that when they were both given the title of �Isai Perarignar� by the
Tamil Isai Sangam in 1957, the guru did not in any way feel slighted and both
cheerfully accepted the honour. Earlier, in 1948, when Rajamanikkam Pillai
received Sangita Kalanidhi from the Music Academy, Desigar held a felicitation
function for him in Madras which many musicians attended.
Desigar obtained a job in Madurai in a Thevara Patasala when he was 18 and once,
during the Chitrai Festival, sang during the procession. His captivating and
ringing voice, as Prof. Sambamurthy wrote on the June 29 in The Hindu, br ought
him to the notice of famed nagaswaram artiste Madurai Ponnusami Pillai and from
then his career took off.
Desigar acted in Tamil pictures, wrote The Hindu. His singing roles were the
outstanding feature of these films. The first opportunity came in the 1936 film,
�Pattinathar.� This was followed by �Vallala Maharaja 217; in 1937.
Greatest hit of his career
Given his penchant for Tamil hymns, he was cast in and as �Thayumanavar� (1938),
�Manikkavachakar� (1939) and �Nandanar� (1942). The last, made by S.S.Vasan, was
the greatest hit of Desigar�s film career and credit for this was shared by him
with Papanasam Sivan for his wonderful music. Desigar also acted in a film with
a Vaishnavite theme, �Tirumazhisai Azhwar� (1948), besides singing playback in
�Mudhal Thedhi� (1955) and �Tirumanam� (1958). His tune for the song �Tunbam
Nergayil� in the film �Ore Iravu� (1951) is a work of genius.
In the 1940s, Desigar, to quote The Hindu, became one of the pioneers of Tamil
Isai (Tamil Music) movement and composed songs in Tamil. Such was his love for
Tamil that he did not think it unusual to sing songs in that language in T
iruvaiyaru during the Tyagaraja aradhana of 1946. The conservative element,
however, did not like it and after he finished, organised for a purification
rite at the Samadhi!
Desigar received many honours in his life and as The Hindu noted, he was
Samasthana Vidwan of Ettayapuram, Isai Pulavar of Dharmapuram Adheenam and chief
music vidwan of Tiruvavaduthurai Adheenam. In 1955, he became head of the Depa
rtment of Music, Annamalai University, and there were felicitations in
connection with this. The Hindu of May 3, 1955, reported a function at the
Woodlands Hotel, Mylapore, presided over by Justice Somasundaram. On June 11,
there was another report, this time of a function at the Dasaprakash Hotel,
which had veteran violinist Parur Sundaram Iyer and Kivalur Meenakshisundaram
Pillai speaking in praise of Desigar.
After a successful tenure of 15 years at the Annamalai University, Desigar left
rather suddenly in 1970 and returned to Madras for a life of domestic bliss with
his beloved Devasena. He remained associated with the Carnatic Music College
(now the Isai Kalluri) and also with the Tamil Nadu Sangeetha Natak Sangam (now
the Eyal Isai Nataka Manram) till his death.
On his death, Justice P.R.Gokulakrishnan, then president of the Tamil Nadu
Sangeetha Natak Sangam, spoke of Desigar as one of the finest musicians, a good
composer of religious type of music and an authority on the recital of
devotional songs. It was a true pen portrait of a loveable human being who was
also an outstanding musician.