MAHA VAIDYANATHA SIVAN - A LEGEND IN CARNATIC MUSIC
Upon the 105th death anniversary of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan, which
was on 27.01.1998, his great grand son, Mr. M N Srinivasan, Retd Deputy
Commissioner of Income tax, recalls some events from his life and style.
The 18th and 19th centuries may be considered as the golden age of Carnatic
music. Great giants were born in Tanjore district in Tamil Nadu.
The Musical Trinity, Sri Thyagaraja (1767-1847), Sri Muthuswami Diskshatar
(1775-1847) and Sri Shyama Sastri (1762-1827) adorned the field.
After Sri Thyagaraja, the greatest singer-composer was Maha Vaidyanatha
Sivan of Vaiyacheri.
Vaiyacheri is a small village in Tanjore district. One has to
get down at Tittai railway station, cross over the Vattar river and reach
the hamlet. It was a great Sivasthala. Agatheswarar
and Mangala Nayaki were the presiding deities.. It gave birth to
famous musicians like Anai Ayya, etc. Duraiswami Iyer alias Panchanatha
Iyer lived there with his wife Arundathi. Duraiswami himself was
a great musician and proficient in Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. Once
while he was singing Thyagaraja's "Chakkani Raja" (Kharaharapriya),
Sri Thyagaraja, who was passing by, blessed him saying that his two sons
would become very famous in music.
Duraiwami had four sons - Sambamurthy, Ramaswami, Vaidyanathan and
Sivaraman (or Appaswami). Vaidyananthan was born on 26.05.1844 at
8.42 p.m in the star Ashlesham (Ayilyam) 3rd padam.
They belonged to Koundinya Gothram and Brahacharanam sect.
Duraiswami found that Ramaswami and Vaidyanathan evinced keen interest
in music. Accordingly, he trained them in singing. He taught
them the fundamentals of Carnatic music. He took them to great musicians
in Tanjore district for further lessons. One such was the direct disciple
of Sri Thyagaraja - Sri Manambusavadi Venkatasubramania Iyer.
Ramaswami was eleven and Vaidyanathan seven when their upanayanam was celebrated
at Vaiyacheri. Great musicians like Sivagangai Periya and Chinna
Vaidyanatha Iyer, Erattai Pallavi Siva Rama Iyer etc were present on the
occasion. Duraiswami Iyer desired that his two sons should sing in
their presence. Accordingly, Vaidyanathan gave a mini concert.
They all praised him and blessed him heartily.
Shortly thereafter, there was a house warming ceremony atthe house
of Kudiyalam Vasudeva Iyengar, a great patron of music. Peria Vaidyanatha
Iyer told Iyengar about the achievements of Vaiyacheri Vaithi and his pandithyam.
Duraiswami with his two sons were invited for this function. The
boys gave a scintillating performance. This was their first concert.
Pallavai Siva Rama Iyer rendered a Pallavi Siva Rama Iyer rendered a pallavi
in Saveri set to Tisra laghu, two Tisra gati, Misra Chapu talam.
Vaidyanathan in his turn rendered rendered this effortlessly and to the
utter bewilderment of the great musicians present there. His name and fame
spread far and wide. This led to a series of concerts at various
temples, marriages, mutts and palaces. His meteoric rise to fame
in very young age is like the Western Composer Mozart (1756-1791) whose
precocious rise to fame became the envy of his contemporaries.
Vaidyanatha Iyer's voice was rich in harmonics. It had a charming
ring in it. It had a wide compass of three and a half octaves extending
from Anumandra Panchama to Atitara Shadja. He sang to the pitch of 5.
The ringing and fascinating character of his voice and his ability to sing
in all the six degrees of speed charmed one and all beyond measure.
His was a naturally gifted voice and not a cultivated voice. He sang
continuously in his concerts. He sang at a stretch brigas comprising
a range of 2 and 1/2 octaves with surprising rapidity and fluency and they
gave one the impression of brilliant sparks of dazzling beauty witnessed
in fireworks. His music was gandharva ganam. After Thyagaraja,
the one voice that reminded all of the sterling voice of the great composer
of South India was that of Vaidyanathan only. During his concerts
the audience would be in a state of musical trance.
Before the age of ten, Vaidyanathan had given concerts in many places
in Tanjore district. Ramachandra Thondaiman, the ruler of Pudukkotai,
invited Ramaswami and Vaidyanathan to his samasthanam. Veena Subbu
Kutty, well known musician, was tthe Asthana Vidwan. The concert
of Vaidyanathan was greatly appreciated. For some years they took
part in the navarathri celebrations of the palace. During one such
visit, Veenai Subbu Kutty Iyer and Subba Iyer requested Vaidyanathan to
sing the 72 melaragamalika sung by them in the court of Sakaram Saheb.
As it would take long to sing it, Sivan rendered it in Adi Talam, nine
avartanams (cycles). In one avarthanam, from Kanakangi
to Thodi - eight melakarta ragas were sung. He kept sixteen
kalais per avartanam. All were astonished at this feet.
The Raja gave luxurious costumes and presents. He had them seated
in the Durbar Carriage and had them taken out in procession round the mada
streets to the accompaniment of music. The carriage was drawn by
the horses of the royal household.
Near comparisons to Vaidyanathan were there who lived as contemporaries.
They were Sivagangai Peria and Chinna Vaidyanathan, Patnam Subramanya Iyer,
Kunnakudi Krishna Iyer, Thiruvananthapuram Veena Kalyana Krishna
Bagavathar, Mysore Veena Subbanna, Flute Saraba Sastri, etc. Undoubtedly,
Vaidyanathan topped them all in kural valam.
Vaidyanathan next went to Madurai. Shrestadar Venkatasami Naidu
and Thasidar Sitarama Iyer arranged the concerts for this little boy of
sixteen. The first concert was in the precincts of Meenakshi Temple.
The Raja of Ramanathapuram, Muthuramalinga Sethupathy made Ramaswmai and
Vaidyanathan the Chief examiners of the Vidwat Sadas held there annually.
The Raja also gave Vaidyanathan a palm leaf on Kandapurana Surrukkam and
asked him to read it. They gave many concerts at the invitation of
the Raja of Ettayapuram. Once Vaidyanathan was singing Diskahtar's
"Aanatha Natanprakasam" in Kedaram. Ramaswami signalled to
him make it into a pallavi in Tisra chapu, Khanda chapu and Misra
chapu talam. This talam is called "dattaryeyam", that is one
with three faces. All showered their praise on the young singer.
At the invitation of friends, the brothers went to Tirunelveli.
The first concert was in the temple precints. It was usual for them
to compose a song in praise of the presiding deity wherever they visited.
Accordingly, a thillana was composed in praise of Nelliappar and Kanthimathi
amman in Vasantha Ragam. The opening words were "guhadasanukku arul
sankari". "Guhadasan" was their mudra. They were in Tirunelveli
for 9 months. There was a concert in the temple premises in Kuttalam.
A new pallavi was sung at the occasion. It was in Nadanakriya
ragam set to Panchagathi talam or gopuchayathe talam - 28
mantras. The opening words were "sankara siva sambha pahimam
nataraja mampahi." At Tiruchedur temple, Ramaswami composed "Tiruchedur
sandha virutham, Thiruchendil yamaha-anthathi." Vaidyanathan sang
Ramanathapuram Raja Bhaskara Sethupathi once visited Tiruchendur.
In the presence of Temple scholars, Sabhapathi Navalar gave a discourse
with strange ideas on Vedas, etc. No one was bold enough to condtradict
him. The Raja asked Vaidyanathan for his comments. In his own
inimitable style, Vaithianathan expounded contrary views with drishtanams
and apt quotations. All were thrilled at this.
THE TITLE OF "MAHAN"
The junior pontif of Kalldakurichi athenam, Sri Subramanya Dikshathar,
was a great scholar. The brothers stayed at the athenam for two months.
Guru pooja was celebrated in the month of Thai or aswini star. There
was to be a concert by Peria and Chinna Vaithianatha Iyer at this function
in the year 1856. Pandara Sannidhi desired that the Vaiyacheri lad
should sing with these veterans. Thandavaraya Thambiran was the judge.
Veenai Chinnaiya Bagavathar was there. First Periya Vaithianatha
Iyer sang followed by Chinna Vaithi. Thandavaraya Thambiran asked
whether Chinna Vaithi and Vaiyai Vaithi could be asked to sing together.
They were told to point out mistakes, if any, noticed in the singing of
one another. Nattai etc gana ragas were ably sung by both.
Vaiyai Vaithi noticed a flaw in the singing of chinna Vaithi, the swara
prayogam being vargam. Chinnaiya Bagavathar asked chinna Vaithianathan
to sing again and accompanied him on the veena. Then it was realised
that Vaiyai Vaithi was correect in locating the error. Then Vaiyai
Vaithi had to sing separately. Starting from anumandaram, he reached
mandrammadimam, tharam and repeated it thrice. The raga he sang was
Chakravaham. Vaithi explained it laxanam from sangeetha rathnaharam.
He sang "Sugunamule Cheppukondi" of Sri Thyagaraja. The three sang
sankarabaranam elaborately and did thanam also. The pallavi sung
was "mandahasa vadana hare krishna." Periya Vaithianatha Iyer started
it. The young lad's performance was universally acclaimed as the
Pandara Sannidhi wanted to bestow a suitable title on the boy.
It was decided the title "mahan" would be most appropriate. Ever
since, he became Maha Vaidyanathan. In the history of Indian music,
he is the only person to be honoured with the title of "mahan". He
was then twelve years old.
The Pontif of Thiruvaduthurai asked Maha Vaidyanathan to sing his own
thillana in Kalyani raga in Kaanada raga. The opening
lines were "gowri nayaka chitsabanayaka." At the request of Siruvayal
Zamindar to sing a rare pallavi, he took up bairavi raga and elaborated
it very well. He stopped at the swaras - dha ni dha and used the prayogam
- kaishiki nishadham and thrilled the audience. It was novel in those
days. The opening words of the pallavi were "sankara sivasankara
sadhanandha" in Parithapaekaram thalam - 17 aksharas.
At the age of sixteen, Maha Vaidyanathan had the blessings from Kodahnalur
Sundara Swamigal, a great saint of those days. From his upanayanam
days, Maha Vaidyanathan was doing Panchakshara japam told to him by his
father. Now the Swamigal initiated him into several mantaras, taught
him Chatur Veda Thatparya Sangraham, Siva thatva vivekam, Sudha samhitai,
etc. He taught him the daily pooja vidhi.
Before the age of twenty two, Maha Vaidyanathan had given concerts
in all the eleven districts of the then Madras Presidency.
Aayilyam Thiruanl, the Maharaja of Travancore, invited the Sivans.
Their stay was for two months and they gave twenty concerts. Maha
Vaidyanathan was 22 then. In one concert, the palace asthana vidwan
Kalyana Krishna Bagavathar could not reproduce the Thodi ragam sung by
Vaidyanathan. The Raja gave Vaidyanathan a green silk peethambaram
which I have seen in Vaiyaicheri. Vishakam Thirunal, who succeeded
Aayilyam Thirunal also invited the Sivans to his court where they gave
In the palace of Sakaram Saheb of Tanjore, there was an ancient marathi
manuscript in 72 mela ragamalika composed by the court poet Venkata Rao.
The Raja desired that this should be sung. Pattinam Subramanya Aiyar
and Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar tried it but in vain. Maha Vaidyanathan
set it to music in a week's time and sang it before the Raja. The
Raja was very pleased and gave large presents. But Vaidyanathan was
not pleased with himself. The whole composition in Sakaram's Court
was a mere nara-stuthi. So he reached Thiruvayaru and in the temple precints
composed the 72 melaragamalika in praise of the presiding deity,
These 72 ragas were divided into twelve chakras with six ragas in each.
It begins in Sri Ragam with the opeining words "pranatharthi hara prabo
purare". It is set to adi talam. It begins with Kanakangi and
ends with Rasikapriya. Ramaswami Sivan added chitta swarams to this
piece. After singing the first mela ragam, the swara amaippu of the
second mela raga would follow, and in this fashion the entire swarams were
The 72 melaragamalika, the pride of Carnatic music, and the longest
single composition, ranking along with Muthuswami Dikshitar's 108 ragatalamalika,
is an achievement without parallel in the sphere of musicial composition.
This is his magnum opus and has both a lakshna and lakshaya value.
Sakaram Saheb learnt music from Maha Vaidyanathan for some time.
The asthana vidwan, Veena Adimurthi Iyer desired Maha Vaidyanathan to sing
a pallavi in Laxmisam Talam. Sivan detailed Ananda Bairavi and sang
the pallavi with the words "sambo umapathe pahimam".
The Mysore Maharaja invited the Sivans to his durbar. There were
three such visits. It was customary to wear a coat and a turban while
going to the royal presence. Knowing the habits of Maha Vaidyanatha
Sivan, the Maharaja ordered a special gown of silk to be stitched and in
the turban a special kalki saram was attached. In the concert, while
singing Bhairavi raga song "Chintaya Ma", without Sivan's knowldege, the
Maharaja managed to record the music on Edison's Phonograph. After
the concert was over, the record was played to the Sivans. The Sivans
were pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, however, this record got
destroyed in the fire outbreak in Jahan Mohan Palace some years ago.
The Venkatagiri Samasthanam Raja asked Sivan to sing a pallavi in "gopuchathi
thalam - 33 matras." Accordingly, Sivan took up Arabi Ragam, sang
a thanam and then the pallavi came in that thalam. The opening lines
were "sambo sapathe pahimam sambasiva kunchithapada mampahi.
CONTESTS AT MADRAS
Venugopala Naidu, a powerful singer and an adept in the intricacies of
thala system, challenged Vaidyanathan to face him in a contest. The
contest was held at George Town. Vaithianathan was asked to sing
first and rendered the raga Narayanagowla. Venugopala Naidu could
not recognise the raga. Sivan sang the his own pallavi "sambha
siva sankara vibho, sambhasadasiva ma hara hara" set to adi talam, mukkal
edam, nangu kalai chowkam. Sivan was 47 then.
At Madhava Perumal Koil in Mylapore, there was a contest between Mayuram
Veena Vaithianathan and Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar with Pattinam Subrmanya
Iyer as the judge. Veena Vaithianathan took up Kalyani Ragam and
rendered a pallavi in laxmicham thalam. Pattinam Subrmanya Iyer ruled
that this thalam was against the rules of pallavi singing. At the
request of some friends, Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan came to the temple and
clarified that thought the thalam war rare, pallavi could be rendered in
it. Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar could not reproduce the pallavi.
Then Iyengar rendered a pallavi in Bairavi which Veena Vaithianathan could
not reproduce. Both were adjudged victorious. Maha Vaidyanatha
Sivan spoke with a heavy heart that such contests were unhealthy and unsuited
to Karnatic music and there should be no competi-tive spirit among musicians.
A concert was arranged in Triplicane. The organisers had, without
the knowledge of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan collected money at the gates.
Noticing this, he refused to sing at that place. He said that the
next day he would sing free at the Parthasarathy Temple and all could come
and here it free. He sang for three days immersing the listeners
in aesthetic bliss.
Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan sang for two hours at a marriage house in Palghat.
Parasu Bagavathar who sang next wanted the same accompanists.
He sang exceedingly well. Sivan who was asleep then got up from bed
and came to listen to Parasu Bagavathar and praised him heartily.
Ramaswami Sivan composed Periyapurana Krithis. It was released in
the Thiruvadudurai Adhinam. Both Ramaswami and Vaidyanathan composed
the Guruvanakkam. Vaithi started it and Ramaswami completed it.
Maha Vaidyanathan composed the four lines of pallavi and anupallavi
and four lines in the second charanam. This song is in Punnagavarali
ragam and Misra chapu talam.
Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan was good at doing pravachanam in Siva kathai,
stories of nayanamars, etc. The programmes used to be pravachanam
on one day and a musical concert on the next day. A portrait of Aruvathimoovar
was presented to him at Devakottai where he stayed for five months.
This portrait is still there in at his house at Thiruvayaru.
In the temple precints at Vaiyacheri, a prakaram was erected for Nataraja.
The idol given to him by Thiruvadudurai Adheenam was intalled there.
A matching idol of Sivakama Sundari was found while renovating the temple
tank. This was also installed. The Kumbabishekam function was
for 11 days in 1891-92.
Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan was very proficient in manodharma sangeetha - that
is alapana, tana, pallavi, niraval, and kalpana swaras. Therefore,
his repertoire of classical compositions was not very large.
However, being yekasandhakgrahi, he would quickly grasp whatever was sung
before him and reproduce it to perfection. His repertoire included
Vatapi Ganapatim - Hamsadwani
Sri Subramanya Namasthe - Kambhoji
Thyagaraja Namasthe - Begada
Najivadhara - Bilahari
Chintaya Ma - Bhairavi
Kanjadalayadakshi - Kamalamanohari
Ananda Sagarame - Garudadvani
His varnam in Kambodi - Pankajakshipai in adi talam is a remarkable
piece of craftsmanship. The sparkling gems of swarakshara as well
as the phrases in sama yati and mridanga yati invest it with remarkable
beauty. His kriti Pahimam Sri Raja Rajeshwari in Janaranjani has
fine chitta swarams. His tamil songs Muthukumarayyane in Sankarabaranam
and Malmaruganai in Bilahari are very famous.
He was a master of laya. His expertise in alapana was remarkable
as he knew inside out of raga lakshanas.
Thiruvadudurai Adhina Vidwan, Dr U VE Swaminatha Iyer and a few others
have composed verses in praise of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan.
THE CONCERT PATTERN
Sitting erect with closed eyes and with no gimics oof head or hand the
concert would look like a yoga nishtai. He would put thalam with
his fingres with no sound. He would avoid vikara chorkal like "ya"
"ra" "la" "va" "om" in doing alapana. Ramaswami sitting to his right
would keept the tambura in a horizontal position and keept sruthi.
He wore yoga veshti and panchakacham, with rudraksham and vibuthi.
The concert would begin with Vatapi Ganapatim in hamsadvani followed
by Ramaswami Sivan's "Ekkalathilum Maraven" and then by songs of the Trinity
and Aayilyam Tirunal. About four kirthanais would alone be there.
Then the main raga for the day would start with alapana, thanam, pallavi,
niraval and swarams. More than three fourths of the concert time
would be devoted to this aspect. Then there would be his own thillana,
a ragamaliga slokam or songs from thevaram/thiruvachagam and end with mangalam.
THE LAST DAYS
The two brothers had two houses in Vaiyacheri. I have seen these
houses. They are in ruins now. They had two houses in
Tiruvayyaru in Bavaswami Agraharam in one of which the Aruvathi-moovar
portrait is still there. These houses are in tact. The properties
in Tiruvayyaru were bought when Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan was 43/44 years
old. Sivan fell ill at Vaiyacheri and was bed ridden for some time.
Ambalavana Desikar and Bhaskara Sethupathi helped the family a lot.
Sivan once again fell ill at Tiruvayyaru when he was 49. On 27.01.1893
at 1.30 p m Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan breathed his last uttering siva siva
and with folded hands.
He led a simple life. His habits were simple. He was scrupulous
in doing his daily siva pooja, chanting mantrams and doing Sandhya Vandanam.
M N SRINIVASAN
This article has been kindly provided for Carnatic
Corner by S. Vijayaraghavan, son of M. N. Srinivasan and great great
grandson of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan.