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.
 Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan
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 them.
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 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 best.
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 forty concerts.


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, Pranatharthiharan.
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 made.
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.


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 the following:
SONG                            RAGAM
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.


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 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.

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.