Renaissance in Tamil Music
Much has been written about the three composers of Tamil music like Muthu Tandavar (1560-1640), Arunachala Kavi (1712-79) and Marimutha Pillai (1717-87) – also known as Sirkazhi Moovargal. They preceded the Carnatic Music Trinity – Shyama Sastri, Tyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar by a few decades.
Other composers who have made valuable contributions are Uttukkadu Venkatasubbier, Gopala Krishna Bharati, Kavi Kunjara Bharathi, Neelakanta Sivan, Annamalai Reddiar, Veda Nayakam Pillai, Ramaswamy Sivan and his illustrious brother, Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan, Koteeswara Iyer, Papanasam Sivan, Subamania Bharathi, Perisamy Tooran, Dandapani Desigar, Ambujam Krishna, MD.Ramanathan, D.Pattammal, Cuddalore Subramaniam, Gomathi Sankara Iyer, Tanjavur Sankara Iyer and many more have enriched Tamil music by their contributions.
Uttukkadu Venkatasubbaiyer (1700-65) born in Tanjavur Dt was a prolific composers both in Tamil and Sanskrit. Though he has composed on many deities, his compositions on Lord Krishna have attracted more attention. His Sapta Ratnas, Kamakshi Navavarnams and Anjaneya panch ratnas are well known. ‘Taye Yashoda’ (Todi) and ‘Shankari Sri’(Madhyamavathi) are two of his popular compositions.
Gopala Krishna Bharathi (1810-81) was a contemporary of the Carnatic music Trinity. His Nandanar Charitram, an opera depicting the trials and tribulations of Nandanar, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva turned out to be extremely popular. He lived in Mayavaram and for some time in Chidambaram. His immortal compositions are ‘Tiruvadi saranam’ (Kamboji) and ‘Sabha pathikku veru deivam’( Abhogi). He has composed other operas like Karaikkal Ammayar, Tiru NeelaKanta Nayanar and Eyar pahai nayar.
Kavi Kunjara Bharathi (1810- 96) was also a scholar in Tamil and Sanskrit. He has composed Azhaghar Kuravanji, Perinmba Keerthanaigal and Skanda Purana Keerthanaigal. His ‘Singara Velanai’ (Dhanyasi) and “Elloraiyum pola vendum’(Suddha saveri) are his popular kritis. He was an asthana vidwan at the court of Rajah of Sivaganga.
Neelakanta Sivan (1839-91) was born near Nagercoil. As a youngster, he had an innate ability to compose. Some of his well known compositions are ‘Ananda nada maduvar’(PurviKalyani),’Enraikku Sivakrupai varumo’ (Mukhari), ‘Navasiddhi petralum’ (kharaharapriya). The Rajahs of Travancore, Cochin and Ramnad bestowed honors on him.
Ramaswamy Sivan (1839-97) and his younger brother, Maha Vaidhyanatha Sivan (1844-93) were born in Vaiyacheri, Tanjavur Dt. They were disciples of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayya and so they belong to the Tyagaraja sishya parampara. Ramaswami Sivan’s notable contributions include Tamil compositions from Periya puranam, Kanda purana charithram and Manikkavachagar charithram. They show his remarkable versatility and grace in them. He was a highly sought after musician and was honored by Mysore, Travancre, Pudukottai and other samasthanams.
His brother, Maha Vaidyanathan Sivan was a genius and he was quick to grasp nuances of ragas and uncommon talas very easily and demonstrate his understanding right away. His voice and singing style were captivating and naturally he was always in demand to give concerts. No wonder the title of ‘Maha’ was conferred on him by the learned musicians of his day, when he was a young man. Often, he was pitted against reknowned vidwans of his time in contest and invariably he was judged better than other contestants. His brilliant composition is the 72 melakartha ragamalika in praise of Lord Pranatharthihara. Like his elder brother, he was also honored by various royalties of the time.
Vedanayakm Pillai (1826-89) was born in a Christian catholic family near Tiruchi.His interest in Tamil and music brought him close contact with Gopala Krishna Bharathi.His songs carry emotional outpourings of his feelings as expressed in his Samaya Sanmarga keerthanaigal. ‘Uyyum vaghai’ (Sankarabharanam) and ‘Unnai maravamal’ (Amritha varshini) are representatives of his creations.
Annamalai Reddiar (1865-91) born in Tirunelveli Dt was a devotee of Lord Muruga and is known for several popular songs like Kavadi sindu, a lighter variety in Classical music. He has also composed stalapuranams mostly on pilgrimage centers of Lord Muruga.
Koteeswara Iyer (1870-1940) a worthy grandson of Kavi Kunjara Bharathi was a good composer in his own merit. He has about 200 compositions in Tamil to his credit and out of which 72 mela raga compositions called “Kanda Ganamrutham” in praise of Lord Muruga form a notable part. Others include ‘Vela va va’(Keeravani) and ‘Maravadiru maname’ (Kedaram).
Kavi Subramanya Bharathi’s (1882-1921) lyrical poetry is unparalleled. He was an ardent freedom fighter and many of his songs reflect his emotional and daring ideas of freedom. His songs on Kannan, Kannamma and Mahabharatha are classic. He was born in Ettayapuram, Tirunelveli Dt. He worked as a school teacher. A number of his lyrics became extremely popular songs. ‘Vellai tamari’(Bimpalas),’Dikku teriydad kattil’ (ragamalika) are two of his well known compositions.
It is no exaggeration to say that Papanasam Sivan’s (1890-1973) songs have captured common man’s attention as he has been a popular composer of film songs as well as classical music songs. The lyrics flow smoothly with grandeur and the music is just awe-inspiring. He was a religious person and was famous for his bhajans, which were attended by many celebrated musicians. He has composed close to 2500 compositions mostly in Tamil and some in Sanskrit. ‘Kanakkan Kodi vendum’(Kamboji) and ‘Kapali Karunai’ (Mohanam) can be cited here. He is also known as Tamil Tyagaraja as his raga and sahithya bhavam laden compositions lend themselves for elaboration like Tyagaraja kritis. He was honored by various music fraternities including the Madras Music Academy. It is interesting to note Papanasam was not his native village nor his name Sivan. He is from Polagam in Tanjavur Dt and his name, Ramaiya.
VS.Gomathi Sankara Iyer (1907-91) was on the faculty of Annamalai University Music Department for several years. He has composed songs and written books on music in Tamil. ‘Paraman karunai’ (Sourashtram),’Sinam ennum’ (Nadanamakriya) are his more well known compositions.
Perisamy Tooran (1908-87) was a great Tamil songwriter and has composed lyrics for about 600 songs for which a few musicians have provided tunes. He was also the editor of Tamil encyclopedia. Perisamy‘s works on music include Isai Mani Malai, Isai Mani Manjari, Keerthanai Amudam and Murugan Arul Mani malai. His most popular songs are ‘Muruga Muruga’ (Saveri) ‘Muralidhara’(Mand) and ‘Taye Tripura sundari (Suddha saveri).
Dandapani Desigar (1908-72) a well known musician and composer was also on the faculty of music department at Annamalai University for a number of years. He has composed several compositions in Tamil and some of them are in rare ragams, two of them being ‘Anjezhuthiani’ (Raga vinodini) and ‘Ellam sei’ (Keeravani).
Ambujam Krishna (1917-89) born in Madurai was a talented composer having used Tamil, Sanskrit, Hindi and Telugu as the media for her compositions. Her lyrics have natural beauty about them and they are all tuned by several musicians. Her two operas- Radha Madhavam and Krishna Leela Madhuryam tuned by KR. Kedaranathan have been received well. ‘Adinaye Kanna’ (Mohana kalyani) ‘Om Namo Narayana’ (Karna ranjani) are examples of her creativity.
Cuddalore Subramaniam (1920-97) is a noted vaggeyakara. He has composed many kritis, varnams, tillanas, ragamalikas, kritis in apurva ragas plus kritis in 72 mela kartha ragas both in Tamil and Sanskrit. The number of his compositions is about 300. His mudra is ‘pataleesha’. ‘Neerajakshi vimale’ in Sarasangi and ‘Sandanamum Jawwadum’ in Karnataka Devagandhari are two examples from his compositions.
M. D.Ramanathan (1923-84) born in Palghat was a consummate musician and a good composer in Tamil.Sanskrit and Telugu. He served on the faculty of the reknowned Kalakshetra. He has composed more than 300 kritis. His “Sagara Shayana “(Bageshri) and ‘Neevanti Deivamu’ (Kapi ) are among the jewels of his compositions.
D.Pattammal (1933-2004) is known for Tamil compositions in 72 Mela ragams, Ashtapadis in Tamil and several janya ragas kritis. Her two popular compositions are ‘Valli Manalan Meedu’ (Dhanyasi) and ‘Swami Kanda swami’ (Bilahari).
Tanjavur Sankara Iyer (b.1927) born in Toga Malai, Tiruchi Dt was a disciple of Tiger Varadachariar. He is a respected music composer in Tamil,Sanskrit and Telugu. ‘Manadirku Ugandadu’ (Sindhubhairavi) and ‘Rama namame’ (Desh) are some of his well known compositions.
Though the above composers have been creative, musicologists are of the opinion that besides the Sirkazhi Moovargal, the renaissance in Tamil music can be attributed to Gopala Krishna Bharathi, Ramaswami Sivan, Neelakanta Sivan, Koteeswara Iyer and Papanasam Sivan, whose contributions have been significant.
There are several other composers who have contributed to Tamil music. They include: Arunagirinathar (Tiruppugazh), Ramalinga Swamigal, Muthu Kumara Swami Varghur, Ghanam Krishna Iyer, Parankusa dasar, Sudananda Bharathi, Sabhapathi Mudaliar, Muthuswami kavi, Ramanathan Chettiar, R. Parthasarathy Iyengar, A. Sambandamurthi, Guru Surajananda, S.Mahalinganm, Mayuram Vishwanatha Sastri, Kovai Subri, NS.Ramachandran, NS.Chidambaram, Sivanama Yogi, Madhura Kavi, Doraiswami Kavirayar, Nila Ramamurthy and Haimavathi Tyagarajan.
Editors note: The author, Sri Ashok Madhav, is a prolific contemporary composer. He has composed kritis in Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada, and has to his credit a set of 72-melakartha kritis