PUDUKOTTAI MANPOONDIA PILLAI - PERCUSSION LEGEND......................(19th Century)
Born poor, Manpoondia Pillai blossomed forth into a legendary figure in the art of percussion. Underwent training with Tirugokarnam Mariappa Pillai, a tavil vidwan. The credit for making the Kanjira concert-worthy is attributed to him. His versatality on that simple instrument, the brilliance and thrill of his play and his supreme fingering techniques to meet the varied demands of a concert, the tone and rhythm he was able to develop on that instrument which lacks facilities for tonal adjustments are proverbial. His protegies, Pudukottai Dakshinamurthi Pillai and Palani Subramania Pillai said that he had no equal in the art. There was a period of ascendancy of 'Laya' during and subsequent to his period with Dakshinamurthi Pillai and vocalists Naina Pillai, Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Ayyar and Chitoor Subramania Pillai patronizing it.
'Laya', says R.Rangaramanuja Ayyangar, 'is a comprehensive term embracing a keen sense of rhythm, tempo, arithmetical precision, etc. A firm grip over laya is indispensable for the central, leading figure in a concert ensemble.'
'Laya' (predominance) imparted considerable tension to the atmosphere and the audience was breathless with excitement'. Manpoonida Pillai and his associates gave emphasis - perhaps natural for percussionists - to predominance of Laya at concerts and prominent vocalists became votaries to that style.
Dr.U.Ve.Swaminatha Ayyar mentions about Kanjira Krishnamachariar and Tiruvidaimarudur Kanjira Radhakrishna Ayyar who belonged to a generation earlier tp that of Manpoondia Pillai, whom he describes as 'competent to play for any vidwan'. This shows that kanjira was in use earlier too..
MARIAPPA S.N - VOCALIST.............(b. December 8, 1914)
Mariappa was born in Sasalu of Nanjappa Upadru. He learnt music under Melkote Narasinha Ayyar, Palghat Someswara Bhagavathar (higher studies, theory & concert techniques). Mariappa entered the cinema world under H.R.Padmanabha which provided rich scope to his good talent, knowledge and expertise. His classical style had been appreciated by Tiger Varadachariar and others. He had been conducting festivals and honouring many aristes. Was well versed in yakshaganas and songs for dramas too. Mariappa has composed varnams, kritis, javalis, etc., many of which have been used for dramas. Has tuned Astapadis, Allama Prabhu Rachanas. Was also associated with institutions other than those he founded.
Titles & Honours:
Asthana Vidwan, Mysore Court
Gana Ratna - title conferred at Kolahpur
Saraswati Gana Kala Mandira, Mysore (with branches elsewhere)
Karnataka Sangita Vidyalaya
Vidyaranya Fine Arts
Karnataka Kirtana Manjari
MARIMUTHA PILLAI - COMPOSER...........................(18th Century)
A contemporary of the renowned Arunachala Kavirayar, author of 'Rama Natakam' and born in a pious and religious family, Marimutha Pillai is a noted author of tamil songs rich in spiritual and philosophical content. he enjoys easy paced but majestic command in tamil and the songs point to a rich and imaginative mind. he has taken to 'Nindastuti' (praise through sarcasm) style of composing, critical on the face of the song but highly devotional and deeply philosophical. Some of his songs:
Ethai kandu ichai kondal - Kalyani
Edukkithanal modi than Umakku - Surati
Enneramum - Todi
Excellently conceived, highly innovative and suggestive, his songs present rich scope for imaginative dance presentation and hence few abhinaya recitals happen to omit his pieces. There is no regimentation of words or artificiality in composing as seen in most of the modern compositions built up brick by brick, the artificial nature of which stands exposed. Marimutha Pillai's devotional compositions started when he was ordained to compose a 'Prabhandam' in praise of God to get back his first son who had renounced worldly life and left. 'Puliyur Venngaba' was the result and Pillai was blessed with the return of his son. He had spent his life in pursuit of the Lord through his compositions of undying and unfading appeal and beauty.
Dr. T.K. MURTHY - DOYEN OF MRIDANGAM ARTISTES.......................(August 13, 1924)
Maharajah Chitrai Tirunal was the distinguished visitor to the school. A boy of eight accompanied on mridangam his classmate, Chellamani. The cultured ruler was delighted. None could object to a request for enocre in a school and particularly so, when it is from Royalty. The pleased ruler presented the mridangist with a gold medal. The parents were ignorant of the boy's aptitude and attainments. The Maharajah advised Thanu Bhagavathar, father of the boy to encourage his inclinations. Thus the nominal training from his brothers became a fait accompli and T.K.Murthy, the boy became a confirmed percussionist. He had a brief advent in a drama troupe in which the father of K.J.Yesudas was participating. Favourable stars guided him to Tanjore Vaidyanatha Ayyar, the eminent mridangist. He was pleased with the delightful play of Murthy in a musical discourse and was equally delighted to take him as his disciple.
Vaidyanatha Ayyar, fondly called Vaithianna, took Murthy to Tanjore, where Palghat Mani Ayyar and Thambuswami, brother of T.M.Thiagarajan were under training. Murthi was not a mere disciple. He was taken like an adopted son by the Guru and his noble consort. They bestowed love and care on him. They were prevented from taking him in adoption with religious rites but the abscence of that formality only bound the aged couple more closely to the bright boy, whom they called 'sittu' after the sparrow, small, alert and dynamic. Thus, born of Mahadanapuram Thanu Ayyar, T.K. Murthy found his mentor in Tanjore Vaidyanatha Ayyar, to whom he offers ceremonial oblations and rites still as a true son should. Did not Rama perform the obseqies of Jatayu, the venerable bird? More so, here as religion ordains that, 'he, who teaches one with merit, is also a father'. T.K.Murthy is as singularly unique in his praiseworthy conduct as he was singularly lucky in reaching that guru by chance. Vaidyanatha Ayyar even declined to release him when as offer came for appointing him as asthana vidwan when he was twelve as he (guru) feared that it would spoil his training and development.
Murthy made his debut at the age of twelve at Coimbatore in a concert of Musiri Subramania Ayyar with Karur Chinnaswami Ayyar on violin and Tanjore Vaidyanatha Ayyar on mridangam. He accompanied M.S.Subbulakshmi regularly in all her cocnerts including those at Edinborough Festival, the United Nations, Europe, United States of America and Sri Lanka and has accompanied all other great artistes.
He sings well in Carnatic and Hindustani styles. His leanings to Hindustani music can be observed when he plays for bhajans and tukkadas and brings out the nuances and gentleness of the tabla on the mridangam itself. He has played for celebrated musicians of the North like D.V.Paluskar and Narayana Rao Vyas. he had left nothing untouched as he had played for street drama, puppet shw, natyam, etc. The senior mridangam artiste is a respected and popular figure with his rhythmic exploits, uncanny anticipation, subtle tonal variations and rhythmic phrases and patterns. He has received several honours including-
Laya Ratnakara from Sivananda Saraswati, Rishikesh
Kalaimamani from the T.N. Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram
Mridanga Bhoopathy from Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar
Mridanga Bhooshanam from Sri Saankaracharya, Kanchipuram
Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1987
Palghat Mani Ayyar Award by Percussive Arts Centre, Bangalore
Tala Vilas Award by Sur Singar Samsad, Bombay
Kerala Sangeet Nataka Academy Fellowship, 1989
GAYAKASIKHAMANI HARIKESANALLUR MUTHIAH BHAGAVATHAR
A TOWERING PERSONALITY IN CARNATIC MUSIC.....................................(1877-1945)
Acolourful person, a connoisseur in dressing (alankarapriya), a multi-faceted artiste and a man of action and achievement, Muthiah Bhagavathar was a towering personality in the world of Carnatic music for decades. 'Very few are the musicians who combine good story-telling with high quality of music and among the few, Muthiah Bhagavathar was a leading luminary', said E.Krishna Ayyar. Excellent musical background, rich associations and scholarship equipped him well to be one of the best exponents of Harikatha (musical discourse). He was a renowned composer and a disciplinarian. Once shocked to see a trainee taking the concert platform, to avert possible disgrace, he went to the spot, took over singing from the disciple and performed to the unexpected delight of the audience. He was one of the founders of the Madras Music Academy; had presided over its Expert Committee and was awarded the title 'Sangeetha Kalanidhi' in 1930.
He was born on November 15, 1877 at Punalveli near Sri Andal's Srivilliputtur, of musician Lingam Ayyar and Anandam Ammal. Muthiah Bhagavathar's grandfather was Muthu Subba Bharathi, a composer-musician and his uncle was the scholar M.Lakshmana Suri. Music was the staple of the family. On the demise of his father, he came under the tutelage of his uncle at six. In 1886, he was placed under Tiruvaiyaru Muthu Ganapatigal for the study of Vedas. Fortune had guided him to the Centre of Carnatic music ostensibly for studying Vedas but his natural instinct and aptitude lay elsewhere. Even as a boy, his folk songs were the rage of the people. The chiding slap on his cheek by his outraged uncle for taking part in Kalyanarama Ayyar's theatrical shows drove him to the disciple of Maha Vaidyanatha Ayyar, violinist Vidwan Sambasiva Ayyar, one in the disciple-line of Tyagaraja. In 1893, he returned home for intensive practice for three years. At Tiruvaiyaru, he came into contact with Mysore Vasudevachar and at Tiruvidaimarudur, he resumed his friendship with Kallidaikurichi Vedanta Bhagavathar, both budding trainees then.
Made his debut at Tuticorin at the age of seventeen and was presented with a tambur. He quickly shot into fame and his brother, Hariharan too got trained and joined him. Travancore State made the first demand on his services in 1897 and the ruler Moolam Tirunal made him Asthana Vidwan. His voice turned turtle and so musical discourse came to be his area of specialisation.
His earlier training under Appakudam Sastri and Krishna Bhatt, scholarship in Sanskrit and Tamil, vast reservoir of wit, humour and episodes, engaging melliflous speech in Tamil, crisp digressions and innate musical talents soon carried him to the pinnacle of glory. He had plenty of grit and overwhelming ambition that knew no defeat or discomfiture. he gave musical discourses on Tyagaraja spread over several days, though initially he was performing only Valli Kalyanam. This was facilitated by his ujourn at Thanjavur, contacts with T.L.Venkatrama Ayyar, help in research and theory from the famous Abraham Pandithar and the prevailing vibrant intellectual atmosphere.
Trouble with voice had changed the lives of many. But an incident narrated by Leslie Ayre may be mentioned here for the sudden problem it created and how it was resolved. In a performance of 'Boheme', the boss who was singing colline whispered that he had suddenly lost his voice and could not sing his aria the COAT SONG. The great tenor told him to move his lips and, turning his back to the audience sang bass aria for him. This can happen in Western music or a drama but not in Carnatic music concerts.
MUTHU THANDAVAR - COMPOSER
'Theruvil Varano', the pada in Khamas, is a captivating piece providing copious scope for bhava-laden bharatanatya which has enabled numerous artistes including T.Balasaraswathi to give thrilling performances through decades. Likewise several songs had been popular and are noted for the depth of diction and content such as:
Adikkondar - Mayamalavagoula
Kanamal Veenile - Kamboji
Pesade nenjame pesade - Todi
Arumarundoru - Mohanam
Bhooloka Kailasagiri Chidambaramallal, etc.
These were all composed by the eminent Tamil poet Muthu Thandavar who lived in the sixteenth century at Sirkali in Tanjore district. Sirkali is a place of pilgrimage sanctified by Goddess Parvathi suckling the crying baby, Tirugnana Sambandar, one of the 'Great Four Saivite Saints.'
Thandavan, as he was originally called, was doing service in the temple at Sirkali. He felt drawn towards a woman doing service there drawing the wrath and contempt of all. Deserted, driven by hunger and suffering from affliction and despair, he turned to the Almighty and his prayer was granted when a teen-aged girl in the garb of the daughter of the temple priest appeared and advised him to go to Chidambaram for salvation of his ills. He obeyed. Chidambaram, the seat of the Cosmic Dancer, Nataraja, witnessed an outpouring of songs from Muthu Thandavar which have been the delight of the public through the centuries. His padams are couched in dignified romantic terms. Tiruppambaram Swaminatha Pillai, Flautist and Pedagogue had set his songs to music. Sixty kritis and twenty five padams are in print.
NEEDAMANGALAM MEENAKSHISUNDARAM PILLAI - .PERCUSSION WIZARD......................(1894-February 11, 1949)
Meenakshisundaram Pillai wasa legend in the field of percussion. He was widely known and much respected. A genius, his fingers did magical feats, and the tavil he handled revealed exhilarative potential in rhythm and his art bordered on riotous devilry. He was able to bring out stunning and surprising subtelities in laya. His sensitivity to Art extended to his personal belongings like polishing of his betel box almost every minute and provide an attractive cloth cover even to his (betel) nut-cutter! The genius was a diabetic and while asleep dissolved himself with eternity keeping up his rhythm with nature. He was good at playing kanjira. Had great (mutual) respect for Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai. At a concert, Dakshinamurti Pillai playing mridangam forced him to set on level with him. Meenakshisundaram felt that it was an insult to the dignity of the Pudukottai maestro to sit so and stopped playing on kanjira itself. The tone of his play was strong and impeccable and his solos permutational and captivating.
Meenakshisundaram was the word for dynamic excellence. He drew crowds wherever he went. A grandmaster in percussion, he was affable and genial and he played with ease but with inexhaustive energy. A creative artiste, few could match his innovative artifices and combinations, sound permutations and laya intricacies. Wizard Panchami, who died young as genius perhaps has to, once told Pillai, 'I cannot produce your rhythm and melody.' A rare tribute by another titan.
Kanchipuram Naina Pillai told Dakshinamurti Pillai that 'mere professionalism is not a guarantee of intelligent listening' and picked out one from the crowd at Sri Kapaleeswarar temple who kept the beat with precision and perfection even during the three-speed tempo pallavi. When he made a request for the 'perfect' listener to come, he found to his surprise that it was Meenakshisundaram Pillai and in choking voice declared:
Meenakshisundaram Pillai had his gurukulavasa with Needamangalam Govinda Tavilkarar and Nagapattinam Venugopala Pillai. Made his debut as second to Mannargudi Narayanaswami Nagaswarakarar in his twelfth year. Quite strangely, he died in the midst of a huge gathering of well-wishers, relatives and admirers who had gathered for the marraige of his son. A good singer, he kept a very accurate diary and used only pure kahadi.