C. KESAVA PILLAI
[Dr. S. BHAGYALEKSHMY]
impact of Swati Tirunal’s patronage for music in Kerala had led to
the emergence of music composers of high esteem in the post Swati period
in the State. K. C. Kesava Pillai (1868-1913), who was also a great poet
and scholar, occupies a prominent place. He was popularly known as Sarasagayakakavimani,
a title truly endorsing his eminence in poetry and music. He was born on
February 3, 1868 as the son of Desatthu Lekshmi Amma of Kollam and Valiya
Velichatthu Raman Pillai. Though K. C. could not obtain higher education,
his inborn talent in music, literature and Kathakali enabled him to compose
many musical pieces. By his own efforts he mastered the English language
too. He also obtained knowledge in Sanskrit and used to render Bhagavatam
and Ramayanam frequently. As a child he was very crazy for Kathakali and
he used to sing for Kathakali performances. At the age of 15, he wrote an
Attakatha (a story for Kathakali) entitled as Prahladacharitham. This he
later on modified as Hiranyasuravadham. After completion of his education
he started his official career as a teacher of Malayalam and Sanskrit in
a school in Kollam.
K.C. Kesava Pillai has to his credit many works, both literary and non-literary.
He wrote in both Sanskrit and Malayalam. His works include poems, dramas,
Attakathas, musical works, songs, etc. The three Attakathas written by him
are Hiranyasuravadham, Soorapadmasuravadham, and Srikrishnavijayam.
His masterpiece as a poet was his Kesaveeyam, a Mahakavya dealing
with the story of Lord Krishna.
As a music composer, K. C. has to credit nearly 100 songs, two or three
Sangita Natakas and many Bhakti Kritis. His Sadarama is a monumental
work in the form of a Geyanataka. The famous Kritis Kamanimaniyal
in Erikkalakamodari, Athimadhurrakriti (Mohanam) are taken
from Sadarama, Vikramorvaseeyam, Sthavaratnavali Sangithapravesika,
Ganamalika (two volumes), Sangithamanjari, and Abhinayamalika
are his prominent musical works.
In his Kritis, devotion is given priority. The easy flow and diction and
simple Sahitya give full scope for improvisation. The selection of Ragas
and Talas of compositions suit the mood of the theme. His work Sangitamalika
consists of 42 songs. Being an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, almost
all his pieces are in praise of him. He chose ‘Kesava’ as his
Kartamudra. The equal distribution of words enable the singer to improvise
and add many Sangatis. The structure of the Iyrics and musical content offer
full scope for revealing ragabhava. He has selected common popular
Ragas for his Kritis such as Todi, Sankarabharanam, Mohanam, Kapi, Kalyani,
Pantuvarali and many others and in popular talas. Many of his Kritis are
in praise of Lord Krishna, Siva, Sri Rama, Lekshmi, Durga, etc. “Sri
Vasudeva” (Kapi, Adi) “Kamalanabha” (Todi, Rupaka) “Yaduveera”
(Bhairavi, Rupaka), Jayajaja (Sriraga, Chempata) “Bhajabhaje”
(Sankarabharanam, Muriyatanta) “Bhajikkanee” (Mohana Chempata)
“Janakiramana” (Sankarabharana, Chempata) “Seethapate
Raghava” (Kamas, Muriyatanta) “Devi Sarasaganapriya” (Gaurimanohari,
Rupaka) “Samajagamine” (Khamas, Muriyatanta) are some of the
prominent Kritis composed by K. C. Kesava Pillai.
In addition, he has composed Kritis in praise of God as Lord Almighty without
attributing any specific name. These songs can be sung by all irrespective
of caste or religion. They come under non-denominational songs. “Satyasvarupa
vidho” (Sankarabharanam, M. Chappu) “Karunasagara” (Todi,
Adi) “Bhavikamaruliduka (Kapi, Adi), “Eesanebhajichalum”
(paras-Adi) “Palayapalayasakalesa” (Kapi, Adi) are examples
of such songs. These compositions prove that even in the 19th century the
Lord and Protector of all beings was not narrowed down as the deity of a
caste or religion.
K. C. has one more distinction. Besides Muthuswami Dikshitar, he is perhaps
the only composer to have composed a Kriti in four languages. The languages
in which K. C. has composed his Kriti are Malayalam, Tamil, English and
Sanskrit. The song is excellent in its diction, musical structure and literary
In some Kritis, K. C. gives references to many musical facts such as Raga
names, Tala, Sruti, Svara, etc. in the form of Sahitya. Many of his Kritis
have the usual Angas of a Kriti such as Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charana.
But some have got two or more Charanas. But only mudracharana will be song.
During a life span of 45 years, K.C. Kesava Pillai has enriched the rich
heritage of both literature and music with his illustrious works and compositions.
K.C. passed away on September 4, 1913. His literary works and musical pieces
together are really an asset to the literary and music world.
In modern concerts, especially in Kerala, the composition of K. C. Kesava
Pillai are being popularised. K.C.’s name will remembered for his
valuable contributions to Malayalam poetry and music.