Composers and Musicians

Sri Papanasam Sivan – the  Saint Composer
Prof: P. Gopalaraman

Sri Ramayya, popularly known as Papanasam Sivan was born on 26th September,  1890 at Polakom, a Village in Tanjore District, as the second son of Ramamritha Iyer and Yogmbal.  His elder brother is the father of Smt. V.N. Janaki, the consort of  late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Sri. M.G. Ramachanran. At the early age of seven, Sri Sivan lost his father.  The entire family migrated to Trivandrum,  where at that time free food and education were provided to the members of a particular community, a symbol of the benevolance of the royal King.  Here Sivan joined the Sanskrit School.  Even in his teens Sivan showed a great flare for music.  His contact with Sri Neelakanta Sivan, Samba Bhagavathar and Parameswara Bhagavathar  greatly helped Sivan to develop his musical talents.  The compositions of the  royal  composer Sri Swati Tirunal reverberating from  within the four walls of Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple greatly captivated the youngster.  He  was also fortunate to get the acquaintance of the one and the only S.G. Kittappa and the great Harikesanallur Muihiah Bhagavathar, who were at that time residing in Trivandrum.  Sri Sivan was a regular participant in the Bhajan Ghoshtis organised by Sri Nilakanta Sivan to master innumerable compositions.

At the behest of Nemom Natesa- Bhagavathar, Sri Sivan moved to Pazhamarneri in Trichy District where he was promised systematic training in carnatic music.  But to his chagrin Sivan found that he was taken there to work as a menial servant and not for learning music.  So Sri Sivan stealthily sneaked out of the place and took asylum in a nearby Asramom.  The atmosphere  of bhakthi and devotion which permeated the entire atmosphere in  his new abode made a profound impression on Sri Sivan.  He zealously participated in the poojas and the chorus singing of devotional songs.  This  was  a turning point in Sivan’s life.  He decided to renounce wordly pleasures and wanted to lead the life of a Sanyasin.

The news of the death of his beloved mother at Trivandrum greatly perturbed Sri. Sivan especially because the news reached him only nine days after his mother’s death.  He rushed to Trivandrum to participate in the obsequies.

In 1910, Sivan left Trivandrum for good.  He moved from place to place as a recluse.  He devoted his entire time in meditation and in singing songs in praise of the Lord.  Attired with Viboothi all over his body,  he moved about singing songs about Lord Siva.  So people started calling him “Sivan”.  His sojourn in Papanasam from 1914 to 1929 in the company of his brother earned him the title ‘Papanasam Sivan’.  Due to the persuasions of his brother and his many friends Sri Sivan finally agreed to enter marital life and in 1917 married Lekshmi Ammal, daughter of Ayyaswami Iyer.

Sri Papanasam Sivan is one of the greatest composers of all times.  It was more divine instinct than his limited erudition which has made his compositions really great.  The first ever song of Sri Sivan ‘Unnai Thuthikka Arul Tha’ in the raga Kundala Varali was a spontaneous expression of his great  Bhakthi.  This was sung during the rathotsvam at the Thyagaraja Temple,  Thiruvoor.  From then on Sri Sivan never looked back.  He has composed nearly 2000 songs which include songs which he composed for the many films.  Fifty of these are in Sanskrit and the rest in Tamil.  Each composition is a gem.  One presenting his songs or listening to them will enter into the spirit of them and will completely forget himself.  Songs like Nan Our Vilayattu Bhommaiya (Navarasa Kannada) Ennam Thampam (Kapi) Saravana Bhava Ennum (Shanmugha Priya),  Ini Our Kanam (Sri Ranjini),  Pirava  Varam (Lathangi), Nekhuravi (Abhogi) are all master pieces, to mention just a few.  His compositions include varnas, Keerthanas, Padam, Javalis, Thillanas etc.  The compositions are full of Bhava.  The Sahitya which reflects great erudition is couched in simple language full of rich erudition.  The Sahitya is so simple that even a child can understand its implication.

As mentioned earlier many of Sivan’s compositions were spontaneous expressions, composed on the spot.  Thus the composition Kanakkan Kodi in Kamboji came out spontaneously when Sivan was witnessing the temple festival at Kapaleswarar temple during which Lord Kapaleswara fully decorated was being taken out on a procession around the temple.  Similarly during a Navarathri festival  the late Ramnad Krishnan requested Sri Sivan to sing the Thyagaraja Kriti “Ninnu Vina” in Navarasa Kannada.  While every one was expecting this song, out came the song “Nan Oru Vilayatta Bhommaya’ in the same Raga.

“Karaikhal Ammayar” and  ‘Sri Rama Charitha Geetham’ are two immortal contributions of Sri Sivan.  Each comprises of a number of songs elaborating the story.  The latter can be considered as a simplified version of Valmiki Ramayanam.  It is significant that it comprises of 24 songs in 24 different ragas in place of the 24000 slokas in Valmiki Ramayanam.  Many consider Sri Papanasam Sivan as a  re-incarnation of Saint Thyagaraja and refer  to him as Tamil Thyagayya, a title conferred on him by Simizhi Sundaram Iyer.

In some of Sivan’s compositions we find the mudra ‘Ramadasa’.  It is seen that Sivan has used this mudra rarely and only in such songs where the theme is abject surrender before the Lord.

Besides the classical songs, Sri Sivan has composed many songs for the films.  In these songs we find a harmonious blend of the classical and the light styles.  These songs were very popular and helped to enhance the popularity of the films in those days.  Unfortunately now the tastes have changed resulting in deterioration of standards too.  Perhaps it would be right to say that these film songs of Sivan helped to bring him from oblivion into lime light.  Songs like Maramanan (Indolam) Amba Manam Irangi (Panthuvarali) Pirava Varam (Lathangi) Vallayil Padum Vayal (Chenchurutti) are immortal songs and hold their own even to day.)

Though Sivan did not have many direct disciples, who did gurukula vasam under him musical wizards like Madurai Mani Iyer, Dr.  Ramanathan, Lalgudi Jayaraman, D.K. Jayaraman, M.S.Subbulekshmi and D.K. Patammal learned music at one time or the other under this great master.

Besides a composer par excellence, Sri Papanasam Sivan had great histrionic talents He has acted in many dramas and in a few films like Kubera Kuchela, Bhaktha Kuchela, Bhaktha Chetha and Thyagabhoomi.  By his natural acting he has enriched these films and has  greatly enhanced their popularity.

Sivan has given music concerts in a number of places all over India.  Though not blessed with a rich voice, he used to keep the audience spell bound by his masterly presentation of the Kritis.

Sri Sivan was a great organiser of Bhajan Ghoshtis.  In spite of his indifferent health during the later part of his career he used to participate in Bhajans during the month of Margazhi.  People used to partronise these in large numbers.  It is said that once in Madurai, Sri Sivan was participating in a Bhajan Ghoshti.  Nearby there was a Nadaswaram recital by a famous Nadaswara Vidwan to which people had flocked in large numbers.  But on hearing there was a Bhajan Ghoshti organised by Sri Sivan nearby, people melted away and finally the Nadaswara Vidwan an his party emulated the crowed. Sri Sivan was a great lover of nature.  Some of his songs bring out this trait in him.  Thus the song ‘Manam kulira” (Ragamalika) in  the film “Shakuntala” immoratalised by M.S. is a standing example.

Sri Sivan was also a great patriot.  He  has great love and respect for Sri Subramonia Bharathi.  The song Pamalaiklu Inai Undo (Harikamboji) is a manifestation of this.  Sri Sivan was close to national leaders like Dr.  Satyamurthi, Sri. Sreenivasa Iyengar and Sri Kasturi Renga Iyengar.

For a few years Sri Sivan was closely associated with Kalakshetra and Dr. Rukmini Arundale. She not only learned music under this great scholar but also entrusted to him the work of composing songs for the many dance dramas presented by her.  Sri Sivan also  worked as a music teacher in the Kalakshetra School.

Through his association with the film world both as a composer and as an actor Sri Sivan was able to earn a good income.  But his philanthropic outlook never induced him to use the money for his own personal comforts.  Thus the major part of his income was utilised to construct a Siva Temple in his native village.

Sri Sivan, always humble and modest, never went after favours and recognitions.  So it is not surprising that recongnition to this great master came as late as 1973.  In that year he was made a fellow of the Kendra Sangita Natak Akademy.  In the same year the title“ Padma Bhooshan” was conferred on him.  He was also the recipient of titles from the various music sabhas in Madras.  He has also preside over the annual music conference organised by the Music Academy, Madras which earned him the title “Sangita Kalanidhi”.

Sri Sivan attained the lotus feet of the Lord on 1st October, 1973.  Sri Sivan has left behind two sons and two daughters.  The youngest of them is Dr. Rukmini Ramani. Dr. Rukmini is carrying forward the torch left behind by her illustrious father.  She has already published a few compositions of Sri Sivan and is the Secretary of a Sabha in Madras run in the name of Sri  Sivan.  Both Dr. Rukmini and her son are giving concerts comprising of Sivan’s compositions. 

Let me conclude by quoting Sri. T. Sankara Menon of   Kalakshetra “The world of music is poorer by the loss of Sri Papanasam Sivan.  Perhaps we may have to wait for a pretty long time to have another like him who belonged to the direct line of great composers and who  like him would make our country resound with sweet and noble music.”


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