Composers & Musicians


Kerala's contribution to Carnatic music in the form of composers does not either begin or end with Swathi Thirunal. Kunjan Nambiar, Kerala Varma of Vadakkan Kottayam, Irayimman Thampi, kuttykunju Thankachi, T. Lakshmana Pillai, Mahakavi Kuttamath, K.C.Kesava Pillai are all well known composers who have made valuable contributions at different levels. It is however doubtful whether another saint a genius from Thiruvananthapuram. Valsala Shastriar is remembered in this context.
Known more as a social reformer and poet, the classical gems created by this great man still remains mostly unearthed.
By the second half of the 19th century, the Christian community in Kerala had clearly adopted a different cultural outlook due to western influence from the British counterparts. This reflected in the architecture of the churches to the way prayer meetings were held. Naturally, the songs rendered in the churches during prayer meetings also underwent this transformation. Today, though some raga names are sometimes mentioned, church music doesn't retain any sort of pure South Indian music elements. It is in this context that the work of Valsala Shasthriar its uniqueness.
Born in Thriupuram near Thriuvananthapuram, Valsala Shastriar ( 1847-1916) was a poet, music composer, singer and social reformer. His actual name was Mosa Valsalam. He was christened "Valsala Shasthri" by the Metropolitan of Malabar in 1883 after listening to his music & discourse.

He made sermon through the villages of Travancore and Cochin. He has to his credit a large number of literary and musical works.A few of them were published during his life time itself. They include "Gitamanjari-Garland of Songs" (1903) and "Dhyanamalika-Meditation Songs " (1916). Later on "The collected works of Valsala Shasthriar" was brought out by Mr.J.John, his grandson, in 1958. An authentic life history has been published by the Valsal Shasthriar Memorial Committee, Thiruvananthapuram, in 1986. These are the available sources of information about Valsala Shasthriar and copies of the works published in 1908 and 1916 were brought to light by Dr. (Miss) Pushpita John, former Head of Dept. of Education and Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Kerala, a descendent of Shastriar.
'Gita Manjari testifies Valsala Shasthriar's in-depth knowledge of Carnatic music. Some of them have the "Chitta Swaras" attached to them. Only a person having real expertise in classical music can produce such compositions. "Cholkottu" like those in the compositions of Deekshithar and Swathi Thirunal have been attempted in some compositions, "Kaithukki Parane" in "Saveri-Rupakam, " Ananda Kirtaname" in Shankarabharanam-Rupakam contain this embellishment.
The first composition is presented as a 'Chithrapadyam'- a matrix of letters arranged meticulously to generate the poem ("Neethithakaya" in Thodi). The swara notations are unfortunately not included. Even some of the raga and tala specifications seem to be confusing. "Bandhu Varadi" is possibly "Pantu Varali". In some compositions, raga is specified as 'English'. These compositions are probably set to Shankarabharanam and meant to be sung in the Western style. This, perhaps, is an indication that only songs specified as 'English' are meant to be sung in the Western style and the others are pure Carnatic classical compositions. A few of the songs which are being practiced now in churches do not follow the original form that was probably envisaged by the composer.
A few of the compositions from "Githa manjari" are given below to provide a glimpse of Shasthriar's genius. A let of work remains to be done to unearth & popularize these unique gems.


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