(Speech delivered on 16-4-1963 at the inaguration of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Sri Swathi Thirunal)
One hundred and fifty years ago today on April 16, 1813 was born Maharaja Swati Thirunal. He ruled over the princely State of Travancore for some 18 years. He was an enlightened ruler who introduced many progressive measures while governing his State - loved by his subjects, respected by the British Administration, envied by other friendly princes. As princes and Maharajahs go, he had an enviable record and a good reign. But posterity remembers him for something totally different. Swathi Thirunal was a composer - a composer of music - who ranks with the highest creative minds India has known in her long and cherished tradition.
The second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century - the period from about 1750 to 1850 constitute a period of great glory, of great fertility in the history of Karnatic music. When people talk glibly of the decline and fall of the Indian traditions in art in the last two hundred years or so, it is well to remember this. While wars of conquest and consolidation were being fought all over the country, while petty political intrigues and big political conflicts were being hatched, while the whole social fabric was crumbling, it is interesting to note that in the South-in the Cauvery delta, in Kerala, creative musicians were raising the edifice of Karnatic music to the highest pinnacles of its glory.
It isn't as if they were fiddling, as Nero did, while Rome burned. This is only a manifestation of the resilience of our great cultural tradition which kept blossoming forth and developing in unsuspected nooks and corners even against a background of wars and political upheavals. Three names are spoken of as the shining lights of this period and of this cultural movement-Thyagaraja, Syama Sastry and Muthuswami Dikshitar. They are known as the Trinity of Karnatic music. Of late, one more name has been added to those of the select three-that of Swathi Thirunal.
I said 'of late' because it took a little time for the outside world to fully comprehend the range of his genius and his achievement. Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri had many pupils. Therefore even in their lifetime they acquired big reputation. After their death their sishyas popularised the masters' songs, gave them wide currency, so much so that they soon became part of the mainstream of the Karnatic tradition. But Swathi Thirunal lived and died in Travancore, a ruling Prince.
The life of the ruling Prince-busy and yet sheltered-was not conducive to the creation of a sishya-parampara. A good many of the musicians who adorned his court and the many distinguished visitors who flocked to see him recognised his genius and had the measure of his greatness. But they were too near him to evaluate his musical greatness objectively, as they were dazzled by his position and authority, and found it difficult to place him in his proper musical perspective.
But as the years rolled on, his achievement as a composer stood out, shorn of its princely trappings. It was a major edifice in its own right and echoes of it began to be heard outside the confines of Kerala. Its range was astonishing from Kritis to Upakhyanas, from Pada-Varnams to Tillanas, from Sthothras to Javalis.
Some thirty years ago, the Government of Travancore (as it was then) founded in Trivandrum the Swathi Thirunal Academy of Music, an institution for the teaching of Karnatic music. Its first Principal was Gayakasikhamani Harikeshanellur Muthia Bhagavathar. Let us just call him Muthia Bhagavathar. Muthia Bhagavathar was an important composer himself and it was but natural that, living in Trivandrum, his attention should be drawn more and more to the compositions of Swathi Thirunal. He began the systematic collecting and editing of his works, publishing them in Swara-Lipi, bringing them to the attention of musicians wherever Karnatic music was heard and practised. It was a revelation. When Muthia Bhagavathar died, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer took his place and has been carrying on the work that his illustrious predecessor started.
Altogether, over three hundred compositions have been unearthed so far. And I am told that they cover about 76 ragas. The vast majority of these are in Sanskrit; a good many are in Malayalam; some inTelugu; a few in Tamil and Marathi. Of compositions in Hindi, there are some fourty. There are two Upakhyanas- and there are Stothras, Prabandhas.
In spite of all this, Swathi Thirunal's name is hardly known outside Southern India. I feel it ought to be known all over the country. Not only his name, but his music; the music even more than the name.Hence this talk, hence the many programmes we have planned for this occasion.
One or two things strike me forcibly about the man and his music. I am not talking as an expert,much less as an authority. I have no such pretensions. I am talking as a lover of music. Other composers devote a life time to music, often a long life - time. Music, and the pursuit and creation of music, would be their only preoccupation. But here was a person whose main vocation in life was to rule over a State-administer it efficiently and discharge his responsibilities to his subjects. To say that he was a great Ruler is not to pay him just an empty compliment. He undertook a revenue survey and settlement of the land. He appointed a Trade Agent at Alleppey, then the principal port of the State for encouraging trade with the outside world. He established the first hospital in the State; introduced vaccination; organised a Government Press; rooted out corruption. In those days, we must remember he had complete responsibility. There was no legislature to advise him or help him.
To study music seriously, thoroughly and most conscientiously, to practise it assiduously, and then to attain the high professional standard to be able to compose it-in addition to the cares and task of ruling the State-this seems to me an incredible achievement, almost a miracle. And that miracle seems still more miraculous when you realise that he died at the age of thirty-four. We are often told that those whom the Gods love die young. How inscrutable are the ways of God! What would Swathi Thirunal have not achieved if he had been allotted a longer span of life ?
There is one other thing which distinguishes Swathi Thirunal from all other Indian composers. I mentioned earlier the range of his creative activity-from Kritis to Upakhyanas, from Pada-Varnams to Tillanas, from Stothras to Javalis. That does not define his range fully. He also composed Dhrupads,Khayals,Tappas, Bhajans. Yes, in the Hindustani style. The Bhajans are the largest in number; there are about 25 of them. Then come the Dhrupads, about seven. Three Khayals are known and two Tappas. He not only studied Hindustani music seriously, but mastered it sufficiently to compose in it.Hindustani musicians adorned his court. Some were in residence. Others visited him as regularly and frequently as Karnatic musicians did. They came from the Punjab, from Oudh, Bengal, Banaras, Poona. Travelling in those days was not easy. It was like an adventure. The railways had not come into being.Roads were primitive.
How did he manage to pack so much into so short a life ? What kind of a man was he ? How did he keep in touch with the world outside ? Who were his teachers, his friends, his advisers ? Above all,what did his music sound like, his Karnatic Kritis, his dance Music and his Hindustani music ?
Well, listen to the programmes All India Radio has planned for the next three weeks. Some of themwill be relayed by all our Stations so that wherever you are, you could hear them. But if you are anxious to hear more and know more, try and listen to the Southern stations which will, naturally, broadcast many more programmes. The best tribute you can pay to a composer is to sing his songs, or alternately, listen to him.
last word. We are inclined to think of composers as temperamental, may
be slightly neurotic ,introverted-and princes in terms of pomp and circumstances.
Swathi Thirunal was different. He lived a simple, almost a frugal life
for a Prince. He was generous to a fault, gentle, courteous. Music to
him was an apparatus of worship. Lord Padmanabha was his real preceptor.
"All that I write, whether poetry or music, centres round God",
he once said, "This is an act of faith with me. Music is not worth
its name otherwise". And that sums him up admirably.
SRI SWATHI THIRUNAL
His Highness Marthanda Varma, Elaya Raja of Travancore- AIR Broadcast
It is with great pleasure that I avail myself today of this opportunity of speaking a few words about Shri Swathi Thirunal.His Highness, Shri Swathi Thirunal, Maharaja of Travancore, was undoubtedly the brightest jewel in the ruling dynasty of the State. A many faceted jewel it was ; and one particular facet has been shedding glorious light which is reflected in his musical compositions. With his contributions, he has become one of the immortals of Indian Music.
Though his fame now is through his lyrics, it is a well-known fact that he was a perfectionist who aspired to explore and better his country's needs, and that it was that which placed him head and shoulders in various ways above his contemporaries . He anticipated by a century the needs of his State for the various amenities which pushed Travancore to the forefront of literacy and progress. So one must not forget in the pleasure of listening to his enchanting songs, the fact that he was above all a competent and able ruler, a man who acquitted himself very well in those hard days when it was one long struggle for a ruling prince to keep his integrity and that of his people and at the same time prevent the heavy and powerful hand of the ever vigilant British from descending on his State.
In the absence of a male heir, in accordance with the traditions, a woman could succeed to theTravancore throne and such was the case when Maharani Lakshmi Bayi, mother of Swathi Thirunal ascended the throne. The fulfilment of the desires and wishes of the people of Travancore was accomplished when a son was born to her. The fact that he was monarch before birth was indicated by the title of Garbhasreeman. The era in which he was born was already echoing the rumblings of a revolution. Two decades before the birth of this noble prince, Travancore under the lead of Dalawa Velu Thampi had staged a bid for the removal of alien superintendence. The results of this attempt were indeed sad. Procedural obstructions were placed by the British in the day-to-day administration and governance of the State. During the reign of Maharani Lakshmi Bayi, Swathi Thirunal's mother, the shadows of the Ring Fence Policies and the Doctrine of Lapse were very close to Travancore. Though these policies adopted by Lord Dalhousie were plans for annexing the Indian States, there is a paradox in this case that it was an Englishman, Col. Munroe who was responsible for the continuance of the Royal House of Travancore. Soon after his birth, Swathi Thirunal lost his mother and it was in the care of his father and his loving aunt, Maharani Parvathi Bai that he spent his childhood.
The young Prince was an ardent student, and a linguist with a flair for turning all the languages he learnt into poetry and song. Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Sanskrit, Kannada, Persian and Hindustani were media he used with great facility. An interesting episode highlights the chronicles of his biography. The incident occurred when Col. Welsh deputed by the Madras Government was on a visit to the State. The Englishman went to pay his courtesy call at the Palace. The young prince who was hardly 11 years old was at his studies and at the moment was delving deep into books on higher mathematics including geometry. Pleased that the prince was taking an interest in the Western subjects, the Col. discussed the subject with the prince who promptly told him that geometry was entirely of Indian origin and was known in Sanskrit as Gyamatra (Jyomatri) and went on with many erudite arguments to uphold his theory. He also astonished his visitors by his proficiency and command over languages.
cares of the State were in his young hands at the age of 16 and many were
the changes and developments that were carried out during his reign. Though
Trivandrum had been the capital of the State from the times of Marthanda
Varma the Great, Quilon had been the seat of Government for some time.
This being unsatisfactory His highness shifted the offices back to Trivandrum.
This led to more personal and direct contact with the day-to-day administration.
The judiciary and courts of appeal were reorganised and enlarged so that
people all over the State were assured of quicker justice. A modern code
of law, the first in the State was drawn up by a Commission. Realising
that English was becoming an important language, the first Government
English School was opened. And more schools employing this medium were
started in other places in the State. This made the high standard of education
higher still. From years lost in the mists of time, healing of the sick
was being done through the well-known system of Ayurveda.
Understanding the progress of modern science, hospitals were established at important centres. Help was also granted to missionaries to build dispensaries and small hospitals. Agriculture is an important subject all over India. Notwithstanding the fact that Travancore was blessed with bountiful nature, an irrigation department was set up. The Observatory in Trivandrum came into being. Being a keen student of Astronomy, Swathi Thirunal took personal interest in the Observatory and built a sun dial himself. The Government Printing Press owes its origin to him. Since then from 1838 onwards, almanacs and records were methodically prepared. In the year 1836, the revenues of the State were augmented by the introduction of Excise duties. An Engineering department was also created. The nucleus of a Zoo was formed and a variety of animal life was kept on show for the public.
To help him in the business of administration, Swathi Thirunal chose his able tutor. Mr.Subba Raohad been specially chosen and sent to Travancore by the Madras Government. After some time serious drawbacks in the administration appeared. When confronted with the dilemma of his affection and regard for his tutor and his duties as a ruler, Swathi Thirunal showed the spirit of the clearheaded administrator.The Chief Executive of the Administration was relieved of his post on account of his grave errors.
The governance of the State was hampered constantly by the continuous interference of the Paramount power. This policy, irksome as it was to any ruler, was most vexatious to so young a sovereign. This was a prime factor causing distress to His Highness affecting his health.
He, therefore, turned his attention to other creative activities in Travancore. The magnificent chariot used during Dasara procession was of his own design. Quite a few of the delicate and gorgeous vahanams in the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum were conceived and dedicated by him. The codification of the details of the rituals and ceremonies observed in the temple and during the nine days of Navaratri festival reveal his touch. These functions have attained perfection with the improvements introduced by him.
Though known mainly as a composer of music, Swathi Thirunal was an erudite scholar. To his creditstand the several well known works viz., Kuchelopakhyanam, Ajamilopakhyanam, Utsavaprabhandam and Syanandurapuravarnana prabhandam. Another famous work is his Bhakthi Manjari. This has a thousand and eight poems. This is divided into nine parts. Each part deals with one path of Bhakthi or devotion. Indian tradition lays down nine separate forms of Bhakthi and these are magnificently portrayed in simple but classical Sanskrit. He was a patron of all fine arts including Dance. In addition to creating many pieces for Bharata Natyam, he has written a treatise on the subject which, unfortunately, has not been published so far.
Although essentially a man of fine arts, Swathi Thirunal was a personage who was also equally interested in other aspects of life. At the beginning of his rule, the army in Travancore was in a very basic and reduced state. He built up infantry and Cavalry units, and made them up-to date in training and equipment. He devoted considerable attention to the building up of his physique. He was an accomplished horseman and an able hunter. Pig sticking was a sport that interested him a great deal.
In keeping with true Indian traditions, Swathi Thirunal built up quickly around the Court of Travancore a galaxy of eminent scholars and musicians. The musicians in particular were drawn from all over the subcontinent of India. Patronage was given to both the distinctive styles of the South and the North.
Being a versatile scholar and a linguist, the Maharaja composed his melodies in many languages. This example which he set a century and a half ago is a model lesson in achieving the ideal of National Integration. The culture and heritage of India are one. It does not matter in what language one expresses it. Music is the finest means of expressing man's most sincere sentiments. And these can sustain only on the foundations of culture.
Swati Thirunal's span of life was short. He passed away at the comparatively young age of 34. It is astonishing that he was able to compose more than half a thousand memorable pieces of music. This was done within the time available after performing his duties as a ruler. A deeper study of his compositions reveals that he was not only a composer but a musicologist of repute.
At about the same time, there lived in South India the three great composers known as the musical trinity. I refer to Thyagaraja Swamy, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. Swathi Thirunal knowing the greatness of Thyagaraja was most anxious to know him personally. Govinda Marar, a well-known musician was sent to Thiruvaiyar but Thyagaraja Swamy could not undertake this journey due to old age.Disciples of Thyagaraja and Dikshitar often visited Trivandrum and a great deal of understanding existed between the four great luminaries of Music. Swathi Thirunal had close contact with the Courts of Tanjore and Pudukottai. There are evidences of the Maharaja dedicating songs to the Goddess of Pudukottai-Shri Brihadambal. The scholarly rulers of Pudukottai have reciprocated this with songs dedicated to SreePadmanabha Swamy.
During the last one hundred and thirty years, humanity in this country has been pleasurably served with the musical compositions that came from Swathi Thirunal. In all these pieces, the accent on devotion and the emphasis on unity in diversity are clearly seen. The Mudra of Padmanabha and synonyms of this revered name encompassed all paths of devotion and all aspects of Godhead into the one Padmanabha.This is the synthesis of Advaita.
The net-work of All India Radio is contributing in a very large measure to the success of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of this Royal Personage.
I sincerely hope that this awakening of interest in him and in his contribution to the art of music will continue to delight more and more people and that in itself will be to my mind the greatest memorial to Maharaja Swathi Thirunal.
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