The 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 beauty.
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.


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