Sri Swathi Thirunal -The Great Vaggeyakara
Dr. R. P. RAJA
THE great scholar Mahamahopadhaya T. Ganapati Sastri in his foreword to Swati Tirunal’s Bhakti Manjari, a poetic composition of one thousand odd Slokas, has recorded thus: “This work, Bhakti Manjari, though not so much known as the rest of the Royal Poet’s literary works, was luckily not lost; and what is still more fortunate, the only manuscript copy available happens to be in the handwriting of the author himself.” Shri Sastri wrote thus 88 years ago, in 1904. So, even at that point of time, many of the works of Swati Tirunal and also old and valuable records relating to him had been lost owing mainly to the indifference and carelessness on the part of those who happened to have them in their custody.
The only source where the maximum number of Cadjan leaf copies of the compositions of Swati Tirunal may be found is among the collections of Vadivelu, one of the Tanjore Quartet (Thanjavoor Nalvar, namely Vadivelu, Chinnayya, Ponnayya and Sivanandan), who were in the Court of Swati Tirunal. It is known that the Maharaja had special consideration for Vadivelu. It is also learnt that the ivory violin presented by Swati Tirunal to Vadivelu and the collection of the Maharaja’s compositions (copies of Cadjan leaves) owned by Vadivelu are now with a direct descendant of his,
Shri K. P. Sivanandan, residing in Madras.
This article, however, is concerned only with an important piece of evidence of Swati Tirunal’s contribution to music as a great music composer (Vaggeyakara) provided by a person who knew the Maharaja intimately. This person is none other than his sister’s youngest son, Visakham Tirunal Rama Varma, who became the Maharaja of Travancore several years later, in 1880 and who became renowned as a great scholar, science writer, journalist and for his scrupulous veracity. Visakham Tirunal was nine years and seven months old when Swati Tirunal passed away on December 26, 1846. That means, by then Visakham had reached an age when impressions and images would register firmly and clearly on his mind.
Visakham’s testimony about Swati Tirunal’s music is contained in the answers given by him to a series of twelve questions pertaining to ‘Music in Travancore’ sent to him by an eminent musicologist, Captain C. R. Day, in 1885. The questionnaire was sent through the Madras branch of the Poona Gayan Samaj, an organisation devoted to the promotion of music, of which Visakham Tirunal was a patron. The replies were later published in 1887 in a 206-page book entitled 'The Hindu Music and the Gayan Samaj' by the Gayan Samaj while celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Among the questions and answers the most important and relevant in the present context are the ones reproduced below:
Question No. V : ‘’Was the air ‘Sarasa Samamukha’, etc., composed by the Maharaja Kulasekhara? If so, on what date? It appears to be popular all over southern India’’.
Answer No. V : ‘’The note ‘Sarasa Samamukha’ was composed by Vanchipala Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal Maharaja, who reigned between 1829-30 and 1846-47,
‘’The exact date of the particular composition is difficult to ascertain as every year His Highness produced lots of them.
‘’His Highness’s compositions extend to all kinds of musical compositions, all Ragas, etc.
‘’In point of language they include Sanscrit, Malayalam-Sanscrit, Telugu, Hindusthani and Carnatic.
‘’one great peculiarity in His Highness’s compositions is the copious insertions of the ‘Swaraksharas’ in them
‘’To make my meaning clear, the Hindu gamut is divided into seven parts - the eighth or octavo being the recurrence in tenor of the first. The seven parts are symbolised by the seven letters:
Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni
letters are in themselves meaningless but the Maharaja had most adroitly
introduced them in several of his composition at the ‘very places’
where the ‘Swaras’ represented by them stand, at the same
time without at all vitiating the meaning. For instance, in the piece
‘Sarasa Samamukha Paramavamam’, etc. the ‘Sa’
and the ‘Ma’ are at first where the ‘Shadja’
and ‘Madhyama’ Swaras which they represent should be. This
and many other pieces composed by His Highness are very popular in southern
India. In fact, the Maharaja’s reign was the ‘Augustan Era’
of Travancore.’’ (Italic by the present writer)
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