Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer on Swathi Thirunal

(Text of the speech delivered by Justice Shri V.R. Krishna Iyer on 7th May,1974 on the occasion of the unveiling of the portrait of Sri Swati Tirunal Maha Raja at Sree Kartika Thirunal Theatre, Thiruvananthapuram.)


I regard it a privilege to have had an opportunity to univeil the portrait of a great prince, a prince among artists and an artist among princes.  Now these are days when values have slumped and perhaps the only way we can culturally rejuvenate ourselves is by keeping in our midst at least portraits of high-minded men of the past.  Of course, the true portraits of present leaders will be drawn by succeeding generations, against the background of depression in moral values we are passing through.


Now, Swati Tirunal Sangita Sabha has commissioned a good painter to draw the portrait of a great Prince, who is popularly known for his compositions, and his contribution to music.  But to know the whole man Swathi Tirunal, we cannot stop with art.  A man may be a great lover of art, but he can well be many more thing than that, and Swati Tirunal Maharaja was indeed a multi – dimensional personality.  He blossomed into a Ruler at the age of 16 and faded away from life at the age of 34 and in this youthful spell of 18 years he did many things, which lovers of art would preserve, admirers of good administration would cherish and those who wish that India should be integrated at the cultural level would also fondly treasure.  What is not so well known about him is the great role he played in being a remarkable ruler.  It has been said that during his time good administration had as its components absence of corruption, absence of nepotism; and even his one time tutor, Subba Rao, who later became Diwan, when he was suspected of being a little oblique in his conduct was quietly put on the cup-board by the Maharaja; who wanted the administration to be clean and pure and above suspicion.  I wish that along with his compositions, this dharmic message of the Maharaja were also circulated in India today because we require not merely music for society but also morality in Government.


Now, Swati Tirunal was, as I mentioned in the same hall on a former occasion, a great integrator.  We have today plenty of talk about National Integration.  Just three days ago, I think it was on the 4th, the day after the Courts closed, I went to Pilani, Birla’s Institute and was requested to speak on National Integration.  And all that I could tell them was, if we could find some mehod of arresting a little, the forces of national disintegration, we would have achieved much; because everything that is happening is fissiparous in its essence and nothing that is happening is pointing towards a hopeful omen in regard to national unity and integration.  This formed the burden of my soul-I concluded saying: “With these discouraging words let me conclude honestly.” Now this is what I had to tell the Pilani young men and women.


Against the backdrop of dark and dismal forces disintegrating this nation, when people from the North look upon the South in a way we do not tolerate and people from the South cannot endure the way they are treated in the North and many thinking citizens of India see many Indias in our geography, lustrous names like that of Swati Tirunal require to be projected, highlighted on the national screen in every nook and corner of this country.  It was this passion of mine, which induced me to insist on the Kerala Club organizing this year a Swati – Tirunal – compositions competition.  Not merely because of his great musical work, not merely because of the aesthetic and devotional content of his songs, but also because if we realize that here was a Prince at the southern tip of India who lived over  150 years ago and had the vision of a united India and sowed the seeds of integration, that might help us to achieve what we are all sanctimoniously prating about- oneness.  Now what is it that he did? Swati Thirunal compositions certainly had high musical quality.  That is why we rank him perhaps as the fourth along with or as a companion to the trinity.  Thyagabrahmam composed songs at once divinely inspired and uniquely devotional and Swati Tirunal did likewise.  The signature of Swati Tirunal’s compositions is Padmanabha Dasa.  They revealed his philosophical outlook on life.  It was not mere bhakthi, it was much more than that.  There was sublime thought and spiritual charge and there was certainly ‘bhakthi’ too.  There was a rich variety in his creations.  Eminent scholars and musicologists have evaluated his compositions and have rated them among the highest.  True, but then what he did was – even a Prince of sixteen, remember, is only a human being of sixteen, and a prince does not mean he possesses miraculous powers but what this prodigy of a prince did was to acquire proficiency in a spectrum of languages in India.  Apart from his profound Sanskritic erudition, apart from his scholarship in his own home tongue Malayalam, he also became a master of Telugu, which all of us in the South know is the language of Karnatak Sangeeth.  He mastered Telugu and went beyond the barriers of geography because he acquired proficiency in Kannada, in Marathi and in Hindustani .  Today with all the vociferous propaganda about national integration, if you ask a Tamil friend to learn Hindustani – I suppose you know that if you repeat it you may not escape unhurt.  And if you ask North Indian students to learn some South Indian language and sponsor the scheme with scholarships, and subsidies as the Government of India in its wisdom is doing, it misfires.


And yet long ago in Travancore there was a Prince whose duties did not oblige him to learn Hindustani – nay the Britishers might have induced many Princes in this country to acquire some little knowledge of English.  Of course,  Swati Tirunal had studied English too,  but he mastered Hindustani and composed songs in Hindustani.  He mastered cultivated himself in the system of Hindustani music so as to produce compositions in its stylized forms.  They are very different from our kriti. For instance few in the North know what is a kirtana or Jaweli; on the other hand few here may bother to know what is gazzal or thumri.  But here was the royal composer whose vision had encompassed the entire country including upper India and so he studied the languages of the people of that region; he studied the forms of art of North India and went to the extent – shall I say to a daring extent – of composing Hindustani songs in their styles and forms – highly stylized are those musical patterns, which could really be popularized among Hindustani musicians.  As a matter of fact, it is inadequate homage to the Maharaja Swati Tirunal that his votaries should be only South Indians or his compositions should be sung only by South Indian artistes.  He composed pieces in Hindustani music, his repertoire of compositions  includes Marathi songs and there is obvious justification for us to persuade our brethren in those areas to render Swati songs.  Kumara Gandharva, for instance, sings so enchantingly.  If only we request men of that musical stature to sing some songs of Swati Tirunal composed in Marathi; if we appeal to some of the ustads of North India and persuade them to sing some of the Hindustani Kritis by Swati Tirunal, I suppose we would have laid the aesthetic foundation for national integration and exchange for stronger than the propagadist vapourisings of politicians.  After all, culture is the strongest bond between people.  These days after Semmangudi popularised Swathi Tirunal’s songs, many of his disciples and other artistes have taken to singing in every music concert a song or two of Swati Tirunal.  Indeed, dancers who perform Bharatha natyam pick up a song or two of Swati Tirunal for abhinaya, because they lend themselves to expression of exquisite emotion on the stage with considerable effect.  Only when we succeed in including at Hindustani music concerts, Swati Tirunal compositions in their language and art form then I suppose we would have done justice to the prince composer.  I would not be satisfied with holding mere amateur competitions on the compositions of Swati Tirunal among Malayalis and Tamilians.  In fact   I must confess when we arranged music competitions in Delhi, the competitors or the entrants were some Malayalis and a larger number of Tamils.  I would consider this adventure to be a happy cultural conquest, only when we win the hearts of our friends in Delhi, the “assal” Delhivala, the Utharpredeshvala, the Rajasthani, the Maharashtrian.  They must come to take and start rendering Swati songs even as our vocalists sing meera bhajans and other Hindustani pieces.  This two-way process would really start a Swati Tirunal movement spread over the whole country.  This cultural expansion is, I suppose, the best tribute to the hero whose likeness I have just unveiled.  Of course, Sri Vaidyanatha Aiyer has made a magnificent contribution to popularising Swati Tirunal songs.  We have – as part of this pan-Indian programme, to undertake considerable research.  Research has been done by Muthayya Bhagavathar, Semmangudi and others.  Now there are collections of Swati Tirunal’s songs, which are available.  This treasure house has been thrown open and in that publication process, what you might call the communication gap has now been eliminated to some extent by the efforts of men like Sri Vaidyanatha Aiyer.  The next stage which is equally important is in introducing Swati Tirunal’s Hindustani compositions to the real North Indian musicians and to the North Indian audience.  If we do that and only then - a proper appreciation of the prince’s aesthetic personality, in its lustrous fullness would emerge.  I salute this great Indian. 

Now, I must certainly compliment the painter for having done a fine job, of it.  He deserves our bouquet of admiration for having painted in colour a colourful prince among men and brought out his regal mien and artistic personality.

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