Ponniah Pillai [b 1804]

Among the genius of Swathi Thirunal’s court were the four brothers Chinnayya [b. 1802], Ponnayya [b. 1804], Sivanandam [b. 1808] and Vadivelu [b 1810] known as the Tanjavur Quartette (Nalvar). Ponniah is the second one of the famous Thanjavoor quartette. His youngest brother Vadivelu was the most famous musician in Swathi Thirunal’s court.
Ponnayya’s ancestor was one Gangai Muthu who lived in the 17th century and was a devaram scholar, who is believed to hail form Tirunelveli. Gangai Muthu had two sons, Ramalingam and Gangamuthu.Gangmuthu had two sons Subbarayan (also known as Mahadeva Annavi, an accomplished veena player) and Chidambaram.Subbarayan had 4 sons: Chinnaya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu. After training under the legendary teacher and musician Muthuswamy Deekshithar, the quartette became Asthana Vidwans at Tanjavoor court and also in Travancore court. All of them were entertained in the service of the Maharaja Swathi Thirunal in 1835. Vadivelu was on a monthly pay of Rs.100 and others on slightly lower sums. A lump sum of Rs. 700 was also given to them on their arrival, presumably by way of their traveling expenses. Later on, a house was also built for them at Aryasala. The eldest brother Chinnayya was later invited by Sri Krishna Devaraya to Mysore and he trained many students and teachers there. The second brother Ponnayya and the third Shivanandam rendered exemplary services in the court of Sarabhoji , the king of Thanjavoor. These brothers offered worship through the dance performances of their students in the Brihadeeshwara temple of Tanjavoor. Vadivelu shifted to Thiruvananthapuram and became the court musician of Travancore. Ponnayya, the second of the brothers is the composer of the Maya Malava Gaula Kriti “Maaya atheetha Swaroopini” (popularized by D.K. Pattammal and M.D. Ramanthan). This kriti makes to Deekshithar in the line “ma guruguha swamiki ne dasudai’’. It is believed that Ponniah was head and shoulders above his brothers and as a pioneer in systematizing the dance repertoire extant today. The Ata Thala varnam in Kambhoji, Sarasijanaabha, currenty attributed to Swathi Thirunal, is believed by some to be Ponniah’s composition. T.Lakshmanan Pillai, a composer and writer whose times overlapped with those of musicians in Swathi’s court such as Palakkad Parameswara Bhagavathar, have expressed such an opinion.

Compositios of Ponnayya:

Sankarabharanam, Adi
Hindusthani Bihag M.Chapu
Amba neelambari
Nilambari Adi
Athimoham [Varnam]
Sankarabharanam Adi
Kanakangi Pai
Gaula Adi
Keliyugamuna Sahana
Mahadeva manohari
Devamanohari Rupaka
Manavi kai konarda [Varnam]
Sankarabharanam Adi
Mangala pradambuichu
Madhyamavathi Rupaka
Mayamalavagaula Rupaka
Neesati dora [Varnam]
Bhairavi Rupaka
Ninu sareku nammiti
Madhyamavathi Rupaka
Nivantisamini [Varnam]
Kamalamanohari Adi
Bhairavi Rupaka
Raghunatha nannu
Shivaranjini Adi
Sourashtra Rupaka
Sakhiye inda [Varnam]
Anandabhairavi Adi
Samiga natho [Varnam]
Manohari Adi
Samini pai [Varnam]
Kedaragaula Ata
Bhairavi Adi
Sarojakshiro [Swarajathi]
Yadukula kambhoji
Sri guruguha murthi
Dhenuka Rupaka
Srikara Sugunakara
Valachi vachchiyunna
Sourashtra Ata
? Kapi Padavarnam
? Khamas Padavarnam
? Navaratna varnamalika
Sarabhendra Bhupalakurvanji
Nadanamakriya, Ahiri etc

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