Travancorean Music and Musicians
[This famous article my scholar-composer T. Lakshmanan Pillai has been provided by Dr. K. Omanakutty. The document was not in a very readable form in a few sentences and one page is missing. Any reader in possession of a complete copy is welcome to help us in this matter. This article was published in early past of the 20th Century.]
is the charm applied to the fretting child? What is the power that fascinates
the grim cobra, and causes it to dance before the snake-charmer? What is
the language in which the sprightly bird, forlorn on the sighting bough,
communicates its charming love to its mate in the opposite bough? It is
music. Music is part of the charm of the ocean and of the grandeur of the
thunderclap. It soothes the man whose soul is eaten by cares and anxieties,
and whose energies have been exhausted by labour or pain. It is delightfully
combined in the thoughts of that sacred love which a loving and devoted
wife bears to her husband, and helps to sustain a reciprocal love towards
her in him. It is the medium whereby the starving beggar often enlists the
sympathy of many a stone-hearted donor. It is the soul which animates the
other wise lifeless verses which a saint or devotee addresses to the divine
Dispenser of good. It is an enchantment even for beauty, beauty which “doth
plead without an orator”. It is the balsam which soothes the arduous
workman’s spirit on cool evenings, when his nerves have been shattered
by the day’s labour. The rower, the ploughman, the bandyman, the carrier,
the dhollyman, the shepherd, all fly to this mother of charms equally for
stimulation as for the relief of the monotony of their labour. It allays
even actual physical pain, and we have known of men who have in their dying
moments called for music rather than water or milk, as if their thirst for
former were not to die with their bodies, but to survive that event in order
to make their journey all the pleasanter to the bourne “whence no
Thus, it will be seen that music is part of the regular organisation of God’s world, with a distinct mission to fulfill. It is not merely a light recreation fit for weak women and weaker men, to be taken up when they have nothing better do, and to be condemned and laid aside in their serious moments. For music has a sacred purpose connected with the regeneration of the human heart, which plays an important part in almost all our dealings in the world. Music according to Herbert Spencer “is the idealized language of the feelings, the natural language of the emotions.” According to him, “it is the result of a long course of evolution.” That is, of course, an objective view of the question, music, as it were, anatomized. The theory does not propose to deal with music from the subjective point view, a failing common to many materialistic thinkers. It does not seem to explain satisfactorily the innate connection between the various combinations of harmonious sounds and the corresponding phase of happiness they awaken, for happiness there is in some measure even in the saddest strains “The sweetest songs” are even in music “those that tell of the saddest thought or feeling. The theory does not trace deeply to reason why a particular tune or Raga should raise a particular emotion in the mind and not an other and why it should similarly affect a mixed audience of different tastes and susceptibilities. The connection of sound and happiness appears to be the most important factor that needs solution and that mysteriously defies solution in the philosophy of music. A particular combination of sounds in the ascending and descending order represents in Hindu music a Raga, or the nucleus of a Raga, and stands for a particular and unmistakable phase of feeling, the relationship between the two being innate and by no means created by any effort or conscious volition on the part of the listener. “The natural language of the feelings,” a significant expression indeed! We should think here is an unconscious admission that the connection we were in quest of is to be found in nature and not to be artificially induced by man through whatever stages of evolution he might have passed. Sound and happiness must be blended into one somewhere in the heart of nature. To speak a little metaphysically, as our souls are parts of the Universal soul, and as in that soul sound and beatitude may be combined, we who live estranged from that soul, shut up in individual organisms and forgetful of our inward unity, seem to get even during this estrangement through the divine magic of music, glimpses of that happiness in which we had our being, while we were one with that soul. To adapt a simile from Spencer himself, the white light of happiness, when passing through the crystal of the mind, is radiated into the rainbow phases of happiness which the combinations called Ragas awaken. We are in a foreign land, and music comes home to us, or rather, for a time, takes us home.
Music is thus, in a very good sense of the word, a divine art. Spencer again calls it “the finest of the fine arts,” the most effective agent concerned in promoting sympathy between man and man. Well indeed may music be said to promote sympathy, for by raising kindred emotions in the human breast, it points to that unity whence we have all come and to which we must all return. It clears up, so to speak, the natural brotherhood of man, a relationship which lies deeply buried beneath his conventions, his prejudices and antipathies, his superficial and artificial differences, his joys and sorrow and his dark impenetrable ignorance. This must be the scene of that sympathy to promote which, Spencer says, is the chief function of music.
But we must not confine ourselves to Spencer alone. One at least, greater than he, has in the following oft- quoted lines: -
“He that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratgems and spoils;
The motions of his heart are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus;
Let no such man be trusted.”
borne testimony to the fact that music is the best test of the goodness of a man’s heart. We can sound the power of affection or the reverse of a man by music, and if he cannot be classed with one of the two species referred to by Shakespeare, we may but him down for a man with whom we must take good care before dealing. What a treasure has Shakespeare laid bare within the compass of these remarkably pregnant words! Here is the sum total of the philosophy of music, the nucleus of truth round which a great number of lesser truths and observations may rally. Yet, the verdict of Shakespeare seems hard and allows no room for redemption. The case perhaps is not so hopeless as we might imagine. For every man carries within him musical instincts which, though dormant generally, may yet be nurtured and developed by care and training like embers fanned into a flame. No man is totally dead to its inherent effects.
As music is the best test, so is it also the best purifier of a man’s heart. The reason is not far to seek. That agent which promotes sympathy must of necessity, when frequently resorted to, induce a habit of looking upon our fellowmen as brothers and participating in their joys and sorrows. It creates, in fact, a tenderness of heart which becomes the motor to move the will to sympathetic action, when we see a fellow being suffer. It thus unconsciously affects the heart. It can therefore be said to be an active agent shooting our crime from the heart of man, purifying him of the obnoxious weeds of feeling and developing in him the noblest of himself.
to Hindu music, we hope to be pardoned for adverting to the scant appreciation
given to it by some Europeans, who evidently have little opportunities or
care to listen to performers of acknowledged merit. A European traveller
in Cashmere who wrote about Hindu music and who apparently only heard much
of street and little of indoor music, expressed his opinion that the Hindus
held that the best musician was one who made the loudest noise. The remark
may pass as jest in conversation unnoticed, but in a book will most likely
be challenged by sober observers. Professor Max Muller observes, “We
must not neglect to make full allowance for that very important intellectual
parallax which renders it most difficult for Western observer to see things
and thoughts under exactly the one angle and in the same light as they would
appear to an eye. A symphony of Beethoven’s would be mere noise an
Indian car and Indian Sangita seems to us without melody, harmony or rhythm.”
This feeling of illiberality in appreciation seems to be cordially reciprocated
by some Hindus in respect of European music. They believe that all deviations
from the fixed scales of the Ragas with which they are familiar must necessarily
be discordant, and cannot realise that some disgressious enhance the pleasure
of the main tunes a pieces. This feeling of mutual dislike which some have
shown towards music not their own, it is perhaps correct to distribute to
lack of training or habitual inattention to the complete effects of a piece.
One man’s meat is another man’s prison. Want of sympathy and
the spirit of patient research become cases and differences of ideals in
other seem to be the forerunners to the dislike shown in this as in the
case of in social customs and uses. The European stands as much astonished
at the existence of innumerable divisions among men of the same section
or caste of the Hindus, as the other at the spectacle of an artisan aussing
with a gentleman. Hindu is surprised how the European can woo and choose
his own wife, while his Western brother is equally surprised in the Hindu
is fond to leave the choice of his life’s personal companion to the
father or grandfather, or worse, to an other stranger, to anybody but the
man most concerned, that is himself. Some dislikes are of course well found
whilst other are arbitrary. Similar instances may be multiple but it is
enough to say that want of consideration for the circumstances of condition
and breadth of view is in some cases at the bottom of petty dislike and
prejudices which will clear like mists when the sun of knowledge shines
upon them. We will not think and cannot therefore enter heartily into feelings
and conditions of men different from those of their own nationality. Greater
familiarity with each other’s form of music is the bost antidote to
these prejudices and disrespect of European and Hindu music. On the other
hand, it is refreshing to know that some Europeans have ever come these
prejudices, but are in the fair way to appearance. Hindu music as much as
the Hindus themselves, and the Hindu musicians, including the great Tiagayya
himself to have not only appreciated European music, but have incorporated
into their compositions style peculiar to it. He Indeed, who would say that
Tiagayya, the composer of the following Kirtanams, did not appreciate European
Nagumo in Raga Aberi
Sarasara in Raga Kuntalavarali
Hindu music, as indeed every other art in India have a religious aspect and is said to have originated from the saints who composed and chanted Vedic hymns in pre-historic times. All honor to the Rishis, the Hindu Druids of old from whom have proceeded not only much that is edifying and elegant in Hindu Philosophy, but also much that is beautiful and refreshing in Hindu art. All systems of music are, according to Spencer, growths, the results of long ages of slow evolution. Granting the truth of this on the objective side, the case of Hindu music, as far as it is known, forms no exception for the general rule, though the perception may not be conceded by those who ascribe divine origin to everything that is handed down from the ancient seers. The system of Hindu music could not have been developed and brought to and perfection in a day or by the exertion of a single individual like Nandikesa, Tumburu, Bharata, Narada, Kasyapa and a host of others seem to have severally contributed their rills to this mighty river. There were several systems of music first Arka based upon a single note, the Gathika upon two notes and the Samiga upon three and the Suarantara upon four. The chanting of the Vedas at the present day would show that range of that solemn music is limited to two or three notes. These three were regarded as the main notes, connection between them and the seven notes of later development was pointed out by Panini in his Vyakarana Suthras thus: -
Udatha includes Ni and Ga, Anudatha Re and Dha, and Garitha Sa, Ma and Pa of the Hindu Gamut. These sum up the seven notes-Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni. The Shadga or Sa is taken as the unit, and its name implies that the six notes grow out of it, and are in fact higher pitches, fixed in certain equal proportions. Madhyama represents the middle distance between the two extremes of the gamut. Thus the three original notes were practically the some in the seven notes of later development. All the steps in the evolution of Hindu Music, prior to the development of the modern or Druvapada system of Music, what is called the Margai system, according to the classification of Sanskrit authors.
What are known as Sruthi are supposed to result by progressing of the breath through the 22 Nadis or chords. These Sruties form the network of the Swaras or notes, which are produced by a number of them acting congenially and in geometrical progression. The Swaras or notes are, as already stated, are seven numbers, the same as in the European system. It was later on necessary to add 12 flat and sharp notes, known by the name of Vikriti Swaras or modified notes. In their relation, the notes are supposed to exhibit four aspects Vivadi, Samvadi and Anuvadi. These play important role in the evolution of the Ragas from the 72 Melakartas modes. Swaras are supposed to have their presiding deities and are said to represent the various emotions of mind thus:-Sa and Ri stand for valour and surprise, Dha, revulsion and fear, Ga, and Ni, compassion, Ma and Pa, joy.
The existence of a well ordered system of Ragas is the greatest peculiarity in Hindu Music. Raga literally means passion, and each Raga stands for a distinctive phase of passion. In elaborating a Raga, the combinations may be varied as in a Kaleidoscope, according to the mental fertility of the singer, but the general character of the Raga will remain, unique and unmistakable. All the permutations a combinations are performed on the basis of the notes of which the Raga is primarily composed, and any deviation are looked upon as discordant, and are scrupulously gaurded against. Ragas like the Todi or Bairavi represents majesty and impresses one like the stalking of a stately king, decked in all his regal glory, and parading with the pomp and circumstances of his lofty position, a grand and sublime spectacle. One like the Asaveri or Punnagavarali comes melancholy, like on pleading the cause of a sovereign unjustly deposed from the throne of power. One like the Girvani or Vasanta look serene and subdued, like a sage sitting in a lonely forest mountain, and calmly contemplating the beauty of the universe. One like the Mohana or Poorvakalyani appears like a coy maiden hiding her love, as a rose does its blooming petals beneath its bower of green, but withal conscious of her beauty and attractiveness. One like the Useni or Nagavarali comes fascinating in its sadness, like a maiden estranged from her lover, or spurned by him, cursing the woeful hour which parted her form his lovely company or eloquently pleading the justice of her cause. One like the Vegadai comes arguing and resenting, and remonstrating. One like the Nathanamakriya, calm and thoughtful, appears like Socrates or Plato preaching the sublime truths of philosophy to his disciples and proving that all beneath the sun is hollowness and vain glory. One likes the Neelambari or Yadukula kambodhi comes submissive and imploring, melting into screams of tender presence of the god whom he adores. Thus, each Raga comes and goes, with its store of smiles or tears, passion or pathos its noble and lofty impulses, and leaves its mark on the susceptible mind.
are two styles of Aryan music sung in South India commonly known by the
name of the Karnatic and the Desik, the former representing the primitive,
unvarying and simple method that is scrupulously governed by the rules laid
down in the science of music, and the latter representing the refined and
elaborate method that is subject to changes according to local conditions.
The former is stationary and the latter progressive, exhibiting greater
play of intelligence. Travancore music is mainly Karnatic in style. The
Aryan system of music is not the only one followed here. The Dravidian system
is also preserved in its pristine purity much better than in other parts
of South India. Witness the tunes known by the name of Indisa, Indalam,
Puranira and Kanakkurinchi, having correspondings in Tamil music. Perhaps,
Travancore is one of the very few states in which Aryan and Dravidian music
flourish side by side. The names of some of the musical instruments used
would also point to the above conclusion: - Udukku, Edakka, Thimizh etc.
The Dravidian music (also known by the name Sopana, from Sopanam, meaning
steps, so called because the music is sung near the steps in front of the
Srikoil or Inner temple), is simple, sweet, perhaps more languid, yet more
pathetic and tender than the Aryan, and more sung in country parts than
in towns. They are chiefly resorted to in performances like Kathakali and
also in reciting popular devotional and religious compositions. There can
be no doubt that Dravidian music or Sopana is the most ancient among the
systems of music in vague in Travancore.
Before closing our general remarks about Hindu music, it may be useful to refer to a few points of comparison between the Hindustani the European systems of music. The two systems have compared by Sri. T. Muthuswamy Iyer in the following manner: -
“The dominant factor in the Hindu system is melody and that in the European system is harmony. Harmony arises from the agreeable concord of simultaneous notes, whereas melody is produced under the Hindu system by the combination of successive notes in the relation of harmony. To borrow from
Mr. T. T. Thompson, melody is retrospective harmony or depends on the perception of a harmonious difference between successive notes artistically arranged. The mechanism of the human are is such that the first note which one hears lingers for some time in the ear and blends readily with successive notes in the harmonious relation. So as to create pleasure”. Another peculiarity in Hindu music is the existence of graces (ares or curves of sound), produced by the fusion of two or more notes. These are called Gamakas, and ten different kinds of them find mention in works on Hindu music. The beauty of these graces or glides is much appreciated by every praised ear, and they enter largely into compositions of a high order and also used by expert musicians in profusion. These Gamakas cannot be produced in certain instruments such as the Piano or the Harmonium, and so far the characteristic beauty of Hindu music cannot be correctly reproduced in them. Curves are said to be a lately developed feature in European music.
With these observations about music in general, and Hindu and Travancore music in particular, we shall now give a short account of the various musicians and composers that have shed a luster on this land and have contributed to glorify its name as a nursery of the fine arts. Music, it will be remembered, is not the only art, which has found a home in Travancore. Poetry including philosophy, Painting, Carving, Drama in the form of Kathakali and ard eloquence in the form of narration or Chakiarkoothu has severely found some of their best exponents in this ancient land. Truly, it may be said with Gray,
“Some mute inglorious Milton here by rest,
Some Crumble guitless of his country’s blood”
Some of the best artists in these departments have won for themselves a very wide reputation. Who has not known the name of His Holiness Sri Sankarachariar whose birthplace it is the proud boast of Travancore to possess, identified by recent investigations with “Kaladi” in the Taluk of Kunnathunad, and what greater representative of philosophy can India show? For poetry, it is sufficient to allude to the renowned names of Kunjan Nambiar in Malayalam, and Kerala Varma Valia Koil Tampuran in Sanskrit. In the department of painting, we may call to mind the name of the lamented Ravi Varma whose fame is not confined to Travancore or even to India, but has extended throughout the civilised world. In carving particularly, ivory carving, we would not be wrong in saying that Travancore has succeeded in producing an impression on the outer world. Ezhumana Namburi, the father of the artist, was well known for his proficiency in this art. The drama, as has already been stated, has flourished in the shape of Kathakali for a long time in Travancore, and the art was patronised by some of its sovereigns particularly by His Highness Martanda Varma Maharajah, who died in 1036 M. E., and also by His Highness the illustrious Visakham Tirunal Maharaja. As for Chakiarkoothu, who has not heard of the name of the great Narayanan Chakiar, the most finished artists in that interesting field? Truly, Travancore may well be compared, on a smaller scale, of course, with Italy in more respects than one. The comparison was instituted by that veteran scholar Mr. Grant Duff, Governor of Madras, in respect of the richness, variety and picturesqueness of its natural scenery. It is also worth nothing that a country which is noted for the beauty of its physical features is likely to develop in its inhabitant susceptibility to the fine arts through a perception of the beautiful in nature.
to our narrative about Travancorean musicians, we have to traverse a region
which, if not unexplored, is yet un-recorded. Our narrative begins pretty
precisely from the year 1800 A.D. I dare not say that there were no musicians
or composers prior to 1800. Prince Aswati Tirunal (1756-1788), an accomplished
Sanskrit scholar, has composed several Kirtanams (hymns) which are even
now daily sung in Sri Padmanbha’s pagoda. We may say that modern Travancorean
music perhaps begins with him, and we are not aware of any earlier musical
compositions now extant. The Ashtapadis composed by Jayadevar were also
sung in Travancore and formed the stock music of the celebrated Govinda
Marar. That was not, however, Travancorean music. History has not sufficiently
dispelled the darkness which has settled upon the previous centuries to
enable the history of music being traced further back with clearness. Our
narrative is based chiefly on the testimony of live persons and upon anecdotes
that traditions has handed down, checked, as far as possible, by the accounts
given by elderly men, some of whom were eye-witnesses of the incidents described.
Our staring point, then, is the year 1800, a year which marked the commencement
of a new era in Travancore history. The eighteenth century was noted for
the achievements of adventurous spirits like Dalava Rama Iyer and Raja KesvaDas,
and was the period in which Travancore merged from the condition of a land
divided into petty principalities in mutual conflict with one another into
a compact, united and comparatively peaceful whole, under the suzerainty
of one ruler. The close of that century was marked by a general feeling
of unsettledness and quaking fear of the country being subjected to the
devanstations of the Tiger of Mysore, Tippu Sultan. The year 1800 put an
and to all fear and anxiety on that score, as it witnessed the fall of Seringapatam,
a year which was the threshold of the coming epoch of peace. An unbroken
era of peace was to follow a pervious most favorable for the leisurely development
of the fine arts, particularly music.
Accordingly we find that H. H. Ranee Rukhmini Bayi (1800-1837), the sister of the great composer H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah and grandmother of His Gracious Highness the present Maharajah on the mother’s side, herself among the first of sound the note of peace in her compositions. Though not many, the compositions are characterized by a charming simplicity, directness and depth of feeling. The song beginning with “Srikantesa Pahi” in Mukari Raga, containing a prayer for the gift of a sister, is a good specimen.
His Highness Swati Tirunal Maharajah, the Royal composer and poet of Travancore, forms the central figure among the musicians and composers of whom we shall have to speak. Around him, we shall see a number of satellites of musical fame shone with more or less brilliancy. His Highness reigned between 1830 and 1847. Early in life, His Highness received a sound education and mastered about twelve languages including English. His compositions range over five or six languages, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindustani and Mahratti. It is not necessary here to enumerate His Highness’ compositions in full, which consisted of all varieties such as Kirtanams, Varnams, Padams and Tillanas. But we may give some representative specimens and thus try to create real and interest in such of the readers as are not familiar with them to study the compositions at leisure.
W begins with a Krithanam in Kamas Raga. A Kirtanam is a simple composition consisting of a Pallavi burden, an Anupallavi or auxiliary to the burden, and one or more Charnams, a Charnam being generally equal in metrical extent and in Tala or time to the Pallavi and Anupallavi put together. Kirtanams are mostly intended for devotional subjects. They are made to all Talas except Ata Tala. Kritanams have to be distinguished from Krities in that the latter, though composed of the same parts, have only one charanam and hence are simpler. The song in Kamas Raga beginning with ‘Sarasasama mukha’ is popular not only in Travancore, but also beyond the Ghauts. This, however, is not His Highness’ ablest production and, as it happens to some poets, the ablest pieces are not always the most popular.
Before introducing our next illustration, we shall explain the nature of what are called Varnams. Varnams are longer compositions than Krities or keerthanams though composed of the same fundamental parts. Unlike these compositions, Varnams are invariably accompanied by Swaras or symbols of musical notes and exhibit the various phases of the Raga in great detail. Varnams are generally made to Ata Tala, Rupaka Tala, Adi Tala and Jamba Tala. They are adapted also for dancing. Our illustration is a Varnam in Kapi Raga which for grandeur, grace, and fortility of imagination stands unrivalled in the whole range of Hindu music. It begins with the words ‘Sumasayaka’. It is understood to be the conjoint production of his Highness and Vadivelu, the latter having composed the air, the former supplying the words. The Anupalavi looks as grand as it would strike one when entering the great hall of Vatican in Rome. The strain is a monument of Vadivelu’s genius.
The following is a Ragamalika or a garland of eight Ragas, each part being wound up with an appendage of Swaras is the Raga in which that part is composed and the while closed with a miscellany of Swaras exhibiting all the eight Ragas in succession: Pannagendra-Sankarabharanam Raga.
There is another garland known by the name of Navaratn Malika composed of the following nine Kirtanams in the Ragas Bhairavi, Neelambari, Mukari, Todi, Vegada, Nathanama kriya, Balahari, Ahiri and Kedaragowla. Each Kirtanam is complete by itself. His Highness has also composed two other Ragamalikas consisting of four and ten tunes respectively.
We shall now proceed to His Highness’ Varnama, though one has already been afraid to. Some of them are very popular in South India. One beginning with ‘Salamyala’, in Sankarabharanam is a good specimen. There are also varnams in Todi, Bairavi, Kaliani, Gambodhi, Neelambari, Atana and several other Ragas.
His Highness has also composed many Malayalam and Sankrit Padams. Padams are compositions allied to Kirtanams and are mostly devoted to the subject of love, though some have a religious significance too. They differ from Kritanams and Kritis in that they do not present any variations in the Pallavi. In Kirtanams and Kritis of high order, the Pallavi and sometimes the Anupallavi and Charanam are arrayed in variation ranging with the fertility of the composer’s imagination. As fair specimens of His Highness’ Padams, we may cite the one in Surutti beginning with ‘Viditham’.
Tillana is a species of composition made in imitation of Hindustani pieces and are noted for their briskness and liveliness. They exhibit the Jethies or parts of a Tala with great variety and emphasis. The song ‘Dithrom-Dithrom-tha’ is a good specimen of His Highness’ Tillanas.
There are two Kritanams in which His Highness has epitomised the whole of the Ramayana and the Bhagvata, two great Hindu religious epics, and another in which His Highness has set forth the Stala Mahadmyam or the religious sanctity of Trivandrum. One characteristic peculiarity of His Highness’ compositions is the copious insertion in them of choice Swaraksharas, which one cannot better describe than in the words of His illustrious Highness Visakam Tirunal Maharajah. “The Hindu Gamut is divided into seven parts, the eighth or octavo being the recurrence in tenor of the first. The seven parts are symbolized by seven letters. These letters are in themselves meaningless. But the Maharajah has most adroitly introduced them in several of his compositions at the very places where the Swaras symbolized by them stand at the same time, without at all vitiating their meaning. For in the piece ‘Sarasasamamukha’ the Sa and Ma are just where the Shadja and Madhyama Swaras which they represent should be”. His Highness’ smaller compositions are charmingly simple, simpler than most other compositions and hence adapted even for beginners in music. His larger pieces, such as his Varnams, are on the contrary, highly complex and would put to test the vocal powers of an advanced musician. His Highness is equally at home in both these kinds of compositions. In some devotional pieces, His Highness finds his most congenial sphere, the charm of the melody being nearly allied to the Sopana method and attaining the highest perfection in the line. The style combines the excellences of Aryan and Dravidian music while avoiding the defects of both. A native and pristine simplicity like that attaching to the poems of Chaucer, which is simply inimitable, characterizes these compositions. We insurance the piece ‘Dhanyoya’ in the charming tune of Gopikavasantam. One is inclined to think that His Highness’ Varnams and Kirtanams are only subsidiary composition, when compared with such pieces. In them one can release the garb which Hindu music assumes out in the rural parts of Travancore, “beneath waving palms and land-locked lagoons”. Here is a charm and simplicity that is peculiar to Travancore and that is quite in happy harmony with the simplicity of life and habits of its peace-loving people. Sing to the countryman the most finished compositions of Tiagayya and he may rarely nod, but whistle or sing even the portion of the Maharajah’s simpler compositions like the ones noted above, and you will see that his countenance is visibly lighted up with joy. Such is the charm of simplicity. We cannot here help alluding incidentally to His Highness’s merits on the side of poetry. His Highness religious sentiments are generally high, and his mastery of the language most admirable. The story is told how when his most devoted and highly talented musician Parameswara Bagavathar once sang to His Highness an air in Swaras most elaborately woven, His Highness followed it up almost instantaneously with words to suit them, having initial letters corresponding to the Swaras. No wonder the Bagavathar was struck dumb with admiration at His Highness readiness of invention and marvellous command of the language.
During His Highness short life (for this illustrion Sovereign lived only to the age of thirty-three) he has composed so many pieces and of such variety as to engage the life long attention of all the court musicians. His Highness compositions are periodically sung by all these musicians on occasions of festivals and minor ceremonies and also daily in the interval of meals of the reigning sovereigns. The custom happily continues to the present day. While we were afraid that His Highness’ larger compositions were forgotten through neglect, and most of the adept musicians that could sing them were one by one sinking into the grave, without the chances of the compositions being handed down to the next generation, it is gratifying to find that under the patronage of His Highness the Maharajah’s Government, successful attempts are being made to resuscitate them and give them a permanent form for transmission to posterity. The yeoman service rendered by the late well-known Chinnaswami Mudaliar towards the cause of Hindu music by transcribing in English notation many of the compositions of Tiagayya, cannot but be remembered with gratitude for ages to come. It would be well if some one would do the same in respect of the Maharajah’s compositions.
is worth remembering that in Travancore the Dravidian system of music in
the indigenous form called Sopana exists side by side with Aryan music.
From the existence of a number of Ragas of purely Dravidian origin and of
certain musical instruments now extant and others referred to in books,
it may be inferred that music was cultivated as an art by the Dravidans
from very early times and formed into a system. It cannot however be definitely
stated to what extent the art was developed. Songs of course exist mostly
embodied in the local Kathakalies and also in the shape of Pattoos or national
songs, such as Oonjal, Tullal, Vanji, Tiruvathira, Bhadrakali, Sastha, Kuratthi
and Nanthuni Pattos, which have been set to Dravidan Airs. Several Dravidian
Ragas are at present traceable in Travancore, such as Padi, Idnisa, Indalam,
Puranira and Kanakkurinehi, to which allusion has already been made. Add
to these some twenty other tunes adapted into the Tamil Thevaram Hymns,
as collated by Nambiyandar Nambi in the eleventh century, such as [?] (corresponding
to the Aryan Nattai), Pazhampanjura to Sankarabharanam), Sadhari (to Pantuvarali),
Kousikam (to Bairavi), and you get a wider view of true Dravidan music.
Does not the existence of so many Ragas (or Puns as they are called in Tamil)
point to the conclusion that the Dravidians cultivated music to a noteworthy
degree? It is not known how many more tunes were in existence. Four different
classes of Puns are mentioned, Palai, Kurinchi, Marutam and Sevazhi, and
it is highly probable that what are known as Themmanka, or more correctly,
Thenpanku, which literally means the “Southern System”, are
remnants of the ancient Dravidian system of music. The probability is heightened
by the fact that they present no kinship to the Aryan system of Ragas. (*The
early Jain and Buddhist influence in South India which discouraged all mundane
pleasure, seems to have unfavorably affected the growth and preservation
of all Dravidian Ragas except such as were adapted for purely religious
One important fact that goes to show that the Dravidians carried the development of music to a considerable extent is the appearance of the word Yazh in ancient classical Tamil works such as the Thevaram and the Tiruvachakam. This is the name of the best of the Dravidan musical instruments, and one which is said to have rivaled the Veenai, so much so that some lexicographers confound the Yazh with the Veenai of the Aryan system. That this is due to an error will be clear from it line of Manikkavachakar where the author clearly refers to two distinct instruments in the same lines, which puts the separate existence of the Yazh beyond the shadow of doubt. Other references to the Yazh are to be found in the Thevaram as in the title of Janasamnandhar’s poem Yazh Moori, and another in Silappadikaram where a detailed description of the Yazh is given, which will further differentiated from the Veenai. Lastly Kambar, a more recent author, refers to the Yazh: -There are four varieties of the Yazh by name Periuazh. Innisayah, Makarayazh, Senkottiyazh. Kambar refers to the Makarayazh, probably because it was held to be the best or sweetest of the four varieties. It is not known whether the instrument is now extant, though it is said that it is in use in some of the Adinams or Tamil Mutts. It is not now found to be used by the people at large.
Ancient works on Dravidian music have not been yet published, but it is presumed they are available in manuscript. The names of the seven notes in Tamil are Kural, Thuttham, Kaikkilai, Oozhai, Ili, Vilari and Taram. These facts will speak for themselves. The identification of Travancore Sopana music with the Dravidian system is to be made not only form the similarity in the names of the tunes, but also from an examination of the Swaras of which they are composed. Take the tune called Indisa (Tamil Innisai), which is still sung in Travancore, and it will be found that it is identical in its rudimentary gamut with a tune that is now passing as Themmanku in the eastern parts, but which is really the Innisai of the ancient Dravidian music in disguise. The other tune prevalent in Travancore is not readily identified as Themmanku airs, and their identification requires further investigation. They are probably sung in certain quarters in connection with the Thevaran hymns.
In the nature of things, it could not be that two systems of music such as the Aryan and the Dravidian, flourishing side by side, could have continued long without each exerting some influence over the other. It is not at present possible to define the nature or extent of this influence with exactitude. Possibly the systematization Aryan music may have stimulated that of Dravidian music, and on the other hand, the Aryan Ragas may have incorporated into them some note worthy peculiarities of style in Dravidian music, such as the curves or graces. We instance the Ragas called Kurinchi and Surutti, words which are undoubtedly Dravidan, though they may have gone to form compound words of which one part is a Sanskrit word, as Nattai Kurinchi, Senchurutti. There are also Dravidian tunes with Sanskrit appellations such as Gandharam, Kanakkurinchi, Mekaragakurinchi. Aryan music in Travancore has partaken of the Dravidan style by constant intercourse with it. The long curves and the pathetic turns found in the practice of Aryan music here are a result of this influence. His Highness Kartiga Tirunal Maharajah and Prince Aswathi Tirunal of the eighteenth century composed in this style. Gradually there seems to have been an influx of the brisk eastern style of music, particularly after the spread of compositions like those of Tiagayya, Dikshitar and other composers. Tiagayya was a contemporary of the great Swathi Tirunal Maharajah and his influence is to be traced from the Maharajah’s time onwards. As we have already dwelt upon His Highness compositions, we shall now turn to the musicians and composers who were contemporaries of that Royal composer.
Next in rank of His Highness, comes the celebrated Iravi Varman Tampi. Himself a relation of the Royal branch, who lived between 1788 and 1855 and died at the age of seventy-three. He was a gifted poet, the finish and beauty of whose compositions are hardly inferior to those of the Maharajah. It would appear that His Highness after composing his pieces loved to show them to the Tampi and set much value on his appreciation of them. The Tampi thereupon lost no time in composing others of his own to the same air and showing them to His Highness. There was thus a literary league between them, which tended to encourage each other in the something like 500 pieces, only 25 of which seem now to be sung. Even these 25 pieces seem to be remembered only by one or two men, and it may be truly said that the further existence of these compositions is very much descendent upon the existence of these men as the men themselves seem dependent upon them for their sustenance. It may here been marked that a daughter of this Tampi known by the name of Kutti Kunju Tankachi was a celebrated Malayalam poetess. His grand-son Mr. Padmanabhan Tampi is a recognized living painter.
contemporary of repute was Sivaramagurudasa, a Brahmin better known by the
name of Kshirabdi Sastrigal. His compositions are pervaded by a spirit of
Vedantism, and he had the genius of conveying the highest Vedantic truths
in the simplest garb-a simplicity bordering on colloquialism. The musical
merits of his compositions are not high, but yet the airs are well calculated
to make them popular. A few specimens are noted below: -
This composer is reputed to have possessed marvellous spiritual powers and great equanimity of mind. The story is told how when a child of his died, he had the coolness to take the dead body and throw it over the shoulders, and to improvise the following dirge, while walking with it to the funeral place: Yellam Brahma mayam.
It said that the great Swati Tirunal Maharajah and his successor held this composer in high esteem. As to his date, there is living testimony to show that he was in Travancore till 1031 M. E., corresponding to 1855 A. D. He looked forty-five when he was last seen and must have been a resident of Travncore at least for ten years. Latterly he left for Tricurungudi, his native place in the Tinnevelly District.
comes Ponnayya, brother of the famous violinist and singer Vadivelu, the
most finished man of the time of the illustrious Swati Tirunal Maharajah.
Four brothers, Vadivelu, Sivanandam, Chinnayya and Ponnayya of the Nattuva
community, experts in four different branches of the art, came from Tanjore
and received the royal favour and patronage. Of these the youngest, Ponnayya,
was the only composer, and a gifted one he was. Since of his compositions
are highly esteemed and deservedly popular. He was equally at home in Swarajits,
Padams and Varnams. We shall give a specimen of each. Swarajits are pieces
wholly composed of Swaras and are helps to students in understanding the
nature of Ragas. They form a set of exercise preliminary to the study of
1. Swarajit in Bairavi-Sa Ni Da Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa: This Swarajit is studied by beginners both in music and in dancing.
2. Padam in Bairavi-Sadhathi Nerasa. This is a beautiful composition and has been imitated in Malayalam and Tamil.
3. Varnam in Gambodhi-Sarasijanabha: This Varnam is very popular throughout the Presidency. In beauty, stateliness, grace and melody, it takes rank with the best compositions in Hindu music.
Ponnayya has composed a great deal, though many of them are being forgotten by professionalists in the case of the Maharajah’s compositions from a want of love of the art for its own sake. Many of them deserve a better fate.
The celebrated Parameswara Bagavathar was also a composer. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians of Travancore, if not of the Presidency. His name is revered even to this day as the chief of the later Travancore musicians, as H. H. Swathi Tirunal Maharajah was that of the composers. Parameswara Bagavathar lived to the advanced age of seventy-seven and saw the beginning and culmination of Travancore music of the country.
We shall deal with him as a vocal singer later on and confine ourselves to his compositions. They are invariably highly elaborate, involved and difficult to be song by the ordinary vocalist. They are, however, monuments of his subtle ability and mastery in music and deserve perpetuation as such. The Varnam in Nattai beginning with ‘Sarasija’ is a good specimen.
We have now dealt with the chief, if not all the composer of the time of H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah and shall now turn our attention to the musicians of his day, who in combination with the composers named above, contributed to make the region of that sovereign the Augustan Age of Travancore music, as was happily expressed by H. H. Visakham Tirunal Maharajah.
in order of time comes Govinda Marar, one of the greatest musicians of Travancore,
famous for his meeting with the great Tiagayya of Tanjore. He was a native
of Ramangalam in Moovattupuzha Taluk. He is sometimes known as Shatkala
Govinda Marar in virtue of his extraordinary powers in singing Pallavis
in six different scales of Tala or time. To make our meaning clear, a man
who sings on the second scale or Kala compresses the Pallavi into half the
space of time which he took to sing it on the first scale or Kala. To sing
it on the third scale, he would have to compress the Pallavi into one-fourth
of the same time, and so on up to the sixth scale. It is hardly imaginable
how one, with the ordinary powers of the human voice, could sing a Pallavi
on the sixth scale except on the supposition that the scale of time fixed
for the first is extraordinarily slow. But in the latter case, the powers
of measuring and regulating the time by a mere mental estimate would be
taxed and tested to the highest degree. So volatile, unsubstantial and evanescent
is time that unless a reasonably short interval is allowed between two notes,
its measurement is likely to cloud the grasp of the subtlest intellect.
One is therefore forced into one of two conclusions, either that the voice
of Govinda Marar was so highly developed as to enable him to sing a Pallavi
with almost electric speed, or that his powers of mental measurement of
time must have been marvellous. It is highly impossible that he sang the
Pallavi with greater speed than the best musicians of the present day could
sing it. The only explanation therefore lies in the second alternative that
he had very highly developed the mental power of measuring time.
Govinda Marar belonged to the time of the great Swati Tirunal Maharajah and is said to have been seen in Trivandrum in 1006 (1831) by Parameswara Bagavathar, the first foreign musician of the century that settled in Travancore. Govinda Marar was probably in Trivandrum some years earlier. Impelled by a desire to visit the British parts, Govinda Marar, who by this time became attached to one Nallatampi Mudaliar, the then Vicharippucar of the Royal Stables and the paternal uncle of Mr. Vedadrisdas Mudaliar, the late grand old man of Travancore, left Travancore for Palancottah in company with Nallatampi Mudaliar. He lived with him for some years, and Mr. Vedadrisadasa Mudaliar, to whose sympathy and kindness we owe all our information about this musical celebrity, himself saw the man, and was an eye witness to some of his performances. This was before the year 1838. Govinda Marar was at that year about 40 years of age. He sang with a Ganjira in his hand and a Tambur having seven strings, unlike the ordinary ones which have only four. Of the seven, three were Saranas, three Panchamas and one Mandra. This Tambur had a flag attached to it and is still reputed to be preserved at Pandrapur near Poona, where Govinda Marar is said to have died on his way to Benares. Periyavaiti, another celebrated musician, is said to have travelled all the way to Pandrapur to sing with this instrument and to have failed in the attempt. Mr. Vedadrisadasa Mudaliar remembered how when an eminent musician from Ettiyapuram came to Mr. Sulochana Mudaliar, his father, and was distinguishing himself, Govinda Marar was called in, who by his superior performance silenced the other musician. Nallatampi Mudaliar highly appreciated the talents of Govinda Marar and was so found of him that he used to take him in his carriage to hear him sing during the drive. Nallampi Mudaliar seems to have presented him with several thousands of rupees, not quite to the liking of his brother, together with a glass idol of Krishna, which was also taken by Govinda Marar to Pandrapur. Govinda Marar was by nature independent, had little care for money and had a thirst for glory and renown, and this seems to have led him to travel away from Travancore in spite of many temptations to remain.
We shall now give some details about the celebrated meeting of this musician with the great composer, Tiagayya of Tanjore. Here again we are indebted for this information to the grand old man, who, it is important to add, was till very lately, one of the very few living men that had seen the great Tiagayya. We may be permitted to digress a little here to note the circumstances under which the grand old man saw Tiagayya. Mr. Mudaliar was barely twenty-three when he saw him. It was one fine evening in 1843 at about 5 O’clock in the little village of Tiruvayyar when Tiagayya was sitting with his disciples in his house, that the young Mudaliar on his way from Madras to Palamcottah in company with his father paid a visit to the great composer. Mr. Mudaliar heard the disciples sing, but not the master. After a short stay, the father and son returned. It was the news of the celebrated meeting of Govinda Marar with Tiagayya that lured Mr. Sulochann Mudaliar to pay a visit to Tiagayya. The grand old man expressed his personal impressions of Tiagayya, a few months before his death, as far as he could remember at that distance of time. He was a tall, lean man of a brown completion, and this agrees with the description given by Ragupathi Bagavathar who had it from Kannayya, one of the reputed disciples of Tiagayya, who spent the latter part of his life in Travancore. It need hardly be said that the information of Mr. Mudaliar'’ sight of Tiagayya was received with an unconscious thrill. Imagine the feelings of a man who meets with one that could say he saw Shelly or Keats, or those of a man living at the end of the seventeenth century who listens to the personal impressions of a man who saw Shakespeare or Ben Johnson! Now to revert to the meeting. It was, as already stated, Nallatampi Mudaliar that took or accompanied Govinda Marar to Tiruvayyar, about the year 1838. The circumstances of this meeting were narrated to the grand degree of certainty about them. It is said that the celebrated musician Vadivelu of whom mention will be next made, was present at the time. Govinda Marar, in the presence of Tiagayya on being treated to the music of Tiagayya’s disciples, expressed his desire to hear Tiagayya himself sing. Tiagayya ejaculated in Telugu “Who is the man that can ask me to sing?” Apparently the audiences were to listen only when he was disposed to sing of his own accord. Tiagayya then enquired of Vadivelu “Who is the man (pointing to Govinda Marar) that sat with the songsters with a flagged Tambur in hand?” Vadivelu said that he knew to sing a little. A Pallavi in Pantuvarali beginning with “Chandhana charchitha” was then sung round on the motion of Govinda Marar. When it was the turn of Govinda Marar to sing it, all the other instruments had to be put aside and his Tambur alone could accompany him. So high was the pitch of the music. He sang it in Shatkala. All the musicians were struck dumb with administration. Tiagayya remonstrated with Vadivelu for saying that Govinda Marar knew to sing only a little. Tiagayya himself was so taken up with the music that he dubbed Govinda Marar as Govindaswami and at the close of the performance * he improvised a song on the spot, it spired by his admiration for Govinda Marar. The song was in the Raga named Sreeragam which is usually used for Mangalams at the close of musical performances. It begins with “Entharo Mahanubhava”. The burden of the song may be rendered thus-“There are many great men in the world and I respect them all.” The grand old man recollected his having heard this piece sung in Tinnevelly. It is now known to many who are familiar with Tiagayya’s compositions and stands to posterity as a sweet remembrancer of the celebrated meeting. (* This fact was borne out by the independent testimony of Pirambur Krishna Iyer who was the first disciple of Tiagayya.)
There are two or three other versions of the story of this meeting, but we think more reliance should be placed on the testimony of the Vedadrisada Mudaliar who had it direct from his uncle than the other which is merely traditional.
Govinda Marar was small in stature, and afflicted with rheumatism which made him a cripple for life. It is said that there are several elaborate Varnams composed by Govinda Marar and prevalent in the British parts, known by the name of Govindaswami Varnams. They are not prevalent in Travancore, probably because they were composed after Govinda Marar’s departure from Travancore, whereto he returned but once in the guise of a Sanyasin.
shall next deal with Nattuvan Vadivelu, an eminent vocalist, violinist and
dancing master who was attached to the court of His Highness Swati Tirunal
Maharajah. A native of Tanjore, he is said to have settled in Travancore
along with his three brothers already named. While in Tanjore, he was probably
known to Tiagayya who was in Tiruvayyar, six miles from Tanjore. Some even
says that Vadivelu was Tiagayya’s violinist for some time. That he
was present when Govinda Marar met Tiagayya seems evident from the testimony
of Mr. Vedadrisadasa Mudaliar. His settlement in Travancore was probably
some time later. He seems to have won the favour of His Highness, who appreciated
his music so highly, that he became the court musician on the very handsome
salary of Rs 110 a month. A sum of 100 rupees in those days was something
like Rs 700 at the present day. It was a time when Tahsildars and Munsiffs
were paid Rs 30 and 40 a month. The other musicians were paid between Rs
10 and 35. This great disparity in pay shows what value His Highness set
upon Vadivelu’s music. Poetry and music form the very atmosphere in
which His Highness lived and moved and had his being. Dewan Subba Rao was
himself a musician, and Mr. Vedadrisadasa Mudaliar was present for several
musical entertainment at the Dewan’s quarters where in Vadivelu took
part. Mr. Mudaliar remembered him only as a violinist; probably he never
heard his vocals music. Unfortunately, that was not a time of Gramanhones.
Otherwise, we should have had transited transmitted to this day specimen
of his vocal music. Nevertheless, we are not altogether destitute of means
of forming to ourselves some idea of his style of singing. As Vadivelu seems
to have had some hand in composing the Varnam with the initial words ‘Sumasayaka’
in Kapi Raga already adverted to, we have in it a specimen of his vocal
music. That Varnam stands out from among His Highness’ compositions
with a distinctiveness of style that reveals foreign authorship. Unlike
other Varnams, its Pallavi (or burden) is decked with beautiful variations,
variations which bespeak some acquaintance with the compositions of Tiagayya.
Indeed, it is definitely known that Kannayya Bagavathar, one of the disciples
of Tiagayya, when he first came to Trivandrum, sought an introduction to
His Highness the Maharajah through Vadivelu, as it was then the rule that
any musician who desired to have an interview with His Highness must first
sing before Vadivelu and satisfy him. Vadivelu himself mastered a few of
Tiagayya’s compositions from Kannayya Bagavathar, and sang them before
His Highness. His Highness was so much pleased with the songs that he gave
Kannayya Bagavathar a ready interview, and the story goes that His Highness
after some time dispatched Vadivelu with instruments to invite Tiagayya
himself to his court Vadivelu accordingly went to Tiruvayyar, and engaging
a lodging in the very street where Tiagayya lived, he so captivated the
people with his singing that the news reached Tiagayya through his disciples.
Tiagayya at first gave little credence to the flattering reports of his
disciples about Vadivelu’s music. But the high merits of the singer
were so dinned into his ears that he was almost involuntarily drawn towards
Vadivelu’s lodging place to hear him sing. The report goes that he
was so highly impressed with Vadivelu’s singing that he invited him
to his own house and made him sing His Highness compositions. Tiagayya expressed
admiration to them, particularly as they were devoted to the praise of the
very deity that he worshipped. Vadivelu in the course of conversation took
occasion to express to him His Highness wishes to have Tiagayya as his guest
Tiagayya seems to have courteously declined the invitation for reasons which
he deemed impolitic to divulge. The fact seems to have been that Tiagayya,
during the latter part of his life, refrained from paying visits even to
the Maharajah of Tanjore, and living in his dominions, he naturally shrank
from accepting the invitation of an alien prince, when he had voluntarily
cut himself off from his own sovereign. Disconcerted in his object, Vadivelu
returned to Trivandrum with the news of the unsuccessful termination of
A cloud appears to have settled upon the hitherto amicable relationship of Vadivelu with His Highness, and during the latter part of his life, Vadivelu lived an exile at Haripad though His Highness permitted him to draw his usual allowances. He returned to Trivandrum some time afterwards and died in the year 1020 M. E. (1845).
In appearance he was dark, lean and squint with one eye. His voice was melodious and powerful, and his singing is said to have been unrivalled by that of any musician of later date, not even excepting the great Ragavaier. A Tillana composed by him in praise of His Highness is still extant. Vadivelu is said to have been the musician who first introduced the fiddle in Travancore. He seems to have arranged the curriculum of music to be sung in the temple at Haripad. His style of singing, as evinced by his only Varnam that appears to be extant, was grand and subbing, and shewed and exuberance of the imagination characteristic of a born musician.
Maliakkal Krishna Marar was a musician who followed in the wake of Govinda Marar. He came to Trivandrum during the reign of H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah and paid his first visit to Parameswara Bagavathar, who being taken up with his music, introduced him to His Highness. He was a finished musician and could sing with equal facility Varnams, Kritis and Pallavis. He sang with the Dravidian instrument called Idakka in his hand. The Idakka, though only a percussion instrument, is capable of producing the seven notes of the gamut. The instrument is used in some of the temples of Travancore. He was known to Vadivelu. He was presented with a pair of bangles and a flag to be attached to his Tambur as a mark of honour. Latterly, he is said to have gone to Tanjore, and nothing further was heard of him.
was a celebrated Katha performer of the time of the same Maharajah. He was
a Mahartta Brahmin of Tanjore and was also known by the name Kokilakanta
on account of his mellifluous voice. He first settled in Travancore in 1008
M. E. (1833), was attached to the palace and was in receipt of a monthly
salary of Rs. 100. He lived up to the year 1045 M. E. (1870).
Katha performance is a religious narration accompanied by recitations of lyrical pieces or hymns by a chorus of singers led by a chief performer. Meruswami sang in a high pitch of voice and with great accuracy. Owing to his strict adherence to principles of purity in music, Meruswami never resorted to musical variations. His Iyrical pieces were incurably devotional. He was accompanied by the cerebrated drummer Hari Rao. Meruswami was able to adapt new airs to some of His Highness compositions, but the composed nothing original. The songs beginning with ‘Bajaseena Kimbatha’ in Kaliani Raga and ‘Viabeenabhua’ in parasu Raga may be quoted here as specimens of songs song by him.
In the early part of the year 1036 M. E. (1860), His Highness Ayillium Tirunal, the then Elaya Rajah, got down another Mahratta Brahmin Lakshmana Gosayi by name, and entertained him as an additional Kata performer under the name of Maha Meruswami. Ivumour has it that Maha Meruswami was called in as a formidable rival to Meruswami, as the latter was not amenable to the requisitions of the Elaya Raja. The style of Maha Meruswami was little more diversitied with musical variations than Meruswamis. While the latter was accompanied by a chorus of singers and instrumentalists forming his staff, Maha Meruswmai had just one singer to accompany him, and his own son was the drummer. It is said that Maha Meruswami’s voice would range between four octaves, which is an extraordinary feat.
Parameswara Bagavathar, a Brahmin of Palghaut who in 1008 M. E. at the early age of eighteen visited Trivandrum in connection with a festival and who was heard to sing in the temple by H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah, was retained in His Highness services and was later on enrolled as the chief among the court musicians. He became greatly attached to His Highness by dint of his high merits in music and the possession of a sweet and melodious voice. He was of great assistance to the Maharajah in singing his compositions and teaching them to the other court musicians. He lived to the good old age of seventy-seven and his reputation as a musician has spread far and wide. He was the Guru of the talented Ragavaier, one of the greatest singers that Travancore has ever produced. In festivals and entertainment before the Maharajahs of Travancore, Parameswara Bagavathar invariably took the lead. He was in more respects than one acknowledged to be the head of the musicians and for his piety was revered by all. As a vocal musician, he occupies a lofty place. He was also well-versed in instrumental music. In singing the species of musical elaboration called Thanam, Parmeswara Bagavathar stood unrivalled. It is remarkable that he retained the sweetness and melodiousness of his voice till the very last. Indeed, his only rival in these respects was Mahavaiti. We have already referred to his merits as a composer. He left two sons Mahadeva Iyer and Ramakrishna Iyer who were both talented musicians, and both father and sons were noted for their extraordinary spirit in singing Pallavies and their scientific knowledge of the art.
It is worth mention that Subba Rao, Dewan of H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah, was himself musician versed in Swarabit and drum. He is reputed as His Highness’s the Guru in the Swarabit. It is said that he was a master of the drum, in which he would accompany His Highness. He used to have frequent musicial entertainment at his own residence in which the celebrated Vadivelu took part.
Besides the musicians named, there were others whose names are noted below: -
Kalkulam Bhaskara Bagavathar
Boothapandi Subbu Bagavathar
Kuniyur Sesha Bagavathar
Palghaut Sesha Bagavathar
Palamcottah Annasami Bagavathar
Karamanai Muthusami Bagavathar
Tanjore Venkatarama Bagavathar
This closes the history of Travancorean music during the time of H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah. Mention must here be made that the deep and personal interest His Highness took in Hindu music gave a great impetus to the development of the art. In this connection, it may be added that His Highness did not forget to encourage the development of the kindred arts of poetry painting and ivory carving.
We come now to the reign of H. H. Martanda Varma (Uttradam Tirunal Maharajah), who ascended the musnud, in the 1022 M. E. And reigned up to 1033, a period of 14 years. From a musical point of view, His Highness reign was almost eventless, as he interested himself more in the development of the indigenous drama called Kathakali. This art indeed flourished to a remarkable extent, His Highness own courtiers taking part in the representations. His Highness of course allowed the existing daily routine of music being followed with our hindrance. As some of the musicians and composers who flourished during his predecessor’s time continued their work during his region, it might be said that the history of music during musicians. No separate mention about them is called for here, as they have been dealt with already. We shall merely name them for facility of reference. They were Kshirabdi Sastrigal, Parameswara Bagavathar and Mersuwami. There was, however, one composer peculiar to the period, viz., Kulathu Bagavathar, and as a specimen of his compositions may be mentioned his Kamas Swarajit.
next period covering the reign of H. H. Ayillum Tirunal Maharajah was, as
regards music, one of the brightest epochs after that of H. H. Swati Tirunal
Maharajah, brightest we men, as regards the practice of music, vocal and
instrumental, and not as regards compositions. Indeed, taken all in all,
the practice of music could not be said to have been anywise less noteworthy
then than it was during H. H. Swathi Tirunal Maharaja’s time. Some
of the most brilliant Travancore musician flourished during this time. The
figure of the famous Ragavarier looms in our vision. He was surrounded by
some of the ablest musicians that Travancore has produced, such as of the
ablest musicians that Travancore has produced, such as Kalianakrishna Iyer
on the Veenai, Mahadeve Iyer on the Violin, Kunjari Raja on the Swarabit
and Kittu Bagavathar on various instruments such as Swarabit, Veenai, Violin
and Jalatarangam, besides vocal music. It was the period of Ragavarier’s
brightest achievements. It must be remembered that the cause of this great
out burst in the practice of music was here again of this great outburst
in the practice of music was here again the personal interest and patronage
of His Highness, his own accomplishment in music having been of such a high
order as to call forth the enthusiastic encomiums of the best musicians
of the day. Once when Mahavaiti was singing a Pallavi before him, His Highness,
seeing that none of the court musicians ventured to compete with him, himself
offered to sing the Pallavi and sang so well that Mahavati cried our in
admiration, “Had we known that your Highness was such a master, we
musicians should have shrunk from singing before your Highness. It was lucky
that we anticipated that knowledge.” No wonder, then, that His Highness
threw his heart and soul in the development of music and most liberally
patronised its votaries. The musicians of this period fall under different
classes according to their proficiency. In the first class may be named
Parameswara Bagavathar and the five or six musicians already named, Parmeswara
Bagavathar being, as usual, the veteran leader of the whole band. Ragavaier
was born in Vadaseri near Nagercoil about the year 1000 M. E., and died
in the year 1054. He was a disciple of Parameswara Bagavathar. After completing
his course of studies in music at an early age, he left Travancore for the
British parts and by listening to the great musicians of the day in the
various parts of the country, developed his own musicial powers to a wonderful
degree, those powers that were to make the halls of Rangavilasam ring with
his superb music. After some time he returned to Travancore, was enrolled
as a court musician and settled himself at Haripad, where he married.
About this time, that is, in the month of Kanni of the year 1017, while the celebrated Mahavati Bagavathar of Tanjore was staying in Trivandrum for three months, he visited His Highness and so highly distinguished himself that it was felt that such music could not be matched in Travancore. His Highness sent for Parameswara Bagavathar and through him dispatched letters to Haripad, inviting Coimbatore Ragavaier to the court, (for at this time Ragavarier came to be known by that name, because of his long residence at Coimbatore). In a few days, Ragavaier made his appearance in Trivandrum and was introduced by Parameswara Bagavathar to His Highness. Now came the time for the famous duel between these two great musicians, and everybody cagerly looked foreword to the occasion which should decide the fate of Travancore. One afternoon at 2 P. M. All the musicians assembled under command at Rangavilasam. There were also present the following men of learning: -
Elathoor Ramaswami Sastrigal
Ragava Iyenger Sastrigal
Kadayam Subba Sastrigal
Tiruvisanalloor Ramaswami Sastrigal
Anandasmi Gosayi, son of Maha Meruswami and other.
The accompaniments were Violin by Mahadeva Iyer, Veenai by Kalianakrishan Iyer, Mritangam by Setu Rama Rao and Somasi Bagavathar. Those present were all attention. Ragavaior elaborated the Raga called Sankarabharanam and sang a Pallavi in it in Adi Tala, which ran thus: - ‘Vinavayya Panchanandessa’. The singing closed at about 5 O’clock, but was resumed at night at about seven and lasted till half past ten. Kaliani Raga was elaborated by Mahavaiti and a Pallavi in it beginning with ‘Tharka Brahma’ was sung by both the musicians.
Elaboration is not a field for competition; at least, the field is so wide and undefined that the power of imagination of the singers cannot be so accurately guaged during elaboration, as when their maneuvers are placed constantly in juxtaposition as in singing Pallavies, where the Avartanams or turns limit the scope of imagination to the scale of Tala fixed. In elaboration, each singer displays his own percular style of singing, but things never race to a conclusion. A Pallavi, on the other hand, is a bit of musical strain, or sometimes the burden of a song, to which each singer is bound to return after the exhibition of the flights of his imagination, limited as it will be to the scope of the specific scale of time of Tala fixed, and to leave the next turn to his opponent, wherein the latter is free to surpass him, if he can, in the fecundity of his imagination. The turns give each singer an opportunity to concentrate his best powers at a given point, and he who is palpably the inferior collapses in a longer or shorter interlace, relinquishing the field in favour of his more successful rival. Thus, the man who flags at the last is taken to have yielded the palm to his competitor. The collapse may be due to want of speed, or vocal agility, or exherance of imagination, or precision in Tala. The Pallavi is therefore an unmistakable test of ability. Where abilities are equal or nearly so, the rivals hold out long.
To return to our subject, how shall we describe the scene of the famous musical combat, wherein the greatest of the Eastern singers was pitched against the greatest or to be greatest singer of the times in Travancore? Shall we compare them to two prowling, fierce lions that, shaking their proud and shaggy manes, rush against each other like the furies, and fights to the death? Or shall we liken them to two Roman gladiators, feeding the eager curiosity of the spectators with the giant exhibitions of their strength? How can we picture to the reader the excellence of their singing? Shall we say they were two musical fountains, sprouting perpetually, rising one above the other, and falling in magnificent showers on the greedy ears of the audience? Or shall we say they were two sky-seeking musicial rockets which, leaving the sullen earth one after the other, coursing through the silent air and reaching their point of culmination, suddenly burst into a hundred brilliant starlike melodies and combinations by which the ear was flooded? The scene was one more to be witnessed or imagined, than described.
The tug of war was continued the nest day. Todi Raga was elaborated and a Pallavi in Adi Tala beginning with Emanimatladi neevo rama rama rama was sung. A Pallavi in Karaharapriya Raga, being the initial portion of Tiagayya’s ‘Sakkaniraja’, was sung. It must be remembered that Mahavati was no easy opponent to deal with, being a master of many tunes which were yet unknown in Travancore, and gifted with a voice unrivalled in clearness and sweetness, coupled with a special capacity for rapid performances. Ragavaier, on the other hand, could not boast of these natural endowments and facilities. But all the same, he impressed the audience with his originality, manly vigour and ready resourcefulness. His voice, though somewhat bluff, was yet strong, and seemed to suit the holdness and majesty of his styles. His method was Ghanam, while Mahavait’s was Nayam. “Ghanam” means gravity, and “Nayam” means persuasiveness ; the one forces admiration, the other lures it; the one may be characterized as tower of strength, the other as a well laid-out garden ; the one a mighty river, the other a fresh-water lagoon ; the one was imposing and sublime, the other mellifluous and dazzling. Indeed, Ragavarier was so much admired for his sublimity that he seems to have founded almost a school of his own. Whatever he sang was stamped with his individuality. He was a man who despised the beaten grooves of singing and cut out his own way, as it were, though rugged mountain heights and pathless forests. It was difficult to say which of the combatants carried the day; but it was proved beyond a doubt that Mahavati for the first time discovered his most formidable rival. Both the musicians were treated with equal courtesy and equally honoured by His Highness, who gave them pairs of bangles, laced shawls been surpassed. He has composed a Varnam which is the only living record of his style of music. Mahadeva Iyer was a daring genius, noted for his individuality. He was the eldest son of Parameswarn Bagavathar and had but few rivals on the violin. In Pallavi especially, he was a most spirited and fertile player. He was thorough in the science of music, and was the author of several Geetas, a species of composition that forms a preliminary to Varnams.
Kunjari Raja was undoubtedly the greatest player in Travancore on the Swarabit. He was a versatile musician and could play with much facility on the Violin, Harmonium and Jalatarangam. With the Swarabit, he held his own against Mahavai and Ragavaier. It is said that he was the person who first introduced Ragavaier to the Maharajah. Among the foreign musicians who visited Travancore during
H. H. Ayillium Tirunal Maharajah’s time, Chinnavaiti and Periavaiti deserve special mention. The names of some other respectable musicians of that time are (1) Kittu Bagavathar (Violin Swarabit, Mritangam and vocal music), (2) Chatthu Bagavathar, a sweet player on the veteran, (3) Venkitadri Bagathar, father of Kalianakrishna Iyer (Veenaist), (4) Ganapati Bagavathar (Violin, vocal music and Swarabit), (5) Mahalinga Bagavathar (Swarabit), (6) Haribira Bagavathar (Swarabit), (7) Srivaikuntam Subba Bagavathar and (8) Vadaseri Rama Bagavathar (both vocalists)
There was nothing of note about music during the next reign, viz., that of His Highness Viskam Tirunal Maharajah, except that Mahavaiti paid two visit to Travancore, the last of which was on the occasion of the marriage ceremony of His Highness’ daughters. His Highness permitted the continuation of the usual curricula of music.
Coming to the present reign, Her Highness the Senior Ranee, in addition to being a vocalist, was an expert on the Veenai to a degree that few women in the whole Presidency could rival. She was also a linguist and was reputed for her versatile accomplishments. Her Highness also composed songs in various languages.
His Highness the late Aswati Tirunal, First Prime, was a vocal singer of a high order. His Highness could sing with equal mastery Tiagayya’s Kirtanams, Varnams, Tillanas, Hindustani, Mahratti and Guzerati songs, and could celebrate Ragas and sing Pallavies. Truly a gifted prince, His Highness combined this excellence in music with other varied accomplishments. He was besides one of the few graduate princes in India, and his merits were extolled by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon.
His Grace Kerala Varma Valia Koil Tampuran CSI was a good player on the Veenai. His attainments in music harmonised well with those of his royal consort. He combined this knowledge of music with profound scholarship in Sanskrit, Malayalam, English and other languages.
Of professional musicians, the name of Ramachandra Bagavathar, one of the greatest of Veenaists, remains to be prominent mentioned. He was rivaled only by Mahadeva Iyer on the Violin. His master of the Veenai bears close kinship to that of his late famous brother Kalianakrishna Iyer. A singular variety of combinations, charming clearness and sweetness, sublimity and dexterous maneovring are the main features of his performance. Next to Ramachandra Bagavathar, the name of Ramaswamy Bagavathar deserves mention. He is an adept on the Violin, Veenai, Swarabit and in vocal music and, though taken singly in these respects, he is surpassed by other specialists, yet his versatility gives him a respected height among musicians.
We close with the names of Ragupathi Bagavathar, Ramakrishna Iyer and Vancheeswara Bagavather, which occupy high places as vocal musicians. Ragupathi Bagavathar was a disciple of Kannayya, who was a disciple of Tiagayya. He had few rivals as a vocalist and in some respects was unequalled by any musician since Ragavaier. His voice was singularly army sweet and his mode of elaboration and singing of Kirtanams, always attractive. In him Tavancore has lost one of the veteran musicians that could sing to perfection the compositions of H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah. Ramakrishna Iyer, brother of Mahadeva Iyer, developed some original methods of elaboration, and was, like his brother, a very spiritual singer. His acquaintance with English served him to find fresh fields for development in Hindu music. The last named, Vancheeswara Bagavathar, was a respectable singer with great natural endowments in music
During the present reign, the name of Nilakanta Dasar, a Brahmin of Karamanai and a composer of religious lyrics, deserves mention. He was born in Trivandrum in 1014 M. E. (1839) and died on the 8th Adi 1675 M. E. (1900). He was in Government service from his 20th to his 35th year. From his thirty-sixth, he began to compose his lyrics, chiefly in praise of Siva to which deity he was strongly attached. He has rendered many stories of the Tamil Peria Puranam into Kirtanams fit for use in Katha performances. The airs adopted are interesting and the sentiments are conveyed in popular and impressive language.
It remains to be summarized that we owe much of the development of m use in Travancore to the personal encouragement and patronage accorded by its sovereigns, and it is a matter for thank fullness that his gracious Highness the present Maharajah continues this help towards the cause of music, no less by the protection he kindly affords to its votaries in Travancore than by the generous and judicious patronage he extends to foreign musicians that visit his land.
This is an age of great discoveries and marvellous inventions. The invention of the Phonograph has made it possible to record the achievements of the human voice with the greatest possible accuracy and forms the best help towards perpetuating the style of singing and compositions of the great musicians. What Hindu would not listen to the great Tiagayya, or Govinda Marar, or Vadivelu, or Mahavaiti, or Ragavaier, or Natesan, if it were possible by any feat of legerdemain now to reproduce their subline music? But alas! theirs was not a time of Phonographs and Gramaphones, or if it was (as in the case of the last three), these instruments were hardly resorted to as a means of preserving their music. Here we are with the phonograph ready at hand to obey all our behests, and yet how listless and indifferent we are in recording the compositions of H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah, or Ponnayya, which, but for such perpetuation, may be lost to the world for ever! God forbid such an untoward result! We may express a hope, a fervent hope, that no labour or time would be grudged to preserve these compositions for the delight and recreation of possibilities and which, fortunately for all, still holds alive a great many of these compositions, will be availed of to the best advantage, and not allowed to slip, and that we shall endeavour, by every means in our power and with an unselfish spirit, to place within the reach of the next generation those songs, those musical strains, those perennial fountains of heavenly happiness at which we have so often fed our own thirsty souls. (For a collection of H. H. Swathi Tirunal Maharajah’s compositions the reader is referred to the following publications: - Musical compositions of H. H. Swati Tirunal Maharajah by Mr. K. Chidambara Vadhyar B. A. Balamrithan with musical notations by Mr. S. Ranguatha Iyer.)
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