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Updated: August 3, 2012 11:35 IST

Of music and medicine

V. Balasubramanian
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Abraham Pandithar
Abraham Pandithar

Thanjavur has been the seat of the arts -- music, dance, architecture and sculpture -- and their proliferation since the Chola period. It was here that Rao Saheb Abraham Pandithar, hailing from Tirunelveli, settled down with his family towards the end of 19th century.

Pandithar had acquired skills in various streams during his early years that included herbal medicine, Carnatic music, printing technology, teaching, farming and astrology. He was also a good photographer.

However, his heart lay in music and herbal medicine. Creating various compounds and mixtures from the herbs grown on his 100-acre farm, Pandithar marketed his herbal medicines under the name Karunananda Sanjeevi Medicine. Such was his interest in agriculture that his farm had a variety of fruit-bearing trees and flowering plants.

His wife Gnanavadivu Ammal was a pillar of strength and supported him in his various activities.

When it came to music, Pandithar expanded his knowledge by learning from a nagaswaram vidwan. This laid the foundation for a series of music conferences which were held in Thanjavur and a book titled ‘Karunamrithsagaram’ comprising papers submitted at these conferences. He was a prolific composer and composed several kritis in chaste ragas in praise of Jesus Christ.

The first three parts of the book written by Pandithar are virtual treatises on Carnatic music. Sadly, he passed away before he could complete the fourth part. It was completed by his descendants and today, most of them are still connected with music and research in some way.

Abraham Pandithar emphasised the fact that Tamil music was in existence even during the First Century by drawing references from Ilango Adigal’s ‘Silappadikaram.’

In this book, the authors take us through a journey of Pandithar’s research in Tamil music and the nuances of srutis that form the basic structure of music. In his detailed approach, Pandithar drew references from books relating to music such as ‘Sangita Parijatham’, ‘Chaturdandi Prakasikai’, ‘Suramelakalanidhi’ and ‘Shadroga Chandrodayam.’

This apart, Pandithar had extensive knowledge of the styles of the Trinity and many other composers including Jayadeva, Tamil Moovar and Narayana Tirtha. The knowledge so acquired inspired him to compose and practise exercises, geethams, varnams and kritis both in popular and rare ragas.

Abraham’s vaggeyakara mudra was either Aabiram or Aabiragaam. He shot to fame after his demonstration of the 24 srutis in one octave and the existence of finer srutis in the same octave, at the Baroda All India Music conference in 1916.

This is a useful book for music scholars and musicologists.

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