On July 28, 1963, a function was held to celebrate 50 years of Ariyakkudi’s induction on the Carnatic stage. The list of attendees read like a who's who from across the world.

In 1912, a wedding was being celebrated in a grand fashion at the residence of Ar Ar Sm Somasundaram Chettiar at Kandanur in Chettinad. Present on the occasion was a host of musicians, for concerts were organised on each day of the week-long festivities. The evening prior to the wedding, Ramanathapuram ‘Poochi' Srinivasa Iyengar performed, accompanied by Tirukodikkaval Krishna Iyer, Kumbakonam Azhagianambi Pillai, Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Umayalpuram Sundaram Iyer, respectively on the violin, mridangam, ganjira and ghatam.

On the wedding day, Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer performed with the same accompanists. In the audience were Poochi Iyengar, his disciple Ramanujam who strummed the tambura for his concerts, and the latter's father Tiruvenkatam Iyengar who was a respected astrologer for several of Chettinad's powerful business families.

As the concert wound to a close, a desire arose in Somasundaram Chettiar's mind. Why not get young Ramanujam to perform before the august assembly? The lad was already 22 years old, a late starter by Carnatic music standards.

Having obtained permission from the youth's father and the guru, he requested the accompanists to remain on stage. On learning the reason, the veterans gladly agreed. Over the years that they had accompanied Poochi Iyengar, his disciple had greatly impressed them with his respectful attitude and diligence.

Star is born

Ramanujam was somewhat hesitant about performing in front of such a gathering. But he took his guru's blessings and ascended the stage. Perhaps in deference to the veterans on the dais he sat a little far behind. “Move forward,” was the command-cum-blessing that came from Tirukodikkaval Krishna Iyer. The singer began with ‘Vedalanu Kodandapani' and a star was launched.

In 1962, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, as the young singer making his debut in 1912 would become known, completed 50 years in the service of music, and almost 40 of those years saw him reigning as numero uno. Therefore, when on July 28, 1963, a public function was put together to celebrate his golden jubilee, it was no wonder that the list of attendees read like a who's-who from the world of those days. The Hindu reported the event in great detail the next day.

A Shri Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar Commemoration Committee had been set up by his disciples in collaboration with the Perambur Sangeetha Sabha (PSS). This had Dr. P.V. Rajamannar, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Madras and also the former chairman, Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), as its chairman. The secretaries were S. Sethuraman, the live-wire of the PSS, and B. Rajam Iyer. Others involved included Al Ar Chockiah Chettiar, the zamindar of Devakottai and one of Ariyakkudi's closest friends.

Stalwarts present

The event was held at the grand Rajaji Hall on Government Estate and was presided over by the music-loving former Maharajah and then Governor of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. Among those who attended and spoke were C. Rajagopalachari, Dr. C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, Rajah Sir M.A. Muthiah Chettiar and Dr. V.K. Narayana Menon. Representatives of sabhas from Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta were present. Dr. V. Raghavan attended as a representative of the Music Academy, the strained relations between Ariyakkudi and that organisation notwithstanding. The musician community was present in full force with Sangita Kalanidhis Musiri Subramania Iyer, Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, G.N. Balasubramaniam and P.S. Veerusami Pillai being present. Vazhuvur Ramiah Pillai represented dance.

The proceedings began with a prayer by M.S. Subbulakshmi. A navaratna necklace and ring were presented to Ariyakkudi, paid for by an anonymous couple. Later it transpired that the sponsors were none other than M.S. and T. Sadasivam. It would have been interesting to know Ariyakkudi's reaction to this for the maestro had long resented the importance given to the queen of song! Ariyakkudi was also presented with a silver salver. The Maharajah of Mysore released a souvenir on the occasion that is today a collector's item, containing as it does several photographs of Ariyakkudi and articles by a wide variety of people about the man and his art.

It was announced on the occasion that a Scholarship Fund would be launched in the name of Ariyakkudi. Ramnath Goenka, The Hindu and the TVS Group immediately announced a donation of Rs. 1,000 each. As is customary, a flood of panegyrics almost drowned Ariyakkudi. Dwaram said he must be given the title of Gayaka Bhishma (this was appropriated with some modifications much later by someone else!) Others said he ought to be referred to as Sangita Dharma Paripalaka. In response to all this, Ariyakkudi's speech was brief, like his alapanas. He thanked everyone and then said that what little he had done for music was owing to the blessings of Tyaga Brahmam.

The event was in every way a fitting tribute to the monarch of music.

(The author can be contacted at srirambts@gmail.com)