Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavathar was a vaggeyakkara and Sanskrit scholar too.
It was by accident that vidwan Mannargudi Sambasivam became Bhagavatar. A disciple of Maharajapuram Viswanathan, he imbibed the fine musical traits of his guru and was blossoming into a promising vocalist. He presented his first concert for Perambur Sangeetha Sabha in 1933 that earned him accolades.
Vidwan Sambasivam did not look back and performed at various places accompanied by illustrious artists including Tiruvalangadu Sundaresa Iyer, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Mysore Chowdaiah, Venu Naicker, Azhaganambia Pillai, Umayalpuram Viswanatha Iyer and so on.
When the scheduled Harikatha artist failed to turn up for the programme at the Vidwat Samajam, the vidwan decided to play substitute and what a success it was! Encouraged by the response, he made up his mind to study the art seriously. Madurai Narayana Iyer and Sraswatibai were the preceptors and soon Sambasivam was presenting Harikatha kalakshepam to full house audience. Again leading accompanists loved to lend him support on the stage. Crowning glory was the title Bhava-rasa-kalaratnakara conferred on him by Musiri Subramanya Iyer, who was moved by his story telling. Many more titles followed in recognition of his talent and contribution. He trained a host of disciples, including violin expert M. Chandrasekharan and vocalist Jaya Krishnan.
A gifted vaggeyakkara, Sambasiva Bhagavatar composed thousands of songs in different languages. A scholar in Sanskrit, he wrote several dissertations. He shared a great rapport with his guru on whose command he composed the song ‘Nathupai Neeku Dayaleda,’ in which for the first time he used his mudra ‘Sambasiva.’ Running into his guru at the samadi of Tyagaraja in Tiruvaiyaru, Sambasiva Bhagavathar composed on the spot ‘Guruvai Ninainthu Urugu Mada Manamae.’ An overwhelmed Viswanatha Iyer embraced his sishya and blessed him. He composed ‘Neerajadala Nayana’ while travelling in train with his guru to Calcutta. An impressed Viswanatha Iyer included it in his list wherever he performed. The song was later popularised by Maharajapuram Santhanam.
His personal accomplishments apart, it is his propagation of Carnatic music through Thiagaraja Vidwath Samajam that has made his name immortal. Founded by Tiger Varadachari, Parur Sundaram Iyer,Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and T.K. Venkatrama Bhagavathar, the Samajam flourished under his leadership as secretary, treasurer and executive trustee. He was instrumental in the installation of the Panchaloha idol of the saint in the Samajam shrine.
Several albums of his music and Harikatha have been released. “Father was the first to narrate the story of Ramana as Harikatha,” says son Rajaraman, a trustee. The centenary of this versatile vidwan was celebrated by Sri Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavathar Cultural Trust recently at the Samajam premises for two days. The title, Gana Kala Sironmani was conferred on S.R. Janakiraman, Madurai G.S. Mani, N. Ramani and Girija Ramaswamy. The award for Life Time Achievement in the Promotion of Art and Culture was given to M. Murali, Managinf Director, Sri Krishna Sweets. A souvenir containing articles, pictures and the compositions of Bhaavathar was released on the occasion.