Brothers Veeramani, Somu’s contribution encompasses the fields of drama, film and devotional songs.
The advent of the Tamil month of Kartigai finds Aiyappa devotees get ready for a fresh spell of maalai and vratam. Black and saffron clad figures become ubiquitous between now and January when Makara Deepam is lit at the Sabari Hill. Bhajans and songs are inherent in the worship of these Saamis who make their presence felt with charana gosham. Brothers Veeramani and Somu contributed significantly to the Aiyappa cult through their songs on the Lord of Sabarimala.
K. Somu (1932) and K. Veeramani (1936) were born to M.K. Krishna Kunjaram Iyer and Bagirathi Ammal, who was hearing impaired. The musical lineage of the brothers came from great grandfather Kavi Kunjara Bharathigal - a saint and a Sivagangai Samasthana Asthana vidwan, who composed ‘Azhagar Kuravanji,’ Skandha Puranam and krithis on Goddess Meenakshi - and grandfather N. Koteeswara Iyer who composed 72 Mela Karta Ragas on Lord Muruga, Ramar, Ambal and Pillayar.
Both learnt Carnatic Music initially from uncle Nagamani and later under Seerkazhi Sadasivam Pillai. They presented kutcheries from 1952. The same year, the siblings composed music for the Mercantile Bank office staff amateur Troup for their play, ‘Kadhalar Kangal’ with outside support from YGP and Pattu. Wanting to tap their potential, they requested Somu to write the lyrics, the brothers to compose and sing UAA Troupe’s opening prayer song and provide the background music for their first play, ‘Fabulous Fool.’ The UAA prayer song, ‘Sarva Sakthi Vinayakaney Saranam…,’ was penned by Somu.
Between 1952 and 1970, they composed music for more than 500 plays. Their gurus being Thanjai Balu (drama music) and G. S Mani (Carnatic music).
Somu’s career took a devotional turn, when he joined Guruswamy Hariharan’s (who made him feel Aiyappa is a living God) Manikanda Baktha Samithi in 1960. He started writing lyrics and composing music on Lord Aiyappa and began going on pilgrimages to Sabarimala. Meanwhile, Veeramani had joined MSV’s troupe and was singing film songs. In 1965, he replaced TMS (who could not make it) for a MSV concert, in Nemathaampatti, at which MGR was present and caught his attention. In 1987, MGR conferred the Kalaimamani title on KV who had sung in films including ‘Ayirathil Oruvan,’ ‘Bharatha Vilas,’ ‘Thani Kudithanam,’ ‘Ratha Thilakam’ and ‘Kandhar Alankaram.’
Following in Somu’s footsteps, Veeramani too became a devotional singer and also began his Sabrimala pilgrimages with M.N. Nambiar Guruswamy from 1971. That same year, during Ayudha Pooja A.V. Meiyappa Chettiar heard the combination of Somu, Veeramani and Radha singing and asked HMV Colombia Saraswathy Stores Manager Kannan to promote their songs through their outlets.
The brothers had given 6000 performances, travelled throughout India and even to Malaysia and Singapore. Their most memorable recital was, according to Somu, before the then Tamil Nadu Governor Prabhudas Patwari at Gandhi Mandap on Gandhi Jayanthi In 1987, both composed music for 1330 Thirukural couplets, which were sung by KV and Radha.
In 2003, it was K. Somu’s turn to be conferred with the Kalaimamani title by J. Jayalalitha. He says that although he did not know how to play the harmonium it was purely on ‘Manakanakku’ he had composed music along with his brother and the able support of violinist Gaja.
An emotional K. Somu recalls his last performance with K. Veeramani. It was on September 25, 1990, at the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. His brother, who had blood cancer that was in an advanced stage, gave a soul-stirring performance at the sanctum sanctorum. And in October 29 that year, he passed away. They had an understanding that ‘Veeramani Somu’ should never be separated even if one of them died. Together, they had composed music for more than 2000 devotional songs, for which Somu had written the lyrics, and that included 1500 audio cassettes on almost all the gods for all seasons. Initially, Somu was reluctant to continue after his brother’s demise. But Vani Jayaram’s encouragement motivated him to work for her cassette series with the song, ‘Theynaana Unnaamam Thigattaadhamma…’ While the song’s recording was going on, Somu says he literally saw “Ambal in a yellow saree with brown border and with karumbu and sangu chakaram in her hand,” and he fainted.
Somu remembers how emotionally P.Suseela had sung his song, ‘Azhagiya Mayilae Abhirami Anjuga Mozhiyey Abirami…’ While singing his ‘Kondaimudi Alangarithu …’ and virutham with Sanskrit slokas, P. Suseela had suggested that he translate the words into Tamil and he improvised on the spot with ‘Kani Amudhey Karunai Kadaley Thunai Neeyey...’ He believes that it was Meenakshi Amman who helped him.
He has also composed songs on Lord Muruga for Maharajapuram Santhanam. Veterans who have sung for him include TMS, SPB, S. Janaki, Jayachandran, L.R. Easwari, Unni Krishnan, Nithyashree Mahadevan, S. Rajeshwari, Rajkumar Bharathi, A.P. Komala, Seerkazhi Chidambaram and T.L. Maharajan (Tiruchi Loganathan’s son).
The family legacy is being continued by K. Veeramani’s son, Veeramani Kannan, and V. Somu’s sons, Veeramani Raju and Dr. Manibharathi, daughter Usha Balaji and nephew Subhash Veeramani.
Bakthi Isai Mamanigal for both Veeramani and Somu by Bala Thiripura Sundari Shakthi Peedam, Nemili in 1974.
1974- Arul Isai Mamani,
Ayyappa Arul Selvar and Life Time Achievement Award by Manikanda Bhaktha Sabha in 2004 for V. Somu