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Updated: February 17, 2011 14:44 IST

Votary of Tamizh songs

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LOVE FOR THE LANGUAGE: M.A. Bageerathi. Photo: S.M. Ashish Dugar
The Hindu
LOVE FOR THE LANGUAGE: M.A. Bageerathi. Photo: S.M. Ashish Dugar

M.A. Bhageerathi talks about her love for Tamil literature and Carnatic music.

Music and literature are in her blood. M.A. Bhageerathi hails from the family of freedom fighter Sangu Subramaniam, and is the daughter of violin maestro Parur M.S. Anantharaman. Initiated into Tamil literature, especially, Tirukkural and Bharatiar songs, at the age of five, Bhageerathi is currently the Associate Professor of Music at Queen Mary's College.

She was chosen to present a paper on ‘Tamizh Isai and Dandapani Desikar' at the Tamizh Semmozhi Manaadu in Coimbatore.

Unlike siblings M.A. Krishnaswamy and M.A. Sundaresan, who became successful concert artists, Bhageerathi forayed into academics acquiring an M.Phil. (on ‘Thodi raga as handled by the Trinity) and then a Ph.D. (on ‘Prof. Sambamurthy's Contribution to Music Theory').

Daily ritual

She recalls, “My grandmother used to teach me Bharatiar songs in their original tunes. We were woken up every day at 4 in the morning and had to recite ten Tirukkurals followed by Bharatiar songs. We were also taught Kamba Ramayanam. Whenever there was a Kamba Ramayana conference in and around Gobichettipalayam, we were taken there by my uncle and his friend Nalla Gounder. I remember meeting scholar-journalist Ki.Va.Jagannathan there once and was thrilled.”

She continues, “I was trained in bhajans by my grandfather Parur Sundaram Iyer. It was compulsory, like my grandmother's Bharatiar song sessions. I also learnt from my father, besides Pattamadai Krishnan and uncle Parur Venkatraman. Grandpa would ensure that we listen to AIR's Lok Sangeeth.”

Bhageerathi was drawn to Tamizh Isai by the Ramalingar Pani Mandram of N. Mahalingam. She recalls, “I read all the texts of Pancha Marabu, Silappadikaram, Thevaram, Divya Prabhandam and Bharatha Senapathiyam. I was inspired by Sundarar's Thevaram hymns, especially the one in which he praises Tirugnanasambandar (‘Naalum Innisaiyal Tamizh Parappum Sambandanukku, Ulagathavar Mun Thaalam Eentha Thamiyane'). I heard this at the Tamizhisai Conference in Chennai, when Dharmapuram Swaminathan recited Thevaram; the audience of nearly a thousand repeated it in chorus. I was overwhelmed. I owe my love for Tamizh Isai to Tamil scholar Lp.Kr. Ramamanathan Chettiar.”

So fascinated was Bhageerathi by Thevaram that she approached Kapali Odhuvar of the Mylai Karpagambal temple and requested him to teach her. “You cannot get a better teacher than Kapali Odhuvar.If I do not go to his house, he would come all the way to my house. Such was his devotion to spreading of Thevaram through his students.”

“I found Pann aaraichi interesting from my experience for the past five to six years. There are totally 103 panns out of which you would find only 23 used in Thevaram. Two panns would be taken up for discussion each year and same pann would be allotted to two different musicologists, in order to get different views.” “A couple of years ago, when I presented a paper on ‘Periyapuranathil Isaikoorugal', N. Mahalingam honoured me with the title ‘Perumpana Nangai' in memory of Kudanthai Sundaresanar. I also presented a paper on ‘Tamizh Songs of Vedanayagam Sastri (1774–1864), a contemporary of Tyagaraja.”

She adds, “In fact, Clement Sastri, the 7{+t}{+h} generation descendent of the illustrious composer, still lives in Purasawalkam.”

Bhageerathi had the opportunity to sing in the presence of Dr. Abdul Kalam, when he asked her to tune a few of his songs in Tamizh. When her brothers and daughter presented the disc, he asked her to sing.

She was honoured by the Mylai Tiruvalluvar Sangam in 2002. In 2005, her presentation on ‘Prof. Sambamurthy and Folk Music' was chosen for the best paper award. “He was the first to publish folk songs of south India with proper notation. His contribution to Tamizh Isai is immense,” says Bhageerathi.



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