The two Vedanayagams

I've always thought, I'd get into a bit of a tangle if I didn't consult Carnatic music historian Sriram V. before writing about anything musical. And that's what happened when I wrote about Vedanayagam Pillai (Miscellany, March 8), rather confusing a bit of musical history in the process.

Apparently, there were two Vedanayagam Pillais, and the one I was talking about from Tinnevelly was better known as Vedanayagam Sastriar (1772-1864), the Sastriar being bestowed on him for his erudition. A classmate of Serfoji II, he was also a ward of the Rev. Schwartz. Sastriar, Sriram tells me, wrote several popular Christian songs set to such forms of folk music as kanni, taalaattu, kummi, antaadi and chindhu. He composed in the kuravanji style Bethlehem Kuravanji in 1800, based on the Kuttrala Kuravanji by Trikoota Rasappa Kavirayar.

In the Classsical Carnatic form, he used the Tiruppagazh verses of Arunagirinathar as a model and composed several songs. A contemporary of Tyagaraja, he composed several lyrics set to the ragas of the saint-composer, and, like Tyagaraja, he included in all his compositions his name as a signature. Sastri's songs are sung by his descendants during church services to this day. Serfoji II was a long-time patron of Sastriar, though their relationship had its ups and downs. But, when Serfoji passed away in 1833, Sastri paid rich tribute to him in an elegy.

The other Vedanayagam Pillai (1826-89) was also a Christian. He was a munsiff in Mayavaram and “is the better known of the two in Carnatic music circles”, Sriram tells me. The latter-day Vedanayagam Pillai was a child prodigy, played the veena well and composed several secular songs that were later compiled and released as the Sarva Samaya Kirtanaigal. Also a writer of merit, he was the author of the first Tamil novel, Pratapa Mudaliar Charitiram. In the 1870s, when the Madras Presidency was stricken by famine, Vedanayagam Pillai II spent most of his wealth feeding the poor.

Sriram concludes with what I must take as a stern warning to me not to use words such as “major” liberally. He writes: “Neither was a major figure in Carnatic music. They are at best marginal influences and the compositions of the latter Vedanayagam are rarely sung. Sastriar I have never heard presented in any concert.”


Saying it in pictures

Several readers have responded pictorially to some recent items of mine. M.A. Nelson sends me photocopies from a 1950s Tamil book by a Father Kadambavanam titled Tirunelveli Aththayatchaadheena Aarambam, which refers to a Kokila who became Clorinda, a name several others too seem to prefer to Clarinda (Miscellany March 8). The chapter about her features the line drawings I include in the column today. The ‘portrait' of Clorinda may or may not be accurate, but other ‘portraits' in the book do resemble the pictures of Schwartz and Caldwell I've seen. The sketch of Clorinda's Church — which Theodore Baskaran tells me is called ‘Pappaththi Kovil' by many in the area — is not unlike a photograph of the church another reader refers me to in Dr. C.S. Mohanavelu's German Tamilology.

V. Theetharappan sends me a picture taken after the first convocation of Annamalai University (October 27, 1931). Seated second from left is Swami Vipulananda (Miscellany, March 15). I wonder how many can recognise others in the picture, besides Annamalai Chettiar and Governor Arthur Hope. Another picture from Theetherappan also dated to 1931 is one of the earliest of Thyagaraja Bhagavathar (Miscellany, March 1) displaying his all-round talent. And, a third picture from him is of Thyagaraja Bhagavathar's tomb in Trichy. Theetharappan also reminds me that ‘green' Balfour is remembered in Balfour's Road, Kilpauk.


Where's the name from?

Dorothy Miranda refers to the search for the Rev. John Breeden I'd written about (Miscellany, March 1), and wonders why St. George's Homes, Ketti (Ooty), got re-named Laidlaw Memorial School & Junior College instead of the Rev. Breeden, the founder being recalled in any re-christening. Well, I have no answer to that except to point out that the School survived in its early years almost entirely due to the munificence of Sir Robert Laidlaw.

Laidlaw's connection with the school itself is something I'm rather curious about. Sir Robert, I'm told, was connected with the early 20th Century department store chain called Whiteway, Laidlaw. It's huge Madras branch — which specialised in regular ‘sales' — was where V.G.P. now has its showroom on Mount Road. Whiteway, Laidlaw had branches in several parts of India and in other British Eastern possessions. But, I don't think it was headquartered in Madras. And, if it wasn't, what was Sir Robert's connection with South India?

My correspondent also points out that a legend at Laidlaw School is E.A. Hammick who had the unique record of being a student, teacher, headmaster and principal of the school, spending 62 years on its campus before retiring in 1976. Few, she writes, would have had such a long association with any educational institution.


Madras MiscellanyMarch 13, 2010

Madras Miscellany - A lasting contributionMarch 6, 2010