Composer of tillanas and kritis, Kannusamy Pillai, mastered the naga-swaram after his knowledge of ragas was challenged

Saint Tyagaraja’s composition ‘Niravadhi sukhada’ in Ravichandrika raga with its fast paced chittaiswaras always elevate the mood of a listener.

The chittaiswaras, however, are not a creation of Tyagaraja, but were actually composed by a tavil player Iluppur Panchami or Malaikottai Panchami, whose real name was Panchapakesa Pillai.

“He composed chittaiswaras for around a dozen kritis of Tyagaraja which include Niravadhi sukhada and Palukavemi na set to raga Poornachandrika,” said musicologist B.M. Sundaram while giving a talk on composers among nagaswaram and tavil players.

Panchami, who died at the age of 30, teamed up with Tiruvavadudurai T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai during his initial days. They parted ways due to a difference of opinion and Rajarathinam Pillai used to say, “Panchami was with me when I earned in hundreds and he is not with me when I am earning in thousands.”

Panchami was a good singer and cut a disc, a possession of many ardent music fans. His elder brother Iluppur Natesa Pillai was a famous nagaswaram player and among his students, is clarinet maestro A.K.C. Natarajan.

Another person who earned a name as a composer was Ammachathiram Kannusamy Pillai. “During his time a few could match his knowledge of layam and later Mudikondan Venkatrama Iyer learnt from him,” said Mr. Sundaram.

Kannusamy Pillai had composed many tillanas and kritis and Mr. Sundaram played one of his tillanas rendered by vocalist R. Vedavalli, a student of Venkatrama Iyer.

He also mastered the art of playing the nagaswaram after someone challenged him about his knowledge on ragas. In fact, it is said that T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai learnt the nagaswaram from him.

Nagaswaram players Koorai Nadu Natesa Pillai, Nagapattinam Veerasamy Pillai and Dharmapuram Govindaraja Pillai were also composers.

According to Mr. Sundaram many of the varnams including ‘Vanajakshi’ in Kalyani were actually composed by Venugopala Pillai but had been wrongly attributed to Ramanathapuram Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar.

“I have the original manuscripts with me. The mudra (signature) ‘soundararaja’ in the varnam refers to Lord Soundararaja Perumal of Nagapattinam,” he argued.