‘Cauvery thanni kudicha Saveri thaanaa varum.’
The adage encapsulates the fertile climate provided by the Cauvery River in the erstwhile composite Tanjavur for fine arts, especially, classical music.
While Tanjavur and Cauvery have always been synonymous with music, ancient settlements on the banks of Tamiraparani in Tirunelveli, Vaigai in Madurai and even the dry belt of Ramanathapuram too have produced some outstanding musicians.
In fact, the early winners of The Music Academy’s Sangita Kalanidhi award were Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar (1930) and Vedanta Bhagavatar of Kallidaikurichi (1940), both from Tirunelveli district. Even 80 years after his death, Sengottai G. Kittappa remains an inspiration.
“The titles ‘bhagavatar’ and ‘annavi’ originated from Tirunelveli, which preserved the Tamil tradition in music and other fields. Even the ancestors of the Tanjavur Quartet — Chinnaiah, Ponnaiah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu — were from the district,” said musicologist Prameela Gurumurthy, who has authored the book Nellai Thantha Isaimanikal.
She points out that being a marudam land (paddy fields and areas abutting it), composite Tanjavur had more temples and festivals.
There were innumerable nagaswaram players in Tanjavur and it was left to Karukurichi Arunachalam to carry forward the legacy of Tiruvavadudurai T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai.
The contribution of Ariyakudi, a small town in Ramanathapuram district, to the music world is immeasurable. It was Ramanuja Iyengar, who set the present concert pattern. His teacher, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, was the court musician of the Ramanathapuram jameen. C.S. Murugaboopathy, who secured a firm place as a percussionist, was also from Ramanathapuram.
Madurai, too, does not lag behind. The person who really put Carnatic music on the global map was Madurai Shanmugavadivu Subbulakshmi or M.S., as she was popularly known. The author of Poorvika Sangita Unmai, a treatise, denying the existence of 72 mela kartha ragas, was nagaswaram vidvan Madurai Ponnusamy Pillai.
In Chennai, rickshaw-pullers were ready to forgo earnings in the evening to listen to Madurai Mani Iyer’s Eppo Varvaro. Madurai Somu was a trailblazer and T.N. Seshagopalan has few equals.
“But Tanajvur remains incomparable for its sheer volume of contribution to the world of music. It was enviously fertile and people had enormous amounts of time to spare for creativity. Moreover, for hundreds of years, beginning with the Cholas and till the days of the British, musicians found patronage,” said historian Sriram V.