Remembering Papanasam Sivan, the genius composer

Papanasam Sivan  

For Carnatic music lovers, the name Papanasam Sivan instantly brings to mind the image of an old, unassuming man with grey beard and vibhuti smeared on his broad forehead. A great composer, he has enriched the world of classical music with gems in Tamil such as ‘Naan Oru Vilaiyattu Bommaiya,’ (Navarasa Kanada); ‘Paratpara Parameswara’ (Vachaspati); ‘Kaana Kann Kodi Vendum’ (Khambodi); ‘Devi Neeye Thunai’ (Kiravani); ‘Ka Vaa Vaa’ (Varali) and ‘Kapaali’ (Mohanam).

Papanasam Sivan developed a passion for composing songs after he shifted base from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. His father died when Sivan was just seven. He used to live with his ailing mother in Thiruvananthapuram. As a young boy, he worked as a cook in Ootupara. He would work through the day and spend the night listening to harikatha. Thus began his love for bhajans and religious discourses.

In 1910, Sivan travelled to Papanasam to stay with his brother. It is here that he began to listen to Carnatic concerts, becoming so passionate about music that he took to writing kritis. The legendary vocalist Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, whose concerts Sivan would listen to the most, also inspired him to compose songs. Vaidyanatha Iyer was known for his Thodi renditions, and Sivan composed more than 20 kritis in the raga. Soon the two developed a deep bonding, with Sivan looking up to Iyer as his guru.

Sivan would never miss Iyer’s concerts and he once walked more than seven miles from Kumbakonam to Ammankudi to attend one. Iyer made Sivan sit next to him on stage and rendered his song ‘Sikkalmeviya’ in Kambodi raga.

When Sivan settled in Madras in 1929, Rukmini Devi was among the first to recognise his genius. He was associated with Kalakshetra from 1934 to 1939 and Rukmini Devi was one of his students. Perhaps this tenure at Kalakshetra inspired Sivan to compose several pada varnams that are now performed in Bharatanatyam. Many leading musicians such as S. Rajam learnt music from Sivan.

Sri Papanasam Sivan, Mr. K.K. Shah, Governor of Tamil Nadu, and Rukmini Arundale at the 45th Annual Conference of the Music Academy held on December 19, 1971 in Madras.

Sri Papanasam Sivan, Mr. K.K. Shah, Governor of Tamil Nadu, and Rukmini Arundale at the 45th Annual Conference of the Music Academy held on December 19, 1971 in Madras.  

He will also be remembered for his bhajans. He would lead the early morning processions through Mylapore’s temple streets during the Tamil month of Margazhi. Many Carnatic stalwarts such as S. Ramanathan, D.K. Jayaraman and Ramnad Krishnan would join him. Even after Sivan’s death, the tradition has been continued by musicians such as Sanjay Subrahmanyam, S. Sowmya, Vijay Siva and Gayatri Venkatraghavan.

Papanasam Sivan during the Margazhi bhajan session

Papanasam Sivan during the Margazhi bhajan session  

One of Sivan’s first songs on Lord Kapaleeswarar ‘Kaana Kankodi’ in Kambodi, was composed during one of these outings. His composition, ‘Srirama nama bhajanaisei maname’ was composed to show his devotion to Lord Rama. Also, since his original name is Ramayya, he used it as the mudra in his kritis.

The online celebration

This year marks the 130th birth anniversary of Papanasam Sivan. To commemorate the occasion, Sivan Fine Arts Academy in association with Papanasam Sivan Rasigar Sangam will host a special online event from tomorrow to October 1. It will be inaugurated by N. Murali, president, The Music Academy, at 7.30 p.m. The evening will begin with Dushyant Sridhar’s talk on Papanasam Sivan followed by the rendition of Sivan’s ‘Iha Param’ kriti in Simhendramadhyamam by 80 students from the U.S.

The six-day celebration will feature 130 musicians from across the globe, who will present 130 of Sivan’s kritis, (without repetition). On the inaugural day, Sudha Ragunathan, Sowmya, Sikkil Gurucharan, Gayathri Venkataraghavan, Rukmini Ramani and Mallika Ramani, Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna, Bharat Sundar and Ashok Ramani will perform.

Concerts of musicians including Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, Gayathri Girish, Saketharaman, Mahathi, Nisha Rajagopal, K. Gayathri, Ashwath Narayanan, Vishnudev Nambootiri, Vignesh Ishwar, Vasudha Ravi and Suryaprakash will be screened from September 27 to October 1.

Each day will also feature the solo performances of close to 25 artistes. On the last day, the Sivan memorial lecture will be delivered by K. Harishankar, secretary, Narada Gana Sabha, and Cleveland V.V. Sundaram.

Musical ode

The 130th birth anniversary celebrations for Papanasam Sivan will begin with his ‘Iha Param’ kriti in Simhendramadhyamam. “One of the reasons to choose this song was because it was popularised by M.S. Subbulakshmi, and we are singing it in her memory too, since her 104th birth anniversary was celebrated recently. We planned to present it at this year’s Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana with 150 students, but since the event was cancelled due to the pandemic, I decided to make it a part of this event with 80 students,” says Ashok Ramani, who has conceived this musical ode to his grandfather.

The participating students were trained by Srividhya Vasudevan, Prarthana Sai Narasimhan and Trichur Rithu for the Cleveland festival. “One group of students will sing the pallavi portion followed by another group rendering the sangatis. This pattern follows till the charanam.”


The event can be viewed on Ashok Ramani’s YouTube cahnnel and Facebook:

The writer is a Carnatic vocalist and grandson of Papanasam Sivan.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 5:54:01 PM |

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