Music

Pages ago - A musicians’ musician

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar  

The Tanjore Municipality recently presented an address to Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, on the occasion of his 61st birthday. This was something unprecedented for a municipality inasmuch as the recipient of the address was a mere musician and not a political figure; but in honouring Ariyakudi, the Municipality was honouring itself. Sri Ramanuja Iyengar has held sway for over thirty years, a record that is not easy to beat.

The most impressive thing about this vidwan's music is the tempo. The listener is neither bored nor exasperated. He does not believe in stunts and gymnastics. desa-sanchara sancharasEven in the matter of swara-singing, Ariyakudi has perfected a pattern of his own. He will prepare the audience with short and ordinary combinations and after some time exhibit his scholarship. He will invariably begin his concert with a varnam and include in his programme one of the Pancharatna kritis of Sri Tyagaraja. In short, there is method in whatever he does and the expression ‘ Ariyakudi's pantha' has become well known in the music world of South India.

Rarely does mere talent take a person to great heights. It is only when talent is supplemented by infinite pains that success is assured. Ariyakudi is no exception to this rule. Born in Ariyakudi near Karaikudi on May 19, 1890, Ramanuja Iyengar was sent to Malaippa Aiyar for learning first lessons in music. For three years Ramanuja Iyengar was with his guru and later became a disciple of Sri Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar. By far the most useful years of his studenthood were spent in association with Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar, popularly known as ‘Poochi' Iyengar.' Gradually Ramanuja Iyengar's fame spread beyond the Cauvery delta, offers for performances came from various Sabhas, and a new star was born, a star that was different. In 1932 the title of Sangita Ratnakara was conferred on Ramanuja Iyengar in Vellore at a sadas presided over by the late Keerthanacharya C.R. Srinivasa Iyengar. He presided over the deliberations of The Music Academy Conference in 1938 and was conferred the title Sangita Kalanidhi. He was appointed Asthana Vidwan of the Mysore Palace by the Maharaja in 1941.

Ariyakudi's music has something original in it and his pantha must be preserved. When I drew his attention to this, Ariyakudi replied caustically. “Do you expect me to train vidwans on assembly line? No, I will be content with one or two sishyas who are prepared to learn the hard way as I did.” When I interrupted and said that if he imposed such restriction none would come forward to take lessons from him, he mentioned the names of K.V. Narayanaswami and Rajam, his pupils. Ariyakud's pantha mandra stayi mandraReferring to the subject of Language and Music, the vidwan said that he would oppose any kind of restriction on the creative art of music or musician. Music knew no language or barrier. It would not conduce to the development of this ancient art if injunctions in regard to language or compositions were placed. Ariyakudi was the foremost in popularising the Ramayana kritis of Arunachalakavi in Tamil. He was also the first in opposing the Tamil Isai movement a few years ago because in his opinion it meant compartmentalising music.

Sri Ramanuja Iyengar is a rasika and one young violinist told me that he had found it very easy to accompany Ariyakudi, because at no stage the veteran would try to jettison him. So long as he followed the singer correctly there was nothing to worry about. mridangam


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