Chat Corner Music

In the service of music

Thrissur Vydyanatha Bhagavathar. Photo: K.K. Najeeb   | Photo Credit: K.K. Najeeb

For seven days in succession, from the first day of the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, music lovers and devotees thronged the precincts of Chinmaya Bhuvaneswari Navagraha Temple, Thrissur, to listen to an interesting musical event – ‘Ashtotthara Satha Sree Rama Kirtanarchana’. One hundred and eight compositions of legendary vaggeyakars were presented every day in two-hour concerts, by Thrissur Vydyanatha Bhagavathar. Accompanied by leading artistes in turn, the octogenarian recited all the kirtanas unaided by any text. The source of his indefatigable energy seemed to be the strict disciplining he has had under stalwarts at Kumbhakonam (Thanjavur) and Thiruvayyar. His disciples, a legion, include outstanding professional musicians and music directors. At 87, he is busy imparting training to senior students who come to him for honing their skills. The Sivarathri and Navarathri music festivals at Sree Vadakkumnathan and Thiruvambadi temples, Thrissur, respectively, owe their genesis to him. His musical ingenuity also finds expression in his own compositions on Rama, Siva, Ayyappa and Krishna.

While resting at his home in the Pushpagiri gramam after the seven-day extravaganza, Vydyanatha related the story of his musical journey. Excerpts:


I was born at Irinjalakuda. I lost my father when I was three and our family shifted to Thrissur when I was five. I did my schooling at Vivekodayam High School, Thrissur. It did not last for many years as I had to leave for Sri Lanka in search of a job at the age of 11. I learnt the work of a pujari at Jaffna and worked at a temple near Colombo for seven years. The work there exposed me to classical music, especially nagaswaram concerts. The nagaswara vidwan Shanmukhasundaram gave me my first lessons in classical music. Devotees used to assemble in large numbers at the temple to listen to my Sahasranama recital.

Into the world of classical music

At 18, I reached Kumbhakonam with all my savings. The great guru Umayalpuram Venkita Rama Bhagavathar groomed me. After four years he sent me to Swamimala Janakiraman, an outstanding musician who was very busy with concerts. Great musicians such as Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and T.R. Subramaniam had trained under Janakiraman. His repertoire was immensely rich – more than 1,000 kirtanas of which 500 were Tyagaraja’s. The four years I spent with him are really memorable. I had the rare privilege of accompanying him in more than 200 concerts. After my arangettam in Thiruvayyar in 1951, where I had played the tambura for seven years, I returned to Thrissur with the priceless treasure of around 500 kirtanas, 30 varnams and five ragam-tanam-pallavis taught by my gurus.

Beginning a career in music

The same year, I started classes at Punkunnam in Thrissur. The number of students increased as years went on. Gopala Bhagavathar, who passed away recently, also associated with me. We were known as ‘Pushpagiri brothers’ in those days. Our class room was at the Oottupura of the Sree Rama temple. Meanwhile, I had my audition at All India Radio (AIR), Kozhikode. If I remember correctly, I sang for AIR for 45 years. It was Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar who introduced me to Guruvayur Ekadasi festival. Thirty five years later, I am still continuing that. Koodalmanikyam festival at my birth place is another commitment that I fulfilled for two decades. Forty two years have rolled by after I started singing at the Vadakkumnathan Sreemoola Sthanam in connection with the Sivarathri festival. The festival had a modest beginning; the althara (beneath a banyan tree) was the stage. Today I can see how it has blossomed into a major event, attracting many major artistes. But I am the only musician who could sing there all these years without a break. Another temple festival is the Navarathri celebrations at Thiruvambadi in Thrissur. This one was also initiated by me. The list of temples I have sung (in Kerala and Tamil Nadu) is rather long. For singing continuously for five years at the Chennimalai temple in Coimbatore, the Tamil Nadu Devaswom Board conferred on me the title of ‘Isaimani’. That was in 1980. Unreserved support from luminaries like Kavalam Narayana Panicker, TVG, Palakkad Seshamani, Koduvayur Radhakrishnan and Nedumangad Sivanandan needs special mention.

Shishyas, my asset

I am proud of my sishyas who number around 800. Interestingly, a good number of them in the early days took to music as a profession. Vaikom Saroja, K.K. Dharmarajan (former principal of Sree Swati Tirunal College of Music, Thiruvananthapuram), music directors Vidyadharan and Ratheesh Vega, Kavalam Sreekumar, and Guruvayur Manikantan of the Calicut University’s Department of Music, are a few of my disciples. Forty years ago I also taught 17 Christian nuns who passed the Madras Government Technical Education Board examination. They were all absorbed in schools as teachers. As of now, Sivan Peringottukara continues to give me vocal support.

Teaching methodology

Swarajnanam is a must for all students. Varnams lay stress on the vowels. Kirtanas should be taught only after varnams, while dentification of swaras in both is a pre-requisite for proper singing. The teachers have to pay special attention to this.

G.S. Paul

Photo: K.K. Najeeb

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 1:21:48 PM |

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