In a league of his own

S. Mallika performing at the guru-sishya series organised recently at Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai, by TMT Parampara. Photo: R. Ragu  

His ancestors were the first musicians to be sent to Baroda Court as part of dowry when a member of the noble family in the Tanjore Court was given in marriage to King Shahji Rao. Even today, his family members in Baroda are called Tanjorekars. We are talking about the unforgettable vidwan Thanjavur M.Thyagarajan or TMT as he was called. Unforgettable because of how he embellished rare compositions, had a commanding presence at the College of Carnatic Music on a par with the likes of T. Brinda, Ramnad Krishnan, and K.V. Narayanaswamy, and how masterfully he taught innumerable students.

Besides students in Chennai, he had many coming from Sri Lanka to learn. Some of these were married women, who would leave their families back home to pursue their passion for Carnatic music. I was TMT’s student at the Government College of Music. We saw TMT as a performer who strictly adhered to tradition, an illustrious composer, a great human being, and as an outstanding teacher.

A torch bearer of the Semmangudi style, TMT was born on May 28, 1923, into a family of nattuvanars, who were also mridangam vidwans. He learnt Bharatanatyam from his periyappa Chinnayya Nattuvanar and performed arangetram in their family temple. His father Mahalingam Pillai was a mridangam exponent. Not happy being a dancer or doing theatre at a fee of Rs.7 a month, TMT began learning music from his father. He was sent to Thiruvananthapuram to study music under Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who was so impressed that he exclaimed, “You already sing so well. Why did you come to learn?” With Semmangudi’s guidance, TMT tuned and notated several compositions, especially those of Swati Tirunal.

According to his disciple Subhashini Parthasarathy, “In class, he would often talk about his interactions with other musicians such as Ramnad Krishnan, Brindamma and K.V. Narayanaswamy and their approach. Being a perfectionist, he would point out even minute details of swaraprasthara, niraval and alapana. He was particular about not repeating the phrases in alapana. TMT’s stamp was seen in the order of sangatis, variety of sancharas and apurva prayogas. Extraordinary refinement marked his style.”

At the guru-sishya series organised recently at Narada Gana Sabha, by TMT Parampara, in honour of this accomplished musician, S. Mallika, Nirmala Sundararajan, Subhiksha Rangarajan, O.S. Thyagarajan, Latha Varma, Lakshmi Rangarajan and Malathi Kalyanasundaram performed kutcheris while Lakshmi Podhuval, Seetharaman, Mangalam Shankar, Vaikom Jayachandran and Subhashini Parthasarathy presented lec-dems on the TMT bani.

Several artists spoke about the different facets of his personality. Veteran mridangist Trichur C. Narendran recalled TMT’s laya obsession and how he practised for years with mridangam maestro T.K. Murthy. “Though a Semmangudi sishya, he had a bani of his own,” pointed out Narendran. “He notated several kritis — his writing would be like pearls in green and red ink. He had that sense of perfection.” Though he was involved with Thiruvaiyaru Tyagaraja Aradhana, TMT resigned because he felt the event should be for athmarpanam.

Tracing his life-sketch, one of his disciples, Lakshmi Podhuval said that TMT sang unknown Tyagaraja kritis and brought it out as a book. She went on to present ‘Rama Ragukula’ in Kapi raga. “TMT used rare ragas such as Bhujangini, Hamsavinodhini, and Purvika,” recalled Lakshmi before singing ‘Nanda balam’ in Bhujangini.

Once a rasika gave TMT lines from a Nilakanta Sivan song in the morning and requested him to sing it at that evening's concert. “But there is no raga or tala mentioned,” said TMT . But by evening, he had composed the song in Ritigowla and rendered it at the concert.

He added to the beauty of ragamalikas such as ‘Arabhimanam’, and the Dvadasa Ranjana malai ‘Nenjinil niraindidum ranjani’, containing 12 Ranjanis — Ranjani, Sri Ranjani, Kugaranjani, Sivaranjani and so on, said Lakshmi before demonstrating this beautiful piece. In his later years, TMT served as vice-principal of Tamil Nadu Government Music College, and Principal of Madurai Government Music College.

The guru-sishya series was a fitting tribute to this vidwan, who has left behind a treasure trove of compositions and well-trained disciples to take his legacy forward.

From his repertoire

Rama Ragukula, Kapi, Thyagaraja

Pahimam Parvati, Mohanam, Muthuswamy Dikshitar

Kanna katharul, Madhyamavati, Papanasam Sivan

Orarumukhane, Ritigowla, Nilakanta Sivan

Nada sudha, Arabhi, Thyagaraja

Sri Rajarajeswari, Ramapriya, Ponniah Pillai

Prasanna Venkateswaram, Vasanta bhairavi, Dikshitar

Charanam bhava, Hamsavinodhini, Narayana Tirtha

Ni pada kamalamu, Todi, Lingappa Naidu

Ettanai sonnalum, Chenjurutti, Neelakanta Sivan

Setting chittasvaras for kritis was his forte:Each chittasvara of the following Hamsadhwani kritis possessed a distinct style:

Pahi pahi, Mazhavai Chidambara Bharati

Taayagi, Ramalinga Swamigal

Namammi, N. S. Chidambaram

Palimpa, Arabhi, Pallavi Seshayyar

Entanivina, Urmika, Pallavi Seshayyar

Some of the compositions tuned by him:

Kamala nayana, Surati Badrachala Ramadas

Tunga Tiravirajam, Yamuna Kalyani

Kamaleshadasa Lakshmimkshira (sloka), Hamirkalyani

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 10:52:14 AM |

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