Viswanatha Iyer: Accompanists’ favourite

Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Ariyakkudi during Tyagaraja Aradhana at Tiruvaiyaru in 1965  

(This piece is on Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer.)

My grandfather was fond of Viswanatha Iyer. He often told me how the violin vidwan Tiruchi Govindaswamy Pillai had a soft corner for Viswanatha Iyer. So much so, that he took every opportunity he got to accompany Viswanatha Iyer. Govindaswamy Pillai remarked that he enjoyed playing for Viswanatha Iyer as his talent was showcased to the fullest; Iyer was a challenge any professional artist would like.

On one occasion, Viswanatha Iyer was invited for a wedding concert in a Thanjavur town. The concert was organised by the mridangam vidwan Alaganambia Pillai who was known to play like a shadow to the main artist, never attempting to out do the music. The performance was said to have been a great success and the audience was all praise for the young musician.

So much so, the organiser requested Viswanatha Iyer and his accompanists to perform the following day. Alaganambia Pillai agreed, and the payment too was pushed to the following day. That night, they all were treated to a sumptuous feast. The kutcheri started at 3.45 p.m. as the group had to catch a train at 7 p.m. Carefully planning the programme, Viswanatha Iyer sang as brilliantly as on the previous day and ended the concert at the stroke of six. The second concert too was a roaring success.

The artists were each given an envelope with their fee. They reached the railway station by 6.30 p.m. That’s when Alaganambia Pillai asked the young Viswanatha Iyer how much he had been paid. He suspected that the organiser might have short-changed the comparatively young and inexperienced Viswanatha Iyer.

Viswanatha Iyer opened the envelope and found that he had been paid only for one concert! This enraged Alaganambia Pillai and Govindaswamy Pillai, both of whom had been paid for both the performances. Alaganambia Pillai immediately summoned a bullock cart and went back to the house of the organiser, sought him out, and asked him angrily, “You have not been fair. What you have done does not add to your good name and glory.” Without a second look at the gentleman, Pillai rushed back to the station in time to catch the train. When they settled down in their seats, Govindaswamy Pillai asked Alaganambia Pillai what had happened to which Pillai replied, “I told him that what he had done was not fair.” Govindaswamy Pillai burst into laughter and remarked, “Anna, I am sure, the gentleman would surely have committed suicide after that!”

The top violinists, mridangam and ganjira vidwans of the time were all eager to accompany Viswanatha Iyer as his concerts gave them scope to showcase their manodharma.

My thatha remembered many memorable concerts of Viswanatha Iyer in the company of Govindaswamy, Semmangudi Narayanaswami Iyer , Kumbakonam Rajamanikam Pillai, Papa Venkatarama Iyer, Mysore T. Chowdiah, Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu, Dakshinamurthi Pillai, Alaganambia Pillai, Rangu Iyengar, Palani Subramania Pillai, Thanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, Kothandarama Iyer and the immortal Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer.

(The writer, a Carnatic vocalist, is the grandson of Papanasam Sivan)

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2021 11:44:12 PM |

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