A Musical Walk in Mylapore on 20th December

December 6, 2014

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Who can beat the musical heritage of Mylapore, in particular that of the four Mada Streets? And what better time to walk around it than in December – the Music Season? This was the very quadrangle where musical greats such as Papanasam Sivan and Koteeswara Iyer had composed. The Padigam that Tirugnanasamabandar sang to revive Poompavai still lingers here. Here was where Ambi Dikshitar taught S Rajam, TL Venkatarama Iyer and DK Pattammal. Here is where the proud administrators of Sabhas lived, organised and quarreled bitterly. Several stars – GNB, Madurai Mani and Brinda/Mukta had their debuts in street concerts right here.

To make it a musical experience, we are having Arthi and Archana, students of Sangita Kalanidhi R Vedavalli to come along and sing some of the immortal songs associated with the place.

The walk will begin at 6.00 am and end at 8.00 am after which we will have breakfast. Those who wish to register can do so as follows:

The payment of Rs 750 per head can be made either through NEFT or through our payment gateway online for which you need to click here.

Details for NEFT

NEFT:Account Name : Past Forward
Account Type: Current
Bank Name : The Federal Bank Ltd
A/c No. 12820200104237
Branch : Royapettah

Please make sure you send us the reference number by email to walks@chennaipastforward.com after making the transfer so that we know which payment is from whom.

If you still feel that payment is best made in the old way, you are most welcome to visit us at office and do so. The address is

Past Forward,
c/o HVK Systems,
2&3, Bhattad Tower,
30, Westcott Road,
Royapettah, Chennai 600014.

75 years of Season Canteen

December 19, 2014
The first canteen ad, 1940

The first canteen ad, 1940

A small but significant anniversary will take place on December 24, 2014, for that will be the day when the concept of a Sabha canteen will enter its 75 year.

Many of the core rasikas may argue that the eatery is but a fringe element in the December Season, but its role in making the music festival a lively affair over the years, cannot be denied.

On how the idea of a canteen came about, in a way we need to thank Adolf Hitler for it. Had it not been for the Second World War, restrictions would not have been imposed on gatherings at outdoor spaces in Madras. Had that not happened, the Music Academy would have happily continued hosting its conferences and concerts in 1939 in the gardens of Woodlands Hotel, Westcott Road, as it had the previous year, to great success.

But with WWII breaking out in September, the Academy and its dynamic president KV Krishnaswami Aiyar (KVK) were faced with the task of finding an enclosed precinct in which to conduct the music festival.

Thanks to his being a member of the University Syndicate, KVK, with some help from S. Satyamurti, who was Mayor of Madras that year, managed to get the University Senate House for the series. Not everyone was happy. The acoustics were bad and to the conservative Carnatic crowd, it was a lonely spot, especially in the evenings.

KVK had an answer for everything. The acoustics at Senate House were improved with sacks draped across all windows and doors. Special buses transported the musical faithful to and from the venue.

But the new complaint that emerged was that Senate House had no eatery in the vicinity, where the peckish could go and fill their stomachs. This was managed to an extent. Advertisements of hotels and eateries were placed in the souvenir, that of Udupi Gopalakrishna Lunch Home of Thambu Chetty Street being the most prominent.

The next year, 1940, with the series once again at Senate House, KVK went a step further. An eatery would function from the premises itself – Ambi’s Café of Broadway being the caterer. This was evidently a great success.

The next year’s festival was also at Senate House and the Tanjore Lodge of Mambalam won the contract. In 1942, the last year that the Senate House hosted a concert, Bharath Café of Mount Road, Mambalam and Mylapore, was the canteen operator. From then on, a canteen at the Academy became de-rigueur.

Regarding the other Sabhas, their canteen history is not so well documented but it is clear that the Tamil Isai Sangam had a subsidised kitchen going even in the 1950s, which still operates from the premises. The Indian Fine Arts Society souvenir too has advertisements of caterers from the 1950s. Thereafter, the other Sabhas followed suit.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, when the Music Academy operated from the RR Sabha and the PS High School, its canteen was run by Appaswami Iyer. Among his specialities was a badam halwa that had SY Krishnaswami, the music-loving ICS officer waxing eloquent. Not so appetising from its description, but equally in demand was a hideous dry preparation of dry fruits and crystallised sugar that was sold in small paper packets. The canteen contract was an entry into high society for Appaswami Iyer and he was soon in demand for weddings.

His successor at the Academy was Krishnamurthy, who had at one time presided over the kitchen fires at MS Subbulakshmi’s Kalki Gardens. He was to bring the same grace and hospitality that embellished that stately home (coffee – as dark as night, as sweet as love and as hot as hell to quote T. Sadasivam) to the canteen. His speciality was kasi halwa and the news that it was ready would spark off an exodus from the auditorium. Even Semmangudi, it was rumoured, rather craftily had the news conveyed to him and he would immediately ask the percussionists to perform the tani avartanam, to prevent a second exodus.

Others have come and gone since then at the Academy, but the canteen magic is now broadbased- Arusuvai Natarajan, Gnanambika Jayaraman, Meenambika Kannan, Mount Mani, Mint Padmanabhan… the list goes on. Are they not as much stars as the artists who perform within the auditoriums? Here is a toast to all of them who have kept music lovers happy for 75 long years.

This article was published in the Friday Features section of The Hindu dated December 19, 2014

Whose water is it anyway?

December 15, 2014

Why can waterbodies such as the Spur Tank not be harnessed for water conservation?

Why can waterbodies such as the Spur Tank not be harnessed for water conservation?

It is just three months since we wrote about how Chennai is liberally sucking water out from the villages in its periphery. The matter has now assumed greater significance with the panchayat of a particular hamlet filing a petition in the High Court of Madras complaining about the indiscriminate drawing of water from wells within its limits, to serve the needs of the city. It is clear this cannot go on forever and that Chennai will have to take its water conserving and rainwater harvesting schemes seriously in order to be a responsible global city.

The village that has taken on the task of challenging the metropolis is Solanur, near Tiruporur on the Old Mahabalipuram Road. The petitioner has complained that commercial entities are sinking 400ft bore wells in the vicinity. This has resulted in a severe lowering of the water table, thereby affecting the supply for local needs. Other villages have begun imposing restrictions on entry of tankers and this has caused altercations between local residents and commercial water suppliers as well. Chennai needs 1100 million litres a day (MLD) of which Metrowater supplies only 700 MLD. The rest is made up by private bodies who extract water from the mofussil.

With so many buildings coming up all over the city, the demand for water has skyrocketed. This has resulted in more and more borewells being installed, each of increasing depth, to tap water that is fast receding. Many of the housing complexes have more than one borewell and some of these are drying up within one or two years of drilling – an indication of how fast we are using up the water. These complexes have, in turn, begun depending on water tankers, which in turn are bringing in water from wells dug further away. What is clear is that this is a vicious cycle that we would do well to get out of.

The key to that rests with the CMDA, the Corporation and Metrowater. Firstly, they need to begin charging buildings based on water consumption, and this has to be done through the installation of water meters. Secondly, it is time that the Government cracked the whip on rainwater harvesting. According to a recent survey, over 100,000 Government-maintained structures are without any rainwater harvesting features. In 2004, it was this same regime in power that made a determined and highly commendable effort to get rainwater harvesting implemented in every building. The then Chief Minister appealed to citizens through the electronic media and it paid rich dividends. The Kapaleeswarar Temple tank filled up in the monsoons that followed and groundwater was recharged in most localities in Chennai.

However, that practice has now fallen into disuse. For a start, apart from the Kapaleeswarar Temple tank, most others in the city have gone dry or are having very little water. Most buildings are not ensuring that soak pits and drain chutes are kept clear to divert rainwater to underground sumps. It is doubtful whether buildings that were constructed after 2007 have even implemented rainwater harvesting. Certainly, the CMDA and Corporation authorities are not attending to this with the diligence that it requires. Public structures, such as flyovers and bridges, certainly do not have any such scheme in place, as is evident from the way run-offs simply stagnate at either end.

Given the way the city is expanding, conserving rainwater appears to be the only long-term solution. Certainly, the freedom with which we have leaned on the surrounding areas will soon be heavily restricted. If Chennai is not to have water wars with its neighbours, it will have to learn how to conserve what nature offers by way of rain.

The effects of ga-ma radiation

December 14, 2014


The inimitable Baradwaj Rangan at his best

Originally posted on Baradwaj Rangan:

Some of the ‘Metro Plus’ staffers, all newbies to Carnatic music, had questions about the Season. Baradwaj Rangan attempts to keep a straight face and provide answers. (All names are changed.)

Hosted by imgur.comDear BR: If we’re listening to an earnest Abheri and the smell of the adai-avial from the canteen is irresistible, what do we do? – If music be the love of food…

What a silly question. You go to the canteen, of course. After all, it is possible to listen to the earnest Abheri in the canteen, but the adai-avial won’t come to you in the sabha.

Dear BR: I want to check out Carnatic music, but I am intimidated by all the terms floating around in the reviews – alapana, kalpanaswaram, thani avarthanam… They can’t just call an auditorium an auditorium, right? It has to be a… sabha. Even December isn’t December any…

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Chembai and the Music Academy

December 11, 2014
When Chembai got the Kalanidhi

When Chembai got the Kalanidhi

In a few days from now, T.V. Gopalakrishnan will be formally elected as the Music Academy’s Sangita Kalanidhi designate for the year 2014, in a quaint ritual that requires a Sangita Kalanidhi awardee to propose his name and another to second it, on the day of the inauguration. It is a throwback to the early days when the president of the Conference was elected from the floor of the house.

The general consensus is that at 82, TVG has had to wait for sometime to receive the highest accolade in Carnatic music. If TVG’s guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar had been around, he would have agreed. In his time, Chembai too had to wait for the award to come his way.

Chembai, born in 1895, was probably younger only to Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar when it came to the leading performers of his generation. In terms of seniority on the concert platform, he was probably ‘older,’ for his career had begun in 1904 when he was nine while Ramanuja Iyengar’s debut was only in 1913 at 23. In fact, Chembai would often jocularly remind Ariyakkudi that while he was still providing vocal support to his guru Ramanathapuram Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, he, Chembai, had already given vocal concerts and had then taken to the violin in order to tide over the adolescent period when the voice breaks.

By the early 1920s, Ariyakkudi was the acknowledged monarch of Carnatic music and remained so for years to come. So, when in 1938 he was invited to preside over the Academy’s annual conference (at that time the Sangita Kalanidhi title had not been established), everyone including Chembai applauded the decision.

Chembai, perhaps, expected that the honour would be his next, for after all he was the senior-most in age after Ramanuja Iyengar. He was, therefore, upset, when in the following year Musiri Subramania Iyer was invited to preside over the Conference. Chembai held his peace for his disciple Princess Manku Thampuran was singing at the inaugural concert. But when he was asked to felicitate Musiri on his elevation, he could not control himself. Striding to the microphone, he wished the latter well and complimented the Academy on its choice. He then said that he hoped that the Academy would invite Musiri to preside the following year too and every year thereafter! He then broke off all connections with the Academy for five years, during which time the honour went to others.

He made his peace with the Academy in 1945 and returned to perform, but the honour of presiding over the Conference, which had become synonymous with the Sangita Kalanidhi from January 1, 1943, was not to be his till 1951. During the intervening years, it went to juniors such as Semmangudi and Kumbakonam Rajamanikkam Pillai. That it rankled became evident when at a concert of his, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer both got up in the middle and left, covering their faces with shawls. Having spotted them, he bellowed into the mike that the two Sangita Kalanidhis need not hide their faces and were free to come and go as they pleased. Nevertheless, when the title was conferred on him, he accepted it with good grace. But he would always question the remuneration the Academy gave the artists.

During the 1950s and ’60s, when the Academy struggled financially, because it was building an auditorium, Chembai willingly sang for low fees. By then he had begun diverting all his concert earnings to the Guruvayurappan Temple. He demanded and got high remuneration for all his performances, every paisa of which went to the temple.

By 1962 the Academy’s auditorium was completed and by 1969, thanks to the efforts of industrialists and well wishers, its loans were also almost repaid. On realising this, Chembai insisted on a hike in his fee. He felt that he and fellow artists had sacrificed enough over the years for the Academy. In his case, it was Guruvayurappan who was to be the beneficiary.

But the Academy would not give in. Its committee felt that it still had several commitments to fulfil. Chembai’s response was that he would wait till it had become fully solvent and be able to pay his market rates. Till then, he said, he was better off not singing for it. His last performance at the Academy was in 1970, after which he did not sing there. But that he harboured no ill will towards the institution was clear in the way he readily consented to preside over the Sadas on January 1, 1973 and confer the Sangita Kalanidhi on Prof P. Sambamoorthy.

This article appeared in the special season supplement of The Hindu on Tuesday December 10, 2014

George Town – wholly illegal?

December 10, 2014

Early in November, the city woke up to read in the headlines that less than barely one per cent of the buildings in the George Town area are not in violation of building regulation rules. The very nonchalance with which the Corporation filed this report exposes what we have said all along – the civic body does not implement most of the excellent rules with which it is endowed.

It took a major fire in the George Town area in July this year for this skeleton to come tumbling out. The conflagration took place in an unauthorised commercial complex in Narayana Mudali Street, killing one person. A public interest litigation was filed thereafter in the High Court of Madras praying for directions to the Corporation on illegal buildings in the area. The High Court then set the civic body a three-month deadline for conducting a survey of buildings constructed in violation of regulations. It also said that these would have to be demolished within two months of submission of the survey report.

The report when submitted revealed that the Corporation had surveyed 11,304 buildings in 449 streets of the district, all of these thoroughfares being less than nine metres in width. A mere 72 structures were found to have complied with the regulations and been built on an approved plan. As for the rest, they have violated rules and are, therefore, plainly illegal. Even when it comes to the 72 buildings that are in conformity, the floor-wise layout has not been verified. This is because the Corporation does not have the approved plans, the excuse being that these structures were built ages ago. Surely the civic body of a city that claims to be world class ought to have digitised the plans in its custody?

That not being the case, the Corporation has said that it has asked the owners of these 72 buildings to submit the approved plan in their possession so that it can go through the same. In short, it is up to the owner to provide the plan. If they do not, then the Corporation is helpless. Is that not a sorry state for a historic civic body to be in?

As for the illegal buildings, what is amazing is that the Corporation has chosen to remain silent while they were being constructed. An entire district has come up in violation of rules and the officers in charge have turned a blind eye. If this is not dereliction of duty, then what is? It is no wonder that the PIL petition claimed that the “officials of the Corporation have chosen to remain silent for reasons best known to themselves.” If electricity and water connections are to be issued to a building only after Corporation officials have confirmed construction according to the approved plan, how did these structures manage to get sanctions? The quality of life in the entire area has been destroyed and many lives continue to be at risk thanks to such official negligence.

Since January 2014, only 607 building owners of George Town have been asked to submit their planned layouts, only 162 structures have been issued seal notice, and a further 26 been asked to empty their premises prior to sealing. A mere 12 buildings have actually been sealed. A day after the report was submitted, a five-storey illegal building (it cannot get bigger than that) was sealed amid high drama.

In its report the Corporation has said it cannot do anything until it receives guidelines under Section 113-C of Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act of 1971, which are to be framed by Government for exemption of illegal buildings completed prior to July 2007. That matter has been subjudice for quite some time now and is a convenient cover for what was constructed before that year. But what about illegal buildings built thereafter. Is it too much to expect of the Corporation to at least ensure that buildings constructed from now on will be according to plan?

Return of the tigress

December 9, 2014

And so the tigress is back in her cage. And all’s well in Vandalur.

All of which reminds MMM of the time when he was a Cherubic Child of Calcutta. A circus had come to town and one morning, the camel in the menagerie decided to take a tour of the city. Her disappearance was quickly noticed and for reasons best known to the circus management, a rescue party set off on an elephant to get the camel back. If you knew Calcutta as well as MMM does, you would know that such a decision would be considered a very practical one there, it is something in the air that makes you feel that way. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the elephant and its riders soon managed to catch up with the dromedary. All should have been well had not the tusker, whether out of joy or relief or whatever else it was, trumpeted loudly, thereby terrifying the camel which shot off like a bullet from a gun. The rescue party had to follow in pursuit. All traffic came to a complete halt till the two animals met up once more. MMM is unable to recollect now, but he does vaguely think that schools declared a holiday. Or was that when the skylab fell unexpectedly from the sky? Calcutta was like that, full of unexpected developments.

Chennai, on the other hand, appeared to take the missing tigress in its stride. Perhaps our citizens felt that she would eventually go back home. But what transpired in between is what is intriguing MMM. Where exactly did the tigress go? What did she see? It is MMM’s considered view that these were some of the places that she went to before deciding that the Zoo was the best place for a wild animal to be in – the metrorail works, the Kodambakkam flyover at peak traffic time, a political meeting or two and, of course, T Nagar’s shopping area. These creatures are easily intimidated, at least that is what MMM is given to understand.

A Madras Murder, from Down Under

December 8, 2014
Madras Miasma by Brian Stoddart

Madras Miasma by Brian Stoddart

A couple of months ago I received a strange request on my blog. If the writer would be kind enough to send his postal address it ran, he would receive a book. Now books have always been my weakness and so I responded at once. The sender was however not a one-eyed Chinaman with a pronounced limp but Australian author Brian Stoddart. An acknowledged international authority on sports and culture, he specialises in Asia, being a commentator on affairs here for more than forty years. In fact his Ph D was on the history of modern India. Brian, having worked in various countries across Asia has also authored sixteen non-fiction books. And then he turned to crime fiction. The first in that genre happens to be A Madras Miasma, a whodunit set in our own city of Chennai.

When the book arrived I was not impressed by its cover. Obviously done by an artiste who knew perhaps just Delhi and maybe parts of Rajasthan I reflected, for it featured an arched gateway through which veiled women were walking up and down. I wondered if the rest of the book was the same. After all when you have once read a novel that claimed to be set here and featured women bathing topless on the beach, you know what to expect. But A Madras Miasma was completely different. I have rarely come across a work of fiction that is so well researched. The author who set himself the difficult task of capturing the Madras of the 1920s has barring a couple of very minor errors, excelled himself.

At the heart of the story is the Superintendent of Police Christian Jolyon Brenton Le Fanu, a Britisher despite that odd sounding name. The history of the police force in Madras has had names such as LeBon, LeGeyt, LeNeve and Loveluck. So Le Fanu is not out of place. We first meet him standing in knee-deep water in the Buckingham Canal (ugh!!) trying to reach out to the body of a dead (and but naturally, a beautiful) English woman. She is in faultless evening dress, and we can only pray that she was dead before she was pushed into the canal. Had she been alive, she would have experienced a fate worse than death.

Le Fanu’s search for the killer has him going up and down Madras. He lives in an independent bungalow on Edward Elliots (now Radhakrishnan) Road, itself named after a Police Chief who coveted a friend’s wife and got away with her. You find him going to haunts that we can all recognise – the Madras Club, then where the Express Avenue Mall is now, the Secretariat, then as now in Fort St George, the General Hospital, still where it was then, the British business houses on First Line Beach, alas all gone barring EID Parry, the houses of the Sahibs in the Adyar area, the Board of Revenue building at Chepauk, now a burnt out shell and the Governor’s weekend retreat at Guindy, now the Raj Bhavan.

As he moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform, always shadowed by his boss who is eager to see him fail, Le Fanu interacts with characters who though fictional are easily recognisable to any student of Madras history. There are English women who are here to find a suitable match, boxwallahs drowning business stresses in alcohol, freedom fighters staging meetings on the beach, pompous civil servants (call me “Third Member and don’t refer to me by name” says a particularly obnoxious specimen) and the Governor himself, in this case, a real historic personality – Lord Willingdon.

Back at home, Le Fanu relaxes in the company of his Anglo-Indian housekeeper, his wife having gone back to England, preparatory to filing for divorce. He clearly loves his Madras, rejoicing in traditional South Indian breakfasts and refreshing himself by driving along the Beach or down Mount Road all the way to Guindy.

The murder of the Englishwoman comes at a particularly tense moment for the administration of Madras. The First World War is over but Jalianwala Bagh has also happened and that means a spurt in the freedom related activities. The Press and the people appear to have lost faith in the Government and those in office who are sympathetic to Indian interests are viewed with suspicion by upper crust British society in the city. It is in this matrix that Le Fanu has to work and find out who exactly killed Jane Carstairs. She may be dead for the full length of the book, but what comes alive is the city. If you like murder mysteries and love Chennai, then this book is for you. May be I should do a Le Fanu heritage tour one of these days.

A Madras Miasma
Author: Brian Stoddart
Publisher: Crime Wave Press
Price: Rs 876

This review appeared in The Hindu’s Literary Review page on Sunday, December 7, 2014

Father, Son and The Hindu

December 6, 2014

Between SVK, The Hindu’s music critic and his father SVV the humourist, they wrote for the paper for almost a century. The article appeared in The Hindu dated December 6, 2014 under the Hidden Histories column.

The quotes from SVV’s works in this article are taken from two sources:

A compilation of SVV’s articles titled At a Dinner and published by Alliance & Co in 1986

Hundred Years of The Hindu, the Epic Story of Indian Nationalism, by Rangaswami Parthasarathy, 1978

God as a travel companion

December 4, 2014

These photos were taken by me a month or so ago while on a trip to Virinchipuram where Siva is Margabandhu – the travel companion.

Virinchipuram temple gopuram

Virinchipuram temple gopuram

A meeting at the Vellore Institute of Technology got postponed by a couple of hours and I decided to go to Virinchipuram in the meantime. It is just 10 km after Vellore on the Chennai-Bengaluru highway.

You reach a village called Sethuvalai on the highway and turn right. The gopuram of the Margabandhisar temple becomes visible after a kilometre. It is a relatively clean village, the ocean of plastic that has engulfed Vellore not having as yet reached it.

The temple is dedicated to Siva as Margabandhu — the travel companion. It is a Chola shrine as testified by the Gajaprshta (Elephant rear) vimanam that rises above the sanctum sanctorum. The temple complex, however, displays an amalgam of Chola, Vijayanagar and the Company period — all beautiful, and then contrasting with the hideously ugly modern – polished granite and cement.

Entrance gateway to Virinchipuram temple

Entrance gateway to Virinchipuram temple

The shrine gets its name from Brahma (Virinchi) worshipping Siva here. Siva-Margabandhu is accessed from a multi-pillared Vijayanagar style hall after which you come to a frontal pavilion. From there, if you are tall enough, you can see the sanctum via a stone grille. You then enter the vestibule that leads to the sanctum. The linga is a tall one, believed to have manifested as a natural rock.

The sanctum to the Goddess is a separate shrine to the right of the Siva shrine, but within the same temple. Maragathavalli or Maragathambikai is a small four-armed idol in standing posture. At right angles to the sanctum to Siva are shrines to Nataraja – a tall bronze, and Bhikshatana, an impressively painted, probably a stucco idol. The latter sanctum is a riot of art work, stunningly beautiful as befitting the deity housed there. The sthala vriksham of the temple, appropriately for water-starved Vellore, is the palm tree.

Gajaprshta Vimanam

Gajaprshta Vimanam

An idol of late 19th/early 20th century vintage is a delightfully large Ganesa, housed in the entrance pavilion. A stone inscription by its side has it that it was installed by Parvathi Ammal, the wife of Arcot overseer Munisami Maistry, in memory/as per the wishes of her sister Pappathi Ammal. The stone is dated to the month of Karthikai in Vikriti year but with no numbers given.

The walls of the temple are said to be historically renowned for their beauty and they are amazingly symmetrical. Another feature here is the Simha teertham, a small square cut stone well accessed by a flight of steps in the belly of a large stucco lion.

The Margabandhu Stotram, to be recited each time you set out, is a work of Appayya Dikshitar, the great 16th century Sanskrit scholar who was from Virinchipuram. A century before him, composer Arunagirinathar visited the shrine and dedicated a set of verses to Muruga here who is depicted with his consorts, seated on a peacock. The Tiruppugazh verses each end with a line or two on the village.

Arunagiri names it alternately as Virinchai and Karapuri; the etymology for the later name is not clear however. He describes the fertile fields, and the streets that echoed of Vedic recitation. One verse, ‘Kuyil Mozhi Kayal Vizhi’ is remarkable for its sensuous depiction of Valli’s beauty.

Shiva as Bhikshatana, Virinchipuram

Shiva as Bhikshatana, Virinchipuram

Subbarama Dikshitar has it in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini that Muthuswami Dikshitar’s father Ramaswami Dikshitar, at the age of seven took his aged parents from near the Vellore region and migrated to Tiruvidaimarudur to escape the disturbances caused by the cavalrymen. The date, 1742, coincides with the killing of the Nawab of Arcot, Subedar Ali, and a subsequent revolt by the Arcot army.

This had far-reaching consequences – a chain of events that led to the battle of succession between Mohammad Ali Wallajah and Chanda Sahib, respectively the protégés of the British and the French. The former triumphed, paving the way for the British Empire. The relative peace British rule brought, helped Muthuswami Dikshitar travel freely and compose songs.

Simha Teertham, Virinchipuram

Simha Teertham, Virinchipuram

Subbarama Dikshitar does not mention Virinchipuram by name but family tradition traces its origins to this village. While as many as five songs of Dikshitar (‘Bhushapathim’ in Bhushavati, ‘Margasahayeswaram’ in Kamavardhini, ‘Maragathavallim’ in Khambodi, ‘Parvati Kumaram’ in Nattakurinji and ‘Margahindolaragapriye’ in Marga Hindolam) are attributed to Virinchipuram, only the last named features in Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini. This song, on the Goddess, is a short one, with pallavi and an anupallavi. It does not mention any iconographic speciality of the shrine. Neither do the others, barring the Kamavardhini piece, which refers to the Simha Teertham. It must also be noted that ‘Parvati Kumaram’ suffers from a glaring prosodic error and is unlikely to be a genuine Dikshitar song.

Interestingly, a signboard at the temple has it that the shrine was sung upon by Appar, Sambandar and Tirumoolar. But as it is not listed among the ‘Padal Petra Sthalams’, this must be a doubtful claim.

The article can also be read in The Hindu’s Friday Features column dated December 5, 2014


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