Archive for February, 2011
I am searching for Brian Chatterton, who lives in Australia and is the son of Alfred Chatterton- Director of Indiustries, Madras in the first decade of the 20th century.
Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775/6-1835) is one of the greatest composers in Carnatic Music. Born in Tiruvarur, he learnt music from his father Ramaswami Dikshitar, a great musician and composer. Later in Madras, Muttuswami Dikshitar came under the influence of Chidambaranatha Yogin, a great seer. He travelled to Kashi with his Guru and was initiated into the Sri Vidya cult. Returning around 1799 to Madras, he began composing, the first song being at the Tiruttani temple. Dikshitar travelled to many shrines of South India and left behind his impressions of these places in the form of his songs, many of which include details of local folklore, architectural aspects of the temples and the greatness of the deities enshrined therein. The largest corpus of songs is dedicated to his native Tiruvarur where he spent many years. Towards the end of his life, he moved to Ettayapuram in Tirunelveli District where his younger brother Balaswami Dikshitar was a palace artiste. Here Dikshitar breathed his last. A memorial was erected over the spot where he was cremated.
Dikshitar was an expert vainika and a singer. His songs are said to be ideally suited for the instrument, being full of graces and bearing the classical impress of the ragas in which they are composed. Most of the songs are in Sanskrit and some are in Manipravalam (songs in which more than one language is used). He is credited with composing forty songs based on Western orchestral music, which were used by him to train his younger brother on a Western import – the violin. He is also credited with composing songs in all the 72 raganga ragas (the predecessors of the present day melakarta scheme). A unique aspect of the Dikshitar lineage in music was that it included musicians of various castes, for he freely parted with his musical wealth to singers, nagaswaram artistes and Devadasi dancers.
One of his disciples was Tambiappa Pillai, a shuddha maddalam (a variety of percussion) artiste. Pillai suffered from stomach ailments which were traced to a malefic influence of the planet Jupiter in his horoscope. Dikshitar composed the song “Brhaspate” (raga Athana, tala Triputa) in praise of Jupiter and taught it to his disciple who sang it everyday and was cured of his illness. Subsequent to this, Dikshitar embarked on creating songs on six other principal celestial beings (the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Venus and Saturn), who along with Jupiter and Rahu and Ketu, form the Navagraha. As each of the seven songs composed by Dikshitar was for the presiding deity of one day of the week, they came to be called the Vara (Daily) Kritis (songs).
What is very interesting in the series is the tala setting of the songs. Dikshitar has used the Suladi Sapta Talas, the seven types of beats as the rhythmic cycles for the seven songs. The songs are sequentially in Dhruva, Matya, Rupaka, Jhampa, Triputa, Ata and Eka talas, the same order in which alankarams are taught to beginners in these talas.
All the songs are in Sanskrit and each one of them gives various details on the deities being propitiated. The hymns that are used for praying to the Grahas are mentioned (Saura mantra in Surya Murte and Malini mantra in Divakara Tanujam). The consorts of some of the planets are mentioned (Chaya in Surya Murte, Rohini in Chandram Bhaja, Tara in Brhaspate, while Angarakam states that Mars is in the company of his resplendent consort). The benefits conferred by the planets is given in the respective songs (good health from the Sun, land, brothers and happy marriage from Mars, wealth and ability to compose poetry from Mercury, fame and male progeny from Jupiter, wealth and happiness in matrimony from Venus and great suffering for the worldly and happiness to the devout from Saturn). The constellations over which the planets preside are mentioned in all the kritis except in Chandram Bhaja, though the Kallidaikurichi school of Dikshitar’s lineage has a line mentioning the constellation Kataka (Cancer) in its version. In Angarakam, a specific place of pilgrimage to propitiate the deity – Vaitheeswaran Koil is mentioned. So too in Chandram Bhaja, there is an indirect reference to Tirupati, for it has long been a site for pilgrimage for those wishing to please Chandra, the moon god. There are besides, plenty of references to mythological stories, of curses, battles between the planets and other episodes in all the songs. In short, as in all of Dikshitar kritis, there is a wealth of information set to the best of music. The songs, Shri Shukra in particular stand testimony to Dikshitar’s deep knowledge of astrology. The precious stones to be worn to propitiate each deity are mentioned in some of the songs and so are the favourite colours of the planets. Surya Murte specifically mentions that Surya is mounted on a chariot drawn by seven horses, while Angarakam describes Mars as riding on a Ram. Divakara Tanujam sings of Saturn as riding on the crow.
The Hindu pantheon of Navagraha includes two other celestials – Rahu and Ketu, both created from the demon Simhika who was cut into two halves, the head and the torso by Maha Vishnu at the end of the Kurmavataram. As the demon had already tasted the nectar of immortality he could not die and the two parts became celestial objects. The head acquired the body of a snake and the body took on the head of the serpent and the two became Rahu and Ketu. They are called Chaya Grahas (Shadow Planets). There are two songs attributed to Muttuswami Dikshitar in praise of Rahu and Ketu. These, “Smaramyaham” (Ramapriya) and “Mahasuram” (Chamaram) are added to the Vara Kritis and the set is called the Navagraha Kriti series of Muttuswami Dikshitar. However, several scholars are of the view that these two songs are latter day additions in the Dikshitar style by other composers who by adding the Guruguha mudra of the great composer have attempted to pass off the songs as his. Several inadequacies in the lyrics have been cited for substantiating this claim. However, today most books on Dikshitar songs include these songs as his.
The Navagraha kritis are prayers set to music. They bless those that sing them and those who listen.
This write-up was for the sleeve of Jyotisham, a CD released by Charsur featuring Savita Narasimhan’s rendering of the Navagraha kritis
Diving deep into drains
The Man from Madras Musings is of the view that drains in Chennai or for that matter anywhere in India are no easy businesses. There is our habit of treating them as all-purpose disposal chutes for one. Secondly the department that is in charge is generally a few centuries behind its counterparts in other parts of the world, most notably Singapore which is the city that our city has been trying to emulate with remarkable lack of success.
A couple of years ago, a huge stink was raised, and rightfully so, on the subject of men actually having to go down into the drains to remove blockages. In MMM’s view there can be nothing more degrading than that. Apart from the indignity, there were health hazards too, not the least being the habit of most of these deep-drain-divers to intoxicate themselves to the maximum extent possible, mainly to render themselves insensitive to the contents of the drains. And so that evil was removed, thanks once again, as in several other matters, to the intervention of the Courts.
But drains continued to get clogged largely because we would not change our habits and persisted in pushing everything down drains – plastic covers, thermocol packing and other such insoluble items. With the option of sending men to the bowels (quite literally) of the earth now not available, the brains in our drains departments came up with a mechanised solution. And this contraption recently came to MMM’s notice.
In shape and size it is remarkably like any other vehicle owned by the department that is in charge of sewers. It is battered, shapeless and is in imminent danger of keeling over. In its rear it has a complicated system of pulleys, over which a hose is wound. While a normal vehicle needs a driver and perhaps at most a second-in-command, this comes with a full platoon of six people, including the driver and the second-in-command. Now why is that you may ask. After all, in the old manual system you needed only four people – there was the man who did the diving, the second-in-command who kept the manhole cover open and ensured that no good Samaritan came forward and closed it when operations where in progress below, a third man who was in charge of the refreshments and a fourth who did nothing but bellow instructions down the abyss. And MMM does not include in this tally the numerous hangers-on and curious onlookers who are dime-a-dozen in this our land.
The modus-operandi of the new system is like this. The vehicle sets out to unclog the drains at the busiest hour of the day. It parks itself just abaft the manhole which being usually right in the middle of the road, ensures that traffic is thrown into complete chaos. Then emerge two godly beings (Men 1&2), whose job, like that of Moses is to ensure that the traffic parts into two streams and keeps flowing. The driver (Man-3) remains in his cabin and conducts operations from there. The vehicle you must realise remains on ignition right through, thereby consuming fuel and belching fumes, but we have now become immune to such trivial things and so this does not perhaps matter. At the press of a button, pulley 1 begins rolling and hose begins uncoiling itself. This activates man-4 whose job is to roar at the driver and tell him exactly where things are going wrong, for go wrong they do. The pulleys not being oiled as they need to be frequently get stuck, pulleys 2 & 3 being the chief culprits. Man-5 is employed for such contingencies for he climbs up and does adjustments. After a goodish bit of shouting instructions that thingummy A should be pressed and whatsit B has to be pulled to good effect, the hose behaves itself. Man-5 has in the meanwhile pushed the hose into the manhole and the work of unclogging starts. This, for some reason involves the bringing out of plenty of sewage water which floods the surroundings. In the meanwhile MMM notices, a fairly large crowd collects to watch the human drama. Some of these men give their own instructions and also sometimes express their contempt for the driver who is not able to press hard enough on thingamajig C or shove sufficiently enough pedal D. Though they don’t say it, being men of decency, it is clear that if given a chance they would do darned better. MMM wonders as to what their own professions are and as to how these are faring if these men prefer to spend their time watching drain operations. (For that matter what was MMM doing there?)
After a longish period, work concludes or it must be assumed has concluded and the party moves on. And what was that? What about man-6 you ask? He is in charge of the refreshments and he keeps them flowing. Man-4 in particular needs them as his job is to keep roaring, above the din of the traffic.
Season of Weddings
It is that time of the year again, when the Man from Madras Musings is flooded with invitations to witness couples being united in holy acri, sorry matrimony. There are invitations and invitations but the ones that delight MMM are those that are out-of-the-ordinary, chiefly by way of daft poems, goofy and mushy paragraphs and the occasional printer’s devil. MMM’s card of the year is one that begins with this preamble –
“Sweetest will be the movement Happiest will be the Occasion Joyfull will be your presence of my Marriage”
MMM sincerely hopes that the proof-readers of Madras Musings don’t correct a single letter from the above. But even if they do, you get the idea. The word movement is the one that puzzles MMM the most. Are we invited to witness a wedding or the nuptials? And just in case you thought MMM made that up, he has preserved the card and this can be viewed on demand.
There are some thinkers who feel that Indian weddings are the biggest waste of time and money. While MMM agrees to the time bit, he is not so sure of the money side. After all, just think of the several essential aspects of our economy that are kept going by the simple expedient of conducting lavish weddings. Jewellers, silk saree weavers, caterers, wedding hall owners, event managers, singers, dancers, valet-parking services, priests… and then after an interval, income-tax sleuths, doctors (not looking at Chapter 2 but the immediate aftermath of over-indulging in the sweetmeats and fried foods), banks (loans and mortgages department)… the list is endless. Imagine if all these people were to be unemployed. Where would we be? The mind boggles. And so, long may the ‘movement’ continue.
But that weddings have been professionalized to a great extent was evident to MMM when on attending one, he found menu-cards being distributed to the assembled guests long before the couple was united in wedlock. Someone had understood why people attend weddings – food.
A wag recently informed the Man from Madras Musings that social equality has been achieved in Madras that is Chennai. And what did he mean by that MMM wondered. Was it justice for all, elimination of poverty and access to education? No apparently. He meant that needs, comfort goods and luxuries sold at the same price – onions, petrol and beer are being sold at roughly the same price – Rs 65 per individual unit of sale – kgs, litres etc. And on that happy note, let us see what the budget brings.
Do we need monstrous MRTS stations?
Last week the newspapers carried a story on how a child had fallen through a gap in one of the MRTS stations of the city and landed in the sewer below. This has once again brought into focus the woeful maintenance of the MRTS stations. It also raises the important question as to whether these stations need to be such cavernous places, thereby making their maintenance difficult and therefore being safety hazards.
Unlike in the past when railway stations stood out in their grandeur, today’s stations are bywords for shoddy construction. Rusted railings, staircases that lead nowhere, elevator shafts that are unguarded, lack of signage and very poor illumination are their hallmarks. If there is one thing that is common to stations old and new, it is their size- they are all enormous. The older stations needed to be that way, for they were railway junctions and termini. The intermediary stations were never large. But that has not been the case with the MRTS, where each and every station is far bigger than necessary and also remarkably ugly.
When the MRTS stations were built, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) had retained with itself the right to develop the ‘air space’ that is the space above the station structures which were the responsibility of the railways. In 2007, the CMDA announced that it was preparing plans with the help of consultants to develop at least one lakh square feet of space above each of the three stations at Taramani, Perungudi and Velachery. These were to house IT offices and shopping malls. It was reported that the CMDA was basing its plans on cities such as Hong Kong and Tokyo where similar services are provided above railway stations. Since then nothing has come of these plans and the stations, built as large structures, no doubt with a view to accommodate these ambitions, are mere shells lacking even the most basic amenities.
The fundamental difference between stations abroad and those in Chennai is that in the former, not all stations are built to enormous size. They vary depending on the location and only those that stand in downtown locations and are therefore sure of patronage have malls and shopping centres. The other stations are scaled down versions. Not so here, where every station is an enormous, straggling shell. Also, most of the Chennai MRTS stations are located in slum neighbourhoods, which is not surprising considering that the entire network was built on the Buckingham Canal- a waterway whose banks have long been home to slums. In the evenings, most of these stations are poorly lit and at night, they serve as sleeping places for most of the residents of the surrounding slums. In fact, the Railways had earlier blamed these locals for the frequent failures of station infrastructure such as escalators, elevators and lighting. But considering that the stations have no security of any sort, how can such occurrences be prevented?
The MRTS stations have become an established part of the city’s skyline, whatever be their merits or otherwise. And it is a fact that the service is being well-patronised. So the railways will have to focus on improving the facilities and also if possible plan for smaller stations at locations where the service will extend in future. It is also to be hoped that the Metro will take a leaf from the MRTS experience and not build hideous structures for its stations.
I wrote this piece for the Sanmar Group’s in-house magazine – Matrix. This was in connection with Madras Week last year.
Lets face it- this is a city that takes itself very seriously. You can see it in the way people drive around, clutching a cell-phone, talking into it all the time, taking time off only to abuse others on the road. You can also see it the way parents push their children into ten thousand different activities – keyboard, classical music, dance, drums, mental arithmetic using the abacus, tennis, swimming- all in the absolute certainty that they have given birth to a David Brian, an MS Subbulakshmi, a Kumari Kamala, a Sivamani, a Srinivasa Ramanujan, a Federer and a Spitz, all rolled into one of course. And you can see them walking up and down the length of the swimming pool forgetting that they cannot swim themselves, giving instructions to the poor child to now breathe, to now lift its arm, to kick its legs and now not to breathe, not to lift its arms and not to kick. As for academics, what is a child for if not to score that acme of Chennai perfection – the dreaded centum?
At one time centum was given as a blessing to all children with due reminders that everyone in the family, ever since centum was created, have scored only centums and nothing else but. Centum is a word that is hardly heard outside our city. But then so are so many other words used here. Have you ever reflected on how most words in Madras bhashai are actually not from Tamil? Thus you have naina, dubbu, duddu and dindu which are from Telugu, Peter, Mary, assault, regent (actually decent) and feed (speed) which are from the Queen’s own language and bejaar and galeej which are from Urdu. And what about kasmaalam which is actually from Sanskrit? We also have phrases from Hindi but they are crudely anatomical and no in-house journal of a corporate house can publish such things.
But to get back to the centum and its awful consequences. Somewhere along the line, most parents realise that their child will have to drop all its extra-curricular activities and focus on the centum. And having achieved that the child is shipped out to foreign lands. It becomes an NRI. And the parent becomes an IAS or an IA&AS. The former stands for Indian Ayah Service and the latter for Indian Ayah & Aduppumadai (kitchen) Service for which the parent is invited each summer to overseas lands to take care of the grandchildren during summer vacation, cook meals and also fill the deep freeze before leaving. While there the parents acquire sneakers and ten dollar T Shirts with slogans like “I am hot” or “TCP/IP certified” and come back home to don them each morning for walks. And the conversation during these walks invariably centres on “my son who is in Abu Dubai (wherever that is) or my daughter in Sunnyvale.” The children come back once in a while too and you can spot them a mile off. Not just by their sneakers and the ubiquitous water-bottle but also because of the time warp in which they are when it comes to India. To them Chennai is still Madras, with Safire theatre, Jaffer’s Ice cream and Moore Market. Their idea of cost of living has also rather unfortunately remained the same and so when they go shopping, what with their tendency to multiply/divide every price tag into their home currencies, they buy very little.
The brain-drain that sent these people away has also caused problems for Chennai’s bungalows. These vast houses, with huge gardens, plenty of rooms (but hardly any bedrooms) and one toilet, were meant for families of twenty and more and a domestic staff of like strength. Most residences like these also had the unmarried/ slightly dim-witted poor cousin (ammanji/atthan) who was general dogsbody. He worked the water-pump, did the shopping, tended to the sick and looked after grandmother when she had her spells. But over the years everyone migrated and as for dim-witted cousin, his children too have moved on and he now lives in a swank gated-community with an outlandish name like Abhirami Beverly or Alamelu Regency. And he looks down on you for still clinging on to your crumbling bungalow. And you are forced to clean your own water tank though you have vertigo. And when you go out, you have to make sure that you have locked all the windows and doors and switched off the water pump, or have you? Doubts begin assailing you halfway through the movie or the concert and so it is time to go home and check.
And so one day, the old bungalow is flattened and a multi-storeyed block of flats comes up in its place. No more closing of multiple windows or worrying about the leak from the back verandah. But then one day, a fly-over comes up just next to the third floor window. Through it, commuters can look in to see what is cooking for the day, who is using a size 36 brief and how often the interior of your flat is dusted. But then, very few are bothered. They are speaking seriously into their phones, even as they drive on, pausing only to abuse the others. But that is where we started did we not?
I was in Pune for a day yesterday and it is a city I like. It is is rich in history, heritage buildings, not yet as crowded as Chennai or Mumbai and the weather is good, be it summer, monsoon or winter. I also love traditional Marathi cuisine. Yesterday I went for a longish walk in the morning and took some pics of a few heritage locations. So here goes-
A magnificent art deco building near the station- Ibrahim Mansion 1939
I dont know what building this is. It is on Sadhu Vaswani road
Pune District Administrative offices. I could not get a full view as a whole lot of people were staging a sit-in dharna! Interestingly, the board in front says it is the office of the Adhikari and the Danda Adhikari! In Tamil Danda has a different meaning.
This is the closest I could get to the Sasoon Hospital. I wouldn’t want to get any closer anyway.
First World War Memorial
Balu called on me this morning. As always, it was a pleasure interacting with this simple soul, whose greatest happiness in life is to keep centuries-old Aradhanas, temples and mutts going. That he does not in anyway benefit from such fund collection drives has never occured to Balu. He always says he has enough. After we had spent a pleasant hour together and he had left, I was reminded of a tribute that I had written in 2008 to the memory of Balu’s brother TS Krishnamurthy, who founded the Karnatic Music Book Centre. In a way it owed its success as much to Balu as it did to Krishnamurthy. So here it is, a tribute to both, as published in Sruti.
Founder of a musical landmark
T.S. Krishnamurthy, founder of the Karnatic Music Book Centre — a unique establishment in Chennai, passed away on 7th January 2008. He ran the business with passion and involvement, always more interested in the propagation of music awareness than in the bottom line.
In the world of Carnatic music books, the name of A.S. Panchapakesa Iyer is well known. The younger brother of Sangeeta Kalanidhi Alathur Srinivasa Iyer and a vidwan and guru in his own right, he pioneered the concept of publishing books ranging from beginners lessons to varnam-s. These, which came out initially in Tamil and later in English, became very popular. Krishnamurthy had a role to play in popularising them. He was the brother-in-law of Panchapakesa Iyer, his sister having married the musician. Later, he also became the vidwan’s son-in-law. Krishnamurthy worked in the corporate world as did his elder brother Balu, a staunch bachelor who had enough time to devote to any good cause he felt was worth his while. The two, visiting the Tyagaraja aradhana in Tiruvaiyaru in the 1960s, felt that it was a good spot to market the books of Panchapakesa Iyer. They set up a stall at the venue in 1968 and found business to be brisk. Encouraged, they returned year after year and in 1978 Krishnamurthy decided to set himself up in the book trade with Carnatic music books as his sole line. The Karnatic Music Book Centre came up as a result and within a few years, the tiny shop tucked into a by-lane off Sripuram 1st Street in Royapettah became a landmark and a treasure trove for any researcher into Carnatic music.
The company grew in name, though not in the physical area of its outlet, and acquired several titles. These included those of the Indian Music Publishing House which had been run by Professor P. Sambamoorthy. This was acquired in 1982 and Adi and Company, which published K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar’s Adi Tyagaraja Hrdayam was taken over in 1991. With the publishing boom of the 1990s, the bookstore became a single point outlet for music titles and several universities in India and abroad preferred to do business with KMBC which could boast of housing about 2500 titles in many Indian languages. A number of senior artists like Semmangudi, T. Viswanathan, Jon Higgins, B. Rajam Iyer, Nedunuri Krishnamurti, K.J. Yesudass, K.R. Kedaranathan, Sudharani Raghupathy, and scholars like Dr. Arudra, were regular customers. When Balu took voluntary retirement from his job, he came over to help his younger brother, and the duo became icons in the music world.
Balu was the more tactful of the two. “Namaskaram” was Krishnamurthy’s way of introducing himself over the phone in his quite unique voice. You had never any doubt about who was at the other end. A passionate soul, he had a habit of expressing his opinions on any subject without beating around the bush. The slow and bureaucratic methods of publishing houses and the tendency of musicians to debate endlessly on copyright issues were his pet irritations. He vented his spleen periodically on these topics to anyone who cared to listen. People who owned copyrights and did not bring out-of-print books into circulation were yet another pet peeve. I have often been privy to telephone conversations in which Krishnamurthy abruptly signed off with a “Go to hell”! If it was a pleasant conversation, it would end with a “Nalladu”. But such was his genuine love for music and its propagation that this acerbity was taken in the right spirit by most who did business with him. He also helped musicians and authors store their stock of books in his premises without charging them any demurrage. He simply loved books.
When you visited the bookshop with just one title in mind, Krishnamurthy and Balu who knew much more than you did on the subject, would recommend many more books and you would come out with a whole bag full. KMBC despatched books to outstation buyers as well. The brothers’ knowledge was a bonus to any researcher and a conversation with them on matters musical was always a pleasure. Never mind if the shop was dingy and books were stocked higgledy-piggledy and it needed a Krishnamurthy or Balu to tell you where exactly the various titles were located. The shop had a treasure trove of old titles, including manuscripts dating back to the 19th century. Some would be made available for viewing to a select group of friends. But if Krishnamurthy was fond of you, he would not hesitate to part with one of these for a very reasonable price. I was lucky to purchase an original edition of Abraham Pandithar’s Karunamrita Sagaram from him.
Krishnamurthy was diabetic and an accident in the 1990s restricted his mobility. He therefore spent most of his time in the shop leaving Balu to deal with the world. But over the years the brothers found running the bookshop too much of a strain. Krishnamurthy’s health was failing and Balu was happier collecting funds for kumbhabhishekam-s, the Tyagaraja aradhana, the Sadasiva Brahmendra utsavam at Nerur or the Sridhara Venkatesa Iyyaval festival at Tiruvisanallur. So they decided to put the shop on the market. That is when I interacted very closely with them, for it was Krishnamurthy’s dearest wish that I should acquire the business! But, I, working in hydraulics and software, besides trying to run http://www.sangeetham.com, write on music and history was not keen. After many “Go to hells!” between us, Krishnamurthy gave up the idea, though he never stopped lamenting about it.
The business was acquired by another firm which was into publishing and the shop moved a few buildings away into a larger, more modern showroom where it continues to survive and thrive. Krishnamurthy went into retirement and Balu went back to his fund collection drives. In the years that followed, I became a close friend of Balu’s and in fact take pride in considering myself one, for such is the goodness of his heart and genuine interest in deserving causes. One of them is the conduct of a traditional aradhana for Tyagaraja that under the baton of the octogenarian Chellam Iyer, continues to take place in Tiruvaiyaru, in parallel to the one that goes on at the Samadhi in the full glare of television cameras. Not many people attend this private aradhana, but perhaps it is best that way.
Krishnamurthy and I called each other at times and discussed music titles. He and music historian T.S. Parthasarathy were quite a combination and they spent hours on the telephone talking about music research, each helping the other. At this time, both were fairly restricted in their movements and therefore found much solace in these regular telephone conversations. When TSP passed away, Krishnamurthy felt the loss very keenly.
A couple of weeks ago, Chellam Iyer called to discuss his Tyagaraja aradhana and by way of conversation mentioned that Krishnamurthy was in hospital. I made a note to call up Balu the next day and enquire. But before that there was a call from Balu who, in a matter-of-fact voice, stated that his brother had passed away that morning. His diabetes had finally taken its toll. Balu being Balu, then went on to discuss the forthcoming Tyagaraja aradhana, bless him. But Krishnamurthy would have understood. In fact he would have been pleased. To him, the only way music could be propagated was to be matter-of-fact and business-like about it.
PS: Chellam Iyer is now in his nineties and going strong!
If the English alphabet were to be taught children with Carnatic music words, H would always stand for Harikesanallur, though one must admit that finding terms for X and Z would be difficult.
The man who put Harikesanallur on the map was of course Muthiah Bhgavatar and yet, if there is a place where he is least remembered it must be his home town. But before we go to the place, let us see Papanasam Sivan’s recollections of the place when he visited it in 1912 in the company of Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer. This extract is from his reminiscences published as Enadu Ninaivu Kadal, written in 1968.
“My memories of attending the skanda shashti festival organised by Muthiah Bhagavatar at Harikesanallur are fresh and clear despite 55 years having gone by. Two carriages had been reserved from Trichy junction and we arrived the day before the event. Like us, vidwans, bhagavatars and rasikas had come from many places. Muthiah Bhagavatar had no enemy in the arts. There was consequently no politics and it was not surprising to see musicians from all over south India. It appeared as though the entire village had donned its best by way of hospitality and we were received with love and warmth. Accommodation had been arranged in various houses.
The next day everyone left for the puja. Namavali was recited and it was music all the way with accompanists such as Malaikottai Govindasami Pillai and Shamala Iyer on the violin, Azhagunambi and Tanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer on the mridangam and Dakshinamurthi Pillai on the kanjira. It made me wonder if the heavens had come down to earth. The puja itself was comparable to the Rajasuya sacrifice performed by Yudhishtira in the Mahabharata. The feast that followed for the several thousands who attended went on till late in the afternoon.
Music performances were held non stop throughout the day and night at a specially erected pandal near the place of worship. At 12.00 noon, Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal performed on the gottuvadyam and the Sriragam that I heard that day has not been surpassed. That evening at 4.00 pm, the Karaikkudi brothers performed on the veena, accompanied by Dakshinamurthi Pillai on the mridangam. The entire congregation listened to their rendition of the Kapi Narayani piece “Sarasasamadana” in rapt attention. I did not have the maturity to appreciate the nuances of their performance but I listened to it with pleasure. At 8.00 pm, a full bench concert of Pushpavanam Iyer accompanied by Govindasami Pillai, Azhagunambi Pillai and Dakshinamurthi Pillai commenced. It was music fit for the Gods.
On the second evening, there was a Harikatha by Tiruppazhanam Panchapakesa Sastrigal followed by a concert of Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer at 10.30. Considering that Kallidaikurichi residents generally felt that their Vedantha Bhagavatar was superior even to sage Narada, there was an enormous gathering to listen to Iyer with people having come from far flung areas.
The concert did not begin auspiciously. Iyer had hardly finished rendering the pallavi of the Hamsadhvani kriti “Raghunayaka” when Dakshinamurthi Pillai’s mridangam went off sruti. Repeated attempts to set it right were fruitless. There was a suggestion from a few that Azhagunambi ought to be called in. But he had already left for a concert at Kollam. Dakshinamurthi Pillai called for a second mridangam leading to a caustic cry from someone that this concert was to be with double mridangam. By the time the performance resumed the spell was broken and people had begun to leave. Muthiah Bhagavatar was disappointed even as several people streamed out commenting derisively that Pillai did not know how to tune his mridangam. The concert continued.
At 12.30 am, in the silent watches of that hour, Iyer began Todi. It was as though he had been a tiger waiting to make a spring all along. He now soared and it is impossible to describe the way he sang. Those dozing in the vicinity sat up. Vidwans like the Karaikkudi brothers rushed in and took up seats in the front. Within ten minutes the place was full. Thrilled beyond emotion I could hear my own voice offer its thanks to God by means of a high pitched “Nama Parvati Pataye”. “Hara Hara Mahadeva” intoned the crowds in reply and the cry rent the heavens. An emotional Muthiah Bhagavatar placed a garland around my neck.”
That was Muthiah Bhagavatar’s Harikesanallur during its days of glory.
Cut now to the 1940s when the lion was in his winter. Bhagavatar had then made neighbouring Veeravanallur his base and resided there. Old timer Sankari (Rajam) Subramaniam remembers as a child being overawed by his personality. Anything connected with music was enough to excite Bhagavatar she remembers. If singing was in progress in any house he would interest himself and ask as to who was teaching the children and would want to know what songs were being taught. He would ask the children to sing and encourage them. If a Radha Kalyanam happened, he would take the lead in the Deepa pradakshinam dance, when men wearing anklets would dance around a lamp even as the ashtapadis were recited or sung. The dance had a particular rhythm to it and Bhagavatar was the acknowledged expert. Every evening a bench would be put out on the street for Bhagavatar and his friends and conversation, largely on matters musical would go on far into the night. It was from Veeravanallur that Bhagavatar went to Mysore, a physically exhausted and ill man. There he died in 1945. With him died all music in Harikesanallur.
In 1997, scholar BM Sundaram, visited Harikesanallur and on his return wrote an article in Sruti (see issue 153, June 1997), lamenting the complete absence of any memorial to Bhagavatar in the village. He wrote of a bhajanai mandapam where a yantram that had the symbols of the vel (spear) and mayil (peacock) entwined and a large Tanjore painting of Subrahamanya, both worshipped by Bhagavatar, were kept. According to BM Sundaram, the bhajanai mandapam was built by Bhagavatar and that was where he conducted his skanda shashti festival. In 1997, this mandapam had a tiled roof. BMS had also written that the only resident who remembered Bhagavatar was Sankaranarayana Iyer who out of his meagre purse funded an annual skanda shashti festival at the bhajanai mandapam. Iyer also paid for the upkeep of the mandapam.
The biography mentioned a school run in Harikesanallur in the name of Bhagavatar. But I did not see it. Perhaps it is still being run. In recent years, the Harikeshanjali Trust and the Narada Gana Sabha Trust have both come forward and have been formulating schemes to perpetuate the memory of Bhagavatar in his native place. Hopefully something positive will emerge out of it. Till then, Harikesanallur will stand testimony to the Indian sense of history and respect for heritage.