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Some Post Trinity Composers: A survey by Rasikan

  • October 20, 2007
  • Rasikan

(From Sruti Ranjani 2004)

It is accepted by many that the contributions by the Trinity (Syama Sastry, Thyagaraja, Dikshitar) signify a watershed in the Carnatic music world. Dikshitar excelled in delineating the raga swarupa. The compositions of Syama Sastry are full of bakthi bhavam towards Ambal, his ishta devatha; he also used the technical embellishment of swara sahityams in many of his compositions. While the contributions of each of the Trinity were profound in many respects, those of Thyagaraja were arguably the most influential on later composers. In particular, almost all of these composers have faithfully followed the kriti format that Thyagaraja perfected. To that extent it may be claimed that the Carnatic music that we hear today is Thyagaraja music. This article is a short survey of some post Trinity composers and a brief discussion highlighting their contributions to Carnatic music. The material is culled from the few books in my collection and some other sources. Thus, it is by no means exhaustive. Also I have not included those composers whose works consist primarily of Padams, Javalis etc.

Junior contemporaries of Thyagaraja
Thyagaraja was still alive when Swati Tirunal (1813- 1846), the Royal composer of Travancore, died in 1846. However, he was 46 years younger than Thyagaraja and so can justifiably be called a junior contemporary of the Trinity. It is to Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer that we owe the popularity of Swati Tirunal’s compositions. Some of the famous ones are Deva deva (Mayamalavagowla), Mamava sada janani (Kanada), Mamava sada varade (Natakurinji), Pankajalochana (Kalyani), Sarasija nabha murare (Todi). Bhogeendra sayinam in Kuntalavarali is a lilting melody. He has composed two well known ragamalikais: Pannagendra sayana and the Dasavatara ragamalikai Kamalajasya. His Ramayana kriti Bhavayami Raghuramam, originally in Saveri was retuned to a brilliant ragamalikai by Semmangudi. The works of Swati Tirunal also include varnams, tillanas, bhajans. Lately there has been some controversy regarding of the authorship of many of Swati Tiruanal’s pieces.

Subbaraya Sastry (1803-1861), the second son of Syama Sastry had the unique privilege of studying with each of the Trinity. His Reetigowla gem, Janani ninnu vina, is one the staples of the concert repertoire. Many of his kritis have beautiful swara sahityams, a la his father’s; good examples are Sankari nee yani (Begada), and Ema ninne (Mukhari). Again like those of his father, most of his compositions are in praise of goddess Ambal, However, the Hamir Kalyani kriti, Venkata saila vihara is on the deity of Tirupathi.

Gopalakrishna Bharathy was a wandering minstrel. An interesting anecdote relating to his composing Sabapathikku veru deivam in Abhogi as a result of his meeting with Thyagaraja was published in Sruti Notes. His Kambhodhi kriti, Thiruvadi charanam, is one of the most popular kritis in that ragam Sanjay Subramanyan has recently released a CD album, titled Tillai, consisting of five of Bharathy’s works. Bharathy’s monumental opera, Nandanar Charithram, where he depicts the travails of a lowly born bhaktha of Lord Siva, is very well known.

The Tanjavur Quartette (Ponnaiah, Chinnaiah, Sivanandam, Vadivelu) studied with Dikshitar. Ponniah’s composition, Amba Neelambari, in Neelambari follows very closely the music of Dikshitar’s kriti in the same ragam, Amba Neelayadakshi and is said to be a tribute to his guru. They were, for a short while, musicians at the Travancore court of Swati Tirunal. Vadivelu was one of the first South Indian musicians to have mastered the violin and as a recognition of his musicianship on that instrument, the king presented him with an ivory violin. Some works known as Swati Tirunal’s have been ascribed to Ponnaiah or Vadivelu3. The quartette also composed many varnams and swarajatis for dance and are famous for designing the margam format for the Bharatanatyam performances.

Late 19th century/early 20th century
Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) was a grandson of Baluswamy Dikshitar, brother of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. His greatest contribution is the five volume Sangeetha Pradarshini. This is a compendium of more than 250 kritis with notations of the Trinity (mostly of Dikshitar) apart from many lakshnana geethams, varnams etc.. The book is often cited as the authentic versions of Dikshitar’s kritis. He introduced the symbols currently used for notating the typical gamakams in Carnatic music. Among the compositions of Subbarama Dikshitar is Sankaracharyam, the stately Sankarabharnam kriti in Sanskrit whose music follows the structure of Dikshitar’s kritis.

Patnam Subramania Iyer (1845-1902) was among the most prominent composers of the late nineteenth century. He was a disciple of Manubuchavadi Venkatasubba Iyer, a cousin and a senior disciple of Thyagaraja. Both of them composed kritis and other pieces with the mudra of Venakatesa leading to a confusion as to which piece is whose. In particular the well known navaraga varnam, Valachi vachi is sometimes attributed to the latter. Patnam is famous for his tuneful kriti Raghuvamsa sudha in Kadana kuthuhalam, a top favorite with instrumentalists The brilliant chittaswara for this kriti is unforgettable. Some of the other kritis of Patnam Subramania Iyer often heard in the concert circuits are Ninnu joosi, (Sowrashtram), Paridana (Bilahari), Aparadumulannu (Lathangi), Marivere dikkevarayya (Shanmukhapriya), Nijadasa varada (Kalyani), Anu dinamunu (Begada). His renditions of Begada were supposed to have been so masterly that he was also called “Begada” Subramania iyer .

Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (1843-1893) was a contemporary of Patnam Subramania Iyer. Although known more as a great vocalist, he has to his credit, the monumental melakarta ragamalikai in 73 ragas! The pallavi is in Sri ragam and the piece goes on delineating all the 72 melakartas in order. There are many technical features in this piece, one of which is the smooth (chittaswara) transition from one raga to the next, the scales of some of which may differ from the previous in only one swaram! It takes almost one hour to render the complete ragamalikai! M.S. Subbulakshmi has done full justice to this great piece in a (commercially produced) cassette/CD.

Vaidhyanatha Sivan was inseparable from his elder brother Ramaswamy Sivan (1841-1898). The brothers often traveled together with the elder brother acting somewhat as a manager of the gifted younger sibling. Some kritis are attributed to one or other, sometimes to both. The better known ones are Pahimam Sri Raja Rajeswari (Janaranjani), Sri Sankara (Nagaswarali), Ekkalathilum (Natakurinji). The first two also have lilting chittaswarams.

There are a number of stories of friendly and sometimes not so friendly rivalry between Patnam Subramania Iyer and the Sivan brothers.

Ramanathapuram (Poochi) Srinivasa Iyengar (1860- 1919 ) was one of the two disciples of Patnam who rose to be prominent composers in their own right [the other was Mysore Vasudevacharya]. Among the more famous of Poochi’s kritis are Saraguna palimpa, (Kedaragowla), Parama pavana Rama (Poorvi Kalyani), both with chittaswarams. Both Patnam Subramania Iyer and Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar have also composed many varnams, javalis and tillanas.

Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar (1877-1945) experimented with many rare ragams. One of them is Niroshta (Raja raja). A feature of this ragam is that one does not touch the upper and lower lips to pronounce its scale: Sa, Ri, Ga, Dha, Ni, Sa; Sa, Ni, Da, Ga, Ri, Sa. Other ragams that he introduced to Carnatic music through his kritis include Vijayanagari (Vijayambike), Karna ranjani (Vanchatonu ninnu), Valaji (Jalandhara), Vijaya Saraswathy (Saranam Vijaya). Madurai Mani Iyer, who learnt directly form him and T.N. Seshagopalan who learnt from one his disciples have popularized many of Muthiah Bhagavathar’s kritis. The latter has also cut a CD of Muthiah Bhagavathar’s works.

20th century
Mysore Vasudevacharya (1865-1961), was a giant among the modern composers. His Pranamamhayam (Gowlai), Brochaver evarura (Khamas), Ra ra rajeeva lochana (Mohanam), Palukavademira (Devamanohari) are evergreen gems. He was in the faculty of Kalakshetra and worked with the great Rukmini Devi in composing music for many of the dance dramas produced in that arts institution. As mentioned earlier he was a disciple of Patnam Subramania Iyer. His book “Nan kanda kalaviduru” is supposed to contain vignettes of his guru kula vasam experience including the storied rivalry between Patnam Subramania Iyer and Maha Vaidynahta Sivan.

Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) was perhaps the most famous of the twentieth century composers. Actually, his real name was Polagam Ramiah. Sivan is a moniker sometimes attributed to persons deeply involved in the worship of Lord Siva. Also since he lived in Papanasam for a long time he came to be known as Papanasam Sivan. A prolific composer, he has hundreds of, by some estimates more than 2,500, kritis to his credit. Most of his kritis are in Tamil with a few in Sanskrit. His kritis are often heard in concerts. Some of the more famous ones are: Karthikeya (Todi), Kaana kann kodi (Kambhodhi), Mahalakshmi (Sankarabharanam), Unnai allal (Kalyani), Kapali (Mohanam), Srinivasa thiruvenkatam (Hamsanandi), Ini oru ganam (Sri Ranajani) and the moving Navarasa Kannada kriti (Devi, Undanukku) Nan oru vilayattu bommaiya. In fact, if a weighty kriti in Tamil is presented in the pre RTP segment of a concert, the chances are that it is by Sivan. Indeed, his influence among the Tamil musicians is so pervasive and strong that he is sometimes referred to as Tamil Thyagayya! His kritis in Sanskrit include Srinivasa thava (Karaharapriya), Narayana (Sama). Sivan is one of the few who were not prominent concert musicians, yet to be awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy. The marghazhi (middle December to middle January) bhajana processions led by Sivan around Mylapore temple are legendary. Many prominent musicians of those days used to join him in the procession. Sivan had composed music for some of the dance dramas performed at Kalakshetra. He also composed for many movies of the thirties and forties. Most of them are in chaste Carnatic music ragams. Indeed, some of them, for example, Ma Ramanan (Hindolam), could also be heard in concerts.

The great vocalist G.N. Balasubramanian (1910-1965) has composed kritis mostly in praise of Ambal. Noteworthy among these are Paramukha elanamma in Kanada, Saraswathy in Saraswathy, Sada palaya in Mohanam. His disciple, M.L. Vasanthakumari has given an album of some of her guru’s compositions.

The multi faceted genius, M. Balamurali Krishna is probably the most prominent among the contemporary composers. He has composed a kriti in Sarva Sri, a ragam whose scale consists of just four swarams, Sa, Ma, Pa Sa; Sa Pa, Ma Sa! He is also one the three who have composed at least one kriti in each of the seventy two sampurna melakarta ragams. [The other, as far as I know are, Koteeswara Iyer and D. Pattammal. Dikshitar also has composed in all the 72 melakartas, but he followed the asampurna scheme.] For some reason, we do not hear many of his compositions in the concerts except for some tillanas.

T.N. Bala off Havertown, PA, is well known to us in the Delaware Valley. His composition in Shanmukhapriya, Vilayada idhu nerama was popularized by the (late) Maharajapuram Santhanam. A compilation of some of his kritis, Murugaratnakara, was recently published as a book.

Another composer with a Delaware Valley association is H. Yoga Narasimham (1897-1974) whose son H.Y. Rajagopal is one of the founders of SRUTI. Yoga Narasimham studied with Mysore Vasudevacharya. An album of some of the kritis of Yoga Narasimham sung by M.S. Subbulakshmi was released a few years ago. His lilting Ranjani kriti Sadasaranganayane with a nice chittaswaram is gaining in popularity as are many of his other compositions. Yoga Narasimham also brought into light some rare ragams like Latantapriya and Bhanudhanyasi. with krits in these ragams.

The fame of some composers rest on a few but brilliant kritis. Many of them have some of the best chittaswarams. Mysore Sadasiva Rao is one of those composers. His Harikambodhi kriti Saketa nagaranada has a scintillating chittaswaram. Another composition with a brilliant chittaswaram is Gajavadana in Todi by Ettayapuram raja. The chittaswaram focusses on the gandharam of Todi with a brilliant sequence of swarams around that note. The Anandabhairavi kriti, Neemathi sallaga of Mathrubudayya was very popular a few decades ago.

While most of the above composers are Vaggyeyakaras, i.e. those who wrote both the dhatu (melody) and the matu (lyrics) of their kritis, there are extant some pieces where one person wrote the matu for which some other(s) provided the dhatu. Prominent among these lyricists is Ambujam Krishna. Madurai Sundar (of Detroit) has an album of some of Ambujam Krishna’s works.

The influence of Thyagaraja and his music was felt among the composers in many ways. A disciple of Thyagaraja, Vinai Kuppayyar paid a tribute to his guru by composing Koniyadina in Kambhodhi with sangatis in the style of O rangasayi. We have seen how most post Thyagaraja composers used his kriti format to structure their outputs. Some composers also used the Thyagaraja ‘mudra’ in their compositions with the hope, I presume, that this would ensure these kritis would be performed as long as Thyagaraja was famous. Many such ‘spurious Thyagaraja’ kritis have been unearthed. One of the most famous of them is the Simhendramadhayamam kriti Needu charanamule. This kriti by K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar is still being included as a Thyagarja kriti in some books! And some other eminent lyricists, presumably enamored by the dhatu of some of Thyagaraja’s kritis, have used them and replaced the matu with their own lyrics.

1. Dr. Gowri Kuppuswamy, Dr. M. Hariharan, Great Composers; CBH publications, 1994.
2. The Hindu Speaks on Music, Kasturi & Sons, 1999. 3. Tanjore Quartette, Ed. K.P. Kittappa, K.P. Sivanandam; pub. Tharmapurm S. Rathmaswamy Chettiar Endowment, 3rd ed. 1992.
4. Harikesanallur L. Muthiah Bhagavathar (a biography in Tamil by H. Vaidyanathan), Narada Gana Sabha, 2nd ed, 2001.

(Rasikan, a former president of Sruti, is a music enthusiast. He is a reliable and frequent contributor to Sruti publications and has been a part of Sruti from its inception.)

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