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Maharajapuram Santhanam
A Life of Music


Contributed by: N.S.Sundar, 10/7//1994
Source: Several newspaper articles, especially Indian Express (dated June 25, 1992) and The Hindu (dated June 24, 1992)

Maharajapuram Santhanam, hailing from the fertile belt of the cauvery delta in Thanjavur Dist. which had produced a rich crop of musicians, was born in 1928 at Sirunagar village to Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, (one of the greatest exponents of carnatic music) and Visalakshi.

Santahanam had his initial training under Melattur Sama Dikshithar and under his father. While joining his father in concerts, he simultaneously completed his schooling from the Town High School , Kumbakonam in 1945.

Though Santhanam's initiation into carnatic music began in 1948, at a marriage, to be quickly followed by a formal debut at the South Indian Club in Calcutta, he emerged as a 'complete musician' only in the 1970s, music critics say.

Santhanam gave a recital at the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival at Thiruvaiyaru in 1952 and made his appearance at the Music Academy in Madras, the Mecca of Carnatic musicians in 1958-59.

During 1960-65, Santhanam served as the HOD of the Ponnambalam Ramanathan College of Music in Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

Endowed with a 'genuine classicism', Santhanam was on the expert committe of the Music Academy for a number of years.

He won several titles and honours, including the 'Padmashri' in 1990, the 'Sangeeta Kalanidhi' from the Music Academy in 1989, the Sangeeta Natak Academy award in 1984, TN Govt's 'KalaiMamani' award. and the "Sangeetha Sudhakara" by the Yoga vedanta University at Rishikesh. A former "Asthana Vidwan" of the thirumala tirupathi devasthanam and the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, Santhanam was also bestowed with the "Gana Kalanidhi" by Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati of Sringeri, and "Sangitha Sagaramritha Varshi" by Sri Jayendra Saraswati of the Kanchi mutt.

Santhanam ahs composed kirthanas in his favourite "Sivaranjani" raga, and has given a number of concerts abroad including West Asia, Canada, Malaysia, U.K and U.S.

Maharajapuram had created a trust in his father's name to help needy musicians and had recently donated 2.5 Lakh Rs/- to the "Thyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha" for the construction of a "Nadha Dhyana Mandapam" in Thiruvaiyaru.

President R. Venkataraman writes:

Endowed with an enchantingly sweet voice and dedicated to the practice of classical music in his individualistic style, Maharajapuram Santhanam has earned the admiration of a massive majority of music lovers. He was the second son of his illustrious father, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer. Fondly called "chinna kothandu" by his family, Santhanam sang with his father in concerts over a number of years from an early age.

Like his father, Santhanam took classical carnatic music to people in his melodious style and was marching with vigour and determination winning the hearts of overflowing audiences. Without deviating from the classical style of good quality, he made his recitals highly entertaining. He had a rich repertoire of songs. His mellow presentation, the pieces and rendition of ragas, neravals and swaras had a pleasant style of classicism satisfying common AND elite listeners. His many commercial cassettes are treasured in the homes of his admirers as a valuable possession. Maharajapuram had respect for fellow musicians. The Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer trust founded by him in the name of his father in 1985 has been honouring senior musicians every year with awards and financial assistance and arranging concerts of eminent and young artists.

S.V.Kalyanaraman writes:

The Umayalpuram school of Thyagaraja is blessed with a long line of eminent musicians. Maharajapuram Santhanam, a beneficiary of the Umayalpuram tradition, kept aloft the enduring values which carnatic music stands for. Those who have seen santhanam sitting with his father on the dais in his early years, had spoken of a bright future for him. The blessings of the elderly never go in vain.

The forte of Santhanam's singing technique was the art of communicating profound musical expressions with an easy to absorb simplicity. Towards this end he modulated his voice effectively to stress the nuances of a raga sanchara or to bring out the elegance of the sahitya in a song. In his cutcheris one could not discern the distinction between a wighty song or a thukkada, for he treated each song with consummate embellishment that long after he stopped singing the piece, it lingered in the ears of the listener.

Santhanam had a unique style of building up a raga. Vallinam, mellinam of the voice, Karvais and brikhas, meandering and spiriting sangathis were purveyed in such a mix that the hearers felt enthralled. However many times the audience had longed to hear his exposition of Mohanam, Brindavana Saranga, or Kalyana Vasantham! Or how he spiced his performance with a purandara dasa devotional that made the listeners join him in the experience of the Dasakootas.

It used to be said of Vidwans of yesteryears that their cutcheri pattern was marked by proportion - raga alapana, songs, and swaras. Santhanam was out-and-out a follower of this great tradition. In another aspect too he belonged to the galaxy of Viswanatha Iyer and his contemporaries. He had immense faith in the grandeur of familiar ragas, uplifting the quality of performancc- say Kalyani, Sankarabharana, or Khamboji.

Santhanam's encouragement and sincere appreciation of the accompanists was as generous as his music was great. He was one who could create the satisfaction of a 4 hour concert in 2 hours. Programming was such that while neraval and swaraprasthanams moved with grace, the alapana threw open the magic casement of the aesthetic charm, the song bridged both. Though Maharajapuram is no more with us, the Umayalpuram tradition continues in his sons Ramachandran and Srinivasan.

(Maharajapuram passed away on 24 June, 1992, in a car accident near Tindivanam)

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