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"Nadaswara Chakravarthi"
Thiruvaduthurai Rajarathinam Pillai

(1898 - 1956)


Contributed by: Ganesan Nagasubramanian
Author: Mr. S. Krishnamoorthy (a music lover of over eighty years. A close associate of most of the celebrated musicians of the past sixty years and his personal close contact with them has inspired him to write this article)

"Nadaswara Chakravarthi" Thiruvaduthurai Rajarathinam Pillai - A musical meteor on the Indian firmament in the earlier part of this century.

Music in India as in many other countries with a cultural ethos is the main means of approach to God as Geetha says " Math Bhakthas Yetra Gayanthi Tatra Tishtami Narada". Unlike many other forms of worship, music does not call for great austerities, fas ts, or midnight vigils or barefooted pilgrimages. It gives pleasure and satisfaction to the one who makes it and the one that hears it. Of the many musical instruments nadaswaram has been one of the very ancient ones, specifically suited for the daily w orships (thrice a day) service in the temples and specially on holy days especially in South India.. Besides worship inside temples during service, special processions of the deities are taken out on the roads or streets of the place and that is alway s attended by music on the nadaswaram. This instrument - nadaswaram is specially suited for being heard from afar and is generally played in the open air so that worshippers living even some miles away could hear the music and are drawn to the procession of deities.

Indian music especially Carnatic music is essentially Raga based an unique feature of the Indian music. The instrument nadaswaram is so designed as to be suitable for raga elaboration. Eminent nadaswaram vidwans had been pathfinders, epoch makers famo us for raga elaboration- an art calling for a strict grasp of the grammar of that raga and a rich imagination (kalpana). To this distinguished band of musicians was born Nadaswara Chakravarthi, T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai. Coming of a long line of famous nadaswara vidwans ( a group of people called "Isai Vellalars" - meaning people of music) T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai grew up in the cradle of music, fed on music. No wonder he showed signs of his budding interest and sang songs in his fresh young voice. When he grew old enough to have rigorous tuition, his uncle Thirumarugal Natesa Pillai ( a very famous nadaswara vidwan unrivaled in his raga elaboration) took him in hand and gave him regular lessons. **(insert by G. Nagasubramanian) Shri T. N. Rjarathinam Pillai was also taught by the incomperable Thirukodikaval Krishna Iyer, who fine tuned and elevated his music to a level that propelled TNR to lofty heights in Carnatic music** Luckily for young Rajarathinam the lessons were so modeled as to give him intimate knowledge and grasp of the ragas and the compositions in them. As in the case of human voice each one having a special timbre in the voice, in nadaswaram also Rajarathinam had a particularly attractive timbre in the tone o f his instrument. His name and fame spread far wide very quickly and at a time when there were very eminent nadeswara vidwans, he shot up to such eminence that he was universally voted Nadaswara Chakravarthi. Among many memorable performances two are re called. Shri Rajarathinam's music was the chief attraction in a procession of Sai Baba in a decorated car through the four mada streets of Mylapore, Madras. During the three hours it took the procession to complete the course, Rajarathinam elaborated first "Keeravani" in great detail, "Mohanam" and ended with "Behag" and Jijoti". When the procession ended the musically enthusiastic audience were only sorry that the feast of music was over. Another occasion happened to be the final day of the music fe stival in Thiruvaiyaru. That night the portrait of Saint Thiyagaraja would be carried in a decorated palaugu (palanquin) through the four main roads of Thiruvaiyaru to the accompaniment of nadaswaram music of nearly half a dozen group consisting of two t o play on the nadaswaram and two to accompany them on the tavil (drum). That night after an hour's time from the start Shri Rajarathinam played the raga "Charukesi" and the krithi "Aada-modi". At the swara elaboration stage he wove on the nadaswaram an intricate pattern of swaras. This was just what the crowd was waiting for. Shri Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai ( of immortal fame) took up the rhythm portion for his display on the tavil. The patterns he wove on the tavil that night were so ing enious and intricate in texture. Shri Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer (the all time great mridhangam exponent) so enjoyed the great tala that he started keeping them with both his feet and both hands and seem to be dancing with joy. No wonder at the end of that display Mani Iyer went and pressed both the hands of Meenakshisundaram Pillai and paid his respects and admiration to him. Then turning to Shri Rajarathanam Pillai, Mani Iyer said " who but you can invoke this grand display of tala by your challenging d isplay on the nadaswaram".

His elaboration of ragas revealed his acquaintance with the best compositions of the great "Vaggeyakarakas" - the "Prayogas" they used and embellished the ragas. His rendition of krithis were flawless and the Swaraprasathara invigorating and fresh. His perfect grasp and control over tala (time measures) drew to his side the celebrated tala exponent Shri Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai lovingly called "Nava Nandikeswara"- the deity that played mridanga to the cosmic dance of Nataraja. Rajarathin am Pillai's elaboration of Prathimadhyama (sharp "Ma" ) ragas were marked by intimate knowledge, intense feeling majesty and grandeur. His "Simhendramadhyamam", "Shanmugapriya", "Ramapriya", Vachaspathi", "Panthuvarali" and "Kalyani" are still remembered with nostalgic pleasure by thousands of his rasikas.

Fortunately, Rajarathinam Pillai has left behind some record disc and his record of "Thodi" raga alapana meets the admiration of all discerning lovers of carnatic music. On his death one heard an old man remarking "the sun has set on the gaiety of Sout h India on Nadaswaram Music".

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