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Sangeetha Kalanidhi, Sangeetha Bhoopathy
Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer
(1896-1970)


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)

In the earlier part of this century, there was a luminary in the firmament of Carnatic Music that became a legend in his own life of about seventy years. Born of a family with many musical associations and affinities Shri. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, stepped into the place left vacant about that time by the celebrated Madurai Pushpavanam Iyer. Early in his life he came under the influence of most of the giants in music of that age. Apart from the brief period of his association with Rangappa Iyer - a noted exponent on the Ghatam, he joined the celebrated Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer - one of the gifted shisyas of the one and only Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. This guru of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer brought him up in the Umayalpuram patantharam - one of the few authentic traditions of the Thiyaga Brahmam's immortal compositions. Early in his teens, he was present at the Ramanavami Utsavam (festival) run by the famous Thirupayanam Panchapakesa Bhagavatar - a celebrated kathakalakshepar. Musical exponen ts, experts, artists and rasikas formed a very close and intimate circle so much so that every one knew where every one of them was exponent trained, who was the shishya of whom etc. It was therefore not surprising that Sri Bhagavatar took the earliest opportunity of giving a place to young Viswanathan as there was a delay in the schedule for that hour. Young Viswanathan must have been overcome with a feeling of joyful surprise although accompanied by the seriousness of the occasion and anxiety to earn the appreciation of the musical elite of Kumbakonam. Probably with a lot of self confidence or unaware of the consequences of failure on the occasion, he sang four ragas with a krithi in each raga and managed to please the erudite audience with his very good voice - raga - bhava and correct rendering of krithis. Giving his raga alapana more times than that one of his age dare attempt, the performance was a total success. Sri Bhagavathar congratulated him in liberal terms and blessed him. This perform ance served as his first step to the professional kutcheri (concert) platform. The details of this event - he related to me some four decades later, laughing at his own foolhardiness in venturing on the platform before such learned audience of senior pro fessional musicians, patrons and rasikas when he could sing with confidence only 8 or 9 ragas and about 15 kritis. But then he had arrived and for two or three years had a series of engagements in temple festivals, musical evenings in the Sankara Mata (t hen functioning in Kumbakonam, being moved to Kanchipuram). The supreme pontiff of the Sankara Mata then was Jagat Guru Paramacharya Chandrasekara Saraswathi (who attained samathi couple of years ago). Swamiji was Viswanathan's first patron. Young Visw anathan availed of every possible occasion to sing before the Acharya and won His blessings. An unique feature about his music was his great success in raga elaboration in great detail. This he could do as he studiously learnt to sing as many as far as he could in the raga he wanted for alapana. So in his own raga alapana all the phrases swara groups twists and turns found a place and enriched the total pattern of the alapana. His has been hailed as the success of kalpana sangeetha, music rich with im agination in raga elaboration and swara singing - a specialty of his.

Like other artists he had his own preferences in raga selection and kritis. Among his special favorites, pride of the place goes to Mohanam, closely followed by Aarabhi, Darbar, Panthuvarali, Kalyani, Hari Kamboji, Khamas, Kamboji and Thodi. In each of these ragas he learnt and mastered almost all compositions of Thiyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshithar, Syama Sasthri, Patnam Subramania Iyer and Gopalakrishna Bharathi (in Tamil). He took special pains to master some of the tougher and more taxing of the Thi yagaraja kritis and also mastered the special technique in tala, tala eduppu (the exact place of the tala in which he begins) and aradhis (end effects). At one stage it was said in professional music circles that he was the only musician fully and corre ctly rendering the five Pancharatna Kirtanams (as said in Tamil, Anjum padupavar), a dedicated and devoted baktha of saint Thiyagaraja - he spent a few years of his life (almost toward the end of his life) in Thiruvaiyaru singing before the samadhi of Sa int Thiyagaraja for few hours every day. This was his aim, ambition and fond dream and this he could and did achieve.

I must add a few personal particulars of Sri Viswanatha Iyer as I happen to be one of the closer associates for over 15 years and had occasion to see that he was not toady or a social climber. A person's high place in life, a bank balance or political pull had no appeal for him. Given a more liberal or adjustable temperament he could have achieved much more than what lesser artists have been able to achieve by their sycophancy urged by aims and ambitions. He would rather much prefer to stay with frie nds like me and feel at home and sing at all hours of the day and night singing our favorites among his long list of kritis of his youth and even the half forgotten compositions. He had a very lovable sense of humor, very often enjoying a joke even when it happened to be at him, his faults and his failings. He was brimful with musical anecdotes of the musical community but with no ill will or malice toward anyone.

For the first four or five years of his professional career he had few occasions to go to western districts of modern Kerala. On one of the early occasions, he had been invited and taken for a concert in Palghat by the well known Mridanga Vidwan Chattap uram Subba Iyer (said to have been one of the early tutors of the all-time great Palghat Mani Iyer). The concert had begun and after a few pieces had been sung and sung well, a senior member of the audience asked Mr. Subba Iyer "Enda Subbu Ethivarakkum e vane engege adasoochiputhi varhirenthai"? (where did you secretly keep this man till now)?. Of course all laughed over this and Subba Iyer quirked "how can I bring him unless you invite him for a concert and pay him - what is the fun in my inviting him t o my house. I can invite him to my house at any time".

On another occasion Sri Viswanatha Iyer was invited for a concert in connection with a wedding in one of the district towns of Tanjore East. The concert was arranged by Sri Alaganambia Pillai (of the silken touch on Mridangam) who would accompany the ma in artist like a shadow and never attempt to out do or drown the musician's music. The concert was arranged for a Wednesday. The performance was said to have been a success and the audience were all praise for the young musician's talent. This made the gentleman who was running the show request Mr. Viswanathan and his accompaniments to give another performance the next day. Sri Alaganambia Pillai agreed to one more performance the next day also. Since there was to be a concert the next day also no pa yments were made that day. They were entertained to a gorgeous feast that night and taken care of well. As the party of musicians were to leave by early night train about 7.00 p.m. the kutcheri started by 3.45 p.m. All the audience were guests for the marriage so there was no trouble in starting the concert early. Carefully adjusting the program, Sri Viswanathan was able to sing well as brilliantly as on the earlier day and ended the concert at the stroke of six. The payment was made to the three art ists one by one in closed covers. They got to the Railway Station by 6.30 p.m. Then Alaganambia Pillai asked young Viswanathan what he was paid as he had a suspicion that the local grandee would have pulled a fast one on the comparatively young and inex perienced Viswanathan. Viswanathan opened the envelope and found that payment had been made only for one performance. This enraged Alaganambia Pillai and also Sri Tiruchi Govindaswamy Pillai who was the violin accompaniment on both the days and he was paid for two performances as was Alaganambia Pillai, who immediately summoned a single bullock cart and went back to the house of the grandee, sought him out, and said to him "what you have done, does not add to your good name and glory - it was not well done". Without a second look at the gentleman, Pillai rushed back to the station in time to catch the train. When they got settled in their seats Mr. Govindaswamy Pillai asked Alaganambia Pillai what had happened when he met the gentleman in his house. Alaganambia Pillai replied, I told him "what you have done is not fair and well". Mr. Govindaswamy Pillai burst into laughter and remarked "Anney; I am sure, the gentleman would have fallen down and committed suicide on the spot". For the rest of the jou rney back, they were enjoying the joke. This incident was narrated to me 3 decades later, when we were talking about some of the master musicians and instrumentalists of the age. Mr. Viswanathan also took this occasion to tell me how his professionally senior vidwans, accompanists also took care of his professional engagements and were his P.R.O's. for the first years of his professional career. To the last day of his life Mr. Govindaswamy Pillai had a soft corner for Mr. Viswanathan and took every occ asion to play his accompaniment at the concerts and Mr. Govindaswamy Pillai remarked that he enjoyed Viswanathan's concert because his talents were being tested to the full when accompanying him (Viswanathan) and that he was the sort of challenge any prof essional should like. Many artists of this ilk never fade or die.

I owe it to the memory of Sri Viswanatha Iyer to record the favorite ragas and kritis, he sang in those ragas. Sri Viswanatha Iyer used to sing practically all the kritis of Sri. Thiyagaraja in Thodi, Sankarabharnam, Kalyani, Kharakarapriya, Harikambodi, Durbar, Aarabhi, Devaghandari, Atana etc. The only two kritis in Simmendramadhyamam, the two in Shanmugapriya, all the kirtanas in Panthuvarali, (the only two in Gauli Pantu), Dhanyasis, and Saranga. He had an unique way of singing Kamas, Kuntalavarali, Devamanohari, Suruti and Kedaragowla. He was a great admirer of classic Hindustani Music and would avail every chance to hear Khan Sahib Abdul Khaim Khan and Bhai Kesar Bhai. The top violinists, Mridanga and Khanjira vidwans were eager to play sidemen to Sri Viswanatha Iyer as his concerts gave them the right type of elaboration on their instruments, receiving at every step his acclamation and encouragement. Sri Govindaswany Pillai was his constant accompanist for over a dozen years, then Sri Semmang udi Narayanaswami Iyer (nephew of son-in law of Tirukodikaval Sri Krishna Iyer - a violinist of undying unrivaled fames), Kumbakonam Sri Rajamanikam Pillai, Papa Venkataramaihar, Mysore T. Chowdia and last but not the least Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu - the violinist with the ideal longlow technique. Of the later generation he encouraged Sri T. N. Krishnan. The percussion stalwarts of the age were his eager sidemen, starting with Dhakshinamurthi Pillai, Alaganambia Pillai, Rangu Iyengar, Palani Subramania Pillai, Thanjavoor Vaidyanatha Iyer, Kothanda Rama Iyer and the immortal Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer. His most Mridanga support, in concerts in Madras was the everready Venu Naicker. His rendering was strictly in accordance with the Sudha Patantara. His swara singing was full of brighas, Karvais and all the embellishments as prescribed. Fortunately he has left behind some good records (disc) and of late some tape recordings though not many in number. The select band of musicians he trained including Se mmangudi Sri. Srinivasa Iyer, his own son Maharajapuram Santhanam and Mannargudi Sri. Sambasivam Iyer have done him proud. Many musicians have learnt some of his techniques rendering some kritis, shifting the "eduppu" from 1/2 to 3/4 interval for startin g. As with creative artists, composers, painters and poets, some themes, and images got greater prominence, appreciation and become the vogue of that time. Some other remain in comparative land of forgotten things. So in the realm of music, some of the immortal creations of St. Thiyagaraja have been ignored or not learnt at all, some because of lack of facilities, lack of competent exponents to sing them often and some other because of the complexity of structure, calling for voice or instrumental skil l of extraordinary excellence. Such songs of St. Thiyagaraja found an enthusiastic singer in Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer who took special pains to give authentic versions. He learned them assiduously and regaled us with these songs. There were 3 scor e such compositions, which he only sang in public concerts. What endeared him the most to his intimate admirers was his warm and affectionate, easy and unassuming nature, appreciation and approbation of good in any one especially aspiring young musicians , readiness to guide them and ever grateful for even small services or help rendered by anyone. His unshakable piety, devotion, and rapt adoration of St. Thiyagaraja inspired him and it was his ambition to end his days singing the immortal songs of the sa int at his Sammadhi. It was realized toward the close of his life. Musicologists have unanimously echoed that he was a rare musician, with a very attractive voice, Samprathaya Patanthara of kritis, a Punithan in the matter of classicism in raga delineat ion enriched by an aesthetic Kalpana Gnanam and perfect technique in Swara singing. This was a musician of rare excellence, when come such another?.

We shall recall some of the songs he sang in concerts not that those not mentioned are lesser ones:

 1. Aanathududane                - Jingla
 2. Athaya Sri                   - Ahiri
 3. Elalo Pranathartihara        - Atana
 4. Esa Pahimam                  - Kalyani
 5. Undethe Ramudu               - Hari Kambodi
 6. Etulabrothuva                - Chakravaham
 7. Yevarikaiye Avataramu        - Devamanohari
 8. Mohana Rama                  - Mohanam
 9. Enta Papaninethine           - Gowli pantu
10. Yehi Tri Jagadeesa           - Saranga
11. Karuna samudra               - Devagandhari
12. Griha Palamemi               - Reva Gupti
13. Jootha Murare                - Aarabi
14. Tatvamerugu                  - Garudathvani
15. Tera Tiyaga Radha            - Gowli Pantu
16. Ninhu Vinha                  - Kalyani
17. Namoralianu Vini             - Aarabi
18. Narada Gana Lola             - Atana
19. Narada Guru Swami            - Darbar
20. Nivera Kuladanamu            - Begada
21. Nenarunchinanu               - Malavi
22. Paramathmudu Velige          - Vagatheswari
23. Paramukhamelara              - Suruti
24. Palukandasa                  - Navarasa Kannada
25. Badaligadheera               - Rithi Gowla
26. Bhavanutha Rama              - Mohanam
27. Bhuvini Dasudane             - Sri Ranjani
28. Manasunilpa                  - Abogi
29. Mariyathagathaya             - Bhairavam
30. Mamavasadadam                - Jaganmohini
31. Mummurthulu                  - Atana
32. Ramabi Rama                  - Darbar	
33. Raa Ra Ma                    - Asaveri
34. Lekhana                      - Asaveri
Sri Viswanatha Iyer was persuaded by some of his friends to act in Assandas's "nandanar" costarring with K.B.S., who delighted the audience with exquisite music. The role that Sri Viswanatha Iyer played didn't offer much scope for any acting, and so he never after thought of acting in another film.

Fortunately, Sri Viswanatha Iyer has left behind some of his songs records (discs) and they will recall the music that was so attractive to classes and masses. Some are born great. Some others achieve greatness by their efforts. Yet others achieve gre atness and help maintain the high place their gurus had achieved. This was Sri Viswanatha Iyer's unique achievement.

He was a musician endowed with an attractive voice - classic training under a great guru to maintain the high quality of their tradition. Inspired by an aesthetically fascinating and such rich imagination he taught a number of musicians and they equally reached eminence as good concert artists.

Other musicians cloyed the appetites they fed but Sri Viswanatha Iyer made his audience more hungry where more he satisfied with his devotion to the Trinity of Bhava, Raga and Jala-nadha Brahman.

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