Carnatic composers of the post-trinity period
by
P.N. Krishnamoorthy

    Over the millenea, Indian music had developed as a single system of music until about the thirteenth century. Since then it has split into two similar but distinct systems - the Hindustani music of North India and the Carnatic system of the South. Purandara Dasa (1484 - 1584) can be said to be the principal founder of the Carnatic system as we know it today. The creator of innumerable compositions, many of which are in vouge even today, Purandara Dasa made a most significant contribution by codifying the teaching of the elements of Carnatic music in various graded steps. These teaching methods have also survived over the centuries and are being followed today by all teachers of Carnatic music. The next significant development was in the seventeenth century when Venkatamaki formulated the system of the seventytwo melakartha ragas. Before Purandara Dasa there were composers of the eminence of Jayadeva (twelfth century), whose immortal compositions continue to enjoy a pride of place in our repertoire even today, and Thallapaka Annamacharya whose compositions play an important role in Carnatic music.

    After the above developments, the truly golden age of Carnatic music can be said to have commenced in the eighteenth century, mainly resulting from the contributions of Thyagaraja and his contemporaries Muthuswamy Dikshithar, Syama Sastry and Swati Thirunal. Since their time, the Carnatic music world has seen a spate of composers, the most outstanding amongst them being Papanasam Sivan whose compositions in tamil have added considerably to the scope and range of Carnatic music. Presented below are brief thumb-nail sketches of Composers in the post Trinity period.

    Although he belonged to the same period as the Trinity, Swati Thirunal (1813-1846) was born when the Trinity were in their forties and fifties. Furthermore he died very young, at the age of thirty three, It is astonishing that during his brief life, he was able to compress work and achievements that would have taken a lesser man many decades. He was an innovative administrator a master of thirteen languages and a great composer whose eminence can be bracketed with that of the musical Trinity. More than three hundred of his compositions have been listed in various languages - principally in sanskrit as also in malayalam, kannada, telegu and hindi. Many of these songs are widely sung and form an important element of the present day Carnatic repertoire. Tiger Varadachariar said this of Swati Thirunal - ‘The royal comopser combines in his style the elegance of Thyagaraja with the grandeur of Muthuswamy Dikshithar’.

    Pallavi Gopala lyer (circa 1790) was an eminent composer with a number of varnams and krithis to his credit. These include the well known Ata thala varnam Vanajakshi’ in Kalyani and a Krithi in the same raga Needhu Charana made famous by M. S. Subbulakshmy. Subbaraya Sastry (1803 - 1862) was the second son of the illustrious Syama Sastry and was a disciple of Thyagaraja. He had the unique distinction of having had his tutelage under
each of the Trinity. He was gifted composer of kirthanas and swarajathis in the style of Thyagaraja. His compositions include ‘Ninnuvina’ in Kalyani, ‘Janani’ in Reethigaula and Venkatasaila’ in Hamirkalyani. Gopalakrishna Bharathi is rightly described as the father of tamil music renaissance and modern tamil opera. His most famous opera was ‘Nandanar Charithram’ and his many compositions which are still in vogue because of their musical and poetic excellence, include ‘Varugalamo’ in Manji, ‘Eppo Varuvaro in Jonpuri and ‘Natanamadinar' in Vasantha. Vedanayakam Pillai (1826-1889) was a Catholic by birth who turned out, to be a very fine composer in Carnatic music. His krithis in tamil are so worded that they could be applicable to any religion. Many of his krithis are popular even today. Ramaswamy Sivan (1 839-1 897) and his brother Maha Vaidyanatha lyer (1844-1 893) were a happy combination. Whereas the former composed the sahithyas - as for example the Periya Purana Kirthanas, the latter who was a brilliant performer -cum-composer, set them to music. Maha Vaidyanatha lyer also composed among others the Khamboji varnam ‘Pankajakshipai’, the Janaranjani piece ‘Pahimam Sri’ and the seventy two melakartha ragamalika which has been justly characterised as the pride of Carnatic music.

    Patnam Subramanya lyer (1845-1902) has been described as an all-time great Carnatic musician and composer. He was called chinna or little Thyagaraja for the remarkable excellence of his compositions. He composed about a hundred pieces including tana varnams, pada varnams, krithis, javalis and thillanas. They include ‘Neepadamule in Bhairavi, 'Ninnu Joochi' in Saurashtram 'Mari Vere' in Shanmugapriya and the varnams ‘Era Napai in Thodi, ‘Evari Bhodhana’ in Abogi and ‘Valachi Vachi' the Navaragamalika varnam. Mysore Vasudevachar (1865-1961) was a pupil of Patnam Submarine Iyer who did his master proud by making great contributions to Carnatic music. He composed nearly two hundred songs, quite a number of which were top notch. ‘Brochevarevarura’ in Khamas and ‘Palukavademira' in Devamanohari are two of his more popular compositions. Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar (1867-1919) was another sishya of Patnam Subramanya lyer who added considerable lustre to his master by becoming a famous composer and musician himself. He composed about hundred pieces which included varnams such as 'Ninnu Kori’ in Mohanam and 'Nera Nammidi’ in Kanada and brilliant kirthanams such as ‘Paramapavanarama' in Poorvikalyani and ‘Saraguna Palimpa' in Kedaragaula. He also composed javalis, thillanas and ragamalikas.

    Kotiswara lyer (1870-1936) was another well known composer in tamil who composed about two hundred pieces. His seventy two melakartha krithis have ensured eminence for him as a composer. Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhavathar (1877-1945) was another outstanding composer with more than four hundred compositions to his credit. They are in sanskrit, tamil telegu and kannada. Tiruvotriyur Thyagayyar (1845-1917) was the son of Vina Kuppaiyer who was a disciple of Thyagaraja. He composed thana varnams, ragamalikas and kritis. His compositions which included the evergreen varnams ‘lnthamodi’ in Saranga, ‘Karunimpa in Saharia and Chalamela’ in Durbar were replete with raga bhava.

    Papanasam Sivan (1890 - 1973) has been rightly named the architect of tamil musical renaissance, He composed about two thousand songs in about seventy five ragas. His compositions were mostly in tamil and a few in sanskrit. Sivans’ compositions were born of devotion and many of them are object lessons for the adage that keerthanams elucidate the raga bhava in Carnatic music. Some examples of this are 'Karthikeya’ and 'Kadaikkan' in Thodi and ‘Kapali' and 'Mayilvahana' in Mohanam. Many of his compositions have been and continue to be the delight of musicians and audiences alike. He earned the sobriquet 'Tamil Thyagaraja' from no less a person than the eminent vocalist Simizhi Sundaram Iyer. He undoubtedly deserves to be placed among the pre-eminent composers of Carnatic music.

    Andavan Pichai (1899-1990) is widely accepted as having became a composer through divine intervention. She had no formal education of any sort and still her songs glitter with alliteration and metre, rhythm and melody. Her songs were in tamil, telegu and sanskrit. Periasamy Thooran is another well known composer whose songs are very popular. He has more than one hundred and seventy songs to his credit. An outstanding composition of his is ‘Muruga Muruga’ in Saveri. G. N. Balasubramaniam (1910-1965) popularly known as GNB, is one of the most prominent composers of this century. He has nearly two hundred and fifty compositions in Sanskrit, Tamil and Telegu to his credit. The ragas Chandrahasta, Sivasakti and Amrutha Behag are some of his creations.

    Jaya Chamaraja Wodeyar (1919-1974) was a royal composer from Mysore who had nearly hundred compositions to his credit. He used rare ragas such as Durvanki (Gam Ganapathe’), Prathapavarali (Puribhogyalahari’) and Bhogavasantha (‘Amba Sri’). M. D. Ranianathan (1923-1984) was one of the finest musicians we have known. He was also a composer of considerable prowess who composed pieces in Sanskrit, telegu and ‘tamil. A typical composition of his is ‘Sagara Sayana’ in Bageshri. Balamurali Krishna is another composer and musician of the current generation, who has more than three hundreds krithis, varnams and thillanas to his credit. He has also composed songs in sanskrit and telegu in all the seventy two melakrtha ragas. Thulaseevanam and Srivatsa are two eminent composers in the modern genre. The former, Ramachandran Nair I.A.S. has many fine compositions to his credit. Srivatsa who is an industrial executive has also proved his mettle as a composer.

    Others who have made their mark as composers of the current generation include Thanjavur Sankara Iyer, Lalgudi Jayaraman and Ambujam Krishna, Sankara lyer is a talented composer, especially in rare ragas. His compositions are in sanskrit, tamil and telegu and include varnams, krithis, padams and javalis. Rama Namame’ (Desh), ‘Gitavadya’ (Natakapriya), ‘Manasaramathy’ (Saramathy) and ‘Balakrishna’ (Vishnupriya) are some of his better known compositions. Lalgudi Jayaraman is not only one of the composer whose padavarnams, varnam and thillanas are very popular in both the music and dance worlds. Furthermore they provide excellent guidelines for raga bhava. Jayaraman has composed outstanding varnams in ragas such as Shanmugpriya, Charukesi, Neelambari and Valaji. His beautiful thillanas are in ragas such as Madhuvanthi, Revathy, Telang and Behag. Ambujam Krishna composed nearly six hundred lyrics which were set to music by a large number of senior musicians. Quite a number of her compositions are very popular.

    Composers have traditionally played a very important role in the development of Carnatic music. It is they, who, through their compositions establish the grammar and bhava of the many hundreds of ragas that are vogue in Carnatic music today. The present list of composers while attempting to be comprehensive cannot be said to be exhaustive by any means. However, this listing shows that there already exists more than sufficient basic material for the continued growth of Carnatic music in the form of compositions and that in the current generation, there has been no dearth of composers of excellence.

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