SRI CHEMBAI VAIDYANATHA BHAGAVATAR
Born on September 1896 at Chembai, Palakkad. Chembai learned music alongwith his brother Shri. Subramaniam from his father Shri. Anantha Bagavathar. Chembai's father Shri. Anantha Bagavathar was a talented vocalist & violinist. The Chembai brothers had their first concert in 1905 at a Temple festival in a town called Ottapalam. One of the landmarks in the early career of the brothers was their concerts at the temple festivals in Vaikom and Guruvayur. Anantha Bagavathar took his sons with him not only to his own concert but also to attend the concert of other musicians, providing valuable listening opportunities to the youngsters.
Chembai's first concert in Madras was in 1918 at the Triplicane Sangeeta Sabha.
Chembai's concert career took a further upswing after this concert and he gave several performances all over the south. Chembai's length of career was 70 years, starting in 1904. Perhaps, the longest of any famous musician of the South.
A few of the honours bestowed on Chembai are 'Padma Bhushan' bestowed by the President of India, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Gyana Gandharva, Sangeeta Samrat, Sangeetha Kalanidhi, etc. The famous violinist Mysore T.Chowdiah's description of him as an 'Uttama Gayaka' - comparable to Uttama Nayika in dance - was most apt. Chembai's memory lives in the hearts of countless rasikas who have heard him.
KONERIRAJAPURAM VAIDYANATHA AYYAR - VOCAL MAESTRO...........(1878 - 1921)
Was born at Marathurai near Pandanallur and lived at Konerirajapuram. While young, he had a gruff voice not responsive to the needs and demands of classical music, its refinements and brikas. But by sheer will-power and strenuous exercise, he overcame the defect and shot into fame as one of the illutrious vocalists of Carnatic music. At the age of seven, Vaidyanatha Ayyar was put on the practice of Vedas. He had an innate passion for music and so, was placed under the Nagaswara Vidwan Kulandaivel for training. He would not miss the peformances of great artistes. He played as 'second' to Marudhanallur Swamigal and established contacts with Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai. His anxiety to learn, practise and become a great artiste was intense leading to his spreading the net for acquisition of expertise far and wide. he attracted the attention of Manpoondia Pillai, the illustrious percussionist from Pudukottai and went with him to Tirunelveli where he was given special orientation in 'laya'. The training gave his rendition a lop-sided slant to laya to the detriment of sweet, balanced music. The lure of laya leads the musicians to over-indulgence and exhibitionist acrobatics to the detriment of melody and depth. As a friend, Tirukodikaval Krishna Ayyar is credited with bringing Vaidyanatha Ayyar back to the glorious path of balanced rendition. Sathanur Panchanadam Ayyar and Talaignayar Somu Ayyar imparted to him the techniques of tanam and swara prastaram.
Rich raga bhava, delectable ragamalikas, vivid and soulful delineation of raga and marvellous tanam, tillanas and javalis 'maintained to the very end of the concert the high seriousness emotional uplift and subtle, spiritual elan that kept the audience spellbound during the five hour Gitanjali. Mudicondan Venkatarama Ayyar mentions that the great vocalist would sing in the lower octave - mandra sthayi - with a closed mouth when loud-speakers were not there. Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Ayyar was a COLOSSUS who reached the pinnacle of glory by sheer will-power and unparalleled dedication.
'KUDIRAI' VAIDYANATHA AYYAR - VOCALIST...........(18th Century)
Ayyar was patronised by Sarabhoji Rajah of Thanjavur. As a horse was presented to him in recognition of his attainments, he got the appellation "Kudirai". Ghanam singing is reported to have had its beginnings with him. His son, Ghanam Ganapathy Ayyar is credited with facing Bobbili Kesavayya with success.
MAHA VAIDYANATHA AYYAR - VOCALIST & HARIKATHA MAESTRO...........(1844-1893)
He did not live to reach his fiftieth year; but the annals of Carnatic music abound with glorious accounts of his erudition, eminence, expertise and nobility. Born in 1844 at Vaiyacheri near Tanjore, of Panchanada Ayyar alias Doraiswami Ayyar, a musician related to Anai and Ayya through his wife, Vaidyanatha along with his elder brother Ramaswamy had his training in music under his father, later under the famous Anayya, the composer and finally with Manambuchavadi Venkatasybbayyar, a disciple of Saint Tyagaraja. He had a gifted voice, rich in harmonics with a charming ring in it. His was not a cultivated voice. He sang at a stetch with surprising rapidity and fluency. It would traverse three and a half octaves - anumandra panchama to atitara shadja and in six degrees (shatkala) speed. His command and grip of the finesse and intricacies of music and concert needs kept the audience in a trance.
A scholar in Sanskrit, Tamil, etc. he was a versatile harikatha exponent also. Hormally, he had his engagements for two days, his musical peformance on the first and his harikatha kalakshepam on the second day. His normal violin accompanists were Tirukkodikaval Krishna Ayyar, Subbarayar (Retta Pallavi Sivaramier's son) and Sambasiva Ayyar. Tanjore Narayanaswami Appa and Sama Rao were his mridangam accompanists. His vast repertoire, deep learning, entralling improvisation of ragas and swaras and above all the majestic grandeur of his personality coupled with dignified living, spiritual faith, innate nobility and total absence of greed took him to the pinnacle of glory as few else had. Maha had a big retinue of disciples at his house doing gurukulavasa. Over thirty persons would have their food at his house daily.
An account of the life of Maha Vaidyanatha Ayyar is not complete without a reference to the contests that were all forced on him and where he had to establish his supremacy as if to defend the title of 'Maha', so rightly conferred on him while so young. It should be noted that he never challenged any musician. He was fond of singing 'Giripai'. Once he happened to her the same song sung by Bikshandarkoil maestro. Maha Vaidyanatha Ayyar was enraptured and decided that he would not sing it thenceforth, however much he liked it. When pressed to sing it, he would say,
'It is Bikshandarkoil property. I have no right to handle it. A noble song so nobly rendered could not be touched by another. To render it even a trifling inferior in quality of rendition would be a sacrilege.'
THANJAVUR VAIDYANATHA AYYAR - MRIDANGAM MAESTRO...........(1894-April 13, 1947)
Vaidyanatha Ayyar was born in vaiyacheri near Thanjavur (a cradle of music which presented Anai-Ayya, Ramaswami Sivan and Maha Vaidyanatha Ayyar). His father Subramania Ayyar was the brother-in-law of Maha Vaidyanatha Ayyar. he took his percussion training under Thanjavur Doss Swamigal, Kannuswami Nattuvanar and his son, K.Ponniah Pillai. Vaidyanatha Ayyar had training for sixteen long years and blossomed into a maestro known for his technical excellence and brilliance of mesmerising fingering. Had innovated and developed separate mohras for all the 35 talas, devised diverse korvai-s, teermanams, etc. and had brought out many renowned mridangists of fame. His disciples included Thambuswami (brother of T.M.Theagarajan), Palghat Mani, T.K.Murthy, Mangudi Dorairaja Ayyar and a host of others.
Vaidyanatha Ayyar was an institution by hmself and students flocked to him. A model teacher, he shaped the future of many with loving care. he started playing for harikatha maestros of the period and provided accompaniment to stalwart musicians. Was mridanga artiste at the State Broadcasting Station, Trivandrum. A stern teacher and taskmaster, kind personally, a wizard in his percussive sphere, Vaidyanatha Ayyar rose from poor means to be loved and ever-remembered by the musical world for his absolute mastery and shaping, what came later to be called the 'Tanjore bani' of mridangam play. He believed in the bright future of his pupils and ensured it providing them with his golden touch. Palghat Mani once could not get at a laya combination and would not take his meal. The guru waited till he was able to solve and get it. That was his degree of solicitude! It was gurukulavesa in letter and spirit. The two Sangita Kalnidhis from the percussive field are his disciples.
Tiger Varadachariar hailed from a musical family of unique distinction. His father Ramanujachariar was a musical discourser, brother K.V. Srinivasa Ayyangar was a renowned musicologist while another brother K.V.Krishnamachariar was a veena player. In fact, Tiger used to say that he learnt much from the singing of his sister. Varadachariar was born on August 1, 1876 at Kolathur. Varadachariar's receptive ears and musical instincts drew inspiration and knowledge from street dramas, bhajans and even from occasional contacts such as with Fiddle Ramachandrayyar. He was big, burly and unprepossessing. This exterior housed a genial and lovable man, a brilliant musicologist, a musical artiste and an acknowledged teacher of renown. Music was not then prosperous from the economic view-point and the father wanted to keep his sons - all mad with music - away from it. But the inevitable happened. Photo Masilamani and Pedda Singaracharyulu encouraged Varadachariar in his musical pursuits and Varadachariar was with the venerable Patnam Subramania Ayyar for three years from the age of fourteen. Constraints of family forced young Varadachariar to enter the Survey Department at Calicut on Rupees twelve per mensem. Survey of lands did not deter the youth's pursuit for excellence and survey of music.
When he was at Mysore, he attracted the attention of Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who honoured him with the title of 'Tiger' and presented him with a 'thoda'. It was unique that in spite of a gruff voice, the 'Tiger' strode like a colossus for decades and extracted respect and honour with his superlative knowledge and universally accepted teaching acumen. As a musician, his voice lacked melody, ring and delicacy. But one can see in him 'a treasure house of varied musical gems of rare brilliance'. His flights of imagination were unlimited. His deep singing produced massive effect on the audience. Brikas, gamakas and graces would bristle out defying his unresponsive voice. He was a good composer of varnams, gitam, kritis, etc. 'Eediname Sudinamu' was composed by him when C.Rajagopalachariar visited Kalkshetra in 1948 as Governor General. 'Nidu Charanamule' (Simhendramadyamam) under the signature of Tyagaraja is actually a composition of the 'Three musketeers of Kaladipet', the Tiger Brothers.
SANGITA KALANIDHI MUDICONDAN C.VENKATARAMA AYYAR-VOCALIST & INTELLECTUAL..........(October 15, 1897-September 13, 1975)
Mudicondan C.Venkatarama Ayyar, son of Chakrapani Ayyar and Kamakshi Ammal, born at Srivanjiam, went through high school studies at Mudicondan and Sirkali. He had taken the role of female in dramas and taken part in puppet shows of 'Thalukku' Swaminatha Ayyar. Venkatarama Ayyar had his training in music under Ettalur Swaminatha Ayyar at Tiruvarur, Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Ayyar of eminence, Ammachatram Kannuswami Pillai, a tavil vidwan of pure laya excellence and Simizhi Sundaram Ayyar, a gem with little luck like Venkatarama Ayyar himself. He made his debut at the age of seventeen at Tiruppapuliyur (Cuddalore). There ensued a sixty-year undiluted sevice to music - nadopasana.
He was among the leaders at the Experts Committee of the Music Academy, and his contribution to the deliberations was substantial and weighty. He breathed 'an ineffably noble atmosphere.' Venkatarama Ayyar believed, quite unblievably, that lakshya (practice and usage) must receive greater attention than lakshana (grammer and theory) and that the latter should not be over-rated. Mudicondan Venkatarama Ayyar was master of many languages and could play with felicity on violin, kanjira, jalatarang, morsing and bulbul. Venkatarama Ayyar was a theorist non pareil, a musician of classical excellence and a model guru of rare parts and wisdom.
ALATHUR VENKATESA AYYAR - A MUSICIAN OF PERFECTION..........(c. 1895-1960)
Born in a comfortably affluent family, venkatesa Ayyar flowered forth into a rarely excelled musical maestro well equipped in both lakshana and lakshya. He had his training in music under Pottai Krishna Ayyar, disciple of Fiddle Sivaramakrishna Ayyar and probably under a disciple of the famous Manambuchavadi Krishna Ayyar, a disciple of Sri Tyagaraja. His sense of laya was supreme; he enjoyed a rich repertoire of the compositions of the Trinity, Meesu Krishna Ayyar, Tirupati Narayanaswami and others at a time when such an asset with musicians was rather meagre. He loved Tiruppugal and gave musical expression to it with intense passion attracted by the lyrical, musical and laya affluence in it. Surely the laya intricacies of Sri Arunagirinathar should have won over the laya perfectionist of Alathur!
Venkatesa Ayyar was a contented, self-respecting musician who did not believe in long travels to 'deal' in his music. He sang for atma-trpti as a nadopasaka. He trained many including the Brothers, the clarinet maestro A.K.Natarajan and the matinee-idol of yester decades, the sweet-voiced M.K.Tyagaraja Bhagavathar. Ayyar was a disciplinarian and was strict in imparting training. He had passionate devotion to Saint Tyagaraja and his songs. He founded the Sadguru Sangita Sabha at Tiruchirapalli and organised annually a ten-day Tyagaraja Utsava. He was a respected vidwan among the titans of the day like Tiger Varadachariar. Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Ayyar and Mysore Vasudevacharya. His illustrious disciples had proved that Venkatesa Ayyar and his were great.