Some Post Trinity Composers: A survey by Rasikan - 10/20/2007
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(From Sruti Ranjani 2004)
It is accepted by many that the contributions by the
Trinity (Syama Sastry, Thyagaraja, Dikshitar) signify
a watershed in the Carnatic music world. Dikshitar
excelled in delineating the raga swarupa. The compositions
of Syama Sastry are full of bakthi bhavam towards
Ambal, his ishta devatha; he also used the technical
embellishment of swara sahityams in many of his
compositions. While the contributions of each of the
Trinity were profound in many respects, those of Thyagaraja
were arguably the most influential on later composers.
In particular, almost all of these composers
have faithfully followed the kriti format that Thyagaraja
perfected. To that extent it may be claimed that the Carnatic
music that we hear today is Thyagaraja music.
This article is a short survey of some post Trinity composers
and a brief discussion highlighting their contributions
to Carnatic music. The material is culled from
the few books in my collection and some other sources.
Thus, it is by no means exhaustive. Also I have not
included those composers whose works consist primarily
of Padams, Javalis etc.
Junior contemporaries of Thyagaraja
Thyagaraja was still alive when Swati Tirunal (1813-
1846), the Royal composer of Travancore, died in 1846.
However, he was 46 years younger than Thyagaraja and
so can justifiably be called a junior contemporary of the
Trinity. It is to Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar
and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer that we owe the popularity
of Swati Tirunal's compositions. Some of the
famous ones are Deva deva (Mayamalavagowla),
Mamava sada janani (Kanada), Mamava sada varade
(Natakurinji), Pankajalochana (Kalyani), Sarasija
nabha murare (Todi). Bhogeendra sayinam in Kuntalavarali
is a lilting melody. He has composed two well
known ragamalikais: Pannagendra sayana and the
Dasavatara ragamalikai Kamalajasya. His Ramayana
kriti Bhavayami Raghuramam, originally in Saveri was
retuned to a brilliant ragamalikai by Semmangudi. The
works of Swati Tirunal also include varnams, tillanas,
bhajans. Lately there has been some controversy regarding
of the authorship of many of Swati Tiruanal’s
Subbaraya Sastry (1803-1861), the second son of
Syama Sastry had the unique privilege of studying with
each of the Trinity. His Reetigowla gem, Janani ninnu
vina, is one the staples of the concert repertoire. Many
of his kritis have beautiful swara sahityams, a la his
father’s; good examples are Sankari nee yani (Begada),
and Ema ninne (Mukhari). Again like those of his father,
most of his compositions are in praise of goddess
Ambal, However, the Hamir Kalyani kriti, Venkata
saila vihara is on the deity of Tirupathi.
Gopalakrishna Bharathy was a wandering minstrel. An
interesting anecdote relating to his composing Sabapathikku
veru deivam in Abhogi as a result of his meeting
with Thyagaraja was published in Sruti Notes. His
Kambhodhi kriti, Thiruvadi charanam, is one of the
most popular kritis in that ragam Sanjay Subramanyan
has recently released a CD album, titled Tillai, consisting
of five of Bharathy’s works. Bharathy’s monumental
opera, Nandanar Charithram, where he depicts the
travails of a lowly born bhaktha of Lord Siva, is very
The Tanjavur Quartette (Ponnaiah, Chinnaiah, Sivanandam,
Vadivelu) studied with Dikshitar. Ponniah’s composition,
Amba Neelambari, in Neelambari follows
very closely the music of Dikshitar’s kriti in the same
ragam, Amba Neelayadakshi and is said to be a tribute
to his guru. They were, for a short while, musicians at
the Travancore court of Swati Tirunal. Vadivelu was
one of the first South Indian musicians to have mastered
the violin and as a recognition of his musicianship
on that instrument, the king presented him with an
ivory violin. Some works known as Swati Tirunal’s
have been ascribed to Ponnaiah or Vadivelu3. The
quartette also composed many varnams and swarajatis
for dance and are famous for designing the margam
format for the Bharatanatyam performances.
Late 19th century/early 20th century
Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) was a grandson of
Baluswamy Dikshitar, brother of Muthuswamy Dikshitar.
His greatest contribution is the five volume Sangeetha
Pradarshini. This is a compendium of more than
250 kritis with notations of the Trinity (mostly of Dikshitar)
apart from many lakshnana geethams, varnams
etc.. The book is often cited as the authentic versions of
Dikshitar's kritis. He introduced the symbols currently
used for notating the typical gamakams in Carnatic music.
Among the compositions of Subbarama Dikshitar
is Sankaracharyam, the stately Sankarabharnam kriti
in Sanskrit whose music follows the structure of Dikshitar’s
Patnam Subramania Iyer (1845-1902) was among the
most prominent composers of the late nineteenth century.
He was a disciple of Manubuchavadi
Venkatasubba Iyer, a cousin and a senior disciple of
Thyagaraja. Both of them composed kritis and other
pieces with the mudra of Venakatesa leading to a confusion
as to which piece is whose. In particular the
well known navaraga varnam, Valachi vachi is sometimes
attributed to the latter. Patnam is famous for his
tuneful kriti Raghuvamsa sudha in Kadana kuthuhalam,
a top favorite with instrumentalists The brilliant chittaswara
for this kriti is unforgettable. Some of the other
kritis of Patnam Subramania Iyer often heard in the
concert circuits are Ninnu joosi, (Sowrashtram), Paridana
(Bilahari), Aparadumulannu (Lathangi), Marivere
dikkevarayya (Shanmukhapriya), Nijadasa varada
(Kalyani), Anu dinamunu (Begada). His renditions of
Begada were supposed to have been so masterly that he
was also called “Begada” Subramania iyer .
Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (1843-1893) was a contemporary
of Patnam Subramania Iyer. Although known
more as a great vocalist, he has to his credit, the monumental
melakarta ragamalikai in 73 ragas! The pallavi
is in Sri ragam and the piece goes on delineating all the
72 melakartas in order. There are many technical features
in this piece, one of which is the smooth
(chittaswara) transition from one raga to the next, the
scales of some of which may differ from the previous in
only one swaram! It takes almost one hour to render
the complete ragamalikai! M.S. Subbulakshmi has done
full justice to this great piece in a (commercially produced)
Vaidhyanatha Sivan was inseparable from his elder
brother Ramaswamy Sivan (1841-1898). The brothers
often traveled together with the elder brother acting
somewhat as a manager of the gifted younger sibling.
Some kritis are attributed to one or other, sometimes to
both. The better known ones are Pahimam Sri Raja
Rajeswari (Janaranjani), Sri Sankara (Nagaswarali),
Ekkalathilum (Natakurinji). The first two also have
There are a number of stories of friendly and sometimes
not so friendly rivalry between Patnam Subramania Iyer
and the Sivan brothers.
Ramanathapuram (Poochi) Srinivasa Iyengar (1860-
1919 ) was one of the two disciples of Patnam who
rose to be prominent composers in their own right [the
other was Mysore Vasudevacharya]. Among the more
famous of Poochi’s kritis are Saraguna palimpa,
(Kedaragowla), Parama pavana Rama (Poorvi Kalyani),
both with chittaswarams.
Both Patnam Subramania Iyer and Poochi Srinivasa
Iyengar have also composed many varnams, javalis and
Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar (1877-1945) experimented
with many rare ragams. One of them is
Niroshta (Raja raja). A feature of this ragam is that
one does not touch the upper and lower lips to pronounce
its scale: Sa, Ri, Ga, Dha, Ni, Sa; Sa, Ni, Da,
Ga, Ri, Sa. Other ragams that he introduced to Carnatic
music through his kritis include Vijayanagari
(Vijayambike), Karna ranjani (Vanchatonu ninnu),
Valaji (Jalandhara), Vijaya Saraswathy (Saranam
Vijaya). Madurai Mani Iyer, who learnt directly form
him and T.N. Seshagopalan who learnt from one his
disciples have popularized many of Muthiah Bhagavathar's
kritis. The latter has also cut a CD of Muthiah
Mysore Vasudevacharya (1865-1961), was a giant
among the modern composers. His Pranamamhayam
(Gowlai), Brochaver evarura (Khamas), Ra ra rajeeva
lochana (Mohanam), Palukavademira (Devamanohari)
are evergreen gems. He was in the faculty of Kalakshetra
and worked with the great Rukmini Devi in composing
music for many of the dance dramas produced
in that arts institution. As mentioned earlier he was a
disciple of Patnam Subramania Iyer. His book "Nan
kanda kalaviduru" is supposed to contain vignettes of
his guru kula vasam experience including the storied
rivalry between Patnam Subramania Iyer and Maha
Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) was perhaps the most
famous of the twentieth century composers. Actually,
his real name was Polagam Ramiah. Sivan is a moniker
sometimes attributed to persons deeply involved in the
worship of Lord Siva. Also since he lived in Papanasam
for a long time he came to be known as Papanasam
Sivan. A prolific composer, he has hundreds of, by
some estimates more than 2,500, kritis to his credit.
Most of his kritis are in Tamil with a few in Sanskrit.
His kritis are often heard in concerts. Some of the more
famous ones are: Karthikeya (Todi), Kaana kann kodi
(Kambhodhi), Mahalakshmi (Sankarabharanam), Unnai
allal (Kalyani), Kapali (Mohanam), Srinivasa thiruvenkatam
(Hamsanandi), Ini oru ganam (Sri Ranajani)
and the moving Navarasa Kannada kriti (Devi,
Undanukku) Nan oru vilayattu bommaiya. In fact, if a
weighty kriti in Tamil is presented in the pre RTP segment
of a concert, the chances are that it is by Sivan.
Indeed, his influence among the Tamil musicians is so
pervasive and strong that he is sometimes referred to as
Tamil Thyagayya! His kritis in Sanskrit include Srinivasa
thava (Karaharapriya), Narayana (Sama). Sivan
is one of the few who were not prominent concert musicians,
yet to be awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi by the
Madras Music Academy. The marghazhi (middle December
to middle January) bhajana processions led by
Sivan around Mylapore temple are legendary. Many
prominent musicians of those days used to join him in
the procession. Sivan had composed music for some of
the dance dramas performed at Kalakshetra. He also
composed for many movies of the thirties and forties.
Most of them are in chaste Carnatic music ragams.
Indeed, some of them, for example, Ma Ramanan
(Hindolam), could also be heard in concerts.
The great vocalist G.N. Balasubramanian (1910-1965)
has composed kritis mostly in praise of Ambal. Noteworthy
among these are Paramukha elanamma in Kanada,
Saraswathy in Saraswathy, Sada palaya in Mohanam.
His disciple, M.L. Vasanthakumari has given an
album of some of her guru's compositions.
The multi faceted genius, M. Balamurali Krishna is
probably the most prominent among the contemporary
composers. He has composed a kriti in Sarva Sri, a
ragam whose scale consists of just four swarams, Sa,
Ma, Pa Sa; Sa Pa, Ma Sa! He is also one the three who
have composed at least one kriti in each of the seventy
two sampurna melakarta ragams. [The other, as far as I
know are, Koteeswara Iyer and D. Pattammal. Dikshitar
also has composed in all the 72 melakartas, but he followed
the asampurna scheme.] For some reason, we do
not hear many of his compositions in the concerts except
for some tillanas.
T.N. Bala off Havertown, PA, is well known to us in
the Delaware Valley. His composition in Shanmukhapriya,
Vilayada idhu nerama was popularized by the
(late) Maharajapuram Santhanam. A compilation of
some of his kritis, Murugaratnakara, was recently published
as a book.
Another composer with a Delaware Valley association
is H. Yoga Narasimham (1897-1974) whose son H.Y.
Rajagopal is one of the founders of SRUTI. Yoga Narasimham
studied with Mysore Vasudevacharya. An
album of some of the kritis of Yoga Narasimham sung
by M.S. Subbulakshmi was released a few years ago.
His lilting Ranjani kriti Sadasaranganayane with a nice
chittaswaram is gaining in popularity as are many of his
other compositions. Yoga Narasimham also brought
into light some rare ragams like Latantapriya and Bhanudhanyasi.
with krits in these ragams.
The fame of some composers rest on a few but brilliant
kritis. Many of them have some of the best chittaswarams.
Mysore Sadasiva Rao is one of those composers.
His Harikambodhi kriti Saketa nagaranada has a scintillating
chittaswaram. Another composition with a
brilliant chittaswaram is Gajavadana in Todi by Ettayapuram
raja. The chittaswaram focusses on the gandharam
of Todi with a brilliant sequence of swarams
around that note. The Anandabhairavi kriti, Neemathi
sallaga of Mathrubudayya was very popular a few decades
While most of the above composers are Vaggyeyakaras,
i.e. those who wrote both the dhatu (melody) and
the matu (lyrics) of their kritis, there are extant some
pieces where one person wrote the matu for which
some other(s) provided the dhatu. Prominent among
these lyricists is Ambujam Krishna. Madurai Sundar
(of Detroit) has an album of some of Ambujam
The influence of Thyagaraja and his music was felt
among the composers in many ways. A disciple of
Thyagaraja, Vinai Kuppayyar paid a tribute to his guru
by composing Koniyadina in Kambhodhi with sangatis
in the style of O rangasayi. We have seen how most
post Thyagaraja composers used his kriti format to
structure their outputs. Some composers also used the
Thyagaraja 'mudra' in their compositions with the hope,
I presume, that this would ensure these kritis would be
performed as long as Thyagaraja was famous. Many
such 'spurious Thyagaraja' kritis have been unearthed.
One of the most famous of them is the Simhendramadhayamam
kriti Needu charanamule. This kriti by K.V.
Srinivasa Iyengar is still being included as a Thyagarja
kriti in some books! And some other eminent lyricists,
presumably enamored by the dhatu of some of Thyagaraja's
kritis, have used them and replaced the matu with
their own lyrics.
1. Dr. Gowri Kuppuswamy, Dr. M. Hariharan, Great
Composers; CBH publications, 1994.
2. The Hindu Speaks on Music, Kasturi & Sons, 1999.
3. Tanjore Quartette, Ed. K.P. Kittappa, K.P. Sivanandam;
pub. Tharmapurm S. Rathmaswamy Chettiar Endowment,
3rd ed. 1992.
4. Harikesanallur L. Muthiah Bhagavathar (a biography
in Tamil by H. Vaidyanathan), Narada Gana Sabha,
2nd ed, 2001.
(Rasikan, a former president of Sruti, is a music enthusiast.
He is a reliable and frequent contributor to Sruti
publications and has been a part of Sruti from its inception.)