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Papanasam Sivan
Tamizh Tyagayya! To be compared to the incomparable Tyagaraja is the highest reward a vaggeyakara can aspire to in Carnatic music, and Papanasam Sivan earned the honour with his ..., Read more

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Papanasam Sivan

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Tamizh Tyagayya! To be compared to the incomparable Tyagaraja is the highest reward a vaggeyakara can aspire to in Carnatic music, and Papanasam Sivan earned the honour with his extraordinary oeuvre of bhakti-soaked lyrics in Tamil, Sanskrit and Telugu.

With several hundred songs in a variety of ragas and in three languages to his credit, Polagam Ramaiya often performed his own songs on the stage, even acted in films and sang in them songs he composed. He also taught music at Kalakshetra, at the invitation of its founder Rukmini Devi Arundale; he was one of the galaxy of great music and dance gurus she gathered around her. His simple lyrics were pregnant with bhakti. Some of the songs he composed for films (like Maa Ramanan) are today rendered on the Carnatic music Carnatic stage.

Born at Polagam village in Tanjavur district to Yogambal and Ramamrita Iyer, Ramiah moved to Tiruvanantapuram where his mother took him and his siblings after his father’s death in 1897, when the boy was barely seven. Her brother-in-law was a priest at the Padmanabha Swamy temple there. Ramaiya learned Malayalam and Sanskrit and graduated in grammar.

He played an active role in the devotional music sessions at the home of Neelakantha Sivan at Tiruvanantapuram. He sang the bhajana songs he learnt there at temples during his travels.

Learning music first from Noorani Mahadeva Bhagavatar, he later became an ardent follower of Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, blooming into an accomplished musician over time.

For seven long years Sivan listened to Konerirajapuram regularly, and his singing was greatly influenced by his style. Neelakantha Sivan and Konerirajapuram were the main influences on Sivan the composer.

Ramaiya came to be known as Papanasam Sivan ostensibly because he frequented the temple at Papanasam during his wanderings from temple to temple soon after his mother’s death when he was 20, singing devotional verses, covering himself in the sacred ash of vibhuti, symbolic of Siva.

Sivan regularly attended temple festivals at Kumbakonam, Nagapatnam, Tiruvarur, Tiruvaiyaru and Mylapore, Madras. For 48 consecutive years, he led the bhajana in the Saptasthanam festival at Tiruvaiyaru, and from 1921 to 1972, the Markazhi bhajana team around the Kapali temple, leading them along the four mada streets at the break of dawn.

Living near Kutcheri Road, Santhome, on a street that has now been named after him, Sivan taught S Rajam, S Balachander and the other children of Sundaram Iyer. Rajam was his first student. Sivan made his film debut composing music for the film, `Seeta Kalyanam’, whose cast included the Sundaram Iyer family.

Sivan was a simple soul untouched by fame. The great scholar Rangaramanuja Iyengar had Sivan’s compositions published in 1934 as Kirtanamalai. Sivan’s signature Ramadasa was said to be born of his admiration of Bhadrachala Ramadasa. He was equally devoted to the compositions of Gopalakrishna Bharati, whose pathos, humility and bhakti, as in Tiruvadi saranam found reflection in Sivan’s work as well. Muthu Tandavar and Arunachala Kavi were other Tamil composers he admired.

Papanasam Sivan received the President’s Award in 1962 and the Sangita Kalanidhi award of the Madras Music Academy in 1971.


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