Mysore Sadasiva Rao, amusician who lived in the 19th century, ranks as one among the outstanding vaggeyakara-s of Karnataka. He is supposed to have composed hundreds of songs in diverse raga-s and tala-s, though only a fraction of them have survived. Not only the rest of the songs, even details of Sadasiva Rao's early
life are not available. Virtually the only source of information is the book about his life and works published by Sangeeta Kalabhivardhini Sabha, Mysore, in 1954, when Mysore K. Vasudevacharya was its President. In that book, N. Channakeshavaiah, B.K. Padmanabha Rao and H. Yoganarasimham, who were its editors, have given a brief account of the composer's life as could be gathered from various sources. Sadasiva Rao was born in Chittoor in the then Madras Presidency and now in Andhra Pradesh. He belonged to a desastha Brahmin family of Maharashtrian origin and his parents were Ganesha Rao and Krishnabai. Since he was attached to the Mysore court for 50 years from 1835 to 1885 and as he is said to have migrated to Mysore when he was about 30 years of age, it can be deduced that he was born in 1805. Not much is known about his education. He was employed for some period in the Chittoor District Collector's office as a clerk. His wife Sundara Bai was a paternal aunt of Ami Jahagirdar Tirumala Raosaheb.
It is surmised that, in his younger days, Sadasiva Rao must have studied music under Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar. It was while he was in Walajapet that he reportedly met Tyagaraja. The incident, as recorded by Ramaswamy Bhagavatar, grandson of Venkataramana Bhagavatar, in Tyagabrahmopanishad, is that when the savant of Tiruvaiyaru was visiting his disciple in Walajapet, Sadasiva Rao composed the kriti Tyagarajaswami vedalina and sang it before him and received his blessings. Unfortunately, this kriti is among the hundreds that have gone missing. Sadasiva Rao moved to Mysore in 1835. The legend goes that two rich merchants of Mysore, Kopparam Chinnamuniswami Shetty and his brother Muniswami Shetty, brought him over and introduced him to the then ruler Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who was a great and generous patron of the arts. After listening to Sadasiva Rao sing, the Maharaja made him an asthana vidwan. Since that time, this Maharashtrian immigrant from Telugu country came to be known as Mysore Sadasiva Rao.
Vasudevacharya, who in his younger days had seen Sadasiva Rao, has described the latter as a dignified person whose very sight induced respect. Thanks to the royal patronage and aristocratic disciples like Veena Subbana, Sadasiva Rao was never short of funds. But he did not leave behind wealth of any magnitude because he was a very generous man and he treated his guests as if they were gods visiting him.
Sadasiva Rao reportedly visited many places of pilgrimage in South India. There is a very interesting account of how the end of his life came about. It is said that he was aware when his life would end. On the day he believed he was ordained to pass on, following his bath and pooja, he sat facing north and started singing softly to himself his own composition Kamalakanta Sree Krishna, in the raga Vasanta. Then, after massaging his head with a spoonful of ghee, he withheld his breath and gave up his life. The story goes that the tambura and other musical intruments in his house reverberated on their own at that moment.
Only 47 of Sadasiva Rao's compositions are available today. These were published by Sangeeta Kalabhivardhini Sabha, Mysore, in 1954. Thirty-five are with notations and the other 12 have only sahitya.
Sadasiva Rao's mother tongue was Marathi but his compositions are either in Telugu or Sanskrit. The lyrics of his kriti-s are on various gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon: Rama (23); Krishna (5); Sankara (2); Kanchi Kamakshi (2); Narasimha, Parthasarathy, Ranganatha, Kesava, Ekamresa, Saundaryavalli, Rajarajeswari, Subrahmanya, Anjaneya and Gajanana (one each). There is a kriti each on Madhvacharya and Satyavijaya Swami of Sree Uttaradi Math. The pada varna and the tillana are addressed to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Sadasiva Rao composed many of his kriti-s while on visits to kshetra-s or places of pilgrimage.
Thus, Sree Parthasararathey is associated with the temple in Tiruvallikeni (Triplicane in Chennai); Paramadbhutamaina with Srirangam; Samrajyadayakesa, Kanugoni and Kamakotipeetha sthitey with Kanchipuram; Sree Lakshmiramana with Bhavanipura,situated between the Kaveri andBhavani rivers; and Sree Subrahmanya with Palani. He used four different ankita-s with which to sign off his kriti-s, namely, Sadasiva, Sadasivakavi, Kavi Sadasiva and Varakavi Sadasiva. Interestingly, he did not use any for his tillana and for his erotic composition like the pada varna. Perhaps, the devout and orthodox brahmin that he was, he subconsciously felt he should not acknowledge overtly sringaraoriented compositions as his own creations. He composed most of the kriti-s in raga-s popular then (and even now after a century), though he has explored certain rare raga-s also, like Punnagatodi, Poornashadja and Balahamsa.
His kriti-s have the standard p a 11 a v i - a n u p a 11 a v i - c h a r a n a structure and sequence. The number of charana-s vary from one to four. Many of the kriti-s have chittaswara sahitya. And many of the passages have veena-style sangati-s. Also seen are embellishments like swarakshara-s, yati patterns and sthayi bedha-s. Generally, the movements are within the amplitude of the middle and upper registers. The texts, musically captured in madhyama kala, are quite profuse and tough in some passages. Raga mudra is seen in only one composition: O Rajarajeswari in Kalyani.
Sadasiva Rao had many disciples. Prominent among them were Veena Seshanna, Veena Subbanna, Bettadapurada Shyamanna, Hanagal Chidambariah, Chikkanayakanahalli Venkatesaiah and Ganjam Suryanarayanappa. Asthana vidwan Chintalapalli Vcnkata Rao, who was a disciple of Hanagal Chidambaraiah, used to remark that his guru used to sing hundreds of compositions of Sadasiva Rao.
Sadasiva Rao was a very pious person and, in the true spirit of the sishya parampara of Tyagaraja, he started a Ramotsava in Mysore. Later, when the framed portrait of Seeta-Rama which he was worshipping broke, the wooden mandapa which used to house the portrait was kept in the Kanyaka - Parameswari temple in Doddapet. It can be seen there even now. He passed away at the age of 80.