Alathur Brothers

  • Published By: Sruti

The finest singing duo of the 20th century, in the field of Carnatic music, was the Alathur Brothers – formally Srinivasa Iyer and Sivasubramania Iyer, and informally Cheenu and Subbu. In this centenary year of the more popular but the younger of the two, Alathur Sivasubramania Iyer, much has been written, said and telecast about the duo, revealing that they were musical brothers hailing from two different families from different linguistic backgrounds.

The story begins with Alathur Venkatesa Iyer, their guru. Venkatesa Iyer learnt music from Dasavadyam Krishna Iyer of Tiruvaiyaru. Krishna Iyer, according to some accounts, was a disciple of Tillaisthanam Panju Bhagavatar, a direct disciple of Tyagaraja. Another version says that Venkatesa Iyer was a disciple of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubba Iyer. Either way, the line traces back to the saint-composer.

Venkatesa Iyer (born 1894) had drifted from a vedic-chanting family to learn music. He mastered the harmonium and could even demonstrate gamakas on the instrument, goes the story. Moving forward to the 1910s, Venkatesa Iyer married and settled down in Tiruchi. The first son, born in 1914, did not survive even for a year. The second, born in 1916, was named Sivasubramaniam.