Umayalpuram and Music

Umayalpuram and Music

The Umayalpuram brothers passed on to the next generation the rich musical treasure acquired by them from their guru. Umayalpuram Natesa Iyer, the only son of Krishna Bhagavatar who adopted his daughter's progeny, was a reputed school teacher, known as a strict disciplinarian and a hard taskmaster. While he took to teaching at school as his profession, he kept up the musical tradition of the family. Trained as a violinist, he taught to his children some of the compositions of the But unfortunately this vital link to the next generation was abruptly cut off when he died prematurely in his early forties, leaving behind a family of four sons and three daughters. The economic conditions compelled his eldest son Tyagarama Iyer, trained to sing, to seek employment in a different field, but he did not give up the family's music tradition. He learnt to play the gottuvadyam, first from the renowned Sakharama Rao, and later from Budalur Krishnamurthy. In addition to being a vocalist, he developed a unique style in gottuvadyam, rich in melody and volume. Tyagarama Iyer's official life was spent mostly in North India, serving the Defence Accounts; this literally denied him the opportunity to be close to the musical centres of Tamil Nadu. Nonetheless, his ardent devotion to music, in particular to the music tradition of the family, remained undiminished. He conducted an aradhana for Tyagaraja every year with devotion, as a domestic function. During the aradhana, he would present a musical discourse on Tyagaraja to the assembled gathering. The annual aradhana and the discourse continued without a break until his death in 1959. Tyagarama Iyer had histrionic talents also. He used to act the central role in quite a few dramas, like 'Nandanar', 'Ramadas' and 'Paduka Pattabhishekam', presented by dramatic groups in Bangalore, Delhi and Shimla in the nineteen thirties. In his later years, he was associated with the Madras Music Academy as a member of the Experts Committee. He participated in the celebration of the centenary of Tyagaraja's siddhi organised by the Academy during 1946-47 and gave a special musical discourse on the savant in one of the forenoon sessions in December 1946. He wrote a few articles on Tyagaraja and related subjects and these were published in The Hindu in 1947. Natesa Iyer's other sons—Rajagopala Iyer, Venkata Subramania Iyer and Muthukrishna Iyer—were also musically accomplished.

Rajagopala Iyer had a rich and mellifluous voice and used to give music recitals at informal gatherings. He had learnt some rare compositions of the bard from Swami Bhagavatar and Ayya Bhagavatar (son of Sundara Bhagavatar). He taught these and other compositions of Tyagaraja to his daughters and Tyagarama Iyer's sons. Venkata Subramania Iyer was also an accomplished gottuvadyam player, besides being a vocalist. He also spent his official life mostly in Central India, in Nagpur and Raipur. The family tradition and the Guru Aradhana were done with great devotion in all these places. He also used to give a musical discourse at such meetings before invited audiences. Muthukrishna Iyer, the youngest of the quartet, was a competent vocalist. He spent most of his life in Nagpur and Bhopal, serving the Madhya Pradesh Government and used to give music recitals in these places. He had a flair for composing. He composed 26 songs in Tamil which were published after his death by his son Dr. M.S. Narayanan. Srivatsa S. Jayarama Sharma, well-known scholar and expert in religious discourses, wrote in his foreword to this publication that all his compositions were spontaneous and he never strained or paused to find a suitable word during composing.

Preserved Compositions

In The Family

Members of the families of the Umayalpuram brothers learnt between them, over the years, some 350 compositions of Tyagaraja. Of these, there are some which family members consider as special. These include: A select few are sung at specific functions, such Balakanakamaya in Athana, Rama ninney mi m mi n.inu in Husseini, Merusamana in Mayamalavagaula, Dorakuna ituvanti in Bilahari, Ksheenamai in Mukhari, Mokshamugalada in Saramati and Santamuleka in Sama. Songs in rare raga-s like Manavati, Chayatarangini, Malavasrce, Ganamoorti and Amritavahini. Compositions with a pathantara different from those in vogue today, like: Sangeeta gnanamu in Dhanyasi, Sundari nee in Kalyani, Chalamelara in Marga Hindolam and Seetamma mayamma in Lalita.

The third generation

The sons and daughters of Tyagarama Iyer and his brothers carried on the practices initiated by their parents, such as the organisation of annual aradhana-s for Tyagaraja, learning music with special attention to compositions of the savant. Some of them learnt to play an instrument—veena, gottuvadyam, mridanga—to perpetuate their forefathers' memories and achieved reasonably good standards in rendering the compositions. With the initiative and active efforts of T. Karthikeyan, son of Tyagarama Iyer, two endowments have been created: one at Sri Tyagaraja Vidwat Samajam, Mylapore, and another at the Madras Music Academy, to pay homage to their great-grandfathers. Accordingly, Umayalpuram Brothers Day is celebrated on the fifth day of July every year since 1994 at the Samajam. The endowment at the Music Academy is used for publications and other related activities. Inspired by the music tradition of the family, T.N. Rajan of Hyderabad initiated a multimedia

CD project focussing on Tyagaraja's compositions. In this project he received substantial support and contributions from two others: B.R.C. Iyengar, critic & correspondent of Sruti and music critic of The Hindu in Hyderabad &. Secunderabad, who is also a music teacher and the author of a book; and L.J. Haravu, a computer software expert of long experience.

V.S. Amarnath Sury, son of Venkata Subramania Iyer and himself a trained vocalist, is presently one of the Secretaries of the Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha, Mumbai, serving artists and music lovers. The late R. Venkataraman, son of Manjakudi Ramachandra Bhagavatar, was an accomplished vocalist whose recitals were regularly broadcast by AIR stations in Delhi and Madras for more than three decades. He retired as Deputy Registrar of the University of Delhi. Sampradaya of Chennai recorded some 30 kriti-s of Tyagaraja sung by him, at the instance of Swami Dayananda Saraswati who has had a very close association with the family. The audio tapes are in the archives of the institution, Sampradaya.

Santha Rajan, daughter of Manjakudi Ramachandra Bhagavatar, had the opportunity to learn music under her father and learnt quite a few of Tyagaraja's compositions.

The present generation

The present generation of the families of Tyagarama Iyer and his brothers are also cultivating the family traditions. A promising A grand-daughter of Tyagarama Iyer, through his daughter, is a promising musician with a natural flair, a rich voice and an impressive ability for quick learning. She was taught music by T. Santhanam, a son of Tyagarama Iyer and a scholar with a deep knowledge of music. Presently she is a chartered accountant but hopefully she will reach in the years to come the professional standard required to be a concert musician as well.