- By Padma Varadan


The Publishing Career begins

About the same time as Father's contact with Dhanammal, also came about a chance encounter with that great post-Trinity composer, Papanasam Sivan. Stung to indignation that a rare genius like him should languish in penury and non-recognition, Father used his notation-making skills to give Sivan the break that he deserved. Sivan's 'Keertanamalai' saw the light of day in 1933 solely due to Father's labour of love. An impressive release function in collaboration with Muthanna of the Jagannatha Bhakta Sabha advertised the Sivan phenomenon far and wide. Before long, film directors knocked at Sivan's doors, first with lyric assignments and later with roles as well in their films.

Lalitangi and her daughter M L Vasantakumari brought out their publication of Purandaradasa's 'Purandaramanimalai' in 1941. Here again Father played a role behind-the-scenes, providing help in editing, notating and organising the publishing.


Papanasam Sivan honouring Rangaramanuja Ayyangar at a felicitation function in 1977.

Tyagaraja's birth centenary was just a few years away. There was all-round enthusiasm to observe the event in a fitting manner. A committee of four that included Father was constituted to plan and bring out a volume of the bard's songs, with suitable notation, in time for the aradhana in January 1947. The committee discussed the laudable idea over lunch, tea and dinner; the ever-obliging press too gave wide coverage. But that was about all! Father was dismayed that, while the centennial was fast approaching, no concrete efforts were in evidence to implement the original intention. Hoping he could sufficiently motivate the committee atleast with a ready manuscript, he set about preparing it. He completed it in late 1945 but it was a merry passing-the-buck game thereafter. The manuscript moved from one desk to another without even the courtesy of a cursory glance.

Father, in his characteristic fashion, decided to go it alone. There was moral support from a few staunch friends like Muthanna. But the latter was fast fading out as a force, struck as he was by a deadly stroke. Nevertheless, there was no looking back. And 'Kritimanimalai', Part 1 was out in time for the Aradhana in the centenary year. A hundred select pieces with detailed notation, meanings and raga lakshana accompanied as well by a brief biography were for the first time offered at the feet of the Muse at a release function in Madras. A school teacher of meagre means but with amazing tenacity of purpose had come forward to erect the much vaunted memorials not only to Tyagaraja but his peers Dikshitar and Syama Sastry too, not to speak of the other stars in the firmament like Kshetragna. A monumental series of volumes, subsequently enlarged, revised and regrouped into four bulky crown-size volumes with an average of 800 pages, each on a scale hitherto unattempted, covering 1500 classical compositions, hit the scene.

This feat was no cakewalk. He as a chronic high diabetic for over four decades, with an unrelenting ritual of daily self-injection of insulin, and a victim of bouts of euremia, but these were no deterrents. Nor were a year of leave from school on loss of pay and the consequent financial strain. But manna did descend from heaven from time-to-time. For instance, proceeds from a cultural, lecture-demonstration tour of Malaya-Singapore in 1951, took care of yet another publication and so on. Yet, paradoxically, buoyant, independent India was just then witnessing unprecedented Government patronage for the arts, the beneficiaries not always deserving of the largesse. No such assistance was forthcoming from any quarter however, for Father's pioneering efforts.

Worse still was the mounting prejudice against written material in music. It never registered with the powers that be, that the subtlest of nuances, anuswaras, gamakas and rakti aspects so distinctive of Carnatic music system could be analysed exhaustively in terms of the various swaras that indeed permeate them and be scrupulously recorded with precision, using only a few intelligible signs, mainly to mark the phrase lengths. With this approach, not much is left to chance, unlike the arbitrary curves and similar graphic noting which admit of endless speculative interpretation.

Although never in the rat race for popularity and pelf from the concert platform, Father's equal involvement with theory and practice is amply borne out in his publications. What is 'Kritimanimalai' if it is not a work that encompasses both aspects, a complete compendium of songs with detailed notes on meanings and raga lakshana, with special treatment of rhythm through a chapter on rhythm exercises? There were also Jayadeva's 'Geeta Govinda' and 'Hari Keertanam' of Suddhananda Bharati, for which Father set the tunes as well. What did it prove?


Palghat Mani Iyer, the mridangam wizard receiving the first copy of 'Pallavi Tradition'

Again, how about his 'Pallavi Tradition' with 25 sample Pallavis duly delineated when for the first time, the less inhibited but influential musicans like K V Narayanaswamy, Lalgudi Jayaraman, D K Jayaraman and other participated in the function at which it was released? What was that if not practical music? Further, his reviews appearing in the Tamil magazine Kaveri under the pen name of Sabari were refreshing lessons in constructive criticism.

The erudite scholar-musician was irrepressible. He could hardly resist the need for a cogent record of the landmarks in the evolution of Carnatic music from its Vedic origins. 'History of South Indian Music from Vedic times to the present', in chaste English was his tribute to the geniuses, starting with Bharata, who with rare insight, added fresher and fresher dimensions to the Indian music system over the centuries. 'Sangeeta Ratnakara - A Study', again in English, was a corollary that was a compulsive addition.


To be continued

The Rangaramanuja Ayyangar Saga - Part 2

The RRA Saga - Part 1

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