Veena exponent and musicologist R.S. Jayalakshmi described the nuances of the composer’s work at a lec-dem

Rasika Ranjani Sabha hosted a thematic series titled ‘Music in Perpetuity’, which had a lecture-demonstration on composers and musicians of the past in the mornings and a concert based on them in the evenings.

Conceptualised by Aruna Prabha Ranganathan, the idea was to make young enthusiasts aware of the work and thought processes of these great composers. The series featured composers, particularly from the Tyagaraja sishya parampara, who are not as well known as the Trinity.

Veena vidushi R.S. Jayalakshmi, a teacher and musicologist, presented a lec-dem on Patnam Subramania Iyer (1845-1902), and spoke of how he had created a treasure of kritis, varnams, javalis and thillanas in his short life.

Trained by stalwarts

Born in Tiruvaiyaru, Subramania Iyer’s family was steeped in music. His grandfather Panchanada Sastri was a musician in the court of Maharajah Serfoji II and his father, Bharatam Vaidyanatha Iyer, was accomplished in music. It was his maternal uncle, Melattur Ganapati Sastri, who initially trained Subramania. Later, he learnt from Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer and Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaiyer, a direct disciple of Tyagaraja. Jayalakshmi wondered if these two gurus were the inspiration behind Subramania Iyer’s sahitya mudra ‘Venkatesa’.

The prefix ‘Patnam’ was added to his name since he lived in Chennai patnam in later years. Jayalakshmi commended the composer’s expertise in Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi and the special pallavi he sang in Simhanandana tala, which has 128 aksharas. She pointed to his mastery in singing tanam and advised learners to practise his tana varnams to get ideas for singing at advanced levels. Quoting from Mysore Vasudevachar’s book, Naan Kanda Kalavidaru, Jayalakshmi spoke about how Vasudevachar described the experience of learning from Subramania Iyer, who made him only observe for the first six months before starting to teach, and then began, much to the sishya’s surprise, with the Begada varnam.

Of the 40 varnams he has composed, the popular are the Navaragamalika varnam and Abhogi varnam across three octaves. She also mentioned the two Ata tala varnams in Sahana, both with sarvalaghu pattern in the third post-charanam set of swarams.

Jayalakshmi sang the Kannada varnam, assisted by her disciple and granddaughter Charulatha Chandrasekar, to show how he introduced the grammar of a raga through different swara phrases. She also noted that in the Navaragamalika varnam, he followed the usage of ‘pa dha ni pa ma’, a Dikshitar school prayoga in the Sri raga swaras.

Referring to the book, Sri Venkatesa Tana Varnangal, by his disciple Kakinada C.S. Krishnaswamy, and the couple of varnams that find place in Varna Sagaram by musician T.K. Govinda Rao, Jayalakshmi highlighted the swarakshara (the words phonetically matching the swaras) lines, yatis (increasing and decreasing syllabic patterns), a few rare prayogams in Natakurinji and Sankarabharanam in the varnams he composed. He handled apoorva ragas like Narayana Gowla and Begada beautifully, which eventually made him known as ‘Begada’ Subramania Iyer.

Particularly adept at handling rare ragas like Sindhu Mandhari, Suguna Bhushani, Simhavahini, the composer created the new raga, Kadanakuthuhalam, with the popular composition, ‘Raghuvamsa sudhambudhi.’

Tyagaraja’s influence on his compositions come through in their structure— ‘Etunammina’ in Saveri and ‘Varamulu saki’ in Kiravani, which display the raga in the very first phrase, with many sangatis added to expand the abstract form; and ‘Rama ika nannu’ in Sahana, which has ‘ri ri’, the jeeva swara, at the very beginning, similar to Tyagaraja’s ‘Ee vasudha’. Another similarity is how the song begins with the one-and-a-half beat.

The duo also sang and explained the solkattu chittaswaram in ‘Inka dayarale’ in Chakravakam; and highlighted the prosodic beauty of ‘Manasa vrudha garvametike’ in Abhogi.

The composer’s verses are mostly in Sanskrit, with just one Telugu verb in many kritis, a feature also found in his disciple Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar’s compositions. As a guru, Subramania Iyer encouraged his students to compose and had no qualms about cross-checking the lyrics with Vasudevachar, who had a good knowledge of Sanskrit. He seldom sang his own compositions in concerts. The lec-dem ended with a reference to his javalis and tillanas, especially the popular Khamas tillana.

The Chennai-based writer specialises in Carnatic music.



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