An interview with Kallidaikurichi Mahadeva Bhagavatar
Kallidaikurichi Mahadeva Bhagavatar – torch bearer of the Kallidaikurichi school of the Dikshitar parampara, a student of Vedanta Bhagavatar and Ambi Dikshitar.
We requested him to sing .And he willingly obliged. He was accompanied by his grandson and disciple Narayanan.They sang ‘KamalambAm bhajare’.As they sang the very first line we could discern the distinct usage of his school.We also requested him to sing Chandram Bhaja [their version has the 5th line in the madhyama kala passage with the rashyadipathi reference ‘kamanIya vara kaTaka rAshyAdhipaM’ and the starting line ‘candraM bhaja re re mAnasa’]. He sings and goes on to explain, “asAveri does not have catushruti rishabham. But if one sings this krithi starting with shuddha rishabham then it will not be pleasing to the ears. People sing it with catushruti rishabham directly.One need not do that but one can start slightly higher(rishabhathai konjam kooTi pidikkalAm).”
After this we proceeded with a casual ‘conversation style’ interview.
Q : Please tell us the story of how Ambi Dikshitar came to Chennai?
KMB:(with a smile) O That story…I shall tell you..It was in the 1930’s.AnantaKrishna Iyer was studying under Ambi Dikshitar at Ettayapuram.His brother-in-law was Vedanta Bhagavatar,my guru.Infact he had even met Subbrama Dikshitar in Ettayapuram through Sattanur Panju Iyer or someone. I think he met him sometime around 1889.My guru was in Kallidaikurichi.He was giving harikatha performances and concerts.So AnantaKrishna Iyer called Vedanta Bhagavatar and told him ,”Let us learn Dikshitar kritis from Ambi Dikshitar ..and in a few years they set up base in Chennai.So around 1934 they brought Ambi Dikshitar to Chennai in a place near MirSahibpet.It was later that they shifted.That house on Royapettah has not changed even now.
It was in Ambi Dikshitar’s pooja room that the palmleaf manuscripts and the hand-drawn picture of Dikshitar was kept.Not the one with the veena…This is the one published in the books of Veenai Sundaram Iyer.This portrait of Dikshitar was supposedly drawn by an artiste when Dikshitar was in his pooja by peeping into the room through an open window.Otherwise he did not allow him to draw.. So we had copies of around 470 odd kritis.One copy with me the disciple of Vedanta Bhagavatar,one with AnantaKrishna Iyer and one with Sundaram Iyer.
Q: How many kritis were there in total?
KMB:There were atleast around 1000 kritis.
Q: Were there any titles on the manuscripts?
KMB: The Kamalamba navavarana kritis had the title and the tatparyam.Do you see that picture [pointing to a picture in his pooja room].That is the picture of Kameshwari – a pictorial representation of the line “shrIpura bindu madyastha shivAkAramancastitha…” The rest were not labelled.Looking at the vibhakti structure we did the grouping.And the Rahu and Ketu kritis were not together with the other navagraha kritis.They were available as part of the Lalithopakhyana kritis.
I can tell you there were kritis for all the names of the LalitaSahasranama like shrImAta.
Q : Can you tell us something about the Harikatha which your guru Vedanta Bhagavatar used to perform ?
KMB: Yes.I have also accompanied him.He prepared the harikatha niroopanam for the Lalitopakhyana kritis and he used to perform them.That was about 1936-1937.The text available in the Sundaram Iyer book was prepared by me.
Q :Tell us something about Ambi Dikshitar
KMB: He used to sing very well.Even at the age of 65 his shArIram was very good.Infact his son Tiruvarur Baluswami and I were learning together for sometime.
Q :What about the abhogi kriti, “shrI lakshmI varAham”? How do we explain a raga which does not occur in the venkaTamakhin scheme or in the anubandham?
KMB: Wouldnt I have asked this question? I did ask this..It has come somehow and I have no explanations as to how it came.
Q.Regarding the krithi Chandram Bhaja manasa what about the additional line in madhyamakala charanam..
KMB:Yes the line is “Kamaniya vara kataka rashyadipam”. (He sings the krithi and then goes on to explain..) People start this song with the chatusruthi rishabham.And people say that this raga has chatushruthi rishabam. It actually does not.When there is a “Ri Ma Ri Ma” prayoga if one uses the suddha rishabam it will not be aesthetic.Infact it will be horrible to listen to.One needs to use the rishabam a bit higher in such a situation.The rishabam must be sung a bit higher(rishabathai konjam kooti pidikkanam).People explicitly sing this with chatushruthi rishabam(pattavarthanamaa chatushruthi rishabathai pidikkaraa). One does not have to do that.Konjam kooti pidichaal porum.Let us take the case of “Angarakam” the Suratti krithi. The pallavi comes to seven avarthanas.People say that this is wrong when it is not.Let us take the case of “Halasyanatham”.Does anyone sing it the way it has to be sung? Traces of Kanada should come in Darbar. otherwise it is not correct.
Q: Are Devakriya and suddha saveri the same?
KMB:Thyagaraja’s Darini thelusukonti is Sudha saveri. Similarly Ekamresha nayike is suddha saveri. Whereas Sri guruguha tarayashumam and madhuramba samrakshatumam are in Devakriya.
People sing this Devakriya akin to Suddha saveri.That is incorrect. There is no panchamam in the avarohanam of Devakriya. It is sa ri ma pa da sa and sa da ma ri sa.There are many such ragas that have been tampered with.Even “Sri naathadhi gurugho” the first krithi has been tampered with. Our version of that krithi is different.Thus almost everything has been tampered with right from the beginning
(Aadhi lendhu ellaame thappaa thaan paadindirukkaa”).
Q: About Maye(The tarangini krithi)....
KMB: Maye and Rangapuravihara have been damaged beyond repair.I have decided never to sing these krithis again.There is no raga sudha tharangini.It is just “tarangini” and has only a suddha dhaivatham. People just make their own justification for their inability to sing ragas Likewise there is no raga called Kamala manohari. It is just manohari. People picked up a phrase from the krithi and made it a new raga. Kamala is just a part of the krithi and the raga mudhra there is manohari.