Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai

Tiruppamburam Nataraja Sundaram Pillai
– Ravi & Sridhar

Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai hailed from a family of musicians who migrated from Kalyancolapuram near Mayavaram to Tiruppamburam. He was born on 15th December 1869 as the son of a nagasvaram vidvan Swaminatha Pillai.

He and his brother Sivasubrahmaniam were put under the tutelage of Injikkudi Kumarappillai. After learning the instrument, their father wanted them to increase their keertana repertoires and located Umayalpuram Duraswamy Ayyar and Sattanur Panchanadha Iyer who were then considered the repositories of Tyagaraja and Dikshitar’s compositions, respectively.Swaminatha Pillai brought these two musicians to his town and made his sons learn under them. Natarajasundaram Pillai and Sivasubrahmanya Pillai started the tradition of nadaswaram rendering as a duet. It was said that Ramanaathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar and Sarabha Sastri were fond of their music. Sarabha Sastry is also said to have shown his harikatha nirupanams to Natarajasundaram Pillai to seek his opinions on them. The tavil vidvans who accompanied them include Srivanchiyam Govinda Pillai, Mannargudi Pallupakkiri Pillai, Ammapettai Pakkiri Pillai Vazhuvur Muttuviru Pillai etc. Among nagasvara vidwans, it was the more popular approach to learn musical compositions as svaras and ignore the role of sahitya as it was not applicable to an instrument. However the composition will shine only if the sahitya elements are incorporated with the necessary blowing techniques such as akaram and tuttukaram at the appropriate places. Natarajasundaram and his brother were said to have achieved fame in playing compositions on the nagasvaram keeping in mind the sahitya bhava, as well.

Veena Dhanammal also learnt her repertoire of Dikshitar Krtis from Sattanur Panchanada Iyer and is said to have spoken highly of the raga bhava that she found in Panchanada Iyer’s renditions. Once, after many years Natarajasundaram Pillai came to visit Dhanammal and suggested that they should sing together a few Dikshitar kritis that they had learnt from their Ayya. It is said that both sang and found, that after all those years there was not a whit of difference in their versions. Both had retained the music to the minutest sangati.

Natarajasundaram Pillai published a collection of Dikshitar compositions as he learnt from Sattanur Panchanada Iyer (who inturn learnt from Tiruvarur Shuddha Maddalam Tambiyappa Pillai) titled Dikshita Kirtana Prakashika. This edition was in Tamil and contained 50 notated compositions of Muttuswami Dikshitar. It serves today as an authentic cross-reference of the compositions of Dikshitar outside of the Subbarama Dikshitar lineage.

The famous flautist Tiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai was his son. His other sons include Somasundaram Pillai who served as the principal of the Pazhani temple Nagasvaram school and Sivasubrahmanya Pillai , the lecturer of Annamalai University. He passed away in the year 16.11.1938.

Translated from the Tamil biography of Dr.B.M.Sundaram’s Mangala Isai Mannargal

A.Anantarama Iyer – Profile

A.Anantaraman – Profile

A tribute to Kallidaikurichi A Anantaraman of the Guruguha gana vidyalaya, Kolkata – S.Bhashyam

Calcutta is the city that has been associated with great names like Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Amir Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banerjee, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Begum Akhtar, Timir Baran, Radhika Mohan Moitra

It was also home to a frail and unassuming person who out of a small two-room tenement located at 19 Bipin Pal Road, near Deshapriya Park, tirelessly strove to impart to students the intricacies of Carnatic music. This person was, A. Anantharaman- ‘Ambi Sir’ to the Carnatic fraternity in Calcutta.

In all professions, there are the practitioners of whom only the great reach the pinnacles of fame. And, there are the teachers who groom these practitioners who, by the very nature of their calling, seldom get the acknowledgement that some of their proteges do. Ambi Sir, whose musical lineage can be traced back to the legendary Muthuswami Dikshitar, belonged to the latter category. His father A. Ananthakrishna Iyer learnt music directly from Ambi Dikshitar, son of Subbarama Dikshitar.

Anantharaman was born on 2 December 1927 at Sattupattu village in Kallidaikurichi taluk in the erstwhile Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, as the eldest son of Ananthakrishna Iyer who took to the musical path. (Ananthakrishna Iyer was subsequently joined by his brother Sundaram Iyer who later in life compiled the magnum opus Dikshitar Kritimanimala). Anantharaman’s early life was spent in Madras where his father initiated him into Carnatic music with special emphasis on Dikshitar kriti-s. In 1937 Ananthakrishna Iyer moved to Calcutta at the behest of a close family friend. Here, he built up a veritable school around him. What started off as an informal arrangement blossomed into a full-fledged music school, namely, the Guruguha Gana Vidyalaya in 1943.

In this ambience Anantharaman’s musical abilities were honed to perfection. He became an accomplished veena player, as well as a singer with a voice of rare timbre. Later, when Ananthakrishna Iyer found that there was a dearth of violin players in Calcutta he taught his son to play the violin as well.

After a few false starts in life as a salesman in some commercial firms, Anantharaman found his true vocation- teaching music to the South Indian community in Calcutta. After his father’s death in 1959 he became the Principal of the Vidyalaya where, along with his sister A. Champakavalli, he taught students Carnatic music- vocal, veena and violin.

The effect of the Dikshitar parampara was so strong in the teaching style at Guruguha Gana Vidyalaya- both during Ananthakrishna Iyer’s time as well as later under Anantharaman- that it can be stated without exaggeration that the latter half of this century has witnessed a Calcutta movement for propagating many rare and little heard Dikshitar compositions by both father and son. In fact, one of the Vidyalaya students, writing in Kalki, the Tamil weekly, in the nineteen fifties averred that more Dikshitar kriti-s were known in Calcutta than even in Madras!

VishvanAthena in Samantha, SvAaminathena in Brindavani, PratyangirA Bhagavatim in Nadanamakriya, BhArati maddhishana in Devamanohari, BrihannAyaki in Andhali, MAtangi maragatangi in Dautapanchamam and Madhavo mam patu (ragamalika) on the Dasavatara theme, are a few of the rare Dikshitar compositions which he taught his students.

Though his repertoire of Dikshitar kriti-s was large, Ambi Sir had also mastered Tyagaraja and Syama Sastry’s compositions and rendered them on appropriate occasions. The cognoscenti in Calcutta still remember the Tyagaraja kriti-s he sang movingly during the Tyagaraja aradhana-s. Rama bana (Saveri), Kaligiyuntey (Keeravani), and Ramuni maragavey (Kedaragaula) are some of the Tyagaraja gems that Ambi Sir has rendered.

Ambi Sir, who believed in quality not quantity, had a unique teaching style. He laid stress on building a strong foundation based on a repertoire of at least a dozen varna-s and rigorous practise of the sarali and janta varisai-s and alankara-s in various raga-s for voice culture.

He was adept at teaching vocal, veena and violin and he groomed students to levels of excellence in all these disciplines.

His veena playing had the true gayaki stamp on it and involved a blend of the Tanjavur and Mysore styles. Being an accomplished vocalist helped him to coax the nuances of gamaka and anuswara out of the veena and being a vainika helped him to achieve precision and balance in his vocal music, the two skills thus complementing each other. I have not heard anybody combine the usage of gamaka and flat notes to perfection as he did in his raga renderings. Sankarabharanam is a case in point. Too flat a rendering would make the raga light. Too much of an emphasis on gamaka-s would result in giving the raga shades of other allied raga-s like Navroj and Neelambari. But Ambi Sir’s renderings had the various elements in the right mixture.

Another feature of his teaching style was the importance he gave to theory. Even beginners had to know the names of swara-s, the various anga-s of tala-s, the names of the eight tala-s and so on. From these beginnings he gradually exposed them to the Melakarta scheme and to the concept of raga-s. Swara gnana tests were a common feature of his classes, as were exercises in raga identification.

As the students progressed to kriti renditions, he would encourage them to sing small raga alapana-s and expose them to the mathematics of swara singing. Ambi Sir was a stickler for tala adherence and no student who didn’t get the tala right would be allowed to progress further. He had an almost intuitive grasp of each student’s strengths and weaknesses and he encouraged each student to build on his strengths. This resulted in his students blossoming into artists with differing styles. Ambi Sir’s school was no carbon-copy producing factory, but an institution which encouraged originality in its students.

The shishyas :

No wonder therefore that many students who learnt under him went on to win prizes at prestigious contests at the Madras Music Academy, the Indian Fine Arts Society, the Shanmukhananda Sabha and in All India Radio’s annual music competitions. Quite a few of them including his sons and daughters, are graded artists of All India Radio. Notable among his disciples are his own children- son Ananthakrishnan who was a much sought after violin accompanist in Madras before he migrated to the USA in the early eighties- he has started accompanying again during the current festival season; his second son Sadasivam whose repertoire of pallavi-s is truely mind-boggling and his daughter Girija Vaidyanathan who has a mellifluous voice and is an A-grade artist in AIR-Visakhapatnam.

Among others, mention must be made of the husband-wife pair of veena players, Jairaj Iyer and Jayashree, noteworthy for a rare combination of aesthetics and virtuosic skills.

Calcutta’s Hindustani music ambience did rub off on Ambi Sir; he enjoyed listening to Hindustani music concerts; although he could handle quite a few Hindustani raga-s with dexterity, he never allowed this to affect his rendering of Carnatic music. But, his knowledge of both music systems made him a very popular teacher of Carnatic music at the Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta.

Recognition by way of honours and titles came to Ambi Sir late in life. Chief among the honours he received were the felicitation given by the International Foundation of Carnatic Music (IFCM- an organisation started by N. Ravikiran) and the title of Isai Perangyar by the Tamil Manram and Bharati Tamil Sangam of Calcutta.

Ambi Sir was totally committed to his profession and did not believe in retirement. Even after he was laid low by a series of illnesses, he did not believe in calling it a day. He taught students with his usual intense involvement even on the evening before his sad demise.

Personal Reminiscences

My own personal reminiscence of Ambi Sir are about the early morning classes he used to conduct for veena students, when in the tranquil atmosphere he would present distilled versions of raga-s such as Yadukulakambhoji, Surati and Kedaragaula on the veena. His vocal classes were generally held in the evenings and being with him after a tension-filled day at the office gave a deep sense of tranquility. He had the uncanny ability to quickly get to the core of a raga.

– S.Bhashyam

A.Anantakrishna Iyer – Profile

A.Anantakrishna Iyer – A profile

Veena Vidwan Brahmasri A.Anantakrishna Iyer  – S.Bhashyam


Anantakrishna Iyer was born in a family of priests in the year 1899 in Tirunelveli district and was initiated into the profession of his forefathers at a very early age.Piqued at an insult meted out to him bya moneyed man whose he had gone to perform brahmanical rites he put down his stack of ceremonial grass(darbai kattu) and vowed never to return to the profession.He then chanced upon Ammalu ammal eldest daughter of Ambi Dikshitar.It was she who initiated him into carnatic music.This incident took place when AnantaKrishna Iyer was barely 16 years old.

Ammalu found that the lad showed promise and was a devoted and diligent student,She therefore took him to Ambi Dikshitar and beseeched him to take the boy as his disciple.This Ambi Dikshitar agreed to do on condition that he would stay with him till the last years of his life.Anantakrishna Iyer vowed to do so and thus was born a link which has been responsible for a virtual resurrection of Shri Muthuswami Dikshitar;s compositions in this century.

AnantakrishnaIyer lived with AmbiDikshitar in Ettayapuram and learnt various well-known and many other little known Dikshitar’s compositions at his feet.He also learnt to play on the veena from the great master and thus inherited the style of the school known for its strong gAyaki base and adherence to traditions, encompassing the subtle graces and glides which are required to present authentic and aesthetically satisfying versions of gamaka rich carnatic ragas.
AmbiDikshitar was the court musician at Ettayapuram Samasthanam.The desire to propagate his granduncle’s kritis must have been strong in him and he must have sensed that the opportune moment to do thishad arrived since AnantakrishnaIyer was shaping up  as a sincere and devout student.Together they felt that this cause would be better served by moving to Madras which had become the main centre for carnatic music.In early 1919 Anantakrishna Iyer came to Madras and after fixing up a suitable accomodation in Komaleswaran Pettai he arranged for resettling Ambi Dikshitar and his family there.Three years later all of them moved into a house in Big street, Triplicane and established a music school ‘Dikshitar SangIta kalAsAlai’ which was inaugurated on Vijayadasami day 1922 by Lady Mangammal Sadasiva Iyer.By then his brother A.Sundaram Iyer had also joined him.

Around 1927 , after establishing the school on an even keel, Ambi Dikshitar went to Ettayapuram at the behest of the Rajah and after a stay of 4 years returned to Anantakrishna Iyer’s home in Madras around 1931.It was during this revisit to the far South that Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer seems to have  heard Shri Ambi Dikshitar’s recitals of Dikshitar’s kritis at Koilpatty in 1931.

Returning to Madras he sought out the great man and started learning from him.He also rendered considerable financial assistance to the school to help them in their efforts at propagating Dikshitar’s kritis.

Ambi Dikshitar reached godhead on June3 1936 and the task of carrying on this work fell to Anantakrishna Iyer.Anantakrishna Iyer’s own words ” My guru was a shrividya upasaka; a man with self-respect; he cared little for fame and wealth” describes the quality and personality of Ambi Dikshitar.

Around 1934 Anantakrishna Iyer and his brother Sundaram Iyer established the ‘Karnataka vainika gana vidyalaya’ at No.10 Royappettah High Road Madras with branches in Mylapore and Mambalam.Here Anantakrishna Iyer taught veena and vocal music to many students till 1937 when on the strong persuasion of a close friend of his , shri G.V.Raman he went to Calcutta.

After a short sojourn in Kashi [ 1940 -1943 ] he returned to Calcutta and established the guruguha gana vidyalaya.
Anantakrishna Iyer also published several books containing Dikshitar kritis both while he was in Madras and also after moving to Calcutta.

1.Ganamanjusha – Madras 1934
2.Guruguha ganamrta varshini Part I – Dikshitar’s navavarana series and Part II navagraha series Madras 1936-1937 in collboration with Shri .Vedanta Bhagavatar [his brother-in-law] and with a foreword by Ambi Dikshitar.
3.Abhayamba navavaranam
4.shiva  navavaranam
5.Rama  navavaranam
6.Krishna  navavaranam
7.Bala bodhini – for beginners

The book on Abhayamba navavaranam carries a poem of 64 sanskrit verses composed by HH Sankaracharya swamiji of Govardhana mutt Puri.

Anantakrishna Iyer also composed  varnams and kirtanas with the mudra guruguha dasan.
1.Heh kali- kharaharapriya – rupakam
2.sitalambam – vasanta – chapu
3.pashupatishwaram- ragamalika – rupakam
4.valli deva senapathe – khamas – rupakam

Shri Anantakrishna Iyer attained the Lord’s feet on January 5 1959 and the mantle of responsibility fell on the shoulders of his son Shri.Anantarama Iyer and daughter Champakavalli..

Extracted from the article of Shri.S.Bhashyam with the permission of the author from  the souvenir of guruguha gana vidyalaya,Calcutta.