Tana Varna Margadarshi Adiyappayya
Adiyapayya (Adippayya or Adiyappa Iyer/Ayya), whom Subbarama Dikshitar refers to in awe as a Margadarshi or trailblazer for the genre of tana varnas, shall forever be remembered just for his magnum opus, the Bhairavi ata tala varna “Viribhoni”. This varna has captured the imagination of both lay rasikas and the cognoscenti spanning across centuries. Sangita Kalanidhi Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer, an acknowledged authority, even advances a hypothesis that it was this varna and its popularity that propelled Bhairavi to the forefront, enabling it to capture popular imagination and thus eclipsing its sibling Manji. Adiyappaya will also be remembered as the guru/preceptor of the great Trinitarian Syama Sastri. The worthy disciple went on to craft another monumental classic in Bhairavi, the svarajati.
We have a historical account of Adiyappayya by Subbarama Dikshitar. Later day writers like Prof Sambamoorthi, Dr S Seetha and Dr B M Sundaram too have documented details about him both from oral traditions and from manuscripts from the Saraswati Mahal Library in Tanjore. Dr.U.Ve.Saminatha Ayyar also records a short biographical sketch of his while listing the eminent personages who adorned the Udayarpalayam Zamindari.This post is a consolidation of the information on Adiyapayya available to us together with a discography of his compositions.
Adiyapayya – His Life time:
In so far as the time period that Adiyappayya lived, we have four important references:
- Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu says that he was Madhva Brahmana, hailing from modern day Karnataka who lived during the times of the Tanjore Mahratta kings Pratapasimha (regnal years 1739-1763 as per historical records, while according to Subbarama Dikshitar it is 1741-1765) and Tulaja II(1763-1787). Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP, under raga Huseini gives the composition “Emandayanara” with the ankita “pratapasimha” and credits Adiyappayya as the composer. Based on Subbarama Dikshitar’s record, Adiyappa’s life time can be placed as 1725-1775. Dr Seetha too in her seminal work “Tanjore as a Seat of Music” echoes Subbarama Dikshitar as to Adiyapayya’s timeline.
- According to the book Gayakasiddanjanam (1904) of Taccur Singaracar, Adiyappayya was a musician of the Pudukottai Court and his period was 1750-1820.
- Prof Sambamoorthi in his biography on Syama Shastri(1762-1827) records that Adiyappayya was over 50 years , when the 18 year old Syama Sastri came under his tutelage. Extrapolating based on this evidence, Adiyappayya must have been born no latter than 1730.
- According to Dr V Raghavan, Adiyappayya lived even during the reign of Tulaja II. Thus Adiyappayya might not have lived beyond 1780 or thereabouts.
All the above historical references point to Adiyapayya having lived during the period of 1725-1780. In all probability, Adiyappaya must have been a contemporary of Melattur Veerabadrayya, the other ‘margadarshi’ who was a guru and musical preceptor of Ramasvami Dikshitar (1735-1817). Subbarama Dikshitar in his work adds that Adiyappayya followed the footsteps of Veerabhadrayya when it came to the style of music. According to Dr B M Sundaram, Adiyapayya must have lived for a long time in Tanjore and later in Pudukkottai. In Pudukottai, he must have been patronized by King Vijaya Raghunatha Tondaiman (1730-1769), perhaps. A descendant of his was part of the Pudukottai Court.
Subbarama Dikshitar lists out one Veena Krishnayya as a son of Adiyapayya. Veena Krishnayya was adept in playing veena and was also a composer prabandhas such as saptataleshvaram. Krishnayya’s son was Veena Subbukutti Ayya who was another veena expert. When Subbarama Dikshitar composed & presented his Ramakriya varna and the Sankarabharana kriti “Sankaracaryam” extolling Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvathi, the 65th Pontiff of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam at Kumbakonam (which was then the seat of the mutt) circa 1860, Subbukutti Ayya was also present in the sadas. Additionally Dr Seetha in her work, mentions in the context of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) that when he performed the raga Darbar in the Court of Raghunatha Tondaiman, the Rajah of Pudukkottai ( the reigning Raja should have been Ramachandra Tondaiman who ruled between 1839-1886. I am unsure how Dr Seetha says it was Raghunatha Tondaiman) Vina Subbukutti Iyer who was in the Court along with the other assembled expert vidvans, appreciated Vaidyanatha Iyer’s rendition.
Veena Subbukutti Ayya/Iyer seems to have visited Svati Tirunal Maharaja’s Court as well.
King Ramachandra Tondaiman in Durbar (1858)
Photograph by Linnaues Tripe. Courtesy V&A
Prof Sambamoorthi records that the great Veena virtuosos Veena Seshanna (1852-1926) and Veena Venkataramana Das of Vijayanagar are the descendants of Adiyapayya. No reference is given regarding the prefix Pachimiriya or Pacchimiriyan. Perhaps the epithet represents his native village or is a familial name.
Syama Sastri, Pallavi Gopala Iyer and BhUlOka Gandharva Narayanasvami Iyer are recorded as Adiyappayya’s illustrious disciples by almost all authorities. A yati by name Sangeeta Svami is recorded by Prof Sambamoorthi as the first musical guru of Syama Sastri. It is further recorded by him that it was this Sangeeta Svami who recommended that Syama Sastri develop his musical skill /prowess by hearing to Adiyappayya. Prof Sambamoorthy also records the (apocryphal?) betel juice episode as a part of Syama Sastri’s life history which involved Adiyappayya.
Pallavi Gopala Iyer was another illustrious disciple, who has been covered in an earlier article in this series. Bhuloka Gandharva Tanjore Narayanasvami Iyer is the third disciple of Adiyappayya. He is recorded as having been patronized by the Udayarpalayam Zamindar, Kaci Yuvaranga BhUpati. According to Dr B M Sundaram, Narayanasvami Iyer too was a composer of great merit. Again we do not have any compositions of him, handed down to us.
Dr.U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer records that Ramaswami Iyer of Tanjavur sent his sons Periyatirukkunram Subbarama Iyer, Ghanam Krishna Iyer to Tanjavur to be educated under Pachimiriyan Adiyappayya. They too turned out to be master composers. Dr U Ve Sa further records that Adiyappayya appreciated the compositions of Subbarama Iyer and called him by the epithet “Chinna Srinivasan” alluding to another composer of great merit from Srirangam.
As mentioned earlier according to Subbarama Dikshitar, Adiyappayya was well versed in music and Telugu and he followed the footsteps of Melattur Veerabadrayya who was probably an iconic figure of that generation. Adiyappayya was the one to standardize “Pallavi” as a unique platform for musical exposition comprising of raga alapana, tana or madhyamakala rendering followed by the Pallavi. His two disciples namely Pallavi Gopala Iyer and Syama Sastri went on to become exponents nonpareil in this genre. Prof Sambamoorthi also records the story of a pallavi contest involving vidvan Bobbili Kesavvayya and Adippayya’s illustrious disciples held in the Tanjore Court.
Adiyappayya – The Vaggeyaka/Composer:
He was a composer of kritis which were ornate with exquisite gamakas and composed with the ankita ‘sri venkataramana’. Subbarama Dikshitar further adds that he followed the path of Veerabhadrayya in his compositional style. U.Ve.Svaminatha Iyer further notes that Adiappayya has composed in many languages including Telugu, Sanskrit, Marathi and Tamil and had visited Udayarpalayam during the reign of Kacchi Yuvaranga and had composed on him in ragas such as Nattakuranji and Sahana and that musicians such has Pudukkottai Veena Subbayyar have sung two of his compositions.
None of the kritis composed by him has been handed down to us. As of date we have only the following three compositions ascribed to him:
- The ata tala tana varna in Bhairavi, “Viribhoni”
- The ata tala tana varna in Pantuvarali ( mela 51- Kamavardhani), “Madavati”
- The rupaka tala svarajathi in Huseni, “Emandayanara”
In the context of Adiyappayya’s available compositions, the following merit our attention.
- The standard colophon of Adiyappayya ‘sri venkataramana’ (according to Subbarama Dikshitar) is not found in any of the above compositions. Compositions 1 & 2 have ‘sri rajagopala’ as mudra while the third composition, the svarajati has ‘pratapasimha’ as the ankita representing the patron of Adiyappayya, namely the Mahratta King of Tanjore Pratapasimha. The ankita ‘rajagopala’ (of different varieties) has also been used by Moovanallur Sabhapatayya, who is said to have lived during the times of the Trinity, slightly latter than Adiyappayya.
- Compositions 1 & 3 are found documented in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini with Subbarama Dikshitar ascribing authorship to Adiyappayya.
- While Composition # 1 is universally acknowledged as Adiyappaya’s, as we will see presently there is some ambiguity or rather, lack of unanimity on the other two compositions.
- Composition # 2 was brought to light by Vidvan Mysore Chennakesavayya, a disciple of Tiger Varadacariar and was published by the Madras Music Academy. Vidvan N Chennakesavayya published a number of rare varnas from out of his family’s manuscripts dating back to early 19th century. As a member of the Experts Committee of the Music Academy, he did a number of lecture demonstrations on some of these rare compositions. The authorship of this varna has been ascribed to Adiyappayya on the strength of the ankita found within the composition and as such no other independent source of reference or authority is available. Dr Seetha in “Tanjore as a Seat of Music’ unequivocally says that “Viribhoni” is the only composition of Adiyappayya as available to us.
- On composition # 3, Subbarama Dikshitar ascribes authorship of the Huseni svarajathi to Adiyappayya with an accompanying footnote to the effect that the sahitya for the jatis were done by Melattur Venkatrama Sastri. This attribution is controversial and disputable on more than one ground. Dr V Raghavan and Dr B M Sundaram on different grounds negate, directly or indirectly the attribution of this piece to Adiyappayya. An additional aspect is the fact that this svarajati is a scaled down version of the legendary Melattur Veerabadrayya’s original Huseni svarajati raising the question as to Adiyapayya’s authoring a composition of such a nature. The svarajati and its companion pieces (composition having the same dhatu (musical setting) but different matu (lyrics)) namely ‘Emayaladira’, ‘Pahimam Bruhannayike’ etc are ascribed to members of the family of the Tanjore Quartet and forms part of their family manuscripts.
So considering all these factors, this svarajati is not held by the musicologists, historians and the cognoscenti in the same breath as “Viribhoni” as Adiyappayya’s composition, not withstanding Subbarama Dikshitar’s attribution in the SSP. The Bhairavi varna and the svarajati, will be dealt in a seperate blog post on Bhairavi and the Pantuvarali varna is presented in the discography section of this post.
In this section let us look at renderings of the two masterpieces of Adiyappayya. While the Bhairavi varna is frequently encountered and is synonymous with Bhairavi even for a lay listener of classical music, the Pantuvarali varna “Madavati’ is seldom heard. The Bhairavi varna is almost always presented in its truncated form.
Madavati in Pantuvarali:
Lets first take up Madavati. Vidushi Mythili Nagesvaran who learnt music from Vidvan Chennakesavayya ( amongst many other including Jayammal, Savitri Rajan & others) presents the varna in a chamber recital circa 1990. As mentioned earlier this varna made its way out of obscurity when it was presented by Vidvan Chennakesavayya in the portals of the Music Academy. Given the rarity of the varna, link is provided to the notation of the composition as well for the benefit of the readers of this blog.
Clip 1 :
In the past, there has been a confusion as to the raga Pantuvarali & whether the name referred to Subhapantuvarali or to the scale which is presently assigned to Kamavardhani. The version of this varna as documented and available to us is only the scale of Mela 51.
Current day performers should learn these long forgotten and rare masterpieces, polish and burnish them and present them with absolute fidelity in their concerts and that would be the best homage one can ever provide to the great composers of our past. One hopes that this Pantuvarali varna will be resurrected and sung and will be passed on to the next generation in the same way as Adiyappayya’s Bhairavi varna.
- Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) – Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini – Reprinted in Tamil by the Madras Music Academy, India
- DR B M Sundaram (2002) – “Varna Svarajathi” – Published by Sarasvathi Mahal Library, Tanjore, India
- Dr S Seetha (2001)- “Tanjore as a Seat of Music “- Published by the University of Madras, India
- Chennakesavaiah. N (1964) -” Four Rare Compositions” – Edited and published in the Journal of the Madras Music Academy Vol XXXV, Pages 175-179 Madras, India
- Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer – ‘Ragas Lalita and Manji’ – Journal of the Music Academy XXVIII- Pages 122-125
- Prof Sambamoorthi – ‘Great Composers – Book 1’ Seventh Edition (2004)
- Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer – ‘En Caritiram’ – series of books published by Dr U Ve Sa Library, Chennai ( 2008 Edition)
- Savithri Rajan & Michael Nixon – ‘Sangita Sarvartha Sarasangrahamu’ – Edited and published in the Journal of the Madras Music Academy Vol LII, Pages 169-188 Madras, India