In 2006, Sanjay Subrahmanyan recorded an album titled Chatushram which had one song each of four composers, each one from one of the present four major South Indian states. The sleeve notes written for that album are given below:
In 1956 the linguistic division of Indian states took place amidst great debate and discussion. The protagonists for such a division highlighted the advantages of homogeneity of language and the unity it would promote. Those against were worried about the balkanization of India. In the south, there was much exchange of land and territories and four states, namely Madras (later renamed Tamilnadu), Mysore (later renamed Karnataka), Andhra and Kerala came into existence in the form in which we know them today. This year (2006) therefore marks the 50th year of the reorganization and our album is a tribute to India which has survived and developed despite all the gloom and doom that was predicted.
Among the many factors that contribute to the success of the “unity in diversity” that is India, are the fine arts. Carnatic music is a shining example, for we have had composers in the Tamil heartland creating songs in Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit, kings of Travancore creating songs in Hindustani and musicians from the distant south traveling all the way to Kashi and beyond in an era when railway travel was unheard of. This album looks at four composers who hailed from regions now comprising the four principal states of south India.
Tallapaka Annamacharya (1408- 1503)- Hailed as the ‘padakavita pitamaha’ (progenitor of the ‘pada’ as a musical form), Annamacharya took a vow at the age of 16 to offer at least one song a day at the feet of the Lord. A majority of these are dedicated to Venkateswara of the Tirumala hills and His consort Alamelumanga. Most of his creations are in the Telugu language and he is said to have composed 32000 songs, of which 14000 are now available. These have survived in text, thanks to Annamacharya’s son having them inscribed on copper plates which were stored in a chamber in the Tirumala temple. These were discovered in 1922. Unfortunately the original music is lost and the songs have been set to music by later day tunesmiths. Annamacharya’s songs are divided into two groups, Adhyatma (philosophical) and Sringara (erotic) sankeertanams and the latter dominate in numbers. The song in this album, ‘paluku tenela’ describes the conversation between two maids of Alamelumanga who wonder at her sleeping long into the morning, exhausted after having made love to Lord Srinivasa.
Purandara Dasa (1484-1564)- Purandara Dasa was born Srinivasa Naik and became a wealthy banker in Purandargarh near Pune. A sudden change of heart made him renounce worldly life and in the company of his wife and children he left to seek initiation from Vyasaraya, preceptor to the Vijayanagar kings. Taking on the name of Purandara Dasa, he became a wandering minstrel, visiting several shrines. One of these was Tirumala where he met the by then aged Annamacharya. Purandaradasa codified the beginners’ lessons in Carnatic music and is given the honorific of ‘Sangeeta Pitamaha’ (grandfather of music) for his contributions. Most of his songs are in Kannada language and he used the signature of Purandara Vittala. Despite starting off late in life as a composer, Purandaradasa appears to have been prolific for in his song ‘Vasudeva Namaraliya’ he records that he has created 475000 pieces. Unfortunately with his death and the battle of Talikota the following year that saw the decimation of the Vijayanagar empire, his disciples scattered and most of his songs were lost. The music for many of his surviving compositions had to be set by latter day tunesmiths.
Swati Tirunal (1813-1846) – Born into the royal family of Travancore he was in fact declared king even as he was born, the earlier ruler having passed away. The young prince, who soon earned himself a reputation as a just and able ruler, however became better known for his devotion to the family deity Ananthapadmanabhaswami and for his patronage of the arts. His court became a veritable hospice for musicians, presided over by the respected Meruswami, a personage well versed in Hindustani and Carnatic music. When the Tanjore Quartet (the brothers Chinniah, Vadivelu, Ponniah and Sivanandam) moved to Swati Tirunal’s court, the musical atmosphere was further enriched. The ruler himself turned composer, creating songs in a variety of languages, including his own Malayalam, though he preferred Sanskrit. He used the various names of his patron deity as his signature. Being a ruler, he had no disciples and most of his songs would have languished had it not been for the efforts of the last Junior Maharani of Travancore, Setu Parvati Bayi, who in the years preceding Indian independence and the accession of Travancore to the union, got musicians such as Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar to popularize them. Bhagavatar and after him Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and several others retuned many songs for which the original versions were lost and slowly the songs of the king became well known.
Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar (1877-1945) – Born into an orthodox vedic family of Tirunelveli, Muthiah Bhagavatar lost his father early and was brought up by his uncle, the well known Sanskrit scholar Mahamahopadhyaya M Lakshmana Suri. A great love for music led him to T Sambasiva Iyer, a descendant of the formidable Padinaindumandapam clan of musicians. His first concert opportunity was at a house in Purasawalkam in Madras and from then on he gradually became a popular musician. Losing his voice in 1897, he turned to Harikatha and became a great performer in that field. He impressed the ruler of Mysore with his erudition and was asked to compose 108 kritis on Goddess Chamundeshwari, the tutelary deity of the royal family. Later he composed several other songs as well. His mudra was Harikesa which he did not use in the few nationalist songs he composed. Bhagavatar was also very sound on music theory and he became the first musician to write a thesis and get a doctorate, which he received from the Travancore University in 1943. He was actively involved with the Music Academy, Madras. He also composed music for three Tamil films. Bhagavatar led a lavish lifestyle which has now passed into legend. He bridged all the four southern states of today, composing in Sanskrit, Kannada and Tamil, popularizing the songs of Tyagaraja which are in Telugu and tuning the songs of the Malayalam king Swati Tirunal.