This article is a sequel to what I wrote in the last issue of Sruti. I had mentioned in it that Colletpet may not have been sanctified by a composition but it deserved to be termed a Sangeetha Sthalam for the way it fostered the arts. But even as I typed those lines in a hurry I had a hunch that I may be wrong in stating that there are no compositions in praise of Kalyana Varadaraja Swami. A couple of days ago I visited the Music Academy library and looked up Gana Manjari, a compilation of the compositions of Veenai Krishnamachariar, the younger brother of Tiger Varadachariar and discovered to my delight that most of his compositions are dedicated to this deity. In fact Krishnamachariar’s mudra was Padmapuri Varada or minor variants of that term. The book has 12 varnams and around 30 compositions and almost all of them are in praise of either Kalyana Varadaraja or Rama who is enshrined in a sanctum in the same temple complex. Colletpet apparently was also referred to as Padmapuram by the local inhabitants and Krishnamachariar had used this term in his songs.

The book, published in 1966 by Kalakshetra is a compilation of Krishnamachariar’s songs by Dr Alamelu Govindarajan and has an introduction by C Seshachalam, the proprietor of the famed Curzon & Co which specialises in furniture and is identified with its landmark building on Mount Road. He writes that Colletpet played an important role in the musical moulding of Krishnamachariar. According to him, Krishnamachariar’s (and Tiger’s) father was Uttama Bhagavata Matam Sri Ramanujachariar Swamy who lived with “his good lady who was endowed with an uncommonly high musical talent” at Kalathur near Tiruvallur. And when Krishnamachariar and his brothers were young, the family migrated to Colletpet which was then “a quiet agraharam, set in a sea of calm acres of swaying and soughing coconut palm groves,” with in its centre the temple to Kalyana Varadaraja. Wonder what happened to all that?

Seshachalam wrote that “As a near-at-hand tranquil oasis, many of the progressive and prosperous Arya Vysya merchant princes found in Collet Pettah a desirable haven for weekends, away from the noise and bustle of metropolitan Chennapatna. Many were the houses with traditional inner courtyards, sheltered koodams and shady pyols, flowing with holiday hospitality and cultured leisure. The fabulously wealthy Calavala family was prominent in this circle; as also their nephews, my forebears, the not-so-wealthy Chimata Brothers- Namberumal, Alavandar and Ramanujam, familiarly known as ‘Wenlock’ and ‘Curzon’ Chettiars. They were fine connoisseurs and generous devotees of music, which characteristic they obviously inherited from their father, Chimata Krishnaswami Chetty, who for the pure pleasure of it, was Cello instructor in Fort St George!”

Among the Chimata Brothers, Namberumal was a vainika and helped the Tachur Brothers in bringing out their books. It was thanks to him that Krishnamachariar’s musical talents were discovered and he was apprenticed under Pancha Tala Neelakanta Sastry, an expert in the field. Krishnamachariar was ever grateful to the Chimata family for this and according to Seshachalam, “almost became a member of the family, always accompanying them on their pilgrimages and picnics also.”

It was also thanks to the Chimata family that Krishnamachariar acquired his prefix of Puliyodarai. Once the Curzon Chettiars were offering worship at the Triplicane temple of Parthasarathy and there was a crisis in the madapali. Krishnamachariar had to lend an active hand in the making of the Puliyodarai and it was found to be top class. That evening, he made his musical debut at the shrine and word got around that the singer was the man who had turned out the tasty offering in the morning and the name of the dish permanently became his prefix.

On Krishnamachariar’s compositions Seshachalam wrote that they were “precise, logical, with a carillon purity of well-defined musical syllabification, faithfully and wholly in accord with sampradaya. His varnams are true models of raga forms. They help the students to get a total picture of unerring bold strokes- doubtless a broad, sound, sure and safe foundation for later superstructure and embellishment. Specially noteworthy is his varnam in raga Byagada, in that though it is its very life breath, ‘Nishada’ is not pronounced at all. Of course it is intoned. This ingenious, daringly uncommon bold device, is designed to help the practitioner to appreciate nuances, abstracted from the bondage to swara. I wonder if there are any other compositions of this type. I know of no other similar essay.” The varnam is addressed to Kalyana Varadaraja.

Krishnamachariar later settled in Bangalore where he ran the Arya Gana Vidyalaya. He is said to have been proficient in handling a variety of musical instruments also till he suffered from a paralytic stroke that left his right foot and the little finger of his right hand immobilised. In later years he was with Kalakshetra where he set the Kutrala Kuravanji to music. Krishnamachariar passed away in 1947.

A list of varnams and songs he composed on Colletpet are given below:

1. Muddu gumma madanuni – Kharaharapriya/Adi
2. Chiguruboni ninnedabasi – Mohanam/Adi
3. Papa jati maruni – Arabhi/Adi
4. Ninnu nammina maguva – Ananda bhairavi/Adi
5. Sarasudani ninnu – Kanada/Adi (this is on Tirupati Venkateswara and Padmapuri Varada)
6. Pankajakshipai – Shanmukhapriya/Adi
7. Palumaru ninnu – Athana/Adi
8. Sarasangi marulu – Sarasangi/Adi
9. Garavinchi yelukonduvani- Purvikalyani/Adi
10. Manjula veni – Natabhairavi/Adi
11. Taralakshini baya- Saveri/Mishra Jhampa
12. Pagalu reyi – Begada/Ata

Kritis – Paranmukhudai -Bhairavi/Deshadi, Vidyayam dellapudu – Shankarabharanam/Jhampa, Pari pari ninu – Vachaspati/Tishra Laghu – these three kritis addressed to a general divinity and identify the composer as a resident of Padmapuri (Colletpet). The following kritis are addressed to Padmapuri Varada and Padmapuri Rama

1. Vere gatiledani – Vasantha/Adi
2. Karu chichu – Mohana/Deshadi
3. Ni manasu – Kathanakuthoohalam/Deshadi
4. Ne ne maparadhamu – Chayalaga Khamas (from the notation given it does not appear different from the routine Khamas)/Deshadi
5. Padasarojamula nammiti – Nagaswaravali/Tishra Laghu
6. Sadananda svarupa- Kuntalavarali/Tishra Laghu
7. Aparadha memi – Kanada/Jhampa
8. Velavesi diyutakaye- Varali/Deshadi
9. Papatmudani ni madi – Mukhari/Adi
10. Janana badhala – Devamanohari/Jhampa
11. Papatraya harana – Abheri/Adi
12. Dikku lekkuna- Kiravani/Mishra Laghu
13. Papatmulaina pavanula – Shuddha saveri/Deshadi
14. Alasata yemi- Simhendra madhyamam/Deshadi
15. Peddala seva – Kharaharapriya/Adi
16. Mayateetudai – Kalyani/Adi
17. Kanchanamande moksha – Charukesi/Adi
18. Narayana – Jhinjhoti/Adi
19. Nive anatha bandhu – Huseni/Triputa
20. Ikanu ne – Purvikalyani/Jhampa
21. Palimpu vemanna – Harikedaram/Jhampa
22. Manasaraga ninnu – Ananda bhairavi/Adi
23. Anni yerigiyunna – Saveri/Adi
24. Panula mani – Divyamalati/Adi
25. Saraguna ni – Madhyamavati/Tishra Laghu