This was the subject of the presentation by Uma Maheshwari on 27th December 2010. Presented in beautiful Tamil, it was a pleasure to hear. Her topic dealt with the fact that though we do not know as to what music the Azhwars had set their compositions to, it cannot be doubted that these were intended as musical pieces and were sung by the composers themselves.

It is accepted that the Azhwars lived between the 5th and 10th centuries AD and that their works were rescued from oblivion by Nathamuni who arranged them musically at around the 10th century. 11 of the 12 Azhwars sang of Vishnu while Madurakavi sang of Nammazhwar.

Both Nammazhwar and Tirumangai Azhwar sing of the Lord in musical terms. The 1000 verses of Nammazhwar are known as paNNAr pADal inkavigal and Tirumangai speaks of innisaiyil sonna sengonmAlaigaL. There are similar phrases in the works of Kulashekhara Azhwar and Periyazhwar. There are references to musical terms in 161 places in the divyaprabandams.

The names of paNNs occur in nine places. Those included are kurinji, kAmaram, pAlai and pancamam. The speaker sang verses in kAmaram (which she said was the same as sIkAmaram) and said that these were essentially lullabies. (Several heads in the Experts Committee were nodding in sleep for good measure). She also sang verses in kurinji (same as the raga we know today) and pancamam (similar to Ahiri). The presence of these names has enabled latter day musicians to set the verses to music in the same paNNs.

The 1st publication of the divyaprabandam was in 1865 by Appavu Mudaliar and this gives paNN names. In 1956, 610 pAsurams of Tirumangai were set to music by MM Dandapani Desigar and Dr S Ramanathan and published with swaras. Embar Vijayaraghavachariar has suggested that the paNNs used in the tEvArams could be used for the divya prabandams too as they belong to the same time period.

BM Sundaram asked a number of questions:

– Did Nathamuni set the prabandams to music? (The speaker said that this is gleaned from the works of Melyagaththazhwar and Kizhayagaththazhwar)
– Is kAmaram same as sIkAmaram? (Yes, as gleaned from the ETTutOkai)
– Is the paNN same as raga? (The speaker said yes but Dr SAK Durga intervened and said that we can at best say they are equivalents. paNNs are more melodic progressions and therefore the raga being a later concept, absorbed paNNs into itself. Thus Ahiri contains pancamam paNN but the vice-versa is not true).

I said that Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar should be remembered for his setting the Tiruppavai to music. BM Sundaram said that Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar also should be remembered for the same reason.