Malaikottai Govindasami Pillai

Now that The Hindu‘s site has changed, I am unable to locate some of my old articles. Here is one I found, on the ace violinist Malaikottai Govindasami Pillai-

This was originally published here – The picture is also taken from there.

The exact date of Malaikottai Govindasami Pillai’s death is not mentioned in most accounts of his life, though the year is known to be 1931.

A search of The Hindu archives reveals that he died on March 13 that year. A small obituary notice appeared on March 14 which stated that he died “at about 9 at his temporary residence in the West Main Street” of Thanjavur.

Pillai who lived in Tiruchirapalli, had moved to Thanjavur for the treatment of a paralytic complaint, an affliction that was terrible for a man who was a nimble violinist.

He was 53 when he died and though the report does not mention it, his beloved disciple `Papa’ KS Venkataramiah must have been with him.

The Hindu reported on March 18 that the Music Academy, which hosted the first ever public performance of Sadir (later renamed Bharata Natyam) on March 15 at Gana Mandir, with the Kalyani Daughters of Tiruvalaputtur as the main artistes, passed a resolution before the commencement of the programme which condoled the death of the respected Pillaival.

On March 18, an appreciation of Pillai written by the renowned Harikatha exponent `Mahakathaka Kanteerava’ Mangudi Chidambara Bhagavatar was also published in The Hindu. The article, written by one who was a close acquaintance of Pillai, carried interesting pieces of information on the violinist.

Pillai, according to Bhagavatar, was not only an ace violinist but was also in no way inferior “to a vainika, flutist, mridangam and kanjira player of established fame, as he was efficient in all these branches. He had also given many flute performances and played mridangam at several concerts … and had a veena disciple in the late Rajaratnam, daughter of Nilambal Ammal of Trichy.”

Pillai was also apparently a great Tamil scholar and “took especial delight in discussing Saiva Siddhanta philosophy.” A moving paragraph describes the close camaraderie among four greats, namely Bhagavatar, Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer (the vocalist), Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai (the percussionist) and Govindasami Pillai. Bhagavatar writes “we had the opportunity of meeting together in the several Sabhas of the Presidency, in festivals and marriages. During those years we had the advantage of going together to many places of pilgrimage like Tiruchendur, Palni, Chidambaram, Tiruvaiyar, Madurai etc and offering our humble services at these shrines.”

Pillai was the mainstay of the Periya Katchi, one of the two factions that celebrated the Tyagaraja Aradhana at Tiruvayyaru.

In the words of Bhagavatar, ” His devotion to Tyagaraja knew no bounds and his dominant personality and his strong organising capacity were all utilised for the same purpose. He leaves a great gap in those celebrations which it will be impossible to fill.”

Pillai handed over his responsibility to the Tiruvizhimizhalai Brothers who carried on the tradition till the merger of the Aradhana factions in 1941.

Bhagavatar belonged to the other faction, the Chinna Katchi, and yet there was apparently no ill-will between them. He states, “though we divided ourselves into separate camps … our mutual love and admiration remained intact and he always graced the Arudra festivals, marriage occasions and festivities in my home with his invaluable concerts.” Those were times of large-hearted men.

Pillai’s death left Papa desolate. The last lesson had been on raga Gaula.

Stopping it midway Pillai had said that it was unacceptable that they should embark on a raga that he considered the property of Veena Dhanammal.

After the funeral ceremonies, Papa returned to Madras and called on Dhanammal and the old lady spoke with great affection about the “thambi” whose taste in music she greatly admired. She then offered to teach Papa. The first lesson was on the raga Gaula!

Through a mist of tears blurring his vision, the future violinist realised that he was witnessing what was truly a case of great minds being in constant communion.


One response to “Malaikottai Govindasami Pillai”

  1. Prof T.K.Srinivasan Avatar
    Prof T.K.Srinivasan

    “Great Minds being in Constant Communion” is indeed true, Sriram!
    We have the Classic Instance of Kopperunchozhan & Pisirandhaiyar!
    They had not seen each other but, their mutual respect had grown to unbounded Love.
    On the death of Pisirandhaiyar, Kopernj Chozhan decided that it is futile to live with out his beloved friend, so he dies by sitting towards the North, by fasting!

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