That Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar set the tiruppAvai to tune is well known. What is not known however is that he set some other works to tune and also composed a few songs. The second lecdem this morning at the Music Academy was by Sangita Kala Acharya Suguna Varadachari, one of the most respected scholars we have. She was assisted by two students.

Ariyakkudi popularised songs from the Rama Natakam of Arunachala Kavi. Many of the songs from this collection are sung in tunes set by him. Suguna demonstrated the following:
Unadu mahimaiyai – Arabhi
Devi ivaL rAmA – kAnaDa,
Adi dEvanE – pantuvarALi,
ennaiyum varaconnAro? – maNirangu,
rAman ezhundaruLinAn – Ananda Bhairavi

While some of these have been sung on stage, what was definitely not heard before were pieces from Kulashekhara Azhwar’s Ramayana pADal and the Ramanuja nUTrantAdi. She sang some of these, the lines of which I could not note but these were the ragas:

Kulasekara Azhwar Ramayana padal – mOhanam, bEgaDa, madhyamAvati, yadukula kAmbOji, hamsAnandi
Ramanuja nootrandadi- shankarAbharaNam, pUrvikalyAni, nATakuranji

She then sang the Ramayana kAvaDi cindu of Subbarama Iyer and acknowledged that she was made aware of it by Padma Chandilyan and got the tune from Aleppey Venkatesan.

The presentation concluded with Ramanuja Iyengar’s Tillana in kAnaDa wherein he uses the Mudra rAmadAsa.

Suguna said that much of Ramanuja Iyengar’s notations were published in the Swadesamitran which had a running column by the maestro. I realised then that I do have a few sheets of these somewhere in the study at home. She also brought to light some sidelights:

ADum chidambaramo is in athAna as per his notation
Jalajabandhu – Surati – The a Junior Maharani of Travancore asked Ariykkudi to tune this Swati Tirunal Padam. He accepted the request but forgot about it. When they met next he was singing suraTi and remembering what he had promised set it in the same raga.
Eppo varuvAro is in khamAs

Dr Ritha Rajan said that some songs of the Rama Natakam are sung in two or three ragas – yArO ivar yArO – Bhairavi and sAvEri, some other song which is sung in paras, khamAs and one more raga I forget.

I added that Ariyakkudi composed three songs in praise of the Swadesamitran and also a song in praise of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar on the latter’s 60th birthday. I wrote an article on these some years ago and here is the link.

Sanjay Subrahmanyan summed up in his inimitable fashion:

1. It is a wonder that Iyengar found time to notate and run a column despite his busy schedule
2. Many of the songs bear the standard Iyengar AlApana imprint, thereby giving listeners what they were familiar with. He demonstrated the yadukula kAmbOji and shankarAbharaNam snatches.
3. The songs are all soaked in raga bhAva.
4. Iyengar hardly appears to have sung any of these on stage. If he had,they may have become very popular.
5. Maestros of the past have done great work like this,many of which are in published books that musicians should go through.
6. It is because they did such voluminous work in the well known ragas that latter day musicians have to in search of ragas such as paTdIp to impress!

He also recalled that in one concert Ariyakkudi stood in for Musiri Subramania Iyer and sang all the latter’s hits. Many in the audience never knew that there had been a switch! So it was rather appropriate that a student of Musiri presented on Ariyakkudi today! Sanjay also made my day by singing a snatch of Nand ke lala, the Gauhar Jan song that Ariyakkudi sang and released a record of. The original by the latter can be heard at this link:


Some were of the view that the presentation was nothing but a rendition of songs. I personally was uncomfortable that the team relied heavily on notebooks and even then, one of the students knew very little of the lyrics. This had its impact on the music. The last two pieces were sung without recourse to books and the difference was evident. I am not willing to accept that there is no time to commit the lyrics to memory as the Academy plans its lec dems well in advance.


Ariyakkudi is one of my favourites – as a musician and as a historic personality. Here are a couple of other articles I wrote on him:

Ariyakkudi’s Golden Jubilee
When Ariyakkudi sang for idlis