The song Srichakara Raja Simhasaneswari became really popular in the 1980s. That was when Maharajapuram Santhanam took to singing it in his concerts. He raised what was essentially a simple composition set in popular ragas to the level of a major piece by bringing his emotive stamp to it. That he sang Padmeswari as Bathmeswari is a minor quibble. The song became a regular in his commercial cassettes and later of others as well.
What was always intriguing was the name of the composer – Agastyar! Carnatic Music world unquestioningly accepted that it was the work of the pot-bellied sage who married Lopamudra and caused the Kaveri to flow from his kamandalu. But that in my view, and of several others, is unlikely – the wordings are highly contemporary and the raga setting too is modern. And so who was this Agastyar?
I raised this question on social media and was rewarded with many answers. On one aspect everyone was agreed – it is not Sage Agastya. But as for who the composer was, there were plenty of answers. I am compiling a few here, with due credit to those who sent me these responses.
Sundararaman Chintamani writes that the composer was Sri Nochur Swamiji who was Agastya Peethadhipati. He goes on to say –
“This song is written by Sree Nochur swamiji who had a nick name called Agasthiya. Swamiji was running Agasthia Ashramam which was into Naadi Jothidam at Nochur, near Palakkad. He passed away 15 years back. This information was confirmed by one Mr.Nidhesh, son of Nochur swami’s guru. Nochur swamiji also wrote songs like “Prabho Ganapathe”, “Lalitha Navarathnamalai” etc.”
Suresh Ramasubramaniam says that while the Tamil piece is by Nochur Swami, the original is in Kannada and by Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, Maharajah of Mysore. I am not aware of what that song is. Also, from what I know, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar composed only in Sanskrit.
Lakshmi Mahadevan sent a link from the old rmic archive, which had a detailed discussion on this song initiated by email@example.com, who had raised several pertinent doubts on the composition as regards lyrics and also on the claim that it was by Agastya. The first response, by ‘Timer’, has it that the song in Kannada was by the Mysore Maharaja or more likely Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar. It goes on to say that “it is believed that many of the compositions attributed to Jaya Chamarajendra Vodeyar were originally composed by Muttaiah Bhagavatar” though it also acknowledges that the Maharajah was “an exemplary musician and a great composer.” This is the first time I am reading of Muthiah Bhagavatar’s songs being passed off as the Maharajah’s. Most stories usually say it was Mysore Vausudevachar who helped with the Maharajah’s songs, though this has been refuted by scholars such as Vikram Sampath and Srikantham Nagendra Shastry. In any case, the same post goes on to say that while the Pallavi and Anupallavi have survived for the original composition in highly Sanskritised Kannada, the three charanams are now lost and three others in Tamil were added later. Significantly, the poster has not given the Pallavi and Anupallavi of the Kannada original.
A response in the same thread by firstname.lastname@example.org says that the song was tuned by his mother Mangalam Sankaranarayanan, an ardent devotee of Swami Gnanananda Giri of Tapovanam. He further says that one evening the swami gave Smt Manngalam the Agasthiyar Geetham book and asked her to sing this particular song from it. She tuned it on the spot and sang it. It was at this time that Maharajapuram Santhanam was visiting the ashram and the swami asked him to popularise the song, which he did. I am yet to check if there is such a book. Yet another post had it that the song came from Agastya by divine intervention to Swami Gnanananda and he then gave it to Smt Mangalam Sankaranarayanan. This was by Vignesh and he says “That’s the truth. It was composed by sage Agasthiar and given with the raagam to the world by the great saint Gnanananda giri swamigal of Thapovanam, near Villupuram.”
There were some other ‘interesting responses’ but I will save them for my personal entertainment. Clearly, the jury is out on who really composed the song as we know it.