When Ghanam Krishna Iyer, composer and court musician of the Udayarpalayam palace, visited Tyagaraja in Tiruvaiyaru, the latter’s disciples Kamasavalli Nanu Iyer and Thillaisthanam (Thiruneithanam) Rama Iyengar sang ‘Epapamu’,a keethanai in Atana.
Tyagaraja also requested Krishna Iyer to sing something. “Krishna Iyer rendered an alapana of Atana before singing the pallavi ‘Epapamu’. He embellished it with imaginative swaras and infused it with unique ideas. A pleased Tyagaraja asked Krishna Iyer to render his own song in Atana. Immediately, he composed the song ‘Summa summa varumo sugam’,” writes Tamil scholar U.V. Swamintha Iyer in his monograph on Krishna Iyer, recalling the conversation between the two great musicians.
Krishna Iyer, an expert in Ghanam singing, was an uncle of Swamintha Iyer’s grandmother.
“As the elaborate rendering of Atana progressed with imaginative ideas and swaras, Tyagaraja was moved by the majesty of the ghanam and presented him with a shawl. Krishna Iyer said nothing could match the greatness of Tyagaraja, who had dedicated his life to the service of Iswara and sang bhajans with his disciples,” writes Swamintha Iyer. After returning to his village, Krishna Iyer composed the anu pallavi and saranam in praise of Soundaraja Perumal.
This is one of the incidents that explains the interaction between Tyagaraja and his contemporaries. Swaminatha Iyer writes of the meeting between Gopalakrishna Bharati, the author of Nandanar Charithiram, and Tyagaraja, and how the former composed a song on his request.
Swaminatha Iyer’s father Venkata Subbaiyer used to be a disciple of Ghanam Krishna Iyer. Swaminatha Iyer himself learnt music from Gopalakrishna Bharati while living in Mayiladuthurai. He has written books on Ghanam Krishna Iyer, Gopalakrishna Bharati and Mahavaidyanatha Sivan, whom he had the opportunity to listen to when he was staying in Thiruvavaduthurai Math.
Ghanam Krishna Iyer, a native of Thirukundram, learnt music from his father Ramaswamy Iyer and later from Pachimirian Adiyappaiyer, the court musician of Thanjavur. Swaminatha Iyer says that Krishna Iyer learnt ghanam singing from Kesavaiah, a court musician of Poppili.
“He performed at the court of Thanjavur. At that time, there was no one in Tamil Nadu who had the expertise in ghanam singing. When the king wanted the musicians to learn it from Kesavaiah, no one came forward because it demanded good physique and regular practice. But Krishna Iyer expressed his desire to learn. He went to Kapistalam and practised ghanam singing with the support of Ramabhatra Moopanar. Later, he performed at the Thanjavur court in the presence of Kesavaiah and earned the title ‘Ghanam’ Krishna Iyer,” explains Swaminatha Iyer.
Krishna Iyer became a court musician of Udayarpalayam when it was ruled by Kachi Ranga Kalakka Tola Udayar, a great patron of music and arts. The concert and dance hall, named Krishna vilasam, where musicians and dancers performed is now in a state of neglect.
When Krishna Iyer was the court musician, a disciple of Tyagaraja visited Udayarpalayam for a concert. The ruler was impressed with the keerthana ‘Ma Janaki’ set to Khamboji raga and asked Krishna Iyer if he had composed any song in the same raga. Krishna Iyer immediately composed the keerthana ‘Engal janakiyai manam’ — Janaki was also the name of the Udayarpalayam zamindar’s wife.
If Atana strengthened the bond between Tyagaraja and Ghanam Krishna Iyer, Abhogi remains a testimony to the meeting between Tyagaraja and Gopalakrishna Bharati.
Tyagaraja’s compositions received critical acclaim even during his time. Gopalakrishna Bharati decided to meet him. When Bharati reached Tiruvaiyaru and told Tyagaraja he had come from Mayuram, the latter asked him if he knew Gopalakrishna.
“I am Gopalakrishna Bharati,” he replied.
Tyagaraja was surprised by his humility. At that time, his disciples were singing ‘Sree rama seetha alankara swaroopa’ set to Abhogi. After they completed singing the keerthana, Tyagaraja asked Bharati if he had composed any song in Abhogi. Bharati left without uttering a word and headed to the Ayyarappar temple.
Bharati visited Tyagaraja the next day again and sang his newly-composed kriti, ‘Sabapathikku veru theivam samanamaguma’ in Abhogi.
“When I asked you yesterday, you did not say anything,” said Tygaraja. To which Bharati replied, “With your blessings I composed it last night.”