Musuri Subramonya Iyer on Swati Thirunal 

Excerpts from the Presidential Address of Sri Musiri Subrahmanya Iyer, on the occasion of the first SWATI TIRUNAL MUSIC FESTIVAL held in October 1942

Maharaja Swathi Thirunal belonged to the first half of the 19 century A.D. He was Garbhasreeman. Like all real supermen, he lived for only under 35 years. During such a short period, the great prodigy, scholar and bhakta that he was, he was able to achieve all-round superlative worth by what one might call high-pressure versatile activity. I have now learnt that many of the institutions which now form the pride of the Government of Travancore, were founded by Sri Swathi Thirunal Maharaja.

To a musician like me, it is of great significance that the Maharaja was a contemporary of the South Indian Musical Trinity, Saint Tyagaraja, Syama Sastrigal and Muthuswami Dikshitar. Having gifted these three gems to Tamizh Nadu, Goddess Sarasvati wanted to do special favour to Travancore, nature’s pet child; and therefore Travancore was blessed with a princely musician in the literal sense.

The Maharaja’s musical proclivities were so powerful that the front rank musicians all flocked to the Travancore Palace like mother cow’s response to the bleats of her calf, as so well sung by a Tamizh muse. Besides local artists like Kilimanur Koyil Thamburan and Iravi Varman Thambi, Tanjavur Vadivelu and his brothers, Kannayya (a disciple of Saint Tyagaraja), Meru Svamigal of Kalashepam fame and a host of others were the Court Musicians of the Maharaja, a galaxy of musicians of authentic eminence- a full bunch of them for any prince to proudly to revel in.

Friends, the scenery of Travancore is enchanting enough to make anybody a muse. Maharaha Swati Tirunal was a descendant of the great Kulasekharaperumal, one of the Tamizh Alvars, and belonged to a lineage to which we owe Silappatikaram, the great Tamizh classic. He lived in the golden age of Karnatak Music, always tasting the trasendental music of the greatest exponents of the art in the history of South India. There is therefore little for surprise in the fact that the Maharaja was a born composer of great parts.

As a composer, Maharaja Swati Tirunal was singularly great in the infinite variety and versatility of his compositions, in their suitability for dance, and in the number of languages he handled with felicity. The use of swara-sahityam was a specialty with him. His Svarajati-s, Tanavarnam’s, and Padavarnam’s are among the best known to us. His scholarship in Sanskrit was remarkable. His researches in music have enabled him to compose in apurvaragas like Gopikavasantam, Desakshi, Dvijavanti, Gauri, Navarasam, and such other ragas not commonly handled by other great composers. If I can make a critical observation, and borrow Dr. Johnson’s method of expression, I would say that Maharaja Swati Tirunal’s Kirtanam (i) ‘Sarasijanabha’ in a Todi ,(ii)Varnam ‘Chalamela’in Sankarabharanam, (iii) Padam ‘Kanta tava” in Athana, (iv) Javali ‘Itu Sahasamulu’ in Saindhavi, and (v) Kalakshepam ‘Kucelopakhyanam, form a quintuple triumph won by no other musical composers in south India. Some of his Hindi songs compare very favourably with the best of North India.

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