Composers and Musicians

Palghat Parameswara

Palghat Parameswara Bhagavathar Kriti :

Parameswara Bhagavathar, who lived one hundred years ago was the Chief Palace Musician of Sri Swati Tirunal and was a composer in his own right.  His compositions include many Varnams and Keertanams of which the Varna ‘Sarasijanabha’ in Nata is very popular.  He was an expert in singing Ragam Tanam Pallavai.On the joyous occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Sri Swati Tirunal Sangita Sabha and the 179th Swati Jayanthi, it is only appropriate to remember a musician and a close associate and disciple of Swati Tirunal, Parameswara Bhagavathar, who shook off his mortal coil one hundred years ago.
As the son of another Parameswara Bhagavathar (of veena fame), who has been named after the renowned musician by my grandfather, Sucheendram Padmanabha Bhagavathar, in fond remembrance of his beloved teacher and benefactor, I am giving below his life sketch.

Parameswara Bhagavathar was born in 1815 at Noorani village in Palghat in a middle class family as the son of Dharmaraja Iyer.  He lost his parents at an early age and was brought up by his uncle at Guruvayur.  He studied Sanskrit and music under a musician  (name not known) and developed his music by listening to the music of various musicians visiting the temple there.  He had a very fine voice in singing.

At the age of 16, he had to come to Thiruvananthapuram to find out his livelihood.  One day, he sang before Lord Krishna in Padmanabhaswami temple and was heard by Swathi Tirunal, who was then there during his daily worship.  After listening to his music and understanding his peculiar circumstances.  The Maharaja took him to his palace and put him under the care of various musicians there.

By virtue of his intensive practice and close association with the court musicians, his musical talents developed to such an extent that Swati Tirunal had great admiration and confidence in him.  Whenever the Maharaja composed songs, the Bhagavathar was made to copy them on Cadjan leaves.  He used to practice veena and swarabat along with the Maharaja during his leisure.  He also acquired proficiency as a violinist having been trained by Vadivelu in the royal court.  Swati Tirunal made him the Chief Palace Musician towards the end of his regime after the death of Vadivelu.

Musical Contest

Parameswara Bhagavatar was the Chief Palace Musician during the time of four successive Travancore Rulers,  namely Swati Tirunal,  Uttram Tirunal,  Ayiliam Tirunal and Visakham Tirunal.  It was according to his advice that Ayiliam Tirunal called for Coimbatore Raghava Iyer (a disciple of Bhagavathar) who was then staying at Haripad to meet at the historical musical contest with Mahavaidyanatha Iyer in 1872 and honoured both of them with costly presents.

Another interesting anecodote about Bhagavathar is worth mentioning here.  Once Bishandarkoil Subbarayar,  famous in singing the Tyagaraja Kriti “Giripaimela” in Sahana  raga visited Thiruvananthapuram and challenged Parameswara Bhagavathar in his old age for a contest.  Coming to know of Subbrarayar’s challenge,  Coimbatore Raghava Iyer called on him and asked  him to compete with him first before meeting his teacher.  Then Raghava Iyer rendered an Alapana in Todi Raga followed by an intricate Pallavi in it to the surprise of Subbarayar who left the place without meeting Bhagavathar.

Bhagavathar was an expert in singing Ragam - Tanam – Pallavi.  His unique style of singing Tanam in Ghana Ragas (Natta, Goula,  Varali, Arabhi and Sree Ragam) and Alapana of Saveri Raga follwed by the rendering of “Paripahi Ganadhipa” (Swati composition) in the Navaratri Mandapam was spoken high of by the musicians of those day.  It is also heard that he used to sing very well the Deekshitar Kriti Manasaguruguha in Ananda Bhairavi Raga.


He was very punctual in his daily routine and performing Siva puja.  He used to perform Siva Puja from 7 A.M. up to noon meals.  During the day he seldom spoke to anybody and spoke only in Sanskrit if at all the occasion demanded. At about 3 p.m.  he used to teach his disciples. 

Bhagavathar lost his eyesight in his old age.  He lost his wife also three months before his death.  He returned to Palghat and took to Sanyasa Ashrama three days before he died in 1892.  He was a contented man throughout his life.  Some music critics state that Bhagavathar was denied the opportunity of meeting Saint Tyagaraja due to his inevitable presence in the Travancore royal court and he used to curse his fate on that accord.  But in one life-sketch about Bhagavathar published by the famous archaeologist, Vasudeva Puduval, it is stated that Bhagavathar visited Thanjavur, met Tyagaraja and sang his compositions also to the Thanjavur musicians, who applauded him.

Bhagavathar had two sons and three daughters.  Both his sons, Mahadeva Bhagavathar and Ramakrishna Bhagavathar, were court musicians and veteran violinists.  Mahadeva Bhagavathar’s son, Parameswara Bhagavathar (alias Chami Bhagavathar) was also a court musician and a great veena player.  His grandson N. P. Ramaswami (of Cochin) is the only person now known to be carrying on the Bhagavathar’s tradition.

Parameswara Bhagavathar had many disciples in Travancore and outside, of whom Coimbatore Raghava Iyer became famous.  Among the others Swarabat Kittu Bhagavathar, Noorani Ayyay Bhagavathar,  and Mukke Ganapathi Bhagavathar also were well – known.


Bhagavathar’s compositions are in Sanskrit resembling those of Swati Tirunal and Deekshitar.  He has composed many Varnams and Keertanams out of which the Varnam beginning with Sarasijanabha (Natta Raga) is very popular.  Some persons wrongly state that it is a Swati Kriti.  One of his kritis in the same Raga beginning with Sree Mahaganapathim Bhajare is also attaining popularity nowadays. Shri. N.P. Ramaswamy, is in   possession of some of Bhagavathar’s compositions, which he has demonstrated some years back in Madras Music Academy conferences.  It is high time   that such compositions are brought to light at least now in dedication to the memory of the great musician after one hundred years of his physical existence.


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