|Swathi Thirunal as a Patron of Arts|
Among the musical celebrities who adorned his court were four brothers Vadivelu, .Sivanandam, Chinnaiah and Ponniah, all experts and exponents in several branches of music and dance. Vadivelu was one of the best musicians and dancers of his time. He had marvelous skill in playing the violin, and the Maharajan was pleased to present him with an instrument made of ivory. But some people in recent times attribute some of the musical works of Maharaja to these brothers. Noted Veena maestro Balachander was the man who pioneered this theory. This is absolutely baseless, Maharaja’s manuscript copies are found, and all his compositions contain the stamp of devotion to Sree Padmanabha.
Among the experts in instrumental music in SwathiThirunal’s court was Ananthapadmanabha Goaswami, popularly known as Meruswami. Meruswami was a celebrity in the court of the Tanjore Raja, and he was a great exponent of Harikatha and Hindustani Music. The Maharaja sanctioned a handsome pension for him and permission for the free use of a palanquin.
The Maharaja’s appreciation of the Hindustani music was responsible for organizing a troupe of Hindustani artistes in the palace. There were in that troupe, three dancers and a Hindustani musical exponent, Allaudin from Mysore. Another musician from the North as Syed Sulaiman, a Pathan, whose special ability was in playing Swarabath, a musical instrument.
Sarangi players also received his encouragement . Chintamony of Tanjore was a great exponent of this. The Maharaja’s love for music was not confined to pure music, but it also comprehended the closely allied art, dance. He had great interest in Bharathanattyam and Mohiniyattam.
Bharathanattyam attracted the special attention of the Maharaja even from his childhood. Great exponents of that art like Nagaratnam of Srirangam, Pichu Bhagavather from Tanjore were invited to Thiruvananthapuaram for performances and they were generously rewarded. Vadivelu, whom we mentioned earlier, was the master of Bharathanattyam troupe and he is popularly known as Nattuvan Vadivelu – Nattuvan means dancer. Under the benign patronage and encouragement of the Maharaja, Bharathanattayam won immense popularity among the people of Travancore.
Several dancers came from Tanjore in those days and settled down in Trivandrum getting due encouragement from the palace. Vadivelu, Meruswami and others about whom mention has been made, were the important musicians attached to the court of the Maharaja. But there were a host of minor figures who also enjoyed the patronage of Maharaja. The palace records of the times furnish eloquent proof of the rewards and presents awarded by the Maharaja to musicians and experts in instruments. Among them may be mentioned, Anantharaman and Mukundaraman of mysore, Sivarama Sastrikal of Kalahasti, Lakshmana Das of Gwalior, Vellabarayar of Tanjore, Halavati an expert of Mohiniyattam fromTanjore and Parameshwara Bhagavathar of Palakkad.
There were several gifted musicians in Travancore who were contemporaries of the Maharaja. The foremost among them was, no doubt, Govinda Marar, who has won fame as Shadkala Govinda Marar. He is regarded as the greatest musician born in Kerala, who was able to win the approbation of his great contemporary Sri Thyagaraja, the celebrated musician and composer of South India.
But there were several other musicians who were attached to the court of the Maharaja. It reveals a remarkable fact that in those days, there were a large number of eminent musicians in Kerala, noted for their special skills, both in vocal as well as instrumental music. The ancient musical tradition of Kerala continues almost unbroken. Sangitaratnakaram Sri Rama Sastrigal, Kavirajan Avanavanjcherry Krishnan Bhagavathar and others, deserve special mention.
The Maharaja had in his court, eminent poets like Kilimanur Vidwan Koyi Thampuran and Eraimman Thampi and great scholars like Simhadri sastri of Mysore, and Krishnappa Sastri of Hydrabad, Vasudeve Acharin of Kumbhakonam and Krishna Sastri of Tanjore. There were also great astrologers like sankaranantha, a native of North Malabar, who won great fame as an adviser of Ranjit Singh, Lion of Punjab, and finally became as judge of the High Court of Travancore and a courtier of the Maharaja. There were likewise, equestrians, magicians, gymnasts, sculptors, physicians and painters. Dasini, a painter from Tanjore, was employed by the Maharaja for painting mural pictures in the Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple.
Notwithstanding this universality of his interest, his preference for music and literature was only too well known. From certain stories handed down by oral tradition, it appears that even poets had a grouse against the preference shown by the Maharaja, but the attendants repeatedly told him that the Maharaja was engaged with musicians. One poet even composed a verse expressing his feeling of disappointments and asking when poets like himself could have the privilege of an audience with the Maharaja.
The story need to be taken as a reflection on the attitude of the Maharaja towards literature, for he was himself a great scholar in several languages- Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi, Persian, English, besides Malayalam, and a good poet. It is also noteworthy that two of his greatest courtiers, Vidwan Koyi Thampuran of Kilimanoor and Eraimman Thampi were great literary jewels. Koyi Thampuran is well known as the author of a beautiful Kathkali work 'RAVANA VIJAYAM', and Eraimman Thampi one of the best poets of Malayalam. However, it may not be wrong to say what Swathi Thirunal showed an excessive fondness for music, and that was responsible for creating a feeling of jealousy in the minds of other artistes
The patronage given by the Maharaja to music and the encouragement given to the musicians and artistes deserve the highest praise. The Maharaja’s achievements are gratefully remembered, and his example will ever serve to inspire the world in the promotion of learning and fine arts. His, memory will forever be cherished as one of the greatest patrons of music and art in South India.
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