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Tyagaraja's death centenary

Sriram Venkatkrishnan, The Hindu, Chennai, 25th May, 2007

Reproduced with permission.

Kritimanimalai, R. Rangaramanuja Iyengar's compilation of Tyagaraja's songs, was released in 1947.

Tyagaraja was born in May 1767. We remember the sacrifices made by a school teacher in bringing out the works of Tyagaraja. The year 1947 was awaited with great excitement by the Carnatic music community. It would mark the centenary of Tyagaraja's passing and great plans were made for observing the landmark year. As early as October 1941, it was decided that a complete collection of Tyagaraja's songs would be released in 1947. However, not much action resulted from this and by 1947 it was clear that no book was forthcoming. R. Rangaramanuja Iyengar, an English teacher at the M. CT. M School, in Egmore, Chennai, had however, not been idle. He had managed to compile the songs of Tyagaraja. Running from pillar to post and sinking in his own funds he proceeded to get 100 songs ready for publication. Seeing his earnestness, people such as T.T.Krishnamachari, Kasturi Srinivasan of The Hindu and 'Kalki' R. Krishnamurthy came forward to help and the first volume of the 'Kritimanimalai,' containing the 100 songs in both Tamil and Telugu scripts, was soon ready.

Special worship was conducted at Tiruvaiyaru and the book was then released on April 14, 1947, at the Museum Theatre, Chennai. The Hindu reported on the event in great detail on April 15 under the heading, 'Tyagaraja's Kritis - Memorial Edition Released'. The programme was organised by the Jagannatha Bhaktha Sabha. 'The proceedings began with invocation by Srimathi M.L.Vasanthakumari' reported The Hindu and this was no surprise for Iyengar, who was one of the main factors behind the success of MLV and her mother Lalithangi's book, 'Purandaramanimala.'

The Hindu lists T.T.Krishnamachari, Embar Vijayaraghavachariar, Prof. P.Sambamurthi, Kalki R.Krishnamurthi, R.B.Ramakrishna Raju (president, Legislative Council), K. Chandrashekharan and Diwan Bahadur K.S.Ramaswami Sastrigal among those who participated.

Among the musical luminaries present was Papanasam Sivan who, like Madras Lalithangi, had benefited from Rangaramanuja Iyengar for, it was owing to him that the first compilation of Sivan's kritis had been released in 1934.

TTK unveiled a portrait of Tyagaraja on the occasion and 'expressed the hope that it would serve as an inspiration to help Rangaramanuja Iyengar in all possible ways and enable him to complete the work he had undertaken'.

Dedicated to Dhanammal
For TTK, who was a great admirer of Veena Dhanammal it must have been particularly pleasing to see that Iyengar had dedicated his work to her. In his speech he said, 'Mr. Rangaramanuja Iyengar had learnt the compositions of Sri Thyagaraja in the traditional way from the late Srimathi Veena Dhanammal. The inspiration for this work perhaps came from that great lady, one of the greatest exponents of Carnatic Music.' This was followed by Rangaramanuja Iyengar giving an account of how he had learnt music from the grand old lady of Carnatic music. This is significant, for in later years, Iyengar had to fight a canard that he was never really her student and had merely been a casual visitor who had observed rather than learnt formally from her.

Kalki, while formally releasing the book humorously remarked that the Andhras could have their state and also take Madras city with it, provided they left Tyagaraja to the Tamils. The event concluded with a vote of thanks by K.S.Ramaswami Sastrigal and a Harikatha on Tyagaraja by Embar Vijayaraghavachariar.

'Kritimanimalai' itself became a landmark in Carnatic music history. In his speech TTK announced that it was 'Rangaramanuja Iyengar's intention to publish four volumes, the first three containing 400 Thyagaraja kritis and the other containing 200 padams and kritis of other great composers. This was a work to preserve for generations yet unborn the authentic rendering of those priceless compositions'.

Kalki had in his speech hoped that 'public patronage would be extended to Mr. Rangaramanuja Iyengar so that he would not be put to monetary loss on account of this service'.

But that school teacher was not to be daunted by the prospect of mere pecuniary losses. He took leave from his school for a year on loss of pay basis, laboured on and produced all the volumes as planned in 1948 and earned a permanent place for himself in the annals of Carnatic music history.

The work of Iyengar was carried forward by his daughter Padma Varadan who, a few years ago, got an English edition of the volumes pertaining to Tyagaraja kritis released.

(The author can be contacted at srirambts@gmail.com)

The original article may be seen here:
Tyagaraja's Death Centenary, Article by V. Sriram, The Hindu, May 25, 2007