For years, classical singer TM Krishna has searched for female composers in the centuries-old history of Carnatic music. There were women poets whose works had been set to song, but no composer of the songs themselves.
It was not until he read the autobiography “En Charithiram” by Tamil scholar and researcher U Ve Swaminatha Iyer (U Ve Sa) that he heard of Mayurattammal, a composer, whom Iyer greatly acknowledged. the contribution, but whose mourning had been lost in time.
Among other things that Krishna learned from Tamil history through the eyes of U Ve Sa was the fact that the compositions of Kunangudi Masthan Sahib – the Tamil Sufi poet Qadiriyya whose dargah is located at Tiruvottiyur in Chennai – were once passionately interpreted by the devout Shaivite philosopher Duraimangalam Sivaprakasa Swamigal in the 17-18th century. “It was interesting to learn about such mixtures, especially in our environment,” says Krishna.
On the occasion of Swaminatha Iyer’s 167th birthday which falls on February 19, the musician will release rare compositions by him on the Murugan of Ilanthai Nagar, Sri Lanka. “There is no notation for these compositions; there are only mentions of their ragam and talam, so I’ve tuned them accordingly,” says Krishna, who had also released a set of songs from this series of compositions around this time last year.
Revered as ‘Tamil Thatha’ or the Great Old Man of Tamil, U Ve Sa is credited with bringing ancient Sangam literature – epics such as Jeevaka Chinthamani, Silappadikaram and – into the public eye.
“Tamil’s status as a classical language rests mainly on the work done by Swaminatha Iyer in the field of literary scholarship and text editing,” says historian AR Venkatachalapathy.
Additionally, works that continue to inspire artists and scholars to this day are U Ve Sa’s biographies of Carnatic composers Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and Ghanam Krishna Iyer. It chronicled their lives and contribution to the arts in a way that allows us to celebrate their legacy even today. “Not only did he write about their lives, but he also collected some of their compositions,” says Venkatachalapathy. “He also wrote the life story of a Tamil scholar and his mentor Mahavidhvan Meenakshisundaram Pillai and his student Tyagaraja Chettiar. Until then, no full fledged biography of a Tamil scholar existed; without these works, we would know almost nothing about these people.
“He came from a family that knew literature and music well. In fact, he trained himself in music with Gopalakrishna Bharathi. But at that time there was a school of Tamil scholars who believed that music would stand in the way of sound literary scholarship. His own teacher Meenakshisundaram Pillai dissuaded him from training in music. While he discontinued training out of respect for his mentor, throughout his life he listened to music and released compositions,” says Venkatachalapathy.
The various facets of U Ve Sa’s work, life and character have become a treasure trove of inspiration for today’s seekers in all fields of the arts. Award-winning Tamil author Perumal Murugan, who presented TM Krishna with a booklet of compositions by U Ve Sa, says what he took away from “Tamil Thatha” was his insatiable thirst to learn about all religions. “He was a Shaivite, but he looked to all religious texts for their intellectual contribution and challenge. This can be seen in his reworking of Manimekalai, which is a Tamil-Buddhist epic, and Jeevaka Chinthamani, a Jain text he dedicated himself to learning with a community of Jains in Kumbakonam,” says Murugan.
U Ve Sa’s essays widely published in various Tamil magazines are a window into her wonderful mind. They have been compiled in a recent book, ‘Essays of U Ve Sa: The Man who renaissanced Ancient Tamil Literature’ by Justice Prabha Sridevan (Retired) and Pradeep Chakravarthy.
“Recounting a visit to Alwarthirunagari in search of Sangam poetry which ends almost unsuccessfully, Swaminatha Iyer recounts how he silently calls for help from Saint Nammazhvar, as he watches his procession pass by, and shortly afterwards, he is handed a pile of manuscripts. who give him ‘Nilavil Malarntha Mullai’, a work by Mullai Paatu, an important poem by Sangam,” says Pradeep. “His speeches, anecdotes and essays contain life lessons that we will never stop learning – no matter what age we live in,” says Pradeep.