Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala

Carnatic Music in Kerala

Former ruler of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom, Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma is credited with popularising Carnatic music or the "modern south Indian music" in Kerala. He penned several keerthanas and ragamalikas in the Carnatic genre. His teacher Thanjavur Subbarayar who later became the Diwan of Travancore was a musician.

The king later invited Meruswamikal, a renowned musician to Travancore and accepted his tutelage. During this time the Maharaja of Thanjavur who was a source of inspiration to several musicians died. Many of the musicians soon shifted their base to Travancore. Among them, the Thanjavur brothers - Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu - drew much attention from the ruler.

The Thanjavur brothers were the disciples of the doyen Muthuswami Dikshitar. Vadivelu helped Swati Thirunal in composing Keerthanas and inspired him to experiment violin in Carnatic music. After much research and study, Swati Thirunal was convinced and accorded the violin a status of the first accompanying instrument in Carnatic concerts.

Tyagaraja krithis became popular in Travancore with the arrival of a disciple of Tyagaraja to Travancore. Swati Thirunal produced a number of compostitions in Malayalam, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. The king and his contemporaries also wrote songs for performing art forms Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam. Shatkala Govinda Marar, Iravi Varman Thampi (also known as Irayimman Thampi), Parameswam Bhagavathar and Cholapuram Raghunatharayar were some of the luminaries who enjoyed the patronage of Swati Thirunal.

Irayimman Thampi was an eminent Carnatic musician who composed the famous lullaby "Omanathinkal Kidavo" and other evergreen works like "Panchabaanan Thannudaya" and "Praananathaneniku Nalkiya". His daughter Kuttikunju Thankachi (1820-1904) too made immense contributions after the demise of Swati Thirunal and Irayimman Thampi. She composed several Thiruvathira songs, Kilippaattu and Aattakatha. She penned several keerthanas in the ragas Kalyani, Kamas and Surutti.

K. C. Kesava Pillai (1868-1914) is another eminent musician who enriched Kerala's music genre after Thankachi. Around 70 keerthanas are to his credit.

Musician Palakkad Parameswara Bhagavathar (1815 - 1892) was instrumental in popularising Carnatic music in the northern parts of the present-day Kerala state. Parameswara Bhagavathar was the first non-Travancore artist to be appointed to Swathi Thirunal's Sangeetha Sabha (music court).

Writer, critic and musicologist Attoor Krishna Pisharody (1875-1964) prepared "Sangeetha Chandrika" a compendium on the basic principles and theoretical aspects of music. He compiled the scattered thoughts and principles of music. Sangeetha Chandrika is considered as the best-ever Malayalam work on the art and science of music.

Carnatic music gained immense popularity in different parts of Kerala by the end of the twentieth century. The state gave birth to several renowned Carnatic musicians. The greatest among them was Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar (1896-1974). Chembai was an admired name in the famed Vidwan circles in South India. He is also credited with popularising Carnatic keerthanas among the laymen. His rendering of "Vathapi Ganapathim", "Karuna Cheyvaan" and the like stuck a chord with the listeners.  Chembai held numerous concerts in different parts of the country. He had several disciples and many of them became accomplished names in Carnatic music, playback singing and other forms of music.

Chembai never accepted remuneration from his students and offered coaching to people irrespective of religion or caste. Noted Carnatic musician and playback singer K. J. Yesudas and Jaya-Vijaya (musician brothers) are some among the disciples of Chembai.

Former ruler of erstwhile Travancore kingdom Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma started the Music Academy in Thiruvananthapuram in 1939 paving the way for scientific education in music genre. It was renamed Sree Swati Thirunal College of Music in 1962 and is now governed by the State Directorate of Collegiate Education. The college offers courses in Carnatic vocal and accompanying instruments. Masters and research facilities are also available. Eminent vocalist Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was a former principal of the college. He had a lot of disciples.

Some other renowned artists who enhanced the state's music tradition are teacher and musician Neyyattinkara Vasudevan, Palakkad K. V. Narayana Swami, mridangam maestro Palakkad Mani Iyer and noted Mridangam teacher and player Mavelikkara Velukutty Nair. Other illustrious artists include Pala C. K. Ramachandran, Prof. K. Omanakutty, Mavelikkara Prabhakara Varma, Ayyamkudi Mani and among the younger generation - Unnikrishnan, Sankaran Namboothiri and Anuradha Krishnamurthi.

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