Maadaveethi Bhajanai kuzhu
3 NOVEMBER 2005
A great champion of Sampradaya Bhajans
When the Madras High Court was established in the last quarter of the 19th century, Mylapore became the Mecca for the leading lawyers in Madras City. Sir S Subramaniya Ayyar,
Sir V Bhashyam Iyengar, Sir C Shankaran Nair, Salem Ramaswamy Mudaliar, P R Sundaram Ayyar, V Krishnaswamy Ayyar, Sir P S Sivaswamy Ayyar and later Sir S Varadachariar, Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar, T L Venkatrama Sastri, what an eminent galaxy of outstanding lawyers and jurists who adorned the Madras High Court and who put Mylapore on the global map of the World of Law and Jurisprudence? Many of them were great patrons of art, music and culture.
What is not so well-known is that Mylapore was also a great centre of art, music and culture for nearly 75 years from 1875 to 1950. In 1930, Mandhai Sa Krishna Ayyar (1898-1950) founded Sri Krishna Bhajana Mandiram on South Mada Street, Mylapore. This Bhajana Mandiram was functioning at a building located at the junction of Adam Street and South Mada Street.
Krishna Ayyar was born in the Tamil Year 'Vilambi', on 18 August 1898. He was the son of Swaminatha Ayyar and Meenakshi. Swaminatha Ayyar hailed from Mandhai village on the bank of Natana Cauvery, the Dancing Cauvery, on the road from Kumbakonam to Karaikal. Right from the days of Nayak Rule in the later half of the 16th century, this area around Mayavaram, Kumbakonam and Karaikkal has been the epicentre of fine arts like music, dance, art and culture. From his childhood days, Krishna Ayyar was deeply moved by the sweet concord of music. Music, particularly on religious themes and spiritual emotions, was his food of love. His faith in God was profound and his love of music was a logical outcome of that deathless faith.
As a lover of 'Sangita' and 'Sahitya', he wanted to establish an organisation devoted to the pursuit of music and other allied arts as vehicles of devotion to the Almighty. No wonder that when he came to Madras in 1928, he took immediate steps to establish Sri Krishna Bhajana Mandiram at Mylapore in 1930. Regularly and punctually on all important days like Ekadasi, Krithigai, Gokulashtami, Sri Ramanavami, etc. complete and full-scale Sampradaya Bhajans or Classical Concerts were conducted under the personal supervision of Krishna Ayyar at the Sri Krishna Bhajana Mandiram Hall.
These concerts were graced by Vidhwans, Rasikas and Bhakthas. Outstanding, well-known and celebrated musicians like Tiger Varadachariar, Papanasam Sivan, Madurai Mani Ayyar, Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma, Maruthuvakkudi Gopu, Melacauvery Ramamurthy Ayyar, Palayur Brothers, Madurai Subramaniya Ayyar used to give concerts and also participate in the Sampradaya Bhajans. Pappa Venkatramayya, Umayalpuram Venkatrama Ayyar, Marungapuri Gopalakrishna Ayyar and others used to accompany these great vidhwans on the violin. Palghat Ramachanran, Kalyanasundaram, Venu Naicker and others used to participate as percussionists.
Krishna Ayyar was a magnificent host. Several outstanding Bhagavathars and Vidhwans were his personal friends. Papanasam Sivan was his great friend and comrade. The cine actor and musician Nott Annaji Rao, poorvasrama father of the famous Bhagvatha Mahapurusha Swami Haridhos Giri, helped Krishna Ayyar in organising full-scale sampradaya bhajans at Sri Krishna Bhajana Mandiram for more than 15 years from 1932 to 1947. It was a meeting point of all the great giants and stalwarts of the time in the field of carnatic music. Krishna Ayyar served as a smiling 'Nishkama' host happily playing the role of a public relations officer.
Krishna Ayyar was a great devotee of Sri Kapaliswara and Sri Karpagambal at the celebrated temple in Mylapore, Chennai. He could be seen every night at this temple engrossed in deep meditation and devout prayer, completely losing his identity before the sanctum sanctorum of Sri Kapaliswara Temple.
Krishna Ayyar stressed the importance of 'Nama Sankirtan' to all the seekers in the following words: 'Brahma and other Celestials, Agasthya, Narada, Markandeya and other Deva Rishis, Thumburu, Kinnaras, Sarangadeva and other musicologists and composers had swept aside all feelings of the 'Self' with ease singing thrilling and alluring songs with devotion like sugared milk in praise of the numerous aspects of the Lord. It is our prime duty to imbibe that imperishable Nada. Nama Bhakthi is the easily accessible, imperishable tool available to all the good seekers to move towards God and hence 'Nama Sankirtan' shall be 'Raja marga' for all. There is no place for any one to feel shy in doing so. The seeker shall sing confidently in the chosen songs with gambhirya'.
Krishna Ayyar was also a writer of repute in Tamil. He was a regular contributor to the popular national Tamil daily 'Swadesamitran' and the then most popular classical journal 'Indu Nesan'. Apart from establishing Sri Krishna Bhajana Mandiram, Krishna Ayyar also started a publishing house called Sri Krishna Publishing House. He himself authored and published the following books in Tamil:
a) Thyagaraja Swami Charitram (Life of St. Thyagaraja). Sangeetha Vidhwan Tiger
K Varadarachariar wrote an appreciation of this book in
b) Sugunavathi or Manampol Mangalyam ( a novel)
c) Pratapa Simhan (a non-detailed text book for schools)
Krishna Ayyar passed away at the young age of 52 on 12 April, 1950. He had a very large collection of numerous recordings of precious music and rare books on music and literature. He was an avid collector of old gramophone records. All of them have been lost to posterity. Like Mahakavi Bharathi, Krishna Ayyar died in chill penury. His faith in God remained unshakeable and his Bhakthi was unassailable till his death.
To conclude in the beautiful words of 'Garland' N Rajagopalan:
'Mylapore in Chennai, in the later half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, was the chosen home of not only intellectuals and captains of music but also of the devout. Pure and chaste classical music flowed along its clean, cultured streets bounded by the celebrated temples of Sri Kapaliswara and Sri Kesava Perumal and the well laid-out, beautiful Kapaliswara tank and the Chitrakulam. The society was enlightened and all the air was full of education, music, festivals, bhajans, concerts, dramas, etc. and all at the service of the community. Festivals and the month of Margasira witnessed dozens of bhajan parties from dawn to dusk going round the streets and there were some purely lady teams of devotees too. Physical and mental pollution was unknown and it was truly heaven on earth. Many cultural and national causes had their seeding there and all flowered to their fullest efflorescence. Krishna Ayyar enjoyed its boons and in a quid pro quo repaid it with his laudable contributions'.
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)
GO TOP / HOME / OTHER SPECIAL STORIES