Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar
(By Ganakalanidhi Dr. Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar - 1990)
Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar was born in a tiny village by name ARIYAKKUDI not far from KARAIKUDI in Tamilnadu on 19th May 1890 AD, of his parents Sriman Thiruvengadam Iyengar and Srimati Chellammal as their third son.
I inquisitively questioned him one day (with my due regards to him) whether he was at home with Astrology, which was his family profession. His immediate reply was that five generations of his family were famous astrologers – his father himself was a well-versed astrologer, very famous in Tamilnadu. On birth, his farther charted his horoscope and informed the members of the family that the newborn boy will not have any academic education whatever except in Music which would take him to great heights. On an auspicious day, he was taken to Pudukottai to sit at the feet of the local Sangeeta Vidwan by name Sri Malayappa Iyer to study the rudiments of classical music in an orthodox manner and thus have a strong foundation - with deep devotion. He did not spare any pains to master what all he learnt from his mentor. Thereafter he approached the celebrated expert in Pallavi singing, Sriman Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar to build up an edifice over his strong foundation. Thereafter, he became a favourite disciple of the well-known Maha Vidwan and great composer, of Kritis, Tanavarnams and Javalis, Sriman Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar popularly known as Poochi Iyengar, who paved way for him to become a successful platform singer and a shining star-musician for more than half a century with unbroken success. He was universally known as the uncrowned king among Musicians. As informed by himself to me, his career commenced with giving an independent concert at Karaikudi, in connection with a wedding in one Pettachi Chettiar House, where he originally was to only vocally assist his Gurudev Sriman Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar who unfortunately met with an accident in the local market and broke his leg and therefore could not perform. It was only under instructions from his renowned guru that he agreed to give the concert. It went on wonderfully for well over four hours at the closure of which Sriman Srinivasa Iyengar openly told him to take his place in the music world as he himself became handicapped and an invalid. Thus with the blessings he became a creative musician on his own in its fullest sense.
By about Nineteen twenties he established a reputation on par with the front ranking musicians of the day. He was unbeaten in his own field for a full period of Half a century – with age his music ripened, the voice quality maintained throughout his career brimming with magnetism. My first contact with his scintillating music was through his Gramophone records produced by Hutchins and Odeon Recording Companies before broadcasting came into existence in India. Ever-since, I became his Ekalavya in music. After my settling down in Madras in the thirties, undergoing rigid training in music under the well-known Lakshya Lakshana Maha Vidwan, Sriman Tiger. K. Varadachariar, I used to attend almost every performance of our hero to learn the Art of Platform Singing, of which perhaps he was the architect. He was traditional to the point of being conservative with due effort to conserve the best in an ancient but sophisticated tradition and then allow it to blossom in its own natural ways. There was never a time when he did not commence his concert with a Tana varnam followed by two or three madhyamakala compositions of the music trinity, his celebrated guru, Patnam Subramanya Iyyer, Mysore Sadashiva Rao and the like, each one of which preceded with a crisp rendering of raga bringing out its full swaroopa. He was equally at home with compositions in slow and medium tempos. He was an expert in choice of items depending upon the condition of his voice and also the side accompanists. The major portion of his concert was Ragam, Taanam and Pallavi in popular Ragas like Bhairavi, Khamboji, Kalyani, Thodi, Shankarabharanam, and Saveri so as to allow his audience to follow readily. Not once have I noted that he rendered the Pallavi in a complicated Tala. His Kalpana Swara singing was full of Raga bhava with Gamaka suddham and not with acrobatics. His pallavi singing contained neraval and Kalpana Swaram without meddling in Tisragati, Khandagati or any sort of gatibhedams. Post pallavi portion consisted of a Javali, Padam, Ragamalika stotram and Tillana. Thereafter he invariably rendered a Tiruppavai and concluded with Mangalam. In every one of his concerts he would present a rare composition. Through his concerts, he gave the listeners aesthetic pleasure, and intellectual pleasure. Musicians used to learn a good lot by attending his performances. Every one of his concerts was brim with educative value too. It was he who brought out many Kritis till then unknown. He tuned Tiruppavai of Sri Andal and compositions contained in Arunachala Kavirayar’s Rama Natakam. He used to render Hindusthani ragas too with ease in his ragamalika slokas, Vruttams etc.
Before concluding this write-up, I must express my grateful thanks to that doyen among Carnatic musicians for all the encouragement he gave me. Functions were not few when he recommended this humble self on days when his engagement diary would not permit him to accept any engagement. With all his attainments he was very social with everyone. He believed all his attainments were due to Guru Kataksham. The titles and honours conferred on him are innumerable. He was the earliest among the musicians to receive President’s Award from Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then president of India. Vellore Sangeeta Sabha conferred on him the title "Sangeeta Ratnakara" in 1932, Madras Music Academy " Sangeetha Kalanidhi" in 1938, "Sangeeta Kala Shikhamani" by the Indian Fine Arts society, "Gayaka Shikhamani" by Mysore Durbar, " Isai Perarignar" by Tamil Isai Sangham in 1950, later Fellow of Sangeeta Nataka Academy, New Delhi. He became a Padmabhushan too. All these were bestowed out of sheer respect for his art and not as a token of recognition. He was a composer too with merit. His music was everfresh and evergreen. Music was part and parcel of his life running through his veins. It was he who made me what I am in the world of Carnatic Music through constantly listening to his music concerts with their educative value. Volumes can be written on him and his merits but with the space allotted to me this much alone is possible.