VINJAMURI THE COMPOSER - WHAT IS DIFFERENT?
(By Vinjamuri Govindarajan)
The Sishyas and Prasishyas of Saint Thyagaraja not only carried on the tradition of high standards of Musicianship, but also as excellent Composers. Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaiar, Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar were composers of great merit. In turn, their disciples like Anai-Ayya, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Maha Vaidhyanatha Iyer, Mysore Sadasiva Rao and others produced some marvelous compositions. Each of them, to some extent, tried to enhance the musical value by their compositions. This they achieved either by creating new ragas or by dwelling deep into the existing ragas with new insights. Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer's Kadanakutuhalam,Poochi Iyengar's Swararanjani and Manambuchavidi Venkatasubbaier's kritis in Kutuhalam and Pravala Jyothi ragas are examples of creativity of the later composers in composing in new ragas.
Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer's 'Nija dasa Varada' has a story behind its composition. Once Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer was asked as to why he did not compose any kriti in Kalyani. He is said to have replied by saying, Saint Thyagaraja had already composed several Kritis bringing out fully the Swaroopam of Kalyani raga and therefore he felt that nothing was left for him, to compose in that raga. However, he took up the challenge and composed 'Nija dasa Varada' which is a classic by itself.
Tiger Varadachari, a prominent disciple of Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer and Guru of Vinjamuri, composed only a few during his long life, despite the fact that Tiger was credited to be the giant among Musicians in so far as creative brilliance was concerned. His Manodharma was unmatched. However, most of his compositions were Gitams and Varnams. He is said to have composed only a couple of Kritis for special occasions. Whatever Tiger created, were replete with originality.
Vinjamuri always considered that the musical outpourings of the Trinity were sufficient for anyone to immerse in Nada Sudha and drink the Celestial ambrosia of the Divine Music. He felt, like his mentors, that any new compositions should add musicial value and not just increase the numbers. It is due to this belief, his compositions were few but, each was composed in a specific context and with a purpose.
Vinjamuri composed three Varnams - the first being in Ghana Raga Panchakam. None of the Composers of Varnams had composed in Ghana Raga Panchakam. There is Varnam of Nava Ghana Ragas attributed to Veena Kuppaier. Therefore, Vinjamuri is the first, one can say, to have composed the Varnam in the five Ghana Ragas - Nata, Gowla, Arabhi, Varali and Sree. The phases used by him in this composition are culled out of what he observed from Tiger - with all their virtuosity and uniqueness. His second Varnam is in the raga Sindhuramakriya, a raga that Vinjamuri loved and sang brilliantly. 'Sudha Maadhurya Bhashana', the kriti of Saint Thyagaraja was his favourite which he popularized throughout the South. He, once again, is the first one to have composed a Varnam in this raga. His third Varnam is in the raga Swara Ranjani, a rare Janya raga belonging to the 29th Mela, Dheera Sankarabharanam. Only one Kriti has been composed in this raga which is 'Raghunadha Nannu' by Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar. This is a beautiful Varnam which brings out the raga Lakshana and Swaroopa excellently. Thus, all the three Varnams composed by Vinjamuri are unique.
Among the Kritis composed by Vinjamuri, 'Jagelaraa' in raga Hemavathi was his first, composed when he was hardly 25 years old. This is the most popular of his kritis, sung by many Musicians. It is composed on the pattern of Saint Thyagaraja's compositions. Set to Madhyama Kala singing, the Kriti brims with the essence of Hemavathi and builds up the tempo to a concert, when sung at the early part. It is also amendable for elaborate singing as the main item. "Narasimha Nannu Brovara' in Bhilahari was composed in praise of Lord Lakshmi Narasimha of Mangalagiri, near Guntur, in Andhra Pradesh. Vinjamuri was born in Guntur and Mangalagiri Narasimha Swamy was the family deity. Late Vinjamuri Bhavanachariar, the father of Vinjamuri and a leading light of his time, was the Chairman of the Bard of Trustees of Mangalagiri Devasthanam for a number of years. It is on a visit to Mangalagiri in the 1950s that this Kriti was composed extempore by Vinjamuri. Coincidentally, Saint Thyagaraja also composed a Kriti in the raga Bhilahari starting with 'Narasimha Nannu', but the Dhatu as well as Matu of these kritis are entirely different. The composition of Vinjamuri is in Tiger's style brimming with Vishesha Prayogas. This Kriti can be sung in both Madhyama Kala and Vilamba Kala depending on the mood of the hour. Vinjamuri composed a Kriti in Kharaharapriya on Mahatma Gandhi on hearing that the Mahatma was assassinated that day - the 30th January 1948. The Kriti starts with 'Vandanamu Gandhi deva'. 'Padmavathim Bhajamyaham' is a Kriti on Goddess of Tiruchanur composed in the raga Sankarabharanam. While a large number of Kritis have been composed by a number of composers on Lord Venkateswara, perhaps, Vinjamuri's is the only Kriti in praise of Goddess Padmavathi.
Vinjamuri composed Tillanas in ragas Hindolum, Hamir Kalyani and Sankari. The Tillanas in Hamir Kalyani and Hindolum are composed in such a way that they can be sung in concerts as well as used as dance numbers. Both of them are very popular. The third Tillana is in the raga Sankari - a raga with only four Notes, which is a Janya of 29th Mela. The Arohana and Avarohana are s g p n s (u) and (u) s n p g s. No one else had composed a Tillana in this raga. Muthiah Bhagavatar, however, had composed a Kriti in this raga. Being a four-note raga, the Tillana is extremely suitable for playing on the instruments like Violin, Mandolin etc. It is a very pleasing and lilting composition.
Vinjamuri had composed Javalis in the ragas Manirangu and Saranga. Manirangu piece, again, is unique, as no other composer appears to have composed a Javali in this raga.