The following is an excerpt from the booklet "Salem City - an Ethno Hostory 1792 - 1992" written by K Lakshminarayanan, T Gangadharan and N Chandrasekar published by Vysya College, Salem. It gives an insight into the background of Music and Musicians of Salem Town.
Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar: Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar (1781-1874) was one of the important disciples of Saint Thyagaraja, who had 30 direct disciples instrumental in propagating his compositions. This consequently resulted in popularising Thyagaraja's krithis to a wider circle of music lovers. Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar and his son, Walajapet Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar belonged to the Walajapet School of sishya parampara. The other two, being the Tillaisthanam School, championed by Rama Iyengar and the Umayalpuram school represented by two brothers- Sundara and Krishna Bhagavatars. Besides these three schools, several other disciples learnt music from Thyagaraja individually. For example, Veena Kuppaiyer was an established vidwan even before he came to learn some krithis from Thyagaraja.
Initially Venkataramana Bhagavatar came to Thyagaraja as a disciple from Ayyampettai - a small town close to Tiruvaiyaru and later on stayed with him as an companion doing secretarial work for him. He was associated with Thyagaraja for over a quarter of century. He was a scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu. His son, Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar was a student of the great master too. Between them, they chronicled much of Thyagaraja's biographical data and also the many events in Thyagaraja's life for approximately thirty five years. This information documented by them has been invaluable to get a better picture of Thyagaraja's visits to some pilgrim centres and the contact he had with visitors to his humble home.
The most significant contribution of the Walajapet father and son pair, was to collect available krithis and operas of Thyagaraja and preserve them for posterity. From this data we have come to know that Thyagaraja wrote three operas- Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam, Nauka Charitram and Sitarama vijayam.1 The musical world is enormously indebted to the father-son pair for preserving this great legacy. They taught Thyagaraja's krithis to many of their students. Both father and son were also composers of varnas, krithis and swarajathis.
Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar the beloved disciple of Saint Thyagaraja belonged to the Sourashtra community. As an eminent musician of the community he was invited by his community people to the temple festivals to perform music concerts. Thus Saint Thyagaraja’s kirthanas and Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar’s style of rendering also came to Salem.
During his Salem visits, Venkataramana used to stay in Butta P. Narasima Iyer’s house. His house, in those days, was a centre for musicians of Tamizh Nadu. Ambur Veena master, Venkataramana Bagavathar Iyer had his music lessons from Narasima Iyer. Narasima Iyer arranged his student Venkataramana Bagavathar’s marriage. Through this marriage, Venkataramana Bagavathar had two daughters - Amsavalli and Premavalli surpassed their father and got good popularity. So Venkataramana Bagavathar came to Salem with his daughters and settled here.
N. Azhagararyar: The great Saurashtra poet of Salem, N. Azhagararyar was a great musician also. He was an expert fiddle-player. As a disciple in the line of Saint Thiyagaraja, he trained hundreds of musicians in Salem, like Mysore Ambuli Krishna Pandit and Salem Pu.Si. Varadarajulu Bagavathar Swamigal.
Pallavi Seshaiyer: Pallavi Seshaiyer (1842-1909) was from Neikarapatti. Like Bagavathar, his father Subbaiyer was a disciple of Saint Thiyagarajar. Seshaiyer started his career in his sixteenth year in 1858. He was proficient both in Telugu and music and prospered as a musician with Pallavi and as a composer of srutis, pathas, varnas and thillanas. His Pallavis stole the hearts of rasikas (fans). He used to conduct his concerts in the annual festivals of Thiruvortiyur Thiyagaraja Temple. On one such occasion, he rendered continuously various raagas such as Dhanyasi, Gowlipantu and Mukhari for sixteen hours.
Salem Duraisamy Iyengar: Salem Duraisamy Iyengar (1890-1952) was a favourite disciple of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar of Ramnad. Duraisamy initially had his training under Saraba Sastri and then went to Poochi Srinivasa Jyengar. In 1921, on Vijayadasami Day, he made his debut before the Ramnad Raja, Baskara Sethupathi. Captivated by his rendition, Krishnaraja Wodayar of Mysore offered him the post of Mysore Asthana Vidwan. But Iyengar did not accept the offer. In 1926 the Coimbatore Sri Purandaradasa Mahotsava Sabha conferred on him the title ‘Gana Sigamani’. Salem Chellam Iyengar was his son and disciple.
Salem Godavari: During the first and second decades of 19th century, Salem Godavari was a very famous singer of Carnatic music. C Vijayaraghavachariyar arranged her concert in his house to give party for a British Judge of Salem court on his transfer. Rajaji also attended the party, was very mush captivated by her performance. She was as pious and religious as to donate iron wheels to Salem temple cars.
Salem D. Chellam Iyengar: Salem D. Chellam Iyengar (1929) made his debut at the age of ten in Thiyagaraja Aradana held at Salem in 1939. He gave concerts in solo for the All India Radio. He participated in the programs of Music Academy, Chennai, Indian Fine Arts Society, etc. He worked as the professor of music in Chennai Kalashetra and specialised in the music composition of Arunagiri Nathar’s Thirupugazh and set tunes to Forty Two Thirupugazh Songs.
Salem G. Desigan: Salem G. Desigan (1926 - 1986) was practically self-made He developed his mastery by sheer observation and dedicated practices. However, he had his initial training under his sister Lakshmi, a disciple of Salem Duraisamy Iyengar (72). Desigan made intensive study of music styles of eminent masters of both Carnatic and Hindustani music. His voice was melodious and attractive. He was a good veena player of high order. He served in Annamalai University to tune Tamizh songs as part of the efforts to popularise Tamizh Isai (73). Desigan founded the Sangeeta Sankarsna Sabha and trained many disciples through it in Salem.
Salem Jayalakshrni, Ramachandran, Neela and Echangudi M. Ramamurthy Bagavadar
are some of the students trained by him. Desigan’s wife, Padma also is a good veena player.
Salem Dr. S. Jayalkshmi
: Salem Dr. S. Jayalkshmi is a prominent vocalist from Salem. She had her training first under Salem Desigan and later Maharajapuram Viswanatha Jyer and others. She has taken special interest in Tamizh music and used Thevaram, Thiñipugazh and Prabandam songs for her Tamizh music experiments. She is a musicologist and is connected with the universities of Tamizh Nadu. She has brought out a number of publications, research papers and translated works. The World University at Tucson (USA) has awarded her Doctorate in the Philosophy of Music.
The Tamizh Nadu Government has conferred the title ‘Kalai Mamani’ (74). Some of her relatives like Salem K. Meera have institution in Salem and teach vocal and instrumental music.
Mayawaram M. Srinivasan: Mayawaram M. Srinivasan (1923) came to Salem in 1950. He had started his training on his fifth year from his father in Mayàwaram. Later, he received further training from S Sadasivam Pilial of Sirkazhi. He performed his maiden vocal concert in1931.
As the expected popularity eluded him, he began to his attention in musical instruments. He got his training in veena under, Thanjavur Sivanandam and got recognition as a stand standard veena player. After that, he came to Salem in 1950 and trained many students. Many stalwarts of music world conferred on him titles in appreciation of his mastery and service. Thirumuruga Kinbananda Vaariyar gave the title ‘ Veenai Isai Vaanar’ to him in 1958. Namagiripettai K. Krishnan gave the title ‘Sakala Kalaai Vithakar’ and honoured him with a shawl. In 1989 during the Diamond Jubilee Sugavana Leela festival, Clarinet A.K.C. Natarajan honoured him with a shawl and the title ‘Veena Gana Laya Thilagam’. He also served for seven years from 1986 as the President of Salem Sangeetha Vidwath Sabha. He performed radio concerts for more than three decades.
A. Janardanan: A. Janardanan (1928) had his training under his father, Arumugavel in vocal, Mirudangam and Ganjira. However, he got more fame as Mirudangam player. He had the training under Mirudanga Chakravarthi Dr. T.K. Murthy of Thanjavur. He studied under him for nearly ten years. During that period, he had opportunities to accompany his master to the performances of the leading musician such as Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyar and D.K Pattammal. In Salem, he produced a number of good mirudanga artists, Srivilliputhur Mani Iyer, Chennai V. Chandramouli, Salem Sankaradas, Kanagasabapathi and P. Prasad are some of his famous students. He has been honoured by Namagiripettai K. Krishnan with the title ‘Laya Gaana Peroli’
D. Vasudevan: D. Vasudevan (1930) is the younger brother of late D. Krishnamurthy. In those days, both the brothers were called ‘Salem Brothers’. They owe to their father, Duraisamy Iyer for their career in music world. Their father was very much interested in drama. So he sent his children, Vasudevan and Krishnamurthy to Madurai Bala Vinodha Sangeetha Sabha run by Nawab Rajamanickkam Pillai to learn vocal Carnatic music. When Rajaji happened to visit their concert, he noticed them uneducated and made arrangements for them to get primary education. Vasudevan’s family came to Salem along with the drama troupe. Here he and his brother began to learn Carnatic vocal music soon. They became famous Carnatic singers and were treated equally with the famous singers like Chellam Iyengar and Desigan. Vasudevan worked in the Modern Theatres music troupe also.
After the demise of his brother Krishnamurthy in 1972, Vasudevan started to perform solo concerts. He had performed many concerts for All India Radio programmes. In 1989, he was honoured with the title ‘Isai Ayana Mani’.
KA Angaiyan: KA Angaiyan was the temple musician of the famous Salem Eswara temple. He is a master of percussion instruments like thavil and ganijra. He played thavil for many leading artists of Tamizh Nadu. He learned thavil from Kumbakonam Thangavelu Pillai and Meenaksbi Sundaram. He had done laudable service of encouraging fellow-musicians by honouring them for their talents with suitable titles. He continued the Sukavana Leela festival initiated by his predecessor, Venugopala Pillai, the former musician of Sukavaneswara temple in 1929.
On the last date of Tamizh month Adi, the temple Asthana musicians used to arrange a grand music concert and honour a selected musician with title and reward. This was galled ‘Sukavana Lee1a Festival’. Jt was conducted for about 65 years till 1994.
KA Angaiyan conducted this festival for about 35 years till his health permitted him.
Salapuram Pappa: Salapuram Pappa the asthana vidwan of Salem VIP’s served in Salem for nearly about four decades. He trains students in carnatic music, vocal, veena, violin, harmonium, flute, mirudangam and bharatanatyam through his Karnataka Sangeeta Vidyalayam.
He has been honoured with the title, ‘Isai Kalai Amudar’. His son, M.P.T. Ravi and daughter-in-law Radha Ravi help him by j managing the bharatanatyam section of the institute.
Kalaimamani T.V. Rathinappa: Kalaimamani T.V. Rathinappa is a dramatist and musician. He is.a good Mirudangam player and a member of Desigan musical troupe. He was one of the founder members of Salem Naadaga Thozhilalar Kazhagam started on 30 January, 1948 with S.K. Chinnusamy Naicker and Thanjai Ramaiya Das as its President and General Secretary. With his vast experience in cinema world and music world, he helps fellow artists of these fields with proper guidance and counselling.
Natesa Chettiyar: Among the musicians of Salem, Natesa Chettiyar (1889-1977) of Gugai and his disciple, Pavalar Velayudasamy (1900-1964) form a separate group. Unlike most of the other contemporary musicians, they did not give secondary place to language, with the Thamizh words of the lyrics, which conveyed ideas. They used music to serve the words without deforming them. As such the lyrics in Thamizh reached a vast number of people who enjoyed both the music and the message. The Thamizhisai Movement aimed at this laudable result.
Natesa Chettiyar’s lyrics for the stage and screen natural flow and sweet melody. His ‘Gnananda Geethangal, collection of songs on Lord Muruga are the best metrical composition. For his talent to compose lyrics with melody and metrical sweetness, he was called by the people as ‘Nagarika Santha Kavi’.
Pavalar Velayudasamy: Pavalar Velayudasamy was a poet-musician. Be wrote many mellifluous pure Tamizh lyrics. Most of his lyrics convey reformist ideas of Self Respect Movement. His ‘Thirukkural Isai Paadalgal’ is a good contribution to the cause of both the Tamizhisai Movement and Thirukkural Movement.
Salem Sri G Deiskan (July 7, 1926 - March 18, 1986) was the foremost acharya of Carnatic Music in Salem City. He was blessed with a golden voice and unimaginable creativity that can lift the world around him into the heavens.
He has produced a host of talented musicians and has been instrumental in spotting talent.
He was a vocalist as well as a Vainika (Veena Player).
Born of D.Gopalachar, Advocate, Salem, a patriot who relinquished his practice to support national struggle, G.Desikan had his musical training under Sister Lakshmi, a disciple of Salem Doraiswami Ayyangar.
He made his debut performance at Devakottai in his twelfth year. Desikan had made intensive study of the music and styles of eminent vidwans of Carnatic and Hindustani music and was practically a self-made vidwan having moulded his vidwat by sheer observation and dedicated practice. His voice was melodious, attractive and praise-worthy. His services were availed of by Annamalai University to tune songs in Tamil as part of the efforts to popularise Tamil Isai. He was a great admirer of the styles of eminent vocalists of the time and of the Nagaswara maestro, T.N.Rajarathinam and inspired by them, used to bring out flashes of their styles at his concerts, which exuded lakshana and lakshya graces.
Desikan founded the Sangita Samrakshana Sabha, Salem along with his friends. He had trained many including Jayalakshmi Ramachandran, Neela and Eachangudi N.Ramamurti Bhagavatar. He had given a large number of concerts (vocal and veena) for All India Radio and sabhas. Padma Desikan, his wife, is a veena player. Desikan was also manufacturing veenas according to specifications.
He visited the then USSR (Russia) under a Government sponcered program and gave performances at Tashkent and Moscow.
Honours and titles :
Gana Kala Chandra - awarded by Tiger Varadachariar
Gana Kala Paripurna - awarded by T.N.Rajarathinam
Sangita Samrat - awarded at Bangalore
Salem D Chellam Iyengar was another musician who placed the name of the City
in the maps of Carnatic Music. He was born in a musical family and his father was one of the prominent sishyas of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar.
After Poochi Iyengar passed away in 1919, a compilation of his songs was published in 1982 by Salem Chellam Iyengar, the son of his disciple Salem Doraiswami Iyengar.
The lineage of disciples of Salem Shri. D. Chellam Iyengar runs directly from the great composer, Saint Tyagaraja himself!
The lineage is a follows:
1. Saint Tyagaraja, the great composer.
2. Manambucchavadi Venkatasubbaiyyar (19th Century composer. Also, cousin of Saint Tyagaraja, whose grandson was his disciple).
3. Patnam Subramanya Iyer [1845-1902].
4. Raamanaadapuram (Pooci) Shreenivaasa Aiyyangaar [1860-1919].
5. Salem Doraiswami Iyengar (Also, father of Chellam Iyengar)
6. Salem D. Chellam Iyengar
Perhaps Salem D Cellam Iyengar is among some of the following Artists who could not get due recoginition.
People like - BS Iyenger, Sattur AG Subramanian, Thanjavoor Lakshmi Narayana bhagavathar, Salem G Desikan, Madurai N Krishnan, Ayiloor Krishnan, VaigalGnana skandan, Ramnad Krishnan, Chengalpattu Ranganathan, Palakkadu Rama bhagavathar, Ramnad C S Sankarasivan, A.Sundaresan, Kalakkad Ramanarayanan and so on.
Probably during their period giants like GNB, MMI, SSI, ARIYAKKUDI , MAHARAJAPURAM, CHEMBAI, MUSIRI, CHITTOOR SUBRAMNIA PILLAI, KVN were at their peak and the above Artists had to be under their shadow.Apart from all these,
His audio files which are available from one of his deciples Shri. SriRam Gopalakrishnan including that of Skandar Anuboothi sung in different ragas.