Monday, March 22, 2010

Revolutionary Tamizh composer - Gopalakrishna Bharati

In continuation of the Entaro Mahanubavulu series I am glad to present the Second article. The article dwells about the 19th Century Tamizh Composer Sri Gopala Krishna Bharati [GKB]. Many people know about GNB (G.N. Balasubramaniam) but not much about GKB. We all love to hear Tamizh songs whenever we visit the Carnatic Music concert. When we here songs like “Sabhapathiku Veru Deivam” or “Eppa Varuvaro” our heart swells thanks to the composer GKB who lived some 200 years before who was a contemporary of Saint Tyagaraja.

It is heartening to note that the then Collector of Karaikal Lord Seesay appreciated Sriman GKB for his Magnum Opus “Nandanar Charitram” and undertook its publication. GKB will be remembered forever by giving this Tamizh Opera where bhakthi runs through out the entire master piece and you can understand its importance when the Tamizh Scholar U. Ve. Swaminatha Iyer described Nandanar Charitram as “A gift to Carnatic Music and a perfect specimen of a Tamizh Opera”. It is said GKB composed the kriti “Sabhapathiku Veru Deivam” in the Raga “Abhogi” after meeting Saint Tyagaraja.
History of carnatic music composers is of perennial interest to any Indian music fan. Music world in the latter half of 18th century was blessed with several doyens including the much acclaimed Trinity [Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Sastry]. While some research has been done on the life of the trinity, the complete history of other composers is shrouded in mystery. Lack of first hand resources is the primary reason for this. Music is one of the several fine arts that was groomed and cherished in Tamilnadu. Carnatic Music bloomed in Tamilnadu after ancient Tamil music. (Referred as “Pann” in Tamil). The grammar and the literature describing then went into oblivion. Kings and nobles adored carnatic music and patronized worthy musicians.

This encouraged many to take to this field and in due course Tamilnadu was enriched by several artistes unparalled in expertise. Thus Tamilnadu became the capital of Carnatic Music. The concept of sahithya (lyrics) to bring out the beauty of Sangeetha did not originate in Tamilnadu. Composers like Pachchaimiriyam Adhiyappa Iyer, Thyaggayyar, and Shyama Sastry composed several kirtanas in Telugu and Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s compositions were in Sanksrit. Composers like Anai-ayya, Adhiyappa Iyer, Srirangam Srinivasan, Ariyalur Sanbaga Mannar etc. have composed kirtanas in several languages including Tamil. In addition to the Tamil Trinity (Moovar) Muthuthandavar, Arunachala Kavi and Marimutha Pillai there have been quite a few composers who have composed kritis in Tamizh.

Tamil Composers

Gopalakrishna Bharati
Koteeswara Iyer
Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri
Mazhavi Chidambara Bharati
Namakkal Kavignar.
Oothukadu Venkata Kavi
Subramania Bharathiyar
Vedanayakam Pillai
Yogi Suddanandha Bharati

Tamil kritis that could be used by Harikatha and Sivakatha exponents did not exist in olden days. Although early Tamil kritis were based on puranas like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Thirivilayadal etc. A set of kritis describing a Purana in detail did not exist. Sri Gopalakrishna Bharati a great Sangeetha Sahithyamani removed this blip. GKB’s kirtanas and varna mettus are unique. His pallavi eduppus were special. He was a master in blending charanams with the pallavi. His kirtanas are embellished with gamakas and laya vinyasa in a rich yet unobtrusive manner. His kirtanas were simple and captivating. His lyrics are soaked in Bhakthi rasa and describe several philosophical values. He empathized more on musical grace than verbal virtuosity.

Early Days

About 200 years ago Gopalakrishna Bharathi (1810-1896) was born in a Brahmin family in Narimanam, a village near Nagapattinam in Tamilnadu. His father’s name is Ramaswami Bharati. Music was one of the ancestral properties that he inherited. Gopalakrishna Bharati lived in Mudikondan village, near Nannilam for a brief period. He also served at the Sri Saraswathi Temple at Koothanur village. Later, when he moved to Ananda thandava puram, near Mayavaram, Annoo Iyer, a local good samaritan supported him and his stay in the village for a long period. Bharati considered Govindasivam, also called Govinda yati his philosophical guru under whom he learnt vedantas and yoga shastras. He trained in music under the veteran Ghanam Kishna Iyer and learnt Hindustani music from another exponent, Ramdas.
His teachers were none other than the redoubtable Ghanam Krishna Iyer and Ramdas, an exponent of Hindustani music. Formal study of Hindu philosophical and religious lore and interactions with composers like Anantabharati Iyengar, enriched his flair for composing and singing. Deeply spiritual, Bharati led life with yogic discipline. His compositions, only in Tamil, reflected these aspects in ample measure.


Shri Govindasivam an exponent in adhwaitha sastra and yoga sutra lived in Mayavaram. Gopalakrishna Bharati regarded Shri Govindasivam as his Gnana Guru and learnt Vedanta and several yoga sastras. Hailing from family of muscic exponents Bharati showed inclination towards music event at a very young age. He had commendable ability to grasp and reproduce complex musical feats. In those days thanks to the boom in Carnatic Music several musicians lived in the village of Tamilnadu. Listening to the music of these artistes further enriched Bharati’s musical prowess.

As years progressed he was immersed in Shiva-bhakthi and Vedanta and decided to spend the rest of his life as a celibate. People called him as Mudikondan Bharati and Anathaandapuram Bharati. During his stay in Anathaandapuram he visited Mayavaram frequently and interacted with several musicians. Mayavaram had several artistes who sang kirtanas for hari katha and shiva katha. Several artistes sung stothras and kirtanas during unjavrutti. Bharati’s acquaintance with these musicians nurtured his musical skills and helped him gaining a firm grip over kirtana lakshana. Literature and hymns like Kaivalya Navaneetham, Prabotha Chandrodhaayam, Thaththuvaraayar Paaduthurai, Thayumanavar’s hymns helped Bharati in developing a mastery over Tamil. He amalgamated his understanding of music with his proficiency in language and started composing kirtanas. As time progressed his bank of compositions increased and so did his passion of composing. He lived life as a celibate, doing yoga and embracing no particular sect.

The Magnum Opus – Nandanar Charitram

Gopalakrishna Bharati will be remembered forever due to his Magnum Opus opera “Nandanar Charitram”. Tamil scholar, U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer, couldn't have been more right when he described Nandanar Charitram as “a gift to Carnatic music and a perfect specimen of a Tamil opera." It is said, Bharati got the inspiration to compose “Nandanar Charitram” after seeing the sculpture of Nandan with Shovel and Crowbar at the Chidambaram Temple. The stimulation to compose this musical opera came from one Kandappa Chettiar, a shipping merchant of Nagapattinam who encouraged and motivated him to compose the Charitram.

The highly emotional Tamil opera Nandanar Charitram of GKB, when it was launched, in the mid-nineteenth century tugged at the heartstrings of the entire Tamil diaspora and even spread further to draw the attention of the French collector of Karaikal, Seesay. Familiar with the language and music of the locals, Seesay expressed his appreciation of this masterpiece of an opera by undertaking its publication. The first edition came out on November 11, 1861, and the second barely nine months later, in August 1862.

“Vazhi maraithrikuthu Malai Pole Unthan Maadu Paduthirukuthu” "Hiding my view like a colossal mountain is a bull supine... Sivalokanatha... " moved by the plea of his Harijan devotee Nandanar, Lord Siva of Tiruppunkur, gently commanded his bull, and Nandi obeyed His Master's voice. As Nandan rejoiced at his fortune, the Tamil country wept in joy. The appeal of Bharati's songs cuts across all boundaries of territory, erudition and even age. Nandan Caritiram proved very popular and he published it in his lifetime. The highly regarded Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar, who developed the art of Katha Kalatshepam by introducing elements from Marathi performance practice and elements of dance, made it one of his masterpieces. Many adaptations appeared, including stage plays and three film versions. The album of the film version starring the singer M. M. Dandapani Desikar as Nandanar (with music direction by Papanasam Sivan) remains popular. Individual songs of Gopalakrishna Bharati became popular with Carnatic musicians. Later, Bharata Natyam dancers, including T. Balasaraswati, took up select pieces for interpretation as abhinaya.

The story of Nandanar, as Bharati developed it, had considerable resonance with the Nationalist movement in India. Nandanar was an untouchable (dalit), and M. K. Gandhi, among others, saw his story as expressing the plight and aspirations of India's dalits. Others argue that Nandanar, with his burning desire to see Shiva at Chidambaram, captured the mood and paralleled the aspirations of Indian nationalists yearning for independence from Britain.

Episode with Saint Tyagaraja

Once, Bharati visited the legendary Tyagaraja. The bard, on coming to know that the visitor to his house was from Mayuram, asked, “Do you know Gopalakrishna Bharati?" The affirmative answer led to a lengthy conversation. Bharti then listened to his disciples sing a kriti of Thyagaraja "Manasu Nilpa" in the Ragam Abhogi. Then he went to bathe in the river Kaveri, and composed the famous kriti "Sabhapatikku Veru Deivam Samanamaguma" on the spot in Thamizh in the same ragam on Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram. When he came back to Thyagaraja’s house, Thyagaraja asked GKB if he has composed any kriti in Abhogi. GKB said he did so after hearing Thyagaraja’s kriti and sang it for him. Thyagaraja was happy and showered praise on GKB.

The phrase "Ariya Pulaiyar Moovar" in the kriti evokes deep feelings in everyone who hears this kriti. It is widely known that GB, although born a Brahmin, was an ardent supporter of the downtrodden folks, especially harijans, as is obvious from his magnum opus "Nandanar Charitira Kirtanai", a Thamizh opera glorifying the low-caste farm hand Nandan for his flagrant bhakthi, who was later inducted in the Nayanmar Hall of Fame as "Tirunaalaippovaar". The term "ariya pulaiyar moovar" refers to three "untouchables" i.e. Nandanar, Thillai Vettiyaan, and Perraan Saambhan who lived in the area around Thillai Chidambaram and were supposed to have attained Godhead as a reward for their piety. Nandanar was featured in the "Periya Puranam" by Sekkizhar. The other two lived in later times. A fervent shaivite by name Umapati Shivachariyar (14th century CE) initiated Perraan Saambhan (a person born as a pulaiyar) into shaivism (a prohibited act those days) under the guidance of a letter given by God. The ardent shaivite was excommunicated by the Thillai Brahmins for that sacrilegious (!) act. GB glorified all the three of them by mentioning "Ariya Pulaiyar Moovar" in this kriti.

Inspired by Tyagaraja's Pancharatna kritis, GKB composed a set of five kritis in the Ghana ragas — Nattai, Gowlai, Arabhi, Varali and Sri Ragas. GKB composed several songs and other operas to his credit. Many of them, including are popular on the music and dance platforms. Few of his famous pieces are given below to get a glimpse of his innumerable hit songs : The compositions show his mastery over literary and musical forms. Such is the variety displayed in them — Darus (situational songs), Irusollalankaram (dialogue), Sindu, Dandakam, and Kummi. He used “Gopalakrishnan” and “Balakrishnan” as his Mudra in his songs. GKB also composed many famous works like ‘Katakaletshepam’, Iyarpagai Nayanar Charitram, Tiruneelakanda Nayanar Charitram and Karaikal Ammayar Charitram. Many of his students including the famous Vedanayagam Pillai who was the District Munsif at Mayuram were taught a number of his songs by Gopalakrishna himself.

Sl Song Ragam
1 Aadum Chidambaramo - Behag
2 Ayye Methakadinam - Raga Malika
3 Enneramum - Devagandhari
4 Kanaka Sabhai - Suruti
5 Pitham Theliya - Senjuruti
6 Sabapathiku Veru Deivam - Abhogi
7 Sivaloka Naathanai - Mayamalava Gowla
8 Varugalamo - Maanji
9 Vazhi Maraitirukkuthe - Natta Kuriniji
10 Yeppo Varuvaro - Jhonpuri

Bharati died in 1896 (another version gives the date as 1881). Even during his lifetime, he had witnessed the popularity of his songs. Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar, father of modern kalakshepam, mentioned Nandanar Charitram as one of his favourite subjects. If Chidambaram Srirangachariar, father of Embar Vijayaraghavachariar related with great relish the tale, theatre personality S.G.Kittappa immortalised the character on stage. The tinsel world came out with two movies on the theme and recording companies cut discs of the songs that sold like hot cakes. A group of inspired people led by Chennai-based 'Deccan' N. K. Murthy and N. Venkatraman, a retired schoolteacher from Mayiladuthurai (Tamil Nadu) has been organising a annual music festival in memory of this great Thamizh composer for about 18 years now. The festival which was being conducted at Anandathandavapuram where Bharati lived most of his life, is celebrated now at Mayiladuthurai.


Gopalakrishna Bharati musical discourse by Tanjavur Smt. Kamala Murthy
Gopalakrishna Bharati translation of U. Ve. Saminatha Iyer’s biography by Lalita ram -
Celebrating Gopalakrishna Bharathi – R. Revathi -
Gopalakrishna Bharati – Wikipedia