During the December concert season 2009 I bought two volumes of Tyagaraja Kriti’s sung by different artists. In the first volume when I heard the song “Neevada Negana” in the raga ‘Saranga’ composed by Saint Tyagaraja I was thrilled and moved by the song. It was sung by the legend Musiri Subramania Iyer who was very famous for his Bhava laden singing which I came to know later.
Please read on to know more about Musiri!
Chennai – June 8th 2010
Musiri Subramania Iyer (1899-1975) was a well known Carnatic vocalist who was popular in the first half of the 20th century. He was known for his bhava-laden renditions of many songs. Semmanagudi Srinivasa Iyer, the famous Carnatic vocalist and a contemporary of Musiri once heralded Musiri's dedication to bhava by saying "He used to be so lost in bhava that he never thought of evoking any response." Musiri, as he was universally known, is one of the giants of Carnatic music in this century. His audience got soaked in emotions and feelings that were at once human and divine."
This admiration added to a musical disposition led him to begin learning music at the age of 17 from S. Narayanaswamy Iyer a music teacher in the princely state of Pudukottai. Three years later he apprenticed himself with Sangita Kalanidhi Karur Chinnaswami Iyah, the ace violinist of the Garbhapuri family and Guru to many stars in the carnatic music firmament. At Chinaswami Aiyah’s own suggestion he moved to Madras and sought the tutelage of Sangita Kalanidhi T.S. Sabhesa Iyer who lived in Purasawalkam. T.S. Sabhesa Iyer was disciple of Mahavaidyanatha Iyer a disciple of Saint Tyagara senior disciple Manambuchavadi Venkatasubba Iyer. Thus Musiri belongs to the fourth generation of Saint Tyagaraja’s Sishyaparampara. Musiri trained with T.S. Sabhesa Iyer for nine years in the guru shishya parampara learning his guru’s particular way of performing neraval that Musiri would later become famous for. When he made his debut in Chennai in 1920 his name was announced as Subramania Iyer of “Musiri” and the name stuck with him forever.
Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who was a contemporary of Musiri, said "Musiri brought gauravam (dignity) to our profession." He also heralded Musiri's dedication to bhava by saying "He used to be so lost in bhava that he never thought of evoking any response." "Bhava was the keynote of his music represented by a leisurely portrayal of the raga. While singing, he identified himself with the spirit of the composition. He was one of those musicians who could invest their music with emotional appeal."
Musiri in Tinseldom
Central Studios Limited, Coimbatore, was established in 1937 by a group of mill-owners such as R. K. Ramakrishnan Chettiar (Sir R. K. Shanmugham Chetty’s brother), and a college fresher S. M. Sriramulu Naidu (later of Pakshiraja Films and Studio fame). After prolonged discussions, Chettiar, Naidu, the film director B. N. Rao and others decided to film the life of the famed patron saint of Maharashtra, Tukaram. Prabhat Studio of Poona had filmed the story with incredible success, which obviously had persuaded Rao and his producers to make it in Tamil and Telugu so that the project would be economically viable. Who would play the legendary saint, Tukaram? He had to sing well, be not too young and appear saintly and Musiri was selected to act in this film. Musiri did not like acting in the film, citing that acting with women, make up and bright lights made him uncomfortable. Musiri's guru also warned him against acting in the film, knowing that Musiri had struggled with lung illness in the past, and the damp climate in Coimbatore might affect his health. For financial reasons, Musiri accepted the acting part.
Musiri in Malaya
As a Guru
Though retired from the concert circuit, Musiri was active in many Carnatic music affairs throughout India. He was appointed as the first principal of the Central College of Carnatic Music, Chennai in 1949. During his tenure, he influenced a whole generation of musicians, retiring in 1965. He was also the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of Sri Tyagaraja Brahma Mahotsava Sabha, and was responsible for organizing the Annual Aaradhana of Tyagaraja in Thiruvaiyaru. The annual celebration of Tyagaraja's music is the largest musical gathering in India, and continues to this day. Musiri is also credited for his key role in the unification of various factions associated with the Aradhana. Musiri was not only a respected musician but also a sought-after teacher. His special contribution is the number of disciples he trained in his own home, all of whom have attained distinction in their own right. In fact his shishya parampara is so well recognized, his style of rendering krithis has come to be known as the Musiri School. Well known disciples include Mani Krishnaswamy, T. K. Govinda Rao, K. S. Venkataraman, Suguna Purushothaman and Suguna Varadachari. The Bombay Sisters B. Saroja & B. Lalitha had their formative learning from Musiri.Musiri was known for his sharp and astute comments. His speech was like a continuation of any concert wrote Sri S.Y. Krishnamurthy I.C.S. in an article in The Hindu referring to his speeches often delivered after concerts held in the Music college. An audience often gathered just to hear his rare thoughts.
Musiri had a wide circle of friends. Among his fellow musicians, mention may be made of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and the Gottuvadyam vidwan Budalur Krishnamurthi Sastrigal. In fact, Srinivasa Iyer said “Musiri brought dignity to our profession.” Outside the field of music, Musiri had many friends such as T T Krishnamachari, Ramnath Goenka, Chitra Narayanaswamy and friends who pursue in various professions. He passed away, after a lifetime of achievement, on 24th March, 1975. As a singular token of respect, the road where his house is located is now named after him. Also the department of post brought out a stamp bearing his portrait. A fitting honour for a musician of superlative talent and rare class.
“Neevada Ne Gana .……….. still rings in our ears…………….
‘My gurunathar Musiri Subramania Iyear – A music maker’ by T.K. Govinda Rao
Wikipedia – Musiri Subramania Iyer
‘Carnatic Summer’ by V. Sriram