Musiri’s indifference to Tukaram and love for D H Lawrence

Published Dec 17, 2015, 11:58 am IST
Updated Feb 23, 2016, 2:43 pm IST
He was surprisingly fluent and articulate in English, rare among musicians of his times and chimes.
Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan performing in Bharat Kalachar on Wednesday. (Photo: DC)
 Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan performing in Bharat Kalachar on Wednesday. (Photo: DC)

A legend in his lifetime, a legend that still lives long after his lamented demise. A colossus in the world of classical Carnatic music, Musiri Subramania Iyer, affectionately known to millions of south Indians around the world as Musiri. Nagumomu..  Pahi Ramachandra Raghava, Thiruvadi Charanam..”,  Entha Vedukonthu O Raghava ... are some of his immortal melodies, songs, or  kirtanas (classical compositions) which are fortunately preserved in gramophone discs and audio cassette tapes. A part of the invaluable national heritage of classical Indian music. Musiri was one of the tradition-bound conservative classical Carnatic musicians who appeared in a movie during 1930s  Tukaram (Tamil, 1938) against much protest, hue and cry. In spite of its success he chose to forget all about movies.

He was surprisingly fluent and articulate in English, rare among musicians of his times and chimes. He was deeply interested in English literature and one of his favorite writers was D. H. Lawrence! And his favorite novel of Lawrence was “ Lady Chatterley’s Lover”!


(This writer knew Musiri well and moved with him intimately in spite of the generation gap between them. The two met often at his  hideout  in Meenambakkam en route to Madras airport. Invariably Musiri would talk about “Lady C” and other novels of Lawrence like Sons and Lovers ( also a controversial book!), “ The Virgin and the Gypsy” and others.

He spoke in high flown English and one had the impression he was writing a book or dissertation! In spite of it all some have gone on record that he was not a formally educated man. But he told this writer that he had gone to college. However, he was a man of culture, charm, and polish and old world values which many musicians of that day did not possess! Indeed, he was the first Carnatic musician to be allowed into the inner sanctum sanctorum  of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers group like S. Y. Krishnaswamy, C.V. Narasimhan and high society ‘maamaas’ like T. T. Krishnamachari, top lawyers, V. C. Gopalratnam, (this writer’s guru-in-law), V. L. Ethiraj, K. S. Jayarama Iyer, K.V. Krishnaswamy Iyer and other big wigs of good old Madras.

The westernised Barrister, Ethiraj often had him over  for breakfast at his palatial mansion at Egmore and he attended Musiri’s concerts, dressed in veshti, jibba and angavastram much to the surprise of his pals who had seen him only in silk suits and Barrister’s legal robes in court! Such was the impact of Musiri’s charm and personality on his high class pals. Musiri the man was as splendid as the musician!

Musiri Subramania Iyer was born on August 9,1899, in Bommalapalayam in Tiruchirappalli district. His father Sankara Sastry was a Sanskrit pundit economically not so well off and his mother, Seethalakshmi died when the future musician was a mere baby. In keeping with tradition and custom of the times, he was married to Nagalakshmi when he was a mere lad of fourteen!

Inspired by the music and amazingly brilliant singing of the stage star and legend in his life time, S. G. Kittappa, Musiri chose to become a professional musician, not a secure profession even in the best of times unless one made it to the top of the heap. He underwent training at first under S. Narayanaswamy and then the noted violinist Karur Chinnaswami Iyer who lived in Triplicane, Madras. So the disciple relocated to Madras from Tiruchi. Soon he became the disciple of T.S. Sabesa Iyer, a knowledgeable musician and teacher who was a direct disciple of the legendary maestro, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. He took his bow when he was 17 in Tiruchy and the talent-scout, F. G. Natesa Iyer presented him with a gold medal and predicted him a bright future. He performed in Madras in 1920 when his name was announced as “Musiri Subramania Iyer”. Though he was not from the small town Musiri near Tiruchy the name stuck and brought him undying fame and name. (One is reminded of another musical legend and immortal, Papanasam Sivan. He was neither from Papanasam nor was his name Sivan! Well, that’s another story ..!)

( To  be continued)

(The writer is a renowned film historian)



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Location: Tamil Nadu