He composed them on Lord Muruga at Ilanthai Nagar in Sri Lanka
The relatively lesser known face of U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer (U.Ve.Sa.), the grand old man of Tamil, has drawn the attention of Tamil scholars and musicians. He had composed keerthanas on Lord Muruga at Ilanthai Nagar in Sri Lanka and published them in 1891. Author and vocalist T.M. Krishna has set two of them to music and rendered it on the occasion of U.Ve.Sa.’s 166th birth anniversary on February 19.
“The compositions are proof of U.Ve.Sa.’s knowledge of music. He had set them to particular ragas and I was able to tune them to music because of the spread of music in the words. They give a lot of scope for an elaborate rendition in a concert,” said Mr. Krishna, who has already sung the keethanas in ragas Suruti and Sahana. “I will soon render the other songs,” he said.
The two songs have been released on YouTube with an introduction by historian A.R. Venkatachalapathy.
Those who are familiar with his autobiography would know that U.Ve.Sa., born into a family of musicians, learnt music from Gopalakrishna Bharathiyar, the author of Nanda Charitram, when he was in Mayiladuthurai. But he quit learning music since his Tamil teacher Meenakshisundaram Pillai was against it.
Writer Perumal Murugan, who has done an elaborate study of U.Ve.Sa.’s works, said the book containing the keerthanas was among his first to be printed. It was titled, Ilanthainagar Dhandapani Virutham.
The keerthanas were written on a request from Jaffna philanthropist Kumarasamy Chettiar, who had bought copies of Seevaka Chinthamani and distributed them in Jaffna. “After falling ill, he constructed a temple for Muruga at Ilanthai Nagar and requested U.Ve.Sa. to pen 10 viruthams on the main deity and a few more songs on the presiding deity,” said Mr. Perumal Murugan, who has written a detailed article on this — U.Ve.Sa. Thulangum Keerthanikal.
Kumarasamy Chettiar was particular that the songs should bear the name of the village. The songs cover various genres, including Oosal, Etcharikkai and Mangalam. The Etcharikkai song was set to raga Saveri by U.Ve.Sa. himself. The book was reprinted again in 1944 by U.Ve.Sa.’s son.
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