Carnatic music owes its richness and large body of music to her versatile composers. These composers while maintaining traditions, experimented with new concepts like exploring new ragas, talam cycles or even performance techniques. One such innovative composer who belonged to the pre-independent India was Sri Koteeswara Aiyer (1869-1938). He hailed from Tamil Nadu.
His gurus included his grandfather Kavi Kunjara Bharati, Patnam Subramaniam Aiyer and Ramanathapuram Srinavasa Iyengar, a disciple of Tygaraja Swami.
His major interest and contribution to Carnatic music wasexploring the72-melakarta ragas, specifically the ‘vivadi ragas’. Vivadiswaras are shatshruthi rishabha (R3), suddha gandhara (G1), shatshruthi dhaivata (D3) and suddha nishada (N1).
Singing a vivadi raga is challenging as there is a dissonance between a vivadi swara and its neighbours. Composers must cater to the limitations of the singers whilst bringing an aesthetic appeal. Koteeswara Aiyer was a pioneer in composing songs in vivadi ragas.
His compositions upheld the musical traditions without losing sense of modernity. For example, melody of the anupallavi reflected in the charanam likeTygaraja Swami and setting songs in chauka thalams and use of certain alankarams in the manner of Muthuswami Dikshitar.
His treatment of vivadi ragas came from the notion that all that could be applied to non-vivadi ragas can be applied to vivadi ragas, such as using vivadi swaras in focal points both the alapana and swarakalpana. When melodic appeal became difficult to achieve, certain techniques such as emphasizing the vivadi swarasfor a longer duration or taking the vivadi swara from a higher non-vivadi swarawas used.
All his compositions are in Tamil challenging the monopoly of Telugu and Sanskrit musical compositions.
The galaxy ofworld musicians includes many unsung heroes such as Koteeswara Aiyer, who broke barriers to reach new musical heights.
written by Madhuvanthi Muralidharan