Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gopalakrishna Bharati

History of Carnatic music composers is of perennial interest to any Indian music fan. Music world in the latter half of the 18th century was blessed with several doyens, including the much-acclaimed trinity (Thyagaraja, Muththuswamy Dikshatar and Shyama Sastry). While some research has been done on the life of the trinity, the complete history of other composers is still unknown. Lack of first hand resources is the primary reason for this. I recently tripped on a few books of my great grandfather. One of which contained a detailed life history of a great composer Gopalakrishna Bharati. This book is important to the music world for two reasons. The first reason is that it is written by his direct sishya (at least for a while), Mahaamahobadhyaya Dr. U. Ve. Swaminatha Iyer. It would be redundant to elaborate on the authenticity of this book. The second reason is that the book, published in 1936, is a collector’s item and is out-of-print these days.

Here is an attempt to translate the contents of the book with an objective of presenting Gopalakrishna Bharati’s life history to the Tamil-illiterate Carnatic music enthusiasts. This is my first attempt at translation. Given my extremely limited writing skills, there might be several glitches. Readers are requested to kindly pardon and correct the mistakes.

- Lalitha

Gopalakrishna Bharatiyar - U. Ve .Swaminatha Iyer


Music is one of the several fine arts that was groomed and cherished in Tamilnadu. Carnatic music bloomed in Tamilnadu after ancient Tamil music (paNNs). The grammar and the literature describing them 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 unparalleled 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 Tamilnadu1. Composers like Pachchaimiriyam Adhiyappa Iyer, Thyagayyar, Shyama Sastry composed several kirtanas in Telugu and Muththuswamy Dikshatar’s compositions were in Sanskrit. Composers like Anai-ayya, Adhiyappa Iyer, Srirangam Srinivasan, Ariyalur Sanbagamannaar etc. have composed kirtanas in several languages including Tamil. There have been some composers who have composed exclusively in Tamil.

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, Thiruvilaiyaadal etc., a set of kritis describing a Purana in detail didn’t exist2. Sri Gopalakrishna Bharati, a great Sangeetha Sahithyamani, removed this blip. His 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 emphasized more on musical grace than verbal virtuosity.

Early Days

About 150 years ago3, Gopalakrishna Bharati was born in Narimanam, a village near Nagapattianam. His father’s name is Ramaswami Bharati. He was a Vadamar-Brahmin . Music was one of the ancestral properties that he inherited. Bharati spent a few years of his childhood in MudikondAn, a village near Nannilam. Later, he moved to Anathaandavapuram (anandha thANdavapuram), a village located to the east of Mayavaram. He had several patrons from the Maaththima Brahmin community in these villages., Shri. Annu Iyer in particular was very close to him. In his early years of education, he learnt Sanskrit rigorously and developed good knowledge in classics and dramas. This apart, he learnt some literature on adhvaitha philosophy.


Shri. Govindasivam, an exponent in adhvaitha 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 music exponents, Bharati showed inclination towards music even 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 villages 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 in gaining a firm grip over kirtana lakshaNa.

Literature and hymns like Kaivalya Navaneetham, Prabotha Chandhrodhayam, Thaththuvaraayar PaaduthuRai, Thayumanavar’s hymns helped Gopalakrishna 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 for composing. One of the kirtanas he composed during these times on his Guru Govindasivam is given below.

Ragam: Surutti
engkaL gurunaatharudaiya
iNaiyadi thozuvaay manamE (engkaL)
(Anu Pallavi)
thingaLudhayam pOlE gOvindha
sivamenRE indha boomiyil vandha (engkaL)
harihara bEdhangkadandhu
agaNda sachchidhaanandhamaay
paravi nindrE abinnamaayp
pPaaradaa enRE
Sruthi-yukthi anubhavaththaal
chollich cholli palavidhamaay
virindhu nindra vishayavruththi
vERaruth thaaNdukoNda (engkaL)
eNNith tholaiyaap piRaviyedukkum
EzaikkiRangki yaruLi
kaNNaith thiRanthu paarththuk
kasadukaL nIkki
maNNaathi boothamellaam
maaynthuvidum naamarUpam
eNNaathE nI idhaiyen
inbamuRu vIdu kaattum (engkaL)

1. It is strange that U. Ve. Sa. Did not consider kirtanas of Muththuthaandavar, Arunachala Kavi and Marimuththap Pillai. These composers existed several years before the composers listed by Dr. U. Ve. Sa.
2. Dr. U.Ve.Sa talks in detail about Arunachala Kavi’s ‘Rama Nataka KirtanaikaL’in his autobiography ‘En Sarithram’. These are set of kirtnais that describe a story. It is wrong to place Gopalakrishna Bharati as the first composer to set kirtanas describing a complete story (Nandhanar Charithram).
3. The book was published in 1936.

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