By V Ramnarayan
Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (1844-1893)
His singing was often described as exquisite. Another Vaidyanathan, Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, described a Vaidyanatha Sivan concert at Tiruvaiyaru thus: “Gifted with a voice unparalleled for its beauty and grandeur, he sang Kalyani as the main raga that day and followed it up with the pallavi, Taraka Brahma svarupa. Avoiding non-euphonious phrases like ‘tarina-tarina’ and ‘adarina’, he sang the raga in the true Karnatic style.” (from CAMEOS, a collection of Bhagavatar’s writings on Carnatic musicians, Sunadham Publications).
(Vaidyanatha Iyer, for that was Sivan’s name, received the title ‘Maha’ from the pontiff of the Tiruvavaduturai Mutt during a concert at Karaikudi).
Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan was a composer, credited inter alia with creating a ragamalika song featuring the 72 melakarta ragas. He was born in the village of Viyacheri in the Tanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. His father Duraisami Iyer was a musician who trained Vaidyanatha Iyer and his brothers in Carnatic music.
Vaidyanatha Iyer continued his training with the Anai Ayya brothers, and Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar, one of Tyagaraja’s disciples.
He and and his elder brother, Ramaswami Sivan, were the earliest performing duo in the history of Carnatic music.
Sivan composed mainly in Telugu and Tamil and used the mudra Guhadasa. Some of his famous compositions are Pahimam Srirajarajeswari (Janaranjani) and Neekela dayaradu (Sarasangi).
A thrilling Saveri raga alapana by Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan at a concert at Mayavaram, followed by a pallavi in a very quick tempo in three degrees of speed, and kalpana swara in the same three degrees of speed led to such displays being labelled ‘Sivanval Mayavaram Saveri’.
Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was admired for the beautiful expression of his face when he sang eschewing unseemly mannerisms. His singing appeared so effortless that it was said the vibhuti on his forehead remained intact at the end of his concerts.
A typical Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan concert lasted about four hours, with four or five kritis early in the programme. The alapana for the major raga was spread over an hour and a half or even two. This was then followed by a ragam-tanam-pallavi in anagatagraha, with the composition starting after the tala. The concert ended with a couple of compositions in rare ragas. It was not unusual for the alapana to go on for two hours. He performed at the courts of Mysore, Travancore, Ramnad and Pudukottai, staying for months on end sometimes.
Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan was an erudite scholar in Tamil and Sanskrit, and was honoured for his scholarship in both. He took extraordinary care to maintain the grandeur of his voice, performed pujas with great devotion and was very careful about his diet.
He and another great of his time, Patnam Subramanya Ayyar, resided near the eastern and western gates of the Pranatarthihara Swami temple at Tiruvady.