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Like the singing wind from the ghat

Palakkad has been the nerve-centre of classical music in the State

Palakkad, the granary of Kerala, is rich in Carnatic music, like Thanjavur of Tamil Nadu.

The district has been the nerve-centre of classical music in the State; many doyens of Carnatic music and instrumentalists in the country , during the last many decades, were from here.

One of the famous Carnatic musicians of the country was Palakkad Anantharama Bhagavathar of Thondikulam Agraharam, who lived here from 1867 to 1919.

He reigned supreme, enthralling music-lovers all over the south for a couple of decades.

The princely States of Mysore, Travancore and Kochi had honoured him.

Ennappadam Venkatarama Bhagavathar was another great musician, an expert in the practice and theory of music and Harikatha exponent.

Mundai Rama Bhagavathar, disciple of Anantharama Bhagavathar, was yet another great musician of Palakkad.

When Anantharama Bhagavathar stayed in Kumbakonam for some years, he requested his Guru Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer, a great musician from the Sishya Parampara of Thyagaraja, to teach Thyagaraja kritis to Rama Bhagavathar.

Then, there was the all-time great, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, the uncrowned monarch of Carnatic music for half a century. Till his death in 1974, he was one of the shining stars of classical music in the country.

Chembai, a small, sleepy village of Kotai, 20 km from Palakkad town, is known throughout the country and abroad because it gave birth to this musician.

Chembai, as he is popularly known, took Carnatic music to dizzy heights, opened a new era for it and created a niche for Palakkad.

Chembai was a unique personality: his talent, sonorous voice, improvisations and voice blending with perfect rhythm made him so.

There was no change in his voice or the gusto with which he rendered his music, which was a penance to him.

Chembai's forefathers were great musicians.

One of them, Anantha Bhagavathar, was said to be a contemporary of great musicians, including Thyagaraja and Shadkala Govinda Marar.

Chembai's grandfather was a famous musician known as Chakra Thana Subbha Iyer. He was famous for his `Thana' singing and was known as Ghana Chakra Thana Subba Iyer.

Chembai held concerts before Lord Guruvayurappan, along with his father, Anantha Bhagavathar, at the age of 14.

His famous song in praise of Guruvayurappan, `Karuna Cheivan Enthu Thamasam Krishna,' is popular. Palakkad has produced a number of instrumentalists, including Chathapuram Subba Iyer (Palakkad Subba Iyer) and Palakkad Mani Iyer. Subba Iyer was the Guru of Palakkad Mani Iyer.

Subba Iyer was known to music-lovers as an unassuming and competent exponent, who, often, accompanied Palghat Rama Bhagavathar and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar in their concerts.

Palakkad Mani Iyer, the mystique Mridangam exponent, was born in September 1912 at Tiruvilwamala. He, initially, learned from Chathapuram Subba Iyer.

His was a melody in Mridangam. The twin planks on which Mani Iyer based his new mode of playing was, first, the manner of playing for the kritis and, second, `Thaniaavarthanam' (solo playing).

No wonder, Mani Iyer was sought by great vocalists, including Ariakudy, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer, G.N.B, Alathur Brothers, Madurai Mani, who had dominated Carnatic music for over half a century from 1920 till he announced his retirement from the concert scene in the mid-Eighties.

Pudukkode Mahadeva Iyer was one of the earlier violinists produced by Palakkad. Kollengode Viswanatha Iyer was yet another able violinist who accompanied doyens of Carnatic music, including Chembai, Rama Bhagavathar and even Anantha Rama Bhagavathar.

Pudukkode Krishnamurthy, a disciple of Rama Bhagavathar, was an able Carnatic musician who was also known as a Hindustani musician.

Erode Viswanatha Iyer is a reputable violinist from Nochur near Koduvayur.

C.R. Mani is the son of the elder brother of Mridangam Subba Iyer. He lived with Subba Iyer who sent him to Chowdaiah as his Shishya.

Pudukkode Krisnamurthi was a good vocalist.

He had a ringing voice and his concerts were patronised by many music lovers.

Another musician of Palakkad was N.R. Krishna Iyer, flutist. He was the elder brother of Erode Viswanatha Iyer.

Yet another instrumentalist from Palakkad was Veena Vidwan Desamangalam Subramania Iyer, who was a prominent artiste in the pre-Independence era.

Another famous musician produced by Palakkad was C.S. Krishna Iyer, who died in 1999 at Kalpathy. He was the Principal of Chembai Memorial Government Music College in Palakkad.

There is a long list of musicians produced by Palakkad.

They include Manjappara M.D. Ramanathan, a disciple of Tiger Varadachariyar, M.A. Kalyanakrishna Bhagavathar and Mukkai Sivaramakrishna Bhagavathar.

These great men became part of history, and their tradition is continued by the many noted Carnatic musicians and instrumentalists from Palakkad.

G. Prabhakaran

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