Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Musical colossus Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

Chembai in his younger days

One of Chembai's early performances

Performance in 1915

Chembai, Ariyakudi, Madurai Mani Iyer & Palghat Mani Iyer (MLV looks on from behind)


Born in 1896 at Chembai, in Palghat, the great vocalist Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar was the great-grandson of Chakratana Subba Aiyar, who was a contemporary of the musical trinity. With two centuries of musical tradition in the family, young Vaidyanathan and his brother learnt music from their father Anantha Bhagavathar, a talented vocalist and violinist. The family and social environment of his childhood shaped Vaidyanathan’s personality and talent. Starting at the age of three, Vaidyanathan made his debut at the age of nine 1905 at Ottapalam along with his younger brother and regularly performed on various occasions. As their father hosted several visiting musicians, the lads learnt from them thus sharpening their listening skills.

Chembai's 1918 debut in Madras led to several performances all over the South. His great mental alertness helped him in spontaneous improvisation in concerts. Chembai’s booming, metallic, powerful, overpowering voice with its majesty, sweetness and melody, never seemed to depart from sruti. His music was marked by tonal clarity and flawless articulation with undiluted rhythmic content. Chembai started teaching when he was sixteen, to help out his father. An able teacher with keenness and ability to teach, his lessons were pleasant and enjoyable.

With no microphones, singers those days had to depend on the timbre and reach of their voice to achieve success. Chembai put in much devotion and effort into every performance of his. In 1932 Chembai cut his first gramophone record to be followed by more. What made him popular was the combination of innate knowledge, fine voice, good diction, attractive style and friendly disposition. With astonishing creative ability Chembai had total mastery over his voice, achieved from rigorous practice of the techniques of rendition in all tempi with equal facility. His plain and vigorous music, stupendous stamina, intuition, sound knowledge of ragas and swaras, control of sruti and laya, an individual style of expression based on vast experience all made him an institution and larger-than-life personality.

Apart from regular kritis, his repertoire included verses from Tiruvachakam, Tiruppugazh, Divya Prabhandam, Ramalingaswami's Viruttam, compositions of Muthuthandavar, Kabir, Tulsidas and Meerabai. With a career-span of 70 years, Chembai’s was perhaps the longest tenure as Carnatic musician.

He received several honours including the Padmabhushan, the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award, titles Gayana Gandharva, Sangeeta Samrat, Sangeetha Kalanidhi, etc. Honours were also bestowed by the rulers of Cochin, Baroda, Vijayanagaram, Bobbili, Jaipur and Mysore. He declined the royal invitation to serve at the Mysore court since that would require his stay in Mysore. To fulfil frequent concert engagements, he shifted from Chembai to Madras in 1945. Chembai set to tune some 120 songs written by his long- time friend and supporter T.G.Krishna lyer.

A simple guile-less man with straightforward and rustic personality with sense of humour, Chembai was a large-hearted musician liked by connoisseurs and critics alike. He demanded high remuneration so as not sell art cheap but he believed in simple living and high thinking. Most of his earnings were spent on the upkeep of temples and other worthy causes. He lived a life of a savant without lowering his personal dignity and the dignity of his profession. He believed music, a great, divine art, pulsating with a life-force, creates peace of mind. He considered it the duty of musicians is to please the lay listener.

The musical patriarch passed away in 1974 soon after a concert at the temple which had been the venue of one of his earliest concerts. Though considered old-fashioned by some, Chembai's music was rooted in tradition and had a great appeal. Even after his demise, he continues to live in the minds and hearts of his admirers.

www.chembai.com is an excellent site that provides complete details of the maestro's career.

3 Comments:

Blogger Sunandana Channappayya said...

I had the good fortune of attending a wedding last week at Bengaluru. The boy's father is the grandson of
Chembai V B.

Prof C S Sunandana
Honorary Professor
Univ of Hyderabad
Hyderabad

5:13 AM  
Blogger Sunandana Channappayya said...

I had the good fortune of attending a wedding last week at Bengaluru. The boy's father is the grandson of
Chembai V B.

Prof C S Sunandana
Honorary Professor
Univ of Hyderabad
Hyderabad

5:13 AM  
Blogger Sunandana Channappayya said...

I had the good fortune of attending a wedding last week at Bengaluru. The boy's father is the grandson of
Chembai V B. His rendering of Vaataapi is inimitable.

Prof C S Sunandana
Honorary Professor
Univ of Hyderabad
Hyderabad

5:15 AM  

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