KERALA INFO: Swathi Thirunal

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Swathi Thirunal

by by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)  (Feedback)



Swati Tirunal is one of the greatest personalities in the history of the Karnatic system of music. He wrote eight works, six of them in Sanskrit and two in Malayalam. They are mostly hymns and commentaries. His greatest contribution was in music. His musical compositions are supposed to number over five hundred. He invited to his court  Kannayya, the disciple of Tyagaraja, the brothers Vadivelu, Meru Swami from Maharashtra, Lakshmana Das from Gwalior and Suleiman and Allauddin who were the exponents of the Hindustani music.

Swati composed songs in Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Besides 'Kritis', typical of the south, he has composed Dhrupads, Tappas and Khayals. One of his brilliant achievements is Ragamala on the ten incarnations of Vishnu. Each stanza is a different raga. The stabilization of classical music in daily and seasonal ritual was a historical stop in the evolution of Kerala's musical tradition. Swati introduced the Harikatha or sacred recital from Maharashtra with the help of Meruswami.

Swati has used the name of the family deity, Sri Padmanabha in each of his kritis. He brought in many Bharata Natya exponents from the neighbouring state, Tamil Nadu. Swati Tirunal also contributed to the dance tradition in Kerala by composing fifty padams in Malayalam.

Govinda Marar, one of the luminaries of Swati's court was an exceptionally brilliant singer. Parameswara Bhagavathar was another gifted singer of Swati's court. He was a composer too. His most famous work is the Varnam. Irayimman Thampy, a relative of Swati and a close associate in musical activities is the only musician who has composed all the three major forms of the Karnatic tradition, varnam, kirtanam and padam in Malayalam. His total output includes twenty eight kirtanams in Sanskrit and five in Malayalam, five varnams and twenty two padams, besides several Kathakali librettos and narrative poems. Some of the compositions are in very rare ragas like jangla, manchi and kakuba.

Kuttikunja Thankachi, daughter of 'Tampu', is a prolific litterateur and composer. She wrote three Kathakali and one Thullal librettos, one drama, three narrative poems for the traditional Tiruvathira dance, two poems on the kirata-arjuna and the Nala-Damayanti stories in the gypsy song mould and two others on the religious legends associated with Thiruvananthapuram and Vaikom. She wrote six kirtanams, two of them in Sanskrit. One of the kirtanams, a homage to goddess Kartyayani in Raga Kamboji, is a composition of great classical weight.

K.C.Kesava Pillai is another great composer of Kerala who has contributed an astonishing variety of three Kathakali librettos, a musical play and over seventy kirtanams for classical singers. Kandathil Varghese Mapilla composed several devotional songs which could be used by all who were truly religious. He also wrote a premier on music where he gave definitions of ragas and talas and prescriptions for the practice of singing in simple verses which could be easily memorized.

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