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During the colonial British Raj, the local rulers were reduced to zamindars and these zamindars were the patrons of art during pre-Independence India. The Carnatic singers, during this period of 1875 to 1910, managed to push other languages to the fore against Tamil in Carnatic music. It took some time for the Tamil Isai movement to turn the tides in favour of Tamil music. And, it appears Tamil Music is here to stay and gain more strength.

Tamil scholar U Ve Saminatha Iyer said that Tamil had been prominent in music in samasthanams and Saivaitte Mutts during his days. Tamil was bypassed for other languages like Telugu later, he has mentioned. Even before the Tamil Isai movement was conceptualized, Tamil poet Bharati had written a satirical article on Carnatic music in popular magazine Swadesamithran.

In his own words, ‘The first class exponent is the one who can sing popular songs of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Thiyagarajar, and Pattanam Subramaniya Iyer. Most of these songs are in Telugu or Sanskrit. The vidwans don’t know the meaning of these songs in the first place. They chop and mince words and how can they express ‘rasa’ if they don’t understand the meaning?’

“It is not fair to sing other language songs in Tamil sabhas. Our people would lose their musical knowledge,” the great poet expressed his concern many decades ago. Bharati’s article is an example of people alienating from concerts. It throws light on why people used to throng sabha canteens than halls when vidwans sang other language songs.

Even when Telugu and Sanskrit dominated Carnatic music in the state, Sri Lankan Tamil people used to insist on Tamil songs when the vidwans visited the country.

Even when Telugu and Sanskrit dominated Carnatic music in the state, Sri Lankan Tamil people used to insist on Tamil songs when the vidwans visited the country. Famous Carnatic singers like M L Vasanthakumari used to conduct their entire concerts in Tamil, obliging the audience while visiting Sri Lanka.

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Times have changed. Tamil songs that were sung in minimum number like Tukkada are the main course of concerts now. Young Vidwans like T M Krishna, Sanjay Subramaniam, Madurai Seshagopalan do their concerts in Tamil.

Tamil Isai dominates among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora living in countries like Canada, United States, France and United Kingdom. Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America, in fact, submits the catalogue of Tamil Isai for the Carnatic singers conducting their concerts in their associations.

The annual musical season conducted by Jaya TV prioritizes Tamil Isai. For its classical richness, Tamil has all the wealth when it comes to music. Tamil Isai Sangam has published more than 500 songs of doyens of Tamil Isai like Muthu Thandavar, Marimutha Pillai and Arunachala Kavirayar. The collection also includes songs from Silapathikaram, Thevaram, Nalayiara Dhivya Prabantham, works of Arunagirinathar, Vallalar and Vedanayagam Sastrigal.

It is pertinent to note that Tamil music is older than the Carnatic musical trinity Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Thiyagarajar and Syama Sastri. Tamil musical tradition traces its roots to Panars of Sangam literature.

Musical schools and Thevara pallikal are producing many vidwans. They need opportunities and venues where the state government can play a key role.

It is pertinent to note that Tamil music is older than the Carnatic musical trinity Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Thiyagarajar and Syama Sastri. Tamil musical tradition traces its roots to Panars of Sangam literature. Musical instrument Yazh, predecessor of Veena, was invented in Tamil Nadu. There were also some ancient instruments like Panjamuga Vatyam, Sooriya Pirai and Chandra Parai in Tamil tradition.

Tamil Nadu invented a musical instrument like Nagaswaram ideal for playing vaipattu and alapana. The state has musical pillars, sculptures on music, paintings on music, stone inscriptions on music and the tradition is much older than the musical trinity.

For all their expertise, Carnatic vidwans are remembered for their Tamil songs till date. There is no voice matching Kittappa or K P Sundarambal’s song ‘Gnanapalathai pilinthu’. Dhandapani Thesigar’s ‘Thamarai Pootha Thadagamadi’, Musiri Subramaniya Iyer’s ‘Thaye Yasodha’, and Chammankudi singing Bharati’s ‘Asai mugam marandhu poche’ which are timeless classics. Pattammal reached the zenith because of her Tamil songs. People remember M L Vasanthakumari’s Tamil songs. All the Tamil songs sung by M S Subbulakhsmi, Vasantha Kogilam and Madurai Somu are etched in history.

It is worth recalling Ananda Vikatan article published in 1938 about the dangers of sidelining Tamil in Carnatic music. Thus wrote the magazine, ‘our vidwans should take a moment to observe why people like Tamil songs. They are pleasant and composed in simple notes. It connects people because they understand the meaning and they tend to connect with them. And, they are sung with melodious voices without distorting the meaning. The popularity of Chintamani Talkies’ song should ring alarming bells for our Carnatic vidwans and they should choose the songs right’.


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