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Indians under Spotlight- Carnatic Composers-I

Along with the Hindustani music, the Carnatic music is a sub-genre of the Indian classical music. While Hindustani music, with its Persian and Islamic influences, is mainly North Indian; the Carnatic music is commonly associated with Southern Indian states- Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. The following document* sheds light on various prominent contemporary exponents of Carnatic music.


Viswanatha Sastry

Mayooram Viswanatha Sastry


Composition: “Gajavadana karuna” in the raga Sriranjani by Papanasam Sivan.

Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) was a prolific composer of Carnatic music and has written 2500 songs in a wide variety of ragas, in Tamil and in Sanskrit. He has composed and performed in theatrical productions and in movies, both as a singer and actor and has also taught at Kalakshetra. He received many national awards and honours, including the Padma Bhushan and the fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Papanasam Sivan


Ambujam Krishna

Composition: “Ododi vanden kanna” in the raga Dharmavathy by Ambujam Krishna

Ambujam Krishna (1917-1989) was a meritorious lyricist of the 20th century. In the year 1951, after a visit to the Samadhi of Sri Tyagaraja at Tiruvaiyaru, she was inspired to compose devotional hymns on the deities of the Hindu Pantheon. Her kritis in various languages, such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Sanskrit, Hindi and Manipravalum were spontaneous expressions of her spirituality. Her lyrics have been set to ragas by well known musicians of recent times.


Composition: “Kanthamam” in the raga Sindhubhairavi by Mayooram Viswanatha Sastry.

Mayooram Viswanatha Sastry (1893-1958) was inspired by his mother to appreciate and compose music from his very early age. He also learnt music from Fiddle Subbaiyer and published several books of his compositions devoted to Sri Murugan. He also set the Tirukural verses into music. He composed Ghana nadai pattugal, songs dedicated to Shanmuga and padams suited for dance. He also compiled a rich repertoire of Tamil songs. His booklet in Sanskrit was called Bharat Bhajan. His compositions were popularised by G.N.Balasubramnayam and Madurai Mani. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer sang his famous Kamas piece “Jayati Jayati Bharata Mata” on August 15th, 1947 to honour India’s independence.



Composition: “Bho Shambo” in the raga Revathi by Swami Dayananda Saraswathy

Swami Dayananda has been teaching Vedanta in India for more than four decades. Under Swami Dayananda’s guidance, numerous centers for Vedic teaching have been founded around the world. The two main centers in India are the Arsha Vidya Ashram in Rishikesh and the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Coimbatore. Dayananda Saraswathy has also composed several spiritual songs.

Amongst the well-known songs, here are some examples: Bho shambho - Revati; Dakshinaamoorte - Ranjani; He Govinda - Hindolam; Madhura Madhura - Bhaageshri; Mahaa Ganapate -Tilang; Raamam Bhaje - Durga; Vandeham Shaaradaam - Yadukula Kaambhoji

Swami Dayananda


Composition: “Kurai ondrum illai” in Ragamaligai by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1878-1972), informally called Rajaji or C.R., was an Indian lawyer, an Independence activist, politician, writer, statesman and leader of the Indian National Congress.

Chakravarthi Rajagopalachary

He served as the last and only Indian Governor-General of India. He was the Chief Minister of the Madras Presidency, Governor of West Bengal, Minister for Home Affairs of the Indian Union. He was the founder of the Swatantra Party and the first recipient of India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. Rajaji was an accomplished writer both in his mother tongue Tamil as well as English. The best possible tribute to Rajaji was from Mahatma Gandhi who referred to him as the "keeper of my conscience”. "Kurai Onrum Illai" is his Carnatic composition that has gained widespread recognition. The song depicts his intense devotion to God and is unique due to the fact that it does not assume the tone of devoted prayer as most Hindu devotional songs but one of "contented-thankfulness" to God. The song comprises 3 stanzas each set in three different ragas. M. S. Subbalakshmi ended her concerts with this song.


Composition: “Aasai mugam” in the raga Jhonpuri by Subramanya Bharatiar

Subramanya Bharathi (1882-1921) was a Tamil poet, an Independence fighter and a reformer. From a very young age he learnt music and at 11, his prowess as a poet was recognized and he was accorded the title of 'Bharathi' at Ettiyapuram ("one blessed by Saraswati, the goddess of learning).

Bharathi worked as a teacher and as an editor at various times in his life. His writings gave new life to the Tamil language - and to Tamil national consciousness. .His compositions helped rally the masses to support the Indian independence movement in South India. He was fluent in many languages including Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, Kutchi, French and English and frequently translated works from other languages into Tamil. Bharathi composed Carnatic music kritis in Tamil on love and devotion. He set his songs to music and could sing them in a variety of ragas. His patriotic songs emphasized nationalism, unity of India, respect for women, equality of mankind and the greatness of the Tamil language. He was a great achiever in his short life span of 39 years. The song Aasai mugam describes the state of anguish when one cannot picture the image of a loved one in his absence. Although the piece is ostensibly dedicated to Lord Krishna, the poignancy of the melody (in Raga Jonpuri) seems to suggest the spirit of losing one’s beloved.

Subramaniam Bharati



*This document was released as 'Lecture & Demonstration of Music Carnatic & Hindustani Composers of 20th & 21st Centuries' by the Music Research Group of the 'Groupe de Réflexion Franco- Indien' on the event of its 20th anniversary. Due to article length constraints, we are presenting it here in three parts- Carnatic Composers-I, Carnatic Composers-II & Prelude to the Hindustani Music.


Related Program

GRFI 20th anniversary celebrations continue


Related Reading

Carnatic Composers-II

Prelude to Hindustani Music

Pandit Jasraj- Indian under spotlight

Subhra Guha- Indian under spotight

The Badrinaths- Indians under spotlight

20th Anniversary of GRFI


photo & document courtesy: Mrs. Lalitha Badrinath, GRFI