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Indians under Spotlight- Carnatic Composers-II

Indian classical music origins may point to mythology and sacred scriptures- the Vedas. Rig Veda hymns were set to music in Sama Veda with accompanying musical instrument such as the Veena and were sung with the sacrificial formula for sacred offering during yajnas, as given in the Yajur Veda. There are references to music in ancient treatises such as the Bharata's Natya Shashtra in Sanskrit and Silappatikaram in Tamil both of which are supposed to have been written around the beginning of the Christian era. With geographical distance and varying influences, the Indian classical music divided into the streams of Hindustani, or North Indian, and Carnatic, or South Indian music, over a period of centuries.


Bhagavatula Sadashiva Sankara Sastry


This is the second in the three-part series on the Hindustani & Carnatic Music & Composers. It will present exponents of Carnatic music such as K.V.Mahadevan, SadaShiva Shankara Shastry, Salur Rajeswara Rao, Pingali Nagendrarao, the famous Illayaraja, his associate Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri and Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna. These articles are compiled by the Music Research Group of GRFI*.


Composition: “Srirastu subhamastu” from the movie Pelli Pusthakam by K.V.Mahadevan.

K.V. Mahadevan (1918-2001), Musical Composer, received his first education in music from his father. He then went on to widen his music knowledge from Boothapaandi Arunachala Kaviraaya. In 1937 he went with the drama troupe to Kolar Gold Fields where AVM production house was making a film called “Nanda Kumar”. The Music Director who was contracted for this film was “Isai Arinyar” S. V. Venkatraman. At K.G.F., S. V. Venkatraman noticed the rare talent and the outstanding ability of KVM in composing for the special dramas. Without the least hesitation and second thought S. V. Venkatraman invited KVM to join him as his assistant. KVM has scored music for over 600 films, spanning four decades. The special features of his compositions were: giving primary importance to lyrics and composing music that is perfectly suited to lyrics; always keeping a base in the Carnatic music systems. KVM received a national award in 1981-this time for immortalising carnatic songs in Sangarabharanam



Bhagavatula Sadashiva Sankara Sastry (1925-1998), alias Arudra, the Author of this song, is highly respected in modern Telugu literature of Andhra Pradesh. He was a multi-faceted personality and wrote many poems, essays, short stories, dramas, translations, film songs, detective stories and a book on chess. He translated the Tamil treatise, Tirukkural, into Telugu and belonged to the school of progressive writers of Andhra Pradesh.


Composition: “Brindavanamadi” from the movie Missamma by S.Rajeswar Rao.

Salur Rajeswara Rao (1922–1999) was a music composer for South Indian films. A child prodigy, he could identify the Carnatic music ragams at the tender age of four and by the time he was seven, he started giving stage performances. Huchins spotted "master" Rajeswara Rao and took him to Bangalore along with his father. He became a disciple of Saigal and learnt Hindustani music for a year. He also learnt to play the sitar and the surbahar. He had already mastered playing the tabla, dholak, and miridangam, later the piano, harmonium, mandolin and the electric guitar too. He learnt orchestration and how to mix the sounds of different instruments. When Vijaya's "Missamma" (originally a Telugu film) was made into "Miss Mary" in Hindi, Hemant Kumar provided the music. He changed all the tunes, but retained one, "Brindavanamadi Andaridi".

Salur Rajeswara Rao


Pingali Narendrarao

Pingali Nagendrarao (1901-1971), Author of this song, is one of the most original and creative Telugu movie script writers, playwrights and lyricists. Famous for his witty and romantic lyrics, he also wrote dialogues for many a great movie. Patala Bhairavi, Mayabazar and Missamma are some of his best known works. He joined the Indian independence movement and wrote Janma Bhoomi as his first literary work. He joined the Indian National Congress and as pracharak toured the entire country and reached Sabarmati Ashram.


Composition: “Akkuthikku” from the movie Kaliyoonjal by Ilayaraja.

Ilayaraja (1943) is a Tamil film composer, singer and lyricist. He has composed over 4500 songs and provided film scores for more than 900 Indian films in various languages in a career spanning more than 30 years. At the age of 14, he joined a travelling musical troupe headed by his elder stepbrother, Pavalar Varadarajan, and spent the next decade performing throughout South India. While working with the troupe, he penned his first composition, a musical setting of an elegy written by the Tamil poet laureate Kannadasan for Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. Ilayaraja specialized in classical guitar and had done a course in it with the Trinity College of Music, London. He is based in Chennai, the centre of the Tamil film industry and is a recipient of the prestigious Padma Bhushan Award from the Government of India. He has thrice won the Indian National Film Award for best film scoring.



K.D. Namboothiri

Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri, Author of this song, is a noted poet, lyricist, music director, actor, singer, screenwriter, music therapist, and performer of Carnatic music. He is the son of the late singer Keshavan Namboothiri (popularly known as Kannadi Bhagavathar, a disciple of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar) The film Sopanam, directed by Shri Jayaraj, was based on a story and screenplay written by Kaithapram. Shri Kaithapram is also the Managing Trustee of Swathithirunal Kala Kendram (Music School) at Kozhikode, which caters to more than 400 music students. He has received numerous awards from various government and cultural organizations in Kerala. He has popularized and promoted the application of music for therapeutic purposes through the Music Therapy Foundation.


Composition: “Thillana” in the raga Kadanakuthuhalam by Balamurali Krishna.

Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna (1930) is a Carnatic vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and a playback singer. He is also acclaimed as a poet, composer and respected for his knowledge of Carnatic music. He started his career at a very young age and has given over 25,000 concerts worldwide! Balamuralikrishna has restored the trinity's composition to their original beauty and represents a new era in Carnatic music. He is also known for popularising the compositions of Sri Bhadrachala Ramadasa and Sri Annamacharya. While his native tongue is Telugu, he sings also in many languages including Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi. Balamuralikrishna has composed over 400 compositions in various languages like Telugu, Sanskrit and Tamil.

His compositions range from devotional to Varnams, Kirthis, Javalis and Thillanas. His greatest achievement is the compositions in all the fundamental 72 melakartha ragas. The ragas like Ganapathi, Sarvashri, Mahati, Lavangi etc are credited to him. The ragas which he invented represent his quest for new frontiers. Ragas like Lavangi are set to three or four notes in ascending and descending scale.. Ragaas created by him, like Mahathi, Lavangi, Sidhdhi, Sumukham have only four notes; while Ragaas like Sarva Sri, Omkaari, Ganapathy have only three notes .He also innovated the tala system and has incorporated "Gathi Bedam" in the "Sa Sabdha Kriya" (Actions in Talas, which can produce sound/Sabdha are called Sa Sabdha Kriya) part of the existing Tala chain, thus throwing open a new chain of Tala system. When coming to his compositions, his Thillanas speak of the glory. Balamuralikrishna is supposed to be the pioneer in injecting Sangathis in Thillanas too!

Balamurali Krishna



*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

Indians under spotlight- Carnatic Composers- I

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