A brief study of the compositions of Mysore T Chowdaiah

Written by Manasi Prasad on 15 July 2020

The motivation

Recently I was given the responsibility of presenting a few compositions of Mysore T Chowdaiah as part of the 10th Annual music festival of the Bharatiya Samagana Sabha, which was dedicated to composers of the Mysore court. Initially I was skeptical. I had not heard too many compositions of his being sung on the concert platform. Not much had been written or said about them, and the few opinions I had heard from musicians offhand gave me the impression that these compositions lacked in complexity (simplistic?), did not provide scope for elaboration, and hence were unsuitable for the concert platform. My mother (a disciple of Prof. V Ramarathnam, who in turn was a prime disciple of Chowdaiah) knew a couple of compositions, but I had never learnt them in a structured manner.

I have to admit I was reluctant to take up the responsibility. I requested if I could be assigned another composer – with my limited time availability, it would be so much easier to present compositions of Mysore Vasudevacharya or even Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, whose compositions have been sung and published by so many. But, no, the organizers said this was an opportunity to take up a challenge.

I started my search on the internet, and to my surprise, I found next to no recordings of Chowdaiah compositions. On Youtube, there are two compositions – Prasanna Ganapathe and Devi Poornamangala Kamakshi – played by Chowdaiah himself, which are sweet and short renditions. However, without a vocal version, these were not of much educational value. 

I reached out to Chowdaiah’s great grandson, a friend of mine and well-known flautist Chandan Kumar. He immediately sent me notations to a few compositions. So one morning I started work on these. To my surprise, the compositions were pleasing, lilting and so sweet and easy to sing. With simple yet meaningful lyric and perfect spots for neraval and swara prasthara, I began to wonder why these compositions had not been given their due.

This experience of presenting a concert of Chowdaiah compositions has led me to an attempt to learn and record all of Chowdaiah’s compositions and bring them out on the internet so that they can be sung more frequently on concert platforms and taught to many more students. I plan to complete the project by the end of the year.

Analysis of Chowdaiah compositions

Prof. Ramaratnam’s book has notations for 17 krithis and 5 thillanas. I believe there is a book in Tamil that lists 31 of his compositions with notations. Overall, he is said to have composed nearly 50 compositions spanning varnams, krithis and thillanas.

Some salient features of his compositions that I have experienced are:


  • Languages used are Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit
  • Ankita nama used is Trimakuta, a reference to his birth place of Tirumakudalu Narsipura, which is the confluence of three rivers – Kaveri, Kapila and Sphatika Sarovara
  • The lyrics are full of familiar, easily pronounceable words arranged in an uncomplicated manner, again providing scope for musical exploration

Musical structure

  • Simple structure, easy to learn and sing
  • The ragas used are mainly rakti ragas such as saveri, natakuranji, saranga, kalyani etc. which can be explored with manodharma
  • While the notations do not have too many sangathis listed, there is ample scope to add more, within the aesthetic framework of the composition
  • There are plenty of spots for neraval and kalpana swara
  • A few chitteswaras have been given, but again there are many krithis where more chitteswaras can be added
  • One can surmise from the flow of musical ideas that these compositions have been created by a performer, and not a theoretician
  • These mostly madhyama kala compositions are quite brisk and can brighten up any concert


If one reviews the compositions critically, one may perhaps observe that there is no single ‘noteworthy’ or ‘characteristic’ feature that distinguishes his compositional style – one could argue that they seem like ‘any other composition’. While this is partially justified, the very fact that these compositions have been created by one of Karnataka’s and indeed Carnatic music’s greatest musicians means that these compositions form an important part of music history and deserve to be preserved and propagated.


Reasons for relatively less popularity

In summary, when one analyses these compositions, one wonders why they have not been as popular on the concert platform as compared to the other Mysore composers? Some possible reasons could be:

  • Perhaps Chowdaiah was much more focused on his career as a performer rather than as a composer, which is why the number of compositions are limited
  •  As a violinist and an accompanist, he probably lacked the avenues to popularize these compositions (it is easier for vocalists to popularize new compositions in concerts as the lyrics are identifiable)
  • Many of his students were also instrumentalists, which again is a limitation when it comes to carrying forward a legacy of compositions

Having said that, there have been efforts to document and bring out Chowdaiah’s compositions as CDs and books, and several are available. I am sure that with more concerted efforts by musicians, teachers and those belonging to his shishya parampara, we can bring new light to these gems and ensure they secure the place on the concert platform that they richly deserve.


(The author is a well-known Carnatic vocalist and the museum director of the Indian Music Experience)