Written by Manasi Prasad on 15 July 2020
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.
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:
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.
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:
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)