Back to the page
Arunachalakavirayar (from: 1711 To: 1779), famous for his Rama Nataka Kirtanas, is held in high reverence by all vidwans.
Arunachalakavirayar was born in Tillaiyadi in Tanjore district as the fourth son of Nallathambi Pillai (faher) and Valliammal (mother). His father though a Jain by birth, embraced Shaivaism later. Arunachala's education began in his fifth year, fifth month, fifth day and had traditional instruction till the age of twelve, when he lost his father. Arunachala then went to the Dharmapuram mutt to pursue his studies in Tamil granthas and agamas also improved his Sanskrit knowledge.
His proficiency was such that even when he was 18, it was indicated to him that he could look forward to becoming the head of the mutt. However, Arunachala decided to follow grahasthasramam (family life), as propounded by Thiruvalluvar in Tirukkural and by Kamban's Ramayanam. He continued his studies in Tamil and Sanskrit till his thirtieth year. Then got married and set up a kasukadai (jeweler's shop) which spared enough time for him to delve deeper into Divya prabandhas, Tirumurais, Vedaagamas and other religious works. His studies convinced him that the greatest and noblest work for the good of humanity was creation of Tirukkural and that all the mandates enumerated by Thiruvalluvar in it were exemplified in the life of Sri Rama as portrayed by Kambar.
The turning point in the life of Arunachala came when he went to Pondicherry, to buy some gold for his kasukadai, where he met two musicians Venkatarama Iyer and Kodandarama Iyer of Sattanapuram.
On the way to Pondicherry, at Sirkazhi, Arunachala stayed in the branch of the Dharmapuri mutt. It's head Chidambaram Pillai, a former student mate of Arunachala, had composed a piece 'Kattalai Malai', and wanted to compose a piece on Sirkazhi, but owing to preoccupation he could not progress beyond the preliminary stages. He requested Arunachala to complete it which Arunachala did in the same night and sent to Chidambaram Pillai through a messenger before leaving for Pondicherry.
Chidambaram Pillai was so pleased with the scholarly piece that he decided to retain Arunachala in Sirkazhi and made arrangements to bring the latter's family from Tillaiyadi and to settle them there. On his way back from Pondicherry, at Sirkazhi, Arunachala was pleasantly surprised by the bounty of his old friend and decided to stay permanently in Sirkazhi gaining him the title 'Sirkazhi Arunachalakavirayar'.
The two musicians mentioned earlier, Venkatarama Iyer and Kodandarama Iyer, approached Arunachala to get some of their doubts cleared and to learn Kamba Ramayanam. They suggested that Aunachala could compose an opera for which they would help in setting the tunes, ragas and taala. Arunachalakavirayar chose the life of Sri Rama as the theme for his opera as Kamban had handled it in the form of poetic stanzas and Bala Bharati had dealt with the life of Rama in Chanda viruttam, both these works for scholars and Arunachala wanted to create one which ordinary men and women could understand.
In the first phase, Arunachala composed from the beginning up to the Kirtana, 'Adada Veliye Purappadada' in the Yuddha Kanda and gave it to his disciples who set the tunes and sang them at Madras. It became very popular there. On their return, they persuaded Arunachalakavirayar to finish the whole work into an integrated opera and thus the famous 'Rama Nataka Kirtanas' was born. Its simple diction and homely proverbs, clothed in appealing music, won the hearts of listeners, learned and ordinary.
He desired its Arangetram (first performance on stage) should be at Srirangam temple before Lord Ranganathaswami as Kamban did earlier. Further, like Kamban, he too wanted to sing Thodayams invoking other deities and sages as it was Kamban's work he had transformed to Kirtanas. This resulted in creation of the immortal piece 'En Pallikondeeraiya' in Mohana raga, a favorite of Bharatha Natya dancers, since the song helps in bringing out the artistic talents of the dancer to fullness.
Kavirayar could not present it before Tulaja Maharaja of Tanjore as the circumstances in the kingdom were unfavorable at that time. So he went to Pondicherry to present it to the savant and statesman Ananda Ranga Pillai who gave a letter of introduction to Manali Muttukrishna Mudaliar of Madras. Muttukrishna Mudaliar who had already heard a few of the songs was pleased to meet the author of those songs and to know that he had the complete version of the integrated opera. Since the troubles of the Tanjore kingdom were over by then Kavirayar presented his work before King Tulaja and later Ananda Ranga Pillai and other wealthy patrons invited the Kavirayar to hear the beautiful opera and showered Kavirayar with rich presents.
Though the excellence of Arunachalakavirayar's one single work, 'Rama Nataka Kirtanas' earned him fame, he has authored many other excellent literary works like 'Ajamukhi natakam', 'Anumar pillai Tamil', 'Sirkazhi sthalapuranam', and 'Sirkazhi kovai'.
Article: S V Krishnamurthy, part of booklet with album from Amutham.