News & Notes

125th Birth Anniversary of T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai

The 125 th birth anniversary of nagaswara chakravarti, T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai, was celebrated on a grand scale at the Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeetha Sabha on 26 and 27 August 2023. The nagaswara tiruvizha saw 60 nagaswaram and tavil vidwans from the Tanjavur belt assembled in the sabha premises for this unique event on Saturday, 26 August. 

The nagaswaram on which Sheikh Chinna Moulana played was handed over by the maestro’s grandsons, S. Kasim and S. Babu, to V. Shankar, President of the sabha, to the reverberating notes of Salaga Bhairavi by a few nagaswaram artists. Ghulam Mustafa Khan’s sur mandal and Mohd. Rafi’s tabla were also handed over to Shankar by their respective family members. These were reverentially placed in the Maestros Treasure Gallery on the ground floor of the sabha.

Next, at the auditorium, it was a grand spectacle to witness the ensemble of 60 nagaswaram and tavil artists seated on the stage, with huge cutouts of vidwan T.N. Rajararathnam Pillai on either side. The master of ceremonies for the evening, Bhuvana Venkat, in chaste Tamil, said that the ancient instrument, shaped like a nagam (serpent), used to be called nagaswaram, and from the nadam it produced, it came to be known as nadaswaram. It is also referred to as nayanam in Tamil.

Another name is yeazhil – referring to the seven (ezhu in Tamil) holes in it for the seven notes. The grand concert, led by S. Kasim and S. Babu, started with the majestic mallari in Gambheera Nata, Adi tala. Evergreen songs, Gajavadana, Seetamma mayamma, Endaro Mahanubhavulu, Nagumomu (followed by tani avartanam), Venkatachala Nilayam, kavadichindu, Maitreem bhajata and finally the National Anthem were rendered.

As the curtains closed for the day, there was a buzz in the air anticipating the grand spectacle organised for the following day. On Sunday, the scene opened at the South Indian Bhajana Samaj at Matunga, beautifully decorated with a canopy of flowers. The congregation of nagaswara vidwans paid their obeisance to the presiding deity, Lord Rama, and played a few songs.

There were two rathas, one with the padukas and a portrait of Kanchi Mahaswami, a gold nagaswaram and the sengol, and the other carrying Sita Lakshmana Hanuman Sameta Sree Rama. The procession had a bright, auspicious start with the grand mallari by 60 nagaswaram and tavil artists and 50 young students of nagaswaram who were to receive their scholarships. Vedic scholars and vidyartis from the Veda Pathashala, Nerul, chanted the Vedas and the


Sangeetha Vidyalaya principal and teachers followed, singing bhajans. Eventually, the procession was greeted with a heavy downpour, as if the Gods wanted to shower their blessings. With the vidwans’ precious instruments whisked off to safety, the procession continued undaunted till it reached the venue.

A portrait gallery with full-size portraits of nagaswaram maestros -Tiruvavaduturai Rajarathnam Pillai, Sembannarkoil Ramaswamy, Namagiripettai Krishnan, Sheikh Chinna Moulana, Karukurichi Arunachalam and Madurai Ponnuthayi Ammal, the first female nagaswaram artist, was unveiled by V. Shankar.

The main function at the auditorium began with the playing of the National Anthem by the scholarship awardees, followed by Vedic chanting, Maharashtra state songs, Tamil Thai vazhthu and the Tyagaraja kriti, Nama kusumamula, which speaks of nada and swara.

President of the sabha, V. Shankar, assisted by his colleagues, honoured nine veteran artists for their contribution to the perpetuation of this mangala dhwani and for training several young vidwans. The felicitation carried a cash prize of Rs. 50,000, and mementoes, including a gold-coated nagaswaram. Achalapuram Chinnathambi, the oldest vidwan at 93, Malayambakkam M.

D. Mani, Karikamalai K. S. Panchashatram, Palani M. Shaktivel, Kivalur N. G. Ganesan, Kalai Mudhumani Vakkur V. A. Vaithiyanathan, Tiruppandal S. Balasubramanian, Mambalam M. K. S. Siva and Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman, the youngest at 53, were the ones awarded. Sembanarkoil Ramaswamy Rajanna (S.R.G Rajanna) was conferred the Sri Shanmukhananda Nadaswara Chakravarti T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai Lifetime Achievement Award and the title Sangeetha Kala Vibhushan (Nadaswaram). He was also made an honorary patron of the sabha.


The award carried a cash prize of Rs. 2,50,000, a gold-coated ornamental lamp, a citation, a gold-coated medallion, a gold-coated nagaswaram, a trophy and other mementoes. Vidwan S.R.G Rajanna belongs to the famed Sembanarkoil nagaswara parampara. An authority on rakti melam - a speciality of his bani - he is among the trendsetters in pallavi rendition. He has received many awards, including the Kalaimamani from the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1980.

Rajanna’s message to the young practitioners was that while the present students learn varnams and kiritis in music colleges, they need to learn the traditional mallari and rakti to carry the tradition forward. They should never stop learning and practising their art, as there is no shortcut to earning fame.