Aruṇācala kavi

Aruṇācalakavirāyar, the author of Rāmanāṭakam, flourished in the 18th century. He was born in Tillaiyādi in Tanjore District. His father was Nallatambia Pillai and his mother Vaḷḷiammai. His father was a Jain, but later became a Śaivite. At the age of 5, he was sent to school and by the time he was 12 years of age, he had acquired much knowledge.

In the meantime he lost his parents and he was left to the care of his elder brothers. But he did not stay there for very long. He went to Dharmāpuram to improve his education and continued his studies in maṭh. Under the able tutelage of Ambalavāṇakavirāyar of Dharmāpuram maṭh, he made good progress in the study of Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit.

His intelligence and scholarship attracted the attention of the authorities of the maṭh. They requested him to become a Sanyāsi and become a permanent inmate of the maṭh. But he declined the honour extended to him saying that he wanted to enter the gṛhastāśrama first as enjoined by the Śāstra-s. thus with the permission of the chief of the maṭh, he left the maṭh and came to Sīrkāzhi and settled down there. After sometime he married a girl from Karuppūr. He became a merchant to earn his livelihood. In his spare time he continued his study of Tamil, especially Tirukkuraḷ and Rāmāyaṇa of Kambar.

He was so much attracted by the Rāmāyaṇa that whenever he found opportunity he read and expounded it in places where people gathered together. He also started composing songs on various topics. Some of them are 'Ajōmukhi Nāṭakam', 'Sīrkāzhi Sthalapurāṇam', 'Sīrkāzhikōvai' and 'Hanumār pillai Tamizh'.

It was at this time that two Brahmins, Kōdaṇḍarāma Ayyar and Veṅkaṭarāma Ayyar of Caṭṭānandapuram came to him to study Tamizh. They were alo musicians. They were impressed by the vast knowledge of Aruṇācalakavirāyar and requested him to compose the great epic in the Kītana form. He agreed to their wish due to the following reason.
(1) First, no one had so far composed the Rāmāyaṇa in the Kīrtana form which would help the common people to understand and appreciate it.
(2) Secondly, he had his two disciples who were musicians.
(3) Thirdly, he had a great love for epic.

Therefore he began the work and finished it in 1771 at the age of 60. His disciples set them to suitable rāga-s and tāḷa-s. Then they went to Madurai and sang before the scholars and musicians and received much praise.

After completing the opera he desired to give publicity to it at Śrīraṅgam, as Kambar had done centuries before. So he went Śrīraṅgam and requested the priests for the same. But they were reluctant to accede to his request without the special sanction of the deity. He was disappointed much and went to a lonely place and meditated on the Lord of Śrīraṅgam and sang the now well known kīrtana, 'Ēn palli koṇḍīrayya' in the rāga Mōhana. God appeared to him in his dream and gave his sanction for the presentation of Rāmanāṭakam in the temple. The same night the priests also received a divine command to permit him to release his work in the temple. The next day the Araṅgētram took place in the presence of scholars, music lovers and bhakta-s.

After this, in order to get the approval of the great patrons and the lovers of music, he visited various places. He received honours from patrons like Maṇali Muttukṛṣṇa Mudaliyar, Tepperumāḷ Ceṭṭiar, Tuḷaja Maharāja of Tañjāvūr, Ānandaraṅgam Pillai of Pondicherry and Yuvaraṅga Bhūpati of Udayārpāḷayam. Maṇaḷi Muttukṛṣṇa Mudaliyar honoured him with Kanakābhiṣēkam.

Among his works, Rāmanāṭakam alone became popular. This work is sufficient to keep his name ever fresh in the hearts of the music lovers of the South. It is the first opera in Tamil language and also one of the finest opera-s in the South. It consists of kīrtana-s, darū-s interspearsed with sloka-s, dvipada-s, vṛtta-s and other passages which gave continuity to the opera. The rāga-s chosen are most suitable to portray the ideas and rasa-s of the particular situation.

The music is simple and attractive. The language also is simple. Persons with average musical knowledge also are able to sing them effectively. He has introduced common proverbs in the songs and this has added much to their beauty and charm.

The following proverbs are found in the opera-s:
(i) 'Pūṇai pōl irundu puli pōl pāyndu' and 'Kiṇaru veṭṭa bhūtam purapaṭṭārpōl' in the song 'Kūnivandālē' in the rāga Mōhana.
(ii) 'Peṇṇenṛāl pēyum iraṅgum' in the song 'Peṇṇivaḷalla Rāma' in the rāga Kalyāṇi.
(iii) 'Pazham nazhuvi pālil vizhundārpōl' in 'Rāmanukku mannan muḍi' in the rāga Ānandabhairavi.

He has used many phrases and words from Kamba Rāmāyaṇa. Beautiful antya prāsa-s and anuprāsa are also seen in many of the songs. All these facts have made this opera a popular one. There are 100 darū-sin this opera.

Towards the end of his life, Aruṇācalakavirāyar composed a pañcaratna in honour of Ānandaraṅga Pillai of Udayārpāḷayam. He died in 1788 in his 77th year.

Some of the wekk known songs of Aruṇācalakavi are:
(1) Eppaḍi manam – Husēni
(2) Yārenṛu Rāghavanai – Yadukula kāmbhōji
(3) Enakunnirupadam - Saurāṣtra (this has been changed to rāgamālika)
(4) Yārō ivar yārō – Bhairavi
(5) Śaraṇam śaraṇam – Sāvēri

On account of the musical excellence, the Rāmanāṭaka kīrtana-s are sung in concerts of art music also. Since the theme is of universal interest and clothed in simple Tamil and attractive rāga-s, the opera came to occupy an honoured place in the history of music.