MYSORE VASUDĒVĀCHĀRYA

On May 28, 1885, a pious pandit was going around the inner shrine of Sri Varāhasvāmi temple inside the fort at Mysore, chanting the name of the Lord, 'Para Vāsudēva'. A person appeared there and enthusiastically told him of the birth of a grandson to him. The pandit bowed to the Lord and said, 'since the Lord's name Vāsudēva is on my lips, the child will bear that name'. This child lived for almost a century to become the great composer Vāsudēvāchār and enriched Karnāṭik music with about 200 compositions.

Vāsudēvāchār was the son of pandit Subramanyāchār, a puranik in the Mysore palace. Unluckily for Vāsu, he passed away when the latter was barely three years of age. He grew under the tutelage of his maternal grandfather, Gōpālāchārya. He was a disciplinarian and was determined to make Vāsu a greater Sanskrit pandit than his father. Vāsu's early instinct for music made him take music from one Subbarāya, much to the dislike of the father.

Vāsu's regular schooling seems to have started late in his tenth year in the Maharaja's Sanskrit college. He had to study two subjects - Sanskrit Sāhitya and his favourite subject Saṅgīta. Lessons on music were given by Vīṇa Padmanābhayya.

Vāsu got married in his 16th year, but his formal education continued. The turning point in his life came in his 19th year when he happened to listen to a music concert given by Paṭṇam Subramanya Iyer. He was so overwhelmed by the music that he spared no effort to become his pupil. He succeeded in getting scholarship and a recommendation from the palace which enabled him to go to Tiruvaiyāru and study music under Paṭṇam Subramanya Iyer.

Paṭṇam Subramanya Iyer started with the varṇam 'Maraci' in Begada, his favourite rāga. This one varṇam alone took three months. Vāsu had to do each āvarta in three degrees of speed forward and backward and had also to do the rāga ālāpana within the compass of each āvarta. In this way, rāga ālāpana and niraval came in for intensive practice in due course. Vāsu also watched his master composing varṇams and kṛtis in the afternoon.

As a gāyaka, Vāsudēvāchār was a rasika and a creator of rasikas. Mastery of the intricacies of rāga, tāna, niraval and pallavi portrayal formed the forte of the āchārya. His using of Sanskrit slokas in rāgamālika, expounding the meaning and mood through appropriate rāgabhāva, was his inimitable speciality. He was equally at home in singing of Hindustani rāgas.

His voice ranged from anumandra pañcama to tāra shaḍja. This suited his portrayal of ghana rāgas and tānas. He laid stress on mandra sādhana. For some time, he conducted bhajana every Friday evening. These were a musical feat. On one of these occasions, he sang the rāga Sahāna for about an hour and a half. It was enthralling as Shri N. Chennakēsavaiāh exclaimed, 'From which heaven did you bring down Sahāna today to this earth'.

Vāsudēvāchārya lost his wife when he was about forty. His only daughter had slipped into a well and died. His only son was not a success in life. These events and the uncongenial atmosphere at home made him discontinue with the weekly bhajana. He however asked his pupils to carry it on in their respective homes.

As a guru, Vāsudēvāchārya was the very personification of grace. His teaching consisted of sustained demonstrations rather than actual instruction. Several titles and decorations came to the āchārya. Rabindranath Tagore called him, 'Saṅgīta Bhavajña Shikhāmaṇi'. 'Saṅgīta kalā kōvida', 'Sarasa gāna shirōmaṇi', 'Saṅgīta sāhitya vidvanmaṇi' were some of the titles awarded to him. The Madras Music Academy awarded him the 'Saṅgīta Kalānidhi' in the year 1935.

He has composed about 200 songs. He has published his own compositions which in itself is a unique privilege. Two volumes of his kīrtanas entitled 'Vāsudēva kīrtana mañjari' and 'Navaratna rāgamālika' have come out. They contain 150 compositions. Among his compositions may be mentioned, a group of 24 kṛtis in Sanskrit on the 24 names of the Lord, Kēsava, Nārāyaṇa and so on; rāgamālikas on the musical trinity; the music he set for the Rāmāyana ballet designed at Kalākshētra, Adyar.

In the compositions so far published, the āchārya has handled about 100 rāgas, all of them popular ones, except for a pice in 'Mēgharañjani'. Mellifluence is a characteristic feature of the āchārya's compositions. He is often called 'Abhinava Tyāgarāja' on that account.

The tempo of his composing was varied, sometimes quick and sometimes slow. Once Vāsudēvāchārya visited Tumkur. His old friend, U.D. Nārāyaṇamūrti, the Munsif of the place took him to the tennis court. He gave a pen and a bit of paper and requested him to compose a song in the rāga Kharaharapriya by the time he finished his game. The entire song 'Gānasudhā rasa' was ready.

At the end of his kṛti 'Nannubrōcuṭaka' in Shaṅkarābharaṇa, he composed the ciṭṭasvara in western style beginning ss ri nr np dd. The Mahārāja heard this from the palace band during his evening drive and was amused. He sent a word that he wanted another ciṭṭasvara in the Karnāṭik style. The Mahārāja heard this the very next day and sent the composer a handsome present.

'Hari ni bhajiñcē bhāgyamu' was composed at the request of vidvan Bēlakāvadi Srīnivāsa Iyeṅgār who challenged vidvans to get a kṛti composed by the āchārya to match Muthiāh Bhāgavatar's 'Sahajaguna Rāma'. The āchārya's piece earned equal admiration. To mention a few celebrated songs, 'Palukavadēmira' in Dēvamanōhari, 'Brōcēvārevarurā' in Khamās, 'Praṇathārtihara' in Jinjhōṭi, 'Lambōdhara' in Kāmbhōji and 'Rāmābhirāma' in Madhyamāvati.