RĀMASWĀMI SIVAN

Rāmaswāmi Sivan is the elder brother of Mahā Vaidyanātha Ayyar. He was one of the outstanding musician and music composers of the post trinity period. He wrote innumerable lyrics and set them to original tunes in various rāgas. He and his brother had a musical career that was indivisible and unique one in the history of karnatik music.

Rāmaswāmi Sivan was born in 1841 as the second son at Vaiyachēri, a village near Tanjore. His father Panchanada Ayyar was well versed in music and his mother was a direct descendant of Ānaiayya. When Rāmaswāmi Sivan was barely ten years old he could take up any rāga and elaborate it extensively and round it off with pallavi singing. The brothers learnt everything their father could teach, then continued training under Ānaiayya and finished off with further training from Mānambuchāvaďi Veňkaţasubbayyar.

The Sivan brothers were often invited to sing during marriages and other festive occasions in the house of rich men and mirāzdārs. Then came the invitation from the Rāja of Pudukkōţţai, which gave them the privilege of singing before very limited invited audience. While at Pudukkōţţai, a Tamil scholar demonstrated Avadhānam – showcasing intense and accurate mental concentration. At the conclusion of the performance Rāmaswāmi Sivan promptly composed a song felicitating the remarkable feat and sang it then and there before the audience.

It is not clear when Rāmaswāmi Sivan actually started composing. He continued composing and Mahā Vāidyanātha Ayyar included these compositions in his repertoire. Rāmaswāmi Sivan was not only singing in union with Vaidyanātha Ayyar but also many of his compositions featured in the concerts. The brothers sang and conquered wherever they went. Their fame spread far and wide and took them to Madurai, Rāmanāthapuram, Eţţayapuram, Tirunelvēli, Kalliďaikuruchi, Trivandrum, Sriňgēri and Mysore.

It was while the brothers were at Rāmanāthapuram that the Rāja of Rāmanāthapuram presented them with a copy of 'Kandapurāņam' which inspired Rāmaswāmi Sivan sometime later on to tune it to music as 'Kanda purāņa charitra kīrtanas'. It was at this time too that Rāmaswāmi Sivan rendered the entire 'Periyapurāņam' to music as Periyapurāņa kīrtanas. These Periyapurāņa kīrtanas were subsequently published around the year 1871. 'Māņikkavācakar charitra kīrtanas', 'Pārvati kalyāņa kīrtanas' and 'Kandapurāņa kīrtanas' came out in due course. The Rāja of Rāmanāthapuram was so impressed with the technical excellence of these kīrtanas that he conferred upon Rāmaswāmi Sivan the titles 'Manaisiňgam' and 'Sāhitya puli' – the lion of alliteration and the tiger of poetry.

It is said that while at Eţţayapuram they made acquaintance of Subbarāma Dīkshitar and other court musicians. There Rāmaswāmi Sivan composed a rāgamālika in Tamil on the request of several other musicians. This is not available now.

While at ālwār kuruchi, he composed two of his masterpieces in Tamil, 'Tiruchendil Chanda Viruttam' and 'Tiruchendūr Yamaka Anthādi'. It was at this time that the brothers went and stayed with Saivaite Philosopher Koďaganallūr Sundara Swāmigaļ and learnt from him several works on philosophy like 'Chaturvēda tātparya saňgraham' and 'Siva tatva vivēkam'. Rāmaswāmi Sivan wrote 'Tōttirappāvinam' as a grateful homage to his guru.

Thus steeped in Saivite philosophy the brothers used to give Harikatha performances. The musical discourses were given by Vaidyanātha Ayyar and Rāmaswāmi Sivan used to compose appropriate songs. Thus continued the unique musical journey of the brothers, till death snatched away Mahā Vaidyanātha Ayyar in the year 1893. It was a profound shock and the grief moved Rāmaswāmi Sivan to compose elegiac verses on his brother. He also wrote a prose work 'Mahā Vaidyanātha Vijaya Saňgraham' which is more a record of his grief at his brother's loss. Rāmaswāmi Sivan languished in sorrow till his death in the year 1898.

Rāmaswāmi Sivan has left us a number of compositions in Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. The madhyamakāla sāhitya in Kaďaikkaņ in Bēgaďa, the chiţţasvara in Manavinivīru in Kanakāňgi and the chiţţasvaras appended to Pāhimām śri rājarājeśvari stand out as graceful musical adornments. The Tamil compositions still popular with us are Ekkālattilum in Nāţakuruñji, Muttukumaraiyanē in Shaňkarābaraņam, Vēru Thuņai Kānēnē in Vāchaspati, Naţanam seiyum in Kēdāragauļa and so on.

Besides kīrtanas, Rāmaswāmi Sivan also composed Tiruvaiyāru Nirōshţa Yamaka Andhāti, Iraţţāi Maņimālai, Tiruttoņďar Pōţri kaliveņpā, Mārkaņďa Charitram, Prahalāda Charitram and Sītā Kalyāņa Kīrtanas.

In addition to these, Rāmaswāmi Sivan wrote a book on the lakshaņas of 72 mēļakarthas. He is also known to have written Dēsiya Tāļa Lakshaņa, a work in Tamil classifying around 200 different tāļas into Drutādi, Laghuvādi, Guruvāďi and pļutādi tāļas. But these books were in manuscript form and remain inaccessible.

When all is said, the fact remains that Rāmaswāmi Sivan was always known and referred to along with his brother Mahā Vaidyanātha Sivan. He never cared to carve out a separate career for himself. Hence it is that they were always inseparable and they are remembered and referred to as Sivan brothers.