Tanjore Quartette – Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu

The four famous brothers of Tanjore belonged to the ōduvār family attached to the Mannārguďi Rājagōpālaswāmi temple. Two illustrious sons Gaňgaimuthu and Rāmaliňgam, in this line were employed in the Tanjore court and they served as dancers in the Big temple. Gaňgaimuthu composed the navasandhi kavuttuvam and pañchamūrthi kavuttuvam, to be danced at the nine sandhi-s on the occasion of brahmōtsavam in the Big temple and during the procession of Lord Naţarāja. Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Sivānandam and Vaďivēlu were his grandsons. They learnt music at the feet of Muthuswāmi Dīkshitar for seven years. Ponnayya piļļai refers to himself in the křti Māyātīta svarūpiņi in Māyāmāļavagauļa rāga as the dāsa of Muthuswāmi Dīkshitar.

It is said that onc King Tuļaja happened to listen to their Tēvāra singing in the Siva temple at Seňganārkoil and was much impressed. Thereupon, they were transferred to the Big temple at Tanjore for doing the naţţuvāňgam in the temple and to recite Tēvāram. The brothers learnt Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. Their concerts were held in Mysore, Travancore and other places.

The four famous brothers have composed a large number of dance forms such as alārippu, jatisvara, svarajati, padavarņa, śabda, tillāna in praise of Lord Břhadīswara. It is said that the modern Bharatanāţya concert was systematized by these brothers who were themselves exponents of the art and naţţuvāchārya-s, besides being authors of dance compositions. Rightly have they secured an honoured place in the galaxy of composers of dance music.

The Sarabēndra Bhūpāla Kuravañji was set to music by them and regularly enacted in the Tanjore Big temple. Of the four brothers, Ponnayya piļļai was a Siva bhakta and had composed kavuttuvam, tāna varņa, kīrtana, alārippu, jatisvara, śabda, svarajati, cauka varņa, rāgamālika, pada, jāvaļi, tillāna, daru and svarapada in praise of Lord Břhadīswara. Some of the compositons are in praise of the kings and rulers.

Chinnayya became the Mysore samasthāna vidwan and author of kīrtana and varņa-s in praise of goddess and his patron. Sivānandam flourished in the court of Sivāji II and has to his credit Tamil pada-s, jāvaļi-s, tāna varņa-s and chauka varņa-s. vaďivēlu became the court musician and violinist in Travancore and composed rāgamālika-s, śabdam, jatisvara, pada, tillana, etc in praise of Lord Padmanābaswāmi.

The contribution of the brothers to the growth of Bharatanāţya in its technical and developmental aspects are invaluable. Not only a rich variety of dance musical forms sprang up from their imagination, but also a systematic paddhati of dance programme was laid down by them. According to them, there are ten aďavu-s each having twelve varieties, which give a total of 120 aďavu-s. In the realm of dance, special concert forms have been composed by the brothers. The varņa-s, tillāna-s, rāgamālika-s and śabda-s of these four brothers occupy a unique place in the realm of musical forms.