Patnam Subramanya Iyer

One of the composers that our school is presenting on is Patnam Subramanya Iyer.

Highlights from his Life

Patnam Subramanya Iyer was born in 1845 – nearly 170 years ago. He was born in Thiruvaiyar, in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu.  Thanjavur was an important center for the arts, and Thiruvaiyar was the birthplace of Thyagaraja.  He hailed from a musical tradition: his grandfather was Bharatham Panchanada Sastry, the court musician of Serfoji II (whose story itself is very interesting). His uncle, Melatture Ganapati Sastrigal was also a vocalist and taught him music. Later, he also learned from Manambuchavadi Venkata Subayyar, who was a direct disciple of Thyagaraja.

He was called “Patnam” because he lived in Chennaipatnam (Madras) for ten years.  He was proficient in Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit.  He was a prolific composer, an excellent vocalist, and a great teacher. He died in 1902 in Thiruvaiyyar.

Prolific Composer

Patnam Subramanya Iyer left us a legacy of around 100 compositions in Telugu and Sanskrit.  His compositions include tana and pada varnams, kritis, tillanas, and javalis.  He is credited with the creation of the raga Kathana Kuthuhalam, and his composition in this raga, “Raghu vamsha sudhambudhi” is one of his most popular compositions. Several of his varnams, including “Evvari Bodhana” in Abogi and “Valachi Vaachi” in Navaragamalika are in the standard Carnatic music curriculum. He used the mudras Venkateswara, Adi Venkateswara, Varada Venkateswara, Sri Varada Venkateswara, or Venkatesa. He composed in the same style as his guru’s guru, Thyagaraja, and aside from the mudra it is difficult to tell their compositions apart.

Proficient Performer

Patnam Subramanya Iyer was a very well known vocalist.  He used to practice for hours in the early morning to culture his voice.  He was known for singing rare and difficult ragas in detail in concerts. He once sang Begada ragam for three days – earning him the name “Begada Subramanya Iyer.”  Also among his accomplishments was the rendering of a pallavi set to the long and complicated Simhanandana talam.  He was quite sought after, and was the court musician to the courts of Travancore, Mysore, Vijayanagaram, and Ramanathapuram.

Great Teacher

He had many sishyas, and many that became quite famous in their own right.  Among his students were Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Kakinada  C.S. Krishnaswamy Iyer, G Narayanaswamy Iyer, Mysore Vasudevachar, Guruswamy Iyer, Tiger Varadachariar, Muthialpet Sesha Iyer, M.S. Ramaswamy Iyer, and Enadi Lakshmi. He was known as being very patient and humble as a teacher, and many of his students had very illustrious musical careers.

We are looking forward to presenting compositions from this great composer at the All Composers Day event, and hope that you all will join us at the Sree Venkateswara Temple on September 6th.

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