Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was born in 1844 at the small village of Vaiyacheri in the Tanjore District of Tamil Nadu, he was one of four brothers who were to become famous. Vaiyacheri was a great village, with Agatheswarar and Mangala Nayaki as the presiding deities. It gave birth to famous musicians like Anai Ayya. Duraiswami Iyer alias Panchanatha Iyer lived there with his wife Arundathi. Duraiswami himself was a great musician and proficient in Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. Once while he was singing Thyagaraja’s “Chakkani Raja” (Kharaharapriya), Sri Thyagaraja, who was passing by, blessed him saying that his two sons would become very famous in music.
Duraiwami had four sons – Sambamurthy, Ramaswami, Vaidyanathan and Sivaraman (or Appaswami). Vaidyananthan was born on 26.05.1844 at 8.42 p.m in the star Ashlesham (Ayilyam) 3rd padam. They belonged to Koundinya Gothram and Brahacharanam sect. Duraiswami found that Ramaswami and Vaidyanathan evinced keen interest in music. Accordingly, he trained them in singing. He taught them the fundamentals of Carnatic music. He took them to great musicians in Tanjore district for further lessons. One such was the direct disciple of Sri Thyagaraja – Sri Manambusavadi Venkatasubramania Iyer.
The brothers learned from Anai and Ayya brothers and from Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar, who was a direct disciple of Tyagaraja. Even as a boy of ten, Vaidyanatha Sivan could sing in all the three sthayi-s (octaves) with remarkable skill and accuracy. He used to sing in the Gandhara sruti (third kattai of the Harmonium), and move between six kala-s (tempos) with great speed. At the age of 12, he gave his first public performance in Kallidaikurichi, in the distinguished presence of Subramanya Desikar and Ambalavana Desikar, the two chiefs (adhipati-s) of Tiruvaduturai Math. Among the audience were two reputed musicians of that time, Periya Vaidyanatha Iyer and Chinna Vaidyanatha Iyer. Impressed with his performance and the depth of his musical knowledge, Subramanya Desikar as well as the sadas (assembly of men), conferred upon him the title ‘Maha’.
Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was a great exponent of manodharma, or extemporaneous singing. He also composed the famous 72-melakartha ragamalika (praNataartihara) and a tillaanaa with the pallavi beginning “gowri naayaka kanakasabhaanaayaka.”
He died January 27th, 1893 at the age of 49 years old, and was survived by his great-grandson Mr. M N Srinivasan and his great-great-grandson S. Vijayaraghavan.
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