Dr. L Muthaiah Bhagavathar who occupies a very distinguished place in Carnatic Music in the post Trinity period was born on November 15th, 1877, at a village called Punalveli near Srivilliputur in Tamilnadu. He lost his father when he was six years old and came under the tutelage of his maternal uncle Mahamahopadhyaya M. Lakshmana Suri in Harikesanallur village in Thirunelveli district of Tamilnadu. In 1886, he was put under Muthuganapadigal of Thiruvaiyar for learning Vedas. When he was in Thiruvaiyar, greatly attracted by the music performances of great stalwarts of Carnatic music such as Mahavaidyanatha Iyer and Patnam Subramanya Iyer, he gave up his Vedadhyayana and switched over to the study of Carnatic music under Vidwan Sambasiva Iyer of Thiruvaiyar who was a descendent of Pallavi Duraisami Iyer of Saint Thyagaraja.
Muthaiah Bhagavatar returned to Harikesanallur in 1893 from Thiruvaiyar and completely devoted himself to music performances for three years. He had a remarkably beautiful voice with a capacity to execute very fast passages with ease. He became a recognised performer of Carnatic music within a short period of time, in Tirunelveli. In 1897, he gave a concert before Maharaja Sri Moolam Tirunal of Trivancore who in appreciation of his music conferred on him the highest state honour of Samsthana Vidwan, and with this his status as a front rate musician became established..
Around 1904, he started to give Harikatha kalakshepams and became a Bhagavathar. His first Kalakshepam was Valli Parinayam. This being new in the field, he himself composed Nirupakams in Tamil, a feature that was extended to other Kalakshepams
He was well versed in the Puranas, and in Tamil and Sanskrit languages. He was endowed by nature with a fine personality , and a wonderful power of exposition scintillating with wit and humour.
In 1927 during Dusara season he performed before the then ruler of Myore, Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar. However, it was his prayers, at a later date in front of Goddess Chamundeswari – Manamukavalunu in Sahana and other pieces on Chamundeswari, that caught the attention of the Maharajah, who on the morning visit to the temple heard Bhagavathar, unseen, that impressed the Maharaja, who gave directions for fixing up his recital once again. At this recital he got into form and the performance was superb. This was followed by a series of brilliant recitals and ultimately the Maharaja was so pleased that he conferred the title of Gayakashikhamani and appointed him as one of the principal Samsthana Vidwans – a position he held to the last.
During his stay in Mysore, many Darus and Tillanas were composed, so also Kirtanas on the Ashottara Sata Archanams of Siva and Chamundeswari.
The Madras Music Academy, founded in 1928. held Annual Conferences of Experts wherein problems relating to music were discussed. Muthaiah Bhagavathar played a dominant role in the discussions.. He presided over the Conference of Experts in 1930 and was awarded the Sangeetha Kalanidhi title. He was also the principal of the Teacher’s college of music. He wrote a treatise on the Science of Music called Sangeetha Kalpa Dhruma which brought him the Degree of Doctorate in 1943 by the Travancore Samsthanam.
Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi of Travancore invited Muthaiah Bhagavathar in 1936. He spent seven years in Travancore. At that time, Swathi Thirunal Kirtanas, once very popular had fallen into undeserved neglect. Muthaiah Bhagavathar took up the task of revamping it, and has succeeded in his efforts marvelously. The Travancore Government established the institution, the Swathi Thirunal Academy of Music, and the success of the institution is largely attributed to the efforts of Muthaiah Bhagavathar, who was its first principal.
One of the greatest contributions of Muthaiah Bhagavathar to Carnatic music is the large number of Kirtanas which he has written in new Ragas. Most of these Ragas have no known compositions before Muthaiah Bhagavathar actually composed in them.