Mysore Vasudevacharya was a towering musical personality encompassing a part of the last century and major part of this century-having lived for 96 years. He is a composer of great merit, tracing his musical lineage to Saint Tyagaraja through Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar and Patnam Subramania Iyer.
Young Vasudeva learnt music initially from Veena Padmanabhayya of Mysore. Having come to know of his precocious talents in music, the Maharaja of Mysore arranged for the teenager, Vasudeva be sent to Tiruvaiyaru to learn music under Patnam Subramania Iyer. There Vasudeva started his gurukulavasam at his mentor’s. After he finished this stint in Tiruvaiyaru, Vasudeva came back to Mysore and he was appointed as an Asthana vidwan of the Royal court in Mysore palace. Much later in his life, he came to Madras on the invitation of Rukmini Arundale to join the faculty at the famed Kalakshetra school of music and fine arts. He became the principal of the school eventually. His contemporaries at the Kalakshetra were stalwarts like Tiger Varadachariar, Veena Krishnamachariar and Mazhavaraya-nendal Subbarama Bhagavatar.
He was a prolific composer -with more than 200 compositions which include pada varnas, thana varnas, kritis, javalis, tillanas and ragamalikas. He has used Telugu and Sanskrit as the media for his kritis. Vasudevacharya’s lyrical Telugu used in his kritis is more chaste than that of composers of his time. For his compositions, he has used many common ragas plus several unusual ragas like Megharanjani, Sunadavinodini, Pushpalatika, Shudda salavi etc. He has also employed several types of talas such as chaturasra rupaka, tishra rupaka, adi, ata, tishra triputa, khanda triputa, mishra triputa, mishra jampa , etc. in his compositions.
Vasudevacharya has composed captivating chittaswaras for some of his kritis. Two examples will suffice here- ‘Ra-ra-rajeeva lochana’ in raga Mohana and ‘Sri Chamundeshwari’ in raga Bilahari. It is noteworthy that Vasudevacharya has elevated the stature of minor ragas like Abheri (Bhajare re manasa), Behag (Bhavayeham Raghuveeram) and Khamas (Brochevarevarura) by composing major kritis in them. Note that these kritis were composed at the turn of 20th century even before these ragas were popularly rendered. He introduced kakali nishada for his Khamas instead of the conventional kaishiki nishada as in Saint Tyagaraja’s Khamas. Vasudevacharya’s Khamas is eqaully appealing raga also. Around 1930’s, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer rendered Vasudevacharya’s kriti- ‘Brochevarevarura’ in Khamas with much polish in his concert. Vasudevacharya, who happened to be at the concert remarked to Vishwanatha Iyer “My composition like a simple girl was metamorphosed into a beautiful damsel. That is how well you beautified the composition with your embellishments”.
Vasudevacharya had a number of disciples trained while he was in Mysore and later in Madras. He published 150 of his compositions himself. Recently, a set of 21 cassettes containing more than 140 compositions of Vasudevacharya has been commercially made available. The kritis of Vasudevacharya are appealing and I wish more vidwans present these kritis in their concerts.