Mysore VenkaTagiriappa – A renowned veena artist, he was the student of the legendary Veena Seshanna. Many of his disciples are well known, including Doreswamy Iyengar, Desikachar, R.N. Doreswamy, and Venkatesha Iyengar (father of Doreswamy Iyengar).
Venkatagiriappa was 45 years old and a court musician at Mysore. He also led the Vidwans’ Orchestra at the Mysore Palace, under the patronage of Maharaja Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar IV. This orchestra had highly qualified members, persons such as vocalist Titte Krishna Iyengar and violinist Sivarudrappa. Venkatagiriappa asked Venkatesha Iyengar, ‘Does your son have any interest in Carnatic music and veena?’ Iyengar said that his son was learning veena from him. Venkatagiriappa said, ‘A son learning from his father will not be adequately disciplined. You send him to me. I shall train him.’ Thus Doreswamy Iyengar became a disciple of Venkatagiriappa – for about eight to ten years, and taught him nearly 20 rare varnams, some kirtanas and two pancaratna kritis. Doreswamy Iyengar also later became part of the famed royal orchestra.
Venkatagiriappa taught his students well. R.K. Narayan states that though he feels he played with “too much meettu” (plucking strings), “Venkatagiriappa was a good man. He allowed his disciple to develop in his own way, doing what came naturally to him.” Doreswamy Iyengar relates: “I did not undergo gurukulavasam. Our house was very near to Venkatagiriappa’s. I would go to my guru’s house in the morning. He would teach and watch me as I played. If I committed any mistake, I had to repeat the portion at least 15 to 20 times till I could play perfectly. Unless he was satisfied he would not proceed further. He always said, ‘you must get siddhi in playing.’ In this way he taught me chitta tanam which Veena Seshanna had specially composed for vainikas to understand the method of playing tanam. They are studded with gamakas and that gave me excellent training in gamakaful tanam and also improvised tanams. Muthiah Bhagavathar was then the asthana vidwan. You know, Chamundeswari is the deity of the Royal house. Muthiah Bhagavathar has composed many kirtanas on Chamundeswari. Venkatagiriappa taught me several of those songs.”
He goes on: “The Mysore Maharaja was very particular that the second line of vainikas, vocalists and others was prepared. So one day he asked my guru whether he had given training to young persons to take on his mantle. Then, along with me, Ranganayaki Parthasarathy and Nallar Rajalakshmi were also learning veena. The Maharaja asked my guru to bring his disciples one day to the Palace so that he could hear them. I remember I played for half an hour. The Maharaja heard me and asked my guru, ‘Who is that boy?’ pointing to me. ‘He is our orchestra veena vidwan Venkatesa Iyengar’s son.’ The Maharaja told my guru, ‘Train this boy well. He is full of promise.’ I was pleasantly surprised when the Maharaja gave me Rs 50. In those days you can imaging the value of Rs. 50.”
Venkatagiriappa taught several pieces embellished by his guru especially for vainikas (veena players). He is succeeded by his grandson, P. Srinivasa Prasanna, a disciple of D. Balakrishna, who has played rare compositions of his grandfather, such as Sree Rajarajeswari in the raga Prabhupriya, a janya of Natabhairavi. In fact it was Venkatagiriappa who put flesh and blood on the skeleton of this raga.
Other contemporary disciples include Rajalakshmi Thirunarayanan, the first female artiste from Karnataka to be accredited by the Prasar Bharati-All India Radio(AIR) as ‘AÕ top grade artiste, who became his student at the young age of 7. MJ Sreenivas Iyengar was also his student.