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Vadivelu (வடிவேலு)

VaDivElu – (1810 – 1845) Vadivelu was one of the illustrious members (and the youngest) of the famous Tanjore Quartet. Their ancestor was one Gangai muthu who lived in th 17th century and was a devaram scholar on whom not much information is available. It is said that he was from Tirunelveli. GangaiMuthu had two sons Ramalingam and Gangamuthu. This Gangaimuthu had two sons Subbarayan (also known as Mahadeva Annavi, himself an accomplished veena player) and Chidambaram. Subbarayan had 4 sons: Chinnaya[1802], Ponnayya [1804], Sivanandam[1808], and Vadivelu[1810].

The quartette and their father were in Sembonar Kovil or Senkanar koilwhere they were doing the temple tiruppani. It was here that the King of Tanjavur recognised their talent and brought them to Tanjavur. It was here that they learnt music from Muthuswami Dikshitar. Dikshitar appreciated Vadivelu as an ekasandhagrAhi, one had the ability to repeat a song heard only once. The quartette wrote a set of nine songs called navaratna mala where they glorify their guru. In the kriti , mAyAtIta svarUpiNi in mAyAmAlavagaula they write ‘mA guruguha svAmiki ne dAsudaiti’ (paying homage to Dikshitar).

After this training from the great teacher, Vadivelu and his brothers became the Asthana vidwans (palace musicians) of Tanjore Court. Later on they moved to Travancore court under the Maharaja Swati Tirunal. HVadivelu was considered the most intelligent of the four and was the favourite artiste of Maharaja Swati Tirunal, who appointed him as the Asthana Vidwan (Court musician) of the Travancore court when he was hardly in his teens.

Vadivelu learnt violin under a European missionary at Tanjore. Vadivelu was a musical genius and he popularised the use of violin in Carnatic Music Concerts. In fact, it is said he could even accompany himself on the violin (not very easy!). He was the best loved of the artistes of Swati Tirunal, and he became the asthana vidwan at the age of 14. A scholar in Tamil and Telugu, he was also a distinguished vocalist, violinist, composer and bharathanatyam exponent (he is credited with introducing short passages on the violin during dance performances). He was also one of the earliest dance masters (along with his brothers) to have the mridangam as accompaniment in dance performances.

It was he who popularised the use of Violin in Carnatic music. A scholar in Tamil and Telugu, vocalist, violinist, composer and Bharatanatyam exponent, Vadivelu delighted the ruler of Travancore, who presented to him an ivory violin in 1834 and even built him a house. He even drew praise from Tyagaraja himself. It is believed that the saint entered his house and praised him – a gesture rarely extended by the saint. Likewise, the respected Veena Kuppayyar honoured him by giving his own exalted seat to him during Vadivelu’s trip to Madras in 1828.

His contributions to dance are as important as those to music. In Bharatanatyam, the quartette created dance compositions full of the sringaara rasa which form the bulk of dance compositions used even today. They propagated the Pandanallur style of dance (in fact, the vidwan Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai of Pandanallore is a direct descendant of the quartette!) from the traditional Sadir Natyam or Dasiattam. He introduced the concept of Mohiniattam dancing. Kathakali was the dance form prevalent in Kerala till then and was confined to male dancers. Vadivelu elaborated and refined Mohiniattam along with Maharaja Swati Tirunal, and this paved way for women dancers in Kerala. The Tanjore Quartette is also credited with setting the order or maargam of pieces and songs for dance programs (Alarippu, Jatisvaram, Sabdam, Varnam, Padams, Javali, Tillana and Slokam) and for creating a series of adavus or steps.

Vadivelu is a composer of rare merit, and he composed a number of kritis and varnams during his tenure as the Asthana Vidwan at the Travancore court. The words “divine dispensation” are used to describe the multi-faceted and unparalleled confluence of gifts and attainments of Vadivelu in the fields of music and dance. Ponniah Pillai and Sivanandam are descendants of Vadivelu and his brothers.

He died at the young age of 37.


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