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Madurai Mani Iyer

His Disciples

Mani Iyer’s earliest known disciple was S.Rajam. In this case, the guru met his disciple rather than the other way around. An Upanayanam function in 1931 at Nadu street, Mylapore brought them together for the first time. Mani Iyer had come there to perform at the function and accepted him as his Sishya. The most fascinating aspect of this meeting was that Mani Iyer was only 18 at that time, with his would-be disciple about 8 years younger. Mani Iyer would go on to teach S.Rajam for some five years, in which he learnt the depiction of Vakra, Varjya ragas and kalpanaswarams.


S.Rajam in his early years.

S.Rajam also learnt from other starwarts of the time including Ambi Dikshithar, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Papanasam Sivan. He was a multi-faceted genius who left his indelible footprints not only in the field of music, but also in various other art forms like acting and painting. He passed away in 2010. A more comprehensive write-up on this great personality can be found here: http://creative.sulekha.com/legacy-of-chitrasutra-thirteen-shri-s-rajam-part-one_385189_blog

Later, Sri. Narayanan of Trichy learnt from Mani Iyer and became a favourite disciple (early 30’s to early40’s). Narayanan also started giving performances and in fact, was the first performing disciple of Mani Iyer. Mani Iyer was about to give a live radio concert during late 30s in the AIR, when all of a sudden that morning he had a very bad throat and could not even speak. After getting the concurrence of AIR officials, MMI made Narayanan sing on his behalf and that concert was highly acclaimed by rasikas. Narayanan passed away when he was very young (1942).

Sri Vembu Iyer joined Madurai Mani Iyer in the late 1930’s (1939 to be precise), after a brief tutelage under Maruthuvakudi Rajagopala Iyer. He would marry Smt. Gomathi, Sister of Mani Iyer, in 1944. Vembu Iyer had a few notable performances to his name but decided to give up his career after Mani Iyer’s demise. He then decided to focus all his energy and talent in grooming his son. Vembu Iyer served his teacher faithfully and took care of him, especially in the last years when his health became very poor. Mani Iyer himself stated that it was as if Vembu Iyer knew his every need. This article, from the Hindu newspaper sheds more light on him.


Mani Iyer (Centre) with his disciples Smt. Savithri Ganesan and Sri Vembu Iyer.

Smt. Savithri Ganesan was another disciple of Mani Iyer. She had given many solo performances in the late 40’s and the early 50’s, including one at the Music Academy in 1949. She was critically acclaimed for her rich resonant voice and creativity, and said to have possessed a melodious voice with perfect sruthi alignment. Mani Iyer was very fond of her and had high hopes for her musical career. Unfortunately, tragedy struck, as Savithri Ganesan passed away in the infamous Ariyalur train accident of 1956. Mani Iyer was so devastated at the news that he did not perform for a month. No known recording exists of the late Savithri Ganesan.

Sri Thiruvengadu Jayaraman Joined Madurai Mani Iyer in 1949, when Mani Iyer was at Mayavaram. He also learnt under Vembu Iyer and started accompanying Mani Iyer during 1956-57. He stayed with his guru for 19 years and absorbed all the finer nuances of Caratic Music. A performing artiste of all India radio since 1958, he was ranked a top grade artiste by Prasar Bharathi. Sri Jayaraman was known for his vast repertoire of kritis, sruthi alignment and captivating sarvalaghu kalpanaswarams. Though a man of great vidwath, he remained down to earth and ever approachable, just like his guru.

In 2004, Sri Jayaraman was travelling in a car after attending a wedding function. The rear seats were occupied by a couple from Pune who were deeply into classical music. They wanted to know whether one could sing kalyani in carnatic style as elaborately as the hindustani musicians sang Yaman.Sri Jayaraman accepted the challenge and started singing Kalyani, and after two hours he was not yet finished with the alapana, with no repetitions. A vidwan great dignity, he passed away in 2007.


Thiruvengadu Jayaraman Receiving the Sangeet Natak Academy award from President Kalam on 26th August 2005.

Sri Sethuraman learnt under Mani Iyer for nearly 17 years. He was the guru of noted Carnatic Musician, G.N.Desikan. Though he never came to limelight, he had a good repertoire and was teaching Carnatic music at Saidapet, Chennai for a very long time.

Sri T.N Bala was also a disciple of Mani Iyer. Hailing from Tiruvaiyaru, he served as a professional Broadcaster, artist and executive in All India Radio in Chennai and Delhi. He migrated to the U.S in 50’s after being selected to join the broadcasting division of American Radio and television. Sri Bala was actively involved in promoting Carnatic music in the United States, particularly in Philadelphia and New York -New Jersey region. He was passionate about teaching and had many students in the U.S. He was also a noted composer, his composition Vilayada ithu nerama in Shanmukhapriya being the most famous. T.N. Bala passed away in May 27, 2012.


T.N. Bala

Acclaimed musicologist and ethonomusicologist Dr. S.A. Kumari Durga (S.A.K.Durga) learnt music under Mani Iyer. She started her tutelage under Mani Iyer at the age of 10, and it continued for the next 12 years. She then learnt under the great Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer. Her father was a wealthy landlord in Kumbakonam who used to host all the leading musicians of him time, which helped her become Mani Iyer’s student. The first Kriti that she learnt from him was vidajalatura in Jananranjani raga.

Holder of two Ph.D’s, one from the University of Madras and another from Wesleyan University, U.S.A, Dr. Durga is an authority on theoretical as well as practical aspects of Carnatic music. She is also an expert on voice culture, having done her post graduate studies on the subject. Her expertise in ethnomusicology gives her a universal appreciation and deep understanding of various systems of music.


Dr.S.A. Kumari Durga

She is the founder of Center for Ethnomusicology in Chennai, a place where music is taught with its underlying technicalities, subtleties and correct voice culture. She remains the ultimate expert on music and the voice that produces it.

Sri T.V. Sankaranarayanan was born to Sri Vembu Iyer and his wife Gomathi (Mani Iyer’s sister) on March 7, 1945. Of course being the nephew of Mani Iyer, he grew up with music all around him and had the privilege of being personally taught by Mani Iyer and Vembu Iyer. His mother taught him the basics of Carnatic music. Mani Iyer started the lessons for his young nephew with the kriti Giriraja suta tanaya in raga Bangala. By the time he was 10, he had learnt 50 Kritis from his uncle, including melody mammoths like O Jagadamba and Kamalambham Bhajare.


Sri. T.V. Sankaranarayanan

Though he is a follower of the Mani Iyer Bhani, he has evolved his own approach to music and has carved a niche for himself. He is no less than Sangeetha Kalinidhi himself, the title conferred upon him in 2003. He is also the recipient of several other Prestigious awards including the Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Academy Award. These accolades pretty much speak for the man and his music.

Sri. T.V. Sankaranarayanan and his student Sri Suryaprakash continue to keep the Madurai Mani Iyer Bhani alive among Rasikas today. This Article that appeared in The Hindu speaks about T.V. Sankaranarayanan in much more detail.

Many other people, including Nadaswaram exponent S.R.D. Vaidyanathan learnt vocal music from Madurai Mani Iyer at various points of time.

The Student speaks about her master

Dr. S.A.K. Durga, who learnt under Mani Iyer for no less than 12 years, explains Mani Iyer’s music as only she can. She also gives great insight into how Mani Iyer was as a teacher.

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