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Madurai Mani Iyer


An hour of Chakkani Raja

As narrated by Sri. Rajesh

Once Madurai Mani Iyer gave a temple concert close to 4 hours somewhere around mayavaram. The Mayuram Aduthurai mutt priest decided to garland Mani Iyer at the end of 4-hour concert. The flowers had to get tied as they were loose flowers (in Tamil we call it as ‘uthiri pookal’). It takes close to 1 hour for that process of preparing a garland. While they were at the business of doing that, MMI sang an hour full of Chakkani Raja in kharaharapriya from 4th to 5th hour of the concert.

Never say no to the fans

As narrated by V.Vishuramprasad

1.1965 Ramanavi concert at Grifith Road Ramakrishna Mission grounds (next to Mupaathamman temple), now very close to Krishna Ghana Sabha. The concert started at 7 with Vathapi, the main items were Mohana Rama and Rama Nee samaana, then came Thani Avarthanam followed by Kavava, Shri rangapura vihara, Ra ra ra seetharamani manohara, virutham in kedaragowla, slokam in kaanada and sindhubhairavi, jonpuri, eppovaruvaaro, notes.... and Madurai Mani Iyer turns back to ask Vembu Iyer whether he can conclude as it was 10.30 pm already, suddenly there is a voice that shouts “MAAYE paadungo”! (Please Sing Maaye!). No hesitation, the next second MMI gets into Madhyama shruthi and just gives few seconds for TNK to shift to madhyamam. Sings maye and then comes one bones Thillana in senchurutti. Then finally he asks, “mudichukkalaama” (Shall we conclude!), and then proceeds to sing Mangalam......
This was almost a daily occurrence in his concerts!!

2. Madurai Mani Iyer once sang a concert for about 4 hours and was about to end it when someone requested that he sing ‘Kandan Karunai Puriyum’. Sri. Vembu Iyer wanted to end the concert as Mani Iyer was not feeling well that day. Mani Iyer then explained to Vembu Iyer that "dei avan indha paata kekathaan aasayaa vandhiruppaan paavam" (He probably would have come to this concert only for hearing this song) and then starts’ kandan karunai puriyum’!!!

My lucky train journey

As Narrated by Ms.Arasi.

As a brand new mother, I was traveling to Tirunelveli in a train with my three-month old baby. It was the end of 1964. On the station platform in Madurai, I saw a vendor selling a colorful stuffed parrot which came attached to a thick rubber strand. I promptly bought and tied it to the upper berth, to amuse my daughter. A party of men had settled in the other side of the compartment unobtrusively. Once the train started, the singing began. My daughter who was fascinated to see the parrot bobbing up and down, averted her eyes and started paying attention to the music. Sri. Madurai Mani Iyer, Vembu Iyer and the accompanists were my fellow passengers! I was thrilled. Madurai Mani Iyer was singing (humming) almost throughout our journey. Holding the child in my arms and listening to his voice which wafted towards me was a moving experience. All that I could mumble as we reached our destination was a feeble 'namaskAram' which was acknowledged by him with a genial smile. I coudn't wait to babble about my great experience to my sister-in-law. She merely said, 'Iru, sayankalamana innum ketkalam, saridane?' (Wait till this evening. You can hear some more).
Sure enough, among hundreds of fans, I sat with my child on my lap and listened to the full throated sweetness of Madurai Mani Iyer’s music that evening.

Madurai Mani Iyer’s comic timing.

As narrated by V.K.Viswanathan

Sri.Vellore Ramabhadran once told me about a 1947 concert in Suriyanar koil, when someone shouted "Kshhera sagar sayana", He immediately rendered the song! Sri. Ramabhadran said he still remembered how brilliant it was. In the same concert, someone else shouted "Yeppo varuvaro" (when will he come?) Mani Iyer Immediately replied " Ippo varuvar" (He will come now) rendered the song.

Singing Kalyani twice for the fans? No problem!

As narrated by Sri. Rajesh

Once in a concert Madurai Mani Iyer was singing somewhere in Mayavaram, the main raga was Kalyani. There was a late evening train shuttle from Kumbakonam which was just entering Mayavaram. In those days, lot of rasikas will run to listen to Madurai Mani Iyer. So a number rasikas alighted from the shuttle and came to the concert late and possibly felt bad that they had missed his Kalyani. Shri Madurai Mani Iyer took up the same Kalyani again, sang another Krithi which had an absolutely different Manodharmam than what was sung as main, just for those group of Rasikas. This was just amazing to me.

Sri Musiri’s Remark on Madurai Mani Iyer singing ‘Vellai Thamarai’

As narrated by Sri. Rajesh

After Sri Musiri Subramania Iyer heard Madurai Mani Iyer’s ‘Vellai Thamarai’ rendition, he is said to have remarked that Bharathi had wrongly written the line as "kiliyin navil irruppidam kondal" (Goddess Saraswathi resides on a Parrot’s tongue). It should have been "maniyin navil iruppidam kondal" (Goddess Saraswathi resides on Mani Iyer’s Tongue).

Interrupt a Madurai Mani Iyer concert broadcast at your own peril

All India Radio (AIR) Madras was relaying Madurai Mani Iyer’s evening kutcheri of Thiruvayaru festival. He was singing ‘Nannu Palimpa’ in Mohanam, and AIR Madras had to abruptly cut short midway through the song as it had to relay AIR news from Delhi. An irritated listener was so cut up that he promptly wrote a letter to the Editor, The Hindu a couple of days later, venting his full anger on AIR, Madras as to how it could so mercilessly cut the relay when MMI was singing ‘Nannu Palimpa’ in his inimitable style!

Where is the Pantuvarali?

As narrated by Vishnuramprasad

I have a conversation of Madurai Mani Iyer that was recorded in 1960 where he speaks about a person (no name mentioned) who came to him with a krithi that he had composed in the Raga Panthuvarali. He claimed that his composition did not have even one sangathi (raga phrase) of any other Pantuvarali krithi that was prevaling and sang his composition in front of Mani Iyer. Mani Iyer, after patiently listening to it mentioned to the person that "It’s true that your composition has no sangathis of any existing pantuvarali krithis but your composition neither has any Panturvarali in it!"

When a stack of Banana leaves saved Madurai Mani Iyer

As narrated by Vishnuramprasad

Shri Madurai Mani Iyer was travelling from Mayavaram to Chennai in an unreserved third class compartment to go for a concert the next day. He climbed up to the luggage berth and fell asleep soon. There was a marriage cook party which also travelled in the same coupe with all the cooking vessels and vazhai ilai (banana leaves) stack. When the train had a sudden shake while leaving a station Shri Mani Iyer fell down from the top berth much to the shock of the other passengers sitting down, but only to find him falling down exactly on the Banana leaf stack, which saved his life as even an inch further or before could have landed him on to the iron vessels.
This incident was narrated by the famous cook Mayavaram Aghoram who was sitting down with his co- cooks in the same coupe. Mayavaram Aghoram was very popular with musicians as he had cooked for many Thyagaraja Utsavams held in Thiruvayar and it is said that the leading musicians were his admirers for his excellent culinary skills.
The popular cook went on to say that only goddess saraswathi had saved this great man of music to enable us to hear for a longer period. He then moved on to the top berth and made Mani Iyer to sleep comfortably in the lower birth seat.

When Ariyakudi refused to sing and suggested Mani Iyer to take his place

As narrated by Sri. Balu

Once when Sri. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar was scheduled to sing after the concert of Srimathi M.S. Subbulakshmi at Thiruvaiyaru, he simply refused to sing and suggested Mani Iyer in his place, as " after M.S Subbulakshmi 's concert, everybody will rise and leave the Pandal whoever be the next singer and it is only Mani who can not only keep the crowd intact but there would also be fresh inflow!"

Madurai Mani Iyer and Subbudu

Trasnslation of Subbudu’s Article, Courtesy Ms. Arasi

Madurai Mani Iyer

It was an unforgettable meeting. I had the great privilege of meeting Madhura Gana Mani Iyer. It came about as the result of a review that I wrote of his Mumbai concert in ‘Kalki’. "As usual, Mani Iyer sang an Alapana in Shanmukapriya, swung back and forth with his 'U U-s' and ended the concert with the English note", I had written. I had summed it all up in that one line.
This must have happened six or seven years ago. The very next year, Madurai Mani Iyer came to Delhi to perform. He said to his host that my review struck him as being out of the way. He also expressed his wish to meet me and to know what I meant to say by way of that one-liner. I was extremely keen on meeting him. Yet, I felt awkward to face and interview the eminent Vidwan who was obviously upset about my pronouncement. If things got out of hand, how was I going to cope with the situation? --me being younger and lacking in my experience in music? I explained this to Sri. Krishnamurthy (the host?) on the phone. On his assuring me that the discussion would be dignified and meaningful, I went to meet Mani Iyer at his place. As I entered, someone was reading The Hindu to Madurai Mani Iyer. He was keen on following the daily news. My arrival was announced by Vembu Iyer.
"Are you Subbudu sir?"
"How come you wrote in such detail about other musicians and made such a sweeping statement about me in a single line?"
"There is a lot I want to convey to you. You are a Maha Vidvan, sangIta sagaram (ocean of music). If you are patient, I will bare my heart to you."
"By all means!"
"To start with, why do you keep singing the same songs over and over again in your concerts?"
"Rasikas love those songs."
"I agree. Yet, if brilliant singers like you do not popularize at least two songs every year, won't the Trinity's songs be forgotten?"
"Do you want me to ignore the Rasikas?"
"Not really. Cater to them three quarters of the time. Can't you allot a quarter of the time to the Trinity?
"Do you know; it takes a year or two to popularize a single song?"
"I agree. But, isn't it your responsibility to develop Rasanai (taste) in your listeners? Out of the four hundred kritis of Tyagaraja, not even fifty are in vogue."
"Ah, that's what you are saying!"
"I am prepared to listen to you, whatever you have to say about it. To recognize and to propagate them--isn't that a service to music by Vidvans like you?"
"I have in my repertoire countless krutis. But look at the number of request chits that reach the stage even at the beginning of the concert!"
"Have you tried new song lists at any time and have tested it out?"
"The public doesn't give me a chance!"
"Delhi Rasikas are super Rasikas. You won't find Maharajapuram, GNB or Ariyakkudi fans as such here in Delhi. We are all just music fans. We are nostalgic about our homeland. We are thrilled to hear good CM from any source. We do not get many chances to hear music in this faraway place. Based on all this, why don't you try your experiment here? If I am wrong, I will take back my word and apologize to no end..."
"What, Vembu? This evening, we will sing all new uruppadis (items). These reviewers perhaps think that we don't know that many kritis!"
That evening, not a single 'rubber stamp' kriti was sung. Thyagaiyya, DIkshitar, Syama Sastry and Sivan danced in glee on that stage. ‘The Statesman’ the next morning did not contain a review but a dedication. On reading it, MMI sent a congratulatory letter to the editor and he in turn sent it to me.
I treasure it as a priceless possession of mine.

No more “tiruvadi Charanam” for us!!

As narrated by Sri.Balu.

The composition ‘Thiruvadi Charanam’ was made popular by Sri Musiri Subramanya Iyer. I have heard elders say that Sri Musiri and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer were together in a concert in Tamil isai Sangam featuring Madurai Mani Iyer. On seeing Musiri, Mani Iyer suddenly started singing ‘Thiruvadi Charanam’ and after the song was over, Sri Musiri was commenting " Seenu! we have to stop singing ‘Thiruvadi Charanam’ hereafter as Mani has taken it up now”!

Madurai Mani Iyer and Kanchi Paramacharya

Kanchi Paramacharya had a special affection for Madurai Mani Iyer. These two incidents are a proof for the above statement.

1. Mani Iyer was a great devotee of Maha Periava who treated Mani Iyer like his own child. Mani Iyer saw Sri Periavaal as Sri Kapaaleswarar, Sri Parameswara himself. Once Mani Iyer was singing in his presence after he had lost his eyesight. While singing he heard someone accompanying him with beautiful rhythm. After completing the song, he wanted to know from Vembu Iyer as to who was accompanying him with such a beautiful rhythm. Immediately Sri Maha periava intervened and told Mani Iyer that it was he with a peel of orange in his hand like kanjira. "Naan thaan appaa taalam potadhu!", Suddenly Mani Iyer broke down with tears and cried "Appane Kapaaleeswara! parameswaraa! "en" Periavaala thaalam potadhu?" He cried and told "En periavaalai paaka mudiyalaye, enge irukkaa" Periyavaal in his voice filled with kaarunyam replied "ido un pakkathileye irukkenappa" Mani Iyer repeatedly told "Appane Kapaaleswaraaa! Parameswaraa!" and prostrated. Periavaal blessed him with his own benign smile like a mother to her child. (Free translation)
by Baraneetharan, in Anandavikatan.

2. When the Kanchi Mahaswami came to Mylapore, He visited Madurai Mani Iyer’s house early morning, unannounced. Mani Iyer was doing the usual sadakam, when someone said that Paramacharya was entering his house. A stunned Mani Iyer took time to react. Mahaswami asked Mani Iyer to sing a song. Mani Iyer replied hesitantly that he had not even had his bath. “You always swim in the sangita saharam, you do not have to have a bath to sing before me!” told the smiling Acharya. Moved to tears, Madurai Mani fell at his feet, crying “Parameswara!” Meanwhile, the mridanga vidwan had left after being blessed by Mahaswami. “Now, start!” said the Acharya. “You saw the mridanga vidwan leaving. How do I sing?” pleaded Madurai Mani. “Don’t worry, I will keep the taalam for you!” Paramacharya began the beats with his hands and Mani Iyer began to sing.

The Last days of Madurai Mani Iyer

As Narrated by Sri. Vishnuramprasad

An account of Mani Iyer's last days as narrated by my late grandfather who was a close friend of Mani Iyer:
One of the last Concerts of Mani Iyer happened to be on 31st March 1968 at the Music Academy hall for Mylapore Arts Academy, after which many dates that were booked for his concerts got cancelled as his health was deteriorating at a fast phase. Till 1967 Iyer performed in all Rama navami series concerts at Ayodhya Mantapam, T.Nagar Griffith Road, Venus Colony etc. In 1968, He performed on January 12th for the IIT Music club as a part of their annual festival. That concert was recorded and is with many rasikas.
There was a radio concert in February which was recorded at his home where he sang Vathapi, Manasunilpa, Merivere, Jalanthara and Chakkani Raja and Virutham to the accompaniment of Govindaswamy Naicker, Murugaboopathy, Vinayakaram and T.N. Balappa (dolak). That happened to be his last radio concert. During April 1968, his rama navami concerts were cancelled and Shri T.V.Sankaranarayanan performed his debut at the Grifith road, T.Nagar with TNK, Vellore and Alangudi which brought him good name and fame.
My grandfather Late Shri Ananthanarayana Iyer used to visit Mani Iyer frequently (atleast once a week) along with his other close friends like P.M.Viswanatha Iyer. Mani Iyer used to spend couple of hours talking them about music and other subjects enthusiastically. Shri Thiruvengad Jayaraman was already a renowned musician, had concerts and tutions but ensured to spend as much time with his guru to take care of him. During the month of May, Madurai Mani Iyer had a concert scheduled at Mylapore Fine Arts Club with Lalgudi Jayaraman as accompaniment but the concert was again cancelled in the last moment due to poor health. Lalgudi played solo on that day. Sukhi Evaro was played as a prayer for Mani Iyer's speedy recovery. But the heavens could not wait for any longer to hear the music of Mani Iyer. His fever got aggrevated and even his close friends could not meet him due to the strict orders of the doctor to arrest any further infections to Mani Iyer. My grandfather was very upset, but did not stop going till the gate of the house, just to know the status of his health. On June 8th, since there was no phone at our house, Shri Thiruvengad came to our house all the way to inform the passing away of Mani Iyer.
My grandpa went along with him and attended the funeral of Mani Iyer at Krishnampet. He recalled that many musicians who had come to pay their respect to Mani iyer could not stop weeping at the site of his body. He particularly recalled how Smt M.S.Subbulakshmi sat near Mani Iyer's sister and wept unconsolably. Mani Iyer was given as "aahudhi" to the almighty with Sandal woods as his pyre (such was the respect and devotion that Shri Vembu Iyer had on his Guru).
The AIR external services paid a rich tribute to Madurai Mani Iyer on June 8th by playing many excerpts of his recording for the benefit of NRI rasikas. My father who was in Germany heard the news from BBC radio on Mani Iyer's passing away recorded the entire tribute program of AIR External services in his Grundig recorder.

When Madurai Mani Iyer sang for railway Porters

As Narrated by Chitti. S. Venugopalan

Once when Madurai Mani Iyer and his party were waiting at the Mayavaram Train Station to board a train to Madras/Chennai, a few porters were around and the train was late by 45 minutes or so. The porters were heard saying “Iyer will go to sing for VIPs in Madras and we cannot hear him”. Mani Iyer, on hearing this asked Vembu and others to settle down at the nearby Pillayar Koil and sang a few songs for the Porters!

Encouraging a Young Artist or catching a train? That’s an easy decision

As Narrated by Madurai Somu

Once when I was very young, it was actually my initial years in the musical career. I performed at the Vinayagar temple at Mayavaram Station. Shri Mani Iyer came to station to catch the boatmail. Upon listening to the speakers he asked Vembu Iyer who was singing, and Shri Vembu Iyer told that its Madurai Somu, a budding musician. Immediately Mani Iyer came along with Vembu Iyer and encouraged me by listening to the concert till the end. He missed the boatmail just to encourage me! Such was his kind heart.

Even Rickshawallahs listened to Madurai Mani Iyer

Mani Iyer was singing at Mylapore Sannadhi. A rickshaw puller was listening. Someone asked him '' vandi varumaa - Guindy poganum '' (Is the rickshaw available? I need to go to Guindy) He replied ''enga venaalum polaam, Iyer Mangalam padattum appuramaa''! (We can go anywhere, once Iyer finishes his concert by singing Mangalam).
Such was his Magnetic power!!

A memorable concert

As narrated by Sri. Thiruvengadu Jayaraman (a distinguished disciple of Madurai Mani Iyer)

It was a sabha concert held at Hyderabad, where my master Shri Madurai Mani Iyer performed with the accompaniment of Shri Mysore Chowdiah on the Violin and Shri Palghat Mani Iyer on the Mridangam.
In that concert, Shri Madurai Mani Iyer exhibited an unusual talent which was quite contrasting to his own style. The highlight of the concert was a Pallavi in Kambhoji. Shri Mani Iyer sang an elaborate KAMBHOJI alapana in his inimitable style. Shri Chowdiahs Violin solo version of the raga thrilled the singer as well as audience. Shri Mani Iyer got enthused by the versatile Kambhoji solo version of Shri Chowdiah which was rich in imagination and the phrasings in the Alapana were touching the souls. The raga alapana session continued on and on for almost an hour, as both the Mani Iyer and Chowdiah submerged into the beauty of the raga. That occasion also proved that Shri Chowdiah was capable of exhibiting purest form of Carnatic music without any gimmicks while he was often criticized for his instrumental gimmicks in concerts, especially during RTP.
Then Shri Mani Iyer started singing Thanam in a gentle Chatusra Nadai (Adhi thalam) which was quite different from his regular style, he normally used to sing Thanam in discrete patterns. Now, Shri Palghat Mani Iyer got enthused and joined the team by accompanying to the Thaanam. This was the only occasion where Shri Palghat Mani Iyer played Mridangam to the Thanam singing of Shri Madurai Mani Iyer.
The Thanam singing by Madurai Mani Iyer was started in the Vilamba Kaalam (Slow speed) in the lower Octave, and reached the peak, as he sang in Dhuritha Kaalam (High Speed) in the higher Octave. With the enthusiasm of all the three great stalwarts, the Thanam session continued for about half-an-hour. It was indeed a memorable occasion, when the melody of Mani Iyer was in full flow with a wonderful accompaniment of Chowdia and Palghat Mani Iyer. The thronging crowd at the concert place where in pin-drop silence with an ecstatic mood.
It was 12 in the midnight when Shri Mani Iyer then started singing his famous Pallavi Parimala Rangapathe in ADHI THALAM 4 KALAI! It was the only occasion witnessed by me, where my guru sang a 4 Kalai Pallavi. He excelled in this feat by exhibiting great control over laya. He just causally controlled the 4 Kalai count in one beat! (instead of 4 beats). It was no easy task to control 4 beats in one beat while singing neraval of a pallavi.
This occasion revealed the tremendous prowess of Shri Mani Iyer in the field of laya. He sang the four kalai Pallavi effortlessly much to the admiration and appreciation of the great Palghat Mani Iyer.
Palghat Mani Iyer, who normally used to keep silent while accompanying, extraordinality appreciated Madurai Mani Iyer with 'Ahaa' and 'Sabaash' for each neraval of his neraval phrase. He played a stunning thani avarthanam for the Pallavi.
The concert ended at 1.30 a.m.! The duration of this memorable concert was about six hours!!
The performers as well as the audiences were submerged in the nectar of divine music. 'Thenai mondhai mondhayaa kudichaa maadiri ellaarum mayangi irundaa' (it was like drinking loads of honey) This was the commentary by all the rasikas at the end of the concert.
After the concert was over I asked my guru, as how did he all of a sudden started the Pallavi in 4 kalai? The master said with a smile “Well, if, I could not sing even a 4 kalai Pallavi. I would not have got even a temple (free) concert. It was a mandatory in those days that any carnatic vocalist should sing 4 kalai, 8 kalai pallavis with Anuloma and Prathiloma to get a musician status".
This concert silenced many critics who were fans of Palghat Mani Iyer, who had been always under the impression that Madurai Mani Iyer was never a match to Palghat Mani Iyer and vice versa when compared to other great vocalist with whom Shri Palghat Mani Iyer teamed.
They were all in praise for my guru about his deep knowledge in laya. It was a chance for them to realize that Madurai Mani Iyer was a naadha-laya Vidwan, no less in caliber than any other great laya Vidwans of yester years.
My guru, used to say that "You need not exhibit all that you know. You may know all the intricacies. Those skills might be well appreciated only by Vidhwans. But you should always remember to sing for the layman who his sitting before you waiting for his favorite song"
The concert was concluded only after my master sang all his popular thukkadas!

Madurai Mani Iyer’s impact on a layman

As narrated by Sri. Vishnuramprasad

An anecdote narrated by a music critic from Tiruvananthapuram about his boyhood days is worth quoting here. In his village in the outskirts of Tiruvananthapuram, there was a certain porter by the name of Peerukannu.26 years of age, a sort of loner by nature and quite well-built for his job, Carnatic music was for Peerukannu an all-consuming passion. He would sing the songs of K.B. Sundarammal in total self-abandon. He was so bereaved when he heard about the death of Madurai Mani Iyer that he could not eat for days together. Peerukannu may not be an exception!!

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