|Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar|
A statue of Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar at Chembai (Kottayi), his birth place near Palakkad
|Birth name||Vaidyanatha Iyer|
September 1, 1896|
Chembai, Palghat, India
|Died||October 16, 1974
Ottapalam, Palghat, India
|Labels||HMV, Inreco, BMG, Vani Cassettes|
Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar (Malayalam:ചെമ്പൈ വൈദ്യനാഥ ഭാഗവതർ) (Vaidyanatha Iyer)(September 1, 1896 – October 16, 1974), was a Carnatic music singer from Palakkad (state of Kerala, India). Known by his village name Chembai, or simply as Bhagavatar, he was born to Anantha Bhagavatar and Parvati Ammal in 1896, at Kottayi-I/II near Palakkad on Janmashtami day, with Bharani star in the month of Chingam. Chembai was noted for his powerful voice and majestic style of singing. His first public performance was in 1904, when he was nine. He was a recipient of several titles and honours. He was known for his encouragement of upcoming musicians, and also for his ability to spot new talent. He was responsible for popularizing compositions like Rakshamam, Pavana Guru, among others. The music critic 'Aeolus' describes him as "the musician who has meant the most to Carnatic Music in the first fifty years of the 20th century." Some of his prominent disciples include Sri.Chembai Narayana Bhagavathar, Sri.Mangu Thampuran, Smt.Guruvayur Ponnammal, Sri.T. V. Gopalakrishnan, Sri. V.V.Subramaniam, Smt. P. Leela, Sri.Jayan and Vijayan, Sri.Yesudas, Sri.Babu Parameswaran, among others. He also mentored and lot of his young accompanists, prime among whom were Palghat Mani Iyer, Lalgudi Jayaraman, M.S.Gopalakrishnan, T.N.Krishnan, Palani Subramaniam Pillai, Dr. L. Subramaniam, etc. Many memorial music festivals are held in his honour annually since his death in 1974, the most important being the annually celebrated Chembai Sangeetholsavam.
The family's tryst with classical music had spanned about five centuries. Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar's father was a singer from Chembai near Palakkad . His father had been the recipient of the title "Ghana Chakratanam" from a local Maharaja indicating his mastery of a special style of singing tanam. Chembai's father Anantha Bhagavatar was a vocalist and violinist. Chembai learnt Carnatic music from his own father, from his third year, in the customary guru-sishya tradition, as a part of overall Vedic learning. Chembai also received violin and flute training in 1912.
Some of the noteworthy early events that helped shape Chembai's career include his arangetram (debut concert) in Ottapalam in 1904, his performances at Vaikom & Guruvayur in 1907, his year with Kaliakudi Natesa Sastry (1909) and the accolades he received from Palghat Anantharama Bhagavatar (1911). Between 1913 and 1927, he performed at many different music festivals and sabhas for the first time, notably including the Madras Music Academy.
Release of recordings
Chembai has many recordings to his credit. Between 1932 and 1946, Chembai's music was captured on several phonograph discs. Those were the days before the advent of the microphone in concerts and a singer was entirely dependent on the timbre and reach of his voice for a successful concert. Chembai was uniquely blessed in this respect, for his voice which had great depth, was a special attraction.
Lalita Dasar Kritis (1945)
Chembai had an old friend called T.G.Krishna Iyer in Tripunithura, who had settled in Madras (now Chennai) and offered a house to Chembai on Palace Road near Santhome, in a locality called 'Lalita Nagar' he had himself developed. He had composed some 155 kritis in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit under the mudra 'Lalita dasar' and requested Chembai to set them to music and popularise them. Chembai accepted the invitation and set the kritis to classical music, and got them published under the name Lalita Dasar Keertanaigal. He made it a practice to sing these kritis in most of his concerts. He also released a record containing selected kritis from Lalita Dasar's kritis like Evariki Telusunamma (Dhanyasi), Ennil Kaninda (Shankarabharanam), Pavana Guru (Hamsanandi), Varijadala Lochani (Arabhi), among others.
Performing ability and style
He could do a niraval and swaraprastara from any given point, which bespoke of mental alertness in a concert. His empathy for his accompanists and disciples was noteworthy and he would go to great lengths to encourage them.
Chembai died on 16 October 1974, aged 78, of a cardiac arrest. Shortly before that, he performed his last concert at a Poozhikkunnu Sreekrishna temple in Ottapalam (the venue of his first concert), and concluded the concert with his favourite song "Karunai Cheivan Endu Thamasam Krishna" (Why is there so much delay in conferring your mercy, Krishna?). His nephew said that, he always said about easy death and thus he attained it, in the magazine of Bhakthapriya in 2004.
Awards and titles
Chembai received several awards and titles throughout his career, most notably including:
- "Gayana Gandharva" (a title bestowed by Kalki Krishnamurthy in 1940)
- Sangeetha Kalanidhi (1951; highest accolade in Carnatic music)
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1958)
- Sangeetha Kalasikhamani(1964; by The Fine Arts Society, Chennai)
- Padma Bhushan (1973; from the Government of India)
- The Department of Posts, Govt of India released a special issue stamp on Chembai's birth centenary year (1996).
Chembai had been conducting a music festival in his native village right from 1924 onwards. This is now continued by his family and now its is continued by Chembai Sreenivasan And Chembai Suresh(C.A.Subramanian). The concerts is called Chembai Ekadasi Music Festival and held annually in February–March in the same village. Chembai had also been conducting a Sangeetholsavam (Music Festival) on Guruvayur Ekadasi Day (mid November) at Guruvayur every year. This festival, now called Chembai Sangeetholsavam in his honour, is officially conducted by the Guruvayur Devaswom Board.
Guruvayurappan Chembai Puraskaram
The Sri Guvayurappan Chembai Puraskaram, awarded by Sree Krishna Temple, Guruvayur, is instituted in memory of the late Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. The award, comprising a cash prize of INR 50001, a gold locket of Sree Guruvayurappan, a citation and ponnadai. The award is usually presented during the annual Chembai Music festival.
The recipients of the Chembai puraskaram include:
- Veena maestro A. Ananthapadmanabhan (2011)
- Carnatic musician K.G. Jayan (2010)
- Carnatic vocalist Parassala Ponnammal (2009)
- Mridangam maestro Mavelikkara Velukkutty Nair (2008)
- Carnatic vocalist M. Balamuralikrishna (2007)
- Violin maestro M.S. Gopalakrishnan (2006)
- Carnatic musician and mridangam maestro T V Gopalakrishnan (2005)
- Chembai Selvam – Biography of Chembai written by LRV, 1954
- Calutta K.S. Krishnamurthi, 'Sruti' Issue 98 November 1992
- Aeolus, Shankar's Weekly (Journal), December 12, 1963
- "Chembai Memorial Govt. Music College". Thehindu.com. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- "Chembai Vaidyanath Bhagavathar". Taal.20m.com. 1974-10-16. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- "A maestro's music". The Hindu. 2005-09-02. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- "P. Leela's death mourned". The Hindu. 2005-11-01. Retrieved 2009-10-16. and
- "In memory of a legendary guru". The Hindu. 2005-08-26. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- "Sangeet Natak Akademi Award". Sangeetnatak.com. Retrieved 2009-10-16.[dead link]
- "Chembai Stamp Released". Indianpost.com. 1996-08-28. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- "Guruvayur Devaswom". Guruvayur Devaswom. 1974-10-16. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- Sarma, L.R.Viswanatha (1954), 'Chembai Selvam', Amudha Nilayam Ltd.
- Aeolus, Shankar's Weekly (Journal), December 12, 1963.
- 'Sruti' Issue 98, November 1992
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