Muthu Thandavar (1525 - 1600 CE) was composer of Carnatic music. He was an early architect of the present day Carnatic kriti (song) format, which consists of the pallavi (refrain), anupallavi and charanam. He lived in the town of Sirkazhi in Tamil Nadu. His contributions to Carnatic music have been largely forgotten and not many of his kritis are in vogue today. Muthu Thandavar, along with Arunachala Kavi (1712–1779) and Marimutthu Pillai (1717–1787) are known as the Tamil Trinity of Carnatic music.
Muthu Thandavar also composed several padams, short songs mainly sung accompanying Bharatanatyam performances. Some of these padams are still popular such as Teruvil Varano in raga Khamas and Ittanai tulambaramo in raga Dhanyasi.
Muththu Thandavar was born in Sirkazhi,in a family of instrumental musicians who served the temples. They were known as Isai Vellalar (those who cultivate music). He was named Thandavan after the deity at Chidambaram.
As a youngster, Thandavan suffered an incurable wasting disease which caused havoc on his health and appearance. He was not able to follow the family profession on account of this debilitating condition. He was also shunned by everybody.
But Taandavar proved a sickly child with severe skin infection. His only friend was a musical neighbour called Shivabhagyam, who sang to him daily of Shiva, though everyone protested. His own family turned him out because his disease had made him so loathsome. He used to visit a to hear her sing and dance. Thandavan was inspired by the devotional songs sung by Sivabhagyam and began composing with the encouragement of the daughter of the Chidambaram Temple priest. He used to catch a few strands of the words of the devotees who came to worship at the temple and used them in his songs on prise of Nataraja the presiding deity at the temple. He continued the daily ritual of singing in the temple. Thandavan was a pioneer in composing padams sung during dance performances. Teruvil Vaarano is a classic padam and a delight even today for dancers and audience alike. Taandavar subsisted on the local temple’s prasad, growing sicker by the day.
Crawling one day into the temple’s palanquin store, he fell asleep. The priests put out the lamps and locked up for the night. Awaking in the dark, Taandavar called out weakly to God. The priest’s little daughter soon appeared, carrying food. She fed and comforted the boy, advising him to go to Chidambaram and compose a new song every day to Nataraja with the first words he heard in the temple. Next morning, the priests found Taandavar healed and glowing with such lustre that they wonderingly named him ‘Mutthu Taandavar’ (‘mutthu’ means ‘pearl’). The boy realised then that it was Parvati, worshipped as ‘Lokanayaki’ in Seergazhi, who had come disguised to him.
Off went Mutthu Taandavar to the Kanaka Sabha (‘Golden Halls’, another name for Chidambaram). His first song began with the words, “Bhuloka Kailayagiri Chidambaram” and five gold pieces apparently appeared at Nataraja’s feet. Many songs followed. Once, he was not able to cross the river Kollidam so he sang the song the famous song Kanamal veenile kalam kazhithome in raagam Danyasi and the flood receded and gave way to him. One day, to his confusion, not a word was spoken in the temple. Taandavar could hear only his own desperate heart beat. He cried aloud, “Pesaade nenjamey!” (Speak not, my mind) and so composed the day’s song: his dependence on others was over.
One day, in 1640, they say, a great light appeared in Nataraja’s sanctum and 80-year-old Mutthu Taandavar was absorbed into it. Aptly, it was the day of the star ‘Poosham’, the very time Nataraja first danced his Ananda Tandava at Chidambaram.
Very few of Muththu Thandavar's compositions have survived the test of time. Sixty of them have been collected. Twenty five padams are also available. Some of his compositions that are sung in music concerts are: Arumarundonru tani marundidu (Raga Mohanam or Kambhoji), Pesade Nenjame (Raga Todi), Kaanaammal Vinile (Raga Dhanyasi or kAmbhoji), Teruvil Varano (Raga Khamas), Unai Nambinen Ayya (Raga Keeravani), Isane Koti Surya Prakasane (Raga Nalinakanti), Darisittalavil (Raga Latangi), Sevikka Vendumayya (Raga Andolika), Innum Oru Taram (Raga Simhendramadhyamam), Ambara Cidambaram and Innum Oru Stalam (Raga Suratti).
- M. V. Ramana, Pre-trinity composers of Tamil Nadu - Carnatica.net
- Lena Tamilvanan (Ed), (in Tamil) Thamizh Mummanikalin kiirththanaikal, Manimekalai Publications, Chennai 600 017, 1987 (லேனா தமிழ்வானன் (பதிபாசிரியர்), தமிழ் மும்மணிகளின் கீர்த்தனைகள், மணிமேகலைப் பிரசுரம், சென்னை 600 017, முதற்பதிப்பு 1987).