Kavi Kunjara Bharati
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His ancestors belonged to Tirunelveli district. His parents lived in the village of Perungarai in Ramanathapuram district. It is said the whole village was a gift from Maharaja Ragunatha Sethupathi (1675-1670) to their family. His given name was Koteeswara Bharathi after his grand father with the same name. His father was Subramanya Bharathi. His father and grandfather were also well known musicians as well as his maternal grand father, Nandanur Nagabharathi. Father Subramanya Bharathi and grandfather Kotiswara Bharathi were also scholars in Tamil & Sanskrit. His parents, who were longing to have a child, prayed weekly at the Murugan temple in Kodumalur (near Perungarai) and the child was considered to be blessed by lord Muruga.
In his early boyhood he was taught Sanskrit and Tamil and thanks to his brilliance in poetry, language skills and music, he developed an intellectual relationship with the then famous poet Madurakavi Bharathiar. One could imagine fruitful discussions among the two in the presence of their families and Koteeswara Bharthi, at the early age of 12 started composing Kirtanams and prabandhams in the praise of his favourite gods Muruga, Meenalkshi Sundareswarar and Subrahmanya. When he was 18, he became critically ill and at this stage the legend says that the local deity appeared in his dreams and told him to compose songs in her praise in order to get well. The next day he found that he was feeling much stronger and full of verve. He then fulfilled the deity's wish and composed a prabhandham in the name of the deity and sang it in the temple.
His most famous work, the Opera "Azhahar Kuravanji", was composed in 1840. It was first sang in a zamindar's palace in Sivaganga and soon his fame spread all over the region . He was than invited by the king Gouri Vallabha of Sivaganga to present his works in the presence of the intellectual community in his palace which he did with brilliance. He was than given the title "Kavi Kunjaram" and was appointed as the "Asthana Vidwan" in his court. He was thus respected by the royal court of Sivaganga and he continued to be in the court of the later Sivaganga king "Chatrapathi Bodaguru". He is known to have composed "Vengai kummi" to commemorate the hunting prowess of the king after he killed a 16 foot tiger. The king was so pleased that he presented him with a village called "Kottangachi yendal" and was accompanied by royal presents and traveled in a royal palanquin to his village
He was later invited by the king of Ramnad to his court and was appointed as Asthana vidwan of Ramnad too. To fulfil the royal desire he created a collection called "Skaanda purana Kirtanai" on the mystery of lord Subramanya's avatar. He was about 55 by the time the book was released. He then lived a pious and respected life in his village. There are tales of him creating a "Venba" to provoke rainfall in his village and a prayer he composed to cure his buffalo. At the age of 86 he passed way surrounded by his loved ones and full of prayers and divine thoughts.
The collection of his compositions include, Azhahar Kuravanji in praise of Maliruncholamali azhahar, "Adaikkala malai"and Kayarkani malai"in praise of Meenakshi Amman and Tiruvangaada Malai "in praise of Lord Venkatachalapahi. His other notable contributions is a collection called "Perinbha kirthanaigal".
A few works are available giving a glimpse of his beautiful compositions. Azhahar Kuravanji, itself was first released with full notations by his illustrious grandson Koteeswara Ayyar in 1916 along with the Skaanda puranam and Perinba kirtahanigal in three volumes.
Koteeswara Ayyar is known for his compositions in the 72 Melakarta ragas. There is a small confusion between the two composers, as they have almost the same "mudrai". To avoid this confusion, Kavi Kunjara Bharathi used "kavikunjaram" as his mudrai and Koteeswara ayyar's mudrai was "kavikunjara dasan". In fact the first volume of the 36 sudddha madyama melakarthas by Shri Koteeswara ayyar -- called "Kanda ganamudham" is dedicated to his maternal grandfather Kavi Kunjara bharathi.
A more recent version of Azahar Kuravanji was released by K. Nagamani, the son of Koteeswara ayyar. Here are some of his other famous compositions:
Elloraiyum Polave - Suddhasaveri Ennadi Penne Unakku - Begada Pithanavan - Anandbairavi Singaravelanai - Danyasi Sannidhi Kandu - Mohanam
The first song was the favourite of S.G.Kittappa and T.R.Mahalingam who have given disc recordings of it. kavikunjara bharathi is the composer of kauravanji
Kurvanjis are dance-dramas in Tamil half way between Bhagawatha Mela Nataka and rustic danceedramas. The accent is on high entertainment value with the use of Rakti ragas and folk tunes. Rhythmic sol-fa passages and onomatopoeic phrases are used to enliven the pure dance passages.
Azhahar Kuravanji is the story of the heroine falling in love with Malazhagar. The fist invocatory song in Kanada is in Sanskrit and in here one can read the mudrai "Hitha kunjara bhanita"in the charanam. In fact, this first song itself shows that Kavikunjara Bhrathi, a contemporary of Shri Tyagaraja has adopted the classical division of the composition into pallavi, anupallavi and Charanam.
A beautiful description of Malazhagar surrounded by his devotees performing all services follows in the Saranaga raga song. The arrival of Mohanavalli along with her sakhis is portrayed in the Kamas raga composition. A few lines like the ones below makes one imagine the beautiful heroine playing ball with her friends
"Chandranenum vadanattil oli minna
Takatakajjanu takadari kitutajanu takadom enrani
Mohanavalli pandu adittanal"
This song is followed by a classical kummi in Manji ragam.
An interesting phraseology can be seen in the 3rd charanam:
"Mohanavalli yamuda valliyadi,
Muthuvalli adiyadi chitravalli.
Nagavalli pachundothihai valli, nava
Ratnavalli yananda valli".
Malazhagar comes in procession and Mohanavalli immediately falls in love with him. The famous song "Ivanaro in Khamboji" The astonished heroine says (in the first charanam):
"paadathiloru mangai pakkatiloru mangai,
Chidatulavam punda tirumarbiloru mangai
Yedukkai anindano ivan dan en perumano"
Mohanavalli is love stricken and her mother is worried about her daughter's plight. This is depicted in the song in Kapi:
"Malaiyum chempon olaiyum Varna
Kalaiyum andimalaiyum ennam
Kalangi urakkam vilangiye miha endan
Mohanavalli's Sakhi is then sent to Azhahar where she conveys the heroines feelings in the beautiful song in Manji "Mohanavalli minnal". The sakhi then consoles the heroine and asks her to be patient in the song in Kedaragowla "pavaiye sami varumun ittanai padattam tan unakkenadi". Mohanavilli then laments to the ocean about her love in the Chenchurutti song and she rebukes the moon on being cruel towards her in the song in Behag. Enters the Gypsy in the famous song in begada "malai Kuravanji Vandale". The gypsy woman's beauty is described in the second charanam:
"Minnalennum idaiyal – annamennum nadaiyal
Kalin kalin enru kulunga nalangodu
Malai Kuravanji Vandale"
One can see the use of onomatopoeia to bring out the movement of the hands and the tinkling of bracelets. This is then followed by a fairly long passage describing the Gypsy tribe and their ways. There is a full description of the flora and fauna and it would be interesting to compare the current eco-system with the one described in this kuravanji. In the Bhairavi song the gypsy vaunts of her capacities as in these lines
"kallinum nariruppen – manalaiyum
Kayirena tirippen nalla
Vallamaiyayangai nelli kaniyena
Chollum kurikondu velluven"
Mohanavalli requests the gypsy to read her palm lines and the gypsy then starts the rituals before undertaking this task. She finally predicts the heroine's future and assures her that her wishes will be fulfilled. The gypsy announce the arrival of malazhahar in the romantic sahana song "Vandu cheruvar mane".
The final marriage scene is described in the song in Mohanam. This is followed by a secondary folk theme on the marriage of the gypsy woman. The play ends with a mangalam in saurashtram.
- Kavi Kunjara Bharthi, Madurakavi Bharathi padangal and Ramakavirayar padangal, pammal vijayaranga Mudaliyar, 1889, Madras
- Azhahar Kuravanji, K.Nagamani, Alliance Press, Chennai, 1963
- Kandaganamudam, N.Koteeswara Ayyar, The Madras law Journal press, Mylapore, 1932.