Great Indian Musicians
1. Amir Khusrau
Poet and musician at the court of Alauddin Khalji (c.1300) he considered the music of India the finest in the world. The qawwali said to have begun with Amir Khusrau who is also supposed to have invented the sitar and the khayal, though he himself does not mention this. He wrote in Persian and in Braj.
Born in Thiruvarur in 1759 (or 1767) Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu, Thyagaraja became one of the Trinity of Karnataka music. He spent most of his life at Thiruvayyuru, where he attained samadhi.
A scholar and poet, Thyagaraja gave a new direction to Karnataka music. His famous works include the Pancharama kritis, utsava sampradaya keertanai, and two operas, Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Chairtram, besides innumerable kritis, mostly in Telugu. He creature ragas from simple melodies, for example Karaharapriya, Harikambhoji, Devagandhari. Thyagaraja lived for music and bhakti and his god was Rama. Thyagaraja’s kritis have an emotional appeal and an exquisite blend of word; music and feeling besides technical virtuosity.
3. Shyama Shastri Venkatasubramania
Born in 1762 to a priest in Tiruvarur in Thanjavur came to be known as Shyama Shastri. A great scholar and a composer, his works are intricate and difficult in musical technique, particularly the rhythmic aspect One of the ‘trinity’ of Karnataka music, his songs have the signature ‘Shyamkrishna’. He was a superb master of tala and is said to have defeated the redoubtable Kesavayya in a musical contest by employing the complicated Sarabhanandana tala.
4. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande
Interested in music from boyhood, Bhatkhande devoted his life to research in the field. He was the first to organize a full-fledged conference of musicians and musicologists at Baroda. He also reorganized the Baroda State Music School. His ambition to get music with the inauguration of the college opened was realised with the inauguration of the Marris College of Music at Lucknow. He made a significant contribution to the field of music by pioneering the publication of a collection of compositions in Hindustani music. He composed some songs himself, under the signature ‘Chatur’. He wrote the famous Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati in Marathi, trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice. He classified ragas into ten thatas (parental scales) now widely accepted in north India. He edited several classics besides authoring Abhinava Raga Manjari and A Short Historical Survey of the Music of Upper India.
5. Sardarang Nyamat Khan
A court musician of the Mughal Emperor Mohammad Shah (18th century) left the court over some disagreement and settled at Lucknow where, incognito, he developed khayal singing to a high artistic level, signing his compositions as ‘Sadarang’. Mohammad Shah came to know ‘Sadarang’ was Nyamat Khan, and recalled him to Delhi with great honor. However, Nyamat ultimately wanted to be relieved of his court duties. Mohammad Shah agreed on the condition that from then onwards Nyamat Khan used the signature ‘Mohammad Shah Sadarangeele’.
Firoze Khan, either a nephew or son of Nyamat Khan, also became famous as a khayal composer, and signed his compositions as Adarang’. His khayals are of exquisitely chiseled beauty and their contents more philosophical and religious.
6. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar
A great musician, a good teacher and a pioneer in getting the respect for music that it deserved, Paluskar is most well-known for having opened the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. His Ram dhun-Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram was sung at the head of the Dandi March in 1930, and it was a favorite with Gandhi whose prayer meetings always included a rendering of it.
7. Swami Haridas
Deeply learned and widely acquainted with the music of his days, Swami Haridas of the sixteenth century was a strong force in the spread of the dhrupad. He belonged to the tradition of madhura bhakti—adoration expressed in erotic terms. He began the Haridasi School of mysticism.
Ramtanu or Tanna Misra, the boy who came to be known as Tansen later, was from childhood interested and proficient in music. The first real patron of the singer was Raja Ramchandra Baghela of Rewa who conferred the honorific title ‘Tansen’ on him. Being subordinate to Emperor Akbar, the Raja had to agree to Akbar’s request that Tansen be sent to the Imperial Court at Agra. Tansen thus became one of the ‘nine gems’ at Akbar’s courts in 1562. His compositions and style of singing were in the dhrupad tradition. He is supposed to have authored Sangeet Sar, Raga Mata and Sri Ganesha Stotra. He is traditionally considered to have created the new ragas bearing the prefix Miyan-Miyan ki Miyan ki Todi, Miyan ki Malhar. Darbari Kanada is also attributed to him. The musical tradition created by Tansen has come to be known by the name of Senia gharana. Legend has it that Tansen was blessed by Hazrat Mohammad Ghouse with whom he lived on being orphaned at a young age.
Sreenivasa Nayak born in what is now south Maharashtra in 1484 was a miser according to legend till enlightenment came under the tutelage of Vyasaraya, a guru of Vijayanagara emperors. Becoming a member of the order of Haridasas, he turned into Purandaradasa. A prolific composer, he standardised teaching methods in music. He postulated Maya Malavagaula as the standard scale for teaching; even today this is the first raga to be taught to beginners in the Karnataka music style. He also devised graded lessons of basic scale exercises (svaravali), exercises with paired notes (janta varisai), and note patterns (alankara) etc. for training students. He is for obvious reasons called Adi Guru, and the father of Karnataka music.
Born probably in the 17th century in Andhra, Varadayya or Kshetrajna composed padams of great beauty marked by strikingly direct language and simple lyricism. Tie songs express the love of Kshetrajna himself (as a woman) for the lover, Muvva Gopala (also Kshetrajna’s signature) or Lord Krishna.
11. Muthuswami Dikshitar
Highly proficient in music from his very childhood, Muthuswami was born in Thiruvarur in Thanjavur and was trained mainly by his father. His well-known compositions are his Tirtuttani kritts, Navavarana Navavarana Krittis and Navagraha kritts. He has composed certain pieces in uncommon ragas such as Saranga Nata, Kumudakrtya and Amritavarshini which are references for use of these ragas. He innovated musical techniques with certain complex use of varying tempo. Some of his pioneering innovations were: introduction of the violin (for long considered a Western Instrument) into the Karnataka music ensemble; incorporating in his compositions melodic phrases suggestive of Hindustani musical progressions: some of the rages he employs like Brindavani Saranga and Hamir Kalyani show clear indication of his having imbibed the spirit of the North; and the influence of the style and sound of the veena player in his compositions—the gamakas, the range of pitch, the leaps in all the octaves. He is considered one the ‘trinity’ in Karnataka music, the other two being Thyagaraja and Shyama Shastri.
12. Swati Tirunal Rama Varna
Was a nineteenth century Maharaja of Travancore, well-versed in nearly thirteen languages in many of which he was able to write poems. His well-known works include Kuchelopakhyanam and Padmonabha Satakam. He composed varnams, kritis padams and javalts. What is more, his genius extended to Hindustani music, for he composed dhrupads, Khayals and thumris, too. His signature was ‘Padmanabha’ or some variation of this name. Vadivelu, who, with the help of his guru, Muthuswami Dikshitar, had popularized the violin in Karnataka music, was at his court.