My first introduction to Dandapani Desigar was through the film Nandanar. Though I had not seen the film, I did listen to the songs and enjoyed them, especially songs like Kaana vendaaamo, Pitham teliya, Iyye methakadinam. I had also heard the naamaavali ‘Ennappan allavaa’ being sung by Sethalapathy Balu at the bhajan sessions around the Kapali temple, but realised it was from Nandanar much later when I saw the film finally. My Guru Shri KSK always spoke highly of Desigar and his musical abilities. KSK introduced me to the compositions of Desigar like Unnai andri in Bhavani, Arulvaai angayarkanni in Dharmavati and Ennai nee maravade in Amrutavarshini. I came across a book of Desigar’s compositions in my Guru’s house and got intrigued by ragams like Tandavam and started singing it in ragamalika swarams etc. I was also introduced to the ragam Komalangi and a tune of Desigar’s of the words Narayananai tuthippaai written by Raghava Ramanuja Dasar. Nearly 20 years back I heard a superb rendition of this song by Shri ‘TAFE’ Mahadevan, in a concert for the Rama Nama Yagna Mandali in Sastri hall. Incidentally Shri Mahadevan’s grandson is cricketer Abhinav Mukund, who opens the batting for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji trophy and is in the Chennai Superkings team in the IPL – Just some trivia on the side! If I remember right, Shri Mahadevan also song Bhavani ragam followed by Unnai andri in that concert. I also started singing Komalangi in viruttams and ragamalika swarams. I even did an RTP once in Krishna Gana Sabha. Once after a concert in Bharath Kalachar, the stage and film actor ARS (remember the police IG who begs Kamal for help in the tamizh film Nayakan!) came up to me and said he liked Komalangi very much because it was the name of a drama character from an old historical play he had done! The next few times he came to my concert he kept asking me if Komalangi was on the agenda!
Coming back to Desigar, my Guru wanted me to sing some of his compositions and I sang Arulvaai in a radio programme. Palghat Raghu who played mrudangam for me that day enquired about the song and was quite impressed with the quality of the composition and its classical nature. A few years back I had travelled to Cleveland with Shri AKC Natarajan and he sang Oho kaalame ( a composition of Vedanayakam Pillai and set to music by desigar) and said that no one sings it these days and that I should sing it. I kept bugging him time and again for the notation and could not get it. Later I found a recording of Desigar’s rendition and learnt it up immediately. AKC also mentioned about Tirumagale in Todi, that Desigar had set to music and how AKC wanted to learn it so that he could combat the Tamaden swami rendition of Karakurichi Arunachalam.
My guru also narrated an interesting story about the ragam Saranga tarangini. GNB upon once being told that Rajarathnam played Kalyani and did an expansive vinyasa omitting the
rishabha gandhara for some time. GNB hummed the phrases and found it had enough to be a ragam of its own and composed the song Samana rahite. Since the raga name was not known GNB decided to christen it Ramaasadani and TR Balu sang it on the radio. Desigar, after listening to the radio programme immediately called GNB and congratulated him and also said that the raga had an older name called Saaranga tarangini.
A few months back I got a call from Shri Muthukumaraswamy Sarma a disciple of Desigar and a very close associate of guru asking me if I could write something about Desigar for a small magazine in Tamizh that he was editing. It was he who told me that this year happened to be the birth centenary of Desigar and he wanted to have a special programme on that occassion. I mentioned this to Sriram V and he immediately got Sruti to write a special article. Sriram V gives annual talks during the music season to an invited audience every year on various music related topics especially personalities organised by Mr Chari of Tag centre. This year one of the talks is to be on Desigar. Since this is not an open event I hope to get some clippings of that recording and play it on the next episode of the podcast and talk to Sriram about Desigar and the info that his ‘historian’ mind managed to dig up.
As I was sitting and thinking about a suitable theme for this year’s Jaya TV concert, I decided MM Dandapani Desigar would be a good theme especially in the context of his birth centenary. The Jaya TV concert every year has been a good forum for me to concentrate on programmes with specific focus on different themes. I have particularly enjoyed the experience of sitting down and preparing for the concert and it has been a challenge to remain fresh every year. Fortunately the presence of so many different composers and poets helps me in my efforts. This year I have mentioned MM Dandapani Desigar as the theme and and intend to sing some of his compositions as well as a couple of songs that he has set to music. A book of his compostions “Tamizh Isai Paamalai” and some help from Shri Muthukumaraswamy with musical notations of Shri Desigar’s tunes has been invaluable.
Perusing the 60 odd compositions of Desigar and another 50 odd songs that he set to music, it is evident that mainstream carnatic music missed out on a real classy vidwan with a firm grounding in traditional values and a rebellious mind that dwelt into the realm of the unfamiliar and novel. Apart from the innumerable rare ragams that he has employed, he has also been at ease in his setting of Tirumagale in Todi or Ezhisai aagilum in Kalyani cascading the pallavi with many beautiful sangatis. Today I can only say that it is sad that Desigar has not been given his due mostly due to the politics of his time more than anything else.