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pitilu t. chowdaiah
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In 1903, a nine year old boy stood on the banks of river Kapila with a frown on his face, waiting for his daily boat to arrive. His school was on the other side of the river. A passing scholar by name of Vidyakantha Acharya (of Sosale Mutt) was intrigued by the boy’s sad countenance and enquired him the reason for it. He learned that, having learnt Amara and Raghuvamsha, the boy had no further inclination to learn anything further in the Sanskrit school! He further learnt that the boy’s endearing passion was to learn only one thing – Music! The learned scholar read the boy’s palm and immediately took the boy home and convinced his parents not to coerce him into attending the formal school, but instead allow him to pursue music. This boy would be known later as Pitilu Chowdaiah – the Violin maestro from Mysore.
Chowdaiah was born on 1 January, 1894 to Agastye Gowda and Sundaramma at Tirumalakudalu - eighteen miles from Mysore. The town is at the confluence of rivers Kaveri and Kapila and the greenery that abounds is truly breath taking. The ancient temple of Agasthyeshwara figures in various Puranas. The large fig tree that stands in front of the temple is called the ‘Brahma-Aswatha’. On the banks of Kaveri is the Sosale Mutt. By the banks of Kapila is Tirumalakudalu Narasipura town. These were the environs in which our Violin Maestro had his early childhood. T. Chowdaiah’s mother, convinced by Vidyakantha Acharya decided to put Chowdaiah through Violin classes under his step brother Pakkanna. These didn’t go well and Chowdaiah did not want anything more to do with Pakkanna! Distraught, Sundaramma turned to her brother for help. He decided to take Chowdaiah to Mysore and entrust him in the care of Bidaram Krishnappa for further training in music in 1910. Chowdaiah was sixteen years of age.
For the next few years, Chowdaiah was put through a rigorous training regimen. He used to get up by four in the morning and exercise (Kusti) till eight. From nine in the morning till noon, he would practice the Violin. There was a brief period of rest after lunch. Again from three in the afternoon till five, he had to devote himself to Violin practice. His master used to encourage walks in fresh air till seven in the evening, where after it was again practice till ten in the night! He had to stick to the same single Raga for one full week. Chowdaiah considered Mysuru Vasudevacharya also as his Guru. He accompanied Bidaram Krishnappa on many concerts.
His first public appearance was purely by chance as the Violinist intended for the concert failed to turn up. Bidaram Krishnappa (the main vocalist) asked Chowdaiah to accompany him on stage! This was 1911 and Chowdaiah was just seventeen. But he nonetheless rose to the occasion and made a mark. Chowdaiah gave concerts for close to 55 years! He is credited with the introduction of seven strings in the violin in an Indian context. His reasons for doing this were indeed quite practical. In those days, there were no amplification devices and many a time, the listeners in the last row could seldom hear the concert. In order to get through to them, T. Chowdaiah came up with this ingenious addition.
While seven stringed Violins were being experimented with in the West, it is not clear if T. Chowdaiah was familiar with these adaptations. He none the less managed to bring it into mainstream Indian musical scene successfully.
T. Chowdaiah had an imposing personality – well-built and stocky in appearance. He had bushy eyebrows and a glaring stare which few could forget. He was quite loud and assertive, but never rude. His was a most affable and endearing personality. His vibhuti on his forehead was always impeccably placed and was only contrasted by the sparkling diamond earrings he had on either side. His personal life was not a very happy one. His wife Ramamma passed away within a year of their wedding. Five years hence, Chowdaiah married Nanjamma with whom he spent most of his later years. He was known for dedicating his concerts to his close friends and well-wishers, who were often in dire straits for various reasons. The eminent historian and polyglot Dr S. Srikanta Sastri was one such acquaintance of Pitilu Chowdaiah. When Srikanta Sastri was admitted in K. R. Hospital, Mysore for ill health, Chowdaiah in a gesture of true friendship decided to dedicate a small concert at Srikanta Sastri’s house on Dewan’s Road, Mysore as a tribute & prayer for the Professor’s early recovery.
A similar episode concerned a rich Chettiar businessman in Mysore by the name of Sahukar Channaiah. When Channaiah suffered substantial losses in his later years, he went into depression and ill health. Bidaram Krishnappa (T. Chowdaiah’s Guru) sang for Sahukar Channaiah for a couple of weeks, apparently hastening his convalescence. Channaiah was magnanimous and wished to repay Krishnappa in some form. Krishnappa suggested that Channaiah donate some amount towards the girders for a Temple construction which was ongoing. T. Chowdaiah accompanied many a titan on stage over five decades. There is an interesting narrative as to how Chowdaiah and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar came together. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar was an eminent Carnatic Vocalist and had his concert scheduled at Madras. His Violinist could not turn up for some reason and this left the organisers in a quandary. Incidentally, Chowdaiah was in Madras on that day. They approached him and begged him to fill in the vacancy. He consented. Ariyakudi was none too pleased but agreed begrudgingly. Due to inevitable reasons, Chowdaiah was delayed in arriving at the venue and upon entering the room found Ariyakudi already in concert. Chowdaiah felt slighted, but none the less joined Ariyakudi on stage. The evening special “Shankarabharana” was among Ariyakudi’s favourites and he was superb. Not to be outdone, Chowdaiah rose to the occasion and gave a spectacular performance. This established their adversarial relationship. A fortnight later, they were on stage together again and this time Ariyakudi chose a keerthana by Thyagaraja titled ‘Nidhichalasukhama’. This keerthana requires one to start allowing for a gap of one moment – a technicality that is traditionally adhered to. Ariyakudi started with a gap of one and a half moment, instead of one. His rendition was none the less superlative. The idea was that Chowdaiah could not match this impromptu improvisation. T. Chowdaiah started his rendition with a rather disdainful smile and not only equalled the technicality in metric terms but gave such a performance that he received a standing ovation! After this, Chowdaiah looked at Ariyakudi and remarked “Iyengar Sir, please do not assume that we are unaware of these technical wizardries. We are not only aware of them, but we are equally adept at using them to advantage. But you see, these gimmickries are seldom done and tradition requires being adhered to” - Ariyakudi was taken aback. This incident, surprisingly enough did not engender long term enmity, but instead fostered a warm and affectionate relationship that saw the duo appear together on innumerable occasions over the next four decades – to the point that they were deemed inseparable!
T. Chowdaiah was appointed Asthan Vidwan in 1939 by HH Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. He was Producer and Chief Musical Director of a Kannada film by the name of ‘Vani’. In 1947, the Royal family awarded him the ‘Sangeetha Rathna’ felicitation. Ten years later, the Madras Music Academy bestowed on him the ‘Sangeetha Kalanidhi’ title. Chowdaiah received the Central Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1957 from President Sri Rajendra Prasad. In 1958, the Indian Fine Arts Society conferred on him the ‘Sangeeta Kalasikhamani’ honour. In 1959, he presided over the Mysore Sangeetha Sammelan where he was awarded the ‘Ganakala Sindhu Honour’. In 1960, the Sringeri Mutt gave him the ‘Sangeetha Ratnakara’ award.
His legacy continued in the long list of great Violinists who came under his tutelage. To name a few – R. K. Venkatarama Sastry, V. Sethuram, Palghat S. R. Mani, V. Ramaratnam, K. S. Alagiriswamy, H. R. Seetaram Sastry and H. S. Anasuya. Chowdaiah is credited with at least seventeen keerthanas and five tillana compositions. He was a regular musician at the Akashvani Studios in Mysore. Along with Veena Doreswamy Iyengar, he had the rare distinction of playing music at Chief Minister S. Nijalingappa’s family wedding function! Chowdaiah founded the Ayyanar School of Music in Mysore at the Prasanna Seeta Rama Mandira. He is popularly remembered as ‘Pitulu (fiddle) Chowdaiah’ to this day. The concert hall in Malleswaram, Bengaluru is named in his memory. He passed away on 19 January, 1972 at the age of 72. His affable, endearing persona still lingers on. His music remains timeless.
3.‘Sangeetha Sampradhaya’ by T. Chowdaiah
4.‘Vidwan T. Chowdaiah’ by S. Krishnamurthy