TNS – The phenomenon

There are quite a few Carnatic singers whose music I love to listen to. But if there is one Carnatic singer who has inspired me the most and has never ceased to amaze me with his vidwath, it is Sri T.N. Seshagopalan (TNS)

I had not been able to attend most of his concerts this season but had the good fortune of listening to him at least five times in the last one month. TNS seemed to be in brilliant form in all these concerts. The first opportunity, which was also probably the most memorable, was his performance in a marriage concert. The environment there was far from conducive. Almost everyone assembled there was talking non-stop and there was a lot of noise which didn’t show any signs of abating till the end. Yet, TNS gave one of the most outstanding performances I have heard by anyone in the recent times – one that will stay in my mind for a long time to come. The brindAvana sAranga and hamsanAdam he sang that day will remain etched in my memory forever.

Another very good concert was the one he gave for Hamsanadam (Music School) at MFAC last Sunday. The neraval and kalpanA swaram he sang that day for heccarikagA rArA (yadukulakAmbOji) in kanDa Ekam and the behAg RTP in kanDa cApu were just phenomenal. The pantuvarALi and kalyANi he sang at Sri Ananthapadmanabhaswamy Temple, Adyar just a few days back were just too good. It’s been a long time since I heard someone sing such a brilliant pantuvarALi.

TNS backed all this up with a splendid performance today at Sri Vedanta Desikar Devasthanam in Mylapore. There are so many things about the concert worth mentioning. The hour long subhapantuvarALi was top class. So was the brilliant bahudAri alapana. Some of the calculations used in the kalpanA swarams for “shrI satyanArAyaNam” were so beautiful and effective. The extensive swaram patterns and kOrvais that were put in kanDa gati showcased how adept he is mathematically. Not long back, while speaking at a function organized to pay homage to the khanjira maestro Sri G. Harishankar, TNS had held the audience spell bound not only with his speech but also with his konnakkOl !!!

TNS’ humorous side also kept surfacing in these concerts. When violin vidwan Sri M. Chandrasekaran told him at MFAC that he was feeling very hot and asked if there were any bright lights focused on the stage, TNS immediately requested the organizers to dim the lights thus: “Konjam light light-aagave irukkatume!” While singing the anupallavi of “alaippAyudE kaNNA” almost near the stipulated end time of today’s concert, TNS looked at his wrist watch and sang “nEramAvadariyAmalE miga vinOdamAna muralIdharA en manam” 🙂 . While singing the caraNam of the same song, he had a few words to say to the team that was shooting the video of the concert with bright lights directed towards the stage: “teLinda nilavu paTTappagal pOl eriyudE un dikkai nOkki enniru puruvam neriyudE” 🙂

Finally, a couple of points from today’s concert to illustrate how TNS intelligently sings the lyrics: While singing Sri Kulasekara Azhwar’s pAsuram “ceDiyAy valvinaigaL tIrkkum tirumAlE” from Perumal Tirumozhi as viruttam in the rAgam hamsAnandi, TNS sang the word aDiyArum in the lower octave and vAnavarum in the upper octave, as though illustrating their respective positions in this world. The word paDiyAy was sung repetitively and progressively using the notes “s-s-s”, “r-r-r”, “g-g-g” & “m-m-m” as though illustrating the steps (paDi)!!

There are so many more things that can be written about this multi-faceted genius. But I would stop here for now and end this post by praying God to bless TNS with a long life filled with many more years of such distinguished service to the world of music.

Lec Dem on Tamil Padams

The mother-daughter duo of Dr. Nirmala Sundararajan and Dr. Subhashini Parthasarathy gave a very informative lec dem on Tamil padams on the morning of 31st Dec 2007 as a part of Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha’s music festival. Dr Subhashini began the session by reading out the write up they had prepared and then the duo sang 11 tamil padams with Sri A.G.A. Gnanasundaram on the violin and Sri S.J. Arjun Ganesh on the mrudangam.

Here are some excerpts from the lec dem based on the extensive notes taken. I have taken the liberty to group whatever was said under the different sections mentioned below.



3rd Century BC marks the first stage of history in which South Indian music was given a definite form and status. Two types of poetic compositions emerged based on set themes and specific situations:

  • Aham – love poetry: Based on man-woman love maturing in wedded life; dealt with sentiments of human love
  • Puram – non-love poetry: Based on the heroic milieu of war and court life; gave descriptions of war and other heroic accomplishments of the kings

The natural objects or things peculiar to each regional landscape and lifestyle formed the background of these poems

All aham verses were classified into:

  • kurinji – union in love
  • pAlai – separation in love
  • marudam – wife sulkings
  • mullai – wifely virtue and forbearance
  • neidal – lamentation by the wife

The aham poets of the Sangam period served as a model for the Tamil poets of the succeeding centuries. They used the aham variety as a vehicle to express their devotion and love for Lord Shiva, Muruga and Krishna. Thus the songs couched in divine love became the dominant mode of expression in music, dance and literature

There was a parallel development of royal romantic poetry along with Bhakti poetry. The songs composed in praise of the deities and kings evoked shringara rasa in all its aspects

This concept of madura bhakti or the thalaivan-thalaivi concept is also seen in Tamil works such as Andal’s Nachiar Thirumozhi, Divyaprabandam of other Azhwars, Manickavasagar’s Thirukkovai, Thiruvasagam and other works which stressed that the path of devotion to Lord and righteous living led on to make one’s life worthwhile and ultimately to attain salvation. The characters Thalaivan, Thalaivi and Thozhi stand respectively for the Iraivan Paramatma, Bhaktan Jivatma and the Guru who leads the Bhakta on to the path of mukti.

The seeds of Bhakti margam that was sown by some of the noble souls during the 6th century AD germinated into the Bhakti movement in the succeeding centuries. This originated in the Tamil Desam and spread beyond its boundaries and gave birth to Bhakti isai in various languages in India. Hundreds of literary conventions had been knitted around the theme of divine love, borrowed by poets for expressing the various moods and mental states of their love for the almighty. From that time, a padam came to denote a musical monologue which resembles a kirtana in structure and propagates the sentiment of love for God through innumerable aspects of Thalaivan-Thalaivi kadhal

In his book “Musical Tradition of Tamil Nadu”, Sri M. Arunachalam clearly states that the father of the particular type of poetry – Tamil Padam, is Muthuthandavar (1525 – 1625 AD). 24 of his padams are available in print and notation. Papavinasa Mudaliar (1650 – 1725) lived just after Muthuthandavar and is popular for his Nindastuti padams. The tradition of Muthuthandavar was followed by Marimutha Pillai (1712-1787AD) who was also popular for his Nindastuti style, Kavikunjara Bharati (1810-1896 AD) and later by Vaideeswarankoil Subbarama Iyer (latter part of the 19th century) and Ghanam Krishna Iyer, who lived during King Amarasimha’s period – 1787-1798 ) and a host of other Tamil padam composers who emulated their predecessors and their padams. Muthuthandavar and Marimutha Pillai sang in praise of Lord Shiva; Subbarama Iyer and a few others sang on Lord Muruga and some others on various deities and patrons. What was a social art earlier developed into a temple art in the times of the Chola kings who fostered the art by giving liberal grants. Three distinct classes of artists, though from the same family, were responsible for the development of music and dance – the dancer called the thallipenDu in the Chola inscription, the naTTuvanAr or the dance master, the meLakkArar or the nAdaswara vidwan. The custodians of the two arts – music and dance, in the Sangam period virtually disappeared from the Pandya nadu and were reborn as the thallipendu and melakkarar in the Chola nadu. Thus they evolved themselves into what we now call melakkarar or nadaswara vidwans. After this transition in name and form and the place of performance, Tamil isai has been developing continuously through the centuries down to 20th century



Muthuthandavar was born in Sirkazhi, also the birthplace of Thirugnanasambandar, and belonged to the family of musicians described above. He sang in praise of Lord Nataraja, influenced by his study of Thiruvasagam. Thandavar’s padams have been popular from the latter half of the 17th century. He has composed 14 padams addressed by the Thalaivi to the Thalaivan, 6 to the comrade or Thozhar, 3 padams by the Thozhar to the Thalaivi and 1 is a Yesal padam. There is one more padam which makes a reference to his receiving golden coins from Lord Nataraja on the golden steps leading to the Chitsabhai. Yesal padam is a song imparting the motive of ridicule or parihasam of the deity referring to some of the legends in the puranas. This padam is in saurashtra raga – Thirumutho Pandalin Keezh. It is not in kirtana form but is couched in four couplets. In each couplet, the love sick maiden asks a question to her mother in the first part to which her mother replies in the second part. “Oh mother! Who is this person proceeding here under a pearl canopy worshipped by Lord Brahma and other celestials”? Her mother replies: “This is your Lord Nataraja dancing in the perambalam for the Bhaktha doing penance”. Muthuthandavar’s Yesal padam is probably a unique specimen



In the modern period, a padam denotes a highly descriptive piece with music of a very high order embracing minor embellishments and graces. All Telugu padams are rendered in a very very slow tempo while the Tamil padams are sung in a slightly faster tempo, sometimes in an intermediate speed also. A detailed description of the raga is made possible by the use of subtle nuances and variations figuring in the music of the padams. The different sets of sangathis found in the kritis are absent in the padams but the gaps provided in the sahitya are filled up with long karvais and intricate gamakas.

Many padams are in identical varnameTTus and this has led to the standardization of certain melodies in Carnatic music. The great composers were very much captivated by these tunes and have adopted them in their compositions. Kshetragna’s padam “evvaDE”, Govindasamayya’s “mAlini vinavE”, Sabhapathaya’s “dArijUcu”, Ghanam Krishna Iyer’s “tanakku tAne”, Thyagaraja Swami’s “manasu svAdInamai”, Muthuswami Dikshitar’s akshaya linga vibhO” and Papanasam Sivan’s “mahAlakshmI jaganmAta” and some others are all in identical tunes.



To sing padams correctly and with bhAva, a musician should have

  • good raga gnanam
  • good grasp of the viLamba layA or slow tempo and
  • ability to clearly pronounce the sAhityA

Subtle inflections as a pronunciation of a particular sequence of vowels and weight of tone at heavy places are essential for the correct rendering of padam singing which takes fresh shape with each new singing



Padams are sung in the latter half of concerts as the voice would have become mellow by that time


Some popular Tamil padam composers:

  • Muthuthandavar
  • Papavinasa Mudaliar
  • Marimutha Pillai
  • Kavi kunjara Bharathi
  • Madura kavi
  • Mambazha Kavi
  • Ghanam Krishna Iyer
  • Vasudeva Kavi
  • Rama Bharathi
  • Shaji -2
  • Vaideeswarankoil Subbarama Iyer
  • Rama Kavi
  • Shenbagamannar
  • Sabhapathi Mudaliar
  • Mazhavai Chidambara Bharathi


The following Tamil padams were sung in the lec-dem:

  • idai viDa innum – sAvEri – rUpakam – vaidIswarankoil subbarama Iyer
  • summa summa – aTANA – ADi – ghanam krishna iyer
  • nithiraiyil soppanathil – pantuvarALi – Adi – ghanam krishna iyer
  • Edum kANum – kAmbOji – Adi – kavi kunjara bhArati
  • yAr pOi sholluvAr – tODi – misra cApu – vaidIswarankoil subbarAma iyer
  • teruvil varAnO – khamAs – Adi (tisra gati) – muthuthAnDavar
  • ethai kanDu – kalyAni – rUpakam – mArimutha piLLai
  • yArukkAgilum – bEgaDa – misra cApu – mAmbazha kavi
  • mugathai kATTi – bhairavi – misra cApu – pApavinAsa mudaliAr
  • ini enna pEchu – sahAnA – rUpakam – vaidIswarankoil subbarAma iyer
  • cheDikkuLLE – suruTTi – rUpakam – vaidIswarankoil subbarAma iyer