Tamizh Thyagayyar – The life and Music of Papanasam Sivan : Lec-Dem by Dr.Rukmini Ramani

02 Jan

Lecture and Vocal by : Dr.Rukmini Ramani

vocal Support : Chitra  ( daughter of Dr.Rukmini Ramani)

Violin : Achuta Rao

Mrudangam :  ?

Dr.Rukmini Ramani, started her lecture by stating how privileged she is to be born into such a family. How privileged she is to be born to him, listened to his singing, to watch him compose and note down many of them for him and to teah his compositions to the disciples.

She said, she would start the morning with a varnam and a ganesha krithi composed by her father.

01 sAmi nAn undan aDimai ( varNam) – nAttakurinji

Sri Papanasam Sivan had composed 15 krithis on Lord Ganesha. In fact, he had also written 3 mangaLams on Ganesha, she said, and it is not known that the other prominent composers ever did one so.

02 sadAshiva kumAra – suddha sAvEri

Life and Times

Papanasam Sivan was born on the 26th of September 1890, to Ramamrita Iyer and Yogambal. He died on  a shuklapanchami day, 1st October 1973. His mother and maternal grand father were proficient singers and they used to perform at temples and marriage functions. Even though she hadn’t learned to read and write, she knew more than 300 of the Thyagaraja compositions. Ramayya, as was his orinal name, moved to Trivandrum with his brother and mother after the death of his father. The family had a younge sister, who passed away at a very young age and there is not much mention about her on the later days.

Moving into Trivandrum at an age of 7, he did undergo the education as it was in Kerala. He spoke Malayalam and learned Sanskrit. It was here he was attracted to the music of Neelakanta Sivan, under whom he learned tevaram and tirupugazh. Neelakanta Sivan was a scholar and an eminent musician and the learning accompanying him for bhajans ( where he was asked ot sing) and concerts continued for 7-8 years until the death of Neelakanta Sivan.

Nemam Natesan and Sankarasivam taught him the varisais and a couple of varNams, which constituted for his early musical learning. The rest he  learned by himself.  By hte time he was 17, he passed  out from Maharaja’s Sanskrit College as ‘upAdhyAya’. Trivandrum at that time was prominent with musicians, including Harikeshanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar.  It was at this time, he learned music under Noorani Mahadeva Bhagavathar. In 1910, after the demise of his mother and Neelakanta Sivan ( around the same time), he left Trivandrum and started his nomadic life, wandering around from one temple to the other. It is during this journey, he reached his home town. His paternal uncle ( a scholar in Tamil) was a teacher at Papanasam for Physical Education and Tamil. He used to go there often and sing in the temple every morning.

One day as he was coming out of the temple after his morning bhajan, the villagers who listened to him noted that “pApanAsathukku Sivan vandittEn” ( correct my Tamil 🙂 ), and the name eventually stuck. Dr.Rukmini Ramani said, he used to sign as “Papanasam Ramayya Sivan”

He continued his travel and was staying at the Marathanallur Sadguru Swamigal MaDham” for over 6 months. Stalwarts used to visit this place and used to perform regularly. It was here , he wrote ( or developed) 16 harikatha upanyasams and performed. He continued to perform bhajans all over Tamilnadu until 1959 ( for over 40 years)

In the year 1921, K K Sundaram, brought him to Chennai to sing at Kapaleeshwaran Temple. He was fond of this temple and continued to perform there until 1972.  After his bhajan in 1972, he told those close to him that next year he will not be here to perform , but they have to continue the bhajans in his absence. He conducted the bhajans for 51 years at the temple.

First Concert and initial Compositions

He used to visit the temples at Kumbhakonam, Tanjavur and Thiruvarur and whenever he perform , other bhagavathers used to come and listen to him. It was at Tiruvarur, he composed his first kriti “Unai thudikka arulthai’

03 unnai thudikka arulthai – kuntaLa varALi

The second krithi composed by him was ‘ malariNai tuNaiyE’ , which was very similar to the more popular ‘paripAlayamAm’ in reetigaula. Dr. Rukmini Ramani, noted that it is not sure who tuned first ( Swati thirunal composition was set to tune later in 20th century)

04 malariNai tuNayE – rIti gauLa

His first concert was in the year 1923 at thiruvayyar accompanied by Papa Venkataramaiah and Tanjavur Vaidyanathan, which lasted 3 hrs. Since then, he sang many concerts at temples as well as at marriages and other functions. Usually he sings only the trinity compositions, unless people insist on singing his own compositions. His viruttam singing was very famous, and was asked to sing them as often by rasikas.

Tamizh Thyagayya

It was Simizhi ( or Chimizhi) Sundaram Iyer , who called his Tamizh Thyagayya first, after a concert at Thiruvayyar with Lalgudi Jayaraman and T K Murthy, after seeing the similarities in style of his compositions to the saint Thyagaraja. “Tamizh thyAgayya purandu vittAr’ or so was his words, which Dr Rukmini recalls, was written down by her father in his notebook.

The flurry of compositions have continued since then. He used to write down in whichever paper he could get hold of at that time , hence many of them would have been lost. Neela Ramamoorthy, the elder daughter of Papanasam Sivan and Dr.Rukmini’s sister was the first to attempt to collate all them.

He used to compose with the mudra ‘rAmadAsan’. It might have been derived from his original name ‘rAmayya’. He has one son, named ‘rAmadAsan’ who did not live long. May be that could be one of the possibilities. In fact,there are many compositions which do not carry his mudra in them. There was the other ‘rAmadAsa’ in the form of ‘Thyagaraja’ who composed and sang about  Lord Rama and this ‘rAmadAsa’ wrote kritis on Shiva and Vishnu.

Papanasam Sivan had written many kriti’s in Tamil , including varNams and Mangalam, so as to perform an entire concert only of his compositions.

on a question on his last composition, she said no one is sure, as he used to write 4-5 kritis a day during his last days.

On a question at the end, Dr.Rukmini Ramani said that there is a Sanskrit dictionary written by him, called samskruta bhAshA shabda samudra: , which is very useful for musicians and music lovers. To another question, she said, the vageyakara composed nearly 60 kritis in Sanskrit, but she missed singing them today.

Marriage and Family

He continued to travel from one place to other, and the relatives wanted him to get married and settle in one place. Thus they got him married to Lakshmi Ammal. She continued to serve him as a devoted wife, supporting him in his musical career. Musicians like MSS and DKP used to come to their home, and used to cherish the coffee serverd by Lakshmi Ammal, resulting in a joke that they are coming to savor the coffee and not for the Bhajan. Lakshmi Ammal was also offer lyrics, if some one does not know the song during bhajans.

Divine intervention

It is obvious that he was blessed  by the Gods. Dr.Rukmini says, there are instances where it was said that the gods themselves have come to help Papanasam Sivan. One such instance she narrated was at the ‘kachukumalai  Murukan temple (?) . He reached there ailing with stomach ache and eye infection and was not in a position to perform bhajans. It was then a ‘guru’ came to the town and offered him milk and a drop for his eyes. Needless to say, he had recovered in time and gave bhajan from 8:00 pm till 1:00 am. No one had seen this guru before or later, or ever heard of him.

At another instance ( which I seems to have missed the details – help solicited) is about the thieves entering the house for stealing the money. Listening to his singing villagers came in large numbers, as the thieves vanished from the scene.

Congress and nationalism

Papanasam Sivan used to be a staunch congress supporter, and used to like its leaders, especially Mahatma Gandhi. He has composed many krithis with this theme. Between 1914 to 1929, there used to e regular Congress meetings, organised by leaders like C S Krishnayyar and Satyamurthy. Two Sivan’s were popular in those meetings, Tirperinalur (?) sivan for Annadanam and Papanasam Sivan for his singing.  The Congress leaders, especially Satyamurthy wanted him to sing prayers during these meetings. The kriti ‘gAndhi pOloru shAnthi swarUpanE‘ and ‘ulakinenkilum‘ etc was created under this influence.


When Theosophical Society wanted to run a music school,( Sri Sankara Menon ,then the president), it was Papanasam Sivan they sought out first, thanks to his Mylapore Bhajans.  To his humility, he said, I can’t teach. ” You sing, we will learn” , came the reply. During 1934 to 1939, he supported the Kalakshetra writing and teaching music. It was here he composed the popular ‘kANA kan kOTi vEnDum’

06 kANA kaN kOTi vENDum – kAmbOji

07 nArAyaNa nalinAyaka lOchana – shyAma


Rukminidevi Arundel wanted Papanasam sivan to sing for her dance. She invited him once to a Ceylon Dance program ‘ShivanE, you have to come”. Though he joked on the ‘shivanE’ ( someone can fill in the tamil words here ), he accompanied her, singing the kritis as pleased to him. Rukminidevi Arundel, improvised her dance on the stage, matching to the free flowing music of Sivan, by often developing on stage improvisations.

He had tuned and translated many Sanskrit verses for Dance programs.


Even before he came into writing songs for cinemas and being part of them, he used to act in dramas and other stage programs.  One such drama ‘mArkAndEyan’ was written ( both dialogue and songs)  and directed by him, apart from being in the cast.

He was reluctant to accept offers from movies. He said, he cant write the way they wanted. He agreed on a condition that he will write the way he felt and they will fit it appropriately for the movies.

He entered the movie world in 1935 ( seetha kalyanam). His songs were so popular, that even laymen ( or those with no musical knowledge) started liking them. Dr.Rukmini Ramani, sang may of those songs ( few lines) , including ‘manmatha leelaye’ , appane paduvum etc.  Many movies, despite their lack of meat, used run on the music and songs. his music was filled with bhakti, philosophy, Music, tamizh language.  Even his love songs will be rich musically and lyrically with the least bit of vulgarity.

In those days, actors were singers, and prominent carnatic musicians were actors in movies. Seetha Kalyanam was directed by Murukadoss and had S.Rajam and S. Balachander in the cast. GNB and MSS were anyway famous for their Meera , Musiri Subramanya Iyer acted in ‘thukkaram’. Papanasam Sivan, himself acted in 4 movies ( kuchela, kubera kuchela,thyAga bhOgi , bhakta chEla ).

In kuchela, krishna was doing the ‘abhishekam’ for his long lost friend, with the ‘tAmbUlam’and the rest. He said the dialogue, ‘enakkidellAm vEnamA krishnA’ and closed his eyes, going into a trance, until Ponangudi Mani, woke him up from his divine state.

In the movie ‘chandralekha’ directed by S S Vasan and produced by Gemini, there is word ‘mOhanakara’, which was not sitting pretty. The director wanted to remove the word. Sivan had no issues whatsoever, however, they weren’t able to replace the word with any other, as “Sivan pOtta vArthaikku” , you cant find an alternate.

Once, P U Chinnappa, the lead actor refused to sing , songs written by Sivan. The director had only one option, he will retain Papanasam Sivan and omit the refusing actor from the movie. He came and apologised later.

Papanasam Sivan had written songs for more that 98 films and over 970-980 kritis. Typcial to such people , he never asked for any money and whatever was given to him was eventually donated or given away. It is important to note that the money involved in movies weren’t small.

The contemporaries

Many Play back singers and Carnatic singers used to come to their home for listening to him and learn. MKT, P Leela , Vasundhara ( mother of Vyjayanthimala) and other play back singers wanted to learn the songs from him directly. Carnatic Musicians like MSS , DKJ, Andal , Radha-jayalakshmi, T V Ratnam etc used to be regulars at their house, and Rukmini was asked to sit and listen.

There used to be healthy competition among the play back singers over recording his songs, as many of them wanted to sing them.  ‘Kanne en kaNmaniyE’ was sang and recorded by both Leela and Vasundharadevi.

The house where Papanasam Sivan used to live,  is now changed hands many times, one of the recent occupiers once called Rukmin Ramani, asking herto check a particular spot, which they said had certain vibrations. She says, it was the place where he used to sit and compose.  He wakes up at odd times and call out ‘Rukma’ and ask her to wrtie down the lyrics. He used to ask her to bring back the paper later , after 10 days or so, and make the necessary corrections.

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, once wanted to write notations of his compositions for dinamani, as one per week.  Dr.Rukmin was invited to Trivandrum, where he was then staying, and this was published in vAnoli ( which used to have one composition per week) , for the next 6 months.

Papanasam Sivan used to respect the musicians and they used to respect his compositions. Many of the contemparories used to perform his kritis in their concerts.  Ariyakudi popularised, kArtikEya gAngEya, KVN  with kAnavEndAmO and nanganallUr , MMI with karpagamE etc etc. Madurai Mani Iyer, once quoted saying  if I am not singing ‘karpagamE’ in concerts, I sing that at least 6 times at home.

Incidental Compositions

sri vAtApi gaNapatiyE : Dr.Rukmin Ramani, used to visit Thiruvarur, and once told her father that the huge Ganapathi idol is very attractive, that reminds her the vAtApi ganapatim kriti, and she did not feel like coming back from there. He was having a concert that day, and on his return, he composed this kriti and notated to her.

07 srI vAtApi gaNapatiyE – sahAna

Lalgudi Jayaraman, came home and learned this from Papanasam Sivan, and commented that he sing different sangathis every time he teaches this to Lalgudi, and it was very difficult to learn.

Kharaharapriya, seems to be a favourite of him. There are as many as 29 compositions in Kharaharapriya,  some of them are very popular in the concert circuit. Appan avatharitha, parAmukham Enayya, srI srInivasa, jAnaki pathE etc are very popular.

Interestingly, his films songs can also be sang in concerts. Few of his songs also had the nindastuthi ‘ polla puliyE’ , nanri kettavar’ , manamE kanamE etc are the example for such krithis.

08 ennappa nallava, en thAyum nallava – punnAgavarALi

Though he is a Shiva bhakta, he had also composed many kritis on Vishnu ( kaNNanE paNi manamE , muraLIdhara manO mOhana, srInivAsa tava  etc) and a few on both the lords ( mA ramaNan umA ramaNan etc).

Ramnad Krishnan, was another regular at his residence coming home to learn and sing. In one of such sitting, Sivan mentioned about  the kriti, ninnuvinA nAmadendO , in navarasa kannaDa, which is played with many instrumentalist. According to him, Thyagaraja would not have composed or sang like this with all those sangatis.  When they were on their way to the bhajan, Ramnad Krishan requested him to sing the kriti he was mentioning in the morning.  Sivan, instead of singing the thyagaraja kriti,  created one of his own ‘nAnoru viLaiyattu bommayA’ in the same ragam.

09 nanoru viLaiyAttu – navarasa KannaDa

He used to like the way K V Narayanaswamy used to sing. KVN was also a regular at their home. Once reaching his house, KVN asked him whether he had visited the nanganallur temple and the Rajeswari Koil , and invited him to go along. This triggered the compositions of ‘nanganallur in anandabhairavi’ and ‘ enn manam usalAda viDalAmA’ , the same night. Sivan called him back the next day and sang it for him.

influence of earlier vaggeyakaras

You can observe many influences of the trinitys and the earlier composers.

Gopalakrishna Bharati : the kriti ‘kANa vENDAmO’ was styled to the compositions of Gopalakrishna Bharati. Many people mistake this to be a composition of GKB, and once the AIR announcer did the same mistake.  The kriti became eternal after K V Narayanaswamy popularised this.

Thyagaraja : there are many krithis composed, which are modelled on the famous Thyagaraja kritis.   karunai seyvai ( PS ) – raghunAyaka ( T ) , haranE enrum ( PS ) – hari nEnendu  ( T ), ninne nera namiti ( T )  – Papanasam Sivan kriti escapes me ! –

Shyamashastry : the kriti kAmAkshi gauri issimilar to the famous swara jati

Muthuswamy Dikshitar : The madhyama kala prayogams of Dikshitar was extensively seen in the compositions of Papanasam Sivan. The kritis SrI viswanAtham bhajEham, malariNai tunayE , gOmati thAyE etc are some of the prominent once. He also used the chittaswarams in many of his compositions.


The simplicity and humilty of the man reflects in his music as well. His music touched the listeners heart. Due to his formal education in Sanskrit, and the lack of the same in Tamil, the compositions had a lot of Sanskrit words in them. People used to question this ( citing ‘gajavadana karuNa sadana’, and in one of the meeting at Bharatiya Vidyabhavan, eminent Tamil Poet  Vali, supported him saying the Sanskrit words he used in compositions are the commonest words in Sanskrit like ‘nAdhA’ , ‘prabhO’ etc. You dont need a dictionary to understand these words.

In the recent years, Tanjavur University came up with some argument ( someone named Bhaskar)that some krithis, including kArthikEya gAngEya and karunakarane shivashankarane etc are not a composition of Papanasam Sivan. The Tamil Poet Kalki ( who has written the beautiful kAtrinilE varum gItam etc) , came out in public staking claims to these compositions. they havent lasted long.


The state and the rasikas have honoured the great musician with many awards and titles. He was  given the title ‘Shiva Punya gAnamati’ given by Paramacharya was one which he was very happy about. he ws given Sangita kalAnidhi in 1972 ( she joked that during that time musician awarded with Sangita kalanidhi , did not live for another year, and he too was not an exception). He was given Padma Bhushan in 1965, and Isai Perarinjar , Sangeetha Sahitya Kalamani were few other notale credits.

The Palace road is now renamed after him and is now called ‘Papanasam Sivan Road’.


He died on the 1st of October 1973, afte being ill briefly. He was not taking any medicine, and was meditating. He ws taken to Isabella Hospital towards the end, and he noted to his relatives that the time has come. Dr.Rukmini Ramani, remember sensing the smell of ‘pavizhamalli’ flower inside the hospital, as the time closed in.


He was one devoid of any ego.  He interacted with every one with the same humility. He sings to a small child as he do to a musician. He went every where he was invited. He received every awards and recognitions with the same detachment. He went toreceive ‘isai perarinjar (?) , with a shirt torn near the shoulder, and he was very casual about it, when it was brought to his notice. He used to say that most of the people are born with love and bhakti, and I am born with live , bhakti and music. Dr.Rukmini Ramani, requested the rasikas to now be the torch bearer of this legend and his music. On her part, they have instituted a trust on his name and they conduct programs, apart form awarding musicians performing Papanasam Sivan kritis. The first year , it was done at their home, which later moved to the trust under the leadership of D K Pattammal, which now conducts yearly music programs.

She ended her lecture with a viruttam ( on request) and the madhyamAvati kriti.

10 kundram Endi , kuzhir mazhai kAthavan ( viruttam) – hamsAnandi

srInivAsa  tiruvenkaTa – hamsAnandi

11 ADum mayilAy ( viruttam ) – madhyamAvati

karpagamE – madhyamAvati

12 srI rAma jaya mangaLam – surutti

Another of those very insightful Lecture demonstrations at the Essae Music Foundation. The program was organised meticulously and was attended by many , from musicians to rasikas.  The musical program of the year and a very gratifying indeed.

Disclaimer : This is based on my notes from a running lecture and I would have made many errors ( some factual) and omitted few details.  Mistakes, whatsoever, are purely because of my inability to understand and comprehend the topic in full. The lecture was in Tamil and that too would come in as a handicap.


Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Lec-Dem, Uncategorized


Tags: , ,

3 responses to “Tamizh Thyagayyar – The life and Music of Papanasam Sivan : Lec-Dem by Dr.Rukmini Ramani

  1. Subramanian Sridhar

    June 13, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks. Learned so much about this multifaceted composer. He is the sobers of carnatic music. He could sing, compose for classical music, film music, bhajans, in many languages. My humble pranams to this great soul.

  2. Kumar Rengasamy

    March 31, 2018 at 9:52 am

    What a great Maestro! I just learnt more insight into his divine contribution to MUSIC TAMIZH world. Such great souls are the real blessings for humanity. It is the duty of Tamizh Music Community to spread his kirtis for the well being of people. Very easily understood and so soothing to listen. New generation Singers should take this for a Long period. Thanks

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