The Raja of Ramnad - these words itself are very special to my mother and my Thatha. Maharaja Shanmukha Raghunatha Sethupathy was the last who had the kingdom and later it was taken away by the Zamindari Act. He was also a Minister in the Central Govt for some time. Thatha and the Raja were class mates in Presidency college and were cricket-mates. The royal family of Ramnad, have a great culture. Even though they were royal descendants belonging to the Mukkulathor, members of the royal family would address others with respect. Even a child was addressed with respect by them. Addressing anybody by their first names was not in their practice and as a result nicknames were awarded. One of the great violinists, who used to laugh with a peculiar mannerism was called 'Gubeer' Iyer (The Grandfather of Lalgudi G Jayaraman). Thereafter he was always addressed as 'Gubeer'. My Thatha who, during one of the games, fell while attempting to catch the ball. This entire act reportedly resembled a Korali Viddaikaaran of those times. And from then on my thatha got to be known as Korali Iyengar. Thus did everyone get their own nicknames while the royal family maintaining the custom of not calling anyone by their first names.
Even though they were friends, the Raja always welcomed Thatha as "Vaanga Korali" and my Thatha in turn always addressed him as Maharaja. The royal connection continues till now. Our family doctor is a descendant of this very family. Dr Prasad, nephew of Shankukha Raghunatha Sethupathy, is affectionately called by his kith and kin as Pressy. His mother, Ganesha Kunjara Naachiar, the sister of Raja Shanmukha Raghunatha Sethupathy and mom were very close. Shri Kashinath Dorai, her brother together used to narrate a lot of stories about music in the royal durbar. They were all descendants of the great Bhaskara Sethupathy, the great patron of Swami Vivekananda who had sponsored the Swami's trip to Chicago to the Parliament of the World's Religions where he rendered his famous speech beginning with these words "Sisters and brothers of America".
The Ramnad samasthanam patronized great musical scholars like Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Ramnad (Poochi) Srinivasa Iyengar. Sri Kasinath Dorai used to narrate countless anecdotes and stories about their musical plights to mom. Days and days, hours and hours in the huge patio of Ramnad House in Cenotaph Road, (Now the Russian Consulate), became a platform for improving her acumen in musical history and musical techniques of Ramnad lineage. Incidentally Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar is the disciple of Sri Poochi Iyengar; Sri B Rajam Iyer and Sri K V Narayanaswamy were disciples of Sri Ariyakudi and my mother had the opportunity of learning from both Sri B Rajam Iyer and Sri K V Narayanaswamy at the Music College, Madras. In a way, she was destined to follow the Ramnad tradition. Poochi Iyengar was made to learn from both Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and Patnam Subramanya Iyer. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer had a forte on the higher octaves of music while Sri Patnam Subramania Iyer was an exponent in Tanam and had exclusive techniques in Tanam. Sri Kasinath Dorai used to reel of demonstrations of Patnam Subramania Iyer's 'Chakra Tanam', 'Manduka' and 'Markata' Tanams. The same Manduka Tanam when narrated and demonstrated by Swami Shantananda Saraswati during a drive from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru in 1998 was a reliving experience to my mother. But Swamiji narrated as the technique being taught to him by a Sangeeta Swami of Kashi while Kasinath Dorai was narrating the technique as was practiced by Patnam Subramania Iyer. Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar was sponsored by the royal court to learn from both Gurus to imbibe all the qualities of both stalwarts. Learning under two Gurus was next to impossibility in those days. But because it was a royal command, both stalwarts taught Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar who also became a Vaggeyakara. (A Vaggeyakara is a Lyricist-composer).
Dr Prasad's mother, Smt Ganesha Kunjara Naachchiyar avgl, Srimaan Kasinath Dorai avgl and my mother used to have several musical sessions, a lot of which I shall hope to strike down here.
Mom now holds some of the rarest manuscripts of the Royal family that cover the musical lessons of Sri Poochi Iyengar, Raga Indexes so on. Also in my mother's possession is a 100+ year old Tanpura belonging to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saheb. How it was gifted to my mother is another story. :)
To be continued.....
**Most of the content here is narrated by mom and is reproduced verbatim.