Date:29/06/2007 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/fr/2007/06/29/stories/2007062950710300.htm
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True proponent of Tamil Isai

SRIRAM VENKATKRISHNAN

M.M.Dhandapani Desigar was a good composer, an authority on the recital of devotional songs, a loveable human being and an outstanding musician.



M.M.Dhandapani Desigar.

The Hindu reported on June 29, 1973, that M.M.Dhandapani Desigar had passed away the previous evening at his residence in T. Nagar, Madras. He was survived by his actress wife Devasena and a number of loving disciples. It was the end o f a long life that had been dedicated almost in its entirety to the propagation of Tamil Isai.

Born in 1908 at Tiruchengathangudi in Thanjavur district, said The Hindu, Mr. Dhandapani Desigar learnt Thevaram, Tiruvachagam and Tiruppugazh from his father. Desigar hailed from a family that boasted of a strong Oduvar lineage wit h father Muthiah Desigar and grandfather Murugiah Desigar being well known exponents. The method of learning was however unusual, for, Muthiah Desigar would keep his son on his chest and gently lull him to sleep by singing the traditional hymns.

Later, as The Hindu recorded, he learnt music formally from nagaswara vidwan Sadayappa Pillai. He also learnt Tamil hymns from his uncle Manikka Desigar. His first concert was at a fairly young age at the temple town of Tirumarugal.

He learnt Isai from Kumbakonam Sri Rajamanikkam Pillai for about five years, said The Hindu. This happened when Desigar was 13 and his father passed away while on a concert tour of Singapore. The resultant financial difficulties mad e him seek refuge in his sister’s house in Kumbakonam and there he began learning music from Pillai. A warm friendship was to spring up between guru and sishya, so much so that when they were both given the title of ‘Isai Perarignar’ by the Tamil Isai Sangam in 1957, the guru did not in any way feel slighted and both cheerfully accepted the honour. Earlier, in 1948, when Rajamanikkam Pillai received Sangita Kalanidhi from the Music Academy, Desigar held a felicitation function for him in Madras which many musicians attended.

Desigar obtained a job in Madurai in a Thevara Patasala when he was 18 and once, during the Chitrai Festival, sang during the procession. His captivating and ringing voice, as Prof. Sambamurthy wrote on the June 29 in The Hindu, br ought him to the notice of famed nagaswaram artiste Madurai Ponnusami Pillai and from then his career took off.

Desigar acted in Tamil pictures, wrote The Hindu. His singing roles were the outstanding feature of these films. The first opportunity came in the 1936 film, ‘Pattinathar.’ This was followed by ‘Vallala Maharaja 217; in 1937.

Greatest hit of his career

Given his penchant for Tamil hymns, he was cast in and as ‘Thayumanavar’ (1938), ‘Manikkavachakar’ (1939) and ‘Nandanar’ (1942). The last, made by S.S.Vasan, was the greatest hit of Desigar’s film career and credit for this was shared by him with Papanasam Sivan for his wonderful music. Desigar also acted in a film with a Vaishnavite theme, ‘Tirumazhisai Azhwar’ (1948), besides singing playback in ‘Mudhal Thedhi’ (1955) and ‘Tirumanam’ (1958). His tune for the song ‘Tunbam Nergayil’ in the film ‘Ore Iravu’ (1951) is a work of genius.

In the 1940s, Desigar, to quote The Hindu, became one of the pioneers of Tamil Isai (Tamil Music) movement and composed songs in Tamil. Such was his love for Tamil that he did not think it unusual to sing songs in that language in T iruvaiyaru during the Tyagaraja aradhana of 1946. The conservative element, however, did not like it and after he finished, organised for a purification rite at the Samadhi!

Many honours

Desigar received many honours in his life and as The Hindu noted, he was Samasthana Vidwan of Ettayapuram, Isai Pulavar of Dharmapuram Adheenam and chief music vidwan of Tiruvavaduthurai Adheenam. In 1955, he became head of the Depa rtment of Music, Annamalai University, and there were felicitations in connection with this. The Hindu of May 3, 1955, reported a function at the Woodlands Hotel, Mylapore, presided over by Justice Somasundaram. On June 11, there was another report, this time of a function at the Dasaprakash Hotel, which had veteran violinist Parur Sundaram Iyer and Kivalur Meenakshisundaram Pillai speaking in praise of Desigar.

After a successful tenure of 15 years at the Annamalai University, Desigar left rather suddenly in 1970 and returned to Madras for a life of domestic bliss with his beloved Devasena. He remained associated with the Carnatic Music College (now the Isai Kalluri) and also with the Tamil Nadu Sangeetha Natak Sangam (now the Eyal Isai Nataka Manram) till his death.

On his death, Justice P.R.Gokulakrishnan, then president of the Tamil Nadu Sangeetha Natak Sangam, spoke of Desigar as one of the finest musicians, a good composer of religious type of music and an authority on the recital of devotional songs. It was a true pen portrait of a loveable human being who was also an outstanding musician.

(The author can be contacted at srirambts@gmail.com)

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