|N. Vivekanandarajah on
Sri Veeramani Iyer in Sri Lanka
Sunday Times - 30 November 2003
human dynamo who enriched religious and cultural values
It is with profound sorrow that I write a tribute to Veeramani
Iyer who passed away on October 8, leaving a void, which can
never be filled. With the demise of Kalapooshanam Bremma Sri
Veeramani Iyer, the Tamil community has lost a renowned scholar,
at a crucial time in the history of the Tamils.
He was a human dynamo who enriched the educational, cultural and
religious values of our society. He possessed sterling qualities
and was a gentleman to his fingertips. He charmed all of us by
his simplicity and by the very paternal way in which he treated
Veeramani Iyer was born on October 15, 1931. A person of great
wisdom is seldom found. Such a person does not appear
everywhere. The family of the late Nadarajah Iyer was the lucky
one. He was educated at Hindu College, Manipay, where he
excelled in his studies and won the medal for the best student
After completing the Senior School Certificate, he left for
India to pursue his studies and there got attracted to music,
drama and dance. He studied at the feet of well-known
personalities like Rukmani Arundel (Bharatha Natyam) M.D.
Ramanathan (Music) and Papa Nasam Sivam (Sahithya Guru). Later
he returned to Jaffna and joined the staff of his alma mater,
Manipay Hindu College where he produced talented dramatists and
After serving the alma mater for a few years he was appointed a
lecturer of Fine Arts at the Kopay Teachers' Training School. He
served there for 33 years, during which period he was able to
produce music and dancing teachers and dramatists who are today
serving in schools throughout Sri Lanka.
He was a man of many parts - musician, poet, dramatist, dancer
and composer. He composed poetry, hymns and natya nadagamas. His
magnificent hymns with their super lyrics, sweet music and local
setting captivated the hearts of all.
He made an effort to evolve an indigenous form of Tamil music.
He did not follow western melodies, but made use of oriental
tunes, Carnatic ragas and folk music for his compositions. He
was an accomplished musician whose fame spread internationally.
Veeramani Iyer is no more, but memories of him will always
Om Shanthi, Om Shanthi, Om Shanthi.
Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby,
October 2003 in the NorthEastern Herald
A man who strived
much to help Sri Lanka earn recognition in Carnatic music passed away last
week in Jaffna, eliciting condolences even from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
N. Veeramani Iyer of Inuvil, Jaffna, was the celebrated writer/composer of
the extremely popular devotional song ‘Katpahavalli,’ sung in honour of the
presiding goddess at Kapalisuwarar temple, Mylapore, Chennai. This song and
the way its musical composition is written gained for Veeramani Iyer praise
from both the vidwat musicians of Tamil Nadu as well as the hundreds of
thousands of the devotees of the temple.
Veeramani Iyer was a student of the great composer Papanesam Siva who is
known both for his virtuosity in music and the religiosity of the
compositions he wrote. Veeramani Iyer’s claim to undying fame rests on the
brilliance and virtuosity he has shown in composing songs in the 72 mela
kartha ragas. In the carnatic musical tradition it is held that the basic
raga system consists of 72 ragas, and many thousands of variant ragas arise
out of each of these mela kartha ragas. It calls for great proficiency and
skill to write such music. In such diverse modes, without a thorough
knowledge of the musicology of the carnatic tradition, it is not possible to
venture far in that field.
The late Veeramani Iyer has written songs on almost all the important
shrines of Jaffna such as the Nallur Murugan temple, Maviddapuram Murugan
temple and the Pararajasegara Pillair temple at Inuvil.
More importantly, he has written a number of pathams used in the repertoire
of Baratha Naddium. Pathams are expressions of love towards the Godhead.
There will be no important Baratha Naddiam teacher of Jaffna who has not, at
one time or the other sought the assistance of Veeramani Iyer to get a new
pathams. Writing a patham calls for immense dexterity in marrying the bhava,
(emotion), with laya (time/beat), giving enough opportunity for the dancer
to demonstrate her mastery of angika abinaya (bodily movements) and
footwork. The dancer has to maintain a balance between the character she
depicts and herself, the performer. Veeramani Iyer was good at writing
More frequently sought was his assistance to structure the entire nattiya
nadagam (dance dramas). Quite often, Veeramani Iyer himself wrote the
libretto. It should also be noted that he has written Oonjel and Pallandu
(swing song) versions of nearly all the songs of the temples in the Jaffna
Peninsula, especially those Valikamam area.
I have the great opportunity of moving with him fairly closely in the period
1984–1992/93 when I was called upon to look after the Ramanathan Academy of
Fine Arts. He did not have the required paper qualifications, which
government institutions like universities demand, but at the same time we
could not think of anyone else teaching final year dance students –
especially on the pedagogy of dancing. We employed him as a visiting
instructor and the students were thankful to the administration for
arranging those classes.
Veeramani Iyer was a figure usually seen at Inuvil and the Jaffna town
areas. He used to ride a bicycle, while doing his ‘rounds.’ He was a man
accessible to all. If there was a tragic flaw in his character, it was his
openness and willingness to discuss the intricacies of carnatic music with
each and every one, who claimed to know something of the subject. He did not
maintain that professional distance which is so characteristic of the music
masters. The tragedy was that many who knew much less than he maintained a
studied aloofness, while this man, whose knowledge was enormous, befriended
I should confess that despite knowing his proficiency and experience, I did
not realise the eminence of his mela kartha compositions until I met an
official of the Chennai Music Academy who wanted to know from me details
about Veeramani Iyer. He was inquiring whether Veeramani Iyer would be in a
position to be a guest of the Chennai Music Academy at least for three
months to discuss with eminent musicians and critics the compositions he had
written. I was aghast. This was in late 1999 I think. The message was passed
to me but I don’t think he could visit Chennai. But he remained feted at
Kumbakonam, which lies on the Kaveri delta and known for its deep and
intimate association with carnatic music.
Veeramani Iyer today has become a man of the past with legendary
achievement. But the more important question is: what has the State and its
institutions done for a man of such eminence? He was not even a Kalasoori,
the highest that the Sri Lanka state could bestow on any Sri Lankan Tamil
artiste. It is not only a question of not going beyond Kalasoori, but also
one of not going beyond a few persons and groups who always manage to be in
the eyes of those who matter at the cultural establishments of this country,
and block others from gaining recognition. I wonder whether Veeramani Iyer
was given a pension or any assistance even from the local Arts Council.
It is high time that the institutions that oversee so-called cultural
affairs of this country device an objective method, something that is not
coloured by personal likes and dislikes, to help the public to get to know
of the musical treasures of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. It is not only
Veeramani Iyer, we also had the famous Nadaraja Iyer who brought out single
handedly the first volume of an Encyclopaedia on Carnatic Music which won
the praise of great masters like Semnarangudi Srinivasa Iyer.
With all humility I would like to state that not even practicing musicians
of today know there was such man as Veeramani Iyer. I can understand the
state and its cultural affairs establishments not honouring such men like
Veeramani Iyer or Nadaraja Iyer. But cannot the Ministry of Hindu Cultural
Affairs do something about it? Here again the picture is very gloomy. They
dilute the granting of honours to such a point that many conscientious
artistes do not want to be seen with some of the official choices.
The Cultural Ministry of the North Eastern Provincial Council (NEPC) has its
one and only arts festival. It started with a big bang with honours lavished
and praises sung, but now the endeavour is tapering to a sad and sorry
whimper. At least the Ministry of Hindu Cultural affairs in Colombo or the
Ministry of Cultural of the NEPC should take immediate steps to publish
those unpublished works of Veeramani Iyer. We will be doing Sri Lanka proud
by such a publication.
As for the universities, I do not think there is any research coming out,
either from the Ramanathan Academy or Vipulanantha Academy. The only
advancement, if at all, is that diploma courses have now been made degree
courses. But the question of the creation and dissemination of the knowledge
of music that goes with teaching in any university has not proceeded beyond
the preliminary stage. That is understandable because the courses taught
there are intended to train only musicians and dancers, not musicologists
Because of all the hustle and bustle by a few to keep themselves at the
forefront of things, questions such as the musical tradition of the Tamils
and Muslims of Sri Lanka, especially Muslims of the East, are being
neglected if not completely ignored. About a year ago, a researcher from an
American university who was working on Sri Lankan music chanced to meet me.
When I asked her whether she had gone to the Akkarapattu-Sammanthurai area
for an exposure to the folk songs of the Muslims in that region, the music
of the koothu in Batticaloa, the Nadaswaram tradition of Jaffna and work
that is being done in various other schools of music, the lady told me that
for any work on carnatic music she has plans to go to Chennai. She went on
to say there was nothing worth knowing about carnatic music in this country.
After all, much of it was a copy of what is found in Madras.
I was shocked, and I am not yet out of the shock. However, I was able to
persuade her to visit Batticaloa and Akkarapattu; when she came back,
despite having been there only a few days, she at least took at more than an
hour to tell me about the richness of that music.
The question is simply this: have we done justice by musicologists such as
Veeramani Iyer, Nadaraja Iyer; vocalists like Shanmugaratnam, Param
Thillairajah and Kuruparan; nadeswara players like N. K. Pathmanathan,
Balakrishann and Panchapakesan, and the all time great thavil player
We could recompense by committing to writing the music of these maestros, or
creating a worthwhile institution devoted to music, headed by people who
know what they speak about. It is true that we cannot compete with Chennai,
but we have had great artistes and music scholars who have commanded
attention and sometimes recognition from the music establishments in
Chennai. Let us wait for that day, and more, for a person who will help us
regain such glory.