Vintage Vignettes: V.S.N on Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavather

His noble voice made him a man of masses and at the same time the mastery over Swara-singing, made him a great Vidwan, wrote  V. S. Namboothiripad, Kerala’s first music critic in 1954. 

Those of you who have had a single chance of seeing Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavather, one of the veteran vocalists of the South, doing a performance, can never forget him; for his resonant voice and ever smiling face attract the whole audience including you. Even now though a man of above fifty, he is marked for the his resonance of voice. No doubt that his unparalleled crystal clear voice itself among others that made him one of the few masters of music in the South.

Vaidyanatha Bhagavather comes from a family with a long tradition, to be exact, seven generations of musicians. The famous Chakra-Thanam Subba Iyer is his forefather. Anantha Bhagavather, а violinist-cum vocalist, and an authority on music is the father of Vaidyanatha Bhagavather and it was under his only tutelage he had his music lessons with his own younger brother Subramania Bhagavather. Most of the soul inspiring vocal performances of Vaidyanatha Bhagavather in his early days were assisted by this younger brother.

One of his early attempts at performing music concert at Nerur where in those days festival in memoriam of Sadasiva Brahmendral was conducted under the auspicia of the Zamin of Andipatti, Pettachi Chetty, musicians from all over the South, young and old, vocalists as well as instrumentalists flocked there from year to year for enjoying music and to have a foot in the music field. Vaidyanatha Bhagavather got a rare chance of singing with the accompaniment of famous violinist of the day Govindaswami Pillai of Tiruchi. It is this performance which took him to fame. For seeing the good qualities of music, the stabilized layam (rhythm Thalam or as it is  known), and the natural extraordinary voluminous voice, Govindaswami Pillai was thoroughly satisfied and encouraged him. It was due to this association which afterwards led Chembai to the expert percussion instrumentalists Thala-vadia-Vidwans, like Alaganambia Pillai (Mridangam) and Dakshinamoorthy Pillai (Kanjira). This combination in music concerts in those days has won fame far and wide in the South. 

Master of Kalpana swaras

Vaidyanatha Bhagavather is an ardent master of Swara-singing, a unique feature in Karnatic music. His rich voice can reach an audience of six or seven thousand without any mechanical aid. The strange function of his voice is that it reaches even the higher pitches easily. He is one of the few musicians who keeps his voice under perfect control. Being the owner of such a noble voice, seldom his audience is let down in performances. Therefore he may be termed as the man of  masses on one side, while his mastery over Swara-singing, etc., entitles him to be regarded as a great vidwan and artiste.

His encouraging measures to junior artistes and rising talents, are worth special mention; even if some of such gifted accompanists go wrong, he shows no disapproval by his facial expressions on platforms, though heavily criticised afterwards; this noble quality of him has helped number of junior artistes to face the audience with ample confidence.

Besides being an eminent vocalist, he also plays violin and flute as though he is an expert on those instruments. He is generous with wide outlook. His bubbling sense of humour, mimicry of some of the famous violinists of the present day are never forgotten by those who have the chance of coming across them. He has a wide range of pupils who are professionally engaged all over India. And even now he welcomes music students who seek his help and teaches freely. 

Vaidyanatha Bhagavather was conferred the title of Sangita Kalanidhi, by the Music Academy of Madras, the only popular institution of Karnatic music in 1951.

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