A tribute to Vidwan Madurai N. Krishnan

By Aruna. S / Chennai
October 31, 2005 marked the 77th birth anniversary of the Late Vidwan Madurai N. Krishnan, a renowned Carnatic vocalist and composer.

A Vaggeyakara (vocalist-lyricist-music composer), Krishnan was one of the foremost disciples of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. He received the 'Padma Bhushan' and 'Padma Shri' from the Govt. of India, besides several other prestigious honours.

His compositions for dance are available in the form of a book and an audio double cassette, 'Madura Margam'.

KutcheriBuzz pays a tribute to this maestro who passed away on 9 October, 2005 in Chennai.


Hailing from Karaikudi, Krishnan’s family was steeped in music. His father Narayana Iyengar was a Harikatha artiste and a scholar in Sanskrit and Tamil. Well known vocalist Ramanathapuram Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar was his grandfather's cousin and Ariyakudi himself was a relative. Krishnan's elder brother Madurai N. Srinivasa Iyengar was a violinist.

Krishnan's grand-father Srinivasa Iyengar was an astrologist and also practised 'mantra' shastras. He is supposed to have told Krishnan's father that one of his children would be well-known in the field of music.

Having had his initial training under his father, at the age of 12, Krishnan gave his first concert at the Karaikudi Thyaga Brahma Utsavam.

In his early teens, films fascinated him and he even sought a role in a film . . .


Having known Ariyakudi as a relative, it was Krishnan's wish to train under him. When he expressed this wish to his father, his father said he should accompany him in his Harikatha concerts. But Krishnan kept pushing. Ariyakudi was initially reluctant to take him in, saying that it was a very difficult field and that he needed to work hard, be with him all day long and help him with his chores too. Krishnan said that he had made up his mind and that if he learnt music it would be only from him and agreed to stay with him.


maduraikrishnanKrishnan, at a kutcheri... For 18 years, Krishnan stayed with Ariyakudi and continued to be with him till his guru's demise in 1967. He used to shuttle between Karaikudi, Kumbakonam and Madras. Krishnan would call Ariyakudi 'Anna'. In later days Krishnan would say, "It was not very easy being Anna's disciple. K. V. Narayanaswamy and other sishyas were also there. 'Anna' did not teach us directly very often. We learnt a lot of nuances just by listening to him sing. I remember playing the tambura and listening to him as he taught his disciple Dhanammal."

"The speciality of anna's style was 'full-throated' singing. The 'gamakas' and 'brigas' were brought out by the movements of the vocal chords and not by simply shaking the jaws." On Ariyakudi's advice, Krishnan also enrolled himself at the Tamil Nadu Govt. Music College and received his 'Sangita Vidwan' title from there.


Krishnan's first concert on stage, as a disciple of Ariyakudi, happened in 1950 in Tirupathi. Palakkad C. R. Mani Iyer and Vellore Ramabhadran were his accompanying musicians.

One concert which Krishnan cherished throughout his life, happened in Tiptur in Karnataka. He had accompanied Ariyakudi to provide vocal support. The accompanying musicians were Palakkad Mani Iyer on mridangam and T. N. Krishnan on the violin. Ariyakudi had just begun the concert with the Mohanam varnam but couldn’t go on as he was ill. He asked Krishnan to take his place. Krishnan continued the kutcheri with his guru sitting beside him...

Those on the kutcheri circuit, often referred to Krishnan as Ariyakudi's man Friday. It all started when one day, Ariyakudi was expecting a guest from the Jeer’s place. The guests were to have dinner with Ariyakudi at 'Veena' Dhanammal's house in Madras. The food had to be prepared with 'aacharam' and Krishnan was asked if he could cook the meal. Ariyakudi is said to have liked the food and from then on cooking was part of Krishnan's routine.


The first time Krishnan scored music for dance was in the late fifties, when he set to tune the lyrics of verses from Azhagar Kuravanji, at the request of Vyjayanthimala Bali. Later in 1967, he composed a thillana in ragam Hindolam, at the request of Leela Ratnam, to be performed by her daughter Anita Ratnam. Slowly, his ability to compose music got known and he was approached by several dancers to compose lyrics and music for dance.

Krishnan was influenced by the music of Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavatar, whom he often heard during his days in Karaikudi.

Krishnan used to compose whenever he was inspired, be it just after a wash or while travelling in a train. He had scored the music for several literary works like Thiruppavai, verses from Divya Prabhandam, Thiruvachakam and for the compositions of other well known composers.


maduraikrishnanindiraVidwan Krishnan, Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy with former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, 1979, in Delhi. (File photo)

In 1965, when well known dancer Sudharani Raghupathy moved to Madras, just after her marriage, she wished to have a music teacher, who belonged to the tradition of either Tiger Varadachariar or Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. When she discussed this with K. Soundararajan, a family friend and a Secretary of The Music Academy, he suggested Madurai Krishnan.

Five years later when Sudharani established 'Shree Bharatalaya', Vaadhyar (as Krishnan was called) became its Director and continued to be so till his end.

It was at Shree Bharatalaya in 1979, that Krishnan composed the varnam 'Maye mayan sodariye' (Todi ragam) which is now very popular among Bharatanatyam dancers. It was first performed by Sudharani, when she received the 'Nritya Choodamani' award at Krishna Gana Sabha. Ever since, he composed the music for all the dance-dramas created at this institution, with the latest bing 'Silappadhikaram' staged in 2003.


Hailing from a family of 'Swayamacharyas', Krishnan provided spiritual guidance to many.

From the age of 11, he recited the 'Gayatri' and 'Maha Ganapathi' mantras and meditated in the hills near Madurai. He followed a strict pooja routine and meditated for long hours. He reached out to people with his prayers. He would help them take decisions and provide solutions to those in distress. In this aspect, he has disciples all over the world. . .

Vidwan Krishnan's family can be contacted in Chennai at Ph: 91-44-2464 0011.