Saturday, November 19, 2011

Coimbatore Thayi - Slokam

Shravanam with a vintage record!

Smt Coimbatore Thayi sings a Slokam

(Sorry for the poor quality of recording. Still, it is worth listening!)

This is what I found on the net about the Artist.

"My name is Coimbatore Thayi" announced the sweet voice of the lady at the end of the 78 rpm Gramophone record after the Tamil Song. I do not remember the year but this must have been long long ago, when we had a hand winding Gramophone box with a huge funnel speaker like the one you see today in the logo of HMV Gramophone Company.In those days say seventy years ago all the artists would authenticate their records by such announcement of their name in the end. Palanikunjaram more popularly known as Coimbatore Thayi was born in 1872 in a highly cultured Devadasi family known for its accomplishments in Classical music and dance. Her mother Vengammal was a famous singer and her grandmother Coimbatore Visalakshi was a renowned Sadir (Bharatanatyam dance) artist. Initially Thayi followed her grand mother's foot steps and learnt Sadir and performed her "Arangetram" at the age of 11. But she found her fame was in Carnatic music and the family shifted to Madras in 1890 At Madras she grewup in the company of great exponents of Carnatic music and soon became famous. The newly introduced media known as "Gramophone" in 1900 helped her music to reach the corners of the Presidency. Her recordings were most popular in those days and she headed the popularity chart of HMV for years. But sadly death took her away in her mid-forties, leaving her rich music in the recordings long afterwards.
I came across an interesting anecdote about this great lady. It seems a rich visually impaired Frenchman Maurice Delage by name, connoisseur of music heard Thayi's gramophone record in Paris. He was astonished by the voice modulations (gamaka) of the Lady and decided to make a trip to Madras to meet her. and which he did eventually later on. The out come was his composition "quatre poemes hindous".

Maurice Delage, heir to a shoe polish manufacturing fortune, was the Frenchman. Born with a severe eye problem, he developed his hearing to an amazing degree. He also apprenticed with Maurice Ravel and became a pianist and composer of note. It was in Paris in 1911 that he became fascinated with Coimbatore Thayi after hearing a record of hers that, he wrote, “sent chills up and down my spine”. His keen ear, according to the aforementioned researcher, “detected the subtle microtonal effects, which we call the gamaka, she had produced while singing.” He immediately decided to make a trip to Madras to meet her – but of that meeting there’s little record except the quotation above.

During this Indian tour with his parents, he composed Quatre poemes hindous, a song each dedicated to four cities he visited: Madras, Benares, Lahore and Jaipur. The Madras poem includes these lines: “A slim waisted beauty who walks in the forest and whose hands adjust the three golden veils that cover her breasts, reflecting the moonlight all the while.” The researcher wonders whether he was referring to anyone in particular, for instance Thayi. But there is no doubt that what he heard in India had an impact on him, making him suggest various techniques that could be used in Western music to bring to it the benefits of an Indian influence.

The singer who had charmed Delage was born Palanikunjaram in 1872 in Coimbatore. Her mother Vengammal was a well-known singer, her grandmother Coimbatore Visalakshi a renowned dancer. Palanikunjaram learnt sadir and debuted when she was 11. She also learned music. And from a famed Mysore singer she acquired a wide repertoire of Kannada songs.

She moved to Madras in the 1890s, by which time she had become known as Coimbatore Thayi and had set up home in Nattu Pillaiyar Kovil Street, George Town. A neighbour was ‘Veena’ Dhanammal who soon became a close friend. Dhanammal introduced her to several composers and she increased her range considerably. Within a few years, by the time she was 31, she gave up dance and began to concentrate solely on music.

Gramophone discs began to be cut in the Madras of the early 1900s and Coimbatore Thayi was one of the first Carnatic singers to sign up. Her records were soon bestsellers and by 1911 she was receiving top billing as a recording artist. Sadly, she died before her time; she was in her mid-forties when she passed away. But her records kept selling long afterwards.

Let us enjoy great music!!


வழிப்போக்கன் said...


Shyamala Rangarajan said...

This is perhaps the earliest recorded piece in Carnatic Music one can hear. Thank you for making it available to us all. The rendering by Coimbatore Thayi is of high order.

Ajith Raman said...


Pl.can you post the label details?? Thanks for your time.