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Swati Tirunal (1813-1846) was a composer and a royal patron of the arts from the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore in Southern India. His compositions are honored every year by the Organization of Hindu Malayalees (OHM) through the observance of Swati Tirunal Day This year, the celebrations are to be held on April 28.

Swati Tirunal’s birth was a much-anticipated event, as his maternal grandfather Kartika Tirunal passed away with no male heir to the throne. In 1813, when his mother Maharani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to him, he was feted and celebrated as the heir to the throne.

As was the royal custom, he was named after his birth star, Swati. When he was only four years old, his mother passed away, and he grew up under the care of his father and maternal aunt. The Travancore court was a hub of artistic activity with scholars, artists, musicians and dance teachers enjoying royal patronage. By the time Swati Tirunal was seven, he had mastered Malayalam, and Sanskrit, and had begun the study of English, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, and Persian. He displayed an ardent interest in the rules and enjoyment of classical music as well.

The knowledge of Karnatik music and his mastery of languages gave Swati Tirunal the impetus to start writing compositions in many languages. He is credited with many Hindi compositions created for the Karnatik style of singing, a rarity in those times. He created compositions in the traditional Ghana Ragams of Karnatik music like Shankarabaranam, Todi, and Bhairavi, but also composed many songs in Hindustani ragams like Hamir Kalyani, and Dhanashree. He is credited with over 400 compositions, many of which were popularized by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer in his concerts. His compositions range from padavarnams, tana varnams, padams, and thillanas. HisNavarathri krithis and Utsava Prabandham krithis enjoy a special place of pride within his repertoire. Critics place his Sanskrit compositions as being among the best examples of how brevity and elegant phrases are used to convey much, always a hallmark of great poets.

The Swati Tirunal day-long celebrations sponsored by OHM gives the organizers and rasikas an opportunity to pay tribute to this composer who lived a short but brilliant life. Throughout the day, his songs are sung by students and teachers from local schools, with announcements and explanations highlighting the various compositions. Vellore Ramabhadran, a leading mridangist from India, will lead a percusssion ensemble in the evening. This will be followed by a hour-long presentation by students of classical dance who will highlight his works through movement.

When one hears the strains of the ever-popular Bhavayami Raghuramam, or when you hear Chaliye in Hindi, or tap your feet to his thillana composed in Dhanashree, there is a sense of magic that fills the mind. There is also a sense of awe that so much was accomplished in scarcely four decades of human existence. When we sing, dance, or listen to his compositions, we celebrate his lasting artistic gift to our musical and cultural heritage.

Saturday, April 28, 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Hoover School Auditorium, 3501 Country Club Rd., Lakewood. (949) 856-3225,

Nirupama V.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a writer, dancer and choreographer. She was the former editor of India Currents magazine.