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Oothukadu Venkata Subbaier

2:07 PM Posted by Vijayasri

Oothukkadu Venkata Subba Iyer was a saintly composer of Tamil Nadu the 18th century.
One of the greatest ever composers in Indian music, Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi (also referred to as Oothukkadu Venkata Subbaier) is said to have lived between 1700-65.

OOTHUKKADU IS a small village in Papanasam taluk of Thanjavur district, about 7 km from Thirukarugavoor, where the famous shrine of Goddess Garbha Rakshambigai is located. The main deity of Oothukkadu village is, of course, Lord Veda Narayanar flanked by goddesses Sridevi and Bhudevi on either side. The temple gained popularity after the discovery of the panchaloka idol of Kalinga Narthana Perumal from the temple tank. It is believed that sage Naradha witnessed the Kalinga Narthanam that Lord Krishna performed in front of the divine cows Nandini and Patti, children of Kamadhenu. Sage Naradha prayed to Krishna to remain in the village in the dance posture and bless the devotees. Hence it is believed that Lord Krishna remained in the dancing posture in Oothukkadu.

The idol of Sri Kalinga Narthana Perumal in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple is about 2.5 ft high. Lord Krishna, portrayed as a five-year old boy, is seen dancing with His left foot on the serpent's head and his right leg in the air.

An ardent devotee of Lord Krishna and Muruga, his compositions are graceful and stirring. Kalinga Nartana Tillana, one of his popular creations, portrays the dancing of Lord Krishna atop the serpent Kalinga. Alaipayuthe Kanna, Bala Sarasa Murali and Brindavana Nilaye Radhe are among his other significant works.

The sight of the Lord holding the tail of the serpent with His left hand and showing Abhaya Mudra with His right hand is indeed a feast for the eyes. It is so intricately sculpted that one can insert a thin piece of paper between the Lord's left leg and the head of the serpent. The beauty is that the weight of the Lord's body rests on the left hand that holds the serpent's tail, says the temple Bhattacharya. One can also see the scars on the right leg of Lord Krishna formed due to the violent beating from Kalinga's tail.

Mahakavi Venkatasa Subbhayyar, popularly known as Venkata Kavi, spent his entire life in front of the thulasi mada composing a number of melodious songs in praise of this deity. Due to the extreme devotion of Sri Venkata Kavi to the Lord, he is believed to be a reincarnation of Sage Naradha who witnessed the Lord's dance in the village. He was a complete master of music in all senses of the term – melody, rhythm or lyrics and was fluent in Sanskrit and Tamil. He was proficient in a variety of musical forms such as the krti, javali, tillana and kavadichindu.

He composed several types of krtis apart from the usual style of pallavi, anupallavi and charanam with the tune of the last few lines coinciding with that of the anupallavi. Venkata Kavi composed many songs with madhyama kala passages, some with more than one charana but with the same tune, others with multiple charanas in different tunes, some with just a samshti charana, some with gati bhedam and so on. He used talas and themes that few other Carnatic composers have used before or since.
An ardent devotee of Lord Krishna and Muruga, Venkata Kavi's compositions are graceful and stirring.

Some of the famous songs of Venakata Kavi are: "Thaye Yasodha," Alai Payudhe Kanna,"Paal Vadiyum Mugam", "Asaindadum mayil", "Enna Punniyam" and "Aadadhu Asangadhu Va Kanna","Brindavana Nilaye Radhe". The starting verses of some of these songs can be found on the temple walls. It is believed that Lord Krishna appeared in person and danced to these melodies. Lord Krishna also performed the entire Kalinga Nardhanam for the pleasure of Sri Venkata Kavi.

Venkata Kavi has composed on a wide range of themes. Most people are familiar with some of his works on Lord Krishna but he has composed with equal felicity on other deities as well, such as Vinayaka, Tyagaraja (of Tiruvarur), Kamakshi, Rama, Kartikeya, Narasimha, Anjaneya, Ranganatha, and also on Soorya, Radha and other such important mythological characters. He has composed on great people such as Shuka Brahma rishi, Jayadeva and Valmiki. Besides, he has composed several songs on the greatness of Guru, and general philosophy and approach to God. His works contain references to Azhwars, Nayanmars, Ramanuja, Tulasidasa and many other greats, which reveal not merely his knowledge of their works and contributions but also his high reverence towards them.


OVK seems to have composed an entire opera narrating Krishna’s birth and childhood, beginning from Devaki-Vasudeva’s wedding and Kamsa’s curse. I have not been able to ascertain if these stories go on further after Krishna’s childhood. But there are separate group songs describing Krishna’s wedding with Rukmini and another group covering his marriage with Radha.

There is a set of songs narrating the story on Lord Rama’s childhood starting from Dasharatha’s Putrakameshti yagna to Rama’s trip with Vishwamitra. Each song is so vivid and the description of the demoness Tataka alone is worth the whole read!! There is also another lovely ragamalika piece ‘Sri Rama jayame jayam’ which covers the whole Ramayana.

There is no doubt that Venkata Kavi was well versed in Bhagavatam, Ramayanam and several other minor stories and his deep knowledge comes to the fore in many krtis as he covers a great many episodes, many of them hardly referred to by other composers, with effortless ease and natural felicity.

Group compositions:

Venkata Kavi has also composed several group krtis like Saptaratnas, Kamakshi Navavaranam, and Anjaneya Pancharatnas. Besides, he has composed several shlokas like Madhava panchakam, Nrsimha panchakam, Ranganatha Panchakam and so on.


Venkata Kavi’s Navavaranams abound in Srividya Upasana aspects and show his scholarship in no small measure. Apart from the main 9 songs for the nine nights, he has also a Vinayaka stuti, Dhyana stuti and a Phala stuti too. There are several similarities (and differences) between his Navavaranams and that of Dikshitar but both reveal the composers’ scholarship in the mantric and tantric aspects of Devi worship. These are:

Sri Ganeshwara – Shanmukhapriya – Adi – Vinayaka stuti
Vanchayati yadi kushalam – Kalyani – Adi – Dhyana stuti
(1st avaranam) Santatam aham seve – Deshakshi – Adi
(2nd avaranam) Bhajaswa shree – Nadanamakriya – Adi
(3rd avaranam) Sarvajeeva dayapari – Shuddhasaveri – Mishra Chapu
(4th avaranam) Yoga yogeshwari – Anandabhairavi – Khanda Triputa (2 kalais)
(5th avaranam) Neelalohita ramani – Balahamsa – Khanda Dhruvam (2 kalais)
(6th avaranam) Sadanandamayi – Hindolam – Sankeerna Matyam
(7th avaranam) Sakalaloka nayika – Arabhi – Adi
(8th avaranam) Shankari Shri Rajarajeshwari – Madhyamavati – Adi
(9th avaranam) Natajana kalpavalli – Punnagavarali – Adi
Srichakra matangi – Suruti - Adi - Mangala krti


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