Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi- The Divine Composer
By: Dr. P.P. Narayanaswami
Oothukkadu is a sleepy village on the northern bank of the river Vettar (a branch of the sacred Kaveri), located in the Papanasam Taluk of Tanjavur district, about 13 kilometres south of Kumbhakonam. This place is well-known for the legendary Bhagavata mela tradition of dance-drama. But more than that, it is famous for the svayambhu vigraham (self-manifested idol) of Kalinga-nartana, the child Krishna dancing on the fierce head of the gigantic black serpent, Kaliya. The temple's utsava moorti, a four-feet idol of Krishna in the Kalinga-nartana pose, holding the serpent's tail in his left hand, is a sculptural masterpiece. The left foot appears to rest on the hood of the serpent, but there is a slight gap between the two, and the entire weight of the idol is on the tail, casually held in a playful mood by Lord Krishna. It is to this dancing Krishna that the famous musician, composer and poet Venkatasubbayyar poured all his infinite devotion and dedication, through his great musical compositions, in simple Tamil, as well as in lofty Sanskrit. Who has not heard his famous dance piece Taye yasoda in Todi or his Alaippayude in Kanada!
Oothukkadu Venkatasubbayyar or Venkata Kavi as he is popularly known, is believed to have lived during the pre-Trinity days (some fifty years prior to Tyagaraja) in early 18th century. Some musicologists estimate his period to be between 1700 and 1765. He is said to have been born in the Tamil month of Avani (mid-August to mid-September) on the day of makha nakshatram (star), in the temple town of Mannargudi, a town famous for the temple of Rajagopala. Mannargudi was also an active centre for Vaishnava philosophy then. He was the second son of Ramachandra Vathoolar and Kamalanayani Ammal. After a brief stay in the nearby village of Needamangalam, he moved to his permanent location, Oothukkadu.
Venkatasubbayyar seems to have chosen to remain in complete isolation (but always in the company of Lord Krishna), and therefore, accurate details relating his life are not available. However, legend has it that as a young boy, he craved for musical knowledge. He was not fortunate enough to find an proper guru to guide him though. After some basic training under Pooranoor Natesa Bhagavatar, and fascinated by the music of one Sri Krishna Yogi, he hoped to study under him. But the Yogi would not accept him as a disciple. His own elder brother, Kattu Krishna Iyer, who was a musician in the court of Tanjavur, was not willing to teach him. Disappointed, and at the advice of his mother, he started praying and singing in the presence of his chosen deity, Lord Krishna, accepting him as his manaseeka guru (guide and role model).