The King accepted the musician’s insolence as a challenge. One of the court musicians took up the challenge and humbled the North Indian musician. The Veena Vidwan who saved the pride of old Mysore State was none other than Veene Shamanna. Vainika Vidwan Shamanna was rewarded with a cash award of 1,500 Varahas! This year happens to be Veene Shamanna’s 101st death anniversary (1828-1908). Commemorating the anniversary, Shamanna’s great grandson V Balasubramanyam, an industrialist in Mysore, recently honoured 225 achievers from different walks of life apart from organising an exhibition of the 300-year-old Tanjore Veena (passed on to Balasubramanyam from the past five generations of musicians of his family) and other memorabilia pertaining to Vidwan Shamanna, his father Rama Bhagavatar and grandfather Laxmana Bhagavatar’s contribution to the Mysore kings’ court and Tanjore kings’ courts.

Says V Balasubramanyam, “My great grand father’s actual name was Venkata Subrahmanya Iyer.  Because of his bluish black complexion his elders and relatives started affectionately calling him Shamanna!”
When Tanjore and other districts suffered an intense drought for a prolonged period (during 1850), Rama Bhagavatar and family shifted to Chikkade in Pandavapura taluk, near Mandya district. Rama Bhagavatar’s talent was recognised by the then king Mummadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar. Shamanna was appointed the Court musician by Chamaraja Wodeyar IX.  Says V Balasubramanyam, who has preserved the correspondence between his great grandfather and the king of Mysore,  “Vidwan Shamanna was the only Aasthana Vidwan, who taught three consecutive generations of Mysore kings i.e. Mummadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar, Chamaraja Wodeyar and Nalwadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar. Shamanna was the first music teacher of Nalwadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar’s sisters also.”

Shamanna who was addressed as the Taala Brahma and Abhinava Bhoja  had mastery in playing the ghatam, violin, mridangam and a very rare leather covered instrument called Sarabat! “Meera Raja Ram, a Bangalorean, whose doctoral thesis was based on ‘Music composers of Wodeyar dynasty 1638 – 1947’ , has also written about Veene Shamanna in her thesis.  “I was able to refer to three rare musical compositions by Vidwan Shamanna in his great grand son late V Ramaswamy’s house.  V Ramaswamy, elder brother of Balasubramanyam had preserved several 100-year-old manuscript.s”
Vidwan Shamanna was donated an entire lane containing seven houses by the king just half a km. from the palace.  The street which was initially called the ‘Varaaha Swamy Temple Street’ was renamed ‘Veene Shamanna Street’ by the king, as a mark of respect to the musical genius.

On December 30, 1908, when Shamanna’s students informed him of a certain avadhaani’s demise (one who taught Vedas, Upanishads at the Palace), Veene Shamanna remarked, “Today it is Avadhaani’s and tomorrow it will be Shamanna’s”.  The very next day Veene Shamanna was no more. But his musical spirit continues to live, as V Balasumbramanyam’s twin daughters Sowmya and Ramya play on the 300 year old Tanjore Veena.

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