Ramaswamy Iyer had many music-loving friends and most of them respected and
hailed him for his knowledge. Moreover he was the elder brother and supposed to be one of the gurus of the great Pushpavanam.
He had many friends in the nearby towns of Madurai. Mani used to accompany his father to meet his father's friends. On every such occasion they used to ask Mani to sing at their house and gave their words of encouragement.
On one such visit to Sivagangai and Alavakottai (a temple shrine), in 1924, Ramaswamy Iyer's friends gave a pleasant surprise
to both the father and the son by informing them of the proposed arangetram of Mani at the dias of Alavakottai temple on the
auspicious day of the Kumbabhishekam.
In Mani's first concert, Nattam Sitarama Iyer accompanied on the violin and
Thiruvaroor Rajagopala Iyer played on the Mridangam. Mani had not even completed the age of 12 when he sang his first concert.
His Sruthi was 5 ½ kattai (a high pitch like that of S.G.Kittappa). The concert was well attended and went on for nearly two
hours. The rasikas were delighted to watch the young boy singing with confidence and maturity, inspite of the tender
age. Soon, Mani shot into fame as the emerging torchbearer of the Pushpavanam tradition. Mani, recalling the initial days
of his career, admitted that he got many good opportunities to perform as he was hailed as the prodigical nephew of Pushpavanam,
and the fans and followers of Pushpavanam at Madurai motivated the young Mani. Years later, in a Radio Interview, he admitted
that he had greater responsibility to perform well rather than striving for concert opportunities as opposed to other youngsters
of those days who had to strive hard to get a single chance to perform.
Kanchi Acharyal's Blessings
Mani was invited to perform in most of the temples in and around Madurai. On
one such occasion, Mani had the golden opportunity to perform in the presence of the great saint and seer of Kanchi, Shri
Chandrasekharendra Saraswathy Swamigal in 1925 at the Devakottai temple festival, while the Acharya was on tour to all the
south Indian temples on his way to Rameshwaram. Having got the blessings of the Acharya, Mani Iyer never looked back in his
career. He became an ardent devotee of the Acharya since his childhood and performed before the Guru at various places
from time to time.
Mani and Music Academy
Mani Iyer, came to Madras in 1927 and gave a concert under the auspices of
the Music Academy on its first conference at the Congress grounds. His father gave a lecture about the 72 Melakartha ragas
and Mani Iyer also sang in assistance to the demonstration. Ramaswamy Iyer was
awarded a medal for the lecture and Mani Iyer too was given a medal for his concert.
On this occasion he came to the notice of the leading music critics who hailed
him as a new star. Success came to him very quickly and he became a leading musician.
From 1927, Mani Iyer sang at the Academy on all the annual conferences till
1967 without break!
Up in the Ladder
Sri Ramaswamy Iyer who made it all possible for Mani Iyer was happy to watch
his son become a rising star. He died in 1928, after a brief illness. Mani Iyer by now had to shoulder the responsibility
of being the only earning member of the family and had to support his mother, grandmother (mother of Pushpavanam Iyer) and
two sisters. Mani Iyer shifted to Madras, which served as a sanctuary for all
the upcoming musicians. He settled down at Mylapore in a rented house in Luz Church Road alongwith his dependents.
His Madurai Rasikas did not forget him. They invited him frequently for concerts, Mani used those opportunities to meet his
manasika guru, Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar and gained more and more expertise.
By the end of the next decade, the music world had lost some of the all time
greats, Konerirajapuram Vaidhyanatha Iyer, Veena Dhanammal, Kanchipuram Naina pillai, Pudukottai Dakshinamoorthy pillai and
Malaikotai Govindasamy Pillai. The younger vidwans filled up the void created by these greats. Most of the younger vidwans
had an inclination to imitate these great artists in some or other way to keep up to the audience who were mesmerized by the
styles of the past masters. But Mani Iyer did not singularly follow any of the above styles and the style he imbided was an unique
synchronization of all the above vidwans. It had the predominant characterestic of Subburama Bhagavathar, who mostly sang
for his personal satisfaction rather than for the crowd. Although Mani Iyer's music was hailed by the critics, he could not
pull the crowd which his contemporaries and seniors like Ariyakudi, Maharajapuram, Musiri and Chembai commanded. Even Semmangudi
Srinivasa Iyer who was much younger to the other contemporaries got many chances than Mani Iyer. There was a time when Mani Iyer performed at the Madhava Perumal Temple, Mylapore with hardly a dozen people
as the audience !
Mani Iyer's performances in those days consisted of many rare Krithis and he
sang apoorva ragas elaborately which puzzled his accompanists. Though he got appreciations from the critics, his accompanists
were not comfortable with his style. .
Once Semmangudi Narayanaswamy Iyer (the uncle of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer
and a disciple of Thirukodikaval Krishna Iyer), happened to accompany Mani on the violin, after singing a couple of popular
Krithis. Mani went on to eloborate the raga Ranjani followed by Thanams. The violinist who was well experienced and
popular had trouble in accompany him and felt embarrassed. Although he appreciated Mani for his expertise in the
Raga, he advised him not to dwell on the apoorva ragas in such a lengthy manner. Rather he was advised to take up major ragas
like Thodi, Kalyani or Bhairavi for elaboration, which would not only satisfy the listeners but also help to gain Manodharma
in the major ragas. Vidwan Marungapuri Gopalakrishna Iyer, the violinist of great repute teamed with Mani along with Kumbakonam
Azhaganambi Pillai in many concerts to encourage the younster. Gopalakrishna Iyer adviced Mani to sing more Ghana ragas and
introduce apoorva ragas in a brief and simple manner. They wanted Mani to follow
the footsteps of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, who was the hero of both the crowds and the critics.
This singular opinion amongst the senior musicians did a lot of good to
Mani Iyer. He reconciled his view about apoorva ragas and understood the importance of major ragas. Also he became an ardent
fan of the kutcheri style of Ariyakudi and made it a point to follow the Ariyakudi pattern of concert organization.
Mani Iyer worked sincerely for his progress, and concentrated more and
more on learning new things. He became a devotee of Muthuswamy Dikshithar and his musical forms. Dikshitar kritis were
known for their rich raga intrepretation. Mani Iyer learnt a lot of Dikshithar Krithis through Shri T.L.Venkatarama Iyer
(former Supreme Court Judge and cousin of Muthiah Bhagavathar, a great expert in Muthuswamy Dikshithar's works). Mani also
became a great admirer of Papanasam Sivan and learned many Tamil Krithis directly from Sivan. He enriched his repertoire with
almost all the varities like Thevaram, Thiruvachakam, Thiruvarutpa, Slokams (from Ramayanam and Mukundamala), Padams,
Javalis, Gopalakrishna Bharathiar songs, Subramanya Bharathi songs, Ramanataka Krithis and various other krithis by tamil,
telugu and kannada composers.
Mani changed the pattern of singing by including more songs and the major ragas
like Bhairavi, Thodi, Shankarabharanam, Kalyani, Kambhoji and Karaharapriya found a permanent place in his concerts.
He never failed to impress the critics by his little alapanas of apoorva ragas, to name a few of them : Saraswathi Manohari,
Ranjani, Saraswathi, Vijayanagiri, Jayanthasena, Janaranjani and Bahudari found a respectable place in his concert. The accompanists,
who earlier hesitated to accompany him, noticed the change and volunteered to accompany him. Mani introduced many new tamil
pieces of Papanasam Sivan in major ragas which became instant hits. To name a few: Kaana
kan kodi vendum (Kambhoji), Thaye yezhai paal (Bhairavi), Kapaali (Mohanam), Thathvamariya tharamaa (Reetigowla), Aandavane
unai nambinen (Shanmukhapriya) and Paamalaikkinai undo (Harikambhoji). These Kritis were patented with the Madurai Mani Iyer
style and no musician could avoid the beautiful sangathis introduced by Mani Iyer in these songs.
the Gramaphone World
Mani Iyer entered the gramaphone world with his first kutchery set (a popular
series of Gramaphone plates sold as a single album with the modern kutchery pattern consisting an invocation followed
by a few songs with alapana and swaras, a ragam thanam pallavi, thani aavarthanam, virutham, javali and a couple of thukkada
songs!!, all put together runs to about 45 minutes!!!) The kutchery set was released in 1934 and was one of the bestseller
during those days.
Mani Iyer was accompanied by Kumbakonam T.K.Jayarama Iyer (Guru of M.Chandrasekharan,
the popular violinist) on the Violin, Thanjavur Vaidhyanatha Iyer (Guru of Palghat Mani Iyer) on the Mridangam and Madras
Venu Naicker on the kanjeera.
The kuchery set had the following songs :- Sri Raghukula (Hamsadhvani), Vidajalathura
(Janaranjani), Anuragamule (Saraswathi), Marugelara (Jayanthasri a GNB hit!), all the songs had raga alapana and kalpanaswaras,
RTP Kalyani (Bhajare Raghuveeram), Thani Avarthanam, Javali, Thevaram, Thayumanavar Virutham(Ragamalika) and Thirupugazh.
The Sruthi of Mani Iyer was as high as 4 kattai in the gramaphone record.
Mani Iyer soon became the most popular among the youngsters and he was given
the status of a senior musician at the Music Academy since 1936. There was no place in India which promoted Carnatic music
and where Mani Iyer did not perform.
Critics such as Kalki Krishnamoorthy hailed Mani Iyer as a vidwan par excellence
and a master of Ghana ragas and Apoorva ragas alike. In one of his reviews in Anantha Vikatan, he praises Mani Iyer's music
as Suswara Gandharva gaanam and stated that he deserves all the awards of a senior musician even at the young age.
His regular sidemen during the 1930s were Varahur Muthuswamy Iyer and Madras
Venu Naicker (who was well versed both in Mridhangam and Kanjira).
Mayavaram (Madurai) Mani Iyer
During 1941-42 Mani Iyer
moved to Dubhaash agraharam in Mayavaram due to the evacuation of Madras owing to World War II. However, this change of place
did not affect Mani Iyer's career. Mani Iyer was much sought after by all the Mayavaram music lovers. They wanted him to perform
even for a small function in their households. There was no temple
in Thanjavur/Mayavaram where Mani Iyer did not perform. Such was his popularity. All
the temple concerts were free of charge as they are called 'Thengaa mudi' kutcheri (only coconut halves will be given as prasadham
for the concert). Mani Iyer never hesitated to sing a free concert for any good cause. He has performed many times in the
meetings conducted by the congress freedom fighters where he sang patriotic songs like Aaduvome pallu paaduvome, Paarukkulle
nalla naadu, Jayathi Jayathi Bharatha Matha. Mani Iyer never cared for money. He was easily approachable to everyone and obliged
to perform any concert without demanding money for himself, he never imposed any condition to the organisers regarding the
arrangements. But Mani Iyer ensured that his accompanists get their remuneration, even while he sang without remuneration.