Thanjavur (Tanjore) Quartet

Chinnaiya (1802-56) and Ponnaiya (1804-64) were the eldest among the four brothers known as the Thanjavur Quartet. This painting, likely commissioned during the reign of king Sivaji II (r. 1832-1855) is located in the house on West Main Street in Thanjavur city which was gifted to the Quartet’s family a generation before they were born. Photography Cylla von TiedemannThe Thanjavur Quartet were exponents of dance and music in 19th-cent south India. Originally from the princely state of Tanjore (now called Thanjavur), the foursome consisted of Chinnayya (c. 1802–1856), Ponnayya (b. 1804), Sivanandam (b. 1808), and Vadivelu (1810–1847). All of them took basic training from their father Subbaraya Pillai, and Muthuswāmi Dīkshitar (1776–1835), and were in the Thanjavur durbar for some time.

Their lineage in the Thanjavur durbar begins with Gangaimuthu, dancer and teacher. This Tamil family, Oḍuvars in origin, was brought from Tirunelveli to Thanjavur to recite Tēvāram (devotional) music and organize temple dances. Gangaimuthu’s son Subbaraya Pillai too was in the durbar as a dance teacher. The quartet—Subbaraya’s sons—composed a lot of dance music such as ālārippu, jatisvaram, svarajāti, and tillānā, and it is said that they laid the foundations of systematic dance which much later took the form of Bharata Nāṭyam.

The brothers were durbar performers during the reign of King Śarabhōji II (r. 1798–1832) and King Śivāji II (r. 1832–55) of Thanjavur. Chinnayya was later in the Mysore durbar of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (r. 1895–1940). He has composed some keertanams and varṇams in honour of his patron. It is said that he played a role in systematizing dance patterns in the durbar. Vadivelu was among the early violin players of south India. Trained by a European Catholic priest in Thanjavur, he propagated the violin in many parts of south India, particularly in the durbar of Maharaja Swāti Tirunāḷ of Travancore, Kerala.

Bio from the Oxford Reference.

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