Pudukkottai, a district in the state of Tamilnadu, was a small princely state ruled by the Tondaiman dynasty for about 350 years till it was merged with the Indian Union after Independence. Like in most princely states, the Pudukkottai kings patronised art and music, Not only great musicians adorned the court, many famous musicians were native to the state. In particular, the small princely state can boast of two great schools. One is the Mrdangam tradition. The Pudukkottai school of mridangam originated from Pudukkottai Manpundia Pillai. His disciples Pudukkottai Dakshinamoorthy Pillai and Pazhani Subramania Pillai were the most prominent mridangists in the school. The other is the Veena tradition going back to 7 generations from the vainikas born in Thirugokarnam, “Veena Brothers” Subbarama Iyer (1875-1938) was the elder brother and Samabasiva Iyer (1888-1958) the younger. They were the most popular in this tradition. The brothers later moved to Karaikkudi for the patronage by the Nattukkottai Chettiyars as the patronage from the Pudukkottai Raja dwindled. Hence the pair came to be popularly known as “Karaikudi Veena Brothers”. The elder held the veena upright. The younger held it horizontally. Pudukkottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai accompanied the “Veena Brothers” most often.



‘Karaikudi Veena Brothers’ belonged to Thirugokaranam. Their ancestors were greatly respected in the Pudukkottai Court. Veenai Subbarayar, the father of Karaikudi Brothers, who is reported to had been together with Paccimiriam Adiappaiya, the famous composer of the Viribhoni varnam, who was a musician in Ramachandra Tondaiman’s court. It is also history that Subbaraya Iyer, the father of Karaikudi Brothers, was honoured with kanakaabhishekam (gold shower) in the Brahadambal temple by the king, Ramachandra Tondaiman. Subbarama Iyer played veena vertically, a tradition not found elsewhere in Tamil Nadu, while Sambasiva Iyer played the veena horizontally. In the photo below taken in 1914 in Thiruvaiyaru the “Veena Brothers’ are accompanied by Dakshinamurthy Pillai on the mrdangam. ‘Thangakkappu’ Ganapathiah Pillai, sitting next to Sambasiva Iyer was their tala keeper. ‘Thangakkappu’ is the golden bracelet presented to him as an excellent ‘tala keeper’, which became his sobriquet. The musicians are flanked by the famous composer, Muthiah Bhagavatar (standing and wearing the garland) and others.



Tondaiman King in his Durbar 1858

Dance Tradition

Sivarama Nattuvanar is one of the celebrated dance teachers from this princely state. The legendary dancer, Rukmini Arundale’s father, Nilakanta Sastri, as a civil engineer worked in the public works department in Pudukkottai. Rukmani Devi Arundale lived in Pudukkottai for some time before leaving to Chennai.

Patrons of Arts

The kings were not only patrons of art, but some of them were even reputed musicians and composers. For example, Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman who ruled from 1730 till 1769, a contemporary of the Music Trinity, Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, has composed ‘five gems’ in praise of the local deity, Brahadambal, the presiding deity of the royal temple in Thirugokarnam, on the outskirts of the Pudukkottai town.

The temple has a glorious tradition of music and dance, with dance and music performed throughout the year right in front of the sanctum santorum. The songs sung and danced to, were on the presiding deity.

Temple architecture of Pudukkottai

The state is also considered a museum of temple architecture, with its exquisite temples in Narttamalai, Kodumbalur, Thirumayam and Avudaiyarkoil. Epigraphically this state has a unique music tradition. There are only five musical inscriptions in Tamilnadu all belonging to the 8-9th centuries, and, interestingly, all these lie in the Pudukkottai region, including the one that is most important in Indian musical tradition in Kudumiyanmalai of the ninth century CE vintage. Thus, the Pudukkottai’s contribution to music, dance and temple arts is impressive.

Brahadambal Temple in Thirugokarnam

The Gokarnesa-Brahadambal Temple in Thirugokarnam, situated in the temple-suburb of the capital, Pudukkottai, is of great significance. Starting as an excavated cave shrine in the eighth century, CE it was expanded into a very large complex till the nineteenth century, making it an important place for the development of temple architecture of Tamilnadu. The reliefs of Gangadhara and Ganapati, the main goddess and bronzes of Nataraja are noteworthy sculptures of great artistic and religious values. The temple is the most important temple of the state as the deity, Brahadambal, was the presiding deity of the ruling dynasty.

Waning Glory of the Temple

After the princely state was integrated into the Indian Union in 1948 the temple lost its glory and in course of time the practice of singing and dancing as a part of daily ritual became defunct.

Reviving the tradition of Temple Arts

In recent years there was a wish among a section of the public that this ancient tradition should be revived highlighting our glorious past. Prof. Swaminathan, a retired professor of IIT, Delhi, a member of the family tree of the ‘Veena Brothers’, currently living in Chennai, is actively involved in ‘Tamil heritage awareness’ programs after his retirement from service, expressed his wish to revive the vina tradition in Thirugokarnam to Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian, the 9th generation veena artiste, and adopted son of Karaikudi Veenai Sambasiva Iyer.
Prof. Swaminathan and Prof. Karaikudi Subramanian, together started the Thirugokaranam heritage revival series in January 2013 in the Brihadambal temple with the support of the local patrons and enthusiasts such as Dr. Ramadoss, the temple authorities and other dignitaries there.

Initiating a Musical Sadhana

The day before the famous musical tribute to Saint Tyagaraja In Turuvaiyaru, called ‘Tyagaraja Aradhana’ 60 kms away from Pudukkottai, was chosen for this annual event at the Brahadambal temple in Thirugokarnam. The programs are presented in the evening. This day coincides with the tribute to another great Pudukkottai musician, Manpundia Pillay, originator of the Pudukkottai school of mridangam, in the morning hours. On the 28th January 2016, the fourth year in the series, Brhaddhvani produced four concerts in the Thirugokarnam Brhadambal temple. To see the videos of concerts performed as the aradhana to Brahadambal temple please go to the links given below.

The Future

Professors Karaikudi Subramanian and Swaminathan with the support of local patrons like Dr Ramadoss have plans to start “Brahadambal Aradhana Sabha” in Thirugokarnam from 2017 to support music and other arts.
To know more about the temples and Tamil Heritage in and around Pudukkottai browse: http://goo.gl/cT9LCl

The old and the New

Brhaddhvani is 25 years old now. It supports the idea of reviving the temple traditions in order to give the experience to everyone the connectivity between the Old and the New. While preserving the old in music in all its glory, in spirit and substance through research and pedagogy Brhaddhvani continues to strive to promote the young to get a taste of the past while entering the threshold of the future. The Thirugokarnam temple series is an attempt towards this.

An Invitation

Brhaddhvani invites young and upcoming musicians from different parts of the world to perform in this ancient temple in the 5th annual series in 2017. The musicians will have an opportunity to experience the temples and great historical monuments in and around Pudukkottai. They will be taken on an educational tour.



In this temple corridor,
Subbaraya Iyer, father of
the ‘Veena Brothers’ was
given the golden shower

Musicians who wish to perform in our
at the Thirugokarnam Temple
Contact us or Apply to

Prof. Dr. Karaikudi S. Subramanian
Brhaddhvani’s Gurukulam
33/17, 3rd Street,
East Abhiramapuram, Mylapore,
Chennai, India 600004.


Brahadambal Aradhana Banner


News coverage in the Tamil Daily – Dinakaran


Watch the Videos of the Concerts for the Brahadambal Aradhana Series-4 /2016


Injikudi EM Subramanian – Nagaswaram (4 tracks)


Smt Champa Kalkura – Vocal (6 tracks)


Bala Kala Vidhanam Students – Dance (3 tracks)


Swetha Balasubramanian – Vocal (4 tracks)


Pranav Swaroop – Vocal (4 tracks)








Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer’s Veena


The Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World
Chennai – India