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About Dr. E.S.S. Iyer


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Kallidaikurichi Sangeetha Saahithya Vidwan Dr. E. S. Sankaranarayana Iyer (Dr. E.S.S.) (1881 – 1947) was an exceptional man of various talents and multifaceted personality. He was a practising medical man, composer of classical Carnatic music (in Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit), a sportsman, animal-lover and a freedom fighter and above all, a great human being.

He acquired the knowledge of medicine by working under an English doctor attached to Palayamkottai General Hospital, who, convinced of Dr.ESS’s knowledge and skill, issued the certificate to Dr.ESS for practicing as a doctor (both medicine & surgery) . He used his acquired skill for the benefit of the rural population in particular. He rendered free medical treatment to the poor section of the society.

During Pre-Independence period when actually the second World War was in progress (1936-1941) the availability of allopathic medicine was extremely limited. Dr. ESS effectively produced medicines for various illness, combining the various forms of medicines like Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha and Allopathic etc. Infact, he was making I.V. Solutions by collecting the rain water and there are occasions when the Government Hospital in Palayamkottai have approached him for these I.V. Solutions in emergencies when they ran out of supplies.

His second love was carnatic music. He was an avid listener of good music and a practical critic and in this process, developed skills for composing keerthanams in Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit. For this purpose, he upgraded his proficiency in Tamil and learnt Telugu and Sanskrit all by undergoing special instructions from the Pandits in those languages. Most of his compositions were written either in dry palmyra leaves or in standard exercise notebooks. However, he could not publish his composition and propagate the same. In this context, it will not be out of place to mention that he had been a regular attender of Music Academy right from its inception till 1946. But, he passed away all of a sudden in the beginning of December 1947 when he was actually planning to come down to Madras to attend the music season. His association with the organizers of Music Academy as well as the great musicians of that time (who did not have the present day advantages of modern sound system and instruments) was very cordial and excellent. In fact, he was one of the Founder Members of “Expert Committee” of Music Academy who were evaluating the Music Concerts and also holding discourses on carnatic music particularly during the music season in Madras during December- January every year.

Also he has to his credit, many compositions of Katha Kalakshebam like Valli Thirumanam etc. In fact, he himself used to conduct these Katha Kalakshebams. These Katha Kalakshebams have been lost and the family members are trying to trace them. Also he has written the life history of Bala Gangadhar Thilak as a Kalakshebam and published a book “Thilakar Vijayam”.

As a lover of sports (scope for which was very much limited before Independence of India) he used to accompany sports loving groups irrespective of caste, creed and age and even used to bike the distance and enjoy the thrills of sports. As a great Freedom Fighter, he was a well-known Congress Man and was accepted as a follower of Mahatma Gandhiji. But he was not imprisoned in-spite-of his well-known activities on freedom fighting as the British Government dared not to touch him. He used to wear only genuine hand spun and hand woven ‘Khader’ clothings. He had the pleasure and privilege of hoisting the National Flag at the main pole of the village, Kallidaikurichi. He passed away within 4 months of India attaining Independence thus depriving the down-trodden poor rural population of free medical service and fatherly advice.

He was a great lover of animals and particularly cattle and used to have continuous interactions with veterinary doctors for ensuring well-being of the cattle in the rural areas. During epidemics of rhinder pests affecting the cattle and proving to be fatal, he mobilised many veterinary doctors and along with cowherds organised a number of teams to visit rural areas and to give preventive inoculations which almost practically arrested the spreading of the epidemics in that area. In this process, he not only saved the animals from almost certain death, but also saved the families of cowherds who are dependent on these cattle.

In a small way, he was also an engineer even with limited tools available. In his laboratory, he used to make even surgical equipment which he effectively used in many emergency cases requiring surgical treatments, which could not be referred to the nearest hospital namely Palayamkottai General Hospital. In this process, he has saved many lives and prolonged the life span of many people.

Even while working and treating patients, he was always humming and reciting the compositions of great composers like Thiagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshidar etc. He used to approach all problems with great humane approach including listening to the problems of the people without any bias and coolly without any haste and thus created a niche in the minds of the local rural population.

After his demise in December 1947, his compositions had gone into archives as his children had spread all over India and could not devote their time, having been busy in the up bringing of their own families. However, in the year 1966, his seventh dauther and 13th offspring Smt. Saraswathi Sankaran took great trouble in-spite-of the limited financial and logistic support from the family members and acquaintances, brought out Volume I of the compositions of Dr.ESS. It was a great commendable effort and a fitting recognition to a great soul, though belated.

In 1993, during the occasion of a family gathering, a need was felt for going through the archives, to bring out all the compositions of Dr.ESS and publish them, which needed lot of work like setting Tune, Talam, Padam and Raga for the balance compositions. In this process, assistance was rendered by Sri S.Natarajan and Smt. Sharada Natarajan (last daughter of Dr.E.S.S) to Smt. Saraswathi Sankaran. At this point of time, they were aged 70, 68, and 70 respectively. In-spite-of physical limitations, they took lot of efforts thus mentally taxing themselves substantially to bring out Volume II & Volume III.

In this context, looking to the special responsibilities imposed upon the trio and their physical limitations, it was decided to form the “Maragatham Sankaranarayanan Trust” by the members of the family with the able directives and guidance of senior members of the family. The Maragatham Sankaranarayanan Trust is propagating the compositions of Dr.E.S. Sankaranarayana Iyer through annual concerts and endowments in some sabhas of Chennai which conduct competitions based on compositions of Dr.E. S. Sankaranarayana Iyer.