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T.K. Jayarama Iyer ( TKJ)  was born on May 18 1894 in Kuttalam, a village in Tanjore district to Kuppuswamy Iyer and Dharmamba. Archival materials suggest, that his musical lineage traces back to a contemporary of Saint Tyagaraja, who was also a musician and harikatha performer. 

TKJ's father, Kuppuswami Iyer was a violinist, Sanskrit scholar, and a harikatha performer. His younger brother T.K Balaganesa Iyer was a Flautist of repute. His nephew Kovai B. Dakshinamurthy and niece B. Gyanambal were leading violinists who had careers spanning over five decades. 

TKJ showed a flair for music and languages at a very early age. As a schoolboy, TKJ developed a liking for the violin and requested his father to teach him the instrument. Interestingly, he was also an accomplished Jalatarangam player, an art he learnt from Anayampatti Subbaiyer. TKJ had his schooling at Sirkazhi and matriculated in 1911. He began his career as a government employee at Manapparai and then at Madurai. 

​During his stay in Madurai, TKJ's interest in music grew, thanks to encouragement from the likes of Nagaswaram vidwan Madurai Ponnusamy Pillai. He gradually established himself and started accompanying leading vidwans of the day. In 1918, TKJ was booked for a performance at Jaffna for Rs. 250 (his own rate being Rs. 35 at that time) with all expenses met. After obtaining the necessary leave TKJ made his trip with great success. He resigned his job in 1921 to plunge into a musical career. 


TKJ moved to Kumbakonam in the 1930s, then brimming with musical activity with giants like Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer and Rajamanickam Pillai living there. TKJ's stint in Kumbakonam was very fruitful. He developed a great admiration for the violin playing style of Malakottai Govindasami Pillai and modeled his own technique in a similar fashion. TKJ also had great regard for Sri Ariyakkudi, from whom he learnt several kritis and intricacies of raga alapana. TKJ's musical career showed an upswing as he played many solo concerts with a distinct style even while continuing to accompany top vidwans. 

Subsequently, TKJ pursued his career in Madras, Trivandrum, Tiruchirapalli and Delhi.


TKJ soon moved to Madras, which was slowly emerging as the centre of all musical activity. The Music Academy had just come into existence. TKJ used to take active part in the discussions of the Academy and soon found himself on the experts' committee. His knowledge of Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and English combined with his insight into the theory of music enabled him to make useful contributions to the proceedings of the Academy. The outbreak of the World War saw TKJ leave Madras and join his brother Balaganesa Iyer. Subsequently, TKJ pursued his career in Madras, Trivandrum, Tiruchirapalli and Delhi.


In 1943, TKJ was offered a Professorship in Carnatic music at the Swati Tirunal Music Academy, Trivandrum. This gave him the opportunity of enhancing his musical acumen by associating with two very famous principals of the institution - Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavatar and Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer. His erudition and his adeptness at handling both theory and practical classes won him accolades from his students, colleagues, and the royal family. He also used the stint to acquire a working knowledge of Malayalam.


A new chapter in TKJ's career opened up in 1946. He was invited by the AIR, Tiruchirapalli to occupy the post of Music Supervisor. This gave him ample opportunities to use his multifarious skills in the production of new programmes. He deeply studied the other systems of music and brought out various series of programmes like "Music from other lands" and "Ragas of the North and the South". It was in Tiruchi that TKJ started experimenting with orchestration as a separate form in Carnatic music. Of course, he was no novice to orchestration as a concept. He had by then scored music for a few films.


Dr. Narayana Menon, who happened to hear TKJ's orchestral compositions from the Tiruchi AIR prevailed upon authorities to bring him to Delhi to take charge of the National Orchestra (Vadya Vrinda) alongside Pt. Ravishankar. TKJ was selected to compose in Carnatic music while Panditji handled the Hindustani compositions. 

It was in Delhi that TKJ's career reached its peak and he spent the best part of his life. His deep knowledge of orchestral techniques and adherence to the core of classical music, enabled him to attempt orchestration of many Carnatic ragas which were previously considered "un-orchestrable". He composed in a way, that not only was the classical idiom maintained but their beauty was further enhanced by the richness of the instruments used. His Kamboji, Kalyani, and Vaagadeeswari are typical examples. Utilizing his deep knowledge of raga lakshanas, TKJ daringly attempted orchestral pieces in very classical ragas like Dhanyasi, Nattakuranji, Mukhari, Saranga, and Balahamsa. TKJ also composed some thematic pieces like Meghadootam, Ritusamharam, and Abhigyana Shakuntalam. In 1957, he composed a special piece (Jwalamukhi) to commemorate the centenary of the Indian War of Independence of 1857.

​Sometimes his attempts at orchestration evoked sharp criticism from purists. But such was his conviction and sincerity that he would often veer around to his side some of the avowed critics of orchestration. He was of the firm belief that it would ultimately enrich Indian music. 

TKJ's arrival in Delhi coincided with the emergence of a Carnatic music community in the capital, especially fueled by the influx of South Indians in central government jobs. This accompanied by the infusion of talented musicians who came to be part of the Vadhya Vrinda laid the foundation for the propagation of Carnatic music for the future generations in the capital. As the senior most musician in Delhi, TKJ was a tower of strength to musicians and music lovers. He was affectionately called "Numba (Our) Jayarama Iyer" and was always easily accessible for advice. TKJ was also very actively involved in bringing top Carnatic musicians to Delhi and getting them recognition in the North.

He was actively connected with the AIR even after retirement, as Sangeet Salahkar (a post specially created for him) for some time and then on various committees. He was the president of Tyaga Brahma Sabha and Music Club since their inception. He was also associated with a number of other sabhas and with the Faculty of Music in the Delhi University in various advisory positions.

TKJ's contribution earned him many laurels. In 1960, he was invited to preside over the Music Academy's annual music conference and was conferred the title of Sangeetha Kalanidhi. The way he conducted the sessions and his special encouragement to young musicians made the conference memorable. He was awarded the Indian government's Sangeet Natak Academy award in 1963 for his contributions to music.

The world of music was left poorer by the demise of this scholar-musician on June 20, 1971.

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