Kunnakudi Vaidhiyanathan was living with his parents in Kunnakudi from the age of 9. His sisters, Subbulakshmi and Sundaralakshmi were already giving Carnatic vocal concerts together. For these concerts, his elder brother Ganapati Subramaniam used to play the Mridangam and Tirupattur Haridas Ramachandrachar, a close friend of his father from the neighbouring town would play the violin.
An incident that moulded Kunnakudi to a veteran
His sisters had a concert scheduled to take place at the Kunnakudi Temple during the monthly Krithika festival. Rayar, who had to accompany them on the violin, did not turn up. When Rayar came to his house the next day, his father, who was slightly annoyed with him, asked him rather sharply: "Why didn't you come yesterday? The concert had to take place without the violin." Instead of giving a courteous answer, Rayar said angrily: "I was unable to come. What of it" and then added: "Oy Ramaswami Sastri, you have taught Carnatic music to your two daughters and mridangam to one of your sons... but, for the violin accompaniment...." His father became furious, Just at that point Kunnakudi came back home from the temple. Seeing him enter, his father pointed out to him and told Rayar challengingly: "I will make him a great violin vidwan!"
The next day Kunnakudi's father began his violin lessons. On the occasion of Vaikuntha Ekadasi at the Krishna temple in Karaikudi, at a function organised by the famous Gadikarakadai Naidu Kunnakudi began his foray into the world of music.
At the very young age of 12, Vaidyanathan accompanied great stalwarts like Ariyakudi, Semmangudi and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer. Others he accompanied later included film star M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavatar.
Once Vaidyanathan had gone to a studio in Madras to play the violin. Bhagavatar had also come to that studio to shoot a film. He learned that Bhagavatar was staying in the room next to his and decided to meet him somehow. He picked up his violin and played Bhoomiyil maanida janmam, one of the songs Bhagavatar had made famous. When he finished, someone came and told him that Bhagavatar wished to see him. Full of excitement he ran to Bhagavatar's room. Bhagavatar patted him on his back and blessed him. He said: " In spite of your young age, you have practised playing on the violin so well. You have an excellent future."
All India Radio and Kunnakudi
He first gave a solo violin concert for All India Radio in December 1947. He has also given special performances at AIR stations in Chennai, Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi, Mangalore, Kozhikode, Bhadravati, Bangalore, Tirunelveli, Pondicherry, Tiruchi, Coimbatore, Madurai, Nagercoil, Trissoor, Tiruvanantapuram and other places.
As a light music composer for AIR:
He has composed the music for Kannadasan's songs about 12 Tamil months.
He has presented a number of songs under the title Palli Paaduvomey.
He has adapted the 20-point programme of the Indira Gandhi Government and, using the lyrics scored by Kaviyarasar Kannadasan, he has composed the music for it. This was presented with 20 musicians and won the appreciation of the masses.
With patriotic songs as the base, he has presented a production titled Desa Munnetram comprising 50 songs which were sung by the late legendry singer-cum-actor T.R.Mahalingam. The great man himself blessed Vaidyanathan.
In 1981 Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan produced a unique presentation titled Cauvery.
Realm of Devotional Music
Right from his childhood, he has always liked film songs, the reason being that in those days the songs had a classical music base. Even then he used to practise playing film songs on the violin.
One day his father found him doing this. He said : "The difference between Carnatic classical music and light music- the difference between the bowing and fingering used for the two- is as much as the disparity between a mountain and a molehill. So be careful." Thus Vaidyanathan's father warned him.
One day when his father had gone out, he was practising Krishna Mukunda Murarey, which Thyagaraja Bhagavatar had made famous. Just then, Vaidyanathan's father returned home, sooner than expected, and heard him playing the song. Filled with joy he bade his mother to tell him to play the entire song once again. He played the song once more. Just as vaidyanathan finished, his father rushed to his side and said : "You have practised it so well! It is possible to hear each word of the composition in this song. My heart is filled with joy. To bring out the words of a song so clearly using a stringed instrument is a great feat. You have this unique ability. Don't give it up. You may play both classical and semi-classical songs." Speaking thus, he blessed vaidyanathan.
Kunnakudi as Music Director
Keezhachevalpatti of Jalatarangam Venkatramana Rao introduced Vaidyanathan to G Ramanathan of Modern Theatres, Salem. Ramanathan asked him to play a song, any song, on the violin. He first played an alapana in one raga and then played a kriti in that raga in the sampradaya style. He then played the same raga in the style of cinema music and then presented a film song in that raga composed by Ramanathan himself. He was very impressed with Vaidyanathan's performance and gave him a place in his orchestra. This break did wonders for his career.
'Kannkatchi', 'Mell Naattu Marumagal', 'Namma Veetu Deivam' and other movies. He also set the music for 'Raja Raja Cholan', the first movie to be made in Cinemascope. He started directing films and exploited his capacity to transform Carnatic music to delightful tunes and thereby earned the title 'Ezhisai Chakravarti'. He got the title of 'Tirai Isai Mannar' also for his contribution to the film world. He won particular appreciation for his innovative capabilities.
Awards conferred to the Legend
Over the years, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan has won more than 200 awards and titles - for his virtuosity in playing the violin, for his creative interpretations of thematic and devotional subjects, for the music composed/directed by him for films, etc.
'Padmashri' - 2005 - Government of India.
Bharata Violin Vadya Bhyaskara, given by kunnakudi Vaidyanathan's spiritual guru, Pudukotai Sadguru Sree Santananda Swamigal of Bhuvaneswari Peetham.
Deiviga Isai Tendral
Isai Chakravarti, awarded by the Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan Rasika Anbu Kuzhu, Madurai.
Isai Perarignar, awarded by the Tamil Isai Sangam, Madras.
Kalaimamani, awarded by the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram.
Nada Brahmam, awarded by the Narada Gana Sabha, Madras.
Pannisai Arasu, awarded by the Tamizh Isai Sangam, Tiruvaiyaru.
Sangeeta Ratna, the Mysore Chowdiah memorial award given by the Academy of Music, Bangalore.
Sangeeta Sagaram, awarded by the Cultural Centre for Performing Arts, Madras. Along with the title, Vaidyanathan received a silver Violin.
Tantrinadamani, awarded by the Sankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.
Varuna Mazhai Vaidyanathan, awarded in Salem in recognition of his feat demonstrating that music has the power of controlling nature.
Villisai Vendan, awarded by the Nellai Rasanandam Nalvazhi Nilayam, Madras.
Violin Chakravarti, awarded by the Cholavandan Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan Rasikar Anbu Kuzhu.
Violin Everest, awarded by the organisers of the Thiruvarur Kakithakara Street Mariamman Festival.
Violin Kalaratna, awarded by the Tiruppavai- Tiruvembavai Music School, Madurai, during its anniversary celebrations.
Violin Samrat, awarded by the Delhi Karnataka Sangeeta Sabha.
Yezhisai Chakravarti, awarded by the Priya Cultural Academy, Madras.
Yezhisai Enthal, awarded by the Sree Krishna Chaitanya Math near Nagercoil. This was the very first title awarded to Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan.