The three stalwarts introduced Svarajati and varnam forms in dance and music:
Note: The interesting fact is that Sangita Pitamaha Purandaradasa composed thousands of songs, gitas and Abhyasa gana compositions, but no one varnam is ascribed to him. Probably, the varnam was not in vogue as a distinct musical entity in his time (17th century AD.) It seems, that Purandaradasa regarded Gitis and Suladis as the forms appropriate for using as Raga Lakshnas (for instance, Suladi "Acyuta ananta" of Purandaradasa set to Jampa, Matya, Druva, Ata, Eka talas, Suladi "tandeyagi" in Dhunibhinnasadjam, is used in Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini as Lakshana for Kasiramakriya raga.) Also Umatilaka Prabandham of Purandaradasa in Triputa tala is given as Raga Lakshana of Meccabauli raga.
"Suladi" can be associated with modern Raga-Tala-Malikas. In the Suladi the theme is of mythological or spiritual nature. Suladi has seven or eight divisions with elaborate sahitya. Each division is set to one of the seven talas known as Suladi Talas (Dhruva, Matya, Rupaka, Jampa, Triputa, Ata and Eka.) Some Suladis have different ragas for different section, some are set in one raga used in each section. The Suladi is an elaborate composition giving a most comprehensive view of all important raga sancaras. Suladis were performed as a dance item in ancient days.
For instance, Purandaradasa composed Suladi called "Navavidha bhakti prasamsa" with particular bhakti mudra included into each section. "Sangita Saramrita" of Tulaja cites numerous prayogas from Suladis of Purandaradasa as classic authority for lakshana of ragas. (T.V. Subbarao, ref.no.60)
Annamacarya also composed Suladi in Telugu set to chain of ragas, starting with Mayamalagowla and ending with Sri raga.
The credit of being the earliest composer of Varna goes to Karvetnagar Govindasamayya (1680-1710) who lived before Pachimirium Adiyappayya. He was an Asthana vidvan in the royal court of Karvetinagar Venkata Peruman. He is also said to the junior contemporary of Melattur Veerabhadrayya. Name of Govindasamayya is mentioned in Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, as having preceded Adiyappayya. He is referred to as "tana varna margadarsi" (pioneer of tana varnas).
Govindasamayya and his brother Kuvasamayya composed the famous Pancaratna Varnas in ragas Mohanam, Kedaragaula, Nattakurinji, Navaroj and one another raga that is not known today. Govindasamayya Varna in Mohana raga is found in the Sangita Samradaya Pradarsini in praise of Venkata Peruman Raja of Karvetnagar.
V.V. Narasimhachary in his article says that Govindasamayya composed "Sariga danipani" Pada varna in Mohana, to which he got his disciple, the daughter of the Raja of Karvetnagar, to dance and get the favor of the prince of Venkatagiri for her marriage.
Mysore N. Chennakesavayya in his article gives notation of the varna "Marulaiyunnadi" in Nattai raga composed by Govindasamayya.
Veerabhadrayya (1735-1817 AD), is considered as the composer of the first Svarajatis and Varnas and is referred to as "Margadarshi" (the one who shows the way). Subbarama Dikshitar, in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini mentions Veerabhadrayyas contribution as follows: "It can be said that this great soul is the reason for the glory of the south Indian music tradition that continues today." Subbarama Dikshitar also mentioned, that "Veerabhadrayya was a contemporary of Pratapa Simha maharaja of Tanjavur (1739-1763). Veerabhadrayya was a Mulakanadu Telugu brahmin. He came to Thanjavur from the North in order to get the royal favor."
Veerabhadrayya was the disciple of Bharatam Kasinathayya (1676-1740 AD) who, according to Melattur S Natarajan ( ), was a great Natyacharya and composer of Melattur lineage. He composed the early Alarippus in nine talas, Shabdams and Salaam jathi. Kasinathayya was famous for his Shabdams, which are performed in Kuchipudi today. He also composed a number of solo-dance numbers for the court dancers of Thanjavur and devadasis of Melattur. Most of his works were dedicated to his patrons, Shahaji (1684-1711), Serfoji (1711-1729), Tulaja (1729-1735) and Pratapa Simha (1739-1764 AD).
Kasinathayya had prominent disciples; including Veerabhadrayya and Ramanathapuram Brothers, "Bharatam" Panchanadayya and Vaidyanathayya. The Brothers were competent dance composers and one of their shabdams is dedicated to Unnathapureeswara.
Veerabhadrayya composed Varnas, Ragamalikas and Tillanas. His compositions include Adi tala varnas "Dayajoodavale" in Huseni, "Entavancana" in Ananda bhairavi, Ata tala varna "Aluganela" in Kannada, "Valapu nanu jese" in Todi, Svarajathi "Raveme maguva" in Ananda Bhairavi, and famous Svarajati in Huseni. Veerabhadrayya composed "Akkaro ipudindutra" Pada varna for dance. The mudra "achyuta varada" is used in most of his songs.
Interesting reference is given by Divesh Soneji regarding Veerabhadrayya:
"The Svarajati, for example, was thought to have been invented by the Telugu Brahmin composer Melattur Veerabhadrayya (early eighteenth century), who is mentioned in the Modi records as receiving a land grant (sarvamaniam) from Tulaja II in 1776. Veerabhadrayya’s most famous composition is a Telugu Svarajati in the raga Huseni, is addressed to a relative of the Maratha ruling house, Mallarji Gaderav Saheb, who married King Pratapasimha’s younger sister Syamala Bai."(Divesh Soneji)
Veerabhadrayya was the preceptor of Ramaswami Dikshitar (1775 –1835 AD), father of Muthuswami Dikshitar of the Thiruvarur Trinity. Like his Guru, Ramaswami Dikshitar also composed varnams and ragamalika kritis. The other famous disciple of Veerabhadrayya is Melattur Lakshmanayya, an expert in Kavya, Nataka and Alankaras.
Venkatarama Sastry (1743-1809 AD), the excellent composer of Bhagavata Mela Natakas, who was the son of Gopalakrishnayya, and disciple of Melattur Lakshmanayya. He composed many Bhagavatamela Natakas, including "Prahlada Charitamu", and number of compositions for dance and music kutcheris. According to Subbarama Dikshitar, the well-known "Svarajati" in Huseni with sahityam "Emandayanara" is the combined work of Adiyappayya, the master-composer of Viriboni varnam, and Venkatarama Sastry. He also composed a number of Padams and Pada varnas for devadasi Kamalambal of Thiruvarur (story says, that Kamalambal studied music from him.)
Subbarama Dikshitar mentions Adiyappayya (or Adiyappa Iyer) as "Margadarsi" (the one who paved the way, "margam") of the genre of varnam form. His varnam Viriboni (Bhairavi, Ata) is excellent vehicle of raga Bhairavi.
Historical account of Adiyappayya life is given by Subbarama Dikshitar. In his "Vaggeyakara Caritramu" He says that Adiyappayya was Madhva Brahmana, hailing from present day Karnataka region who lived during the times of Tanjore Maratha kings Pratapa Simha (1739-1763) and Tulaja II (1763-1787). Subbarama Dikshitar in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, under raga Huseni gives the composition "Emandayanara" with the ankita "Pratapa Simha" and credits Adiyappayya as the composer. Based on Subbarama Dikshitars record, Adiyappayyas life time can be placed as 1725-1775/1780 (with reference to Ravi Rajagopalan). In all probability, Adiyappayya must have been a contemporary of Melattur Veerabhadrayya (about 1739-1763). Subbarama Dikshitar also mentions that Adiyappayya followed the footsteps of Veerabhadrayya when it came to the style of music.
According to Dr B M Sundaram, Adiyappayya must have lived for a long time in Tanjore and later in Pudukkottai. In Pudukkottai, he must have been patronized by King Vijaya Raghunatha Tondaiman (1730-1769).
Famous compositions of Adiyappayya include Ata tala tana varna in Bhairavi, "Viriboni" Rupaka tala Svarajati in Huseni, "Emandayanara" (mentioned in Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini with the foot note that the sahitya for the jathis of Huseni Svarajati were done by Melattur Venkatrama Sastri), and Ata tala tana varna in Pantuvarali. One more varnam "Madavati" was notated by Vidvan Mysore Chennakesavayya, a disciple of Tiger Varadacariar and published in by the Madras Music Academy (M. Chennakesavayya)
Note: Besides invention of the varnam, Adiyappayya developed new standard of "Pallavi" as a unique platform for musical exposition comprising of raga alapana, tana or Madhyama kala rendering followed by the Pallavi.
Adiyappayya was the guru/preceptor of Syama Sastri, Gopala Iyer, Ghanam Krishna Iyer. Interesting fact is that all three of his students were invented some new features in music.
Syama Sastri developed the form of Svarajati in music to upmost level of excellence.
Ghanam Krishna Iyer was famous for development of Ghanam (vigorous) style of singing and for his Tamil Padams.
Pallavi Gopala Iyer became an exponent of singing "Pallavi." He also composed famous tana varnas, including Vanajakshi (Kalyani, Ata tala), Kanakangi (Todi, Ata tala) and Intacalamu (Kambhoji, Ata tala) and two daru’s (found in the Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal collection) "Sringara Na Mohana" in the raga Begada and "Vintadanara" in Madhyamavathi, both of which sport "kasturiranga" as an ankita/mudra.
According to Prof. Sambamoorthy, as a composer Pallavi Gopala Iyer was the first or perhaps one of the earliest to adopt the so called "sampurna varika" style of singing (when each note is sung with kampita gamaka). Gopala Iyer purposefully applied it on the then "auttara ragas" Todi and Kalyani (which in those days were considered as "northern" or of foreign origin).
Prof. Sambamoorthy also credits Gopala Iyer of reformatting the then existing structure of Tana varna, to its current modern form. In those times, the sequence of varnam was as follows: Pallavi–Anupallavi-Muktayi svara followed by Ettugada Pallavi and Ettugada svaras (four or five, with increasing number of avartas, with Ettugada Pallavi as refrain) followed by Anubandha (sahitya portion sung after the last repetition of Ettugada Pallavi). After singing the Anubandha, Anupallavi-Muktayi svara-Pallavi sequence was repeated. Viriboni, many varnas of Subbarama Dikshitar ("Intamodi"- Durbar- Ata, "Varijakshi" - Sahana – Ata), "Nenarunchi" – Bilahari – Ata of Sonti Venkatasubbayya (guru of Tyagaraja, 18th century) and Tana varnas of Ramaswami Dikshitar are set to this format.
Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s varnas are the earliest examples of the "modern" form of Varna, which is sung without Anubandha and coming back to Pallavi. Prof Sambamoorthy also adds that much later Veena Kuppaiyyar, also applied Pallavi Gopala Iyers modified form for all his Varnas by dispensing the Anubandha portion.