Manjapara Devesa Ramanathan (May 20, 1923 – April 27, 1984) affectionately called MDR was a Carnatic music composer and vocalist.
MDR was born in Manjapara, Palakkad District, Madras Province(Present Kerala) on 20 May 1923. His father Devesa Bhagavathar was a music teacher by profession. MDR did his schooling in Palakkad and graduated with a BSc degree in Physics from Victoria College, Palakkad. On completion of his studies, he travelled to Madras along with his father to improve his musical talents.
Study of Sangita Siromani music
During the same time, the legendary Rukmini Devi Arundale initiated a new course on Sangeeta Siromani at Kalakshetra. MDR auditioned for the course and was the only student to be selected for the first batch commencing in 1944. Soon, MDR emerged as Tiger Varadachariar's favorite and was his closest disciple when the latter died in 1950.
Principal of Kalakshetra
After his graduation, MDR continued as an assistant to his guru and later became Professor of Music at Kalakshetra. He also served as the Principal of the College of Fine Arts at Kalakshetra.
MDR was known for his unique style of singing. In addition to having an extremely deep, booming voice, he rendered songs at an extremely slow pace, thereby allowing ample time for the listener to catch every phrase of a composition and gauge its meaning. He also sang with adequate bhava or expression. Ramanathan has sung in most Carnatic music ragas such as Sahana, Sri, Anandabhairavi, Reethigowla and Yadukula Kambhoji. Other favorite ragas of his include Kedaram, Kambhoji and Hamsadhwani. As he himself once admitted, his Vilambita Kaala Gaanam renderings during Kathakali dances had influenced his music and style of singing. Though MDR is identified with his "trademark" slow pace of singing, he did include a few relatively brisk renderings in his concerts off and on.
His style of rendering was very different from the rather brisk style of rendering that had become quite popular then. Due to this, he also received a fair share of criticism from some music critics. During the rendering of krithis, he sometimes made alterations and embellishments to the lyrics. One highlight that his rasikas would always remember is starting the krithi from the anupallavi and then going to the pallavi.
MDR has composed more than 300 songs in Carnatic music in Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. He used the word Varadadasa as his mudra, in respect for Tiger Varadachari, his teacher. Some of his famous compositions are:
Bhaja Bhaja Manuja-Behag-Adi-Sanskrit
Guruvaram Bhaja Manasa-Dhanyasi-Rupakam-Sanskrit
Sagara shayana vibho-Bagesri-Adi-Sanskrit
For his contributions to music, MDR was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1974 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1975. The Indian Fine Arts Society bestowed upon him the title of 'Sangeetha Kala Sigamani' in 1976. He also served as a member of the Madras Music Academy's Experts Committee. He was also considered for the Academy's Sangeetha Kalanidhi award in the 1983-84 season though he did not get the award.
MDR died after a long illness on April 27, 1984 at the age of sixty.