He was proficient in a variety of musical forms such as the kriti, tillana and kavadichindu. He used talas and themes that not many other Carnatic composers have preferred to handle. His compositions are a blend of a high degree of scholarship on a variety of subjects and inspired expression. Several pieces also reveal his humility, reverence for the great personalities before his times and the high state of bliss that he probably experienced almost ceaselessly. His works scarcely contain autobiographical notes and show that he had reached great spiritual and philosophical heights. His works also reveal the proximity he felt towards God and show his deep devotion
Early Life of Ootthukkadu Venkata Kavi
Venkata Kavi, named as Venkata Subramanian, was born as the eldest of five children to the Tamil smarta couple of Subbu Kutti Iyer and Venkammam, according to the family records in the possession of his brother Kamalanarayani and Ramachandra Vathoola's descendants. Though his ancestors had resided in various villages in South Indian around the temple towns of Mannargudi (about 200 miles from Chennai), Venkata Kavi moved into the village of Oottukkadu (referred to as "Dhenushwasapuram" in Sanskrit), near Kumbhakonam. One of his nephews, Kattu Krishna Iyer was a musician in the royal court of the Tanjore King in the latter part of the 18th century.
Life in Music for Ootthukkadu Venkata Kavi
Venkata Kavi had a vast knowledge of music and musical nuances. He used a wide variety of ragas ranging from the well known such as Todi, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Sahana, through minor ones like Kannadagowla, Jayantashri, Malavi, Umabharanam and also a few that are seldom used today like Balahamsa and Rasamanjari. In some instances, his works are the first or only ones to be available in a given raga such as Sri Shivanayike in Lalitagandharvam and Padasevanam in Deeparam. His approach of even common ragas like Sahana, Paras, Nadanamakriya and Arabhi are distinctive and refreshing.
His vision of the raga and melody as a whole is considerable and can be seen in the number of different styles in which he composed various kritis in the same raga. For instance, his kritis in Madhyamavathi - Shankari Sri Rajarajeshwari, Sundara nandakumara and Aadadu ashangadu vaa Kanna - bring out different facets of this beautiful raga. He also employed attractive swaraksharas - a technique where the lyrics match the solfa notes of the tune. He has also incorporated raga mudra (mentioning the names of ragas of the composition) in several kritis. Examples: Shuddha Saveri, Navarasakannada. Several other compositions contain names of many other ragas mentioned in some other contexts.
Venkata Kavi also had great command over rhythm, as seen in his venture into scarcely attempted talas such as Khanda Dhruvam (17 units per cycle), Sankeerna Mathyam (20) and Mishra Atam (18). He made complex eduppus (starting or landing points of various sections of a composition) seem like child's play and used them naturally, without ever affecting the flow of the music or the lyrics. Venkata Kavi had deep scholarship in Sanskrit and Tamil. His vocabulary and the use of words and phrases are unique in Carnatic literature.
Venkata Kavi's vivid imagination and picturisation can be seen in Taye yashoda in raga Todi, where the Gopikas are complaining to Yashoda about her son Lord Krishna. This song has eight charanams (stanzas) and each one describes the pranks of Krishna very humorously. Not so well known is the reply by Krishna to every one of these charges in another piece, Illai illai in Mohanam, also with eight charanams. There are literally hundreds of similar examples in his operas based on the Bhagavatam, Ramayana, Pranavopadesham or similar epics and legends.
He died in the year 1765.