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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bon Voyage, Maestro!

A Tribute to the Carnatic Music Legend Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930-2013)

When Vidwan Mysore T. Chowdiah ruled the Carnatic stage with his leonine presence, his resounding violin, and his large-hearted nature, the main artistes keenly competed to have him on their side and audiences thronged the concerts for unforgettable musical delights as well as delectable Kutcheri moments. Aptly called Pakkavadya Chakravarthy, he provided, in one scholar's expression, Krishna Sarathya - a sure formula for success - and underlined the primacy of the violin as an accompanying instrument. Thus, for the violin, its Carnatic journey reached a landmark; a journey which began with Sri Baluswami Dikshitar (brother of Muthuswami Dikshitar) and progressed over many decades in the capable hands of stalwarts who wielded the bow and tamed a western instrument to Carnatic mores. Using tennis analogy, this journey was like the transition from the Rod Laver wooden racket amateur era to the Boris Becker carbon composite professional era.

After Chowdiah, naturally, several young stars emerged. The term Violin Trinity was coined. Along with T. N. Krishnan and M. S. Gopalakrishnan, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman formed the new triumvirate of violin greats who brought a new lustre to Carnatic concert. All three came on the concert stage before their teens. However, it is interesting to note what Chowdiah said about Lalgudi: "All of us must stop playing now that this boy has appeared."

Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman, so dear to all music lovers world over, has finished his earthly journey (1930-2013). We pay our humble tribute to him and wish him Bon Voyage for his heavenly sojourn, filled as it surely will be, with ethereal music.

The Mysore Connection

Lalgudi Jayaraman comes from a family tracing direct discipleship to Saint Thyagaraja. After gurukula vasa, Thyagaraja's disciple Raman returned home, to live in Tapastheerthapuram (also called Lalgudi) across Cauvery from Thiruvaiyyaru. The saint later came to Lalgudi and stayed there at his home for some time, composing his Lalgudi pancharatnam kritis there in praise of the local deities Saptarisheeshwara and Pravirddha Srimati. Sri Rama Iyer has been mentioned as a direct disciple in Thyagaraja's biography by Walajapet Rama Bhagavatar. Rama Iyer later went to the court of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar in Mysore, as the asthana vidwan there. He once won plaudits for singing an elaborate four kalai trikala pallavi. He features in courtly attire in one of the palace paintings displayed in Jaganmohan Palace. Sri Jayaraman did research and managed to obtain a photograph of the vidwan's portrait which we reproduce here (from Sruti magazine).

Rama Iyer's son Radhakrishna Iyer resided in Ramanathapuram, and established himself as a famous violin vidwan. His second son Gopala Iyer was a multifaceted genius and had an interesting journey in matters of the spirit and music before he eventually settled down in Madras. His illustrious son and disciple is Sri Jayaraman. As they say, the rest is history.

Vidwan Lalgudi Rama Iyer – Disciple of Thyagaraja –Jaganmohan Palace Mysore Painting
(reproduced from Sruti magazine)

Mr. K. Srikantiah’s Tribute

I first met Lalgudi Jayaraman in 1950. My father had heard about this talented youngster and he had invited him to accompany GNB at Bidaram Krishnappa Rama Mandiram. However, GNB had brought along T.N. Krishnan to play the violin. So Lalgudi could not take the stage. Despite this setback, he decided to attend the concert and sat in the audience enjoying the concert, next to me. He was about 20 years then and sported a kudumi. We soon introduced ourselves, one as the violinist, and the other as the music-crazy son in the Putturao family, Srikantiah. Thus began a friendship which saw its diamond jubilee recently.

I was invited but could not attend Lalgudi's wedding at Hyderabad. However, 1958, Lalgudi accompanied Sri T.K. Rangachari in my wedding concert ( to be precise on 11 June, held inside Parvathi premises). I used to visit Lalgudi’s family at 9, Jones Road, Saidapet for many years. I have met his father and mother also. I reproduce below Lalgudi’s photograph from 1946, which he gave me, as well as my wedding concert photo. When the Chowdiah Memorial Hall was built, they also instituted the Chowdiah National award. The first national award was to be presented in 1982. I attended the selection committee meeting, where stalwarts like Veene Doreswamy Iyengar, Sri BVK Shastry and Sri Natarajan (GM, SBM and a musician) were present. I made a strong case before the awards committee that there was only one name worthy of the first ever Chowdiah National award - Lalgudi. The committee were more than convinced. Recall what Chowdiah had stated long back, that "all of us must stop playing now that this boy has appeared."

Later, in 1986, Krishna Gana Sabha honoured Lalgudi in a big function, celebrating an unbroken series of 50 violin solo concerts there. There were many dignitaries on the dais, viz. Sri Semmangudi Srinivasaiyer, the Travancore Prince, Dr. Pinakapani, Miss Lata Mangeshkar, Mrs. M.S. Subbulakshmi, and Maharashtra Housing Minister Dr. V. Subramanian. I had the honour to take the dais representing Karnataka. My speech felicitating Lalgudi was later quoted in the Hindu newspaper. Lalgudi also was gracious to mention, during his acceptance speech, our family’s long association with Carnatic music and our role in establishing a unique memorial, viz. The Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore.

Lalgudi has come and performed in Parvathi more than 30 times, giving a few solo concerts and donning the role of violin accompanist to many stalwarts. Several of these concerts have been shared in this blog. We share in this tribute some selections from these concerts.

I state here what I have said in several interviews about Lalgudi to reporters, authors and documentary makers: I have closely interacted with violin vidwans and Carnatic music stalwarts from the era of Rajamanickam Pillai and Chowdiah, Krishnan, Parur and Lalgudi, and several youngsters of today. I would like to sum up my assessment of Lalgudi. When it comes to the violin, we must first place Lalgudi aside. All other violinists form one group, Lalgudi stands separate. We can discuss others' relative merits and greatness. But Lalgudi is beyond comparisons, labels and definitions. He is the greatest as regards the violin in Indian music – as an accompanist, soloist, composer and teacher. I am glad his children and disciples are preserving the Lalgudi bani well.

Lalgudi was fond of visiting the calm and beautiful Nandi hills in summer with his family. I once accompanied him with my family. We thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenic setting, walks amidst the greenery, and talks about music. In fact he used to walk for one hour in our sprawling lawns between 6 and 7 AM every morning when he came over to Parvathi. He used to say it is good for one’s eyesight. Lalgudi always stayed in Parvathi during his concerts. In fact, after the concert, he used to look forward to the family feast, especially my mother’s “thatte idli”and “gasgase payasa”.

When Lalgudi won worldwide recognition in an honour from the International Music Council, Paris and the Asian Pacific Forum which judged him to be the best musician from 77 international entries, the result was announced over the national radio. I was delighted to hear the good news and I was the first one to congratulate Lalgudi and give him the extremely happy news over the phone. I visited him in Chennai as recently as 2010. He was physically not at his best but I was happy to see that he had continued to give music lessons and also compose new kritis.

We have posted a number of photos in this tribute, recalling so many special moments. We at Parvathi will always cherish our close association with a legendary vidwan and a great human being.

I am saddened that I have lost such a close friend. I cannot express my feelings any more. I can only say, without any hesitation, that Lalgudi’s passing is the end of an important era in Indian classical music. May his soul rest in peace and may he continue his musical pursuits for ever.

Recollections of Mysore Prabha

“The first thing that comes to my mind at the mention of Jayaraman Uncle's name is that he was a person very close to my father's heart.

I have several times heard my father say - "When you speak of violin-playing, keep Lalgudi Jayaraman apart, and then talk about it ".

This was not to bring down the virtuosity or merit of other veteran violinists in any way. It was just his unbounded adoration for his friend's violin-playing, particularly as a soloist."

As a young person, I always used to wonder how a person with such name and fame as Jayaraman uncle could be so simple and down-to-earth. I never heard him speak ill of anybody. He was never arrogant or boastful about his own art.He just used to smile happily with child-like pride whenever one praised his violin-playing or his compositions. And why not ? Only a jeweller knows his gems' worth ! "

Uncle Jayaraman always tremendously admired Lata Mangeshkar and her singing. (From what we have heard, the admiration was fully reciprocated by Lataji). I distinctly remember him telling me -"Every swara has a certain slot of it's own. Whenever a person sings, each and every swara should automatically go and fall into it's particular slot - like Lata Mangeshkar's singing ".

Whenever he used to visit our house, after the concert, he would ask me to sing some old Hindi film songs, Meera Bhajans, and would greatly appreciate some "Sangatis" in them.

One of my most cherished treasures is the notation and script of his Dhanasari tillana which uncle wrote for me in his own hand-writing, and an autographed book of his compositions.

During every visit he would without fail bring a gift for me - be it a tape-recorder, a box of sweets or a book on music.

Uncle had insisted that I stay in Madras for a few months and that he would fine-tune my singing. I regret that I did not pay heed to his suggestion. "

With a heavy heart, we have to accept the inevitable. The sound of his violin will always echo, but the platform would be empty now !