Archive for September, 2016

The Musical Journey of Lalgudi G Jayaraman

September 17, 2016

Comments on Biography of Lalgudi

I just happen to finish reading the book – An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath.  The book itself was published in May 2013, just after the sudden demise of Sri Lalgudi on 22nd April 2013. As a tribute to his memory, I am sharing with my readers and many fans of Lalgudi, a few comments I have on this book, which may add up additional features to his phenomenal life of great achievements in the field of Carnatic Music. Page numbers are given for ready reference.

  • (P-23) Sethupathi Vallal Pandithurai Thevar was a great promoter of classical music. He was also a leading figure in preserving Hindu Culture and was the head of a movement against Sharada act, banning child marriages. In those days, it was considered as interference in religious freedom, and people argued that the same reform could be achieved by persuasion than by an act of government. I remember seeing a copy of an old letter written by my grandfather to Pandithurai Thevar, suggesting a meeting on this issue along with Andipatti (Mattapparai) Zamindar. By the way my grandfather L S Raja Ramanatha Iyer was a Veena Vidwan, a contemporary and a friend of Karaikudi brothers. He was also briefly an elected president of Madurai Jilla Board.
  • (P-24) The episode concerning Lady Loka Sundari and Sir C V Raman is quite funny. Smt Lokasundari was trained in Music by Valadi Radhakrishna Iyer, grandfather of Lalgudi. She sang ‘Rama nee Samanam evaru’, apt for the occasion, when the groom C V Raman came for bride introduction function at Madurai, in early 1900s.
  • (P-29) Muthulakshmi Patti is the grandmother of Lalgudi (Wife of Valadi Radhakrishan Iyer. Her poetry is fantastic. Now we know where from Sri Lalgudi inherited his composing genius. Look at this: Vennai unda vaya, Oliyum Maya, kalvanum Niya, Kanniyar Neya, kadir nigar thooya, un manam kaya, anbellam Poyya – in his Charukesi varnam. Compare this with Patti’s: Ennariya Thozharai Anna Thambi enru, Vennai Thayir Palundu, Unna amudam kondu…
  • (P- 44) Lalgudi’s mother Smt Savithri is from Edayathumangalam, near Lalgudi, same village my patti (Grand Mother) Ammalu nee Akhilandeswari, hailed from. I have heard from Smt Savithri Ammal, that it was her father Sundara Sastrigal who was the official priest who married off my patti.
  • (P-64) Lalgudi’s father, Sri V R Gopala Iyer’s Music School in Lalgudi: The group photograph shows my aunt (Mami) Smt. Dharmambal, who had learnt music from Gopala Iyer in her younger days.
  • (P – 116) Speaking of Lalgudi’s tala expertise and control – Once Lalgudi was accompanying the great MD Ramanathan in a concert in Bharatiya Fine Arts in Mumbai. MD elaborated raga Pantuvarali and after the krithi, started niraval and kalpana swaras. After a long passage of swaras, he started his Kuraippu sequence. Lalgudi was accompanying him beautifully and suddenly he stopped his bowing. MD continued his kuraippu for another cycle of talam and looked at Lalgudi puzzled. Lalgudi shook his head ever so slightly, just enough for MD to realize that the particular kuraippu is not going to end at the required beat of the tala. He gestured to audience his acceptance of mis-beat and proceeded further, cutting short his kuraippu and started an entirely new kuraippu sequence smilingly acknowledging Lalgudi’s follow-up. I am referring to this concert again later in a different interesting context.
  • (P 127) Accompanying Madurai Somu – His accompaniment has always embellished vocal concerts in a very imaginative way. In a concert by Madurai Somu, in Shanmukhananda, Mumbai, he was presenting a viruttham on Goddess Meenakshi. In his rich emotional voice he was describing goddess Meenakshi’s alankaram : ‘Vairam…. Vaiduriam…’. Audience were spell bound: ‘mookutthi.. Odyanam..’. Lalgudi beautifully enhanced the imagery by playing chords in a fast tempo. When Somu dropped into an emotional silence, the chords of Lalgudi continued in a low tone bringing out the emotion among the audience also. There was a rapturous applause for the presentation.
  • (P-159) In the CD attached with the book, track-8, Meenakshi Memudham was simply superb. The violin sings. When he plays on two strings we can hear the words. Initially I thought he sings along. He creates this effect repeatedly in his rendering. The CD itself was too good and deserves to enter into all musical archives.
  • (P-161) Lalgudi most certainly re-invented the raga Kalyana Vasantham and the kriti Nadaloludai. Among other Krithis he embellished was Manavyalakim in Nalina Kanthi. He slowed it down and lifted the Krithi from its light music aspect to main Krithi level.
  • (P-164) Regarding Sahithya bhava in Theerada Vilayattu pillai : In another krithi Nee Irangayenil, variety of ways he plays Sei Uyir Vazhumo; first he will play Vazhumo flat, suggesting ridicule and rebuke, then he will play the same thing with harsh bowing showing anger, then the ‘vazhumo…..’ will be prolonged as though crying for help. He says that is how the sangatis are meant to be presented.
  • (P-171) Regarding playing ragamalika, Lalgudi introduced several novelties, including the one mentioned. When he plays ragamalika with his son: he plays a raga, his son picks up the same raga and then seamlessly changes to another raga and ‘passes the baton’ to Lalgudi: Lalgudi takes over ‘on the go’ and after a few phrases changes over to the next raga. Yes, it was a relay-raga-malika. This trend he practiced in many of his concerts.
  • (P-177) Lalgudi’s Tala gnana was tremendous. Once before a concert in Dubai I happened to visit him in the Hotel room he was staying, on the morning of the day of the concert. When I entered the room I saw Lalgudi reciting some jati’s keeping Adi Tala on the hands. His accompanists, Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam and Tanjavur Nagarajan were also seated in the room. He demonstrated an elaborate korvai of decreasing counts, in about 8 to 10 avartanas. Instantly he reversed the same korvai to increasing counts for the same avartanas, to the amazement of tala vidwans
  • (P-224) Lalgudi Poornachandar episode: What irked Sri Gopala Iyer, apparently, was his lack of respect – in saying that he had obtained legal clearance for appending Lalgudi to his name. He even dropped the name of P V Rajamannar, former Chief Justice of Madras High Court. As a disciple of Lalgudi and Balamurali, he was shaping up extremely well as a violinist, but unfortunately lost his way in between.
  • (P-239) Duet with GJR Krishnan: It was the first ever duet of LGJ and GJR in Mumbai Shanmukhananda (~1974). There was a rotational power-cut in Mumbai due to power shortage. Concert started at 6.05 PM as usual. Sharp at 7PM, power went off and without any facility of UPS, the sound system also went down. Two emergency lamps appeared from either side of the stage. Auditorium was dim and silent, and the pure and melodious sounds of violins continued crystal clear for the next half hour (music-unplugged) and then, the power returned. At the end of the piece, audience applauded the artists for the way they handled the situation and using it to enhance the audience experience.
  • (P-257) It was in 1984. We were having a concert tour of Lalgudi in the Gulf. We were having two concerts in UAE one in Dubai and another in Abudhabi. I was driving Sri Lalgudi to Abudhabi and my wife was also with me. The whole two hours of driving we had a feast of his vocal music along with his anecdotes. He sang the whole Charukesi varnam enjoying his own lyrics and music immensely. We reached the auditorium in Abudhabi just in time. But the accompanists, who were travelling in a different car lost their way a little bit and arrived almost 10 minutes late. But Lalgudi took the stage on time and started warming up. Just then accompanists also arrived at the stage. Lalgudi’s comment cheered up the audience: “Sri Ramabhadran and Sri Vinayakram were always accompanying me faithfully but this time they failed to do so. Surely, they will make up for this on the stage.”
  • (P-265) When his disciple, Sow Akhila was in Dubai, Lalgudi used to stay with her whenever he visits Gulf either for concert or on transit. During one such visit, we were blessed to watch the video of Jaya Jaya Devi ballet along with him and his comments.
  • (P-335) On 9th March 2008, The Music Academy, Madras awarded Sri Lalgudi, the Special Life Time Achievement Award, a one-off award for the first time ever in the ninety years history of the Academy. During the occasion the president of the Academy Sri N Murali said that non-award of Sangita Kalanidhi title to Lalgudi, can be compared to Mahatma Gandhi not getting a Nobel Peace Prize. Sri Murali was proud that they did better than Nobel foundation, by seeking ‘to erase the mistake and the aberration’ and ‘in conferring the Special Life Time Achievement Award’ for Sri Lalgudi. But all said and done, I am still feeling bad to see that Lalgudi’s portrait is not seen anywhere in the lobbies of the Academy, not even among the portraits of Sangita Kalanidhis. Will the Academy take steps to erase this aberration too?
  • The book is a very interesting read for a biography. It has been a very well researched material with all interesting references. Some of the intrigues, conflicts and challenges in the world of Carnatic music have been brought out along with Lalgudi’s mature responses for the same. I felt the book could have included a few more comments from the rasikas including a few Lalgudi fans. Being an ardent fan of Lalgudi, for my own satisfaction, I am adding below a few of my experience and interactions with Lalgudi.
  • V R Gopala Iyer: Lalgudi’s father was really a genius. Here is my own experience with him. In my younger days (1977), I was once visiting Lalgudi Sir along with my wife and 2-year old daughter. As Lalgudi sir had gone out, we were greeted by Sri Gopala Iyer. When we were talking to him, my daughter was playing with the grilled door of their house. She was rattling the bolt of the door. When I asked her to keep quiet, Gopala Iyer remarked: Kuzhandai kaila dhaivatham, Panchamam Vilayadikirathe! (Daivath and Pancham are the playthings in her hands) – When I looked somewhat puzzled, he explained: ‘The child is playing with Da and Pa, Thapa,(i.e.) the bolt ! When he came to know the child’s name as Sriranjani, he again made a remark: Pancham Varjyam ! (In raga Sriranjani, the swara panchamam is absent). Pancham can also mean in Tamil, scarcity or poverty.
  • During a lecdem Lalgudi was asked whether Saint Thyagaraja’s nadopasana composition, ‘Nabhi Hruth Kanda Rasana’ applies to instrumentalist also, he confirmed that even for instrumentalist the Nada emanates from Nabhi, then Hruth and Kanda and then it echoes on the instruments instead of Vocal cords as in the case of vocalist. “Set of vocal cords is their instrument and violin is my vocal cords; Otherwise source of Nada is the same” as per Lalgudi.
  • Once Lalgudi was accompanying the great MD Ramanathan in a concert in Bharatiya Fine Arts in Mumbai. (Referred earlier). It was immediately after MD received the title Padmashri from GOI. Before the concert there was a felicitation for MD where many people spoke of him and his music. MD was all the time nudging Lalgudi to speak, which he was refusing. When it was MD’s turn to reply, he openly acknowledged about his unkind references to awards, when Lalgudi received his Padmashri ahead of MD; it was almost an apology. The concert that followed was really memorable without any slightest sign of discard.
  • When Lalgudi came to Mumbai for a concert in Shanmukhananda he had arrived two days earlier. As he was comparatively free, I invited him to our apartment for coffee. When he was there I took the opportunity of taking his blessings for my wife who was a budding vocalist. He asked her to sing raga Todi. After elaborating the raga, she was about to sing one of the trinity krithis. He asked for a different one and then again a different one. Finally he settled for Thygaraja Krithi, ‘Dachu kovalena’. When she was singing a particular sangati, she was asked to repeat the same sangati several times, as apparently he liked it very much. In the next day’s concert he played this krithi and played the same sangati, looking smilingly at us in the audience.  [My wife says pranams to her (Late) Guru Sangita Kala Acharya, Vidwan S Ramachandra Bhagavatar of Shanmukhananda – on whom Sri Lalgudi also had a high regard].

Today, 17th Sept 2016, is the 86th birth anniversary of Sangita Vidwan, Violin Maestro, Padma Bhushan, Lalgudi Sri G Jayaraman (1930 – 2013). My thanks are due to the author Smt Lakshmi Devnath for making me live through Lalgudi experience all over again. There are a lot more musical incidences to remember him on this day. Luckily his music still lives in the form of his many recordings, many compositions and in many of his disciples including his children, Sri GJR Krishnan and Sow Viji.

Ref: An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath, Harper Collins Publishers India (2013)

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