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Lalgudi Jayaraman
It is not as if I had not relished the music of violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman before I went abroad. Ironically, it was while speaking to the undersecretary of Arts & Culture department in Doha, Qatar, back in March 1984, that I realized instrumental music had a new dimension to it. We had approached the undersecretary for permission to host Lalgudi's carnatic music concert.

Fearing that the official may veto our request to hold the concert, I had pleaded with the argument "but its only instrumental music!" I was trying to stress the point that as it was instrumental and not vocal, it won't have any references to Hindu deities.

The undersecretary looked squarely at me and asked: "Who told you that instrumental music cannot be religious music?"

It was a revelation. The official by asking that question opened my eyes as it were to another facet of Lalgudi's music. Instrument it was. But Lalgudi, with his vocalized style of playing the violin, could invoke a spiritual experience for the listener.

We had organized a festival of Indian classical music in Doha, Qatar, in 1984, and among the performances that stood out was of course that of Lalgudi Jayaraman's solo concert at the Sofitel Hotel. The three-hour concert had exquisite vignettes of various ragas. However, Hindolam and Kalyani ragas were given space and dimension, making them truly melodious. To this day I can remember the standing ovation he got from the audience at the end of the concert.

Now for a little flashback. The first time I perhaps listened to Lalgudi Jayaraman, with focused attention to his enchanting music, was as soon as I had landed in Doha, Qatar. The year was 1979. Destiny brought me to meet an ardent carnatic music aficionado. He had a vast collection of audio tapes of carnatic music and one day he invited me to listen exclusively to Lalgudi's music.

The one that swept me off my feet and took me to stratospheric heights was Lalgudi Jayaraman exquisitely playing an enchanting and hummable Kalyanavasantham raga followed by the Thyagaraja composition "Nadaloludai Bramhananda mey", something incredibly beautiful. How can anyone bring in such grace, such a sheen, such perfection, such hauntingly creative ideas to enshrine the beauty of Kalyanavasantham for ever? Then there was a racy Bilahari piece, a heart-tugging ragamalika including such jewels as Sindu Bhairavi, Maund and Tilang, breath-taking in their sweep and joie-de-vivre!

There was another album wherein he had handled with his usual vigorously enchanting mode kritis in ragas like Mohana Kalyani, Desh, Hamir Kalyani, Kathanakuthuhalam, Kapi, and Pahadi. The music, to put it simply, was bewitching and for days on end, I was humming one or the other of these masterpieces. Truly I was bewitched by this "stringer supreme" if I may coin a phrase in his honour.

Over the years, my friend softened the harsh realities of my living in the Gulf alone and made it more bearable. Many were the Friday evenings (Fridays are holidays in Doha) we spent together listening to and enjoying vintage music.

Music from albums of masters like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Alathur Brothers, Madurai Mani Iyer , Chembai Vaidyanatha Baghavathar, and others, to many of whom Lalgudi Jayaraman was an automatic choice as an accompanying violinist. Automatic, because he had the knack of giving admirable support even while enriching the concert as a whole, adding his own scintillating touches while playing the raga or compositions or swaras.

It's time to refer to a Tamil phrase "Chaala porundum" when one talks about a musical genius Lalgudi Jayaraman being honoured with "Lifetime Achievement Award" by the Madras Music Academy. It literally means "truly deserving" but countless admirers of Lalgudi Jayaraman like me, while welcoming the recognition, feel a twinge of regret.

For, a title like "Sangeetha Kalanidhi", which he truly deserved for his multi-dimensional, path-breaking contribution to carnatic music, eluded him. Others were honoured so by the Music Academy. That does not redound to the Academy's credit. It indeed is and must be reckoned as one of the singular misfortunes in the history of carnatic music.

Perhaps Lalgudi Jayaraman, one of 20th century's brilliant violinists, does not hanker after titles as others of his ilk do. Titles have come unasked for this genius.

The Government of India honoured him with Padma Bhushan in 2001.The Federation of Music Sabhas, Chennai, conferred on him the title "Sangeetha Choodamani" in 1971.

Others too have recognised his worth. The Sangeetha Natak Academy recognized his contribution to classical music with an award in 1979. The Bangalore Gayana Samaja gave him the title "Sangeetha Kala Ratna" in October 1997. And in 1982, the first Chowdiah Memorial National-Level Award was given to him by the then chief minister Gundu Rao. He was given the title "Bharatha Jyoti" by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan following a millennium concert it hosted at the New York Lincoln Centre, which won him rave reviews.

And Yehudi Menuhin, world renowned violinist, was so taken up with mastery and Lalgudi's expressive skills over the violin that he presented an Italian violin in 1965 to the Indian musical wizard after a concert for the Edinborough Music Festival.

Talking about rave reviews I would like to refer to one. One by Prof. S. Ramanathan, venerable musician and musicologist, who perhaps typifies the best in Lalgudi Jayaraman's music with the words: "Its ingredients are a fascinating tonal allure, a scintillating and polished delivery, a flawless fluency, a preternatural grasp of the ins-and-outs of Laya, an unflagging zeal, splendid resourcefulness, an unruffled self possession, an effortless virtuosity, a fine sense of proportion, a tautness of texture, an impeccable musical idiom and total creative brilliance. In short, it is a sweet ensemble of the choicest artistic virtues". Ultimate appreciation indeed!

Be it riveting attention of the listener with soulful enunciation of the bhava of a raga or a composition, be it taking you into a different dimension of innovation by etching out unheard of melodies in new ragas, be it giving you an insight into his rich musical grasp with many exquisite varnams or thillanas, he is matchless.

An anecdote I must share with readers. I used to think that I was among the greatest fans of Lalgudi Jayaraman's music. Until I met my uncle some years ago. Apparently he had met Lalgudi one day in the foyer of the Music Academy in Chennai and went up to him, shook his hand, and told him: ", Ungaladuya kaiyai kulukki innekki en janma sabalyam aayidichu sir!" ("My life's purpose is accomplished after shaking hands with you!") Incredible but true. My uncle (and there are scores of his genre, I am sure) is the ultimate die-hard fan of Lalgudi Jayaraman!

In conclusion, I must also share one more nugget. Violin maestro he is indisputably. But he has also been an excellent vocal teacher of carnatic music. Testimony to his inimitable and charming skill in teaching vocal music was given by none other than Balamurali Krishna when once he referred to Lalgudi's vocal teaching ability by remarking: "Thank God he has not taken to vocal music; else we all would have had to resort to some other profession to make our living!"

The great violinist's extraordinary musical legacy is carried on by his vocalist disciples: Bombay Jayashri, S.P.Ramh, Vishaka Hari and Saketaraman, to name some. They are making waves as among the topnotch gennext musicians today.

He also has many disciples who play the violin, chief among them being his son G.J.R. Krishnan, daughter Vijayalakshmi, and noted violinist Vittal Ramamurthy. They have carved a special niche as excellent and exuberant musicians on the violin.

May Lalgudi's tribe increase, so that music is always innovative and fresh, enjoyable, memorable and melodious. Long live Lalgudi Jayaraman, carnatic music's "avathara purushan" (incarnate personified)!

Read also:

Lalgudi Jayaraman always cares for the main artiste, says Balamuralikrishna

Lalgudi’s compositions, 21st century masterpieces
K.R.Venkataramani -
May be, it is a sheer coincidence that I read this article when the maestro's 80th birthday is going to be celebrated with happiness and gratitude by his ardent fans at Chennai shortly. As one of his fans, I wish him long life and God's grace. His music is a great gift of God to humanity!

Ramesh Parthasarathy -
His music brings tears to my eyes. And, I am a stone.

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