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K.J. Yesudas, a singer extraordinary
BANGALORE, September 1: In a way, I am beholden to Shruti, World Space's 24-hour Carnatic music radio station. Last week when I was writhing in agony with back pain one night they played raga Vagadeeswari. One of the finest singers of our generation was exploring the raga in great style and that made me forget my back pain for a while. I rushed downstairs, back pain and all, to pick up my recorder and clambered up and recorded the kriti "Vani Vagadeeswari varam arulwai". It was one of the finest moments in my five decades-long listening pleasure.

Vagadeeswari is a vivadi raga and is rarely sung by musicians on the concert platform. Over the years, I have heard very few musicians sing this enchanting raga and the Thyagaraja composition 'Paramatmudu velige'. The inimitable flute Mali used to play this wonderfully. The late MLV used to sing it with great panache. Then there is an exquisite recording of the raga and Thyagaraja kriti Paramathmudu by maestro Dr Balamuralikrishna. But no one had so far to my knowledge sung a Tamil composition until I heard 'Vani Vagadeeswari'.

In retrospect, I am not surprised that it had to be this singer who has stormed the musical scene since the last three decades or so with his magnificent voice-a voice that can traverse the three octaves with effortless ease having timbre and magnetic pull. It belongs to a man with whom I have had my tiff in the eighties. It belongs to a singer who inspired me with many lovely songs in Malayalam films and in Hindi films. He took the country by storm so to say when he began giving wonderful Carnatic music concerts.

I recall one incident way back in the 1970s when I tried to gate crash a concert by him at the Shell Colony in Chembur, North Bombay, during the Shastha festival celebrating devotee's fervour and piety before visiting Sabarimala in Kerala for a darshan of the Lord Ayyappa. It was jam-packed and despite my plea of saying I was from a reputed national daily, the organizers refused me entry.

Luckily one secretary came along and after expressing in no uncertain terms that he had no sympathy with the paper that I worked for (because it had not given any coverage for the festival in its columns) escorted me up front to the area marked exclusively for VIPs. I was allowed to sit right up front and it was a mesmerizing affair as this singer had begun to lucidly, enchantingly delineate the raga Charukesi. It shimmered like a bright jewel and he made it shine even more with a beautiful Swati Thirunal kriti "Kripaya palaya sowre'", simply taking my breath away with his rich, sonorous and mellifluously melodious voice. Nearly 40 years have elapsed but it is still fresh in my memory.

I remember how I was clean bowled when I first heard him sing "Alaapanam, anavathya sangeetha alapanam" in a superb ragamalika in some Malyalam film starting with a startlingly original Thodi phrase full of verve and hummable curves. Then there were the superbly rendered devotional numbers soaked in bhava; one which I recall with great fondness even today is the song "Guruvayoor ambalathil oru divsam gnan pogum, gopura vadil turakkum, Gopakumaranai kanum" and the brilliantly-etched melodious Hamsanandi song of Lalitha Dasar "Pavanaguru pavana pura desham aashraye".

This past week I got soaked and immersed in the music of this vibrant singer originally from Kerala but who now belongs to all of India. Yes, I am talking of none other than the redoubtable K.J. Yesudas. I had met him in the 80s in the Gulf and had found him to be humble and very God fearing. Humble and God fearing he is even now I suppose but I did have an occasion to criticize him and found that he was very touchy of criticism of his music.

I had criticized him for mixing up medium in a Carnatic music concert (advertised as such by the organizers, but Yesudas sang an Arabic ditty and a Hindi film song!) and said he seemed to be in a great hurry to conclude the concert. Yesudas got to know about my comments and later took umbrage at my criticism saying it was unwarranted as I was not familiar with the situation under which he was singing. Anyhow, after a brief exchange of each other's viewpoints, we shook hands and made it up but somehow that original bonhomie which I found in him earlier was lacking whenever he met me later! All this doesn't deter from the fact that over the years I have heard him sing wonderfully in films and in Carnatic music concerts.

I remember the first time I heard him sing the Hindi film song "Jab deep jale aana" and was charmed by the ease with which he rendered evocatively the raga Yaman-based ditty. It was simply delightful and made you want to listen it again and again any number of times. Also charming was the songs "Ka karoon sajani aaye na baalum", (a memorable piece rendered brilliantly by Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan originally, but portrayed with moving grace and beauty by Yesudas) and my all time favourite "Mata Saraswati Shaaruda", a devotional number which fills you with joy whenever you hear it.

Among the memorable numbers in Tamil films that I can recall is the song "Adisaya ragam, aananda ragam, azhagiya ragam apoorva ragam", a masterpiece based on the raga Mahati, a raga created by and originally popularized by Dr Balamuralikrishna. In the film Swathi Thirunal, Yesudas, Balamurali and Neyyatankarai Vasudevan come together to sing a captivating "Raghuvara ninnu", the song based on raga Panthuvarali, effectively capturing the various shades of the raga..

I cannot forget to mention the immeasurable joy Yesudas has given to me (and I suppose countless others throughout India and elsewhere) with masterly rendition of ragas Charukesi, Vagadeeswari, Rishabhapriya, Priyadarshini ( a derivative of melakarta Sarasangi),Vivardini (a derivative of Sankarabharanam), Kapi, Simmendramadhyamam, Todi, Ananda Bhairavi, Nasika Bhooshini, Valaji, Komalangi, Shanmukhapriya, Ahir Bhairavi and Desh to name some. I have learnt "Thaaye en Saraswati" (Nasika Bhooshini), "Kannanai Kandayo Mallikodiye (Sindhu Bhairavi), "Veladutu vilayadum pillai" (Desh) and "Naama nalla naamam, Rama naamam nalla naamam" (Valaji) and "Silayai kai kondu Siva roobam aakunna" (Ahir Bhairav). Among my favourites are also the excellent rendition of "Charanam Pugunden Thunaiva Vinayaka" in raga Komalangi (a derivative of mela Sarasangi and "Siddhi Vinayakam Anisham", a masterpiece of creation by Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar, in a memorably melodious Shanmukhapriya raga. Another song I want to learn is the beautiful ode to Lord Ganesha in the Tamil kriti " Karunai Ganapathiye ezhai en karu vinai theerkum gunanidhiye" in a brilliantly etched Priyadarshini, a janya of Sarasangi. Yesudas simply excelled in the swaraprasthara emphasizing delightful combinations in the scale Sa ri ma dha ni sa, Sa ni dha ma ri sa. Truly gripping music with the artiste's flight of imagination in full swing and breath-taking indeed! One cannot but nod and say Bravo to this wonderful musician...

I was particularly charmed by the Thyagaraja compositions in Rishabapriya (a prati madyama raga of Charukesi) and Vivdardini. Both were handled with great skill and delicacy as well as emphasis where required and he essayed amazing combinations in the swaraprasthara phase. Pleasing and riveting indeed in this case. But one must say that there are occasions when he gets carried away and stretches them a little bit too much.

Nonetheless, this should not detract from the overall meritorious music that Yesdudas provides to countless millions of listeners all over the country. His concerts are always jam packed and one can say Yesudas has given a new direction and meaning to rendition of Carnatic music. While he has largely followed tradition scrupulously, he has also shown an adventurous spirit and an inquiring mind by delving deep into new modes and new kritis.

Yesudas has popularized many new compositions in Carnatic music - be it Tamil, Malyalam or Telegu or Kannada. Suffice it to say that here is an artiste who has won public accolade and is the envy of many contemporary musicians. In Kerala, he is known as Dasettan and in Chennai his Carnatic music concerts inevitably draw a full house.

Perceptive rasikas have come to expect and enjoy the new ragas or compositions that this living legend brings to the concert platform. He makes music wholesome and thus enjoyable and very often memorable. It is time he is conferred the highest honour of Sangeetha Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy for Yesudas is truly a gifted musician who has the blessings of Goddess Mookambika!
Ganesh -
"En Nenjil Palli Kondavan" is a song which captured the hearts of so many listeners of Yesudas. And, undoubtedly, Yesudas has conquered the hearts of so many music fans throughout India and abroad. There are lots who wish to imitate his voice, but even the best imitatator can hardly reach to 25% of his voice quality, because his voice is a blend of mellifluousness, volume, metallic resonance, 3 Octave range etc. But Yesudas is not just his Golden Voice. His Bhava, his dedication to the song, his clarity, his divinity etc made him a unique singer. But it is a pity that only Kerala has honoured him as "Gana Gandharvan". He is a Singer the whole India has to be proud of.

Vinay Kamath -
Beautifully evocative piece on Yesudas !! A lovely mix of personality, persona and analysis of his music. Made for a very good read! Thanks for a nice piece.

S.Prabhu -
Dear Mr. Anantharaman. I just read your September story on Yesudas - a very nice piece. I enjoyed the tale. It also took me back to some of my favourite Hindi hits of his - Kaa Karoon and Gori Tera Gaon, both of which I listened to again after a long time, thanks to your piece.