Changing gear, the lyrical way

By K.T. Jagannathan
Chennai: 03-12-2020 12:44PM
Last Updated: 19-12-2020 12:45PM

What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of life? These questions pop up often in one’s mind. The mind constantly scouts for answers to these. Somewhere along the life journey, one strikes the right node all of a sudden. And, the journey takes an altered course for the better. Ask K. Ram Kumar. He will vouch for it. A native of Thiruvalampozhil (6.5 kms from Thiru Kandiyur on the way to Kallanai next to Thirupoonthuruthi), he is currently a Senior Vice-President at Ashok Leyland, a well-known manufacturer of commercial vehicles headquartered in Chennai. M.Com, FCMA, FCS and LLB follow his name. Ram Kumar today sports an entirely new tag to his name. He is a composer also! When the virus of unknown variety spread fast across the globe and rendered everybody firmly anchored at homes, he discovered a new tool in his learning kit. As the world is slowly veering round to accept the new normal life, Ram Kumar is happy donning an entirely different hat. He has already composed and recorded over 20 songs on various deities. In this interaction, Ram Kumar reveals his transformation in an interview with K.T. Jagannathan. Excerpts:

What prompted you to get into composing songs?

 Since my childhood, I have been a bit pious. Maybe I inherited this from my father and ancestors (my grandfathers have been Sri Vidya Upasakars). Kanchi Paramacharya has also visited our ancestral house at Thiruvalampozhil. My father visited 106 Divya Desams and more than 250 “padal petra kshetrams”. Personally, I would have completed 50% of the same over the period. My deep interest in knowing the temple history and Carnatic music songs associated with that temple has been simmering internally in my unconscious mind. Though there has not been any need to write and give lectures in Tamil, I sustained my interest in the language mainly through reading Kalki novels. Besides my father, I would like to give credit to two of my seniors in Ashok Leyland, Mr. T. Anantha Narayanan (TAN) and Mr. K. Sridharan (KS), who used to treat me like their brother and inculcated in me spiritual knowledge besides professional one. My association with them and Mr. R.Seshasayee is something which I would cherish since it shaped my personal and professional life. That’s the reason my maiden CD was released by Mr. Seshasayee and received by Mr. Anantha Narayanan and Mr. Sridharan.

Since when are you at it?

 It all began in the Tamil month of Thai i.e. January 2020. Though I have been a regular visitor to Kapaleeswarar temple for ages, it was ordained on me to visit Rathnagireeswarar temple at Besant Nagar continuously for three Fridays in the month of Thai to have darshan of Goddess Aralakesi and the presiding deity Rathnagireeswarar Temple. The way they decorate Goddess Aralakesi is captivating. When I visited the temple for the 3rd time, somehow I felt that Goddess was ordering me to write something on her. Though I have not been writing anything in Tamil (leave alone poetry), I wrote my first Sahithyam on Goddess Aralakesi. It actually took less than 10 minutes for me to complete the song. This was unusual as we normally begin worshipping Lord Ganapathi. I thought this to be a one-time affair and left it. In May, 2020 again I had an unusual experience by which a supernatural force (by whatever name you call it) was asking me to compile Sahithyams again. While I initially resisted, then I began to believe that Goddess Aralakesi and Goddess Karpagambal whom I revere a lot are asking me to do something which I have to comply with. Once I made up my mind, it was a smooth flow.

Most of the compositions were written during the Brahma Muhurtham period. Even when I get up, the lines will start getting generated on a particular deity (not pre-determined) and I only have to go and sit in a particular place and start writing. On most occasions, it would get completed anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes, unless disturbed in between by a phone call or anything else. Since most of the writing is done early in the morning, it does not disturb my routines. Anyhow, we are all trained well for multi-tasking.

Till date, I have completed more than 130 Sahithyams, and is still continuing. This covers more than 70 kshetrams of both Shaivaite and Vaishnavite ones. This includes very popular temples and also others on which as per known history no one has composed a Carnatic music krithi. Keerthanais composed include Pancharangams, Panchasabhai, several Divya Desams and Padal Petra Sthalams. It also includes songs on deities such as Sapthamathar (my family deity – a Ragamalika), Bhairavar and one on Kal Garudan. I humbly feel that God is guiding me on a mission which he has chosen for me.

Who is your inspiration to write?

Visiting temples and knowing their history and the like have always been pursued by me as a passion. Most importantly, whatever I learnt I have retained. And thanks to the divine grace, I am able to retrieve them and use it while composing the Sahithyam. I must admit that I never believed that I had this skill in composing songs and that too in Tamil since I have studied mostly in English medium. Whenever I used to visit a temple, I used to think of Carnatic music songs composed on that temple. Similarly, when I hear any song, my mind will hover around the deity on whom the song is being played. Thus, music and divinity are intertwined for me. I should also make a special mention that I am not formally trained in Carnatic music in any form, and my interest has been limited to listening to good music. Thus, my role is limited to writing Sahithyams as ordained to me. However, what is baffling me is that most of the songs tuned structurally fits with the chosen raga. I consider this as a blessing of God as otherwise it can’t happen as I never composed any song to suit a particular ragam.

You have joined with Carnatic vocalist Dr. R. Ganesh to give these compositions a lyrical format. How did this alliance come about?

It began in a concert organized by one of my relatives. His grandfather had written a few songs and Dr. Ganesh had tuned and sung those songs. Coincidentally, the composer had purchased our ancestral house a century back and had composed these songs while living in that house. I attended that function as a chief guest and we had a chance to interact and identify common interests. Dr. Ganesh’s devotion to Kanchi Acharyas was another binding factor. When I started composing the songs, I contacted him for tuning it and his initial guidance was extremely helpful in structuring the formats etc. Our association has been extremely productive and has helped me to learn a lot from him in this new field. Till date 21 songs have been tuned and recorded. One full-hour concert was telecast in Sri Sankara TV and, in fact, was re-telecast thanks to positive reviews.

What is the way forward in this new journey?

As regards future endeavours, I have left it to Goddess Karpagambal as I owe this to her. My writing is continuing till date and I hope it continues further. Two concerts are likely to be telecast - one on the occasion of Vaikunta Ekadasi Day and another on Arudhra Dharisanam. Songs recorded are also being uploaded in a staggered manner in my YouTube Channel. With the blessings of Goddess Karpagambal and encouragement of friends and relatives, I wish and hope that my tryst with Carnatic music continues for rest of my life. This musical journey has left a lasting impact on my life. In a way, it is a life fulfilling mission for me. It has helped me to understand my “true form”. Besides the materialistic life that we live, it has injected a “purpose” in my life. This will also help me to leave behind a lasting legacy for future generations, whatever it’s worth.