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A tribute to a living legend
One can go on writing tomes on the musical genius Lalgudi Jayaraman. Great vidwans, participating at a function got up sometime ago by the Music Academy to confer the "Special Lifetime Achievement Award on him, lavished praises on Lalgudi Jayaraman. Sample a few of these: T.N. Seshagopalan, describing him as a "Sakala Kalanidhi", and "Layabhava Raman, reminisced how, right from his school days, he never missed a single concert of Lalgudi Jayaraman. He also recalled the effortless ease and aplomb with which Lalgudi Jayaraman accompanied Mudikondan Venkatrama Iyer in his Music Academy concert, while he demonstrated the difficult "Simhananada Pallavi’. M. Chandrashekaran said he had followed Lalgudi's concerts right from 1949 onwards. He showered praises on Lalgudi's "Gayaki" style of violin playing, wherein his special "bani" enabled him to reproduce on his violin with absolute synchronization all the vocal notes of the singer, often enriching and embellishing them with his own subtle nuances and gamakams. Chandrashekaran urged the younger generation of Carnatic music students to take up and practice with dedication Lalgudi's varnams, thillanas, krithis and padhams, as they were the epitome of the grammar of Carnatic music.

Referring to him as a 'Living legend,’ R.K. Srikantan noted that Lalgudi Jayaraman had very effectively adopted the singing style on the violin. Calling him a true "Nadopaska, perfectionist and strict disciplinarian,’’ Srikantan said that Lalgudi Jayaraman’s artistry was worthy of emulation.

The 78-year-old maestro has been playing for over 60 years, right from the day he accompanied Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar in his Music Academy concert of 1948 His music continues to be as refreshing as ever. If anything, it only blooms afresh day by day. He was born in the lineage of an illustrious disciple of the great Saint Thyagaraja. He inherited the essence of Carnatic music from his father, V.R. Gopala Iyer, who trained him meticulously. He started his musical career at the age of 12, accompanying leading vocalists of the day. Endowed with rich imagination and great inborn skills, he rose to the pinnacle of fame quickly, accompanying all leading maestros of the day, with an ability to adapt to the varying styles of the different maestros, and contributing to the success of their vocal concerts in a large measure. He rose to be a solo violinist of rare brilliance due to his hard work and dedication, coupled with the rich experience gained while accompanying the maestros. It was not long before even his senior contemporaries in the violin field recognized his genius and talent and were unstinting in their praise and appreciation of his skills as a violinist par excellence. Chowdiah once remarked: "All of us must stop playing now that this boy has appeared." Participating in Lalgudi Jayaraman's marriage, Chowdiah again said: "He was born Raman. He took up the bow and became Kothandaraman. With his marriage, he has become Kalyanaraman. Since he triumphs everywhere, we can call him Jayaraman." Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu said: "If I practice for two years continuously I too can start playing in the Jayaraman manner." Rajamanickam Pillai openly praised his presence of mind in supportive play. Govindaraja Pillai would always make it a point to give Lalgudi Jayaraman a word of encouragement after every radio concert. Papa Venkataramiah appreciated the dignity with which he pursued his profession. Tiruvalangadu Sundaresa Iyer was ever his well-wisher. All these show the generosity and magnanimity of his seniors in the field.

His revolutionary violin playing technique became a distinct school of music and came to be known as "Lalgudi bani", which is characterized by a flawless and fascinating style, soft and melodious bowing, distinctly different from the harsh bowing techniques of his earlier predecessors, and yet deeply rooted in traditional classicism. In an interview with Shruti magazine in 1990, Lalgudi characterized his unique and revolutionary technique of violin playing in these words: "These new techniques I introduced brought about a revolution in the art of playing the violin; or you may call it a renaissance. The main feature of this novel style is that the same response is evoked through the violin as through vocal music.

The changes in fingering and bowing techniques shifted the accent to bring out all the subtleties and intricacies of singing. The second most important feature is that the art of accompanying the vocalist reached a new peak. Before my time, most violinists had fixed a style of their own and followed it all times, with the result that their playing could complement only certain vocalists. For example, Papa Venkataramiah was a perfect foil for Ariyakudi but not for GNB. But with my new style, I could play for anyone and everyone. I could support Madurai Mani's sarvalaghu sukham and discrete alapana, GNB's effortless briga-laden sparklers, or Alathur's laya fireworks. Listeners themselves began to notice the birth of a new tradition of violin accompaniment. In my style, you cannot distinguish between deflected and straight movements in bowing. The same richness of tone and the same continuity is maintained in both. Also, one will not realize that the bow is moving over the different strings in turn because of the evenness of the sound produced. Jumps and breaks are completely avoided. And, changes in fingering are so imperceptible as to go unnoticed. I always followed the vocal method closely."

Another fascinating facet of this multi-dimensional personality is his emergence as a forefront composer of krithis, varnams and thillanas, which exhibit sheer lyrical brilliance coupled with bhavam, rhythm and melody. His compositions are in great demand with all present generation of musicians who perform these in most of their concerts. As a soloist, he has performed extensively, giving thousands of concerts in India and abroad, receiving rave reviews everywhere.

Awards and tributes have come to him by the dozens. 'Nada Vidya Tilaka' by Music Lovers' Association of Lalgudi in 1963; 'Padma Shri' by the Government of India in 1972; 'Nada Vidya Rathnakara' by East West Exchange in New York; 'Vadya Sangeetha Kalaratna' by Bharathi Society, New York; 'Sangeetha Choodamani' by Federation of Music Sabhas, Madras in 1971 and in 1972; State Vidwan of Tamil Nadu by the Government of Tamil Nadu; and Sangeetha Natak Academy award in 1979.

The First Chowdaiah Memorial National-Level award was given to Lalgudi Jayaraman by the Chief Minister of Karnataka. He has also received honorary citizenship of Maryland, U.S., in 1994 and the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2001. To cap it all, the Music Academy conferred on him a "Special Lifetime Achievement Award" on March 9, 2008 for his monumental contribution to Carnatic music.

N. Murali, President of the Academy, said: "Lalgudi Jayaraman is a giant among musicians, occupying a pre-eminent position in the pantheon of all time greats of Carnatic music. His monumental contribution to Carnatic music has been multi-splendoured and has earned for him widespread appreciation, accolades and affection." Another singular achievement of Lalgudi Jayaraman was the formation of the concept of Musical ensembles in 1966 and he gave many such ensemble concerts and received great acclaim for the innovation. To sum up, geniuses like Lalgudi Jayaraman are born once in a blue moon and set new trends in the realm of music. May Lalgudi Jayaraman Sir live up to a ripe old age and continue his great contributions to Carnatic music.


Lalgudi Jayaraman, a Pancha Mukhi - By Durga Krishnan