A subliminal effect was mounting into that mass of nerve tissue inside my cranium. 5:20 bus – i-pod plugged into my ears… ‘On-the-go’, loaded with a set of very special kritis from a very special singer, was performing the DJ’ing for me even as my tympanum was relishing each auditory impression that came its way. Stalwarts of the carnatic tradition often imprint their signature on certain kritis and make them their own just like Maharajapuram Santhanam made ‘Thunga theera viraajam’ his... the first song in my playlist…
I tried to pierce those foggy memories of my 6th grade days when that cartridge of magnetic ribbon inside our ‘Sanyo’ tape recorder played this voice for the first time. Those were the days when the ‘sophisticated’ stereo recorded cassettes were introduced. Appa, a connoisseur of this great classical tradition that is carnatic music, made sure that his almirah housed a rich collectible. Madurai Mani, MSS, Chembai and a host of other such exponents embellished the amplifier of that HMV record player (electric gramaphone) which appa had bought sometime during the early seventies. We still have those black vinyl record discs and the record player as well. (if someone reading this blog and who is knowledgeable about this equipment can give me pointers as to where I can get playing needles for HMV, it’ll be great.). The 80s saw the emergence of magnetic tapes and Appa started converting all these LP records into tapes. MSS, DKP, Semmangudi, Balamurali, Yesudas – the illustrious list appended one more great to itself in the form of Maharajapuram. Maharajapuram was an instant hit in our home, so much so that I remember appa buying a Maharajapuram title every fortnight or so during one particular phase - ‘Maharaja sings for you’, ‘Oothukkadu venkata subbier kritis’, ‘Mellifluous’, ‘Gracious’… Of late I’ve also been involved with the preservation act by converting these tapes to MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, mp3 in short.
‘Raaghavendraaa…’ – the beautiful strains of Maharaja’s voice were testing the higher octaves even as he effortlessly flaunted the gamakams with élan. Every now and then the captivating effect that his voice exuded pushed my follicles to stand upwards. I’ve started liking Kambhoji immensely after listening to Maharaja’s rendition of ‘Maragatha vallim’. His unique approach in aalapanai, the method of building up a raga, has, over the years, enthralled many a soul and this song – the second in my playlist and my personal pick - is a perfect showcase of this aspect of his music. Whenever I hear this piece my cousin Prabhu, who sings this so very well, comes to my mind. In fact, ours is a family of good singers and my relatives will be quick to point out that appa and periathai (my aunt) can in fact render a quick katcheri.
Saint Thyagaraja can’t stay out of action for too long and in ‘Nannu Vidachi’, like many of his compositions, he pleads for his Ramayya’s grace. Maharaja’s recital of this kriti, my third one, brought out a kind of poignancy and beauty that I felt like crying when those words “Raamayya raama.. kodhanda raamaa.. kalyaana raamaa..” flowed from his larynx like silk. “Aadaadhu ashangaadhu”, the fourth and last for my day, kept me guessing till the end… what is so appealing about this song? Is it Oothukkaadu’s words or is it Santhanam’s voice? The combination maybe! Maharajapuram infused so much life to Venkata kavi’s words that one could in fact visualize the Lord as the narration unfolded. “Un aadalai kaana thillai ambalathu iravanum than aadalai vittu inge Gokulam vandhaan” - the ultimate compliment to Lord Krishna’s dance. When he sang with that subtle anxiety in his voice “Kann pattu ponaal manam punn pattu pogume” – I was WOWed!
Maharajapuram Santhanam burst into the scene very late and his early exit meant that the music world has lost a portion of ‘genuine classicism’ from its pie. His enchanting voice that communicated profound expressions and which was further embellished with his natural melody will linger in the hearts of his rasikas forever.
Maharaja is for sure the uncrowned Maharaja of carnatic music!