Sunday, August 10, 2014

This year, he will sing

After "Coach, Teacher and Mentor", I recalled an instance of a mentee remembering the eminent role played by his mentor, in the post titled "Do you have a coat, Ramappa?". Another instance of a well-known personality paying his tribute to an equally well-known mentor comes to my mind.  The first one was as old as 25 years ago.  The present one was more recent; it happened in 2011.

Bangalore's Fort High School, located behind the famous Tippu Sultan's Palace, is a landmark well known to music lovers.  Chamarajpet's Sree Rama Seva Mandali conducts annual "Ramanavami" music concerts here.  The music festival held during the months of April-May attracts thousands of classical music lovers. This place has been a launching pad for the careers of many distinguished artistes. Almost every top artiste of both Carnatic and Hindustani streams have performed here at one time or the other.  Some senior artistes are regular performers every year and their concerts are eagerly looked forward to by connoisseurs of music in Bangalore.

S V Narayanaswamy Rao was taking keen interest in organising religious and cultural functions since his younger days and this led to his starting Sree Rama Seva Mandali in the year 1939.  He joined HAL and worked there for sometime, but organizing the music festival posed problems for him as he had to take off for long periods every year.  He left HAL and did some other jobs too for sometime.  He finally decided to devote his entire life for music and the annual music festival became his life's mission. Unmindful of the personal difficulties and hardships, he worked hard for making this annual music festival to be an event to remember and celebrate every year.  His friendship with veteran violinist T Chowdiah helped him to meet and persuade senior artistes to perform here, in the early years.  Later on, performing at this festival became an honour to all senior artistes.  He was successful in holding the event for 60 years, till his death in the year 2000.  The festival is continued in his memory even now by Sree Rama Seva Mandali.  To honor his commitment to music, Sree Rama Seva Mandali has instituted an annual "S V Narayanaswamy Rao memorial national award", conferred on identified artistes with distinguished service to music.  The award is given away every year during the Ramanavami music festival. 
S V Narayanaswamy Rao used to visit Madras (Chennai) every year during the months of December-January, to attend Marghazi Maha Utsavam concerts there. His visits served dual purposes; attending the concerts and enjoying the music was one and meeting the artistes and book their calendar for the forthcoming Ramanavami festival was the other.  In the year 1973, he went there as usual and met the master of yesteryears, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, at his place of stay. He requested Bhagavatar to come to Bangalore and perform during the next Ramanavami festival.  Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar did not answer the request, but took Narayanaswamy Rao to another lodging place and knocked on the door of  a room. The door was opened by a bright young man and he reverentially invited the duo inside the room.  After being seated inside the room, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar turned to Narayanaswamy Rao and told him, "This year, he will sing at the Ramanavami Festival in Bangalore instead of me.  Give him your advance and book him right now".  Narayanaswamy Rao knew the master very well to discuss or argue further. He took out money from his pocket and handed over to the young man standing before them and requested for a date for the concert.  The advance amount was Twenty Rupees!  The young man accepted his Guru's order reverentially and agreed to perform on the suggested date.  The concert was a resounding success.  Thirty eight years later, on the same stage, he was awarded the prestigious S V Narayanaswamy memorial National Award for Music.

Shri Kattassery Joseph Jesudas had his initial training from his father Augustine Joseph.  After learning music from other sources, he joined the Sree Swati Thirunal Music College, Thiruvananthapuram, and was trained under its Principal Shemmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.  He turned to Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar for advanced learning and derived deeper insights into music from him.  Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar is said to be an expert in spotting talent and encouraging them to grow and flower into great musicians.  Some of the most renowned names in Carnatic music today were mentored by him.  The list includes T V Gopalakrishnan, P Leela, M S Gopalakrishnan, T N Krishnan, Palghat Mani Iyer and L Subramanian, besides K J Jesudas.

K J Jesudas was presented with the S V Narayanaswamy Rao Memorial national Award for music on sunday, 10th April 2011, at Bangalore.  The then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Shri B S Yeddiyurappa presented the award. While accepting the award, Jesudas narrated the above incident and described how his mentor transferred a date for his own concert to his young disciple and supported his journey in music.

Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar had organised a special concert on 10th January 1973, on the occasion of 33rd birthday of Jesudas.  He presented a "Tambura", sponsored by T V Gopalakrishnan, to his protege and advised him to devote more time to classical music.  The Mentor and Mentee jointly sang at the concert that followed the birthday celebrations.  At the beginning of the concert, he advised the audience not to ask for film music.  "I will ask him to sing some film songs at the end as per your wish", he declared.  The mentor passed away the very next year, but his legacy is carried by his disciples even today.

A statue of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, known as "Chembai Swamy" and sponsored by Jesudas, has been unveiled next to the Bhagavatar's house in Chembai gramam, near Palakkad in Kerala.

In the concert that followed the award presentation ceremony at Bangalore, Jesudas recalled many learning experiences he had with his mentor.  Towards the end of the concert, someone shouted "Harivarasanam".  Harivarasanam or Hariharasutashtakam in the praise of Lord Ayyappan, is sung by Jesudas in all his concerts as the penultimate item, before Mangalam.  His devotion to Lord Ayyappan and Lord Guruvayoorappan is legendary.  "That will be the last item.  I want to sing some more today. Do you want or not?" asked Jesudas.  Naturally the audience wanted more.  He continued for another half an hour before presenting "Harivarasanam" and concluding the concert.  His tribute to his mentor that day and the concert itself will linger in the minds of the audience present there, for a long time to come.