The lilt of his voice was the sound of music, as we knew it.

Balamuralikrishnas saga of success Child prodigy poetic philosopher and Michael Jackson fan
Features Tribute Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 09:30

“Balamurali’s musical career has been a never-ending saga of victories and he has become a legend. He is perhaps the only musician in India who is a top-ranking vocalist, instrumentalist, producer, conductor, film music director, play back singer, actor and composer.” ~ (Sangita Kala Acharya) TS Parthasarathy

As dawn breaks on the November 23, it dawns on us that we are waking up to a world where Dr. Balamuralikrishna lives no more in form. It is a great shock. The nation and the world at large will feel the deep sorrow of this loss for a long time to come.

As TS Parthasarathy wrote, Guruji BMK‘s life is a saga of success. Sangeeta Vidya Bhaskara (University of Hyderabad), Kala Prapura (Andhra University), Gandhrava Gana Vittagar (Ilangai Tyagaraja Ganasamajam), Sangita Kalanidhi (Madras Music Academy), Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Padma Vibhushan, the Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government are only but a few of the many awards, honors, titles and recognitions he got for his outstanding music and art.

But those who knew him closely and millions of his fans mourn not just the loss of a musical genius, Guruji’s success and victory lay in touching the hearts of everyone with his warmth and generosity. The feeling, when one was around him was something like this; imagine Arjuna wonderstruck by the Vishwaroopa Darshana, and the Lord, in all his glory at this time, suddenly bends over to gently kiss him on the forehead. Such was the affability and human touch with which Guruji struck people even while we stood stunned with his genius and stature.

Many stalwarts in the field of music who were his early contemporaries would remember him as a young boy prodigy. TSP recalls in one of his forwards to a book of Dr. BMK’s compositions as to how he watched in utter amazement a young eight-year-old boy in 1938 at Vijayawada who could sing a katcheri complete with Tanam, Pallavi et al. His intense gurukulavasam and learning under his Gurus, is a legacy, he greatly cherished in his lifetime. Guruji’s reverence for his own Gurus and Guru parampara (lineage) is well known in the music world. He lived and breathed the compositions of Saint Tyagaraja, perfecting every musical, poetic and philosophical nuance. He paid rich musical obeisance to his Guru parampara through his composition “Bhavame maha bhaagyamunaa…” in ragam Kapi. To become devoid of selfish pride is a great fortune, he declared in this composition. “I am humbled, for Saint Tyagaraja is my grand Guru’s grand Guru, Venkatasubbayya is the grand Guru of my Guru, Susarla Dakshinamurthy Sastri is my grand Guru and my own Guru is Parpulli Ramakrishnayya Pantulu”.

Guruji was a fountain-head of musical and aesthetic knowledge, where he combined nuances of the highest musical interpretations with so much beauty and aesthetic joy, that every connoisseur was converted into a joyous listener and every commoner a connoisseur. Many people who’ve moved with him closely agree that being around Guruji was like being around an aquifer. He would break spontaneously into a song that he would compose even as he was singing it! One such delightful instance was during a pre-concert darshan at the Tanjavur Brihadeeswara temple many decades ago. On the morning of the concert, Guruji, a few other musicians and some of his ardent rasikas had gone to the temple for darshan. Just as the priest brought a garland of flowers from the deity to him, he simply broke into “Brihadeeswara mahadeva brovumu mahaprabhava” in Kaanada ragam as his offering to Lord Brihadeeshwara.

Yet another time, in the middle of a concert, a young child clad in a green coloured skirt jumped out of her mother’s lap and escaped on to the stage. She ran into Guruji’s lap and gave him a kiss on his cheek. He smiled, picked her up and enquired her name. When she said Kalyani, right as she was walking off the stage, he began singing a kriti on Goddess Minakshi as a young child, clad in a green skirt, in Kalyani ragam, throwing the crowds into tears of overwhelming awe.

Guruji’s true love and commitment to the classical idiom gave him the enormous ability to find the linking intersections between various genres of music. He never seemed to differentiate hierarchically between styles of music, be it Carnatic, Hindustani, folk, western, cinema and other forms of world music. A perusal through his various compositions, musical arrangements and orchestration reveal to us his extraordinary respect for world cultures and readiness to find interactive engagement that can enrich the art of music, at large.

In a concert after June 25, 2009, when the world of music lost Michael Jackson, Guruji apparently opened the evening, after curtain call with these now famous words, “I dedicate today’s concert to Sri. Michael Jackson, one of world’s greatest singers and my favourite too” sending the audience into dizzying applause.

His childlike love for small pleasures in life, his humour and great sense of respect for his co-artistes is something everyone will warmly cherish forever. Every time he met me, he would recall jocularly, the tragedy of how he was cast in a film in the role of Narada, alas! With no heroine to pair with, it deterred him from acting forever after that, he joked. However, his resonating voice in “Indrorunaal poduma” in the film Thiruvilayadal, is a touchstone to the enormous body of work he has left behind in Indian cinema.

This artiste par excellence, creator and preceptor in the world of music was always a Bala (childlike) Murali Krishna (young, playful and musical Krishna) at heart. Having lost his mother at a very young age, one always felt that he yearned for love, care and understanding. His students, admirers and millions of fans from across the world poured their love on him. In turn, he took pride and joy in being part of their lives in a personal and loving way. His music was sweetened not only by his vidwat (expertise), prodigious talent and sadhana (practice), but also his innocence, love and extremely lovable nature. That smile, parakeet-like accent while speaking, charming mannerisms including his mischievous grin or wink, topped with his dashing good looks, drove people to madness with love.

The richest encomiums sat light on his shoulders. We often read about miracles and feats done by saint composers, scholar poets from the past centuries. As a creator of new ragas, he ranks with the stalwarts such as Walapet Venkatramana Bhagavathar, Thiruvotriyur Tyagayyar, Muthayya Bhagavathar, Vina Krishnamachari and others from the past. As a performer with super star charisma he ranks amongst the Madonnas, Micheal Jacksons of the world. As a charmer and giver of joy and love, touching every life he passed by, he ranks only next to Lord Krishna Himself. And in transcendence and naada yoga, he was in the path of his Maha Guru Saint Tyagaraja.

Above all else, as a human being, he ranks right at the top. It is no exaggeration if one were to say that he is the Sun to whose rays, music awakened over the last eight decades. It was under his genius and many creations that music of the 20th and 21st century has steered its history and path. Losing Dr. Balamuralikrishna is like losing vitality for the world of music. But the enormity of his contributions, number of students and millions of rasikas whose vision he has widened through music, life and knowledge, will remain.

If history is to be taken as a marker, of how humanity has always recognized those men who were ahead of their times, in the centuries to follow, I envision a cult following, deification and mytho-cination (making a mythological legend out of past heroes) of Guruji, perhaps with even a temple and aradhana in the centuries to come.

As for this century, we can burst with pride that we knew the living, speaking, embodiment of aesthetics, musical genius and magnanimity of human kindness in the form of an avatara purusha- Dr. Balamuralikrishna, our beloved Guruji.

The lilt of your voice, is the sound of music, as we know it.

The writer is a dancer, dance historian and choreographer. A Fulbright Fellow and Director of Ranga Mandira Academy of World Dance/ Performance and Indic Studies, India. swarnamalya@gmail.com

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