Remembering the magic of Lalgudi Jayaraman, a genius musician and composer
Remembering the magic of Lalgudi Jayaraman, a genius musician and composer

Remembering the magic of Lalgudi Jayaraman, a genius musician and composer

Lalgudi Jayaraman was not just a violinist but also one of the most prolific composers Carnatic music has ever seen.

Both in form and content, Carnatic music flourished in the 20th century like never before. Though it claims a great ancient and glorious past in theory, it is only in this century that it has possibly seen so many greats at any one point of time.

Be it vocalists, instrumentalists, composers or music directors, the list is endless.

Among those musicians whose contribution to the genre is more than performing, a few names stand out as exceptional.

Some of them have donned several roles and were great at multi-tasking. Carnatic violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930-2013) is one name that stands tall among that elite lot. He was not just a violinist but also one of the most prolific composers Carnatic music has ever seen.

The Trimurtis of Carnatic violin- M S Gopalakrishnan, T N Krishnan and Lalgudi Jayaraman.

Among the Trimurtis of modern Carnatic violin, he is the most popular- the other two being M S Gopalakrishnan (1931-2013) and T N Krishnan (1928-present). Very few outside the regular Carnatic music loving audiences are aware of his versatility as a composer. The other two in the trinity composed much less.

One of the reasons Lalgudi composed was to experiment his own creative mind at a time when concerts were getting monotonous. When he began as an accompanying artiste to almost all the great stalwart vocalists in the Carnatic genre, he probably never thought he would end up being an ace composer too.

Over time, when he found his creativity blossoming, he became a solo violinist. He went a step further and enjoyed performing jugalbandis with his Hindustani contemporaries like Sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan or Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Listening to his music, the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin presented him with a violin and invited him to the Edinburgh festival. Lalgudi gifted Menuhin an ivory statue of lord Nataraja as a return gesture.

Lalgudi Jayaraman presenting an ivory statue of Nataraja to Yehudi Menuhin

Lalgudi’s genius as a musician and composer got greater recognition with the growth of television programming. Everyone remembers the famous song "Bhaje Sargam" that starred some of our classical music greats. In an effort to spread the message of communal harmony and bring about a spirit of unity, Doordarshan regularly broadcasted this and several other songs through the 1980s and 1990s. Watch the maestro himself wield his bow to the little bit of Desh Raag here.

Lalgudi should easily be one of the few composers whose music was loved by his contemporaries and musicians from other schools of thought.

Within the highly disciplined world of Carnatic music, it is not easy to acknowledge the works of one musician by another. But the sheer merit of Lalgudi’s musical compositions charmed everyone. Listen to this wonderful Pada Varnam "InnumEnmanam" in praise of lord Krishna set to Raga Charukeshi, sung by another musical great Maharajapuram Santhanam. This generous acknowledgement from another stalwart is enough to testify the greatness of Lalgudi’s compositions. This composition has attained a different proportion and meaning on the dance stage. But we will come to that later.

Lalgudi Jayaraman drew his musical lineage to the poet saint Tyagaraja. His father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer belonged to that Shishya Parampara. Jayaraman was the fifth in that generation of musicians. It was inevitable that he mastered all the compositions of Tyagraja and in the process, even the difficult literary Telugu language.

Lalgudi Jayaraman's son Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and daughter Vijayalakshmi

He trained his numerous students including his two children, son Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and daughter Vijayalakshmi in the same. Listening to them performing these immortal compositions is a different experience altogether. As flag-bearers of their lineage and their father’s legacy, both of them have adhered to strict classicism. Listen to their rendering of Tyagaraja’s famous composition "Pakkala Nilabadi" set to Raga Kharaharapriya.

Some of the most famous compositions of Lalgudi are his Thillanas. Usually performed towards the end of a music recital, Lalgudi’s Thillanas are the most popular among musicians. He composed over thirty Thillanas in different Ragas.

From his construction of each composition, his treatment of the Raga, Lalgudi managed to bring out the real essence of each Raga differently. No two Thillanas sound alike. On a dull day, these Thillanas brighten up one’s mood.

Yet another student who belongs to the Lalgudi Shishya Parampara is his niece, the versatile Veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh. She is easily one of our country’s top five Veena players now. Listen to her render his Thillana in Raga Maand.

What would modern Bharatanaytam have done without the contribution of Lalgudi’s compositions? He was one of the few Carnatic musicians who easily transcended both music and dance with his compositions. The only other musician who did it was the famous vocalist Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna.

Lalgudi Jayaraman and Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna.

Lalgudi’s compositions continue to enthrall both music and dance loving audiences with equal tenacity. Watch this wonderfully melodious Thillana in Desh Raga performed by young Shweta Prachande, a student of Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarsini Govind.

With such a big body of meritorious work in the genre, Lalgudi Jayaraman’s name makes it to the exclusive league of "Vaggeyakaras". For the lack of a better word in English we describe that as "composers", though Vaggeyakara means much more than just that.

He composed Padavarnams, Tanavarnams, Kritis, Thillanas and more. He even conducted five orchestral pieces for the All India Radio’s famous "Vadya Vrinda". His mastery over languages had him write in his mother tongue Tamil, his musical Parampara tongue Telugu and Sanskrit with equal proficiency.

This weekend as we celebrate yet another birthday of this great violin maestro, it is a good time to remember his musical contribution and how it continues to bring melody and happiness to countless music lovers!

Images: Selva Kumar, Tejas, Krishnamurthy 

(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at

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