The Modern Tyagaraja – A Tribute to DR.M Balamuralikrishna

27 Nov 2020
credits - thebetterindia.com
By Bhushan Toshniwal
Bhushan Toshniwal is a National Level Singer of Hindustani and Carnatic Classical and Semi-classical Music and a Motivational Speaker performing all over India. He is a graded artist of All-India Radio and Doordarshan. Has come first all over India in Sangeet Alankar all over India.
One fine day, while listening to my music collection, I came across raag Abhogi by the Carnatic music maestro DR. M Balamuralikrishna [hereafter referred to as BMK]. My first introduction to BMK, was through a jugalbandi, which he did with late VidushiKishoriAmonkarji. I thoroughly enjoyed it, however was rather sceptic about whether I would enjoy pure Carnatic music, as I did not have much exposure to it. BMK transcended all boundaries of musical styles/conventions/traditions.
It is often said that, music does not have any language, but I experienced it first hand with this particular rendition. BMK’s majestic voice, his 3.5 octave range, his logical interplay of phrases right from slow and calm, to lightning fast ones, culminated into a beautiful musical rainbow of infinite colors. Within only 10 minutes of raagaalapana, BMK gave the Darshan of RaagaAbhogi in its various facets. Then started his own composition, in which he sang Kalpana Swarams. Kalpana Swarams reflect the playful nature of a raga, and BMK played with the notes of the raga, just like a child plays with his favorite toy. As I heard more and more of him, I found myself gravitating towards his music in particular, and Carnatic music in general.

Originality

The secret of BMK’s musical genius, and his high popularity, not just among Carnatic connoisseurs, but also among lay people, was his originality. His guru was a great motivator, who constantly inspired him to have his own identity. Once BMK played a Raaga on violin. His guru said, “You played well, but I didn’t see Balamurali in it.” Events such as this, motivated BMK right from his childhood, to discover himself. Even when there was no internet in those days, BMK never wanted to be behind anyone, in terms of knowledge. When he heard the great Hindustani legends Nazakat and Salamat ali khan, he thought as to why a Carnatic artist cannot sing 3 octaves. Later, he developed his much talked about 3.5 octave range, in which he had perfect control on voice throw. It was a convention in Carnatic music to rely heavily on syllables, while singing raagaalapana.
BMK focused more on akara [carrying forward the tradition set by G N Balasubramaniam], since he did not feel the need of so many syllables. He accompanied many maestros of his times on violin, and imbibed all their good things. Since he learned violin, veena, viola and mridangam, he brought all the aesthetics of these instruments into his music. His quest for innovation led him to try out different things in highly popular ragas. For example, in raag Charukeshi, he would develop more in Ni, which is not conventional. He believed that, the positions of ghamakas is different for every raaga. Continuing the above Charukeshi example, he once said, “People think of Charukeshi as Shankarabharanam in the first half and Todi in the second, and sing ghamakas of those raagas. But Charukeshi is different from these. So, ghamakas should be sung differently.”
Even a well wornraaga like Kalyani would sound different in every rendition of his. In his own words, “You should think of a raaga as a person, then only you can invoke the raaga in its various facets. If you learn only ascending and descending scales, your raaga understanding will be very limited.”
BMK popularized lesser known ragas like Sunadavinodini. (358) The melody of vintage Sunadavinodini – M Vasudevacharya’s “Devadi Deva” – M Balamuralikrishna (1966) – YouTube After the rendition of the Krithi “Devadhi deva” in this raaga by Mysore Vasudevacharya, the composer came with tears in his eyes and told BMK, “This krithi should be sung only this way.”
Another of BMK’s popular rendition is the ThyagarajaKrithi “Nagumomuganaleni” in Abheri. (358) Dr Balamuralikrishna’s ever young ‘Nagumomu’ – YouTube
BMK changed its style of rendition to bring out the correct meaning of the song. Even though BMK had to pay a high price for this originality, [a lot of reviewers wrote against him, and he was banned from many sabhas] he continued in his own way.

Music composer and creator

BMK’s zest for innovation resulted in the creation of various raagas, new tala system, and many Varnams, Kritis, Tillanas and other light songs.

Creation of New Ragas

It is believed that, to make a raaga, one should take minimum of 5 notes. However, BMK created raagas with 3 and 4 notes. His first such creation was raag Mahati, which contains 4 notes viz. Sa, Ga, Pa, and Ni. (358) Mahanīyamadhuramūrté – The melody of 4-note Mahati over the 4 decades – M Balamuralikrishna. – YouTube
The story of this creation has been mentioned in his own words as follows. “Once, a song came to my mind. I sang it before some people, and they liked it. While analysing the song I realized that, it has only 4 notes. I named this raagaMahati, which is the name of the veena used by Narada. Our music started with only 4 notes, so there is no reason why a raaga cannot be made using 4 notes.” Many such ragas like Lavangi, Sindhi, sumukhi [all having 4 notes] and Trishakti [earlier named as Sarvashri], Ganapati, [both containing 3 notes] would emerge as time went on.

New Tala System

BMK developed a tala system known as Mukhi Talas. In this, the Gatibhedam is done only on the Sashabda Kriyas [the kriyas which are heard] and the nishabda kriyas remain in chaturashragati only. For example, if the tala is PanchamukhiAdi, the 1st fifth and the 7th bit of the tala would have 5 units while others would have only 2. He composed some pallavis in these talas. For example, Sangeeta layaDnyanamuSakalaSaubhagyamu in Kalyani ragam and in PanchamukhiAdi talam. (358) Dr.M.Balamurali Krishna- RTP Kalyani – YouTube
Another example is the pallavi Murali ganalolanililannajalara set to raag Gamanashrama in NavamukhiRoopakam [which was rendered at the Music Academy in 1983 on account of the completion of 53 years of the same. The raaga Gamanashrama is the 53rd melakarta.] (358) RaagamThanaam Pallavi || Dr M Balamuralikrishna || Carnatic Clasiical – YouTube

Ragam Taanam Pallavi

This was the speciality of BMK. The Pallavis he created have a very wide range of ideas. Some pallavis like Mohan madhumuraliravaliHaayi, (358) The Magic Flute – A RagamTanam& Pallavi in HIndola – M Balamuralikrishna (1981) – YouTube or ramaya namaste shreeraghu, (358) A Six Speed Pallavi and a Sixer – Dr. M Balamuralikrishna – YouTube [set to Adi talam] are extremely simple, while some pallavis like Vanaruhalochanabhogishayana, (358) A Model RTP in a Modal Shift – Abhogi and Valaji – YouTube or sunadavinodinichamundeshwaritripurabhairavi etc. were set using the combination of 2/3 ragas. He was probably the first artist who rendered the RTP in 2/3 ragas. Once he rendered an RTP in Nagaswaravali and Hamsadhwani, in which Hamsadhwani was elaborated using the madhyam of Nagaswaravali.
He would sing pallavi in complex talas like ThishraJhampa SankeernaNadai using combination of two ragas like Sunadavinodini and Bhairavi, (358) Dual Rāga RTP – Sunādavinódini&Bhairavi – M. Balamuralikrishna (1 Jan 1978 MMA) – Track 6/8 – YouTube or Amrutavarshini and Anandabhairavi. He sang a pallavi in Revati, in which the concept of Gopuchayati was used. (358) Vidwan Dr M Balamurali Krishna RTP RagamRevati( BairagiBhairav) – YouTube
To sum-up, he was an artist who could do full justice to the spirit of creativity involved in singing RTP.

Varnams

Each of BMK’s varnams are different from each other. In other words, there is no fixed formula for the same. Normally any varnams theme is that the Nayika is missing her lover, who happens to be Lord Venkatesha or lord Subramanyam etc. However BMK’s varnams are all devotional in nature. His famous varnam in Gambheeranattai has pallavi and anupallavi of one avartana each, instead of the traditional two, yet it sounds complete. (358) 01 – GambheeraNaata – Varnam – M Balamuralikrishna – Muraliganam in Ganeshotsavam (1997) – YouTube
In another of his varnams in Nattai, the charanam begins on the 4th unit of the 4th beat, while chittaswarams begin from the samat. Another speciality of these chittaswarams is that, there are 7 of them and all begin from all 7 notes of the raga [including ShatshrutiDhaivatam, which is not often used]. All chittaswarams except the last one are of 3 beats and 3 units leading to the charanam. (358) M Balamuralikrishna – Varnam – Nata – YouTube
In his Kharaharapriya padavarnam composed on Ganapati, he covers one incident in Ganapati’s life in each chittaswaram.

Kritis

BMK composed kritis with the Mudra Murali, exploring various ideas. His kriti “vegame gavara” in Abhogi is dedicated to the temple of Pandharpur, (358) VegamayAbhogi – M Balamurali Krishna(Album: Maestro’s Choice) – YouTube while another kritiBrihadeshwaramahadeva in Kanada is composed for the Brihadeshwara temple in Thanjawar. (358) Brihadhishwara Mahadeva – Kanada – Rupakam – Dr. M Balamuralikrishna – YouTube
He composed a krithi in Arabhi dedicated to three gods lord Ganapati, Hanuman and Krishna. (358) Dr M Balamuralikrishna’s Sri sakalaganadhipapalayamam – YouTube
A song on hanuman “hanuma hanuma” set to raga Sarasangi has each ma of the kriti falling on the madhyama note. (358) HanumaAnuma (Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna at Perla) – YouTube
Kritis like “sadatava pada” in Shanmukhapriya, (358) A Meditation in Shanmukhapriya – Sadatava pada sannidhim – Dr. M Balamuralikrishna (1975) – YouTube or the above mentioned AbhogiKrithi have very non-conventional chittaswara patterns. He believed that, the chittaswaras in any composition should convey the message given in the words of the song. One of his kritis in raga Revati is composed in all the 5 nadais of Adi talam. (358) The semblance of a flute – Mohana Vamshi Vadana – Revati – Dr. M Balamuralikrishna – YouTube
Some krithis like “GayatiVanamali” in Hamsadhwani are sung in madhyma Shruti. (358) An Innovative Hamsadhwani – GayatiVanamali – SadashivaBrahmendra – YouTuberagas like Hamsadhwani are never sung in Madhyama shruti, but BMK explored this idea.While talking about BMK’s Kritis, it must be mentioned that, he is among the very few Waggeyakaraswho composed Krithisin all the 72 melakarta ragas, so that the clear picture of these can be put before the audience. All these songs were composed by BMK, when he was only in his teens. Besides self-composed songs, BMK also set to tune, Kritis of various known and unknown composers. For example ‘piba re ramarasam’ by Bhadrachala Ramadas in Ahirbhairav. (358) Dr.M.Balamurali Krishna – PibareRamarasam – YouTube
So far, we have talked about BMK, as a composer of Krithis. But now we will talk about a unique format introduced by him, called KrithiThaanamKrithi [KTK], which brought together a few technics of raga development from Hindustani and Carnatic music. To illustrate this concept, I here take example of his performance of a self-composed Krithi in Kalyani VIZ. Sangeeta Me Mana Sukha Dayi. After singing the Pallavi and anupallavi, BMK sang a line from the Charanam, and started improvising by singing raga alapana. after every such alapana, this same line would be sung. This stile of development is followed in Hindustani music, where an artist elaborates raga, with the help of 1 or 2 compositions, set to various talas. [in Carnatic system, raga alapana is sung without tala, and nereval and swaram are sung with tala]. after singing alapana, he sang Thaanam, followed by the next line of the charanam. Later, the charanam was completed, and swarams were sung in regular manner. In this way, BMK explored many ideas not only while composing Krithis, but also while performing them.
So far, we have talked about BMK, as a composer of Krithis. But now we will talk about a unique format introduced by him, called KrithiThaanamKrithi [KTK], which brought together a few technics of raga development from Hindustani and Carnatic music. To illustrate this concept, I here take example of his performance of a self-composed Krithi in Kalyani VIZ. Sangeeta Me Mana Sukha Dayi. After singing the Pallavi and anupallavi, BMK sang a line from the Charanam, and started improvising by singing raga alapana. after every such alapana, this same line would be sung. This stile of development is followed in Hindustani music, where an artist elaborates raga, with the help of 1 or 2 compositions, set to various talas. [in Carnatic system, raga alapana is sung without tala, and nereval and swaram are sung with tala]. after singing alapana, he sang Thaanam, followed by the next line of the charanam. Later, the charanam was completed, and swarams were sung in regular manner. In this way, BMK explored many ideas not only while composing Krithis, but also while performing them.

Tillanas

BMK revolutionized the world of tillanas. Like his varnams and kritis, various new ideas were presented in tillana. In one tillana he used ragas Amrutavarshini, Mohanam, Kanada and Hindolam. The same tillana has been rendered using only Hindolam as well. Another such creation was his priyaragamalikaPanchabhedatillana, which uses 5 ragas having Priya in their name for example guru priya, rasikapriya, gayakapriya, Sunadapriya and kharaharapriya, and 5 Nadais of Adi talam. (358) Priya rāgamālikapanchagatibédhaTillana – Balamuralikrishna – Live 1978 – Track 10/12 – YouTube
In a tillana set to ragam Kalyani he has demonstrated the concept of grahabhedam. (358) Dr M Balamuralikrishna || Raag Kalyani || Thillana – YouTube.
He composed tillanas in hindustani ragas like Ahir bhairav, (358) DR.M.BALAMURALIKRISHNA – THILLANA – YouTube
Vrindavani, Jayjayvanti etc. He set to tune tillanas of some other composers like the one in Bhupalam by Maharaja Swati Thirunal. [He added sahityam for this as well, incorporating the mudras of both maharaja Swati Tirunal and himself viz Padmanabha and Murali respectively]. His tillanas in Kuntalavarali, Kathanakutuhalam, (358) Thillana = Kunthalavarali = Dr.M.Balamurali Krishna – YouTube

Jugalbandis

BMK transcended the barriers of Carnatic music by participating in many jugalbandis with Hindustani artists. His firstjugalbandi was with Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. The story of this jugalbandi has been mentioned in his own words. “ A music loving governer of Maharashtra thought of the idea of bringing stalwarts from both sides on one stage. He invited me and Bhimsen Joshi, and both of us accepted. We did not talk about it, we did not rehearse as well. We just sang on the stage itself. If you worry about what will happen, who will win etc, then you would not give your best.”
Later BMK gave many jugalbandi concerts with other artists like Pt.Jasraj, KishoriAmonkar, Pt. HariprasadChaurasia among others. His Jugalbandi with Bhimsenjoshi became very famous and according to many, he could even out-perform Bhimsen Joshi.
BMK sang jugalbandis with the next generation artists like Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty, Pt. Ronu Mujumdar, [among hindustani artists] and my guru Sangeet Samrat ChitravinaRavikiran, Sudha Raghunathan [among Carnatic artists]. In his words, “These jugalbandis offer an opportunity to both the artists to learn something from each other. We can learn many things from Hindustani artists, and they can learn many things from us. I wish that, there will come a day, when instead of Hindustani and Carnatic, our music would become oneBharatiyaSangeet.”

Thoughts on Music and Lyrics

Even though BMK was a classical singer, he tried to take good things from other forms of music. He says, “When you sing in films, you learn to sing according to the situation, and with a clear diction.” Before singing even a classical kriti/song, BMK would check the meaning of each and every word in it; So that he could do full justice to it. He says, “A musician should be very careful while pronouncing the words of the song. For exampleSamajawaragamana should not be sung as Saa Maja Wara Gama Na, as it totallydestroys the meaning of the song. Even while singing any Sangati, one should think whether the Sangati is suitable to the lyrics and the mood of the music.” This focus on clear diction and letting out the correct meaning of the song, helped him sing not just in south indian languages, but also in languages like Bengali, Hindi, Marathi etc. he says, “music that pleases the year is Carnatic music, as the word carnatic means the one which pleases the ears. KarneshuAtateItiKarnataha.”.

In Popular Culture

BMK sang and composed for many films and won national awards for both. He composed the music for the first ever Sanskrit film viz. Adi Shankaracharya. He captured the attention with his part in the song “Mile sur mera tumhara“ which was designed to show national unity. He composed ragas dedicated to Jayalalita, Mahatma Gandhi and the Veena maestro Dooraswami Iyengar. He also composed several bhavageetams, and also popularized the programme of devotional songs Bhakti ranjani on radio. While he was in Russia for a concert, he composed a song on Russians. He also composed a song in Kambhoji on the nature of the people from the four states of south-india.

Conclusion

BMK was a trend-setter not just in Carnatic music but in Indian music, who transcended all musical and geographical boundries. Even though he is no more with us, he lives, and will continue to live in our hearts through his divine music.
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