Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

MSG’s immortal strains

By Sujatha Vijayaraghavan

It was an unforgettable night half a century ago. Like nectar, the ragam-tanam pallavi in Suddha Dhanyasi flowed from the tiny radio atop the chest of drawers, hungrily devoured by our tinier tape-recorder. The entire family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and children perched on modas, oonjal, iron cot, and bench were spellbound by the unheard melody that was sweeter by far. I personally sat enthralled, hardly believing that Suddha Dhanyasi could sound so different and so captivating.

Straight notes juxtaposed with powerful gamakas, silken jarus and lightning flashes of brigas sculpted the figure of the ragadevata – or ragadeva – which emerged resplendent. For it was both feminine and masculine, with grace and charm alternating with majesty and vigour. To me the tanam was the high point of the recital. Slowly, meditatively the bow of the violin dwelt for a good length of time on just the base shadja, soaked in Suddha Dhanyasi. How on earth was this magic wrought? The essence of Carnatic and Hindustani blended to produce a new radiant entity, engendered in the heart and mind of a maestro and born through his fingers dancing on a fragile instrument.

As we went to bed, all of us were humming Suddha Dhanyasi and I could not sleep. My ears and heart were brimming with the immortal strains.

My guru Ramanathapuram Sundararajan had taught me the kriti Enta nerchina in the raga, but I had a strong aversion to Suddha Dhanyasi, which I considered insipid. I classified it as one of the “sawdust ragams”. My brother and I, both teenagers, had our favourites among the Carnatic ragas. Suddha Dhanyasi was certainly not one of them. My guru, who came thrice a week, never gave up asking me to sing Enta nerchina. Very reluctantly I would do so on rare occasions. He tried his best to convince me that each raga had its own beauty, something I would discover as I went along.

The next morning my guru arrived for our 6 am class. He sat up with a jerk when I started singing Enta nerchina. He waited till I finished the song and asked what miracle had made me give up my prejudice. When I told him about MSG’s magic he insisted on listening to the recording then and there. He listened to it wordlessly and uttered a single word at the end. “Genius!”

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