Sunday, January 1, 2017
It is New Year's Day and I'm going to break with the tradition of posting the 'Photo of the Year'* today; I'm going further, to talk about someone who was not merely a dwijan by heritage, but a trijan (if there is such a term), by having had two re-births his career, one that defined his life. That career was born in 1904-5 when a boy of nine performed at a Srikrishna Temple in Palakkad. As the boy grew to adolescence, the voice that had captivated his listeners must have broken in a way that threatened his singing career; there is little detail on how he got past that setback and was re-born into his singing life. Maybe that was how he developed a resonant voice, so striking that he was on occasion referred to as "bronze-voiced".
More serious was the second occasion. That bronze voice, now belonging to a seasoned and respected singer, was in full flow at a concert; at the end, its owner realised that he had lost it. And he then had to endure six months of suspense, during which period various remedies were tried; finally, the voice came back - thanks to the intervention of Sri Guruvayoorappan, his favourite deity. That was his third life, the one in which every paisa that he made from his concerts went directly to the Srikrishna Temple at Guruvayoor. It is beyond today's imagination to think of performing the Udayasthamana Puja there (bookings are no longer being taken because the current list runs for about forty years or something) even once, but he was able to do it sixty-one times.
Much of his recognition came from Madras; it was here, from this house on (then) Palace Road, Santhome, that he taught his disciples. Many of them are famous in their own right - P. Leela, the Jaya-Vijaya twins, TV Gopalakrishnan and KJ Yesudas. It was from the thinnai of this house that their careers began. The house itself was given to him by TG Krishna Iyer, a friend who had composed 155 kritis, collectively known as Lalitha Dasar Krithigal. In October of 1974, he went back to perform at Poozhikunnu Srikrishna Temple at Ottapalam, where he had, 70 years ago, had his debut. After that performance, he just slipped off his mortal coils while performing his sandhyavandanam - going the way he always wished to. Srikrishna was kind to him; and why wouldn't he be, for Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar was as close to a saint as any mortal can ever aspire to be!
*The community of City Daily Photographers celebrates Theme Day every month. Go over to this site to see the best pictures from around the world!