Glimpses of legend S. Rajam were recently presented to an appreciative audience by Sowmya Muralidharan under the aegis Tamil Heritage Trust at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya, T Nagar.
Sowmya, who learnt both music and art from him, said that he held close to his heart the following dictums - When it came to Music, Vivadi was not Dosham, but Vi-sesham; Art Must Represent Nature, Not Reproduce It. Rajam, in short, was modern with a firm grip over culture and tradition.
The presentation itself began with Rajam’s rendering (a recording) of ‘Kalavathi Kamalasanayuvathi,’ Dikshitar kriti in Kalavati.
Rajam’s musical journey had this aspect as its hallmark - “Instead of the disciple going in search of a Guru, I was fortunate to have so many gurus coming home, to teach me affectionately which was purely due to grace of God and my father’s effort” - to use his own words. A musician himself, father Sundaram Iyer played a significant role in the shaping of Rajam. To the mother goes the credit of sowing the seeds of an ace painter. Rajam attached importance to the concept of suddha swara so much so that he remarked thus: “In the ban of the harmonium (AIR), classical music has been robbed of invaluable suddha swaras.”
Touching on his contributions, Sowmya mentioned Silappadikaram, Tirukkural, Kotisvara Iyer’s-72 Melakartas and so on. Also of great merit were his thematic programmes on the works of Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, compositions of Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri, Muthiah Bhaghavathar and those on Shodasaganapathi, music lessons with notations for Apoorva kritis, Tevaram and Thirupugazh, Ramanatakam and Nandanar Charitram. Rajam often talked of a musical society that existed in those times where concerts by musicians of repute used to be held on the thinnai-s at Mylapore. His crisp speeches were also played to the benefit of the audience.
Rajam was greatly influenced by Louis Thomson. The water wash methods (painting) that he adopted were time-consuming and hence their uniqueness. There was that pristine fluidity even in the lines he drew. He wanted to “look beyond” through his art and his works carried the element of abstractness and symbolism drawn from our ancient myths. He was one who sought to express the present. The style resembled Ajantha but the works were never replicas. He was the one who must have painted the Navagrahams for the first time that remained a taboo among artists. He was eloquent in his articulations, an unusual maverick and an avid photographer.
Sowmya’s presentation brought Rajam’s persona alive and it was a moved audience that bade farewell to the multifaceted legend as his disciple and admirer closed her narration.