K. Raghavan and his music have become a part of the collective memory of every music buff in Kerala. The maestro struck a chord with his brand of melody that derived inspiration from indigenous music.

Simplicity was the hallmark of K. Raghavan’s life and music. In a career spanning over four decades, he was never known to have flirted with controversy. Ironically, this fine human being, never a polarising person, was pulled into an unnecessary controversy after his death. Those who took an active part in all the mud-slinging failed to think for a moment that Raghavan would never have approved of his name being dragged into this ruckus.

Modest, with a perpetual smile on his face… That was how anyone who met Raghavan would remember him. No one ever talked about Raghvan being rude; there was never a tinge of rancour, he was never known to be a nit-picker. He spoke in a gentle voice, but when he broke into song, it turned rugged and powerful despite the frailties of age. And he loved to sing. In fact, he was trained to become a Carnatic vocalist and must be the only Malayalam music composer of his time to have sung so many film songs.

It happened nearly 15 years ago, the first time this writer met Raghavan. Rehearsals were on at a hall in Kochi for a function. Music director Ousepachan, actor Siddique and singer Markose were trying out Raghavan’s famous ‘Kayalarikathu valayerinjappol…’ (Neelakuyil). That is when Raghavan walked in. At the request of everyone there he took the microphone and sang. The voice pierced through the background music, the resonance was amazing, the handful of listeners was stunned. Raghavan then walked back to his seat. That song was brought back to life; time seemed to have stood still.

Most of the 20-odd film songs Raghavan rendered, especially some of the more popular ones, were sung on the request of P. Bhaskaran, his mentor-friend, or the director or producer. If ‘Kayalarikathu…’ was to be sung by Haji Abdul Khader, the lilting ‘Appozheparanjile…’ (Kadamba) was originally reserved for K. J. Yesudas.

Raghavan always said that his aim in life was to ‘become an accomplished Carnatic vocalist.’ For five years he trained under Narayana Iyer and he has gone on record that during his All India Radio days in Madras and Delhi he used to listen only to classical music. It was this passion that prompted him to chuck away the career of a professional footballer. Raghavan was a quicksilver right extreme, good enough to find a place in the Caltex team in Mumbai after he impressed in a few trial games.

When Raghavan is sometimes branded as a composer of folk tunes, a cursory look at his songs for films, for radio and for dramas, would show his strong bond and influence of classical music. One perfect example of this would be the song ‘Kadalaasu vanjiyeri...’ (Neelakuyil, sung by Kozhikode Pushpa). This song has been inspired by what Raghavan said is his ‘favourite Tyagaraja krithi, ‘Sarasa sama daana bheda danda chathura...’ in Kaapi Narayani raga. Raghavan usually sang this in his concerts.

It was serendipity that made him a music composer. Joining AIR Madras [Chennai] as a tanpura artiste in 1940, Raghavan accepted a transfer to Delhi when Madras had to be evacuated following the Japanese attack in 1942. He remained in Delhi till the Kozhikode station was started in 1950. It was in Kozhikode that Raghavan blossomed as a composer. It took a lot of persuasion from his colleagues in AIR like Bhaskaran, Thikkodiyan, Uroob and others before he agreed to try his hand at composing light songs. That was the beginning.

Some of the light songs he composed for AIR such as ‘Paadaanorthoru madhuritha…’ and ‘Kunnikkurukkal...’ became very popular.

Then Neelakuyil happened. For the first time in Malayalam, one got to hear sounds, very folksy, very raw but melodious, in voices best suited for the songs. The film and the songs became hugely popular. And Raghavan had made a strong impact in his debut. This was after two of the films for which he composed music, Koodukana Kili and Pullimaan, did not see the light of day.

The songs of Neelakuyil, dubbed in Tamil, were also hits. Evidence for this is the song book. “Those days songs books were printed and marketed only when the songs of the films became hits,” says B. Vijayakumar, film historian. This is the only instance when Raghavan found mention in another language film other than Malayalam. The lyrics were exact translations but the tunes were the same as that of the original. The singers in the Tamil version were K. Devanarayanan, V. N. Sundaram, S. C. Krishnan, A. P. Komala, N. L. Ganasaraswathi, R. Padma and Indira Venkat.

These singers belong to a long list of singers Raghavan used judiciously for his songs. An outstanding feature was his ability to pick the right voice for the right song. He did this at a time when the other music directors stuck to their favourite voices. So L. R. Easwari, who was till then typecast in fast numbers, was used by Raghavan for two of his memorable songs, ‘Omanapaattumayi…’ and ‘Ethrakandalum…’ from the film Archana. Many are the singers like K. P. Udayabhanu and K. P. Brahmanandan who made their debut under the watchful baton of this composer while many like C. O. Anto, and Mehaboob, had some of their best songs created by Raghavan. Sreekazhi Govindarajan made his Malayalam debut with a Raghavan song in Neelisaali and so did poet-lyricist Valayar Rama Varma in Koodappirappu.

While Neelakuyil went on to win the President’s silver medal, Raghavan also scored the music for National award-winning films such as Nirmalyam and Utharayanam.

It is true that Raghavan’s contribution to Malayalam film music was his introduction of rustic melodies that were in stark contrast to the prevalent style of imitating tunes from other genres. He was quick to understand that only that kind of music that springs from the musical traditions of a people could reach the masses. He realised that folk music, simple and direct, was the best medium to express the emotional experiences of a people. He never tried to impose his classical acumen on his tunes.

Sixty-odd films, a long list of dramas and numerous light songs is testimony of Raghavan’s musical genius. Surprisingly, despite the popularity of his songs, especially film songs, he was never inundated with offers. Perhaps it had a lot to do with his official commitments with AIR. With most of the recordings held in Madras [Chennai], he had to take permission from the Director General, AIR, very often and his requests for leave were not always sanctioned. This was why he adopted pseudonyms such as Raghunath and Molly.

In these days, when claims fly high that melody is back in Malayalam film music, when most folk tunes we hear are rehashed versions backed up by heavy electronic gadgets, Raghavan’s pure melodies still stand out.


Some plays with Raghavan’s music


‘Bhagna Bhavanam’


‘Thaapa Nilayam’

‘Thaala Tharangam’

‘Bharatha Kshethram’

‘Yanthram Sudarshanam’


Many are the singers who had their best songs created by K. Raghavan. Given below are some of them. The first few words of the lyric is followed by the name of the singer and the film in which the song was featured.

‘Kuyilinethedi…’ Janamma David (Neelakuyil)

‘Thumbi thumbi vaa vaa…’ Shanta P. Nair (Koodappirappu)

‘Engine nee marakkum…’ Kozhikode Abdul Khader (Neelakuyil)

‘Naazhiyurippalu kondu…’ Gayatri Sreekrishnan (Rarichan Enna Pouran)

‘Kaathusookshichoru…’ Mehaboob (Nayaru Pidicha Pulivaal)

‘Karakanathoru…’ Sreekazhi Govindarajan (Neelisaali)

‘Unarunaroo unnipoove…’ S. Janaki (Ammaye Kanaan)

‘Baliyalla…’ P. B. Srinivas (Rebecca)

‘Kalyanamothiram…’ P. Leela (Aadya Kiranangal)

‘Omanapaattumayi...’ L.R. Easwari (Archana)

‘Vellinakshatrame…’ K.P. Udayabhanu (Ramanan)

‘Kunnathoru kaavundu…’ C.O. Anto (Asuravithu)

‘Manjubhashini…’ K.J. Yesudas (Kodungalloor Amma)

‘Manathekayalin…’ K.P. Brahmanandan (Kallichellamma)

‘Kilivaathilil mutti…’ A.M. Raja (Rebecca)

‘Kizhakkudikile chenthengil…’ A.P. Komala (Aadyakiranangal)

‘Neervanchikal poothu…’ B.Vasantha (Kannappanunni)

‘Unniganapathiye…’ M.G. Radhakrishnan (Kallichellamma)

‘Manathe mazhamukil…’ P. Susheela (Kannappanunni)

‘Nadapuram palliyile…’ Vani Jairam (Thacholi Ambu)

‘Varnippathengine nin…’ M.L. Vasanthakumari (Krishna Kuchela)

‘Nabhassil mukilinte…’ M. Balamuralikrishna (Poojakkedukaatha Pookal)

‘Ammakku njaanoru…’ Renuka (Archana)

‘Neelamala poonkuyile…’ P. Jayachandran (Ponnum Poovum)

‘Nilavinte poonkaavil…’ Lathika (Sree Krishnaparunthu)

‘Othupalliyil…’ V. T. Murali (Thenthulli)

‘Ahadonte tirunamam…’ Nilambur Shaji (Pathinaalam Raavu)

‘Nakshtra naalangalo…’ G. Venugopal (Sasinas)