All India Radio-Thiruvananthapuram is said to have the biggest repository of Malayalam patriotic songs

Ever since its origins as the Travancore State Broadcasting Station back in 1943, and then it’s merging with the AIR national network in 1950, perhaps no other institution in the city has tuned into the spirit of freedom, independence and national integration with as much vigour as AIR-Thiruvananthapuram. And, if today we continue to be familiar with Malayalam patriotic songs such as ‘Varika Varika Sahajare…’, ‘Bharathamennal…’, and ‘Janmakarini Bharatham…’, to name but a few, its largely due to the efforts of AIR. The Government-run radio channel has, arguably, the largest repository of Malayalam patriotic songs, some of which listeners still get to hear through its signature programmes such as ‘Udaya Geetham’ and ‘Community Singing Lessons’ (a.k.a. Samooha Gana Paadam).

“Over the years, almost every popular patriotic poem or lyric written in Malayalam by just about every poet, from Vallathol Narayanan Menon, Bodheswaran, Vayalar Rama Varma and P. Kunjiraman Nair to O.N.V. Kurup, Sugathakumari and K. Jayakumar, has been tuned under various AIR initiatives. Music directors of the likes of Trichur P. Radhakrishnan, K.P. Udayabhanu, M.B. Sreenivasan, M.G. Radhakrishnan, Perumbavoor G. Raveendranath, Kalavoor Balan, and Joy Thottam have composed most of these songs; Udayabhanu’s contribution is particularly noteworthy in this regard,” says G. Sreeram, playback singer and programme executive at AIR.

Most of AIR’s repository of patriotic songs seems to have been material created for ‘Community Singing Lessons’, which has been on air since almost the very beginning. “The programme aims at, among others, fostering the idea of national integration at school and college level. It has always had a popular run on air,” says P.M. Unnikrishnan Unnithan, assistant director programmes, AIR. Apparently, AIR’s resident music composers used to learn patriotic poems from various languages, would sometimes transcribe it into Malayalam and then teach the songs to members of the channel’s now-defunct in-house choir known as the Akashavani choir (the choir had a children’s section and one for young adults drawn from the city’s schools and colleges; well-known singers such as Sreeram and B. Arundathi were members of the choir). “Each month all stations of AIR would focus on the poems of a particular poet. Because of this we got to read the works of a lot of famous poets from across the country. Moreover, after we recorded the songs we would share it with other stations. And because of that Malayalam patriotic songs would be aired in every corner of the country,” recalls music composer Raveendranath.

Additionally, Unnikrishnan says that every station is allotted a budget under a special software package to focus on patriotic content. “For example, last year we focussed on patriotic songs that stem from Northern Kerala, while this year we’re highlighting interesting facets of Kerala’s culture such as the Aranula Kannadi,” he says.

AIR is currently in the process of digitising its wealth of songs. Most of the songs played on air nowadays seem to be those recorded all those years ago. On the flip side, while once upon a time patriotic songs were aired a daily basis, these days it’s lucky if they get one spot a week, in between all that demand for mass entertainment.