M. Balamuralikrishna’s recent performance in Delhi was a blissful experience.
While our history is replete with many great men, , it is seldom that we are fortunate to be living in an era of living legend. Vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna is one such icon. . After the passing away of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, he is one of the few living legends in India. Since giving a full concert at the age of 8 and getting the prefix Bala added to his name, this Carnatic maestro has been rendering service to classical music for the last 75 years, with over 25000 performances, and created 400 compositions including varnams, kritis, javalis and tillanas, in various Indian languages and in all the 72 melakarta ragas.
The veteran performed as part of the New Delhi Municipal Council’s centenary celebration, in association with Spic Macay. The rain gods showed mercy towards the evening and the golden rays of the sunset embellished the brilliant hues of spring flowers in the park. The stage, full of marigolds, dahlias and gerberas, was the ideal setting for the maestro’s performance. The audience waited with great anticipation.
Balamurali began his concert in a very traditional way, offering invocation to Lord Ganesh and chose Muttuswamy Dikshitar’s famous kriti Vatapi Ganapatim in the raga Hamsadhwani. The kalpana swara with the signature style of Balamurali at “Karaambuja” was given due treatment with the turns passing from the guru to the sishya K. Krishnakumar and then to the violinist Delhi Sridhar — a mesmerising start which also set the tempo for the evening. Even before the thunder of applause stopped, Balamurali followed with the famous Kriti “Nada Tanum Anisham Sankaram” a composition of Tyagaraja in raga Chittaranjani which is a janya raga of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharaharapriya. in this song the saint composer worships music as God, offers his salutations to Lord Shiva and the Sama Veda and says “I bow my head with all my heart”. It is not a coincidence that the vibrations of Balamurali’s golden voice gave a sublime tribute to nada and the audience felt that they were witnessing the embodiment of nada on the stage. This was followed by the third Sanskrit composition of the evening as Balamurali chose the 63rd melakarta raga, the not-often heard Latangi for a brief alap conveying the mood of valour. He presented his own composition “Tamralochani Latangi” in praise of Goddess Parvati, the Mother and protector of Dharma.
Every concert of Balamurali is like a garland with a pendent and the pendent came next in the form of raga Chandrakauns which is similar to Malkauns (Hindolam) with a change of Shudha Nishadam to Komal. This subtle modification to Shudha Ni enabled the maestro to bring in variation of feeling of longing of a devotee to seek blessings of Krishna. The detailed alap brought the entire depth of the raga so beautifully. The disciple of Balamurali, Krishnakumar provided admirable support in the delineation of the raga . The guru and sishya together traversed the various facets of the raga, scaling effortlessly the three octaves and making the vocal range incredible. It seemed that the guru was holding the hands of his disciple and the latter rendering his shoulders to carry the icon.
Delhi’s Sridhar on the violin gave a crisp version of the raga. The song that followed was his own Telugu composition on Lord Krishna — “Nee saati neeve Ranga”. Brilliant that he is, Balamurali focussed on the first line of the charanam and ‘Murali Music’ descended in the park. The rendering of kalpana swaras at “Nee saati” with swara Ni and Sa as poruthams was perfected by Balamurali by complex arithmetic renditions which he made to look so simple. Krishnakumar and Delhi Sridhar responded with aplomb and the maestro often said “Bale!” (Tamil equivalent to ‘Wah’). A tani avartanam (solo) on the mridangam was performed by Mannargudi Subramaniam with Tisra and Khanda nadais converging to an emphatic korvai as climax. . While the audience thought the concert would be over, Balamurali had other ideas and he took up a brief alap of raga Sindhu Bhairavi with pinpointed rare musical phrases suffixed by the ashtapadi from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda — “Nijagada Saa” . I noticed the great Odissi exponent Sonal Mansingh in the front row doing mudras with her fingers. Can a Balamurali feast end without serving tillana? He chose the Behag rag tillana of his own composition which is his tribute to all the musicians and vaggeyakaras with a salutation to Saint Tyagaraja. The rhythmic uniqueness of the tillana — the pallavi starting one akshara after the samam — was rendered with enthusiasm by the musician interlinking the accompanying artists and his disciple on the vocal support. The concert ended with the mangalam or benediction — “Ramachandraya Janaka” — a composition of Bhadrachalam Ramadas.
Tyagaraja said “Endaro Mahanubhavulu Andariki Vandanam” (I offer my namaskar to all the great souls and the many great people).”
The audience, moved to tears, lined up to touch Balamurali’s feet as he came down from the stage. The concert was an experience of bliss.
The writer is a member of Spic Macay.