V. Dakshinamurty was more than a music director who plumbed the depths of Carnatic music to come with pearls of film numbers. He was always in tune with the masses.
Reducing the repertoire of V. Dakshinamurty to only Carnatic classical is unfair. Yes, he was surely the master of this genre, but he did create melodies that were an innovative mix of various styles that struck a permanent chord in the heart of the masses.
In an interview a few years ago I asked Dakshinamurty Swami, as he was respectfully called, how he made songs, which were sometimes romantic, sometimes comic, strictly raga-based. His answer stumped me. ‘Enjoy a song. Don’t ask me the raga and swara. Vidwans often identify ragas in my songs. They may be right. But, for me, the song must strike a chord somewhere in the hearts of those who hear it. They can seek the ragas later,’ he said with that wide smile.
True, because Dakshinamurty in his long career has created not just raga-based songs. Perhaps some of his most popular songs are semi-classical but the maestro also gave life to some of the best melodies in Malayalam – light songs, devotionals, simple children’s songs and even some rib-tickling comic film numbers (‘Oru roopa note koduthaal…’ from Lottery Ticket is one example).
The composer who could be said to have shaped the destiny of Malayalam film music was trained to be a Carnatic vocalist. As a child, it is said, Dakshinamurty could render 27 Tyagaraja kritis. He was initiated into music by his mother, Parvathi Ammal, and later studied under Venkitachala Potti. But Dakshinamurty is today remembered more for the songs he created than for his kutcheris.
It has been, as he always said, ‘the will of God’. “How else could you explain my rise from a non-ambitious music teacher to a music composer,” Dakshinamurty once asked this writer during an informal chat.
For the first few films since his debut in Nalla Thanka (1950), say, till Sneha Seema (1953), Dakshinamurty relied completely on his instincts and, of course, imitating the popular Hindi, Tamil and even Telugu film tunes of the time. For instance, in Nalla Thanka he collaborated with Rama Rao. A lot of popular Telugu tunes were incorporated in the film. Like the popular duet ‘Imbamerum ithalaakum…’ sung by Vaikom Mani and P. Leela was a direct copy of the Telugu duet ‘Poovu cheri…’ sung by Ghantasala and G. Varalakshmi from the 1948 film Drohi.
This trend continued. Dakshinamurty’s first hit, ‘Akale aarum kaividum…’ (Jeevitha Nauka) closely followed the evergreen Mohammed Rafi number ‘Suhaani raat dal chuki…’ from Dulari. This happened at the insistence of the producers and many such imitations came out. The producer who first gave Dakshinamurty a free hand was T.E. Vasudevan. The film Sneha Seema marked the first ‘original’ works of Dakshinamurthy.
Incidentally, Dakshinamurty’s early foray into music direction came much before Nalla Thanka. In the early 1940s, when Dakshinamurty stayed in Chennai [Madras] for a couple of years, says film historian B. Vijayakumar, Swami sang for All India Radio and also continued teaching music. One of his disciples here was the famous singer-actor N.C. Vasanthakokilam.
“Her husband, C.K. Sachi, was associated with India Gramophones. And perhaps it was through his contacts that Dakshinamurthy composed songs for a couple of gramophone records. Some of them like ‘Arunodayam varumo…’ and ‘Sayi Sadgurunatha dayaparane… were very popular those days,” explains Vijayakumar.
However, many of his non-film songs and devotionals are often forgotten. The Narayananeeyam, Harinamakeerthanam and Guruvayur Suprabhatham, rendered soulfully by P. Leela, all of which have stood the test of time and act as a touchstone for other similar attempts, are his creations. In fact, the chanting of the mantra ‘Om namo Narayananaya…’ before the recitation of the Narayananeeyam begins is in Dakshinamurthy’s voice.
The light songs from the Sreekumaran Thampi-Dakshinamurthy team in the LP records Sweet Melodies of K. J. Yesudas (1969: HMV) Modern Malayalam Songs of K. J. Yesudas (1971: HMV) that had unforgettable songs such as ‘Karineela kannula penne…’, ‘Ee loka golathil…’, ‘Kalayude sargamukhangal…’, ‘Karalin kilimarathil…’ ‘Onakodi uduthu…’, ‘Adyathe nottathil…’ were trendsetters of sorts.
Very few know that Dakshinamurty has written, set to music and sung some popular devotional albums. This is in addition to the innumerable devotionals he has composed. ‘Ayyappan Ottamthullal’, which was recorded in 1979 and released by HMV; ‘Ayyappan Aksharamala’, and ‘Harihara Jyothi’ are some of them. In 1997 he composed the music for the very popular audio cassette, ‘Athmopadesha Sathakam’, by Sree Narayana Guru, in which his daughter Gomathi and Minmini were the singers.
“Illayaraja told me when I met him for Swami’s funeral in Chennai about what the late Vaali told him. Swami was not just a lyricist or a poet he was ‘arul’ or God’s voice. So right, for he has written so many amazing kritis in Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam that puts him on the lofty pedestal of the great vagayakkaras,” says music director T.S. Radhakrishnan.
Dakshinamurty had few parallels when it came to setting poems to tune. Mahakavi G. Sankara Kurup’s lines ‘Srantham ambaram…’ used in the film Abhayam turned magical in the hands of Dakshinamurthy. The film also had poems by Balamaniamma, Kumaran Asan, Vallathol, Sugathakumari and others. Dakshinamurty transformed Sankaracharaya’s ‘Bhajagovindam…’ into a hummable tune.
As the late P. Bhaskaran had said Swami could breathe music even into the numbers and letters of a calendar.
One is not sure whether Dakshinamurty composed for Hindi films. The only instance is the dubbed version of Jeevitha Nauka in which some of his original tunes were retained. In this version the Mohammed Rafi-Shamshad Begum duet ‘Pyaar ke suhane geet…’ was a hit.
Never known to express regrets Dakshinamurty, once confessed that not being able to sing as much as he wanted was perhaps one of his biggest regrets. But he did a quick turnaround saying, “But then who knows if I would have ever made a mark as a vocalist. Everything that happens is the will of God.”
THE BEST OF THE CHARTBUSTERS
(A random selection from a huge treasure trove of memorable songs. The song is followed by the name of the singer and the movie in which the song was featured)
‘Kanivolum kamaneeya hrdayam’ (P.Leela Snehaseema)
‘Mindaathathenthaanu thatthe…’ (Kamukara Purushotaman/Njana Sundari)
‘Paatupaadi urakaam njaan…’ (P. Susheela/Seetha)
‘Vaadarutheemalarini…’ (K. P. Udayabhanu/Satyabhama)
‘Priyamanasa…’ (P. Leela/Chilamboli)
‘Kakkathamburatti…’ (K. J. Yesudas/Inapravukkal)
‘Hrdayasarassile…’ (Yesudas/Padunna Puzha)
‘Vaikathashtami naalil…’ (Yesudas-S. Janaki/Bharyamaar Sookshikkuka)
‘Uthara swayamvaram…’ (Yesudas/Danger Biscuit)
‘Innale nee oru…’(Janaki/Sthree)
‘Manohari nee…’ (Yesudas/Lottery Ticket)
‘Harshabashpam…’ (P. Jayachandran/Muthassi)
‘Manassilunaru ushasandhya…’(Yesudas-Janaki/Marunattil Oru Malayali)
‘Kaatile paazhmulam…’ (Yesudas/Vilakku Vaangiya Veena)
‘Sandhyakenthinu sindooram…’ (Jayachandran/Maya)
‘Pon veyil manikacha…’ (Yesudas/Nrithasala)
‘ Tharakaroopini…’ (K.P.Brahmanandan/Shastram Jayichu Manushyan Thottu)
‘Ishwara Jagadeeswara… ’(Yesudas/Kannukal)
‘Vaathil pazhuthilooden…’ (Yesudas/Edanazhiyil Oru Kaalocha)