‘Miradasi’ was a soulful homage to the genius of M.S. Subbulakshmi

Nothing could have been more appropriate than dedicate a whole evening to bhajans and dhuns on the 97th birth anniversary of M.S. Subbulakshmi. The austere ambience at Kalakshetra’s Rukmini Auditorium was the most fitting platform for such a tribute by Gowri Ramnarayan and her musical group. It also happened to be the centenary of R. Vaidyanathan or ‘Remaji’ as he was known, who had played an important role in MS’s life – he had tuned a few bhajans for her besides some piano classes. Gowri said that MS had also learnt a considerable number of bhajans from Dilip Kumar Roy, A. Kanan, Siddheswari Devi, M.R. Gowtam and Srinivasa Rao, besides Remaji.

The programme, which covered bhajans by Surdas, Tulsidas, Kabir and Ras Khan, was aptly titled ‘Miradasi’ thanks to the suggestion of Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

It was a revelation to many in the audience that Remaji was an expert in Western classical music and was adept at playing the piano and the flute. “He spoke very little. He taught MS amma and Radha, and improvised bhajans on the piano incorporating numerous variations,” said Gowri.

Remaji was instrumental in tuning and recording Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite ‘Hari Thum Haro’ in one stretch. During the recording, he was taken away from the scene, lest he would insist on improving the melody; that would only have delayed the Mahatma receiving it on time for his prayer.

The young Nisha Rajagopal rose to the occasion and her diction was clear. “Four months of rehearsals made the singer really meet the demand. Flautist Sruthisagar and violinist Padma Shankar learnt every minute detail in linking the sahitya through musical interludes,” said Gowri.

It was a totally changed Nisha, whose slightly thick, nasal tone had indeed vanished; a voice soaked in melody had taken its place instead. Adapting to bhajan singing quite naturally with modulations, she kept the audience in thrall. The accompanying artists played their part well. Once the slightly higher volume of Arun Prakash’s mridangam was lowered in the beginning, his rhythmic support became enjoyable throughout. Anirudh, however, had no opportunity to exhibit his artistry effectively.

Nisha opened with the Tulsidas bhajan, ‘Jago Raghunath,’ and followed it with ‘Hey Govind, Hey Gopal’ by Surdas and Kabir’s ‘Bhajore Bhayya Ram Govind Hari.’ The fourth piece, ‘Dharas Bina Dhookkan Lage’ was not, according to Gowri, as it was sung in the film ‘Meera’ but had a slight variation. Ras Khan’s ‘Gave Ghun’ and the poem ‘Sochkar Chalna Musafir’ by an unknown Urdu poet, presented in an amalgam of Keeravani and Kalyana Vasantham, was another enchanting melody. ‘Bhaj Man Ram Charan Sukh Daayi’ of Tulsidas in Khamaj and ‘Prabhuji Thum Bin Kaun’ by Surdas were set to lilting tunes.

The end was of course reserved for ‘Hari Thum Haro’ and it did wonders. The poignant melody coupled with the soul-stirring stanzas left almost teary-eyed. The finishing line was so soaring that it revealed Nisha’s superb voice-range.

Gowri, who directed the programme under the aegis of JustUs Repertory, gave appropriate introductions to each piece and the little nuggets were indeed interesting. They were sharp, crisp and at times, humorous. That D.K. Pattammal too was among other Carnatic vocalists who learnt Remaji’s bhajans was a bit surprising. When Gowri rendered the English song learnt by MS but had never sung, there was a round of applause.

Fascinating life sketch

The life sketch of Remaji was fascinating. Actor Ranjan was his brother. Remaji had trained in both Western and Carnatic music and joined the Cambridge University to research under the nuclear physicist Nobel Laureate Lord Rutherford, but gave up everything and returned to India to develop his own system of thought, composing music as part of his spiritual quest. He had also worked in the Gemini Studios to compose music. He became a lone wanderer and spent his last years in the Punjab and breathed his last in Amritsar. A touching story, indeed.

The team’s hard work, dedication and aim to achieve excellence made an impact on the rasikas.