When composer-musician Mysore Vasudevachar passed away, Rajaji sent a letter of condolence to Rukmini Devi Arundale.
That was the headline for The Hindu’s editorial dated May 19, 1961, mourning the death of Mysore Vasudevachar. He had passed away late in the night on May 17. As was the tradition those days, The Hindu published a ‘Memoir’ which gave the career highlights of the composer-musician. Among other details, it mentioned that Vasudevachar had composed 300 songs of which 140 were published in two volumes titled ‘Vasudeva Kirtana Manjari’ and that he had published his reminiscences, ‘Na Kanda Kalavidaru’. The latter is a delightful read even today.
Dr. P.V. Rajamannar, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Madras and the then president of Sangeet Natak Akademi, in a message of condolence, remarked that “the Grand Old Man of Carnatic music has passed away.” That was no exaggeration.
Having lived till the age of 96, he had, to quote from The Hindu’s editorial, been a “link with a past age in Karnataka Sangitam, having been a sishya of Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer.” The tribute went on to state that “most of us today have known him only as a fragile old gentleman, presiding with dignity over cultural functions at Kalakshetra of which he was vice-president. Earlier in his career, he had been appointed as asthana vidwan of Mysore State… Sri Vasudevachar was that rare combination of composer and practitioner. His songs are very much in vogue at our cutcheries and have been propagated both by publication and by assiduous use by his pupils. As a composer, he has been hailed as being in the lofty tradition of Sri Tyagaraja himself”.
The news of the passing was received with great grief, for seldom had there been a musician who had earned the love of everyone with his simplicity, gentle humour and vast knowledge. On May 19, the Sangeet Natak Akademi condoled the passing and in its resolution, noted “in his demise, the country has lost a great musician and composer of the age”.
The acharya had received the Akademi’s award in 1954 and had as late as 1960 become a Fellow of the Akademi. On the same day, The Hindu published tributes from Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer. On May 23, there appeared letters from Prof. P. Sambamurthy and Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar. Most of these tended to repeat the well-known facts and if there was one man who managed to stand out, it was Rajaji. He chose to write to Rukmini Devi Arundale. The letter was published on May 19 and said, “If I write to the family left behind by Vasudevachar, it can be only conventional. But to you, I tender my consolation in a very sincere way. You have done noble service to the great old good man like a daughter to a dear old father, and I am aware what a void it will be for you now, when both (Karaikkudi) Sambasiva Aiyar and Vasudevachar have gone to join the serene universal, leaving Kalakshetra to grieve… Your tender watchful care of these two great musicians, two pure souls of golden worth, during their last years, is a great and unprecedented example to everyone that values humanity and culture in the truest sense.”
On May 29, a condolence meeting was held at Kalakshetra for the man who had composed such wonderful music for several of the institution’s dance productions, in particular the Ramayana where he had used the verses of Valmiki to such telling effect. A message of condolence received from the Governor of Madras, Bishnuram Medhi, was read out. A veritable galaxy, including Rajaji, attended the event. Among those who spoke were T.L. Venkatarama Iyer, retired Justice of the Supreme Court and noted musicologist. He highlighted the fact that Vasudevachar was a great exponent of thana. This was an area in which Vasudevachar’s guru, Patnam, had been unequalled. He also said that Vasudevachar’s “songs were saturated with the bhakti element and were rich in ragabhava in the classical tradition of Sri Tyagaraja.”
Other speakers included Musiri Subramania Iyer, Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, K. Sankara Menon and Rukmini Devi.
The acharya had died just a few days short of his 97th birthday, which fell on May 28. Many had hoped that he would live for a full century. But his name and fame will live beyond mere time periods. The Hindu’s editorial was prescient in this regard - “It is our tradition that a considerable part of our cultural lore should centre round our great musicians. In years to come, they will continue to speak with reverence of Vasudevacharya, sing his songs and discuss the manner in which he influenced musical trends in the course of a long and distinguished career.”
The author can be contacted at email@example.com