Diction was another area in which Sirkazhi Govindarajan scored.

‘Amudhum Thaenum Edharkku…' The hero woos the heroine, the dulcet tones of playback singer Sirkazhi Govindarajan, caressing the listener. But the same voice shakes us out of our romantic reverie when we hear the words Aadi Adangum Vaazhkaiyadaa..’ (film: Neerkumizhi). Here Sirkazhi’s voice plumbs the depths of pathos, while pointing out that at the end of a tumultuous life all that is left is a quiet burial. One notices a quiver when Sirkazhi sings ‘Aadi’, which brings out the nebulousness of life, and the way he stresses ‘da’ in ‘Adangum,’ gives the whole thing an air of finality. K. Balachander says, “I wanted Sirkazhi to sing that song, because his emphasis on certain words and letters always produced the effect required.”

With the curtain on the Tamizh Isai Sangam’s festival going up tomorrow, it is apt to recall the contribution of this musician to Tamil music and his association with the Sangam. Sirkazhi’s musical journey began when he was in school. Even though he played minor roles in school plays, he would, in deference to the wishes of the audience, stay on stage longer than the hero, singing one song after another. After completing ESLC, Sirkazhi joined the Devi Nataka Sabha, but his uncle P.S. Chettiar, assistant director with Ellis R. Dungan, felt the future belonged to films. So Sirkazhi joined Modern Theatres, and, after a stint there, applied to the Tamil Music College in Madras. Upon completion of the course, Sirkazhi enrolled for a degree in the Government Music College, where Thiruppamburam Swaminatha Pillai, impressed by his talents, took Sirkazhi under his wing.

Sirkazhi’s first film solo was ‘Sirupputhaan Varugudhaiyya,’ in 1954, for the film ‘Ponvayal.’ (Music by Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma). Sirkazhi’s guru said, “Sing in films by all means. But make sure you do not bring dishonour to the divine music I’ve taught you.” And Sirkazhi scrupulously adhered to his guru’s advice. Violinist Sikkil Bhaskaran remembers, “The first hour of a Sirkazhi concert would be devoted to compositions of the Trinity, the next to Tamil songs, and the last to devotionals from films.”

One-man orchestra

Sirkazhi’s voice was invariably heard in theme songs, and as a disembodied voice in poignant situations, such as ‘Odam Nadiyinile’ in the film ‘Kaathirunda Kangal.’ “When Sirkazhi came for this recording, he asked me why there were only a few members of my orchestra present. I touched his throat and said, ‘The orchestra I need is in here,’” says M.S. Viswanathan.

Critic Subbudu observed, “Sirkazhi does not require a mike. If he sings in Mangadu, he will be heard in Mahabalipuram.” Music director Deva, who has tuned devotionals for Sirkazhi, says, “I’ve seen speakers vibrate excessively, when Sirkazhi sang.”

Sirkazhi has to his credit many devotional albums, the music for most of which was by T.R. Paappa. Talking of ‘Kannan Vandhaan’ (from ‘Ramu’), A.V.M. Saravanan recalls, “Sirkazhi’s singing was weighty and the other popular singer who initially sang along with Sirkazhi, couldn’t match his singing. So TMS was brought in to sing with Sirkazhi.”

The song was tuned by MSV, who says, “One of my fans was in hospital. Doctors told the family to do what they could to make his last hours happy. So they played a few songs of mine. And soon the man perked up and said, ‘I want to hear ‘Kannan Vandhaan.’ And from then on, recovery was rapid!”

Subbu Arumugam, who has written and tuned villupattus for Sirkazhi in films and 93-year-old mridangam vidwan ‘Madras’ Kannan, who refers to Sirkazhi as ‘kuzhandai,’ emphasise his humility.

“In the early days, I used to imitate Sirkazhi, and my father used to be very proud of this,” says T.L. Maharajan, Tiruchi Loganathan’s son. Sirkazhi sang for theatre too. A.L. Raghavan says, “Tiruchi Loganathan was the hero, and T.R. Rajakumari the heroine in the play ‘Anarkali’, which was inaugurated at Raja Annamalai Mandram. The opening song, the title song, and songs for all male characters, except the hero, were sung by Sirkazhi.”

Justice P.R. Gokulakrishnan, president, Tamil Isai Sangam says, “Sirkazhi was unique, because he made a mark both in classical and film music. If asked to describe his voice, I would say it was alluring.” Sirkazhi received the Isai Perarignar title from Tamil Isai Sangam in 1982.

Dr. M. Thangarasu, retired vice-chancellor, Periyar University, and advisor, Tamil Isai Sangam, says, “Sirkazhi’s distinguishing characteristic was his humility. He would be present at all the Pann research conferences, and now his son Sivachidambaram attends these conferences. No other musician sang so many Tamil songs as Sirkazhi.”

Sirkazhi’s daughter Gnanavalli has one regret though. “Why was my father ignored by mainstream sabhas and the English media?”

Sirkazhi was often asked why he did not sing for heroes. He would point to pictures of deities and say, “I sing about these heroes.” And after his untimely death at the age of 55, Sirkazhi, perhaps, continues to sing for the Gods, as he roams the Elysian Fields.