‘I dutifully follow my guru’s advice as it is a service that I render to Lord Rama...’
After witnessing a concert of Yesudas last year at the Chamarajpet Ramaseva Mandali here, this writer who saw the pandal bursting with people and jostle for space in a 10,000+ seating arrangement, the curiosity to know the power behind his magnetic pull came through rushing, as the septuagenarian takes to the stage at the mandali for a Ramanavami concert at 6.30 p.m. on Monday.
Getting to speak to the classical and film music veteran for 15 minutes on phone was in itself an achievement. “I am not inaccessible, it is just that I have been covered enough and people know a lot about me,” is his modest answer.
“But I agree, this year is special as the mandali is celebrating its platinum jubilee. It is not a joke to go on for 75 years. If Narayanaswamy Rao, the founder, had done it from 1938 for the cause of spreading melodic bhakti, it is something extraordinary that his sons have been able to carry on since 2000, after Rao,” says Yesudas.
Several renowned names in both the classical streams perform at the legendary Ramanavami concerts at Fort High School Grounds but Kattassery Joseph Yesudas, who easily sings for three hours, forcibly has to draw the curtain, as nobody moves from their seats, whether it is past 10 p.m. or even if it is raining!
Clicking on his comp, singing with a resonant voice that could put any young artiste to shame, Yesudas is known for his connect with the audience, as he explains his unusual portions that he brings up in exacting ways as his guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar did. The audience loves the way he peppers his concert with witty remarks and often converts the platform into a lec-dem!
Yesudas was the first classical singer to switch over to a laptop on stage to avoid the mess of papers and books for lyrics. When he took up a kriti in the rare raga Vivardhini last year, for example, he explained the missing “nishada” that made it so different from Kedaragowla with a multitude of phrases. Earlier, in the Hamsadwani kriti Vathapi, he recollected some of the “flexible brigas” that Chembai, together with Chowdiah, had presented nearly five decades ago on the same stage.
But how does this star explain the huge gathering he attracts; driving the mandali to even have police protection at the gate is something even he is stifled about. “I don’t know, it is God’s grace. My guru had advised me that my association with the Ramanavami platform here should be lifelong. And to this day, it is about three decades, and I dutifully follow, as it is a service that I render to Lord Rama, and I will continue to do this,” says Yesudas.
No fee at all
Says S.N. Varadaraj of the mandali: “Yesudas’s ethics are different. He has never accepted money from us saying his concert here is a prayer to Lord Rama. Even his guru Chembai did not take a single paisa. Can you believe, as a customary practice, we have been paying Rs. 10 as advance or blessing from Lord Rama. It is just a tradition that my father started.”
Yesudas looks forward to come over every year. “Where else can I find such an excellent audience? If I had only one concert, I would choose this platform,” the maestro says. “I try to pack in pure classical, bhakti-oriented krits, bhajans and some fast numbers that people enjoy. After all, when I come to Bangalore, I gladly take up Kannada kritis too,” he adds.
This easy rapport with his audience extends to being photographed too. Unlike the newer stars who put up their price, Yesudas hardly ever bothers about people constantly clicking at him right through the performance.