Opinion » Comment

Updated: July 30, 2013 16:07 IST

To my guru, with love

Meera Srinivasan
Comment (28)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Lalgudi Jayaraman, in 2007.
The HIndu
Lalgudi Jayaraman, in 2007.

It was one such harsh Madras summer. In the shade of the rich canopy on Venkatnarayana Road, a friend and I, both a little over 10 at that time, stood in eager anticipation. With us was Lalgudi sir, clad in a sparkling white dhoti folded up to his knee and a white half-sleeve khadi shirt. He was carefully choosing mangoes ripe enough to eat the very same day. With him was his wife Rajalakshmi.

This was after music class, which usually went on for at least three hours. He had asked us if we had begun having mangoes that summer. We said yes. But much to his shock, neither of us had tasted the Imampasanth that he believed was the king of all mangoes. He immediately stood up, gesturing to us to come along, and called his wife. “Can you believe it? These children have never tasted Imampasanth. Let’s go now and buy some for them,” he told her, and we went walking along Ramanujam Street, in the hot noonday sun, to the pavement stall on the other side of Venkatnarayana Road. A few hours later, the phone rings at home. It was him calling to check if I had tasted it and liked it.

To refer to ‘Sir’ — as we disciples called our guru Lalgudi G. Jayaraman — as “music teacher” would not capture even a fraction of what he meant to us.

It is often said that a highly successful artiste is seldom a good teacher. Lalgudi sir proved that theory incorrect. As an artiste, he was a trendsetter, remarkably successful as an accompanist, solo artiste and composer. As a teacher, he was a taskmaster. Teaching was to him serious business.

In the twenty years I spent with him learning, I was often overwhelmed by his teacher persona. Not only because he was a strict disciplinarian who emphasised rigour in every aspect of music, but because in being a teacher, he transformed into a passionate student of music, who was in complete awe of the art form.

“Listen to how the ‘ma’ [note] in Shankarabharanam sounds when oscillated this way,” he would demonstrate. “Isn’t it beautiful!” he would marvel, making us repeat the phrase as many times as it took to get it right. And when we got the particular nuance, his childlike excitement was hard to miss. It was more like “Great, now that you have also seen how beautiful it is, we can appreciate it together.” And to him, a beautiful note or phrase was not just in Carnatic music. He would get equally high on an Asha Bhosle song or a Mehdi Hasan ghazal, which he would play for us during class from time to time. As much as he looked up to his seniors such as GNB and Madurai Mani, he would eagerly listen to musicians half his age, and compliment them with specific and precise observations.

Many of Lalgudi sir’s fans and friends thought he was a hard-core romantic — who loved admiring a Bougainvillea tree in bloom, listening to the koel in his backyard, reading Bharathi or spending hours at the beach. As if it weren’t enough that he got so excited, he would tell us all to pay attention to the silence punctuating the roar of the waves, or contemplate the particular shade of the rose. Yes, we did beach trips with him. He has taken me to the circus too. As students, we looked forward to travelling with him, because it was not just about performing somewhere, but doing a whole lot of “fun things” with him.

When he went abroad, we had no holiday. He usually made sure his son G.J.R. Krishnan, daughter Vijayalakshmi or senior disciple S.P. Ramh took classes in his absence. He would call us from wherever he was to check if we were practising. As part of my most-cherished personal belongings are two picture postcards he sent me from the U.S. — with images of Disneyland on one side and his lovely, cursive handwriting on the other. In addition to describing in detail where he stayed and what he was doing, he also enquired if I sang every day. That was not all that he would check — he would ask if we ate almonds (he insisted that we all did, to ensure adequate protein intake) every day and got some good exercise (for blood circulation and breath-control). From every trip he brought back gifts for all his students — I got, among other things, a pair of binoculars in pink, a photo frame and a pretty little wooden box.

In many ways, he was indeed an “incurable romantic” — as his authorised, to-be-launched biography is titled. But to me, he was a champion of reason. While teaching us the “what” and “how” aspects of music, he was very particular that we understood “why” it was so. He encouraged us to ask questions and consciously avoided a didactic style in teaching.


Lalgudi sir was one of the most practical and progressive individuals I have met. Within the rather conservative circuit of Carnatic music, he tried challenging some notions pertaining to caste-based discrimination and differential remuneration for artistes. He reiterated those values to his students too.

His eye for detail was not just in music. If he wrote an article, he worked on multiple drafts until he was satisfied. If he gave a speech, he made sure he replaced potentially ambiguous statements with facts and specifics. If he wrote the notation for a song, he would mark every oscillation and curve with relevant notes. He was a wizard at board games, could draw very well and play several other instruments.

Lalgudi sir was mentally agile till the last. Not long ago, while in Apollo’s CCU, he was listening to me singing a phrase in raga Dhanyasi. Despite the tubes all over, including one in his nose, he asked me to stop, and corrected the manner in which I handled a particular note. Even a few weeks ago, he held his instrument — the Italian one that Yehudi Menuhin gifted him — and played a few phrases in raga Mohanam.

His ailments did take a toll on his body, but he was as high-spirited, enthusiastic and sharp as ever. Self pity did not exist in his world, and he viewed his own situation with admirable pragmatism. Just like the born winner he was. That, to us, was our beloved Lalgudi sir and that’s what he will always be.

Thank you Meera for this beautiful and picturesque profile on the legendary master. This is what is important - this is what proves the spirituality of an art form - that it transforms a true artist into a evolved human being. He obviously was one. (And I especially liked that part about the pink binoculars.) Thank you so much for this - Ramaa

from:  Ramaa Bharadvaj
Posted on: Apr 25, 2013 at 09:05 IST

Extremely saddened by the fall of this colossus ...

from:  Krishnamani Ramanathan
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 23:51 IST

Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman is immortal through his music. His rendition of Mokshamu Galada takes one into a state of trance and absolute bliss. He continues to live in the million hearts he has touched through his music.

from:  Smruthi R
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 22:13 IST

Lalgudi Jayaraman on the violin and Vellore Ramabadhran on the Mridangan had a memorable performance at our Home in Indira Nagar. For our Housewarming ceremony, Our Dad the Late Mr K S Sivaraman had arranged the Performance in the year 1967. Our entire family held Lalgudi Jayaraman's violin performance anytime always in high esteem.

We pray that the departed soul rest in peace.

God bless

from:  Ravi Prabakar Sivaraman
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 20:11 IST

The loudest silence has fallen on the world of music in South India.
Connoisseurs and Rasikas alike are left wondeing whether any musician had departed this world leaving them in such a state of shock and gloom.
And that's not just because of his music, compositions or productions but because of that Holy word LALGUDI

from:  Dr.P.Thangarajah
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 19:34 IST

It is interesting to learn that the late maestro was "progressive,
within the rather conservative circuit of Carnatic music and tried
challenging some notions pertaining to caste-based discrimination".
Perhaps The Hindu can enlighten the readers if he was also secular.

from:  kvjayan
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 19:29 IST

Based on vocal tradition his repertoire was characterized by the outpourings of his thoughts and feelings ranging from the carefully crafted sublime grandeur to the spontaneous overflow of intense and subtle emotions. His musical genius was a source of inspiration and originality was its hallmark. His personality was a combination of calmness, poise and self-respect and the capacity to convey spiritual harmony in his inimitable ‘bani’ set him apart. His bani reeked of his individuality and character --- breathing and embracing life, its technical perfection was not heartless, it was soulful. It is said that genius is talent set on fire by courage – this soloist, accompanist and composer who used violin to convey his musical ideas in the form of thillanas, varnams and other compositions was the master of lyricism. The quality of his subjective and melodious expressions will transcend time.

from:  vyjayanthi
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 18:42 IST

A tribute to Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman - today we can shed a tear in appreciation for the world has lost a high calibre human being first and more so a personality so simple but so profound in thought word and deed. he was simple and unassuming, disciplinarian par excellence but a child at heart - a person whose music stirred the soul into raptures in praise of God and the deft violinwork that produced a cacade of music so devine that it remains resonating our thoughts and deeds.....Our condolences to the Lalgudi Family for we have lost a wonderful person in Shri Lalgudi Sir.....Namaskarams.

Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 18:16 IST

A very poignant, straight-from-the-heart tribute by Meera. Tugs at one's heartstrings....

from:  Geetha Manichandar
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 14:44 IST

Prior to his entry into Carnatic music, violinists would always
impose their personality in concerts. Some of them (like Mani)
encouraged it while others (Mali) took it as a challenge and showed
them where they belong. But after Lalgudi came in, he always made it
a point to present the music in a harmonious manner. He would play
the sweet melodious intonations of Madurai Mani or the grand brisk
forays of Madurai Somu as and when he was accompanying them. He cared
for the music and nothing else. Carnatic music lost a great
personality. May his soul rest in peace.

Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 12:42 IST

This well written article amply demonstrates that apart from being a musical genius, Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman was also a wonderful human being. A rare personality!

from:  Sunil Bharadwaj
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 11:00 IST

All I know about Shri Lalgudi Jayaram is his divine music. I am now able to appreciate him better after reading this intimate portrait. My congratulations to the writer Meera Srinivasan.

from:  R. Bhuvaneshwari
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 10:57 IST

Guru-shishya parampara has been the backbone of education in the Indian tradition. This holds more significance in the field of arts, music where skills and subjectivity reign and it is ultimately the bonding between the student and disciple that makes the difference.
My tributes to Sir.. May his tribe increase...

from:  Milind
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 10:34 IST

A Great loss to Carnatic Music, sunset of a Legend, his music will live

from:  ramji
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 10:04 IST

A few years back, I went to examine Lalgudi Sir in Chennai and suggest appropriate medical treatment to make his physical life a little more tolerant from what his multiple infarcts in his brain had reduced his body to. I asked him as I was
examining, reminding myself of his tillana in raga revathi, where he bemoans
"velano ennai eno maranthaan" (why has subramanya forgotten me?), whether he had a foresight, an extrasensory perception in him craving for subramanya in his ripe olde age, to absolve him of his physical suffering and come to his rescue".
Lalgudi Sir glanced at me and said, "during my snana, comes in me at time a fervour to compose, as I close my eyes and it pours like rain…call it ESP or invocation for the times to come, I visualise it perhaps in sub-conscious, but
something else choses these words through me. I am just an instrument”. For such a nadopasaka to be born and walk on this planet...enna thavam seidhanai
bhooma devi...

from:  Dr. Hari Subramanian
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 09:54 IST

May his soul rest in Music.

from:  rams
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 09:50 IST

I asked Lalgudi Sir once, his appetite for the krithi 'mahaganapathim' in nattai as
compared to 'vatapi' in hamsadwani. The genius replied in a rather vernacular
tone, "the construct of the raga and the krithi in nattai derives in me a feeling to bow to ganapathy, while the construct of the raga and krithi in hamsadwani derives in me a fervour to dance along with ganapathy. Thus depending on
whether I feel like bowing or dancing to (or with) ganapathy I select". I stood in deep reverence for this mahatma, who felt music in levels many of us would not even know its existance. I wondered, that while we enjoy these krithis
unequivocally, there resides amongst us a man, a teacher, an artist extraordinaire who reverberates with specific emotion on the same deity, the same cosmic force but by different tunes! There are many moments, conversation, association, has only made me learn from this avathara purusha. While these come to my mind today, my eyes melt in a loss inexplicable..

from:  Dr. Hari Subramanian
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 09:48 IST

We have lost one of the towering personality and the most famous son of our soil (Lalgudi).Its great loss to all music lovers

from:  ashok from Lalgudi
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 09:45 IST

Lalgudi was great in vidwath, demeanour, kindness and endearment
to humanity. Humility was the epitome of his character and he
never hurt the co-artistes; on the other hand made the cutcheries
complete and satisfying to the audience. He has a rich convoy of
disciples who have dedicated themselves to Carnatic music; no per-
formance is complete without a thillana composed by him.
May his soul rest in peace.

from:  B.Ramaswamy
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 09:13 IST

A true legend and virtuoso who touched the heart of many music
listeners. People of his caliber are rare. I wish more people get a
chance to learn and enjoy this art form. His music will live in our
hearts for a long time.

from:  jayram
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 08:48 IST

Great violinist teacher composer accompanyist;
Our grievences to his family.
May his soul rest in Music.

from:  rama
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 07:05 IST

A superb tribute.

from:  Ram
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 06:49 IST

I haven't known these many dimensions and characteristics of the
Salutes to the Master, especially for the progressive ideals that he
believed, espoused and exhibited, especially in respect of fighting
against caste discrimination.
thanks, Meera! you have 'played' an affectionate note so perfectly
that requires no correction, only extension of thoughts by his fans...

from:  s v venugopalan
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 05:58 IST

Thank goodness for the rapid and many advances in recording technologies. If he is is music, he is immortal. The same is true for all our great musicians for whom their music was their life.
Thank you Sri Jayaraman for the gift you have given us. God rest ye well.

from:  Dr Chandra Shekhar Balachandran
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 05:54 IST

I had the previledge of hearing Vidvan Lalgudi Jayaraman in 1953 in Delhi, when I was just 7 years old. He was accompanying the great Semangudi. All my life I have not heard a better Violin Player, East or West! The man was a true genius and every concert offered something new to the same raga. When he started playing solo, he totally dominated the music scene. Great musicians have come from South India and Lalgudi was amongst the greatest!

from:  SRIDHAR
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 05:53 IST

A tribute - is it not thanksgiving- that comes from heart. The mesmerising singing violin is silenced. Our salutations.

from:  ssrajagopalan
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 04:54 IST

Thanks you so much for such a beautiful memoir.I wasnt his direct student but have tended to try and follow his style. I have seen him perform since my youngest years and have had the pleasure of meeting with him a few times. A truly great and humble human being.Long may his music live !!

from:  ashok malur
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 04:27 IST

A fabulous tribute to an iconic musician.

from:  Narahari Rao
Posted on: Apr 23, 2013 at 04:17 IST
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