Maestro remembers Dhanraj Master

The man who shaped Ilaiyaraaja

While interacting with college students a couple of months ago, music composer Ilaiyaraaja said Dhanraj Master, a great exponent of Western music, was one of the three people, other than his family, who played an important role in his life — the two others being music director G.K. Venkatesh and Goddess Moohambika. Dhanraj Master lived in room no. 13 at Sai Lodge near Luz Corner and was an outstanding player of the piano, guitar and violin. “It was Dhanraj Master who did the orchestration for the epic movie Chandralekha,” Mr. Ilaiyaraaja told The Hindu while recalling the days he spent as a student on the occasion of his 75th birthday celebrations.

Dhanraj Master, however, had a very poor opinion of film music directors. When Mr. Ilaiyaraaja came to Madras to pursue a career in music in 1968, he wanted to learn Western music, and singer Kamala, who was part of his troupe, recommended Dhanraj Master.

“He was closely associated with Abraham Pandithar of Thanjavur and had studied the musical aspect of Silapathikaram, the Tamil epic. He even gave a lecture-demonstration at the Music Academy during the December music season,” Mr. Ilaiyaraaja said, adding that it was Dhanraj Master who changed his original name Rasaiah to Raja. “When he wrote the first lesson in the note, he asked my name. He did not like the name and changed it. Raja was then changed to Ilaiyaraaja by Panchu Arunachalam, and former Chief Minister Karunanidhi conferred the title Isaignani. Everyone changed my name,” laughed Mr. Ilaiyaraaja.

Maestro remembers Dhanraj Master

The maestro was living with film director Bharathiraja and his brother Baskar on Gangai Ammankoil Street after they had been forced to vacate their lodge. “Singer Kamala made arrangements for our stay at an outhouse and I would take 12B bus to reach Luz Corner. When I did not have money, I would walk all the way to learn music,” he said.

Innate talent

Soon, Dhanraj Master realised his student’s innate talent and came to the conclusion that he did not require much training. “He would ask me to teach other students and leave the lodge. With a hungry stomach, I would teach the students. Intuitively, I learnt the notes. Once, overcome by hunger, I asked one of the students, Raja, to buy me a cup of tea and he immediately obliged,” said Mr. Ilaiyaraaja.

During this period, Mr. Ilaiyaraaja bought a combo organ and was booked to play for M.S. Viswanathan for the film Avalukkentru Oru Manam. “My instrument was the cynosure of all eyes. MSV’s assistant Joseph Krishna told me that if I could not play the instrument, he would do the job. But the moment MSV made the notes, bum bum bum… I immediately reproduced them,” recalled Mr. Ilaiyaraaja.

Dhanraj Master refused to teach him the theory after he got to know about his entry into the film world.

“I approached him twice. But he refused, and I decided to learn them myself because I had already paid the fees for the Trinity College examinations,” said Mr. Ilaiyaraaja.

“I scored 85% marks. I took the certificate with me and showed it to Dhanraj Master. He scanned through it and said, ‘Raja, you are great.’”

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Printable version | May 22, 2020 9:18:42 AM |

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