Handling many roles with aplomb

single-minded passion: Sirkazhi Jayaraman

single-minded passion: Sirkazhi Jayaraman   | Photo Credit: Photo: R. Shivaji Rao


He writes lyrics, composes music and enjoys a robust voice. Sirkazhi Jayaraman also donned the grease paint.

When the woman fell in love with his compelling music and voice, the man warned her that marriage meant sharing financial responsibilities towards his family. She replied, “My permanent income at the LIC gives you the freedom to take risks as a musician.”

Music brought Shanthi and Seerkazhi R. Jayaraman together, strengthening their bond through the decades. “My orthodox ancestors migrated to Tamil Nadu from Brahmadesam in Andhra,” Jayaraman begins. As a child in Sirkazhi, Jayaraman absorbed music from his mother’s songs and sister’s music classes. He could sing faultlessly in her high-pitched sruti, and render the gramophone ‘plate’ hits of Subbiah Bhagavatar, S.G.Kittappa and Sundarambal. Armed with an SSLC certificate, the youngster found himself in Tiruchi, as a revenue clerk at the Seshasayee Brothers’ company, thanks to the recommendation of brother Subramaniam’s music-guru Sathur Subramania Iyer.

Moving to Tiruchi was also to join his brother’s music classes. Involvement with a local theatre group made him a hero to his colleagues, while the approving boss overlooked his long and frequent absences from the office.

Jayaraman played many roles — a comedian in Lakshmi’s ‘Kalyani’ and a nationalist in Kalki’s ‘Makutapati.’ “I’ve acted with Manorama and Muthuraman,” he smiles, having come a long way from his uncle’s dreams of grooming him as a vaidika in the family tradition. But his Sanskrit training gave him clarity in dialogue delivery. The family had misgivings about “late nights and bad habits” from the theatre. So, when brother Subramaniam left Tiruchi, he begged guru Sathur to keep an eye on the boy.

Sathur complied by making Jayaraman accompany him in concerts, locally and on tour. Jayaraman had picked up alapana and kalpanaswara from records of Madurai Mani and G.N.Balasubramaniam. Apprenticeship with Sathur gave him a firmer grip on the classical idiom. “Wish I could have equipped myself more.” But the father’s death necessitated Jayaraman’s return to Sirkazhi.

A few years saw duo recitals with his brother. In 1960, Jayaraman came to Madras with friend Vaali to join the celluloid world. “Did everything — sang in chorus, played tambura, became a member of the Cine Music Association.” Vaali turned star lyricist but Jayaraman’s stars remained lukewarm, though he could sing Vaali’s songs, almost before the ink dried. “Once the verse flowed into Gopikadeepam, a rare raga. I set ‘Koovi Azhaithal’ to Shivaranjani, though now it is more often sung in Valaji.”

As a composer

Composing was sparked at age 14. Entranced by Papanasam Sivan’s “Ikapara” sung by M.S.Subbulakshmi in brilliant Simhendramadhyamam, one day, when the boy stood before Tripurasundari’s sanctum in Seerkazhi, he burst into “Undan Paadame” in the same raga. More recently, Selaiyur town was thrilled by a downpour, after a long drought, on the night Jayaraman sang his kriti in Megharanjani in praise of the Rain God. Jayaraman has steadily composed songs, but set music to more by other lyricists.

“‘Dorakuna’ (Bilahari) is my speciality. But I also love Tamil — Divyaprabandam, Arunagirinathar, Muthuthandavar — I regret not having learnt Thevaram in Sirkazhi,” he admits. Jayaraman has given concerts of pre-Trinity composers. Singing with Swami Haridasgiri for 10 years made him adept in bhajans where the lyric evokes the fervour of bhakti in self surrender.

“You must hear his namavali! Rousing!” says Shanthi.

There was great satisfaction in serving Tyagaraja Vidwat Samajam for 25 years as secretary, with M. Balamuralikrishna as president and a highly co-operative team. “We celebrated the 150th year of Tyagaraja aradhana with 150 concerts. We honoured veterans during our platinum jubilee.”

Circumstances did not permit Sirkazhi Jayaraman to indulge in music without interruption. But he did pursue it with single-minded passion. He reveres two great mentors. “I wish I had spent more years with my guru, it would have given me a sounder base,” he sighs. He was to get that depth in long association with vidwan S. Ramanathan who held his classes in Jayaraman’s home. “Ramanathan knew whom to approach to find what he wanted. Whatever he discovered, he shared generously, wholeheartedly with other seekers,” he recalls. It is easy to see that Jayaraman has imbibed the love of teaching from this mentor. He gets visibly excited when he talks about his classes for Ramjhi’s Isai Mazhalai group of children, or in praising youngsters like Erode Anantharaman for their quick grasp.

Neither his wide multi-composers repertoire, old and new, nor arresting voice could place Jayaraman in the front ranks of Carnatic performers. Son J. Skandaprasad impressed with his mridangam, but opted out of the concert arena. Daughter Chitralekha’s singing and dancing ceased after marriage. Wife Shanthi however, continues to sing in natyacharya Udipi Lakshminarayana’s troupe. The couple’s hopes centre on granddaughter Sivashri’s promising talent in music and dance.

(A fortnightly spotlight on music gurus, musicologists and representatives of different schools who have enriched Carnatic music.)

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