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Violin maestro, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman was born in the town of Lalgudi in the Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu. He started his musical career as a disciple of his father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer and at an early age, through determined effort and guidance, rapidly acquired proficiency with the violin. He gave his first performance at the age of 12. He was considered a legendary pillar of Karnatik music, one who embodied the discipline of rigor as well as the rigor of discipline. He made his violin sing and dance to the lyricism of his creative mind. Lalgudi Jayaraman died of cardiac failure in Chennai on April 22, 2013. His loss has left the Karnatik music world and his legions of fans bereft.
Jayaraman is credited with developing his own style of playing the violin, the “Lalgudi Bani” which enabled him to follow very closely the variations of the human voice on the strings. To him, the very act of giving a concert on stage was a ritual in the realm of the divine, and to accept second best was treason.
I recall an incident that occurred in our Southern California community in 1971. A few of us got together to arrange our very first Karnatik concert featuring Lalgudi Jayaraman and Dr. N. Ramani, the flutist. Lalgudi was meticulous in observing format and tradition, one of which was to keep a lit oil lamp on stage. This was objected to by the property owners who rented the hall to us, for obvious reasons. Somehow we managed to convince them and a polished brass lamp was lit and set in place.
One among us, however, was less tolerant than others and tauntingly lit his cigarette from the ritualistic symbol lamp prior to the concert. Jayaraman was very upset by the incident. However, it didn’t affect his performing a scintillating concert to the satisfaction of all.
Jayaraman was fortunate in observing, learning and accompanying several musicians of repute. Among these are Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai, T. Chowdiah, R.K. Venkatarama Sastry, M.S. Gopalakrishnan and T.N. Krishnan. He has collaborated with the legendary American violinst and conductor, Yehudi Menuhin, who presented him with a special Italian violin in 1965 as a sign of respect and admiration.
After a stroke in 2006, Jayaraman felt that the dexterity of his fingers was not good enough to play the violin to his established ability. He therefore gave up playing on the stage altogether. He branched out into other fields of music and became a composer of musical varnams, thillanas and kirtanams as well as a choreographer of dance dramas. He took on the role of teacher with renewed vigor, working with senior vocalists like Bombay Jayasree, Harikatha exponent Visakha Hari, younger artist Saketha Raman and his own son G.J.R Krishan and daughter Vijaya Lakshmi. He left us as a complete musician: a lifelong composer, performer and teacher.
Accolades and honors have been showered on him such as the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan. He declined the honor of the Sangeetha Kalanidhi from the Madras Music Academy as it came, according to him, too late in his career. The Academy quickly made amends and came up with a Lifetime Achievement Award instead for Jayaraman, the first such award in a hundred years. He was made an honorary citizen of Maryland in the United States and Ohio declared April 2 as Lalgudi Day.
Just as the famous writer R.K. Narayan put the mythical village of Malgudi on the literary map, so did Jayaraman put the small town of Lalgudi in the musical almanac. Phrases like “tillana by Lalgudi” or “accompanied by Lalgudi” became self explanatory. He was a musical landmark, an ethereal minstrel of modern times and a legendary musical genius. His passing marks the end of an era.
P. Mahadevan is a retired scientist with a Ph.D. in Atomic Physics from the University of London, England. His professional work includes basic and applied research and program management for the Dept. of Defense (India). He taught Physics at the Univ. of Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram. He does very little now, very slowly.