Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna (1930-2016): ‘Scholar, singer, guru… a game changer’

Balamuralikrishna died at his Chennai residence.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi | Published: November 23, 2016 3:54 am
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In the 1960s and ‘70s, fans queued outside concert halls, mostly in Chennai, to listen to Paluke Bangaaramaayena, a 14th century krithi in praise of Lord Ram. In Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna’s voice, the piece lifted from being just an ode in raag Anandbhairavi and Adi tala to a conversation with one’s soul. With the gamakas in place, the soft yet throaty alaaps finding a chemistry with the tanpura, new historical dimensions were being found and etched.

But it was on the morning of August 15, 1988, that people in other parts of the country began to tune in, humming ‘Isaindhal namm, iruvarin suramum, namadhakum’, the Tamil section of Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad’s famous milestone ‘Mile sur mera tumhara’, telecast on Doordarshan. The endearing M Balamuralikrishna, who sang this part along the Bay of Bengal, became a household name.

ALSO SEE | Remembering legendary Carnatic musician M Balamuralikrishna

On Tuesday, a voice that invoked the purity of the swara, wasn’t bound by conservative classical traditions, that traversed three octaves with remarkable ease, went back to the ocean it came from. Balamuralikrishna died at his Chennai residence. He was 86.

“There are musicians who flow along the current of the wave that music is. But there are those who create a change in the wave.

ALSO | Carnatic music legend Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna dead

Balamuraliji was the latter. By far,” said veena player and Lalgudi Jayaraman’s niece Jayanthi Kumaresh.

She calls him “a prolific scholar, singer, guru, but most of all a game changer” for bringing the difference in the way people looked at Carnatic music. Balamuralikrishna threw light on voice culture and pronunciation and didn’t go by the beaten path of singing the already composed krithis. He created his own compositions and sang them. “There is classical music, and then there is the Balamurali music. He had his stamp on every syllable he created,” Kumaresh said.

Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam was always awed by the krithis created in unknown ragas, sometimes his own ragas. “His was a free mind — his music wasn’t pocketed into any particular set-up. Also, he was aware of the knowledge he was sitting on. It was because there was his childlike approach that made everything sound effortless. Carnatic music has lost a pillar, a giant,” Sairam said.

Born in Sankaraguptam in Andhra Pradesh to parents who were musicians, Balamuralikrishna began learning Carnatic classical music under Parupalli Ramakrishnayya Pantulu. He was soon declared a child prodigy after his concert at the age of seven at Thyagaraja Aradhana, Vijayawada. He turned composer at 14 and knew all the 72 melakartha ragas, which form the backbone of Carnatic classical system. And thus began a journey which reached a point where even the common man could appreciate his music.

Kuchipudi legend Raja Reddy, who has danced to a host of thillanas by Balamuralikrishna, said that it is difficult to come to terms with losing such a scholar. “It was enriching to dance to his thillanas — an artiste contributed so beautifully to my art form,” he said.

Watch the song “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” here.

What was interesting about Balamuralikrishna was that he approached music beyond the externally constructed limitations. Tradition was merely the grammar of music and not something that constrained him. One could not box his music into a Hindustani music or Carnatic music. Which is why he recorded Tagore in Bengali, sang in French, tried jazz and did regular jugalbandis with Kishori Amonkar and Hariprasad Chaurasia.

Then there was the iconic jugalbandi with Bhimsen Joshi. While Joshi was a fast-cars fanatic, Balamuralikrishna enjoyed casinos. Musically, there was more common ground. The two knew they were geniuses. “His was a life dedicated to music. He was a genius in the true sense of the word. Today, we apply the word genius far too easily. But he was one of those few who deserved the nomenclature,” says Sairam.

Bharatanatyam exponent Yamini Krishnamurthy remembers her friend fondly. “He came to my place in Adiyar and we spoke for hours. I even performed to some of his compositions. The music came to him with great force.”

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  1. M
    Madhavi Bhamidipati
    Nov 23, 2016 at 5:56 pm
    The legend, God's Own Voice, The Divine Singer, Sri. Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna. His spirit returns to God again. We miss you Guruji.
    1. A
      Nov 23, 2016 at 6:38 pm
      He would perhaps be flanking Narada and Tumbura in the heavens and drench the Indra sabha with a flood of his masterly creations.
      1. Nishant Pant
        Nov 23, 2016 at 12:46 am
        1. P
          Prasanna Khakre
          Nov 23, 2016 at 1:33 am
          India will never forget the loss of two of its greatest cultural icons!
          1. Rajagopalan Iyer
            Nov 23, 2016 at 4:47 am
            Indeed he was a great legend and did a lot to bring the ancient art to the common man! Is it not time for the votaries of this fine arts to sit down and ponder why the stage managers, the press and the establishment terribly fail to attract the lay and common man to this divine art! Like the divine Sanskrit language it has gone far away from the large majority! Like language controversy killed Tamil Isai and Isai vellalars community, this clical fine arts has totally disappeared from the rural m and fast disappearing from the cities and towns too!lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;1
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