M Balamuralikrishna, the spirit of Carnatic music

Legendary Carnatic musician Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna passed away at the age of 86 in Chennai.

Written by Radhika Iyengar | New Delhi | Updated: November 22, 2016 8:11 pm
M Balamuralikrishna, carnatic music legend M Balamuralikrishna, M Balamuralikrishna dead, M Balamuralikrishna passes away, M Balamuralikrishna no more, Balamuralikrishna, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, legendary carnatic singer, indian express, indian express news A child prodigy, M Balamuralikrishna’s musical career spanned almost his entire lifetime. (In pic) The spirit of freedom concert organised by VST Industries Ltd and Shringar in collaboration with the Nehru centre on Dr Balamuralikrishna’s birthday. (Express Archive Photo)

The multi-faceted veteran and one of the most influential Carnatic musicians of our time, Dr M Balamuralikrishna passed away today. Noted for his majestic voice and his contribution to altering the landscape of classical music in India, Balamuralikrishna was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan in 1991, among a plethora of other awards.

A child prodigy, Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna’s musical career spanned almost his entire lifetime, having reportedly given his first performance when he was nine-years-old. Over the course of his career, he went on to perform in over 18,000 concerts.

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Born on July 6, 1930, in the bucolic village of Sankaraguptam in Andhra Pradesh, Balamuralikrishna was the son of a highly skilled musician-couple. Sound and rhythm, therefore, reverberated within the walls of his home and permeated into his entire sense of being. Unfortunately, when he was only 15 days old, his mother passed away, and his father took on the responsibility of bringing him up. As a child, Balamuralikrishna exhibited a strong affinity towards music, which encouraged his father to put him in the hands of respected musician, Parupalli Ramakrishnayya Pantulu, who would go on to impart to the young Balamuralikrishna the fine nuances of music, leading him to become an unparalleled maestro in Carnatic music.

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Thus, when Balamuralikrishna was in sixth grade, he abandoned formal education and left school to ambitiously and uninhibitedly pursue his musical career. By the time he turned 15, he was heralded as a force to reckon with, known throughout the country for his inimitable skills and having composed 72 melakarta ragas.

Listen to Mile Sur Mera Tumhara here

A deft instrumentalist, Balamuralikrishna mastered the veena, violin, mridangam and kanjira, among other instruments with phenomenal ease. His staggering repertoire includes 400 compositions, featuring devotional songs, varnams and krithis. Balamuralikrishna released over 250 cassettes that featured his works. Steering the helm as a producer at the All India Radio stationed in Hyderabad, the maestro also launched ‘Bhakthi Ranjani’, devotional readings that were aired every day early morning. His melifluous voice was also among the gamut of singers such as Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar and Kavita Krishnamurthy to lend their voices to the iconic song Mile Sur Mera Tumhara in 1988.

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In addition to performing thousands of concerts throughout the world, Balamuralikrishna sang in myriad native regional languages, including Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, Hindi and Odia. He also mastered French, leading him to win hearts abroad. In 2005, he was awarded Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) for his significant contribution to the field of art.

The veteran also received considerable recognition in films. He was the playback singer in Hamsageethe (a 1975 Kannada film), for which he received a National Award as the Best Playback Singer. He was also awarded the Best Music Director for the film Madhvacharya.
A tremendous inspiration to generations of Indian musicians, Balamuralikrishna used his clout to foster his skills and establish music institutions, including the Switzerland-based Academy of Performing Arts and Research.

His passing is a colossal loss to India, a man without whom the pantheon of classical music would have been incomplete.