It happened an year back at the annual Chembai Vaidyananda Bhagavathar Music Festival 2017 in Palakkad. Ecstatic applause was shrouding the venue when KJ Yesudas took his seat on the stage erected between the Parthasaradhy temple and the ancestral home of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagawathar in Kottayi near Palakkad. Every conceivable space around was occupied by admirers that were brimming with enthusiasm; most of whom standing while others not hesitating to squat on the damp ground.
A few words of devotion to the great Chembai were said by the legendary disciple as a starter and the mood was upbeat. He then unfolded the Sarasangi varnam, with the first syllable itself striking a chord with the listeners. ‘Sarasangi ni pai marulu konnadira….’, the rendition was replete with dynamism, and the full throttle delivery of the high pitched chitta swaras effected a striking start to the ninety-minute Gurudakshina.
A classical demonstration of Manodharma followed – ‘Omkara Porule Ainkarane..’. This presentation that spanned for more than twenty minutes came packed with Swaras, punctuated by rhythmic varieties. The Hamsavinodini raga was highlighted by waves of uncountable combinations. This gentleman must have been floating on a fantastical ocean of memories attributed to his great teacher, or so said his body language along with the magical voice that has been sending a good part of the world to ecstatic stupor for more than half a century. ‘Omkara porule was taken for niraval with a rocking SR Mahadeva Varma on violin, N Hari’s mridangam and Tripunithura Radhakrishnan’s ghatam.
Then it is the trait of this artiste from God’s own orchestra to share his thoughts with the audience during concerts. You can hardly call them just thoughts for they too are indeed nothing less than heavenly music highlighting one of those rarest ragas. The audience that were sent reeling on an emotional high by the music first was stupefied by the words that followed. “You ask me sing this on another day; it may not be the same. I will say the reason lies in this venue and My great Guru who is absolutely my Omkara Porul, for making me sing in this fashion”, said the living legend.
The renditions that followed in the form of the popular Tamil composition of Punathashri and Pavana Guru Pavana Pura would resonate in the minds of those present there for long; upto a point where they have the minimal health of mind to reminisce a piece of musical composition. The anupallavi of Pavana Guru, a Lalithadasar composition in Hamsanandi raga, ‘Jeevanadhara Sankasham…’ was marked by a prolonged delineation to enthrall the Rasikas. Then he had made up his mind to have the contemporary relevance of values explained in the famous composition of Thyagaraja, ‘Entha nerchina, entha juchina, underscored by interpretation of its verses amidst the rendition.
Then ‘Dasarathe dayasaradha’, another composition of Thyagaraja in Kokilapriya, which had a stamp of Yesudas on the krithi, was presented in an emotional vein. Appeal of the krithi was enhanced by the great man’s low tempo rendition; still not compromising on its share of magnificent swaras. Then it would be definitely an act of sin to leave neglected the percussion flourish tagged to the rendition by Radhakrishnan and Hari towards the end; because that had an added grace contributed to the number.
The night was blossoming with the legendery figure’s magical voice rendition. Alaipayuthe, the Kannadiga magnum opus of Oothukkad Venkita Subbaiyar and a favourite of Chembaim Karuna Cheyvanenthu thamasam krishna followed as if to not let the audience move a bit to descend from the summits of pure aesthetic pleasure. Finally, the last number sounded as an oblation to the loveable teacher and a fitting grand finale for the whole consort. It was Agre Pasyami, the touching Narayaniyam shloka.
Without fail, Yesudas has been singing on the Chembai Music festival’s last day since the year 1972. The festival organised by the family of the great musician of the yesteryear as part of Parthasaradhy temple’s Ekadasi is still celebrated by a considerable section of Palakkad populace.