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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A dancer’s appreciation

Many whose lives have been touched by his music and personality will surely have more reminiscences to share.M. Balamuralikrishna enriched all our lives with his amazingly prodigious music, including a plethora of compositions for classical dance, but also with his kindness and compassionate nature that soothed, reassured and inspired all who had the good fortune to know him personally. Many whose lives have been touched by his music and personality will surely have more reminiscences to share, yet I can’t let him pass into history without my small contribution in appreciation of this great soul.

Discussing his passing with my Odissi dance students, those unfamiliar with any of his 400 music compositions knew him through Doordarshan’s ‘Mile sur mera tumhara, to sur bane humara’ that brilliantly showed the harmonious unity of India through our greatest artists. Each master’s contribution is etched in our memories, none sweeter than the nectar of BMK’s voice. His voice melted any divide between Carnatic and Hindustani musical atmas.

If you have happened to see one of my Odissi performances in the last couple of decades, you may recall my signature Moksha programme conclusion choreographed to Balamurali’s Omkarakarini in 1991. When we became acquainted years ago he suggested this to add to my Odissi repertoire. Our friendship came about thanks to a dear mutual friend who, on hearing that a fine popular musician from Bombay has suggested a collaboration, urged me to pass on that and meet Balamurali instead for something more befitting my artistic objectives.

As a dancer, I love performing this piece for several reasons. Instead of only describing Devi, one embodies her which makes it possible to both offer darshan to rasikas as well as entreating divine help to dissolve my egotism. Every repetition of Omkarakarini allows me to feel the wonder of oneness with every individual in the audience, every constellation in the sky, every floorboard on the stage.Omkarakarini was composed in a new raga Lavangi. In his typically droll and understated manner, Balamurali related how he had composed the music for this. After participating in a music conference which concluded that to be considered a raga, there must be a minimum five notes, he went home and created raga Lavangi with four notes. Of course his innovations like this raised eyebrows, but he was least concerned with naysayers as he knew that the integrity of his work would speak for itself.

Odissi dance and music are situated at the crossroads of Hindustani and Carnatic traditions, with a strong case being made these days for Odiya music as a standalone classical genre. The opportunity to draw on the many varanams, thilanas and kirtans loved by Bharatanatyam dancers is outside my dance sphere, though I have performed a jugalbandi to one of his thilanas under the auspices of his MKB Trust during the Chennai music festival.Stating that Balamuralikrishna was a musical genius is not superlative but actual fact. As a child, he could immediately and accurately imitate the vocal styles of all the great artistes of his day and was on the stage by the age of 6 or 8. He told me he never needed to do any riaz, but I imagine that singing and composing constantly was not what he would call practice. With his command over the depth and breadth of Carnatic music (not to mention Rabindrasangeet, more later) he was boundlessly creative within tradition. He innovated in new ragas, some with only 3-4 notes and also in creating a new tala system.

An interest in supporting research into music therapy, along with developing art and culture in general, led to his establishing the MBH Trust. It was certainly a great pleasure and honour to be asked to present a paper ‘Innovations in Odissi Dance Abhinaya’ and perform in Madras in 1993 for his MBK Trust Seminar.I have seen the incredible list of his live concerts ranging from 18,000 to 25,000, and have been fortunate enough to attend only a few, though I cherish the memory of being asked to join his accompanists on stage once and given a token instrument to add to the rhythm.

We seldom know or remember the distinguished achievements of those we call friends unless we hear a very lengthy introduction before a lecture or performance, or their obituary. I certainly knew he was a Padmavibhusan. He joked, “no one should want a Bharat Ratna because it means you are about to die.”Being a Delhiwalli, I wouldn’t know that his versatile areas of excellent included a national award as ‘best playback singer’ for his participation in the film Hamsageeth and as ‘best music director’ for the film Madhvacharya; nor that he was All India Radio’s music producer at the Hyderabad and Vijayawada stations in the late ‘60s and the principal of the Government Music college in Vijayawada at the same time.

What touched me dearly was learning that his recordings for posterity of the entire repertoire of Tagore’s Rabindra Sangeet at the request of All India Radio were ardently embraced by Bengali Bhadralok and rasika’s. This is a tribute to the expansiveness of his capacity of identification with this music and his communicative ability. It is also a tribute to fiercely culturally protective Bengalis to acknowledge his gift to them with open arms. The first Indian dance compositions I learned were set to Rabindra Sangeet when I learned Manipuri in Ann Arbor, Michigan and performed for Saraswati Pujas Tagore’s Birthday celebrations as an ex-officio member of the Bengali community. Even today, focused on Odissi, I still feel emotional whenever I hear Rabindra Sangeet and I dance my mental Ras in Shantineketan.

Besides being out of the box as a famous Carnatic vocalist, Balamuralikrishna was one the relatively small tribe of great artists who are versatile not only in other genres but also other disciplines. He played kanjira, mridangam, viola and violin. It would be difficult to choose between his solo viola concerts or vocal, thank goodness he did both, and accompanied various musicians in violin just because he loved to.His “durbars” in Andhra Pradesh Bhavan whenever he stopped in Delhi were an opportunity to anyone to feel at peace in his presence. He was mischievous and wise, childlike and perceptive, humble with great dignity. To think of his laugh, the twinkle in his eye, the divinity of the artistic gifts he shared unselfishly, is enough to feel a smile spread across your heart.

— Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the US and an MA in dance from the University of Michigan. She can be contacted at sharonlowen.workshop@ gmail.com.

Forwarded By: Jainender Nigam,PB NewsDesk ,prasarbharati.newsdesk@gmail.com

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