[This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on the Art of Painting in Ancient India …
This is the concluding part of a series that attempted to trace the influence of Chitrasutra, the ancient text and its recommended practices, from the days of the Ajanta to the present period.
In this article we move on to the 20th and 21st century and admire the sublime paintings of Shri S Rajam, perhaps the sole votary of Chitrasutra tradition in the modern times.
The present article briefly outlines Shri S Rajam’s achievements in the field of music and in the music related arts.
In the next part we shall look at Chitrasutra and Shri Rajam as an artist who brought to life the traditional art of India.]
1. Shri S Rajam
1.1 Sangita Kalacharya Vidvan Shri S Rajam is a many splendored jewel of Indian art and music. He is the musicians’ musician, held in very high esteem by the connoisseurs of Carnatic music; he is the creator of sublime art in the pristine and ancient tradition of Chitrasutra; he is an excellent photographer who produced outstanding photographs of temple architecture and sculptures; and in his youth a hero of early South Indian films who composed songs and sung them too. The most amazing aspect of his involvement in several branches of arts is that he excelled in each of them, created a unique niche of his own and yet remained unaffected by his success. And, above all he is a remarkable human being with a flame-like imagination and a teacher with an understanding heart. He is often, aptly, described as a simple man of singular achievements in a plurality of fields. It is hard to cite anyone, in the contemporary world, as comparable to Shri S Rajam. He is a rare gem; and like any precious gem he is away from public gaze.
1.2. Even as he was mellowing sweetly into his nineties, he retained the sense of wonder and awe at the marvels of life. He continued to work with zeal, regularly, at his art; and says with a child-like delight he is discovering and learning a few new things each day. As regarded music, his other passion in life, he was active as a teacher and as a guide; and participated in academia and in the discussions at various Sabhas till his very last days.
[Shri Rajam passed away at the age of 91 on 29 Jan 2010 .Please click here ]
1.3. I have special regard, appreciation and reverence towards Shri S Rajam, because I view him as one of the few gifted artists of the twentieth century who breathed fresh life into the ancient tradition of Chitrasutra, not by talking or writing about the ancient art but by diligently practicing it with devotion and sincerity over a long period of more than sixty years. My admiration of him is heightened because he is perhaps the sole true representative and votary of the Chitrasutra in the modern era. To use a favorite phrase of Sri Sankara, Shri S Rajam is a Sampradaya-vit, the one who understands Sampradaya the good tradition. Shri S Rajam pointed out, “Intradition, only good things should remain; the bad should be ignored and not continued. This is tradition”; and said, “Be modern in outlook; there is no problem with that. But learn to appreciate the beauty and elegance of your culture. Safeguard it, develop it and carry it forward for the benefit of the next generation “. The present article aims, mainly, to talk about that aspect of Shri Rajam’s artistic genius.
But, before we resume discussion on Shri Rajam as an artist, let’s take a quick glance at a few facts and his other achievements.
2. Early years
2.1. S Rajam was born at Madurai on 10.02.1919 to Smt. Parvathiamma (also called Chellammal) and Sri V Sundaram Ayyar, a leading advocate of Madras. Sundaram Ayyar was a scholar, a person of culture and a lover of Carnatic music. He, a connoisseur and patron of music, wrote music reviews for ‘The Hindu’; and his views were respected by artistes such as Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and others. S Rajam later in his life recalled, “In case my father felt that a particular sangati was out of place, Iyengar would drop it”.
It is said; at the suggestion of Sri Pudukkottai Dakshinamoorthi Pillai (1875 – 1925), a noted mridangam and khanjira vidwan of those times, Sundaram Ayyar constructed a spacious hall on the first floor of his house at Mylapore in order to hold the concerts of the musicians he admired, such as Ariyakudi Ramanujam Iyengar, Madurai Mani, Ambi Deekshithar, Muthiah Bagavathar and Karaikudi Sambasivam. Sundaram Ayyar, it is said, supported and sponsored a young and talented musician Ramaiya who had come to Madras in search of a career in music. Ramaiya later flowered and flourished as a noted singer and a composer of great merit; and gained fame as Papanasanam Sivan (1890 – 1973).
2.2. Musicians, writers and scholars frequented Ayyar’s household which was a sort of cultural hub in Mylapore of those days. The atmosphere at home was conducive for nurturing love for art and culture in the young hearts of the children at home. Rajam’s younger brother, by about eight years, S Balachender (1927-1990) grew into a larger- than – life personality; a remarkable veena player with a unique style of his own; a forceful writer; an accomplished actor and an eminent director. Rajam’s two sisters: Jayalakshmi and Saraswathi too were very good singers. Shri Rajam had another younger bother S Gopalaswamy and another younger sister S Kalpakam Balakrishnan who was an accomplished veena player. These two were twins and were the youngest in the family,
2.3. Rajam had his music training at a very young age. Sundaram Ayyar had engaged Ramaiya (Papanasanam Sivan) to train Rajam and his sister Jayalakshmi. Rajam was thus the first disciple of Papanasanam Sivan. The talented disciple performed as early as in his 13th year.
Rajam who was then in P.S. High School was an avid movie fan; he hardly missed a silent movie that ran in the tent cinema behind his school. Little did he realize then he himself would very soon be a movie star. The year 1934 proved to be a very important year for Rajam a handsome lad of fifteen years; and for his teacher Papanasam Sivan who in his mid-age (say about 44) was in search of a stable career in music. The year saw them launched into successful careers in films and music.
The noted film critique historian Madabhushi Rangadorai who gained fame under his pen-name Randor Guy has described the circumstances that led Papanasam Sivan as also Rajam and family into the world of films. Rajam’s first film was Seetha Kalyanam (1934), a Prabhat Talkies production directed by the well known Marathi and Hindi filmmaker of his day, Baburao Phendharkar. The strikingly handsome fifteen year lad Rajam of sharp features and slim figure played the leading role of Sri Rama, while his sister Jayalakshmi played the leading- lady Seetha. (That raised quite a few eyebrows). The film, in a way, was a family venture, as Rajam’s father Sundaram Ayyar played Janaka, while Rajam’ s other sister Saraswathi played Urmila and Rajam’s kid-brother Balachender played a child musician in the court of Demon King Ravana. The music was provided by Rajam’s teacher Papanasam Sivan.
[For more on the Seethakalyanam Film, please check the following link and the references listed on the page.
The film Seetha Kalyanam and its music was a huge success. It launched Rajam and his teacher Papanasam Sivan on their way to stardom. Some songs set to music by Papanasam Sivan and sung by Rajam became hits. To mention a couple of those: ‘Nal vidai thaarum…’ (Raga Kalyani – based on Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Amma Raavamaa…’); and, ‘Kaaranam ethu swami….’ (Raga Kaanada – based on Saint Purandaradasa’s composition ‘Sevaka kana ruchirey…).
Following that success, Rajam’s second film was Radha Kalyanam (1935), produced by Meenakshi Movies and directed by C. K. Sathasivan (better known as Saachi). Rajam played the lead role of Krishna while Radha was played by the beautiful looking star of those days M.R. Santhanalakshmi who perhaps was elder to the hero Rajam. The music to the film was provided by the noted singer-composer Sri Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar.
Rajam’s third film as hero was Rukmini Kalyanam (1936); and Rajam played Krishna again. The film was directed by the famous Marathi filmmaker, actor and Baburao Phendharkar’s brother Balji Phendharkar.
Of the three films in which Rajam played the leading role, it appears, the first film Seetha Kalyanam, was true success; the other two were not so successful. But, by then the handsome brothers S. Rajam (18) and Balachander (10) had gained fame as ‘Prabhat Prodigy Stars’ and ‘South Indian Prodigies’. They toured several cities in India and in Sri Lanka, performing duet-concerts. It is said, like the legendry Lav and Kush, the two handsome and talented young lads were the darlings of art-lovers and the cynosure of all eyes.
2.4. Shri Rajam played leading roles in three Tamil films Seetha-kalyanam, Radha-kalyanam and Rukmini-kalyanam; and also sang. By then Rajam was married and his wife was not in favour of his acting in movies. Shri Rajam later humorously remarked, all his three films were Kalyanams and after his own Kalyanam there could not be any more Kalyanams. Shri Rajam’s association with the world of films was relatively brief but it was highly successful.
In the years thereafter Shri Rajam visited many temples in India and Sri Lanka; and stayed for a while in the 7th century temple of Sri Kailasanathar at Kanchipuram.
Shri Rajam did however later in 1942 played a supporting triple role of Lord Muruga, the boy-Murga, and the hunter-Muruga in a hit movie Sivakavi in which the doyen of Tamil films Tyagaraja Bhagavathar the singer- actor played the lead role. Rajam’s sister Jayalakshmi played the leading lady in the film; while Rajam’s father Sundaram Ayyar played guru, the teacher of young Sivakavi.
Later in 1948, Shri Rajam composed music and also sang the song ‘Kaathal puyalthaniley thurumbupol…’ in V. Shantaram’s ‘Nam Nadu’ the Tamil remake of his Hindi film ‘Apna Desh’.
Shri S Rajam thus was a pioneer in the development of the Tamil films. Shri Rajam blessed with an agile mind and good health is today the senior-most living hero, the leading-man, of the Tamil film world. His contribution to Tamil films is recognized with pleasure and gratitude.
Please click here for a video on Sri Rajam’s life and achievements
3.1. Shri S Rajam is a well recognized, much admired and an honoured performing musician. In his home state, Tamil Nadu, he enjoys more fame in the world of music than in art. In one of the interviews to a music journal, Shri Rajam quietly remarked towards the end of the interview “Not many may know that I am a painter; and I do original classical paintings. I divide my time between painting and music.” Such is the humility of the grand-old man of Indian arts and music…!
3.2. Shri S Rajam served for about 35 years as music supervisor and a Grade A artiste at the All India Radio (AIR), where he popularized Carnatic Music and also Thirukkural singing. He performed full duration kutcheris based on Tirukkural couplets. During his tenure, he recorded rare compositions of the Vaggeyakars, produced many operas and musical plays. He later mentioned that His most cherished program with AIR was the presentation of Silappadikaram as an opera with a huge orchestra. “Our culture is a very ancient one and we have the responsibility of passing it on to the next generation in its truest form. I shall strive to do my best in this regard and may even write a book”.
Between 1970 and 1982, while serving AIR, he led a team of artists on a music tour to Africa presenting a percussion ensemble; and toured USA performing 32 musical concerts in various cities. He also performed in Burma, Sri Lanka and Canada.
His lecture demonstration on rare Ragas and kritis, vivadi ragas, as also on the compositions of Koteeswara Iyer are admired by the connoisseurs. His special interest in vivadi ragas, as also Lakshana and Lakshya aspects of Carnatic music is well known.
[Please check the following for Shri S Rajam’s rendering of Dikshitar’s Navagraha kritis
Sri S Rajam was best known for very aesthetic renditions of ‘vivaadi ragas’, which need a balanced and delicate handling. listen to his rendering Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar‘s composition ‘kalavati kamalasana yuvati’ in Raga kalavati, (One of the vivadi ragas). Please click on :
3.3. Shri Rajam continued to serve , till his last days , on the expert committee of the Music Academy at Chennai. His simplicity and willingness to help anyone who approaches him on subjects related to art and music has endeared him to all and to the young in particular.
3.4. Over the years, many honours have been showered on Shri Rajam. Just to name some of those: He was awarded the title “Isai Kadal” (ocean of music) by the Tamil Sangham, Karikudi in 1988. He was accorded the Sangeetha Nataka Academy award in 1992; and the Kala Acharya in 1996.The only significant honour he received from the Madras Music Academy (to which he contributed so much) has been the title of Sangeetha Acharya. Probably the best way to describe him is: Acharya.
It is interesting that as early as 1947 when Shri Rajam was still a young man of about 28 years, the late K.V. Ramachandran (well known Art critic), wrote him: “You know I am not given to praising anyone, still less over praising. If it were in my gift to give a title, and if any one deserves it in India today, you deserve the name of Acharya — the master in painting. I don’t flatter. “Shri Ramachandran (1898-1956) , it is said , was in his day regarded the foremost music and art critic in the country . He was not easily pleased; and a ‘good-word’ from him was considered a high reward even by merited artists. His high praise of Rajam signified the eminence that Shri Rajam enjoyed even as a young person.
I understand that at the 76th South Indian music conference and festival of Indian Fine Arts Society to be held in Chennai during Dec 18, 2008 to Jan 4th, 2009, Shri S Rajam would be honoured with the title, ‘Sangeetha Kalasikhamani’. No honour is too high for Vidvan Shri S Rajam.
3.5. While reminiscenceing his musical training, Sri Rajam fondly recalls how his father Sundaram Ayyar took him, while still a lad of ten, to the well known musician Ambi Dikshitar for music lessons. Talking about his Guru, Shri Rajam mentions that Ambi Dikshitar had a deep voice of low sruthi that could easily touch the panchama in the lower octave; and Ambi Dikshitar’s voice was well suited for rendering, with clarity, the grand and slow paced compositions of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar. Rajam was amused that his teacher a descendant of the Mutthuswami Dikshitar lineage should commence his lessons with a composition of Sri Thyagaraja (enta nercina in shuddha dhanyaasi).It was a rare privilege, he remarked, and a great fortune. Later, of course, Ambi Dikshitar taught Rajam many compositions of Mutthuswami Dikshitar, most notable being the navagraha kritis.
3.6. He had the privilege of being trained in music by a galaxy of stalwarts. He recalls with gratitude and pleasure, “I have undergone training from many Gurus. I learnt Dikshitar kritis from Ambi Dikshitar. It is from Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar that I attained Pathantara suddham and perfection in singing fast tempo. I learnt depiction of vakra, varjya ragas; and swaraprastara from Madurai Mani Iyer. Papanasam Sivan though a composer himself taught me lots of Tyagaraja Kritis… Madurai Mani Iyer taught me Nagumomu withchatusruti dhaivata; while Papanasam Sivan taught me in suddhadhaivatam, the correct way…. Although I have learnt from many gurus, I crave to express what we have not heard from other musicians.”
One of the musicians he admired most in his youth was Smt. Veena Dhanammal (1867-1938) renowned for adherence to traditional values and profundity of music expression. He heard her in the latter years of her life. He spoke of her from his heart “It was Dhanammal’s music that haunted me in my early years. Dhanammal was Saraswati incarnate – she sang and played the veena alternately. I was fortunate to attend her Friday soirees some 40 times. I would sit very close to her; and when she sang Akshayalinga vibho, she shed tears while doing niravalon the line ‘padarivana’. Shouldn’t we have the same intensity of feeling while performing? How can you be a real singer if you are not a rasika yourself?”
3.7. S Rajam’s favourite composer is Koteeswara Iyer (January 1870 – October 21, 1936) popularly known as Kavi Kunjara Dasan. “I am deeply interested in Koteeswara Iyer’s compositions ” S Rajam said,” I do not compare any other composer with him, I find great pleasure in singing his compositions”. Koteeswara Iyer was the first composer, after Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar, who composed krithis in all 72 melakartha ragas. His monumental work, “kanda ganamudam” has songs, in praise of Lord Muruga, composed in all the 72 melams. The songs are in chaste Tamil.
3.8. Shri S. Rajam has the distinction of being the only musician to have sung all those 72 compositions; each krithi being accompanied by raga, neraval and kalpana-swaras. He said,” It is vital to understand the meaning and bhava of a composition to make an emotional presentation or render the song with insight “. His rendering of Koteeswara Iyer’s songs is recorded in a set of ten tapes / nine CDs. S. Rajam has also published a book giving notations for all the 72 songs.
Listen to Shri S. Rajam singing the popular kriti, Sri Valli:
…and to Shri S. Rajam speak about Papanasanam Sivan and Natabhairavi:
4. Music & painting
4.1. Shri S Rajam is the golden link between music and art. He provided a visual identity and a tangible idiom of expression to Indian classical music through his paintings. For instance, just to mention a few, his series of paintings Origin & Classification of Swaras (inspired by Sangeetha Kalpadrumam of Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavatar), illustrating the origins and charectestics of each of the seven notes of Indian music, explaining their nature and their relation to the Hindustani and Western music systems, is a remarkable work of great learning and sublime art. I have not come across a like of it anywhere.
Similarly, his series of twelve paintings illustrating Venkatamakhi’s melakartha scheme by classifying the 72 mela ragas into 12 chakras or segments; associating each chakra with a month of the year (from April- March) ; and illustrating them through soulful and imaginative paintings is a marvellous example of the delightful amalgam of innovation , scholarship and superb artistry. It is a unique piece of visual poetry and music. This series was also meant as a tribute to Venkatamakhi the great musician-musicologist (1635-1690).
And, his series of paintings illustrating the kritis and particularly the Navagraha kritis of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar are, of course, legendry; and have passed into the folklore of music, astrology, and tantra traditions and of classical school of painting.
Sri Ranganyakam kriti of Sri Dikshitar
4.2. In each case, he poured into puranas, epics and ancient texts searching for details and for the right idioms of expression. His involvement was complete; and he was totally absorbed into his work. While recalling his experience while painting the Navagraha series, he mentions, “Inexplicable incidents occurred, a reminder that Dikshitar’s compositions are invested with awesome power. While painting Surya, gusts of wind would snatch the paper from my hands. Embarking on Rahu, I found a snake skin hanging from a creeper and even a live snake coiled beneath the finished painting.”
4.3. His portraitures of the composers in the classical traditions of Indian music are benchmarks; and now, after his advent, one can scarcely visualize the hoary composers but through the eyes of Shri S Rajam. His portrait of the trinity of Carnatic music (Saint Thyagaraja, Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar and Sri Shyama Shastri) which he painted when he was barely twenty years of age is a true classic; it is a universally acclaimed archetype and one that is even worshipped.
4.4. Hallmarks of his portraits are their authenticity. He studied and researched into his subjects thoroughly, grasped the essence of their character and achievements. His portraits therefore bring out not mere the physical resemblance of the subjects but more importantly the essence of their very inner being.
4.5. There are some interesting stories associated with his portraitures of the Music Trinity. In the case of Saint Thyagaraja, the old drawings available at that time (before 1940) showed a weak, melancholic person with his chest bones protruding and having a rather sickly countenance. Shri S Rajam felt offended by the old portraits; and was hurt the saint was shown in a poor light causing injustice to his genius. Shri S Rajam strongly felt that the portrait should aptly project the character and greatness of the person, his achievements, his genius and his mellow glowing sattvic nature; and not just his physical resemblance.
Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar was an Upasaka of Sri Chakra and the Devi; he was an advaitin in his outlook. There was always a certain serene detachment about him; and in his eyes. In Shri S Rajam’s portraits, Sri Dikshitar comes across as a calm, composed, handsome young person of lime-colour (golden hue) complexion. He always wears a green (or a blue) shawl over his left shoulder, and sports rudraksha -mala around his neck. His veena is upturned; with the face of the yali looking up.
His portrait of Sri Shyama Shastri which eventually turned into an Indian postal stamp has an interesting story around it. Sri Shyama Shastri too was a Devi Upasaka, but charged with intense devotion and a poignant longing for the Mother. He was a deeply religious person who adhered to the prescriptions of the scriptures. He always had a dash of vermilion (Devi –prasada) right between his eye brows and stripes of Vibhuthiacross his forehead; he sported a tuft (Kudumi) and appeared with stubble on his chin because he shaved only once in a fortnight just as an orthodox Brahmin would do. Shyama Shastri – was a dark, handsome, serious looking person, rather absorbed in himself and with slight rotund around his waist. He was always dressed in a gold-laced (zari) dhoti and a red upper garment (uttariya). He was fond of chewing betel leaf (paan); his lips are depicted dark red (He is occasionally shown with a paan petti, a small box to hold leaves and nuts). Shyama Shastri’s tambura had a yali-mukham, not usually found in other tambura depictions.
Another interesting incident came up when Shri Rajam had to paint the picture of Venkatamakhin [1635-1690 , the great musicologist who devised the melakartha system of classifying ragas in the Carnatic music] as an introductory painting for the Apr 2008-March 2009 calendar brought out by L&T, he had no earlier pictures of Venkatamakhin to guide him. His research into the archives of Kanci mutt led him to an interesting detail showing that Venkatamakhin who was also a skillful vainika wore his long hair in a coil such that it did not touch his body; he coiled it atop his head. Shri S Rajam then pictured Venkatamakhin with coiled locks of hair, rudraksha-mala; and surrounded by musical instruments such as veena, tambura etc. as also scrolls of ancient manuscripts, lending the picture an air scholarship and a spiritual aura.
4.6. It is said, nowhere is the bond between the arts stronger than that binding painting and music. As sister arts, music and painting share a common vocabulary. Both arts are often referred to as compositions; both talk in terms of tones and shades; and there is a certain rhythm and fluency in both. In the present Indian context, nowhere do both the arts find their fulfilment, in creative as well as traditional sense, in one person than in Vidvan Shri S Rajam.
Continued in part Fifteen
—Chitrasutra and Shri S Rajam
Resources & References
An afternoon with S Rajam
Aesthetic and faithful depiction of character
Ajanta Cave Paintings
S. Rajam – a rare gem
All pictures are from Internet