My love affair with Malayalam film songs in general and Devarajan Master’s tunes in particular began quite accidentally some time in 1973-74. As a seventeen year old pre-university student, living in a quiet village near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, I once fell sick due to fever and was recuperating in bed, with utter boredom and loneliness to tackle with. Radio being the only source of entertainment those days, I was fiddling with its knobs and traversing in the shortwave band when I stumbled upon Radio Ceylon’s specific broadcast in Malayalam, particularly aimed at listeners in the Gulf.
I heard 2 or 3 Malayalam film songs that day for the first time. The sheer melody, the undeniable Carnatic tinge and the freshness and sweetness of Jesudas’ voice swept me flat. It was a period in Tamil Cinema songs, when M S Viswanathan was virtually playing a lone fiddle. His legendary partnership with Ramamoorthy had broken up almost a decade back, and he seemed to be losing his sheen. I belonged to a vast majority of rasikas of those period who felt that the wonderful melodies that Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy produced could never be matched by Viswanathan on his individual capacity. Ilayaraja was yet to arrive at the scene then.
It is in this background that I chanced upon the Malayalam songs which proved to be a vacuum-filler to my ears. The beauty of Malayalam language produced by the alchemy of Tamil and Sanskrit was comprehensible to me to some extent. I could somehow grasp the gross meaning and mood of the songs that sounded to have poetic beauty, brought out aesthetically by the wonderful music content. Being a lover of Carnatic music, I could appreciate the subtle handling of ragas with just the right dose of semi-classical mix in the music treatment.
I made it a point to hear the specific Malayalam broadcast daily at the same time which lasted for about 15 to 30 minutes every day. The names of G.Devarajan, Dhakshinammorthy, Baburajan and MK Arjunan as music directors became familiar to me, so also Vayalar, ONV Kurup and the like as poets.
Of course, G Devarajan’s name was familiar to me to some extent as all the Tamil Songs he tuned in the film ‘Annai Velankanni’ were huge hits a couple of years earlier. As I heard more and more of his Malayalam songs, I felt that G Devarajan’s music was simply a class apart. Some of his tunes were so universally appealing that they got repeatedly broadcast based on requests of listeners. ‘Mangalam nedunnu gnyaan’, ‘chakravarthini ninakku’, ‘kili silachchu’, ‘ambalap parambilay’, ‘guruvaayur ambalanadaiyil’, ‘Malayala bhaashathan’, ‘sangu pushpam kannezhuthumbol’ ‘omanaalek kanndu’ ete were some of his hit songs that kept repeating frequently and each one of them was of unquestionable caliber in melody. (I have given links to Youtube for playing these songs at the bottom of this article)
I soon became became adept in identifying his tunes by his unique style. The use of xylophone in his tunes, some familiar strokes in the play of tabla, his leisurely way of building up the music, his typical usage of too few music instruments for background music, his way of taking the music in a cresendo to a high altitude and repeating the last line or a couple of words in anupallavi twice before returning to pallavi were his ‘trademarks’ that I quickly identified. With whatever grasp of the malayalam language that I could comprehend, I could very clearly notice that G Devarajan was a genius in matching the tune, raga, tala and bhava to the meaning and mood of the song.
In those days, we had heard about how M S Viswanthan and Kannadasan made such a nice combo in Tamil film music but I never new that a similar alloying existed between Devarajan and Vayalar. ‘If only I knew Malayalam, I could appreciate the poetry much better’ was the thought that frequented my mind.
Devarajan’s film music had its unquestionable dependence on the classical root. Unlike M S Viswanathan, I am fairly sure that Devarajan never fiddled with ‘anya swaras’ in any raga that he handled despite making them lighter to the appreciation of the common man. He had the divine gift to bring forth the very soul of a raga in his songs (particularly in high octave sancharas), a skill I could notice later in future only with Ilayaraja. I was swayed by Devarajan’s capacity to use rare ragas with aplomb. Begada, a not-so-easy and not-too-familiar raga was wonderfully portrayed by him in the song ‘ambalap parambilay’. His handling of raga Saraswathi in ‘Saraswathi yaamam kazhinju’ created goose-pimples in me when I heard it the first couple of times.
His treatment of Hindustani ragas too was no less masterly. His ‘innenikku pottukuththaan’ in the film Guruvayoor Kesavan composed in the Raag Miyaki Malhaar and sung soulfully by Madhuri could be rated as one among his best of songs. His ‘Aayiram paada sarangal kilungi” in raag Dharbari full of melancholy, sung by Jesudas, is a sheer treat to ears.
My indulgence with G Devarajan’s melodies through Ceylon Radio continued over next 5 years, though mostly restricted to holidays, as I came back home from my Engineering college Hostel at Coimbatore.
It was during my hostel days during 1976-77 at Coimbatore that I took the initiative to learn Malayalam– both to read and write- by self-effort, using ‘Malayalam-in-30 days’ book and other school primer books I could buy at Coimbatore. It is perhaps a divine dispensation that I should learn Malayalam, as I am presently settled in an Ashram in Kerala where I have to speak Malayalam!
In a way, it is Devarajan Master’s soulful music that prompted me originally to learn Malayalam. I feel I am fortunate to have come across to listen to a such a great maestro and through the influence of his music, manage to learn a beautiful language.
Saraswati Yamam…G Devarajan …(Film: Guruvayur Kesavan) Rag: Saraswathi … Singer: Jesudas:
Navakabhishekam…G.Devarajan…Film: Guruvayur Kesavan (Raga: Aarabhi) Singer: Jesudas
Innenikku Pottukuththan…Music: G.Devarajan …Film: Guruvayur Kesavan…Raga: Miyaki Malhar … Singer: Madhuri:
Usha Kiranangal… Music: G.Devarajan…Film: Guruvayur Kesavan Raga: Malaya Marutham. Singer: Jesudas
Ambala parambile…Music: G.Devarajan: Film: Ningal enne Communist Akki… Raga: Begada Singer: Jesudas
Mangalam Nedunnu…Music: G.Devarajan…Film:Hrudayam Oru kshetram… Raga: Madyamavathi…Singer: Jesudas
Kili Chilachchu… Devarajan …Jesudas
Aaayiram pada … G.Devarajan … Raga: Darbari…Singer: Jesudas
Chakravarthini…Devarajan…Raga:Hamir Kalyani …Singer: Jesudas