“He was the pure definition of genius. His contribution to Indian classical music will always be remembered. ” – Shankar Mahadevan, paying a tribute to the legendary M Balamuralikrishna.
There are musicians who flow along the current of the wave that music is and there are those who create a change in the wave. One of India’s greatest vocalists, Mangalamapalli Balamuralikrishna was one of the latter. A native of Sankaraguptam from East Godavari, Balamuralikrishna was a 5th generation descendant of the saint-composer Thyagaraja in the guru-shishya tradition.
Balamuralikrishna was child prodigy who rose to become a music maestro of immense versatility. Other than playing the violin, mridangam and kanjira, his mesmerizing voice and a unique way of rendering compositions ensured that he excelled as a singer. The maestro also left an indelible imprint as a composer, poet, instrumentalist and innovator of ragas and taalas – his 400 compositions include varnams, kritis, and tillanas, in various Indian languages and in all the 72 melakarta ragas!
As renowned Carnatic vocalist and Magsaysay Award Winner T M Krishna once said,
“Dr Balamuralikrishna traversed the whole world of music, so many genres and languages. He’s not just a Carnatic musician. He made his own paths and rules.”
For his immense contribution to the world of music, M Balamuralikrishna was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1991, the Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Government in 2005, and the Sangeetha Kalanidhi by the Music Academy in Chennai.
On November 22, 2016, the legend passed away at his Chennai residence at the age of 86. With the demise of Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna, India has lost a musical giant.
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As our tribute to the legend, we pick a few of our favourite musical gems that M.Balamuralikrishna sang and/or composed.
1. Mile Sur Mera Tumhara[embedvideo id=”-jf6pwtPqCs” website=”youtube”]
A song which went on to become the unofficial anthem of national integration when it was released, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara was telecast for the first time on Doordarshan on Independence Day in 1988 (after the Prime Minister’s speech from the Red Fort). Balamuralikrishna sang the Tamil lyrics beautifully in this memorable song.
2. Jugalbandi between M Balamuralikrishna and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi[embedvideo id=”OKtM1StoAco” website=”youtube”]
For this musical genius, Hindustani music too was not out of bounds and his ‘jugalbandis’ with eminent exponents like Pt Bhimsen Joshi and Kishori Amonkar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt Jasraj and Zakir Hussain drew wide acclaim. The stupendous piece of music above is a wonderful fusion of Carnatic and Hindustani music, performed by two towering musical titans, Balamuralikrishna and Bhimsen Joshi, that was broadcast on Doordarshan
3. Oru Naal Podhuma from the Tamil film Thiruvilayaadal[embedvideo id=”D0wLIArAayY” website=”youtube”]
Among his notable film forays was the song Oru Naal Podhuma in the famous Tamil movie Thiruvilayadal starring ‘Nadigar Thilagam’ Shivaji Ganesan and Nagesh. One of his most popular songs in Tamil singing competitions, this iconic musical creation is loved equally by the the masses and connoisseurs.
4. Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiraan by M. Balamuralikrishna and Illayaraja[embedvideo id=”EcUI2YTv5CM” website=”youtube”]
Balamuralikrishna’s rendition of the Reetigowlai-based Chinna kannan azhaikiran still mesmerise audiences. The song, composed for 1977 Tamil film Kavikkuyil, was performed by Illayaraja and Balamuralikrishna again in 2011 at a concert titled Endrendrum Raja, after a gap of 34 years!
5. Nagumomu Ganaleni[embedvideo id=”sYD_Iw77mT4″ website=”youtube”]
A quintessential Balamurali signature song, the rendition Thyagaraja’s Nagumomu in the legend’s mellifluous voice is something which never fails to touch the heart of a music lover. Exquisitely written, this soulful number brings out the innate serenity of Carnatic kirtanas.
6. Tagore’s Aguner Paroshmoni by M. Balamuralikrishna[embedvideo id=”O4TH_t5wxRo” website=”youtube”]
Balamuralikrishna loved experimenting and composed several songs in different genres. He is the only South Indian artist who, on an invitation, sang Tagore’s Rabindra Sangeet in All India Radio to preserve it for posterity. In the piece above, he lends his voice to Tagore’s beautiful song, Aguner Paroshmoni.