In this Kaliyuga, Vedas have prescribed three most essential requisites to develop devotion. They are Satsangam, Saranagati and Namasankeerthanam. Satsangam is the quality of righteous devotees to mingle rapturously, rather elatedly, with similar -minded people. In fact, out of the four Yugas in order, it is firmly believed by the vedic erudite school of thought that Kaliyuga is the best yuga for practising boundless devotion. Devotion, done with utmost selfless passion can strike the divine chords of all deities and move them to shower blessings to the salvation- seekers. Then, Saranagati is the final stage of absolute unconditional surrender to the Almighty Lord or to reach the ultimate destination. Salvation! Prahlada and Markandeya are classic examples of selfless devotion. Ultimately, we come to the conclusion that Bhakti or devotion to the Almighty God demands ChithaSudhi or purity of mind, a sine qua non for spiritual uplift.
As the devotee progressively moves ahead, he finds that besides Satsangam and Saranagati, there is another potential sphere of devotion by name Namasankeertanam which can stir any mind to dance in spiritual inebriation. We have heard that Sant Tukaram, Namdeo and Janabhai who, with their intense devotion and unconditional dedication, have experienced the manifestation of God's presence in every object they behold. They relinquished all material pleasures in the world and knew only devotion and dedication for the pursuit of spiritual activities. Devotion is, therefore, the only option for spiritual uplift and attainment of salvation. The very purpose of human birth and the very purpose of life is to achieve this objectof fulfilment or accomplishment of life. Then only, the very purpose of mission on earth will be complete. Only a peaceful, contented and dedicated person with no expectation of fruit of his action in return, can be successful in spiritual life.
Of all spiritual methods, therefore, Namasankeertanam, the art of singing and praising the Lord's grace and resplendence, in group, is emerging as the most powerful and important way to propitiate the deities and therefore, bhajan is gaining remarkable momentum in this Kali yuga! Now it has become an integral part of our culture and is practised so vigorously in all temples, social circles and spiritual centres. In this pursuit of Namasankeertanam, many vocalists and classical songsters emerged and thus the culture of group- singing in praise of the Lord has become an integral part of our social life. This particular genre or art has generated more enthusiasm among the people of all ages. In our daily life, every material activity or experience, whatever it be, one easily loses interest in everything after a particular stage and everything becomes humdrum, when the initial enthusiasm slowly withers away. But, the only activity which every normal individual would never get tired of, but aspires for incessant involvement, is DEVOTION, which he cherishes with unremitting passion and dedication, while treading the path of God- realisation. Devotion and dedication are, therefore, the true blessings of God and not anybody's choice.
In these series of Feature Articles, I wish to analyse comprehensively, the spiritual services being rendered by the several Bhajan Samrats of Mumbai. There are hundreds of Bhajan groups here, functioning in their areas and presenting their soulful performances in various languages in their respective areas with elan and éclair and the devotees listening and singing in tune with the singers rhythmically. Here, my humble attempt is to pick up some of our familiar Tamil Bhajan Samrats from various parts of Mumbai, who have specialised in this genre with rich classical background and are presenting their sterling performances not only in India, but also abroad. Now let us peep into their challenging music journey and much celebrated performances one by one.
The singer with a unique forte
Every creation of God in this world bears the quality of diversity, whether it is a human being or an animal. There is His grandeur, inherent in everycreation.
And, this quality of diversity differentiates every creation from the other. Nothing in this wold is trivial or trifling. Everything is important and it all depends upon how we behold it. This world is full of diversities. That diversity attributes more beauty to the creation. We should identify this diversity with our aesthetic sense,enjoy it and praise the exquisite quality of the Lord Almighty!If all things are of uniform nature, how humdrum it would be? Just imagine!
In close consonance with the above corollary, God has created every singer man or woman with a different timbre or quality of voice in a broader sense, which is seen seldom in another singer. That's why we develop some affinity for every singer and every rendition he makes. There are umpteen number of singers in every language and we like every singer with a different sense of our aesthetic quality. Bearing this principle in mind, we should never compare any singer with another, but appreciate his talent with the prerequisites of equanimity and sense of diversity.
The protagonist in this Bhajan series (4) Shri SundaramBhagavathar is also a very talented musician, gifted with a baritone voice. A mellifluous voice, besides skill and verve is, no doubt, another gift of God and they take every care to preserve it against any impairment over the passage of time. I had the privilege of attending his Bhajan-Namasankeertan- rendition during the Annual Bhjan program, conducted by Bhakta SanghGarodia NagarMumbai, at the Rasika Ranjini Sabha Hall in Garodia Nagar in the year(2017) and afterwards, I could meet him and interact with him for a while. The whole rendition was so marvellous that everybody in the hall enjoyed it well. He and his group could capture and take the entire audience to the elevated plane of ecstasy throughout his rendition.I could see a down to earth soul in him.
A thumbnail sketch of his family and music career
Shri Sundaram Bhagavathar was born to late Shri SubramaniaIyer and Smt. Annapoorni on 26th July 1952, in Madurai Tamil Nadu. Originally from Vadakkanchery in Trichur, Kerala, Shri SubramoniaIyer left Kerala and relocated to Madurai with his family. He was born in avirtuousfamily, blessed with ten children (7boys and 3 girls). Shri Sundaresan alias Sundaram, developed great affinity for music, right from his childhood. He completed his elementary school education and did his graduation from the Madurai College in Madurai.
It is very rarely that a person, blessed with human birth, is fortunate enough to be born in a devout family. Shri Sundaram Bhagavathar also belongs to such a family, blessed with hallowed traditions. His father, Shri SubramaniaIyer, a devout brahmin and scrupulous follower of all customs, was steadfast in his practice of Siva Panchayatana Pooja and Parayanam(reading) of Sundarakandam in the epic Ramayana. This practice, he inculcated in Shri Sundaram and his elder brother Harikrishnan very well, right from their childhood. They were also initiated into Rudram, Chamakam and Purushasooktam as well. The family owned 6-7 cows which were considered as an integral part of their family. The cows were tended with great care and attachment. It was another exemplary practice in the family to assemble in the Pooja room every evening and chant various slokas from 6 p m to 7 p m. and thereafter it was the responsibility of Shri Sundaram and Harikrishnanto feed and tend the herd of family cattle.
Having identified the innate talent of his son Shri Sundaram in the genre of music, Shri Subramaniaiyer admitted him to the music class- Sadguru Sangeetha Vidyalayam- in Madurai at the tender age of nine. He was entrusted to be under the tutelage of late Shri SankaraSivamBhagavathar, late Shri Narasimha Iyengar and late Shri SundararajaBhagavathar, respectively. In addition, Shri Sundaram also received tremendous support from his sisters Shanthi, Meena and Mythily in his eventful musical journey. It is a matter of immense pleasure that in 1968, the prestigious title of "Sangeetha Vidwan" was duly conferred upon him.
Meanwhile, Shri Sundaram was further initiated into Sampradaya (traditional) Bhajan by Shri Madurai SwaminathaBhagavathar and he accompanied him for programs everywhere for four years which enabled him to procure not only experience but, proficiency also galore in this genre. Shri SwaminathaBhagavathar, taught him whole- heartedly all the intricate nuances of the Sambradaya Bhajan and rightly inducted him into the Bhajan milieu in Madurai. He also chanced to learn various OothukkaduVenkatakaviKrithis and AmbalNavavarnanaKeerthanams along with his sisters from late Shri Needamangalam Krishnamurthy Bhagavatharso perfectly. It is worth mentioning here that they were among the first few students to learn the rarest OothukkaduKrithis, which have gained great momentum in this epoch.
As time went on, things started taking a different dimension. When a devotee is keenly engrossed in divine thoughts and determined to nurture and nourish the innate passion for spirituality, God also starts marshalling wide range of opportunities before him. His decision to come to Mumbai in 1972 was a great turning point in his life to expand the horizon of his knowledge as well as to show full justice to his aptitude for music. Here, he could pursue his favourite genre of music more professionally and enthusiastically. He began his practices in music so vigorously. His boundless passion for Bhajan helped him to acquaint himself with the renowned and establishedBhagavathars like Shri BoriviliSrivnivasan, popularly known as ShriCheenuBhagavathar, ShriBombay Hari and Shri ThyagarajaBhagavathar of Goregaon, Mumbai. His close association with the motely of established Musicians perfected him particularly in the traditional (sampradaya) type of singing and before long, he could start his own Bhajan Mandal in Mumbai. He could travel to many parts of the city to give his august performances everywhere and augment his popularity!
Another step forward, he started his pilgrimage to Sabarimala in 1973 together with a band of KambangudiGuruswamies and he has been continuing his holy trips with his elder brothers every year regularly. As this practice of pilgrimage continued, in 1976-77, Lord Ayyappa, blessed him with an opportunity to perform Bhajan at Sabarimala Sannidhanam on the eve of Makara Sankranti, for two hours, which was duly appreciated by lakhs of devotees.
With his continuous involvement in Sambradaya style of Bhajan for more than fourdecades, he had the privilege of accompanying several leading Bhajan Samrats like Shri CheenuBhagavathar, Shri Bombay Hari, Kovai Jayaraman and many other well- known Bhajan singers. By virtue of his close association with those senior Samrats in Mumbai, he could expand the vistas of hisverve in music and augment his depth and exposure in this genre such as Sampradaya Bhajans, Ashtapadhi, Divyanamams, Unchavrithi and Dolotsvams during the respective general temple festivals as well as on other festive occasions. ThyagarajaBhagavathar had taught him many TirupukazhKrithis in mellifluous ragas with the right nuances (subtle differences). His formal arangettam or debut of all these segments of Bhajans was done in the year 1980. Apart from these, he has also been conducting various Kalyanams like Radha Kalyanam, Seetha Kalyanam, Valli-DevasenaKalyanam, Poorna -PushkalaKalyanam etc. Besides, he has also been regaling the Bhajan lovers with DivyanamaSankeerthanam, independently enacting the characters in thevedic episode, singing the glory of the Lord and dancing joyously in spiritual inebriation. He travels to many suburbs in Mumbai and other far-flung areas outside, such as Pune, Nagpur, Jamshedpur, Bangaloreand other cities in India, besides Dubai, to promote the pristine culture of SambradayaBhajan everywhere. In addition to the above, Shri Sundaram has also aptly perfected his talents in Sastha Preethi Padhathi for Lord Ayyappa, SasthaVaravuVrutham, from the much acclaimed Allepey Brothers, the close exposure with them could yield him manifold benefits. With his inborn talents in music, he could augment his knowledge and achieve greater degree of proficiency in this genre.
It is indeed a great boon to the residents of Goregaon that Shri SundaramBhagavathar performs Bhajans in connection with the Sasthapreethi there apart from many other Sastha Bhajans in the city every year regularly. He has accompanied many doyens like, BrahmashreeDevarajaBhagavathar of Tirunelveli,Chengottai Muthu SubramaniaBhagavatharand many other eminent Bhagavathars to gain more experience in this traditional art form. He presently sings with renowned Bhagavathars like Dr.GaneshaBhagavathar of Chennai, KovaiJayaramaBhagavathar and so on. Nevertheless he is not trained in Sangeetha Upanyasams, he has learned the art of Hari Katha on ThyagarajaRamayanam by continuously participating in the discourses of Harikatha exponents and based upon the experience gained, he has given a couple of programs with the blessings of KambangudiGoswamies and other veterans and he was well appreciated by everyone.
In recognition of his immense contributions in the field of music and his experience in the different aspects of Samrdaya Bhajan, Shri Sundaram was awarded the prestigious title of "ASTHANA VIDWAN" by BrahmashreeGaneshaVadhyar of Bhajan Samaj Matunga Mumbai. He was also the Judge during the auditions for Bhajan Samrat season-2 telecast in Sankara T V some time back.
Envisaging the need for enriching the younger generation of his family, he has equipped many of them, including his daughter, with adequate knowledge in Carnatic music and also made them well-versed in Sambradaya Bhajans. Such far sight is needed for the preservation and consolidation of our tradition and Kalacharams. Otherwise, our culture will gradually die out. Grooming the younger generation is the only viable solution in the present epoch to combat decadence of our ancient civilization. Everybody should pass on the acquired knowledge to the younger generation to continue the flame of knowledge, with a view to building a never -ending chain of experienced and knowledgeable people. Right training at the right time on a continuous basis, is required to hone up the skills procured over a period of time. God instils the penchant for any genre of art in very rare souls and expression and excellence of such exceptional qualities could be related to PoorvaJanma Karma (action in the previous birth) or application of the Law of Karma. Everything, whether it is happiness or sorrows, in our life is closely related to the Law of Karnma. Everything depends upon our actions and there is no point in blaming God or others if our calculation contravenes or goes against all our expectations.
It, is therefore, very clear that Shri Sundaram Bhagavathar is a recipient of the fully ripe fruits of his previous actions that GOD has placed him in a very prestigious or spiritually elevated position. All such human beings are the special creations of God, we can presume!Above all, allthese qualities, no doubt, owe to Satsangam! Blessings of Gurus! Even the great SaintNarada got elevated to the status of a Deva Rushi, with spiritual erudition, only because of his close association with the Sadhus during a Chatur masa Satsang, according to mythology.
As regards his personal and family details, he retired as a Senior Manager from GAIL in June 2012 and ever since his retirement, he is fully concentrating and spending a good part of his time to practice and perform the Sambradaya Bhajans. He has trained his wife and elder sister also in the line of Sambradaya Bhajans and he still continues to guide those interested in the Bhajan culture.
His dharma Pathni's name isSmt:SaraswathiSundaresan, daughter's name isSmt:RakshaSundaresan and son-in-law's name is Shri: Anand Padmanabhan respectively. A totally blessed and contented family, they are leading a life, dedicated to Lord Almighty! Let us pray for their long, healthy and prosperous life!
His family members as well as those close to his family are proud of him for achieving such laudable mileage in this specialised field. Let us all wish him great success in his favourite domain and also pray God to confer on him more and more awards and recognitions in the years to come!
May God shower many more laurels and accolades to Shri Sundaram Bhagavathar, the pride of our country!
Thodupuzha K. Shankar Mumbai
(Poet and Journalist)