Ganakalabhushana Veena L Raja Rao
My father, Veena L Raja Rao was a man of multi-dimensional achievements. The more I study my Father’s life and works, the more I am in awe of the range and depth of his creativity. From a very early age, he had begun to evole not just as a visionary but a pioneer as well. As a visionary, he had promoted Kannada Sangeeta and in this effort, he set to tune and published notations for the rich lyrics of Haridasas and Shivasharanas. As a pioneer, he saw a need for Sangeeta Shastra texts in Kannada language, and took the initiative to write and publish text books.
I have attempted here to briefly highlight the multiple areas in which Raja Rao’s creativity had flourished.
- Sreenivasa Rajarao
Mysore L. Raja Rao belonged to a lineage of vainika-s patronised by the Odeyar dynasty. Raja Rao’s Father Veene Lakshminaranappa (1878 – 1934), also recognized as Bhairavi Lakshminaranappa, was a Fourth generation vainika, gayaka and a vaggeyakara.
In his earlier years, Raja Rao was a consummate vainika and a gayaka. As a vocalist, he was highly influenced by Tiger Varadachar. However, Mysore Vasudevacharya was his idol, and young Raja Rao had accompanied the master in many performances.
Beginning in the 1930s, Raja Rao and younger brother Gopala Rao, performing together had achieved fame as Mysore Brothers. They had performed frequently in Madras, Trichy, Poona, Bombay and other places and were featured in over a hundred radio broadcasts. It was during this time (approx. 1937) that Columbia Records brought out a Gramophone Record - the brothers have rendered Mysore Vasudevacharya’s pranatarthi haramahm in Junjhoti raga.
In the year 1934, highly impressed by Raja Rao’s renditions of Mysore Vasudevachaya’s compositions, Mr. M. V. Raghavan, Accountant General of Madras, sponsored Raja Rao on a concert tour lasting Three months, mainly with the objective of popularising Vasudevachaya’s compositions in Tamil Nadu. The highlights of this tour were the concert in Vellore (December 9, 1934) and the concert at Madras Music Academy in December 1934. Also, there were private recitals for Dr. C. V. Raman.
Raja Rao had begun his phase as a vaggeyakara as early as 1935 when he was about 26 years of age. Most of his compositions are time stamped between 1935 and 1942. His earlier compositions are all in Telugu. However, it appears his Kannada pride and a vision of Kannada Sangeeta seem to have emerged during this phase, and many kritis have been composed in Kannada. His ankita was Purushottama.
Raja Rao has composed 4 swarajatis, 5 varnas, 43 kritis and 3 tillanas.
Raja Rao’s compositions in the following ragas appear to be unique.
kApAdave in raga Chamundi sung by Smt.Nagamani Srinath
He had also composed in uncommon ragas like Nada Brahma, Bhuvana
Gandhari, Hemavati, Shankara Priya and Pashupati Priya.
In documenting the history of Carnatic music in Karnataka, Raja Rao’s contributions stand out in two main areas – First, his sincere attempts in promoting Kannada Sangeeta, in the form of his pioneering work of setting musical notations to hundreds of compositions of Haridasas and Shivasharanas, and secondly, during a time when Sangeeta Shastra text books in Kannada language were unavailable, Raja Rao took it upon himself to write, and to publish text books in Kannada.
Raja Rao conducted classes at Kannada Sahitya Parishat to teach Kannada compositions and he also gave full-length performances featuring exclusively Kannada compositions.
Kannada Sahitya Parishat published the following books of Raja Rao
Haridasara Kritigalu was published as early as 1942.
Shiva Sharanara Kritigalu was published in 1952
Haridasa Kriti Manjari was published in 1955
Basaveshwara Vachana Gana Manjari was published in 1970.
Celebrated Kannada poet D. V. Gundappa sought Raja Rao’s help to set musical notations to his classic work “Antahpura Geetegalu” published in 1950.
It was interesting for me to discover that Raja Rao had also set Jaina Bhaktigeete into Karnatic tunes.
Recognising the lack of texts pertaining to Sangeeta Shastra in Kannada language,
Raja Rao had taken the initiative to correct this situation. He authored and published
Sangeeta Shastra Saara in 1962
Sangeeta Shastra Chandrike in 1965.
These two pioneering books are, to this day, much sought after, and are seeing reprints on a regular basis.
Bangalore University published another pioneer work Bharatiya Sangeeta Vaadyagalu, a treatise on musical instruments of India (1969). This book has been reprinted in 2009.
Guru – a model teacher
Multifaceted talent as he was, Raja Rao had evolved into a performing artiste who was a musicologist as well. His mastery over the lakshya and lakshana aspects of music was put into good use with the authoring of text books and teaching.
Over the years, Raja Rao had groomed numerous dedicated disciples. First generation of disciples were Ratnagiri Subbashastri, T N Ramachandra Rao, B R Anantha Ramaiah (all violinists); Krishnamurthy and younger Brother L Seshagiri Rao (Veena), C V NagaRaj (vocal and violin), Kolattur RamaKrishna Shastry, C K ShankaraNarayana Rao and Gopinatha Dasaru and Jayasimha Dasaru, founders of Prabhat Kalavidaru.
Second generation of disciples included Malathi, Shyamala Rathnam, Jaya Doreswamy, Vasantha Venugopal and Rajamani NagarajaRao.
From among the next generation, daughter Veena Kinhal (now settled in California), Vijaya Prabhakar (Arizona) and Suma Sudhindra are notable Veena Vidushis.
Raja Rao was invited to set up the music department at A P S College in Bangalore (1957) where he trained hundreds of students. T S Vasantha Madhavi, T S Vasundhara, T S Satyavati and Tara Krishnamurthy, to name a few, belong to this group.
An actor, an author and a speaker
Any biography of Raja Rao would be incomplete without mentioning Raja Rao, the actor in the role of Bheema in the famed play GadaYuddha (United artists, 1952). Writer C K Nagaraja Rao had played the role of Duryodhana. Raja Rao acted in several other plays and also composed background music for these plays.
Raja Rao was a highly respected speaker and was featured regularly in musical discussions, lecture demonstrations and music conferences across the state.
Gamaka kale was another area where Raja Rao had made significant contribution.
India Book House had published two biographies authored by Raja Rao:
Bhairavi Lakshminaranappa Published in 1975
Mysore Sadashivarayaru Published in 1977
The above books have been reprinted in 2009.
Awards and Recognitions
In the year 1974, Raja Rao was chosen President for the Fourth Music Conference of Karnataka GanaKala Parishat.
In the year 1979, Raja Rao was chosen President for the state level music conference organized by Karnataka Sangeeta Nritya Academy.
Raja Rao was entrusted a special project to teach Carnatic music to a batch of American university students who came to Bangalore in the early 1970s.
Raja Rao passed away on November 28th, 1979 in Bangalore, concluding a life that was rich in creative explorations of music and fine arts.
Listen to Sri Veene L Raja Rao’s compositions in nAdalahari, vAdya vAividhya,,nAdasudha on Sunaada Radio.
Sunaada Radio is grateful to Sri Sreenivas RajaRao and RajaRao foundation for generously sharing albums of his compositions for the benefit of all rasikas. Please contact rajaraofoundation AT gmail DOT com for audio albums.
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