Legendary Carnatic musician M Balamuralikrishna is a prolific and brilliant composer, creator of many many ragas, an instrumentalist who could play Mridangam, Kanjeera, violin, viola and veena with such grace and mastery. His effortless mastery over so many innumerable aspects in music was something no ordinary mortal could achieve- he is veritably the Gandharva of music
Balamurali Krishna was born on July 6, 1930, in the village of Shankaraguptam in the East Godavari district of coastal Andhra Pradesh. His father Pattabhiramayya was a skilled player of the flute, violin and veena, while his mother Sooryakantamma, daughter of the renowned composer Prayaga Rangadasu, was an excellent veena player.
Initially christened ‘Muralikrishna,’ he earned his musical sobriquet ‘Bala’ after he performed a full concert at the age of eight. A multi-faceted personality, he enriched music not only with his voice but also by composing over 400 songs in various languages like Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada and Tamil. This included devotional to varnams, krithis, javalis and thillanas, in all the fundamental 72 melakartha ragas. He was also one of the first vocalists to sing the entire 12th century Sanskrit text Gita Govindam written by poet Jayadeva.
Balamuralikrishna was at ease with Hindustani music and had ‘jugalbandis’ with eminent exponents like Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Hariprasad Charasia, Pt Jasraj and Zakir Hussain.
From the 1960s to the ’80s, BMK invested himself into renewing the works of poet saints like Tallapaka Annamacharya, Bhadrachala Ramadasu, his maternal grandfather Prayaga Rangadasu, Sadisiva Brahmendra and the Kerala king composer Maharaja Swati Thirunal. Setting to tune hundreds of works, he alone revived hundreds of forgotten songs and grew the repertoire of the Carnatic genre.
The world of Carnatic music is as politicised as any other. But BMK decided to break status quo. He set to tune ragas with only four notes, named them, composed songs in them, and sang them at prestigious festivals and venues. He created new Ragas like Lavangi, Mahati, Manorama, Mohanangi and many more. As a child, he had already mastered the complicated 72-Melakartha system of Ragas. He went ahead to compose in all of them – a feat no other vocalist achieved in the 20th century and a record no one has broken yet. It took a while for the world of Carnatic music to understand his genius and the depth of his musical scholarship. An impeccable diction of the lyric in any language, strict adherence to pitch in a melodic scale and effortless jugglery in the most complicated of rhythm became the quintessential Balamurali signature in Carnatic vocalism.
He was a towering figure in Carnatic music world and was loved equally by the masses and connoisseurs. A crowd-puller in Carnatic music concerts, he starred in a number of films in Tamil and Telugu. He made his debut as an actor in “Bhakta Prahalada” in 1967. His songs like ‘Oru Naal Pothuma’ in Sivaji Ganesan-starrer “Thiruvilayadal”, ‘Chinna Kannan Azhaikiran’ in “Kavikuil” and ‘Thanga Ratham Vanthathu’ in “Kalai Koil” were great hits and are popular even today.
He has worked extensively with India’s radio stations. In the late ’60s, he served as music producer for the Vijayawada and Hyderabad All-India radio station and launched an early morning show of devotional readings, “Bhakthi Ranjani.” He served, simultaneously, as the principal of the Government Music college in Vijayawada. Transferring to the All-India radio station in Madras, he settled in the city where he continues to reside.
A score of awards and titles have been bestowed upon him throughout his career. These include an honorary Ph.D., D.Sc., and D.Lit. certificates from Andhra University, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, and Sri Venkateswara University and an honorary “first citizen” award from Vijayawada He also scored music for the first Sanskrit film Adi Sankarar . He won the national award for best playback singer, music director and classical singer. He was awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi award of the Music Academy. He is also a recipient of France’s Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He received the award as “Wisdom man of the year” in 1992. Four years later, he was named “Naada Maharishi” by the Nrityala Aesthetics Society.
Balamuralikrishna has been equally successful with the film. He received a national award as “best playback singer” for his participation in the film Hamsageeth and as “best music director” for the film Madhvacharya. Balamuralikrishna has used his influence as a musician to start several institutes including the Academy of Performing Arts and Research in Switzerland. He established the MBK Trust as a vehicle for fostering art and research in music theory. A dance and music school is operated by the MBK Trust in Vipanchee.
His passing is a colossal loss to India, a man without whom the pantheon of classical music would have been incomplete.