Chennai: Music became an inextricable component of Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna’s life at the tender age of four. His father Pattabhiramayya, a well-known musician, would take the young boy along with him when he traveled to the homes where he taught music. When it was time for the child to eat, Pattabhiramayya’s students would sing for him, till he finished his food, “Music was the only trick to make the boy eat without resistance,” says musicologist B.M. Sundaram in an October 2011 article in Sruti magazine.
This doyen of Carnatic music died in Chennai on November 22 at the age of 86. He had not been keeping well for a few days, according to reports.
Born Murali Krisha in the hamlet of Sankaraguptam in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh on July 6, 1930, to musically inclined parents—his father Pattabhiramayya was a famous flutist and a music teacher while his mother, Suryakanthama, who passed away when he was still an infant, was proficient in the veena—the young boy’s musical education began under the tutelage of Gayaka Sarvabhauma’ Parupalli Ramakrishnayya Pantulu.
He gave his first performance at the age of eight in Vijayawada, “Though the allotted time was thirty minutes, the concert crossed three hours. The audience was unaware of the passage of time,” says Sundaram in that same article.
It was Harikatha performer Musunuri Suryanarayana Murty Bhagavatar, who attended that concert who gave Murali Krishna, the prefix “Bala” and he was henceforth called Balamuralikrishna.
The child prodigy soon dropped out of school to pursue music. And he never looked back.
The years that ensued saw him mastering numerous musical instruments including the kanjira, mridangam and violin, giving thousands of concerts around the world, rendering light music and film songs with aplomb, even acting as Narada in the 1967 film, Bhakta Prahlada. The recipient of a number of awards including the Padma Vibhushan, National Film Award and Sangita Kalanidhi, he was honoured by the French Government in 2005 with Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
“Balamuralikrishna was a trailblazer who set for himself an approach to music that was entirely different from anything that was in vogue when he appeared on the scene, and until the day he left us,” says Carnatic music vocalist, T.M. Krishna adding that Balamuralikrishna was a person with great conviction and unimaginable music ability who ignored traditionalists, found his own voice and etched a permanent place for himself in the musical universe, “He was truly an all rounder who could really do anything in music, all with a smile on his face. Very much like his music, he lived life to its fullest, never constricted by what society thought of him,” believes Krishna.
As news of his death trickled in, many took to Twitter with condolence messages and fond remembrances of the man.
“No one can fill the void left behind by his death,” tweeted Union minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, “My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family.” His sentiment was echoed by a number of other politicians including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje.