Written by 4:10 PM Music

Manakkal Rangarajan – the speedster in brighas!

A singer who could traverse all three octaves, roll out fast paced brighas without any loss of scal…

Back in time in India

About two and a half decades back, I was a tour operator, organizing and conducting inbound tours from the UK and USA.  I had a modest office off Lattice Bridge Road when I started this operation.  Lattice Bridge road, known as L.B. Road, bisected Indira Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur. My office was on the Indira Nagar side.

My first glimpse of the man

Every day I used to see a person with a starched white shirt and a white dhoti go past my office, most times in the morning and sometimes in the evening too.  He used to walk with a purposeful gait.  He had rather long hair coming out from his ears, which was accentuated even more so because he had a thinning hairline.  His hair, or whatever was left of it, would be oiled and neatly combed back. His forehead was swathed in vibuthi or sacred ash, punctuated by a red vermilion dot just above the bridge of his nose. A light dusting of talcum powder dressed his face. To describe this gentleman’s personality even more clearly, I would say he looked like the ‘common man’ in R.K. Laxman’s cartoons.  And I don’t mean this disrespectfully.

His personality intrigued me, which led me to enquire about who he was.  Somehow, this reached his son’s ears, and the son paid a visit to my office, asking why I was enquiring about his dad!  I explained that something about his dad differentiated him from the other passers-by. 

My meeting with him

Then I heard of Manakkal Rangarajan and that he was a Carnatic musician.  I told his son that I would like to meet with him.

I met with him later that week, and after the customary salutations and preambles, I asked if he would teach my daughter Carnatic music.  He hesitated a bit but said he would check her aptitude first.  So, I took him home; I lived a stone’s throw away from my office on the Thiruvanmiyur side. She passed the skill or talent test, and the lessons started in earnest, the week after.

She had the fortune of learning music from him. At that time, she was also learning dance from Kalakshetra. Today she is an accomplished Bharatanatyam artiste herself, but she still remembers with pride that she is a student of Manakkal Rangarajan.  The vocal exercises he taught her allowed her to render brigas with speed.  Brigas or brighas are note ornamentations that enhance the beauty of the rendering.   

His birth and background

Manakkal Rangarajan (13 September 1922 – 26 February 2019) was a Carnatic music vocalist from Manakkal village, Trichy district.  He was known for his unique brand of Carnatic music.

Manakkal is a village in Valangaimana taluka, Thiruvarur District, Thiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu State.

Rangarajan’s father, Santhana Krishna Bhagavathar, was an exponent of the Harikatha but did not impart any musical lessons to Rangarajan.    His mother’s name was Seethalakshmi Ammal. Shri. Rangarajan had five brothers. He was the youngest. He started singing in concerts from the age of fifteen.

His rendition of songs such as Ninnuvina (Navarasakannada), Sarasasamadana (Kapinarayani), and Nenarunchinanu (Malavi) was eagerly lapped up by the audience at his concerts. Artists like Murugaboopathi and Umayalpuram Sivaraman enjoyed accompanying him.  So did the violin vidwans such as Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai, Mysore Chowdiah, Lalgudi Jayaraman, and T.N. Krishnan.  

The Tiruvyaru incident 

He used to sing at Tiruvayaru, the birthplace of Shri. Thyagaraja for the music festival. The story goes that M.S. Subbalakshmi, the reigning queen of Carnatic music and a film star, sang before Shri. Rangarajan’s concert. She had a huge fan base, and when MS finished her concert, everyone went to see her off. Shri. Rangarajan had an empty audience. Then he let loose a volley of fast-paced krithis, and everyone came running back to listen to him!

A nice documentary

Later, I started attending his concerts. I once heard him perform at the Music Academy, Madras, and recall a Sankarabharanam (a Carnatic Raga) aalapana, in which he reached the tara sthayi sadjam (the third-octave root note) with exquisite precision.

Manakkal Rangarajan used to render rare Pallavi performances at the Music Academy, Madras, using both hands for the thalams (beat cycles), composed from various nadais (beat structures).

Rangarajan is one of the rare musicians who has never compromised with principles and traditions to gain popularity.    

Music critic Subbudu stated in one of his reviews that had Manakkal taken up Hindustani music or Western music, he would have outclassed them all because of his distinctive, bell-like voice and his reach.  

Titles & Awards

People who followed the career of Shri. Rangarajan worshipped his music, said his brigas were breathtaking and that it was the way they heard it, not just in his heyday but even long after.

Manakkal Rangarajan passed away on February 26, 2019

Cited Sources

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