Veteran Carnatic singer M Balamuralikrishna passes away at 86

Chennai: Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, one of the country’s well-known and multifaceted Carnatic musicians, passed away in Chennai on Tuesday after a brief illness at the age of 86.

A well-decorated musician, who won India’s second-highest civilian honour Padma Vibhushan and the French Chevalier award among others, Balamuralikrishna started giving individual performances from the tender of age of eight. He was equally adept at playing the violin, flute, veena, mridangam and kanjira, all accompanying percussion instruments in concerts – a rare talent, which very few Carnatic vocalists possessed.

For those not familiar with the world of Carnatic music, Balamuralikrishna was among the most recognisable faces of south Indian personalities associated with the popular ”Mile Sur Mere Tumhara” song featuring the country’s diversity in the Doordarshan era. He sang the Tamil portion in the song.

Born in Sankaraguptam in East Godavari district of undivided Andhra Pradesh, the musician was raised by his father since infancy as his mother, a veena player, died when he was barely 16 days old. He was a student of P Ramakrishnayya Pantulu, a direct descendant of the shishya parampara of saint Tyagaraja, the revered composer of Carnatic kirtis.

A non-conformist, he is credited with reinventing Carnatic music to make it

more contemporary and has also lent his voice as a playback singer, the most popular being for the Sivaji Ganesan-starrer Sivarathiri. He had also essayed the role of Narada in the Telugu film Bhakta Prahlada. He once told an interviewer that he did not continue acting as he was offered the same role and he didn’t cherish the idea of playing a musician in films too. Besides, he quipped that there were no heroines for his role, which did not make it an exciting proposition.

Not many are aware that behind the ”divine” look of Balamuralikrishna was hidden a huge fascination for splurging money in casinos. “The place (casinos) leaves me relaxed and I could freely spare my private time,” he once said, adding that he never incurred losses at casinos. Whenever he went abroad, he made it a point to visit casinos.

Another interesting facet of the musician was that he could speak and write in English, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit. “It just happened. I never learnt anything, not even Telugu,” he was once quoted saying.

While he trained scores of pupils, Balamuralikrishna never recommended anyone’s case because he firmly believed that opportunities should come on their own. An inventor of several ragas, he named one composition after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Balamuralikrishna gave his last public performance a year ago in Andhra Pradesh.

Scores of personalities from the world of music and fans lined up at his house in Chennai to pay tributes to him on Tuesday. His funeral is expected to be conducted on Wednesday.

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