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Bangalore Naagaraaj (बन्गलोरे नागराज्)

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Bangalore Naagaraaj- Also known as Meenakshisutha, he was the son of a Sanskrit scholar named Ishwara Iyer, born in a Kerala village, known as much for his erudition as for his piety. Ishwara Iyer spent his days under the patronage of the maharaja of Cochin. He would accompany the maharaja on his visits to temples and would, at his royal friend’s request compose samskrt shlokas on the particular deity extemporaneously. Despite this ability, his interest in the language was really limited to its grammar and structure. He taught his children, of whom the eldest was a son named Nagaraja, verses from the samskrt classics, and presumably the rudiments of the grammar. At some point he moved to Bangalore where he had relatives, After a while, discontent possessed him for its own once again, and he went back to Kerala, leaving his family behind in Bangalore.

Nagaraja, who was born in 1922, studied upto the second year of engineering, then left his studies. Pious and devout from an early age, and dedicated to the worship of the Goddess as a Devi Upasaka, Nagaraja performed pooja every day, Friday being a special day when the worship was elaborate and relatives and friends were present. As the years rolled by, a transformation came over him, not in the physical sense, and he began composing his own verses, spontaneously, as he was doing the worship. Though his chosen deity was the Goddess Meenakshi, he sang on several different gods and goddesses as the mood possessed him. Let there be no mistake about it, there is enough authentic eyewitness evidence to vouch for the inspired spontaneity of his verses – he “lisp’d in numbers for the numbers came.” After some time, realizing what he was doing, he asked one of his daughters to write down whatever he recited. He composed both in kannada and in samskrt, and he had his samskrt verses checked for accuracy by a samskrt pandit of his acquaintance. The pandit could not fault them; he also found them, according to one observer, “exquisitely beautiful in content and in the lyrical sense.”

A suggestion that has been made, to the effect that Nagaraja did not have much knowledge of samskrt and therefore his ability to compose in samskrt was a “divine gift,” cannot be sustained in view of his early background which was dominated by a father who was both a samskrt scholar and an improviser of verse in samskrt. However, though there can be no question but the compositions were on-the-spot creations. Even if they had been slowly taking shape in his creative imagination during his waking – and probably sleeping – hours, they were still remarkable pieces of work when given utterance. Nagaraja took as his mudra (signature) the name “Meenakshisuta.” Among a limited circle his reputation grew. Some of those who attended his Friday pooja were musicians. There was much appreciation for his kritis but, despite his repeated requests to many people, no one came forward to bring them to public attention.

Nagaraja died an untimely death in 1974. He had by that time reportedly composed over 200 songs.

Abhayam Raju who was a musician published his songs. She and her professor husband T.A.Raju met Nagaraja sometime in 1973 when they heard some of his songs and were deeply impressed by the beauty and musical content of his lyrics.

Before this, the only song that was popular was “rakshaman sharanagatam” which Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar used to sing.

Source: Contributed by Lakshman Ragde.

Mudra: Meenakshisuta

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