The GNB magic


Without realizing, at that time, that he was singing it, I first heard a recording of GNB’s rendering of Mayuvaram VishwanathaIyer’s, ‘Jayati Jayati Bharata Mata’ at a family wedding in 1957.


The lilt of the song fascinated me and at my request, my indulgent father bought a 78rpm disc of the song which we would later play athome, often.   As I entered my teens the song stayed with me.  In those days, it was always played at school flag hoistings after the National Anthem and ‘jhanda ooncha rahe hamara…’ were played.   It was also a time when I was beginning to get interested in the history of the Freedom Movement, and, once I asked my Sanskrit teacher to help me translate the song.  As he did so, it came to me that this song should have at least featured in the short list of songs for the National Anthem.  I don’t think it did, though I have seen somewhere that Semmangudi sang it over All India Radio on August 15, 1947.  There was always controversy over whether Tagore wrote Jana Gana Mana in praise of the British King, and, Vande Mataram was, to a lot of people, too parochial, to capture the ethos of an emerging secular Republic.  With its sattvic poetry ‘Jayathi Jayathi…’ seemed to be a good choice. However, I guess the close association of the other two songs with the Freedom Struggle scored points.  Don’t know if the song is still played at school flag hoistings (or, for that matter if kids just sleep in on August 15th these days instead of marching off to school at dawn on August 15th as we used tio).  Better still, they maybe Skype-ing the whole function -J) It was only much after GNB had passed away that I got to appreciate the rest of his music.  I remember his songs from the movie ‘Sakuntalai’ with MS, and, later on I heard Himagiri tanaye which is my second top pick for GNB. The words ‘Himagiri tanaye’ conjure up for me an image of a beautiful child playing on the slopes of her father’s home, the Himalayas, and, all that is associated in that wonderful archetypal father-daughter relationship... and GNB’s rendering of the song brings out the wonder of a true devotee singing.

Unfortunately, I never got to listen to GNB sing live.  He passed away in 1965, far too prematurely. And, in 1965, I was interested in other things that interest teenage boys.  Later on, as I got to listen to recordings of GNB, I was fascinated and always wondered what was it that made his singing so attractive (am listening to Ananda Natesa as I write this).  Was it the depth of his voice? Was it just the man? He was tremendously good looking and had set many a female heart a-flutter in his days…What was it that made his music so unique?  And, this morning when I was working out on my elliptical machine listening to GNB through the head phones the phrase ‘passionate detachment’ came to my mind…


Yes…that was it…he practised passionate detachment…he could immerse himself so totally in the song and its meaning, and, yet remain detached…the true quality of a Rajarishi…the words attributed to King Janaka come to mind.

Anantam iva vittam me, naasti me kinchana Mithilayam pradeeptayam na me kinchana dahyate

(All the wealth of the Universe is mine, yet, there is nothing that is mine
Should the whole of Mithila be destroyed, nothing that is mine would be destroyed)

Yes, if Janaka could sing he would have been born as GNB.


By Raja Ramanathan


Posted by Sruti Magazine  , January 09, 2012