DKJ was in many ways the first musician I knew. When I was two he began coming home to teach an uncle and several aunts and cousins music. I remember him more for his sense of humour and the easy way in which he moved with everyone in our family. The links were broken sometime in the mid 1970s when our Madras home was wound up and everyone went to different cities. But DKJ was always a common subject to talk on when some of us cousins met. The note below was written for Charsur.
DK Jayaraman (DKJ) was born on 22nd July 1928 to Damal Krishnaswami Dikshitar and Kanthimathi (Rajammal) at Kanchipuram. It was a traditional, orthodox family with an element of musicality. Mother Rajammal sang in the confines of the kitchen while father was a scholarly man who understood the musical nuances. The family was however to become deeply involved in music when DKJ’s elder sister Pattammal’s talents came to be recognised. In an era when girls from upper caste families rarely took to public performances, Pattammal’s becoming a Carnatic artiste was nothing short of revolutionary and DKJ and his other brothers were to play a role in it.
Repertoire gathering for the sister was an important activity and accompanying her to performances was another. By the time he was seven, DKJ became Pattammal’s regular vocal accompanist. His talents were noticed by none other than the redoubtable TN Rajarathinam Pillai who once conferred on him the title of Isai Thambi.
By the late 1930s, the family had moved to Madras, mainly to further Pattammal’s career. It was here that DKJ came into contact with several stalwarts and learnt from them – some of these including Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Harikesanallur L Muthiah Bhagavatar. But it was his tutelage under Papanasam Sivan, where he and Pattammal learnt together, that was to leave a great impact on him. In time, he was to be the greatest repository of Sivan kritis and the composer was to consider DKJ as a son. Musically, DKJ was also deeply influenced by Pattammal, with whom he shared the stage for several years. He acquired a large repertoire of Muttuswami Dikshitar kritis from her.
Ironically, for a man of such great talents, establishing an identity as an individual performer proved a challenge. Ill health forced him to move to Kanchipuram for sometime where he tried his hand at business. It was left to mridangam maestro Palghat TS Mani Iyer to get DKJ back into the concert circuit. This was to be in the late 1960s. DKJ returned to Madras and encouraged by Mani Iyer, resumed his career. Success took its time in coming but when it did, there was no looking back. From the late 1970s, DKJ’s career graph rose. Sivan was sadly not around to witness it but Mani Iyer did and rejoiced. The 1980s were definitely his heydays.
DKJ’s music stood out for several aspects. The first was its devotional aspect, the emphasis being on bhakti in the song. His concerts witnessed a large number of kritis. Raga alapanas were usually brief but all encompassing. While he was a master in the popular ragas, he delighted in singing kritis in rare ragas. Songs such as vinata sutavAhana (jayantasena), sripatE (nAgasvarAvaLi), nEnaruncEra (simhavAhini), lAvaNya rAma (pUrNa ShaDjam) and shrI jAlandhara (gambhIra nATTai), owe their popularity to him. Tamil songs received great importance in his concerts. In swaraprastAra he was unparalleled, with the jIva svara of a raga always given importance. His rendition of the madhyama in particular was always unique.
A friendly personality, DKJ was to train numerous disciples. Of these Vijay Siva, RK Shriramkumar, and DKJ’s son J Vaidyanathan are perhaps most popular on the concert circuit. Another promising singer, who for unknown reasons chose to leave the field was Balaji Sankar. DKJ was also refreshingly free from the chauvinistic attitudes of male performers in the field and encouraged several lady accompanists in his concerts.
Honours were to come DKJ’s way towards the end of his career. By then, his voice, given that he had accompanied his sister for years, was to be somewhat a deterrent, affecting his ability to sing in the higher octaves. But he made up for all that by the deep emotion he brought to his music. Audiences continued thronging his concerts till the end.
What could have continued to be a great career was cut short at its very peak. In December 1990, DKJ received the Music Academy’s prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi. He was to pass away within a month, much to the shock of the entire music fraternity. He lives on, through his recordings and his long line of disciples.