“Guruji Raghavan’s contribution to the propagation of Tiruppugazh is unparalleled,” say his admirers in one voice. While Paramacharya honoured him with the title ‘Tiruppugazh Gaana Ratnam,’ the pontiff of Sringeri Math declared that Guruji Raghavan was very close to his heart.
Two gentlemen – Narayana Iyengar and Mahalingam - requested Guruji Raghavan to set music to Tiruppugazh. They had heard the former sing in a concert in Delhi, where he had moved for employment. A ‘B’ grade artist of AIR in Mumbai, Raghavan had never sung Tiruppugazh in his concerts. He began learning the hymns to teach them in an informal class.
R. Thyagarajan, financial advisor and an active member of Tiruppugazh Anbargal Sangam, attended Guruji Raghavan’s class in 1991 after his retirement, in New Delhi. “I was at once drawn to his melodious singing and his elucidation of the hymns. I started attending his classes regularly and found them to be rewarding,” he says. Thyagarajan now heads the Chennai Region of Tiruppugazh Anbargal Sangam.
Born on September 4, 1928, to Subbaiah and Ramalakshmi, in Thoothukudi, he was brought up in Arumugamangalam, a small town on the way to Tiruchendur. Afflicted with polio, the young Raghavan could not walk easily. Sivalinga Nadar, a native vaidya and an ardent devotee of Lord Muruga, trained him to run from Thundugai Vinayaka temple to Shanmukha Vilasam in Tiruchendur in the sands and the defect was gone!
“It was an amazing fete to tune 503 songs of Arunagiri in over 110 ragas. This is the achievement of Guruji Raghavan!” says Chithra Murthy, a propagator of Tiruppugazh through her discourses. “His short bhajan sessions would last for about two hours and cover 20 hymns. The longer ones would go up to 108 songs! It was Kalyani Ramasamy, who followed Guruji Bhani here and his style of singing was established throughout.”
A self-effacing Guruji, however, did not want to take credit for tuning the songs and attributed everything to the grace of ‘Senthil Aandavan.’
“He was a pathfinder for all of us,” says Uma Balasubramaniam, daughter of the well known Tamil scholar and orator Ki.Va. Jagannathan. “We feel he was the incarnation of the sage, Arunagiri. That was why he was happy when people called him ‘Tiruppugazh Thondan.’
His participation in Padi Vizha and Sashti Bajanai in Chennai elevated the events to an ecstatic level. He tuned not only Tiruppugazh, but also Kandar Anubhuti, Kandar Alankaram, Kandar Andhadhi, Vel-Mayil-Seval Viruthangal, Thiruvaguppu and Thiru Ezhu-k-kootrirukkai.
“Guruji’s wife Janaki Mami is also well versed in Tiruppugazh. She took interest when he began singing the hymns and for over thirty years she was singing with him,” adds Chithra Murthy.
His popular serial in Kalki was ‘Thalam Thorum Thamizh Kadavull’ and he covered many temples of Lord Muruga in this serial.
N. Gopala Sundaram, who translated Tiruppugazh hymns into English, said he was shocked at hearing the news of the demise of Guruji. “I was in Mumbai when I heard the sudden passing away of our beloved Guruji. He was a great inspiration for me to take up the mammoth job of completing the translation and on May 4 this year, I had been to Tiruchendur to dedicate the 11th book in the sannadhi of Muruga. I wanted to pay my respects to him personally by handing over a copy of the book on my return to Chennai. This is impossible now,” tells Gopala Sundaram in a voice choked with emotion. As many as 30,000 copies of Guruji Raghavan’s compilation of ‘Tiruppugazh Vazhipaadu’ have been distributed at a nominal price all over the world.
Says scholar Dr. Lalita Ramakrishna of Tattvaloka, “Arunagirinathar’s Tiruppugazh is an invaluable tool to enhance our sensitivity to rhythm. The songs are powerful and are ideal for group singing.”
Guruji Raghavan rightly understood this truth and was successful in his mission of propagating Tiruppugazh inspiring Tamils spread all over the globe, to sing the praise of Muruga in the inimitable style he had evolved.