Alleppey Ranganath: Composer whose songs moved Yesudas to tears, literally

Alleppey Ranganath. Photo: Rijo Joseph

Musician and lyricist Alleppey Ranganath was keen on composing an Ayyappa suprabhatha song in Malayalam. He thought the Harivarasanam award of the Kerala government, which he won recently, was a reminder of that dream.

Ranganath, who was undergoing treatment at the Kottayam Medical College after contracting COVID-19, passed away on Sunday. He was 73. Classical dancer and teacher, B Rajasri is his wife.

Son of Alappuzha Vezhapra Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar and Gana Booshanam MG Devammal, Ranganath made his film debut in Jesus (1973) with the song Oshana. He has composed over 2000 songs in films, drama, apart from tuning light music. He has composed over 100 Ayyappa bhakti songs. And most of them are also written by him. Out of all songs he composed, over 250 are sung by KJ Yesudas. He has directed and written over 42 stage plays and 25 dance dramas.

Ranganath's composition of the Ayyappa devotional song is said to have moved KJ Yesudas to tears while rendering it. Not once, but twice.

The first instance was in 1982 while recording Tharangini’s second Ayyappa Bhakti cassette. The song started with the line, ‘En Manam ponnambalam’ and Yesudas broke down as he went to the second stanza-‘Adiyanashryamekha daivam hridayamithil vazhum, akhilandeshwaranayyananayyan sharanamayyappa.’ The recording stopped. It took the composer and the musicians at least an hour to comfort him and resume the recording.

The second incident happened 3 decades later in 2018 June. Yesudas invited Ranganath to Chennai to record an Ayyappa Bhakti song for Tharangini. He was a guest at the Yesudas house to teach him the song. The recording was at the nearest studio. While singing ‘Sabari vanathile poonkuyile, swami sharanam paadum poonkuyile’ he became emotional when he started on these lines— ‘tharumo nin nadamanju veena, ente bhagavante sangeetham alapikkan.’

His lyrics and music are that poignant. That’s precisely the reason why Yesudas croons ‘Swami sangeethamalapikkum, Thapasa gayakanallo nee’ from his first album every time he visits Sabarimala. Every Yesudas Kacheri ends with this song. Though everyone thinks this is a song he composed especially for Yesudas, Ranganath has another story to tell you. This song was composed when he would sit at Changanassery Thrikkannapuram Temple and sing bhajans at a difficult phase in his life. In fact, the entire album comes from a space of grief.

When he was conferred the Harivarasanam award by the State, there are quite a few memorable Ayyappa Bhakti songs in his mind. One such memorable Bhakti composition was sung by Ilayaraja and MS Viswanathan in 1986 for an album named Sabarinatham. He had gone to Chennai with the intention of making SP Balasubramanian sing that song. But SPB excused himself as he couldn’t get the pronunciation right.

Just when he was wondering about a replacement was when he remembered how Ilayaraja had told him to meet him whenever he visited Tharangini. He went to Prasad studio. That was the time when Ilayaraja was at the peak of his career and had his hands full. When he told him about the song, Ilayaraja cited time constraints. Just when Ranganath thought it was left to Lord Ayyappa to make things happen, came an unexpected call for Ilayaraja. The call came from the secretary of Madras Cinema Musical Association. Because of an issue with the film producers association, all recordings were to be suspended for three days. Ilayaraja hugged Ranganath—“Lord Ayyappa send you as his messenger.”

The very next day, Ilayaraja sang the song without taking any remuneration. ‘Kanni malayeri varunne, kanni kettum thandi verunne’ was the song. This gave him the courage to give his next song, ‘Ponnambalathile Manivilakke Poonkavanathile poovilakke’ to MS Viswanathan.

At Yesudas’s Tharangini studio he worked as a Staff music director and script scrutinizing officer. For the last two years, he had been active in the field of music research. Inspired by Thyagaraja Swamigal he introduced Pancharathna Krithikal in Malayalam. Recently he had composed Malayalam keerthana based on 72 Mela Kartha ragas. These keerthanas are filled with everyone from Vedavyasan to Poonthanam. Earlier he had composed a Jesus Christ suprabhatha song in alphabetical order. It was his dream to compose a Malayalam Ayyappa Suprabhatha song and considered the award as a reminder of that dream.

(This translation of the article appeared on the Sunday supplement of Malayala Manoram has been tweaked as it appeared before music maestro Alleppey Ranganath's demise on Sunday)

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