Thuraiyur  Śrī Rajagopala Sharma- Part 1

The path traversed

There are so many people who spend their lifetime for the cause of Carnatic music. Not everyone was known to the world. Thuraiyur Śrī Rajagopala Sharma was one such who dedicated his life to Carnatic music but did not get proper recognition. As I started Sri Ranga Academy of Fine Arts in Thuraiyur with the vision of promoting Indian artforms in the rural areas, I wanted to know if any musician had been born or brought up in Thuraiyur. To my surprise, when I attended a Bharatanāṭya araṅgēṟṟam in Bengaluru, the varṇa performed was the composition of Thuraiyur Śrī Rajagopala Sharma. I was thrilled! I began to search for more details about him. At the beginning, I found very few recordings of his voice and even less information about his life. I continued my research and started looking into multiple books. ‘The Garland’ was one book which had a page about him. I wanted to get more details. In that one page it was mentioned that Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma was working in Kalakshetra. So, I went to Kalakshetra to get more details. Again no luck. Their library also had the same book. Some of the people from Kalakshetra suggested that I talk to the illustrious dancers Śrī Dhanajayan and Smt. Shantha Dhananjayan. I met Dhanajayan sir and he did provide many details about Sharma sir. 


Simultaneously, I was also searching for Śrī Rajagopala Sharma’s students, if any, and got a chance to meet a couple of them. I also spoke to some of his relatives to obtain more details about him. I was also happy to find an article about him published in Sruti magazine. Upon digging deeper, I found some copies of the periodical, Svadēśamitran, from musicresearchlibrary.net. My search for more information about Thuraiyur Śrī Rajagopala Sharma continues…


Thuraiyur Śrī Rajagopala Sharma

Thuraiyur Śrī Rajagopala Sharma was a great musician, Harikatha exponent, musicologist, music director, great teacher and composer who was not recognized by any means for the contribution he made towards art. The Cauvery delta has produced so many musicians. Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma is one such great musician who dedicated his life to Carnatic music. 

He was born on 21st November 1905 to Śrī Mahadeva Sharma, who was a Harikatha exponent, in a village called Thuraiyur, 40 kms away from Tiruchirappalli. As Rajagopala Sharma attended his father’s Harikatha concerts, his interest in music grew, and he had his initial lessons in music from his father. He also learnt the art of harikatha.


Like every other father, Mahadeva Sharma was closely watching his son to identify his talent. Rajagopala Sharma showed an avid interest in music and to take him to the next level, Mahadeva Sharma sent him to Namakkal Śrī Narasimha Iyengar. In fact, they moved to Śrīrangam to continue his musical journey. Namakkal Śrī Narasimha Iyengar was a musician in the śiṣya parampara of Tyāgarāja svāmi. Along with music, Rajagopala Sharma continued his education in National college, Trichy. Unfortunately, he could not complete it.


Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma worked in various offices and capacities, including as clerk at the Trichy railway station, music teacher at Kalakshetra, and overall coordinator at HMV recordings. He was a regular concert performer at various sabhas, writer in Svadēśamitran, a composer of multiple songs and last but not least, music director of multiple movies such as Ponvayal and Valli.


Even though he could not complete his studies, his musical journey continued until his last breath. He started working as a clerk in Tiruchirappalli Railway station. Little was he aware that this job was going to change his life. He started meeting the great Carnatic musician Tiger Śrī Varadachari regularly in the railway station. They become friends and knowing Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma’s interest in music, Tiger suggested that he move to Chennai to pursue his advanced music learning in Music Academy and Madras University.


After moving to Chennai, Rajagopala Sharma started to find many opportunities of learning and performing Carnatic music. He started performing concerts in various Sabha-s. Tiger Varadachari himself created multiple opportunities for Rajagopala Sharma. As he started performing, he also came to know about the various nuances of  recording music, such as gramophone recording. Sharma started working in HMV, one of the biggest recording organisations, as an overall coordinator, where he was to ensure that recordings were done on time and with great quality.


Since recording had time limitations as compared to the regular concerts, it was important to plan and deliver the concert specific to the parameters of the recording. Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma became an expert in managing time, planning the kṛti-s etc. In this way, he helped multiple artistes, such as Vid. N.C. Vasanthakokilam, Vid. M.S. Subbulakshmi and Vid. M.L. Vasanthakumari to select and render kṛti-s according to the time limit. N.C. Vasanthakokilam was also learning music from him.


Working in the gramophone company was beneficial for Sharma sir because he was asked to sing in multiple recordings whenever an artiste was unable to sing. Once such incident occurred when Chembai Śrī Vaidhyanatha Bhāgavatar was supposed to record four rpm recordings and due to his throat problems, he could only sing one rpm recording. The remaining three were sung by Rajagopala Sharma, in such a way that there was not much difference in the voice. Later, Chembai acknowledged that it was Rajagopala Sharma who had sung in his place, as he had throat problems. 


We do have a few of the recordings of Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma. Once such famous recording is uṇḍu̱ kuladeiva rāman namakkuṇḍu̱ in Rāga Tōḍi. With time, Śrī Rajagopala Sharma started singing concerts in All India Radio as well.


While he was working in HMV recordings he was also associated with a drama troupe called Shining Star Society. Sharma sir started helping with the dialogues and music directions for many dramas.


Rajagopala Sharma was also showing interest in teaching Carnatic music. N.C. Vasanthakokilam and Bala Meera are some of his well known students. The advantage of learning from Rajagopala Sharma sir was that he could teach both music and Harikatha. Bala Meera learnt both music and Harikatha from Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma. N.C. Vasanthakokilam was a great singer with a beautiful voice. Unfortunately, she lived a short life and couldn’t showcase her full knowledge. 

The author is the principal software architect, Our Kadai Technologies, Madurai and the founder and President of Sri Ranga Academy of Fine Arts (an initiative to promote Indian arts in rural areas), Thuraiyur.