Remembering Raju Ananthaswamy, a charismatic star of Kannada’s Bhavageete tradition who blazed brightly but too briefly

He was one of the most promising exponents of the tradition that began about a century ago. Raju’s tragic death when he was in his prime was an irreplaceable loss to the world of Bhaavageete. On the day Raju would have turned 50, his sister, Sunitha Ananthaswamy, shares her memories of her brother.

BySunitha Ananthaswamy

Published Apr 19, 2023 | 1:06 PMUpdated Apr 19, 2023 | 1:06 PM

Raju Ananthaswamy with his sister, Sunitha Ananthaswamy and his father, Mysore Ananthaswamy

Raju Ananthaswamy, born Sathyaprakash, was truly a beacon of light!

Those who knew him well and not so well will collectively agree with that statement.

A people person with a magnetic personality

A photo of Raju playing the harmonium

Raju Ananthaswamy with his favourite instrument, the harmonium (Sunitha Ananthaswamy)

If someone had encountered my brother for even the briefest of moments, that person would surely have a story or an anecdote to recall. He was such an amazing personality, a force of nature who could easily connect with any passer-by.

If you had been at a concert where he was playing tabla at the age of 9, you would have been mesmerised by his stage persona. Such was his magnetic personality.

Like many others, I can only describe him in superlatives. Apart from his genius musical and acting talent and a great sense of humor, Raju was a sensitive, caring, and benevolent person who always put others before himself. Even to this day one of his students remarks, “If I have food on the table today, it’s only because of Raju sir”.

The lure of Bhavageete

Raju Ananthaswamy playing the tabla

A young Raju Ananthaswamy playing the tabla (Sunitha Ananthaswamy)

Raju started tabla lessons with Pt. Gunda Shastri when he was around 6 or 7. He practised classical tabla only until he graduated his vidwat exams; the pull towards bhavageethe music was stronger and came more naturally to him.

He was ready to accompany my father, Mysore Ananthaswamy (with other senior accompanists, of course), at the early age of 9.

Many people remember him as a little boy accompanying my father when he performed for the inauguration of the Bengaluru Dooradarshana Kendra.

Also read: ‘The churn and churning of the word made rise a euphony’, a translation of DR Bendre’s Bhaavageeta 

A quick wit who could always make you laugh

Raju with S Janaki Amma

Raju Ananthaswamy with S Janaki Amma (Sunitha Ananthaswamy)

Many who went to school with him in Montessori, Saraswathi Vidya Mandir, AV Education, Vijaya High School, and National College, Jayanagar, fondly remember their school days with him. There was laughter wherever Raju was and he would make you laugh until your sides hurt.

He was very witty and made jokes on the go. The best part was that he delivered punch lines with just a smile on his face while others erupted in laughter.

The lesser-known faces of Raju Ananthaswamy

Raju Ananthaswamy at the Golden Gate Bridge

Raju Ananthaswamy by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (Sunitha Ananthaswamy)

He was known in the Gandhinagar (movies) circle for his timely dialogue delivery.

Though I didn’t get to witness his acting work during the shooting, I have heard from others that he played his part in either one or very few takes.

ಅಭಿ (Abhi), ಚಿಗುರಿದ ಕನಸು (Chigurida Kanasu), ಜ್ಯಾಕ್ ಪಾಟ್ (Jackpot), ಊ ಲಾ ಲಾ (Oo la la) and ಅಬ್ಬಬ್ಬಾ ಎಂಥ ಹುಡುಗ (Abbabba Entha Huduga) are some of the movies he acted in.

Here is a short clip from the movie Chigurida Kanasu:

He was also involved in theatre much before he started acting in movies. He composed music for many plays, including Ali Baba and Naayi Thippa.

Both these plays were directed by actor Mandya Ramesh and enacted many times by the students of ‘Natana‘. These students gave exclusive performances of the Ranga Geetegalu (~Songs for the Stage) composed by Raju.

The main focus for this man of many talents, however, was always Bhaavageethe. [1]

Also read: Manohar Devadoss, magnificent artist who overcame many setbacks

His father’s son but also his own man

Raju Ananthaswamy, Sunitha Ananthaswamy, and Mysore Ananthaswamy

Raju and his sister, Sunitha, accompanying their father, Mysore Ananthaswamy, at a concert in America (Sunitha Ananthaswamy)

Though his voice was very much like my father’s, his compositions and, to some extent, his style of singing, were very different. There were some similarities, but it was just as the Kannada saying goes “hale beru, hosa chiguru” meaning old roots and new blossoms! I guess that’s how art is sustained and tailored to new generations.

Raju gave my father’s compositions a new feel without diluting the core melody. Singers must remember that it’s okay to improvise but it’s very important to retain the original composition.

Listen to Raju’s rendition of ‘Kurigalu Saar‘ here.  His harmonium interludes will not go unnoticed:

Raju Ananthaswamy, a singer who became the song

Raju Ananthaswamy playing the harmonium and singing

Raju Ananthaswamy playing the harmonium and singing (Sunitha Ananthaswamy)

He was an amazing harmonium player! It was a great treat to watch him singing on stage while his hands moved expertly over the harmonium keys. He would render each song with so much involvement. Especially his own compositions, which are very unique. Some of Raju Ananthaswamy’s popular songs are:

ಕಲಿಸು ಗುರುವೆ (Kalisu Guruve)

ಬೆಳ್ದಿಂಗಳ್ ರಾತ್ರಿಲಿ (Beldingal Raatrili)

ದೇವ ನಿನ್ನ ಮಾಯೆಗಂಜಿ (Deva Ninna Maayeganji)

ಬನ್ನಿ ಹರಸಿರಿ ತಂದೆಯೇ (Banni Harasiri Tandeye)

Also read: Kanakadasa, an exceptional devotee of Krishna

Some of his complex tunes were composed while he was still in pre-university at National College. He was ahead of his time and age when it came to music.

My younger brother would have turned 50 this year.  For me, though, not a single day goes by without my remembering him. He will always have a special place in my heart and my music!

ನೆನೆದೇ ನೆನೆಯುತಿದೆ (Nenede Neneyutide)

ಚಿರನೂತನ (Chiranootana)

[1] Beginning with Kalinga Rao and Balappa Hukkeri in the 1930s, musicians in Karnataka began to set “serious” lyric poetry (by Bendre, Kuvempu, Pu Ti Na, Betageri Krishnasharma and others) to music. Mysore Ananthaswamy, a protege of Kalinga Rao and father of Raju Ananthaswamy, was one of the most highly-regarded and prolific exponents of the Bhaavageete tradition. In some ways, this tradition may be considered a modern version of the much older Gamaka tradition, which had helped take epic poems like Raghavanka’s Harishchandra Kavya, Ratnakaravarni’s Bharatesha Vaibhava, Kumaravyasa’s Gadugina Bharata, Lakshmisha’s Jaimini Bharata to the masses.

Also read: A meditation on DR Bendre’s poetic sadhana

Also read: Gamaka voice HR Keshavamurthy falls silent

(Sunitha Ananthaswamy is Raju’s older sister and the second daughter of Mysore Ananthaswamy. She has a BA degree in Journalism and an MA in English literature from Bengaluru University. As a composer and singer, she has made a mark in the field of Kannada Sugama Sangeetha. She was born in Mysore and brought up in Bengaluru and has been residing in the US for the past 30 years. These are the personal views of the author.)