His style of singing, a mellifluous blend of tribal, folk and classical styles, called ‘Sopana Sangeetham’ was traditionally restricted to being rendered within the temple sanctum sanctorum. Njeralathu made it his mission to bring this form of music to the common man and towards the end of his life, ‘Sopana Sangeetham
‘ was commonly heard outside the temple sanctum.
Hari Govindan was 17 years old when his father, Njeralathu died. Hari used to accompany his father occasionally during his travels and performances at various temples and public arenas in Kerala. Troubled that the “Idakka” that was his father’s life, lying unused after his death, Hari taught himself how to play the instrument to keep the memory of his father alive. Soon his mastery over the instrument and his renditions of the “Sopana Sangeetham” won him several fans. Six years ago, a group of Nila
admirers who had gathered by the banks of the river, urged Hari to recite a few of his father’s legendary compositions. I still remember Hari singing for the River Nila, with tears in his eyes into the night. He had composed one particular song about the river on his way while sitting in a bus!
MP Virendra Kumar (MD of Mathrubhumi) paying a visit at the temple with the Idakka. Kalyanikutti Amma is seen 4th from L, in the background is the house she stays and the land she donated
Two years ago, Hari started campaigning with the Government requesting them to provide funds or build a memorial for musicians like his father. It wasn’t uncommon to see talented exponents of traditional music dying in penury for want of patronage. Hari’s idea was to record audio clips of these musicians while they were alive so that the new generation could also experience these rare voices and melodies, while giving them an opportunity to perform. He dreamt of a school where students from all segments of the society could come and learn traditional folk music and especially learn to play the Idakka, experience and spread this unique music and folk culture.
Frustrated with empty promises made by politicians and Government officials, a dejected Hari decided to auction the musical instrument of his father to raise funds to keep his memory and art form alive. The reaction from people across Kerala was extreme. Cultural stalwarts were shocked at his decision and accused him of selling art for money without really understanding his objective. But there were others who shared his anguish and deep desire of building a memorial for his musician father and providing an opportunity for similar musicians to have a place in society to be recognized. Many friends and admirers donated liberally and a wonderful campus was born where students from nearby villages come to learn traditional forms of music for free. Hari also built an impressive digital and non-digital archive of traditional music forms and musical instruments and an open-air theatre. The campus also boasts of a beautiful temple where the idol isn’t just another stone sculpture, but the Idakka that his father used to play!
Crowd that gathered for the inauguration of the Kalashramam
This campus also has a small house in an obscure corner facing the hillock. This house belongs to Kalyanikutti Amma, a woman in her late 60s who helped Hari achieve his dream when the Government or the rich landlords in the region failed to do so. It was her generous donation of all her land to this cause that helped Hari build this unique memorial of art that is inspiring hundreds of youngsters today to keep traditional art forms alive. Hari didn’t forget to renovate her old house within the campus for her comfortable stay.
In its own small way, The Blue Yonder
worked in parallel to support Hari through bringing the attention of national and International media to his laudable initiative. David Stott
, travel writer, photographer and editor of Foot Prints handbook for India inaugurated the campus, which got it a lot of well-deserved publicity. When James Newton ofString Films
, well known UK-based filmmaker visited the campus and saw public reaction to this initiative, he had only two words to describe it. “Mind boggling!”
‘Njaralathu Kalasramam’ (Kala = Art, Asramam = A learning campus), as the campus is called, is where The Blue Yonder
organizes the musical trail for our travellers. In addition to experiencing musical styles of central Kerala, our travelers enjoy living in the beautiful campus as well. It gives us immense pleasure that we were part of the journey Hari started, a journey that proves that ordinary people can be the change makers, and accomplish extraordinary feats!
More on how Njaralathu Hari Govindan became part of The Blue Yonder
in the upcoming blogs. Watch this space.