Brahmasri T S Balakrishna Sastrigal, a well known Harikatha artiste, passed away on 11th June 2003 at Apollo Hospital, Madras, after a brief illness. He was 84. The funeral was performed at Besant Nagar Crematorium on June 12th Morning.
A retired Senior Executive of State Bank of India, Brahmasri Sastrigal started learning the wide spectrum of fundamentals required for performing Harikatha at the very tender age of 8 under the guidance of his father, himself a doyen in Puranic Upanyasakams called Brahmasri Sambamoorthi Ganapaadigal. The training included Vedas, Puranas, Sastras, Karnatic Music, and Multiple Languages like Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Kanada and English.
Being a bank employee his virtual induction to performing Harikatha was initiated at the age of 16 by his father in law, himself an exponent in 18 Puranaas called Srivatsa Somadeva Sarama. Spanning over almost 7 decades, the service Brahmashri Sastrigal rendered to the society through his sole stirring Musical Discourses was immense.
His repertoire was spontaneous yet comprehensive, down to earth yet profound, innovative yet authentic, creative thusfresh. His audience felt as though they were literally transported to Ayodhya or Ashoka Vana or Asthinapura or to the battle field of Kurukshetra through his extremely sensitive and dramatic discription of the sequences of Ramayana and Mahabaratha with a reverberating voice and lilting music. While his imaginative unfurling of each of the characters in any epic provided the audience an easy access to truth and reality, his uncanny humorous interludes not only made them laugh their heart out but also think after they laughed.
His portrayals ranged from Valimiki and Kamba Ramayanam, Mahabharatham, Srimad Bhagawatham, Devi Bhagawatham, Skaandham, Naaraayaaneeyam, Naayanmargal charitham and above all his master piece – Thyagaja Charitham. He was a legend in the comprehension of Thyagaraja Krithis and therefore an easy reference point for all the Sangeetha Vidwans who wished to handle any aboorva krithi of Thyagaraja Swamigal. Infact, Brahmashri Sastrigal went on to conceive, design and perform his own version of Ramakatha choreographed with appropriate Thyagaraja krithis popularly known as Thyagaraja Ramayanam. While the great saint Thyagaraja did not himself wrote Ramayana, this Thyagara Ramayana was out and out the brain child of Brahmashri Sastrigal - his method of saluting the first among the Musical Trinities.
True to the width of his perceptions, the range of his audience also varied – from the elite of Music Academy to the mass of Royapuram, and Choolai, from the Asthikaas of Mumbai and Delhi to the village folks of interior Thirunelveli and Thanjavur, from the Asian Indians of United States of America to the strangers to Tamil in interior Kerala and Andra.
Among the countless titles and honors that were conferred on him, the title ”Harikatha Rathnakara” bestowed on him by both the Paramachariyals of Kamakoti and Sringeri simultaneously at Asthika Samaj, Chennai in the year 1966 stands out. Sangeetha Nataka Academy, Delhi honored him in1993. Music Academy, Chennai conferred on him the Sangeetha Kala Acharya Award in 1996. Tamil Nadu Government bestowed on him the Kalaimaamani Viridhu in 1972.
Balakrishna Sastrigal is survived by his wife Smt B Nagalakshmi, his two illustrious sons – TSBK Mouli, Cine Director and S B Khanthan, Creative Director and a daughter Sankari Ramanarayanan.
Messages of condolence from his rasikas, wellwishers and disciples may be sent to B Nagalakshmi, New No 18 / Old No 12 Venkatraman Street, Srinivasa Avenue, R A Puram, Chennai 600028.