“I am the song, I am its import; hey, you singer, I am the one who makes you sing.” Thus, sang Lord Shiva addressing conceited musician who throws a challenge to the Pandya king to find one person in his entire kingdom who can better him in music.

The unforgettable sequences from the 1965 Tamil film, Thiruvilaiyaadal , has forever divided the world of Tamil music lovers into two: those who believe that the Oru naal poduma of the swollen-headed Hemanatha Bhagavathar could not be bested, and those who believe that Lord Shiva’s Paattum Naane Bhavamum Naane won the debate hands down.

While the debate will never really end, the man who was the voice of Lord Shiva and who delivered stupefying Paattum Naane , Thuguluva Meenatchi Iyengar Sounderarajan, bid goodbye to the world today, plunging all those who grew up listening to his music into deep gloom.

Only last month, the world of Tamil film music lost its other poster-boy, P.B. Sreenivas. Between them, they held the entire Tamil Nadu in their enchanting spell, the songs they sang first on every pair of lips, for every occasion, be it love or devotion or philosophical despair.

The 91-year-old TMS, who passed away after a brief illness on Saturday, was a very different kind of playback singer, for he could vary his voice to suit the actor he was singing for. You could always tell whether a song was sung for MGR or Sivaji just by listening to it. Added to this, it was his remarkable ability to do multiple things in his singing — whistle, yodel, change dialects (as in Muthu kulikka vaarigala ) — that won him a very special place in the very distinguished hall of fame.

Between the mid-1950s and up till the end of 1970s, no one in Tamil Nadu could pass a day without something from the golden voice of TMS falling on his ears. As the radio and street-side loud speakers constantly blared his music all day long, it was inevitable that each person, at some time or the other, would have stopped to wonder at the incredible versatility of the singer. He could sing a lilting love song in a voice that would suit MGR as effortlessly as he could sing another with an import of philosophy, devotion and renunciation for Sivaji Ganesan, and yet another with full of mischievous yodels.

Yet, for such a popular person, there are several little-known facts about him. Not many know that TMS was a consummate carnatic musician too, and his early training in carnatic music, under none other than the redoubtable Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, was perhaps the fountain of his versatility. Presumably, it was his training in carnatic music that helped him render the Paattum Naane song, in raga Gowri Manohari, so beautifully.

Again, not many know that he was actually born into a Sourashtra community (a part of Gujarat) and that he had to struggle in his early life to secure singing assignments. Those were the times of great singers such as M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and C.S. Jayaraman and TMS had to work his way through their fame to earn his place. Although his first break came in 1946, when music director S.M. Subbiah Naidu gave him five songs in the movie Krishna Vijayam , TMS had to wait for close to a decade — till he got opportunities to sing in blockbusters such as Maruthakasi and Malaikkallan — to secure the ‘sought-after’ status.

But since the mid-1950s and for the following quarter century, the world was his. TMS’ is moving music — listen to his Ullam uruguthaiyya, you cannot fail to be moved to tears of devotion; listen to his Adi ennadi raakku, you feel like jumping up prancing. His Naan aanai ittaal makes the listener feel like he is the leader of the masses; Enge Nimmadhi is guaranteed to send you into a momentary depression. Towards the end of the 1970s, TMS had to cede ground, which he did rather unhappily, to stars like SPB and Jesudas, and his voice was no more heard in new movies. Only in 2010, he rendered his voice for the Tamil Semmozhi Meet Anthem ,which was composed by A. R. Rahman.

Today, when TMS has passed on into another world, one can only recall the lines of Wordsworth: The music in my heart I bore, long after it was heard no more .

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