Mysore is well known for famed vainikas (Veena players). Under the patronage from the erstwhile Mysore royal family and the music-loving people of Mysore, some of the all-time great music talents bloomed here to evolve the famous Mysorebani style of Veena recital.

While some of the illustrious Veena players such as Veene Sheshanna and Veene Subbanna established the Mysore Veena tradition, among those who enriched and carried forward this was L. Raja Rao (1909-1979), a celebrated Veena player, singer, teacher and musicologist. His birth centenary is being celebrated this year. Raja Rao’s innovations in Veena recital extended the horizons of the music within the boundaries of the tradition and earned him a lasting place in the hearts of thousands of music lovers all over India.

Rajarao was born in Mysore on March 26, 1909 into a family of musicians. His father, Bhairavi  Lakshminaranappa, was one of the early disciples of Veene Seshanna. Raja Rao had his  training in Veene and vocal from his father.

Raja Rao, also a singer, had given thousands of concerts. Along with his brother L. Gopala Rao he launched ‘Mysore Brothers’ and toured the country giving concerts in several major cities including Delhi, Bombay and Madras. He camped in Tamil Nadu for three months in 1934 on the request of the music lovers there and popularized the works of Mysore Vasudevacharya.

Raja Rao was also a great music teacher. After shifting to Bangalore from Mysore, he took to teaching music and trained thousands of disciples at Srinivasa Sangeeta Kalashale, which he himself had founded, and at the music department of Acharya Patashala where he had worked as a music teacher. He was an ideal guru for those who wanted to scale greater heights in music.

A friend of renowned Kannada novelist A.N. Krishna Rao, Raja Rao noticed the lack of use of Kannada language in music. In order to address this problem, Raja Rao set musical notations to Kannada compositions of Haridasas and Shivasharanas. Kannada Sahitya Parishad published these musical notations in four books titled Haridasara Kritigalu, Haridasa Kritimanjari, Shivasharanara Vachanagalu and Basaveshwara Vachanagana Manjari. His own works on music in Kannada was published as ‘Veene Rajarayara Krithigalu.’

In addition to being a musician and a singer, Raja Rao was also a musicologist. Again realizing that there was a dearth of publications in Kannada on musicology, Raja Rao wrote two classic works on musicology in Kannada. They are: Sangeeta Shashtra Saara and Sangeeta Shashtra Chandrike. His another work ‘Bharateeya Sangeeta Vadyagalu’ is a great source of reference on Indian music instruments. He was a rare artiste who could speak and write authoritatively on the history of carnatic music and musicology.

Raja Rao was also a well known in the fields of theatre and painting. He was a good speaker too. He contributed immensely to gamaka art, light music and Jain devotional music. He was a winner of many awards and titles. Ganavidyavisharada, Ragarasabhijna, Gayanavadanapraveena, Ganakalabhushana were among the titles conferred on him. He was also honoured with the chair of the fourth Karnataka Sangeeta Sammelana organised by Karnataka Gana Kala Parishat. He had also chaired the state conference organized Karnataka Sangeeta Nrithya Academy.

After working untiringly for the cause of music, he died on November 28, 1979. The centenary celebrations this year are an occasion to recollect the varied contribution of this great music talent of Karnataka.