Many would have heard Brother Nataraja Mudaliar but very few would have seen him perform live. That was in 1969 or so, Bro. Nataraja Mudaliar used to attend the evening church worship at the then Ceylon Pentecostal Mission church, which was some where near Mekala theatre in Chennai.
The church had a thatched hall – thatched with coconut palm leaves and periodically the church members were enlisted to involve themselves in the thatching – so that the cost could be kept to the minimum. CPM, as it was then called, had a huge hall and an abutting open ground on two sides. On the far end from the entrance was a printing machine room, which was used for printing VOICE OF PENTECOST, a periodical, the periodicity of which i don’t recall now. I remember that the main editor was Bro. Sukumaran, a man who was dour and hardly smiled. It takes all types to make any religious congregation, and probably he didn’t have anyone with his intellectual accomplishments from within the CPM congregation to build up an easy disposition.
There was a pastor called C. John, who was credited with writing the lyrics of many CPM songs in Tamil. CPM is an institution which would be a good study on how an organisation is to be built, without allowing the seminal contributors to run away with the credit! The contributions should be diffused and no trace of history should be left behind in the name of any of those contributing individuals!
This was probably an organisational mindset as an aftermath to the Pastor Alwyn split! To give an interlude- Pastor Alwyn walked out of CPM taking, like Jacob, a good part of the flock, which contributed to their revenue model then in the 60’s. I don’t imply that those left behind were Laban, Laban met Jacob and realised that his daughters were with Jacob and any rash move would jeopardise their weal and hence desisted from reprisal for reclaiming his lost flock. But those residue, who stayed behind in the CPM, had nothing more to lose and probably became a virulent strain of self righteous and fastidious Pentecostals, and they laid such a foundation, that the edifice on which it stands now, rechristened as THE PENTECOSTAL MISSION, is entirely to be credited to those who embarked on such exclusive determined action. 1969 could not have been very far from those Pastor Allwyn triggered schism, so to find those dour and unsmiling austere persons in the congregation was not rare. Prof. Sukumaran was one of those. He was one of the few erudite persons in the congregation- organisationally, a person who could translate the agenda of the Malayali Pastors who were at the helm. If I remember right, there was this very sophisticated looking Pastor by name A.C. Thomas. Probably a Malayali or a Srilankan. He had sharp features, short in stature, fair in complexion and spoke impeccable English – which was highly valued in CPM then- and carried himself with great dignity.
Many of the Tamil songs said to have been written by Pastor C. John had been rendered by Bro. Nataraja Mudaliar. One of those songs was காணீர் அற்புதம் வானத்திலே …..
Bro Nataraja Mudaliar has also sung many of those songs composed by Sister Sarah Navaroji.
I used to be seated not very far away from Bro. Nataraja Mudaliar, whenever he attended the evensong at CPM. And if I remember right, I had seen him play the accordion Hohner standing – except without the footstool which was depicted for the brand icon of Hohner!
I am yet to hear an evangelist or a Christian preacher in India who could play an interlude like Bro Nataraja Mudaliar.
To understand Bro Nataraja Mudaliar‘s style and substance one should read the following and thereafter listen to his rendition of those songs:
Bro Nataraja Mudaliar ensured that the lyrics did NOT get drowned in the accompanying music. One could hear the lyrics enunciated crisply.
During the singing of the lyrics one could hear the percussion but not the stringed and wind instruments. The stringed and wind instruments would glide into the song towards the end of that line and rise to a voluble interlude, so rapid and tapering off as the next line of the lyrics is to be played.
This is probably what Sis. Sarah Navaroji did in her HMV recordings when the Tamil Cinema Music Director T A Kalyanam headed the orchestral Music to Sister Sarah Navaroji’s singing in those recordings.
The interlude played by Bro. Nataraja Mudaliar was exhilarating, you stop listening to the lyrics and await the short and fast changing notes of the interlude. What a player and his singing, though not in the class of the best vocalists, it overflowed with conviction and sincerity.
Even today I hear his music for the gliding in with the interlude and sliding off when a new line of the lyrics dawns.
I still remember with awe the nimbleness with which his fingers played on the keys, and the power with which he bellowed to give additional impact to certain parts of the interlude. The interludes would be creative and worth listening.
I’ve posted some links of his songs just to give a feel of Bro. Nataraja Mudaliar’s virtuosity in accordion playing.
He should also be said to be the first person who popularised Safari suits for evangelists, in those days when white and saffron were the colours of an evangelist, he turned out in classy Safari suits and showed that God doesn’t bestow poverty, but man, to avoid the supposed evil eye of his brethren, chooses to clothe himself in such dowdy clothes!