Flute Nagaraja Rao
Nagaraja Rao was born in July 1883 at Nachiarkoil, six miles south of Kumbakonam in a respectable Smartha Desastha family of well-to-do landlords. His father, Ranganatha Rao, was a Violinist of a high order and he pursued the art as a hobby and not a profession. During his life-time, the property he inherited was used up and he died in 1889 when Nagaraja Rao was only a young boy. The late R. Ramachandra Rao, Inspector of Schools, Pudukottah State was his maternal uncle, and being a very hospitable and noble soul he brought up Nagaraja Rao in his own household. Nagaraja Rao studied up to the Matriculation class in the Maharajah’s College, Pudukottah. But the uncle’s object of giving him a good education, so as to enable him to enter the service of the State was not fulfilled. Nagaraja Rao did not take kindly to his books on account of his hereditary love for music, which diverted his attention. His uncle admonished him attending musical concerts and strongly advised him not to take up the mean profession of a musician, as it was then considered; but he was stubborn and could not be persuaded to give up music.
From 1898 he took preliminary lessons on the Flute, on the sly from Kannuswami Rao, brother of Swaragath Chittuswamy Rao and a contemporary of Sarabha Sastri; and learnt the position and process of fingering. Somehow this came to the knowledge of Mr. Ramachandra Rao who would not tolerate such a thing. So, Nagaraja Rao left his protection and decided to be self-supporting. He attempted to secure a job in the Railway at Trichinopoly but failed to do so; his knowledge of the Flute got him the position of a Private Tutor to the children of a Vysia. Later, on the death of his paternal uncle Jeevanna Rao, he was appointed Village Munsiff of Nachiarkoil, which gave him opportunities of coming in contact with great men. He assiduously practiced on the Flute and his skill in the art was appreciated even when he played during the holidays while yet a student. In 1902 Sarabha Sastry examined his talents on the flute and felt he had reached an advanced stage in the art. He was denied training under the great Flutist on account of the morbid state of his though Nagaraja Rao greatly developed his art on account of the opportunities he had of attending Sastri’s unequalled performances, till his death in 1904. Immediately after this, Nagaraja Rao was introduced to and became a disciple of Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer, who taught him both the theory and practice of music. Under his guidance for two years, he mastered Thyagayya’s Kritis and other lessons, and emerged as a full-fledged professional.
His noteworthy feature is the elaboration of the Ragas on sound lines, and he could play the Ragas, Todi, Saveri, Goulipantu and Virali to perfection – an acid test for flute players. He was greatly encouraged by the Music loving people with handsome emoluments and he has kept up the art in its purity and prestige.