J. Cooling Rajaiah: The Christian Tamil composer is the Uncrowned King of Sacred Music

Rajaiah is known to be a talented and a self-taught musician who dedicated his entire life to composing music with a spiritual overtone

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Choir (Representational Image). Image source: www.templenet.com
  • No wedding is complete without raising a toast to his popular compositions Mangalam Nithya Mangalam, or Mangalam Nithya Pongidavey
  • His piano skills were impeccable and were in great demand in the festive season
  • Apart from being a music composer, he could also deconstruct group performances with accuracy

Even six years after his death on July 10, 2010, J.Cooling Rajaiah is survived by a bounteous legacy of sacred music compositions, which resound in the Tamil Christian community till date. No wedding is complete without raising a toast to his popular compositions Mangalam Nithya Mangalam, or Mangalam Nithya Pongidavey.

Rajaiah is also one of the founder members of Tiruchi’s oldest choir group, ‘The Carollers’. His rousing ‘The Carollers’ March’ remains a stellar rendition during most of the choral presentations during Christmas.

These and other numerous renditions constitute the legendary singer’s great body of work that continues to enthrall and captivate listeners and performers beyond geographies.

Speaking to The Hindu, J. Philip, his nephew, said, “Uncle never left Tiruchi, but his music traveled all over the world.” Philip who took over the family tradition of composing sacred music is himself the founder of Tiruchi-based gospel choir ‘Singspirations.’

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Rajaiah is known to be a talented and a self-taught musician who dedicated his entire life to composing music with a spiritual overtone.

THE HINDU An early photograph of J. Cooling Rajaiah (in suit) at work. Photo: Special Arrangement by The Hindu
An early photograph of J. Cooling Rajaiah (in suit) at work. Photo: Special Arrangement by The Hindu

Talking about how Rajaiah had an affinity for music even as a toddler, Bhaskar, a family member, told The Hindu, “My grandfather used to keep him on his lap when playing the organ when he was a toddler. Later, Uncle would be drawing the scores on the sand as his father took music lessons for others.”

Named after English Methodist missionary Reverend James Cooling,Rajaiah was born on December 5, 1927, to Mr. and Mrs. James William.

Mrs. Louisa, Rajaiah’s sister revealed that his first mouth organ performance was at the age of nine and his first composition was ready by the age of 13. “We all knew our brother had a unique gift for music very early on,” she added.

Rajaiah also had a brief stint in Tamil cinema after he became a member of the orchestra of Gemini Studios in Chennai as a pianist and piano-accordion player.

But what is termed as the turning point in his career was his joining the Madras Jazz Club. Bhaskar iterates, “Uncle got most of his exposure to world music through the Jazz Club.”

In spite of a flourishing career in early years, Rajaiah had to settle for a job in Southern Railways as the competition in the industry was cutthroat.

His piano skills were impeccable and were in great demand in the festive season.

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His compositions were an effortless mix of rhumba and swing element. “He also accompanied the Minstrels and All Saints Church choirs in the rendering of the oratorios, the highest musical offering of choral praise,” reported The Hindu.

Apart from being a music composer, he could also deconstruct group performances with accuracy.

Known as the ‘Mozart of Tiruchi’ Rajaiah’s expertise in interpreting scores also credits him being a man of many talents.

Rajaiah never married and needed complete silence whenever he used to compose music, explained Bhaskar.

He added, “Rajaiah was among the few people who would encourage younger musicians by giving them a platform to perform. Nobody could match up to Uncle, but he was always trying to learn new things from the youth.”

Though Rajaiah stopped composing at the age of 81, his work will continue to inspire many generations to come.

-prepared by Bulbul Sharma, a staff-writer at NewsGram. Twitter handle: iBulbul_

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