The Tyagaraja Aradhana of 1939 at Kalpathi, Palghat, promised not to be different from the earlier one, but it became a sensation. How?

Kalpathi is a peaceful part of Palghat and at one time, several famous names in Carnatic music were associated with the place, Palghat Rama Bhagavatar and Palghat Mani Iyer being two examples. In the first half of the 20th century, the Tyagaraja Aradhana here was well known and several musicians came to participate in it. The aradhana of 1939 was no different or at least promised not to be, but it became a sensation.

On January 13, 1939, The Hindu reported that “Sensation prevails in Palghat following thedemolition of the entertainment pandal put up at the Rama Dhyan Matom in Kalpathi Agraharam on the order of the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Palghat.”

The pandal had been put up after obtaining the necessary permission for observing the aradhana and a large number of people had gathered there to listen to the music performances. Among them was S.K. Chettur, ICS, Sub-Collector of the District, who had come along with Mrs. Chettur and a friend. As the concert progressed, Chettur and friend lit up cigarettes and this was objected to by a boy among the audience. The friend immediately extinguished his cigarette while Chettur continued smoking.

Sense of foreboding

To quote The Hindu once again, “There were cries from several among the audience objecting to the smoking. Mr. Chettur, thereupon, left the place with his wife and friend, but before doing so he wanted to meet the boy who took objection to smoking; the boy, however, declined to see the Sub-Collector”

The assembled musicians, led by Chathapuram Subbaiah Bhagavatar, felt that the slighting of an ICS officer boded evil for the peaceful conduct of the aradhana and so the next morning a group called on Chettur to express their regrets, only to find that he was away. But their sense of foreboding was justified when at 3 p.m. that afternoon, a verbal order was communicated by the Circle Inspector of Police that “the pandal in front of the Matom, for which the organisers had the permission of the municipal authorities, should be demolished before 4 p.m.”

The frantic organisers immediately rushed to the Sub-Collector who met them but refused to rescind the order. The pandal was demolished by the organisers themselves within the stipulated time and the aradhana was suspended. Attempts were made to organise the festival at the river mandapam but permission was once again denied and when the Rama Dhyan Mantap trustee was approached to hold the festival within the premises, he, who was also the village munsiff and hence reporting to the Sub-Collector, refused permission. On January 14, a memorandum on behalf of the citizens of Palghat was submitted to the Prime Minister of Madras Presidency, C. Rajagopalachari.

It stated that that the officer did “not attend the function in his official capacity. He was there as an influential member of society. The smoking he indulged in was repugnant to the sentiments of the people gathered there and amounted to a failure to respect the solemnity of the occasion. The young man who requested the SDO to desist from smoking couched the request in proper words and he was observing the courtesy of a salutation with folded hands. No offence could have been taken by Mr S.K. Chettur. That he wanted to persist in incivility and irreverence was clear from his continuing to smoke in spite of the request. His returning to the gathering after he left it and making his way through the crowd and peremptorily calling out to the young man to come out and apologise were the worst aspects of his behaviour…What Mr. Chettur did on the morrow of the 10{+t}{+h} shows his conduct in a worse light…He quartered quite a number of constables and police officers including the CID to strike terror in the hearts of the people who had gathered there to listen to music.” The Hindu also carried a statement which ran to two columns, by nine prominent citizens of the place criticising the behaviour of the officer. What Rajagopalachari did with the protests is not recorded, but the organisers were slapped with a police case for “putting up a pandal in the public street and obstructing traffic.” This after having obtained the necessary permissions!

Post-script

What is interesting is a post-script in The Hindu's centenary volume titled ‘A Hundred Years of The Hindu, The Epic Story of Indian Nationalism.' It states that “a young civilian who later distinguished himself both as an official and as a short story writer and poet (his short stories were a regular feature of The Hindu) was the hero of the incident.” This most certainly meant Chettur for he wrote regularly in The Hindu. But to describe him as a hero? Perhaps the good editor was being ironical.

(The author can be contacted at srirambts@gmail.com)

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