An evening filled with music, coupled with warm tributes paid to stalwarts of south Indian classical music, dance and popular theatre, marked the start of this year's Thyagaraja Music Festival organised by Sree Shanmukhananda Sangeetha Sabha here on Saturday.

Inaugurating the festival, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N. Ram took note of the packed Dr. B.R. Ambedkar auditorium at the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan with a healthy sprinkling of young music enthusiasts and said he was very optimistic about the state of south Indian classical music.

Mr. Ram said the observation of the late American philosopher, Allan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind, where he lamented the decline of interest in western classical music in American schools, seemed not true in the case of India. He cited the arrival of youngsters to the fore in the arts, many of them highly qualified in other disciplines.

Responding to the Sabha office-bearers' praise for The Hindu's coverage of classical arts and the encouragement it provided to artists, Mr. Ram touched on the relationship between critics and artists: “There are also complaints — journalists say singers are thin-skinned to criticism, while artists respond that journalists are not qualified to criticise.”

He said the success of the recently concluded Chennai music season, where a large number of organisations hosted hundreds of musicians, indicated how patronage of music was now being funded by people's “love of music” which substituted funding by aristocrats.

“The love for music has fostered aesthetics and creativity. Seniors have passed on their knowledge, not keeping it secret. South Indian classical music artists, while retaining traditions, have not shut their ears to other musical traditions which shows they are catholic in taste. It is a wonderful thing that we are not conservative in the negative sense. On the whole, it is a very bright scenario, which we have to celebrate,” Mr. Ram said.

The Sabha honoured musicians T.K. Govinda Rao and Suguna Purushothaman with the “Nada Kalanidhi” award; dancers Professor C.V. Chandrashekhar and Anita Guha with the “Natya Ratna” award and actor-playwrights Crazy Mohan and Kathadi Ramamurthy with the “Nataka Ratnam” award.

The former Attorney-General of India, K. Parasaran, who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan this year, was honoured.

Felicitating the winners, Carnatic vocalist Sudha Ragunathan said that while it was a fact that artists were very sensitive to criticism and wished to be praised, “well-balanced reviews” in the media only pushed them to perform better. Ms. Ragunathan's concert followed the awards function.

Sabha president Mohan Parasaran welcomed the gathering.