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Trip down musical lane

Despite distractions like MTV and Channel V, Carnatic music has still managed to survive. A look at the music scene then and now...

Veenai Dhanammal...a trensetter

The December music season was started in the 1920s first by the Music Academy with venues at different places every year, before settling at the present venue. Initially, it was held during March/ April and then shifted to December (Marghazhi) as the weather was more favourable and attracted tourists.

Concerts were held throughout the year in sabhas such as the Triplicane Parthasarathy Sabha, the oldest sabha in the city. A few more sabhas came up later like the Jagannatha Bhaktha Sabha in the 1930s. In the 1940s, the Tamil Isai Sangam, Mylapore Fine Arts, Indian Fine Arts and the Rasika Ranjani Sabha came up.

In the 1930s and 1940s, George Town was the seat of Carnatic music hosting musicians such as Veenai Dhannamal, Coimbatore Thayi, T. K. Sesha Iyengar, Shri Iyyaswami and Lalithangi. In fact both Tyagaraja and Dikshitar spent quite sometime here, and Tyagaraja's "Entaro Mahanubhavulu' was written at Bunder Street. Slowly the scenario shifted to Mylapore when the artistes started moving out of George Town.

There were no dance programmes, till the tradition was broken in the 1940s by the dramatic entry of Balasaraswati and Rukmini Devi.

M. L. Vasantha Kumari had once said that the period from the 1940s to the late 1960s could be called the Golden Era of Carnatic Music. This period saw some of the greatest singers of the century. M. S. Subbulakshmi, D. K. Pattamal and M. L. Vasanthakumari had a flying start and were barely in their teens when they began their career. Then, there were Brinda and Muktha, N. C. Vasanthakokilam, K. B. Sundarambal and much later Radha and Jayalakshmi. In the early 1930s and 1940s women never sang alapana, neraval or swaras and pallavi. Till D. K. Pattammal came along.

Balasaraswati...a picture of grace

Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar, Tiger Varadachar, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Chembai, Ariyakudi, Musiri, Semmangudi, Alathur Brothers, G.N.B., Madurai Mani, Ramnad Krishnan, Chittoor Subramaniam and V. V. Sadagopan, among others, were prominent at that time.

This period also saw a number of great accompanists like Dwaram, Papa Venkatramaiah, Chowdiah, Sethuramiah, Parur M. S. Anantharaman and Kumbakonam Rajarathnam Pillai, and prodigies like T. N. Krishnan, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Pazhani Subbramaniam, Palghat Mani, C. S. Murugaboopathy later T. K. Murthy, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Palghat Raghu and Vellore Ramabhadran (mridangam). And eminent nadaswara vidwans like Thiruvadurai Rajarathnam Pillai, Namagiripettai and Sheink Chinnamoulana were names to reckon with.

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar streamlined the concert pattern. He brought about a new trend in Carnatic music. And he also introduced the singing of thukkadas and patriotic songs on the concert stage.

With the formation of the Tamil Isai Sangam, Tamil songs were introduced to the audience in a big way. Most of the top singers sang compositions of the Trinity, Patnam Subramania Iyer, and their contemporaries. The Freedom Movement was in full swing and singers made it a point to render patriotic songs, particularly those by Bharathiar.

There was a sudden lull in the 1970s and 1980s, when the music world bid adieu to many senior musicians. Theatre did better business in the sabhas, Bharatanatyam was attracting crowds and the invasion of television found people glued to their sets. Carnatic music was almost fading.

Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar

But suddenly, there was a swing in the trend with the entry of youngsters like Sanjay Subramanian, Sudha Raghunathan, Nithyasree, Sowmya and Bombay Jaishree, who came like a whiff of fresh air breathing new life into Carnatic music. Also, many sabhas have sprouted all over the city. Practically every locality today has a good auditorium with all infrastructure. The sabha canteens also attract crowds. A Carnatic musician is no more a `struggling musician'. Today, it is a very lucrative profession, what with offers from film composers and television serials. Also, a number of youngsters are learning music and it is heartening to see children coming out of music classes in large numbers.

An NRI rasika, who makes it a point to be in Chennai during the season, remarked that some of the popular musicians perform at more than 20 odd places, and after the fourth or fifth concert have to cope with strained voice, and fatigue and paying for these concerts is like penalising the audience.

The right phrase to describe what has really happened to music and dance in Chennai is that all the predictions of the 1980s that "Carnatic music is doomed' have been proved wrong and rasikas need not have to complain any more. Yes, despite the distractions like MTV and Channel V, Carnatic music has managed to survive and how!


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