Towards democratising art

BREAKING BARRIERS: T.M. Krishna. Photo: S. James

BREAKING BARRIERS: T.M. Krishna. Photo: S. James   | Photo Credit: S_James

Ramon Magsaysay 2016 awardee T.M. Krishna talks about his perception of music and his efforts to trace its history and tradition

Are sabhas public spaces where anyone can freely walk in to listen to music? What does classical music actually mean? Ramon Magsaysay 2016 awardee and renowned Carnatic music exponent T.M. Krishna challenged the very basic idea of public and private space. “They are privately constructed public spaces. You will get membership if you become more like those who are already in that space,” he said.

Delivering the lecture organised by the Study Centre for Indian Literature in English and Translation at the American College, he shared about his music consciousness, how he has evolved as a musician, who respects all art forms and engaged the audience in a discussion about art, culture, religion and caste.

He systematically elaborated innately complex subjects and communicated with fluency. As a young musician he performed in many concerts, met people and was made to believe that the Carnatic music world was perfect. “I thought people who were not there were those who did not understand how perfect it was. The problem was not with the Carnatic music entity but with the rest of the world. But I realised later that it was absolutely wrong and actually a way of establishing hierarchies in society,” he said.

It was his search for a song for his new album on the Lord of Srirangam that sparked the change in his outlook on music. . “I found one old song which nobody knew. It was from ancient book written in 1904. While trying to understand the song, it suddenly struck me that the person who wrote the book and sang the song and the way I would sing could be totally different. Further into the research I found that songs sung during mid 19th century were not as pleasing to hear as they are today. It prompted me to go deeper into the history of music but another problem crept in. When I discuss Carnatic music I have to discuss the communities that are part of the music and that made me wonder what happened to those communities who were part of this music. It turned into a socio political question,” he said.

Krishna found that Devadasis, who were one of the main contributors to Carnatic music were not to be seen anywhere and their rich musical tradition was lost as they were abused and relegated by the mainstream with the abolition of Devadasi system. He reminded the story of M.S. Subbulakshmi, who made a conscious decision to leave her mother to join Sadasivam as she very well knew if she had to earn a name, her image has to change. “There is a social angle to it. Because of her bold decision, she was seen as the epitome of a Brahmin woman,” he said.

That the Isai Vellalar community, who are more a cultural group than a caste, don’t have that many concerts and perform only in temples and marriage functions disturbed him and his idea of music began to change. He wondered why Carnatic music was only about Rama and Krishna. “Why can’t it be about some other religion or even about the building?”

The thought gave birth to a new idea for a travelling performing arts festival. “Svanubhava is a cultural movement in celebration of Indian art and primarily aimed to give exposure to young performers of different art forms. There is Thevaram recital, followed by Qawwali and Karagattam. I benefited from the experience. Once we invited Kattai Koothu exponent Rajagopalan to perform. It was a performance that lasted for an hour. I had no idea about the art and did not see much greatness in it. But I was stunned when he explained about the 62 adavus (feet movement) in his performance and I realised how well defined the art was. With all my artistic sensibility I was able to identify the nuances. It shook me. Later, when I visited their place I could see the audience responding to the performance. It raised several questions in me,” he said.

Krishna also doubted whether December Music season in Chennai, termed to be the biggest ‘classical’ music festival in the world with more than 3,000 concerts performed in the period of four weeks, created any big impact on common man. “I thought why the concerts are confined to sabhas and why not in a kuppam and that paved the way for the Urur Olcott Kuppam festival,” he said. With the help of the Urur Olcott kuppam panchayat and Nithyanand Jeyaram an environmental activist, Krishna organises the festival regularly on the sandy beach where musicians, who perform in sabhas, are invited to entertain the public.

With his pluralistic approach towards music in particular and art in general, Krishna also made arrangements to stage Paraiattam in Kalakshetra.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 11:46:40 PM |

Next Story