From the archives: On the Music Academy, the Everest of music sabhas

K Sundar Rajan, a former sports editor of 'The Hindu' and an avid music lover recounts anecdotes from his days covering the annual conference of the Music Academy

The Late Dr. C. R. Reddy. Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, used to say, "December is a month of short hands and long tongues."

He could have added the word "melody". What Dr. Reddy meant was that in his days All India conferences of various sciences used to be held in Madras during Christmas holidays in December when speakers and reporters would be busy. Melody also came into play during this month. The Madras Music Academy began to have its annual conferences during this month. It began in 'December 1927, coinciding with the Indian National Congress session.

The origin of the most prestigious music conference has been told too many times to call for a repetition. That it was a different kind of exercise in Indian music has begun to attract visitors from all over the country and abroad recently. More than concerts, the assembly of musicologists and their expert discussions, sometimes with no holds barred, gave verve to the proceedings. Each would stick to his stand citing a lot of evidence.

As a reporter for The Hindu it is a complete lie to claim that position for my job was to take down notes of what the speakers said and the songs they rendered in snatches, in a most Tamateur way what with my limited knowledge in music, turn it over to Dr. V. Kaghayari, who would dictate an authentic report of the proceedings arid distribute copies to the newspapers. The subs dared not change a word of that report. While on this job. I had a very unpleasant experience. During the Tyagaraja jayanthi, it had been decided that the emphasis should be on the divine composer and I had a notion that during that year no Sangita Kalanidhi award was given.

A high government official and erudite scholar-musician, gave a scintillating lecture on the Bard of Tiruvayyuru. With the notes I had made Dr.Raghavan prepared a scholarly summary which was approved by the speaker himself. when I took the copy to my office (The Hindu) Assistant Editor N. Raghunatha Aiyar whose passion for Tyagaraja, Sanskrit and the "matchless" Thanjavur culture, everyone knew, wanted to have a look into it. With great trepidation I presented the copy to him. "Will you give me just fifteen minutes? I will go through it and send it to the Chief Reporter. You may make any corrections!" Would I dare? When the copy arrived at the Chief Reporter's desk, it had undergone a complete transformation — in fact it was another editorial, on Tyagaraja. I knew that this would not please the lecturer. The next morning he confronted Dr. Raghavan. "This is not the copy you gave yesterday and which I passed with a few typographical corrections. Why should the reporter tamper with it"? He meant me of course. A few minutes later Raghunatha Aiyer came for the Experts Committee meeting. I disappeared. Later Raghavan appears to have conveyed the lecturer's reaction to N. R.I referred to the liveliness of the discussions. And this will prove it. C. S. Aiyar forthright views expressed in a forcible language often created embarrassing situations for the authorities. Mr. Aiyar was highly critical of the use of seven-stringed violins or Clarionet (If my memory is right) for some reason which I fail to remember. The discussion took a heated turn and a pioneer of the seven stringed violin and an equally fierce opponent became violent not only in their language but also in their gestures.

During the discussion, Semmangudi Srinivasa Aiyar, a diplomat par excellence that he is, said, "None of the concerts where Chowdiah accompanied me has failed". I looked for the old files to get more details in the Academy Library. I found none. Kasturi Srinivasan had suggested a larger use of the mandra singing. A senior artiste (apparently didn't know who had made this suggestion) said that mandra singing was rather difficult and he claimed that even a noted vidwan of vintage years did not succeed. "When he attempted mandra, one could hear only sound which could be likened to air coming out of dry pipes."

Another suggestion that tala should be put softly did not find agreement with the said artiste. He said (I thought very correctly) that unless tala is put forcefully and authoritatively, tala gnanam would not improve. Tala should be tight and forthright. After a long debate on the Nishada prayogam, Rajamanickam Pillai said, "If sung properly Tyagaraja's 'Nee Bhajana gana' will give the correct prayogam for Nayaki raga."

Tiger Varada chariar's puckish humour was synonymous with any discussion and rasikas would look to his "informative entertainment". When the members were discussing the raga Manji" he said this raga was being discussed when "all of us have become Ammanjis". He would not allow any dogmatic assertion. He sang with the same swaram‘s that was thought to be 'Infamy' to a song of Tyagaraja and no one objected. When he sang snatches of "Natajana Paripala," I clearly remember Mr. Chandrasekharan, member of the Experts Committee saying that inasmuch as Tiger sang this kriti of Tyagaraja, how could it be called a spurious one? I also remember no one asking Tiger whether it was a correct Tyagaraja kriti. I have had scores of such experiences during my brief tenure as "Reporter".

To sing at the Academy is the ambition of all the musicians even as among racehorse owners, the ambition is to win the Indian Derby in Bombay despite winning Derbys at all other centres. In the biodata of an artiste will be included "has sung at the Music Academy" even if he or she has sung for just an hour in the noon programme. The Academy has deservedly earned its place as the Everest of the music sabhas. Pioneers as well as the current authorities have left no stone unturned to achieve it. Suburban sabhas, have not affected the attendance at the Academy. I realise I am raising a hornet's nest. Well, this is my personal view. Go to the Academy campus one of these days during the season. You will find ample evidence for my statement.


Since 1927 the Academy has expanded like a banyan tree. Realising that it is not possible to provide chances for all the artistes, monthly concerts are held. A model teaching institution has come up. More than everything what I found most rewarding to the seeker is a visit to the Library. It is said of a museum in Russia that even six years will not be sufficient to see every exhibit that it boasts of. A similar museum we have in Salar Jung Bahadur in Hyderabad. So many interesting things one gathers. So it is with the library here. The price of the book containing the programme those days cost just two annas.

Use of harmonium in musical performance and in musical instruction either as sruti or accompaniment should be discouraged, was one of the resolutions in 1936. The accompaniments should be restricted to a violin and mridangam in addition to a tambura. One kutcheri set of gramophone records by nadaswara vidwan, Tiruvengadu Subramaniam, cost just Rs. 13. I know readers will say this is all elementary information. In the 1938 the programme list includes a recital by the Mysore Palace Band from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Though it was only a superficial scanning of old files I didn't find mention of Nadamuni band. 

Jan. 2, 1939 happened to be Vaikunta Eka-desi and Gayakasikhamani L. Muthiah Bhagavatar performed a Harikatha on Durvasa Agamanam or Akshya Patra. The Thodi pallavi on jalata -rangam by Ramniah Chettiar was heard with rapt attention. Vachaspati was the raga chosen for pallavi by the Alathur Brothers. M. S. Krishnier's Pavana Murari in Manirangu was a rare piece. If I go on listing like this it is because of the interest these old copies of Academy Journal preserved so well created in me.

An insight to C. S. Aiyar's forthrightness was provided in his article on Music of India in the 1939. journal. He refers to an orchestra concert he attended at the Queens Hall, London. The conductor was Sir Thomas Beecham. Asked for his own opinion after the concert, Aiyar remarked, "The conductor appears to be most important. He is the General Officer Commanding. Individual artistes don't count at all. I can never lose my individuality in such a performance." Aiyar has gone on to praise our music in that well documented article. He used the same fire power when tackling Indian artistes too.



A musician who used to visit Guindy fairly regularly told me that just as the union of a Derby winning mare with a Derby winning horse may not produce a Derby winning offspring, a concert involving two Sangita

Kalanidhis may not be a success. Specifically he mentioned a concert figuring Ariyakudi Ramanuja Aiyengar and Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu. It failed. While admitting this I was not prepared to further believe that Dwaram no more played accompaniment to any vocalist. In 1945 there was two performances by Roshanara Begum, on Dec. 28 and 30. No wonder the legend is being talked about even now. Sad to learn also that as the wife of a police officer in Pakistan she was forced to give up her music. Did you know that Mangudi Bhagavatar is listed with a long name in the programme sheet. It is: Abhinaya Bharatacharya Mahaka.. Kanteerava Brahmasri Chidambara Bhagavatar of Agara Mangudi. Yes, there is a

railway station with a long name between Tiruttani and Tirupati. To learn from a near centenarian that Ariyakudi chose Sahana for ragam, thanam, pallavi, somewhat surprised me. Choosing less popular ragas is not

Ariyakudi 's cup of tea.

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 | Apr 9, 2020 1:01:55 AM |

Next Story