Sangam with a mission


From The Hindu's 1997 retrospective series on Chennai's music sabhas

The Tamil Isai Sangam was born in 1943 with the missionary zeal of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar to devote his heart and soul to the popularisation of Tamil music, which till then was neglected in preference to compositions in other languages, mainly Telugu. The Annamalai University was the fulcrum of the Tamil Isai movement. Even before the Sangam was launched, in 1936 Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar convened a conference when V. S. Srinivasa Sastri was the Vice-Chancellor of the Annamalai University. It was decided at the conference of musicians and others interested in music that steps should be taken to popularise Tamil songs on concert platforms and to encourage new compositions in Tamil. Similar conferences were organised in Devakottai, Tiruchi and Madurai. It was then felt that a permanent institution must be set up at Chennai to give a fillip to the movement. Thus was started the Tamil Isai Sangam.


From the beginning of the movement it was made clear by Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar. Sir R. K. Shanmukham Chettiar and others that the clarion call to provide an honoured place to Tamil songs had no hostility towards compositions in other languages. Some felt that there were not enough corpus of Tamil songs. But with a determined effort from the early pioneers of Tamil Isai. the movement grew from strength to strength.

Even before the movement started in full stream the Annamalai University was running a four-year course in Carnatic music leading to the title of "Sangeetha Bhooshanam."

The Tamil Isai Sangam expanded its activities to make its mission more purposeful. The attention of the Sangam was not only directed towards popularising Tamil songs, but also towards unearthing literature relating to Tamil music. It was not concert pattern music alone that the Sangam addressed itself to from its inception, but to conduct research in the ancient musical set-up of Thevaram, Tlruppugazh, Nalayira Divya Prabandam and Tamil folk music. Propagation of music being centred mainly around festivals, the Sangam started holding annual conferences from 1943. Till the Raja Annamalai Manram was erected in 1953 the Tamil Isai festival was held in a hall on Armenian Street. As part of its mission, the Sangam started a school to teach Tamil music. It was started as an evening college in 1944 to provide an opportunity to office goers anxious to learn Tamil songs. There were about 200 students at the beginning.

The classes were held between 5.30 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. In 1995. a full time music college commenced functioning. Emphasis in the movement was given to Nadaswaram from the beginning. In the music festivals. Nadaswaram concerts by eminent players have been a highlight. In consonance with this preference a nadaswaram school has been functioning. There are about 10 students for nadaswaram and about eight students for thavil. A stipend of Rs. 150 is paid to each student. Most of the students, according to a spokesman of the Sangam, hailed from Thanjavur district. On similar lines a Thevaram school too was started but since the response was not encouraging, it was shifted as part of the curriculum of the Music College. One period is allotted for teaching Thevaram for the first, second and third year students. This has been made compulsory. For the evening class students, the titles "Isai Selvam" and "Isai Mani" are conferred. From 1957. the president of the year's music festival is conferred the title "Isai Perarignar". The feather in the cap of the Tamil Isai Sangam is the discussion and demonstration of ancient "Panns" for four days during the annual conference. Several Oduvars who are the repository' of the traditional rendering of Thevarams participate and are honoured.

These discussions and the decisions taken at those sessions are published for posterity to benefit. During the earlier research sessions "Sarabendra Bhoopala Kuravanji," Navasandhi dances, the prevailing music in several temples in South India, and similar facets of ancient Tamil culture were analysed threadbare. Several publications carrying the core of the Pann research have been released. Each year's programme has been brought out as a recorded book. The Sangam also published a collection of Periasami Thooran's songs and some pieces of Thevaram. Divya Prabandam. Tiruppugazh set to music by M. M. Dandapani Desikar.

For the benefit of the students of the Music College every month the contributions of great composers Uke Seerkazhi Moovar, Vedanayakam Pillai. Subramanya Bharathi. Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Papanasam Sivan and Periasami Thooran are presented so that they can have an idea of the wealth of Tamil music. The family members of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar, M. A. Muthiah Chettiar. M. A. Chidambaram. A. C. Muthiah have carried the missionary objectives of the Tamil Isai movement with great zeal and dedication. In the early years, the support of great personalities like C. Rajagopalachari, C. N. Annadurai, Rasikamani T. K. Chidambaranatha Mudaliar, Kalki, M. P. Somasundaram and eminent musicians Ariyakudi Ramanuja lyengar. Tiger Varadachari. M. S. Subbulakshmi. T. N. Rajaratnam Pillai. Veeraswamy Pillai. M. M. Dandapani Desikar. to mention a few. strengthened the determination of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar to realise his dreams.

If today All India Radio and other media are giving importance to Tamil music it is not a little due to the far-sightedness and single-minded devotion that spurred the Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar family since the inception of the Tamil Isai Sangam.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 1:40:49 PM |

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