Tracing Bengaluru’s secular cultural heritage

The International Music & Arts Society’s 40th year commemorative volume shows how it became a significant chronicler of art

April 20, 2024 01:23 pm | Updated 03:25 pm IST

A young Rani Vijaya Devi at a Steinway piano in Chamundi Vihar, Mysore, with a photograph of Rachmaninoff whom she met in Lucerne.

A young Rani Vijaya Devi at a Steinway piano in Chamundi Vihar, Mysore, with a photograph of Rachmaninoff whom she met in Lucerne. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The decision of the International Music & Arts Society to bring out a commemorative volume to celebrate its 40th year resulted in a gorgeous book, an invaluable record of Bengaluru’s cultural activity.

 The idea of starting a cultural society was suggested in 1974 by the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar to his sister Rani Vijaya Devi of Kotda Sangani, who had settled in Bangalore.

Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the Maharaja of Mysore, was a noted scholar of Sanskrit, a connoisseur and practitioner of both Carnatic and Western classical music.

Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the Maharaja of Mysore, was a noted scholar of Sanskrit, a connoisseur and practitioner of both Carnatic and Western classical music. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

A fortuitous naissance indeed, as the Mysore royal family was known for its rich cultural heritage. An exceptional polymath, Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar was a noted scholar of Sanskrit, a connoisseur and practitioner of both Carnatic and Western classical music. Mysore’s patronage also extended to visual arts [many of Ravi Varma’s oil paintings were commissioned by Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV].

The family wanted to share this significant legacy with people, thereby continuing from court to courtyard, a tradition of royal patronage that enabled artistes to thrive and share their talents with the public, though IMAS has been careful in maintaining its high aesthetic standards while participating in a healthy democratisation of the arts. The volume is, incidentally, also a record of how patronage of the arts has shifted from royalty to corporates.

Chaired by Vijaya Devi, an IMAS committee was formed with a dedicated band of friends, who shared her views on promoting music and the arts. Accompanying her diplomat-husband, Thakur Sahib of Kotda Sangani, she had developed a wonderful network of Indian as well as international friends, exponents and experts in culture [from Rachmaninoff and Menuhin to Constance Keene; from Vilayat Khan and Russian yoga adept Indira Devi to George Mitchell].

Rani Vijaya Devi greeting M.F. Husain at his exhibition for  IMAS in the 1970s. Former Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna looks on.

Rani Vijaya Devi greeting M.F. Husain at his exhibition for IMAS in the 1970s. Former Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna looks on. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The opening essay is appropriately by Vijaya Devi on growing up in Mysore, those early years when the various strands of culture were woven indelibly into her life.

Thereafter, the book is divided into convenient sections, dealing with the society’s history and some of its major programmes [editors Prateeti Ballal, Indira Brunner and Urmila Devi had the unenviable task of having to choose 130 events from 368]. Music ranging from Indian [Carnatic: M. Balamuralikrishna, L. Subramaniam, Prince Rama Varma; Hindustani: Pandit Jasraj, Vilayat Khan, jugalbandhi between Zakir Hussain and Mandolin U. Srinivas] to Western [classical solo performers, chamber concerts and full orchestras, as well as jazz groups]. Dance includes Indian [Sonal Mansingh, Mallika Sarabhai, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Madhavi Mudgal], and Western [Brigham Young University’s Contemporary Dance Theatre, Russian folk dances]. Visual artists range from M F Hussain and K K Hebbar to Balan Nambiar.

A few events particularly linger in memory. In 1982, Rostropovich’s cello’s sheer acoustic beauty touched one deeply. Even in an unsuitable bleak cavernous hall, he managed to convey his humanity and sensitivity to the human condition.

In 2000 IMAS celebrated its Silver Jubilee with L Subramaniam’s violin concert, unforgettable for his hour-long brilliant rendition of the popular Dikshitar song, ‘Vatapi Ganapatim’.

This section is followed by essays on the arts, and delightful personal snippets by Urmila Devi [Vijaya Devi’s daughter ], Ila Chandrasekhar [founder-member and later chairperson] and other founder members. The book’s articles are accompanied by wonderful photographs. 

IMAS’ inaugural event was a dance recital by Vyjayanthimala Bali [whose mother had performed in the Mysore court]. Still in her prime in 1975, her dancing was splendid, her beauty enhanced by the real jewellery she insisted on wearing.

Vyjayantimala Bali’s dancing with her own real jewellery at the inaugural event.

Vyjayantimala Bali’s dancing with her own real jewellery at the inaugural event. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Medtner-Mysore connection

Canadian pianist Paul Stewart performing for IMAS 35th anniversary at the Durbar Hall in Bangalore palace. He played Nicolai Medtner’s compositions as a tribute to the late Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar of Mysore in 2010. 

Canadian pianist Paul Stewart performing for IMAS 35th anniversary at the Durbar Hall in Bangalore palace. He played Nicolai Medtner’s compositions as a tribute to the late Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar of Mysore in 2010.  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Pianist Paul Stewart formed a close personal connection with IMAS, having played a Medtner piece in an early appearance. His essay, ‘An Indian Fairy Tale’, documents Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar’s patronage and generous promotion of this neglected Russian composer of whom few had previously heard. His concert in 2010, to celebrate the Society’s 35th anniversary, was held at the Bangalore Palace, underlining the Medtner-Mysore connection.

Vijaya Devi’s infrequent performances made them special, her solo appearances rarer than her duo concerts. With her diffident self-effacing nature, she felt more comfortable sharing the limelight with her friend, Annarosa Taddei, perhaps harking back to her childhood performances with her cousins on the several magnificent palace pianos.

The Essay section alone would make this book worth acquiring, containing insights on the Arts by experts: Malavika Sarukkai’s ‘Tradition and Change in Bharatanatyam’; George Mitchell, famous for his explorations of Hampi, gave slide lectures for IMAS as early as 1996. His ‘From Vijayanagar to Mysore: Palace Architecture of Southern India’ is a valuable contribution, as are Prateeti Ballal’s observations on Chamber Music, and Meera Pranesh who documents ‘The Mysore Wodeyars as Patrons of Music’. 

Such a review cannot begin to do justice to the volume’s riches. Only the readers’ personal perusal of it can do so.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.