On 27 May 1912 the first Karnatak music conference was convened in Thanjāvūr.
Hosted by the celebrated practitioner of Siddha medicine and devotee of Karnatak music Abraham Pandithar (above), the conference’s stated purpose was “to promote an academic interest in and to diffuse a knowledge of all that was best in the science and practice of Indian Music; to correct all conflicting notions in regard to Ragams and determine the precise and scientifically correct methods; to concert measures to the advancement of Indian music.”
At the conference Pandithar established the Sangeetha Vidhyalaya Mahajana Sangam; the group met five more times between 1912 and 1914, and its deliberations were published at his expense. Pandithar’s Sangam was to lay the blueprint for all Karnatak music conferences that were to follow, including that of the Music Academy.
Konakkoḷ is an important part of the Karnatak music curriculum in South India. The unique aspect of this pedagogical tool is that it is also a performance medium on its own. Classical concerts in India have featured a konakkoḷ soloist performing a vocal percussion solo in the same way that a jazz concert may feature a drum solo.
Konakkoḷ is appealing in its beauty and allows students to express their musical rhythms in performance tempo (even when it is very fast). This relates directly to how music is felt internally by a performer and is precisely why it is of great use in Western music education.
“I was born in Rangoon. My grandfather was a self-made musician and in the locality he was known as Rangoon Radhakrishna Iyer. I was fond of drumming on biscuit tins for rhythm. [A relative] who came to our house presented me with a small mṛdaṅgam. It was a slow progress.”
“[A friend] suggested that I should have the guidance of Palghat Mani Iyer. So we shifted to Palghat. But Mani Iyer did not accept me as a disciple at our first meeting. My grandfather told him beseechingly, ‘We want to entrust Raghu in your hands. The boy is eager to learn from you.’ There was no encouraging response from Mani Iyer.”
“Two or three days we visited his house expecting a favorable reply; but no word of acceptance from Mani Iyer. It was here I found the hand of God coming to my rescue. One day when we were waiting in Mani Iyer’s residence, a close friend of his came there with a vessel of halwa and gave a piece to me and told Mani Iyer ‘Mani, this boy plays exceedingly well. I have heard him.’ That settled it. Mani Iyer asked me to come every day for lessons.”
Quoted in “Challenges brought out his best” by S.V. Krishnamurthy, an article included in The Hindu speaks on music (Chennai: Kasturi & Sons, 1999, pp. 245–47).
Today would have been Palghat Raghu’s 90th birthday! Above and below, the master in his element.
In January 1964 Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi, along with other eminent women Karnatak vocalists, boldly gate-crashed the uñcavritti and pañca ratna groups at the annual Tyāgarāja ārādhana, in which women had not previously been permitted to perform, opening the floodgates for women’s full participation in the future.
The Madras newspaper Hindu, in its coverage of that year’s festival, printed a large photo showing the women participating in the uñcavritti procession with a caption saying simply, “Prominent musicians, including . . . M.S. Subbulakshmi, taking part in the uñcavritti bhajan procession”.
In an accompanying article, Hindu’s (male) correspondent wrote matter-of-factly that women musicians had joined the uñcavritti bhajana and had taken part in the singing of the pañcaratna kriti compositions, without commenting on the fact that this was the first time in history that they had done so.
This according to “The social organization of music and musicians: Southern area” by T. Sankaran and Matthew Allen (The Garland encyclopedia of world music V, pp. 383–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.
Today would have been Subbulakshmi’s 100th birthday! Below, Bhaja Govindam, a song similar to those that Mahatma Gandhi requested from her.
C. Saraswati Bai (1874–1974) began studying Karnatak music at the age of 6, and by the time she was 9 her exceptional talent was so evident that the harikathā guru Tiruvaiyaru Krishnachar took her under his wing.
By the age of 11 she was gaining local notoriety, and as it became clear that she was contemplating a professional career the established performers of this male-dominated genre moved to undermine her, effectively blackmailing performance venues into refusing to engage her. Saraswati persevered, and public support for her grew; at last, those who had sought to squelch her career relented and tried to make amends.
In early 1911 she embarked on a highly successful tour of India and Sri Lanka, and by the age of 22 she had become one of the most acclaimed harikathā performers of the time.
From 1913 through the 1930s Saraswati traveled almost continually, performing standing up for six to seven hours in a different town each night. She recorded nine successful records for Odeon, and often performed on the radio; she was also in great demand for performances at weddings. At the height of her career she earned 2000 rupees each night, more than any other harikathā performer at that time.
From the 1940s until the early 1960s Saraswati performed less and less, due partly to a decline in audiences with the advent of sound films, and partly to the intense physical demands of traveling and performing. She took a keen interest in developing cultural organizations, and was an ardent supporter of Gandhi.
This according to “C. Saraswati Bai” by Sriram Venkatakrishnan (writing as Sriram V; Sruti 262 [July 2006] pp. 21–31 and 263 [August 2006] pp. 17–38). Below, one of her Odeon recordings.
The Tamil month of Mārkazhi (mid-December to mid-January) has been associated with Krishna since ancient times, and historical connections between that month and devotional music abound.
Against this traditional backdrop, in 1930 the newly founded Music Academy in Chennai (formerly Madras) began sponsoring an annual music and dance festival during that month. Over the years the festival has grown steadily in size; some music lovers call this winter whirlwind of activity “the mad mad Madras music season”.
This according to “The Madras music season: Its genesis” by Sriram Venkatakrishnan (writing under the pen name Sriram V; Sruti 225 [December 2005] pp. 19–24). For decades Sruti has published detailed reports on the season, providing a rich accumulation of data on its history and development. In addition, Venkatakrishnan has written retrospective reports for the magazine on the season in selected historical years.
The “Idol” television format has gone global, and since 2004 an Indian version has featured amateur singers of popular Indian film songs. Seeing this, the producer Subhashree Thanikachalam (left)—who had already pioneered three successful television series focused on Indian music—decided to try a version presenting young performers in the classical South Indian tradition.
The result, Carnatic Music Idol, has run for two highly successful seasons and is preparing a third one. The series has done much to raise awareness of the tradition and to help viewers to understand the technical intracacies of its performance. The final rounds even call for a full rāgam-tānam-pallavi, a tour de force that was formerly considered too esoteric for general audiences.
This according to “An idol among TV shows” by Gayathri Sundaresan (Sruti 321 [June 2011] pp. 55–58. Below, excerpts from the 2011 finals.
Sruti: India’s premier magazine for the performing arts (ISSN 0970-7816) is a Chennai-based magazine. While its primary focus is the South Indian Karnatak music world and its related dance traditions, most issues include at least one article devoted to the North Indian Hindustani tradition; it also carries occasional features on Indian folk traditions. Sruti tends to concentrate on events in recent musical life and profiles of current—and occasionally past—performers. RILM focuses on covering the latter, including the former only when sufficient historical interest is indicated.
Research-based contributions from the independent scholar Sriram Venkatakrishnan (writing under the name Sriram V) are often included, providing notes on important persons or places in the history of the Karnatak tradition. Another regular contributor, S. Sankaranarayanan, writes philatelic reports on Indian stamps depicting musical subjects—a type of music iconography.
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