Reforms at the Aradhana

 (this appeared in March 2007 in The Hindu) 

It was a small news item and chances are most people missed it. The Hindu dated 17th March carried the news of a group of musicians meeting together on February 24th and 27th at the residence of the late “Vaidinatha  Bhagavatar” at Soolamangalam. The musicians were having serious issues with the way the Aradhana was being conducted and had decided to meet and debate and raise a banner of revolt. The location was significant for Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, the noted Harikatha exponent, had been a pillar of the Chinna Katchi, one of the three factions (the other two being the Periya and Nagarathnamma Katchis) that conducted rival Aradhanas in Tiruvayyaru till 1940 when the Tyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha was created to conduct a unified Aradhana. Bhagavatar, seeing that the Aradhana under the new set up was conducted more on the lines of a musical Sabha than a solemn religious and musical offering had chosen to dissociate himself from the proceedings and had stayed away till his death in 1943. It was but natural that musicians who had begun to realise the significance of his stance should meet at his residence even though he was long gone. A set of resolutions was passed during the meeting and all of them made for interesting reading.

The Hindu reported that it was “unanimously resolved at the meeting that the Aradhana and music concerts of Sri Thyagaraja Swami shall be conducted in a spirit of devotion and Bhakti to Thyagaraja Swami”. Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar and several like him had opposed the move to broadcast the music during the Aradhana for they had felt that devotion would be given the go by in the rush for prime seating. The second resolution stated that “the system of inaugurating and opening of the Aradhana shall be discontinued”. This too was something that Bhagavatar had protested against. After all Tyagaraja had attached no significance to power and pelf and so where was the necessity to have Maharajahs, ministers, Justices of the Court and prominent politicians to inaugurate the annual festivity? And yet, beginning with Sir RK Shanmukham Chetty in 1940 many bigwigs had been invited to do just that. The focus was shifting more and more towards the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural and piety was therefore lacking according to the musicians.

The third resolution according to The Hindu stated that “the office bearers and members of the Governing Body shall consist of Vidwans only”. Many bureaucrats, lawyers and moneyed patrons had interested themselves in the unification and when the Sabha was constituted it had the Maharajahs of Mysore, Gwalior and Travancore as its Patrons, Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar as its President and a set of Trustees of which not one was a musician. The first level in which musicians were represented was that of Secretary. It was felt that such a heavyweight Governing Body would make it easy for funds collection. Gone were the days when the Aradhana was a local affair with funding on a medium scale from local tradesmen and landlords, with the expenditure controlled by the musicians.

The fourth resolution passed was that “the practice of indiscriminate music concerts for negligibly short periods should cease since such a system tends to lower the level of music”. This again had been a cause for irritation for in the past the Aradhana had involved musical homage by way of some songs (not the Pancharatnam) being sung during the worship and the holding of music concerts of senior artistes from 3.00 pm till midnight. It was considered a matter of prestige to be invited to sing at the Aradhana and many such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Papa KS Venkataramiah and even Papanasam Sivan had made it big only after their debut concerts during the Aradhana.

The Hindu reported that the group of musicians gathered at Soolamangalam had elected a President and he was authorised to “communicate the resolutions to the Secretary and Assistant Secretary of the Thyaga Brahma Mahotsava Sabha and to the Press”. Now those of you who, on reading this begin to look for The Hindu of the 17th of 2007, must be informed that this meeting was held 60 years ago and was reported in The Hindu in 1947. It was the centenary year of Tyagaraja’s passing and this was among the first attempts at changing the Aradhana format. The musicians assembled included Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Tiruvalangadu Sundaresa Iyer, TK Rangachariar, Sathur Subramania Iyer, Bangalore Nagarathnammal and KV Narayanaswami among others. Palladam Sanjeeva Rao was elected President for the meeting and he it was who wrote to The Hindu. What happened when these resolutions were read out at the Tyaga Brahma Mahotsava Sabha committee meeting is anybody’s guess.

Sriram Venkatkrishnan