Justice TL Venkatarama Aiyar sings, accompanied by VP Raman on the violin and N Srivatsamani on the mridangam
Justice TL Venkatarama Aiyar sings, accompanied by VP Raman on the violin and N Srivatsamani on the mridangam

Let’s face it, the similarities are astounding. The court is also referred to as kutcheri. There are arguments in one and musical challenges in the other. Both are part prepared and part extempore. There are judges in both situations – the awesome law-lords in one and the audience in the other. In the court, witnesses are known to sing. Both have sets of laws that are always evolving based on what is current practice. It is perhaps because of this that there has always been close affinity between Carnatic music and the High Court of Madras.

In August 1962, Chief Justice S. Ramachandra Aiyar, by way of celebrating the centenary of the High Court of Madras, organised a concert by Supreme Court judge and Sangita Kalanidhi T.L. Venkatarama Iyer accompanied by lawyers V.P. Raman and N. Srivatsa Mani on the violin and mridangam respectively.


Tiruppugazh Mani TM Krishnaswami Aiyar performs at the High Court centenary
Tiruppugazh Mani TM Krishnaswami Aiyar performs at the High Court centenary

Another performance on the same occasion was a Tiruppugazh concert by ‘Tiruppugazh Mani’ T.M. Krishnaswami Aiyar, in his time a giant of the Madras Bar and later Chief Justice of Travancore. These performances were an acknowledgement of the way lawyers and judges had supported music in Madras city. And the record is overwhelming.

When the Madras branch of the Poona Gayan Samaj opened in August 1883, Justice (and later Sir) T. Muthuswami Aiyar was present on the occasion. In December 1885, at a meeting of the same organisation, he read a paper on Hindu music to an audience that included the Governor and First Lady of Madras. The Gayan Samaj was to become the Madras Jubilee Gayan Samaj in 1887, the oldest Sabha of the city for which records are available. Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer and later another legal luminary, Sir V. Bhashyam Aiyangar were closely associated with it right through its brief life. For a while it also held concerts at Lakshmi Vilas, the Luz residence of Sir V. Bhashyam Aiyangar.

Bhashyam Iyengar belonged to the Vembakkam clan of which many lived in Mylapore and were successful lawyers. One such was V.C. Seshachari, who at his residence on South Mada Street, founded the first Mylapore Sabha – Sarada Sangeetha Sabha in 1908. The first Sabha to have a brush with the law was also from Mylapore.

That was the Rasika Ranjani Sabha, founded in 1929 and whose historic auditorium is now a mere shell. Two years after its founding, the irascible A.K. Ramachandra Iyer fell out with other committee members and locked the place. It had to be opened through court orders. But that was not new in Carnatic music. Even the Tyagaraja Samadhi at Tiruvayyaru was opened through magisterial intervention in 1928.

Egmore’s famed Jagannatha Bhakta Sabha functioned from the verandah of Veda Vilas, the home of T. Rangachariar another prominent lawyer. It was therefore no wonder that when the Music Academy was founded, several lawyers, S. Satyamurti and E. Krishna Iyer among them, were on board.


The second and the longest serving president of the Music Academy, K.V. Krishnaswami Aiyar was a prominent lawyer too as was another long-standing secretary, C.K. Venkatanarasimhan. Family members of the legal giant and sometime Advocate-General of Madras, T.R. Venkatarama Sastry, were to play important roles in the Music Academy for long.

The Indian Fine Arts Society had as its patrons Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao, judge, and his wife, the redoubtable Lady Andal. Another legal couple associated with this Sabha was K.S. Jayarama Aiyar, a leader specialising in criminal law, and his singer-wife Alamelu. Even today the legal tradition continues, with R Krishnaswami being secretary of the Narada Gana Sabha.

GNB’s father long cherished a hope that his son would study law, shine at the Bar and wind up taking silk. That was not to be. Alathur Venkatesa Aiyar and his son Sivasubramaniam were said to have a better knowledge of civil law than most lawyers. The first Sangita Kalanidhi of the Music Academy, T.V. Subba Row was a qualified lawyer though he did not practise. Prof P. Sambamoorthy, whose music syllabi and writings are followed by several universities, also qualified in law. T.V. Sankaranarayanan and Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman also hold law degrees.

A not-so-well-known fact is that the Music Academy owes its present campus to Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed. In 1945, when the Academy was penurious and had almost decided on buying a small piece of land in Triplicane, it was Basheer Ahmed, then a middling lawyer and committee member who convinced others on board that Sweet Home, the bungalow with a large garden on Mowbrays Road-Cathedral Road intersection ought to be bought on the security of future revenues. It was a visionary idea that happily worked, rather like the association between law and music.

This article appeared in The Hindu’s December Music Season supplement dated 1/12/2012

Both pics – Courtesy the Justice S Ramachandra Aiyar collection