Continued from here

A press ad from The Hindu
A press ad from The Hindu

Inaugurating the Season was the Yuvaraja of Mysore, Kantirava Narasimharaja Wodeyar. It was a coup of sorts for it not only matched the stature of the President of the conference, Ariyakkudi, who was by then numero uno in the world of music, but it also ensured that peace was made with T Chowdiah, who was asthana vidwan of the Mysore Court. It must be recalled here that in 1931 or thereabouts, the Music Academy had banned Chowdiah and his seven-stringed violin from its stage. He had in retaliation set about forming the IFAS, which remained his staunch supporter. Now in 1938, with a common festival being held, the Academy had no choice. The feisty violinist also became a member of the Experts Committee. Yet another compromise was the giving up of handling the Congress party’s entertainment for its Khadi and Swadeshi Exhibition. The IFAS was a staunch supporter of the Justice Party and would have no truck with the Congress.

A glamorous performer that year was the film star Vasundhara Devi who was known to be admired greatly by the Yuvaraja. Her Hindustani performance was on the opening day. Another rising star who also performed on the opening day was NC Vasanthakokilam. It was her debut concert at the Academy, though she had sung earlier for the IFAS. The Mysore State Band was in attendance throughout the Conference and regaled the audience with its repertoire of Carnatic music, which pleased everyone except the critic of The Hindu who damned it with faint praise.

The Hindu’s critic in the 1930s, identified in the columns of the paper only as KVR which probably meant KV Ramachandran, the proprietor of the popular brand of hair oil – Kesavardhini, was a noted conservative in music and a Muthiah Bhagavatar baiter. He had in 1937 severely criticised Bhagavatar and AJ Pandian for their joint effort in getting an orchestra to play Carnatic music at the Music Academy’s conference. In his review of the Mysore Palace Band’s performance he noted that, “Unlike the old Tanjore Band and Dr Pandian’s Orchestra, the concert neither palled nor repelled, but was quite pleasing and suggestive. It was not exactly orchestration that was attempted, but some kind of instrumental co-ordination with the flute, flageolet and violin leading …One of the songs was said to be in a raga named Vijayanagari- a raga of Vidvan Muthayya Bhagavathar’s coining. If the Raga was an anagram or acrostic or crossword puzzle, Vijayanagari would be a Raga. Svaras could be grouped in many ways and would form many pleasing combinations, but if the Bhagavathar calls the result a Raga, obviously his notions of a Raga differ from the reviewer’s”. The orchestra was however received enthusiastically by the public and the Academy had to do the unprecedented and arrange for an encore performance early in January after the conference concluded. The ensemble was led by ‘Veena’ Venkatagiriappa and one of the artistes was his son Doreswami who many years later would preside over the Academy’s Conference.

The 1938 conference also witnessed a dance performance by Balachandra, the first woman from a non-Devadasi background to train in Bharata Natyam. KVR was to review this as well and wrote that “Srimati Balachandra has spared no pains in the matter of discipline and the best item in last evening’s programme was her thillana. Facial expression is not her strong point…” The last was obviously in comparison to T Balasaraswathi who had by then been rated the best in abhinaya. KVR offered Balachandra an alternative- that she would do better to concentrate on “making best use of her comely body, long tapering arms and shapely feet and give a maximum of dance and minimum of abhinaya…”

To be continued