I do this annual feature for the Sruti magazine and here is a brief account of what happened in 1944. Someday I hope to upload the earlier parts. I thank the Music Academy and the Tamil Isai Sangam for sharing their archival material. I only wish the Indian Fine Arts Society had saved some of its historic material for that would have completed the narrative.

The Academy’s concert list for 1944

After the thunder and lightning of the years 1940 to 1943, all of which were dominated by the Tamil Isai Movement and its pros and cons, 1944 was when everyone settled down to an extent. In the wide world outside, the Allies were winning the Second World War, but peace had not yet come. Similarly, hostilities were dying out in the Tamil Isai tussle, but a truce was yet to be declared. But that peace was not far away was evident when you consider that prominent Nagarathars, who were in the vanguard of the Tamil Isai movement, were Chief Guests at the Music Academy and the Indian Fine Arts Society.

The Music Academy’s festival, like the previous year, began on December 22. The Sangita Kalanidhi designate was TL Venkatarama Iyer, first cousin to Sangita Kalanidhi Dr Harikesanallur L Muthiah Bhagavatar, and a successful lawyer who would later become a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was an authority on Muttuswami Dikshitar kritis and had been closely associated with the Academy since its inception. He was also a hidebound conservative and die-hard anti Tamil Isai in outlook. Invited to inaugurate the festival was Sir RM Alagappa Chettiar who was by then well-known for his philanthropy in the field of education. He was also actively associated with the Tamil Isai Movement. That did not prevent TV Subba Rao, Secretary of the Music Academy, in his customary welcome address during the Conference to obliquely attack Raja Sir Annamalai and say of AlagappaChettiar that “if only the more prosperous part of the community emulated his shining example and held their acquisitions in trust for the common good, the world would scarcely be vexed by social and political disorders which had their roots in mutual fear, jealousy and distrust”.

Alagappa Chettiar differed. Such a movement as the one for Tamil Isai he said “might appear to be a break with tradition but it need not really be a break. In course of time the irrelevant passions generated by it will die, and it would have added a new range and reach to the sweep of our art. In this view I welcome the organisations that seek to encourage songs in Tamil. They stimulate the urge to create, they reflect the desire of many to hear the songs in their mother-tongue and ultimately the repertory of the art will be enriched by the volume of new songs that have been composed and rendered. As long as the movement follows the norms and the methods handed down by tradition it has to be welcomed. In the long run it cannot but join the mainstream. One may plead with the orthodox to view these efforts with sympathy and understanding”.

Such words did not deter TL Venkatarama Iyer from stating that “for folk music and emotional music, the mother tongue was the best vehicle since the purport of the songs was the thing that was important and not its music. The essential part of aesthetic music was nada, pure music. The fact that compositions in Sanskrit where they were of a high musical order did delight audiences even though the language was not current today was proof of the proposition that aesthetic music transcended the language of the sahitya”.

Unlike the practice between 1939 and 1943 when the Academy and the IFAS held a joint inauguration, the latter chose to go its way. Its Conference began on the 24th at the Gokhale Hall with M Ct Chidambaram Chettyar inaugurating and the scholar and musicologist MS Ramaswami Iyer presiding over the Conference. Between Iyer and the Academy there was now no love lost for he had not been conferred the Sangita Kalanidhi although he had presided over one of the three days of the first music conference in 1929. The Tamil Isai Sangam’s Conference too began on the same date with Sir PT Rajan inaugurating it.

Whatever be TL Venkatarama Iyer’s sentiments on Tamil Isai, the Academy’s agenda for discussions during 1944 was for a change not dominated by the issue of language. For the first time it directly addressed the growing popularity of cinema. It did not consider this a threat to music for at that time the two arts were complimentary with several musicians taking to an acting career. What the Academy was more concerned about was the dilution in standards of classicism in film songs, which it rather naively assumed ought to also conform rigidly to the tenets of Carnatic music. A resolution was passed on the 27th of December requesting the Government to ensure that at least two members of the Music Academy ought to sit on the Film Censor Board for the purpose of preserving the purity and standards of Carnatic music. This did not immediately have any impact but many years later, Musiri Subramania Iyer would be nominated by the Government as a member though it is not clear what influence he had on the kind of music that was presented in films or whether he at all addressed himself to that aspect during his tenure.

The second item on the agenda was the question of graha-sruti bheda, a technique that involved tonic shift while rendering a raga thereby bringing in shades of other non-allied ragas. The Academy’s proceedings are documented in its Journal of 1945 and from it we can also see that raga lakshanas were discussed for Kapi, Brindavana Saranga, Nilambari, Desakshi, Saindhavi and Ramakali. The Tamil Isai Sangam too had a conference, pann araichi being the dominant feature. As for the IFAS, while it is certain that it did host a conference and concerts, no records exist with the Sabha on who performed or presented papers at its festival.

Opening page of Tamil Isai Sangam souvenir, 1944

The Music Academy and the Tamil Isai Sangam souvenirs for the year have survived and there are some interesting nuggets that emerge. The Academy brought out an unusually small and thin souvenir; perhaps owing to war-time rationing of paper. An interesting feature is a single page ready reckoner of the programmes, and it refers to artistes by the names the public used to refer to them. Thus Sangita Kalanidhi Ariyakkudi T Ramanujay Iyengar is simply listed as Ariyakkudi. There was a junior slot from 4 to 5.30 pm and a senior slot from 6.00 pm onwards. In the former we notice names such as Satagopan, Vasanthakumari, TM Thiyagarajan, the flautist TR Navaneetham and Master Raghu (mridangam).  Those in the senior slot include Ariyakkudi, Chittoor Subramania Pillai, Semmangudi, Alathur Bros, GNB, Maharajapuram (sr) and Madurai Mani Iyer. The sole dance performance was by Pandanallur Jayalakshmi.

The Academy was sticking to a perverse decision it had taken a couple of years earlier of not featuring upa pakkavadyams and nagaswaram artistes and so many names are glaringly absent. MS Subbulakshmi, given her close association with the TIS, is also not there. All of these are more than made up by the TIS season which began on 24th December and went on till January 4, 1945. The list of artistes positively bristles with performers on the ghatam, kanjira and mohrsing. Chembai, who was not on speaking terms with the Academy for being overlooked for the Kalanidhi in 1939, features prominently, as does MS Subbulakshmi. On two days, 30th and 31st, we find the TIS featuring a guru-sishya duo. On the first day, while Gottuvadyam Mannargudi K Savitri performed between 4 and 5.30 pm, her guru Madurai Mani Iyer sang from 6 to 9. The next day, MLV and GNB were similarly slotted. On January 3, 1945, there was a nagaswaram trio – TN Rajarathinam Pillai, his nephew (Kakkayi) TNR Natarajasundaram Pillai and Thiruvidaimarudur PS Veerusami Pillai accompanied by Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai and Mayavaram Muthuveer Pillai on the Tavil. There were two dance programmes, the first by Balasaraswati and the second by AN Periyanayaki. There are many names in the TIS list that music aficionados of today may be hard put to recognise – ‘Maduragana’ Smt NA Sundaram, Keevalur S Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Therezhundur Srinivasachariar, Mayilam Vajravelu Mudaliar and Chennai PS VedachalamChettiar – all vocalists!

Some other famous names feature too – MM Dandapani Desigar, MK Thyagaraja Bhagavatar, singing on the 25th and probably little realising the disaster that was to befall him two days later, Chidambaram S Jayarama Pillai (now better known as Kalaignar Karunanidhi’s brother-in-law, his sister Padmavathi being the first wife of the former CM and mother of Mu Ka Muthu, he came from the lineage of Shudda MaddalamThambiappa Pillai, the disciple of Muttuswami Dikshitar), NC Vasanthakokilam and Thirupamburam N Swaminatha Pillai. The list of accompanists is even more interesting but has to be left out of the scope of this article. An interesting combination is Thanjavur P Kittappa Pillai singing with his brother Sivanandam accompanying him on the veena. A prominent advertisement in the souvenir is an announcement of MS Subbulakshmi’s film Meera.

Attention waned in the three Conferences after the 28th for on that day MK Tyagaraja Bhagavatar, the reigning matinee idol and one of the pillars of the Tamil Isai Movement, was arrested on charges of murdering a muck-raking journalist CN Lakshmikantham who ran a yellow journal. Several Carnatic musicians had also been his victims and there were hints that big names in the art were also involved indirectly in his being done away with. Within a day, another big name in the world of cinema, NS Krishnan was also arrested and the trial proceedings swallowed up all public attention. The impact of all this was felt more at the Tamil Isai Sangam but the Music Academy and the IFAS too were affected. On the 30th, ML Vasanthakumari made her debut at the Academy but attendance was thin.

The motions of the concluding ceremonies of the various Conferences were gone through however. Already there were signs of a great thaw ahead. The Music Academy invited Sir K Ramunni Menon, Vice Chancellor of the Madras University and a die-hard Justice Party member and Tamil Isai lobbyist to preside over its Sadas, held on 31st December at 3 pm. On the concluding day, the Academy mourned the passing of Sir R Meverel Statham who in his capacity as Director of Public Instruction had been instrumental in getting the Teachers College of Music recognised by the Government. The customary Members Day breakfast on January 1, brought the Academy’s Conference to a close.

At the Tamil Isai Sangam too there were signs of the initial virulence dying away. The lawyer and diarist ND Varadachariar attended the deliberations on 1st January 1945 and noted that “the interesting thing about the Tamil Isai conference is that gradually these artistes are beginning to lay emphasis on alapana, neraval and swara singing, which were all considered as not giving sufficient importance to Tamil. The Isai people must ultimately conform to traditional standards. True culture must again come into its own”.

Join me & Ashwath Narayanan on our Dasavataram Musical Walk Dasavataram Musical Walk at VR Chennai on December 14