Chennai: Musiri Subramania Iyer’s Sangita Kalanidhi Gold Medal with Ribbon . Photo: V. Ganesan.

What a strange season it is going to be at the Music Academy! No lecture demonstrations, which means no President of the Annual Conference and that means no Sangita Kalanidhi. True, the august organisation is coming out with a digital offering of concerts starting from December 24th and ending on the 31st but Covid realities forced it to drop the morning sessions this year. 

Why no lecdems is a question that has quite often been asked of me. The Academy did debate long and hard before it opted out of holding them. Firstly, the experts committee members are largely elderly and getting them to be present for a recording of the lecdems would have been a risk. Secondly, unlike the concerts, the conference has many outstation speakers who would have found it impossible to travel. Yes, we could have had online sessions but with multiple speakers at various towns and cities, each with separate connectivity issues meant several headaches. And so, no lecdems was the decision. For the first time in its 93-year history, the Academy has been forced to give up on this tradition. 

Unlike the Conference however, the Academy has had breaks in the awarding of its Kalanidhi. For that matter, between 1929 and 1942 there was no Kalanidhi at all. In that period, the honour lay in being invited to preside over the annual conference. It was only in 1942 that KV Krishnaswami Iyer, the then President of the Academy, came up with the idea of an award to go with the responsibility of presiding over the annual conference and thus was born the Sangita Kalanidhi. On January 1, 1943, the Academy convoked its Sadas and awarded all musicians who had presided over the annual conferences between 1929 and 1942 with that title. Three – Palamarneri Swaminatha Iyer, Umayalpuram SwaminathaIyer and Mangudi Chidambara Bhagavatar had already passed on but they too were conferred the award posthumously. It is noteworthy that the Academy has since then never contemplated a posthumous recognition. 

The centenary of Tyagaraja’s death came about in 1946, and the festival that year was dedicated to him. The Sangita Kalanidhi was therefore not given. Similarly, in 1967, which was the bicentenary of Tyagaraja’s birth, the award was withheld. As in 1946, the entire festival was dedicated to Tyagaraja, with musicians’ concerts comprising only his kriti-s and the conference having papers only related to his work. Dikshitar’s birth bicentenary came about in 1975 and the award was not conferred again. This year saw musicians present plenty of Dikshitar kriti-s in their concerts and the conference had topics entirely devoted to the composer. In all these years, past Sangita Kalanidhi-s took turns to preside over the deliberations at the conference. 

Strangely enough, Dikshitar’s death centenary (1935) was not observed in any fashion. Perhaps the Academy was still in its formative years. But the omission of Syama Sastry’s birth bicentenary in 1962 is a matter of surprise. 

Be that as it may, 1946, 1967 and 1975 were all musically momentous years. Not so 2020 which will probably go down as one of the worst years mankind has ever faced. Hopefully 2021 should be better and among other things staging a return will be the annual conference of the Music Academy along with a Sangita Kalanidhi.

This article was written for the December 2020 issue of Sruti magazine