Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXIII No. 18, January 1-15, 2024

The Season 75 years ago

-- by Sriram V

One more December Music Season has come to an end. And as usual the statistics will be churned out about how 60 and more organisations put up 2000 music and dance performances, funded entirely by private initiative, etc, etc, etc. Way back in 1948, it was a lot easier. There were only three organisations celebrating the arts – the Music Academy, the Indian Fine Arts Society and the Tamil Isai Sangam. That year, a fourth – the Thyagabrahma Gana Sabha (TBGS) at Vani Mahal tested the season waters for the first time. There are sadly no details available about this maiden attempt. For the record, the Sabha remained an outlier as far as the Season was concerned in later years, becoming an active participant only from the 1980s.

Rented Homes

Ironically, among the four players, it was only the youngest, namely the TBGS that had a home of its own. The Music Academy was still at Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylapore. The Indian Fine Arts Society (IFAS) was holding its events at Gokhale Hall, Armenian Street. The Tamil Isai Sangam concerts were held at the St. Mary’s Co-Cathedral Parish Hall, Armenian Street, cheek by jowl with the IFAS venue. The Catholic Centre stands on this site today.

Inaugurations and Speeches

There were certain practices that had become standardised by then across the three organisations and which would be faithfully copied by later entrants. The first of these was an inauguration with a prominent figure in Indian perception being invited to do the honours. At the Academy it was the then Governor of Madras, His Highness Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavsinhji, Maharajah of Bhavnagar. The Tamil Isai Sangam had its season inaugurated by Omandur Ramaswami Reddiar, the then Chief Minister of Madras. At the IFAS it was Justice ASP Iyer of the High Court of Madras. Thus, the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary had been respectively and rather nicely divided across the three Sabhas.

The second aspect was having a musician preside over the annual conference. This had been the practice since inception at the Academy and the IFAS but the Sangam did not adopt it. At the Academy, the President of the Conference was conferred the Sangita Kalanidhi title since 1942 and in 1948, the musician selected for presiding and being so honoured was the veteran violinist Kumbakonam Rajamanikkam Pillai. At the IFAS, though its title of Sangita Kala Shikhamani was yet to come into existence, the musician invited to preside over the conference was Prof R Srinivasan, an academic from Thiruvananthapuram who was also well-known for his patronage of the arts.

The Central College of Carnatic Music

All three festivals it would seem began on the 24th of December and ended on early in January, the Sangam and IFAS concluding theirs on the first while the Academy went on till the second. The hot topic that year was the establishment of a music university in South India by the Central Government, for which Prof P Sambamoorthy had worked on the syllabus. Speakers at all three venues dwelt at length on their views on musical education. The Hindu in its editorial (those were days when newspapers wrote serious editorials on our December festival) felt that the purpose of such an institution was limited. It drew extensively from Kumbakonam Rajamanikkam Pillai’s speech at the Academy wherein he said that manodharma was something that had to be learnt by closely observing the guru. Was this even possible through a music college wondered The Hindu. The newspaper was also strongly anti Tamil Isai at this time. At the opening of the Sangam’s Conference the Premier O.P. Ramaswami Reddy had said that good music is something that ought to appeal to the heart and not the head. A little later, he also said that music ought to appeal to everyone. The Hindu disagreed on both counts. Good music need not be what appeals to everyone it said. In a way the newspaper was critiquing the Tamil Isai Sangam itself, which as was commonly said of it those days, was democratising music by insisting on songs in Tamil. This was not to the liking of the elitists who thronged the Music Academy, whose champion The Hindu was.

Music Academy Season 1948. An assembly of notables and worthies outside Sundareswarar Hall. 1st from left: R.B. Ramakrishna Raju, 2nd ‘Tiger’ Varadachariar, from 4th P. Ramachandriah, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, KVK, Kumbhakonam Rajamanikkam Pillai (Sangita Kalanidhi designate), Maharajah of Bhavnagar, T.L. Venkatarama Iyer and Maharani of Bhavnagar.

A reading of Kalki magazine’s editorial about the same season brings out other highlights regarding the proposed music college. The idea for such an institution according to the magazine was clearly Rajaji’s, for he had proposed it during his brief tenure as Education Minister, Government of India. Following this, a committee had been established, comprising T.S. Avinasilingam Chettiar (then Education Minister, Govt. of Madras), Dr. Sir A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar (then Vice Chancellor University of Madras), P.V. Rajamannar (Chief Justice, High Court of Madras), K. Srinivasan (Vice President Music Academy and Editor, The Hindu), Rao Bahadur K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer (President, Music Academy), T.K. Chidambaranatha Mudaliar (noted Tamil scholar), Prof P. Sambamoorthy, S. Venkateswaran ICS and Tiger K. Varadachariar. Thereafter Prof. Sambamoorthy, had as stated earlier, worked on the syllabus and the big question hanging over the college was about its administration. The Music Academy evidently fancied its chances and said as much in its address of welcome to the Governor, the Maharajah of Bhavnagar. Kalki criticised this presumption on the part of the Academy and questioned its claim of fostering the arts when it had all along been against Tamil Isai. Eventually, as is well known, the college came up under the auspices of the Central Government and later the State Government. It now functions under the Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University.

The Performing Artistes

Unfortunately for us, the Indian Fine Arts Society’s souvenir for the year has not survived. It is at least not in the public domain. We therefore do not know who sang for this Sabha in 1948 and what their song lists were. But the souvenirs of the Tamil Isai Sangam and the Music Academy are with us. At the former institution, this being the first year without its patron-in-chief, Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar, his absence loomed large and the souvenir itself begins with a heartfelt tribute to him, with particular reference to Tamil Isai, penned by T.S. Kachapikesa Mudaliar, a long-time associate. The Sangam also welcomed its new President, Sir R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, then Finance Minister, Government of India. The lead article in the souvenir is by Kavimani Desika Vinayakam Pillai, and a song by him follows with notation. The tune is accredited to Thanjavur K.P. Krishnamurthy Pillai.

The list of programmes features artistes such as M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar, GNB, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Madurai Mani Iyer, Anandi and Radha (dance with music by MSS), Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, N.C. Vasanthakokilam, Chitoor Subramania Pillai and M.M. Dandapani Desigar.

A perusal of the songs lists reveals that this was an era when the Sangam was still permitting songs in languages other than Tamil to be sung at its concerts. Several Telugu and Sanskrit songs appear in the bills of fare. What is interesting is that from each of the song lists and just below it on each page, one Tamil piece has been selected and its lyrics have been given in full. Sadly for us, the notations are absent.

The Music Academy’s souvenir opens with articles by three stalwarts – T.V. Subba Rao on Veena Dhanam, Dr. V. Raghavan on Muthuswami Dikshitar and E. Krishna Iyer on Bharata Natyam. There were two slots by then at the Academy – the junior slot was from 3.30 to 5.00 pm and the senior from 5.00 pm onwards. The latter in turn featured two performances, the first from 5.00 to 8.00 pm and the second from 9.00 to 11.00 pm. The junior list features V.R. Chandra Ramamoorthy (who seems to have sung with an all-women ensemble), Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavatar, K.V. Narayanaswami, Thirupattur Chellammal and S. Balasubramaniam (it is not possible to state clearly if this is Sethalapathy Balasubramaniam). The senior list has Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (with the year’s awardee Rajamanikkam Pillai on the violin), T.R. Mahalingam, GNB, K.P. Sivanandam, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Madurai Mani Iyer, Dwaram Venkatasami Naidu, D.K. Pattammal, Brinda & Muktha, the Alathoor Brothers, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai. There were two Hindustani performances – Faiaz Khan and Bismilla Khan scheduled but both were cancelled at the last minute. The sole Harikatha presentation at the Academy was by Embar Vijayaraghavachariar.

There were two dance programmes – one each by Kumari Kamala and Kumari Kausalya.

This was Kamala’s first performance at the Music Academy and her dance on December 29 saw tickets fully sold. She thereafter danced regularly under the auspices of the Academy and generated a lot of funds for it. Years later, she was recognised by the institution with a special award. Though her name is absent in 1948, M.S. Subbulakshmi, like Kamala, was to remain a regular and great fund raiser for the Music Academy. The Academy had parted ways with her in 1943 over her championing Tamil Isai but had diplomatically made peace in 1947, when she performed again for it.

A prominent name in the Academy’s conduct of the season was that of T.T. Krishnamachari’s. He had parted ways with the institution over unknown reasons and a letter which he had written in 1942, which though not traceable was recorded to have been full of objectionable words. In 1948, peace was made with him, and he returned, to become Vice President and steer the Academy’s mega project, of building an auditorium on land which it had purchased in 1946.

The Academy Lecdems

The lecture demonstrations of the Academy happened at the Lady Sivaswami Iyer Girls School, just opposite the R.R. Sabha. That year’s conference being held in collaboration with the Indian Section of the International Society for Contemporary Music, there was a sizeable Hindustani contingent at the conference. Pt. Ratanjankar, Geeta Sarabhai and Prof D.C. Vedi presented papers. The academic sessions began at 12.00 noon on all days and seem to have gone on till the evening in a leisurely fashion. There was considerable time given to discussions on raga lakshanas, those of Manji, Shuddha Desi, Dvijavanti, Huseni and Kannada being taken up. Manji dominated the season, with many views being expressed and no consensus emerging. There were besides lectures on composers, rare tala-s and Pallavi singing. There was also a resolution passed to ensure that ‘magnetic wire recording’ be done of all the senior vidwans so that the world at large would have an idea of how they sang. All of this was to the good, commented Kalki, but he said the Academy was powerless to implement the very resolutions it passed in the mornings in its performances in the evenings! Recording concerts was a good idea he said but the musicians ought to listen to their singing before they formally recorded so that they could correct their flaws he wrote.

The conference concluded on January 2, with the sadas, presided over by Justice P.V. Rajamannar taking place that evening. Rajamanikkam Pillai was conferred the Sangita Kalanidhi. In his speech the justice compared the sruti perfection that Hindustani musicians had and hoped that Carnatic counterparts would achieve the same. Kalki agreed and cited the performance of Pt. S.N. Ratanjankar as an example though he faulted the latter’s tendency to sing the syllables naayi naayi naayi repeatedly, which to a Tamilian he felt, sounded terrible.


In parallel to its music conference, the Academy held competitions. Among the prize winners that evening we see the names of Mani Perundevi (later Mani Krishnaswami), T.R. Subramanyam, D. Pasupati and S.R. Janakiraman, all to become celebrated names in the world of music. At the Sangam too, competitions were held, with Madurai Mani Iyer and Thirupamburam Swaminatha Pillai being judges. The Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar prize, for singing Gopalakrishna Bharathi compositions was given to R. Vedavalli. It was a handsome tambura.

Reviews of 1948

The Kalki reviews of the season of 1948 make for interesting reading. As a critic Kalki, writing under the pseudonym Karnatakam continued to remain a staunch supporter of Tamil Isai but he was clearly tiring of the Sangam’s relentless attempts at creating new Tamil songs. He found fault with this and felt that the organisation ought to focus on popularising the works of composers such as the Sirkazhi Moovar and Gopalakrishna Bharathi. He also criticised the tendency to set some of the new songs in unheard of ragas. This barb was clearly aimed at M.M. Dandapani Desigar. This was the year when All India Radio began to broadcast the senior concerts live and a grateful Kalki clearly tuned in from home rather than go from venue to venue. In his assessment, GNB was the hero of the season, his performances at IFAS, Sangam and Music Academy being top class. Ariyakkudi he opined was showing signs of ageing but still holding on. Chembai got by with his powerful voice and habit of livening his performances with much humour and commentary. The Alathoor Brothers got a rating of 3/5. Poor Madurai Mani Iyer suffered from health issues and his performances were marked by his accompanists chipping in to make the concert experience wholesome. Kalki also rated audiences – the Gokhale Hall (IFAS) was the best with frequent applause thereby encouraging the artistes. The Sangam came next, followed by the Academy where deathly silence was the sole response artistes got.

All three season souvenirs – the IFAS, the Sangam and the Academy’s – got thumbs down from Kalki. He rated the quality of design, the paper on which they were printed and the content as below par. That we now consider these as valuable reference material is another matter altogether!

Tickets vs Freebies

The debate over free vs ticketed concerts was on even then. A reading of Kalki reveals that the Sangam had loudspeakers to broadcast its music live to people who happened to be on Armenian Street. This was obviously for free and Kalki praised it as a method of propagating music. He on the other hand faulted the Academy for not following suit and insisting of having its concerts behind closed doors, only for ticket holders. Kalki noted the segregation of Academy rows for donors and daily ticket holders (forerunners of today’s Patron, Donor, Life and Ordinary Members) and asked as to whether the donor was in any way more knowledgeable about music than the two-rupee daily ticket holder. He also wrote of how the donors rarely came, and their seats remained empty.

Looking back today, it is difficult to agree with Kalki. The Sangam had big business money behind it, while the Academy though it did have powerful backers did not benefit from their purse. Its President K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer was a martinet when it came to discipline, and he was of the view that audiences had to pay for how else could the organisation survive. And how much free service is to be done for propagating Carnatic music? The debate continues today – with demands for free YouTube links gaining ground over ticket purchases.

And so the season of 1948 wound to a close. It was not a very eventful year but it did mark yet another step towards the continuity of the December Music Festival that we take for granted today. – (Courtesy: Sruti.)

This article was written with assistance from the following:

– The Library, the Music Academy Madras and its librarian M.K. Jagadish.

– The Library, the Tamil Isai Sangam, and the Sangam’s Vice President Valli Arun and Secretary Nachiayappan.

– The Kalki Archives accessed online.

– The Hindu Archives of the season with the Music Academy.

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