Saturday, February 4, 2023

Local music

Despite being one of, if not the oldest extant language in the world, Tamizh has been finding acceptance as a 'musical' language only in the past few decades. Despite evidence going back to the 6th-8th century CE indicating a very robust Tamizh music heritage from Silapathikaram, Divyaprabhandam and similar works, even as staunch a Tamizh poet as Bharatiyar wrote of "Sundara Telunginil paatisathu" (composing songs in melodious Telugu). So it is not a surprise that the classical music scene of the 1930s Madras was made up of overwhelmingly Telugu compositions, with Tamizh songs being relegated to the tukkada (sundries) section. 

Some prominent folks of Madras (and other cities) decided to do something about this. They coalesced the call for pure Tamizh music by setting up the Tamil Isai Sangam in 1943. Raja Sir Annamalai  Chettiar had convened the first Tamil Isai conference in Chidambaram in 1941, and backed efforts for similar conferences in other cities as well. Others who joined him in setting up the Sangam were RK Shunmukham Chettiar, Rao Bahadur VS Thyagaraja Mudaliar of Tiruvarur, Dewan Bahadur CS Ruthnasabapathy Mudaliar of Coimbatore and others from other cities of the Madras Presidency. 

The world of classical music was split; there were singers who were ambivalent about it, such as Musiri and Semmangudi; Kalki Krishnamurthy wrote in favour; TT Krishnamachari Iyengar and TL Venkatarama Iyer backed the Music Academy and Telugu compositions. It was the support of the ladies: singers like DK Pattammal, MS Subbulakshmi and KB Sundarambal supported Tamizh. Over time, the vociferous arguments died down and today, it is perfectly okay for Sanjay Subrahmanyan to do an exclusive "Tamizhum Naanum" event; and when he performs at the Raja Annamalai Mandram, these doors will need to be far larger to allow the audience to go through!

Of course, the Raja Annamalai Mandram has other entrances, too. This is just the one at the front!

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