More than just a performing stage

More than just a performing stage


More than just a performing stage

Historic: Shanmukhananda Hall has seen many legendary performers and the sweeping interiors have hosted many important events.

Its  audience had applauded the melodious strains of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s sitar  and the  stirring performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. It has hosted sedate annual general meetings of prestigious multinational companies  to conventions of political parties.

It has  seen happy gatherings of parents and children on annual school days and has silently heard the bhajans of devotees during condolence meetings held to mourn national leaders.

To understand the history of this grand auditorium, one has to go back 80 years and sift the various strands of the cultural history of Mumbai.

This hall is a shining example of the  cosmopolitan nature of  Mumbai and the cultural propensities of the South Indian community in the city. There were music groups devoted to Carnatic Music in Mumbai in the early years of the  20th century. The South Indian Sangeetha Sabha being the oldest, having been formed in 1927. In 1942,  another group of music lovers formed an assemblage called  Indian Fine Arts Society.

Then the music cognocenti in April 1944 formed the organisation known as the Shanmukhananda Sabha. The  music lovers then decided to merge all the three societies under the banner of The Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeeta Sabha  in 1952, taking the key words from all these three organisations. This grand organisation celebrates its diamond  jubilee in 2012.

Then came the problem of space  as the combined membership of all these three groups  was nearly 6000 and there was no auditorium that could house such a number, during music festivals. 

With the cooperation of music lovers all over India, soon the plans were laid for the Shanmukhananda Hall in 1955 and by 1963 the  hall, costing ` 27 lakh, with the best acoustics available was ready to be inaugurated, by the  Governor of Bombay, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.

Over decades, be they All India Congress Committee’s meetings or Yehudi Menuhin concerts, this hall was the venue of all important cultural/social and political events in Mumbai.

 Filmfare award nights, music concerts by maestros like Bhim Sen Joshi and MS Subbulakshmi have enthralled audience here. By 1990, in 27 years,  it had chalked up the enviable record of 9264 cultural programmes, 134 commercial film screenings, 1179 Shanmukhananda Sabha functions and 47 cultural documentaries.

 There is hardly any acclaimed Indian artist, who has not performed in the famous Shanmukhananda Hall. In terms of size, and infrastructural facilities, all under one roof, the Shanmukhananda Hall has had no equal in India.

However, this massive and dignified structure, suffered an unfortunate calamity, when a devastating fire destroyed the building and brought all its activities to a stand still in February 1990.

The tragedy took place, during a school- show, when a group of children were performing with lighted candles. No one noticed, when a candle touched the huge curtain and in minutes, the flame became a wild fire, which gutted the stage and the auditorium.

Although happily there was no loss of life, the loss of the grand hall was irreparable. The music lovers of Mumbai sat together to re-plan the hall and found that the insurance money available was less than ` 1 crore, whereas due to escalating costs and unavoidable modern fire fighting and acoustic refurbishing, the new hall would cost no less than ` 12 crore. That amount was beyond the reach of  an organisation, comprising members from the middle class. 

Then the Government of India stepped in with ` 50 lakh, the Government of Maharashtra put forth `180 lakh, other states like Tamil Nadu gave from ` 10 to 15 lakh each.

Jasubhai Foundation offered ` 65 lakh, Bharat Petroleum Corporation gave ` 40 lakh and special events organised  all over the country raised another 50 lakh. The shortfall of ` 350 lakh was met by a  loan  taken from the ICICI Bank (` 250 lakh) and the Bank of Baroda (` 100 lakh.)  IM Kadri, one of the most eminent architects in the Indian sub continent, with international fame for building such huge edifices, agreed to be the honorary architect for the project.

The requirement, was to build a a new structure with the capacity to hold different cultural  activities, and having   a  facade like that  of  a  traditional South Indian temple, yet with a modern sophisticated state-of-the art equipment and a well planned infrastructure. Eminent artists like Tapan Basu and Chiru Chakravarty were requested to plan and paint the murals in the foyers. The new ` 12 crore complex was unveiled on  November 1, 1998, after seven years of  meticulous work.

The foyer (150 feet wide and 40 feet deep) on the first floor level is a composition in white, with pictures and busts of famous Indian musicians adorning the walls. The floor  is of china mosaic.

From this open foyer, one enters into the ground plus two tiered seating areas holding 2787 seats (225 seats less than the old hall). This compromise was necessary to provide for more comfortable seats and fire safety measures.  There are 1486 seats on the ground floor, 791 in the first balcony and 510 in the second balcony. A 300 tonne airconditioning plant ensures comfortable temperature. The stage is visible from every seat, lighting arrangements  and the acoustics are the best  science can provide. The hall charges are ` 100,000 a day with an additional ` 20,000 (as refundable deposit).  

With the provision of a six storeyed tower block (housing the facilities of a music School, Jashubhai Shah Medical centre, and the convention centres) the auditorium is separate from the other areas.

In the year  2000, the respected Kanchi Kamakoti Shankaracharya  Peetham  from South India donated  a huge amount to the hall to reduce the deficit and in honour of this bequest, it was decided to rename the famous hall as, ‘Shanmukhananda Chandrasekhara Saraswati.’

Today, the grand hall is more than just another old edifice. It is a part of India’s cultural history. In fact,  it was once called,  “A  hall of music, built for music, by music.”  It would be a great day for the performing arts of India, if all major cities of India could replicate this grand auditorium.

Maharaja Features

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox