Bangalore Nagarathnama's reformist zeal

Over a cuppa

Bangalore  Nagarathnama's  reformist zeal

You are a prolific writer on music and heritage, including a biography of the versatile Carnatic musician and ‘Bharatnatyam’ dancer, Bangalore Nagarathnamma. What prompted you to essay this work?

It’s a great passion for me. I have loved the Music Academy. To me this is the place where I come to attend all music concerts. I am so attached to the place, that for me it was a great occasion to write a book about it. That’s why I wanted to do it.

What were the key factors and personalities who enabled the Academy to take South Indianclassical music and dance to such great heights?

Look, all the presidents, I think, have been very important, all the secretaries, the committee members, each one has given a lot of his/her life to ensure the Academy became a success. One important thing is that nobody got any remuneration out of it or anything. They were professionals, writers, lawyers, businessmen; but all sacrificed their time to get this work done, build the Music Academy, which was intertwined with our freedom movement since 1927. That I think is a real indicator of how passionate they were about the arts. It will be wrong if I mention just one or two important people. I would say that everybody who has been involved… But if you look at it in terms of the lecture sessions, people like Dr V Raghavan, TS Parthasarathy; these were all very important people.

Do you think the Academy has done enough to take this treasure of classical music to the younger generation?

See, it is doing its best. Today, you have these afternoon competitions; we have always had programmes for them (youth). But definitely, like any other institution, they can do a lot more also.

Your acclaimed work on Bangalore Nagarathnamma -- How would you place her in the evolution of Carnatic music and taking it to a larger public realm?

I don’t know how I would place her in the evolution of Carnatic Music, because she was definitely a successful performer already. But the point is, in her case it was more a question of bringing up the ‘Devadasis’ to a new level and trying to fight for their rights. And I think that was very important as far as she was concerned. The other important thing is that she built this temple for the saint-composer Thyagaraja (in Thiruvaiyaru around his ‘Samadhi’), sacrificing her life. So, she kind of emancipated herself and became a saint. She did not need a public platform. She was already a powerful performer. But really, I think she came at a time when that platform had not widened to this extent...Then Carnatic music was restricted to a very narrow base. Today, it has gone all over the world. So, I think you can’t evaluate her contributions in today’s parlance. It was a contribution that was very relevant at that time, when it spoke about the emancipation of ‘Devadasis’, the Deification of Thyagaraja and then it spoke about fighting for your rights; because women were not allowed to perform before Thyagaraja’s ‘Samadhi’. She fought for that and ensured that she conducted a parallel (music) festival where only women would perform for Thyagaraja. Men were not. Then she brought everyone together. So, Nagarathnamma did a very, very big thing at that time.

Has changing life-styles, mass consumerist culture undermined the core of Carnatic Music?

See, I don’t know. Don’t you think that if classical music is more than 600 years old, life-styles must have always been changing? And therefore, classical music must have adapted itself continuously to have survived this long. So, like any art, if it has to survive, it has to adapt itself. Today, I am sure we are not speaking about the music that Bharata or Sarangadeva spoke about in the second century or 13th century. It has completely changed, I am sure. It will continue evolving. If you come 300 years from now, I am sure you and I will be looking at a different music, which will also be Carnatic music. It would have evolved with time. That’s about it.

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