Passing by Bengaluru’s Sankey Tank Road, one cannot miss a grand, gigantic seven-stringed violin amidst a beautiful garden. This magnificent structure, the Chowdiah Memorial Hall, is the most visible legacy of violin maestro Tirumakudalu Chowdiah. It is the only memorial to exist for a musician of any instrument in India.
Chowdiah passed away 55 years ago on January 19, 1967. It took over a decade for a dream to become a reality. The Chowdiah Memorial Hall was opened in 1980.
How did this violin wizard garner this uniquely architected memorial, an instantaneous representation of what he did that no other renowned musician can boast of?
For an answer one has to go back in time to Mysuru of the 1900s, to a unique, heritage house called ‘Parvathi’ which played host to over 400 musical concerts, thanks to its owner, K Puttu Rao.
“K Puttu Rao (1894-1959) was a leading advocate of Mysuru. His love for music and regard for artists was proverbial. ‘Parvathi’, the spacious bungalow where he lived, was second only to the Mysuru Palace in its benevolence to art and artists. The bungalow was always overflowing with music. It was but natural that in such a household, the violin maestro Mysuru T Chowdiah should have carved a warm niche for himself,” according to Shruti magazine’s 1987 issue dedicated to Chowdiah.
Somewhere down the years, the vision to create a memorial for Chowdiah became apparent to K Srikantiah, son of Puttu Rao.
“Gradually, a strong bond of mutual love and respect grew between Chowdiah and the members of our family, indeed a fusion of Kalavida and Rasika,” Srikantiah recalled, adding that he told his brother KK Murthy, the then President, Academy of Music, Bengaluru, that their feelings for Chowdiah should be immortalized through an appropriate monument.
The two sons of Puttu Rao promised their father of fulfilling his dream to build a unique memorial in honour of Chowdiah. The dream crystallised on April 15, 1970, after an ML Vasanthakumari concert at ‘Parvathi’ in memory of Chowdiah, attended by then governor of Karnataka, Dharma Vira and Industries Minister Rajashekar Murthy.
KK Murthy quickly conceptualised the idea of a concert hall in memory of Chowdiah for people to enjoy good music and through the Academy of Music, secured a 99-year lease on a site on Sankey Tank Road. Despite inadequate funds, Murthy pressed ahead after many music lovers and benefactors stepped up to the plate.
The Chowdiah Memorial Hall, with a seating capacity of slightly over a 1000, opened in 1980 and became a venue for cultural events. Today, after 41 years, the hall not only reverberates with myriad of memories but remains a much-sought-after venue for musical and cultural shows.
For Chowdiah’s family members, the hall is a matter of great pride. “As long as the Hall stands strong in Bengaluru, our grand-pa’s existence is felt,” said Chowdiah’s grand-daughter Dr T C Poornima, who has authored ‘Nada Nakshathra’, a biography of Chowdiah.
While the memorial will remain a unique landmark in Benguluru, T Chowdiah, the maestro, will live forever be in the history of Carnatic music for his invaluable contribution despite his humble beginnings.
Chowdiah was born in a small village near T Narasipura in Mysuru district in 1895. After initial lessons in music from his mother, he came under the tutelage of the great Gana Visharada Bidaram Krishnappa, who trained Chowdiah on the four-string violin for two decades. He quickly mastered the instrument and began accompanying his guru on many recitals across south India.
In time, the innovator in Chowdiah designed a seven-string violin to match the range of the human voice in the pre-microphone era, much to the chagrin of the traditionalists, including his guru.
Alongside teaching, he performed at many places, often accompanying renowned vocalists. He composed more than 60 songs in traditional ragas and has more than a dozen tillanas to his credit.
“His exemplary artistry and endearing simplicity brought him close to all the top-notch vidwans he performed with. Chowdiah’s initiative helped many musicians perform at the Durbar Hall of the Mysuru Palace, where he was the Asthana Vidwan,” writes the vocalist S Krishnamurthy, a former director of Akashavani, in his biography of Chowdiah.
Chowdiah not only stood head to head against the huge dominance of maestros from Tamil Nadu but was also instrumental in building a bridge between musicians of the erstwhile Mysuru State and Madras.
In recognition of his musical prowess, numerous awards and honours were heaped on him.
Sadly, due to internal dissensions, Chowdiah was unceremoniously dropped from the management of the Bidaram Krishnappa Mandiram, which he lovingly nourished and served with dedication, after the death of his guru. This dealt a big blow to Chowdiah but then it resulted in a positive development with the setting up of the T Chowdiah Memorial Sri Rama Seva Samithi by K Srikantiah.
A gifted composer, singer, actor, producer, entrepreneur and lover of cars, Pitilu (fiddle) Chowdiah passed away at the age of 72 in 1967, leaving behind a legacy which is still enriching Carnatic music.
He was a source of immense inspiration to many including the successive generations in his family, who went on to pursue the arts, carving a niche for themselves. Film stars Ambareesh, Sumalatha, Abhishek, Dharma; musicians MA Chandan Kumar and TG Thyagarajan and writer TC Poornima are all part of the Chowdiah family tree.