EXCLUSIVE | How state anthem lost its tune

EXCLUSIVE | How state anthem lost its tune

Would you believe it: the Karnataka state anthem has no official tune, although a popular one composed by Mysore Ananthaswamy almost made it in 2006. A story of intrigue, musical rivalry, and how a brilliant composer was quietly buried in red tape

This sounds bizarre, but the Karnataka state anthem has no official tune, and can be sung any which way.

It is easy to blame this confusion on bureaucratic red tape, but behind it is a story of intrigue, machination, and creative rivalry between two brilliant composers.

When the Karnataka government announced in 2000 that it would make ‘Bharata Jananiya tanujate’ the state anthem, it accorded recognition to a joyful song sung widely, and for decades.

Written by Jnanpith laureate Kuvempu, it describes Karnataka and its glories like no other. Sometime in the 1960s, Mysore Ananthaswamy captured its spirit in a tune that is at once lilting and rousing.

C Kuvempu

Already well-known for his work in popularising the singing of contemporary Kannada poetry, Ananthaswamy sang his tune in the presence of Kuvempu at Maharaja College, Mysuru. In a diary note, Ananthaswamy says the revered poet was delighted, and gave the tune his stamp of approval, advising him to sing it in a group.

Ananthaswamy’s tune became a concert standard for sugama sangeeta artistes, and a favourite among school and college choral groups. It was broadcast in the voices of several artistes and groups on All India Radio as well.

A committee headed by poet Dr G S Shivarudrappa recommended Ananthaswamy’s tune for the state anthem. Poets and musicians were represented in the committee, and they considered several tunes before arriving at a decision.

A good 12 years later, the government is still sitting on the file, and has not passed any order.

A flurry of activity took place soon after the committee made its tune recommendation. C Aswath, the singer-composer who shot to fame with his earthy tunes for the poetry of the Sufi saint Shishunala Sharif, was upset his tune for Bharata jananiya tanujaate hadn’t made the final cut.

Musicians and influential admirers lobbied for his tune even as a controversy broke out about how Kuvempu had left out the name of Madhwacharya, while he had mentioned two other great philosophers associated with Karnataka: Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya.

Also, the song was considered too long for an anthem: when it was sung at government events, it called for the audience to stand for four to six minutes. Given that governors and dignitaries are elderly, an argument was made to trim the lyrics.

A second committee, headed by poet Channaveera Kanavi, came into the picture at this point. It was to consider what words to keep, and also deliberate on the tune.

When the government was asked why a second committee was looking at the tune all over again, it came up with a preposterous explanation: “We’ve lost the files!”

Musicians greeted it with shock and disbelief: members of the first committee were around, and could have easily reiterated what they had recommended. They weren’t asked.

On Wednesday, as part of the research for this story, Metrolife called Doddarangegowda, the well-known poet who had served on the first committee. He had no doubt which tune deserved the ‘official’ tag.

“Ananthaswamy’s tune is best suited for the anthem,” he said, repeating what the committee had first said. “I recommend his tune to this day.”

Singers favour Ananthaswamy’s tune
Musicians Metrolife spoke to almost overwhelmingly supported Ananthaswamy’s tune.

Dr Jayashree Aravind

Dr Jayashree Aravind, singer, says Ananthaswamy had composed the tune out of sheer passion, and had no clue it would be considered for the state anthem. She has no objection to Aswath’s tune, but says it is wrong to override Ananthaswamy’s. “All senior artistes in the industry know Ananthaswamy’s tune, and sing it at their concerts,” she says.

B K Sumitra, well-known singer with a slew of film hits and bhavageete albums, also prefers Mysore Ananthaswamy's tune.

“He never got his due. It is our duty to honour him, at least now, by declaring his composition as the official anthem,” she told Metrolife.

Having learnt the original tune from Ananthaswamy, Sumitra says the composition is pleasant. “The soft tune complements the warmth of the lyrics,” she says.

Sumitra blamed “hidden hands” for the tune not getting its due. “The changes were made instantly and we have been singing it with no other option,” she says.

She sings Ananthaswamy’s tunes at her concerts, and Aswath’s at government events, and rues the confusion.

“All that matters in a government function is that you sing the state anthem. The lyricist and composer never matter. Politicians have become ignorant and it is a matter of shame,”she says.

Anand Madalagere

Anand Madalagere, sugama Sangeeta artiste and member of Karnataka Sangeeta Nritya Academy, recalls Dr Vasanth

Kanakapur, the harmonium maestro, was part of the first committee, and the decision to recommend Ananthaswamy’s tune was informed and well considered.

“Many of us asked why the tune was being changed when a decision had already been made. The Kannada and culture department said the file produced by the first committee was lost,” he recalled.

One argument against Ananthaswamy’s tune was that he had composed a melody for just two verses whereas Aswath had covered the entire song.

That is not true, says Sunitha Ananthaswamy, the composer’s daughter, who remembers singing all verses with him.

“Our appeal is to have one official tune for the state anthem, that should be Ananthaswamy's,” Madalagere says. “Nobody is an enemy and we should remember Ananthaswamy is senior to Aswath, and made the tune first.”

It is only after the release of Ananthaswamy's song that the government wanted to have a state anthem. “If it weren’t for the public's acceptance of Ananthaswamy's tune, there would be no scope for a nadageete (state anthem),” he concludes.

The Kannada Sahitya Parishat, an influential pan-Karnataka cultural body, met recently and recommended two minutes and thirty seconds (150 seconds) as the singing time for the state anthem.

“There is no point in focusing on the duration of a song without a tune,” he said.

Don’t dishonour Ananthaswamy, says daughter Sunitha

Sunitha Ananthaswamy

Sunitha Ananthaswamy, singer and Mysore Ananthaswamy’s daughter, has just petitioned the government, seeking official status for his tune.

In a letter to Kannada and Culture Minister Jayamala, she has recalled the context of how her father made the tune, and sought justice for him.

After the committee recommended Ananthaswamy’s tune in 2006, the government had it recorded and sent to schools and colleges across the state, Sunitha recalled.

“I have not only sung this with my father but also taught it to many people from my college days,” she says, in an email interview from the United States, where she now lives.

Ananthaswamy was invited to sing it at several milestone events like the inauguration of the Bengaluru station of Doordarshan, and the first World Kannada Conference in Mysuru, where he performed in the presence of Kuvempu and prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“My father called himself a postman who took the poets to the people. He took this song everywhere, in an age when there was no Internet, and even a good public address system was rare,” she says.

In her view, ignoring Ananthaswamy’s tune is “a dishonour to an artiste who promoted nothing but Kannada poetry all his life.”

Tunes considered

The 2006 committee considered tunes by H R Leelavathi, C Ashwath, and one sung for a film by P B Srinivas. It finally zeroed in on Ananthaswamy’s tune.

Poet and member of  the 2006 committee that recommended Ananthaswamy’s tune

“Ananthaswamy’s version is the perfect way to sing the state anthem. It is free of alaaps, unlike Aswath’s version. As a song, Aswath’s composition is excellent. But, for the state anthem, Ananthaswamy’s version should be kept.”

Poet and member of  the 2006 committee that recommended Ananthaswamy’s tune

“The government is analysing the two compositions now. As a poet, I can only speak about the words. I am open to both tunes. This has been going on since chief minister Dharam Singh’s time. I don’t remember how the tunes got changed.”​

Y K Muddukrishna

Y K Muddukrishna
Senior sugama sangeeta artiste who held senior official positions in the Karnataka government:

“If the government wants to accept the text recommended by Dr G S Shivarudrappa I support Ananthaswamy's tune. But if the government decides to use the full text, we should go with Aswath's tune. I urge the government not to sleep over this matter any more.”

Minister for Kannada and culture

“There is no controversy. Some people have requested a shorter tune. Sometimes we stand for eight and 10 minutes for the anthems. I would not like to comment on this now. We will definitely look into the matter soon.”  

Family was heartbroken: Shantha

Shantha, Mysore Ananthswamy’s wife, told Metrolife the family was heartbroken when Ananthaswamy’s tune was replaced by Aswath’s at government events.

“It is a shame he did not receive the honour he deserved,” she said, almost breaking into tears. She said he had composed a tune for the entire song and not just two verses.

Savitha, the couple’s elder daughter, told Metrolife, “Ramakrishna Hegde, then chief minister, also sang along with my father during one of the Karnataka Rajyotsava celebrations.

Ananthaswamy breathed his last in 1995. “I remember admiring his tune as a child. We really hope we get justice,” she says.