Nadasurabhi Cultural Association located in Koramangala, Bangalore is in the forefront of promoting Classical Carnatic Music. Nadasurabhi conducts the highest quality music concerts every month and a week-long Annual Festival in November, free of charge to all rasikas. Our other events include a youth festival, Thyagaraja and Purandaradasa Aradhana, and music competitions for children.

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A brief history of Carnatic Music - Page 5

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Music in that era was a healthy amalgam with various castes and communities contributing to its well being. The artistes themselves came from several backgrounds. Brahmins dominated among the vocalists and the Isai Vellalars constituted the bulk of the instrumentalists, especially in percussion. Women singers came predominantly from the Devadasi community, which was synonymous with the Isai Vellalars.

In 1927, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, a member of the Madras Legislature, began an attack on the Devadasi system equating it with prostitution and demanding that it be abolished. Her campaign was strong and forceful and despite several attempts by leaders of the Devadasi community such as Bangalore Nagarathnammal (1878-1952) and Veena Dhanammal (1868-1938) to get the public to see their point of view, a bill banning the Devadasis was passed. The Anti Nautch Bill, as it was called, was the first step in alienating communities other than the upper castes from the performing arts. The Isai Vellalars felt overwhelmed by the stigma of being part of the Devadasi community. Most of them gave up their hereditary profession. The loss to Carnatic music was immense. This being primarily an oral tradition, several songs were lost in the process.

The Music Academy of Madras was set up in 1927 when the All India Congress Session was held in the city. The Academy soon emerged as the pivot of Carnatic music with serious attempts in its early days to codify and standardize several aspects of the art form. It brought to the forefront several performing greats such as ‘Tiger’ Varadachariar (1876-1951). It also played a key role during the anti nautch crisis and the Tamizh Isai crisis. Led by its able secretary, E. Krishna Iyer, the Academy fought for the Devadasis but in vain. They however did yeoman service in ensuring that girls from upper castes learnt the dance form of Sadir (later renamed as Bharata Natyam) that the Devadasis were abandoning in haste.

In 1941, came the Tamizh Isai crisis. As recorded earlier, Carnatic music concerts were dominated by songs in Telugu and Sanskrit. This irked many lovers of Tamizh, which could boast of a long and hoary tradition in music with the earliest records of a codified system being mentioned in the Silapadikkaram (2nd Century BC). Unfortunately most of this was lost over time. Banding together under the leadership of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar, the Tamizh Isai lobbyists passed a resolution at Chidambaram in 1941 demanding that concerts in Madras Presidency ought to comprise Tamizh songs only. The Music Academy opposed this, its members led by T.T. Krishnamachari being of the view that Tamizh was not a musical language.

The Tamizh Isai Sangam was created as a counter to the Brahmin dominated Music Academy. Among the positive outcomes of the crisis was the  resurrection of several Tamizh works such as the Tevaram, the Tiruvachakam, the Tiruppugazh, and the Divya Prabhandhams.The songs of composers such as Arunachala Kavi (1711-1778), Marimutta Pillai (18th Century), Muttutandavar (16th Century) and Gopalakrishna Bharati (1811-81) came to light. The works of contemporary composers such as Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) and Koteeswara Iyer (1870-1936) also began to be sung.

With the coming of mass entertainment and the electronic media, Carnatic music lost its base. From an art for the masses less than a hundred years ago, it has become an art sustained by a miniscule population. If at all Carnatic music has continued to survive it has been due to the charisma and the crowd pulling capability of its top ranking performers who held sway during the period 1920 to 1960. Many of them worked in various capacities in the cinematic medium, but their hearts were in Carnatic music and they dedicated their lives to it. The demand for the recordings of these old masters continues unabated, with a flourishing parallel industry in their concert recordings that are traded all the time, across the world.

Today, Carnatic music has survived contrary to all the gloom and doom that was predicted. New artists are added, new labels released and new sabhas are born every year. If Carnatic music is still heard all over the world and makes an emphatic and grand statement of survival each year during the annual December season in Chennai, it is because of these great men and women, powerful personalities who bore the art form aloft amidst crisis and threats.

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