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Glimpse of a Lost World

Keshav Desiraju

By Indira Menon
Indialog Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 307, Rs. 295.00


Indira Menon’s book is a tribute to nostalgia, to a time that has vanished. In the world of Carnatic music, the years 1930-1965 were truly a period of great achievement and saw the glorious flowering of a movement which began about a century earlier, a coming together of a cultural tradition, societal forces and extraordinary performers. Of the several factors which contributed to the cultural explosion, the most important was the huge contribution of the three poet-composers revered as the Trinity, who, over the broad period 1760-1840, formalized the use of raga and the nature of compositions and effectively created the Carnatic repertory. Historians have also noted the shift from the somewhat exclusive patronage of the performing arts by temples and courts to the rather more widespread support of sabhas in newly prosperous towns. By 1900, the time was clearly ripe for a great performing tradition to be established, but this really only happened because, fortuitously, the men and women appeared whose gifts equalled the opportunities created by history and society. Vasudevachar, Muthiah Bhagavathar, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Madurai Pushpavanam Iyer, Veena Dhanam and Veena Seshanna and several others were the forerunners. Two important developments began to take place in their time. The concert pattern was beginning to take shape, and the practice of classical music moved from being the highly exclusive preserve of families traditionally wedded to the arts to being a more generally accessible tradition. The early stalwarts were succeeded by, and these are some of the subjetcs of Indira Menon’s book, Ariyakudi, Chembai, Maharajapuram, Musiri, Semmangudi, Madurai Mani, Palghat Mani, GNB, MS, DKP, MLV, heroes and heroines instantly recognized by their villages or their initials. In their time, and largely because of their efforts, the Carnatic concert tradition took roots.   Indira Menon writes with understanding and familiarity of each of her fourteen subjects. Surprisingly, all are vocalists, thereby depriving the reader of an introduction to such great instrumentalists as Palghat Mani Iyer, T.R.Mahalingam and the Karaikudi Brothers. However, her choice of vocalists cannot be faulted. Of the large and distinguished number of Carnatic singers, she has chosen well, and has wisely left out those who for all their popular standing have not left a lasting impression. Those that are represented are truly the masters.   Artistes such as Subbulakshmi have been extensively written about, though it must be admitted that in her particular case, most of ...

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