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Music in the air

This is the twelfth of a 16-part series on Bangalore, which will culminate in several competitions, including a Quiz, Paint Your City, Photograph Your City, Treasure Hunt, and so on for The Hindu NIE participants.


The great Bhimsen Joshi may not be a Bangalorean, but he has always been a hot favourite in the City's music circles.

THE EARLIEST known Yakshagana in Bangalore Ganga Gowri Vilasamu had 44 songs in different ragas. There is also an interesting story of how a dancer, called to general Ranadulla Khan's camp near Bangalore, suddenly rushed out to be on time for her music lessons. Upset with her abrupt departure, Ranadulla challenged the music teacher to play the veena notes on a wooden pillar or face death. The teacher, Veena Thippanna, triumphed and was awarded the title of Sangeeth Rao. One of his descendants was the famed singer Chintanapalli Venkata Rao.

During and after Shahaji's time, music at any religious or social function was a sign of sophistication. Pundarika Vittala of Sathanur, Magadi (16th Century) and Vadigenahalli Venkataramana, who lived in Telugupete, were among the early musicologists of Bangalore.

Unlike in Mysore where music had royal patronage, music in Bangalore had to depend on common people's patronage, which came in plenty. Music was a part of the daily chore, a weekly speciality in bhajana mandalis, an auspicious part of festivals, vrats, marriages, car festivals, and temple functions, an important component of Harikathe and Gamaka recitals, and a celebration during Ekadashi, Shivarathri and Ramotsavas. Nagaswara competitions would enthral people during Karaga, Ganeshotsav, and car festivals of Ulsoor Someswara and Subramanya in Sajjan Rao Circle.

Orchestra or music bands were arranged in various parks as early as Arcot Srinivasacharya's term as the Municipal President (1901).

Music gained in popularity in Bangalore even as it became an essential part of Ramotsava celebrations during the early 20th Century. Amongst 60 to 70 venues for Ramotsava, 10 hosted weeklong music concerts by well-known artists. The earliest groups, which arranged concerts were Ulsoorpete Seetharama Mandir, Gollarapete Rama Mandir, Cubbonpete, Saurashtrapete, Binny Mills Cross, Aralepete, Balepete, and Malleswaram Rama Bhajane Mandira (1910).

Two groups - Chamarajapete Sri Ramaseva Mandali (1938) and Seshadripuram Ramotsava Samiti - gained prestige and popularity. Performance at these venues was symbol of status for the artistes.

One of the earliest known music institutions, commonly called as sabhas, was Gana Vinoda Sabha, which was started in the early 20th Century. Though Saraswati Gana Sabha (1898) of Vijawada is said to be the earliest among the country's sabhas, unfortunately, it did not survive long. Bangalore Gayana Samaja (1905) is one sabha that has continuously served the cause of music for 97 years. In addition to the monthly concerts, it has also organised yearly music conferences since 1965. The Malleswaram Sangeetha Sabha, earlier known as Saibaba Sangeetha Sabha, organises music concerts in both Carnatic and Hindusthani music, Harikatha and dance programmes. In addition to music concerts, the Karnataka Gana Kala Parishat (1969) also organises lecture demonstrations, seminars, conferences, and exhibitions. It encourages young artistes and honours eminent musicians with the title of Gana Kala Bhooshana.

Today Bangalore has more than 50 sabhas in different residential localities that promote music. The famous novelist, A.N. Krishna Rao, enthused many singers to sing Kannada compositions. Veene Rajarao and Seshadri Gawai set tunes (Swara prasthara) to many popular Vachanas and Haridasa Kritis in Carnatic and Hindustani styles.

Music teachers and schools have played an important role in popularising music in Bangalore. Among the schools, one may mention D. Subbaramiah's Karnatak Music College, J. Chennamma's Gana Mandira, L.S. Narayanaswamy Bhagavathar's Vijaya Music College, S.V. Venkateshiah's Vani Sangeetha Vidyalaya, and T. Chowdiah's Ayyanar College. B. Venkatakrishnaiah's "Harmonium Swayambodhini" has seen 16 editions and is still popular. While Pallavi Sesha Iyer and Ulsoor Venkoba Rao belonged to the direct lineage of disciples of the saint Thyagaraja, Ulsoor Krishna Iyer belonged to the lineage of disciples of Shyama Shastri. Thus, the lineage of these two great masters of Carnatic music continues to flourish in Bangalore.

After Dharwaa, Bangalore has the distinction of being an important centre in South India to encourage and popularise Hindusthani music. The reasons for this are many. In the late 19th/early 20th Century, many eminent Hindusthani musicians, invited to sing in the Mysore Durbar, would halt in the City. The Gowda Sarasaths, who settled in Bangalore and worked in several mills, kept up their interest in Hindusthani music. The Nagarkars and Shirurs hosted the musicians and arranged informal singing sessions for small gatherings at home, popularly known as baitaks, which kindled a great deal of interest for Hindusthani music in Bangalore.

A few Hindusthani musicians started teaching music here. The earliest among them was Govind Vittal Bhave, who started the Saraswati Sangeetha Vidyalaya in 1931. Many a noted singers such as Rama Rao Naik, Chidananda Nagarkar, P. Kalinga Rao, and M.R. Gautam had their initial training in this school. Later on, Rama Rao Naik, Hombalkar, Joshi, D.B. Harindra, Seshadri Gawai, and others taught and popularised Hindusthani music in Bangalore. Apart from individuals, many institutions such as the Bangalore Sangeetha Sabha, Canara Union, Hindusthani Sangeetha Kalakara Mandali (1973), and Sur Sagar (1980) came into being.

Western music has also gained popularity over a long period of time. Christmas carols, choir singing in churches, and musical evening with a piano or a guitar in sitting rooms have popularised western classical music in the City. The musicals organised by Bangalore Musical Society ever since 1900 received warm encouragement.

Light music, known as sugama sangeetha, has grown in popularity in recent years.

In mid 19th Century, Javali singing was popular and gradually it became an integral part of Carnatic music. Sangeetham Venkataramanaiah and Kolar Chandrasekhar Shastri from Bangalore were famous as composers of Javali. Bangalore Nagaratnamma was famous for her rendering of Javali in 1920. P. Kalinga Rao, with a rare blend of classical and folk tunes, popularised many a devotional and folk songs and the works of several modern Kannada poets. Today, several opportunities are provided by radio, television, and the many celebrations such as club/association functions and Rajyotsava for this genre of music.

(The author would be grateful for additional information, old anecdotes, and old photographs on the subject. He can be contacted on 6520122 or kcmvcm@rediffmail.com.)

K. CHANDRAMOULI

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