Sunday, March 15, 2020

‘Sebastian’s Sons’: An Instrument, Caste and Music. T.M. Krishna Swings for the Fence and Misses

T.M. Krishna who has a made a name for himself, including considerable ire, by relentlessly questioning the Brahminical hegemony in Carnatic music has penned a book that has initiated a vigorous debate on how instrument makers and players negotiate their relationships and how society perceives the makers.
The name Palghat Mani Iyer, legendary mridangam virtuoso, is reverentially recalled while his principal instrument maker Parlaandu is mostly unknown. The mridangam, made with cow hide, required the services of Dalits, who were also Christians, presents an interesting social drama. Krishna's book seeks to present the makers in the foreground and question societal attitudes towards makers versus artists. 

A note on Krishna and this review

When the Carnatic music-Christian controversy erupted, in September 2018, almost everyone ran for cover. Many offered feeble protests that music doesn't belong to anyone and even they, so often, laced their rebuttals with a sanctimonious “I’ll nevertheless not be in aid of any attempts for religious conversion”. It was T.M. Krishna who, dragged into the controversy by O.S. Arun, flung down a gauntlet that he’d sing Muslim and Christian hymns. It’d be uncharitable to dismiss his acts of courage then and on other occasions as easy enough given his privileged position. Thank you Krishna, for your courage.

This is not a traditional book review. I’ve not merely critiqued the book or the writing. A traditional book review only critiques the book that is written and doesn't get into what could’ve been written. 

Artist and Maker

A 2003 article in Outlook titled “Thyagarja’s Cow” highlighted the unique fact that mridangam makers were largely from one community, the Dalits who were also Christians. The article regained note during the 2018 controversy and with his book T.M. Krishna has again brought attention to those makers. To be sure there have been others who have written about Parlaandu and made documentaries about making a mridangam. 

Mridangam, unlike a flute or ghatam, requires skins from cow and goat as principal components. Revering a cow as God and protecting the cow has been a reverential goal for sections of Hindus, chiefly Brahmins. Recently a ghastly term, ‘cow lynching’, has entered the political discourse to signify events were innocent citizens were lynched by mobs for allegedly killing cows. That Brahmin musicians used an instrument made of cow hide and which in turn, for that very reason, needed Dalits created dramatic relationships.

Krishna traces the early development of mridangam as an instrument by Vaidhyanatha Iyer and Sebastian (also known as Sevittiyan). The artist and maker enter into a symbiotic relationship that was complicated owing to caste boundaries and the taboo nature of the component of mridangam. While the Brahmin artists took great effort and even pride in shaping the making of the instrument they were equally coy in talking about it and extended their coyness in effacing the maker from popular discourse. Sebastian and his son Parlaandu (also known as Fernandes) hover over the life of Palghat Mani Iyer and the mridangam albeit in the shadows. 

The names Steinway and Stradivari are legendary in Western music as makers of pianos and violins that artists would kill for. Whether Sebastian or Parlaandu were a Stradivari is a different question but why were their names in the shadows? Who should be respected more, artist or maker, is easily resolvable in the artist’s favor but Krishna relentlessly questions treating the makers as non-entities and intellectually unnecessary. Krishna attributes the dismissiveness to caste.

Palghat Mani Iyer and Parlaandu (From Carnatic Music Review)

Mridangam making involves knowledge of how it is used by an artist, choice of skin by the maker and tuning by maker in response to the demands of an artist. Whether it is judging a cow’s skin or gathering a stone or a specific wood from a certain area the makers, Krishna wants the reader to understand, is not a mindless laborer but a knowledge worker, who is working in tandem with the artist and as such requires to be respected in his or her own right. In the days of Mani Iyer and shortly thereafter mridangam makers and artists had a relationship that went beyond commercial transactions. 

Artists chose to work with Parlaandu or Selvaraj or other makers of specific capabilities. The nature of the instrument necessitated a continued relationship between maker and artist and each became attuned, pun intended, to the needs and capabilities of the other. Yet, in public spaces this relationship remained rather veiled by caste. 

Caste Realities

Brahmins were actually latecomers to music and dance as artists. Isai Vellalars, chiefly, and other communities were the communities largely sidelined as Brahmins gained ascendancy and it also changed the very nature of the arts. Krishna extends the criticism to alleging that a large Brahmin population in Thanjavur contributed to how the music they participated to be seen as ‘classical’. 

Caste is the immutable iron framework within which socio-economic life of India was framed for more than a millennia. Carnatic music, advent of Brahmins into arts, braiding of music and nationalism, identities of music were all tainted by caste politics. 

Violinist Rajamanickam Pillai (1898 - 1970) used to accompany noted singers like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and after concerts he’d be served food after the Brahmins, including Semmangudi and even Pillai’s disciples who were Brahmins, had finished eating. To compensate, the local Brahmin dignitary’s wife, would serve the food herself. 

Krishna hammers on how caste shaped the boundaries between Parlaandu and Mani Iyer. Whether it is Parlaandu maintaining the skin treatment at his home or working on mridangams outside Mani Iyer’s home or even in Chennai, where, like any urban setting, the spaces get constrained the boundaries exist. Krishna attributes caste as the only reason for such boundaries.

A piano salesman or maker would speak of a piano in language not too different from a pianist. A mridangam maker’s articulation of a Carnatic concert and an artist or audience’s articulation are world’s apart. This, of course, is because caste did determine the spaces each occupied.

Mani Iyer’s grandson Palghat Ramprasad took umbrage at the supposed portrayal of Mani Iyer even as he underscored that the anecdotes cited were factual. Is Mani Iyer a casteist? Actually the portrayal only leads to the opposite conclusion. So, what caused the ire? Possibly the incident concerning Mani Iyer selecting a cow, the sacred cow, for slaughter based on his judgment that that cow’s skin was suitable for mridangam.

Was Parlaandu an artist?

Was the maker just hands and feet for an unpalatable task for the upper caste artist? In Krishna’s view the maker and the artist are co-equal intellectual partners and it is here that the story gets complicated and even falters.

If making a Steinway piano has become industrialized and a near science even as much as it is not a predictable certainty that a certain piano would become an iconic concert piano then mridangam making, from Krishna’s own telling, is more trial and error. Whether it is Mani Iyer’s notions of what can make a good mridangam or Parlaandu’s ideas of suitable skins or Somu Asari’s ideas about the ideal wood reasonable traditional knowledge and sentimental nonsense are freely mixed. 

Krishna exaggerates the knowledge a mridangam maker has about skins. Beyond a knowledge gained from practice like that a naturally dead animal’s skin would not be suitable unlike the skin of a slaughtered animal the maker too cannot say much about the suitability of a skin unless the skin is treated and hair is removed. Neither Mani Iyer nor Parlaandu could actually visually say a skin will be suitable. 

The narrative falters on this fulcrum that Krishna fashions to drive home his agenda. Oh yes he certainly had an agenda in mind. Mani Iyer and most artists are integral to the making of mridangam in a way that artists were not integral to a Stradivari making a violin. Whether it is Mani Iyer or Umayalpuram Sivaraman the makers are responding to what the artist wants and specifies. This is not to mean that Parlaandu was just an automaton. He was not. We often don't attribute skill to an intellectual process especially when it involves physical labor. How often do we think of a popular road side mechanic as skilled labor? We don’t. But can the car mechanic ‘design’ an engine? Maybe some one can but not as a rule. 

Parlaandu was no Stradivari. Why was an Amati or a Stradivari unique? They defined the instruments and influenced the nature of the instrument without an alliance with a Vivaldi. There was no Vivaldi telling them to choose a wood or apply a finish or tutoring on the sound. 

"A romanticized print of Antonio Stradivari examining an instrument (Wikipedia)

The manufacturing process of a Steinway piano is grandiose on a scale by orders of magnitude compared to making a mridangam. The workers bending the layered wooden rim of a concert grand are not just muscle. From choice of maple wood to designing how to layer the strips to designing keys a Steinway involves formalized science and technology. C.F. Theodore, a name revered in piano making, held 40 patents and collaborated with physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. Scottish piano maker John Broadwood is credited with inventing the world’s first grand piano and his clientele included Beethoven and Liszt. Is Broadwood’s name as well known as that of Beethoven or Liszt? No.

Parlaandu and makers like him deserve respect and intellectual regard but should we place Parlaandu on the same plane as Mani Iyer. Mani Iyer, by Krishna’s own admission, obsessed with the perfect sound and his own virtuosity earned, for the mridangam, a place of pride. 

What further undercuts Krishna’s case is the many traditions of mridangam making in several other regions where Parlaandu or his craft were literally unknown. Each regional variant had its own patrons and those makers had their pride too and refused to acknowledge any influences. 

Even in the Western classical milieu it is the player who's ranked above even a Stradivari. A reviewer of a book on Stradivari wrote, "it is the player rather than the instrument that makes the difference. An artist's relationship with his or her own instrument is both passionate and idiosyncratic. While the violinists Joshua Bell and Gil Shaham are in love with their Strads, Yo-Yo Ma usually chooses his Montagnana over the Davidov Strad, and the violinist Pinchas Zukerman is faithful to a Guarneri del Gesù". 

To pick a contemporary example we could look at Warren Shadd. Shadd made pianos now adorn churches and concert halls. Shadd, is African-American and that makes him "the first large scale commercial African-American instrument manufacturer period". Shadd, in an interview to NPR, speaks of starting off as a repairer and then piano maker. Unabashedly Shadd compares himself to Steinway, Yamaha etc and says, "They're engineers and businessmen; I am a musician and an engineer and businessman. I have somewhat of a musical advantage". Note how Shadd classifies himself as a musician and therefore superior to a Steinway !!!

That Mani Iyer was more integral to the mridangams Parlaandu made, than Parlaandu himself, is evident from how when Selvaraj starts making mridangam it is Mani Iyer who is the tutor, not Parlaandu. Selvaraj learned more from Mani Iyer than he ever did from Parlaandu. 

Dalits and the Christian Hymnal Tradition

If there’s a case to be made, that Parlaandu and Selvaraj were familiar to music and brought their musical awareness to work with Mani Iyer, it could be made by exploring the linkages between Dalits, Christianity and the Tamil Christian hymnal traditions. Krishna leaves this area completely unexplored despite a wealth of material.

While Krishna ascribes to the preponderance of Brahmins in Thanjavur the reason for the perception that Carnatic music is ‘classical music’ and then coolly ignores or fails to learn anything about musical traditions in non-Brahminical settings. He could not rise above his Brahmin gaze. Thanjavur, home to intense missionary activity was also where Abraham Pandithar and Vedanayakam Sastri created musical traditions that are still part of every Tamil church.

Ethno-musicologist Zoe C. Sherinian’s “Tamil Folk Music as Dalit Liberation Theology” is a signal work in Dalit music traditions within the Catholic and Protestant churches. It also maps the tangled web of music and caste much better than Krishna’s book. 

From use of Carnatic music based  songs to local folk music based variations, music was central to Christian evangelism. This is a less known or less spoken of dimension about evangelism and religious conversion. Vedanayakam Sastriar (1774-1864) of Thanjavur, H. Alfred Krishnapillai (1827-1900 ) of Tirunelveli and N. Samuel (1850 - 1927) of Tharangambadi were the triumvirate of Christian hymn writers. 

“From the 1940s to the 1970s Karnatak music remained the canonized symbol for indigenous Tamil Christian music”. It is at this time that Parlaandu and Selvaraj enter the employ of Mani Iyer. Christian evangelism at first targeted the Brahmins for conversion and this had a big impact on the linguistic and musical styles of early 19th century evangelism that persisted till early twentieth century. 

Sherinian observes, “The wide dissemination of kīrttaṉai with its elite musical form, modal and rhythmic systems, to the rural lower-caste Christian population resulted in a kind of elite Hinduization for villagers who continue to use kīrttaṉai as their primary liturgical song genre. The induction into Christianity through cultural material rooted in Vellalar Śaiva bhakti philosophy gave outcastes access to upper-caste/class culture”.

Vedanayakam Sastriar’s letter about different musical traditions in Catholic and Protestant missions is notable for the caste differences. Sastriar wrote, “we like decent music which suits our Tamil songs such as Harp, Pipe, Guitar, Timbrel, Cymbal etc. and use them in such time thinking that it will be acceptable to God and agreeable to the tenor of the 150th Psalm etc. But we have never used those riotous music, which the Roman Catholics use in their festivals such as Arabe, Taboret, Negasarum , Tumtum, Horn, etc. and we wish never to use them. Thus, we sing to the Lord in our festivals only by small bell, Cymbal, rejecting even those musical instruments which we might use reasonably for fear of their loudness and this we do after the divine service is over. At the Church we sing only the songs without any music [instruments].”

Note how he differentiates the musical traditions with different instruments. Despite the raga based songs Christian hymns are sung to light music kind of filmy orchestrations in the recent decades since possibly the 1970s. There’s a caste schism that led to this. Sherinian identifies the domination of Nadar Christians in Protestant churches as the reason for the shift away from Kirrtanais and even the light music style orchestration for the songs. At the Nadar dominated Cuddalore church those who supported hymns were Nadars and those who supported Kirttanais were “parayars”. 

A fine sample of a highly Sanskritized hymn that drunk deep from within the Vaishnavite bhakthi tradition is H. Alfred Krishna Pillai's 'Sathai Nishkalamai' (சத்தாய் நிஷ்களமாய்). Note the distinctive Vaishnavite use of "எம் பெருமானே". The orchestration is nevertheless light music style.

Dalits, particularly in the Church, had a very long association with Carnatic music style. The story of James Theophilus Appavoo, a family who’s association with Carnatic music stretches across several generations is instructive. Appavoo who later became a Dalit Liberation theologian questioned the association of Dalits with what is now seen as Brahminical music and proposed that Dalits should return to their own musical traditions. All these nuances are lost in Krishna’s obsession with trying to be a savior for Dalits. Music and any art space should be inclusive but it also raises the question of distinguishing openness with imposing an art. Krishna thinks that refusing to call carnatic music as classical music is all that’s required to make other arts its equal. His ideas on classical music, not covered in the book, are shamefully patronizing. 

Coming to Parlaandu and Selvaraj we know very little of their church going habits and the fact that many others in many regions, including women, were involved in mridangam we cannot ascribe it all to the Church. It is interesting though that it was Dalit Christians who were predominant in Tamil Nadu given that some castes within Muslims too worked in tanneries. 

Krishna’s Success and Failures

If there is one good outcome that happened because of the book it is that there is now a respectful notice towards instruments and their makers. Even if only a handful in the audience look at a mridangam or a nagaswaram with a bit of wonder about its craftsmanship then Krishna has succeeded. Beyond that the book abjectly fails on many counts.

That Krishna is no historian is evident from his celebration of E.V. Ramaswamy as the only reason for breaking caste barriers in Tamil Nadu. For someone writing a book entirely to give due recognition to a  long ignored Dalit instrument maker it is rich with irony that he completely ignores Dalit leaders and their efforts in uplifting their people. Krishna himself has either no idea of Dalit emancipators like M.C. Rajah and Iyothee Thass or he's just, as usual, playing to the popular political gallery in Tamil Nadu.
The perpetual editorializing and the irksome unsubtle ways in how Krishna’s uses his informant as mere tools for his agenda is pathetic. Watching Selvaraj, who lost an arm in an accident, walking with a shawl draped to cover the missing arm, Krishna editorializes, “Perhaps the white shawl covered his physical and emotional scars”. Then he provides no material to substantiate that. This is ugly imposition of victimhood on an informant unbeknownst to the informant. A good historian or biographer or sociologist or just a plain good writer wouldn't do that.

The central theme of the book is to establish that Parlaandu, Selvaraj and others did not get their due, socially or economically, owing to their caste. But this flounders and the book actually provides enough material to argue that while the equation was not all that egalitarian it was not as lopsided as Krishna sells during interviews. What Krishna peddles to friendly journalists or the many interviewers who have not read the book is unsubstantiated by his own book. It is stunning that interviewers have not called out the contradictions which makes me think either they have not read it or they don't want to inconvenience Krishna. 

Vaidyanatha Iyer, Krishna alleges, did not pay Sebastian and Parlaandu adequately. We’re left to surmise that this was entirely due to caste whereas class differences have an equal role to play. Then there’s Umayalpuram Sivaraman, who, Krishna himself writes, “took very good care of Rajamanickam, and paid him a monthly salary of Rs 1,000, not unsubstantial in those days, and allowed him to work for others for additional revenue”. 

Vaidyanatha Iyer, Krishna records, taught a "muslim lad and a female student". Even as he acknowledges the complexities of these behaviors Krishna asserts as assumption, with no evidence, that Iyer would've "set regulations for both himself and the student, and these allowed him to maintain his own notion of 'purity'". This is intellectual dishonesty in a work of history.

Where Krishna decides to present Parlaandu as a self respecting artist he writes of how Parlaandu used to pick fights with Mani Iyer. When the family decamps to Madras several artists, including the legendary Veena artist S. Balachander, give them a helping hand. These acts of grace are rarely spoken by Krishna in his interviews and the publicity roadshows that he has embarked on. Instead Krishna presents Parlaandu, in his interviews, as a victim. 

Was Mani Iyer a revolutionary in breaking caste barriers? Of course not but it takes some chutzpah to portray him unfairly as nothing but a caste obsessed Brahmin.  Where Mani Iyer is gracious Krishna unfairly diminishes the anecdote as a case where Mani Iyer’s transactional need of Parlaandu necessitated overriding of caste lines. Essentially any gracious act is driven by transactional motivation and anything less than egalitarian is exclusively due to caste differences. Nuances, subtleties and complexities are all thrown to the wind in becoming a ‘burn the house down’ activism and an unseemly desire to playing to the gallery. 

If Mani Iyer was purely transactional he could’ve not bothered about Parlaandu once Selvaraj came on board. But Iyer ensures that Parlaandu, now ailing, gets the best medical treatment possible. While Krishna obsesses over Dalits and skins he coolly passes over a stunning incident. Mani Iyer deputes a Brahmin to carry Parlaandu’s urine sample for laboratory testing. By all accounts Mani Iyer comes off as a decent person. Krishna, in his interviews, buries all this. Essentially Krishna’s book tells a different story from what Krishna’s interviews and speeches tell us. 

That Tanjore artisans went to the homes of the likes of Mani Iyer and worked on mridangams is attributed to the caste subservience. Yet the Madras artisans don't do that and that that undercuts the caste narrative is glided over. Again, to be sure, this is not to suggest there’s no caste angle but Krishna does disservice to history by obsessing over caste.

In his zeal to be reformist Krishna eagerly consumes everything that comes his way. A mridangam maker asked, rather cheekily, that how come the instrument he shapes with his legs is honored in a puja room. Little does Krishna or the reader realize that feet, certainly not as revered as the head, but not a taboo either. Worshipping at the feet of the Lord is common. 

Then there are hasty generalizations. Krishna alleges that non-Brahmin mridangam artist C.S. Murugabhoopathy died an unknown. Murugabhoopathy, by the time he died, had been awarded Kalaimamani, Padma Shri, Sangeet Nataka Academy Award and Palghat Mani Iyer award. In his own lifetime he had played mridangam for the who's who of Carnatic music world. An obituary in Sruti magazine, on Murugabhoopathy, was titled “The last of the titans”. More recently, Parivadini organized a commemoration of Murugabhoopathy.

To appear contemporaneous and to burnish his credentials as an anti-caste warrior Krishna gives a back handed compliment to communist leader Vaidyanathan, a Brahmin, who married a Sri Lankan lady and gave his daughter, Seethalakshmi, in marriage to a Dalit. Krishna commends crossing the caste lines and says it was bravery when “honor killings” were “prevalent”. This is nonsense, doubly. One, honor-killings are a recent phenomenon and till date Brahmins have not had any such incident. Krishna is sickeningly playing to the gallery here. 

Seethalakshmi’s daughter Sarada, married to Sowriar, of the Sebastian lineage, tells Krishna that Brahmin mridangam artists are now more comfortable with the makers and it is the non-Brahmin artists who make a fuss. She also points to the progress in caste relations. But Krishna, with his Brahmin gaze and his desire to be savior, actually disagrees with his own informant. Its almost like he’ll not brook any contra-evidence. 

The I’m-at-war-with-all mentality makes Krishna spin contradictions. In one place he extols that the Tanjore tradition of “kappi muttu’ necessitates “a demanding poivaaru pidi” and at another places he literally accuses a player of being sadistic when he demands a tighter ‘poivaaru pidi’. He accuses the artist, in Sashi Tharoor like language, of showing a “vicarious chauvinistic bravado”. Tsk Tsk, TMK !!!!

Do the above criticisms suggest that carnatic music and its fraternity are free of casteism and bigotry? 

Casteism and Bigotry in Carnatic Music

Krishna’s failure lies in picking a complex tale to drive home the point of privilege and caste in Carnatic music. Instead if we undertook a study of how non-Brahmin artistes have been treated and the social media posts of the Brahmin artists then a story of casteism emerges.

Whether it was the Christians and Carnatic music controversy or the BJP politics and especially T.M. Krishna himself the vitriol of bigotry in Carnatic music forums and posts by Brahmin artists is unbelievable. When a person wrote “they cannot equalize Tharai Thappattai to our classical music. And not necessary. Ships cannot sail on road, Cars cannot swim. Anyone wants to blame the caste for this let un enjoy it. Let everyone accept the fact that brahmins and Jews are the most intelligent community of the world”, Palghat Mani Iyer’s grandson responded, coolly, “Annaaa”. Ramprasad himself traffics in conspiracy theories. (Read my article in Tamizhini for a detailed critique, here). 

Lalitaram Ramachandram, founder of Parivadini, has recorded how Nagaswaram artists are treated insultingly in Music Academy. Of course caste is a reason there. 

It is a fair criticism that the readiness, with which a Ramprasad - who adds the prefix ‘Palghat’ to his name to get the listener to readily associate him with his illustrious ancestor - is received as a performer will not be given to a son or daughter of a mridangam maker. Also it is interesting to observe contemporary Brahmin artists who go about their daily lives without a naamam or vibhuthi, donning resplendent caste marks when they go on stage to perform. The intention is clear. 

Casteism is real in carnatic music. It is almost exclusively Brahmins, particularly the Modi supporters, who’ll scornfully ridicule T.M. Krishna not because he’s a bad singer but because they couldn’t ignore him and because he makes them uncomfortable from within.

Need for T.M. Krishna. Parivadini and 'Parlaandu Award'

We need a T.M. Krishna and we also need look beyond him. Here’s why. Vocalist S. Sowmya did a research on mridangam and conveniently ignored the makers and completely ascribed the making only to the artists like Mani Iyer. In her world the makers are not even hands and feet but just brainless automatons to be brushed into oblivion. It is in this milieu that T.M. Krishna, with his self confessed privilege, and his megaphone become valuable. 

For all his omissions as author, his love for playing to the gallery, his sweeping generalizations it is an undeniable fact that with this book Krishna has kicked off a discussion like no one else could. For example, Sherinian has been interviewed by only a local rag sheet, Nakeeran and it barely registered a bllip. We need a scholar like Sherinian and for her to get attention we need an attention seeker like Krishna. Sad but true. 

Watch Sherinian's interview below.

A fair criticism of Krishna is that he does not walk the talk. From his repertoire to his choice of accompanists to his jumping from one cause to another and his questionable views of what is art and how to popularize art Krishna can be fairly criticized. An interesting omission in Krishna’s book is his failure to mention the admirable efforts of Lalitaram Ramachandran (disclousure, he’s personally know to me) in constituting an award commemorating Parlaandu. 

Lalitaram had shared in Facebook a story of Mani Iyer tutoring the son of a janitor's son. See picture below. Do check out his article on the plight of those seeking to learn Nagaswaram (here

Krishna's book does highlight real life issues for mridangam makers. They lack an organization and would like some government pension scheme. The nature of work imposes occupational hazards for them and they need protection. 

I’m aware that this blog might be used to bludgeon Krishna and that is surely not my intention. However, as reader I hold authors to a standard. Dear T.M. Krishna, you’ve a place as a valuable insider who’s raising the banner but please, yield the stage, occasionally to someone. If Krishna enables others to be their own voices and for professional historians he’d be of greater service.


  1. Thyagaraja’s Cow 
  2. (awarded Sangita Kalanidhi 1948)
  3. Making of Mridangam 
  4. An undying heritage 
  5. Article by Lalitaram Ramachandran on Parlaandu
  14. Antonio Stradivari: His Life and Work (1644 - 1737) -- W. Henry Hill, Arthur E. Hill and Alfred E. Hill
  15. Stradivari's Genius: Five Violins, One Cello and Three Centuries of Enduring Perfection -- Toby Faber
  16. New York Time's Review of Toby Faber's book
  17. Piano: The making of a Steinway concert grand -- James Barron
  18. Steinway & Sons -- Richard K. Leiberman
  19. Story of Warren Shadd
  20. S. Sowmya's dissertation
  21. Documentary 'Mridangam - An undying heritage'
  22. Documentary 'The Making of the Mridangam"
  23. Lalitaram's FB post on Mani Iyer tutoring a janitor's son
  24. "Casteism and Bigotry: A canker in the soul of Carnatic Music" - Tamizhini article
  25. Lalitaram Article on the plight of Nagaswaram students
  26. Lalitaram on Murugabhoopathy
  27. Lalitaram blogs on Mridangam artists collected hereமிருதங்கம்/
  28. Lalitaram about Parlaandu


R Narasimhan said...

Excellent and objective. Vedanayakam Sastriar was known with Mayavaram or Mayuram, not Tanjavur, unless the former is included in the latter district

Lakshminarayana Krishnappa said...

Well written. I had the privilege of going through your great blog.

My views are as follows.
1. I know T M Krishna as a singer since he was an young boy. He is a great singer.
2. Although himself a Brahmin, he is boldly criticising casteist forces. For him caste means ‘Brahmin’. No doubt in the past Brahmins might have been advisors for people in power who exploited lower castes.
3. Of late a short cut to fame is by talking foul about Brahmins who are small in number and are soft by nature. It’s safe to blame them and get away. Krishna is reaping that easy route!
4. Casteism does not mean Brahmin alone. Selectively targeting them is not correct. If Krishna has courage, let him expose foul play done by all other castes.
No doubt Mridangam making is done by Dalits and many Mridangam artists are Brahmins. Many non-Brahmin mridangists are also there.
Cricket bats are made by low caste people. But whether a bat maker be equated in achievements to that of a most accomplished batsman?
5. Yesudas, a Christian is much more respected than Krishna and his admirers are across all caste lines. He never does silly talking on caste. He has high respect towards his Guru Chennai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar (needless to say he was a Brahmin), who shaped his music and career.
6. Krishna invariably keeps Brahmin accompaniments for violin, mridangam and even tambura. Why not Dalit artists? This is hypocrisy!
7. From Karnataka there was a non-Brahmin artist by name Violin Chowdaiah, who was shaped by a Brahmin Guru. He made a popular team with Madurai Mani Iyer and Palghat Mani Iyer (a real life Brahmin character in Krishna’s book). Krishna has never mentioned this honour extended to a non-Brahmin.
Lakshminarayana K