The fifth Swadeshi Indology Conference titled “Karnāṭaka Śāstrīya Saṅgīta: Its Past, Present and Future” was organised by Infinity Foundation India in collaboration with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru and Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts – Regional Centre, Bengaluru. The day-long conference was held at Khincha Auditorium, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Race Course Road, Bengaluruon Saturday, 30th March 2019. Its objective was to reaffirm the Sanātana Dhārmic roots of the Karnatic music heritage and the centrality of bhakti therein, in the wake of the various disruptive narratives afoot aiming to delink its sacred aspect, and projecting it not only as a mere secular art but also delineating its sacredness as the very tool of oppression.
An auspicious beginning to the conference was made by the Nāgasvara recital of Viduṣī Prabhavati and Vidvān Palanivel. The conference was inaugurated with the lighting of the lamp by Paramapūjya Śrī Śrī Yadugiri Yatirāja Jīyar Swāmiji, Padma Bhushan awardee Dr. R. Nagaswamy, Śrī Mohandas Pai and Dr. Sumathi Krishnan. Śrī Mohandas Pai, Chairman of Manipal Global Education and a philanthropist, gave a rousing address regarding cultural appropriation and the multiple dimensions of attacks on our civilisation. Dr. Sumathi Krishnan, Secretary of the Madras Music Academy, set the tone of the academic event by giving a very balanced view on tradition in the context of our music and brought in issues in a subtle manner. Finally, pūjya Swāmiji put into perspective the onslaughts that are happening on Sanātana Dharma as well as the divine art of Karnatic music, with particular reference to the turn they have taken in the past few decades. His āśīrvacana boded well for this undertaking by a few scholars to stand up to the distortions that are happening in the name of artistic freedom.
A short but very focussed and hard-hitting keynote address was delivered by Śrī Rajiv Malhotra via a video recording, where he threw light upon how the Bhakti performing arts of our culture are being systematically desacralized and hijacked by alien-colonial forces and the role of our own scholars/artists in aiding the same. A scholarly plenary session by Dr. R Nagaswamy (renowned historian, archaeologist and epigraphist) traced the origins of Karṇāṭaka Saṅgīta.
The academic sessions had a total of 8 paper presentations which covered the various aspects of the classical musical form. The first session saw three papers being presented under the expert chairing of Dr. T S Sathyavathi, the reputed musician and musicologist. The first paper by senior scholar Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam on the philosophy underlying Śrī Tyāgarāja’s kṛti-s brought out the aspects of bhakti and deep spirituality therein, while also offering rebuttals to the allegations of casteism and oppression made regarding the celebrated vāggeyakāra. The paper by Viduṣī Gayathri Girish focussed on the essential philosophy in Muttusvāmi Dīkṣita’s kṛti-s, presenting their inherent sanātana dhārmic character and also elucidated the divine personality of the composer. The final paper presentation of the session by Viduṣī Vrinda Acharya was effective in conveying the non-translatable nature of several key concepts related to our music. She compared them with the popular equivalents used and showed their inadequacy, making a strong case for retaining the original terms. The session concluded with a summing up by the chair, Dr. T S Sathyavathi who gave a touching analogy of a body sans life, when our classical music is divested of its sanātana dhārmic nature.
Under the able chairing by Śrī N S Krishnamurthy, Former Director of AIR and reputed scholar, the second academic session saw Dr. Radha Bhaskar, the musician, musicologist and organiser of repute, discussing the topic of how far is too far in experimentation. She methodically dealt with the various levels in experimentation, discussed what constitutes a legitimate experiment that is in tune with the core values of our music, and what would be really crossing the rubicon. The next presentation by Śrī Aravind Brahmakal, of Ranjani Fine Arts, provided a patron’s point of view, suggesting the various ways in which a Karnatic musician can be encouraged to undertake music as a full-time profession, so as to retain it in its purest form without being allured to distort the same. The session concluded with the Śrī N S Krishnamurthy’s perceptive remarks on the papers presented.
An interesting but focussed plenary discussion took place under the able moderation of Dr. Radha Bhaskar, with Dr. T S Sathyavathi, Śrī N S Krishnamurthy, Vidvān Melkāveri Balaji and Śrī Lalitharam. The questions such as the status of Nāgasvara artists, the hard but dhārmic decisions to be taken by professional artistes, and the focus of today’s music were discussed, which were very well received by the audience.
The final academic session took on the momentous question of appropriation of the Karnatic music heritage and the allegations on the heritage done by the musician Vidvān T M Krishna. Prof. K S Kannan, the Academic Director of Swadeshi Indology, chaired the session. Śrī Jataayu, the famous blogger on Hindu culture and Tamil literature, gave an in-depth view on the Christian attempts of appropriation of Karnāṭaka Saṅgīta, dwelling on the works of Vedanāyagam Śāstriyār and Abraham Paṇḍitar in detail. The second presentation by Dr. V B Arathi dealt with a fitting refutation to the allegation of the Karnatic music field being a ‘Bastion of Brahminical Patriarchy’, which she handled by raising some fundamental questions about the two parts of the topic. The final paper by Dr. V Ramanathan of IIT-BHU was a fairly detailed critique of Śrī T M Krishna’s book ‘A Southern Music – The Karnatic Story’, questioning the flawed methodology followed and the drastic conclusions that are drawn. The final session concluded with the Prof. K S Kannan’s remarks on the three papers. Audience involvement and participation in the form of Q&A made all sessions lively and interactive.
The valedictory session was a brief one, with Śrī V Nagaraj, Secretary of the Mythic Society (which is partnering with IFI to bring out the conference proceedings) and Dr. Deepti Navaratna, Director of IGNCA – Regional Centre, Bengaluru, delivering short addresses summing-up the day’s proceedings. This was followed by the Vote of Thanks delivered by Prof. Kannan, concluding the day’s events.
Dr. H.R. Meera
Senior Editor, Swadeshi Indology Conferences