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regular-article-logo Saturday, 22 June 2024

Brahmin-Dravidian divide to the fore: Churn over award to iconoclast musician

Ranjini and Gayatri have threatened to boycott this year’s music and dance festival of the 97-year-old, Chennai-based Academy over the award to Krishna, a celebrated vocalist and writer who champions egalitarian values and has been a critic of majoritarian politics

M.R. Venkatesh Published 22.03.24, 06:57 AM
TM Krishna. 

TM Krishna.  File picture

A leading Carnatic music academy’s selection of T.M. Krishna for this year’s Sangita Kalanidhi award has drawn bitter criticism from the up-and-coming classical singer duo Ranjini and Gayatri, triggering a controversy pivoted on the Brahmin-Dravidian divide in southern politics.

Ranjini and Gayatri have threatened to boycott this year’s music and dance festival of the 97-year-old, Chennai-based Academy over the award to Krishna, a celebrated vocalist and writer who champions egalitarian values and has been a critic of majoritarian politics.

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In a joint Facebook post on Wednesday evening, Ranjini and Gayatri accused Krishna of trampling on “the sentiments of this community” and insulting Carnatic music icons. They objected to his championing of Periyar, the rationalist who founded the Dravidian Movement and whom the duo charged with abusing Brahmins.

While the post drew support from many social media users, the Academy hit back by condemning its “slanderous assertions” and “vicious tone against a respected
senior fellow musician”.

Krishna, a critical thinker within the Carnatic music tradition, has excoriated its Brahminical bias and argued for a more inclusive approach to music in general, turning it into a voice of the people’s distress and suffering.

Ranjini and Gayatri’s post said they had communicated to the Academy their decision to “withdraw from participating in the Music Academy’s conference 2024 and from presenting our concert on 25th December”.

The classical music and dance festival, held in December every year, is a huge attraction for art lovers and tourists. It’s virtually every musician’s dream to get a prime-time slot at the festival, presided over by the latest Sangita Kalanidhi award winner.

Ranjini and Gayatri said they had decided on the boycott “as the
conference would be presided over by T.M. Krishna”.

They accused Krishna of having “caused immense damage to the Carnatic music world, wilfully and happily stomped over the sentiments of this community and insulted most respected icons like Sri Tyagaraja and MS Subbulakshmi”.

They slammed Krishna’s alleged “denigration of spirituality in music” and said it would be “dangerous to overlook Mr. T.M. Krishna’s glorification of a figure like EVR aka Periyar whose repeated, abusive campaigns against Brahmins is well known”.

“We believe in a value system that respects art and artists... our roots and culture. We will be in moral violation if we were to bury these values and join this year’s conference,” Ranjini and Gayatri wrote.

Scores of social media users applauded the duo for their “courageous and principled” stand. “What a bold decision. Hats off to you Ranjini-Gayatri for your boldness to take this decision valuing our culture,” wrote Priya R. Pai on Facebook.

On Thursday, Music Academy president N. Murali responded to the post, saying the Academy “was shocked by both its vituperative content, which is replete with unwarranted and slanderous assertions and insinuations verging on defamation, and its vicious tone against a respected senior fellow musician”.

He emphasised that the Sangita Kalanidhi award, instituted in 1942, was “the highest accolade in Carnatic music”, and that the sole criterion for selection was “musical excellence demonstrated over a significant and sustained career”.

He added that Krishna had been chosen “based on his excellence in music over a long career, with no extraneous factors influencing our choice”.

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