/* START Google Analytics Code*/ /* END of Google Analytics Code */ A home called "Parvathi": March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Maestro : T. Chowdiah ( " Pakkavadhya Chakravarthy" )

The great violinist T. Chowdiah (1895 ~ 1967) stands as a resplendent star in the galaxy of eminent musicians and composers who formed the nucleus of Carnatic music during its heyday in Southern India. One could fix a commencement for this heyday as 1895, the year in which Chowdiah himself was born or refer to it as the year of birth of the grand-sire of Carnatic vocalists, Chembai Vaidyanath Bhagvathar. Either way we could we could frame the very same words on Chowdiah that the music critic 'Aeolus' [Shankar's Weekly 1963 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chembai] used for the Bhagvathar "as a musician who has meant the most to Carnatic Music in the first fifty years of the 20th century”.

Not only did the eminent Chowdiah combine supremely with the eminent Bhagvathar but also perhaps with anyone else who rose into the great semblance of music maestros from those elixir years.

"During the last half a century Chowdiah was a compelling and dominating violinist, much sought after by musicians of repute. His playing on the violin is equalled by few and surpassed by none"
- Musiri Subrahmanya Iyer

Chowdiah was, at those times, the lone figure that loomed huge (no pun intended) from the princely state of Karnataka, whose great kings, the Wodeyars, proved to be the great benefactor’s to India’s art and culture, not just to those who belonged to the southern tract of the country but also to people like Swami Vivekananda who sought to spread the wisdom of the Hindu spirit in foreign destiny’s. It was also a time when the great coterie of musicians, whom Chowdiah accompanied as a violinist, all seemed to emanate abundantly from anywhere but Mysore and mostly from the states of Tamilnadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

Not withstanding his own brilliance and not withstanding the genius of any of the musicians whom he accompanied during his lifetime, Chowdiah seemed, however, to loom larger than life following his own demise.

The Memorial

"Chowdiah was like a lion. Nobody possessed his courage, conviction, and musical skills. It is time an endowment is started in the name of Chowdiah either in the University of Mysore or Madras..."
- T. Sadasivam (Husband of the renowned singer M.S. Subbalakshmi)

To generations and generations of human beings in the future, not only would his memorial in the shape of a huge and beautiful violin in the very cosmopolitan city of Bangalore, India, provide a venue for both budding and virtuoso performances for future times, but in some ways it would go down in the pages of world history as the only memorial to exist for a musician of any instrument. Greater still would be the hope that visitors viewing the Memorial from all around the globe (not to mention the country’s own young citizens) would likely perk up at some given moment to ask “Who is Chowdiah?” and “Why is this building shaped like a violin?” and in some ways learn a little of a memorable musical past.

The Visionary to a Memorial

“… KK Murthy (who built the Chaudiah Hall)….”

These might have been the very thoughts that may have shaped the desire of the late Mr. K.K. Murthy to work passionately towards bequeathing such a memorial to a city he loved. Mr. Murthy happened to live to celebrate the memorial’s magnificent existence for a quarter of a century in 2005. The spate of articles on the web, following those celebrations, not only managed to shed light on Mr. Murthy’s dynamic personality (he was after all the first President of the Academy of Music,Bangalore; the first Managing Director of the Karnataka State Film Development Corporation (KSFDC); Chairman of the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and amongst other things a political king-maker at the ripe old age of 32 !) but more importantly, the articles managed to mention (if not reveal) the background to the real reason that a memorial came about; a certain influence of the father K. Puttu Rao who happened to be a music lover in his own right and who happened to be a close friend of Chowdiah.

How close could such a friendship be? Who was Mr. K.Puttu Rao to Karnataka and why is there a music award instituted in his name? What was the atmosphere, then, that might have allowed for a son (or sons) not to have created an endowment in the name of their own parent but a memorial to the friend of a father long after both were gone? How many such cases would one encounter in human history?

..... a friendship that went way back even before 1939 !

K. Puttu Rao felicitating Mysore's 'Sangeeta Ratna' in 1940

(with many other 'Ratnas')

It is precisely to share such an in-depth story, that this blog was created. We believe that for any great event to transform itself worthily into a ‘cause’ there has to be an abiding reason, and that which abides sufficiently becomes a genesis; a genesis in the shape of a large 'karmic' undercurrent of indelible impressions and inspirations that drives human acts singularly into a consecration.

The genesis in this case (as the creators of this blog found out) lay in a home called "Parvathi".


"Parvathi", regal, and ever in bloom!

Welcoming all beneath its wide swathe!

"Parvathi" was a home in the erstwhile Mysore city, a city of palaces, large spaces, beautiful gardens, huge tree lined roads, and where an ordinary person’s vocations lay in a certain peace, pride and quiet brought about by the arts. It lay in its music, in paintings, in drama, in writings, in Yoga (Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamachariar, B.K.S. Iyengar) and in the gleaning of divinity by a reflection on scriptural passages. It was a home that Puttu Rao, then a young, upcoming and successful attorney built and named after the matriarch of his large family. It was a home to which, very soon, music and prayers and congregations would resound at all hours of the day. It was a home away from home to which Chowdiah (and an RK Narayan or a Veena Doreswamy Iyengar) would come at all hours, unheralded, to rest, to play, or to revel in passionate ideas of artistic merit.

"...and who would have thought he could be one in an audience!"

Chowdiah enjoying Radha-Jayalaxmi in 1962 within the quadrangle of "Parvathi"

The maestros Madurai Mani Iyer, Chowdiah, Shivraman perform in the quadrangle inside "Parvathi" in 1963

Chowdiah with the great doyens Semmangudi, Shivaraman, Vinayakraman inside "Parvathi" 1965

The "Parvathi" Concert
April 2, 1965

Vidwan Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (Vocal)
Vidwan T. Chowdiah (Violin)
Vidwan Umayalpuram Sivaraman (Mridangam)
Vidwan Vikku Vinayakaram (Ghatam)

01-Mahaganapathim-Natai; 02-Evarani-Devamruthavarshini; 03-Kshinamai-Mukhari; 04-Janani-Reetigowla; 05-Vinaradhana-Devagandari, 06-SrikrishnamBhaja-Todi; 07-Chakkaniraja-Kharaharapriya; 08-Biranabrova-Kalyani; 09-Paripalaya-Purvikalyani; 10-Parulana-Kapi; 11-Virutham; 12-Sapasya-Jonpuri; 13-Mangalam

It was a house to which every musician worthy of music came from all over the land, to perform, not for an hour, not for a day or two, but sometimes for as long as thirteen days during the annual ‘Rama Navami’ festival. It was a home that also brought the literati, the writers and the journalists, the thespians of India’s large stage and movie world, the country’s rulers and governors and ministers and the holy Shankaracharyas. Above all, thanks to the bountiful space and desire of its residents, this house came to be looked upon as a "heritage" house to share its music for decades with an entire public....

.....yes, the crowds at "Parvathi" were for real !

...and buses would ferret hundreds of music lovers to any vantage point from which they could lend their ears to the musical concerts, even as the house went about its own everyday private life.

Trustee to "Parvathi"

It has been made possible, only now, to put together a story of these yesteryears along with photographs and documents that tell about a unique chapter in the life of Chowdiah. It was made possible largely on the release of a book "Sangeetharatna Mysore T. Chowdaiah" by Mr. K. Srikantiah, Attorney (elder brother to the late K.K. Murthy) under the aegis of Prasaranga, University of Mysore, 2007. The book was the culmination and interest shown by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mysore, J. Shashidhara Prasad in inviting Mr. K. Srikantiah to talk about his life long friendship and admiration of Chowdiah. As the witness and custodian to every single moment in "Parvathi", Mr. Srikantiah lived and breathed music each moment. Continuing the legacy that the father Puttu Rao left behind in always being "at home" to the Chowdiah's, the MS's, the GNB's, the Madurai Mani Iyers, the Chembai's, the MLV's and the Lalgudi's, Srikantiah strove for decades in fortifying those friendships (even in coaxing the performers to perform at "Parvathi" and then go to Thiruvayyar, and in some cases joining up with them).

....the grand lady of music Subbalakshmi performs with T.K. Murthy and V.V. Subrahmanyam
in "Parvathi" in 1967, during one of her early ventures into Mysore

When it came time to perform the coronation of his "ishta devata" Lord Shri Rama, Srikantiah would open up every inch of space in the home (inside and outside) to every patron and music lover of a city that identified itself completely with Chowdiah.

......and the Bachans too decide on a visit to "Parvathi"

Felicitations to the memory of Chowdiah by Karnataka's favorite sons in 1994

Such a life went on for decades.

In between, the vision to a memorial became even clearer to Mr. Srikantiah:

"Gradually a strong bond of mutual love and respect grew between Chowdiah and the members of our family, indeed a fusion of kalavida and rasika. Once I told my brother K.K. Murthy, President, Academy of Music, Bangalore, that our feelings for Chowdiah should be immortalized through an appropriate monument......"

In between, some poignant memories and expressions of an indelible friendship with Chowdiah would gradually make its way to the book (we produce a few excerpts here):

"....Mysore-Coimbatore road. The old Austin was roaring its weary way up the labyrinthine curves of Satyamangala ghat. Chowdiah was the 'Sarathi'. I was sitting by his side in the front row. In a difficult-to-manoeuver hairpin bend he lowered the gear....."

".....He was a deeply religious person. Learnt Anjaneya Mantra and did Japa throughout his life. He was a regular visitor to Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt and Shabarimala shrine to offer his sangeeta seva...."

"....the biggest crowd would be at Tiruvayyar....Chowdiah would appear on the stage to the accompaniment of a thunderous applause. The moment the first hum of his seven-stringed Gandeeva resonated......even the most confirmed atheist.....would exclaim "Now I realize that there is God in Heaven......"

"Chowdiah treated my father K. Puttu Rao as his elder brother and mentor......"

"....you are mistaken Srikantiah! In your case you study for the final exam only once....but, in my case I have to pass the examination at every concert!...."

As the literary genius from Mysore and India, Mr. R.K. Narayan put his pen to those times :


We are grateful to the world wide web and to all fellow bloggers for the scope of the material that they have put out there in terms of Chowdiah, his music and the music of many other eminent personalities.
We have borrowed freely where necessary in the spirit of sharing and have done our best to acknowledge those borrowings. Where we are still remiss, please feel free to point it to us and we shall put in the necessary corrections.
The story of Mysore and of 'Parvathi' proved somewhat of a unique story, never before told and which needed to be expressed from the perspective of Chowdiah and his memorial. In the spontaneous exclamation of a great and living legend of our Bollywood cinematic world, Parvathi was a home that had "such a great character to it".
We may never have made it to this story but for Mr. K. Srikantiah's sharing the same at a public platform on being invited by the College of Fine Arts, Mysore University to speak about Chowdiah at the 'Nada Namana' program on 1-12-2005. Subsequent to this speech he was requested (as mentioned in an earlier posting) by the Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University, Dr. Sashidhar Prasad to put his experiences into writing. What followed was a delightful little book in 2007 replete with photographs of eminent musicians and dignitaries and full of original anecdotes on Chowdiah. We were also made to realize that there was not a single name of any reputable mention in the Carnatic world that had not performed in 'Parvathi'.
Readers are urged to obtain a copy of this very elegant book by writing to the Director, Prasaranga, University of Mysore, Manasgangothri, Mysore 570006.
Needless to say, this blog is a growing one. We are still scouring through voluminous albums and reams of recordings made available to us by the KK Murthy and K Srikantiah families and by the other spheres of influence in Chowdiah's memorable life. We take this opportunity to invite readers to send us original stories, anecdotes on Chowdiah and on 'Parvathi' not captured on the web. Of course, your comments are always appreciated.
Finally, we are most appreciative of the creative powers of Mr. Prakash Venkatakrishna in Bangalore, Mr. Jim Gaines in New Jersey and Mr. Sachi R.Sachidananda in Australia for making this blog come alive. Thanks a whole lot, Gentlemen!