Ideological differences prompt some musicians to protest Sangita Kalanidhi award for TM Krishna

Announcing the award for TM Krishna, the Music Academy lauded him for using music as a tool for social reform.

BySouth First Desk

Published Mar 21, 2024 | 11:27 AMUpdatedMar 21, 2024 | 1:18 PM

Sangita Kalanidhi Award announced for TM Krishna. (Facebook)

Politics of ideology have crept into the hallowed Music Academy in Chennai, perhaps for the first time in recent years.

A group of prominent Carnatic musicians has raised ideological, rather than musical, considerations to oppose the Academy conferring the Sangita Kalanidhi award on vocalist TM Krishna.

Musicians Ranjani and Gayatri, as well as the Trichuru brothers Srikrishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan, will boycott this year’s Music Academy conference and festival.

Another musician, Chitravina Ravi Kiran, will return the Sangita Kalanidhi Award he won in 2017.

The President of the Music Academy, N Murali, wrote to Ranjani Gayatri in response to their post, saying, “This year, the Executive Committee of the Academy chose TMM Krishna for this accolade based on its excellence in music over a long career, with no extraneous factors influencing our choice.”

“We’ve made this decision as the conference will be presided over by T M Krishna,” Ranjani and Gayatri said in their social media post.

They said his actions have “tried to spread a sense of shame in being a Carnatic musician and has been exhibited through his consistent denigration of spirituality in music”.

In their post, the musicians introduced the political ideology factor: “It’s dangerous to overlook Mr TM Krishna’s glorification of a figure like EVR who 1. Openly proposed a genocide of ‘brahmins’ 2. Repeatedly called/abused every woman of this community with vile profanity 3. Relentlessly worked to normalize filthy language in social discourse.”

Well-known Harikatha exponent Dushyant Sridhar also opposed the award for Krishna and will not perform at the Academy on 1 January 1, 2025.

He, too, had ideological reasons. He posted on social media a letter he sent to Academy president N Murali, saying he had a “sea of ideological differences” with Krishna.

He said he was “pained by many of his public statements on Dharma, Ayodhya, Sri Rama, and more”.

Sangita Kalanidhi Award for TM Krishna

The Music Academy named TM Krishna for the award on Sunday, 17 March. The Academy lauded him for using music as a tool for social reform.

The Sangita Kalanidhi awardee will preside over the academic sessions of the 98th annual conference and The Music Academy’s concerts, which are scheduled between 15 December 2024 and 1 January 2025.

He will be conferred the Sangita Kalanidhi Award on 1 January 2025. Those selected for the Sangita Kala Acharya, TTK, and Musicologist awards will also be honoured.

Music Academy President N Murali, in a press release earlier, lauded Krishna for using music as a tool for social reform.

“A writer with analytical books on music to his credit, Krishna has received several awards for his music, his writing and his championing of social causes.”

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Polarised the country: Ravi Kiran

Announcing the return of his award on X, Ravi Kiran wrote: ” I’ve taken this step after careful consideration as principles much larger than all of us are at stake. However, I’ll always remain deeply grateful to the org for its role in my career from childhood”

In a letter addressed to the Music Academy president, Ravi Kiran wrote, “My decision stems from my inability to relate to the kind of values that the Academy is glorifying today.”

Further attacking TM Krishna, he said the musician has “stridently tried to polarise and destabilise Indian Classical music and dance fields and the country as a whole along caste and communal lines through misinformation, malleable truths and unprovoked attacks against certain groups of people.”

He added, “He (TM Krishna) has painted some of the greatest architects and institutions of this country and its culture black, with studied insensitivity to the sentiments of millions displayed no foresight to the economic and collateral damage his actions could cause to the classical industry, which has been nurtured by diverse communities for centuries and drawn numerous young minds away from the pursuit of excellence in the most crucial phases of their careers to become unwitting pawns of such agendas.”

The Honorary Secretary of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Puthokod Kendra, Kerala, R Ananthanarayan, wrote a letter to Academy president Murali requesting him to “refrain from giving the MS Subbulakshmi Award along with the Sangita Kalanidhi award to TM Krishna for 2024”.

He said the Sangita Kalanidhi awardee has also received the Subbulakshmi Award since 2005, adding he should not get it because of the “highly derogatory” article he wrote about her.

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Immense damage to Carnatic music: Rajani-Gayatri

Rajani and Gayatri, in the statement released on X on Wednesday, 20 March, said, “He has caused immense damage to the Carnatic music world, wilfully and happily stomped over the sentiments of this community and insulted most respected icons like Tyagaraja and MS Subbulakshmi.”

The singer duo accused TM Krishna of vilifying the Carnatic music fraternity and raised an issue with Krishna glorifying social activist Periyar.

They further wrote, “His actions have tried to spread a sense of shame in being a Carnatic musician and has been exhibited through his consistent denigration of spirituality in music.”

Meanwhile, the Tiruchur brothers withdrew from the conference saying, “To participate in a conference presided by Mr TM Krishna would make us outright hypocrites in our own eyes.”

Music Academy’s strong response

Responding to Ranjani-Gayatri, N Murali, President of The Music Academy, wrote a letter to them on Thursday, expressing shock “by both its vituperative content, which is replete with unwarranted and slanderous assertions and insinuations verging on defamation, and its various tone against a respected senior fellow-musician”.

He said the choice of the Sangita Kalanidhi award “is a prerogative of the Academy” made after “careful deliberation, with the sole criterion being musical excellence” of the candidate.

The letter regretted the singers’ decision to withdraw from the annual conference.

It noted that “you have shared your letter addressed to me and the Academy on social media, which, apart from being discourteous, raises doubts about the intentions behind and the purpose of your letter”.

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In support of TM Krishna

Tamil Nadu Congress General Secretary Lakshmi Ramachandran came in support of TM Krishna.

The Congress leader dismissed Rajani and Gayatri’s accusations as baseless and called their allegations a “shortcut to attract BJP’s attention.”

Lauding TM Krishna as fearless and outspoken, she wrote: “I also know that there are many projects of social interest that he is involved in that he doesn’t talk about.”

Writer journalist Meena Kandasmy called the outrage by Ranjani and Gayatri a product of their jealousy.

She questioned them for their baseless allegations against Periyar: “Where did Periyar propose a genocide of Brahmins?  Please cite instances of Periyar using profanity against women?”

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