Fears that some of our senior musicians may go unrewarded as Sangita Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy have receded somewhat with the announcement of vidwan T.V. Gopalakrishnan’s elevation to that coveted honour this year. A versatile artist of many dimensions, TVG has been a youthful, energetic presence in the world of Carnatic music, sometimes beyond it, for some seven decades, now. As a mridanga vidwan, vocalist in more than one genre, composer, guru and proselytizer, the man from Tripunithura has been known to be a swashbuckler among the orthodox, a traditionalist amidst the pro-changers, reverent towards his gurus and questioning of taboos, all at once. His admirers and critics may be about equal in number, but no one who has followed Carnatic music closely for a long time will question his credentials. He has been consistently hard to ignore, and many of us who had given up the hope – after he crossed 80 – that he would follow in his guru Chembai’s footsteps, now rejoice in this richly deserved recognition. Knowing his articulation, we can expect him to bring flair to the conduct of the academic sessions at this year’s conference.
Musicians of the calibre of M.S. Anantharaman, T.H. Vinayakram, V.V. Subramaniam, Vyjayantimala Bali (though essentially a dancer, like Sangita Kalanidhi T. Balasaraswati), P.S. Narayanaswami, Suguna Purushothaman, R. Visweswaran, and Tanjavur Sankara Iyer are some other names that come to mind as artists deserving of high honours. While the Music Academy has decorated some of them as Sangita Kala Acharya, there may still be a case for a Kalanidhi or lifetime achievement award for a few of them. Synonymous with the ghatam, Vinayakram, would, in particular, seem to be a perfect candidate for the ultimate award.
It is no easy task to select one honouree every year from a large pool of contenders, we know, and this is no attempt to offer criticism or gratuitous advice to an institution that has been grappling with it and generally giving satisfaction to all but its most strident critics. We must, however, acknowledge the very real danger that among a vast variety of specialists, vocal and instrumental – lead and accompanying, wind, string and percussion – some outstanding vidwans can escape the radar altogether. Some, like M.D. Ramanathan, were ignored for far too long, while others like Rajarathnam Pillai and Ramnad Krishnan perhaps did not live long enough.
The truly great may care little for worldly success. We know from the extraordinary lives of the Van Goghs, Gauguins, Monets and Manets of the Western artistic world, that many geniuses went unsung and unhonoured in their lifetime, but we do not often hear of giants of Carnatic music who led impoverished lives of no reward, and whose greatness the world came to appreciate only after their death. There is a high probability that there were several such instances that went unrecorded, quite literally before the advent of the gramophone, and owing to our lack of rigour in documenting our history, though there may be stories galore floating around in the realm of legend.