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TM Krishna: Carnatic vocalist whose work is democratic, inclusive

40-year-old TM Krishna, according to his citation, “questioned the politics of art; widened his knowledge about the arts of the Dalits (“untouchables”) and non-Brahmin communities.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi | Published: July 28, 2016 4:54 am
TM-Krishna-759 Krishna declared he would “no longer sing in ticketed events at a famous, annual music festival in Chennai to protest the lack of inclusiveness.” File Photo/Agencies

In the cover note for Carnatic vocalist T M Krishna’s iconic book, A Southern Music, where he drew attention to caste and gender barriers in the world of Carnatic music, Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy had called his music and mind “exceptional”. And him a “sensitive and socially committed critic…whose work smudged boundaries and defined the political context” of our times. Then, the note had gone out to an exceptional musician. The note now goes out to a fellow Magsaysay Award winner.

On Wednesday morning, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation announced the awards for this year, and while one of them has gone to national convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan, Bezwada Wilson, the other, for “social inclusiveness”, has gone to 40-year-old Krishna, who, according to his citation, “questioned the politics of art; widened his knowledge about the arts of the Dalits (“untouchables”) and non-Brahmin communities; and declared he would no longer sing in ticketed events at a famous, annual music festival in Chennai to protest the lack of inclusiveness.”

Krishna is travelling to Russia at present and was unavailable for comment. In a previous interview to The Indian Express, talking about bridging social divisions through arts, Krishna had said, “To me, ‘art music’ is far more democratic than ‘classical’, which is a sociopolitical formation.”

Born into a Brahmin family in Chennai, Krishna trained under Chengalpet Ranganathan and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, and performed at his first concert at 12. Known for his sonorous voice, he’s known to not follow strict forms of Carnatic classical music even during the kutcheris (concerts) and perform the way it is “profoundly moving”.

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  1. Dr. Prithipaul
    Jul 28, 2016 at 12:07 am
    Unreserved praises are due to TM Krishna for the originality of his pioneering effort to open doors to the acceptance of Dalit contribution to Music, and generally to the Fine Arts. Indian civilisation remains incomplete with the tepid effort being made to raise the remnants of Indian Buddhism to its former Taxila and Nalanda splendour. And for the long run the immense energy locked up within the Dalit soul cries for release and for its original contributions to new values for the enrichment of the three Dharmas based Indian civilisation. In my books I have advocated the insution of a reconstructed education with curricula, adapted to the variety of cultural forms of which India is so wonderfully endowed, in order to produce citizens who should be integrally both Brahmin and Shudra, i.e. to train , and educate - in the authentic sense of the word "educate", to bring forth the Jnani and the Servant from each individual Indian citizen. I do impatiently look forward to see the rise of Dalits as avataras of such Acharyas as Shankara, Ramanuja, Vallabha. May India have soon a Dalit as President who would emulate Ashoka, Harsha, Chandragupta in taking to Vanaprastha as a domain higher than the presidential kursi! A heroic sentiment which eluded Brahmins like RadhaKrishnan, Nehru, Narsimha Rao, Vajpayee - despite the eulogies of academic historians for their starry streaks across the Indian firmament! For, let us humbly admit it, there is an abundance of cultural amnesia in Indian academe.
    1. Chandra Shekhar
      Jul 28, 2016 at 12:51 am
      The use of word "Carnatic", instead of "Karnatic", itself shows where the loyalties of artists like Krishnan and newspapers like IndianExpress lies. We are physically independent, but still mentally colonised. People like Krishnan are doing nothing but propagating divisive agenda of the West, particularly those of American Indologists lead by Sheldon Pollock. People like Krishnan has become a tool to propagate Pollock's divisive Liberation philology, which seeks to intervene in Indian society with the help of Westerners. In other words, the West still wants us to be mentally enslaved state. Read Rajiv Malhotra's book The Battle for Sanskrit, which discusses these issues in a great detail.
      1. U
        Jul 28, 2016 at 5:30 am
        you must be a brahmin? if you are, do you know who has been cleaning your cr@p and that of your forebears? and your fellow brahmins? dalits and other low castes are forced to clean toilets, human waste, et al without ever being given other opportunities. it is your brahmins who refuse them entry into temples...and routinely rape low caste women