This is part of an annual feature I write for the Sruti magazine. In each one, I look at the season at it was 75 years earlier. This article was published in the Sruti issue of December 2013. The sketch that appears below is of Woodlands, Royapettah, and was done by Vijyakumar. The picture is featured here courtesy Kalamkriya.
The December Music Season of 1938 was unique in one respect – it marked the beginning of a brief halcyon period of three years, when the two rivals – the Music Academy and the Indian Fine Arts Society (IFAS), conducted a common music festival. It also marked the beginning of a trend at both Sabhas – the personality invited to preside over the annual conference would henceforth invariably be a star performer and rarely a musicologist. In 1938, the honour went to Ariyakkudi T Ramanuja Iyengar, by then the most popular singer but who rarely bothered himself with debates and discussions on the grammar of music.
The unity among the two Sabhas was the result of some hard work put in by KV Krishnaswami Aiyar, the President of the Music Academy. He had taken over the reins at that fledgling organisation in 1935 and would continue to remain President till 1965. Between 1935 and 1938 he had worked hard at putting the Academy on a sound financial footing, though the money it had at its disposal was nothing compared to that of the IFAS, which was backed by the wealthy Arya Vaisya businessmen of George Town.
Between 1935 and 1937, while the IFAS had continued to hold its annual conference and concerts at the Gokhale Hall, Armenian Street, the Music Academy had begun its move to south Madras. The venue for its annual conferenc had till 1935 been a pandal in People’s Park behind the Ripon Buildings. In 1936, the Academy took charge of the entertainment provided for the people who came to attend the Congress party’s annual Khadi and Swadeshi Exhibition which took place concurrently with the annual music conference. The venue for exhibition was Congress House (where the Satyamurti Bhawan now stands) on General Patters Road and the concerts were held in a bungalow called The Funnels that stood close by. In 1937, with the Exhibition and the annual festival once again coinciding, the Academy held its concerts at Patters Gardens, which was the sprawling bungalow of the financier and philanthropist Lodd Govinddoss. These were years when some of the best known names in Carnatic music made their debut at the Music Academy – Brinda and Muktha, Papa KS Venkataramiah, Palani Subramania Pillai, DK Pattammal, MS Subbulakshmi and GNB.
The season of 1938 it was decided, would be held in the verdant compound of the aptly named Woodlands, the erstwhile residence of the Rajah of Ramnad. Located on Westcott Road, Royapettah, it was leased to K Krishna Rao, who had a few years earlier opened Sri Krishna Vilas on Mount Road, the first Udipi style restaurant in Madras. K Krishna Rao made the Woodlands Hotel a success. Among his various efforts to generate interest in the hotel was to offer to host the 1938 Music Conference on the premises. The success of the 1938 Season therefore played a part in the creation of the Woodlands hotel chain which is now spread across the world. It also marks the debut of the canteen into the December Music Season. …
To be continued