I would be stretching the truth if I said this book came home last week. In fact it came home several years ago, probably sometime in 2006. That was when I was a regular contributor to Sruti. S Rajam, one among my many mentors, asked me if I had a copy of Harikesanallur L Muthiah Bhagavatar’s Sangita Kalpadrumam. I began a hunt for it and eventually tracked it down at Alwar’s footpath bookshop outside the Mylapore Club.
S Rajam and I spent many a happy hour poring over its pages though I must admit I understood very little of it. But it is a book of enormous significance, for it is the first PhD thesis ever written in Carnatic music. Yes, Muthiah Bhagavatar is the first doctorate in that field and he was not a phoney holder of the D Litt. This book is the proof. The degree was conferred on him in 1943 at a stellar convocation held at the Victoria Jubilee Hall in Travancore.
The book was however not published till 1947, by when Muthiah Bhagavatar was dead. The first of two planned volumes was released, with forewords by the Maharajah of Travancore and Semmangudi who had ousted/replaced Muthiah Bhagavatar as the Principal of the Swati Tirunal College of Music in Trivandrum. That was on July 20 as part of the Swati Tirunal centenary celebrations. Five days later came the grand finale, a concert by Semmangudi. It was while it was in progress that an attack was made on the Dewan, Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyar. With that, Travancore, which had been holding out from joining the Indian Union, acceded. All thought of publishing the second volume of the Sangita Kalpadrumam was given up. The remaining part of the thesis is probably gathering dust somewhere in Travancore University archives.
It was S Rajam who drew my attention to the faint signature in red pencil on the torn first page of my copy. The book was once GN Balasubramaniam’s!!!!! To think that GNB held the book that I now have. Something comes over me each time I think about it. GNB and Muthiah Bhagavatar had a close rapport. It was thanks to the latter that the young GN was introduced to Travancore royalty in the 1930s and later become Asthana Vidwan. Much later, he would succeed Semmangudi as Principal of the Swati Tirunal College, a post that Muthiah Bhagavatar once held. He would die in harness.
I realise my library has books autographed by Semmangudi and GNB. I take care to keep them far apart. I don’t want one eating up the other. Incidentally, I have a book bearing Muthiah Bhagavatar’s autograph also. I will write about that some other time.
This article is part of a series. The earlier story can be read here