Janmashtami blues: Carnatic purists and fundamentalists force Krishna to shift concert from temple in US

Janmashtami blues: Carnatic purists and fundamentalists force Krishna to shift concert from temple in US

Chidanand Rajghatta | TNN

| Updated: Sep 4, 2018, 06:52 IST



WASHINGTON: India’s liberal-progressive vs conservative-fundamentalist fracas has been transported to the United States — home to similar battles — with the well-known Carnatic singer TM Krishna at the center of a furious flap, ostensibly resulting from his offending Indian musical purists.

A scheduled September 9 concert by the outspoken singer at a local Maryland temple has been shifted after conservatives and purists objected to the temple hosting an artist who they described as “Hinduphobic” — apparently because he and a group of progressive artists had “sullied” the Carnatic genre by adopting Christian hymns. 

In fact, the end result is working out rather well for the singer and a group of liberal-progressive hosts, with the venue shifted from the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple (SSVT) outside Washington DC to Georgetown University in the city. 

The controversy harks back to India last month when a Hindu radical group accused Carnatic vocalists Nityasree Mahadevan and OS Arun of promoting conversion through singing Christian hymns in Carnatic form. Arun was forced to cancel his participation in a Christian musical event called Esuvin Sangama Sangeetham, and Mahadevan was pilloried for rendering the Christian devotional song Samaanulevaru prabho and forced to apologize while clarifying it bore no resemblance to a Thyagaraja Kriti. 

Krishna, widely regarded as a liberal iconoclast, challenged the fundamentalists and purists, arguing that Carnatic composers such as Mayuram Vedhanayagam Pillai, Mayuram Vedanayaga Shastri, Abraham Pandithar and Kunangudi Mastha Sahib had composed hymns to Jesus and Allah. “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Carnatic compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Carnatic song every month on Jesus or Allah,” he declared, decrying the increasingly intolerant political and social climate in India. 

The controversy echoed in distant Washington DC area where SSVT was forced to cancel Krishna’s concert after influential members of the temple said they had problems with his views. Posts on the temple’s Facebook page included one from someone named Srinivas Srigiriraju who applauded the temple management team “for their Dhārmic grounding by cancelling the concert of a patently Hinduphobic and Brahminphobic third-rate singer who thought he could mess around with our Thyagaraja Swami and Annamacharya.” 

“We would be very happy if you can convey him the reason for the cancellation is his anti-Hindu and anti-Carnatic Sangeetham venom,” the post said. Another post called it “the symbolic equivalent of showing the middle finger” at Krishna and yet another said it is “best he runs off to Pakistan or to the Vatican to do his monkey-business there.” 

A few members decried the purist-fundamentalist stand. “This thread reeks of chauvinism & intolerance. You people sitting miles away, enjoying the benefits offered by a free liberal nation and still abusing an artist for exercising his artistic freedom? Carnatic music is an art form and any art form belongs to entire humanity, what makes you think you have undisputed rights over Carnatic music?” wrote one member. Several members of the temple also backed the shifting of the venue to avoid any disruption. 

In the end, Krishna will go no further than Georgetown University for now, much to the delight of his fans. “When the concert at the temple was cancelled, a few of us who strongly believe that artists should be allowed to express their art without any constraints got together. Our sole purpose was to ensure that DC music enthusiasts are not denied an opportunity to listen to one of the greatest singers of this generation,” said Sreekanth Kunhikrishnan, a local resident who formed a group to raise resources to host the concert

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