Singers Ranjani & Gayatri attack Music Academy for award to TM Krishna, other singers join in

TM Krishna, a Carnatic musician himself who has called out the Brahminical hegemony in the industry, was recently awarded the prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi award for 2024 by the Music Academy.
Singers Ranjani and Gayatri
Singers Ranjani and GayatriX
Edited by:

Several musicians from the Tamil Carnatic music industry have refused to attend the Music Academy Conference 2024 in Chennai, citing the reason that it would be presided over by popular musician TM Krishna. TM Krishna, a Carnatic musician himself who has called out the Brahminical hegemony in the industry, was recently awarded the prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi award for 2024 by the Music Academy. He has also been vocally supportive of the survivors of sexual assault who called out several prominent names in the Carnatic music industry during the ‘Me Too’ movement in 2018. 

Carnatic vocalists Ranjani and Gayatri were among the first to distance themselves from the conference, alleging that TM Krishna has “caused immense damage to the Carnatic music world” and “insulted” icons such as MS Subbulakshmi and Tyagaraja. “He has vilified the Carnatic music fraternity that has collectively contributed millions of hours of artistry, hard work and literature. His actions have tried to spread a sense of shame in being a Carnatic musician and has been exhibited through his consistent denigration of spirituality in music,” they claimed.

The duo said TM Krishna’s affiliation with the ideologies of Periyar, a revolutionary social thinker who spearheaded the Dravidian movement, was another reason for them to stay away from the event. They alleged that Periyar repeatedly called for the “genocide of Brahmins”, denigrated Brahmin women “with vile profanity”, and normalised “filthy language in social discourse.” The duo added, “We believe in a value system that respects art and artists, vaggeyakaras [composer], rasikas, institutions, our roots and culture. We will be in moral violation if we were to bury these values and join this year’s conference.”

Another Carnatic singer duo, the Trichur brothers, also announced they would not be participating in the conference because it is being presided over by TM Krishna. “Formal announcement that we are pulling out of the Annual Conference 2024 of The Music Academy , Madras, for obvious reasons. To participate in a conference presided by Mr TM Krishna would make us outright hypocrites in our own eyes,” they said.

Vishakha Hari, a Carnatic singer known for her videos glorifying Brahmin culture, expressed her disdain for TM Krishna being awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi award and presiding over the Music Academy Conference. “This year’s Sangita Kalanidhi designate awardee has engaged in a lot of slandering previously, hurting the sentiments of many tremendously and willfully. He has not been a regular performer in the institution for years, either. I wonder if late Sangita Kalanidhis like Ariyakuddi or Semmangudi or Palghat Mani Iyer would accept this decision if alive today. What would their stance be? Would even the present Sangita Kalanidhis accept this decision? Awards may come and go. But setting the right role models for posterity is what is important,” she said.

Musician and right wing speaker Dushyant Sridhar wrote a letter to the Music Academy, claiming he was “pained” by several statements made by TM Krishna. He also withdrew from performing at the ceremony where Krishna would be awarded. “I have had a sea of ideological differences with Sangita Kalanidhi designate of 2024 - TM Krishna. I am pained by his public statements on Dharma, Ayodhya and Sri Rama and more. I am guided by the life and teachings of Bhagavad Ramanuja, Vedanta Desika, and Kanchi Paramacharya. I will prove very disrespectful to their values if I perform immediately after the sadas (where he will be awarded). I would hence withdraw from performing on 1st January 2025,” he said.

Several people have also come out in support of the singer, criticising the ‘offended’ vocalists for taking a stance against TM Krishna’s award, but not when people came out with allegations of sexual assault against prominent names in the Carnatic music industry. 

Singer Chinmayi pointed out how she had not seen such an “impassioned thread” when Carnatic music students spoke about sexual harassment in the industry in 2018. “ They have multiple molesters - Child sex offenders to be specific, in their own fold, denigrating and soiling the purity of the very craft they deify, misusing and abusing the status of being a Guru. They all went stone cold silent & survivor shaming.  The entire Carnatic Music community continues to platform the molesters despite knowing who the dirty mamas are. Yet, since 2018 - none of the outed, so called great Vidwans have been punished by the Carnatic music community or the rasikas. These molesters have been the reason so many kids have refused to touch a violin, or refused to sing, or even cultivated a hatred for Carnatic Music because they associated it with the trauma of child sexual abuse,” she said.

N Murali, the president of the Music Academy, also issued a statement in support of their decision to award TM Krishna the Sangita Kalanidhi award. He also expressed his regret over the duo Ranjani and Gayatri withdrawing from the conference. 

Read: Music Academy prez slams Ranjani-Gayatri for slanderous allegations against TM Krishna

In an interview with The Scroll, TM Krishna said that harassment in the Indian classical arts circle is an “open secret.” He said that people in the industry, including himself, have kept quiet about the harassment, causing it to be normalised. Alongside TM Krishna, Ranjani and Gayatri, Sriram Parthasarathy, and Bombay Jayashri were among singers who had signed a document put forth by young Carnatic musicians from across the world, calling for due process against molesters through civil society investigations.

Apart from standing with the survivors, TM Krishna has also been proactive in making Carnatic music more accessible to people from all castes and classes. Along with environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman, TM Krishna has been organising a new music festival since 2014, which he visualises as an "equalising space." In an interview with The Week, TM Krishna said that he started the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha because he wanted to conduct a music festival where people from all walks of life and from different cultural backgrounds could come together. The event happens in a fishing village in Chennai, the Urur Olcott Kuppam. The Vizha has now grown into a “multi-genre festival with mixed audiences” and has a variety of performances like therukoothu (street plays), rap, and Carnatic music performances.

Read: Perumal Murugan & TM Krishna’s ‘Kavadi Chindu’ on Ambedkar, a first for Carnatic music

Also read: Kalakshetra cancels TM Krishna's book launch upset over excerpt on cow, caste and music

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute