From the Viewsroom

When singing became sinning

M. Ramesh | Updated on August 12, 2018 Published on August 12, 2018

O S Arun   -  The Hindu

Cultural vigilantism will beat down the market for Carnatic music

Come December, Chennai is home to a remarkable phenomenon called ‘the season’. A good part of the Indian diaspora flocks into the city to bask in ‘the season’s’ offerings, which, apart from the 2,000-odd music and dance concerts, include culinary spreads that would delight the most fastidious epicure. Now, let’s scratch the surface and peer inside the concert halls. Save a handful of them, the rest are as crowded as Siberia in winter and often you do see a musician, especially if he/she is an instrumentalist, performing to a tiny group of yawning friends and relatives who pay as much attention to the music as you would give the air-hostess when she is briefing you on safety. Even for the few top-seeded musicians, an audience of a couple of hundreds is considered capital.

The constituency of Carnatic music listeners is not growing, while the ‘number of performance enthusiasts’, most of them zestful dilettantes, is going up. As a result, there is oversupply and the market is always bearish. That is so because the market has not been able to break out of the confines of the Hindu caste — certainly not by design, as some stupidly claim — but due to the fact that Carnatic music is almost without exception devotional and in praise of Hindu gods. Therefore, if somebody from outside the community wants to provide the ‘demand’ function, the devoted Carnatic lovers should kiss that person on both the cheeks and welcome him.

Against this backdrop, it is strange that Carnatic musician, OS Arun, should be excoriated in the social media for having accepted to sing in a programme in praise of Jesus Christ. This is not for the first instance when a Carnatic musician is singing a hymn in praise of a non-Hindu god — in fact, the past ‘sins’ of some other musicians have been exhumed and held up as examples of blasphemy — but things have gone so far as to scare sponsors away from some of Arun’s programmes. Talent is the musician’s asset and here is nothing wrong if a musician milks it to earn a decent living. Nobody objects when Hindu actors don Christian or Muslim roles in films. Apart from reflecting narrow-mindedness, such cultural vigilantism, uncommon in South India, could only hasten the death of the shrivelling market for Carnatic music.

M Ramesh Senior Deputy Editor

Published on August 12, 2018
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