T.M. Krishna
File photo of T.M. Krishna | Commons
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Chennai: A book by Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna on the the Dalit Christian makers of the mrdangam, a percussion instrument key to a Carnatic performance, has triggered a controversy in Tamil Nadu, with the Kalakshetra Foundation, which functions under the Union Ministry of Culture, cancelling permission for the venue of its release.   

The arts and cultural academy is chaired by former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami, who is also the president of RSS-affiliated Vivekananda Educational Society that runs schools in Chennai. 

The Kalakshetra decision was prompted after an excerpt of the book, Sebastian & Sons: A Brief History of Mrdangam Makers, appeared in The Hindu 

The excerpt points out that the percussion instrument is made of cow, buffalo and goat hide, and that the performers, predominantly Brahmin, are shielded from the manufacturing process that involves cow slaughter. 

The cow is removed from the artist’s sight. Since the killing and skinning happen beyond his circle of existence, he can act as if it does not happen,” reads the excerpt titled Keeping the cow and brahmin apart. “The maker stands at the threshold, keeping the cow and the brahmin apart, helping the latter maintain his ‘purity’.” 

In a letter to the Westland Publication, the publisher, the Kalakshetra has said the excerpt contains “certain statements relating to the book which touch controversial issues and certainly have a lot of political overtones”. 

Kalakshetra director Revathi Ravichandran’s letter further mentions that the organisation “cannot allow any programme that may instigate political, cultural and social disharmony”. 

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The book will now be released at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) campus Sunday.  

Also read: After skipping Congress meet on CAA, DMK non-committal on healing alliance rift

Decision slammed in the state

The Kalakshetra decision has drawn condemnation in the state. 

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) chief and Lok Sabha MP Thol Thirumavalavan, who will release the book Sunday, tweeted that the “Kalakshetra humiliates not just T.M. Krishna but Dalits too”. 

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram termed the decision shameful. He tweeted urging people to come in large numbers for the book launch and “to stand up against the institutional capture (of Kalakshetra)”. 

Tami Nadu Congress working president Mohan Kumaramangalam also condemned the decision. “You can’t expect to turn the mirror around on a society that doesn’t want to be reminded of how ugly it is,” he tweeted. 

‘Blatant discrimination’ 

Krishna’s book also reveals stark discrimination of Dalit Christians, who manufacture the instrument, and the mrdangam maestros who are predominantly Brahmin.

One instance has Selvaraj, a mrdangam maker, state that he never ate with legendary mrdangam maestro Palghat Mani Iyer for whom he made the instruments. “I did not eat with him. In Madras, when Mani Iyer stayed at the Woodlands Hotel, I used to eat his leftovers. He knew that and would keep some for me,” the book quotes Selvaraj as having said

In response to the controversy, Mani Iyer’s grandson Ramprasad accused T.M. Krishna of not conveying intent while collecting information from the family. 

In a Facebook post, he wrote, “The incidents in the article involving my grandfather are factually correct — however, none of my family members would have agreed to divulge upon information relating to him, had they known that the true intent was to use facts and manipulate them to bash a specific community…None of us would want any of our family members’ name, least of all Mani Iyer, whom we all revere, to be associated with political and caste-based agenda.” 

Krishna has stood by the contents of his book. “Everybody knows instruments like the mrdangam can’t be made without a cow being slaughtered. People who enjoy the sound from a mrdangam refuse to acknowledge how the instrument is being made,” he told Deccan Herald. “The book has been written to chronicle the lives of those unsung heroes who should get the due credit for the sound that comes out of mrdangam.” 

“I think we talk about caste only in terms of economy and scholarship, but we need to engage with it in culture, art and learning,” he told HuffPost earlier this week. “This is a classic case where caste diminishes, even negates, knowledge.”   

Also read: Tamil Nadu journalist arrested ‘for publishing book on corruption in AIADMK govt’


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8 Comments Share Your Views


  1. How still someone especially media taking this deranged ass so seriously… He’s become an evangelist and purposefully defaming Hindus and their rituals and practices.

  2. Most abominable assault by a frustrated musician externd from traditional platforms for his vengeful bashing of a specific community. Palghat Mani Iyer was great celebrity untarnished by any thought of caste,creed and economic status devoted singularly to the perfection of his art. It is grossly unfair to cast any aspersions on this simple man who even stopped playing for a while, because he felt the mike fouled his beats in amplification. MGR begged of him and restored his performance in concerts. Krishna should retrieve his sanity and his espousal of Dalits and their elevation does not stand promoted by this degraded action.

  3. Where does the relationship exist between the maker and the consumer of his product ? Does Chidambaram salute the kin of Thirumavalavan for making his chappal ? Does Krishna let his barber dine in his kitchen ? By kindling such sensitive issues, Krishna is not elevating the Dalits nor espousing their cause. He is simply playing the seasoned game of politics and bashing a community that has externd him from traditional platforms. I have seen personally the favoured Mridangam maker of Palghat Mani Iyer, dine and dwell in his house and treated as part of the family. Krishna is unfit to talk about that great celebrity and must introspect to find other ways to regain his sanity. Mani Iyer was a simple man untouched by feelings of caste, creed and economic status and proclaimed his ignorance boldy of any other knowledge beyond his only love – the Mridangam and he was revered by people in all walks of life for his simplicity and devotedness.. It because of M G R who begged of him to continue playing , ( when he stopped playing for a while ) he recommenced his concerts granting a margin for the mike which he
    felt fouled the resonance of the beats originating from the percussion instrument. It is most unfair of a musician to cast serious aspersions and cause damage to his reputation by drawing him in to this quagmire in a degraded mental state.

  4. So…The mrdangam is not only made with animal skill but also wood. So are almost all the instruments known to all. So should environmentalists be concerned about trees similarly?! And how about the association between the woodcutter and the artiste.

  5. T M K is a petty minded man who misuses his communication skills to pander to perverse minds and gain cheap popularity. More so because he cannot compete with the younger talents that are coming up every day. Such cowards will certainly be forgotten soon. They will never learn lessons

  6. TMK is a good singer.I listen atleast one of his songs a day on YouTube.But not able to fully appreciate his views on certain things about Carnatic music.Great singers of yesteryears do know how the mrudangam is made and who are the makers and the things go in to it.TMK is not providing any new knowledge to the society by his views.In fact TMK is known to the world due to the Carnatic music and not the other way around.His views on various aspects on the Carnatic music world in spite of his popularity due to it,is just like one kicking the ladder after going to the top.
    Not clear which particular audience he is addressing by his views.
    Swami Vivekanand has said;”The sweeper should sweep and the King should rule the Country.If you interchange the position neither the country will be swept clean nor it will be ruled properly.”
    Possibly time has come to gain some wisdom from Swamiji’s views for people who stray from their chosen path and profession.Certain views like personal secrets should be kept at a individual level only in order not to create confusion in other minds.
    I have already read two three reviews of the book.

  7. Mr T M Krishna appears to make most of off the cuff remarks from family members and bring discredit to doyens of carnatic music. Truly perverted portrayal aimed at cheap popularity.


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