The Music of the Melakkar

 Part 3 Melakkar and the breach of the Isai Vellalar borders.

As I mentioned in the previous article, there were two distinct aspects to the Carnatic music tradition, the vocal and the non-vocal performers, i.e. the backing instrumentalists. While both were dependent on each other, the development of one or the other was intrinsically related to the positioning of the caste to which the performer belonged. We saw in the previous article how Brahmins influenced, molded, and set a clear structure around the vocal tradition. We also saw how the public forced small changes to make the system more inclusive to other languages and traditions, over time and how the non-Brahminical castes, Tamil Nadu politics, and linguistic pressures influenced the music culture. Let’s now look at how the instrumentalists fared.

As we studied in the article about dance and the Tanjavur quartet, music was closely related to dance in the past, and temple performances included Dasi-attam performed by devadasis, who were mainly from the Vellalar community, originating from the Deccan districts. The musicians as well as dancers were from the Vellala community. We had previously looked at the Vellala Christian community and the story of Vedanayagam, now let’s look at the Hindu Isai Vellala’s.

But let us read something interesting, first. The tone notations for Carnatic music as we all know are " Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa" - a complete octave on which are based all musical sounds. These are again divided and sub-divided. An old method of teaching the sounds is very peculiar and amusing and I had no clue about this till I read Ellen Kelly’s article dated April 1897! This is also attributed to Chinnaswamy Mudaliar and recounted by DB Ramachandra Mudaliar in a 1924 article.

According to Chinnasamy Mudaliar, M.A., Sa is the sound of joy and happiness, produced by the peacock, at moments of rapture, which generally happens when the clouds gather in the sky, indicating the commencement of the rainy season. Ri is the troubled low of the cow in calling to her calf dragged away from her. Ga is the puzzled bleat of the goat, amid its flock, calling for the aid of its fellows. Ma is the unhappy cry of the heron on the bank of a pool, uttered on seeing the gathering of the clouds, and anticipating a flood, which would force her to flee elsewhere for safety. Pa is the note of joy sounded by the nightingale at spring tide, the brightest period of the year. Dha is the neigh of readiness of the horse when the rider approaches it and Ni is the sorrowful yell of the elephant when the mahout strikes the back of its head with an iron rod.

Strangways on the other hand mentions hearing the following - There is an interesting comparison of the notes of the scale to the cries of animals. Sa is the note of the peacock. Ri, of the chataka (a type of cuckoo), the bird of the rainy season. Ga, of the goat. Ma, of the crane. Pa, of the Koyal, generally translated cuckoo, but bearing no resemblance in its vocal achievement to our bird; it hammers out a single note when making love in the spring, and its mate joins in, invariably at the distance of a tone, and perhaps a rival lover at the distance of a semitone. Dha, of the frog, and Ni, of the elephant. This has been quoted as showing that the scale was conceived as a matter of absolute pitch, and there is some evidence that the cries of animals always keep the same pitch. It may be so it would require special knowledge to decide this point.

Interestingly, these notes are also connected to castes, though such connections would be construed as rude today. Per Mudaliar- These seven principal notes are also divided into four main castes according to merits, viz., Brahmans being Sa, Ma, and Pa, each of which contains four srutis, Kshatriyas being Ri and Dha with three srutis, Vysyas being Ga and Ni with two srutis and Sudras being sharps and flats, as unstable, being affected by the relative value of the various notes. SE Gopalacharlu clarifies further - The classes to which they belong are Sa, Ga, Ma of Devas; Pa of Pitras; Ri, Dha of Rishis; and Ni of Rakshasas. The castes to which they correspond are - Sa, Ma, Pa to the Brahmin; Ri, Dha to the Kshatriya; Ni, Ga to the Vaisya, and the intermediate sounds to the Sudra Caste. From an instrumental perspective, it is believed that stringed instruments were invented to imitate the humming of bees, and drums to reproduce the sound of thunder. The complete musical theory and analysis in the same vein is quite interesting, but I guess we can take it up some other day.

Ayyangar explains that the primary aim of all instrumental music was to approximate, if not imitate, the human voice. But he says that developments in the field have proved otherwise, and each has a distinct personality of its own, totally unrelated to the human voice in the matter of pitch, volume, timber, appeal, and capability. He adds - To expect all of them to toe the line to vocal music wore to misjudge their function and defeat their purpose.

Let’s get back to the historical settings and see how the community developed, by checking what Anthropologist Thruston had to say (based on inputs on the Tanjore Gazette prepared by Hemmingway)- He clarifies that there were two musician castes in the Tanjore Vellalar community, the Tamil and Telugu Melakkarans (of whom the latter were barber musicians). While the Telugu community practices only Periya melam and has nothing to do with dancing, the Chinna Melam Tamils have dancing at its core, and perform both Chinna melam and even Periya melam. Chinna melam, originally known as nautch music, comprised vocal music performed by a chorus of males and females to instrumental accompaniment and included Nattuvans, i.e., instructors of the dancing girls. The Vairavi, or temple servant, should always be chosen from the Melakkaran community.

CR Day adds - The players in these bands are mostly taken from a caste of Telegu-speaking barbers called " Mangala-vandlu," who make this their special profession and provide the music, so-called, commonly heard at temple ceremonies, weddings, festal gatherings, and all street " tamashas." The composition of these bands varies greatly, the number of instruments in some cases being as many as thirty and in others perhaps only three or four; generally, one or two nagasaras, a sruti or drone—a drum such as the dhol—and a pair of cymbals (called Jhanj), about ten inches or a foot in diameter, are found. Sometimes a mela, consisting of a single mukavina, a flute, a flageolet, a drone, and a small side-drum called Dhanki is employed. The dancing men and women of the Melakara caste, who together form a complete chorus, constitute what is called a Chinnamela (or smaller music), in distinction to the Peryamela (big music), which is a band of male musicians who play upon the Nagasara with drums and accompaniments differing from those of the dancers.'' The Peryamela, or Pathamelam as it is also called, is the ordinary native band formed by the Mangalavandlu caste and already described.

How did barbers get involved in this business in Telugu-spoken areas? Apparently, by day or when it was not the music season, they were barbers (their wives were sometimes, midwives). In Deccan, this was not considered an unclean caste. Inscriptions at a temple in Kamalapuram going back to the 15th century attest to the connection between instrumental music and barbering. Researchers opine that it was their finger and arm dexterity that allowed barbers to excel on musical instruments.

There is always a discussion if the Periya melam instrument is called Nadaswaram or Nagaswaram, though considered a Rajavadyam (royal instrument) or even a Mangalavadyam (auspicious instrument). Since it resembles a snake, some prefer to call it Nagaswaram; maybe the name Nadaswaram is more appropriate.

Periya Melam was always part of rituals and festivities in temples as well as weddings. The instruments involved were the nadasvaram (melody), the tavil (rhythmic accompaniment), talam (cymbals for indication of rhythmic cycles), and sruti petti (to provide a drone background. Periya melam music is also believed to be the sonic manifestation of the Hindu deity and is believed to make the deity's presence immediate and real to worshippers.

Note here that while Mridangam accompanies vocal artists or artists playing violin, veena, flute, or mandolin, Thavil is the standard accompaniment for the nadhaswaram, clarinet, and saxophone played at other, usually open venues. The Chinna melam and its instruments over time were developed and tuned to the concert hall acoustics and the microphone, whereas the Periya melam instruments are louder and perhaps tuned for outdoor performances. The Thavil which produces a powerful sound matching the rich volume of the nagaswaram has its player using a stick to play one side and hands (with rings on playing fingers) for the other side as against the Mridangam player using hands on both sides. The craft of thavil-making in the nineteenth century moved from Tanjore to Panruti, located some 75 miles north of Tanjore around the middle of the twentieth century. The cymbals for talam were mainly of two types, Periya melam version is much larger than those used by the Chinna melam.

The nadaswaram is a double-reed wind instrument and one of the world's loudest non-brass acoustic instruments. In South Indian culture, the nadasvaram is very auspicious and is a key musical instrument always played in almost all Hindu weddings and temples. Each part of the Nadaswaram is related to a deity. The bottom circle to Surya, the upper hole to Goddess Sakti, the inner holes to Lord Vishnu, the body to Lord Brahma, and the seven holes are to seven mothers. The music emanating is related to Lord Siva. Narasinganpettai, 10 miles from Kumbakonam, is home to great Nagaswaram makers. The nagaswaram of the south and the shehnai of the North are of the same musical family and look alike. The Bari is the bigger version, whereas the Thimiri is smaller. The ottu, Thoottu, or Mukhavina belong to the drone family and provides the sruti. Like the nadaswaram, the ottu is a double-reed instrument but has no holes and produces a single long note after it is tuned and sealed.

According to Terada - Brahmans not only constitute the vast majority of Karnatak musicians and patrons but also the most important group of connoisseurs and patrons for Periya Melam music. Their artistic predilection and patronage for "traditional" Periya Melam music has been largely responsible for the survival of the genre. The ritual pollution associated with the instruments used in the Periya Melam ensemble has allegedly kept Brahmans from becoming performers themselves, and this inhibition has made them depend on Isai Vellalar and other non-Brahman musicians for temple worship and lifecycle rituals calling for Periya Melam music... For this reason, Periya melam is considered an essential element of temple rituals and festivals, as indicated in a statement commonly made by Periya melam musicians: "There is no village without a temple, and there is no temple without the nagasvaram."

Chinna Melam was traditionally the art form of temple dance performed as part of worship at Hindu temples. The Nattuvan or choreographer was accompanied by a Mukahvina/Thootu, replaced later by a clarinet or flute, smaller cymbals, a drone, the Thavil, etc. Interestingly in Telugu areas, during olden times, some troupes even had a couple of Muslims handling bigger drums! This form also developed into an on-demand performance art for rich patrons, at their homes and eventually was transformed in the 1930s into a concert hall art form known today as Bharata Natyam.

We can conclude therefore that the Telugu community of Tanjore who held themselves superior were temple performers, specializing in the Periya melam or Nadaswaram playing, whereas the Tamil community were offspring of the Devadasi families and took up the Chinna Melam or dance-music combo. In the Thanjavur district, Isai Velalars were the practitioners of both traditions. They were as colloquially termed the sadir (Chinna melam) people or the nadaswaram (Periya melam) people.

Amit adds - Professional divisions such as Periya and Chinna melam reflected an involution and greater sophistication of the artistic services rendered by the community under the influence of the Bhakti temple institution. The performance of the nautch, the Chinna melam or sadir kacheri as it was variously called in old Madras, was obligatory and a matter of etiquette at society occasions. The requirement for both heredity and skill in temple positions was evident in that it was not enough to be born into the community, one had to be competent as well. In Tamil Nadu today, the art of Sadir/Bharatanatyam is monopolized by Brahmins who clearly see themselves as having `rescued' it from the fallen 'prostitute', the devadasi.

Per Soneji - Isai Vellalar - The birth of the “icai velalar” jati in the 1920s signaled a reinvention of masculinity within devadasi communities in the Tamil-speaking regions... Before the political mobilization of these communities in the 1920s, men who were relatives of devadasıs identified themselves using a range of caste names and occupational titles. The broadest and far-reaching of these was melakkarar (“one who plays in the melam”), which functioned as an umbrella term for the various subgroups that made up the community.

In and around Tanjavur, the “barber-musicians,” as they were called in the 1901 census, were divided into Tamil- and Telugu-speaking groups. The Tamil-speaking barber-musicians were known as ampattan (“barber,” from the Sanskrit ambastha), napitan (“barber,” napita), or parikari (“remover,” pariharin). These communities performed music for lower, non-Brahmin patrons and at temples dedicated to village deities.

In Tanjavur, men from this community who were “full-time” nagasvaram and tavil players often distinguished themselves with the title maruttuvar (meaning “practitioner of medicine,” a common epithet for “barber”). They also used the term pajantiri (“musician”) to identify themselves. Among the Telugu-speaking barber-musicians in Tamil Nadu, the surnames Nayudu and Reddi were very common. They usually claimed superior status to the Tamil-speaking barber-musicians but were still considered much lower than “professional” nagasvaram artists and nattuvanars, who were employed by larger temples and patronized by elites during marriage functions.

Daneil, Harp, and Sankaran conclude - Though music and dance have long been the profession of the Isai Vellalars, the Brahmins have been a parallel music caste, particularly as composers, vocalists, vainikas, and violin vidwans with a sprinkling of drummers, but carefully keeping away from nagasvaram and dancing. The stigma of higher castes learning leather percussion instruments was lessened when Brahmin Palghat Mani Ayyar became a mridangam maestro… The Isai Vellalar caste of traditional music was somewhat akin to the gharanas as guardians of tradition but now the tables are turned against them.

The Melakkar community thus, reclassified themselves as Isai Vellalar or the Vellalar’s connected to music and typically added a Pillai as their surname. After the ban on Nautch and the Devadasi culture took effect, the dance was rebranded as Bharata Natyam and set to a structure mainly by the Tanjore Quartet. After the restructuring, many a girl from the community took to vocal performances as well as the new dance styles, while the musical performers continued with instruments. The dancers and the vocalists moved to Madras from Tanjore, since the new patrons and concert hall events were all in the great metropolis while the royal patron of Tanjore had been replaced by the British state. The rich individual patrons were situated in Madras and worked for or with the British bureaucracy. However, the instrumentalists were in a quandary, since in addition to supporting dance performances, they also performed for temple events, weddings, and other occasions such as processions, and festivals – most of which were connected to the temples of Tanjore.

Encroachment by Brahmins and the takeover of the Mridangam scene

Violin – Though it made its entrance much earlier through Baluswami and Vadivelu, it was popularized by Varahapayyar, opening the doors to Brahmins who could now substitute the yazh or the veena. A news report explains - A Brahmin Fiddler -The "Madras Government Gazette," of January 1831, celebrated the performances on the violin, of a descendant of the ancient Gymnosophists-a Brahmin named Verapiah, in the service of His Highness the Rajah of Tanjore, who had lately made his appearance before the musical public of Madras. He was said to play at first sight, with correctness and in exact time, the most difficult pieces of printed music… See Violin in Carnatic Music article.

Animal skin and saliva–caste-polluting substances kept Brahmins out of percussion and reed instruments for many centuries. Thamburu or Veena, as well as the violin, were thus the Brahmin forte, but it was their transgression into the field of Mridangam playing that created a revolution, mainly because this drum unlike a flute, stringed instruments, or the mud pot ghatam, was made up of skins from the cow, buffalo and goat on the contact sides. Though a Brahmin Mridangam player can be identified in a 1915 Tyagaraja festival photograph, it took many more years for the brilliant Palghat Mani Iyer to break the borders.

It was his search for the perfect ‘nadam’ or tone from the drum he had already mastered, that led Iyer to collaborate with the Christian makes of Mridangams. TMK narrates the fascinating tale between his two books which are great reads and explains how Mani Iyer rose to the top despite fierce competition from Isai Vellalar percussionists.

TMK explains that for a very long time, playing the mrdanga was mainly associated with the Chinna mela vidvans and other isai vellalars, and quite linked with the tavil tradition. There were a few Brahmin mrdanga vidvans but they were connected with teaching or playing for Namasankirtana and Harikatha. In the 20th century, the Tanjavur style was connected to the Brahmin players whereas the Pudukotai style with the isai velella. Strangely, the Tanjavur style was influenced by the non-Brahmin Maratha Appa’s. Everything started to change with the arrival of the maestro Palghat Mani Iyer.  Quoting TMK - The one domain within the kutcheri that they dominated had now been taken over. Once Palghat Mani Iyer made his breakthrough, the floodgates opened and there was no stopping the Brahmin monopoly over the mrdangam…. The Isai Vellalar community is said to have resisted the Mani Iyer invasion but ultimately succumbed to a great musician backed by a dominant community. So far, the Brahmin mridanga vidvans had never been considered at par with the non-brahmin ones — neither as mathematically sharp nor as physically strong as the Isai Vellalar. The Isai Vellalar community too believed in the superiority of its own skills. All of this collapsed with Palghat Mani Iyer. He was, therefore, feted as the greatest, as Nandi himself (the lord of the mrdanga). Pazhani or Murugabhoopathy were never referred to as Nandi.

According to Krishna’s book, the reduced influence of Brahmins in temples after Periyar’s self-respect movement in Tamil Nadu eventually culminated in the takeover of temples by the government of Tamil Nadu. While the movement was a necessary social awakening, he notes, “it did not lead to a more egalitarian Karnatic music environment, instead spurring it to become even more insular… The government, which took control over the temples, hardly contributed to the development of quality nagasvara or tavil vidvans. The end result has been tragic – lack of support for those Karnatik musicians who once breathed musical life into the temple and society.”


Reform or Conformity? Temple 'Prostitution' and the Community in the Madras Presidency - Amrit Srinivasan
A Southern Music: the Karnatik story - Krishna, T. M
Sebastian & Sons: A brief history of mrdangam makers – Krishna TM
Reform and Revival: The Devadasi and Her Dance - Amrit Srinivasan
Musings of a Musician – R Rangaramanuja Ayyangar
The Voice in the Drum: Music, Language, and Emotion in Islamicate South Asia - Richard K. Wolf
Unfinished Gestures Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India (South Asia Across the Disciplines) - Davesh Soneji
Temple Music Traditions in Hindu South India: "Periya Mēḷam" and Its Performance Practice - Yoshitaka Terada
T. N. Rajarattinam Pillai and Caste Rivalry in South Indian Classical Music - Yoshitaka Terada
From the Tanjore Court to the Madras Music Academy – Lakshmi Subramaniam
The Life of Music in South India - Neuman, Daniel, Allen, Matthew Harp, Sankaran, T.
The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent - Ed Alison Arnold
The music and musical instruments of Southern India and the Deccan - C. R. Day

Images – acknowledged with many thanks

1-      Nautch Party Tanjore - Victoria and Albert museum collections 

2-      A ‘Nautch Scene’ with dancers and accompanists. (Collection of the University Cote d’Azur; originally from the archives of the Ancien Musee des colonies)

Please note – I am tracing all this from a historical aspect – No disrespect or offense is directed to any community in any comment, or statements made. Should any reader feel so please send a specific note with suggested corrections to the author for review. As such the article is based on historical events, and referenced sources, with effort put in, to make it readable and provide some brevity.

Related articles

Part 1 Caste ingress into the Musical Realm, The story of Vedanayagam Sastri

Part 2 Caste conflicts – Carnatic Music, Brahmins and Carnatic music

Part 3 The Music of the Melakkar - The Melakkar and the breach of the Isai Vellalar borders.



Caste conflicts – Carnatic Music

 Part 2 - Brahmins and Carnatic music

Things always look vastly different when viewed in a narrow context, with glaucomic eyes. Add to it a bit of political manipulation and the matter is blown out of proportion, people get riled up and hell breaks loose, like a perfectly serene blue sky taking on stormy hues.  That is what is going on, and if one wants to to understand how it all started, it requires a little study and understanding of the times when a broad movement demanding equal rights, took birth in erstwhile Madras. devotion.  Without any doubt, the bonds between many a royal patron, the Brahmin vocalists, and supporting musicians is the reason for the flowering of Carnatic music during the early nineteenth century and Brahmins after the fall of the Royals did nurture the art form and tried their best to keep it pristine. I am only trying to explore the strong caste undertones, in the Carnatic music scene prevalent even today in Tamil Nadu.

To get a picture of the times, I would request readers to read my article on TM Nair and the formation of the Justice Party. It was the Justice party, post TMN’s death which Periyar EVR headed. There were clear reasons why the party was formed and clear pointers to issues created by Rajaji which exacerbated it. In addition to the usual issues of a minority cornering major government jobs and controlling thought and legislation, there were specific aspects related to the art scene. By art, I mean vocal and non-vocal i.e. instrumental traditions, as well as dance, i.e. the Devadasi Sadir or Dasi attam which morphed into the modern Bharatanatyam. Let’s look at it, summaries of fascinating studies on the subject by Sumati Ramaswamy, Lakshmi Subramaniam, Yoshitaka Terada, Vijaya Ramaswamy, and V Subramaniam.

Governor Mountstuart Elphinstone surely must have shocked a large majority of learned Brahmin listeners in an 1886 speech, when he thundered: "You are of pure Dravidian race, I would like to see the pre-Sanskrit element amongst you asserting itself rather more”. That the Aryan Dravidian divide was brought in by the very same British is another subject for more detailed discussion, but it found its supporters then, and still has many.

So, let’s go to the 1910s when people like Annie Besant and TM Nair graced the volatile politics in Madras, and a lot of people already disgruntled under the British, were worried about misrepresentation and increasing unemployment. TM Nair burst on the scene, and having originally chosen the field of medicine, became a well-known doctor in Madras, then decided that social work was equally important, and got involved in all kinds of civic and social matters. During this period, irked by the Brahmin stronghold on jobs and their control over the Presidency bureaucracy, he took them on, starting what we know today as the Anti-Brahmin or Dravidian movement, and later co-founding the Justice party.

As I wrote earlier - Madras at that time, had a strong Brahmin lobby, comprising three groups - namely the Mylapore, Vambakkam (relatively minor), and Egmore groups. The Mylapore Group, the strongest, comprising high-profile lawyers and journalists, kept Congress in its moderate camp concerning its political demands and manifesto. Many non-Brahmin Hindus and the depressed classes, for this reason, criticized the Indian National Congress for being the representative of Brahmin interests leading to the rise of a retaliatory faction, i.e., the Egmore Group - which took a more extremist stand on various subjects. The “Egmore group” comprised both Brahmans and non-Brahmans. C. Sankaran Nair and Dr. T. M. Nair were among many other prominent Brahmins. Even though Nair was not anti-brahmin and did admire some of their educated and good qualities, he maintained that the non-Brahmin who could be as good, or better, was unnecessarily kept down. Soon Nair was frequenting stages with his popular and strident anti-Brahmin tirade which many thousands attended, and that was the start of the Dravidian movement of 1916.

In Nov 1916, some 30-odd leaders, including T M Nair and P Tyagaraja Chettiar, formed the South Indian People's Association, to express non-Brahman grievances. That was the start of the Justice Party. Nair never attacked religion but always focused on representation. With the Montague reforms, Nair had a minor victory, but the representation percentages were too low, so he proceeded to London in 1918 to argue the case. Sadly, he passed away suddenly, during that trip. After Justice won the election and got into power, they initiated several egalitarian moves such as the upliftment of women and the marginalized, access to water (for the lower castes) from public ponds, women’s suffrage, abolishment of the Devadasi system, regulation of college admissions, etc.

And then there was the Christian Vedanayagam Sastri (the person we discussed in the previous post) who brought up the aspect of Tamil - Tamil gave birth to us; Tamil raised us; Tamil sang lullabies to us and put us to sleep; Tamil taught us our first words with which we brought joy to our mothers and fathers. Tamil is the first language we spoke when we were infants. Tamil is the language which our mothers and fathers fed us along with milk; Tamil is the language that our mother, father, and preceptor taught us. The language of our home is Tamil; the language of our land is Tamil.

The language was one of the first issues brought up by the Dravidians, and the initial murmurings centered around which language was preeminent, Tamil or Sanskrit (Sanskrit was considered Aryan, and leaders such as Rajagopalachari had promoted Sanskrit as a national language) and the 'Tani Tamizh Iyakkam’ which started inherently as a nationalistic movement, targeted Sanskrit and Hindi (Vadakku Mozhi) imposition. Writings of that period targeted Sanskrit, those who spoke it - the Brahmins, accusing them of being on the side of the British and so on. Periyar’s self-respect movement was consolidated into the Justice Party which became the DK or Dravidar Kazhagam in 1944. This over time, split into the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK).

Periyar continued his ideological attacks on Brahmins as well as patriarchal institutions perceived to be social representations of Brahmanism. According to Mohan Ram - The Justice Party leadership was not anti-religious or anti-Hindu. But Naicker's movement went further, seeking the liberation of the non-Brahmin masses from the cultural domination of all upper castes including the Brahmins…His anti-Brahminism had to be anti-Hinduism because the protest against Brahminism extended to the entire Hindu order spearheaded by the Brahmins. Naicker, an atheist also urged his followers to stop using Vibhuti marks on the forehead, boycott ceremonies and the use of Brahmin priests, the ceremonies of upanayana, widow remarriage, and inter-caste marriages, terming them as ‘opiates by which the Brahmins had dulled the masses so that they might be exploited and controlled’.

The above tells you a bit about the political scene but let us look at the setup and transformation of the musical scene in Tanjore and Madras. It started with two broad traditions vocal and melam (Periya and Chinna melam), following the standard musical traditions of Raaga & Tala. The latter were instrumental accompaniments for festival sand marriages, comprising the Nadaswaram, Tavil, Cymbals, and the Sruti Petti. The Carnatic vocal tradition focused on the solo vocalist accompanied by background instruments. In this setup, the vocalists were almost always Brahmins, and the instrumentalists (melakkar) were usually Isai Vellalans. Why so? It was due to the ritual pollution connected with instruments – the use of animal hair, skin, and so on, in the instruments.

As TMK puts it, It was from the aesthetic interactions between the Isai Vellalars, Deva dasis, and the Brahmins that Karnatik music evolved into its present form, but the socio-political swings of the early twentieth century changed the nature of the music and its practice, resulting in Karnatik music becoming almost a monopoly of the Brahmins. His article ‘Classically yours’ in the Social Scientist is a must-read, to understand the nuances of casteism, which has been and is in practice.

CR Day was the first to define the control of music by upper castes - The higher branches of the musical profession were formerly confined to either Brahmins (Bhagavatars) or to men of very high caste. Music being of divine origin was regarded as sacred, and it was considered impious for any but men of the sacred caste to wish to acquire any knowledge of its principles. It was and still is called the Fifth Veda. Hence, the ancient Brahmins of the country would have excommunicated any of their numbers who would have so far presumed as to betray the sacred writings to any but the elect, whose mouths were only esteemed sufficiently holy to utter words so sacred. Indeed, it was the knowledge of which they were possessed that was the chief cause of the reverence and adoration paid to the Brahmins of old, and which gave them the power and influence that they prized so much.

Now a reader might pipe up and ask – How did the Brahmins get into a muddle in the music scene? V Subramaniam explains in his paper - It was with the Saivite-Vaishnavite revival which started in the 7th century AD that Brahmins in the South came on the ascendance. By combining music, poetry, and propagandist ability they rose to assume the leadership of the new Bhakti movement, under the last of the kings. However, after the feudalistic order collapsed, the Vellalas and richer non-Brahmins held more control, and the middle class came into being. But they (Brahmins) had one big advantage, they boasted of higher learning and proficiency in the art world, something they had no plans of letting go, in either the administrative echelons of the bureaucracy or the art scene.

In addition to all this, Brahmins constituted many a musical patron as well as listener (i.e., those who could understand the languages Sanskrit, and Telugu as well as the sciences involved in the composition). Various evolutions took place, Carnatic performances in the temple grounds moved to the king’s courts, and Chinna melam which was accompaniment for dance (dasiattam or sadir which grew to become today’s Bharatanatyam) developed.

Y Terada explains the Brahmin context as follows - Public discourse concerning South Indian music culture is generally advanced from a Brahman perspective. The Brahman orientation of public discourse is partly a result of their domination of music scholarship and journalism, through which their view has been amplified and authenticated, and of what may be termed the dynamic mechanism of domination in which the perspectives of subordinate groups are excluded or left unarticulated in public domains of communication. The uniqueness of the caste relationship in music culture derives from its reversed numerical constitution.

Brahmans comprise the majority of patrons of classical music traditions (both Karnatak music and Periya Melam music) and the majority of Karnatak musicians, while they constitute only a fraction (estimated at three percent) of the entire population in Tamil Nadu state…. the caste conflict in music is at least partly a result of Brahmans' continuous attempt not only to portray classical music as their own tradition but also to invest their ideological ideal in it for the maintenance of their identity, against the non-Brahman musicians' perception that their contribution has been indispensable to its artistic merit. …

Terada also focuses on another important aspect; Bhakti devotional music was constituted carefully and around the Tanjore trinity and Brahmins. The concept of music as a devotional path, exemplified in the Trinity's personal relations and commitment to music, serves as the ideological ideal of music-making in general. The projection of these three Brahman composers, often referred to as "saint-composers," as the culmination of South Indian music not only belittles the significance of others including a number of non-Brahman composers, but it also serves to legitimate Brahmans' dominant position by virtue of their caste affiliation.

The projection of themselves as artistic descendants of one of these three saint-composers by allying themselves to their lineage compensates for the lack of saintliness in contemporary musicianship, thereby easing the tension between the projected ideal and reality. For Brahman musicians, it functions as a kind of behavioral and emotional code in addition to providing legitimacy for occupying a central place in the Karnatak music tradition.

Lakshmi Subramaniam adds - The difference lay in the significance inscribed on the higher tradition and its reclamation as being classical together with its attendant markers: composition in Sanskrit and Telegu, the principal musical languages of the tradition; and a shared continuity with the lineages of the celebrated saint composers of the 18th century, namely, Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri. The relegation of Tamil songs and the compositions of the chinna melam to a lower status in the hierarchy, on the grounds of its sensual content and non-classical resonance, was very much part of the Brahmin-sponsored project of recasting the classical tradition and claim its custodianship. For the Brahmin community, consumption of classical music thus became an integral element in its cultural self-definition, a marker of status and taste, and a cementing agent for a collective identity and presence that had no longer the same visibility in active political life.

As the Tanjore royalty and their powers declined, performance arts moved to urban centers, such as Madras and Bangalore, to serve new patrons. Musicians migrated to those regions and concert hall recitations took over from court performances. With the concentration of temples remaining high in Tanjore, most of the melakkars remained in Tanjore, while Carnatic vocalis became centered in Madras.

After the British colonial state came into being and frowned upon Nautch dancing, the Devadasis too sought social reform, but also saw their exclusive dance art form, and a revenue stream, opening to the upper castes, who took to art. They (For those who may not be aware, the male children born to Devadasis took to playing the nadaswaram (Periya melakkar), while the female children took to the profession of their mothers) joined up to form the non-Brahmin association - the "Isai Vellalar Sangam" and thereby created a political unified identity.  

Periyar EVR did have a hand in trying to force change, and was stridently anti-Brahmin, as explained previously – He criticized the monopoly of classical music by Brahmans as part of the Brahman domination of South Indian society in general. As early as 1930, he encouraged non-Brahmans to teach music to their children and to patronize non-Brahman musicians who, according to him, were denied due recognition by Brahmans, and he sponsored a series of concerts by non-Brahman musicians. He argued that non-brahmin musicians were deliberately undervalued, denied respect and honors, and humiliated while their Brahmin peers, even if younger in years and lacking in talent, had been encouraged by the Brahmin press. The Self-Respect movement took up the cause of non-brahmin musicians as its own and organized music conferences alongside to honor and encourage lower caste artists.

Now let us see how it all affected Carnatic music. Closely following these movements was the creation of the Tamil Isai Sangam, by Annamalai Chettiar in 1942. This was a counter organization to the Madras Music Academy founded in 1926 by Brahmins. The Tamil Isai Sangam extended its patronage mostly to non-Brahmins and emphasized Tamil music as well as Periya melam.

This was also the point of time when women of the Devadasi community started to make a mark in the field of Carnatic music. M.S. Subbalakshmi, M.L. Vasanthakumari, Veenai Dhanmmal, and her nieces Brinda and Mukta came mostly from the Isai Vellalar community which had historically been associated with the Devadasi tradition. Balasaraswati, one of the greatest exponents of Bharatnatyam was also a niece of Veenai Dhanammal and hailed from the same community.

In Madras, the music academy was formally inaugurated on 18 August 1928 by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, at the Y.M.I.A. auditorium before a large and distinguished gathering, with an intent to encourage and propagate Carnatic music on proper lines. One of the first challenges to the leadership at the MMA was the demand to include Tamil compositions. The MMA though agreeing to encourage this, did not take kindly to the suggestion of pruning the classical repertoire or of introducing the language issue into the field of classical music. It maintained that the point was not about the fact that the bulk of the compositions were in Telegu or Sanskrit- the languages favored by 18th-century composers like Thyagaraja, Dikshitar, or Shyama Sastri, but it was also an issue of introducing divisive regional and linguistic considerations into the larger realm of the South Indian classical tradition.

Subramaniam explains - In 1941, the Madras Academy passed a resolution endorsing the opinion of the conference of experts at the Academy that it should be the aim of all musicians and lovers of music to preserve and maintain the highest standards of Carnatic music and that no consideration of language should be imported as to lower or impair that standard. The realm of the classical, thus, remained with the Brahmin elite represented by associations such as the Madras Academy and the repertoire it had developed and refined over the years.

If somebody has doubts about the dominance of Brahmins in the field, you only need to look at the MMA awards.  A large majority, over 75% were awarded to Brahmin musicians.  One might argue that nobody else was up to it and might even add - we did allow KJ Yesudas to sing in 1954. That argument looking at the above statistics and in a para which follows providing statistics, is quite lame.

I hope this gives you a summary of the situation in Madras 1920-1950, when conversations of Brahmin and non-Brahmin hold over Carnatic music and instruments raged and larger issues such as the Dravida movement changed the political thought and perception. Then, there was a clear divide between the castes, and Periyar, the leader of the DK made inflammatory comments about Brahmins. After Tamil Nadu was formed, leaders such as MGR, and Karunanidhi (an Isai Vellalar from Tanjavur), mostly persons who were involved with the Periyar movement, ruled it thenceforth.

Some insist on statistics - Looking at a 1983 study by Kathleen L'Armand and Adrian L'Armand - Amongst those musicians identified by caste, there has been since 1928-29 a consistent 65/20/15 distribution (Brahmin percentage which was 86% in 1898 flattened to the 60-65% after 1928, while the Pillai’s rose from 6-18% and the others remained flat at 15-16%) between Brahmins, Pillai’s, and other castes among professional musicians. The "other" caste names fall into two categories: musicians who are typically high-status non-Brahmin castes, for whom music is not a traditional occupation; and caste names from outside Tamil Nadu. Notwithstanding the above, the MMA Sangeetha Kalanidhi statistics reveal the following - Of the 95 odd Sangeetha Kalanidhi awards, some 80 went to Brahmins, 14 to Isai Vellalas, and one to a Muslim, at a rough tally.

Tamil Brahmins were and are around, and the MMA continues to function, but with a Brahminical tilt, usually favoring pedigree and like these weeks, hot discussions crop up now and then on the robust Madras Carnatic scene. This is all natural but remember that the underlying cause for discomfort was caste discrimination and larger politics. The tug of war will continue till there is parity between the numbers of musical scholars and awardees. Now one can ask, is there a place for caste in today’s world? Unfortunately, yes, it continues to be part of India’s social fabric and is manipulated, massaged, and retained by the political powers of the country, just like religion is. Now and then a righteous cry of anguish comes up against such practice, and as you all saw, there was an outpouring of comments for and against it.

Carnatic Music will continue to be enjoyed by the connoisseurs and over time, more of the regular folk. I would suggest those in doubt, just look at the robust popular Tamil film-music scene – you have all religions and castes, singing & composing in brilliant harmony, to a public patron. Rahman, Ilayaraja, Iman, Harris Jayaraj, and so many more… they turn out fascinating and divine music just like an MS Viswanathan did long ago. They were not Brahmins, and likewise, a Brahmin singer would not balk at singing a Sufi number composed by ARR on a stage, these days.

To sum it all up, it was Interestingly, Sir C Ρ Ramaswamy Iyer who warned the Brahmin community by insisting publicly that the Brahmin should take the initiative in giving the qualified non-Brahmin his due and more, without patronizing, and should withdraw from the marketplace if need be. He was as I always said, a knowledgeable man, despite some flaws of character, and foresaw all this.

Ah! Well, I guess the protest season as I may call it, will soon fade off, and sense and sensibility will prevail.

In Part 3, I will focus on ‘The Music of the Melakkar’


Tamil Separatism and Cultural Negotiations: Gender Politics and Literature in Tamil Nadu - Vijaya Ramaswamy
T. N. Rajarattinam Pillai and Caste Rivalry in South Indian Classical Music - Yoshitaka Terada
Classically yours (Social Scientist, July–August 2016, Vol. 44, No. 7/8)– TM Krishna
Passions of the Tongue - Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970 - Sumathi Ramaswamy
Ramaswami Naicker and the Dravidian Movement - Mohan Ram
Court to Academy: Karnatik music - Lakshmi Subramanian
The reinvention of a tradition: Nationalism, Carnatic music and the Madras Music Academy, 1900-1947 - Lakshmi Subramanian
The Tamil Isai Iyakkam and the Politics of Custodianship – Lakshmi Subramaniam
Towards a non-brahmin millennium from Jyothee Thass to Periyar - V. Geetha and S.V. Rajadurai
One Hundred Years of Music in Madras: A Case Study in Secondary Urbanization - Kathleen L'Armand and Adrian L'Armand

Related articles

Part 1 Caste ingress into the Musical Realm, The story of Vedanayagam Sastri

Part 2 Caste conflicts – Carnatic Music, Brahmins and Carnatic music

Part 3 The Music of the Melakkar - The Melakkar and the breach of the Isai Vellalar borders.

Please note – I am tracing all this from a historical aspect – No disrespect or offense is directed to any community in any comment or statements made. Should any reader feel so please send a specific note with suggested corrections to the author for review. As such the article is based on historical events, and referenced sources with effort put in, to make it readable and provide some brevity

Caste ingress into the Musical Realm

 Case 1 – The story of Vedanayagam Sastri

There is much talk involving religion and caste in the field of Carnatic music these days, we read about musicians boycotting festivals, of musicians getting castigated for collaborating with other religions, and of the sole book which airs some of these issues. At the center of it all, is the person who wrote the book, a book which I enjoyed reading, the writer being TM Krishna and the book being ‘Sebastian and Sons’.

A music enthusiast will demur about the sad state of affairs and take objection to a certain religion trying to corner a tradition to its side, due to its interconnection to Bhakti, which they say you have to experience. I am in no way qualified to argue on such matters, and I can only take you to a period – some 200 years in the past, when a matter of caste came up and was hotly discussed for months in Madras and Tanjore. It involved a person who is once again in the news for the wrong reasons (plagiarism and comparison with Tyagaraja), an interesting man named Vedanayagam Sastri. I think you should all get to know this person, if only to get a feel of Tanjore in those days, united in music, and hugely cosmopolitan. There were Christians, Muslims, Mahrattas, Tamilians, and Telugu... just to name a few, who were brought together by music and a titular king interested in arts and science. Some years ago, V Sriram wrote a lovely article in The Hindu about that period of musical collaboration, and that is the period we will go to.

It was the time when the British were in power, with Tanjore having been ceded to the British, after the deposition of Amar Singh. Serfoji II (1777-1832), a great patron of arts was on the throne and his court and the local temple sabhas were buzzing with the prolific output of many a musical stalwart – Tyagaraja (1767-1847), the Tanjavur Quartet (Chinnayya (1802–1856), Ponnayya (1804-1864), Sivanandam (1808-1863), and Vadivelu (1810–1847), Muttuswami Diksitar (1775-1835), Syama Sastrigal (1762-1827), etc. CF Schwarz, the protestant missionary, and a common factor (1726-1798) was around too, and so many others. I had previously mentioned the Tanjore dance scene, and how Carnatic music found a home there, in an earlier article.

The Hindu poets and composers of Tanjore composed mostly in Telugu or Sanskrit and performed either at the court or at their favorite temples with the attendance of mostly upper-class Hindu communities. Considering that Sanskrit education was imparted mainly to the upper classes, or the rich, the audience who savored the many songs sung in devotion were mainly those classes. The products, i.e. the musical compositions were neither printed nor transmitted to the public through any printed media, they were only consumed orally. Note therefore that until recently, musical compositions did not extend to a wider audience, and could only be gleaned by attending specific performances or listening to the experiences of those who attended.

For most performers during the medieval, an invitation to the king’s court was the ultimate honor, following which the benevolent patron sometimes gave them gifts of gold, land, or property or even a regular position as a court musician. For some stalwarts such as Tyagaraja, these things did not matter, his music was conversational between him and his lord – Rama. The Tanjore quartet and the Tanjore trinity were eulogized much later, and their fame spread after the musical scene shifted to Madras, a topic eminently explained by Lakshmi Subramaniam in her seminal work on the subject. During subsequent musical festivals and seasons, the compositions of the trinity and many others such as Swati Tirunal were discussed, disseminated, and performed by students. Today their names and works are well known, their fame is widespread, and naturally, we have many a book and experts on the field.

But at the same time, and during the same period, there was another poet and composer, whose work, albeit much smaller in volume, was written in a language understood by the masses – i.e., Tamil and performed in the Christian Church. His works were spread around not only through oral means but were also printed and published by the Protestant missionaries. That was Vedanayagam Sastri, a Vellala Christian. Now, here is the twist – while most know the story only until this point, it took an entirely different turn, due to caste politics and that is what we will get to, today. It will demonstrate how politics strived to stall a creative genius and muddy the waters of that collaborative period which we started with. I write this with the hope that we do not do these things again and stifle free creativity.

The well-known Tyagaraja composed many “Kirtanas” that stressed Bhakti Rasa, as well as many a perfect three-part Kriti (with a Pallavi (opening line and refrain), an Anupallavi (sub refrain, elaborating on the opening), and several Charanams (stanzas)) with intricate tala structures and exquisite raga bhava, leaving much scope for elaboration. In the final Charanam, it is usual to find Tyagaraja’s signature or mudra which means "seal," incorporated into the lyric. There are many opinions on whether Tyagaraja penned his many thousand compositions if only in conversation between himself and his lord Rama, in intense private prayer, while undergoing many a personal travail, ensconced in his partitioned home as is often mentioned, or if it was also for performance, sharing and public dissemination. That his music would be used for public consumption was clear to Tyagaraja, due to the inclusion of his personal Mudra (Tyagaraja) in his work, to make sure his work was tagged to him, protected, and labeled as his creation.

During his life, Tyagaraja lived through the reigns of Tulaja II (1763-1787), Amarasimha (1787-1798), Serfoji II (1798-1832), and Sivaji II (1832-1855). It is to be noted that Tyagaraja, who was familiar with the royal court, as his father had worked there, showed no interest in working for any one of these kings and refused Serfoji’s advances and patronage many times. He was clear that he did not want to sing praises of anybody other than his lord. Tyagaraja and his Hindu contemporaries used music as a vehicle to convey the concept of Bhakti to the larger masses.

Let’s now look at the life trajectory of a contemporary of Tyagaraja to study how caste was brought into the equation, at that time, keeping in mind that irrespective of religion, caste was integral to it, be it Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam, especially in South India. While many of the readers interested in Carnatic music may recall Tyagaraja’s contemporary Vedanayagam Sastri, very few will know of the complicated life he led or the multifaced personality he had. One must also make a note that while music was important to Devanayagam, it was not a passion. For this person, it was a vehicle to introduce and convey the teachings of his Lord Jesus, the Christu Bhakti, and at times, small lessons of science.

Vedanayagam Sastri

Vedanayagam was born in Tirunelveli, as a Catholic to Devasahayam (a Saiva Vellala convert originally named Arunachalam Pillai). Vellalas (titled Mudaliar, Pillai, and Chetti) were principally obligated to pray for water and were connected to agriculture, and worshipped Varuna (Brahmins conversely worshipped Brahma) in the ancient times. Over time, as K Gough explains, "the Vellalars were the dominant secular aristocratic caste under the Chola kings, providing the courtiers, most of the army officers, the lower ranks of the kingdom's bureaucracy, and the upper layer of the peasantry". It is also believed that the Saiva Velaalar sect had been Jainas before they embraced Hinduism. They were a prosperous community of farmers and landowners who had provided economic support to Shiva temples in the Tamil country”. In the Tamil region, Vellalar like Mudaliyar, and Pillai along with certain other non-brahmin groups enjoyed a status equal to that of the Brahmins and considered themselves ‘upper castes’, though in theory Sudras.

Arunachalam (and his siblings) converted to Catholicism at the age of 25, in 1760 and took the name Devasahayam, retaining the Pillai surname, later marrying Jnanappu Ammal, a Catholic Chetti convert. Devasahayam was then employed by the Tirunelveli church as a minor cleric and retained his hair and beard. Vedanayagan (original name Vedapotagam) Pillai was born into this Catholic Vellala family in 1774 and received schooling in Puliyangudi. Some years later, a new priest of the church forced a colleague of Devasahayam, named Nonti Jniani to shave off his beard reiterating that only the main priest had a right to wear one. This coercion was against Devasahayam’s Vellala culture and when he spoke up in support of his friend, Devasahayam was excommunicated from the Catholic church. He then drifted off work for the Evangelist protestants at Palayankottai and in 1785, Pillai converted to the Protestant faith and was sent off to the mission school in Tanjore with the celebrated missionary CF Schwarz.

When Schwarz visited Palayankottai four months later, he met and took back the 12-year-old footloose Vedanayagam with him to Tanjore. Devasahayam continued preaching at Palayankottai using his musical compositions, a trait that his son had acquired. Interestingly Vedanayagam was to one of the three foster sons of Scharwz, the other two being Serfoji a young king and Schwarz’s ward, and JC Kohloff.

By 1789, Vedanayagam was moved to the theological seminary at Tanquebar, where he mastered in addition to theology, astronomy, science, anatomy, and math. In 1792, the 18-year-old Vedanayagam moved to Tanjore, where Tyagaraja now aged 25 was already a master of his musical craft. Vedanayagam too had composed a few of his musical works based on the bible, following his father’s footsteps.

By the age of 20 (1794), he became the headmaster of the school of scripture at Tanjore and taught young catechists the above sciences, a position he held until 1829. He continued to be a prolific writer (they had a printing press in-house), and completed several texts, an arithmetic textbook in Tamil, and many poetic works, mainly to assist his catechists and young students. At 21 he married his paternal cousin Viyakammal, but she died soon after their marriage, in 1796. In 1798, CFG Schwarz passed away and in 1799, his father Devasahayam too passed on. In 1798 Prince Serfoji, with whom he had studied, ascended the Tanjore throne as Serfoji II, who then ruled under the administrative authority of the British East India Company until he died in 1832. Before Schwartz died, he had asked the ‘German Malabarian’, J. C. Kohlhoff to keep an eye on Vedanayagam, as an older brother. In 1801 Vedanayagam married again, a maternal cousin named Mikelu Muttammal.

Most notably, he wrote about many a hundred Christian devotional hymns and prayer-poems. Many of them were set in the classical Carnatic style, using the then-extant raga and tala combinations. Not only were they devotional, but also instructive since he incorporated astronomical and science elements, at times, into his poetry. Experts opine that he may have borrowed from the works of Tyagaraja and others, but it is not all certain, and it also becomes apparent that there was no real issue in freely borrowing tunes and styles or getting inspired by other’s works, in those times.

These songs and works were narrated, spread around, and became very popular earning Vedanayagam many a title and honor. It was in 1808 that he got formally titled as a Sastri, for his literary excellence. Other honors followed and before long he was bestowed with the honor of ‘the evangelical king of poets’ and was even invited to Madras for bigger honors from both the Vepry church and the Nawab of Arcot living at Triplicane (the Amir Mahal which I often mention about – I lived beside that while working in Madras). This was how he got the Islamic Kulah cap and after that, he always performed looking like a Sufi, wearing whites, and a red cap. In 1815, aged 41 he received his last title - Veda Shastri. Thenceforth, Vedanayagam Pillai signed his name Vedanayagam Sastri.

Appreciation for his method of teaching the gospel through poetic means stood shoulder to shoulder with the Hindu Kirtana Parampara. Schools he served, supported by Rajas of Thanjavur, Shivaganga, and Ramnad, became so famous that Company directors subsidized them, and were quite popular.

Without getting into too many details, we can surmise that Vedanayagam created his Christian hymns in praise of Jesus, closely aligned to the Kirtanas in vogue, using similar lyrics, ragas, and talas, quite a few very close to some of the Tygaraja Kriti’s. He also incorporated the popular styles of Kuruvanci, the Kummi, and so on into his works. Whether he discussed these compositions with Tyagaraja, who was living just a few miles away, or not, is unclear. I would assume so, otherwise Tyagaraja who implanted his Mudras into his compositions with deliberation, or perhaps his ardent and vocal disciples, could have complained of plagiarism. It is also said that Vedanayagam produced works along the line of minor literary compositions, has also composed many songs based on Tevara melodies and Tirupukazh rhymes. He was attracted by Tayumanavar and has composed some of his songs in his style. These are found in his work ‘Jepamalai’. His confessional songs of are based on the confessional models used by many saints of Tamil Nadu.

Sriram explains - Besides this, he used the songs of his contemporary Carnatic composer Tyagaraja (1767-1847) and wrote Christian lyrics for the same tunes. Some of the ragas used by Vedanayagam Sastry are Shankarabharanam, Mohanam, Ananda Bhairavi, Kamboji, Kalyani, Neelambari, Surykantam, Chakravakam, Yadukulakamboji, Senjurutti, Senavati, Saindhavi, Jingala and Dwijavanti. He used talas (cycle of beats) such as Adi, Tisra Ekam, Rupakam, and Chapu. In all his compositions, like Tyagaraja, he included his name as a signature.

Meanwhile, he adopted his niece Jnanadipa Ammal, who later helped translate his work into English, a language Vedanayagam was never comfortable with. He then spent a while in Jaffna, where his name had spread. In 1813, a son named Jnanasikhamani was born to him and Mikelu, and by 1814, he was training pupils on music at his home, a practice which continued till his death in 1863.

The issue of caste

The reader must note here that the times we are talking about were quite different from today. As Robert Eric Frykenberg explains - The terms ‘Hindu’, ‘Hinduism’, and ‘Hindutva’ (‘Hinduness’) are modern. Non-religious denotations for things Hindu long antedated confessional meanings. In the early days of the Company, to be Hindu meant simply to be native to Hindustan. Terms like ‘Hindu Muslim’ and ‘Hindu Christian’ were not uncommon. The Empire was thus Hindu. The emergence of modem Hinduism owed much to late eighteenth-and nineteenth-century collaboration. It was neither a British nor a missionary invention. Contributions made by high-caste, mainly Brahman, pandits played as decisive a part as anything done by scholars from the West.

It was also a time when fervent evangelism was frowned upon - Company authorities stood ready to summarily expel any missionary, and to punish any overly zealous officer whose tactless actions provoked social unrest. Anyone disparaging Hindu and Muslim practices as ‘devilish’ or ‘heathen’ could be admonished or even deported. But as we will see, it was not to be.

All this was to create never ending problems for the poetic evangelist, who was by now known as ‘The Tanjore Poet’. It all started when new decrees were passed against caste segregation and the singing of hymns in styles reminiscent of other religions and set in the bhakti style using ragas connected to temple singing. Also at the heart of it was the use of the bulk of hymns authored by Vedanayagam with his mudra. It would be interesting to look at the attacks on the Tanjore Poet, by the Madras establishment.

It all started with Rhenius, a fiery Prussian evangelist, who had been deputed to Trunelveli. This firebrand, as Robert Eric Frykenberg explains - exhorted, encouraged, instructed, trained, translated, and held dramatic public debates. His disciples, known as pilgrims, fanned out; thousands, again whole villages, turned Christian. The community doubled and trebled in size each decade thereafter. As congregations proliferated, so did chapel schools and self-help societies, with missions for the homeless, widows, and orphans. High schools, colleges, seminaries, and hospitals sprang into existence as Tirunelveli society was transformed.

Until the third decade of the 19th century, the upper caste converts (e.g. vellalas) and lower caste converts (parayas) were seated separately in churches and this was accepted by Bishop R Huber who said it was like British and American Churches where the gentry and servants were always separated. Another related issue was that the front-row seated Vellalans received bread and wine first and then came the parayas. If this was disturbed, the upper caste vellala would eat the Ecchil of the lower caste, a deeply offensive tradition! Sastri wrote in 1824 - those new missionaries, led by C. T. E. Rhenius, had tried to force ‘all the castes or nations of this country to be of one caste to make them eat and drink together and to have those of higher and lower classes connected with each other in marriage.  This was very offensive to his upper caste sensibility.

Bishop Wilson upset the status quo when he insisted that they all sit together, resulting in large protests and walkouts by Vellalas. The enraged bishop ordered the district magistrate of Tanjore to flog those who insisted on caste segregation. Sastri argued saying that it was not yet time for such radical moves and it should only be brought in gradually.

Vedanayakam Sastri argued that - At the ‘Lord’s Table’ divergent beings could only ‘sit together separately’. They could still enjoy ‘spiritual unity’ within contexts of social diversity where divergent peoples lived differently and separately, enjoying divergent status, wealth, and wisdom. Christians should be free to organize themselves according to earthbound resources and distinctions, whether of caste (India) or class (Europe). As it looked, after a century of independence, Tamil evangelical Christians found themselves being forced to read strange words, sing strange songs, and recite strange chants from an unknown Book of Common Prayer. It was a difficult period for him, as for some unknown reason, his wife left him and moved on to Tirunelveli. He married Varodaya Ammal in 1829 and had three children with her. Sastri and King Serfoji II had a fallout as well, due to the former’s efforts at converting the lay public to Christianity.

It was in 1829, that Vedanayakam Sastri and other Vellalans who supported him were formally dismissed and expelled from the Church. The outraged community, complaining to the Governor of Madras, accused the new missionaries of committing four cruelties: (1) tampering with Tamil Scripture by replacing old versions with their own; (2) forcing integration of all Christians into one caste and excommunicating from the Eucharist all who refused to comply; (3) prohibiting flowers for festivals, weddings, and funerals; and (4) removing Tamil lyrics and Tamil music from worship.

The next argument was that when devotees sing in the presence of God, there is no need for any man’s name to be mentioned. Sastri has used in the last lines of some songs, his mudra Vedanayagam, and this was found objectionable.

Sastri himself quit his post as headmaster of the seminary Schwartz had founded. Rev Pope harassed the family after that, they were prevented from singing in the church, or in the compound. Sastri’s songs were removed from the books, the family was insulted in public, being given communion last, despite their high standing, His younger son's marriage was branded as heathen, on grounds that he had failed to visit the Pope's house after the ceremony. Sastri stopped attending communion at the Church, nevertheless conducting ceremonies honoring Schwarz in front of his house, annually, ever after.

At the King’s court

It was at this juncture that Serfoji the king came to his rescue. When Serfoji II learned of Sastri’s difficulties in the Tanjore congregation, he summoned the poet to the court. Serfoji had previously gifted Sastri a plot of land on which to build a house and an annual stipend of 50 gold coins. He appointed him as his court poet. As Hudson details – His duties included meeting with the king twice a month, writing a poetic history of the king’s Bhosale lineage of Marathas, composing poems for the court, and singing Evangelical songs or bhajans for Serfoji on those days of the month when, for ritual reasons, he was prohibited from reciting Veda. Sastri held that position for three years until Serfoji died in 1832. The king gave Sastri a new palanquin to use for travel to and from the court with all its associated honors and requirements. When the palanquin reached the palace, a herald would announce in elaborate poetry Sastri’s arrival as 'The Emperor of Poets, Vedanayagam the Lion.’

Several discussions between the King and the poet relating to their respective faiths can be seen in the records. There is an account of Sastri refusing to compose a Kurvanchi (Kuravanchis, similar to operas, are performed as dance dramas by Bharatanatyam troupes, and Sastri had composed the famous Bethlehem Kuruvanchi previously) in the praise of Siva, as it would offend his Christian faith and insult his teacher Schwarz. When asked if he could at least compose a single verse of invocation praising Ganesa, Sastri refused again, even after Serfoji stated that he the King would compose a Kriti honoring Jesus. An irritated Serfoji resorted to a threat, upon which Sastri told the king that he should not consider or treat the poet as his servant. Serfoji finally gave in and did not press him ever again, on the issue. After Serfoji passed away in 1832, Sivaji who took over dispensed with his services. Sastri lived on with donations from Devasikhamani Pillai, a palace officer, and others, tuition monies received by teaching Tamil to new missionaries and a stipend for assisting Surveyor-General Mackenzie collect vernacular writings about Indian culture and history. Symonds who met him on his tour through Tanjore in 1848 said 'the Tanjore poet is quite a character in the mission. He has a fine tall figure and is without exception the most intellectual native I have ever met.’

The Tanjore poet, Vedanayagam Sastri, died 24th January 1864, aged 90.

An epilogue mentions that his descendants ended the fight with the church, and some worked for the church as well as gifted land to them. The Church also relaxed their rules a bit - Immediately after the Benediction, following a custom observed on the New Year's Day service at the Fort church, the son of the old Tanjore poet, and his family started singing one of the old poet's lyrics, accompanied by explanations

What can we learn from all this? A poet who rose to great heights, followed his ideals and a chosen path, but allowed age-old traditions and caste prejudice to derail his life. He refused to accept the changed situation and eked out the rest of his life as a simple poet and composer in pain and penury. The spirit of that poet lives on, though hardly anyone remembers him. Interestingly, this mirrors in some ways the situation where the Malabar rites of Syrian Catholics in Kerala (among others) were targeted by the Portuguese Catholics, in the 16th century. They maintained that the Saint Thomas Christian community of Kerala were "Hindu in culture, Christian in religion, and Oriental in worship”.

I had thought that the caste issues had all died down long ago. I don’t know how it is in South Indian Christian churches, but it is rearing its ugly head once again on the Hindu side, at Chennai. It is so strange that we have so many editions of the Ramayana, including a Chinese and Muslim Ramayana, and yet we are arguing that Carnatic music and its bhakti tradition belong only to Hindus, despite the clear fact that during the golden period of the Tanjore trinity, and as you read above, it was shared for Christian hymns too! That was as Sriram explained, true collaboration.

We will continue with this discussion using a second example, from the Hindu side, in the next article.


Protestant origins in India - Tamil Evangelical Christians, 1706-1835 - D. Dennis Hudson

Between Print & Performance - The Tamil Christian Poems of Vedanayaka Sastri and the Literary cultures of 19th-century South India – Indira Viswanathan Peterson

'The Lutheran Aggression Controversy': Caste and Class Conflict of Christians in 19th Century South India - Robert Eric Frykenherg

Christian Missions and the Raj (Missions and Empire, edited by Norman Etherington) - Robert Eric Frykenberg

'Purified' Carnatic Music and Impure People: Contemporary Debates - P U Mythri

Tyagaraja – Life & Lyrics – William J Jackson

Great Composers Thyagaraja – P Sambamoorthy

A Chronicle of Collaboration (The Hindu) – Sriram V

Related articles

Part 1 Caste ingress into the Musical Realm, The story of Vedanayagam Sastri

Part 2 Caste conflicts – Carnatic Music, Brahmins and Carnatic music

Part 3 The Music of the Melakkar - The Melakkar and the breach of the Isai Vellalar borders.

No disrespect or offense is directed to any community in any comment or statement made. Should any reader feel so please send a specific note with suggested corrections to the author for review. As such the article is based on historical events, and referenced sources with the effort put in, to make it readable and provide some brevity.



Rare Earths and Travancore

A New Assessment

Some years ago, I had covered this subject, dwelling mainly on the connections between Travancore, Britain, Sir CP, and the new administration at Delhi, trying to complete the accession of all the princely states. It was not complete and lacked study of certain angles, and so, I am revisiting the study to add more asides to it after reading a recent Wall Street Journal (Dec 16-17, 2023) article ‘Hunt for Rare-Earth Supplies Accelerate”. Now, this article was all about rare earth magnets, and the search for non-radioactive sands containing the material required for production of such magnets. But it also dealt with having to look for such ore/sand at far away places such as Australia and Vietnam and wean the western world from China which holds a virtual monopoly (China refines 89% of the world's neodymium and praseodymium, the key metals for EV magnets) on such magnet production.

I have not seen Rocket Boys yet but read the interesting article by MG Radhakrishnan in Mathrubhumi which provides details of the supposed meetings between Delhi and Travancore and the arm-twisting of the young Travancore Raja by Homi Bhaba. Now what was the real story?

It all started with a very interesting UK-trained geologist working for Travancore, named Ezra Masillamani, brother of the famous CM Agur (Travancore resident’s office manager and author of the book - Church History of Travancore). The family, originally Parayas, converted and can trace their ancestry to the convert Vedamanickam of Mylady, from De-Lannoy’s period.

indications of the presence of rare earths in these sands had initially been reported by Schomberg, Tipper, Herbert, and Christie. In a report by Messrs. E. Masillamani and I. C. Chacko, State Geologists of Travancore, dealing with work done during the years 1907-10, reference was made to the occurrence of monazite in Travancore. Late in 1916, or early in 1917, a variety of thorianite was discovered by him, carrying something like 40 percent. of uranium oxide. In the same year, the same geologist discovered two other minerals in Travancore (Mr. Masillamani worked on a crystal of thorianite and a partial analysis of the mineral showed that it contains 32.27 p.c. of ThO2 and 39.86 p.c. U2O8). The most important deposit was located at the Ashtamudi Bar, where the sands are brought down by the Kallada River.

I had covered the subsequent involvement of various nations and Sir CP in controlling the sale of these Monazite sands in an earlier article but did not dwell too much on the discussions between the Delhi government and Travancore. It is quite interesting and tells you a different story of some of the arm twisting by the center, to force consensus. It will also become clear to the reader that there is quite a bit of misreporting these days while recalling such events. This one had a good trail to follow and check, but I dread the days when AI will make ‘stretching or faking news’ otherwise termed ‘inspired’, even more, complicated to decipher.

First the importance of the sands. While the initial sand exports to Europe were for the manufacture of gas mantles, the subsequent interest was its potential use in nuclear technology. European, German, and Americans competed for a share in these deposits with Travancore, and after the end of the First World War, the new crop of capitalists including Eapen, Masillamani, and Kesava Pillai came to the fore, with applications, only to see them rejected. In some cases, land purchase applications were rejected, and the land was acquired by the Circar. Eventually, a few permissions were granted but paid low royalties.

Sir CP was initially involved with Travancore as an advisor to the Maharani and later as the Dewan of Travancore, until 1947. Though involved in many pioneering schemes and developmental activities, he was seen as an autocratic administrator, loyal to the royalty that employed him. As the people’s movements geared up, Sir CP who was fiercely anticommunist, used an iron hand to put down any kind of protest or revolt, earning him a poor reputation. We have discussed all these and exemplified them in previous articles.

Later, as Ilmenite became popular for the manufacture of Titanium Dioxide, Masillamani again came to the fore in 1930, with an application for 958 acres of mining land, but the Travancore Circar looked at it as dubious he seemed to be fronted by American interests, approving just 50 acres. As time went by, CP Mathan also entered the fray, forming Malabar Minerals in 1936, but CP refused to register the mining lease due to their frayed relationship (see article on TN & Quilon bank). The situation dragged on until independence, with British and sometimes American companies involved in the fringes, and Travancore drew very little royalty in the export of these sands. The overall market and strategic outlook were not clear, but the importance of these rare earth sands remained paramount in the public sphere, with new applications for the metals coming about rapidly, not only in the nuclear industry but also elsewhere.

The techno-politics of Rare Earths, Sir CP

The importance of Monazite, a phosphate compound, is that it contains radioactive Thorium. As mentioned previously, it was originally used for gas mantle lamps (a technology patented by Germans, but with raw material (acquired from Travancore) monopolized by the British). With the pioneering research by Marie Curie and Carl Schmidt, its importance in radioactivity became clear and as the nuclear age dawned in 1945, its potential use to breed nuclear fuel became clear.

That the British would be on their way out of India was clear in the early years of the 40s and Sir CP, an avowed monarchist started to lay grounds for the state to remain independent of the new India. His arguments were persuasive and the state itself was more developed than most, relatively stable, and considerably wealthy. I have covered these at length in an earlier essay. For some strange reason, Sir CP did not play his critical pawn, the Thorium business, in his play, or so we thought.

This was the period when the US decided to try and control the global nuclear scene (after it had dropped the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945), by establishing a monopoly over all aspects of atomic research & production.  But naturally, the Thorium deposits at Travancore came up in discussions between the US and the UK. Until then and through WW II, sales of sands were embargoed by Britain. As the war ground to a close, Sir CP refused to lift the embargo and insisted that those who wanted the minerals had to establish production plants in Travancore, arguing its desire to become an industrialized state. The US was vexed at the turn of events, for 73% of the Monazite import was from Travancore. The British however, were not upset about this as they continued to control the overseas communication channels.

Covert communications, however, continued between the US and Sir CP, and they knew that the key to success was support for Sir CP’s visions of an independent Travancore. Thus, a tenuous link started to form between Thorium and Travancore’s independence. As late as July 1947, an official communique between the US Department of State and the US consul in Madras read - We must be careful to avoid giving the Dewan any opportunity to claim a special relationship with us, unless it should actually be our intention to establish one. At this particular time, I should imagine he would be particularly eager to see in the Consulate’s dealings with him, some explicit or tacit approval of his idea of Travancore independence, in advance of the time when we can take any decision on that question.

Sir CP knew about the nuclear significance of thorium and after the Nagasaki bombing, he wrote to the Maharaja in 1946- “If thorium can be utilized for the manufacture of atomic bombs (there is no reason why it should not be), Travancore will enjoy a position very high in the world.” He also made it clear to the newly minted CSIR, that Travancore was the sole owner of all mineral deposits and would only deal directly with interested parties. He went on to conclude a secret deal with the UK to export 9,000 tonnes between 1947 and 1950, in return for the establishment of a new processing plant in Travancore. The men in power at Delhi came to know the facts only after the reporter Bamzai, published the explosive article in Bombay’s Blitz.

Even though Homi Bhabha, the Chairman of CSIR seemed unconcerned, Nehru was incensed. Speaking to the Indian cabinet in April 1947, Nehru is reported to have said that he “would approve the ‘use of airpower against Travancore, if necessary, to bring them to heel. He then asked the head of CSIR, Sir Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, to travel to Travancore to obtain more information about the nature of Travancore’s arrangement with the British. Bhabha and Swarup traveled to Trivandrum in June 1947 and came back with an acceptable agreement, while the central government thanked Sir CP for his cooperation.

Itty Abraham in his lovely article, stops here, but the story had another angle altogether and for that, we must study the fascinating account provided by Sandeep Bamzai, the grandson of KN Bamzai, the intrepid Blitz journalist. Blitz did provide an expose of what was going on, behind closed doors, then. Bamzai explains that the printed version was one thing, but what was provided to Nehru by Blitz behind the scenes, had damaging information on Sir CP.

Now what could Sir CP have been up to or for that matter, how did Nehru outwit Sir CP using the Blitz investigative report? Here is where you can see the collective genius of Nehru, Patel, and Menon, working together before they deputed Sampath and Bhabha.

Though Sir CP found some support from Veer Savarkar, his master plan was to establish a direct communication link with Britain and sign the agreement with Thorium Ltd, where on the face of it, a plant would be established for processing the sands in Travancore (retaining natural resources within the country), but on detailed perusal; it turned out that a majority of the 9,000 tones would be directly exported, while only a small portion would be processed locally. This deal was unearthed by Bamzai, and its details were turned over to Nehru.

As Sir CP traveled to Delhi and met Mountbatten to argue his case on Travancore’s independence, Mountbatten refused to buy Sir CP’s arguments that Nehru was unstable and Patel was ruthless and asked him to deal with VP Menon. VP Menon, it is mentioned, reminded Sir CP that Travancore was the strongest breeding ground for communists in India. He asked CP what CP could do if the communists revolted against him after 15th August, and this veiled threat discomfited Sir CP. As we know now, a personal attack on Sir CP would take place, sooner than later.

The counter was multipronged, and the sequence of events went thus.

-        - VP Menon mentioned the communist threat to the Dewan, per Bamzai’s account.

-       -  The Dewan returning from Delhi, asked the Maharaja to write that he would agree to the conditions, but the Raja delayed signing the letter. Mountbatten insisted on receiving a signed document.

-        - At the same time, the state congress agitation strengthened, and, in a few days, Sir CP was stabbed by KCS Mani at a public function.

-        - The Maharaja confirmed he would sign, and Patel called off the agitation.

-        - Blitz then published the one-sided agreement between Travancore and Thorium Ltd.

Now how did Sir CP establish channels with the British? He used the Nizam of Hyderabad to channel his communications through the Nawab of Bhopal – Hamidullah Khan, to Jinnah in Pakistan. Using his sleuths, Nehru obtained a copy of the Nawab’s letter to Jinnah. It signaled a confederation of these recalcitrant states either themselves or through Pakistan to establish links with Britain. It also became clear that Churchill was a party to this maneuver, through his secretary Gillatt. Eventually, Nehru exposed the complete plan to the powers in the center.

So much for Sir CP and his machinations.

Oppenheimer, Nehru & India

The involvement of Oppenheimer with India was twofold, and I had mentioned one of them in the past, his devotion to the Bhagavad Gita. As it turns out, when he ran afoul of Edgar Hoover and got into the bad books of the FBI, he was invited to India by Nehru, a sanctuary of sorts. Bernard Peters had by then moved to India to work at TIFR. Nehru’s missive was sent through a member of the Indian Consul General, inviting Oppenheimer to visit India for a month or two or even longer, perhaps for good. Dr Oppenheimer replied that he was deeply moved by the PM’s letter and invitation, mentioning that he would always have it in mind, that he did indeed hope to visit India, but that right then he thought his place was in the USA. The Indian diplomat assured Oppenheimer that no atomic bomb work was taking place in India, but Oppenheimer told him this wasn’t a consideration in his decision. Instead, Oppenheimer thought that ‘were he to leave the United States now, this action would be misconstrued in such as way as to be very dangerous and indeed harmful to the good relations between the two countries’.

But there is more to this as well – it turns out as Nayantara Sahgal narrates, that Oppenheimer attempted to communicate secretly with Nehru through Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was serving at the time as India’s envoy to Washington.

A chilling climax to her growing unease over the prevailing political climate in America came two weeks later with s telephone call from Robert Oppenheimer, the renowned physicist who had headed the experiment that produced the atom bomb. On 21 February 1951, she wrote to her brother,

Quote – Letter dated 21st Feb 1951 VLP to JN (quoted verbatim as recent news reports have ‘massaged’ parts of it) though the veracity of its contents cannot be established as factual.

Two days ago, I had a phone call from Professor Oppenheimer from Princeton saying that he wanted to communicate something of a very urgent nature and that he was sending Amiya Chakravarti because he could not come personally for reasons I would understand. He sounded agitated on the phone. Amiya arrived next day and delivered the following verbal message, to be communicated to you as early as possible.

Oppenheimer wants you to know that work of a most horrible and deadly nature is being done on the atom bomb, that step by step America is 'deliberately' moving towards a war of annihilation. The recent promises given by Truman to Attlee regarding the atom have resulted in research for a weapon of the same deadly quality which will be kept very secret and used INSTEAD of the atom. This research is going on at a furious pace. Many of those engaged in this work are going to pieces as it is against all accepted standards of civilized decency, and the secrecy imposed on them is almost more than some of them can bear, Oppenheimer among them. For this purpose, more and more thorium is required and the U.S. desires to stockpile all available thorium. Oppenheimer has reason to believe that an approach will be made very soon to India directly, and through Britain. In fact, he believes that one reason why the Indian request for wheat has been so readily sponsored by the State Department is because of what they themselves require from India. The argument used for obtaining thorium will be that it is intended for humanitarian purposes. According to Oppenheimer NO such purpose can at present be achieved.

Oppenheimer 'begs' the Government of India not to sell any thorium to the U.S. voluntarily or through pressure. He thinks India holds the key to peace at present, but if India's vast resources of thorium are placed at the disposal of the U.S., the greatest war ever fought will be made possible. Secret talks have been going on between the U.S. and Britain.

Oppenheimer wants you to know that in spite of the general belief that Britain has the atom, the only bombs she has have gone from the U.S. That is the hold the U.S., has on her and it may be used to put pressure on India. In conclusion, Oppenheimer begs India in the name of humanity to maintain her present foreign policy and not be swayed by any pressure, national or international, to depart from it.

This remarkable letter marked Top Secret and never, to my knowledge, made public before, from the American scientist who knew what the ghastly consequences of a war worse than nuclear war would be, carries no hint or smear of betrayal, only a desperate bid to avert catastrophe. It appeals to a man whom Oppenheimer regards as the sole dependable advocate for peace in circumstances where preparations for a destructive war are proceeding behind a facade of peace.

Oppenheimer's messenger, Amiya Chakravarti was a Bengali poet and academic who had been closely associated with Tagore and Gandhi. At this time, he was Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton.

Oppenheimer's anguish over his part in the atom bomb had turned him to the study of Hindu philosophy and Gandhi’s doctrine of ahimsa. He had unbounded admiration for Nehru and had written to him in his search for comfort during his own period of soul-searching. Vijaya Lakshmi had once had lunch with him at Princeton and found him 'as rare a human being as he was a great scientist'.

The US deliberations

Well, remarkable right?? I should have written this before the article on Russell, Menon, and Nehru. But it tells you the way thoughts went in those Cold War days. Anyway, a lot of water has flown under the bridge and all these only raise an eyebrow. This is just yet another story from the past, of no real relevance these days.

The sands of Travancore are still coveted. The KMML and Titanium units, locations we used to wander around during our childhood days remain, mining rare earths, be they for magnets or whatever. Scandals concerning exports of these sands continue to sport headlines now and then. Interestingly while the treasures of the temple are dedicated to Lord Padmanabha, these precious sands don't seem to be!

As regards Oppenheimer & the Bhagavad Gita, I chanced on a lengthy paper on - The “Gita’ of J Robert Oppenheimer by James A. Hijiya, published by the American Philosophical Society, Jun 2000. It is a fairly complex but thought-provoking paper and requires careful study. That will remain a work in progress….


'Captains of the Sands' Metropolitan Hegemony in Mining in Tiruvitamkur, 1900-50 - K T Ram Mohan

Radioactive Minerals and Private Sector Mining – VT Padmanabhan

Princestan – Sandeep Bamzai

Rare Earths: The cold war in the annals of Travancore – Itty Abraham

Travancore’s Pakistan Intrigues, 1946-47

A Life in Twilight -Mark Wolverton

Nehru: Civilizing A Savage World - Nayantara Sahgal