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A grand bow to the arts


A random thought led to the construction of the magnificent Chowdiah Memorial Hall, a tribute to T. Chowdiah, one of the greatest violinists of Karnataka. As it turns 25, its working president K.K. Murthy harks back to an era


A PROUD PAST Chowdiah Memorial Hall is one of Bangalore's most imaginative architectural monuments

In all munificence, this mother of all stages has embraced and given a creative space to classical Indian musicians, nurtured young Bharatanatya dancers, heard the heartbeat of African drums, lent ear to experimental and fusion music, witnessed two generations of musicians from the same gharana share stage, and also seen the revival of jazz in the country.

But who would have thought of something as dramatic as a violin-shaped concert hall to house this stage? That too way back in the 70s? But some thinking-out-of - the-box gave Bangalore one of it's most imaginative architectural monuments which became a symbol of the city's love and respect for the arts - the Chowdiah Memorial Hall - that is celebrating 25 years of its existence this year.

The spark

As he walked one morning in a park, K.K. Murthy, former chairman of the BDA ruminated over M.L. Vasanthakumari's concert he had heard the previous evening at the Ramanavami music festival. "I remember the concert went on till midnight and it was heaven," recalls this working president of the Academy of Music, an independent registered body that administers the Memorial Hall. The Academy was founded in 1961.


T. Chowdiah, in whose memory the hall has been built

While musicians gave audiences so much to enjoy, what have people done for them, Murthy wondered. This thought kept at his mind till he came up with the idea to construct a hall in memory of the maestro of the seven-stringed violin — Mysore T. Chowdaiah. Murthy's father K. Puttu Rao was a great connoisseur of music and a close friend of Chowdiah's. So that emotional bonding worked wonders too.

Making it a unique hall was important, and since it was a tribute to one of the greatest experimental violinists Karnataka produced, Murthy thought it should be in the shape of a violin. "When I discussed the idea, people thought I was mad to attempt anything like building a violin-shaped hall," laughs Murthy as he recalls the beginnings. But he decided to go ahead anyway. The location was of prime importance and had to be tackled first. The majestic beauty would have to be visible from an elevated point for complete visual impact.

So a low-lying area, Gayatri Park Extension that lay in a cradle below the Sankey Tank Road was picked. Formerly a swampy area often called Owl Creek, the area had been gradually developed into a park as the residential extension expanded. The city corporation agreed to give the tract of land to the Academy on an unbelievable 99-year lease! "Money was a big concern. I started raising public donations."

People who loved music started contributing Rs. 300 or Rs. 500 or any other amount they could. "But it was a big project and we ran into constant trouble because there were never enough funds. I remember, in fact, how we had only Rs. 5.75 as bank balance when the late President V.V. Giri came to lay the foundation stone for the Hall!" Syndicate Bank gave them a generous Rs. 5 lakh loan. So when money froze again, Gundu Rao, the then Chief Minister released a Rs. 20 lakh grant. The grant was later converted into a loan and a prolonged court case followed. Residents around the area also protested saying it would spoil the peace of the area.


K.K. Murthy (in the grey safari suit) among musical stalwarts

S.N. Murthy, the architect, was given a violin which he would dutifully bring to the construction site so that the building would be an accurate and perfect replica of the original instrument! Tonnes of bricks, glass, marble and metal went into building this superb violin. Getting the shape right wasn't easy and the structure was demolished and rebuilt at least 10 times. It is complete with the strings, keys, the bridge and even the bow! Aluminium strings were acquired with the KEB's help to give the final touch to the seven strings of the violin. Finally, it was inaugurated in 1980. When in 1998 Mallikarjuna Kharge joined the Academy, they cleared off all the bank loans!

The Chowdiah Memorial Hall stands proud today as the only one in the world in the shape of a musical instrument dedicated to a musician. And as it celebrates its silver jubilee with a year-long series of concerts, the Hall reverberates with myriad memories.

In its 25 years of being, the Hall has been put to use for a wide range of things. From Carnatic and Hindustani concerts, jazz, ballets, traditional and contemporary dance performances, fashion shows, plays, jugalbandis, ghazals, all night programmes for Shivaratri, international music festivals, graduation ceremonies, school day programmes, and even wedding receptions!

Graced by stars

There are very few renowned artistes who haven't graced this platform. The likes of D.K.Pattammal, M.L.Vasanthakumari, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Ustad Amzad Ali Khan, Dr. L.Subramaniam, V. Doreswamy Iyengar, Maharajapuram Santhanam, Gangubai Hangal, Mandolin U.Srinivas and others have been honoured with national awards here.

This 1,011-seater hall has fantabulous acoustics, recently upgraded with digital crossovers, graphic equalizers, modern mixing consoles and echo units. Around Rs. four lakh is spent every month on the hall's maintenance; at least Rs. one lakh on just paint every month! As the audiences at the hall grow, the Academy has now acquired additional land to accommodate 500 cars right behind the hall.

As a finale to the year-long celebrations of the silver jubilee of the Chowdiah Memorial Hall, the Academy is planning to invite the President of India, A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, to preside in the presence of musicians like Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan among others.

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