Music in old Madras

Music, and in particular Carnatic music, and Madras go back a long way together in history. The city, a creation of the British in 1639, does not have many records in terms of music for the first 100 years or so of its existence, But when the British began rebuilding the city after the French left it in 1749, the thriving Black Town that came up outside Fort St. George, began attracting musicians.

That was the era of the Dubash (corruption of Dwibhashi, knowing two languages or middleman who knew two languages. Each Englishman of rank had a Dubash who helped in business transactions in the city. Such Dubashes became very rich men and began spending their money in the patronage of art and in particular musicians and dancers. Thus the Sarva Deva Vilasa, an 18th century manuscript in the Adyar Library talks of some Dubashes and the musicians in their entourage. Dr. V. Raghavan wrote an extensive article under the title "Some Musicians and Their Patrons About 1800 AD in Madras City", [Journal of The Music Academy, Vol. XV) about the findings in it. The author of the original work was the son of a Rama Suri, who in turn was the son of a Sankara Suri. But strangely he never mentions his own name! The treatise mentions Vedachala Mudaliar— a patron of the city— who, on one particular evening, holds a sadas in which music and dance by various courtesans of the city take place. One of the courtesans so mentioned is Narayani of Kumbakonam, who could sing very well and was attached to Kalingaraya, himself a wealthy businessman of the city. Yet another is Manga of Tanjore who could sing and dance and was in the retinue of Sriranga, a patron of the town. A third is Meenakshi who was patronised by Vedachala Mudaliar. The work describes the sadas that took place in Choolai in great detail.