Old world charm wafts out from letters

The Chettinadu region has always patronised classical music and musicians. Weddings, temple festivals and other functions featured the concerts of the best musicians of the time. A treasure trove of letters written by musicians themselves reveals interesting details of the remuneration for their performance.

“I collect old magazines, stamps and books and found these letters among them. The Chettiar families normally keep these letters tagged with their response as records,” said an antiques dealer who wishes to be anonymous.

The oldest letter in the collection was written by nagaswaram player P.S. Rathinam, who had arranged a performance of a ‘chinna melam’ (Bharatanatyam troupe) in 1931. He had informed the organisers that the troupe would perform only if it was paid ₹300 and not ₹250.

Nagaswaram maestro Rajarathinam Pillai had requested ₹350 for a concert in 1935. “I will play for both the wedding and procession of the deity from the temple. In fact, the amount is very less,” he had said in a letter.

Andankoil A.V. Karuppaiah Pillai, another nagaswaram player of great repute, had informed an organiser in 1945 that his minimum rate was ₹200.

Organisers of concerts by Karukurichi P. Arunachalam would have to pay a princely sum of ₹1,000 in 1955.

“If you are ready to pay the amount, I will perform,” Arunachalam had written to K.A. Angamuthu Mudaliar, secretary of the Hindu Traders’ Association at Karaikudi.

M.M. Dhandapani Desikar had written to Angamuthu Mudaliar in 1961. He wanted ₹1,001 for himself and his troupe, including a violinist, a mridangam player and a kanjira player.

Vocalist and playback singer Sirkazhi Govindarajan had also written to Angamuthu Mudaliar, expressing his willingness to perform at an event to mark the Tamil New Year in 1961.

In his letter to Natarajan Chettiyar in 1964, Madurai Mani Iyer had said he would reach Karaikudi with violinist M.S. Gopalakrishnan and mridangam player Umayalpuram Sivaraman. “Book rooms in the municipality rest-house. For me, book a big room with an attached bathroom,” he had said in the letter, written by T.S. Vembu Iyer on his behalf.

In 1960, clarinet maestro A.K.C. Natarajan had written to Rajamanickam Chettiyar at Karaikudi, recommending Kumbakonam K.A. Thangavel Pillai for the thavil accompaniment.

Nagaswaram player Thiruvidaimarudur P.S. Veerusami Pillai had told the organisers to book Nachiyarkoil Raghava Pillai or someone else as special thavil.

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