Sri R Krishnaswami

R. Krishnaswami - A Gentleman Sabhanayaka

S Janaki

R. Krishnaswami, Hon. Secretary of the Narada Gana Sabha for almost 43 years, passed away in the early hours of 18 March in Chennai. He was 78. Though he was ailing and was undergoing dialysis thrice a week in the past few months, his interest in the day-to-day running of the Sabha remained undiminished till the very end. It was a triumph of mind over matter. Though weak, just three days before his demise, he had inspected the maintenance work going on in the sabha premises. “A simple servant of music, Bharatanatyam and drama”, that is how Krishnaswami liked to be known.

A senior advocate in the Madras High Court, Krishnaswami was better known as "the most well known face" of the Narada Gana Sabha, and he played a major role in bringing it to its present status. He was a gentleman, frank and forthright in his views as also in his dealings with others. He did not encourage nor put up with hanky-panky ways of seeking performance opportunities. He believed in offering quality programmes to members and rasikas.

He was a strong believer in tradition, but took bold steps when necessary. According to natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, in the late 1960s and 70s when other organisations shunned male artists, Krishnaswami boldly offered him programmes at the Narada Gana Sabha. It was a revolutionary step which gradually opened up opportunities for male Bharatanatyam artists.

He was a true connoisseur and patron of the arts. When the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) approached him for office space, he readily came forward to give a room in the sabha premises free of rent. ABHAI has been functioning there for almost 25 years.

Twenty years ago, when Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and K.S. Subramaniam – troubled parents of young dancers went to him with their tales of woe about the dance scene, it was R. Krishnaswami who suggested the creation of Natyarangam (the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha) to break the pay-to-perform syndrome for young talent, and to generate awareness among the audience on various aspects of dance appreciation. Under his leadership, Natyarangam has made a mark in the field of Bharatanatyam.

Five years ago, the Haridhos Giri School of Music was started under the aegis of Narada Gana Sabha to encourage talented youngsters  to learn Carnatic music under the guidance of stalwart musicians. 

Managing the demands of artists, the audience, the finances and yet uphold a high level of professionalism is no mean task, and R. Krishnaswami, along with his team, successfully balanced all these aspects. In recognition of his service and contribution to the promotion and propagation of the performing arts, the Sruti Foundation honoured him with the M. Venkatakrishnan Memorial Award in 2010. He received the title of Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram.

He was President, Federation of City Sabhas and held important positions in several cultural and religious organisations like the DKJ Trust, Tiruppunthuruthy Sri Narayana Teertha Trust, Asthika Samajam, Alwarpet, Gnanananda Seva Samajam, Brahmasri Papanasam Sivan Rasigar Sangam, the Bharata Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture, the Mylapore Academy, and the Bharathi Vidyalaya.

He was a pious man and wrote several articles and books in English and Tamil on the arts, law, religion and spirituality. Two of his books - 'Eppo Varuvaro' on Swami Haridhos Giri and 'Saranagathi' on Hindu philosophical thought and ideals, were published by Vikatan Prasuram. A perfectionist with an eye for detail, he would insist on  proof-reading his articles for 'Margabandhu', the bi-lingual monthly of the GA Trust. 

Under his leadership, the Sabha provided a major boost to Harikatha and nama sankertanam. As a Trustee of the G.A. Trust he was deeply involved in the development of the village and temple complex in Thennangur. He initiated the conducting of weekend residential camps on dance and music in the temple-hamlet, which are very popular. His demise is a major loss to the world of music, dance and drama

S Janaki
Thanks to Sruti Magazine; Published in Sruti Blog