The Thyagabrahma Sabha of Thanjavur, already crossed 75 years - a brief note.

Besant Lodge, Thanjavur. Opp. Jupitar Theater

In the realm of promotion of culture - music dance and folk arts  etc.,  what is Vani Vilasa Sabha to  Kumbakonam and R.R. Sabha to  Tiruchi is  the Thanjvur Thyagabrahma Sabha to Thanjavur  that was started about 78 years ago., whereas  the former two had  already gone past 100 years. These clubs -sabhas have played a vital role all these years to popularize the arts native to Tamil Nadu. 

Located in the prime area of Thanjavur on the Market road across Jupitar Theater (used to be New Tower Talkies, more than 70 years old ) at the corner of Burma Bazaar street, this old structure is not noticeable hidden by low tree branches. The sabha  first  held  cultural activities here and  later shifted the venue to other places. The Thygabrahma  Sabha is yet to own a concert hall for its cultural activities. 

Location map -

The concept of Sabha was conceived  decades ago to bring artists from local areas as well as from  various places to conduct concerts  and to  take  music etc., to the people. For the  elite audience it was a pleasant experience  to spend their spare time.  In this region many talents were available in the past and the sabhas had no difficulty in getting them to perform in the sabha hall. They  were active in the 1950s and early 1960s and served as  a hub of cultural activities, an opportunity for the public to relax on holidays and week ends. Members of the sabha had  to pay a nominal annual subscription to get the sabha going comfortably.  Initially, the admission was free, there was no question of buying tickets for the concerts. In the later years  various artists of this area  and other places migrated to Madras (Chennai) where they had better opportunities to earn money as well as to gain recognition. There were and still there are reputed Sabhas in Chennai  with  good sponsors that encourage talents. In the districts, the less said, the better. In this respect, Thiruchirapalli and Coimbatore are better than Thanjavur. The former cities have active s and functional sabhas  that encourage various cultural activities. 

The Thyagabrahma Sabha's  administrators in the later stages  realized that to bring the artists and their accompaniments to Thanjavur from other places they had to  bear additional  costs like travel, boarding, lodging, etc. With sale of tickets to the audience  they could  meet the expenses to be incurred.  It was on  3 July 1943 eminent citizens of Thanjavur - mostly lawyers had  a meeting and  finally  founded the Thyagabrahma Sabha to give a boost to the sluggish cultural activities in Thanjavur, famous for Carnatic music and Bharata Natyam. The key figures were Justice M. Anantanarayanan as president, Dewan Bahadur A. Narasimhachariar as vice-president, S. Raghavachariar as secretary, N. Krishnamachari as joint-secretary and V. Krishnamoorthy Iyer as treasurer - they single mindedly  started the sabha with a sole purpose to make the arts popular. To impress on the audience the first music concert was that of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Ayyengar a doyen in the world of Carnatic music.  The most eminent Mridangam player Sri Palghat Mani  Iyer (who lived mostly in Thanjavur ) and Violinist Papa Venkataramaiah  accompanied  the vocalist. No doubt this trio would have kept the audience spell-binding. 

The popularity of the  Thygabrahma  sabha was picking up  and  by 1944 the total membership reached  500. Same year a music school was started on the premises of Sankara Mutt on West Main street. About 60 students were well trained to take the Govt. Technical exams in Music (both Lower and Higher Grade). In 1962, recognizing the  valid contribution made by the sabha,  the Madras State Sangeetha Nataka Sangam, awarded a grant  for arranging concerts.

The sabha conducted some concerts at Besant lodge,  at  Ramanathan Chettiar hall ( close to old Bus Stand which used to be more or less a town Hall; I remember having  seen late Cho's Mohamed Bin-Tuglaq  in the 1960s)  and also at a hall called Sudarsana Sabha. The last one is  just across the intersection of south main  and West main streets  and for  more than two decades  the hall has been  in ruins  with  no metal roofing, thick walls are broken in numerous  places. In some places the broken fragments of walls have turned into mounds of rubble and dust. The entire complex is owned by the Thanjavur Cooperative society that runs  a cooperative bank in the adjacent building..   The dilapidated hall could  accommodate about 500 to 600 people when it was functional. It used to be a venue  for  High School dramas and some cultural events. In the late 1970s on one particular occasion I aattendeda religious discourse on the Mahabharata by late Sri Dyananda Saraswathi. I have no idea about the founder of the Sudharsana Sabha, but I remember very well in the 1950s and 1960s, my father used to pay a nominal annual subscription fee   to the person in charge of collecting money. A Post office was functioning at the end of the plot (you have to go past the hall) and it also vacated  the premises several years ago. The entrance  in the front is barricaded and no body can enter the vacant premises. 

When the Thyagabarhma Sabha fell on hard time and  and had financial difficulties, according to the Hindu article, late Subramania Chettiar, owner  of ''Lakshmi Seeval'' and a well-known businessman, took over as president and  carefully improved the finances of Thygabrahma Sabha. . 

With respect to Besant Lodge , Ramanathan Chettiar Hall and the old PO building close to former Sudharsana Sabha on West main St., they  are old structures particularly, the Besant Lodge is  single story Madras terraced building with high roof  supported by wooden rafters.  As for the PO building, apparently it was built during the Maratha period with large rounded  pillars and arched plain roof without wooden rafters.). It is  brick ground lime mortar masonry structure  and the bricks are thin and small in size for better cohesion and rigidity.   About the Besant Lodge details are not available  as to its  builder and date of construction. All I know is it has been around for more than 70 years. So is the Ramanathan Chettiyar Hall that had a large open front.  In the recent  past it was used for book exhibition, ready-made clothes  exhibition, etc.  These structures need to be repaired  then and there and preserved for the posterity. Such old buildings give character and preserve the cultural ethos of this city - one of the oldest in the then Madras Presidency. 

The Thygabrahma  sabha is still active and in the past it celebrated the 75th anniversary -  Platinum Jubilee in July 2018 during the centenary of DKP (D..K.Pattammal, a wonderful  Carnatic music  vocalist and teacher).   (This post is based on the Hindu newspaper article ,July 2018 ).