Thought Box



by Vinta Nanda April 2 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 36 secs

In the wake of recent events, notably the controversy surrounding the conferment of the Sangita Kalanidhi award upon TM Krishna by the Madras Music Academy, an important discourse has resurfaced, shedding light on the persistent dominance of Brahmin elites within cultural spheres, writes Vinta Nanda.

The decision sparked a flurry of dissent among Carnatic musicians, with notable figures like Ranjani and Gayatri, the Trichur Brothers, Dushyanth Sridhar, and Vishakha Hari, opting to withdraw from the academy's prestigious annual conference under Krishna's presidency, citing moral objections and perceived damage to the tradition.  

At the heart of the controversy lies a perceived affront to tradition, with some Brahmin musicians decrying Krishna's alleged disregard for revered figures like Tyagaraja and M S Subbulakshmi, while also accusing him of promoting ideologies that challenge entrenched social structures. Krishna's advocacy for marginalized communities and his vocal stance on political issues have further fuelled the divide, inciting traditionalists who view his activism as a departure from the sanctity of Carnatic music.

Krishna's artistic expressions, such as his rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Hum Dekhenge" at various protests, have become emblematic of his fusion of art and activism in the fight against discrimination.


However, amidst this debate, it becomes imperative to transcend the individual and delve into broader socio-cultural dynamics, particularly the enduring hegemony of Brahminical influence that has shaped and dictated societal norms for centuries.

The narrative of Brahminical dominance extends far beyond the realm of music, infiltrating various aspects of Indian society and culture. Throughout history and into the contemporary era, Brahmin elites have wielded significant influence, moulding narratives and perpetuating their control through a stronghold on wealth and cultural institutions. This enduring hegemony, spanning from ancient warrior kings who heeded Brahmin advice to contemporary political figures, even those from backward classes like the present Prime Minister of India, who conform to established norms, underscores the persistent power dynamics within Hindu society and its artistic and religious traditions.

While Brahmins have historically been recognized as "king-makers" rather than kings themselves, the evolving landscape of capitalism has seen a shift, with dominant castes increasingly displaying their wealth and assuming leadership roles. This shift is evident in contemporary India, where the nexus between corporate interests and political power is unmistakable, with affluent individuals and business conglomerates wielding substantial influence over government policies and regulations.

However, this intertwining of wealth and political power serves to perpetuate existing power structures, further marginalizing already disadvantaged communities - ironically, while ostensibly claiming to represent the interests of the oppressed, the upper castes continue to  reinforce their dominance, perpetuating cycles of marginalization and inequality. 

The Vaikom Satyagraha movement provides valuable insights into the collaboration between Brahmin elites and colonial authorities to suppress dissent and maintain their grip on power. This nonviolent protest unfolded in Vaikom, Kerala, against the systemic discrimination perpetuated by caste-based practices, notably the practice of untouchability. The movement was ignited in 1924 when the Travancore government restricted lower caste individuals from accessing public roads leading to the Mahadeva Temple in Vaikom. This segregation epitomized the oppression faced by Dalits and other marginalized communities.

On 30 March 1924, exactly a century ago, a Nair, a Pulaya  and an Ezhava activist, followed by thousands of others, attempted to walk on the Vaikom temple roads. They were arrested by the Travancore police. More Congress activists, repeating the same act, were arrested by the police till the 10th April. Among the arrested were KP Kesava Menon, TK Madhavan and K Kelappan. The other leaders who were arrested and convicted included TR Krishna Swami Iyer, K Kumar, AK Pillai, Chittezhathu Sanku Pillai, Barrister George Joseph, EV Ramaswami Naikker also known Periyar, Aiyyamuthu Gaudar and K Velayudha Menon. 

Throughout the movement, vigilante groups aligned with dominant castes exerted influence and played a significant role in persecuting the protestors, fearing any challenge to their social dominance and privileges. Despite these challenges, the Satyagrahis' steadfast commitment to their cause drew national and international attention, highlighting the injustices of caste-based discrimination and paving the way for significant social reforms. 

Undeterred by the persecution from colonial authorities, the Satyagrahis remained committed to nonviolent resistance. Their efforts eventually culminated in the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936, which granted access to untouchables in temples, marking a significant milestone in Kerala's history and the broader struggle against caste-based discrimination in India. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.