Chowdiah Memorial Hall – A performer’s Paradis, A connoisseur’s Delight

For almost two-and-a-half decades now, the violin-shaped Chowdiah Memorial Hall has reverberated with the notes and beats and steps of the best of artists and the applause of enthralled, discerning music and art lovers of Bangalore. Hundreds of national and international programmes have been staged in the hall (it can seat 1011), which today is equipped with the beast state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, a double projector with slide projector and an eight-ton air-conditioning plant. Surgically clean surroundings, fresh green lawns and a landscaped garden add to the charm of the unique auditorium.

The violin-shaped auditorium, the first and only-one-of-its-kind anywhere in the world, was originally conceived, on a hot summer evening, by Sri K. K. Murthy (a connoisseur of music). That stifling evening, Sri K. K. Murthy was among the audience in a temporarily erected pandal, listening enraptured to the lilting singing of Dr. M. L. Vasanthakumari, all unmindful of the discomfort of the seating arrangements at the Seshadripuram Ramothsavam, on the occasion of Sri Ramanavami. He thought about how artists give us great aesthetic pleasure and how we do nothing to perpetuate their memory – we forget them when they leave this world. This thought led him to dream of building a violin-shaped, state-of-the-art auditorium in memory of the legendary violin maestro, Mysore T. Chowdiah. Chowdiah happened to be an intimate friend of Sri K. K. Murthy’s father, the late Sri K. Puttu Rao.

Trials and troubles

The Chowdiah Memorial Hall is an exact copy of a seven-stringed violin, complete with the strings, keys, the bow and the whole works. It is also the first ever memorial to a musician anywhere in India.

The very thought of designing a violin-shaped structure seemed an extremely difficult task for architects. The next obstacles were the large amounts of funds and the huge land required for the construction. Through his organization, the Academy of Music, Sri K. K. Murthy tried to collect funds – a few thousand rupees came in as donations; there was no Shahjahan of the 20th century to undertake the building of this violin-shaped hall. As luck would have it, a site measuring 260 ft X 270 ft was traced, nestling below the level of the Sankey Tank road, in the Gayathri Park extension. The corporation authorities were good enough to give it to the Academy on a 99-year lease.

Bravely, Sri K. K. Murthy, on an auspicious day in 1974, performed the ‘Bhumi Puja’ and started the work. But the work soon came to a halt for want of funds – only a few pillars had been erected. Not deterred at all, with determined efforts, he raised a loan through Syndicate Bank and the work was resumed. The Bangalore City Corporation offered a handsome donation and this was a major breakthrough. Apart from this, some individuals and institutions also made contributions and the project progressed.

But the then government did not assist Sri K. K. Murthy and the project ground to a halt soon. Then Mr. R. Gundu Rao who became the Chief Minister of Karnataka took keen interest in the project and an additional loan was provided to the Academy of Music. But due to the delay in construction, the cost of the project had escalated and once again there was a financial crunch. This was resolved when the Syndicate Bank came forward with a loan. Work was resumed with the determination to complete the project by the end of November 1980.

The fulfillment of a dream

Towards the end of October 1980, the major portion of the building was complete but the stage curtains and other equipment were yet to be fixed. Nevertheless the hall was opened to the public in November 1980.

What makes the hall unique

The first building in the shape of a musical instrument in the world, it is the first ever memorial to a musician anywhere in India.

It is an ornamental memorial. Its shape, the marble foyer lit with chandeliers, the false ceiling of the foyer inscribed with music notations and figures of the violin, the cymbal, the drum, the glass ceiling of the carved stem lit with concealed lights, the highlighting of the violin contour by halogen lamps, the strings coated with fluorescent paint and lighted by rays from black-wood lamps to give a special effect, the fountains, the garden and the huge open space surrounding the building – all add grandeur to the hall.

What is there on offer

THE HALL: 80-ton centrally air-conditioned hall with unobstructed view of every part of the stage from every one of the 1011 cushioned pushback seats.

STAGE: 36 ft in length, 30 ft in depth and 22 ft in height.

LIGHTING: Motorised overhead stage light bars (upward and downward movement) with 31 nos. PAR64 (1kW) lights, halogen light, 8-channel pulsar mixer and 3-pulsar dimmer rack pack.

SOUND: Ultra-modern sophisticated equipment, 24-channel mixing console, Crown amplifiers, Beyma and Das speakers, Beyma and Bose stage monitors, Shure microphones, digital crossover, graphic equalizer, reverb / echo unit, Denon CD player, Nakamichi cassette deck, Sennheiser headphones, etc.

PROJECTOR: 2 nos. Photophone 35mm/cinema-scope film projector and a 4 X 4 slide projector.

OTHER FACILITIES: Green rooms with attached toilets on either side of the stage, conference room, uninterrupted power supply, canteen, parking area.

From obscurity to fame

The Hall has been a stage for the presentation of National awards by the Presidents and the Vice-Presidents of the country, to eminent artists such as Dr M. L. Vasantha Kumari, Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Dr L. Subramaniam, Prof. T. N. Krishnan, M. S. Gopalakrishnan, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. U. Srinivas. B. V. K. Shastry, to name a few.

Plans for the future

The Chowdiah Memorial Hall is managed by a panel of experts from various fields, forming the governing council of Academy of Music.

The academy is celebrating its silver jubilee this year – 2005. The silver jubilee celebrations will go on through the whole year with cultural programmes by both eminent and upcoming artists.

The silver jubilee celebrations started off successfully with the hosting of the AIM (Artists Introspective Movement) Festival of Arts on January 2 and 3, 2005, conducted by Smt. Suma Sudhindra and Smt. Veena Murthy Vijay, where eminent artists from the dance and the music fields performed. We can look forward to a feast of cultural events throughout the year at the hall, showcasing the best of artistic talent.