Sundaram Balachander

Sundaram Balachander
எஸ். பாலச்சந்தர்
Born 18 January 1927
Mylapore, Madras Presidency , British India
Died 13 April 1990 (aged 63)
Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, India
Occupation Veena player, director, dancer, singer, poet, cine actor, playback singer, music composer, photographer, string artist
Years active 1934 to 1990
Spouse(s) Shantha (1953–1990)
(his death)
Children Raman (son)
Awards Padma Bhushan

Sundaram Balachander (18 January 1927 – 13 April 1990) was an Indian veena player. He was also an accomplished film maker as a producer, director, music director, actor, singer and dancer.

Early life

His ancestors were from Srivaajiyam village in Tanjore area, which is acclaimed as the seat of culture and fine arts in South India. His grandfather is Rao Saheb Vaidyanatha Iyer. He was born to V. Sundaram Iyer and Parvathi alias Chellamma. His father bought a house in Mylapore in 1924, at the suggestion of Pudukkottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai he added a hall in the first floor exclusively to entertain and be entertained. Stalwarts like Ariyakudi Ramanujam Iyengar, Madurai Mani Iyer, Ambi Deekshithar, Muthaiah Bagavathar, Karaikudi Sambasivam and Papanasam Sivan have all performed in that hall. In fact, it was Sundaram Iyer who took Papanasam Sivan under his fold when Sivan relocated to Madras from Trivandrum to earn a livelihood. Papanasam Sivan in his reminiscences (1900) refers to the popularity of Swathi Thirunal compositions in Trivandrum and ironically, the acquaintance with such a person in the childhood itself did not help Balachander to escape his prejudice against Swathi Thirunal and Kerala Music.

His elder brother S. Rajam was a well-known singer and teacher, and a gifted artist as well. His elder sister is S. Jayalakshmi (who later acted as M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar's pair in Sivakavi), S. Saraswathi was his younger sister, followed by the twins S. Karpagam and S. Gopalaswami.

From the age of five he showed an interest in classical music and his first musical attempt was with the kanjeera, which is a small, circular percussion instrument. Within a year he was accompanying his brother and other musicians on the kanjeera during regular concert engagement, in Sabhas, in temple festivals, in devotional congregations, etc. From age six on his career achieved steady growth. He also learnt to play tabla, mridangam, harmonium, bulbul tarang, dilruba, and shehnai .

Music career

On the sitar, Balachander was a fully fledged solo concert artist by age twelve and it is interesting to note that he performed South Indian Carnatic music on that instrument. From age fifteen to eighteen he served as an artist on the staff of "All India Radio", Madras, playing many instruments during the almost daily broadcasts, while also performing in solo recitals, participating in orchestral ensembles, accompanying other artists and composing and conducting pieces of his own.

A hectic period of playing and working for All India Radio playing came almost simultaneously to an end with the entry of the veena into his life. Falling in love with the instrument, from the beginning he felt that it deserved his undivided attention and every skill. Without a tutor or master to guide him, within two years he was an established concert veena player. He felt that "by the grace of god" was he able to bring credit to himself as for his achievement of having evolved a new trend, a new style and a new school of veena-playing.[1]

Balachander also possessed a substantial knowledge of North Indian Hindustani classical music, and a keen appreciation of Western classical music.

He travelled all over the world, and won international fame as an instrumentalist of rare repute. The famous electric bassist Mark Egan cites Balachander as a major influence on his music. At one time, Balachander held the record for cutting the highest number of records (21 in India, and 6 outside India). The 12-LP set encompassing the 72 melakartas is a piece of work that has no parallel. Magic Music of India (World Pacific), Sounds of the Veena (WPS), Veena Virtuoso (World Music Library), Immortal Sounds on the Veena (Oriental Records), veeNa (EMI), The Music of the Veena (JVC, Japan), and The Music of India (Nonesuch Explorer) are some his releases that have been best-sellers world-wide.

He is also known for his work in cinema, his writing and his polemics. Balachander was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1982.[2]


Cinema career

His cinema career began in 1934 when V. Shantaram, who was making movies under his Prabhat Film Company banner in Kolhapur, wrote to the editor of a Madras based film magazine called Sound and Shadow, requesting their help in making a Tamil movie called Seetha Kalyanam, using the sets and props of his Hindi movie Sairandhiri. The men behind the magazine – Muthusami Iyer alias Murugadasa, A. K. Sekar and K. Ramnoth, together with their patron G. K. Seshagiri, readily acquiesced, and set forth to Kolhapur with a hand-picked cast and crew.

He began as a child artist in Tamil film Seetha Kalyanam in 1934 as a child musician in Ravana's court, and his immediate family members form the cast where V. Sundaram Iyer as Janaka, S. Rajam as Rama, S. Jayalakshmi as Seetha and S. Saraswathi as Urmila. Followed by Rishyasringar (1941) and Aaraichi Mani or Manuneethi Chozhan (1942).

His other Tamil movies that he acted include Devaki (1951), Rajambal (1951), Rani (1952), Inspector (1953), Penn (1954), Kodeeswaran (1955), Doctor Savitri (1955) and Maragadham (1959).

In addition to acting and composing film music, from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s Balachander directed a number of Tamil films. He had acted, directed, composed music and sang in Idhu Nijama (1948), En Kanavar (1948) and Kaidhi (1951).

He directed Andha Naal (1954) a movie with no songs, has a very superior cinematography and classic in B&W. It has developed a large cult following. Others directions include Bhoologa Rambai (1958) (where he and D. Yoganand stepped in to complete the movie upon the dmise of K. Ramnoth) and Avan Amaran (1958).

He has directed a Telugu film in 1956 entitled Edi Nijam produced by Ghantasala Krishnamurthy of Pratibha Films.[3] He has also acted as a friend of N. T. Rama Rao in the Telugu film Sangham with Vyjayanthimala of AVM Productions remake of Penn.

In the 1960s, he formed his own production company called S .B. Creations where he made 3 movies, produced, directed, composed music and sang in Avana Ivan (1962), Bommai (1964) and Nadu Iravil (1965).

Feud with the Kanchi shankaracharya

Balachander,though hmself a brahmin heavily resented the influence that the kanchi mutt held over brahmins in tamilnadu. His remarks calling the Kanchi shankaracharya Chandrashekarendra saraswati "A senile old man" and calling he kanchi mutt a "420 organization" deeply hurt the feelings of the brahmin community.

Feud with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

In Balachander's last years, he feuded with vocalist Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Semmangudi had written a book on Maharaja Swathi Thirunal of Travancore (1813–1846), a famous composer. Balachander claimed that Semmangudi was trying to ascribe his own compositions to a king, and to argue this he suggested the maharaja did not compose a note and tried to prove the king had never existed. The allegation that Maharaja had never existed has been proved absolutely wrong whereas his arguments about a very small number of compositions of Swathi Thirunal being written by others remains a fact. Latest research on the subject published in 2008 Madras Music Academy Journal and 2013 Sruthi Magazine expose the allegations of Balachander as highly prejudiced and contrary to facts. The language that Balachander used in the controversy (calling Swathi Thirunal as not born to a mother) has been deeply resented. Balachander loved to stress how this was a much greater outrage than the Bofors corruption scandal in India. He argued the point in The Indian Express on 26 March 1990[4]


He died suddenly on 15 April 1990, in Bhilai, where he had gone on a concert tour. He was survived by his wife Shantha whom he had married in Thirupathi in 1953 and his advocate son Raman.



Year Film Language Banner Note
1934 Seetha Kalyanam Tamil Prabhat Film Company Actor
1941 Rishyasringar Tamil Tamilnadu Talkies Actor
1942 Aaraichi Mani or Manuneethi Chozhan Tamil Kandan & Co Actor
1948 Idhu Nijama Tamil K. G. Productions Actor, Assistant Director, Music Composer and Singer
1948 En Kanavar Tamil Ajit Pictures Actor, director, Music Composer, Editor and Singer
1951 Kaidhi Tamil Actor Director, Music Composer and Singer
1951 Devaki Tamil Ganapathi Pictures Actor
1951 Rajambal Tamil Aruna Films Actor and Music Composer along with M. S. Gnanamani
1952 Rani Tamil Jupiter Pictures Actor
1953 Inspector Tamil Actor
1954 Andha Naal Tamil AVM Studios Director
1954 Penn Tamil AVM Studios Actor
1954 Sangham Telugu AVM Studios Actor
1955 Kodeeswaran Tamil Sri Ganesh Movietone Actor
1955 Doctor Savithri Tamil Aruna Films Actor
1956 Edi Nijam Telugu Pratibha Films Director
1958 Bhoologa Rambai Tamil Ashoka Pictures Director along with D. Yoganand upon the demise of K. Ramnoth
1958 Avan Amaran Tamil The People Films Director
1959 Maragadham Tamil Pakshiraja Studios Actor
1962 Avana Ivan Tamil S. B. Creations Actor, producer, director, Music Composer and Singer
1964 Bommai Tamil S. B. Creations Actor, producer, Director and Music Composer
1965 Nadu Iravil Tamil S. B. Creations Producer, director, Music Composer and Singer


  1. Liner notes. Nonsuch Explorer Series LP, 7/2003 "The Music of South India", 1960s.
  2. "Padma Awards". Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (India). Retrieved 10 June 2009.
  3. Edi Nijam in Naati 101 Chitralu, S. V. Rama Rao, Kinnera Publications, Hyderabad, 2006; pp: 134–5.
  5. "2nd National Film Awards" (PDF). Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  6. "4th National Film Awards" (PDF). Directorate of Film Festivals. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  7. "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
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