T. M. Krishna

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T. M. Krishna
TM Krishna At Kollam, Kerala 2021
TM Krishna At Kollam, Kerala 2021
Background information
Also known asTMK
Born (1976-01-22) 22 January 1976 (age 46)
Chennai, India
OriginTamil Nadu, India
GenresIndian classical
Occupation(s)Singer, Lecturer, Author, Activist
Years active1988–present

Thodur Madabusi Krishna (born 22 January 1976) is an Indian Carnatic vocalist, writer, activist, author and Ramon Magsaysay awardee. As a vocalist, he has made a large number of innovations in both the style and substance of his concerts, thereby inviting controversy from some quarters.

In the year 2016 he was awarded with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for “his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions, breaking barriers of caste and class to unleash what music has to offer not just for some but for all”.[1]

Background and personal life[edit]

Krishna was born in Chennai on 22 January 1976, the son of T. M. Rangachari and his wife Prema Rangachari.[2] His mother and maternal uncle Dr. Sriram Subramaniam founded and run a school named Vidya Vanam for tribal and underprivileged students in Anaikatti, Tamil Nadu.[3] Krishna is the grand nephew of Congress politician and freedom fighter T. T. Krishnamachari (former Indian finance minister and industrialist), who was also one of the founding members of the Madras Music Academy.[4]

Krishna is an alumnus of The School (Krishnamurti Foundation of India), Chennai. Krishna received his B.A. degree in economics from Vivekananda College, University of Madras. He is married to Sangeetha Sivakumar, a reputed carnatic musician[5] and they have two daughters.


T.M. Krishna sings at Kollam,Kerala 2021

Both of Krishna's parents had deep interest in the arts, especially Carnatic music. His mother had received music lessons in her childhood in the typical south Indian style, and had even taken a degree in Carnatic Music.[4] Krishna's parents ensured that he received exposure to the classical arts from a young age. They arranged for him to receive music lessons from a very young age. Krishna began his musical training under Bhagavathula Seetharama Sharma. He later underwent special Ragam Thanam Pallavi grooming under Chingleput Ranganathan.

Krishna's performing career began at the age of 12 with his debut concert at the Spirit of Youth series organised by the Music Academy, Chennai (India). He has since performed widely at various festivals and venues across the world, including the Madras Music Academy, National Centre for the Performing Arts (India), John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, to name a few.

His music is often appraised as being soulful and full of 'raga bhava'. Among his many renditions, some of the most popular among his listeners include 'Jambupathe' in Yamunakalyani and 'Manavinala' in Nalinakanthi. His music during the last decade was reputed for his powerful, deep voice and his ability to sing rapid swaras in many rare ragas. He now shows a focus on Neraval, an improvisational form which he believes has been distorted over the ages. He is also famous for his 'innovations' in the method he presents his concerts, one of the primary issues that purists have being that he renders varnams (traditionally introductory pieces) in the middle of a concert. He is also working towards a project in which Dikshithar compositions from the Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini are rendered exactly according to their notation in the book.[6]

Krishna speaks and writes about a wide range of issues, not confined to the cultural sphere. His interests span the breadth of leftwing activism, be it the environment, the caste system, social reform, religious reform, combating communalism, innovation in classical music and so on. He has started and is involved in many organizations whose work is spread across the spectrum of music and culture. Recently, he has spoken out against the revocation of Article 370,[7] and the destruction of statues of Lenin, Ambedkar, Gandhi and Periyar.[8]

Krishna is part of the team of activists that organizes the Urur-Olcott Kuppam Festival in Chennai and the Svanubhava initiative in Chennai.[9][10] He has been part of inspiring collaborations, such as the Chennai Poromboke Paadal with environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman.[11] He has collaborated for performances with the Jogappas (transgender musicians) and has brought on to the concert stage the poetry of Perumal Murugan.[12] He also speaks in various conferences and academic institutions, including Harvard University, Chennai Mathematical Institute, the Indian Institutes of Technology, and the Indian Institutes of Management.

Among his awards are the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award (2016) in recognition of ‘his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions’, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration (2017) for his services in promoting and preserving national integration in the country, and the Professor V. Aravindakshan Memorial Award (2017) for connecting Carnatic music with the common man.[13]

The song 'Venpura' of the movie Gypsy (2019 film) directed by Raju Murugan is Krishna's first playback song. Santhosh Narayanan is the music director.[14]


  • Sebastian And Sons: A brief history of Mrdangam makers. In his most recent book, T.M. Krishna talks about the integrity of the Mrdangam on the Karnatik stage and the Dalit Christian communities involved in the making of the percussion instrument. ISBN 9389152186[15][16]
  • Reshaping Art (2018). T.M. Krishna raises questions about how art is made, performed and disseminated, and addressing such issues as caste, class and gender within society while exploring the contours of democracy, culture and learning.[17][18] The book was published by Aleph Book Company.
  • Katrinile Karainda Tuyar (2018). Krishna's long-form essay 'MS understood' was translated into Tamil and published as a book ‘Katrinile Karainda Tuyar’ by Kalachuvadu Publications.
  • MS understood (2017). His long-form essay 'MS understood', for The Caravan was featured in The Caravan Book of Profiles published by Penguin in 2017, as one of their “twelve definitive profiles.”[19]
  • A Southern Music: The Carnatic Story (2013). Published in 2013 by Harper Collins, the book was released by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and Chairman of Kalakshetra, Gopalkrishna Gandhi.[20] It discusses the philosophy, aesthetics, sociology and history of Carnatic music. The book was awarded the 2014 Tata Literature Award for Best First Book in the non-fiction category.[21]
  • Voices Within (2007). Carnatic singers Bombay Jayashri and T.M. Krishna along with Mythili Chandrasekhar, got together to publish the first-ever coffee table book on Carnatic Music in January 2007. The book is a labour of love and pays tributes to seven Carnatic music maestros. The first copy of the book was received by the former President of India, Abdul Kalam at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This book was later translated in Tamil and published by Ananda Vikatan Publications in the year 2011.
  • Ashis Nandy: A Life in Dissent (2018). Krishna has contributed one chapter to this book, which contains several essays by various people, all written in praise of the Indian sociologist Ashis Nandy. The book is a reflection on Ashis Nandy's life work as a thinker.[22][23]

Articles and lectures[edit]

Krishna also frequently writes on topics ranging from music (including its practice, musicians, history and future) to society, culture, politics and religion. His articles have been published across most leading Indian newspapers and magazines such as The Indian Express, The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, Outlook, India Today, and Open, as well as several online portals such as Scroll, The Wire, DailyO, and Firstpost. Krishna has also delivered lectures at a variety of institutions, including leading universities across the world. Noteworthy among these lectures are:

In 2016, along with Gita Jayaraj, Dr A. Mangai, S. Nandagopal, and Baradwaj Rangan, Krishna taught a semester long course called Indian Art in Context at Chennai Mathematical Institute.[29]

Initiatives and collaborations[edit]

Chennai Poromboke Paadal[11]

The Chennai Poromboke Paadal music video was released on 14 January 2017 on YouTube. An initiative by T.M.Krishna and environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman - the Tamil song was written by Kaber Vasuki and composed by R. K. Shriramkumar, and the video was directed by Rathindran Prasad. The video featured Krishna performing in and around the Ennore creek and highlighted the environmental damage done to the creek by the power plant in that region, Ennore Thermal Power Station. The music video trended on YouTube India for a week after its release becoming the first Carnatic song to trend on YouTube. The song's title contained the word "Poromboke" which formerly meant land of the commons but has become a popular swear word. The music video also garnered attention for combining Tamil slang dialect with carnatic music. The song is a raga-malika and is based on the ragas Anandabhairavi, Begada, Hamir Kalyani, Devagandhari, Salagabhairavi and Sindhubhairavi.[30][31]

Kodaikanal Still Won't[32]

Krishna collaborated with rap and gaana kuthu artists in this multi-genre music video in protest of multinational Unilever's double standards and its refusal to apply the globally accepted environmental standards in India. Directed by film maker Rathindra Prasad, this was a second video after the original Kodaikanal Won't video which protested Unilever's 2001 dumping of toxic mercury in the South Indian hill town of Kodaikanal, which is said to have poisoned its workers and the forest.[33]

Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha (formerly Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha)

Krishna was part of the team that started this festival with an aim to heal art, and help art heal by opening art and artists to new audiences and different environments. The festival made its debut in January 2015 at Urur-Olcott Kuppam in Chennai. In 2016, it was designed also as a celebration to help relieve some of the trauma suffered by people hurt by the 2015 floods, and as a thanksgiving to the many who assisted with relief, rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Today, the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha is now Chennai Kalai Theruvizha, a new avatar that will begin exploring new locations around the city in collaboration with local communities.


TM Krishna speak in Jay Kisan image exhibition at Kollam 2021

T. M. Krishna is an activist against caste discrimination. He also advocates for environmental activism and LGBTQ+ rights. He received media spotlight when he boycotted the Chennai Music Season citing caste favouritism in the Carnatic Music system.[34] He was involved with various organisations to bring Carnatic Music across the rural areas and to support underprivileged artists.[1]

Political views[edit]

He has been a strong critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar. He accused them of launching an unrelenting offense of hate and violence against minorities, their cultures, identities and their rights as India's equal citizens. He also alleged that they have made people believe that Hindus are under threat and have made mostly Muslims and Dalits as their main targets.[35][36] In August 2018, Krishna received threats from right-wing groups after he sang Christmas hymns. He announced that he would release one Carnatic song about Jesus and Allah every month.[37]

In April 2019, he asked the people of Kerala to vote wisely and not to believe in the alleged misinformation propagated by the BJP that Hinduism is not safe in Kerala.[38]


  1. ^ a b "TM Krishna, the man who used music to heal India's deep social divisions". The Indian Express. 27 July 2016.
  2. ^ "Vidya Vanam - School For Underprivileged Children - Provide Schooling For Underprivileged Rural Indian Children". Vidya Vanam - School for Underprivileged children. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  3. ^ "Vidya Vanam - School for underprivileged children". Vidya Vanam - School for Underprivileged children.
  4. ^ a b "Indian Classical Music Society of Chicago - T.M. Krishna".
  5. ^ "Sangeetha Sivakumar". www.facebook.com.
  6. ^ "Jnanarnava Trust - Home". jnanarnava.org. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  7. ^ "Article 370 revoked: Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna responds to the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir through poetry, music-Living News , Firstpost". 7 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Perumal Murugan's Poem in Solidarity with Statues Set to Music by T.M. Krishna".
  9. ^ Nath, Parshathy J. (18 January 2018). "An alternate space for art to thrive". The Hindu – via www.thehindu.com.
  10. ^ "For the young, by the young". The Hindu. 2 November 2017 – via www.thehindu.com.
  11. ^ a b Vettiver Collective (14 January 2017). "Chennai Poromboke Paadal ft. TM Krishna". Archived from the original on 21 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ Govind, Ranjani (17 February 2016). "T.M. Krishna to lead a concert for equality in Bengaluru". The Hindu – via www.thehindu.com.
  13. ^ Correspondent, Special. "Magsaysay award for Wilson, T.M. Krishna". The Hindu. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  14. ^ Ramanujam, Srinivasa (28 May 2019). "Every artist would love to be a gypsy in spirit, says TM Krishna". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  15. ^ Dhar, Arshia (3 February 2020). "In his new book, TM Krishna explores how caste oppression invisibilised India's mridangam-makers". Firstpost.
  16. ^ "Keeping the cow and brahmin apart". The Hindu. 30 January 2020.
  17. ^ Sivaramakrishnan, Murali (7 April 2018). "Reshaping Art review: The art world as a free space". The Hindu – via www.thehindu.com.
  18. ^ RESHAPING ART: Harnessing art for social change. ALEPH. 1 September 2018. ISBN 978-9386021977.
  19. ^ "The myths and misconceptions around MS Subbulakshmi, India's most acclaimed musician".
  20. ^ "Make classical music accessible to the masses: Amartya Sen". The Hindu. 17 December 2013 – via www.thehindu.com.
  21. ^ Krishna, T. M. (21 April 2015). A Southern Music: Exploring the Karnatik Tradition. Harpercollins. ISBN 978-9350298213.
  22. ^ RAMIN (1 September 2018). ASHIS NANDY- A LIFE IN DISSENT. OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. ISBN 978-0199483945.
  23. ^ "Book Review: Ashis Nandy: A Life in Dissent". 13 May 2018.
  24. ^ "19th Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture today:Carnatic musician T. M. Krishna will deliver the Oration". 28 July 2018.
  25. ^ "Nationalism debate rages at Ramjas - Times of India". The Times of India.
  26. ^ "Crossing the line".
  27. ^ "T M Krishna – Dr. Ashok da Ranade Memorial Trust". ashokdaranade.org.
  28. ^ "Kumar Gandharva Memorial Lecture". The Hindu. 20 September 2014 – via www.thehindu.com.
  29. ^ "Chennai Mathematical Institute". www.cmi.ac.in. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  30. ^ "Here comes the Chennai Porombokkku Paadal - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  31. ^ Rangan, Baradwaj. "Notes from the south". The Hindu. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  32. ^ jhatkaa (29 June 2018). "Kodaikanal Still Won't". Archived from the original on 21 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  33. ^ "Kodaikanal Won't– It still won't". 24 June 2018.
  34. ^ "Who is TM Krishna?". The Indian Express. 15 November 2018.
  35. ^ "Request people to reject PM Modi, BJP: Musician TM Krishna". India Today. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  36. ^ Krishna, T. M. "The TM Krishna column: Why the Hindu majority must push back against the BJP's politics of hate". Scroll.in. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  37. ^ Tilak, Sudha G. (15 August 2018). "Indian musicians threatened over Christian hymns". BBC News. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  38. ^ "'Hinduism safe in Kerala, don't believe lies propagated by BJP': T.M. Krishna". The Week. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  • Iyengar, B.R.C., "Dulcet Tones", Kalasagaram, 2004
  • Kumar, S. Vinaya, "Seasoned Musician", The Hindu
  • Collection of T.M.Krishna songs On HI5SONGS
  • Nisshanka, "TM Krishna: Bravado and Loudness", Chennai Online

External links[edit]