Mathoor Krishnamurti: Champion of Indian arts in Britain


The sudden death in Bangalore of the lively and ebullient Mathoor Krishnamurti at the age of 85 has stunned his friends, disciples and admirers in both Britain and India. He was born on Janmashtami, the birthday of the Hindu god Krishna, hence his name. Though rooted in ancient Indian culture and literature he was essentially a man of the present: he could quote from the Vedas while busy employing up-to-the-minute computerspeak. He was compounded of past and present and believed in the creed of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam ("The world is one family").

As a Sanskrit scholar of the first rank, Krishnamurti matriculated at the Madras Christian College School but never went on to college. However, as a son of a traditional Brahmin family of Mysore state (now Karnataka) he was taught his native tongue, Kannada, as well as Sanskrit, from an early age. The Brahminical scriptures were memorised and recited with due attention to intonation, pauses and pronunciation; grammar was immensely important. That is why he later had no problem in acquiring Tamil, Hindi and English.

He learnt Hindi at 13 when Gandhi was visiting Madras and the organisers wanted young volunteers who could speak Hindi, since Gandhi had no Tamil. Krishnamurti was so keen to talk to Gandhi that he decided to learn rudimentary Hindi. He did so in four days, and became a devoted Gandhian.

Krishnamurti's parents, Ramakrishnaiah and Nanjamma, were loving and caring but could not afford college fees for their ambitious son, who soon started on the long search to find a job. He often went hungry and had to depend on the kindness of friends. A bus company offered him a conductor's job thinking the young Brahmin would spurn the offer. Little did they realise that he had taken to heart Gandhi's teaching of "work is worship". He was soon promoted to ticket inspector. Later he worked as a time-keeper in a Bangalore mill. His break came when he got a job as a reporter for the widely circulated Samyukta Karnataka, a Kannada language daily.

Mysore state, then ruled by a forward- looking maharajah, was economically and culturally more advanced than many provinces. Music, dance and drama flourished and Krishnamurti studied these arts and wrote prolifically about them. Possessing a talent for explaining difficult concepts in simple terms, he developed the art of delivering commentaries on religious subjects to musical accompaniment. His 220 cassettes of poetry narrations are a treasure. He wrote about 40 books in English, Kannada, Tamil and Hindi on subjects as diverse as aesthetics, vedanta, history, philosophy and biography; his translations were also widely read. He was a natural communicator, and a TV series made him a household name.

He had become involved with the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an organisation whose aim was to study, promote and spread the highest ideals enshrined in Indian culture. In 1972 he came to London without much money but bursting with ideas and idealism. He aimed to start a branch of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London, but takers were few and far between; he confessed that he was often so dejected that he contemplated suicide.

But with the goodwill of a few well- wishers he procured premises in New Oxford Street, and the Centre of Indian Culture was inaugurated. It was a modest beginning, but the chemistry between Krishnamurti and the Bhavan chairman Maneck Dalal showed amazing results. The Bhavan acquired an old church near West Kensington tube station, which is now Britain's leading Indian cultural centre, with Prince Charles as a patron. Students from many countries train there in the classical music and dance of India. Perhaps Krishnamurti's most treasured memory of London was when he offered Sanskrit prayers in St Paul's Cathedral on the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

Krishnamurti had an immense sense of humour, and with a glint in his eye would say, "Whatever little I have achieved so far is perhaps the outcome of my poverty." In 1995 he retired as director of the Bhavan and with his wife Lakshmi went back to Bangalore, where he soon rejuvenated the local Bhavan branch. In 1996 he was made a Padma Shri by his country.

Reginald Massey

Mathoor Krishnamurti, scholar and arts administrator: born Mathoor, Mysore, India 30 May 1926; married Lakshmi (deceased; one adopted daughter); died Bangalore 6 October 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: International Trade Advisors - Hertfordshire or Essex

£30000 - £35379 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is based in Welwyn ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn