Would you believe it if we told you that the Royal Enfield, one of the world’s most loved and recognized motorcycle brands, has a strange bond with Carnatic Music? Let us take you on this intriguing ride.

The Madras Music Academy in Royapettah, Chennai, is one of the earliest musical establishments in South India. Its library with a collection of over 6000 books is a treasure trove for music lovers. But more interestingly, it bears the name of an Industrialist.

Known as the K R Sundaram Iyer Memorial Library, it pays tribute to a man who was equally in love with music and machines. To know this story, we have to go back almost 70 years when India had just become independent.

In the early 1950s India was still nascent as an independent nation and was facing threats from all around its border. So it needed some serious hardware for its Army personnel.

There was one particular request for motorcycles that could navigate the rugged terrain of India’s borders. So, an order was placed with Redditch for 800 units of the Royal Enfield 350cc motorcycles, also known as bullets.

It was Royal Enfield’s Indian partners, Madras Motors who took up the order of delivering these gun-like machines to the Indian Army and it is here that the story gets interesting.

Madras Motors was formed by K.R. Sundaram Iyer and his nephew K Eswaran Iyer who were from a small town in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. The uncle-nephew duo had by that time made a name for themselves by selling cycles.

The duo had established Royal Cycles and the English Cycles and Motorcycles Importing Co on Broadway by then. The company for the most part sold branded bicycles from companies like Raleigh, Humber, BSA, and Hercules.

To boost their motorcycle business, the duo opened a retail outlet on Broadway called Madras Motors; they hoped to import foreign brands like Royal Enfield and Norton. And it was in 1952 that they bagged the contract for the Indian Army.

To cater to the huge order and expecting a rising demand, Redditch and Madras Motors established a joint venture and their first factory was set up in Tiruvottiyur near Chennai. The machines were assembled at the new factory with parts coming in from the UK.

Soon under Iyer’s leadership, the Enfield bullets established themselves as reliable mean machines, and orders started pouring in from all over the country. But Iyer was more than just a businessman.

He had an equally good understanding of music. For many budding musicians who wanted to establish themselves in Carnatic music, Madras was still out of bounds.

Iyer would often help these musicians; his house became a safe haven for them. He served as a treasurer of the Madras Music Academy and also as its fourth president overseeing many of its developments and its modern building.

In the 70s, production of the Enfield bullets had completely shifted to its Indian unit and by then Iyer’s sons had also become involved in the business. It is said his younger son S. Vishwanathan took his father’s legacy to a whole new level.

Not only was Enfield able to establish itself as the most sought-after big bike brand under Vishwanathan’s chairmanship, but much like his father, he was also a strong proponent of the arts and music.

He established the Kala Mandir Trust, which helped organize functions and concerts promoting young musical talents. He created a system for recruiting musicians and providing them with a stipend. Many well-established musicians now were beneficiaries of his schemes.

As a mark of tribute on Vishwanathan’s 75th birth anniversary on November 10, 2010, the Kaĺa Mandir Trust organized a cultural programme, dedicating a music album to him.

So, next time when you hear the Bullet’s thuk thuk sound, you might want to search for a hint of Carnatic music in it.


Tribute to a connoisseur by GOWRI RAMNARAYAN, Tribute to a connoisseur – The Hindu

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Royal Enfield, India Today