Sundaram Balachander (January 18, 1927 – April 13, 1990), born in Madras was an Indian self-taught veena player.His ancestors were from the 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 elder brother S. Rajam is a well-known singer and teacher, and a gifted artist as well. His elder sister is Jayalakshmi (who later acted as M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s pair in Sivakavi), Saraswathi was his younger sister, followed by the twins Kalpagam and 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, bulbuldara, dilruba, and shehnai .
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.
Balachander also possessed a substantial knowledge of North Indian Hindustani classical music, and a keen appreciation of Western classical music. He is also known for his work in cinema, his writing and his polemics. Balachander was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1982. 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. 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 March 26, 1990.