Embracing changes

Changes are constants, permanently in this temporary time ! They don’t care to spare the Carnatic Hall of Fame.

Right from the intention behind singing, the format of concerts, the pieces performed, the Raga sancharas – singing specific notes for a given raga and the Rasikas : everything has changed and continues to so! My attention in this post is drawn to the changes in the artists over generations; trust me these are observations and not judgements! 

There were artists who would dare to include 2 Thaniavratanams(percussion solo played in the main piece of a concert) in one concert – which implies that they could accommodate two elaborate pieces in a performance. Owing to waning audience interest in the Raga Bhava context, many artists have shifted focus to Kruthis and tukadas. An abhang or Thillana gains more popularity than an hours Alapanai of Bhairavi, these days. 

We know, and accept these dynamics of  concerts. But one point; that can easily escape our understanding is the attitude of the artists themselves. A journey through generations will tells us that over years, there is a lot of westernisation. The simplest example, start with the fabric : A veshti or a Sari was what South Indians wore everyday and all the time. Today they might be confined to just to the time spent on the stage. Not a complain, but a change for everyone ought to acknowledge and accept!

There is oceanic exposure to the world. Being specific to music, musicians are also gaining amazing insights of techniques and traditions of music across the globe. This has led to many changes over the years and will be a perpetual process. Recently there was a rendition of a spontaneously composed English song in Carnatic music, in a Kucheri ! Some questioned, some praised … but that is how it’s going to be.

There are artists thriving hard to keep up the purest form of Carnatic alive. But to me what seems bigger is to respect and accept these changes, and cling to what one likes most for there are forts and palaces for both traditionalists and evolutionists ( that’s how I call it 😊)

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The Guru and the teacher

I like English language. As a child I was always been fascinated with Shakespeare’s amazing exploration of the length and breadth of the language. Thankfully I’m humourous enough to acknowledge some of the serious inefficiencies of the language – the prime being: inability to absorb cultural differences in its verbosity.

Indian thoughts cannot be stretched beyond a certain milestone, following which some of the most disastrous and monstrous verbal translations begin to reflect in English. Take the case of Chattaram in Sanskrit – an Englishman wouldn’t know what it is, and that trust me is fine, given the fact that many Indians don’t either ! The closest equivalent would be umbrella – and that dear reader is disaster 1 for you ! 

During a recent discussion and later introspection , I happened to ponder about one of the most easily taken for granted words in English – teacher ! The attitude towards a teacher in the West is very very disparage , not dispiceful or disrespectful; just different. So what’s the Indian equivalent of teacher ? Guru ? Cannot be !

A Guru in India, does not just teach, educate and enlighten ! The Guru gives himself to the student (says Bhagwadpada in his Prashnottaratnamaalika) ! A teacher can give up on a dim witted student, the Guru will never ! The Guru is held superior  to the Lord Himself ! The Guru shows one the right path, the Acharyan takes one to the right place !

To sum it all, a teacher relates to profession; Guru, to an emotion ! I don’t think they’ll ever be the same!

I wish to dedicate this to all my gurus 🙏🏻

The fate of Carnatic music : down the generations or down with generations ? 

While many are soft spoken critics, I verily enjoy being acidic, though I’m only a listener and now, a learner of the divine art.

Carnatic music – a system that evolved in South India has changed over the years : and we need to come to terms that many, many techniques have sustained, whilst many have changed. 

Music used to be an essential part of the Shodashopachara sevas in temples. Ancient temples were probably the most prominent public performance platforms. Aristocrats could afford chamber concerts since ever, so that legacy traces its roots to probably to the origin of music itself! With changing times, performances became more commercial – music didn’t remain sublime anymore. That marked the advent of auditoriums, playback singing and touring ! 

This is the heritage ironically that is imbibed  today. I wonder if even some of the  teachers themselves are aware of the sanctity of the compositions that are being imparted. Then there is the crowd that can talk anything and everything about great composers and get away with it in the pretext of freedom of speech!

Elaborate exploration of Raga Bhava is a lost dream – what the audience gets to taste is the rot of the rote memory of the artist. These are times when Nerewal is sung by heart, but not by the heart. I was listening to an engrossing Bhairavi alapana by GNB, I was fully glued to the rendition the entire one hour ! It was an hour of GNB’s voice, the violin was yet to follow. I wonder if there is anyone who can have that control over the audience these days. The audiences easily appreciate compromised renditions  – which is terrifyingly absurd to me ! 

What I see is a serious dearth of faith and understanding in the system itself – among academia and connoisseur communities alike. This lacuna stimulates the unnecessary need for re-invention : Lo and behold ! The purity in tradition is lost. What Carnatic music needs is not reinvention or rejuvenation: but re-investment of faith and dedication in the age old grammar of the lovely art! 

The Phone call to God

God belongs to everyone 

And so does his telephone! 

Each of us can dial in to him,

Whilst some do, others otherwise 
The call is feeble
Often disturbed by the noise –

Of ego;

Of lack of faith;

Of anger;

Of contempt;

Of many more noises : strangely that can reach the soul ! 
One needs strong signals of course;

Faith,

Patience,

Surrender and

Love !
His is one line,

That is always busy and yet always available,

For everyone needs Him and He’s there for everyone !
As difficult as it is, it is interesting and replenishing :

The Phone call to God ! 

Ushering Margazhi : South India’s Daylight saving ! 

It’s here !

Krishna, the Gitacharyan proclaims that among the twelve months I am Margashirsha – Dhanurmasa or our very own Margazhi !

To me this month spills spiritual and musical celebration ! Fuelled by the enthusiasm my revered Paati has to this day, at the ripe and wrinkled age of 82, I can not but deny that I owe it all to her! 

I can recollect, during my childhood how we would be up for the suprabhata Seva at the Andavan sannidhi in the Srinivasa temple at Sripuram, North Bangalore. Now the word north is interesting to note as anyone from Malleshwaram – Sripuram would have visited this temple. 

Growing up : the point of time when one starts identifying practices that become an inseparable part of one’s life : Margazhi was sure to be! Margazhi is in the sound of the early morning temple bells and pasuram recitations, in the pleasant breeze of the December month, in the beautiful kolams / Rangolis, with embellishing ash guard flowers in the centre, in the sweet music of the world famous Chennai Music season, in the intellectual discourses, in the lovely words of Andal’s flower- worded garland to the Lord : the Thiruppavai, in the lip smacking Pongal Prasadam, in the dignified recitation of the NalayiraDivyaPrabhandham during the Pagalpattu-Rapattu Adhyayanothsavams and in the blissful Aandal kalyanam that marks the culmination of this most auspicious month ! 

One can’t forget offering obeisances to that little girl who celebrated this month and her elder brother who brought it into tradition. Andal, a daughter Periyazhwar had every reason to feel proud of and her elder brother ; Swami Ramanuja ! 

Margazhi is like a refuelling month; the zeal  I derive from this one month of all the temple and Sabha fun keeps me going until the next 11 months; by then there is the next Margazhi to bring back more joy again. 
Andal Thiruvadigale Sharanam

Emperumanar Thiruvadigale sharanam 

Why GOD is man’s best friend

Some say 

Dog is man’s best friend

I say God

The Dog, remains; God sent though ! 
Look around people

And look to(wards) God

You wish for you

What you like

God wishes for you 

What is good !
When you have nothing, you will have no people

When you have no people, you will have nothing

When you have nothing, you will still have God

When you have no one, you will still have God

You’re never alone, with God !
People come and people go

But God is who remains
You don’t have to prove anything to God

And how will you lie to God ? 

Isn’t the absence of pretence, truest friendship ?
God brings hope, God is trusting

God is forbearing, God is accepting

God is for one, God is for all 

Wrong, revulsion and ridicule

God does end.

Then isn’t He, your best friend ?
Some say 
Dog is man’s best friend

I say God

The Dog, remains; God sent though ! 

Vivaadi Dosham : a consequence of minority appeasement 

The word forbidden always draws more attention than what one ought to do.The Vivaadi swaras and ragas of Carnatic music draw my curiosity for the same causes, and for the first time  I’m writing a blog on the grammar of Carnatic music – which might not interest devout adsorption; it might strike some chords to a learner, listener and practitioner; though.

We are aware of the seven swaras and how shadjam(Sa) and panchamam(Pa) are invariant. The Rishabham(Ri), Gandharam (Ga), Daivatam(Da) and Nishada (Ni) have three variants each and Madhyamam (Ma) has two variants.

Take the simplest example of Rishabham and Gamdharam. 

Sa

R1 – Shudhha Rishabham 

R2 – Chatushruthi Rishabham same as G1 – Sadharana Gandharam

G2 – Shudha Gandharam same as R3 – Shatshruthi Rishabham 

G3 – AntarGandharam

Likewise with Daivatam variants and Nishadam variants as well.

In the listing above, the highlighted swaras are the Vivadi Swaras, which were added to complete the Melakarta scheme and we have 72 melakartas (parent scales). Of the 72 Janaka/ Melakarta ragas, 40 contain Vivaadi Swaras. The lesser-in-number : Vadi-Samavaadi Swara patterns take priority. That’s the bit of minority appeasement in Carnatic music!

What leads to these Vivaadi ragas (such as Varali, GangeyaBhooshani, Chandrajyothi, Gaanamurthi… ) being deemed negative is rather interesting. The Vivaadi swaras are placed very close to other swaras in Raga. Take the case of Chamdrajyothi, the Raga has Shuddha Rishabham and Sadharana Gandharam: the sadharana Gandharam is very close to the Shudha Rishabham. The very close proximity of Swaras makes the ragas difficult to sing, comprehend and play on a instrument. The choice of introducing Gamakas is uncertain and highly dependent on the Raga. The Shudha Gandharam in Chandrajyothi doesn’t need a gamaka, while in Varali it does. 

Ragas paint a colour of emotions. Vivaadi swaras bring about negative emotions like fear, anxiety, revulsion and hatred, possibly one of the reasons that Vivaadis are frowned upon. This tone of the Vivaadis has been exploited even outside the Carnatic circuit : whilst a bounty of pieces of saint composers expressing their grief is available in Vivaadi Ragas : I shall end with a citation from a song from the Telugu movie Arjun, starring Mahesh Babu. The Dum Dummarey song has some interesting excerpts of the Sadharan Gandharam becoming conspicuous : inducing fear in those Sangatis. The music director Mani Sharma does a great job with the amount of thought given to smartly craft swaras to suit the situation. 

These days artists present Vivaadi ragas as main items as well, while traditional artistes refrain from it. In the meantime as  the yes-no debate continues, this is some food for thought.