What good has Ram done ? 

Surging questions, lead to validating introspections. Will a validating response be received with deserved honour ? 

My story starts with testimony given by a layman from Ayodhya.

1. Rama – Lokabhirama ( one who enchants all) Dasharatha’s court – reference – Kamba Ramayanam (Tamizh) 

Dasharatha announces his intent to coronoate Rama and seeks opinions of the citizens. A young lad rises and exclaims ” Greybeard, make way for our new King !” A startled Dasharatha asks the boy from where he garnered to audacity to talk so to his king. The boy clarifies to his King ” Oh great King, please be informed – We love and respect your regime boundlessly. Your son is our Rama. The thought of him being coronated king is very elevating to us all. For every wedding in our house, Rama is the first errands’ boy. One can find your prince, serving food in our weddings. Should there be a demise, Rama is out running to inform our kith and kin. He will be the one staying with us through the ten days of mourning. And if this Rama is going to be our King, aren’t we the most blessed ?

2. Respect to Sita, referefence – Valmiki Ramayana/ moola Ramayana (Sanskrit ) 

Who were the first to recite the Ramayana ? Lava and Kusha ! They sang the beautiful verses to an assemblage presided by none other than Rama himself. Rama remarked, “The great sage Valmiki has been kind enough to honour this work about me. But indeed this is the tale of Sita’s chastity, greatness and grit

Rama never doubte Sita : ever! That’ll be an entire rebuttal by itself. 

3. Respect for his brothers, reference Valmiki Ramayana (Sanskrit )

Upon befriending Sugriva, Rama was offered a seat. Now considering that it was a forest, both Sugriva and Rama were on exile : the seat was no throne. But Rama wouldn’t accept unless Lakshmana be offered his place. 

Simple actions, make a big difference. 

4. Respect for women – This is something all brothers must have been blemishlessly admirable. We all know of how Kambar describes Lakshmana’s Vairagya towards the ape-woman Tara. He stood with the hesitation as of a newly married groom – to quote Kambar. Rama never objectified women. One of the biggest lessons for all men of all times.

5. Love for one and for all 

Many beautiful anecdotes, but what touched me the most is again from the Kamba Ramaynam. Vibheeshana surrenders to Lord Rama. That’s when Rama tells that, “We were four brothers when I left Ayodhya, five when I befriended Guha ( a tribesman), six when I gained company to Sugriva (an ape) and seven now – including Vibheeshana( an ogre).

In fact in this situation; Sugriva was hesitant to accept Vibheeshana initially and ended up agreeing with Rama. Vibheeshana was standing at a distance and Sugrive was asked to bring Vibheeshana. Rama calls out for Sugriva just to add ” In case Ravana is with Vibheeshana and flinching to join me, please pass my acceptance t him on my behalf “. Who but Rama can have this heart ?

Rama could embrace a vulture, a squirrel, a frog.   Sita asks cynically in Valmiki Ramayana, to Hanuman. Hanuman introduces himself as Rama’s dasa and Sita asks with sarcasm ” How is it that my husband Rama and you, of ape descent could be friends ?” 

Sita was referring to another incident altogether, her sarcasm here lies in the fact that Rama did not have any difficulty befriending anyone.

6. “Shall you, or Shall I ? ”

This is by far the lost touching part of Rama. Rama never wished to wage war with Ravana, he sends two messengers for peace -Hanuman and Angada. Peaceful negotiations failed, with all doors closed and the way out was war. In the battlefield, Ravana was unarmed. Rama even mentioned to Ravana to return the next day; with all weapons he wishes. Eventually Ravana was killed. With all of Ravana’s progeny dead: it was only Vibheeshana who could perform the last rites to Ravana, but he wouldn’t. Vibheeshana had disowned Ravana and would not accept him a brother. Rama just said ” I had nothing against Ravana. He abducted my wife and I urged to him to return her safe. The war was because Ravana wanted it to happen, now it is over and he is gone. Your hatred ought to go too. Will you perform the last rites to him, or shall I ?”

 During Rama’s times, He may constructed many a building and administered to his people’s satisfaction. What are buildings, but that which will reduce to a spec of dust with time.  But what remains to this day is the greatness of His uncompromised character. Rama never lied, never got angry, never swayed to to ill character. 

Ramo Vigrahavan Dharmaha echoes in the words of the great sage Narada in the Valmiki Ramayana.That is the biggest good one can do, set the epitome of Dharma ! 

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Creepy commas : Madi and Acharam

This blog is much about the Madi and Acharam (India traditional essentials) one ought to observe when penning in English, ironically select few do. 

It all started in class 9, my English teacher handed over the evaluated answer scripts of one of our recent tests. I was horrified at the red marks in the letter writing section – 

Regards ,
Ashrith

 In case you didn’t observe, the comma up there is highlighted – the red mark in my blog 😊

I rushed to my revered teacher, to check regarding this and that is when she clarified, ” Ashrith, one does not punctuate phrases.”

The comma is used to provide a sense of pause or separation , whilst reading. A “Yours truly” or “Regards” , or a “From” and “To” sections of the letter will anyway invite a pause, owing to the fact that the next words(like name of sender, receiver …)  shall  be in the next line. The comma in such places, is not just redundant; but senseless. One isn’t separating words, neither providing a pause. 

There is no valid justification to the use of a comma, but they haunt our mails and letters no doubt !  

Shruthi, ShruthiBhedam and the shouting !

Artists are constantly trying to raise the bar to connect to audiences and carve a niche of their own : and in the long run; what people ( so I say, because artists are people, as are the audiences ) don’t realise is that concerts are getting more, and more predictable. 

What prompted me to write this blog, is a recent review about an artist duo – and their response to it. It’s human enough to get annoyed with discouraging remarks, but there was something in that offence – that spurred this thought in me. There are many concerts , with a jam packed audience; by very few concerts that power packed, the carnatic way.

I staunchly believe that arts are a medium of expression, the intention cannot for impression. That might be slightly antiquated to think today, with commerce flowing into Carnatic. Apart from being a passion, Carnatic music is seen solemnly as a profession. Singing for impression becomes necessary; by default.

I have attended some concerts – where Alapanai happens for almost half an hour – but over plane repeatative phrases. The highlight of the concert would of course be : ” Did you listen to that, I never thought one could sing Ranjani for so long”  and my question would in return be ” Did you hear the Ranjani ? – it was a broken gramophone of fixed phrases, thankfully the violinist closed soon” . Then there is the whole circus of Namasankeerthanam- why drag something so divine into disastrous experiments? If sustaining traditions is a challenge, one ought to face it and fight for it; not disown and re-invent. Finally there are concerts when one can easily predict the order of types of pieces – starting from Varna/ invocatory piece, list of Kruthis, raga delineation, RTP – whatever kind of bhedas and the fancy Tukkadas. This is not something to feel proud of, it’s in fact the alarm bell to the organic degradation of music, don’t snooze it! I’m not a sore listener, a fussy Rasika – that I’m; completely. 

Having said this, just revisit any of the concerts you’d have attended recently – try looking at how comfortable the artist was while traversing through his very performance. A Kucheri doesn’t need an RTP benchmark to be great. The music ought to touch the soul of the people on and off stage; and that makes all the difference. 

But in a rush to be heard, somewhere this soulfulness of music is lost. Nobody can plan that he will perform a ShruthiBhedam from Kharaharapriya to Kalyani on a given day. One is  present and the moment is created; just live that moment – that moment can be a ShruthiBhedam, a Grahabhedam, a Neraval or a simple pause. There is musical bliss in that silence as well !! 

God’s simple way

Setbacks are common to anyone’s life; one with faith will easily acknowledge that it is around the time when you’re feeling low about something; that God knocks your door ! To assure you that He’s with you and you ought to continue attending your responsibilities with renewed energy !!

I barely share personal experiences over blogs; that’s not surprising given the fact that I’m protective about my private space. But this one is way to special to dwell upon, alone.

I was heading to the airport one morning. Some unsettling work scene that needed me to travel. With many bruising thoughts cutting crissess and crosses, I started off this journey: the moment was important than my setbacks. My cab driver stopped all of a sudden on the highway to help another traveller; whose cab had broken down. Knowing how critical situations can get, I agreed.

I was sitting behind and the traveller – a lady, clad in a simple ethnic attire, talking over the phone hastily sat in the shotgun. She was worried for her flight. I didn’t see her face; I heard her anxiety. 

I noticed that she donned a chain of Tulasi beads; here I was in a car with a Krishna Bhakta! She was worried, to make it to her flight and Krishna jumped and danced in each of the sentences she spoke. “Oh Krishna ” she mumbled while checking her boarding pass. “Krishna!” – she would remark at how time just ticked on and on. I was positive for her; and as for me : His divine name was all around me to drown in! 

After striking a conversation with her ; she told me that she was going to Brindavan for good, at that moment my ecstasy grew boundlessly! Coming to think of it; there is no magic in this incident; but its simplicity made it magical for me. It was for me; Krishna telling me – what are you worrying for and whom else do you need? Look, I’m right here; with you, around you, beside you, inside you and beyond !
Simple; yet elegant – that is indeed God’s way ! 

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 😊)

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!