The bamboo flute of South India

Art by Arun V.C.

The flute has played a key role in India’s artistic life since antiquity. This is evident from writings on dance-drama, mythology, sculptures and paintings. Its playing technique must have been highly developed for a very long time. Different names are used for it, for instance kuzhal (pronounced like “kulal” or “kural”) in Tamil speaking regions; and bansuri in northern India. In poetry, song lyrics, classical dance items and films, words like venu and murali evoke its association with Krishna, the ‘dark skinned’ cowherd and flute player. […] Tagore’s poetry reminds us of the fact that reed and bamboo flutes are the world’s most “democratic” to this very day, both literally and figuratively:

Tagore in Kalakshetra 
image by L. Pesch

Very often I think and feel that I am like a flute – the flute that cannot talk but when the breath is upon it, can sing. – Rabindranath Tagore whose pioneering institution Santiniketan inspired Kalakshetra | Read more >>

“I completely enjoyed the role of being an observer and a commentator”: Sebastian and Sons by T.M. Krishna celebrates the contribution of mrdangam makers

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Read the full interview in the Deccan Herald >>

The writing in Sebastian and Sons introduces us to the storyteller in T M Krishna like never before. It’s a non-fictional work written with a novelist’s touch. It makes for a riveting read with the musician’s earnestness to absorb the stories of his subjects and his ability to look at the larger picture shining through. He concurs his approach was unique: “This book was very different writing for me; it was a new form for someone who has largely explored philosophical ideations driven by research (treatises), activism and self-introspection. This is the first time I wrote a book with the approach of a journalist. And it was other people’s stories, which I was trying to make sense of. I completely enjoyed the role of being an observer and a commentator.”

Source: Srivathsan Nadadhur, Deccan Herald, 7 June 2020
URL: https://www.deccanherald.com/sunday-herald/sunday-herald-art-culture/the-melody-of-dissent-an-interview-with-carnatic-vocalist-tm-krishna-845453.html
Date visited: 7 June 2020

Excerpt from S. Gopalakrishnan’s “Another Listening” newsletter
A much awaited book ‘Sebastian and Sons’ by TM Krishna on the evolution of the art of Mridangam making is going to be released on 2 February 2020. ‘The making process is an intellectually, aesthetically and physically taxing one. From acquiring the skins for the circular membranes and straps to the wood for the drum, from curing the material to the final construction, and at the end of it all, making sure that it has the tone that the mrdangam player wants, mrdangam-making is also a highly nuanced operation at every stage. This requires a highly tuned ear and an ability to translate abstract ideas expressed by musicians into the corporeal reality of a mrdangam. Yet, their contribution to the art of the mrdangam is dismissed as labour and repair—when it is spoken of at all.

There are legendary mrdangam players, yes; there are also distinguished mrdangam makers, many of them from Dalit Christian communities, who remain on the fringes of the Karnatik community. Sebastian and Sons explores the world of these artists, their history, lore and lived experience to arrive at a more organic and holistic understanding of the music that the mrdangam makes’.

As a dedication to all major Mridangam makers of the past I dedicate Mridangam solos of three all-time masters, Pazhani Subramania Pillai, Palakkad Mani Iyer and Ramanathapuram C S Murugabhoopathy

1. Pazhani Subramania Pillai (1908-1962) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r2FafKt_X8
2. Palakkad Mani Iyer (1912-1981): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9Zd8GjQ39w
3. Ramanathapuram CS Murugabhoopathy (1914-1998): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtFXE4aVMT8

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There is not only myth, but also vocabulary. “In Tamil, ‘thol’ means ‘skin’ and ‘thattu’ means ‘plate’. Mridangam players will talk about thattu, but not about thol,” Krishna said. “These were all ways of distancing.”

Photo © The Telegraph picture

Read “T.M. Krishna speaks about his new book, Sebastian and Sons at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet” (21 January 2020): https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/west-bengal/mridangam-the-cowhide-conundrum/cid/1739616

T M Krishna (in MOPA “Notes to Myself”):
Now here is a fascinating story of a musician born and bred in privilege by his own admission, who enjoyed a liberal, progressive environment both at home and at school that laid the foundations for a fearless, critical mind and outspoken tongue, enjoyed the best of teachers who fostered an abiding love for Carnatic music in his young heart and was one among the band of young musicians who took the Carnatic stage by storm in the 90s. […]

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Audio tip | JA Jayanth’s grandfather and guru TS Sankaran live at Kalakshetra >>

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Video | The idea of classifying ragas – Akshara & Kiranavali Vidyasankar

Akshara Samskriti is the daughter of Carnatic musician Kiranavali and scientist-philosopher, Vidyasankar Sundaresan. This video was recorded on Nov 1, 2013, when Akshara was 4 years old. It was originally in multiple parts for educational video compilation, and has been put together as a single video here.

The 72 Melakartas are regarded as the parent scales in Carnatic music and serve the purpose of grouping similar sounding ragas/scales in the same category. It also helps create new scales which can then potentially evolve into full-bodied ragas.

The idea of classifying ragas that sound similar has existed over many centuries and were taken to a more definitive stage by 17th century musicologist Venkatamakhin. It was fine tuned further by Govinda to its present and more popular form. Nevertheless, the Melas propounded by Venkatamakhin continue to stay in vogue primarily through the compositions of well-known Carnatic composer, Muttuswami Dikshitar.

More on and from Kiranavali Vidyasankar: www.kiranavali.net >>

Rabindranath Tagore sketched by Dutch artist Martin Monnickendam during a lecture tour in September 1920 © Stadsarchief Amsterdam

The world of sound is a tiny bubble in the silence of the infinite. The universe has its own language of gesture; it talks in the voice of pictures and dance. Every object in the world proclaims in the dumb signal of lines and colours, the fact that it is not a mere logical abstraction or a mere thing of use, but it is unique in itself, it carries the miracle of its existence.–Rabindranath Tagore quoted by Dinkar Kowshik in

Doodled Fancy, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan 1999, p. 8

Related post
“Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary”: Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

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Bhava enables the transmission of experience of thoughts and emotions – Narayana Vishwanath

CHENNAI: We are aware that the ultimate aim of every composer and musician is to achieve the coalescence, the essential factors of classical music namely bhava, raga and tala. We know bhava literally means, expression, the expression of existence. In a composition, bhava encompasses the aspects rasa, raga and laya and for a musical composition  to be meaningful and beautiful, it should be rich in bhava. In short, bhava is that which enables the transmission of experience of thoughts and emotions from the composer to the musician and from the musician to the listeners. We understand that bhava has to be experienced by every individual, in a personal and subjective manner and devotion is the pre-dominating aspect depicted in a musical composition. I am  sure it would be of immense value to study the aspects of bhava, expressed by the musical trinity Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, who were contemporaries in the 18th century. […]

Source: “Efficacy of Bhava — An Evaluation” by by Narayana Vishwanath, The New Indian Express (21st September 2015) >>

The idea of singing birds: A tribute to a vital artistic tradition – Book Review

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A Southern music: The Karnatik story

By T.M. Krishna, HarperCollins, Rs 699

If a successful and busy Karnatic singer takes time off in order to write reflections on South Indian or “Karnatic” music, the book release function is bound to be met with considerable interest. […]

He pays tribute to the tambura (the tanpura) as “the life-giver, the soul of our music”. For Krishna, “it is the one instrument that can be said to hold within itself the very essence of classical music. So unobtrusive is this instrument, so self-effacing in its positioning on the stage and so tender of nature, that it is almost taken for granted.” Sadly, the tambura is rarely played “live” even during live concerts where it tends to be drowned by its electronic surrogate with devastating effect. Restoring its presence would seem indispensable in efforts such as those outlined under two chapter headings, “To Remove the Barriers Imposed by the Music” and “To Expand the Listenership of Karnatic Music”. The very concept of “fusion” is dismissed as a “lopsided idea of the music.” […]

The fact that 15 out of 588 pages are assigned to an Index is welcome in view of the publisher’s ambition to provide readers with a “path-breaking overview of South Indian classical music.” A mere glance at the Contents page and Index proves that, as in his concerts, T.M. Krishna would take nothing for granted, starting with instructions titled “A Note on Reading”. […]
LUDWIG PESCH

Source: The idea of singing birds
Address : http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140228/jsp/opinion/story_18023416.jsp#.UxC3W16kAfl

The tambura’s role in perfect alignment to pitch: “The most beautiful way to discover music” – T.M. Krishna >>

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