Subbulakshmi and contemporary feminism: Sunil Khilnani on BBC Radio 4 Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

M.S. Subbulakshmi
Born 16 September 1916. Died 11 December 2004

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (Tamil: மதுரை சண்முகவடிவு சுப்புலட்சுமி, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi ? 16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004), also known as M.S., was a Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, in 1974 with the citation reading “Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the carnatic tradition of South India.”

Source: M.S. Subbulakshmi – New Songs, Playlists, Videos & Tours – BBC Music
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/613361fb-24bd-4bc9-ad63-85ac5bc79156
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:17:14 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Sunil Khilnani explores the life of south Indian singer MS Subbulakshmi

Subbulakshmi’s singing voice, striking from the start, would ultimately range three octaves. A perfectionist, she had the capacity to range across genres but narrowed over the years to what another connoisseur of her music has called a ‘provokingly small’ repertoire. In time, the ambitions of those who loved and profited from her combined with her gift to take her from the concert stage to film to the All-India Radio to near-official status as an icon of independent India.

But, as Professor Khilnani says, “what was required of Subbulakshmi, in moving from South Indian musical celebrity to national cultural symbol, is deeply uncomfortable when considered through the prism of contemporary feminism.”

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Incarnations: India in 50 Lives, Subbulakshmi: Opening Rosebuds
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b073b5cb
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:12:31 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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Raga Hamsadhvani in: “India’s classical music may be the best antidote to chauvinism” by Ramachandra Guha

To read the full article by the internationally acclaimed author of India After Gandhi, click here >>

After Partition, Bade Ghulam chose to move to Pakistan, but, finding the audience for classical music limited (in all senses of the word), wished to return to the Indian side of the border. In the 1950s, it was much easier to travel between these two countries than it is now. So Bade Ghulam made a trip to Mumbai, where someone brought his predicament to the attention of Morarji Desai, then the chief minister of the undivided Bombay State. Morarji bhai arranged for a government house for the maestro, while the Central government, headed at the time by Jawaharlal Nehru, smoothed the way for this Muslim from Pakistan to become a citizen of India.

Hamsadhvani is a lovely, melodious, raga in the Carnatic tradition, said to have been originally composed by Ramaswamy Dikshitar in the 18th century. There are many songs set in this raga, such as “Vatapi Ganapathim”, a hugely popular item in the repertoire of (among others) M.S. Subbulakshmi and M.L. Vasanthakumari. At some stage the raga was also adapted by Hindustani musicians for their own use. […]

Listen to the rendition of raga Hamsadhvani by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (YouTube from 3:20), recorded at the Rama Navami 1956 festival in Bangalore’s Fort High School >>

The celebrated Kannada writer, Kota Shivarama Karanth, once remarked that it was impossible to “to talk of ‘Indian culture’ as if it is a monolithic object”. In Karanth’s opinion, “Indian culture today is so varied as to be called ‘cultures’. The roots of this culture go back to ancient times: and it has developed through contact with many races and peoples. Hence, among its many ingredients, it is impossible to say surely what is native and what is alien, what is borrowed out of love and what has been imposed by force. If we view Indian culture thus, we realise that there is no place for chauvinism.”

To this quote from Karanth let me append one by Rabindranath Tagore. Speaking of our inherited and shared diversity, Tagore once remarked: “No one knows at whose call so many streams of men flowed in restless tides from places unknown and were lost in one sea: here Aryan and non-Aryan, Dravidian, Chinese, the bands of Saka and the Hunas and Pathan and Mogul, have become combined in one body.”

The pluralism and cultural heterogeneity that Karanth and Tagore highlighted mark most spheres of Indian life. And perhaps (as they knew so well themselves) our classical music above all. Whether it be instrument or raga or genre or performer, we cannot say what is Hindu and what is Muslim, which part is native and which alien.  […]

For the act of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan singing Hamsadhvani at a Rama Navami concert in Bangalore’s Fort High School in 1956 brings and blends together many languages, religions, regions, political regimes, musical traditions, and architectural styles. It is a glorious tribute to the cultural diversity of our country and our civilization.

Source: The Telegraph (Calcutta)
URL: https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/indian-classical-music-may-be-the-best-antidote-to-chauvinism/cid/1778691
Date visited: 6 June 2020

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

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

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Perceptions of “Guru” now and then

A teacher teaches music – the curriculum, the techniques, the methods and so on, but a Guru teaches how to approach music: how to understand it, how to internalize it and how to enjoy it. […]

Music is a lifelong pursuit and its emotions start sinking into you with more internal growth of the self (for which the Guru is an enabler). At a certain phase in this pursuit, you become your own Guru.

Vasudevan Ram in Learning Music – A Guru Is More Than A Teacher >>

The word ‘Guru’ in the Indian context of learning places the person on par with or even higher than God.

Pantula Rama paying tribute to her violin guru Ivaturi Vijayeswara Rao of the Dwaram tradition in “Architect of Vizag’s music scenario” (The Hindu, 19 February 2013)

Note: gurukulavāsam refers to the practice of living as member of a teacher’s household >>

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What makes one refer to Carnatic music as “classical or art music”?

Read the full article by Dr. Lakshmi Sreeram titled “Carnatic Music Ruminating the Landscape” (Indian Horizons July-September 2013, Indian Council for Cultural Relations New Delhi, PDF, 14,5 MB)

Tyagaraja worried about many things — about the death of brahmanatva — the lofty way of thinking and living, of sham religiosity, of sycophancy, of Lord Rama’s reluctance to bestow grace. In one such song in the poignant raga Naganandini, he laments: sattaleni dinamunu vacchena

Tyagaraja depicted by Sangeeta Vidvan S. Rajam

Such days have come…

Days that have no strength (sattu)

Strength that faith in God gives.

Reverence for parents and teachers is nought

And men indulge in evil acts

Such days have come…

But he did not worry for music except that it should not be divorced from bhakti. […]

What makes one refer to Carnatic music as “classical or art music”? Evoking Dr. Ashok Ranade’s suggestion of the musical pentad in India, religious music is a different genre of music from art music. Religious music consists of repertoire that is religious in content and it may and very often does use ragas and the tala. But the whole musical effect is towards heightening religious fervour. The repertoire of Carnatic music is predominantly religious; but the intent of a Carnatic concert is not religious — it is aesthetic. A good presentation of a composition focuses on correctness of lyrics, of patantara, of delivering raga nuances, of following the kala pramana or measure of time or laya, and indeed of bhava or communication of an emotive content. This emotional content is not religious but musical; intensity of imagination, artistry and delivery must evoke emotion, not literal meanings of words. […]

Even the brilliant Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who was himself deeply religious, clarified that bhakti is essential for a Carnatic music, but this bhakti is for music, not for any personal deity. […]

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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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 >>

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

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

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

More by and about T.M. Krishna >>

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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Video | “There is more than one form of being a devadasi”: The complex world of India’s devadasis – Interview with filmmaker (Lady) Beeban Kidron

Interview with filmmaker Beeban Kidron, plus exclusive clips from her new film. Sex, Death and the Gods explores the complex world of India’s devadasi, girls devoted to a goddess and then sold for sex at puberty | Lindsay Poulton and Joanna Moorhead, theguardian.com, 21 January 2011 >>

Documentary maker Beeban Kidron (4:49): “They [the devadasis themselves] know what an education means. And what an education means is a possible way out. Not necessarily a way out but a possibility that you could earn your money some other way.  […]  This is about economics. This is about poverty. This is about not having alternatives.”  […]  

Girl taken out of school at a young age by her mother (5:30 onwards): “It’s been two years.  […] No money in our hands, so I don’t go [to school].”

Beeban Kidron (7:27): “One of the things that is fascinating but complicates the whole issue is that there is more than one form of being a devadasi. I think what is important is to know and to understand that the elite devadasi are actually the grandmothers of Indian national dance bharata natyam in the elite world of temple and court. These women were the lovers of princes and priests and other high caste men. And it was a huge privilege and a sign of social mobility to be a devadasi. But there has obviously been a break in the tradition and it was made illegal in 1947 as the British left India. […] We have to be careful how we view things. And that was the journey for me.  […]  That system of dedicating young girls is abusive, is sex slavery, and so on. It’s paradoxical, you have to raise the age of consent, you have to work with the women, you have to help them educate their daughters, you have to help with the alternative.”

Read a recent interview with Beeban Kidron in The New York Times, on protecting children online

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/27/technology/baroness-kidron-children-tech.html?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

The Baroness Fighting to Protect Children Online
By Natasha Singer, August 27, 2019

Beeban Kidron has successfully pushed stricter limits on how tech companies can target children online in Britain. […]

A member of the House of Lords, she had just flown in from London to attend an international meeting hosted by the social network. And now, in a hotel thronging with tech executives, she was recounting her plan to overhaul how their companies treat children. […] Read the full interview here >>

More (documentary) films by Director, Producer and writer Beeban Kidron on imdb.com >>

Learn more about the devadasis throughout (known) history in Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction

http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/826453329

Chapters by Joep Bor (pp. 233), “On the dancers or Devadasis: Jacob Haafner’s Account of the Eighteenth-Century Indian Temple Dancers” and Tiziana Leucci (pp. 261), “Between Seduction and Redemption – The European Perception of India’s Temple Dancers in Travel Accounts and Stage Productions from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth Century”
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Search a reservoir of Indian theses: Shodhganga, “a platform for research students to deposit their Ph.D. theses – Open access

e.g. search for “Shodhganga Carnatic music”, “Shodhganga veena”, “Shodhganga bamboo flute”, “Shodhganga Indian music education”, “Shodhganga music bani”, “Shodhganga percussion instrument” in the search field below:

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  • e.g.  “handle” number 138940 refers to “The influence of Nagaswaram on Karnataka classical vocal music”, Researcher: Radhika Balakrishnan, Guide: Sreelatha, R. N., University of Mysore, Completed Date: 2016, University of College Fine Arts
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