How prehistoric societies were transformed by the sound of music

Amidst lively debates within and beyond India these perspectives on our shared legacy make interesting reading:

  • Vainika Savithri Rajan who believed that Tyagaraja, like other great men, was always meditating, but his medium of expression was nādam, “sound”.
  • In the introduction to his unfinished yet voluminous magnum opus Karunamirtha Sagaram, titled “The Dignity and Origin of music”, Abraham Pandither entices readers to embark on a virtual journey through time and space; a discovery of nature that for him would have gone hand in hand with musical evolution if not advanced civilization itself.
  • A summary of findings by archaeologists titled “How prehistoric societies were transformed by the sound of music”.

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Visualising ragas from many places and even future ones “for the benefit of the people”

Venkatamakhi while justifying the derivation of 72 melakartas by permutation and combination interestingly remarks that countries are many with people having variety of tastes and it is to please them ragas have been invented by musicians. Some are already known while some are in the process of being brought to life, while some may be invented in future, while those surviving only in treatises and the ragas not known at all during their time may be brought to life in future, for the benefit of the people.

Therefore his mela arrangement “is intended to visualise all the desi (regional) ragas which differ from place to place, from people to people and which according to the suitability of the voices, must be utilised for practical purposes.”

Table © Ludwig Pesch for
The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music >>

As a result, “the melakarta assumes a real scientific meaning during Govindacarya’s time […] and help in the preservation of the identify of many a janya [derived raga]. […]  The ragas assume different colours and shades of expression in their attempt to satisfy the musical needs and tastes of the people. But the 72 melakartas are perhaps ever the same in structure and remain as the material forever out of which the thing of beauty – the raga – is made. […]  Whether the janya is the one derived from the melakarta or vice versa, the existing janaka-janya system of raga classification enhances the paramount importance of the 72 melas as technical facts defining the janyas under them”.

Govindacarya and the present Kanakāngi-Ratnāngi nomenclature

Since Venkatamakhi proposed his original mela arrangement, “varali ma” became known as “prati ma” since the late 18th c. when a scholar known as Govindacarya wrote his treatise, the Sangrahacūdamani

Govindacarya also had good reasons for giving the 72 melas individual names within the famous list, the Kanakāngi-Ratnāngi nomenclature: it helps musicians and listeners “ascertaining the mela and the kinds of notes taken both in the purvānga [Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma] and uttarānga [Pa-Dha-Ni-’Sa]”. 

Learn more and download a free mela-pocket guide here: Boggle Your Mind with Mela (BYMM) method – free mini course >>

As a result, “the melakarta assumes a real scientific meaning during Govindacarya’s time […] and help in the preservation of the identify of many a janya [derived raga]. […] 

The ragas assume different colours and shades of expression in their attempt to satisfy the musical needs and tastes of the people. But the 72 melakartas are perhaps ever the same in structure and remain as the material forever out of which the thing of beauty – the raga – is made. […] 

Whether the janya is the one derived from the melakarta or vice versa, the existing janaka-janya system of raga classification enhances the paramount importance of the 72 melas as technical facts defining the janyas under them”.

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For details, also refer to the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

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Gamaka determines the character of each raga in vocal and instrumental music

By N S Ramachandran (University of Madras, 1938) | Compositions >>

Gamaka has been defined by Sarngadeva and others as the ornamentation of a note by shaking it. But evidence from their works can be cited to show that the idea of gamaka is more extensive than the connotation of this definition; it has been used to convey the idea of beautifying a note not only by the shake but by any other means which seem to be efficient or adequate. For instance by the adjustment and control of the volume of a single note it can be made to assume different shades of colour, and these effects can be, and have been legitimately classed under the category of gamakas. […]

This complexity in the nature of gamakas, as used in vocal and instrumental music, has been noticed and exhaustively treated in Sanskrit treatises on music. They offer an abundance of material on this subject as well as on others. […]

Sreevidhya Chandramouli
Srīgananātha (Gītam) – Malahari rāga – Rūpaka tāla
contributed by Sreevidhya Chandramouli >>
Lyrics, notation and translations >>
Practice Rupaka tala here >>

Though the employment of gamaka in music is plain enough it is a long time before we come across the term gamaka in Sangita literature. Bharata does not use the word gamaka in his Natya Sastra. […]

Among authors who came after Bharata, Narada in his Sangita Makaranda and Matanga in his Brhaddesi mention gamakas though they do not enumerate any list of them or seek to define them. Along with the idea of gamaka, the expression ‘gamaka’ was perhaps being slowly evolved. Narada in dealing with alankaras says that he will describe 19 gamakas but their definitions are missing in the existing recension of his treatise. Matanga freely uses the term gamakas in the definition of ragas and gitis. As in so many other respects, he is the writer who gives the most important information on this subject between the time of Bharata and Sarngadeva. […]

The gamaka has come to occupy a vital place in our system of music. It is not simply a device to make melodic music tolerable, and it is not its function merely to beautify music. It determines the character of each raga1, and it is essential to note that the same variety of gamaka appears with different intensity in different ragas. The function of the same gamaka in different ragas varies subtly and establishes all the fine distinctions between kindred melodies by an insistence, which is delicate but withal emphatic, on the individuality of their constituent notes. The gamaka makes possible the employment of all the niceties in variation of the pitch of the notes used and is therefore of fundamental importance to our music. If the personality of any raga is to be understood it cannot be without appraising the values of the gamakas which constitute it.

Source: Ragas of Carnatic music by N S Ramachandran, University of Madras, 1938, CHAPTER V. Gamakas and the Embellishment of Song, pp. 112-158
URL: https://archive.org/details/RagasOfCarnaticMusicByNSRamachandran
Date Visited: 18 March 2022

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  1. The most concise definition of a raga may be that by Joep Bor: a tonal framework for composition and improvisation. []

Beyond performing competence: Students set to become good teachers and informed citizens as well

By S. Sankaranarayanan in Sruti (1998) | Excerpts that remain relevant today:

Observations on the teaching of music at the Rotterdam Conservatory, Holland:

Along with theory and history of music, the students [at the Rotterdam Conservatory] also acquire knowledge of ancillary aspects such as voice modulation and the reading and writing of notation. However, weightage is given to performing competence. […] As a means of widening their musical horizons, the students are encouraged to have exposure to other systems of music as well. […] Training in teaching methods is also imparted to the students so that they can become good teachers.

Along with music, the students are given a wide ranging and comprehensive liberal education so that, at the end of the course, they become not only competent musicians and/or teachers but informed citizens as well.

Dr. Suvarnalata Rao, Research Scientist at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (Mumbai)

Role of Research in Music Education

The lakshya sampradaya of music which is passed from guru to sishya gets altered when music is performed in a recital. This happens because of the elements of ‘entertainment’, such as indulgence in virtuosity or novelty for its own sake, and playing to the gallery. Because many performers also happen to be teachers, such changes, subtle and not so subtle, that creep into the recitals also influence the teaching, including the course content of contemporary music education. Only a researcher can observe and point out such deviation s to the artists, as no performer can be his own critic unless he has a bent for research which is rather rare. It is for the practitioners either to accept or not to accept the researcher’s findings. However, to be effective, a researcher (and for that matter, a musicologist or critic too) should be be able to perform, though not necessarily as a concert performer; otherwise his opinion would carry little weight.

[Commentary by S. Sankaranarayanan: It should, however, be remembered that, firstly, theory is not an unalterable entity and, secondly, theory itself is a codification of practices, though quite often it is one generation behind the latter. Fortunately, music has an admirable tradition of accomodating change].

Dr. N. Ramanathan, [former] Head of the Department of Indian Music at the University of Madras

Read the full report: https://sruti.com/articles/spotlight/teaching-of-indian-music >>

“Children should grow with joy, courage and freedom and a discipline born out of these attributes. The fundamental principle is joy, suggestion must be the method, the emphasis should be on the imaginative and creative experience of music and teaching should follow a “flow-form-flow” spiral.
VV Sadagopan was clearly in favour of lakshya (aesthetic perception) over lakshana (intellectual abstraction) at school, college or university.” – T.K. Venkatasubramanian in “VV Sadagopan – An educator with a mission”, Sruti Magazine >>

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“Learning should be a source of joy” – V.V. Sadagopan on Music education

Audio source: singing by the author | Find details for “78RPM – V V Sadagopan” on Archive.org >>

It is a curious irony that we, who claim to “hear” our music,1 are less sensitive to tone quality than the Westerner who “sees” his music. Happy exceptions apart, musicians and listeners (especially of the South) are usually satisfied with some illusory pleasure, and do not care for the aesthetic joy – rasa – that music should give.

Text credit (excerpts seen above and below): Spirals and Circles by V.V. Sadagopan (1980) published in Sruti Magazine (print ed., Issue 9, July 1984), p. 7

Viravanallur Vedantam Sadagopan was born on January 29, 1915, in an orthodox Vaishnavite family and spent his childhood and youth in Tirunelveli. He was a graduate and pursued a parallel vocation in music. He had his musical training under Namakkal Sesha Iyengar and Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and became one of the most sought after musicians in the 1930s. At the height of his musical career he entered films and was hailed as Rudolf Valentino of the Indian screen. […]

VVS’s compositions include kritis, keerthanais, ragamaligais, padams, kili kanni and a series of Tirukkural keerthanais, wherein the Kural forms the pallavi and is elaborated in the anupallavi and charanam. As a music composer he has left behind a lasting legacy. […]

Music education for children became his passion and mission in later years. He called his integrative scheme of music education Tyagabharati, a term he had coined to epitomise the ideals of Tyagaraja and Subrahmanya Bharati. In this he struck an entirely new path, composing nursery rhymes in Tamil and Hindi, set to simple lilting tunes. […]

However the elders, comprising his friends and well wishers often stood perplexed, unable to comprehend the new role that this musical giant had donned. On April 10, 1980, he left Delhi by train, for Madras. He was seen alighting at Gudur, the next day. He has not been seen ever since. Rumours of sighting him in Varanasi and the Himalayas and consequent searches have yielded no results.

The mantle then fell on his devoted disciple Srirama Bharati, a visionary in his own right [who] passed away at a young age […]

“Children should grow with joy, courage and freedom and a discipline born out of these attributes. The fundamental principle is joy, suggestion must be the method, the emphasis should be on the imaginative and creative experience of music and teaching should follow a “flow-form-flow” spiral.
VV Sadagopan was clearly in favour of lakshya (aesthetic perception) over lakshana (intellectual abstraction) at school, college or university.” – T.K. Venkatasubramanian in “VV Sadagopan – An educator with a mission”, Sruti Magazine >>

Learn more about Singer, actor, writer and composer V. V. Sadagopan (The Hindu, 4 March 2005) >>

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  1. Here the author probably alludes to a metaphorical interpretation of karnātaka sangītam (today’s “Carnatic music”), one not to be taken literally even if invoked by some of his peers: understood as “classical music (sangītam) that surprises or haunts (ata) the ear (karna)” []