Is tradition set in stone? Is not change even within a musician’s lifetime in the natural order of things? Does custom or convention in musical practice have to be held sacrosanct at the cost of organic modification or adaptation?
An artiste creates and modifies, subtly or otherwise, his or her style for several reasons – physical, emotional, intellectual, political or aesthetic. A stellar artiste preserves tradition not as a rigid, fossilized keepsake but as an intelligent amalgamation of inherited values as well as current inclinations. […]
Every episode in this series promises a volley of insights into the musical style and technique of the musician being discussed. A treat for students, aspiring musicians, lay as well as experienced listeners.
These conversations are not intended to conclude, merely to present points to ponder. […]
The Museum of Performing Arts (MOPA) Foundation was established in 2017 to document and showcase the history, content, periodic changes and external influences on every aspect of South India’s performing art forms, as also to look at existing trends and the impact on subsequent generations.
Through well-designed and curated exhibitions, documentaries, lectures, concerts and related events, MOPA aims to place South India’s rich cultural legacy on the larger map of world culture.
MOPA also aims to develop a museum in Chennai, for the performing arts of South India. By this, MOPA will serve one more purpose – a complete artistic and cultural orientation under one roof for anybody who wants to get a bird’s eye view or an in-depth understanding of South Indian performing art forms.
STELLA SUBBIAH (Artist Development Lead, Bhavan London)
In conversation with
LUDWIG PESCH (Author of The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music)
VIGNESH ISHWAR (Musician)
Today, as in the remote past, India’s musicians and dancers share a vast and varied repertoire. Apart from facilitating oral transmission, the underlying vocabulary helps to convey feelings underpinned by aesthetic principles and values. So it hardly surprises that the best-loved lyrics are those endowed with scope for reflection and debate among listeners, critics, and the artists themselves.
For this webinar we focus on several key composers whose vision shaped South Indian music and dance as we know it today. We will consider the compositional form of Varnam or Varna, in Karnatic music which can be interpreted as not only colour, praise , or syllable but also as melodic movements. These melodic movements of Arohi, Avarohi, Sthayi, and Sanchari add to its structure and offer various musical possibilities for musical interpretations.
Bharatanatyam Historically, Bharatanatyam was mostly prevalent in Tamil Nadu, though traces of it were found in the 20th century in what are now Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Today it is taught and practised throughout the globe. The term ‘Bharatanatyam’ has been in existence at least from the 15th century but we do not know the compositions the dancers performed in the early years of Bharatanatyam. […] The repertoire added during the time of Tulaja and Serfoji II owes its credit to four brothers of Tanjavur who belonged to a traditional natyacharya family. They were Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, the ‘Tanjavur Quartet’ we know.
The challenge of going beyond a “narrow understanding of classical” music has long been debated among performers and musicologists; whether for the sake of creativity and self-expression or ideals like “serving society through music”, even harnessing the healing power of music where most needed.
So what about reconsidering all of this and more in the light of the following quote:
Mahatma Gandhi often said, ‘We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.’
Let us, for a while, experience the joy of music in the light of a common ground, namely that of personal aspirations (like wanting to excel in a playful if not competitive spirit) and the quest for a shared “moral compass” Gandhi is known to have advocated all his life (what binds us together as responsible world citizens).
This seems a thought experiment worth performing, so here are a few suggestions for teachers, students and lovers of Carnatic music willing to take up the challenge:
Set some time apart in order to (1) explore and grasp the deeper meaning of each of the words and concepts marked bold in the above quote, first from a musical point of view; (2) jot down your findings and thoughts; then (3) discuss them with your teachers, parents or peers; (4) all along keep asking them and yourself whether Gandhi’s intuitive, personal understanding of how music in general should play a role in our lives, while actively engaging with a music that’s time proven as well as meaningful in our modern, hectic lives and rapidly changing societies; (5) possibly being exactly that in the sense of “healing through music”; (6) prompted by Gandhi, consider any one (or all) of these ideas in terms of a “response”, considering the extraordinary stress and tension faced on a daily basis (caused by the multiple crises some of us have to cope with).
It’s up to you to explore all this and more in the spirit of free thinking (*) and – if you like – share your thoughts with me >>
Have you been looking for a fun way of memorizing the 72 melakarta names and numbers, finding them “mind bending” rather than “mind boggling” until now?
Here’s one method that may work – if you are ready to practice it for a few minutes every day; like passing time while waiting in queues or commuting, or unable to fall asleep. Silently so … such is the beauty and usefulness of the melakarta system.
STEP 1 Take today’s date (or your favorite musician’s birthday) in the format you commonly use (DD-MM or MM-DD, here we’ll use DD-MM)
12-07 for 12 July
STEP 2 Pick the corresponding mela numbers from the list available here (a special gift for all motivated learners):
There you look up the number pair for any given date, for instance:
12 = Rūpāvati R-P=21><12 07 = Sēnāvati S-N=70><07
Tip: if interested, find more explanations on page 2 to understand how the Kaṭapayādi sūtra is being applied to the names of 72 mēḷakartā rāgas (“melas”).
STEP 3 Remember how “yesterday … your troubles seemed so far away?”
11-07 for 11 July … so keep moving forward and backward after getting today’s numbers and names right, to start with.
You got it, all ready to go for days and weeks to come: because that date, too, is another day; one bound to become a memorable one with the help of the Boggle Your Mind with Mela (BYMM) method.
STEP 4 What’s next? Here are some suggestions:
find the actual DD-MM date in the Western calendar which corresponds to “72 October 2021”
or any other DD-MM date you consider booking a ticket and attend the Chennai December Season
if motivated to do so: memorize the entire list of 72 melas in batches of 10 (rather than 6): you’ll spot the patterns more easily
apply mela numbers in order to remember daily matters: birthdays, holidays or passwords – you name it
print the above PDF-attachment, then fold the sheet along the lines “accordeon style”: this yields a neat, visiting card size BY-MM paper-app (battery free for 24/7 use)
use it as a gift for fellow music lovers interested in this subject
Just one more thing as regards general well being Although it seems unlikely you didn’t know yet: remember how good walking is for both, one’s mental and physical health? For our brains and moods … even for learning all the 72 mela ragas by heart in a stress-free manner.
One of the debated topics in Carnatic music is the deviation by musicians from the so-called ‘original’ pathantaram of kriti-s. This article is not an attempt to provide a conclusive answer to end the debate but a constructive provocation and an invitation for opening up the topic for a wider debate. […]
While in matters of art and aesthetics no rule can be imposed on either the artists or their audiences, some relevant considerations in the matter appear to be: Is there incontrovertible proof in all such cases that the ‘versions’—which includes the raga, its arohanaavarohana, mela and musical phrasing—touted as the original or authentic are really the versions composed by their authors? In the case of modern composers there may not be any problem because most of them write them down in notation which, in spite of the inherent limitations of any notation to capture all the nuances of Carnatic music, provides at least a defence against wholesale distortion. In the case of composers who lived during an earlier era of entirely oral transmission of music, there would be real difficulty in ascertaining the authenticity beyond doubt. […]
Review by Vinay Lal (Professor of History & Asian American Studies, UCLA) in Canadian Journal of History: A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement by John Stratton Hawley: “The idea of a ‘‘bhakti movement’’ has long been one of the largely unexamined verities that have played a critical role in the idea of Indian civilization and, more speciﬁcally, the notion of a composite culture. Bhakti is usually rendered as ‘‘devotion,’’ and in the generally accepted narrative encountered in Indian histories and popular Indian opinion alike, a devotional movement originating in the Tamil country in the eighth century gradually made its way north and eventually engulfed the entire country. […] The fundamental achievement of John Stratton Hawley’s A Storm of Songs is to probe how the idea of a ‘‘bhakti movement’’ came about and what Indian scholars, inspired by nationalism, might have contributed in giving rise to a canonical narrative about bhakti’s place in shaping an Indian sensibility. […] Hawley has succeeded in gifting us an exceptional study of India’s much lauded bhakti movement.” – Read the full review on this author’s blog or here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315532465
“In this comprehensive book, Hawley traces the 20th-century history of the notion of the bhakti movement the idea that there was a significant, unified, pan-Indic turn to devotional religiosity in medieval India. The author argues that the invention and promotion of this idea was a key aspect of nation building in that it offered a narrative of Hindu unity despite the vast and disparate set of religious processes ranging over different vernacular languages, regions, and time periods.” – Learn more or find a copy in a library near you: http://www.worldcat.org/title/storm-of-songs-india-and-the-idea-of-the-bhakti-movement/oclc/893099156
NEW FORTUNE TELLER (PUDIYA KONANGI)* by Mahakavi Bharati
Gudu gudu gudu gudu gudu gudu gudu gudu Happy days ahead for the people! Caste feelings are no more. No more are there any conflicts. Shakti ! Maha Kali! Speak up. Predict good times for the people of Vedapura !
Poverty is gone. Prosperity is in. Knowledge is ushered in. Sins have vanished in the thin air. If the educated try to deceive the simple men, they will be ruined in no time.
Commerce and industry are being learnt. Workers flourish. Shastras and skills are being learnt. Fear is gone. Justice prevails. The hour of awakening is come. The magic of incantations is working all around us.
Source: Full text of “Poems Subramania Bharati” (National Council of Educational Research and Training, 1982), pp. 147-151 in the text version provided by Archive.org; and from p. 160 in the embedded version displayed above.
* The fortune teller is traditionally depicted as shaking a small hourglass-shaped drum called kudukuduppai in Tamil, and as damaru across India. Two beads attached to it by strings produce the characteristic rattling “kudu kudu” sound evoked in this poem as harbinger of a bright future for all.
More about the poet Subramanya Bhaaratiyaar (1882-1921)
Bharati was determined to abolish the caste system in India. He selected an untouchable boy, to prove his principle of “equality” to the society.
When Bharati’s vision as a poet went to work upon the sober knowledge of national and world affairs derived from his journalistic labors, the result was compelling political poetry of a kind that is rarely found in twentieth-century literature – with, fittingly enough, Russian literature being a notable exception.
Subramanya Bharathiyar is a renowned poet from Southern India. … His poetry is known for its appeal to the liberty and strength of the people. … His national integration songs earned him the title “DEsiya Kavi” (National Poet). He composed Tamil keertanais on love, devotion, fearlessness, mysticism. | Learn more on karnatik.com >>