Flow | And what about rhythm? – Let’s go on a musical walk!

Here’s a delightful “flow-exercise” of a different kind: nadai in rupaka tala

nadai composition in rupaka tala
Source: A rhythmical composition (nadai) in rupaka tala
The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music
(Table 22, p. 226)

South Indian music has a vast repertory of compositions known as nadai (Tamil “gait, walk”) most students of south Indian rhythm (laya) should be familiar with; this one transcribed at the home of vidvan T.K. Ramakrishnan busy teaching a mridanga lesson with his voice, ears and hands while watching an important cricket match (multitasking being far from alien to Carnatic musicians of his calibre): true to Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals music cannot, should not be separate from daily life. Music always has been the art most suitable to familiarizing people from diverse backgrounds with other human pursuits. In short, “true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat“. Or even more poignantly:

I have a suspicion that perhaps there is more of music than warranted by life […] Why not the music of the walk, of the march, of every movement of ours, and of every activity?

Mahatma Gandhi in a letter to Rabindranath Tagore’s son
Rathindranath Tagore –  quoted by Gopalkrishna Gandhi (p. 568):
The Oxford India Gandhi: Essential Writings

Tip: a set of preliminary tala exercises (including rupaka tala) is found here >>

Roli Books | Other suppliers >>
Mahatma Gandhi used community voices to mobilise people:
Music of the mind and heart >>

A music for all: How Carnatic music unites and keeps spreading

by Ludwig Pesch

Carnatic music – the classical music of South India – unites people from a variety of social backgrounds. Over two hundred fifty million people now inhabit a region that comprises five modern states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana) drawn up on the basis of their respective linguistic majorities. They take pride in regional cultural traditions and festivities in addition to those celebrated all over the country.1

So it hardly surprises that this music has long attracted creative minds from other regions of India; and since the mid-20th century western scholars and performers have marvelled at its capacity for connecting people by overcoming cultural, linguistic, political just as religious divides. Most importantly, all of this often happens in enjoyable, seemingly effortless ways even as “outsiders” have struggled to comprehend the underlying principles or the causes of political strife.2

Not so long ago each manifestation of Indian music was understood to be firmly rooted in a specific context, rarely if ever allowed to transcend “natural”, “sacred” or “social” barriers; in the words of Nazir Jairazbhoy:

Classical music is the most refined and sophisticated music to be found in the subcontinent of India. There are many other forms, however, which have a specific function in the society, and these are by no means devoid of artistic expression. The great diversity of music in India is a direct manifestation of the diversity and fragmentation of the population in terms of race, religion, language, and other aspects of culture. The process of acculturation, so accelerated in modern times, is still not a very significant factor in many areas of the country.3

Listen to a rendition of Intakannaanandam emi by Balamurali Krishna on Youtube >>
Image © Kutcherbuzz.com >>

Even if matters have changed considerably since the advent of the internet, the resilience of Carnatic music seems firmly rooted in local history and mythology just as in the lyrics of composers, or in the styles represented by performers and choreographers of national standing. At the same time, they often stand united by their yearning for “unity“: an identification with something greater than one’s “mortal self”.

As a case in point, we may consider the undiminished popularity of songs written by Sri Tyagaraja (1767-1847) expressing the conviction that “immersion in music” is a potent remedy against bigotry, hypocrisy, self-deception and vanity.4

In this regard it seems as if he anticipated the quest for truthfulness (Satyagraha)5 as expounded by Gandhi, to start with as precondition to peaceful advancement for all of humanity.

Learn more and listen to Savithri Rajan >>

According to Savithri Rajan, this goes beyond a personal fight against self-delusion or structural discrimination of (religious) minorities and instead, amounts to a lifelong quest for a sound understanding of “reality” (be it in utilitarian terms such as general welfare or personal fulfillment):

Savithri Rajan believes that Tyagaraja, like these other great men, was always meditating, but his medium of expression was nādam, “sound” – he was an aspirant who followed nādopāsana, the approach or worship by way of sound. She points out that Tyagaraja composed a song beginning with the word nādopāsana saying there is nothing higher than worship via sound, music is the best vehicle because Brahman is nādam – divine sound – which is the omnipresent, omniscient power, “call it Power with a capital ‘P’, call it God, call it Christ, call it Krsna, call it Rāma.”

“There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart” – Mahatma Gandhi >>
Photo © Ludwig Pesch
Selected poems
Selected Poems: Subramania Bharati
Search this book in libraries near you:
Worldcat.org >>

Needless to mention that several others have followed in the great composer’s footsteps in a variety of ways and for different reasons, even for causes like India’s independence from colonial rule at a time when this was a dangerous proposition.6 They emulated proven models from different epochs and regions including “folk” music, be it consciously or otherwise. Thanks to the widespread appeal of drama, and the emergence of film as soon as sound technology permitted, several Carnatic musicians and composers crossed into new domains beyond “classical” music (here understood as following, even transcending time proven conventions, local tastes and appreciated by generation after generation).

Such issues are readily addressed in practices akin to “mindfulness”, as one would now describe a remedy that’s freely available to all, young and young at heart. Some are compelled by an irrepressible moral compass that helps them to promote causes including social justice that leaves no room to “untouchability” and other forms of (caste-related) discrimination.

Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/history-of-it/story/ambedkar-gandhi-caste-system-poona-pact-1932-reservation-2445208-2023-10-06

~ ~ ~

“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)
URL: https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/discipline-notion-particular-government-interview-romila-thapar 

~ ~ ~

Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)
URL: https://theprint.in/opinion/oprah-winfrey-wilkerson-caste-100-us-ceos-indians-wont-talk-about-it/487143/

~ ~ ~

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2
URL: https://www.academia.edu/49963457

~ ~ ~

“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)
URL: https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/2024/04/13/on-the-so-called-north-south-divide-in-india/

The infinite scope for creativity inherent in this tradition, including self-expression and – most relevant for modern societies the world over – lifelong learning, has ensured that Carnatic musicians has endured; and this even in the face of unprecedented pressures such as those currently debated by way of social media, book writing and commentaries in Indian press.

Search this book in libraries near you:
Worldcat.org >>

Most interestingly some of these issues echo the ideals of India’s founding fathers just as those of their peers, as part of global peace and ecological movements (both inspired by Mahatma Gandhi);7 most notably so in the legacy Rabindranath Tagore bequeathed to many spheres of the arts and sciences that continues to reverberate in our time;8 and Maria Montessori,9 the great educationist he admired for insights that were to took roots in Indian music and dance, notably at Kalakshetra, an institution of national importance founded by Rukmini Devi.

It does not, therefore, come as a surprise that experiencing the beauty and depth of Carnatic music found its congenial expression in the newly emerging practice of an ancient form of dance, today regarded as an integral part of India’s cultural heritage; and accordingly referred to as Bharata Natyam when merging with India’s mainstream culture (from the first half of the 20th century onwards) rather than continuing as the heirloom of a particular “community”.10 As a result, all the strands are united as envisaged in distant antiquity, in the Natya Shastra, a treatise on drama or “total theatre”, ascribed to the legendary sage Bharata and further elucidated in several commentaries and other works on similar lines.11

In short, what should matter most to us today is an open invitation long extended by some of the most talented exponents of this music in and outside India: not merely to appreciate but actively participate in it – all this in a spirit of mutual respect in the face of outward differences, driven by our shared love for lifelong learning; some equally inclined towards critical inquiry (as suggested by many of its poet-composers throughout the ages). So without exaggeration this is all about a music whose exponents have long welcomed new discoveries. And in the meantime, 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”.12

Information about the persons, items or topics

Learn & practice more

  1. Since Independence, these states are known as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana; see Wikipedia:

    South India, also known as Peninsular India, consists of the peninsular southern part of India. It encompasses the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana, as well as the union territories of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Puducherry, comprising 19.31% of India’s area (635,780 km2 or 245,480 sq mi) and 20% of India’s population. Covering the southern part of the peninsular Deccan Plateau, South India is bounded by the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Arabian Sea in the west and the Indian Ocean in the south. The geography of the region is diverse with two mountain ranges – the Western and Eastern Ghats – bordering the plateau heartland. The Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Tungabhadra, Periyar, Bharathappuzha, Pamba, Thamirabarani, Palar, and Vaigai rivers are important perennial rivers.

    The majority of the people in South India speak at least one of the four major Dravidian languages: Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam (all 4 of which are among the 6 Classical Languages of India). []

  2. Nobel Awardee Amartya Sen discusses some these issues in his ground-breaking book The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, “suggesting the ways we must understand India today in the light of its rich, long argumentative tradition [while] appreciating not only the richness of India’s diversity but its need for toleration“. []
  3. “Tribal, Folk and Devotional Music” by Nazir Jairazbhoy in AL Basham (ed.). A Cultural History of India. London: Oxford University Press, 1975, pp. 234-237. Excerpt from Chapter XVI Music (pp. 212-242 []
  4. In Manasu svadhinamaina, Tyagaraja questions the meaning of penances (tapas) when control over one’s mind is all that really matters; and in Intakannaanandam emi he shares his experience of the sprawling universe that loses its diversity in the process of singing and dancing with abandon: “Can there be any Bliss greater than merging heart and soul?”

    Sri Tyagaraja’s search for a greater, universal meaning culminates in Paramatmudu by asserting that a Supreme Being is present “in all that’s made of sky, wind, fire, and water, in beasts and birds and hills and trees by the tens of millions, always in the lifeless and the lively”; an all-embracing – indeed humbling – view of the role human beings play in a larger scheme. Sources: The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja translated by C. Ramanujachari with an Introductory Thesis by V. Raghavan (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math 1981), karnatik.com and William J. Jackson in Tyagaraja: Life and Lyrics. []

  5. “Satyagraha is literally holding on to Truth and it means, therefore, Truth-force. Truth is soul or spirit. It is, therefore, known as soul force. It excludes the use of violence because man is not capable of knowing the absolute truth and, therefore, not competent to punish. […] Non-cooperation, too, like Civil Disobedience is a branch of Satyagraha, which includes all non-violent resistance for the vindication of Truth.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi in Young India, 23 March 1921; p. 90 []
  6. Most notably, the lyrics of Subramania Bharati come to mind in the context of South Indian musicians eager to express their love of freedom; an ideal that cannot be realized in the absence of solidarity with those yet to benefit from proper education and health care, the basic preconditions for becoming free citizens of a modern country: “If the younger brother is frail, will the elder enslave him? Will the might of money and muscle frighten us into becoming slaves? Beat the drum! Let it be known that in love lies our deliverance.” Beat the drum translated by Usha Rajagopalan in Selected Poems: Subramania Bharati, Everyman/Hachette 2012, p. 51. []
  7. “It is Gandhi’s profound religious belief and sensibility that made him resolutely secular; his secularism, and his worldly obligations, each of which was but an attempt to strive for self-realization, deepened his religious belief. His veneration for other faiths made him more, not less, of a Hindu. The advocates of a militant and muscular Hindu nationalism are in this matter entirely clueless—scarcely surprising given their ferocious disdain for self-reflexivity or anything that may remotely be called thought.” – Prof. Vinay Lal in Gandhi’s Secularism in the Age of Muscular Hinduism” []
  8. including his “zealous devotion to the ideal of a casteless world, a world without cruel, irrational discrimination between one human being and his fellow men” according to the Director-General of Unesco on the occasion of the Tagore Centenary celebrations in 1961 []
  9. “We also see her strong commitment to bringing progress and fighting illiteracy in India, which grew into an enduring love for the country and its people. Montessori’s colourful descriptions of her journey and life in India, her worries about her grandchildren in war-torn Europe, and her son’s imprisonment make a fascinating read.” – Maria Montessori Writes to Her Grandchildren published by Association Montessori Internationale Montessori (Amsterdam: 2021 []
  10. “If dance and music were so integral to the system that so oppressed a woman, they must be halted too, so that new art could emerge.” – “The Devadasi Question” by V.R. Devika in Muthulakshmi Reddy – A Trailblazer in Surgery and Women’s Rights []
  11. Search for the writings of Tanjore Balasaraswathi, Kapila Vatsyayan and Ananda Coomaraswamy for different perspectives, in addition to those of Rukmini Devi and Muthulakshmi Reddy; and academic papers authored/edited by Davesh Soneji. []
  12. Lakshmi Sreeram in “Carnatic Music Ruminating the Landscape”, Indian Horizons published by The Indian Council for Cultural Relations; it is worth mentioning here that the most prominent musician-activist of our time, TM Krishna, has gratefully acknowledged his indebtedness to “Semmangudi” in interviews. []

Indian music studied from a social and intercultural perspective

Ethnomusicology can be considered as the holistic and cultural study of music existing in various folk, tribal and other ethnic societies.

Details

Ethnomusicology can be considered as the holistic and cultural study of music existing in various folk, tribal and other ethnic societies. The discipline ethnomusicology deals with the study of music from a social and cultural perspective and aims to survey and analyze the music traditions of various cultures. Ethnomusicology also emphasizes the study of music of one’s own and other cultures which promotes the intercultural perspective of music. Initially, the Indo-British interrelationship paved the way for intercultural communication through musical works and set the foundation for ethno musicological study in India. Ethnomusicology emerged in India during the British period when western authors started to write about Indian music in English language mainly for western readerships. Intercultural aspects can be found in all styles of music because of the cultural changes in societies that are induced by the changing reigns of rulers in the different ages of a nation‟s history. […]

After the 1980s, concepts of anthropology and musicology merged and more emphasis was placed on the observation of the process of musical creation, as seen in improvisations and performances. The focus of the study has shifted towards making critical examinations, rather than collecting abstract information. […]

Source: “Emergence of Ethnomusicology As Traced in Indian Perspectives” by Bisakha Goswami (Assistant Professor in Musicology, Rabindra Bharati University)
URL: https://www.academia.edu/10205543/Eemergence_of_Ethnomusicology_As_Traced_in_Indian_Perspectives
Date Visited: 8 September 2023

Classical music is the most refined and sophisticated music to be found in the subcontinent of India. There are many other forms, however, which have a specific function in the society, and these are by no means devoid of artistic expression. The great diversity of music in India is a direct manifestation of the diversity and fragmentation of the population in terms of race, religion, language, and other aspects of culture. The process of acculturation, so accelerated in modern times, is still not a very significant factor in many areas of the country. There remain remote pockets where tribal societies continue to live much as they have done for centuries.

“Tribal, Folk and Devotional Music” by NA [Nazir Ali] Jairazbhoy in AL Basham (ed.). A Cultural History of India. London: Oxford University Press, 1975, pp. 234-237. 

There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.

Source: Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” | Read the full blogpost: Economics in Action (13 April 2024) >>

Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/history-of-it/story/ambedkar-gandhi-caste-system-poona-pact-1932-reservation-2445208-2023-10-06

~ ~ ~

“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)
URL: https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/discipline-notion-particular-government-interview-romila-thapar 

~ ~ ~

Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)
URL: https://theprint.in/opinion/oprah-winfrey-wilkerson-caste-100-us-ceos-indians-wont-talk-about-it/487143/

~ ~ ~

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2
URL: https://www.academia.edu/49963457

~ ~ ~

“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)
URL: https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/2024/04/13/on-the-so-called-north-south-divide-in-india/

There is a continuing association of apsaras with heroes, as for instance in the hero-stones of later times, which show the hero being taken up to heaven by apsaras arter he has died in battle. There is also an association with heavenly musicians, the Gandharvas. In the epic version, the identity of Sakuntala as an apsara is reiterated by the small details which [unlike those found in Kalidasa’s portrayal] make her different from an ordinary woman.

Details

The apsara was a beautiful woman made for dalliance, the fantasy woman of the world of the heroes. In later times the apsaras fade when the goddesses become prominent. The apsaras are not, therefore, the same as women of the earth, they have their own order and their own codes of behaviour and authority. In a sense they are a counterweight to the insistence on the pativrata as the ideal woman – the life-long, devoted, self-effacing wife to her husband – and to that extent alleviate the dreariness of the didactic sections of the epic [Mahabharata] with their heavy male-dominated pronouncements.

There is a continuing association of apsaras with heroes, as for instance in the hero-stones of later times, which show the hero being taken up to heaven by apsaras after he has died in battle. There is also an association with heavenly musicians, the Gandharvas. In the epic version, the identity of Sakuntala as an apsara is reiterated by the small details which [unlike those found in Kalidasa’s portrayal] make her different from an ordinary woman.

Yet she is in the mould of the other epic heroines – Draupadi, Kunti, Gandhari – strong women who as mothers and wives dominate the story and whose individuality cannot be overlooked. Epic heroines are sometimes associated with the knowledge of a treasure which the hero seeks, or else they protect the treasure. In the narrative of Sakuntala the treasure may be symbolised by the son she brings to the hero, a son who was to be unique in the lineage of the Purus. The eulogies on Bharata in the later tradition, exalting him as the ancestor of a famous clan (even though his children died and he was succeeded by an adopted son); marking him out as a major figure in the lineage not only requires introduction through an unusual birth – namely, a three-year gestation with a mother who could be either an apsara or a forest dwelling woman – it also ensures that the story of Sakuntala remains in the consciousness of those who live in the land of Bharata.

Source: Romila Thapar in “The Narrative from the Mahabharata”, Sakuntala: Texts, Readings, Histories (New Delhi 1999), pp. 41-42

Article 52 of the Constitution says, “There shall be a President of India,” with no mention of Bharat. […] India is already called Bharatam in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.

Source: livemint.com (5 September 2023)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Tips: in the above search field, type a combination of names and subjects of special interest: to find more audio and video contents sung or played by a favourite musician or musical instrument; along with preferred raga or tala, on the occasion of a festival or lecture demonstration item (e.g. varnam, kriti, tillana), institution (e.g. Music Academy Madras, Narada Gana Sabha), place (e.g. Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala), or current issues (e.g. titles and awards like Sangita Kalanidhi, women performers, caste) | How “Safe search” is used on this website >>

What’s the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

At first, this question seems easy to answer: just watch performers from either strand of Indian music and you’ll know Which is Which, merely going by the instruments in use, or how they dress and watching the body language involved: harmonium or sarangi vs. violin for melodic accompaniment for most vocal recitals, and tabla drums rather than a double-faced mridangam.

M.S. Subbulakshmi © Dhvani Ohio
“Even at the peak of her career M.S.Subbulakshmi continued to
learn from other musicians” – R.K. Shriram Kumar >>
Tambura posture, fingering & therapeutic effect >>
Young Maestros 2018 © Sangeet Research Academy >>

Even in the absence of other clues, experienced listeners know what distinguishes one concert item from another, in order to immerse themselves in that which endows “classically trained” musicians across South Asia with a deeply felt sense of unity: raga, aptly defined as a “tonal framework for composition and improvisation” by Joep Bor in The Raga Guide.

What binds Hindustani and Carnatic music lovers together is the experience of raga which, given its roots (lit. colour, beauty, pleasure, passion), denotes a cultural phenomenon rather than just a particular combination of notes. This means that raga-based music is more widely shared than one would expect in the modern world due to its capacity to transcend linguistic boundaries. In short, both strands of Indian music, Hindustani and Carnatic music, have absorbed a wide range of regional traditions throughout history. At the same time, “raga music” continues to serve as a vehicle for meaningful lyrics in any conceivable genre in addition to “classical” or “devotional” music. Even when rendered by an instrumentalist or sung without lyrics (as customarily done within both Hindustani and Carnatic recitals) each raga constitutes “a dynamic musical entity with a unique form, embodying a unique musical idea”. […] As regards Hindustani ragas, they “are known to musicians primarily through traditional compositions in genres such as dhrupad, dhamar, kyal, tappa, tarana and thumri. Good compositions possess a grandeur that unmistakably unveil the distinctive features and beauty of the raga as the composer conceived it.” (Joep Bor).

The Carnatic Trinity hailing from Tiruvarur (Tamil Nadu, 18th-19th c.):
the composers most revered and performed by Carnatic musicians
Muttusvami Dikshitar
Sri Tyagaraja
Syama Sastri

Painting by S. Rajam © Sruti Magazine >>
Composers on DhvaniOhio >>

A comparable range of genres is available to Carnatic musicians, including varnam, kirtana, kriti, ragam-tanam-pallavi, padam, javali, tillana with a notable difference: since the 16th century, Carnatic compositions take up more time in order to render the lyrics faithfully, as intended by their composers and jealously guarded by teachers, discerning listeners and critics alike.

It is hard to imagine how such ideas would have worked before the advent of the tambura or tanpura – another feature of Indian music which may explain why older scales and theories have fallen into oblivion ever since – in spite of frequent mentions in text books.

But it’s harder to explain the musical differences in plain language while listening attentively as their respective performances unfold: differences begin to multiply, mostly in ways too subtle for words. Such differences call for probing into the depths of Indian “classical” music in the sense of a particular branch of music that is governed by clearly defined rules as well as unwritten conventions valued by professionals and connoisseurs.

For Indian listeners, such distinctions are mostly associated with a particular region, like the northern Hindustani and southern Carnatic music even if deceptive when it comes to the birth places of noted Hindustani exponents: many famous musicians were born or trained in Bengal in the east, and Dharwad in the south, also known as “Hindustani music’s southern home“. Being associated with a famous regional tradition or lineage is mentioned in most programme notes, like the vocal gharana known as the “Dharwad Gharana” or “Gwalior Gharana” in Hindustani music; and likewise, southern musicians pride themselves for having learned their arts within a bani (“family tradition”) designated by a particular town, for instance Tanjavur (vocal), Lalgudi (violin) and Karaikudi (vina or veena).

Then there are the preferred languages used in song lyrics in the case of vocal music; and certain rhythmic patterns local listeners would instantly feel familiar with or, conversely, associate with “novelty” when first employed beyond their place of origin. The latter is eagerly anticipated toward the end of a recital. In the opening and main parts of a recital, the most obvious differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music include the following traits:

  1. Hindustani musicians prefer “accelerating” almost imperceptibly – from slow to fast tempo – during an alap (raga alapana, the melodic improvisation preceding a composed theme); this preference entails presenting fewer items compared to their Carnatic peers;
  2. many (though not all) adhere to the convention of associating rāgas with a specific time of the day, or a particular season ;1
  3. by contrast, a typical Carnatic or Karnatak concert opens with two or three items in a brisk tempo, including sections in “double tempo”, before elaborating a particular raga in a slow-to-fast format akin to the Hindustani format known as “imagination” (khyal or khayal) traceable to 18th c. court music;
  4. Carnatic recitals are enriched by arithmetic elements derived from the repertoires of temple and dance musicians, and coordinated by visible gestures (something listeners love to emulate for the sake of self-immersion or as a sign of appreciation); and not surprisingly, rhythmic intricacies were successfully adopted and refined as part of Hindustani tihai patterns, most successfully by Ravi Shankar in the course of collaborations with southern instrumentalists (duly acknowledged in Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar); be it for his solo sitar recitals or novel, mostly temporary jugalbandi ensembles like the one documented on video: recorded in 1974 at the Royal Albert Hall in London: “As far back as 1945, I was absorbing the essence of these from the fixed calculative systems of the Carnatic system.” (To understand their application, watch a tarana on YouTube repeatedly, starting from 3:27) Unsurprisingly this process of give-and-take, once proven successful, has become too common to bother crediting it to any particular source, other than declaring it a “shared heritage” cherished by musicians and audiences all over the world: Unity in Diversity at its very best!

To appreciate some of the aforementioned characteristics in the context of South Indian music, listen to recitals by two of its most beloved exponents:

From the above mentioned differences follows the most important one, namely the amount of time assigned to compositions based on elaborate lyrics: the concise bandish in a Hindustani recital vs. the tripartite kriti several of which occupy pride of place in Carnatic music.

The standard syllabus for South Indian “classical” music is ascribed to 16th c. composer Purandara Dasa of Vijayanagar (modern Hampi in northern Karnataka as indicated on the music map seen below). His method proved so efficient as to provide a common ground for aspiring singers or instrumentalists from many regions and linguistic backgrounds. This may explain how such music invites the convergence of several voices or instruments into one (unison): a soloist accompanied by violin just as two vocalists (popular duos known as “Brothers” and “Sisters”), or pairs of flutes, lutes (vina) and violinists, all capable of achieving perfect alignment at any given moment during a recital; and this not merely for evenly paced motifs but with equal ease in richly embellished passages. For good measure, such feats require neither notation nor lengthy rehearsals but instead combine musical memory with considerable freedom to enrich predictable patterns with one’s own flights of imagination.

As regards inevitable specialization such as a particular vocal or instrumental style, required for mastering certain melodic and rhythmic intricacies and compositions, there is an infinite variety to delve into: variety that explains the evolution of two great music “systems” that kept evolving and intersecting ever since musicologists became obsessed with classifying and validating certain features in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For non-Indian music lovers and students, Yehudi Menuhin’s reminiscences titled “Unfinished Journey” may be a good starting point: the violin virtuoso was among the first to appreciate fact that “Indian musicians are sensitive to the smallest microtonal deviations, subdivisions of tones which the violin can find but which are outside the crude simplifications of the piano (or harmonium)”. His interest in Indian violin music motivated Menuhin to invite the South Indian violin virtuoso Lalgudi Jayaraman to tour the UK and participate in the 1965 Edinburgh music festival.

For a better understanding of what Yehudi Menuhin meant by “smallest microtonal deviations”, listen to the very first composition most learners of Carnatic music have learned – a gitam (didactic song) by Purandara Dasa – in: A brief introduction to Carnatic music >>

Internet search screenshots for Indian music jazz fusion
“The classical music of the West has influenced
our musical culture” – Manohar Parnerkar in
Sruti Magazine August 2019 >>

Since then, musicians from various backgrounds have never ceased to contribute to an unprecedented intercultural dialogue: exponents of western classical, ecclesiastical and minimal music just as jazz, pop and film music, all set to explore new horizons together with their Indian peers.

Tips

  1. to explore the above topics on your own, refer the Indian sources recommended here >>
  2. in order to get a clear idea what this means in practice, listen closely to audio and video contents featuring two prominent families of violinists whose roots lie in South India: one known as the Parur bani (brothers M.S. Gopalakrishnan & M.S. Anantharaman), and the other brought into prominence by N. Rajam (Hindustani violin) and her brother T.N. Krishnan (Carnatic violin)

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Michael Zarky (Tuning Meister) for providing valuable tips and corrections for this post and previous Carnaticstudent courses including those offered in conjunction with university eLearning programmes.

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  1. Noted musicologist V. Premalatha comes to the conclusion that as an “extra-musical factor”, association of time with rāga “survives very strongly in the North Indian system of music and has not affected the South Indian Music“. []

“Only a tambura can bring in a tranquil aura”: Musicians comment on the convenience and compromise of digital tanpura

South Indian tambura
South Indian Tambura | ExperienceInstruments >>

The four strings of the tambura that provide sruthi or the basic swara (pitch) for musicians are considered the life force for any melodic exercise. Fixed in jack wood to enhance the naada, yesteryear musicians were stuck to this pitch provider because there were no alternatives. […]

While many are comfortable with the electronic gadget while practising, how does it feel to have an object there on the concert stage, bereft of human touch, minus the aesthetics of the real thing?

“The digital tamburas are handy for travel, but only a compromise. It’s like decaffeinated coffee,” says vocalist Aruna Sairam.

“Digital versions are comfortable to use, but only a tambura can bring in a tranquil aura.”

“We use both to get an effect. If it is only the tambura, sometimes we don’t hear the strings resonating as an open-air ambience often drowns it, thanks to decibel levels. So a good tambura along with a digital one can strike a good balance,” says Sriram Prasad of Malladi Brothers.

Doyen R.K. Srikantan says: “We were used to visualising a stage only with the traditional tambura both for aesthetics and aural synchrony. There is an art to playing the tambura, we were told, not just wielding one. But we get dependent on those who have to play it for hours. Technology assists us to meet urban demands.” […]

Even so, visually there is something elevating about a beautifully carved tambura, with its mesmeric resonance, being plucked in perfect timing by a resplendently turned out artiste.

And if it is the main artiste who is handing the tambura, nothing matches the picture of his or her face resting against the magnificent tambura, lost in sadhana. Bits and bytes can’t beat such chemistry.

Source: “Does the digitised tambura manage to hit the right note?” by Ranjani Govind, The Hindu, Bangalore, April 26, 2011
Address : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/does-the-digitised-tambura-manage-to-hit-the-right-note/article1767958.ece
Date Visited: 30 January 2022

M.S. Subbulakshmi © Dhvani Ohio
“Even at the peak of her career M.S.Subbulakshmi continued to
learn from other musicians” – R.K. Shriram Kumar >>
Tambura posture, fingering & therapeutic effect >>

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