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 >>

Find out more about the persons and subjects covered above

“Every family member excels at certain tasks”: A family’s legacy of making mridangams – Kerala

Read the full story with more photos in The Better India >>

In Kerala’s Peruvemba village, one family has been making the Mridangam, a Carnatic instrument, for four generations. They make two types of Mridangams – Ech and Thag. […]

The cumbersome and labour-intensive process of making every piece, which continues seamlessly and without glitches, takes anywhere between 2-3 months to complete. Generally, the artisans dedicate a part of their house to make the instruments. This is probably the reason why the entire family is involved in the work. Rajesh was around eight when he first tried his hands at making one. […]

Every family member excels at certain tasks. For example, my grandmother aces mashiyidal, which is the black circular ring on top of the instrument made from boiled rice and black stone. Her work is especially in demand by customers. Likewise, my father perfects the shape,” says Rajesh.

The main materials to make the instrument are jackfruit and leather. The family sources their jackfruit from Tamil Nadu’s Panruti village and to ensure the sturdiness, the tree has to be at least 30 years old. The middle and lower body of the fruit is cut and kept for drying for nearly two months, and then chiselled to make the body. […]

Source: “Musicians Across India Rely On This Kerala Family’s 200-YO Legacy Of Mridangams” by GOPI KARELIA (The Better India, 26 April 2021)
URL: https://www.thebetterindia.com/253401/kerala-peruvemba-mridangam-carnatic-music-instrument-kasumani-indian-musicians-family-legacy-history-tradition-culture-india-gop94/
Date visited: 1 June 2021

Find out more about the persons and subjects covered above

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

More by and about T.M. Krishna >>

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

Subscribe to the “Another Listening” newsletter for daily Carnatic music recommendations and more: anotherlistening@gmail.com

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. […]

Book search (India)

List of sites covered by this Google custom search engine

  1. http://carnaticbooks.com
  2. https://www.dkagencies.com
  3. https://india.oup.com
  4. https://www.mittalbooks.com
  5. https://www.orientblackswan.com
  6. https://penguin.co.in
  7. https://www.routledge.com
  8. https://www.sangeetnatak.gov.in
  9. https://www.sruti.com
  10. https://www.thehindu.com

Enter a book title, author’s name or any subject of special interest in the above search field.

Note: if the Google Custom Search window isn’t displayed on this page (on a tablet device and smartphone or any PC)
– “Enable JavaScript” in the “Security” settings of your internet browser
– Toggle to regular web view if you happen to use the “Reader” view

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

Find out more about the persons and subjects covered above

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”

Find out more about the persons and subjects covered above

There really is no such thing as a ‘learner’ raga

Image © The Hindu >>

Gouri Dange, The Hindu, 11 May 2019 | Read the full article here >>

Every kind of music has a protocol for ‘beginners’ or ‘learners’. Students must practise paltay, alankaras, scales, études, tonalisation exercises, depending on the kind of music they pursue.  […]

However, here’s the rub: for many learners, these ‘early’ ragas get translated in the mind as something very basic, or ‘shikau’, with a novice ring to them. They are seen, most misguidedly, as mundane, without the strut and stature of the ‘larger and later’ ragas that are taught after you are deemed fit to learn them.  […]

It is surely a disservice to a raga and to those who lift it to its best potential, and even more so a disservice to the young student, to allow the mental stamping of some ragas as ‘learner material’.  […]

The novelist, counsellor and music lover takes readers on a ramble through the Alladin’s cave of Indian music.

https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/column-can-there-really-be-such-a-thing-as-a-learner-raga/article27093490.ece

Purandara Dasa (1484-1564), a prolific poet-composer and mystic of Vijayanagar, introduced a music course that is followed to the present day. Since the 17th century, hundreds of ragas (melody types) have been distributed among 72 melakarta ragas (scales).

Learn more

On the tanpura / tambura – Martin Spaink

Martin Spaink (Amsterdam) earned a name for himself as a leading tanpura expert. Read more on the finer points of tanpura playing, stringing, tuning, maintenance, restoration and playing techniques. Read his article on fine-tuning of a tanpura >>

As performers-cum-teachers, we should practise with the traditional tambura and teach music with the same to the students.

Malladi Brothers quoted by Aruna Chandaraju in The Hindu >>
Learn more about the tambura (tanpura) >>

Nagasvaram (nadaswaram): The “auspicious” wind instrument without which no festive occasion is ever complete

Photo © The Hindu

Aparna Karthikeyan, The Hindu, April 11, 2015 | To read the full story and view more photographs, click here >> 

It takes many days to make a block of wood sing. And it takes exceptionally talented craftsmen to do it. The four families who still make the nadaswaram by hand in Narasingapettai (a village near Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu) are so skilled that they almost make it look simple. […]

Selvaraj tells me about his village’s long association with the wind instrument, without which no Tamilian wedding or temple procession is ever complete.

“Nadaswaram is a ‘mangala vaadhiyam’ (auspicious instrument). It originated in this area, in a village near Mayavaram. My great-grandfather, Govindasamy Achari, went there and learnt the craft. “ […]

Traditionally, nadaswarams are made with aacha maram (Hardwickia binate, Indian Blackwood). “But you can’t use fresh wood; it has to be at least 75-100 years old. Young wood will bend and bow. All this wood was once lintels and pillars of old houses.” He points to the pile in his backyard. “But we face trouble transporting the wood. We’re stopped at check-posts and asked for a bill; but which seller will give me a bill for old wood?” Even worse, they’re accused of smuggling sandalwood.

Their worries don’t end with procuring the wood. “You need three persons to make each piece. After deducting all the costs — wood, labour — we are left with Rs.1000-1500 per nadaswaram,” rues Selvaraj. […]

But every morning, they wake up with worries: will they find some acha maram, will their sons sit down and learn from them, will the government recognise their contribution to music…

Email: aparna.m.karthikeyan@gmail.com

This article is part of the series ‘Vanishing Livelihoods of Rural Tamil Nadu’ and is supported under NFI National Media Award 2015.


Source: Narasingapettai’s nadaswaram makers – The Hindu
Address: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/narasingapettais-nadaswaram-makers/article7088894.ece
Date Visited: Sun Apr 19 2015 20:50:44 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Listen to nagasvaram recordings on YouTube

  • Nagaswaram vidwan, T.N.Rajarathinam Pillai (mentioned in the above article) – Raga Bhairavi
  • Listen to other eminent nagasvaram exponents on YouTube: Karukurichi Arunachalam, Sheik Chinna Moulana and his disciples Kalesha Bibi & Mahaboob Subhani

Find related articles in the Indian press >>

“Useful chapter on voice training” – A History of Singing

Ludwig Pesch, The Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999) is a lengthy introduction to Carnatic music, with a useful chapter on voice training.

John Potter and Neil Sorrell, A History of Singing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. (Sources and references, p. 310)
isbn 9780521817059

Find a copy of the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

  • on the publisher’s website: Oxford University Press
  • in a library near you via WorldCat.org
  • from one of several Indian distributors and online bookstores

Life-giver and soul of Indian music: The Tambura (tanpura) according to T.M. Krishna

More by and about T.M. Krishna >>

In his recent book, A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story, T.M. Krishna reflects on those misconceptions and stereotypes that stand in the way of truly appreciating South Indian music. He reiterates the unique role played by the (acoustic) tambura / tanpura which is all too rarely heard ‘live’ in Indian concerts today.  

For this eminent singer “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. It is the life-giver, the soul of our music. … Only a musician who has experienced this sanctity can be a true musical vehicle. In the internal absorption of the tambura’s resonance, music happens.” (pp. 48-50) He asks whether the electronic tambura satisfies the human sense of tune when digitization really changes the manner in which we hear sound, a phenomenon he has explored in practice.

In his view, the practice of substituting the tambura by electronic devices also in the classroom “has worked to the detriment of sruti. All this has consolidated the misconception of Karnatic music going ‘off key'”. (p. 235-6; see the book’s index for more on this and related topics)

For reports on the book release and interview, type “Karnatik Story Krishna” in Google custom search – carnaticstudent.org >>

Publisher’s note
One of the foremost Karnatik vocalists today, T.M. Krishna writes lucidly and passionately about the form, its history, its problems and where it stands today
T.M. Krishna begins his sweeping exploration of the tradition of Karnatik music with a fundamental question: what is music? Taking nothing for granted and addressing readers from across the spectrum – musicians, musicologists as well as laypeople – Krishna provides a path-breaking overview of south Indian classical music. – HarperCollins Publisher (2013) Price: Rs. 699

As performers-cum-teachers, we should practise with the traditional tambura and teach music with the same to the students.

Malladi Brothers quoted by Aruna Chandaraju in The Hindu >>
Learn more about the tambura (tanpura) >>

More about the above persons and topics

Periodicals and sites included | More resources | Disclaimer >>

Learn more