G. Dwarakanath, who released two books on Tyagaraja's thoughts on music, says the Pancharatna Kritis are meant to be living guidelines and if understood properly, would benefit us personallyRANJANI GOVIND

The significance of the Pancharatna Kritis is easier to recognize when one is exposed to the fundamentals of its make-up in context and milieu with composer Tyagaraja’s state of mind. Pancharatna Kritis – meanings and significance is one such work that explains every nuance of the bard’s thoughts bringing newer perspectives to light. Author, Gomatam Dwarakanath, or GD, as he is affectionately referred to, has brought out this book on these five gems of carnatic music with another useful and informative work titled, Forgotten Chapters of Music that discusses how music was developed by our ancestors. This is followed by a set of 22-kritis, all of Tyagaraja’s intense introspective work on the science and art of our music system.

G. Dwarakanath, a science and law student of the Mysore University retired from The Hindu as Associate Editor in 2001. Formerly a student of the Ayyanar College of Music started by late T. Chowdiah, his advanced lessons under Thanjavur Sankara Iyer, an eminent composer who taught him to delve into the rare kritis of Tyagaraja and his own fluency in Telugu, Kannada, Sanskrit and Tamil instilled an academic sense in, allowing him to undertake melodic analysis.

For example, in the set of 22-Tyagaraja Kritis focusing on nuances in music, Dwarakanath says, “The kriti Mokshamu galada scientifically explains how the swaras are produced in the human body. If you close your ears with your palms you start hearing a buzzing sound which is respectfully called the Pranava naadha. This is said to be the mandhra shadja. The Hindola kriti Samaja vara gamana is a brilliant composition to understand the marriage of poetry, bhava and raga. Sung in a slow speed one can enjoy the elephant's slow gait in the entire kriti which is explained in the book.” In this interview, Dwarakanath talks about the books

What was the idea behind writing these books?

The idea in writing these books is to explain why there is no great music in the concerts these days. As a student of music I had heard Tiger Varadachariar, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer where audiences enjoyed the concert. There were others such as M.S.Subbulakshmi and D.K.Pattammal who produced similar music. Why are others, who are honestly devoted to music, unable to produce such great music?

Discussions with old music classmates made me study the Brihad Desi of Matanga Rishi, Sangita Ratnakara of Saranga Deva and Chaturdandee Prakashikha of Venkatamakhi. It took me two to three years to study and understand these great treatises and surprisingly

I found that the present quality of music has been affected because the very basic foundations of our music system have been forgotten. For example, ask anyone about jeeva swaras and how useful they are. Most performers today draw a blank, or say they have heard the expression but don’t exactly comprehend. It is to bring out these aspects of our music that I ventured into explaining these.

What was the rationale behind pursuing Tyagaraja’s thoughts in your ‘Pancharatna Kritis’ book?

I told a friend once that the Pancharatna Kritis are meant to be ‘living guidelines’ and if understood properly, would benefit us personally. This way the first song Jagadhanandha Kaaraka is a simple prayer to Rama to bless us; the second Duduku Gala traces the anxiety of the composer that Rama would not bother to bless us given our inexcusable wrongdoings; the third, Saadinchene seeks to remove this fear by pointing out that the Lord would even go against his own earlier teachings to protect us.

In this Tyagaraja has revealed that he was in an almost continuous dialogue with Rama himself who gave him suitable Art of Living advice on various occasions. The fourth Kana kana ruchira explains the renewed faith in the Lord's affection for us while the last Endaro Mahanubhavulu gives us a list of ancient devotees who surrendered to the Lord and became beacons for other suffering individuals.

These five songs lead us to enjoy ‘God-experience’ and it is in search of this that the Beatles, especially George Harrison came down to India. No music vidwan then was conversant enough to unambiguously explain this elusive ‘God-experience.’ Although George Harrison brought in some enjoyable Indian flavours in some of the Beatles numbers, he largely had to return disappointed.

Why did you name your other book Forgotten Chapters in Music?

I have given this title to emphasise the fact that these details were and are the basic foundations on which the grand structure of Carnatic music has been built. The details given here are dealt with in almost all the music treatises written down the centuries. But Venkatamakhi’s 72 -Melakartha scheme was so perfect that recollecting the features of a particular raga became child’s play. This very simple and effective work led Venkatamakhi himself to become conceited. Venkatamakhi’s disciples carried a campaign that all the old rules were no more required because the 72-melakartha scheme was adequate for all purposes. They even made fun of Tyagaraja as one who can compose some bhajan songs but was not an expert.

How Tyagaraja has replied to these ‘self-styled know-alls’ has been explained in his kriti Swara raga layagnulu...in Chenchu Kambodhi raga. It is interesting that all the three great composers Dikshitar, Syama Sastri and Tyagaraja adhered strictly to the parameters laid down by earlier saints like Matanga, Saranga Deva and others. Dikshitar did this in spite of the fact that he was a descendant of a direct disciple of Venkatamakhi. When Purandara Dasa came out with his reforms — after the seven-swara raga was formulated that gave way for arbitrary new scales to come into the picture; he thought a group of 35 ragas and 35 talas were enough, even as he composed the beginners’ lessons, alankaras and simple geethes.

The other point is the derivation of our swaras and music itself from nature. Hindu philosophy emphasises that everything in the universe is created by God. Our ancient musicologists noted that the shadja swara for example is best represented by the peacock's sound and the panchamaby the sound that a cuckoo makes. They noted that these birds do not sing flat notes but always have a curve. This rule applies to all the swaras, and the birds and animals that sing these swaras have been identified. This information is contained in almost all the treatises up to the beginning of the 20th Century but has slowly disappeared from the later books.