Symposium: Various aspects of Carnatic music were discussed. Lalithaa Krishnan

Carnatic music has many dimensions and laya is one of its fascinating facets. Laya is an integral part of kalpitha and manodharma forms including compositions, swarakalpana and niraval. The symposium, ‘Sangeethathil Kanakku' held at Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, Vani Mahal, had well-known musicologist B.M. Sundaram as the moderator, bringing together the viewpoints of eminent artists and scholars such as T.R. Subramaniam, Guruvayur Dorai, Suguna Purushothaman and M.A. Bhagirati.

TRS stated that vyavahara in swara singing generally made people wary as it implied a tough challenge for accompanists and puzzlement for many listeners. Inevitably, the name of the Alathur Brothers, known for their ‘kanakku' expertise, cropped up. BMS revealed the surprising detail that the Alathur Brothers did not actually engage in vyavahara at the beginning of their career. It was only after they spent four months learning kanakku intricacies from Pazhani Subramania Pillai that they developed a fascination for it. Conversely, there were also artists who indulged in brilliant kanakku expositions early in their career, only to undergo a sea change and switch over to melody-based expression. The famous nagaswara vidwan Vedaranyam Vedamurthi Pillai was one such.

Kanakku concepts

Guruvayoor Dorai spoke about the introduction of mridangam accompaniment in concerts, and how kanakku concepts were gradually developed, for example, the use of the basic khandam (tha thi ki ta thom) repeated three times to conclude a cycle. Mohras were set by mahavidwans. At first, korvais were not played after mohra. This practice came later. The percussion school represented by Mamundiya Pullai, Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Muthaiah Pillai demanded deep perception to grasp the subtleties. B.M. Sundaram added that mohra is equated with ‘tha thi ki ta thom.' That which is strung together (kothadhu) is Kovai or Korvai.

A lively discussion ensued on ‘Thundu Pottundu Paaduvathu' (covering tala count on fingers with a towel so as to make it more difficult for the accompanists) with many humorous observations thrown in.

Drawing attention to the role of kanakku in kalpanaswara and niraval, Suguna Purushothaman, who named Tinnaiah Venkatrama Iyer, Musiri and Semmangudi as her gurus, stated that both melody and vyavahara were important to her. Although Musiri and Semmangudi did not attach much significance to kanakkus, their sense of laya was so inherent that it surfaced naturally in their swara and niraval flow. The vidushi made a significant point when she stated that a difficult concept gains value and appreciation only when it is presented with effortless ease and aesthetics.

Dr. M.A. Bhagirathi pointed out that dance (nrittam) comprises kanakku. Again, kanakku comes into play in the permutations and combinations of swaras that have yielded the 72 melakarta scheme. Singing a prabandha containing solkattus in the raga Hamsadhwani, she observed that tillanas are considered to have come into being after prabandhas.

BMS coordinated inputs with the authority that comes from a wealth of in-depth knowledge. He mentioned that four sounds arose from Siva's damaru and that there was a significance attached to the numbers seven and 14 in rhythm. In ancient manuscripts, the term ‘Nilaikkattanam' occurs which appears to refer to a rhythmic permutation. He also shared the interesting snippet that Pazhani Anjugam (second wife of erstwhile thavil vidwan Pazhani Muthaiah Pillai, father of percussion luminary Pazhani Subramania Pillai) was the first woman artist known to have rendered a Pallavi in performance.