Musicians deliberated on the commonalities and differences between Carnatic and Hindustani systems.

Is Hindustani music more emotional and Carnatic music more intellectual? Is the language and kriti-based formula a barrier for North Indian listeners to appreciate Carnatic music? Do gamakas in Carnatic music deter the enjoyment of ragas for North Indian listeners?

Leading musicians from the Hindustani and Carnatic streams fended such questions at a day-long workshop on ‘Interactions between Carnatic and Hindustani music,’ organised by IGNCA (Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts) at the Music Academy, Chennai. Not letting the day’s deluge get them down, Hindustani vocalist Pt. Ajoy Chakravarty, sitar and tabla virtuoso Pt. Nayan Ghosh, and percussion whiz Bickram Ghosh spoke from their experiences of Hindustani music, while senior musician T.V. Gopalakrishnan, violinist M. Narmadha, and Chitravina Ravikiran interacted from the Carnatic stream.

The aim was not only to discuss the commonalities and differences between the two systems, but also to talk about the limited appreciation of Hindustani in Chennai, and vice versa. The highlights were the soulful demonstrations of ragas and compositions by the maestros on stage.

Melodic moments

It was indeed a joy to listen to Pt. Ajoy sing Kiravani in Hindustani, Carnatic and jazz genres. Pt. Nayan Ghosh transported the audience to another plane with his sitar rendering of an Amirkhani gat in Khamaj. Violinist Narmadha played an improvisation of sangatis for ‘Raguvamsasudha’ (Kadanakuthuhalam), while Chitravina Ravikiran played a stunning Kshetragna padam (ganta) as a sample of romantic tranquillity, to say that Carnatic music is not about spirituality alone. Gopalakrishnan’s virtuosity came through in his playing of Behag, the kriti being ‘Saramaina.’ Ustad Bickram Ghosh pointed out that every note we enjoy listening to is a result of conditioning. We can break that conditioning by telling people to listen more to other systems of music. Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty said he sings several Bengali songs in Carnatic ragas. Vidwan Gopalakrishnan said the difference is in the minds of the listeners; visionaries such as Swati Tirunal (who composed in Hindi and Hindustani ragas) did not find any difference. “Music is about the soul… The ability of the artist to create aesthetics is what makes one listen to and appreciate notes — be it in Mumbai, Amritsar or Thiruvananthapuram,” TVG reiterated.

Ravikiran said it is a question of delivery and emotional aspect on the part of the artist. Narmadha argued for Indianising, pointing out that one nodal change brings in a different raga. “We find unity in diversity, so music is advaitam,” she said.

The theme of the seminar, which was also held in Mumbai, was the underlying sameness between the two systems of Hindustani and Carnatic music. Bikram Ghosh presented an in-depth view of the history, tradition and the six gharanas of tabla playing. “Some gats are like poems,” he exulted.

Ravikiran stressed that the concept of upapakka vadhayam (the use of ghatam, ganjira, morsing and so on) does not exist in Hindustani music. Nor is the tani part of the Hindustani concert; the tabla player intersperses the main artist’s music with solos. The sarangi is the most preferred as an accompaniment in Hindustani; in contrast, we know it is the violin that reigns in Carnatic music.

Nuggets such as these made the seminar an enriching experience for the audience. Only one wished there was better coordination among the moderators so that confusing situations could have been avoided at times.

The key differences between the Hindustani and Carnatic systems are:

Hindustani music is raga based while Carnatic is kriti-based.

Hindustani stresses pure notes versus the gamaka-based Carnatic ragas.

Raga essays (alapanas) are elaborated from note to note in Hindustani and from phrase to phrase in Carnatic.

Hindustani has different shailey and Carnatic music has styles such as that of Madurai Mani Iyer, G.N.Balasubramaniam and so on.

Hindustani has a separate repertoire for instrumental and vocal while Carnatic instrumentalists till recently played the same kriti-based compositions as the vocalists did.

The concept of upapakkavadyam does not exist in Hindustani music.

The sarangi is a major accompaniment in Hindustani, while the violin reigns in Carnatic.

The concept of tani avaratanam is found in Carnatic music, while the tabla player intersperses the main artist’s rendering with solos.

(The author, formerly a professor of journalism at California State University in Los Angeles, is a vocalist trained by Carnatic stalwarts.)