The many dimensions of Carnatic music were dealt with in depth by V.V. Subrahmanian.
“There is nothing of worth in the world outside music,” declared V.V. Subrahmanian, with conviction, prefacing his lec-dem at the R K Hall, under the auspices of Maduradhwani. “And there is nothing of higher value in any musical form outside Carnatic music,” he went on to add. In the remaining 90 minutes of that evening, he proceeded to demonstrate his beliefs.
Quite appropriately, VVS pitched upon the term ‘Nadabrahmam.’ Music is a powerful means of communication, through note, rhythm and lyric (swara, laya and sahitya). The ‘na’ in ‘nada’ denotes ‘prana’ (life, breath, energy, soul), and ‘da’ stands for agni (consuming, purifying fire). Reference was made to the expression ‘prana-nala’ used by Tyagaraja (‘anala’ means fire).
Another interesting derivation of ‘nada’ was -- na+a+da, in which da stands for the verb ‘give’ and both 'na' and 'a' are prefixes of negative sense, can be interpreted as a double-negative of ‘give’, and therefore to mean ‘never with-holding.’ Naada, then, is that which fires our soul with life energy and offers us this without restraint - a truly magnificent concept!
The significance of Brahman in Nadabrahmam takes its root in the definition ‘Aham Brahmaasmi.’ ‘Ham’ stands for waste and ‘aham’ for that which has only essence and no waste.
There was reference to a nonagenarian mentor of the speaker who cleared his doubts by repeatedly directing him to various works so that he could and discover the answers for himself.
A notable outcome of one such searching led the speaker to see the significance of the emergence of Haalahala (poison), from the churning of the Ocean of Milk, simultaneous with Sri Mahalakshmi, its antithesis. How do we reconcile the presence of both at the same time? VVS explained that poison is not to be labelled as harmful. There are several applications of it which are beneficial.
Among the audience was a rich mix of those who not only had training in music but also demonstrated commendable scholarship. Listening to an exchange between VVS and G.S. Mani was riveting. Whether on the subject of brahman and naaadabrahman or the comparative study of Indian and Western classical music, each seemed to buttress the other's point of view with his own perceptions.
Through a video projection of the sky showing the Milky Way and the formation of the star clusters, the speaker sought to point out the formation of the figure of Mahaganapathy and the mystic syllable ‘Om’. He also echoed what could be the sound in the silence of the Cosmos, which simulates a long drawn-out “Aum.” Prapancha or the result of the pancha bhutas, the five elements, is the universe. Dr. Lakshmi Sreeram, a senior student of VVS, sang a composition of Dikshitar in Kiranavali, ‘Prapancha bhoota kiranaavalim’, to celebrate the prapancha, linking it with Siva and the rays of energy that emanate from Him.
The kriti is set to a pentametre beat, encompassing 18 avartanas of 5 beats and 4 matras. VVS mentioned that Dikshitar took liberties in his compositions, always with a purpose. In this instance, VVS could also see the unity of Ardhanareesvara in the first 180 and the second 180 kiranas.
Arising perhaps from the panchaakshara of “Nama-s-sivaaya”, he says that the pa note represents Siva; shadja or sa being the 'aadhaara svara', represents Sakti. Probing the sahitya “Siva Siva Siva enaraada..” the speaker interpreted each 'siva' to denote Agni, Soorya and Chandra, each ruling over three parts of the body - foot to navel, navel to upper chest and from the upper chest above. The feature was wound up with attention drawn to Thyagaraja's 'O Rangasayee..' It can be seen that the composer has split the words here to have 12 matras of karuvai to each of the two parts, making a total of 24, the Gayatri number (24 aksharas). While Tyagaraga and Dikshitar brought in the deeper essence into their compositions through sastra, tantra and mantra, remarked the speaker, the third among the Trinity, Syama Sastri, gently brought in the soul of the Muse herself into his simple lyrics.
The programme as a whole offered the listener a breathtaking insight into the holistic aspect of music.