Musicians share their thoughts on the importance of pallavis in kutcheris. - Suganthy Krishnamachary

Carnatic music is no stranger to controversy, and in the 1920s, there was a war of words between Professor Sambamurthy and E. Krishna Iyer, over the inclusion of pallavis in kutcheris. Sambamurthy felt that it was ‘ignorance of the great beauties’ of pallavis that led to a crusade against the genre. Krishna Iyer rejected Sambamurthy’s arguments, and said in music what mattered was emotional appeal, not intellectual appeal.

However, with concerts now having shrunk in duration, the question of whether to include a pallavi in a kutcheri becomes relevant now. Is it possible to do justice to a pallavi in a two and a half hour concert? “Yes,” says Suguna Purushothaman. “About 50 minutes can be allocated to the RTP, with the thani avartanam in this segment.”

What about the complaint from some members of the audience that they cannot understand the intricacies of pallavis? “When I sang in Paris recently, the audience was almost entirely French. I included pallavis in my concerts there, and the audience gave me a standing ovation. Now to them, the language in which I sang was alien. One doesn’t know how familiar they are with our music. And yet, they found the music appealing. Ultimately what matters is to present music that pleases the audience. And it is possible to sing pallavis in an aesthetically appealing way,” says Suguna.

Yes, but is it necessary to include pallavis? “Most certainly,” says T.R. Subramaniam, who has conducted workshops on pallavis in Japan. “When I conducted a workshop on pallavis in Bangalore, there were 60 applicants, for a class of 20. Interest in pallavis both among the audience and musicians is very much alive,” he avers.

Chinglepet Ranganathan suggests that maybe we could have concerts where the focus is on pallavis, so that it would be possible to allocate an hour and a half to an RTP. He has conducted pallavi classes at the Music Academy, and also a workshop on pallavis.

What do young musicians feel? Amritha Murali, who learnt nadai pallavis from Kedarnathan, Meera Kedarnathan and T. Rukmini, was selected last year for a Fellowship from the Sangeet Natak Akademi, to study RTPs from B. Krishnamurthy. “I’ve had members of the audience telling me that they like the ragamalika swaras. I’ve handled 4 kalai choukam pallavis in two and a half hour concerts. If a concert is of two hours duration, I sing a nadai pallavi.”

Prasanna Venkatraman feels the audience does like pallavis. “Sometimes, as I am about to enter the concert hall, people come and tell me that they’re looking forward to an RTP. But I only include RTPs in three hour concerts, not in two and half hour ones, unless, of course, the organisers insist on an RTP.”

Rithvik Raja says, “I like the tremendous possibilities RTPs offer to express my creativity, and look forward to singing one, whenever the time permits. If it’s a two and half hour concert, I would definitely try to include an RTP.”

Interestingly, E. Krishna Iyer, who had been such a foe of pallavis, was the secretary of the Madras State Sangita Nataka Sangam (now the Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram) in the 1960s, when Suguna, under the auspices of that organisation, first demonstrated a dwitala avathanam! Besides, the publication of Tinniyam Venkatrama Iyer’s book ‘Pallavi Ratnamala’, which has pallavis in 35 talas, was also funded by the Sangam, when Krishna Iyer was its secretary! So perhaps, Krishna Iyer was won over by the charms of pallavis, I remark. “Perhaps,” laughs Suguna.