Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar speaks of kutcheris, classicism and much more in this paper presented at a symposium and published in the Commemoration Volume dated May 19, 1990.
It gives me immense pleasure to contribute to this Symposium an article on some aspects of Karnatak music. For, though I can claim a successful and unbroken career, extending over 52 years, I have had no opportunity till now to assemble and present my views on kacheri paddhati (concert sampradaya or tradition).
Here, I propose to deal with kacheri paddhati, as I have learnt and practised it on the platform all these years, in the light of its historic background after a rigorous period of gurukulavasa, first under Pudukottai Malayappa Iyer and Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar, and later, for over 11 years, under Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar of Ramnad. More than this, I have had the good fortune to listen to and learn from the expositions of such great masters as Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Tiruchi Govindasami Pillai, Saraba Sastri, Sakharam Rao, Veenai Dhanammal and a host of others. In vocal concerts today, certain changes are perceptible which, if allowed to grow unchecked, may spell ruin for our great tradition of Karnatak music, and eventually result in the total disappearance of sampradaya. This is all the more regrettable when our music is claiming hundreds of adherents in the West.
It is the peculiar feature of Karnatak music that it has survived the invasions of kings and chieftains, and feudal wars, in South India to build up a great tradition – a tradition that dates back to Vedic times. The Tamil classics speak of seven palais, later developing into 16 melas, leading to a further emergence of 103 pannas. Those versed in them were the Panars, such as Tiruppanazhwar, Tirunilakanta yazhpanar and others. They were not worldly-minded; to them music was divine. They were God-intoxicated and aimed at the attainment of Supreme Bliss. Their devotional and soul-stirring lyrics were sung in the temples. Next, we are deeply indebted to Sarangadeva for his great and invaluable work, Sangitaratnakara, in which he describes and interprets the lakshnas of Karnatak music.
The final shape
Karnatak music took its final shape and form from the time of Purandaradasa, who systematised the laws of teaching music and wrote of innumerable padas and prabandhas, besides composing svaravalis, gitas, suladis, tayams and alankaras in the saptatalas as preliminary exercises and early lessons which must necessarily be learnt. Subsequently, Ramamathya, in his work Svaramelakalanidhi, condenses the Sangitaratnakara and explains the nature of 19 melas and their 166 janya-ragas. But it was Venkatamakhi who formulated the scheme of seventy-two melas in his Chaturdandi Prakasika. It is, however, not known if he assigned names to the several ragas. Later, Akalanka, in his work Sangitasarasangraham, speaks of a number of ragas and determines their lakshanas. The great work of Govindacharya, Sangrahachoodamani, is an authoritative and later contribution, containing lakshanagitas for 366 ragas (including the 72 melas), and this became the classic authority for the great vidwans like my guru Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar.
While the great stream of Karnatak music has been enriched by vaggeyakaras who have preserved the musical forms, like the varna, kriti, javali, tillana and svarajatis, the torch-bearers of South India’s musical traditions were the numerous sabha musicians and vidwans, who were patronised by kings, princes and zamindars.
Kacheri is an Urdu word, referring to the musical concerts held in the courts of the Mohammedan rulers in North India. It is akin to those held in the South which were known as arangam, sabha or sadas. A kacheri in its early phases was confined to a recital before a select gathering at the royal court or in the assembly hall on an auspicious occasion. The court of Sarabhoji of Thanjavur seems to have had on its rolls nearly 360 musicians, each specialised in certain specific branches of vocal or instrumental music, and each waiting for a day in the year to exhibit his skill and prowess!
The celebrated composer of the ‘Viriboni’ varna in Bhairavi, Pachaimiriyam Adiyappayya, was a distinguished musician who adorned the courts of Thanjavur, Pudukkottai and Ettayapuram – as also Pallavi Doraisamy Iyer, Gopala Iyer, Todi Sitarama Iyer, Sankarabharanam Narasayya and several instrumentalists and dancers. Varna singing may be presumed to have been in vogue from Adiyappayya’s period. Among his disciples may be counted such distinguished names as Syama Sastri and Ghanam Krishna Iyer. We are ushered into the treasures of Tyagaraja by Umayalpuram Krishna Bhagavatar and Sundara Bhagavatar, Walajapet Venkatramana Bhagavatar, Tillaisthanam Rama Iyengar and Tiruvotriyur Thyagier. The point worthy of note is that, while Dikshitar adopted Venkatamakhi’s system of asampurna-mela-paddhati, Tyagaraja followed the Govindacharya sampradayam of sampurna-mela-krama.
Like my guru, I have never begun a concert without singing a varna at the commencement. It imparts mellowness to the voice and a flavour to the subsequent rendering of kritis or ragas. Palghat Anantarama Bhagavatar and Bidaram Krishnappa began their concerts with tana varnas. In the past (pre-varna days), performers used to sing tanas in the Nattai, Gowla, Arabhi, Varali and Sri ragas, to the accompaniment of the mridangam.
In the concerts, the singer is accompanied on the violin and the mridangam. Where a gayaka has specialised in the laya aspects, he revels in having additional accompaniments such as the ganjira, ghatam, morsing, konnakol and dholak. In early times, the musicians used to sing in sthayi-sruti; now they have lowered it, owing to several exigencies. A performer must be deeply conscious of his strengths and weaknesses. The effect of the performance should be such as to keep the listeners spell-bound, making them stay on to the very end, thirsting for still more.
Sruti sense, earnestness, a proper conception of raga-swarupa and good laya-jnana - without these, it is impossible to perform entertainingly. The choice should be made from classical pieces conforming to the South Indian type (whatever the language), with a knowledge of the meaning thereof. The purpose should be to elevate and educate the listeners and improve their tastes. The concert should begin with a varna, to be immediately followed by a few fast-tempo kritis. A short and crisp alapana, of two or three of the ragas of the kritis to be sung, may be rendered. Kalpanaswaras must be limited and proportionate, and restricted to a few pieces, after a reasonable measure of niraval.
The pieces selected should be of varied talas and no two of the same tala need be sung consecutively. In rendering kalpanaswaras, for kritis or pallavis, it would be more appropriate to adopt the traditional mode of sarvalaghu pattern with variations in the nadai in tala imparting ranjakatva, keeping in view the raga-swarupa. An admixture of slow-and fast-tempo kritis alternately is preferable. The main raga for tana, pallavi, should be a Ghana raga familiar to the audience and the rendering of the alapana must be fairly lengthy and should explore into the mandhara sthayi as well. In the alapana of rare ragas, their distinctive character should reveal themselves at the first touches in all their purity and clearness, and should neither get confused nor clash with ragas closely allied to or resembling them. A couple of opportunities (according to the convenience of the artiste) may be given to the mridangam player — the first an hour after the commencement, the second during the pallavi stage, in different talas of convenient tempos. The items should comprise padam, javali, Tevaram, Tiruppugazh, Ashtapadi, tarangam, tillana, ragamalika and sloka, all of which must form Part II of the concert. The singer should enlist the cooperation of the accompanists all through, with the object of making the concert a success.
Thus it will be seen how the great tradition of Karnatak music has been built up by the South Indian genius. It is up to the vidwans and rasikas to see that this torch of Karnatak music is kept effulgent for all time to come and in all its glory.
(January 23 marked the death anniversary of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar)