Commitment to traditional Carnatic music, by younger generations, is the need of the hour.
It is that time of the year when there is a renewed and rather exuberant interest in Carnatic music. This is music as performed by a vocalist, as played by innumerable instrumentalists, and vocalised as an accompaniment to Bharatanatyam and other Southern classical dance forms. This music may have existed in an early form and format as early as the Silappadikaram, the Tamil epic. It also grew to attain unparalleled stature first as the songs of the saints prior to the 10 century, and later as the spirit of the renaissance of Tamil divine music during the reign of Raja Raja Chola (11th century onwards).
Codes for ragas
The raga system was known by a different name – Pann Isai. This largely South Indian phenomenon of culture was later infused with many streams of influence which enriched it. Among the most influential inputs was the phenomenon of a pan South Indian ethos of which the essential element was the diversity of languages.... Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. While Venkatamakhi codified the ragas under the Melakartha system, in the reign of the Nayak kings of Thanjavur, Vaggeyakaras (composers of music and lyrics), who are now venerated as saints of almost equal status as the Tamil saints, namely the nayanmars and azhwars, piloted a renaissance of everlasting importance.
The top places in the pedestal of vaggeyakaras were occupied by Purandaradasa and later the Trinity - Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri – followed by a host of savants, kings and saints. The list is big and phenomenal.
What have we gained from this undeniably unique phenomenon to which we must bow down with reverence and acknowledge? We have gained the richest musical heritage in the world in all its kaleidoscopic detail. Every age unfailingly produced those thinkers and writers who gave our music fresh impetus.
How did those savants explore each raga? They did it by singing .... Words of extraordinary devotion. Wordscan be described as gems of poetic beauty, brimming with spiritual and philosophic eloquence.
An arduous journey
Is our music, Carnatic music, blessed? Yes indeed. Nowhere in the world can one find this amalgam of music and lyrics. It is therefore extremely important for the generations of musicians to come, to study our music as a composite whole. From the basic notes to the raga system it is already an arduous journey. But what makes that journey challenging is the tala system. But more importantly, what makes the journey meaningful as well as rewarding, is the bhava of our music. Without the lyrics this elusive bhava is certainly not attainable. For the inner experience which draws the listener into an unforgettable and self-negating involvement, musicians must show commitment. They should study languages as a first step to do justice to the work of the vaggeyakaras. Furthermore to relish the meaning, poetics, philosophy and mystic underpinnings, musicians need to expand their own horizon of intellectual ability.
Great masters have led the way, showing us what they could do by way of doing justice to the Vaggeyakaras . Let not the current generation, who indeed have talent, think that this music is easy to master or deliver. Unless they get involved in the deep meanings of the songs, their exercise will be superficial, even if it is seemingly virtuosic. Nammazhwar wrote and sang hymns of drowning in bhakti. He knew that many would follow in his footsteps. Those who sing the songs of the great composers are merely the vehicles or ‘vahanas’ carrying the great message of the lyrics.
One may exult at the silver ‘Rishaba Vahana’ when Lord Kapaliswara comes out to greet His devotees during the brahmotsavam. But one forgets the silver vehicle during the event ...the majestic Lord whose aura remains in our mystic memory.