Even artistes of yore dressed with a certain amount of ostentation...

This has reference to the article “Sober dress for soulful music?” by Sushila Krishnamurthi (Open Page, The Hindu, January 6, 2013).

Perhaps, the Vedantic streak in the erudite writer has overlooked some “mundane” aspects relating to Carnatic music. This great epicurean art form does not confine itself to a soulful esoteric experience; it entertains, thrills, excites and fills the listener with awe. It draws applause and wins encomiums for its practitioner. Granted that Carnatic music is essentially the inspired outpourings of great Vaggayekaras, scholars and savants, its listening experience embraces a vast spectrum of emotions depending upon the mood, the locale and the occasion.

At the concert platform, Carnatic music is at best an admixture of a subjective and entertaining nature. Therefore, stage presence is an indispensable part of the event. It will not be incorrect to say that artistes of yore dressed well for the occasion with a certain amount of ostentation that provided a visual treat preceding an enriched aural experience. One learns from books and elders that they did take great care of the sartorial part of the “show.”

While MS’ music was divine, her presence was no less thanks to her sense of aesthetics that called for a well-stocked wardrobe of Kancheepuram silks! (In fact, there is a brand of a silk saree flaunting the MS Border, another an MS Blue!). She was aesthetically bedecked with jewellery topped with a rich hallow of well arranged jasmine flowers. The tilak marks on her forehead sported a multicoloured three-tier design. She was the epitome of a stunning picture that blended visual aesthetics with aural grandeur. Happily for us, there is a goodly slice of our leading Vidushis following the MS trail. May their tribe increase!

The vidwans in the Golden Era were no less flamboyant. They had expensive silk-tasselled shawls and “angavastarams” draped over their broad shoulders which they nonchalantly negotiated while coursing through the sweet strains of a raga. While silver snuff boxes and silver betel containers added to their accoutrements, a liberal sprinkling of fragrances (javadh, attar and punugu) lent a unique dimension to their persona. They were not shy of flaunting their gold “kadukans” or diamond rings. Remember Ariyakudi and GNB and others of their ilk?

Why then grudge our contemporary vidwans their colourful kurtas and shawls which do lend a certain charm to their personality? In the north, when listeners throng the concerts featuring Shivkumar Sharma, Zakir Hussain or Amjad Ali Khan, they do not fail to first admire the breathtaking colours of the kurtas and shawls that these Ustads drape themselves in. Did not Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan have their own brand of sartorial delights to indulge in and entertain the eyes and ears of their fans?

A comparison by the writer to what prevails in a western classical concert does not hold water for there the male artistes wear well-turned out dark suits and women flowing gowns which are, anyway, de rigueur. But this dress code binds the sophisticated listeners too into wearing Armani and Canalli suits and women bedecked in Donatella Versace gowns complete with Prada or Louis Vuitton handbags — a common sight at the Scala in Milano, the Sydney Opera or in a Broadway theatre holding a western classical concert or opera. Does the appreciation of symphonies from Beethoven or Bach demand this dress-code? Yet, an adherence to a sophisticated sartorial formula does add lustre to the hearing pleasure!

Carnatic music does take one to a soulful and spiritual plane of listening but the performing art on the stage demands a hedonistic experience well deserving of a bon vivante. To reduce it to a state of self-abnegation born of a puritanical attitude would make the entire music festival a non-starter.

(The writer’s email is vkalidas@gmail.com)

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