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Treeatise on music

BRIHADDESI OF MATANGAMUNI: Telugu translation and paraphrase by Dwaram Bhavanarayana Rao; Published by Dwaram Venkata Varadamma Bhava Narayana Rao, Plot No. 17, Gazetted Officers Colony, Isukathota, Visakhapatnam-530022. Rs.300

HOW AND when was music born? How were the ragas developed? No one expects a convincing answer to these questions and most scholars ended up saying music was God's gift. However, there was one saint namely Matanga who lived 2000 years ago, and has written a magnificent treatise on music in which he provides a very logical and rational explanation to these questions. His book is so sophisticated that centuries of cogitation and experimentation must have preceded for him to write such a book.

The story is as follows. In the beginning only sound was born. Man used this to shape swaras (vowels) and vyanjanas (consonants) which were combined to form alphabets by combining which words were formed and later sentences to express thoughts.

Mothers rocking cradles, children at play and kings and other powerful people often burst out into songs using these words and sentences. Scholars then analysed these songs, determined the broad contours of the tune used (later to be called ragas), fixed the arohana and avarohanas.

These tunes were then subjected to some polishing and purification (aaplaa paditham — a purificatory bath), reformation and regulation. After all these tunes became ragas of the marga variety, common to the country as opposed to the Desi variety which it was to start with.

This process is akin to the formation of Sanskrit language itself. In the remote past a sort of a committee of scholars studied all the Prakrit (common man's) languages, determined the common features, took the best of them, subjected them to purification and regulation (Samskritham) and formed the Sanskrit language.

After an exhaustive survey of the origin and selection of swaras, the author writes an enchanting chapter on "moorchanas", which are meant to transform the raga into such a beauty that it can send singers and listeners into a trance.

These moorchanas are to be continuous with no breaks or jerks. One concept that can baffle students of music is the requirement regarding "missing" swaras. When "moorchanas" for Shadava (six swaras) and Oudava (five swaras) ragas are formulated there are bound to be some missing swaras. It is the implied rule that the moorchanas should traverse all the seven swaras even in these cases, although they should not sing actually the omitted swaras, which are called "chyutha" swaras.

For example in Mohana raga, the swaras "ma" and "ni" are missing but while tracing the route, the singer has to pass by the missing swaras although not actually singing it. He is not expected to jump from "ga" to "pa". It is useful to recall what Tiger Varadachariar used to say, all the ragas have all the swaras.

Useful examples of the moorchanas for sampoorna ragas — seven swara ones that touch only two octaves and 12-swara ones that touch three octaves and also for six-swara and five-swara ragas are given.

These exercises are not raga specific so that the student has the liberty to adapt these moorchanas for different ragas he can choose. He has to practise these in swara form, in a-kara and u-akara, according to tradition.

Because of the continuity that is ensured while traversing all the seven swaras even when some of the swaras are not actually sung, the moorchanas straighten up the wrinkles, and eliminate any straight lines and the sharp edges where these lines meet.

When the practice has gone on for a week or two, the student actually starts getting a feel of the limitless expanse of the raga such as a musician sometimes experiences when singing a major raga like "kalyani" or "thodi". Then follows a hazy vision and then a clear vision of the beauty of the raga, its mood and other characteristics.

It is not possible to obtain these results if one were to sing the scale ragas - based only on the "arohana" and "avarohana".

Just study the beauty imparted to "Raga" "Nalinakanti" by Thyagaraja, whose specially devised moorchanas facilitate the singing in a continuous manner despite the raga being a very vakra one. Compare this with the post-Trinity ragas like "Mohana Kalyani" and even "Kadana Kutoohalam" which have failed to acquire an image for themselves.

One other interesting fact is that while giving the characteristics of a raga, Matanga often says that this raga can be used to express anger etc., on the stage, giving rise to the impression that during those times music was mainly used in dramas.

The author has given the characteristics of quite a number of ragas but most of these cannot be identified at this point of time. Perhaps some of them are surviving in Hindusthani system and also in the Carnatic system under different names. The author's effort to bring out a Telugu commentary on this book is no doubt laudable but there are some obvious errors while giving the meanings in Telugu.

For example, it is said that while the peacock sings the shadja, the equivalent given for the Sanskrit word "Dardura" which is supposed to produce daivata is frog. Obviously the word is a corrupt one for some thing else like the cloud. The frog has always been considered an anti-musical creature. The modern view is that the horse produces the daivata note.

There was no Hindusthani or Carnatic music as such during Matanga's time and his book is a reference work for both the systems. It was more than a thousand years later that the division occurred.

Two handicaps in this book are that there are no annotations to help understand difficult words and there is no comprehensive index. A private publisher can never find the resources to meet all these requirements.

It is the duty of the Sangita Nataka Akademi and other such bodies to bring out good editions of these books, which are part of a glorious heritage.


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