Art

Literary vs lyrical merit

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A song has to be judged on its musical credentials to be aired in a concert. Language is secondary here

Music is supposed to have no language. Yet there have been active debates on the language of Carnatic music in concerts. From the late Madurai Somu to some senior vidwans of today, a campaign to shift the proportion to ‘Tamil’ songs from the predominantly ‘Telugu’ (and Sanskrit) repertoire has ruled the discourse. There is no question of whether Tamil language or literature has the properties of being a jewel. Undoubtedly. Many of the works have profound literary status. The choice of words, the structures and the genres are rich, beautiful, varied and unfathomable.

However, the primacy for musical values should determine largely what gets featured in concerts. Concerts are not literary events. Lyrics are not narrated or recited or chanted or spoken or read. They are sung. ‘Vaggeyakaras’ of songs in other languages (in Tamil in some cases) have taken enormous pains to embellish their words with the best musical splendour. Whether it’s the trinity or others like Kshetragnar or Swati Tirunal or Muthiah Bhagavathar, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Mysore Vasudevachar or Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, one could be fully absorbed in a flute or violin solo rendition where the words are hidden. It is true that the artiste’s emotive handling is a function of lyrical understanding and assimilation but the listener hears only the music. As our music has a big role for ‘kalpita’ sangitham (or reproduction of compositions), high quality of music neutralises lyric that may be graded as ordinary — saint Tyagaraja or even Syama Sastri did not flex their imagination with words. Syama Sastri (and some others including GNB) in fact composed largely in Telugu, despite having lived as a Tamilian. That did not amount to neglecting their language. A big chunk of Western classical operas is in Latin, a language that is perhaps heard only in churches.

Muthiah Bhagavatar

Muthiah Bhagavatar   | Photo Credit: V_GANESAN

I know I am treading on thin ice when I say that all kritis in Tamil do not have the same majesty as for instance, the several Khambodi kritis of Tyagaraja, the Ananda Bhairavi kritis of Syama Sastri, the ghana raga kritis of Dikshitar, the novelty raga compositions of Muthiah Bhagavathar or the padams of Kshetragnar. This is akin to the fact that every runner is not an Olympic medal winner or that all historic buildings are not grand or unique architectural marvels. The pyramid theory applies everywhere. Gopalakrishna Bharati and Papanasam Sivan, among the prolific Tamil composers, bucked the trend and in some kritis, scaled new heights in musical terms. That cannot be said of many others (many poets’ works were tuned later by others).

Papanasam Sivan

Papanasam Sivan  

A kriti has to merit its own prominence via its musical ‘carat.’ It is also a quantity issue as the aggregate numbers composed in Tamil are fewer.

The absence of sufficient Tamil kritis (or Malayalam) in concerts is thus an inconsequential topic, if musical worth is focussed, contriving to make good the balance with less grandeur music is not the answer.

That’s best left to other expositions including temple festival airings or thematic programmes (Tiruppugazh, Subramania Bharati and the like) which satiate the craving even better.

Poet Subramania Bharati.

Poet Subramania Bharati.  

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 7:06:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/literary-vs-lyrical-merit/article30148789.ece

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