Spotlight on ragam Ghanta

I presented a Ragam Tanam Pallavi in Ghanta at my concert at The Music Academy, in December 2018. The variety of questions and responses that I have been hearing post this from students and rasikas, including one in this newspaper, mainly centred around the relative unfamiliarity of the raga in the contemporary performance scene. Many listeners tend to identify it as a portmanteau of various melodies that are popular and in current circulation, though this perception is not quite accurate, as I had explained during the concert as well. In this write-up, I would like to share some of my learnings and experiences with Ghanta, and hopefully along the way, address some questions and perhaps misconceptions in the minds of students and rasikas.

Ghanta is a beautiful and ancient raga with a character of its own. It is a Poorva Prasiddha Raga, a commonly sung raga in the past, with an enormous scope. Sri Tyagaraja and Sri Annamacharya had composed several Divya Nama Sankeerthanams, which perhaps helped familiarising even the least informed listeners with this raga.

Ragas such as Ghanta call for a discerning approach from both the musicians and rasikas on the overall aesthetics of the raga, as if one were worshipping a Raga Devata. This would help one focus on the the raga swaroopa rather than just looking at the parent raga, scale or technicalities (and to reiterate from the concert, Ghanta is certainly not a mixture of ragas). Constant manana and dhyana over such ragas through practice (sadhakam), learning from past masters, reading technical journals and articles, are but some ways to get a better sense and perspective of ragas such as Ghanta.

I remember asking my Guru Dr. S. Ramanathan how he handled complex and not oft-heard ragas such as Narayanagowla, Nayaki, Padi, Takka and Yadukulakhambodi with effortless ease. He would just smile mischievously, pat my head and say, “I have a lot of secrets with me.” Though I was just 18, when he left this world, certain words of his blessed me with both the insight and inspiration to explore these realms. For instance, he would say that the best way to understand a raga was through compositions and by building an extensive repertoire in that raga.

Every time I learned a composition in Ghanta, including the Magnum Opus of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar in Ghanta, ‘Kamalamba Navavaranam’, the lilting Mangalam by Sri Tyagaraja and, of course, the Kshetrayya padam, ‘Neyyamuna’, I would keep marvelling at the beauty of the raga and have always gone back to further exploring and enjoying every nuance. While I am thankful for the journey thus far, my vision for learning and understanding these ragas would perhaps need years or even decades. The wonderful opportunity offered by the Music Academy to present a lec-dem on ‘Ghanta and allied ragas’ in 2010, in a way, paved the way for the Ragam Tanam Pallavi this year.

It is high time ragas such as Ghanta that are beyond just an Aarohanam and Avarohanam, were popularised. I have personally been enriched and enlightened by this journey which has helped me go back to the glorious past of our Sangitam. I hope that my attempts with such ragas will add value to posterity. I sincerely hope that younger artistes and students would sing and explore such ragas.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2020 12:02:08 PM |

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