Friday Review

Vadana becoming gayana

CAPTURING THE SOUL: Palghat Mani Iyer and Palghat Raghu (above) are among that class of percussionists who believed that laya was intrinsic to the nature of the composition Photos: The Hindu Archives

CAPTURING THE SOUL: Palghat Mani Iyer and Palghat Raghu (above) are among that class of percussionists who believed that laya was intrinsic to the nature of the composition Photos: The Hindu Archives  

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When does a percussionist achieve oneness with the vocalist? A highly evolved performer knows that the essence of his art is not just in capturing the laya, it is in his ability to grasp the feeling of the kriti

The late philosopher, M. Hiriyanna, says in his work “Art Experience” that “True beauty is neither expressible in words nor knowable objectively; it can only be realized”. In the world of Indian music, vocal music recitals are inquired, analysed and interpreted variedly and widely. But the aesthetics and emotional support of the percussion instrument is rarely analysed. The language it speaks is abstract, or indirect ( amoortha) . But at the same time it is comprehensible aesthetically. It can be experienced. How does a percussionist attain that stage? How does a percussionist sing through his percussion instrument (mridangam, tabla, ghatam, chende, maddale etc.). Firstly, it is important to feel the lyrical aspect of the song. Then percussionist shall decide which phatakshara or sholkattu (basic beats) suits a particular krithi, varnam, pada etc. Every beat has feeling, just as every word we speak has, and therefore the combination of strokes and the weight of the beats on mridanga or other percussive instruments produces the relative feelings in commensurate with the raga, bhava and laya.

Let’s classify the renditions by percussionists as Tala Dharmee (rhythm based) and Mano Dharmee (based on style and emotion). Under Tala Dharmee renditions, artists move along with the tempo (laya) of the song with his beats of sarva laghu patterns or such other combinations without concentrating much on the style and emotion of the song. As far as Manodharmee or Gana Dharmee rendition is concerned, it gives importance to the feeling, intensity of the raga and sudden twists in alapanas, and stress on the important lyrical parts of the krithis etc. Percussionist reflects the bhava (emotion) of the krithi with his instrument. This is beautiful indeed. To effectuate this, percussionist must be a poet (Kavi). It is the sudden creation of combination of pathaksharas (sholkattus) of mridangam, maddale etc. which tries to imitate the bhava of a song and makes that percussionist a poet .

As Anandavardhana says in Dhvanyaloka: “Dhwani or suggestion is the soul of poetry” . Therefore this very “dhwani” is reflected in the percussion rendition. Vidwan Umayalpuram Sivaraman once said “we must feel the song”. This feeling converts rendition of a percussionist into a song. This should actually be the nature of the duet between a vocalist and percussionist. I remember an incident when the legendary M.S. Subbulakshmi told the mridangam maestro Karaikudi Mani after a Kutcheri, “Mani, today you only sang the song.” This is the highest award for a percussionist. It is therefore a challenge to the percussionist to give a suggested ( dhwani) meaning of the song through his rendition. At this point, rendition becomes not only a song but also a symbolic representation of the soul of the song.

Great percussionists contemplate the laya and bhava of the song before starting their vocal rendition. It is also relevant to refer, in this backdrop, the late Ustad Amir Khan’s statement “my riyaz is half deep contemplation and the remaining half is singing.” The contemplation of a percussionist helps him bind to strokes or to beats in tune with the songs and its patterns. In such a case, it is only natural that the emotion of the vocalist melts into the percussionist’s approach. This melting point or equilibrium point, wherein the two minds (vocalist and percussionist) meet and interact in time (Kala) and its aesthetic culmination is space (Desha). From this point, every beat played by the mridangist or any other percussionist becomes a song.

In mridangam / maddala there are various places which produces sounds based on the weight of the strokes. Soft strokes like - tham, thom, nam, gum, thim, tha, thi, etc. are used in different combinations and patterns to represent any krithi’s bhava if the krithi’s intrinsic rasa (feeling) is Karuna, Bhakthi etc. Likewise, other different patterns are used to represent other bhavas of the vocal rendition. This is the way a percussionist transforms his rendition as song. Late Palghat Raghu , the legendary mridangist, said that thani shall be presented as if it is a part of the krithi. That means thani shall be seen as if it is born to the krithi and not bound to the krithi.

Ananda Coomaraswamy says in his legendary work “Dance of Shiva” that “He himself is actor and audience”. This must be the basic trait of an artist -- to be an himself audience while performing. It not only gives him awareness and responsibility, but also helps in reflecting emotions. Percussionist must symbolically say what is actually being conveyed to the audience.

This can well be seen in Yakshagana. For the entry of the character of of “Bhabruvahana” the rhythm and style with which chende has to be played is different than the entrance of “Abhimanyu” though both the characters are youthful. It is because Bhabruvahana is matured and a king, and he has to be ushered in with a slow rhythm. However, Abhimanyu is vibrant and enthusiastic. This portrayal is reflected in the rendition of chende a symbolic representation of the character. Late Kudurekodlu Ram Bhat and the late Nidle Narasimha Bhat were famous for this. If this attitude is reflected in any percussionist, there begins a spiritual journey and its final destination is an endless journey of Nada.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 12:01:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Vadana-becoming-gayana/article14425933.ece

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