Music

An overview of Carnatic music…

The lec-dem sessions at the Music Academy on December 17 started with the rendition of ‘Raga Sudharasa' by Raginisri and Revathi Kumar.

Kota Drums: The first lecture was by Prof. Richard Wolf of the Harvard University. Richard worked on ‘Of God and Death: Music in Ritual and Everyday Life. A Musical Ethnography of the Kotas of South India' for his Ph.D. dissertation.

The Kotas are an Adivasi community of less than 2,000 persons, who reside in seven villages on the Nilgiris plateau in Tamil Nadu. They speak their own language, Kota, which broke off from a common ancestor of Tamil and Malayalam at least 2,000 years ago.

They also have an elaborate system of rituals that includes the performance of particular melodies and dances for certain occasions. The main Kota instruments are kol (double reed), tabatk (frame drum or tambattai in Tamil), dobar and kinvar (cylindrical drums) and kob (brass horn).

In his presentation, Richard Wolf presented the outlines of this ritual-musical system and explained some of the challenges Kotas face in learning this repertoire and maintaining it in the face of changing economic circumstances.

Richard was ably assisted by eight male musicians and a female singer from Kota, who demonstrated their music live. He also presented some video clippings.

Laya visesham in the compositions of Mummurthi: Prof. B. Krishnamurti, a student of several eminent gurus including Musiri Subrahmanya Iyer, Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer and his brother B.S. Rajam Iyer, was supposed to speak on the Trinity's knowledge of laya. But he confined himself to Tyagaraja's compositions.

He has demonstrated compositions in different tala patterns - Khandam, Chaturasram and Trisram - and how in many compositions, gaps are introduced in the tala structure. He presented ‘Srirama Rama' in Saveri, ‘Rama Sitarama' in Balahamsa, ‘Sundara Dasaratha Nandana' in Kapi, ‘Dandamu Pettenura' in Balahamsa, ‘Sitapathi Kavavayya' in Sankarabharanam, ‘Manasa Sancharare' in Punnagavarali, ‘Ksheerasagaravihara' in Anandabhairavi, ‘Varaveena Ganalola' in Sankarabharanam and ‘Rama Rama Rama' in Mohanam.

Except three in Chapu, Jhampa, and Trisralaghu, all the compositions demonstrated were set to adi tala. It was more of a demonstration bordering on a performance rather than a systematic and informative lecture.

The December 18 session began with an invocation by Sivapriya.

Music Therapy: The first lecture was by Dr. Suvarna Nalapat, a retired professor. She has many medical publications to her credit, and is an expert in telepathology. Of her publications, ‘Without a Stumble: A book on the Spirituality of Music' gives an introduction to music therapy. ‘Raagachikitsa', ‘Music therapy in management, education and administration' and ‘Naadalayasindhu' (Raagachikitsaamritham) are her other works.

Dr. Suvarna said music therapy, though as ancient as the Indian culture itself, is a comparatively new discipline in modern India. It should be viewed as integrated medicine, person-oriented and family medicine.

She drew parallels between Ayurveda and raga chikitsa; swara is considered a dravya because it has length, height and volume, with the 4th dimension kaala or time inbuilt into it and when sung with bhava and rasa, it reaches beyond the four-dimensions and transcends further.

Being part of ‘Naadalayayoga', ‘Ragachikitsa' incorporates principles of raga. Any musician who aspires to do substantial work in music therapy should know the physics of Ragachikitsa.

She substantiated her statements by giving examples from her own experiments. She concluded by saying that music is an ocean and so is the field of medicine.

Brhaddesi: The second lecture on Matanga Muni's Brhaddesi was by Prof. Anil Bihari Beohar, Professor and Head of Ddepartment of Musicology, I.K.S. University, Khairagarh. He has worked in many research projects for University Grants Commission and Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Of his publications, ‘Brhaddesi' (two volumes) and ‘Sangit Kaladhar' (translation) made lasting impressions in the field of music and musicology.

In his powerpoint presentation, Prof. Anil systematically presented all aspects related to the treatise and its contents.

He talked of the manuscripts, publications and translations of Brhaddesi, its authorship, references in later treatises, other works attributed to Matanga before actually discussing the content of Brhaddesi.

He discussed in detail the various chapters and the missing ones. He made an effort to retrieve the missing links in Brhaddesi from the quotations given by the authors of later treatises in their works.

Prof. Beohar made a detailed analysis of the topics dealt with in Brhaddesi with references and cross references from other works. He defined and discussed in detail the way the terms ‘Desi', ‘Nada', ‘Sruti', ‘Swara-Sruti' relationship, ‘Grama', ‘Morchana', ‘Tana', ‘Varna', ‘Alankara', ‘Jati Raga' and ‘Tala' were dealt with.

Prof. Anil's lecture reflected a rare combination of a visually challenged scholar and his astounding memory, clarity, erudition and precision.

On December 19, an invocation by Mangala Ravi, set the tone for the morning session.

Shahji Maharaja's contribution to Carnatic music: Madhavi Rajagopalan presented her lecture with the help of a powerpoint presentation. King Shahji was the eldest son of Ekoji Maharaja, who founded the Maratha dynasty in Thanjavur. He was a great scholar, poet and composer who was well versed in Telugu, Marathi, Sanskrit, Persian and Hindi. He earned the title of ‘Abhinava Bhoja' due to his patronage of arts and literature.

Shahji's contribution to music falls under three categories -- dramatic and poetic works: He has written almost 23 Yakshaganas in Telugu, the court language, besides musical compositions such as padas, darus, ragamalikas and kirtanas.

He has composed nearly 208 padas in rakti and ghana ragas on sringara, bhakti and vairagya themes. They are collectively known as ‘Thyagesa Padams' composed in Marathi, Telugu and Sanskrit. He authored a treatise dealing with the science of music and raga lakshana in which he dealt with 20 melas and 100 janya ragas.

Of all the various musical forms composed by Shahji, Madhavi demonstrated ‘Karimukha Harasuta' in Nata, ‘Sallamu Daru' in Kalyani, ‘Chaturdasa Bhuvana Anuraga Ragamalika' in 14 ragas, one in each line, a Jakkini Daru in Bilahari, ‘Saptasagara Suladi Prabandha Leela Daruvu with nayaka mudra in 7 Gowla ragas, a Manipravala padam in Telugu, Marathi and Tamil in Khamas and Tyagesa padam in Thodi.

Allied ragas: This year, the Academy has scheduled four lectures on allied ragas. The first in that series was R. Vedavalli's talk on ‘Kalyani-Sankarabharanam; Arabhi-Devagandhari-Sama-Kedaragowla.'

Vedavalli presented a comparative analysis of different ragas. As a preamble, she stressed that traditional musicians distinguished between swara based ragas and swarupa based ragas. Thus ragas were sought to be distinguished between one another on the basis of prayogas rather than swarasthanas.

For instance, Kalyani could be established through a phrase like ‘g , , r s r g r,' without the need to resort to madhyama, which would be a simplistic way. In the same way ‘g , g g r s' could bring out the image of Sankarabharanam, rendering the ‘ga' without a shake. Taking up Madhyamavati, Sriraga and Manirangu, she pointed the characteristic way in which ‘ri' and ‘ni' should be rendered, again without having to depend on ‘ga' as a distinguishing factor.

In passing, she also mentioned how the raga Bowli had made its imprint on Bhoopalam and Revagupti. The characteristic way of rendering the mandra-nisada in Kurinji while keeping ‘ni' as the lower limit for melodic descent and the descent down to mandra-panchama in Navaroju help distinguish the two ragas.

Taking up Arabhi and Devagandhari, she pointed out the need to take care in handling the ‘ga' especially in conjunction with ‘ma'.

She cautioned against concluding ‘ri' in Arabhi with a shake. In Kedaragowla, touching ‘ma' while descending from ‘ga' to ‘ri' bestowed an individuality to the raga in the purvanga section. The plain character of the swaras in this region characterised the raga Sama.

The morning sessions on December 22 began with ‘Saraseruha Nayane' by Smitha Madhav.

G.N. Balasubramanian: compositions and style: A. Kanyakumari started her lecture with a few biographical details of GNB. He gave his first performance at the age of 18 as a substitute to Musiri at Kapaleeswarar Koil. He revolutionised the field of music with nagaswaram bani. His voice was flexible at all levels and whatever raga he handled, he did it with ease. His sangatis and gamakas made him a legend in the field and he received encomiums during his time.

Sruti bhedam is one of the most significant components of his contribution to the field of music, later propagated by his disciple MLV. His diction and lyrical clarity made him popular. GNB also made RTP popular.

Kanyakumari then demonstrated about ten of his compositions in different ragas.

She was ably assisted by Embar Kannan on the violin, Rajeev and Giridhar (vocal).

Pancha Marabu: This is an extensive treatise on music and dance of Sangam period, said Dr. R. Kausalya in her lecture. It deals with five key aspects of music and dance, hence the name.

Kausalya said, since music had a place of pride in old Tamil society, there must have been works on the science of music. Though we have lost most of them, we learn of the rich musical heritage from authors of treatise such as ‘Adiyarkku Nallar'. They have quoted verses on various aspects of Tamil music.

The only such book available now on ancient Tamil music is ‘Pancha Marabu' written by Serai Arivanar. As the name denotes, it has five chapters. Out of them, three are devoted to music and two to dance. Though there have been doubts raised about the work, its contents reveal its greatness.

The work defines Isai (music) and Pann, the equivalent of the present day raga. The book explains the varieties of yazh, the number of strings and the kind of wood that was used to make them. It also gives the materials that were used to make the vangiyam (flute) and percussion instruments.

Kausalya mentioned that the treatise carries the fundamental swaras and their scales arrived at; the classification of the Panns have also been dealt with in detail.

It throws light on the factors to be taken into consideration by music composers while setting music to a song which is applicable to performers of music and dance too. In short, the work is a treasure of information.

Kausalya concluded with the hope that future scholars will undertake further research to understand its greatness and richness.

Vidwan Valayapatti complimented all the speakers.

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