Innovating a tradition

Propogating Ashtapadi: V. Jayadevan Photo: Vipin Chandran  

The Ashtapadi or Gita-Govindam has been set to music throughout the country. In fact, they are the living examples of early musical compositions, set to specific ragas and talas. Old manuscripts of Gita-Govindam mention 12 ragas to the 24 songs. But the early manuscripts, scholars reveal, do not give any kind of notation with the help of which one can rediscover the original music. Unlike the music streams, Hindustani and Carnatic, that came much after Jayadeva's poetic classic, there is no evidence of these Ashtapadis being transmitted from one generation to another, one guru to a shishya.

The end result is that today most of the original ragas in which the poems were sung have faded out with time; others have lost their original nature.

So the singing of Ashtapadis varies greatly from one region to another. Musicians have set them to music of their own, in ragas and talas they were familiar with and ones they had a preference for. And even in cases where the singer adhered to the original raga there were visible deviations.

Ashtapadis are now rendered in various styles. And V. Jayadevan is one who has successfully evolved a classical-based style that has now become popular. His brand of Ashtapadi rendering is a blend of the early Sopanasangeetham and the Carnatic.

“As a musician I'm extremely glad to have been able to give Ashtapadi, usually sung like light music, the seriousness of classical music. And I think I'm the only musician to sing Ashtapadis in this style, with swaras, neraval like in a Carnatic kutcheri. But I have seen to it that its pristine quality, romanticism and lyricism is retained,” says Jayadevan, who works as an officer in a construction company.

Jayadevan was initiated into music by his father Mankombu Viswanatha Kurup. “I used to accompany him for his concerts, often playing the tambura. His mode of Ashtapadi concerts was what I adopted. Of course, I did make some modifications with the help and suggestions of another guru, Pranavam Sankaran Namboodiri.”

If in the beginning Jayadevan focused on the regular Carnatic concerts with a few Ashtapadis strung in, for the past 12 years, he has been propagating his brand of Ashtapadi concert. “It is unlike the usual Ashtapadi kutcheris. I use the flute and edakka, along with the violin and mridangam. Apart from some of the popular Ashtapadis I also render some of the lesser known ones. All of them in well defined ragas and talas, complete with swaraprastharas and neravals.”

And Jayadevan's concerts are much sought after and also offer a new experience. “Personally, singing before former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, for the Global Investors Meet, was an unforgettable experience. I had begun singing even before he entered the hall, but continued to sing for 30 minutes after he had settled down and he listened intently.”

With a B High from All India Radio, Jayadevan heads a music school, Surya Kalakshetra at East Kadungalloor, near Aluva. This school trains children in Carnatic music, Ashtapadi, Kathakali sangeetham, light and devotional music. Jayadevan can be contacted at

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 5:36:49 PM |

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