Many eminent experts in the field of carnatic classical music have talked about the camaraderie between Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1919-1974) and Mysooru Vasudevacharya (1865-1961). Jayachamaraja was the last king of the princely state of Mysore in Pre-independent India and Vasudevacharya was a great classical composer and is revered as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Jayachamaraja himself was an eminent scholar and a classical composer. Vasudevacharya was an honoured member (aasthaana vidwan) of the Mysore princely court.
Jayachamaraja was a flamboyant composer who experimented a lot with laya (time keeping), gati (speed) of movements, and graha (relationship between the composition and its taaLa at various points during the composition) in his compositions, which are very pleasing on the ears, at the same time tough for the artistes to render. Vasudevacharya was a traditional and a much-mellowed composer who belonged to a legendary music lineage (Santa Thyagaraja’s paramparé).
Although the compositions (kritis) by Jayachamaraja (popularly referred to as Maharaja’s compositions) are not as many and as diverse as those of Vasudevacharya, they are considered to be among the finest in the field. As mentioned, there are several stories about how Jayachamaraja used to consult Vasudevacharya for expert advice. Vasudevacharya was Jayachamaraja’s mentor and proofreader.
Here, I would like you to follow one composition each made in the same raaga from both composers and concentrate on their saahitya (lyrics) and laya. The raaga is Gambheera Naata and the compositions are Shree Jaalandhara (Jayachamaraja) and Girijaa RamaNa (Vasudevacharya) both are said to Aadi taaLa.
Imagine that we are living in the 1940s, pre-independent India. Imagine a big event, happening in front of hundreds of people gathered in the majestic courtyard in the Mysore palace. It is a friendly contest between the Maharaja (JC Wodeyar) and his trusted Guru (Vasudevacharya). They have come to an agreement that the compositions will be in Gambheera Naata said to Aadi taaLa, in praise of Lord Shiva. Imagine them composing the two compositions as though they are responding to each other.
Also imagine classical singers M L Vasantha Kumari (MLV) and Vani Satish (VS) supporting the composers in their competition. MLV, who received a doctorate from University of Mysore, is in the team of JC Wodeyar (JCW). VS, an established carnatic singer based in Mysore, is in the team of Vasudevacharya (MV). Imagine the singers receiving the compositions line by line and are singing it on the spot. The conversation starts like this:
JCW: Respected aacharya, could you let me have the first go at it?
MV: Your highness, please go ahead.
JCW: Here it is (He hands it over to Dr MLV and she renders it on the spot)
Shree jaalandharamaashrayaamyaham jalajaaksham
MV: How about this your highness ? (He hands it over to VS, and she sings it immediately)
(taka) Girijaa ramaNaa natajana sharaNaa karuNaarasa poorNa swarahara naagaabharaNa
And it continues. JCW and MV continue writing down their compositions, with their teams singing in turns. Drama in real time…happens within minutes.
Finally, JCW composes a dramatic Chittaaswara (a set of musical notes with no lyrics, added to the kriti by the original composer) which literally leaves everyone gasping for breath. In response, MV decides to give VS the freedom to add her own kalpanaa swara (imaginary notes added to a kriti, in the same raaga, by the singer of the kriti to enhance the total experience).
After the event, Vasudevacharya gives a speech on the ways to approach the art of composing in classical style and declares JCW as the winner. Jayachamaraja humbly remembers the tips he got from Vasudevacharya before the actual event and praises his mentor’s critical insight into the characteristics of the raaga and its manOdhrama. Jayachamaraja bows to Vsudevacharya and offers his praNaama. Acharya hugs the king and blesses him. The crowd goes mad, clapping and cheering their king and his mentor.
The next day, The Royal Herald carries the headlines
“ Two Classical Composers and Their Composure…A classical feast at the King’s court resulted in two superb classical compositions in the raaga Gambheera Naata…”
———-End of Story (Disclaimer: This is fiction, not a real story).
By the way, as you may have noticed already, the word Gambheera can be roughly translated as “Composed” and a derivative of the word Gambheera (Gambheerya) could roughly mean “Composure”.
Now, you enjoy listening to the contest in real time. I have tried my best to link the two compositions within the taaLa’s framework. Because the singers Dr MLV and VS belong to different musical eras, there is a huge difference between the audio quality of the tracks used. However, fortunately both have sung at the same shruti and almost at the same speed!!
My audio mixing technique is not perfect. It may also have reduced the beauty of both the compositions. However, It was fun doing it. Enjoy!
original audio courtesy: sangeethapriya.org