Category Archives: Classical Music

Carnatic classical music and its form.
Lessons in percussion

M D Ramanathan: Kavi hridaya and the importance of sāhitya in Carnatic music

 

MDR-for blog
ಎಂ ಡಿ ರಾಮನಾಥನ್ (೧೯೨೩-೧೯೮೪); ಚಿತ್ರಕೃಪೆ: ಮಲ್ಲೇಶ್ವರ ಸಂಗೀತ ಸಭಾ, ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು

GouLa shaareera, the phrase describing the low frequency of a male singing voice, was taken to its lowest heights (if such a thing is possible) by M D Ramanathan (1923-1984).   My mother had listened to several of MDR’s live concerts and she recalls that any MDR concert used to be nothing short of a class room for aspiring musicians.  When I listen to some of the old recordings of MDR, my ears are mesmerised by the soul-stirring tonal quality of the B-pitch chaapu from Palghat Mani Iyer’s mridanga.  Of late, I have also started noticing the beauty of MDR’s singing (not just his reverberating baritone voice).  Hence, leaving my temptation to discuss Mani Iyer’s chaapu for a while, in the following short essay, I wish to touch upon just one among myriad important aspects of MDR’s singing.  MDR used to sing many compositions from anupallavi (the second stanza of a composition).  What is the ouchitya (aptness) and benefit of doing so?  I will just use this question as a reference point to examine aspects of MDR’s singing and discuss the importance of sāhitya (lyrics) in Carnatic kritis.

To begin with, we should familiarise ourselves with the structure of a Carnatic musical composition (a typical kriti).  I wish to make my life easier by paraphrasing Prof S R Janakiraman, who has explained the structure of a Carnatic kriti in a comprehensive article (Janakiraman, 1977).  According to Prof SRJ, the divisions of pallavi, anupallavi and charana in kriti (perhaps all other forms of Carnatic composition) could be traced to the structural features of medieval essays or prabhandhas.  He says and I quote “generally the procedure should be that in the pallavi the musical theme must be initiated…developed a little further in the anupallavi and further enlarged in the charana, [which] must be the sum total. The same thing holds good [for] the contents of Saahitya as well. An idea is thrown in the pallavi, a little amplified in the anupallavi and substantiated in the charana”.

Given the above framework, the aptness of rendering a kriti from anupallavi can be analysed in two ways.  Prof SRJ explains one of them and I again quote him “tradition has recognized the taking up of anupallavi first in most of the padaas of Kshetrajna…and some of the kritis of Thyagaraja too has warranted such a treatment. Not only the musical setting but also the theme of saahithya bas favoured such a procedure evidently so designed by the composer himself”.  To rephrase SRJ, it could be that the raising intonation of Thyaagaraja’s anupallavi grabs the attention of the audience more effectively than his more sombre pallavi.  It could also be that the saahitya of pallavi makes better sense when it is sung as a continuation of an anupallavi (not the other way round).  MDR, as learned a musician and teacher he was, certainly was aware of these nuances and hence must have found it apt to sing many kritis beginning from anupallavi.

MDR, in one of his many lectures (recorded), has described the elements going into the perfect rendering of a musical composition and specifically he talks about kritis.  MDR says that an ideal presentation of a kriti needs the support of a perfect voice, a perfect understanding of the real significance and meaning of the kriti, a background knowledge of the composer, rather the heart of the composer, kavi hridaya…and an imagination about how the composer would have conceived the rendering of the kriti.  MDR has also said that the singer [in addition to knowing the raaga bhaava and taaLa] should be familiar with major South Indian languages, be aware of the Indian puraaNaas (mythology), and he or she should have a philosophical approach to singing Carnatic kritis.  MDR tried to follow his own prescription, did so admirably and indeed his singing came close to a hypothetical ideal.  Singers like MDR were conscious of their pronunciation and meaning of sāhitya.

You might turn around and ask “what about instrumental music?”.  I see no reason why instrumental music should be oblivious to kriti saahitya.  By being loyal to the original composer, the instrumental rendering is not restricting its scope.  On the contrary, a veena, a flute, or a violin can enhance the composition by exploring the manOdharma (kavi hridaya) of the composer.  The composer’s manOdharma includes both the raaga and the sāhitya.  Instrumentalists who ignore the latter do so at their peril.  Some may completely abandon composed music on whatever basis, and it is their loss, not ours.  Some of us may also question the importance of sāhitya for a common listener, who most likely does not speak or understand the language (words) of our great composers. However, please remember that it is not important whether a common listener understands the sāhitya or its meaning because he also would not be familiar with all the raagaas.  A common Carnatic concert buff often enjoys the concert as a package, and occasionally he may associate aspects of music with certain emotions and often is not bothered about the layered details.  He may enjoy some compositions (in his native tongue) more than he does others.  It is up to the performer to decide what he or she wants to offer.

Beginning a kriti from its anupallavi has three aspects.  The first two are (i) Rāga bhāva and a strategy to capture the audience attention, and (ii) Sāhitya roopa and a reason to make the rendering more meaningful. The third aspect looks at the kriti holistically.  As Prof SRJ points out, a kriti is a musical essay.  It has its arguments and a broad structure.  Carnatic kritis with a devotional or social reformatory theme often state their main hypothesis in the pallavi and then the anupallavi provides a supporting statement, followed by charana (a collection of stanzas) that provides all the evidence.  Sometimes it makes more sense to begin with a supporting statement or even some evidence. Sometimes it is useful to cite someone with credibility and gradually build a case for your main hypothesis or conclusion For instance, M L Vasantha Kumari or R K Srikantan used to present an independent ugābhOga or a shlOka before venturing into a full composition of Purandara dāsa.

I think the most important of all the qualities listed by MDR, has to be the ability of a singer to interpret kavi hridaya (the heart of the composer) that makes the difference between a mere rendering and a real musical experience.  Without the composer, there would be no composition.  Most experts recognize kalpita (composed and structured) and manOdharma (spontaneous and exploratory) as two integral parts of Carnatic music.  However, the distinction between the two is blurred if we go back to the composer himself.  The original composers, be it Purandara dāsa or Thyāgaraja, did not conceive their compositions without a manOdharma (kavi hridaya).  A singer or an instrumentalist has the responsibility to blend the manOdharma of the composer with the free-flowing spirit of his/her own imagination.  Some singers like MDR, were able to understand kavi hridaya better than others.  MDR was a refined composer himself.  The composer would certainly know how to build his case but the singer (who is separated in time) needs to understand the mind of the composer when he tries to recreate the same experience.  There is of course tremendous individual freedom in Carnatic music.  But, of what use is talent which has no regard for its past trajectory?

  1. Janakiraman S R (1977) The Significance of the Division of Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charana in Musical Compositions, The Journal of the Madras Music Academy, Vol 48.

 

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Edupu in Carnatic Music: Part 1

On this day i.e., October 22nd, 2015, as my blog and I (as CanTHeeRava) celebrate our 7th birthday, I wish to write about a topic in Carnatic music that has lingered in my mind for many years.  The following discussion assumes some basic understanding in the reader of what is a taaLa (go to aadi taaLa to get a primer) and some associated concepts in Carnatic music.  To begin with, I shall give a brief outline of edupu and its place in Carnatic music.

Time and time again
Time and time again

A textbook definition of edupu tells you that in Carnatic music, “the relationship between a kriti and its taaLa at the beginning of a kriti or a typical segment (stanza) of a kriti is defined by edupu”.  In other words, edupu tells you whether the taaLa preceeds the kriti (anaagata graha) or the kriti preceeds the taaLa (ateeta graha).  In essence, edupu is an interval of time at the beginning of a kriti where silence is music (no singing, no playing).  Often the edupu defines a critical juncture in the saahitya of a kriti.    Another concept from the textbook is graha, which is considered as one of the 10 defining elements (dahsapraaNa) of a taaLa.  There are two types of grahaSama graha, where the kriti and the taaLa begin simultaneously.  So, clearly edupu has no existence when we are dealing with sama graha, although some experts call this sama edupu.  The other type of graha called vishama graha comprises the two subtypes (ateeta and anaagatha) that are recognized as forms of edupu.

We are familiar with kriti saahitya that follow either ateeta and anaagatha edupu of a taaLa.  Percussionists often play tani aavartane (solo performance at the end of a vocal or instrumental concert) so as to follow the edupu of the taaLa that the main artiste had employed to render a kriti or a stand-alone pallavi.  Some players start their playing sequence from sama (i.e., the supposed beginning of a taaLa according to its anga scheme) and then arrive at the prescribed edupu to finish their sequence.  Others may start at the edupu  and arrive at sama.   The same goes during the short intervals between various segments of a kriti (which may follow different edupu).  These are examples of innumerable possibilities offered by edupu to improvise and embellish a concert segment.

It is a tradition to play and repeat a short playing sequence three times on the percussion instrument to indicate the end of a kriti, usually after the main artiste concludes their rendition.  These triplets have three identical repeating playing units (sollukattu).  Such triplets are also heard during the kriti when the artiste switches from pallavi to charana or any movement between segments of a kriti.  These triplets are often a set of percussive notations and may or may not be a full-fledged percussive composition (called muktaaya).

With this short introduction, let me get into the question that intrigues me.  You may have noticed that often the triplet played at the concluding end of a kriti is slightly different to other mini-conclusions done during movements between segments of a kriti.  Irrespective of what the edupu is, the ultimate concluding triplet is different to other triplets in the following way (not always true but quite often).  The ultimate triplet is made up of two identical playing units followed by a slightly slower version of the same playing unit (I shall explain this with examples in Part 2).  Such an asymmetry often means (a) the taaLa slows down ever so slightly in the final phase of the concluding aavartha, or (b) the third and concluding unit of the triplet exceeds the final aavartha and spills over to the next (non-existent) aavartha by a tiny fraction of a time unit.  In other words, the conclusion of a kriti, (irrespective of whether it had ateetha, anaagatha or no edupu) often ends up creating a new edupu.  If we want to be faithful to our earlier definition of an edupu, the newly created excess time (not part of the original taaLa frame work) is not an edupu.  It is some other new entity.

The fact that the last few seconds of the concluding part of any kriti or percussion sequence slows down ever so slightly is in itself an intriguing aspect of Carnatic music and perhaps is a feature of many other forms of music world over.  In a future post, I hope to dissect this phenomenon and explore why and how did such an infinitesimally small decrease at the rate of playing at the discussed segment of a concert evolve. 

Mighty at eighty: Umayalapuram Sivaraman

UKS in live concert_Vasanthapura_Bangalore_Jan7-2015

The South Indian percussion instrument Mridanga had many great exponents who brought the best out of its tonal and rhythmic qualities.  Many in my generation could not listen to the live concerts of Palghat Mani Iyer and his ilk.  The generation that came after the golden trio (PMI, PSP and CSM) really did live up to (sometimes exceeded) the standards set by their teachers.   One of them was Palghat Raghu and I think of him at least once whenever I think of the Mridanga.  A contemporary of Raghu is touching 80 now and he is still going as strong as ever.  Umayalapuram Sivaraman invokes a sense of awe in every fan of Carnatic music, particularly those who love percussion.

It was a rare treat on Wednesday (Jan 7, 2015, Vasantha Pura, Bangalore) that we had an opportunity to listen live to Sivaraman playing the Mridanga in accompaniment to the Violin duo of Mysore Nagaraj and Mysore MaUKSivaramannjunath.  It was deeply moving to see so many people surrounding the artistes and not leaving a single empty spot anywhere near the stage, not even on the stairs next to the shaamiyaana (see photo).  Musicians and general connoisseurs alike, all were in awe of Sivaraman, the 80 year old teenager, who was in complete control of the situation.

One of the hallmarks of Sivaraman is his sense of kaala pramaaNa (tempo of a taaLa).  The clarity in his furn play is almost unmatched by any other living artiste.   I guess I could go on.  But, I think the occasion that day was more to do with feeling lucky that we witnessed an artiste of outstanding merit.   After the concert Sivaraman spoke for a few minutes and attributed his success as a Mridanga artiste to five elements (pancha bhoota).  He said and I quote “I bow to the five elements, to the almighty, to my parents, to my illustrious teachers, to sringeri sankaraachaarya, and the great musicians of the 20th century who gave me opportunities to come up the ladder of name and fame in this field”.

Sivaraman was studious during the concert and naughty afterwards.  During the valedictory address Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma (Shivu) remarked that Sivaraman was 19 years old and would play the instrument for a 5 hour concert next year.  Sivaraman laughed and quipped “ask my wife!”  He looked free.  He was playful.

Most musicians follow a bell shaped curve in their career.  They get better during the early part of their career and then decline after a certain age.  Some rare artistes blossom very late in their lives while some unfortunate artistes start on a high note but never scale those heights again.   Only a few we know follow the path of a musical instrument and get better and better as they get older and they stay…

ನರ ಜನ್ಮ ಬಂದಾಗ, ನಾಲಿಗೆ ಇರುವಾಗ

Ariyakudi-Semmangudi-Rudrapatna-2ಯಾವುದೇ ಕಾರ್ಯ ಕ್ಷೇತ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ ಹಿಮಾಲಯದ ಎತ್ತರಕ್ಕೆ ನಿಲ್ಲುವ ಮಹಾನ್ ವ್ಯಕಿತ್ವ, ಪ್ರತಿಭೆಗಳು ಒಂದು ಶತಮಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ನಾಲ್ಕೈದು ಮಂದಿ ಸಿಕ್ಕರೆ ಹೆಚ್ಚು.  ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಸಂಗೀತದಲ್ಲಿ ಅಂತಹ ಎತ್ತರಕ್ಕೆ ಸಂದವರಲ್ಲಿ ಒಬ್ಬರು ವಿದ್ವಾನ್ ಆರ್ ಕೆ ಶ್ರೀಕಂಠನ್.  ಕಳೆದ ತಿಂಗಳು ಅವರ ನಿಧನದ ಸುದ್ದಿ ತಿಳಿದ ಮೇಲೆ ಅವರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಬೇಕಾದಷ್ಟು ಬಂತು.  ಅವರ ಶಿಷ್ಯ ಸಮುದಾಯ ಅವರಿಗೆ ಭಾವಪೂರ್ಣ ಶ್ರದ್ಧಾಂಜಲಿಯನ್ನು ಅರ್ಪಿಸಿದ್ದೂ ಆಯಿತು.  ಆದ ಕಾರಣ ನಾನು ಅವರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಹೆಚ್ಚು ವಿವರವಾಗಿ ಬರೆಯುವ ಅಗತ್ಯವಿಲ್ಲ.  ನನ್ನ ಉದ್ದೇಶ ಅದಲ್ಲ.  ನನ್ನ ಕೌತುಕಕ್ಕೆ ಕಾರಣ ಅವರ ವಿದ್ವತ್ತಲ್ಲ. ಅವರ ಇಂಗದ ಹಸಿವು.  ಅದನ್ನು ಆಸೆಯೆಂದೂ ಕರೆಯಬಹುದೇನೋ. ಆ ಹಸಿವು ಇದ್ದಿದ್ದರಿಂದಲೇ ಅವರು ಆ ಎತ್ತರೆಕ್ಕೆ ಬೆಳೆದರು ಎಂಬುದು ಒಪ್ಪಬೇಕಾದ ವಿಚಾರ.  ಅಷ್ಟು ಎತ್ತರಕ್ಕೆ ಹೋದ ಮೇಲೂ ಅಂಥ ಸಾಧಕರಿಗೆ ಇನ್ನೂ ಎತ್ತರಕ್ಕೆ ಬೆಳೆಯಬೇಕೆಂಬ ಹಂಬಲ ಇರುತ್ತದಲ್ಲಾ?  ಅದು ಹೇಗೆ ಸಾಧ್ಯ?  ಮನುಷ್ಯನಿಗೆ ಒಂದು ವಯಸ್ಸಾದ ಮೇಲೆ, ಆತ  ಯಾವುದೇ ಸಾಧನೆ ಮಾಡಿದ್ದರೆ ಅದರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಸಮಾಜ ತೋರುವ ಅಕ್ಕರೆ ಮತ್ತು ಕೃತಜ್ಞತೆಯಿಂದ ಬಹಳಷ್ಟು ಬಾರಿ ಆ ಸಾಧನೆ ಅಲ್ಲಿಗೇ ತೃಪ್ತಿ ಹೊಂದುವುದೂ ಸಹಜ.  ಅಂತಹ ತೃಪ್ತಿಗೆ ಅವಕಾಶವಿದ್ದಾಗ್ಯೂ ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ಸೋಲದೇ ಇರುವುದು ಹೇಗೆ?

ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಸಂಗೀತದಲ್ಲಿ ದೊಡ್ಡ ಹೆಸರು ಗಳಿಸಿದ ಮೇಲೂ, ವಯಸ್ಸು ೮೦ ದಾಟಿದರೂ ಯಾವ ಸಣ್ಣ ಸಂಗೀತ ಸಭೆ ಕಛೇರಿ ಏರ್ಪಡಿಸಿ ಕರೆದರೂ ಶ್ರದ್ಧೆಯಿಂದ ಕಾರ್ಯಕ್ರಮ ನಡೆಸಿಕೊಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದವರು  ವಿದ್ವಾನ್ ಆರ್ ಕೆ ಶ್ರೀಕಂಠನ್. ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನ ಒಂದು ಹಳೆ ಬಡಾವಣೆಯಲ್ಲಿ  ೬೦ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ವಾರ್ಷಿಕ ತ್ಯಾಗರಾಜ, ಪುರಂದರ ಮತ್ತು ಕನಕ ದಾಸರ ಆರಾಧನೆಯನ್ನು ನಡೆಸುತ್ತಿರುವ ಸಣ್ಣ ಸಂಗೀತ ಸಭೆಯೊಂದಿದೆ.  ಆ ಅರವತ್ತು ವರ್ಷಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಸುಮಾರು ನಾಲ್ವತ್ತು ವರ್ಷಗಳು ಒಮ್ಮೆಯೂ ತಪ್ಪಿಸದೇ ಕಛೇರಿ ನಡೆಸಿಕೊಟ್ಟಿದ್ದ ಹೆಗ್ಗಳಿಕೆ ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅವರದ್ದು. ಕಾರ್ಯಕ್ರಮಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಜಮಖಾನ ಹಾಕುವ, ಕಲಾವಿದರು ಬಂದಾಗ ಅವರ ವಾದ್ಯಗಳನ್ನು ವೇದಿಕೆಗೆ ಹೊತ್ತೊಯ್ಯುವ, ಧ್ವನಿವರ್ಧಕದವರಿಗೆ ಕಾಫಿ-ಟೀ ಒದಗುಸಿವ ಕೆಲಸ ನೋಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಿದ ಪ್ರಾಥಮಿಕ ಶಾಲೆಯ ಹುಡುಗನಾಗಿದ್ದ  ನನಗೆ  ೧೯೯೦ ರ ದಶಕದಲ್ಲಿ ಸುಮಾರು ಹತ್ತು ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಕಾಲ ಪ್ರತಿ ವರ್ಷವೂ ತಪ್ಪದೆ ಒಮ್ಮೆ ಆರ್ ಕೆ ಶ್ರೀಕಂಠನ್ ಅವರನ್ನು ಹತ್ತಿರದಿಂದ ಕಾಣುವ ಅವಕಾಶ ಸಿಕ್ಕಿತ್ತು.  ಆ ದೊಡ್ಡ ಹೆಸರು ನಮ್ಮ ಅರಳಿಕಟ್ಟೆಯ ದೇವಸ್ಥಾನದ ಸಣ್ಣ ವೇದಿಕೆಯ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ತೋರಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ಅಭಿಮಾನ ಅವರಲ್ಲಿ ನನಗೆ ಬೆಳೆದ ವಿಶೇಷ ಅಭಿಮಾನಕ್ಕೆ ಕಾರಣವಾಯ್ತು.

ನಾನು ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅವರ ಸಂದರ್ಶನಗಳಲ್ಯಾವುವಾದರೂ ಸಿಗುತ್ತವೇನೋ ಎಂದು ಅಂತರ್ಜಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಹುಡುಕುತ್ತಿದ್ದಾಗ ಸೆಮ್ಮಂಗುಡಿ ಶ್ರೀನಿವಾಸ ಅಯ್ಯರ್ ಅವರು ಫ್ರಂಟ್-ಲೈನ್ ಪಾಕ್ಷಿಕ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಗೆ ೧೯೯೮ ರಲ್ಲಿ ನೀಡಿದ್ದ ಸಂದರ್ಶನ ಸಿಕ್ಕಿತು.  ಆ ದೀರ್ಘ ಮಾತುಕತೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಸೆಮ್ಮಂಗುಡಿ ಅವರು “ಅಕಸ್ಮಾತ್ ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಜನ್ಮ ಇದ್ದರೆ ನಾನು ಅರಿಯಾಕ್ಕುಡಿ ಅವರಂತೆ ಹಾಡಬೇಕು” ಎಂದಿರುವುದು ದಾಖಲಾಗಿದೆ.  ಅದನ್ನು ಓದಿದ ನನಗೆ ನನ್ನ ಮೃದಂಗದ ಗುರುಗಳು ಹೇಳಿದ್ದ ಸಂಗತಿಯೊಂದು ಜ್ಞಾಪಕಕ್ಕೆ ಬಂತು. ಅವರು ಪಾಠ ಮಾಡುವಾಗ ಯಾವುದೋ ಕಾರಣಕ್ಕೆ ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅವರ ಪ್ರಸ್ತಾಪ ಬಂತು.  ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅವರಿಗೆ ಇಳಿ ವಯಸ್ಸಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಹೃದಯ ಶಸ್ತ್ರ ಚಿಕಿತ್ಸೆ ಆದ ಮೇಲೆ ಅವರ ಸಂಗೀತದ ಶುದ್ಧಿ ಹೇಗೆ ಇನ್ನಷ್ಟು ದೈವತ್ವವನ್ನು ಪಡೆದಂತಾಗಿದೆಯಲ್ಲ ಎಂದು ನನ್ನ ಗುರುಗಳು ಗೌರವಪೂರ್ಣ ಆಶ್ಚರ್ಯ ವ್ಯಕ್ತ ಪಡಿಸುತ್ತಾ ಘಟನೆಯೊಂದನ್ನು ನೆನಪಿಸಿಕೊಂಡರು.  ಗುರುಗಳ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರೊಬ್ಬರು ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅವರನ್ನು ನೋಡಲು ಅವರ ಮನೆಗೆ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದಾಗ  ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅವರ ಓದಿನ ಕೋಣೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅರಿಯಾಕ್ಕುಡಿ ರಾಮಾನುಜ ಅಯ್ಯಂಗಾರ್ಯರ ಛಾಯಾಚಿತ್ರವೊಂದಿತ್ತಂತೆ.  ಅದನ್ನು ತೋರಿಸಿ ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ “ನನಗೆ ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಜನ್ಮ ಅಂತ ಏನಾದರೂ ಇದ್ದರೆ ಅರಿಯಾಕ್ಕುಡಿ ಅವರಂತೆ ಹಾಡಬೇಕೆಂಬ ಹಂಬಲವಿದೆ” ಎಂದಿದ್ದರಂತೆ.  ಅರಿಯಾಕ್ಕುಡಿ ಅವರು  ಸೆಮ್ಮಂಗುಡಿ ಅವರಿಗಿಂತ ೧೮ ವರ್ಷ ದೊಡ್ದವರು.  ಅದೇ ರೀತಿ ಸೆಮ್ಮಂಗುಡಿ ಅವರು  ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅವರಿಗಿಂತ ೧೨ ವರ್ಷ ದೊಡ್ಡವರು.  ಇಪ್ಪತ್ತನೇ ಶತಮಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ಅರಿಯಾಕ್ಕುಡಿ ಅವರು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸದ ಸಂಗೀತಗಾರರು ಯಾರೂ ಇರಲಿಲ್ಲ ಎನ್ನುವುದು ನಿಜವೇ.

ಒಬ್ಬ ದೊಡ್ಡ ಸಾಧಕನಾದ ಮೇಲೆ ಕಲಾವಿದನಿಗೆ ಗುರುಸ್ಥಾನ ಪ್ರಾಪ್ತಿಯಾಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಆದರೆ ಗುರುಸ್ಥಾನಕ್ಕೆ ಯೋಗ್ಯವಾದ ನಡವಳಿಕೆ ಎಲ್ಲರಲ್ಲೂ ಕಂಡುಬರುವುದಿಲ್ಲ.  ಆದರೆ ಸೆಮ್ಮಂಗುಡಿ ಮತ್ತು ಆರ್ಕೆಶ್ರೀ ಅಂಥವರು ನಿಜವಾಗಿಯೂ ಗುರುಸದೃಶರಾಗುತ್ತಾರೆ.  ಅವರು ತಮ್ಮೊಳಗಿನ ಶಿಷ್ಯನನ್ನು ಕಡೆಯವರೆಗೂ ಎಚ್ಚರವಾಗಿರಿಸಿದ್ದೂ ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ಕಾರಣ.  ಪರ್ವತಗಳಿಗೂ ಎತ್ತರಕ್ಕೇರುವ ಆಸೆ ಇದ್ದೇ ಇರುತ್ತದೆ.   ಹಿಮಾಲಯವು ಇನ್ನೂ ಬೆಳೆಯುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದೆಯಲ್ಲ…

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everlasting hunger 

It is true that most people have an intention to do better than ‘just okay’ in whatever they do in their lives.  However, only a handful of people scale the heights of Himalayas (figuratively) in their chosen field.  In the last century one might find a handful of Carnatic musicians who fulfil the stringent criteria for greatness.  One of them was Vid R K Srikantan (1920-2014), who passed way last month at the age of 94.  Many touching tributes were published in newspapers.  I do not have to repeat his biography here.  My interest in RKS the person and musician is not due to his towering accomplishment in music rather it was due to my fascination towards his unfathomable hunger.  No doubt that his hunger for knowledge and success drove him to the heights that he scaled.  But, often we have seen how all the love and adoration from the artiste’s peers and the society at large would breed an urge to rest, especially after a person crosses a certain age.  People like RKS do not do that.  What could be the secret of their recipe?

Even after becoming star name in Carnatic music, even after becoming an octogenarian, R K Srikantan continued to honour his long standing relationship with small-town music societies all across Karnataka.  He did not say no to a concert.   I had the good fortune meeting him once every year during his annual concert (in the 1990s) at an old music sabha in sub-urban Bangalore.

I was searching for a transcript of an interview of R K Srikantan that was telecast on Doordarshan around 10 years ago.  I came across an interview of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908-2009) published in the magazine Frontline in 1998.  In that interview Semmangudi had said that if he were to reborn as a human being, he wished he could sing like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar (1890-1974).  After reading that I recollected an incident my mridanga teacher had shared with me some years ago.  My teacher had told me about a friend of his who had gone to visit R K Srikantan at his home.  In his living room RKS had a photograph of Ariyakudi.  Pointing to the photo RKS had reportedly said that if he had another chance (afterlife) to become a musician he wished to sing like Ariyakudi.  There is no doubt that Ariyakudi had influenced three generations of musicians in the 20th century and none more so than Semmangudi and RKS.

An artiste after doing the hard-yards and reaching a certain stage in his/her pursuit automatically obtains the authority of a teacher in his/her field.  However, not all possess and display the qualities befitting of a teacher.  Genuinely great teachers (people like RKS) will always aspire to get better and keep the student within them alive.  The Himalaya could be the highest mountain range in the world but it is still growing.

Pu Ti Narasimhachar (PuTiNa): Dreams and Carnatic Music (Part 2)

ಪು ತಿ ನರಸಿಂಹಾಚಾರ್ (1905-1998) photo courtesy: MNMurthy
ಪು ತಿ ನರಸಿಂಹಾಚಾರ್ (1905-1998)
photo courtesy: M N Murthy

PuTiNa and many of his contemporaries wrote lyrical poems (ballads) that followed the traditions of classical music (vaaggEyakaara  tradition).  Those poems were intended to be sung and sung in a prescribed raaga (set of musical notations).  PuTiNa was the most successful of his contemporaries who attempted to compose musical ballads that had a base in carnatic classical tradition.   He used to say that when he was composing a poem he used to often think in abstract root forms of sound (ಧಾತು, dhaatu) which would gradually take the shape of words (ಮಾತು, maatu).   He dreamt of those abstract musical forms oscillating in symphony.  He would wake up startled and try to describe what he saw in words, as if trying to catch a mystical ephemeral fish with a tardy verbal net.  He may catch it or he may fail.  All in all, his poems had their origin in abstract forms of musical sound.

Something similar could be said about the poetry of Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre (ದ ರಾ ಬೇಂದ್ರೆ; 1896-1981).  However, there are important differences between the musical vision of PuTiNa and that of Bendre.  For Bendre musical sounds were symbols.  They had no meaning.  If you try to find meaning in some of Bendre’s words (from his poems), you wouldn’t find any.  He rejected meaning.  It seemed as though he was describing something through a poem but at the end, he would say it was something else. After a lengthy and beautifully engaging narrative, Bendre would point towards something that is beyond what he described until then.  His description of an event, a thing, a thought would culminate in not perceiving it as just that event or a thing or a thought.  Meaning manifested itself beyond his descriptions.  Bendre’s was a distinguished musical wizardry.   PuTiNa was not like Bendre.  PuTiNa was more of a devotee, a devotee of musical worship.   He was very good at it.  Doreswamy Iyengar (ದೊರೆಸ್ವಾಮಿ ಅಯ್ಯಂಗಾರ್; 1920-1997; a colossus of Mysore veena tradition), a friend of PuTiNa, used to examine PuTiNa’s compositions.  Doreswamy Iyengar would remark “how did you come up with this unique movement?  So far, no one has attempted such a thing in this raaga(check: foot note). PuTiNa used to explain his attempts to catch the musical movements of his dreams.  Unfortunately, limitations in his singing abilities would obstruct his enthusiasm.  We had to imagine his imaginations through his bodily mannerisms as he tried to explain his dreams.  How could we, mere laymen, understand what he meant?

PuTiNa had a special longing for Carnatic music.  As I said earlier, he was a devotee of musical worship.  Not any music…it had to be in pure classical tradition.  You might be surprised to know that PuTiNa had no particular liking for folk music.  He had once said that folk music could not create something of the highest order……”one that repeated itself could not accomplish recreation”.  As we know, repetitions are typical of folk music.  PuTiNa’s stand on folk music could create a dangerous controversy in today’s musical discourse.  PuTiNa did not like other forms of music such as light-music (cinema) and music linked to dancing.  When accomplished theater-director B V Karanth (ಬಿ ವಿ ಕಾರಂತ; 1929-2002) produced and directed PuTiNa’s master piece ‘Gokula Nirgamana’ (ಗೋಕುಲ ನಿರ್ಗಮನ), the whole state of Karnataka was singing BVK’s praises.  All of us were so happy that a difficult ballad had been so successfully adapted for a stage performance that too under the guidance of B V Karanth. However, PuTiNa was the sole person left unhappy in the end.   I remember the day I watched the theater performance.  It was in Suchitra Kala Kendra in Banashankari (Bangalore).  I had to stand behind the back row to watch the play as the theater was jam-packed.  There were two important personalities sitting next to each other in the front row.  One of course was PuTiNa and the other was Doreswamy Iyengar.  They were chatting, making some gestures to each other continuously through the play and that was enough to make me doubt their verdict.  I met PuTiNa the morning after and remarked how wonderful the play was.  He lamented that the play won but his music had lost.  He was deeply pained by the fact that B V Karanth had not retained the musical score set by him in its original classical form.

Let me tell you another incident that shows how PuTiNa did not like non-classical music.  C Ashwath (ಸಿ. ಅಶ್ವತ್ಥ; 1936-2009), a famous voice in Kannada folk music, once came to me and asked whether I could arrange a meeting between PuTiNa and him. It was Ashwath’s wish to sing and produce recordings of some of the more famous ballads composed by PuTiNa and he wanted to obtain the poet’s permission.  Ashwath and I went to meet PuTiNa.  PuTiNa welcomed Ashwath and asked him to sing one of his trademark versions of a folk song and patted him saying it was very good.  Ashwath came to the point.  He requested PuTiNa’s permission to produce recordings of his compositions. PuTiNa agreed straight away and told him to sing some of his early poems (poems that were inspired by PuTiNa’s stint in the Indian army).   Ashwath was taken aback.  He was asking permission to sing lyrical ballads and PuTiNa had songs for cadet march-past to offer.   Ashwath was deeply disappointed.

After PuTiNa’s passing away (in the year 1998), a trust was formed in his name.  The PuTiNa trust wanted to preserve and promote PuTiNa’s classical compositions in their original form.  They commissioned a recording of selected works of PuTiNa and the responsibility was given to D Balakrishna (the son of Doreswamy Iyengar), an accomplished veena artiste himself.  His team came out with an outstanding collection called Raaga RaagiNi.  It was a special tribute to PuTiNa, a tribute that he would have loved.  But, no one knows today that a recording by the name Raaga RaagiNi ever existed.  What do people know?  People know that there was a CD named Honala HaaDu, comprising some of the same compositions, produced by C Ashwath!   After PuTiNa’s demise, the PuTiNa trust did not stop with Raaga RaagiNi.  It also approached Ashwath and requested him to produce Honala HaaDu, a proposal PuTiNa had not liked.  Ashwath’s recordings became very popular and to his credit he reconnected the poet with the masses.  Ashwath was satisfied and felt that if PuTiNa were to listen to Honala HaaDu, he might have changed his original stance.  However, I have my doubts.  If I know PuTiNa, I could say that he couldn’t be satisfied with anything other than Carnatic classical music.

I wish to conclude with one final anecdote.  One day I had been to PuTiNa’s home.  I announced that it was me, Venkatesha Murthy, who had come to see him (PuTiNa’s eye sight was not good in his late years).  He was pleased.  He asked me to sit down.  He told me that he had not slept for the whole of previous night.  I asked him why.  He showed his helplessness regarding his dreams.  He said “that woman…that woman had come again to disturb my sleep”.  What?  A woman disturbing PuTiNa’s sleep in his ripe old age?  I asked him rather mischievously “sir, who is that gorgeous lady? Give her address to me”.  He declared that she was not in the reach of people like him and me.  It was Urvashi, a mythological figure, one of the most beautiful women from the heavens.  She would come to him every night in his dream to remind him to complete an incomplete work about her.  At the time, PuTiNa was writing a play titled as Urvashi and she was dragging her feet.  She was pushing him to complete the play.  This was PuTiNa.  To him, everything in this world was natural and real.  Every imagination was real.  Everything about him was pure.  He once lived amongst us.  We were fortunate to spend some time with him.  It has been a pleasure to remember him today.

ಎಚ್.ಎಸ್. ವೆಂಕಟೇಶ ಮೂರ್ತಿ photo courtesy:  avadhi
ಎಚ್.ಎಸ್. ವೆಂಕಟೇಶ ಮೂರ್ತಿ
photo courtesy: avadhi

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This is the second and final part of an English translation of a speech in Kannada delivered by poet H S Venkatesha Murthy during a PuTiNa memorial function held in Bangalore in the year 2011.  I was lucky to be there in the audience.

you can read the first part here  Pu Ti Narasimhachar (PuTiNa): a tribute by his pupil H S Venkatesha Murthy (Part 1)

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Foot note:  It is useful here to remind the reader that Carnatic music is as much extemporaneous as it is set in stone by the great composers.  An accomplished musician might seem as though s/he is exploring a raaga with their innate imagination.  There is a lot of personal tuning that goes into it. However, in reality, their imagination is fueled by the established musical movements already experimented in some form in some composition by some composer in the history of Carnatic music.  It takes a special talent to better something that is already improved close to perfection.  Of course there is scope, because being very close to perfection is not equivalent to being perfect.