Pedagogical aspects of manodharma

PEDAGOGICAL ASPECTS OF MANODHARMA SANGITAM IN KARNATIC CLASSICAL MUSIC. By Dr. K. Kanaka Durga. [First published in November 2022. Blue Rose Publishers. Pp. 246. Rs. 772. ISBN: 978-93-5611-119-6].

Manodharma is an essential part of a successful concert performance and every aspiring musician must become proficient in the various aspects of manodharma sangeeta. What exactly is this manodharma sangeeta? While Prof. Sambamoorthy describes it as ‘on the spot creation’, M.B. Vedavalli says that it is “singing without any previous thought,” and T.M. Krishna defines it as extempore rendition. However, everyone agrees that it is not possible to exhibit manodharma or creative exposition without prior practice or preparation. This is what prompted the author to study and research on the pedagogical aspects of manodharma and see how individuals can acquire it. K. Kanaka Durga has, in the course of her research, looked at several books and interviewed many musicians and music teachers to find out about their teaching method. She has also provided links to some audio excerpts. While the teaching of Carnatic music is largely based on the individual guru’s style of teaching and singing, learning of manodharma is based on the individual student’s aptitude and effort and guidance under the right guru.

Her doctoral thesis has taken the form of this book so that it may reach several students of music and musicians. She has listed several books that have reference to manodharma sangeeta and this will be invaluable for students pursuing research. She has talked about the scope of her work and the methodology used. She has combined primary sources such as interviews of musicians and secondary sources like journals, magazines and books apart from collecting audio material. She has also relied on some websites for information, particularly N. Ramanathan’s and the Music Academy Madras website, While reviewing the literature on music education, she lists those with a broad framework of Carnatic music, before going into works on the different aspects of manodharma. These books are not chronologically listed but arranged based on the reference material cited. For each of the books, the name of the author is mentioned, and the key thoughts are explained in brief. Some of the books referred to are Ganabhaskaramu by K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar, The teaching of Music by Prof. Sambamoorthy and Institutional Teaching System of Carnatic Music by T. Unnikrishnan of Khairagarh University.

She has also mentioned articles in journals citing Carnatic music and university education by N. Ranganathan, which is an article published in the Sruti magazine in 2008 discussing the evolution of music education in the universities of India. For literature on manodharma sangeeta, some of the books referred to are Raga alapana in South Indian Music by T. Viswanathan of Wesleyan University, Patterns in tanam passages and their present-day applications by V. Premalatha and Shaping of an ideal Carnatic Musician through sadhana by Pantula Rama. She has also referred to Sangita Sampradayam Vol I and II with a collection of essays on Carnatic music written by R. Vedavalli. She goes on to look at the actual process of learning and teaching Carnatic music by interviewing several artists. Here she speaks of raga alapana through listening, observation and analysis. Vidwan K.V. Narayanaswamy (KVN) learnt that way from Palghat Mani Iyer. Though he was a percussionist, Mani Iyer provided the initial training in vocal music for KVN. Lalgudi G. Jayaraman learnt from his father though keen observation, rigorous training and also by imitation.

Sometimes raga alapanas were taught by repetition of phrases, sometimes by observation and internalisation. Although manodharma is impromptu presentation, learning compositions in the ragas helps in understanding the movement of the ragas and appropriate phrases. Kalpita sangeeta can lay the foundation for manodharma. Kanaka Durga gives audio excerpts as well as writes about what musicians have shared on this subject. In chapter five, she deals elaborately on developing basic skills in Carnatic music including mastering tala and laya, sruti alignment, swara sadhana, gamakas and kalapramana. Each of these topics is vast and may warrant a separate thesis. After gamakas, there is a section on voice culture, common voice problems and their remedies, vocal range, flexibility and breath control, enunciation and placement of vowels. She elaborates on each of these aspects of voice production. While a good voice is essential for a successful performer, its relevance in pedagogical 65 l SRUTI June 2023 aspects of manodharma sangeeta is questionable.

She has interviewed several musicians and gathered information from them about various aspects of manodharma. This information has been organised and collated and details are included in the book. She also includes the views of musicians and how different schools approach raga alapana and elaborates on some of those. Similarly views of musicians on swarakalpana, niraval and tana are included. Certain terms like poruttam, teermanam, sthanantara prastaramu are explained as advanced techniques of swarakalpana. One important aspect that could have been touched upon, is what is gained or lost in manodharma sangeeta, given that music is an oral tradition and is passed on in a linear fashion from guru to sishya. The next chapter is on the importance of practice and presentation. Here the value, skill and expertise of the individual musician comes into play. Each artist must practice regularly to keep the voice in shape and also develop physical and mental stamina. In the final chapter the researcher lists her findings.

She mentions that attention has to be paid to detail for all the nine aspects listed which includes sruti, swara, tala, laya, raga, voice culture, learn and listen, composition, practice and perform. These nine aspects are found on the cover of the book highlighting the crux of her thesis. According to her, teachers should draw the attention of students to the importance of compositions and prod them to practice and perfect the lessons. The appendices include a comparative study of artist responses to her questionnaire, in a tabular form. There is also a table of the artists interviewed. Photocopies of selected pages from earlier literature, mainly in Telugu, have been included. An example of the Kalyani varnam that may be practiced with different eduppus is given. Good artists are recognised for their knowledge of music and the ability to weave excellent manodharma and create a magical atmosphere. They then become vidwans and vidushis, and are respected for their art.

The vast bibliography is testimony to the amount of reading and effort that has gone into the research work. This effort at writing on the pedagogical aspects of manodharma is commendable. This will definitely be of great help to other students of research. Pedagogy is a slow yet dynamic process particularly when it comes to manodharma. Kanaka Durga shares a verse from the Apasthambha Dharmasutra which describes how learning takes place. A quarter is learnt from the teacher, a quarter through one’s own intelligence, a quarter from fellow students and another quarter over a period of time. These lines actually sum up the entire learning process.


Sumathi Krishnan

(A musician and musicologist)