Bull's Eye - An Opinion Column on Music


I have often asked myself the question: "What do I get from a Tyagaraja or Dikshitar kriti that I do not get elsewhere? It cannot be the exposition of Advaita or the quintessence of the puranas or slokas. These I can easily get from religious books and discourses. What I mean is, in a kriti of Tyagaraja or any other composer, I look for a musical experience. I look for raga-rasa and nada silpa. Although the sahitya conveys these, it alone can not be equated with the kriti.

In other words, a composition is not just the words. Strangely enough, in Carnatic music, far greater attention is paid to sahitya (matu) than the music or varna mettu (dhatu). I do agree that the sahitya should be fully grasped and no apasabda uttered; but why is it that a change in sahitya is regarded as blasphemy whereas the music is changed with abandon? New ways of rendering kriti-s are employed not only when the original music is lost but even when it is available in karnaparampara or the oral tradition. In Hindustani music, this cannot happen. The listeners are aware of the paddhati of the cheez (composition) and no compromise for the performer or sabha rakti is tolerated. For example, a vilambit khayal or dhrupad is never rendered fast for the sake of 'viruviruppu' (vivacity or briskness) or audience titillation. While speaking of changes effected in the music of compositions, an interesting phenomenon must be mentioned. In Carnatic music, 40 kriti-s are often 'Tyagarajaised'!

This is probably due to the raktigenerating quality of Tyagaraja's madhyamakala sangati-s. Th e kriti-s of other composers, including those of Dikshitar, are reduced to Tyagaraja's musical idiom. Why, sangati-s are added even to Tyagaraja's kriti-s to suit the voice of the performer! If even Dikshitar's kriti-s are altered mercilessly, who can complain if the compositions of Annamacharya, Ramadasa or Purandaradasa are rendered like the medium tempo compositions of Tyagaraja? So are the kriti-s of Mysore Sadasiva Rayar and Periasami Thooran. They all sound alike, except for adjustments to the individual style of the performer. This tendency is wreaking havoc on the musical content of vaggeyakara's compositions and must be checked. It is very important to preserve padantara from karnaparampara so that a kriti, whether it is sung in Madurai or Mysore, has its original musical content. Are not Beethoven's symphonies rendered in essentially the same way all over the world? T h e unwelcome tendency has particularly affected the compositions of saints like Purandaradasa.

Their sahitya-s are set to music by the performer in a way to compliment his or her own genius and the rasikas are mor e than satisfied because they have heard the inspiring lyric, upanishadic and full of moral injunctions. Actually, the bulk of Dasakuta compositions deserve simplicity of rendering in the bhajana paddhati. The y satisfy a gana ruchi or musical taste quite different from that of the kriti-s of the Trinity. Set in popular raga-s and simple tala-s, their force is realized fully only when the rendering is unadorned. Sung after the pallavi in a concert, a Purandaradasa composition can express sahitya bhava emotionally with bhakti and without sangati-s.

Let it be re remembered that Purandaradasa was a vaggeyakara and not a mer e bhakta expounding the philosophy of Madhvacharya. Unfortunately, Dasakuta followers had dismally poor training in classical music and were better able to preserve Purandaradasa's bhakti through sahitya than his music. However, notated versions of a few of his suladi-s are available, while a Sanskrit treatise called Sangita Saramritam of Thulajaji of Tanjavur provides the prayoga-s of suladi-s and the earlier thayam-s. His lakshana gitam-s are hard to trace, though sorne lakshya gitam-s are aVailable. These deserve careful study and preservation. If the music of Dasara Padagalu is to be preserved, renderings following the Dasakuta bhajana paddhati must be recorded before they are totally lost. Once the music preserved only in oral tradition is forgotten, there is no way of reviving it through sahitya alone. In the creations of vaggeyakara-s, music is the soul and sahitya only the body.