A Veteran's Observation And Insight
Carnatic classical music is raga- and tala-based. Just as
'Aham brahmasmi' of Advaita philosophy is the culmination of all philosophical
thought, ragabased music is the ultimate in sound architecture. Seven swara-s
in 12 swarasthana-s (pitches) are the basis of all the musics of the world.
Indian music has gone a step further and identified 22 in an octave and
enlarged the scope of raga delineation.
Picking up six or seven swara-s on a straight or curved pathway at a time and enriching them with microtones and semitones give the raga system a lot of scope for producing a variety of sound pitches.
Every raga has a distinctive personality or swaroopa. The musician must, in a recital, endeavour to chisel out in every item the swaroopa of the raga concered. In all the items especially in a kriti suite consisting of raga alapana, kriti, niraval and kalpana swara the personality of the raga must dominate; a mere sketch will not do. If the swaroopa is presented in all its grace and beauty, it is good music.
A kriti is nothing but a raga interpreted with the help of
sahitya within the framework of rhythm. Raga alapana is not unlike the
presentation of a glimpse of the ocean itself. Elaboration of a small stretch
of sahitya to bring out raga bhava is niraval. Swara kalpana highlights the
various swara sanchara-s with which the raga swaroopa is constructed. Vaggeyakara-s
like Tyagaraja and Dikshitar endeavoured to present several aspects of the
raga-s though their kriti-s.
Compositions through which the various raga-s are presented
in their splendour must be rated as 'great'. Other kriti-s which do not contain
musical substance merely exist as shrubs in a big forest.
Among the earliest music composers, Annamacharya and
Purandaradasa were the most prominent. They created the keertana form of
composition in which the opening lines were named pallavi and the rest were
called charana-s. Anupallavi was a later construction. We do not know when and
by whom anupallavi was innovated. In some of Dikshitar's compositions, the
anupallavi and charanam are compounded and named samashti charanam. Anubandham
containing chittaswara-s with or without sahitya were still later additions to
We are left with thousands of compositions of Purandaradasa
and Annamacharya without the musical structure originally conceived by the
composers, leaving us the only alternative of setting them to music in our own
way and singing them.
Compositions of the Music Trinity
vaggeyakara-s we call the Trinity were different. They were master musicians,
poets and great devotees. They lived like saints using music as a vehicle for
divine sadhana. Because they were gifted with musical genius and composing
ability, disciples from various corners of South India gathered around them,
learnt their compositions and propagated them.
Dikshitar's kriti-s are marvels of architectural beauty. They are a musician's paradise. They give plenty of scope for expression of all gamaka-s. The pattern of his kriti-s was all his own; sangati-s do not play an important role in it. As the kriti unfolds in a slow measure, the beauties of the raga dominate and the anubandham in medium tempo (as if to offer relief from the slow tempo) concludes the composition.
Dikshitar chose mainly slow speed for his compositions from
which the raga-s can be studied thoroughly, swara by swara. He exposed the
swaroopa of the various raga-s with finesse. Tyagaraja seemingly kept musicians
of all grades of ability in mind while he composed. His kriti-s n= include
those that can be rendered by beginners, as well as difficult ones that call
for a vidwan's skill to render them. On close observation one can isolate at
least 16 different patterns in Tyagaraja's kriti-s. One wonders if yet another
pattern can ever be devised.
Papanasam Sivan, the greatest composer of modern times, once
remarked: "Tyagaraja has laid a supreme highway; other composers can do
nothing more than tread that path." Tyagaraja was as great a composer as
he was a bhakta. Speaking about his spontaneous kriti-s, my guru used to say:
"Tyagaraja must have been toying with different raga-s, including rare and
unearthed ones, during his leisure time. Kriti-s flowed spontaneously during
the time he prayed and meditated. His sishya-s would quickly note down sahitya,
pallavi, anupallavi and charana with rough, quick notation. Tyagaraja would
then go through the piece, polish it and teach the students the finished
Syama Sastry composed fewer kriti-s than the other two of
the trinity, but he too was a great composer. He mastered and unravelled the
rhythmic beauties of Misra Chapu tala and presented what resembles Dikshitar's
but was not an imitation. Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastry wove the
subtleties of musical excellence into their compositions and they pushed forth
the frontiers of art music.
of good music
Raga-s have characteristic personalities which must be
brought out with the help of gamaka-s, tempo and proper timing of phrases. A
musician can be said to have done justice if he brings out the personality of
The quality of music declined when it began to be
commercialised. Sangeeta vidwan-s must be held responsible for the fall in
standards. Truly great musicians make the listening public rise to their
standards and not the other way around. Dedication, proper training, idealism
and hard work can help in the revival of standards.
Careful analysis of good music gives us some pointers that
should help in this revival. The general tendency in concerts today is to rush
at breakneck speed through all segments of a kriti suite— raga alapana,
presentation of the kriti, niraval and swaraprastara. This high speed negates
the very purpose of good music, which is to bring forth something that is
aesthetically beautiful. A slow, relaxed pace lends beauty and grace to the
movement of sound. It also lends dignity and rakti to the music presented. If
you run, how can you dance.
The duration of a concert is also a vital factor influencing
the quality of music in concerts. When the Madras Music Academy came into being
in 1928, its annual series was conducted in a pandal (a temporary enclosure not
unlike a circus tent). There were no microphones or loudspeakers. There was
only one performance a day, which usually spanned four hours and a half. Every
concert included a standard 4-kalai pallavi. Even veena and violin solo
performers were heard with rapt attention by a disciplined and interested
As time went on, performing musicians multiplied in numbers.
The duration of a concert came down to two hours and a half or even less. With
a number of kriti-s and other compositions included in each presentation, there
was little scope for leisurely delineation of raga-s or compositions, or for
Every raga can be divided into a number of phrases or sangati-s, which, when strung together, reveal its personality, its raga bhava. Every phrase must be rendered at a speed suited to the composition, not slower, not quicker. The sangati-s must also be rendered with proper gamaka-s. Slow-paced pieces offer a lot of scope for rendering the various gamakas with telling effect. Musicians who have a thorough grasp of the various gamaka-s will be able to generate raga bhava. Plain sanchara-swara combinations are also used during raga alapana. Some of these plain swara-s, if rendered with anuswara-s, lend fullness and weight to the phrases. Every sangati in raga alapana has got its own kala pramana. Any disturbance of this pace will alter the shape of the sangati and mar its effect.
The various aspects of raga alapana must also be rendered
with proper punctuation, for best results. The minute time pauses between
sangati-s constitute punctuation. Punctuation in music serves the same purpose
that it does in the recitation of prose or poetry in any language: it drives
home the message better. This aspect was best illustrated in Dhanammal's
veena-playing and Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu's violin-playing.
Weaving in of new designs and spontaneous improvisation is
called manodharma. It is this aspect of music that elevates a musician to high
ranks A kriti can be interpreted in different ways, deftly using gamaka-s and
anuswara-s, proper timing and punctuation. This flexibility when utilised
shrewdly makes music ever so fresh. When this is missing, you've only to listen
to a musician once to say you've heard it all. Models of swara kalpana are
found in tana varnam-s and the chittaswara-s of kriti-s. A mere rattling of
kalpita swara-s without a plan makes little sense. Swara-s must be woven into
attractive patterns, which bring out the true image of the raga. If, in
addition, mathematical matrices are woven in too, they are most welcome.
The purpose of any system of music is to create and portray
aesthetic beauty (sogasu). Paying attention to all the ingredients of good
music will enable gifted musicians to elevate music. Such music tugs at the
There is also a very delicate aspect of music: aarti, or
emotional supplication. In our music, words may reflect the bhakta in the
musician, while music reflects the artist in him. This is particularly the case
with the compositions of Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastry. Personally,
when I sing I keep before me only the immense possibilities the raga on hand
offers and aim at interpreting it. I may be a bhakta in my room of worship, but
I am a musician on the concert stage.
Among the items presented in a concert are varnam, kriti,
padam, javali and tillana. These are different in architectural design although
there is no fundamental difference insofar as the musical aspect is concerned.
A piece in slow tempo permits much more musical embellishment than a fastmoving
piece. A composition is like a vessel that can be filled with the quintessence
of a raga to its capacity. The kriti is a relatively small ship or a boat, but
the padam is a big vessel, like a tanker. The javali, on othe other hand, is
like a glass; or you may describe it as a pocket edition of the padam. They all
contain the same Ganga water.
If you run, can you dance?
Posing this question, Pinakapani refers to the tendency of many modern musicians to engage in high-speed singing and mathematical gimmicry and says: "It looks as if the fellow is singing at speed for the drummer. Then only good drummers will be fixed up for his concert tomorrow. You sing something which the drummer likes to play; then, if the drummer is invited for a concert, he would say: ‘ Invite him also, I will accompany him'. It is a mutual give-and-take. Things have come to this pass." Pinakapani made the same point, about the craze for speed, when he declared forcefully: "Speed is the cancer of music" which is the title of an interwiew-based article published in The Hindu of 22 November 1998.
Space for beauty
is between consonants
Ayyangar once demonstrated how Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer used to sing,
gamaka - laden, the line 'Agajalamuna' in the kriti Raghunayak in Hamsadhwani.
Pinakapani observed: "In the space that lies between two consonants, all
these phrases can be fitted in.
" Again, after demonstrating how the line 'Vasavadi
sakala' in Dikshitar's kriti Sree Subrahmanyaya in Kambhoji, Pinakapani commented:
"Look at the distance between one consonant and another. The interval is
meant to be filled with melody. Because Dikshitar was a vainika, he, more than
most vocalists knew what gamaka was. He composed his songs in slow tempo,
permitting gamaka-s, because that was the way he played on the veena."
"Quicken the pace", he said, "and you drive
They sang and they died
It is Pinakapani's lament that the heritage of the greats of
Carnatic music of the early part of the 20th century has not been preserved.
"You see, they sang and they died. Their music went to waste. Nobody
grasped it. They should have practised that wonderful style of singing and kept
it alive for the next generation. That they didn't do."
No straight lines
in Carnatic music
After demonstrating Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer's alapana
of Arabhi, Pinakapani commented: "Simple phrases do not come out of his
mouth. In everything there is some design and construction."
In Saveri, he said,
most singers only go up to shadja and then come down. Pinakapani contrasted
this with the opening line of Dikshitar'sSree Rajagopala, as rendered with
profuse gamaka-s by Mannargudi Rajagopala Pillai: "You should listen as he
dwells on the tara sthayi shadja. It is by a circuitous route that you arrive
at the beauty of a melody, not by a straight march through swara-s. The latter
will be like Veda parayana."
How much is too much?
When Pinakapani sang, laden with gamaka-s, the line
beginning with the words 'Emomo delpi' in a Kalyani javali, I said: "I suppose,
Sir, some would say this is too much?" Pinakapani replied: "I will
introduce as much beauty as I can. Judge for yourself which is too much. When
you sing it, perhaps I will say it is too little."
"Who is there to decide how much is just right, optimal?" he himself asked rhetorically and explained: "It all depends on the musician's capacity, and on the taste of the listener. Also, on the scope that the raga gives for development. All raga-s do not give so much scope. But most of the raga-s we use, they do permit such admirable, detailed treatment."
Dr. SRIPADA PINAKAPANI