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The stats on ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ indicated today was the day with the highest number of hits in the last 7+ years! A quick look showed most of the people were searching for the phrase “Kannada Rajyostava” reached my post from 3 years ago. It’s then I found that I never posted an audio of the Varna (my composition in Raga Madhuvanti) that I promised to do in that post.
Anyway, let me cut the chaff. A Varna is a musical composition that generally has a romantic theme, and the words go as a conversation between two friends, where in the nAyika is telling about her lover to her friend. Varnas are set to music such that they give a very good overview of the various musical phrases any given raga accommodates. Generally sung at the beginning of a concert in multiple speeds, a Varna is often employed by performers as a quick way of ‘getting to the form’ when on stage.
The lyrics of a large number of Varnas are in Telugu, but that does not mean there aren’t any Varnas with words in other languages such as Kannada, Tamizh or Samskrta. Since this is Kannada Rajyotsava, I am sharing a Varna I composed, with it’s sahitya lines in Kannada.
True to the style of Varnas, the lyrics stick to a romantic format. The Varna is in raga Madhuvanti, a northern import to Karnataka sangeeta, and is set to 2 kaLe Adi tALa. The lines are are inspired by a shloka of Bilvamangala in his classic Krishna Karna Karnamrta.
ಗೋಕುಲವೆಲ್ಲಾ ಕೊಳಲಿನ ಇನಿದನಿಯಲಿ ತುಂಬಿದನೇ ||
gOkulavellA koLalina inidaniyali tumbidanE
(Translation: He filled Gokula with the melodies his flute)
ಅನುಪಲ್ಲವಿ: ಆಕಳ ಮಂದೆಯ ಕಾಯುತ ಗೋಪಿಯರ ತಾನು ಗೆಲಿದನೇ || ಗೋಕುಲವೆಲ್ಲಾ||
AkaLa mandeya kAyuta gOpiyarellare gelidanE
(Translation: The cowherd, won over the hearts of all gopis)
ಚರಣ: ಮಾತೇ ಮಧುವಂತಿದೆ! ಸಖೀ, ಇವನ || ಮಾತೇ||
mAtE madhuvantide! sakhi ! ivana || mAte||
(Translation: His speech is like honey! Oh my dear!)
The charaNa line was totally my imagination, to include rAga name “madhuvanti” (technically called the ragamudre),
You can listen to a recording of the Varna, played on the flute by Vidwan Vijay Kannan:
For those of you interested in the notation, click the following links:
A-Varna-in-Madhuvanti (Kannada version)
A-Varna-in-Madhuvanti (Notation in English)
ಎಲ್ಲ ಕನ್ನಡಿಗರಿಗೂ ಕನ್ನಡ ರಾಜ್ಯೋತ್ಸವದ ಶುಭಾಶಯಗಳು!
Today, 10/2/2010 is the ninth day of Navaratri, which is celebrated as Mahanavami. The first eight days of Navaratri, the music compositions I posted were all about Parvati (or one of her forms). Since, Mahanavami s also the day when many people perform Saraswati pooja, I thought it would be very appropriate to share composition about Saraswati today.
The Sharada shrine in Shringeri, which dates back to Adi Shankara’s days is one of the most famous shrines of Saraswati. The temple is known for it’s grand celebration of Navaratri.
In one of my earlier posts this series I had mentioned how the term Veena was a term used to indicate any string instrument. Some sculptures of Saraswati show her playing a fret-less string instrument. The music compositionI am sharing today is also played on a Veena without frets. Known as Gotuvadya or Chitra Veena, this instrument is a close cousin of Vichitra Veena and Rudra Veena which are used in Hindustani system.
The composition starts with the words “Sarasiruhasanapriye” and praises the Goddess as one who is delighted by singing and Veena playing. It is a composition of Puliyur Doreswamy Iyer, a post Trinity composer ( and father of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and Ramaswamy Shivan).
This composition is in rAga nATa, which has been a popular raga for several centuries, and particularly considered an excellent raga to play tAna. No wonder the artist has preceded the composition with a short Alapa and tAna.
Today’s 9/27/2014. The fourth day of Navaratri. In the first three days of this Navaratri, I wrote about a music composition of Syama Sastry, Muttuswamy Dikshita and Tyagaraja, who are popularly called the Trinity of Karnataka Sangeeta and then shared with you links for those compositions being played on a “Veena”. And no prizes for guessing today’s post will be on similar lines!
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the British had taken over most of the princely states under their arms, only two major kingdoms had remained, albeit under reduced strength. The Wodeyars of Mysore and the Kings of Travencore ( Thiruvananthapuram) continued to be great patrons of music, dance and other art forms. In some cases, the rulers were artists themselves.
Thiruvanathapuram is well known for the chamber concerts at the Navaratri Mandapam, adjacent to the famed Padmanabhaswamy temple. A special feature feature of these concerts is that unlike most other concerts, the main item presented on each day of the music festival is known in advance. The artist of the day elaborates a composition of Maharaja Swathi Tirunal from what is called the Navarati kritis. Each of these compositions is in Samsktra and set in rakti ragas such as Bhairavi, Shankarabharana, Natakuranji, Kalyani etc. I’d written about these compositions earlier during a previous Navaratri series. You can read them here.
Maharaja Rama Varma is better known by his star name – Swathi Tirunal, In a short span of 33 years (1836- 1846 AD) he accomplished a lot musically. He was a Veena player as well. Unlike other composers who had their students spread the compositions across the country, his compositions remained known only in Kerala for quite some time. Also, for some of his compositions nothing but the raga and tALa names were known, and were tuned by later day musicians. In the 20th century his compositions become popular outside Kerala, and now have become a part of the standard concert repertoire.
Swathi Tirunal adapted some Hindustani ragas into Karnataka sangeeta as well – and thus the Raga Hamsanandi was born from Sohini. The composition I’m sharing today, pAhi jagajjanani is in this raga – Listen to this played on electric guitar by Abhay. The Guitar, although a western instrument falls in the class of what has been traditionally called a “Veena” in India.
Interestingly enough, Guitar Abhay has not changed the way the guitar is traditionally tuned. He is a student of Mandolin Shrinivas whom we lost recently. It’s but a sad coincidence, both Swathi Tirunal and U Shrinivas had short lives , but they sure have touched many hearts in their lifetime and will continue to do so much beyond their life time.
Now over to Guitar Abhay’s magical fingers, playing pAhi jagajjanani in rAga hamsAnandi:
Halebeedu is a little town in South Karnataka, famous for it’s twin temple- popularly known by the name Hoysaleshwara temple that enshrines two Shivalingas, called as Hoysaleshwara and Shantaleshwara. The town was the capital of the Hoysala dynasty that ruled parts of Southern Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu from 10th to early 14th century AD.
The old name of the town was Dorasamudra (ದೋರಸಮುದ್ರ / दोरसमुद्र). Although popular legend says the name came because of the enormous man made lake (tank) at the entry of the town (ದ್ವಾರ,dwAra), inscription evidence seems to point in another direction. The lake is actually from pre-Hoysala times, and was erected during the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva‘s reign. Dhruva is referred to as Dora (ದೋರ) in many inscriptions. The lake erected by King Dora was naturally called Dorasamudra. The name seems to gone out of vogue, and this place is known as Halebeedu (Old Place, literally). Right now it is not on the UNESCO list of places of world heritage, but may be nominated to the list soon. I consider this to be one of the Seven Wonders of India, nothing less! The temples are maintained rather nicely by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
However, we don’t see any relics of Rashtrakuta times in Halebeedu today. Inscriptions have long gone into some museums! But luckily we are left with several temples of the Hoysala times of which Hoysaleshwara is the largest and grandest. It is quite natural being the capital of the Hoysala country that this site was selected for this magnificent temple. The temple is said to have been damaged during Malik Kafur’s invasion in the year 1313AD. In spite of the damage, it is still the best Hoysala temple, and probably one of the best temple in terms of architecture.
Oh well, today I’m not writing much about the temple architecture – but would focus on the musicians of Halebeedu. The town being close to my hometown, I have visited this place several times and when I was looking at one of the pictures taken during a visit few years earlier, I was surprised to see a specific type of musical instrument in there and was rather intrigued by the looks of it. I wasn’t sure if the picture I had was one of the mutilated sculpture, and hence I could not come to any conclusion based on the picture. So when I revisited the temple few months ago, I made it a point to look at all those instruments and musicians from Halebeedu carefully.
Many of the sculptures that we find on the temple walls are of various Gods and Goddesses – and there are many that depict earthly, regular performing musicians. Hence we can make many inferences about the types of musical instruments being played in South India during those times. Of course, we have descriptions of various musical instruments in different texts of those times, but a visual representation is much better than a text describing anything , Right?
Here you can see a sculpture of Saraswathi – the Goddess of learning. She is normally depicted in a sitting posture, playing a Veena. Veena is a generic term for string instruments and there are different types of Veenas depending on their structure. In this sculpture, you can clearly see how Saraswathi is using the middle and the ring fingers on her right hand to pluck the strings and the fingers of the left hand to play on the fingerboard – which are true to this day on several Veenas in vogue. Due to the angle, we can’t see whether the fingerboard has frets or not. All this very well matches with how a Sitar or Saraswathi Veena is played today ( discounting the fact that these days Saraswathi Veena is played more laying flat rather than being at an angle), but for one important difference. I’ll come to that point when I comment about another sculpture down below. Oh, I forgot to mention that Saraswathi Veena is one of the types of Veenas played today. Other Veenas include instruments such as Sitar, Rudra Veena, Chitra Veena (also called Vichitra Veena) and Mohan Veena ( actually a modified sliding guitar).
I’m not sure if the following picture depicts an earthly musician or a celestial one, but you can seem him playing a Dhakka or a Muraja (a Damaru-like drum instrument). Anyone who has heard any of DVG’s songs on the beauties at the Belur temple ( another Hoysala marvel, I should say) would definitely recall the song ‘naTanavADidaL taruNi’ (ನಟನವಾಡಿದಳ್ ತರುಣಿ ) about the sculpture called murajAmOde (ಮುರಜಾಮೋದೆ ) refers to a danseuse playing this drum in one of the charaNas. This instrument is used even now with Kathakali music, in Kerala and it is called by the name Idakka . (I got this reference from my good friend Sankaranarayanan, Thanks Sankara!) The way the instrument is held by the player in the sculpture almost matches with how the Idakka is played these days. The sculpture is so life-like that you fail to notice that it is made of stone, can easliy take the twisted ropes to be real!
Now the following brings a few important points – Most Hoysala temples are built on a multiple-point star patterned basement. This type of structure provides a very large surface area for a given size of the temple. Apparently individual sculptures were made elsewhere, probably at the sculptor’s workshops and were set in place at the right places in temple walls. Here is one such corner where you see a musician ensemble. The lady on the left is playing a Veena , this time held in a different positon. It is now in a vertical position and you can see the frets clearly. This matches with the position how the Veena was played even as late as early 18th century. Indeed the construction of RudraVeena and the way it is held while playing today, almost matches with what is depicted in here, although the resonator in the sculpture seems to be much smaller than what’s used in these days. The lady on the right is playing a Dhakka – So together they form an ensemble, may be supporting a dancer. Incidentally, on the left side you can see part of another sculpture, which I take it to be a form of Shiva, or a gaNa of Shiva – which also holds a real Damaru, which you can notice is much smaller than the Dhakka, in it’s hand.
Here is another Veena player. The fret-board is depicted very clearly. The way she holds her instrument is very similar to how a Sitar player holds the instrument. Click here to see a picture of maestro Pandit Ravishankar playing his Sitar. Are you surprised?
Another thing I noticed in the Veena in this sculpture and Saraswathi’s sculpture earlier in this post is that the resonator is not seen at all. Now, how such an instrument would sound? I have no clue, but may be I’m missing something.
Here is another interesting instrument. This is called the Naga Veena. Notice the snake like end of the instrument that gives its name. But notice the right hand of the player. He seems to be using a bow of some sort, effectively making it somewhat like a violin. We know that the violin as used in Indian music today was due to Western influence during the early 18th century at Fort St George. But this instrument tells us although the form of Violin may have been new for Indian music, the structure and concept were not.
The following group of sculptures may represent performing musicians of Hoysala times, accompanying a dance. One of them is playing a bell, essential for providing the dance syllables, one is playing a damaru providing the rhythm and one is seen playing the flute, which might have been the oldest musical instrument, not only in India, but for the whole mankind.
With that, let me stop my rant and let you take a good look at these beautiful sculptures once again – Don’t you agree temples such as these are indeed time-capsules of history that help us recreate and appreciate history?
Today is the first day of Vasanta – the spring season. Although spring can’t arrive in an instant, for the calendar, we need to have an official start of spring, and that is the Vernal equinox. From today, the days get longer everyday, till the summer solstice. In India, spring is associated with koels singing in mango trees, and the smell of jasmine flowers.
In California, there is no dearth of flowers during spring!
Unfortunately, there aren’t that many singing birds. But to make up for that deficiency, I’m posting here a recording – of my composition, sung beautifully by “Arvind”.
Arvind, is known as IndianMusicFan on Twitter world, and his website is http://www.aboutindianmusic.com/
Click on the play button to listen to the composition.
The composition is in rAga kAmavardhini, that is also known by other names as Kashi Ramakriya & Pantuvarali. You can read why this rAga has so many names, in this old post here.
Your feedback & comments on the composition are welcome!