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Today is 9/30/2014, the seventh day of Navaratri. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a composition of a 20th century composer. Today also, I am thinking of sharing a composition from another 20th century musician.
It’s often said that the ragas are infinite – “ananta”. Practically speaking, there are only a few hundred ragas that are in currency at any point in time. But due to many reasons, some well known ragas go out from circulation and some ragas considered rare become very famous at some other point of time. This cycle has repeated in the past millennium, and I guess the trend will continue to the next as well.
Right from the 14th century there were attempts at classifying ragas into different groups, based on the notes used in those melodies. This is very similar to how elements (and their compounds) are organized in the Periodic table. This method helps to understand similarities, differences etc, There were many such systems of classification, the last of which came in around 1650 AD. In this classification, Venkatamakhi not only did classify the ragas that existed at his time, but also built a framework for classifying such ragas that were yet to be invented at that time. This framework is known as the 72 mELa scheme. A mELa is a collection of notes, and does not become a raga by itself; but it is possible to create a raga by building around these notes.
This scheme paved the way for later day composers to experiment with notes and come up with newer melodies. For example, Muttuswamy Dikshita composed in all the 72 mELa rAgas postulated as possible by Venkatamakhi. Tyagaraja composed in most of these 72, and he also came up with some more with some permutation and combination of notes used, by dropping notes. This method was a bit different from earlier times, when a raga was defined by the form and phrases used rather than just from the notes and the order of the notes that occur in.
In general, when a raga is solely defined by the notes it uses and skips and the order of those notes, it offers less scope for elaboration. However, over time, such ragas also can develop their own character, and thereby become more expansive and can fire the imagination of more composers to come up with compositions. We can see examples this happening to many of the new ragas that were brought to life by Tyagaraja.
Ranjani is one of the ragas that were “created” by Tyagaraja. He composed only one composition in this raga. This raga is quite popular today, and many later day composers have also contributed to it’s popularity. One such composer is GNB.
G N Balasubramaniyan, better known as GNB was a star in the musical world of the 20th century. He was also a star on the silver screen, at a time when actors had to be good singers as well, and acted in several movies in the early 1940s. He has composed about 50 compositions and “Ranjani Niranjani”, praising the Goddess Parvati is one of his very popular compositions.
Now listen to this kriti played by Mandolin U Srinivas:
The composition ends at around time 28:00, but you you can’t stop there, you are not to blame! One can go on listening to the Mandolin magic no end!
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:
Today is 9/26/2014 , the third day of Navaratri. In the posts I made on day 1 and day 2, I wrote about compositions of Syama Sastry and Muttuswamy Dikshita. Today, I am going to write about a composition of Tyagaraja, who together with the before mentioned two composers is generally referred to as the “Trinity” composers in Karnataka Sangeeta. Incidentally, all these there composers were born in the town of Tiruvaroor, in Tamil Nadu.
Tyagaraja spent most of his lifetime in a town called Tiruvaiyyaru on the banks of river Kaveri. He has composed about 800 compositions. His compositions were popularized by his disciples and his compositions have become the mainstay for any concert in Karnataka sangeetha. Since has a large variety of compositions, it would be quite easy to even have a concert
When Tyagaraja visited other places of pilgrimage, he often sang on the presiding deities in those places. When he visited his student Patnam Subramanya Iyer at Chenna Pattanam (now Chennai), he also visited some famous temples around there. One such was the Tripura Sundari temple at Tiruvottriyur, now in the northern part of the city.In that temple he composed five compositions on that deity, which have come to be known as Tiruvottriyur pancharatna. Among these, the composition Darini Telusukonti in raga Shuddha Saveri is well known for the intricate sangatis.
That was the time British had a strong presence in Chennai. If at all one good thing happened due to the British, it was the introduction of Violin into Indian music. Muttuswamy Dikshita’s family was associated with a wealthy man called Chinnaswamy Mudaliyar, who was a translator to the British at Fort St George. It was there Baluswamy Dikshita, younger brother of Muttuswamy Dikshita witnessed the band performances of British army and thereby tried to use the Violin to play Indian classical music. As they often say the rest is history – Violin has become an integral part of Karnataka sangeeta both as a solo instrument and as an accompaniment.
Although instruments such as Dhaurveena had existed in the past,which resembled the violin in the fact that they were played using a bow, they were not in practice in the 18th century and thus we have to be thankful for the British army musicians who were instrumental in creating the interest among Indian musicians of that age to experiment with this new instrument!
Now to end this post, listen to a rendition of Darini Telusukonti, on the violin by a young artist from Bengaluru, Apoorva Krishna:
Today, September 24th, 2014 is the first day of Navaratri – The Festival of Nine Nights. Navaratri, also known as Dasara in many parts of India, is a good time for classical music listeners – The music festival at Navartri Mandapam in Thiruvanantapuram and at Mysore Palace are well known. In some of the earlier years (2007, 2008, 2010… ), I have written about some musical compositions that are dear to me during the this ten day festival. I thought of reviving this tradition and make a few posts during this year’s Navaratri as well.
Since Navaratri is a celebration of the various aspects of Devi, I will confine to the compositions to those that are about Goddesses such as Parvati, Saraswati, Durga etc who are worshiped during these Nine Nights. Also, as a way of remembering the recently-departed ‘God of Mandolin’, U Srinivas, I will confine to only instrumental renditions of such compositions. I will try to point out to some interesting tit-bits about those compositions too.
First a couple of words about U Srinivas – I think we were plain lucky to have lived in the same time as this artist, who brought in an alien instrument and turned it into our very own, as far as Indian classical music is concerned. If you ask me, it is high time we call this instrument as Sri-Veena :-) . Although we tend to associate the word Veena with the Saraswati Veena (which is actually only as old as the early 17th century), the term Veena actually refers to a stringed instrument, with or without frets, which may be played using plucking or bowing etc. We have had Veenas such as Nagaveena, Dhanurveena (which were played using a bow), just like a modern day violin. We have the Chitra Veena (a.k.a. Gotuvadya), Rudra Veena and the like. Guitar which has been adapted for Hindustani music by Vishwa Mohan Bhat is being called as Mohana Veena, and why not call mandolin as Sri Veena ? Just a passing thought as I started out writing this post!
In the 18th century, Tanjavoor was a great center of music and arts. Syama Shastry, who is considered as one of the “Trinity” of Karnataka Sangeeta lived in Tanjavoor city. His compositions bear his signature as ‘Shamakrishna’. He was the priest of Bangaru Kamakshi temple in Tanjavoor, and often addresses his favorite deity as “Shamakrishna sodari” – the sister of Shamakrishna (Vishnu). Although numerically his compositions are lesser than those of Tyagaraja or Muttuswamy Dikshita, each of his compositions is indeed a gem.
During Sharabhoji’s reign (1777 AD – 1832AD), a musician named Bobbili Keshavayya, visited his court. Keshavayya was well known for challenging musicians. Since no other musician in Tanjavoor court were ready to face Keshavayya who was known for his expertise at singing pallavis with extremely complicated rhythmic structures, the responsibility fell on Syama Sastry.
(Picture courtesy: The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/carrying-on-the-legacy/article4463886.ece)
In the music-duel that followed, Keshavayya sang a pallavi in Simha nandana tALa, which Shama Sastry comprehended and reproduced. Now, it was Shama Sastry’s turn to challenge Keshavayya next day. That night during his prayers to Goddess Kamakshi, Syama Shastry sang a new composition in a brand new raga – Chintamani, pleading her to protect him at this critical moment (dEvI brOva samayamidE ati vEgamE vacci).
For the first day of Navaratri, the composition I want to share with you is this – “dEvi brOva samayamide” in Raga Chintamani, played on the mandolin by, who else but U Srinivas, and U Rajesh?
Wishing everyone a very happy time during this Navaratri.
Who hasn’t heard of Kalidasa’s opening verse from Raghuvamsha that shows how inseparable Shiva and Shakti, that goes as follows?
वागर्थाविव सम्पृक्तौ वागर्थ प्रतिपत्तयॆ |
जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वती परमेश्वरौ ॥
(Picture taken from : http://satyamshivamsundaram.blogspot.com/2010/10/art-indian-but-not-in-india.html)
vAgarthAviva samprktau vAgartha pratipattayE
jagataH pitarau vandE pArvatI paramEshvarau
(Veneration to the parents of the world, Parvati and Parameshwara
Who remain inseparable as the word, and it’s meaning )
Here is the Kannada translation of the same verse, which I had written a while ago:
ತಲೆವಾಗುವೆ ನಾ ಶಿವಶಿವೆಗೆ
ಜಗದಲಿ ಎಲ್ಲರ ಹೆತ್ತವರ;
ಮಾತಿಗೆ ಬೆಸೆದಿಹ ಹುರುಳಂತೆ
When I was thinking about this verse, I was also reminded of couple of earlier translations about Shiva and Shakti which I had done(You can find them here and here). Then I ended up reading a few more verses about Shiva in the subhashita compilation called “Subhashita Ratna Bhandagara” (This is available on Google Books for those of you interested! Yay! )
Among the verses, I found the following verse very interesting:
च्युतं इन्दोर्लेखं रतिकलहभग्नम् च वलयं
द्वयं चक्रीकृत्य प्रहसितमुखी शैलतनया
अवोचद् यं पश्येत्यवतु स शिवः सा च गिरिजा
स च क्रीडाचन्द्रो दशनकिरणापूरिततनुः ||
chyutAm indorlekhAM ratikalahabhagnaM cha valayaM
dvayaM chakrIkRRitya prahasitamukhI shailatanayA |
avochad yaM pashyetyavatu sa shivaH sA cha girijA
sa cha krIDAchandro dashanakiraNApUritatanuH || (Vidyakara: 47)||
(Original source of the shloka is likely Vidyakara’s compilation called Subhashita Ratna Kosha – who in turn may have taken it from another earlier source )
Here is my translation of this verse in Kannada:
ಇರುಳಿನಪ್ಪುಗೆಯಲೊಡೆದ ಕಡಗವನು ಉರುಳಿ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದ ಎಳೆಯ ಚಂದಿರನ
ಜೊತೆಗೆ ಸೇರಿಸುತ ಬಳೆಯ ಮಾಡುತಲಿ ಗಿರಿಜೆ ಶಿವನೆಡೆಗೆ ನಗುತ “ನೋಡಿಲ್ಲಿ”
ಎನುತ ಬಾಯ್ದೆರೆಯೆ ಅವಳ ಹಲ್ಲುಗಳಕಾಂತಿಯನ್ನೆಲ್ಲ ತನ್ನ ಮೈದುಂಬಿ
ಹೊಳೆವ ಚಂದಿರನು ಜೊತೆಗೆ ಶಿವಶಿವೆಯ ಸೇರಿ ಕಾಪಿಡಲಿ! ನಮ್ಮ ಕಾಪಿಡಲಿ!
(Although it is not a verbatim translation, I hope I have captured the essence of the verse)
The musician/composer G.N.Balasubramaniam, popularly known as GNB passed away on May 1st, 1965. And on this day it is quite appropriate that I am thinking and writing about Shiva-Shakti! GNB was an innovator, and he composed in some ragas that he brought to life. The raga Shiva Shakti was also one such raga. He has a very catchy composition this rare raga:
You can listen to this composition by Smt P Ramaa here in this YouTube video link.
Sometime ago, I had composed a swarajati in this raga, and I thought it was appropriate to share it with the readers on this day of remembering the great GNB:
Please listen to this composition! Feel free to post your thoughts about the composition either on this post or on the MixCloud track.