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(This is the text of a speech I made this weekend at an event celebrating the composers from Karnataka. Throughout the article, the honorifics for all the composers and musicians are not mentioned. This is not to be treated as any mark of disrespect. A link to the speech is also provided at the end. I had to cut some parts while speaking because I was going over time! So the thought of sharing the complete script I made in preparation to the speech is posted here. Also, I have only mentioned a partial list of composers, due to the limitations on time, as well as my awareness)

Good afternoon rasikas.

It’s great feeling to be with the artists and the rasikas, celebrating the vaggeyakaras from Karnataka, here at the Livermore temple. I am sure you have all enjoyed the dance performances and are looking forward for the vocal and Veena performances. I am very pleased to share some of my observations with you all.

The term ‘vaggeyakara’ refers to someone who creates both the mAtu and dhatu, i.e. both the lyrical and musical content of a composition. It encompasses a larger meaning than the English word composer, which normally refers to the creation of the music part only. However, today I may use the word Vaggeyakara and composer somewhat interchangeably.

We can see indications of Indian classical music splitting into two streams by the 13th century.

The split probably started right after the time of Sharngadeva, who wrote his text Sangita Ratnakara. By the time of Pandarika Vithala, around 1600 CE, we can sense the split having been completed, making the two streams quite distinct and distinguishable from each other. The name Karnataka Sangeeta is a more recent entry though. One of the reasons that this stream was called Karnataka sangeeta seems to be the contribution of musicians,scholars and vaggeyakaras hailing from the Karnata samrajya or the Vijayanagara empire.

Throughout India’s history, there have been been different centers of music and culture. The contribution of musicians who hailed from current day Karnataka region is immense. The Vijayanagara kingdom, centered in current day Karnataka was a hub for arts and culture. Performing artists from various places made their way to Vijayanagara to get the royal support.

Sage Vidyaranya, who was instrumental in the establishment of the kingdom, was a musician himself and musicologist of merit. The first indications of classifications of Ragas in to melas (or groups) can be attributed to him. The latter day scholars and performers from Vijayanagara enhanced the textual framework of Vidyaranya. The Kalanidhi vyakhyana to Sangita Ratnakara by Kallinatha, the Swaramela Kalanidhi by his grandson Ramamatya give a good indication about the musical practices during the Vijayanagara times (14th to 16th century).

Music is a performance oriented art where shastra (i.e. theory) follows prayoga (or performance). New experiments happen all the time, and once they are accepted by rasikas, they get codified into texts and treatises. All these shastrakaras (i.e musicologists) could not have existed in vacuum. Those works became necessary to document what was going around them. While Indian classical music is manodharma or improvisation oriented, it is also true they need good compositions to anchor these improvisational ideas.

I wanted to clarify one thing — If the texts seem to come from royal patronage, it does not mean music was limited to royalty , but it only means that their patronage was necessary to write and preserve such works documenting the active music scene in the society of those times. The corpus of musical texts from the 15th/16th century Vijayanagara only confirms us that there was no dearth of performers or composers during this time, and it could not have been a limited royal engagement only.

Back in the 12th century, even before Vidyaranya, we have some indication that at least some vachans of shivasharanas of Karnatala were sung, from the internal evidence from vachanas of Akkamahadevi and Basavanna. But we absolutely have no idea about how they might have been sung. One or two centuries later, almost contemporary to Vidyaranya and Kallinatha, there were a host of Haridasas who revolutionized music as we know it. Unfortunately the original melodic structure of most Haridasa compositions is only known in their skeletal form, and the contemporary renditions of devaranamas are more modeled after much later compositions.

Haridasas introduced a lot of new types of compositions, including the Ugabhoga and Suladi.Starting off with Narahari tirtha, we later had Sripadaraya , Vyasaraya, Purandara dasa, Kanakadasa, Vijayadasa and a host of other haridasas who composed thousands of compositions from the 13th to the 19th century. Although we can’t say for sure, Sripadaraja was probably the first vaggeyakara who thought concepts like Ragamudre (raga signature), and sing a pada as a ragamalika. In a devarnama laali govinda laali, he has 3 charanas that indicate the rajamudra as devagandhara, ananda bhairavi and Kalyani.

The center of Karnataka sangeeta moved from Vijayananagara to Thanjavur after the fall of the empire. The beginning of the Thanjavur tradition can be traced back to Vijayanagara too. Thanjavur was given as a principality to Cevvappa Nayaka by Achyutaraya,the king of Vijayanagara. Ministers of The nayaks of Tanjavur such as Govinda dikshita and his son, the well known Venkatamakhi not only were able administrators but they were also expert musicians and musicologists.

We can easily say Venkatamakhi,who was also a Kannadiga, with his work Chaturdandi prakashika written around 1650 CE, sort of paved the way for new thinking in terms of the creation of new ragas in Karnataka sangeeta. In the 18th century, we know that haridasa compositions were very popular in Thanjavur. It’s well documented that Tyagaraja was very influenced by Purandara dasa’s devaranamas. Knowing that how the Karnataka Sangeeta trimurtis, Tyagaraja, Mudduswami Dikshita and Syama Shastry have influenced our music post 18th century, and the fact that the work of Venkatamakhi was instrumental in setting up them to do what they did with our music, tells a lot about the influence Venkatamakhi on Karnataka Sangeeta as we know it today.

With the taking over of Thanjavur by the British, the cultural hub again shifted to Mysuru. Now the Odeyars of Mysuru, similar to the Nayakas and Bhosales of Thanjavur, were not only patrons of music and arts, they were practitioners themselves. Mummadi Krishnaraja Odeyar himself was a compose of merit. Nalvadi Krishnaraja odeyar was trained in music too. And the last maharaja of mysore, Sri Jayachamaraja Odeyar could be called as the real jewel in the crown of this family. He has composed about a hundred kritis. Taking a cue from the style of Muthuswami Dikshitar in the usage of Samskrta as the medium for lyrics,use of madhyama kala sahitya etc, and on the other side following Tyagaraja in the choice of ragas, and also innovation in trying out unheard melodies, his compositions have become quite popular over the decades.

Of course the courts of Krishnaraja Odeyar and Jayachamaraja odeyar in the first half of 20th century encouraged and hosted a great many composers such as Mysore Vasudevacharya, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, Mysore Sadashivarayar & Veene sheshanna whose compositions are very well known and popular today.The influence of trinity is invariably seen in the compositions during Mysore court.

Even the composition type Javali, apparently came into vogue in the Mysore court post Tippu times. And,  although we normally associate Tyagaraja with the ‘invention’ of the new form of composition we call as kriti these days, almost 120 years before Tyagaraja, a poet called Govinda Vaidya, in one of his Kannada works talks about musicians singing kritis!

Veene Sheshanna (Image taken from Wikipedia)

Apart from them there were other composers like Veena Venkatagiriyappa,Veena Venkatasubbaiah , Veena Shamanna, Veena Subbanna, Bidaram Krishnappa , T Chowdayya, Veena Raja Rao, Belakavadi Srinivasa Iyengar and Veena Shivaramaiah. The last two are notable for having to have composed in all 72 raganga ragas.

By this time, it was the end of Royal Mysore but thankfully the vaggeyakara tradition has continued. N Channakeshvaiah and C Rangaiah, both disciples of Mysore Vasudevacharya composed many varnas, krtis, ragamalikas and tillanas. Sri D Subbaramaiah — and his disciples Smt Vasantha Madhavi and Sri Ramaratnam are both composers of their own merit. Ballari Sheshachar among the Ballari brothers also has many compositions to his credit.

Many current day performing artists hailing from Karnataka such as Nagamani Srinath, RN.Sreelatha and Padmacharan have composed many compositions. Other performers such as Tirumale Srinivas,R K Padmanabha and Nagavalli Nagaraj have set to music many haridasa and others songs. And Sri T K Govindarao, who has composed may of his own compositions as well as has set many haridasa compositions.

At this point we should also remember the Poet Pu Ti Na who was not a performing artist in the conventional sense but has composed many wonderful compositions in his musical plays such as Gokuka Nirgamana. Poet D V Gundappa also has suggested ragas to the poems in his work Antahpura geete, written about the various madanika sculptures in the Beluru temple. However, I am not sure if the complete melodic structure for the songs were suggested by him.

Thankfully, the trend is still continuing. Ashok Madhav, originally from Karnataka, and a long time Pittsburgh resident has composed several hundred compositions. Srikanth Murthy, from Karnataka, currently in UK has to his credit many compositions in Kannada, Tamizh, Samskrta and Sanketi languages. I am also very happy to say that with the encouragement of the artist community in the Bay Area, I have also had the fortune of composing about 40+ compositions, which include Varna, Swarajathi, Tillana, javali and ragamalikas.

When there are such great compositions of past masters, one may ask what’s the need for new compositions. In fact Sangeeta Kalanidhi Sri R K Srikanthan opined when there are hundreds of great compositions of the composers like Tyagaraja, which are not being sung, there was no need of new compositions as such. I am pretty sure many others would share that opinion too. However, I would like to counter that with this samskrta verse of Jagannath pathak.

कियद्वारं क्रौञ्चा इह न निहता व्याधविशिखैः

परं काव्यं रामायणमिदम् इहैक समुदितम् ।

स कर्ता कालोsसौ स च हृदयवान् सा च कविता

समेत्य द्द्योतन्ते यदि वलति वाणीविलसितम् ॥

Since the beginning of time

How many Krauncha birds have been felled by arrows?
But the Ramayana arose only once.

The concoction of time, a soulful poet and his words

With a touch of Vani’s grace

To brew the broth of heady poetry
(English translation by Suhas Mahesh)

What this verse tells about poetry is also true about a music compositions. We just don’t know when the right situations arise, along with the grace of Goddess Saraswathi. Just for a moment, consider what would have happened if Tyagaraja thought there were plenty of good compositions of Purandara Dasa, Ramadasa and Annamayya, and did not make any of his own! Think what would have happened if Balamuralikrishna and Lalgudi Jayaraman thought there were plenty of excellent compositions of the trinity and did not compose any of theirs! So it is all the more desirable to continue the quest for more and music.

I will conclude with a Kannada translation of the very Samskrta verse. I just replace the word KavitA with rachanA, to make it more generic.

ಕೊಂಚೆವಕ್ಕಿಗಳೆನಿತೊ ಸಿಲುಕಿವೆ ಬೇಡ ಹೊಡೆದಿಹ ಬಾಣಕೆ

ಮುಂಚೆ ರಾಮಾಯಣವು ಮಾತ್ರವು ಹುಟ್ಟಿತೊಂದೇ ಬಾರಿಗೆ

ಕೊಂಚ ಕಾಲವು ಒಳ್ಳೆ ಮನಸಿನ ಕವಿಯ ಪದಗಳ ಜೊತೆಯಲಿ

ಸಂಚುಮಾಡಲುಬೇಕು ಸರಸತಿಯೊಡನೆ ಸೊಬಗಿನ ರಚನೆಗೆ

I would like to thank the organizers for giving an opportunity to share a few things with you all. ಎಂದರೋ ಮಹಾನುಭಾವುಲು ಅಂದರಿಕಿ ವಂದನಮುಲು. ನಮಸ್ಕಾರ

You can also listen to the speech ( with a few sections missing from the text) if you prefer to do so:

Audio recording of the speech

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ಅವಧಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹೀಗಂದರು:

"ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ…ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಬಂದೆ ಸುಮ್ಮನೆ… ಎಂಬ ಘೋಷ ವಾಕ್ಯದೊಂದಿಗೆ ಬ್ಲಾಗ್ ಮಂಡಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಣಿಸಿಕೊಂಡವರು ನೀಲಾಂಜನ. ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ ಕನ್ನಡದ ಪರಿಮಳವನ್ನು ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಷ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಹರಡುತ್ತಾ ಇದೆ. ಕನ್ನಡದ ವಚನಗಳು, ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತ ಸುಭಾಷಿತಗಳು ಜೊತೆಯಲ್ಲೇ ಸಂಗೀತ ಹೀಗೆ ಹಲವು ಲೋಕವನ್ನು ಈ ಬ್ಲಾಗ್ ಪರಿಚಯಿಸಿದೆ." ಅವಧಿ, ಮೇ ೧೫, ೨೦೦೮
ಫೆಬ್ರವರಿ 2018
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