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Today, 10/1/2014, is the eighth day of Navaratri. This is celebrated in the name of Durga, and so the festival is called Durgashtami. While the Bengal region is known for it’s Durga puja, in Karnataka Navaratri is celebrated in the name of  different forms of the Goddess.

In the first seven days of the festival, I wrote some some interesting bits about seven composers of Karnataka Sangeeta and their compositions – Syama Sastry (Devi brova samayamide)  , Muttuswamy Dikshita (Meenakshi memudam dehi) ,Tyagaraja (Darini telusukonti) , Swathi Tirunal (Pahi jagajjanani), Muttaiah Bhagavatar (Sudhamayi sudhanidhi) , Lalgudi G Jayaraman (Tillana in Mand) and G N Balasubramanian (Ranjani niranjani).

Today also, I am planning to do the same – although there is meager information on the composer. I chose this song because of couple of different reasons, but let me do some history talking first.

The term used for “composer” in Indian music is Vaggeyakara – which implies that both the words and the music were created by the same person. Traditionally, Indian music was primarily to be performed vocally, and hence the necessity of having words. Therefore, unlike in western music, there were almost no compositions which were created for playing on instruments until very recent times.

But there have been instances when the lyrics are penned by one person and the music given by another. We have very limited view of our music compositions before the 16th-17th centuries. It may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but most of compositions of early composers such as Purandara Dasa (and other Haridasas) or Annamayya have been tuned by later day musicians. Only a few have retained their original form. There are also instances where in the lyrics were written by a person specifically to be given a musical form by another. I can cite the example of Devottama Jois writing the sahitya for the 108 compositions on Chamundeswari for Muttaiah Bhagavatar during his stint in Mysore as the Asthana Vidwan. Then there are cases of Swati Tirunal‘s compositions being re-fitted with music by Muttaiah Bhagavatar, and later by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. So in such cases, the role of Vaggeyakara is split between two people.

And then in some cases, compositions that were probably never set to music or sung before,  are set to music by a musician, and they become popular as a “composition” of the person who wrote the sahitya lines, rather than the person who set music. The composition I am talking about is one such , which is set in multiple ragas.

Ragamalika (ರಾಗಮಾಲಿಕಾ, ರಾಗಮಾಲಿಕೆ) – is a type of composition that is quite popular in South Indian classical music today. As the name suggests, such a composition sung in multiple ragas, and so the name Ragamalika, i.e. “garland of ragas”. As a composition type, they seem to gained popularity from the early 18th century. Muttuswami Dikshita’s father Ramaswamy Dikshita, and his guru Veerabhadrayya are some of the earliest Ragamalika composers known. As I was telling earlier, several Purandara Dasa compositions that are sung as Ragamalikas, have been set to music by later day musicians, since we have lost most of original structure of haridasa compositions from the 15-18th centuries. And their ragamalika form is more than likely to be of recent origin.

There is some food for thought here. Why didn’t Haridasa’s who composed suLAdis , which are compositions in multiple tALas (tALamAlike), think of composing in multiple ragas? They my indeed have, but we can’t prove they did. As an aside I can cite a composition of Sripadaraya ( who composed several decades before Purandara dasa) – ಲಾಲಿ ಗೋವಿಂದ ಲಾಲಿ – in which three of the twenty three charaNas have names of the ragas embedded in the lyrics (Kalyani, Anandabhairavi and Devagandhara) giving us an opportunity to speculate that the composition indeed might have been a ragamalike, sung in those ragas for those specific charaNas ( because that’s how the raga signature is included in more recent ragamalika compositions). Yes, again, it remains only a speculation.

sri chakra, image 12

Today’s ragamalika, Srichakraraja simhasaneshwari, is said to be a “composition” of Agastyar – only means that someone with a pen name “Agastyar” wrote the sahitya, as the language and style look contemporary. This is set in four ragas, that are sung in madhyama shruti – Jhanjoti, nadanamakriya, Punnagavarali and Sindhubhairavi.

Now listen to a rendition of this composition by Aravind Bhargav, a worthy disciple of the Mandolin maestro Srinivas, who passed away recently. This is from a concert recently in memory of his guru:

The embedded video seems to start at the wrong time – Start from the 1hr 35m mark to listen to Srichakraraja simhasaneshwari in ragamalika. I recommend you listen not only to this composition (which is only about 5 minutes long), but the entire concert, which is excellent.

Happy listening!

-neelanjana

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.

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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!

Happy listening!

-neelanana

Today is 9/29/2014 – The sixth day of Navaratri. The first five days of the festival, I wrote a about a composition praising  the Goddess whom we worship during Navaratri , and also wrote some notes about the composer of that composition. Today also, I am going to do just that.

The influence of Tyagaraja and his lineage of students to current day’s Karnataka sangeeta is immense. During his lifetime, Tyagaraja taught a good number of disciples. Often there are differences in how some kritis are handled in the traditions of Umayalpuram, Thillaisthanam and Walajapet traditions ( termed so because of the major disciples who hailed from these places.

There was also a disciple by name Rama Iyer from the town of Lalgudi. This town , downstream on the Kaveri river, on which Tiruvaiyyaru where Tyagaraja lived stands has a temple dedicated to Saptarshishwara & his consort Srimathi  ( a form of Shiva and Parvati).  Tyagaraja visited this town and stayed with his disciple for a few days, and at that time he composed a set of five beautifyk compositions about these deities, which have come to be known as Lalgudi Pancharatna Kritis.

Lalgudi Rama Iyer trained his son Radhakrishnan to be a violinist. In an earlier post, you’ve read how the violin was adapted to play Karnataka sangeeta by Baluswamy Dikshita, the younger brother of Muttuswamy Dikshita.  And two generations later, Radhakrishnan’s  grandson Jayaraman became one of the greatest violinists the world has ever seen.

Lalgudi Jayaraman

Lalgudi G Jayaraman, or LGJ or just plain Lalgudi, as he is called by his millions of fans, passed away in 2013. But his music, in the form of numerous recordings and compositions remain with us.  LGJ has composed a number of excellent compositions, many of which have become very popular.

A Tillana is a composition that is primarily composed for dance – so generally only the charana does have any words. This Tillana in Raga Mand, that I chose to share today has the sahitya lines about Goddess Gowri. The raga is a 20th century import from Hindustani, and is considered a minor raga.  There are only a few compositions exist in this raga, but it is a very pleasant and bright raga!

Listen to the beautiful Tillana in raga Mand, composed by LGJ and played on the mandolin by U Srinivas:

Happy listening!

-neelanjana

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, 20082010… ), 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.

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(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.

-neelanjana

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