Archive for December, 2016

The Story of Karnatik Music

December 11, 2016

A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story – T M Krishna

Harper Collins Publications India (2013)

The above book consists of 27 essays on music written by Sri T M Krishna, a musician of great repute. These essays are put into three parts, namely, The Experience, The Context and The History. I will attempt to give a few important points from the first part of the book with my comments wherever appropriate. My comments are always in italics. Rest is all the views of TMK, as understood by me. His specific statements are given in quotes.

Essay-1: Music – A Narrative (The Overture)

Here TMK describes Art Music (as he calls Karnatik music concerts of this century) and its aesthetics. He declares: “In order to experience music beyond personal confines, the receiver also (not just the artist) needs to be serious seeker of art and be aware of the art itself ”.

‘Conventions’ are accepted norms and (whereas) ‘Traditions’ are the ideas passed down and TMK adds “In Karnatik music, the word sampradaya means both …” – “ These Conventions (sampradaya) are often at loggerheads with Tradition (sampradaya), but reconciliation is not what we seek” – “It is interesting we do not see any conflict”.

I remember in a talk by Guru Balasubramanian of Mumbai, he was referring to an expert committee discussion in Music academy chaired by the great Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. They were discussing raga Balahamsa and the use of note dhaivata in the raga. The committee decided the modality and passed a resolution. When somebody asked Ariyakudi whether he will sing raga Balahamsa in his evening concert, and in the way decided in the committee, his answer was,  yes, he will sing the raga, but as taught to him by his guru. His tradition overrules any convention.   

Essay -2: Intent of Music (Going to the Source)

TMK quotes Dr. Harold Powers, Ethno-musicologist of Princeton University / USA: “The classification of Folk and Classical are purely social. As a musical form is appreciated by the higher sections of the society, the aesthetics is reconstructed and the music transforms into classical”. TMK sites transformation of Sadir into Bharatanatyam as a case of this ‘transformed existence’. TMK adds: “The perceived prerequisite that a classical form should have written grammar is not, strictly speaking, appropriate ….. Grammar and systems can be written, or (it can be) oral.”

TMK talks about Namasankirtana and Bhajan. He gives due importance to the traditions of Sridhara Ayyaval, Bodhendra Swamigal and Marudanallur Satguru swamigal.But what about Thevaram and Thirumurai traditions? (Diva Prabandams might have been recited only as a beautiful prosody of tamil poetry).  Way back in 1950s, I happen to accompany my grandmother on a pilgrimage of about 10 Shiva temples in and around Needamangalam, Tanjavur Dt of Tamilnadu. As my uncle was a police officer in the area, we were accompanied all along by an Oduvar who sang appropriate Thevarams in each and every shrine. Later days, when I visited Tiruchendur temple, I heard soulful renderings of Thirumurai (to the accompaniment of Violin, or is it Sarangi) during Golden Car procession. Again, a few years back when I visited Mylai Kapali Temple on a leisurely forenoon, I was fortunate to see a devotee (perhaps from a oduvar community) singing thevarams and pathikams at every major and minor shrines in the temple and I made sure I accompanied him to all the shrines. Singing of these Tamil verses was found very common among Saiva community all over Tamil Nadu. TMK could have visited a few Oduvars, Sivachariars and Aadinams to collect more information on this tradition, which would have fully complemented his excellent narration of different musical traditions of the South.

TMK proceeds to define the role of Karnatik (Art) Music in the context of different types of music heard, appreciated and followed by South Indians. As per him Karnatik (Art) Music is based on the following musical aspects – ‘Raga, Tala, Composition and improvisation’. It is not meant to carry any social message or religious intent. If at all there are any such, they are incidental. Even when these musical events were conducted in courts, palaces and temples, TMK believes, they had intents far more than religious, social or political. Just like any Composition (lyrics), even Raga, Tala and Improvisation have emotions, experienced by both performer and the audience.  “The result is an aesthetic experience without external intent. A Karnatik musician has a responsibility towards this experience. Art music is about giving the idea of emotions, a representation in music”, – using melody and rhythm, not just by lyrics.

True to the title of this essay, TMK has put forth his strong views on intent of different forms of music in general, and the Art Music in particular. He consistently calls Karnatik music as practiced in concert platforms, as Karnatik Art Music. The same compositions meant for Art Music may find use in Namasankirtanas, Bhajans and Harikathas and compositions meant for these forms may be presented in concerts. As per TMK, the presentations should respect the respective intents of the art form. A few Ragas may find place in light music and movies also, but they will never be Karnatik Art music. A few artists may present several of the above art forms, hopefully in different events, but they should maintain the integrity of each of the art form. Thanks to TMK for expressing clarity on this issue.

Essay – 3: Imagination, Creativity, Improvisation

Look at the sequence of words TMK has chosen for the title of this essay. Imagination with some additional inputs results in Creativity; Creativity with some more inputs leads to Improvisation.

Can everyone imagine? – Yes, TMK asserts, ‘each in a different and even unique way’. “While Imagination is an activity that remains in the world of mind, Creativity leads to a tangible creation in the temporal world” as per T M Krishna, which is really true. For Imagination to result in Creation, TMK says, one needs two more essential ingredients: they are Understanding and Skill. With only imagination and understanding you may try to create a painting. But, of course, it requires painting skill to reflect truly your understanding and imagination. Improvisation is a subsequent extension of Creation, but occurs mostly extempore. “Karnatik Art musician explores melodic and rhythmic possibilities without any conscious thought – it is unrehearsed and extempore, but behind it lies a vast hinterland of preparation that cannot be discounted”.

Is everything new is creative? – No, says TMK, Creativity is more than being new and different, and even more than display of ability and skill. Then, how can ‘doing the same thing’ be creative? – Yes it can be asserts TMK, if the repetition occurs through the same process of imagination, creation and improvisation. Every time it evokes a different emotional experience. TMK cites the example of making vases by an art molder – as a craft it may be repetitive, but every vase is unique in some way born out of his imagination and creativity. (Compare the same thing with machine molded vases). In essence, we may infer from what TMK says, same ragas and compositions in Art music, give immense scope for imagination, creativity and improvisation (even when repeated).

Finally he comes to the sensitive topic of Creative Freedom. “To be Creative is understood to mean . . .  to break conditions with no restrictions whatsoever. With creative freedom (in art) … comes a great deal of responsibilities to keeping the aesthetics of the artistic form in place. … Negation is neither negative nor rebellious. True negation is sensitive. …. The strength of negation is the result of understanding of that which we want to negate. Therefore sensitivity towards that which exists or existed is imperative – is impersonal, dispassionate and brutally honest.” These are true words of wisdom. (though I feel Perumal Murugan did not display this sensitivity in his Mathoru Bhagan. However that does not justify curtailing his creative freedom so brutally)        

In this connection I wish to add my comment concerning ‘Puthu Kavithai’ or modern poetry – it was a craze in 1980s in Tamil literary scene. It was both New and Negation and hence claiming to be creative. Many of this Modern Poems lacked imagination, creativity, understanding or skill and still claiming to be Creations only because it is New and a Negation of ‘what is existing or existed’. As the basic nature of Poetic Art form was also negated, only true creations lived and rest was trashed.

This chapter really gave in a nutshell what we generally enjoy in a Karnatik Art music concert.

Essay – 4: The Fundamentals

In this chapter, TMK attempts to familiarize uninitiated listeners to some of the fundamental aspects of Karnatik Art music. One may enjoy this art music without any knowledge of these fundamentals – however, this basic knowledge will help one to acquire a taste to appreciate this music, which does not ‘relate easily to what is superficially considered beautiful’ and pleasing. Hence, with this intent, TMK embarks on explaining basic concepts of Karnatik Art Music in the following order:

  • Srutis, Swaras, Swarasthanas,
  • tonic or basic sruthi Sa, Tambura, sthayis and musical range,
  • melodic ornamentation through Gamakas,
  • concept of Raga and Laya or the speed of rendering (Chowka, Madhyama, Dhurita or Fast, Medium slow speeds),
  • Tala or the beats, Description of various Talas as used, Gati-Nadai-Kalai of the Tala, etcetera.

If a musician could demonstrate all these ideas in person, it would really help a new listener. This could be a part of any ‘Karnatik Music Appreciation’ course. I wonder what TMK thinks about such courses, in general.

I have only a few comments on this chapter.

  1. ‘Five swaras (ri, ga, ma, da, ni) have multiple (two or three) pitch positions within an octave’. As per TMK the history of these pitch positions is over 1500 years old. It has evolved from the earlier history of 22 sruthis and their murchanas (or modal shifts), as used in ancient Ragas. The naming of these multiple pitch positions, as shuddha, Chatushruti and Shathsruti indicates such a process of evolution. TMK discusses briefly about this in a later chapter.
  2. Kalai of a Tala is described here well. But Gati and Nadai are mentioned only briefly. However in later chapter TML dwells on them in detail. Many feels both Gati and Nadai are same. As a listener, I have learnt from others, a subtle difference: Gati is the speed of rendering (Chatusram, Tisram etc) with Tala remaining the same – Nadai is altering the tala to tisram and chatushram and rendering accordingly. I may be wrong here. I will discuss this again when TMK takes up this in a later chapter.
  3. Chapu Talas are named as such, because of successively decreasing counts of beats, 4-3, 3-2, 5-4 etc. As per Professor Sambamoorthy it has come from the Tamil word Chaippu, i.e., slant or slanting.

Essay – 5: The Tune in the Word (A note on compositions)

“One of the definitions of composer is a person who writes music.  . . . . . . Does this mean that Karnatik music composers wrote – and writes – music? At least until the mid of 19th century, the process of composing seems to have been an intellectual work, passed on orally. It was recorded by students who learnt directly from the composer …. either during the learning process, or many years later. . . . .  The writing is primarily a record. ……  Modern (20th century) Indian classical music has developed a unique culture-centric notation system. . . . .Over the years many Karnatik musicians have very innovatively used symbols to try and represent Karnatik music in written form.”

“The method of notating essentially provides music with the compositional frame work – musicians reinterpret the music with their own sensibilities.” Unfortunately sometimes, “irresponsible interpretations have led to the compositions completely losing the composer’s intent”.

“In Karnatik music we have a beautiful word vaggeyakara to refer to composer . . . . who composes both vak(words) and geya(vocal music). . . . .Unless he is proficient in both (music and text) he cannot be a vaggeyakara.” TMK wonders about the terms given to sangeetha and sahithya (Music and text) as Dhatu and Matu.

Is it ‘life and body’? I have seen people say it as a plant and earth. The ‘plant’ is rooted to the ‘earth’ and ‘earth’ supplies nutrients to the ‘plant’. When a composer takes care of both dhatu and matu at the time of ‘delivering’ the composition and at the time nurturing it to a fully developed ‘baby’, the composition attains a distinct quality. As stated by TMK, there have been instances when text is supplied by a poet and subsequently, the music is provided by a musician (or vice-versa).

Some time they also happen in quick succession and thus leading again to ‘quality’ composition. Some poets compose poems set to a particular raga, but the musical form gets lost. In such cases as the matu is already available in a form amenable to music, it is easily re-tuned in the same raga and laya or any other suitable ones. We may quote songs and poems by Mahakavi Subhramanya Bharati as examples for this. In this connection, I have a question. I hear that the first ever recorded sahitya with music in whole world are the Thevarams in Tamil. Each and every verse has their musical form also indicated as ‘panns’. These ‘panns’ are recognized as the precursor for some of the ragas in the later day karnatik music. We have also heard there were musicians travelling together with these poets and music was composed almost simultaneously. We hear stories of Yazh Panars and Paninis. TMK may reflect on these aspects of ancient music in his future essays for the benefit of music students and listeners.

“In Karnatik music a raga is accepted as a raga, only when there is at least one composition in it. The Musician may have explored a new melodic idea, . . . . but a new raga comes into its own only when it is embedded in a composition. . . . The raga is then built up constantly by the contribution of other composers and the creativity of musicians.” Here we see the dhatu requiring matu to take root and grow like a plant on the earth. “The Tala (with its intrinsic laya, timing and its various angas) gives dhatu and matu a defined space within which to build musical and textual structures”, shall we say like a fencing and basin for the plant on the earth. Though Tala helps laya, the speed, laya is the one that keeps the aesthetics of the language and syllables of the text, as per TMK.

TMK talks briefly about sahithya and its relation to poetic prosody. He talks of alliteration in poetry such as Edhugai, Monai and Iyaibu. In Sanskrit poetry they are known as prasa; prathamakshara prasa, dvithiyakshara prasa and anthimakshara prasa, respectively. This technique helps in four ways: Easy recitation, ease of comprehension, ease of memorization, ease of later day musicalisation both in terms of melody and rhythm. This also suited the earlier day oral tradition of learning. I remember my Tamil Teacher, Thiru Gurunathan (Father of Ku. Gnanasambandan) reciting in the class some Tamil poems in a melodic meter. In Sanskrit prosody, there are also constructions called yathis, which are used a lot in Dikshatar’s compositions.

Esaay – 6: Creativity Unbound: Manodharma (The Art of Improvisation)

In manodharma sangita, or improvisational music, raga is the principle vehicle, says TMK. He clearly says what we feel as listeners: “Every alapana (of a Raga) begins with a phrase that clearly establishes the ragas identity. There cannot be any ambiguity in this. Therefore, phrases that are common to two ragas should not be rendered in the opening”. He maintains this idea elsewhere also: “In this commonality of cognition between the musician and the listener exists the raga’s identity.” After clearly establishing the raga identity, TMK describes further creative procedure of raga alapana thus: “First creativity is swara based or phrase based. The second creativity is born out of (different ways of) connecting two known phrases. The third creativity is based on using one swara as reference anchor. . . . . . Each raga contains certain swaras that can be used in this manner. – – – – Phrases are directed towards these svaras so that they conclude there”.

In some music traditions, there is a process known as centonization where music is produced by permutations and combinations of several established melodic phrases. Though this may appear to be same as the procedure of raga alapana as described above, alapana of experienced and senior musicians do display much deeper improvisation far beyond just centonization.

TMK classifies ragas into five varieties – Natural phrase based aesthetic ragas (rakthi ragas?), theory based synthetic linear ragas (so called, melakarthas?), synthetic linear ragas with less than seven svaras (shadava, audava ragas), synthetic non-linear ragas (vakra ragas) and ragas adopted from other music traditions. However I am not able to think of any synthetic vakra ragas, anyone to help me? Perhaps some natural rakthi ragas, because of their nonlinearity, was fitted into synthetic stream by calling them vakra ragas.

TMK further asserts: “The synthetic ragas do not have too many phrases that govern their identity. – – – The lack of clear raga features beyond their established scale allows the musician to develop the raga almost on any svara. —- This has led musicians to subconsciously use (the same) scalar alapana of even phrase-based ragas – – – leading to loss of aesthetics and identity of some ragas. This is one of the major problems we face in karnatik music today. – – We might unwittingly destroy many beautiful melodic phrases in the older ragas”. Very much true!

After Raga, TMK takes up Niraval as the next creative effort by Karnatik Musician in a concert. He says “The improvisational technique, Niraval, is unique and valuable,  … it uses, one creative imagination, that of vaggeyakara, to kindle another one, that of musician. – – –  Once the line is chosen for niraval, the exact structure of the line within the tala matrix become most important. — — — (we believe) there is certain limited flexibility here and that the syllables can be moved within a permissible range, for the sake of raga and melody.”

Unfortunately, niraval is the most ignored forms of improvisation in karnatik music today, feels TMK. “It is only used as a stepping stone to singing kalpanasvara. – – – To be able to internalize the melodic, rhythmic and lyrical aspects of a line and use the same to create different variations is extremely challenging.”. When he takes up the level of creativity in kalpanasvara, he avers “In mel-kala kalpanasvara, the creativity veers towards svara permutations and combinations within the raga rather than the phrase based approach used in sama-kala kalpanasvara. He feels mel-kala kalpanasvara distorts the raga identity “as musicians are driven by the excitement mel-kala can create.” He also discusses presentation of tanam and viruttham formats as paths of creativity for karnatik musicians.

Esaay -7 : The Rendering Unfolds.

In this essay, TMK describes the Karnatic vocal concert and the roles of, vocalist as the main artist, violin as a melodic accompanist, and mridangam and other tala vadya players as rhythmic supports. “As the primary performer the vocalist decides the compositions to be presented, ragas for alapana, the lines for niraval, the kalpanasvara and the exact positioning of rhythmic interplay, tani avartana. Whether these arrangements are decided in advance or in situ, depends on the vocalist.” “As vocalist defines the direction of the concert, every svara she sings influences the other musicians on the stage.” If “the vocalist can provide the space needed by other musicians to express themselves” the accompanist may also be able to inspire the vocalist.

“As a melodic accompanist, the violinist major contribution is to support and enhance the melodic experience. – – – The violinist follows the vocalist as she renders raga alapana and tana.- – –  Then the violinist renders her own versions of the alapana and tana. – – – When a composition is rendered, the violinist hugs the coast of vocalist’s rendering”. During niraval and kalpanasvara also violinist provides her version of every phrase of niraval and kalpanaswara. This ‘following’ of vocalist “can never be taught, is a technique every violinist acquires through concert experience”. TMK makes this interesting observation about violinist ‘shadowing’ the vocalist while accompanying – “A person’s shadow is sometimes behind or ahead and is sometimes larger or smaller, but is always a reflection of the person”. Very interesting!

Regarding Mridanga accompaniment TMK says the following:

  1. The mridangist should help maintaining the laya of the composition as chosen by vocalist
  2. It helps him to keep proper emphasis as per matu and dhatu, if he knows the composition that is being rendered.
  3. Emotional content of the compositions should be suitably interpreted by Mridangist through tonal and pattern variations
  4. He should take the lead and guide other rhythmic accompaniments both during accompaniment and during the tani avartana.

TMK considers the Tambura artist as an important musician on the stage. By this he implies Tambura artist must be a musician. In addition to providing shruti, he feels “it is far more crucial to the aural experience of Karnatik music.” According to TMK, the musician “drowns himself in the collective resonance of its four strings to discover his music.” However, it is sad to see the frequent absence of Tambura on karnatik stage nowadays, its place being taken over by an electronic version.

Essay – 8: The Concert Unravels (The modern kutchery and its rituals)

In difference to the previous essay, here, TMK takes us through the actual concert format of karnatic art music. “Even before the curtains go up,” tuning of Tambura and subsequent tuning of other instruments such as violin and Mridangam could be heard. He clearly implies that the above (fine) tuning process should be heard by the audience present in the “performance space which reverberates with their collective resonance.”  TMK truly takes us through each of the concert items in that order, beginning with varnam and up to RTP, tani avartanam. Later on he describes end session of the concert, where the compositions presented are popularly known as ‘tukkadas’. i.e. literally, bits. There will be “less manodharma, less melodic experience, less rhythmic abstraction.” Focus will be on lyrics, poetry and patriotic/saintly songs. “Interestingly”, Padas and Javalis are also pushed on to this section. The concert generally ends with a viruttham and a Tillana as “it provides a ‘high’ for the audience as it prepares to leave”. “Over the last century many other compositional types, like bhajans and abhangs, have found way into the karnatik concert”. Often ragas in this section include those prevalent in Hindustani music. Concert usually ends with a mangalam, “invoking the devine”.

As per TMK, karnatik musicians, generally feel it necessary to present more madyama-kala compositions as compared to chauka-kala ones, compositions of different composers, in different languages, in different ragas, in different talas. Instrumental concerts also generally follow the same format as vocalist. TMK ends this essay with “a need to critique certain practices that affect the aesthetics of our music”. That is what he does in the next essay, “A Critique”.

Essay – 9: The Karnatik Concert Today: A Critque

“The kutcheri format usually includes a few kirthanas before the main piece and number of post-RTP compositions (at the end). Therefore a concert of about 2½ hours can have ten to fifteen compositions.  – – – –  We must pause to ask here: are we meant to just reel off  compositions in rapid fire sequence or are we meant also to unveil their inherent beauty? – Compositions that do not inspire a new perspective (to raga and tala) should be considered unfit for Karnatik music – With the number of kirtanas being presented in them, many concerts today resemble Namasankirtana sessions – Indeed, musicians who have not developed their manodharma, all they need to do is to present a spattering of manodharma and a number of other compositions – By allowing the number of kirtanas in a concert to increase, we have abetted in the degeneration of Karnatik music.” “Musicians use a pleasing tukkada section to erase a poor interpretations or a failure to realize pure art”. Very strong words but unfortunately very true.

As per TMK, of the seven forms of karnatik music compositions, namely, Gita, Varna, Svarajati, Kirtana, Padam, Javali and Thillana, only kirtanas are primarily presented in a concert. While accepting that most of the kirtanas, especially of the musical trinity, as a sophisticated form in terms of matu and dhatu combining in perfect balance, he wonders whether this is an essential requirement for karnatik music. “Many varnas are far more complete art pieces than the kirtanas  ….. (They) can be presented in any section of the concert . . . . . should be presented with alapana, niraval and kalpanasvara”. The same is true with the padams. He feels, possibly the erotic content of pada’s lyrics makes the puritan uncomfortable especially repeating the lines many times during niraval. Specific order of presentation should not be insisted up on, he demands, as the concert should allow for such changes as above, “to give every concert a unique flavor in its compositional content, yet retaining the integrity”.

I have heard Sri Semmangudi in 1980s, after presenting the Bhairavi Ata Tala varnam in full, embarking on kalpanasvaras. I have heard TMK himself presenting navaraga malika varnam as a main piece in a concert with alapana of all nine ragas and kalpana svaras for all the nine parts of the varnam, including Chitta svarams and mukhtayi svarams. As a bonus, Shri Kariakudi Mani offered himself to present a thani after this piece. It was a really a great artful experience.

TMK raises several other questions as below:

Why should raga alapana by vocalist be shadowed by violinist, when violinist is presenting the raga all by himself? “In some cases of extremely insensitive violinists, the whole phrase rendered by the vocalist is changed or ignored and the violinist plays something altogether different”.

Why should there be two alapanas of the same raga once by the vocalist, shadowed by violinist and another by the violinist all alone?

TMK says “after rendering an alapana, I have often felt that I had finished all I could present of the raga on the day, making the presentation of a composition after the alapana, redundant for me”. Why can’t alapana stand by itself as a singular piece of presentation sans a kirtana to follow?

Can we allow the overuse of mathematical structures in kalpanasvara hijacking the aesthetic beauty of the raga?

Talking about percussion support, TMK feels, the percussion style has of late changed from ‘following the aesthetics of composition and manodharma of the vocalist’ to ‘enhancing artist’s (his own) dexterity and mathematical patterns   and, importantly, his own presence’. “The dominance of the mridanga in a kutchery has changed the laya of the selected compositions”  leading to “additional sangatis on the basis of percussion patterns rather than matu and dhatu”. “The dominance of mathematical calculations in kalpanasvara is a direct influence of percussioninsts”. About Tani Avartana, he says, “it does not reflect the kirtana of the chosen line. Even if it does, it is only for the first few moments. Soon tani avartana relates to the tala and nothing more”.

TMK always makes specific exceptions (not by name) of many sensitive artists (main, accompanists and percussionist) who are alive to these aesthetic aspects of karnatik music and follow them in their presentations.

Essay – 10: Voicing the Note (gift of Voice, its training and use)

In this essay, TMK more or less defines a ‘karnatik’ voice.  “Training the voice is as much about flexibility and ease, as it is being able to produce the aesthetics that drive karnatik music, which contains manifestation of the svara, raga, syllables and the demands of tala and laya”. He further asserts “The voice when directed towards karnatik music must be driven towards Karnatik sound.” He makes an interesting observation – “Sahitya as a part of music is a completely different entity from sahitya as only poetry … sahitya (is) conceived as being a part, of musical expression …of inseparable creation of matu and datu”.

As a vocalist, he feels “Vocalization in music involves the diaphragm, chest, lungs, shoulders, spine, head and neck. Actually the whole body sings, not just the voice”. One cannot help remembering the Thygaraja Kriti ‘Sobhillu Sapta svara’, where he says the nada as the supreme sound emanates from Nabhi and then through hrut, kanda, rasna. An interesting point made by Violin vidvan Sri Lalgudi, even for instrumentalist the path of supreme sound is same and however, the instrument is their vocal chords.

TMK tacitly agrees that many karnatik vocalists do use false voice, though the demand is for a “vocal texture that is closer to heavy”. “There is definitely a shade of false voice when karntik musicians sing at the higher octaves, but much less than what is heard from, for instance, singers of film music. This is purely a demand of the (respective) idioms and their aesthetics”.  “The aesthetic experience of karnatik music is ‘heavy’ ”, as compared to what they call light music.

I remember, AIR Vijayavada used to call pure karnatik art music as ‘Ghatra sangitam’.        

Essay – 11: A matter of style: (Individuality in music)

Style, “a phrase often used to describe or explain ‘bani’.” (To me, I think the closest phrase for Bani is ‘Gharana’ of Hindustani Music – it is basically a musical family.) When student gets serious about his musical training, especially when he starts his advanced training, she gets attached to a particular guru and imbibes her guru’s style in every aspect music (sometimes even in non musical aspects such as mannerisms and gesticulations – TMK says such non musical aspects is not to be confused with the ‘bani’ of guru’s music). At this stage of advanced training, “it is essential for the student not to look beyond her guru”. As per TMK at this stage, when she is acquiring the keen sense of musical aesthetics from her guru, this focus “is necessary so that the mind can develop ability to receive” external stimuli (meaning- influence of traditions of other doyens of karnatik music) based on this foundation provided by the Guru. At this point her response to other stimuli will be very mature one, imbibing only those changes compatible with her guru’s bani. This will help her at the time of her own individual presentation and performance. He ends the essay with a punch line, “bani is not a destination but a musical state”.

Essay – 12 : Studying the Song (Musicians and Musicologist)

In this essay, TMK takes up the issues of musical intellect and musicology. He talks about the popular misconception that an intellectual musician can only appeal to the intellect of the audience and not as much to the musical aesthetics and emotion. The perceived complexity and intricacy of the ‘intellectual’ music should always be layered with emotion, as per TMK. Otherwise, it is not music, even when presented with in-depth knowledge and with technical accuracy. However he does not minimize the importance of knowledge and insists on the necessity for the musician to develop their intellect, as one may not get all this from guru.

On the other side of the page, TMK feels, the musicologist generally go by textual tradition, as compared to oral tradition followed by musicians. “They keep tallying one tradition with the other; any discrepancy is dismissed by them as an error”. He further says “the biggest problem with musicologists is that they study Karnatik music as science … there cannot be a greater fallacy …. If the expression of a musician’s creativity means that the scientific framework of karnatik music have to be bent, so be it”. Musicologists insist and impose on musicians and composers their “notions born out of scientific classification, rather than natural melodic evolution”. TMK gives two examples how this has flawed the aesthetics of our ragas – “Musicologists has influenced the perception of so many older ragas, like Yadukula Kambhoji, by placing them into the melakarta system. Similarly, synthetic ragas like Dharmavati have been accepted though they do not contain the aesthetic features of a raga”. I am sure this will make us rethink about melakarta system. “The musicologist who approaches Karnatik music from an art music perspective is rare to find”

TMK ends this last essay of the first part of his book by saying “Ultimately both the musician and musicologist must seek the same: an understanding of the aesthetics of music. In this search, the musician must be willing to give up personal notions and conditioning and look beyond his practice. The musicologist needs to seriously reorient their views of music and approach musical tradition as an art.”

Thus we come to the end of first part of the book by Sri T M Krishna. It is difficult to summarize 272 pages of his views into about 8 pages. Hence those who like this presentation should consider going through the whole book. In case you wish to critically comment on the views expressed in this write-up, you should definitely read through the book in original, to understand such views in proper context. It is even possible that my understanding is somewhat inadequate. I am publishing this blog just at the start of the Chennai music season so that the readers may enjoy and critically appreciate the art music concerts. I will write about the other two parts of the book in due course.

We rasikas (and in fact, even musicians) should thank Sri T M Krishna for telling the story of karnatik music from the perspective of a concert artist. I feel parts of this book should be prescribed for study for all the serious students of karnatik music.