Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) used in Indian Elections

March 26, 2017

In the recent elections to five provincial states of India, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were used for all the voters. After the massive victory of central ruling party, BJP, there were many baseless complaints about EVMs, raised by responsible politicians, including sitting and former chief ministers. Though they did not provide any proof of rigging of the machine, their allegation surely creates some doubts in at least some small sections of the people. There are many features in the EVM which prevents any type of mechanical, electronic or network based fraud. The actual Balloting Unit (BU) is only a slave unit to the main Control Unit (CU). The micro programmed chip which resides in the CU is manufactured and programmed abroad. Once programmed, it cannot be altered in any way. The CU does not have any remote input and hence cannot be controlled from remote by any network device. There are many tests done at the booth level before the machine is put to use. These tests are witnessed and approved by the booth agents of the contestants, before the machine is finally sealed off securely and thereafter, will be always under the watchful eyes of police, election officials and the agents of contestants till the results are downloaded and declared. All these features are generally accepted and agreed upon by all the politicians and the voting public. However a few doubts are expressed in the following areas.

The Doubts:
The program inside the CU could be biasetowards one particular button. This doubt is easily answered, as button numbers of candidates of different political parties are different at different constituencies and doing an en-mass biasing of buttons is not a choice at all. In addition a mock polling test is conducted one hour before the polling in front of the agents and officials, with more than 50 votes polled at random and the results shown to all. After this test the CU is sealed and secured. There is a demo of this mock polling, available on U-tube as below:


The following are some of the questions answered by Election Commission in their website:


Q11. Can booth – capturing be prevented by the use of EVMs?
Ans. By booth-capturing, if one means, taking away or damaging of ballot boxes or ballot papers, this evil cannot be prevented by the use of EVMs as EVMs can also be forcibly taken away or damaged by miscreants. But if one looks at booth capturing as a case of miscreants intimidating the polling personnel and stamping the ballot papers on the symbol and escaping in a matter of minutes, this can be prevented by the use of EVMs. The EVMs are programmed in such a way that the machines will record only five votes in a minute. As recording of votes has necessarily to be through Control Unit and , whatever be the number of miscreants they can record votes only at the rate of 5 per minute. In the case of ballot papers, the miscreants can distribute all the 1000 odd ballot papers assigned to a polling station, among themselves, stamp them, stuff them into the ballot boxes and run away before the police reinforcements reach. In half- an –hour, the miscreants can record only a maximum of 150 votes by which time, chances are the police reinforcement would have arrived. Further, the presiding Officer or one of the Polling Officers can always press the “close” button as soon as they see some intruders inside the polling station. It will not be possible to record any vote when once the ‘close’ button is pressed and this will frustrate the efforts of the booth-capturers.

Q21. Is it possible to program the EVMs in such a way that initially, say upto 100 votes, votes will be recorded exactly in the same way as the `blue buttons’ are pressed, but thereafter, votes will be recorded only in favour of one particular candidate irrespective of whether the `blue button’ against that candidate or any other candidate is pressed?
Ans. The microchip used in EVMs is sealed at the time of import. It cannot be opened and neither any rewriting of program can be done by anyone without damaging the chip. There is, therefore, absolutely no chance of programming the EVMs in a particular way to select any particular candidate or political party.

Q24. In the conventional system, it will be possible to know the total number of votes polled at any particular point of time. In EVMs ‘Result’ portion is sealed and will be opened only at the time of counting. How can the total number of votes polled be known on the date of poll?
Ans. In addition to the ‘Result’ button, there is a ‘total’ button on EVMs. By pressing this button the total number of votes polled upto the time of pressing the button will be displayed without indicating the candidate-wise tally.

Q28. In the conventional system, before the commencement of poll, the Presiding Officer shows to the polling agents present that the ballot box to be used in the polling station is empty. Is there any such provision to satisfy the polling agents that there are no hidden votes already recorded in the EVMs?
Ans. Yes
Before the commencement of poll, the Presiding Officer demonstrates to the polling agents present that there are no hidden votes already recorded in the machine by pressing the result button. Thereafter, he will conduct a mock poll by asking the polling agents to record their votes and will take the result to satisfy them that the result shown is strictly according to the choice recorded by them. Thereafter, the Presiding Officer will press the clear button to clear the result of the mock poll before commencing the actual poll.

Q29. How can one rule out the possibility of recording further votes at any time after close of the poll and before the commencement of counting by interested parties?
Ans. As soon as the last voter has voted, the Polling Officer in-charge of the Control Unit will press the ‘Close’ Button. Thereafter, the EVM will not accept any vote. Further, after the close of poll, the is disconnected from the Control Unit and kept separately. Votes can be recorded only through the . Again the Presiding officer, at the close of the poll, will hand over to each polling agent present an account of votes recorded. At the time of counting of votes, the total will be tallied with this account and if there is any discrepancy, this will be pointed out by the Counting Agents.

My Suggestions:
In addition to all the above features, to improve the voter confidence, Supreme Court had ordered a system called Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). Under this system, the Balloting Unit, BU, includes a sealed printer with a viewing window and sealed box underneath where the paper strip falls after Voter verifies his voting preference as printed therein. This will help in actual counting, in case of any major contest about the result. Though it is not clear how this system will be used when it comes to wider use, my suggestion is the following:
These voting slips should actually be counted as a sample in some random booths to check whether it follows the general trend of voting pattern in the respective areas of polling. For example we may decide on actual slip counting, in 10 polling booths in a bye-election, in 30 polling booths throughout the state in a state assembly election and in 100 polling booths throughout the country in case of parliamentary elections. In case of any major discrepancy in voting trends, more PU’s may be examined for further investigation. In case of any legal demands, full counting of the slips may also be ordered by the court. This would definitely improve the confidence of voters and candidates on the EVM procedures.
Here is my another suggestion to increase the voter confidence: it is to allow for mock-polling within the actual polling period also. Two such intermediate mock polls may be allowed at the times chosen by the agents. During this mock poll, the times of the commencement and end of mock poll, and the actual voting pattern may all be noted and stored in the control unit (CU), for later verification at the time counting . During these intermediate mock polls, say for about 15 minutes each, actual polling may be stopped and resumed immediately afterwards. The CU programme should include a feature to find the ‘RESULT’ between different times also. This will help the agents at the time of final counting, to check and verify whether the intermediate mock poll results tally with what is already noted down. This timed counting feature will also help to detect other polling frauds, if any, found in future.

With this feature, the results when downloaded will be interpreted as in the example below:
Total votes polled – 1,25,372.
This may be verified against actual votes polled added with total intermediate mock poll votes polled.
Intermediate mock poll results are first retrieved from CU, as below:
1) From 11.30AM to 11.45AM – 57 Votes – Party-wise : A – 25, B – 18, C-4, D-10
2) From 3.15 PM to 3.30 PM – 66 Votes – Party-wise : A – 20, B – 22, C-11, D-13
Total – Mock Votes – 123 – Party-wise : A – 45, B – 40, C-15, D-23
Verified with the actual Test data and found correct by Election officials and agents.
Actual votes polled – 1,25,372 – 123 Mock Votes = 1,25,249
Party wise votes:
A – 36,253 – 45 Mock Votes = 36,208
B – 42,117 – 40 Mock Votes = 42,077
C – 26,318 – 15 Mock Votes = 26,303
D – 20684 – 23 Mock Votes = 20 661
Total – 1,25,372 – 123 Mock Votes = 1,25,249
Accordingly B will be declared as the winner.

It is sincerely hoped this will convince all the political parties about the use of EVMs. More than that, voters will not have any doubt on the election process. What is required is for the machine to be redesigned in a way that you may get the results in a time tagged manner. As far I could see, the counting procedure does not seem to include any facility for printing of the result. Such a facility may also be considered, as manual noting down of the result form the machine display is susceptible to human errors and mischief. It is now for the Election Commission and EVM designers to take up the issue. Long live Indian Democracy.

Post Script:

As I published the above blog on EVMs on 28th March 2017, I was disturbed to know from the media about the recent fiasco of EVM/VVPAT in MP, while testing and demonstration. VVAPAT was apparently found to print the same election symbol irrespective of the button pressed on Balloting Unit. The Election Commission has not only not offered any explanation for the fiasco, they stayed away from assuring the voting public any credible investigation. This definitely reduces the confidence of Voters like me on these machines. I also understand the concerns of politicians. However the solution is not to discard the EVMs and to go back to cumbersome Paper ballots. On the contrary we should find ways of improving the reliability and tamper-proof quality of EVMs. None of the politicians have suggested any solution but only blamed Election Commission. Response of EC is also far from satisfactory. While it is okay for normal politicians to immediately ask for debunking of the EVMs (with or without VVPAT), I thought, we can do something better than all of them. We can suggest solutions to make these machines better. As a voter I want the EVMs to continue with more improvements as we go along.

I have already suggested two solutions as above. The first suggestion is as explained in earlier paragraphs to allow for intermediate mock polls at random times during polling. My second suggestion was to decide on the operation VVPAT machines and declare openly about the mode of its usage, post completion of counting. Now my third suggestion is to improve the operation of VVPAT itself. Actually, the news came about the VVPAT fiasco, as I was posting this suggestion on VVPAT.

VVPAT machine is connected at one end to Balloting Unit (BU) and at the other end to Control Unit (CU). When voting button is pressed, the BU prompts the VVPAT printer to print the slip, which goes into the box after verification by the voter, (if at all he is smart enough to verify and report in case of any mismatch). VVPAT also sends this voting info to CU for recording it as a vote cast. Here is the catch. As a voter I prefer to verify what is recorded in CU and not what was registered in BU/VVPAT. Hence my suggestion is: Connect BU directly to CU as existing in the normal EVM. Connect VVPAT to CU and let VVPAT print what is recorded in CU after the vote is cast. Additionally, VVPAT can have another output to BU to blink the vote-recorded button LED for 6 Secs. This way voter will find it easy to verify the functioning of EVM, thus boosting his confidence level. Having a VVPAT machine in between Balloting Unit and Control Unit, introduces a source of tamper and hence must be avoided.

Presently VVPAT machine is connected as below:







The voting process will be:

– Press the required button in BU

– Look for the VVPAT to printout your selection

– Check whether your selection is shown correctly in the printout

– Look for the printout slip to get cut properly and falls down in the sealed box below.

Now you may leave the booth.

Suggested change is as below:









When connected like this, flow of voting information reverses. VVPAT will be able to now print what is registered in the Control Unit instead of what is selected in the Ballot Unit. We can use the ballot button lamp more intelligently as per the voting process described below:

– Press the required button in BU

– The blue LED behind the button will light up

– The CU will register your vote and communicate the same to VVPAT and the BU

– The Blue LED will start blinking six times to indicate your choice as recorded by the Control Unit

– At the same time VVPAT will print out the selection as recorded by CU.

– You may verify both as above and leave the booth.

I request the media and other powerful NGO for democracy to take up this suggestion seriously and improve the reliability and tamper proof nature of EVM and VVPAT machine. Let us make our electoral democracy fair and just.

Books Read during 2016

February 9, 2017

Books Read during 2016

by L V Nagarajan

We were visiting our son and daughter in the US during July/Nov 2016. Many visiting Indian parents find such visits as boring, since they are confined to home most of the time with nothing much to do. But in our case we look forward to such visits, as we can spend a lot of time in walks, Yoga and most importantly in books. The libraries in the US are too good and have excellent collection of all kinds of books. All the books I have listed below are borrowed from a single library in Cupertino, Ca, US. I am not sure whether we can access such books in India unless we search and purchase them. The library system in the US allows us to search the digital catalogues with lot of ease, looking for titles, authors, topics, fiction, non-fiction, etc. Herein I have given a brief review of some of the books I have read during my stay in the US in 2016.

  1. Shikandi – Devdatt Pattanaik – 16/07/16

It is a book about sexual queerness, as narrated in the epics of India. Story of Shikandi is only a sample. There are other characters which are also as narrated by the respective stories. He includes Shiva’s episode, where he takes the form of a midwife for a devotee, (and delivered her child, in the absence of her mother) though there is no sexual interaction with anyone. He even considers the story of fast friendship between a poet (Pisir Aandayar) and a Tamil (Chola) king as ‘queer’. Story of Vishnu taking the form of Mohini, the enchantress, also finds a place in the narration. It is a readable collection of ‘queer’ stories from ancient India.

  1. Inferno – Dan Brown – 01.08.16

This book is typically a Dan Brown adventure mystery. This new novel ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown is based on a biological ‘terrorism’ of scientific age placed in the surroundings of medieval mysteries of Ottoman Empire covering present day Florence of Italy and Istanbul of Turkey. This novel is heavily based on Italian poet Dante Alighieri master piece ‘The Devine Comedy’ consisting of three cantos – Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, describing the path of the dead/soul towards Hell, Punishment and finally perhaps the Heaven. There are many articles available in the net comparing this piece of ancient literature with similar ideas represented in ancient Hindu scriptures by Saint Veda Vyasa in his Garuda Purana. Some of them even suggest that Dante was inspired by this description of Hell (and the travel of soul with its pseudo-body through the hell to the Paradise). In Maha Bharata epic, King Yuthishtra is supposed to have passaged through hell as a punishment for abetting the unfair killing of Ashvattama.

In this novel there are some unexplained ambiguities as below

  • How can a single type of vector virus would do equal harm to the fertility of both men and women? Evidently, their reproductive systems are quite different.
  • Though a lot of anxiety is expressed by all the characters in the novel about this biological ‘terror’, it appears to be a very humane way of controlling the population. It is same as vasectomy and tubectomy, which are of course, voluntary. This type of population control is normally adopted in animals and pests.
  • The characters in the novel, opposed to this type of ‘terrorism’ initially, come around and accept the same and think of making it reversible.

However the novel is quite interesting and highly readable. It has also come as a movie with Indian actor Irfan Khan in the role of Provost, the off-shore expediter and the secondary antagonist in the novel.

  1. An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath, Harper Collins Publishers India (2013) – 11.08.16

The book itself was published in May 2013, just after the sudden demise of Sri Lalgudi on 22nd April 2013.

  • The episode concerning Lady Lokasundari and Sir C V Raman is quite funny. Smt Lokasundari was trained in Music by Valadi Radhakrishna Iyer, grandfather of Lalgudi. She sang ‘Rama nee Samaanam evaru’, apt for the occasion, when the groom Dr. C V Raman came for bride introduction function at Madurai, in early 1900s.
  • In the CD attached with the book, track-8, ‘Meenakshi Memudham’ was simply superb. The violin sings. When Lalgudi plays on two strings we can hear the words. Initially I thought he sings along. He creates this effect repeatedly in his rendering. The CD itself was too good and deserves to enter into all musical archives.
  • On 9th March 2008, The Music Academy, Madras awarded Sri Lalgudi, the Special Life Time Achievement Award, a one-off award for the first time ever in the ninety years history of the Academy. During the occasion the president of the Academy Sri N Murali said that non-award of Sangita Kalanidhi title to Lalgudi, can be compared to Mahatma Gandhi not getting a Nobel Peace Prize. Sri Murali was proud that they did better than Nobel foundation, by seeking ‘to erase the mistake and the aberration’ and ‘in conferring the Special Life Time Achievement Award’ for Sri Lalgudi. But all said and done, I am still feeling sad to see that Lalgudi’s portrait is not seen anywhere in the lobbies of the Academy, not even among the portraits of Sangita Kalanidhis. Will the Academy take steps to erase this aberration too?

The book is a very interesting read for a biography. It has been a very well researched material with all interesting references. Some of the intrigues, conflicts and challenges in the world of Carnatic music have been brought out along with Lalgudi’s mature responses for the same. I felt the book could have included a few more comments from the rasikas including a few Lalgudi fans.

  1. Athisayam Athi Rahasyam – Lakshmi prabha – Vanathi Publishers -15.09.16

This is a Tamil Novel. It revolves around the mystical experiences of a couple, whose father becomes a ‘siddha purusha’. They go in search of a mystery to the forests of south Indian mountains and encounter several mystical experiences. It is a good attempt at mystical spiritualism in Tamil.

  1. Story of Numbers – John Mcleish – Fawcett Columbine 1992 – 20.09.16

This is a biography of Numbers and evolution of mathematical sciences. Like all authors of the western world, Prof. McLeish also appears reluctant to give due credit to the ancient civilization of India for the evolution of the number system and other mathematical concepts. Surely he has allotted one chapter (10 pages) for India, as compared to 20-page chapters for Arabia and China.

For example: Yajnavalkya (c. 9th– 8th century BC) recognized that the Earth is spherical and believed that the Sun was “the centre of the spheres” as described in the Vedas at the time. In his astronomical text Shatapatha Brahmana ( he states: “The sun strings these worlds – the earth, the planets, the atmosphere – to himself on a thread.” He recognized that the Sun was much larger than the Earth, which would have influenced this early heliocentric concept. He also accurately measured the relative distances of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth as 108 times the diameters of these heavenly bodies, close to the modern measurements of 107.6 for the Sun and 110.6 for the Moon. He also described a solar calendar in the Shatapatha Brahmana”. Several Solar, Lunar and Luni-solar calendars are still in regular use in India. In the author’s discussions on calendars, he totally ignores this ancient Indian contribution.

P-144: Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi (c.780-850 CE)- (Ref: Wikipedia): The author mentions this Arab mathematician profusely in his text. Perhaps his most important contribution to mathematics was his strong advocacy of the Hindu numerical system, which Al-Khwarizmi recognized as having the power and efficiency needed to revolutionize Islamic and Western mathematics. The Hindu numerals 1 – 9 and 0 – which have since become known as Hindu-Arabic numerals – were soon adopted by the entire Islamic world. He oversaw the translation of the major Greek and Indian mathematical and astronomy works (including those of Brahmagupta) into Arabic. Though the Arabic scholar is willing to acknowledge the pioneering work done in ancient India, Western scholars and leftist intellectuals (even in India) are still not willing to accept the same, and call them as tall claims by Hindu nationalists.

  1. Artifact – Gigi Pandian – 28.09.16
  2. Pirate Vishnu – Gigi Pandian – 10.10.16

The author’s father is from India and she seems to have spent good amount of time in India to appreciate the ancient and recent culture of India. The first novel is about a lost and hidden treasure of ancient jewels of Jaipur royalty pilfered by an East India Company executive, centuries ago. Their descendants have hidden the same in a site near Irish border. An archeological explorer in the area hires some diggers, who seem to have their own agenda of finding and snatching the treasure and selling them to international art mafia. The story is well narrated as an adventure mystery. When I was reading the books of Dan Brown, I always thought there is a lot of scope for writing such treasure hunt mysteries with ancient treasures at many ancient locations of India. In fact, I have given my ideas of such a theme in my blog “Ancient Mystery thriller” – (https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/ancient-mystery-thriller/

The second novel by Gigi Pandian, Pirate Vishnu, is also about an art piece, lost from Indian Port town of Tutucorin during the early struggle for Indian independence. The mystery revolves around Kochin and Sanfrancisco during the period of Gold rush. Mingling the stories of the past and present really enhances the narration. Especially, care has been taken to see the treasure being lost (or hidden) at the end of the ‘past’ story and it being found at the end of the ‘present’ story. Being only her second novel, her narrative style has shown lot of improvement. Quite an interesting read.

  1. Lost Kingdom (Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia) – By John Guy – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – Yale University Press – 10.16

This is a very good photo journal describing the influence of Hindu-Buddhist rulers in South East Asia. Excellent photographs of sculptures of almost all Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina religious icons are listed and catalogued. We know about Angkor Wat, Cambodia. There are hundreds of such temples throughout South East Asia. It is really amazing to see the photographs along with their historical perspective, with a sense of pride.

  1. A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story – T M Krishna – Harper-Collins Publishers 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. TMK has been doing a lot in taking this art music to all communities, especially to the community to whom it belonged a few centuries ago. He has received Magsaysay award for his work in breaking the community divide that is perceived to exist in the field of karnatik music. This award has been seen in a totally different context by the media and purists of the art form. But those reading this book will understand his views better in a social context than political. TMK suggests a lot of ‘mid-term corrections’ to the course taken by Karnatik Art Music at present times. I totally agree with many of his views on this aspect.   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. Those who want to get a summary of the first part of this book can visit my blog as below:


Hope my readers like some of these titles and get access to read these books.

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.


Deluge – A Sequel?

October 19, 2016

A New Chapter

I am again returning to the Novel ‘Deluge – Agasthya Secrets’ by Dr Ramesh Babu. It is about a year since the Novel has been published. It is an ancient mystery novel set in modern times, in the style of Dan Brown. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and had recommended the same to many of my friends. I had also written a review of the same, available elsewhere in my blog site. I felt it required a final chapter to tie up a few loose ends and also to give scope for a sequel, if ever, in the future. Initially I thought this added chapter, when read alone, will spoil the suspense element of the original narration and hence, I did not publish the same in my blog site. Now I have made a few changes which will hold the eventual suspense, and at the same time will induce the readers to read the whole novel. To begin with, I am introducing the important characters of the novel before going for the finale proposed by me.

Swathi: A medical intern starting on a career in medical research in micro biology for finding new antibiotics and pro-biotics. She teams up with an American professor in finding herbal antibiotics and takes the help of Ashwin, for locating herbal plants near Rameswaram.

Ashwin: An IIT(M) graduate in Marine Engineering and on internship at Indian Maritime University at Chennai, interested in Marine biology and Archeology.

Ravi: Director of Indian Maritime University at Chennai, a Marine Archeologist, guiding Ashwin in his internship.

MARCOS: Short form for Marine Commandos, a special operation unit of Indian Navy.

Shivani: Joined the team of Ashwin/Swathi, as a member of MARCOS, a marine commando unit, to prevent a possible terrorist attack from the sea, off the coast of Rameswaram.

Lee: Brings along a mini nuclear submarine Triton-1000 from China to help the team (!?!), in under water exploration.



27th March 2016, 6.00 AM

After seeing off Ashwin/Swathi/Shivani trio, leaving for high seas by speed boat, Ravi was lucky to find a modest inn near Uvari itself and had a nap over night. But he got up early at 5 AM, with the village getting busy so early in the next morning. He tried to call Ashwin/Swathi, but their phones were out of range. He packed up his things and left, to take a tour of the shore temple as he had planned earlier. As he approached the Temple he again tried Ashwin/Swathi, as he was getting worried about them. He was looking at the sea intermittently for any sign of them. When he was trying his phone again, he sensed some movement in the sea. When he looked up with hope, he could only see a floating object slowly swaying towards the shore. It was semi-circular in shape and as it came nearer he realized it as a lifebuoy. But why is it floating vertically, as though some thing heavy is hanging from it? He approached the object and pulled the same to the shore. It was a lifebuoy with the inscription, TRITON 1000. Is it not the family of mini submarines, used for under water explorations, he suspected. As he pulled it completely, he saw a heavy object entangled with lifebuoy through some wild sea weeds. It was looking like a wheel guard of a heavy vehicle made of blue PVC material. It had a slit opening in which a black object was remaining stuck. On closer look he recognized it as the stone tablet Ashwin was handling the previous day. Now he was sure something serious has happened to Ashwin trio in the high seas. He again tried to contact them without success. He noticed the tablet now to have the inscriptions erased on both sides.

Sadly Ravi walks towards the shore temple ruins, after safe guarding his finds from the sea in his car. He went inside the temple ruins, to where sanctum sanctorum should have been. There was no Sivalinga – perhaps, it has been moved to the new Swayambu Linga temple nearby. The entrance to the sanctum was somewhat intact. He could see the carvings of Sages Patanjali and Vyagrapadar on either side of the entrance. But he was pleasantly surprised to see carvings of sage Agasthya below Patanjali and of sage Tirumoolar below Vyagrapadar. This carving of Agasthya was exactly the same as what they saw in Tiruchuli, again with the typical signature of Agasthiyar at the bottom, in Harappan script. Oh! What is this big space beneath the Agasthyar’s carving? It looks as though a tile of granite has been removed from this space. However on the other side there was a granite peace in place below Tirumoolar, though slightly damaged. Just as he was wondering about this, Sun’s rays started falling on these carvings. And in the sunlight he could see faintly a similar map in the space below Agasthya, as he has seen earlier on the tablet which he just now retrieved from the sea (with all inscriptions erased on both sides). But the Brahmi scripts on the map were not same. It did not take long for him to realize the map with the scripts was a mirror image of the original. Does it mean that the tablet originally belonged to this temple?

Ravi came hurrying to his car where he has stored the tablet and the lifebuoy. As he was about to return to the ruins with the tablet, he received a call from Swathi and was relieved to know they are safe. He asked them to come over to Uvari for the surprising revelation. As they arrived there in about twenty minutes along with Marcos team, they explained about what happened to them at the Spot-X. When Ravi showed them the tablet and lifebuoy of TRITON 1000, they all guessed that Shivani and Lee might have been involved in the mysterious explosion that occurred below the sea. Could they have ejected themselves and escaped? Or?

Ravi, Ashwin and Swathi approached the stone tablet in the car with all reverence. When they lifted it out into the sun, they could again see the map in the sun light at a particular angle. Ravi immediately reversed the tablet – Yes, they could see the inscription on the reverse also in the early morning sun light. Apparently the ancient chemical used for inscription is able to show up under ultra violet rays of the early morning sun!  They carried the Tablet as though it is a divine idol and tried to place it in the space below the Agasthya carving in the shore temple. Like a strong magnet the frame attracted the tablet with perfect fitting. It may require some force to take the same thing out again. Ravi observed a smile in the face of sage Agasthya. Or was it his imagination? But what is it about a similar tablet below Thirumoolar? Ravi made a mental note to come back soon to the site with ultraviolet lamp and other accessories to do further research.

With the sun still falling on the temple they could still read the inscription shining in the ultraviolet rays.

ஊழி அடைத்த உலக நாதன்

ஆழி வேலெறிந்த அய்யன் தலம்

Uuzhi adaitha Ulaga naathan

Aazhi vel erintha ayyan thalam

Ravi understood. Yes,

“Know this place from where the Swami

  Threw his spear to seal Tsunami”


(PS): I shared this proposed final chapter with the author Mr. Ramesh Babu. He liked this so much, he is proposing to include this finale in the next edition of the book. In his own words, “One reader Mr. L. Nagarajan has suggested an entire new chapter to my novel. It fits in so well just after the climax and also follows my style of narration! Hats off!” (https://plus.google.com/101148246018050836170). You may get this book ‘Deluge (Agasthya Secrets)’, at the following sites:






The Musical Journey of Lalgudi G Jayaraman

September 17, 2016

Comments on Biography of Lalgudi

I just happen to finish reading the book – An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath.  The book itself was published in May 2013, just after the sudden demise of Sri Lalgudi on 22nd April 2013. As a tribute to his memory, I am sharing with my readers and many fans of Lalgudi, a few comments I have on this book, which may add up additional features to his phenomenal life of great achievements in the field of Carnatic Music. Page numbers are given for ready reference.

  • (P-23) Sethupathi Vallal Pandithurai Thevar was a great promoter of classical music. He was also a leading figure in preserving Hindu Culture and was the head of a movement against Sharada act, banning child marriages. In those days, it was considered as interference in religious freedom, and people argued that the same reform could be achieved by persuasion than by an act of government. I remember seeing a copy of an old letter written by my grandfather to Pandithurai Thevar, suggesting a meeting on this issue along with Andipatti (Mattapparai) Zamindar. By the way my grandfather L S Raja Ramanatha Iyer was a Veena Vidwan, a contemporary and a friend of Karaikudi brothers. He was also briefly an elected president of Madurai Jilla Board.
  • (P-24) The episode concerning Lady Loka Sundari and Sir C V Raman is quite funny. Smt Lokasundari was trained in Music by Valadi Radhakrishna Iyer, grandfather of Lalgudi. She sang ‘Rama nee Samanam evaru’, apt for the occasion, when the groom C V Raman came for bride introduction function at Madurai, in early 1900s.
  • (P-29) Muthulakshmi Patti is the grandmother of Lalgudi (Wife of Valadi Radhakrishan Iyer. Her poetry is fantastic. Now we know where from Sri Lalgudi inherited his composing genius. Look at this: Vennai unda vaya, Oliyum Maya, kalvanum Niya, Kanniyar Neya, kadir nigar thooya, un manam kaya, anbellam Poyya – in his Charukesi varnam. Compare this with Patti’s: Ennariya Thozharai Anna Thambi enru, Vennai Thayir Palundu, Unna amudam kondu…
  • (P- 44) Lalgudi’s mother Smt Savithri is from Edayathumangalam, near Lalgudi, same village my patti (Grand Mother) Ammalu nee Akhilandeswari, hailed from. I have heard from Smt Savithri Ammal, that it was her father Sundara Sastrigal who was the official priest who married off my patti.
  • (P-64) Lalgudi’s father, Sri V R Gopala Iyer’s Music School in Lalgudi: The group photograph shows my aunt (Mami) Smt. Dharmambal, who had learnt music from Gopala Iyer in her younger days.
  • (P – 116) Speaking of Lalgudi’s tala expertise and control – Once Lalgudi was accompanying the great MD Ramanathan in a concert in Bharatiya Fine Arts in Mumbai. MD elaborated raga Pantuvarali and after the krithi, started niraval and kalpana swaras. After a long passage of swaras, he started his Kuraippu sequence. Lalgudi was accompanying him beautifully and suddenly he stopped his bowing. MD continued his kuraippu for another cycle of talam and looked at Lalgudi puzzled. Lalgudi shook his head ever so slightly, just enough for MD to realize that the particular kuraippu is not going to end at the required beat of the tala. He gestured to audience his acceptance of mis-beat and proceeded further, cutting short his kuraippu and started an entirely new kuraippu sequence smilingly acknowledging Lalgudi’s follow-up. I am referring to this concert again later in a different interesting context.
  • (P 127) Accompanying Madurai Somu – His accompaniment has always embellished vocal concerts in a very imaginative way. In a concert by Madurai Somu, in Shanmukhananda, Mumbai, he was presenting a viruttham on Goddess Meenakshi. In his rich emotional voice he was describing goddess Meenakshi’s alankaram : ‘Vairam…. Vaiduriam…’. Audience were spell bound: ‘mookutthi.. Odyanam..’. Lalgudi beautifully enhanced the imagery by playing chords in a fast tempo. When Somu dropped into an emotional silence, the chords of Lalgudi continued in a low tone bringing out the emotion among the audience also. There was a rapturous applause for the presentation.
  • (P-159) In the CD attached with the book, track-8, Meenakshi Memudham was simply superb. The violin sings. When he plays on two strings we can hear the words. Initially I thought he sings along. He creates this effect repeatedly in his rendering. The CD itself was too good and deserves to enter into all musical archives.
  • (P-161) Lalgudi most certainly re-invented the raga Kalyana Vasantham and the kriti Nadaloludai. Among other Krithis he embellished was Manavyalakim in Nalina Kanthi. He slowed it down and lifted the Krithi from its light music aspect to main Krithi level.
  • (P-164) Regarding Sahithya bhava in Theerada Vilayattu pillai : In another krithi Nee Irangayenil, variety of ways he plays Sei Uyir Vazhumo; first he will play Vazhumo flat, suggesting ridicule and rebuke, then he will play the same thing with harsh bowing showing anger, then the ‘vazhumo…..’ will be prolonged as though crying for help. He says that is how the sangatis are meant to be presented.
  • (P-171) Regarding playing ragamalika, Lalgudi introduced several novelties, including the one mentioned. When he plays ragamalika with his son: he plays a raga, his son picks up the same raga and then seamlessly changes to another raga and ‘passes the baton’ to Lalgudi: Lalgudi takes over ‘on the go’ and after a few phrases changes over to the next raga. Yes, it was a relay-raga-malika. This trend he practiced in many of his concerts.
  • (P-177) Lalgudi’s Tala gnana was tremendous. Once before a concert in Dubai I happened to visit him in the Hotel room he was staying, on the morning of the day of the concert. When I entered the room I saw Lalgudi reciting some jati’s keeping Adi Tala on the hands. His accompanists, Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam and Tanjavur Nagarajan were also seated in the room. He demonstrated an elaborate korvai of decreasing counts, in about 8 to 10 avartanas. Instantly he reversed the same korvai to increasing counts for the same avartanas, to the amazement of tala vidwans
  • (P-224) Lalgudi Poornachandar episode: What irked Sri Gopala Iyer, apparently, was his lack of respect – in saying that he had obtained legal clearance for appending Lalgudi to his name. He even dropped the name of P V Rajamannar, former Chief Justice of Madras High Court. As a disciple of Lalgudi and Balamurali, he was shaping up extremely well as a violinist, but unfortunately lost his way in between.
  • (P-239) Duet with GJR Krishnan: It was the first ever duet of LGJ and GJR in Mumbai Shanmukhananda (~1974). There was a rotational power-cut in Mumbai due to power shortage. Concert started at 6.05 PM as usual. Sharp at 7PM, power went off and without any facility of UPS, the sound system also went down. Two emergency lamps appeared from either side of the stage. Auditorium was dim and silent, and the pure and melodious sounds of violins continued crystal clear for the next half hour (music-unplugged) and then, the power returned. At the end of the piece, audience applauded the artists for the way they handled the situation and using it to enhance the audience experience.
  • (P-257) It was in 1984. We were having a concert tour of Lalgudi in the Gulf. We were having two concerts in UAE one in Dubai and another in Abudhabi. I was driving Sri Lalgudi to Abudhabi and my wife was also with me. The whole two hours of driving we had a feast of his vocal music along with his anecdotes. He sang the whole Charukesi varnam enjoying his own lyrics and music immensely. We reached the auditorium in Abudhabi just in time. But the accompanists, who were travelling in a different car lost their way a little bit and arrived almost 10 minutes late. But Lalgudi took the stage on time and started warming up. Just then accompanists also arrived at the stage. Lalgudi’s comment cheered up the audience: “Sri Ramabhadran and Sri Vinayakram were always accompanying me faithfully but this time they failed to do so. Surely, they will make up for this on the stage.”
  • (P-265) When his disciple, Sow Akhila was in Dubai, Lalgudi used to stay with her whenever he visits Gulf either for concert or on transit. During one such visit, we were blessed to watch the video of Jaya Jaya Devi ballet along with him and his comments.
  • (P-335) On 9th March 2008, The Music Academy, Madras awarded Sri Lalgudi, the Special Life Time Achievement Award, a one-off award for the first time ever in the ninety years history of the Academy. During the occasion the president of the Academy Sri N Murali said that non-award of Sangita Kalanidhi title to Lalgudi, can be compared to Mahatma Gandhi not getting a Nobel Peace Prize. Sri Murali was proud that they did better than Nobel foundation, by seeking ‘to erase the mistake and the aberration’ and ‘in conferring the Special Life Time Achievement Award’ for Sri Lalgudi. But all said and done, I am still feeling bad to see that Lalgudi’s portrait is not seen anywhere in the lobbies of the Academy, not even among the portraits of Sangita Kalanidhis. Will the Academy take steps to erase this aberration too?
  • The book is a very interesting read for a biography. It has been a very well researched material with all interesting references. Some of the intrigues, conflicts and challenges in the world of Carnatic music have been brought out along with Lalgudi’s mature responses for the same. I felt the book could have included a few more comments from the rasikas including a few Lalgudi fans. Being an ardent fan of Lalgudi, for my own satisfaction, I am adding below a few of my experience and interactions with Lalgudi.
  • V R Gopala Iyer: Lalgudi’s father was really a genius. Here is my own experience with him. In my younger days (1977), I was once visiting Lalgudi Sir along with my wife and 2-year old daughter. As Lalgudi sir had gone out, we were greeted by Sri Gopala Iyer. When we were talking to him, my daughter was playing with the grilled door of their house. She was rattling the bolt of the door. When I asked her to keep quiet, Gopala Iyer remarked: Kuzhandai kaila dhaivatham, Panchamam Vilayadikirathe! (Daivath and Pancham are the playthings in her hands) – When I looked somewhat puzzled, he explained: ‘The child is playing with Da and Pa, Thapa,(i.e.) the bolt ! When he came to know the child’s name as Sriranjani, he again made a remark: Pancham Varjyam ! (In raga Sriranjani, the swara panchamam is absent). Pancham can also mean in Tamil, scarcity or poverty.
  • During a lecdem Lalgudi was asked whether Saint Thyagaraja’s nadopasana composition, ‘Nabhi Hruth Kanda Rasana’ applies to instrumentalist also, he confirmed that even for instrumentalist the Nada emanates from Nabhi, then Hruth and Kanda and then it echoes on the instruments instead of Vocal cords as in the case of vocalist. “Set of vocal cords is their instrument and violin is my vocal cords; Otherwise source of Nada is the same” as per Lalgudi.
  • Once Lalgudi was accompanying the great MD Ramanathan in a concert in Bharatiya Fine Arts in Mumbai. (Referred earlier). It was immediately after MD received the title Padmashri from GOI. Before the concert there was a felicitation for MD where many people spoke of him and his music. MD was all the time nudging Lalgudi to speak, which he was refusing. When it was MD’s turn to reply, he openly acknowledged about his unkind references to awards, when Lalgudi received his Padmashri ahead of MD; it was almost an apology. The concert that followed was really memorable without any slightest sign of discard.
  • When Lalgudi came to Mumbai for a concert in Shanmukhananda he had arrived two days earlier. As he was comparatively free, I invited him to our apartment for coffee. When he was there I took the opportunity of taking his blessings for my wife who was a budding vocalist. He asked her to sing raga Todi. After elaborating the raga, she was about to sing one of the trinity krithis. He asked for a different one and then again a different one. Finally he settled for Thygaraja Krithi, ‘Dachu kovalena’. When she was singing a particular sangati, she was asked to repeat the same sangati several times, as apparently he liked it very much. In the next day’s concert he played this krithi and played the same sangati, looking smilingly at us in the audience.  [My wife says pranams to her (Late) Guru Sangita Kala Acharya, Vidwan S Ramachandra Bhagavatar of Shanmukhananda – on whom Sri Lalgudi also had a high regard].

Today, 17th Sept 2016, is the 86th birth anniversary of Sangita Vidwan, Violin Maestro, Padma Bhushan, Lalgudi Sri G Jayaraman (1930 – 2013). My thanks are due to the author Smt Lakshmi Devnath for making me live through Lalgudi experience all over again. There are a lot more musical incidences to remember him on this day. Luckily his music still lives in the form of his many recordings, many compositions and in many of his disciples including his children, Sri GJR Krishnan and Sow Viji.

Ref: An Incurable Romantic (The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman), by Lakshmi Devnath, Harper Collins Publishers India (2013)

Dan Brown’s Inferno, the hell

August 19, 2016

I just finished (Aug 2016) reading the novel Inferno by Dan Brown. When I finished reading The Amber Room by Steve Berry, I wrote a blog about similar mysteries that abound in ancient and medieval India. I invoked English language writers of Indian origin to write such mysteries a-la Dan-Brown-Style, but with Indian artifacts and mysteries. (Please refer to my blog.

https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/ancient-mystery-thriller/). My thirst for the same was quenched somewhat by a novel ‘Deluge – Agasthya’s Secrets’, by Dr. Ramesh Babu of Chennai. (https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/dr-ramesh-babu-indian-version-of-dan-brown/).

This new novel ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown is based on a biological ‘terrorism’ of scientific age placed in the surroundings of medieval mysteries of Ottoman Empire covering present day Florence of Italy and Istanbul of Turkey.

This novel is heavily based on Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s master piece ‘The Devine Comedy’ consisting of three cantos – Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, describing the path of the dead/soul towards hell, punishment and finally perhaps the heaven. There are many articles available in the net comparing this piece of literature with similar ideas represented in ancient Hindu scriptures by Saint Veda Vyasa in his Garuda Purana. Some of them even suggest that Dante was inspired by this description of Hell (and the travel of soul with its pseudo-body through the hell to the Paradise). I wonder if any other Indian  literature has given annotations of this work in Sanskrit or any other modern languages. I am vaguely familiar with a story in Mahabharat where King Yutishtra, with all his integrity and moral equipoise, is made to undergo a horrible view of the Hell, as a punishment for his abetment of a lie in killing Aswatthama in the war. Any extract of description such a view, is it available, I wonder.

(Those who have not read this novel ‘Inferno’ and are planning to read the same, may please avoid reading further, to retain the mystery and suspense of the Novel.)

In this novel there are some unexplained ambiguities as below

  • How can a single type of vector virus would do equal harm to the fertility of both men and women? Evidently, their reproductive systems are quite different.
  • Neither it is necessary to affect random one-third of both male and female population equally, to reduce the birth rate by a third.
  • Hence it is better to say that the vector-virus modifies the DNA of whole population but switches on at random only in one-third of male population. This will reduce the birth rate by one-third and gradually reduce the population by a third, as this DNA-Virus from even unaffected males gets inherited by the subsequent population. It will be again switched on at random in one third of males in every generation.
  • Though a lot of anxiety is expressed by all the characters in the novel about this biological ‘terror’, it appears to be a very humane way of controlling the population. It is same as vasectomy and tubectomy, which are of course, voluntary. This type of population control is normally adopted in animals and pests.
  • The characters in the novel, opposed to this type of ‘terrorism’ initially, come around and accept the same and think of making it reversible.

However the novel is quite interesting and highly readable. I understand it is also coming as a movie soon with Indian actor Irfan Khan in the role of Provost, the off-shore expediter and the secondary antagonist in the novel.

PS: I remember playing a board game in my village (India) on the nights of Gokul Ashtami and Shivratri known as Parama Pada Shobanam. It is a kind of a snake and ladder game where we start from hell and pass through several evil images and then on to happy images and finally to the heavenly images of Gods.(i.e. Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise).  On the way we encounter many snakes (named after villains of Hindu epics) and ladders of good conduct and behaviors. I wish somebody adds an image of this board to this blog. (LVN)



Dr. Ramesh Babu, Indian Version of DAN BROWN

March 22, 2016


Agasthya Secrets

A novel by Dr. Ramesh Babu

A REVIEW by L V Nagarajan

An Indian version of Dan Brown has risen in the horizon. Many of us might have read Dan Brown’s Novels Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Digital Fortress and the like. These novels are based on ancient mysteries being interpreted and used in the present days for good or bad deeds. These mysteries involve codes, puzzles and secrets that existed in the context of medieval European History. We always felt Indian history and culture, being much older, offers much more scope for such novels.

Please refer to my blog:

(https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/ancient-mystery-thriller/) wherein I have given some ideas on such themes.


Dr. Ramesh Babu’s novel DELUGE is a very successful attempt to create a full length fiction of ancient mystery thriller set in modern India. He has made an excellent mix of several ancient intrigues like, Nadi jyothish, Siddha philosophy, mythology of Lord Siva as Tripurandaka, mystical land of Lemuria, ancient Tamil-Brahmi scripts etc. This novel is about events set to happen in the near future. The parallel story of devas and asuras of yore and merging it with the tsunami of Lemuria keep the reader quite engaged. The synthesis of Vedic Culture and Tamil Culture has been brought out very well in the narration. Extremist views in Politics and Religion has also been brought out convincingly. Narration is very absorbing and it is difficult to believe that it is author’s first full length novel.

I recommend this novel to all my friends for a good read.

Following are the details


Agasthya Secrets

By Dr. Ramesh Babu, MS, MCh, FRCS Glas, FRCS Edin, FRCS Paed
Professor of Paediatric Urology,
SRMC, Chennai.




February 27, 2016


Fibonacci – Hemachandra Sequence

Some of my readers will m remember, one Krishnagiri Kittappa, the official percussionist of Oho Productions in the great Tamil romantic comedy of 1960s, Kathalikaa Neramillai (No time for romance). He was initially a self-taught mridangam (Drum) player. He wanted to learn to play Tabla also. He went to a Tabla player to learn the same. He was started on his first lesson, of course, in Teen Tal (or Triputa Tal in Carnatic music) of 8 beats.

Na Din Dinnah – Na Din Dinnah

Na Din Dinnah – Na Din Dinnah

Na Din Dinnah – Na Din Dinnah  . . . . . . .

This went on for quite some time. Our man got bored of playing the same rhythm. It is the same 1,1,2 – 1,1,2 all the time for the 8-beat cycle. Why not 1,2,1, – 1,1,2, he thought.

Din Dinnah Din – Na Dhin Dhinna

Din Dinnah Din – Na Dhin Dhinna

Then, why not 2,1,1-1,2,1

Dinnah Din Din – Din Dinnah Din

Good. Now he further thought about how many such combinations of 1 and 2 (Din and Dinnah), he can make in a cycle of 8 beats. Ancient Indians have already thought about this and so, I gave him the answer as 34 different combinations. He was surprised. So many? How did they calculate?

Ancient Indians always depended on recursive technique in solving such problems. They started from 1-beat, then to 2-beats, 3-beats etc.

No. of Beats (n) Syllables – 1 & 2 Combinations Total Combinations Kn
1 Din 1 1
2 Din, Din






3 Din Din Din

Dinnah Din

Din Dinnah







4 Dinnah (+ 2-beats)

Din  (+ 3-beats)





Now they generalized:
(n+1) Beats Dinnah +  (n-1) beats

Din + (n) beats



K(n+1) = K(n-1) + K(n)


K4 = K2 + K3 = 2 + 3 = 5

K5 = K3 + K4 = 3+ 5 = 8

K6 = K4 + K5 = 5 + 8 = 13

K7 = K5 + K6 = 8 + 13 = 21

K8 = K6 + K7 = 13 + 21 = 34
Hence we have 34 combinations of 1-2 in an 8-beat cycle.

Now look at the series K1, K2, ….. Kn:

1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 ……

This is the famous Fibonacci series ‘invented’ by Fibonacci (alias Leonardo Pisano Bogollo) in 13th Century AD. Ancient Indians knew about this, at least, a thousand years before him. Fibonacci himself acknowledges this fact. Fibonacci also helped spread Hindu- Arabic Numerals (like our present numbers 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) through Europe in place of Roman Numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, etc). The olden day knowledge route was from India to Alexandria (Egypt) to Europe.

Susantha Goonatilake (Ref-2) writes that the development of the Fibonacci sequence ” is attributed in part to Pingala (200 BC), later being associated with Virahanka (c. 700 AD), Gopāla (c. 1135), and Hemachandra (c. 1150). Parmanand Singh cites Pingala’s cryptic formula misrau cha (“the two are made together”) and cites scholars who interpret it in the context as saying that the cases for ‘n’ beats (Kn+1) is obtained by adding [Short or 1] to Kn cases and [Long or 2] to the Kn−1 cases. He dates Pingala before 450 BC ”.

“However, the clearest exposition of the sequence arises in the work of Virahanka (c. 700 AD), whose own work is lost, but is available in a quotation by Gopala (c. 1135). The sequence is also discussed by Gopala (before 1135 AD) and by the Jain scholar Hemachandra (c. 1150) “. Fibonacci was born only in 1170 AD.

Prof. Manjul Bhargava (R Brandon Fradd Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University, USA) gave a Lec-Dem on Music & Mathematics at the Music Academy, Madras during their annual conference 2015, on 31st December 2015. Being a Tabla player himself, he dealt with the above aspect of rhythm variations in detail. His talk was the inspiration for me to write this blog.


  1. https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/fibonacci-sequence.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number
  3. Manjul Bhargava’s Lec-Dem at the Music Acedemy, Madras (2015)

L V Nagarajan


Melakartha Chart (Scales of Carnatic Music)

November 26, 2015

Melakartha Chart – (Scales of Carnatic Music)

L V Nagarajan


Some time back I was listening to a young upcoming Carnatic vocalist in Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai. After a few items, he started the alap of an unfamiliar raga. Some of the knowledgeable members of the audience were guessing what raga it could be. Somebody said it is like another rare raga but with prati-madyama. Another one said it is a janya of melakartha75(?!) or so. After a short alap he allowed the violinist to play the raga. Violinist started a little hesitantly. Vocalist leaned towards him and spoke a few words. Violinist nodded and continued more confidently. Then the vocalist proudly announced the rare raga as Gopriya, janya of Rishabapriya scale. Some in the audience were happy but I was not happy. If he had told us the Melakartha number I could have also understood the scale easily; but Rishabapriya? Luckily I happen to know something about Katapayadi Sankhya, a code into which these Melakartha names are encoded. Now let us see:

Ka (adi) nava – Ka, Kka, Ga Gga, Gna, Cha, Ccha Ja, Jja.

Ta (adi) nava – Ta, Tta, Da, dda, Nna, Tha, Ttha, Dha, Ddha.

Pa (adi) pancha – Pa, Ppa, Ba, Bba, Ma

Ya (adi) ashta – Ya, Ra, La, Va, Sya, Sha, Sa, Ha

Ri-Sha-bapriya is the Mela. Ri is second letter in Yaadiashta and Sha is 6th in the same series. Hence It is Mela number 62. (i.e) =10×6 +2, 11th cycle of the Melakartha scheme, 5th Cycle of Prathi-madhyama group and the second raga in the cycle. (i.e.) S R2 G3 M2 P D1 N2 S is the scale. QED.

How nice it could have been if the vocalist told us this number 62 as he did to the violinist.



1. He! I understand all systems of music have seven notes. But, tell me, what is this scale, Mela or Melakartha?

The concept of present day scales in Carnatic Music has been imported from the western music. In the West an octave of eight notes are defined starting from a note of a specific frequency to its resonant note of double the frequency. This octave (set of eight notes) was initially divided into 7 frequency intervals between the notes, denoted as C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. The musical scale of these major notes is known as Major scale. The frequency ratios selected for these intervals is same as Sankarbharanam (scale) of Carnatic music. However, a set of semi tones (or half intervals) were introduced, 2 between C-D-E and 3 between F-G-A-B.  In a piano or harmonium the white keys represent the major notes and the black keys(^) represent semi-tones – (C^D^EF^G^A^BC). The semi tone between C and D is called D-Flat or C-Sharp according the musical context. Same way the other semitones are also treated. For our convenience, we will call them as

C, D1, D2, E1, E2, F1, F2, G, A1, A2, B1, B2, C.

Frequency ratios of these semi-tones follow the rule of consonance and assonance. Many scales were developed using the 7 selected notes from these 12 semitones. Some of our main ragas (scales) like Karaharapriya and Mayamalavagowla matched these semitones.  Somewhere in the 17th century this concept of scale was adopted by theoreticians of carnatic music. They were also influenced by the keyed instruments of western music like piano and harmonium. Hence attempts were made to fit our ancient musical system into the keys of the above instruments. At this point scales were introduced in carnatic music, to group all the notes used in a raga. These attempts lead to the development of our own basic scales, Mela Karthas. Melas or new melodies were born out of these scales and hence the name Melakartha or melody-maker. (However, subsequently, sacrificing some amount of consonance and assonance between notes, Western music adopted 12 equal intervals for these 12 semitones. This system was called ‘equi-tempered’ as opposed to the earlier system called ‘just-tempered’ or ‘just intonations’ which takes care of consonance ratios. Western musical instruments are tuned accordingly.)

2. But how do these 12 semitones make 72 Melakarthas, I often hear about?

At this point it may be better to discuss about what constitutes a present day scale. A full scale constitutes seven notes or saptha swaras (sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni) in an octave. For convenience let us call these notes in short as S R G M P D N. These are selected from 12 basic nodes, which we may call as Sruthis’s, though they are called semitones in western music. The rules for selecting a basic-scale (a set of seven swaras from these 12 sruthis) can be summarized as below:

Swaras S       R       G      M P       D      N S
Semitones C D1 D2 E1 E2 F1 F2 G A1 A2 B1 B2 C
Sruthis 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1
(12) Swara-sthanas S R1 R2 G1 G2 M1 M2 P D1 D2 N1 N2 S
(4) Vivadi-Swaras Gr Rg Nd Dn  
(16) Swara-sthanas S R1 R2 R3 M1 M2 P D1 D2 D3 S
G1 G2 G3 N1 N2 N3  

It may be noted above that notes nos. 3 and 4 are used as both Ri and Ga. Similarly notes 10 and 11 are used as both Da and Ni (though such usages are known as Vivadi Prayoga). In carnatic music system, these 16 swara-sthanas are called respectively: Shadjam, Suddha-Chatusruthi-Shatsruthi Rishabams, Suddha-Sadarana-Antara Gandharams, Suddha-Prati Madhyamams, Panchamam, Suddha-Chatusruthi-Shatsruthi Dhaivatams and Suddha-Kaisika-Kakali Nishadams. Here itself we can make out the attempt of reducing the number of sruthis from the original twenty-two to twelve. (Even in Western Music double-sharp and double-flat notes are used in a scale)

Any basic scale has two parts: Poorvanga, the notes upto and including M, (SRGM) and Uttaranga, the notes including P and above (PDNS). For each M (sudda-M1 and prati-M2), there are six types poorvangas based on six different combinations of notes R and G; namely R1-G1, R1-G2, R1-G3, R2-G2, R2-G3 and R3-G3. Similarly there are six types of uttarangas based on six different combinations of notes D and N. Hence we have 72 Melakartas – [(6+6) x 6].

3. Really ingenious! But what is this Katapayadi mumbo-jumbo being mentioned?

The above 72 melakarthas require some identification as most of them are not naturally available scales. They divided these in to twelve groups, each group having a specific R-G-M1 and R-G-M2 combinations with increasing order of R and G. Within each of this group, six scales with increasing order of D and N were included. Thus 36 scales or melakarthas using M1 were numbered 1 to 36. The others with M2 were numbered 37 to 72. Please refer to the chart at the end of this write-up. Each of this 12 groups known as chakras were named as Indu, Netra, ……, Rudra and Aditya. (Indu – one Moon, Netra – 2 eyes, ….., 11 Rudras and 12 Adityas). In the chart below each row represents two chakras. Since many of these scales were not in existence, these, as melakarthas, required some names also. The earlier day musicologists used a code to name these scales in such a way that one can find the number of a melakartha from the name itself. The code is known as Katapayadi Sankhya and is used in many applications of ancient Hindu science and mythology.

The numbers 1 to 9 are coded by using following letters: (Ka Ta Pa Ya)

Ka (adi) nava – 1 to 9 –  Ka, Kka, Ga Gga, Gna, Cha, Ccha Ja, Jja.

Ta (adi) nava – 1 to 9 – Ta, Tta, Da, dda, Nna, Tha, Ttha, Dha, Ddha.

Pa (adi) pancha – 1 to 5 – Pa, Ppa, Ba, Bba, Ma

Ya (adi) ashta – 1 to 8 – Ya, Ra, La, Va, Sya, Sha, Sa, Ha

Other letters are rendered as zero. In the scale Kamavardini, Ka decodes into number 1, and Ma decodes into number 5. Hence the number of the scale decodes into 5 tens plus one, 51. The same way other scales were also given such names. However, some scales are already established as popular and well known ragas from ancient times. Hence these names were modified, such as, DdheeraSankarabharanam (29), HanumaTodi (8), MechaKalyani (65), to fall into the Katapayadi scheme.

4. Looks neat! Why then people prefer melakartha numbers instead of names?

DdheeraSankarabharanam and Sulini are two different scales, the first one being a well known raga. Can you spot how these scales compare? Yes, only when one compares the numbers 29 and 35. we can now say immediately: Sulini uses R3 instead of R2 in Sankarabharanam. And Kosalam (71) is immediately identified as M2 of Sulini, (or R3, M2 of Sankarabharanam). With names these relationships are not immediately evident. Hence, the preference for numbers. Of course there are many who have completely memorized the Melakartha table

5. Is there a way to name these scales in a way to reflect these inter relationships?

To my knowledge, nobody has tried so far. However, I propose, in the following paragraphs, a way of encoding such relationships in the name itself.

Earlier the scale was split into two parts Poorvanga (SRGM) and Uttaranga (PDNS). Let us now split the scale into three parts: SRG, M, PDN. If we consider the variations in these parts, we get SRG(6) x M(2) x PDN(6) = 72 Scales. Let us now name these parts along with their variations:

S R1 G1 – athi M1- Daya P D1 N1- Vathi
S R1 G2 – Sakala P D1 N2 – Nidhi
S R1 G3 – Sarva P D1 N3 – Kari
S R2 G2 – Parama M2 – Kripa P D2 N2 – Varshini
S R2 G3 – Poorna P D2 N3 – Varithi
S R3 G3 – Poojya

P D3 N3 – Sagari

With these code names, Sankarabharanam (29) will be called as Poorna Daya Varithi. And Kalyani (65) will be known as Poorna Kripa Varithi. It is clear from the name that Kalyani scale is same as Sankarabharanam, but with M2. Poojya Daya Varithti is Sankarabharanam with R3, i.e. Shulini (35). Here I take the liberty of using the Melakarta Chart as developed by Dr. Mukund (http://www.carnaticcorner.com/articles/mukund_chart.htm). This chart is prepared on the same principle as mentioned above. I have superimposed the above code names on this chart, as shown below. We may use this chart to get used to the proposed new names. The melakarthas using Athi, Poojya, Vathi and Sagari codes are the 40 Nos. of Vivadi melas – the outer most squares of the chart.


6. Umm…! I really need time to study and understand this.

Please take your time and do write your comments.


  1. The material discussed in this blog has been extracted from my more detailed write-up on Melakartha scheme done in 2006. However I did not have a blog-spot then, to publicize it. I sent it to a few musicians and musicologists but there was not any response. I was enthused to write this note again, when I recently came across Mukund’s Chart. (http://www.carnaticcorner.com/articles/mukund_chart.htm).
  2. The rasikas of Chennai Music Festival (2015) may use this chart while attending the concerts.
  3. The above suggested codes/names can definitely be improved by musicologists like Dr. Mukund. It is only an idea to be adopted, or improved (or rejected, if found not suitable).
  4. While there are numerous advantages of this Melakartha scheme, there are a few disadvantages also. Though Melakartha formulation helps us to classify, formulate and document our music, it has limitations in formulating such nutpa-sruthis as Madhyama of Varali or Rishaba of Saveri. Possibly this was the reason why Harmonium (or Piano) was not preferred as a part of carnatic music ensemble. More so due to the equi-tempered tuning of Harmonium, where the 12 notes of the octave are tuned with equal frequency intervals. Here-in, even Sa-Pa consonance is sacrificed. We should not allow the Melakartha scheme to restrict our music to just 12 flat notes and 72 basic scales. We may discuss more about this later.  The author of this note is only a normal listener and follower of Indian music and whatever knowledge (or lack of it) displayed here are purely incidental. Let our Music and its traditions live forever.

Phonetics of Devanagari and Tamil scripts

October 14, 2015

Phonetics of Devanagari and Tamil scripts

These two scripts are phonetically related in a very odd way. Many of the north Indian languages closely follow the Devanagari script as used by Sanskrit presently. Other south Indian languages (I am consciously avoiding the term Dravidian languages) follow their own independently evolved scripts. I found some interesting contrast between the scripts of Sanskrit and Tamil which I want to share with my readers. These are all my own original ideas and purposely I have not read or referred any previous work or study on this aspect (which I will eventually do after I publish this write-up).

Like the scripts of all languages, these two scripts also have vowels and consonants. The Devanagari script has thirteen vowels as below. (I am giving only the phonetic value of these vowels);

Vowels : a, Aa, i, Ee, u, Uu, ru, eay, ai, oh, ou, amm, aha.

Actual Devanagari script is not of our interest as of now. Let us now look at the vowels in Tamil language:

Vowels : a, Aa, i, Ee, u, Uu, eay, Eaay, ai, oh, Oh, ou.

As we compare these phonetics we see, they are essentially similar, but with significant differences. When ‘a’, ‘i’ and ‘u’ have their extended phonetic as ‘Aa’, ‘Ee’ and ‘Uu’, the same extension is not given to ‘eay’ and ‘oh’ in Devanagari script. But Tamil script has extended phonetics for them also. Tamil seems to need them too. Look at the Tamil words –

mattu, mAattu, mittu, meettu, muttu, mUuttu, mettu, meayttu, mottu, mOhttu

– meaning respectively,

less, hang, earth/land, pluck a string of a musical instrument, butt or bang with your head, enflame (or bone joint), musical tune, raised level, flower bud and bulging. (Phew, look at the strength of Tamil vocabulary).

If we assume that Tamil phonetics were derived from Devanagari script, then Tamils have surely added two more vowels to meet their phonetic requirements. Let us wait till we see the consonants.

The primary consonants in Devanagari are:

Ka, kha, ga, gha, nga

Cha, chha, ja, jha, ngya

Ta, tha, da, dha, Nna

Tha, Thha, dha, dhha, na

Pa, pha, ba, bha, ma

The corresponding consonants in Tamil are:

(Ka, nga) – (Cha, ngya) – (Ta, Nna) – (Tha, na) – (Pa, ma)

Tamils added (perhaps after a later thought) one more set of similar consonant in

Rra – na, (literally at the end of the list of alphabets).

While an emphasized Rra (or tra) is required to handle a few important Tamil words, I always found a second ‘na’ superfluous, although the two ‘na’s are surely used in different contexts in the written language.

As can be seen above, Devanagari script appears to be an expanded version of Tamil phonetics. If it is still believed that Tamil phonetics were derived from Devanagari, what could have been the reason for dropping the different variations of Ka, Cha etc? When writing purely Tamil words, Tamils don’t feel the need for these emphasized consonants, as they are intended to be pronounced with such variations as per the context. Tamil also uses double letters for emphasized consonants such as KKa for Kha. However, when writing words of other languages in Tamil script, one feels handicapped by this deficiency in the script. Some authors use subscripts like 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the script for marking these variations. As you can see in the next section, in later days, a few Devanagari phonetics were also adopted in to Tamil script, even though purists do not use them.

Now let us write down the secondary consonants of Devanagari script, as below:

Secondary consonants: ya, ra, la, va, sha, sya, sa, ha

Tamil has similar consonants as below:

Secondary consonants: ya, ra, la, va, zha, Lla

Earlier Tamils did not adopt the latter half of the above set of Devanagari phonetics in to their script. As need arose to read and write words of foreign roots, they adopted the others also in to a set of special (Northern!) scripts – ‘sha, ksha, sa, ha and Sri’. Here again the purists do not use them. The consonants zha, Lla, Rra, na are special phonetics of Tamil, (especially the zha), and significantly they at the end of the list of Tamil alphabets.

From the above account it appears that the phonetic scripts of Devanagari and Tamil could have had their roots in a more ancient common script. Critical comments on the above are most welcome.