Archive for மார்ச், 2019

Several weeks back, I was contacted by Vid. Vrinda Acharya to be a part of a panel in the Swadeshi Indology Conference on Carnatic music. While the topic was not crystallized, from our lengthy discussion (mostly on cultural appropriation of carnatic music), I felt we tended to have more disagreements than agreements. When I expressed that, she said the conference welcomes counter views and they do want to feature all view points.  After some deliberation and discussions with some friends, I felt my apprehensions were baseless. After all, I am open for discussion with anyone, doesn’t matter what his/her ideologies are.

The conference took place yesterday and here I attempt to record what I heard and add my views on the same.

By the time I could finish up my Saturday chores and leave for the conference,  I had missed the inauguration and the first few speakers.  It was a bad miss for me to miss out on the Nagaswaram recital, which I heard was great. My friends later told me that Mr. Mohandas Pai “roared” and Dr. Sumathi Krishnan from the music academy made a very poignant speech.

When I entered the hall, I could only catch the end portions of Mr. Rajiv Malhotra. He mentioned that temples that are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, there was no place “to do bhakthi”. He quoted the example of Mamallapuram and further went onto explain how the schemes of “breaking forces” function. In my experience, I have been to several temples maintained by the ASI (examples Thanjavur, Kanchi, Uttaramerur, Darasuram, Gangaikondacholapuram) and these are (in Mr. Rajiv’s definition) living temples. I have no doubt in my mind that but for ASI, the state of these temples would be pathetic.

He also mentioned that several of the invitations to be a part of this conference was turned down and congratulated the ones that accepted boldly to participate and complemented them as “Intellectual Kshatriyas”, which brought a smile in my face.

This was followed by the keynote address by Dr. Nagaswami. He attempted to trace the history of carnatic music from the vedas till date. The chronology was pretty much in line with what is mentioned in Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s book, History of South Indian Music.

He made a very interesting remark on the name “Carnatic”. Since Venkatamakhin’s roots are in Karnataka (Govinda Dikshitar  – father of Venkatamakhin – moved from Northern Karnataka to join the Nayaks that ruled Thanjavur). Since the 72 melakartha scheme deviced by Venkatamakhin forms the rockbed of the music system, the system was named as “Karnatak” music to acknowledge his roots in Karnataka. It is widely acknowledged by many that the history of Carnatic music can be viewed as “Music before Sangita Ratnakara” and “music after Sangita Ratnakara”. A similar sentiment was expressed by Dr.Nagaswami as well. In such case, I wonder why we don’t acknowledge the Kashmiri roots of Sarangadeva. I have no expertise to comment on this etymology. I look forward for expert comments on this theory.

Finally, Dr. Nagaswamy complemented the bhava rich singing of Vid. T.M.Krishna and appealed that he should be given complete freedom for experimenting.

This was followed by the first session of paper presentations.

The first paper was by Dr. Korada Subramaniam on “Tyagaraja’s Philosophy and
Rebuttal of Allegations” The presentation showcased that the speaker was well versed in Sanskrit. However, there wasn’t enough time on either of the topic that he set out to explain. I felt some of his remarks such as “it is TM Krishna’s horoscope that makes him do what he does” could have been avoided and the speaker might have found more time for the topic on hand.

The rebuttal was for this article by T.M.Krishna: http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/tyagarajas-musical-span-and-insight-reiterates-his-genius/article18384186.ece

He says,

Unlike Syama Sastri, whose conversations with the Goddess were inter-personal or Dikshitar who surrendered as a pandita, Tyagaraja was a social commentator. He saw his life as a part of the smarta network. To his credit, by and large, he has stayed away from what we would find today disturbing, but there are compositions in which misogyny is quite obvious. We could cleanse the meanings, justify them or you could accuse me of imposing post-modern values on to him. But if we, in the 21st century continue to seek cultural validation through his words, we should question them.

In compositions like ‘Menu Joochi Mosa Bokave,’ ‘Dudukugala,’ ‘Enta muddo’ and ‘Entha nerchina,’ he follows the classical norm of objectifying women, implying the sexual vulnerability of men. She is always the vice, the seductress who will enslave the man, therefore he needs to be ever watchful. Women and their own self-worth, rarely of any consequence. In ‘Dudukugala,’ it is interesting that the woman is placed below the sudra! And in the same composition, you also find the following casteist reference — “ Despite being born a Brahmin (“Modati Kulam,” first caste), I was behaving like a sudra. Much like Tulsidas, Tyagaraja’s position on women and caste was undoubtedly shaped by his times, his social mores but one wishes that a mind as creative as his had gone beyond or risen above those.

TMK says Tyagaraja was misogynist and smartly takes care of the rebuttal by adding that “he was undoubtedly shaped by his times”. It is not just Tyagaraja’s works, there many many works starting from Thirukkural that echo the sentiments expressed by the songs quoted by TMK on women. To expect  Tyagaraja to meet TMK’s expectations that are built on values of present times is, to put it mildly, naive. One wishes that a mind as intellectual as TMK’s  had gone beyond or risen above this.



It is also interesting to not the hashtags Krishna chooses to use for posting this article. His target audiences are clearly not the ones that enamored by the glide towards the thodi gandharam I guess.

That being said, Dr. Subramaniam’s rebuttal that Tyagaraja held women in high esteem based on songs that praise Goddess Sita  lacks logic. Tyagaraja’s veneration to Sita Devi says nothing about his thoughts on the other ‘vanithulu’ he mentions in his songs. The other contest that Tyagaraja’s lyrics must not been seen with ‘Vakya Artha’ (direct meaning) but with ‘Lakshya Artha’ is nothing but white washing facts to suit one’s own ‘Lakshya’.

This was followed by a presentation on Muttuswami Dikshitar by Vidushi Gayatri Girish. She opened the talk warning about the rampant conversion attempts and said it is only through the deep understanding of the culture and tradition one can counter it. She spoke on the composer’ss musical highlights, structure of his compositions, content, unique themes and his open mindedness to appreciate and draw from other systems. She remarked that nottuswara sahithyams show his open mindedness and count for only a very small number of his compositions.

The abstract published in the conference website says

He didn’t have any need to “copy” a Western tune, as we have
seen in a few recent allegations of plagiarism against him.

She didn’t mention about any “allegations” in her talk. However, she was asked to respond to the “allegations” during the question answer session. To which she said, “This shows Dikshitar’s openness but these compositions were not done with any ulterior motives.”

First of all, are there any allegations?

Please watch this video below:





Some time after the 17th minute, TMK talks about Dikshitar. If my hearing is right, he doesn’t allege anything against Dikshitar. He actually says, making such an allegation would be ridiculous (as ridiculous as the statement made by Mr. Vijay Krishnan). If there is another source that can corroborate to this “allegation” on Dikshitar, I would like to be educated.

I asked a question, “Like Dikshitar, if a Christian is only “inspired” and with no ulterior motives composes songs on his Gods; does she approve of it or would she also recommend a blanket ban on such attempts like some people demand.”

Vid. Girish said, “Music is universal and she thinks an attempt  without any ulterior motive should not be banned.”

This was followed by a talk by Vid, Vrinda Acharya on “Non Translatables in Indian Music.” She lucidly explained how the English equivalents for word such as Nada, Raga, Laya etc are inadequate in explaining the concepts in totality. While I completely understand the challenge in using English equivalents, I struggle to understand how that can lead to cultural appropriation and digestion. I wish she had explained this in detail rather than declared it.

The second session started with a paper presentation by Dr. Radha Baskar focusing on Experimentation in carnatic music and tried to analyse ‘how far is too far’.

She mentioned that experimentation is important. But it should lead to progression and should not disturb the fundamental ethos.

She described the Ariyakudi bhani and asserted that it has stood the test of time. She also mentioned about attempts that deviated from that bani (e.g Vidwan TRS starting with a thillana and ending with a varnam).

She explained elaborately on how Tyagaraja’s experimentation lead to progression.

She explained the importance of Sahithya and how it forms an important part of our culture. She finally said “Music without words has never been in our culture.” I would like to point out that ‘non sahithya’ music is as much a part of sahithya music in our culture.  Especially in the temple nagaswara tradition, where it is mainly raga alapana, mallaris, rakthis and thathakaara pallavi that are played all throughout. To discount the non sahithya elements from the tradition would be denying a rightful place to a rich tradition.

This was followed by a very interesting presentation on Role of Patronage by Arvind Brahmakal. I liked his idea that the 10% of the CSR appeals should be dedicated to fostering arts. It was well structured presentation with a clear delineation of the problem and with some recommendations to rasikas, artists, corporate and the government.

This was followed by a Panel discussion, which I was part of.

I couldn’t take notes as I was in the panel. I write about this from my memory.

We were to discuss, “Recent trends in Carnatic Music – Is there anything wrong? If
yes, what needs to be done?”

Dr. Radha Baskar was the moderator. Her first question was directed to Shri. NS Krishnamurthi, a veteran rasika and the ex-director of AIR. It was related to which changes that he perceived were good and which aren’t. His response was mostly around TMK’s attempts to break away from the Ariyakudi format. He remarked that such attempts have not influenced many and there are hardly any takers for it. He opined that the Ariyakudi format was deviced based on logic and had balance in it.

The second question was to Dr. T.S.Sathyavathi. She was asked which aspects she held precious in the tradition (there was also some reference to jugalbandi and carnatic rock in the question). She answered it in an interesting way by listing what she found disturbing in the current music scene. She mentioned that the current focus is on high volume, high speed and high pitched singing. She said more things that I don’t readily recall. She concluded, whatever she didn’t list is the precious part of the tradition.

Next question was directed to Vid. Melakaveri Balaji. He was once regularly performing with TMK and had gone on record that he wouldn’t perform with him as he doesn’t subscribe to TMK’s ways. It is not clear (to me) if that was related to TMK’s musical experimentation or non music pursuits. He was asked to comment upon this.

For which, he said he didn’t feel he had done something great by refusing to perform wth TMK. He felt he just did his duty. As a full time artist, it is not easy to  refuse to perform concerts. But he felt his ideals did not match with TMK’s. To be true to his lineage, he felt he should not perform with this artist. His remarks were matter of fact and did not hold any grudge or bitterness.

Fourth question was directed to me. It was related to challenges faced by the nagaswaram today and what is the impact of instruments such as saxophone and mandolin coming in.

A lot of what I had said can be read here: https://carnaticmusicreview.wordpress.com/2018/11/04/nagaswaram-the-distressing-present-and-a-bleak-future/

One thing I touched upon that is not part of the article is, how established nagaswaram and thavil artists are treated today.

While we say, Nagaswara is a mangala vadhyam and is part of all auspicious occasions, do we know how many times the artists are asked rudely to stop abruptly?  The nagaswaram artist also has a paddathi to be followed during a wedding and the reality is they are often hindered to execute it. I witnessed it as recent as a few weeks ago.

In the sabha concerts, mostly nagaswaram recitals are restricted to opening ceremonies. Last December, I attended a concert at Sri Parthasarathi Swami Sabha that featured the legendary Mannargudi Vasudevan. The concert was scheduled for two hours. Every ten minutes saw a dignitary arrive and was followed by a rush of a team representing the Sabha to receive the dignitary and make sure he felt comfortable. In the process, they kept blocking the view to the stage and were often found speaking loudly and disturbing the concert. At one of point of time, the stage was completely invisible and there was an extended selfie session right in front of the stage. Would the people involved behave this way if it were not a nagaswaram concert?

Another incident from last December hurt me deeply when the nagaswaram artist involved mentioned it to me.

During the Music academy concerts, before the inauguration  and the sadas, a one hour slot is given to nagaswaram. If you had attended concerts at the academy you would notice that there is a small pedestal over the stage on which the artists sit and perform. This is the case of all concerts except for the two I mentioned above.


The above picture clearly shows that the artists do not sit on the pedestal but on the floor. one might argue that it was just a question of convenience. It can save a few minutes by not having to remove the pedestal before the inauguration function. There are no casteist intentions behind this. While I agree that this may have just a matter of logistic convenience, one would expect that we are sensitive to what the artists involved think about. Before you ask me, why am I making an issue out of this when the artists themselves have no problem in performing this way, please be assured that I spoke to the artists about this and they are indeed hurt. It is just not in their nature to protest. That doesn’t give us the license to treat them the way we want.

There was a comment in the panel that it is the advent of Saxophone that has caused the downfall of nagaswaram. I refuted it immediately. It is not as if hundreds of Saxophone artists have come into the field. Just one popular artist cannot displace hundreds of traditional players.

I was mostly a silent observer for the reminder of the panel discussion. A lot of emphasis was done on the importance of sahithyam and how sahithyam is not just a  placeholder. My views are completely in agreement with what the panel said.

There is no need to feel ashamed that the roots of the carnatic music are steeped in bhakthi. To say sahithya’s are replaceable with any words and it is only the music that matters is definitely in my view a flawed perspective with an urge to replace the idealogy of the composer with one’s own idealogy. In some some ways, that can be called as misappropriation as well.

In the same vein, any attempt to distort the intention of the composer must be censured as well. The outrage cannot be selective.

If i had the time, I would have asked the panel what they thought of this:



The above video is a live streaming of an event on World Music Day in 2014. This was after our PM Shri. Narendra Modi came to power. Some portions of the program was on a special “theme”. The theme was “Modi”. The compositions that had the word “modi” were rendered as part of the theme. The divine compositions of saintly composers like Tyagaraja was force fit  to fit this theme. I would have loved to know if the panel things if this is misappropriation as well.

No points for guessing who protested and wrote about this incident.


TMK carefully doesn’t take any names and thereby doesn’t bring out the fact that it was two of his students who rendered the third song (The article says first song is by  a prominent music, the second by “another musican” and no mention of musicians in the third song) in this “theme”. For each their own politics I guess!

The panel discussion was followed by three more presentations.

First one was by Jatayu on the Christian Appropriation of Carnatic Kritis. He spoke elaborately quoting examples from Vedanayaka Sastriar’s compositions on how he uses kritis to demean Hindu religious practices and how he uses Hindu divine terms such as “Om” in a Christian context. The presentation was focused and data driven. He also talked about how in “Karnamrutha Sagaram” Abhraham Pandithar talks extensively about the origin of music from a Christian context elaborately (running over several hundred pages) and underplays the Hindu roots (Sama Veda, natya Sastra etc get a passing mention).

He also refuted the recent claim on Tyagaraja’s Sujana Jeevana could have been inspired by Sastriyar’s Parama Pavana. (The biographer of Sastriar clearly says that he didn’t have  ability to compose music but was able to write for an existing tune. It is quite obvious whose work was original and who followed it).

Another article in that context worth pondering here: https://medium.com/@sabdavidya/a-response-41a28e4b8efe

I wish he had also appealed to the community that they stick to the facts and do not resort to protests based on false propaganda as it happened in the recent case, where no Tyagaraja kriti was appropriated but several artists were threatened and abused for singing a carnatic (original) composition on Jesus.

The next presentation was by Dr. Arathi on “Is Carnatic Music a bastion
of Brahminical patriarchy?”. I felt most part of her presentation was explaining what was original definition of “Brahmin”. I wonder what that meant in the context of the present day. She listed a bunch of non brahmin artists who made it big in carnatic music. She mentioned that it was with great difficulty she found the caste of the artists listed. It was only the music that mattered and it was only due to the topic of this paper she had to dig into this detail. My suggestion to her is, she should just talk to an average rasika in Mylapore and she can get the details instantly. I’m not trying to suggest that the average rasika is biased and casteist. But to say, that average rasika wouldn’t know of the caste of an artist who had made it big is a little bit too naive.

The last presentation was a by Dr. V.Ramanathan. It was a critique on the acclaimed book of TMK ‘A Southern Music – The Karnatic Story’

I have not read the book. So I cannot comment on the book or the critique. But I found his presentation structured and fact based. There was no high pitched frenzy or call of boycotting or shutting down TMK. He presented several Illustrations of fallacies and circular logic in the book. He also mentioned that some portions are also directly lifted. I would read this paper when the proceedings are published with interest.

Overall, it was an interesting day. As promised, I was allowed to make my points freely. While the focus for most part was on the external threats, there could have been a little bit more focus on introspection as well.

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Here is an illustration of the Tyagaraja Kriti – Muchata Brahmadulaku – A rare song in praise of Lord Shiva.

Inspired by the painting posted earlier, I’m posting a recording of the song depicted in the painting. This is from a concert in Montreal in early eighties. Recording Courtesy: Yessel Narasimhan.


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My apologies for not posting it everyday, although I have been posting it in FB everyday.

Rajam100 – 26 of 365

Here is another cover from Vanoli, depicting the Sangita Pitamaha Purandaradasa.


Rajam100 – Song 26 of 365

Rajam’s greatest passion was to learn kritis from various sources. He had the opportunity of learning songs from very authentic sources (Ambi Dikshitar, Gowri Ammal, Madras Lalithangi) and in some cases from the composer himself (Muthiah Bhagavathar, Papanasam Sivan). He stayed true to his patantharam in his renditions but never disrespected other sources and variations. He was critical if a rendition was totally against the idea of the composer (e.g. Nagumomu in Abheri) but in general was not critical of improvising or embellishment with new sangatis.

He was meticulous in knowing the meaning and the intent of the composer. Compositions that often suffer from butchering can be found rendered with appropriate splitting of the words (Example Manasuloni Marmamulu). His repertoire of the compositions of the trinity was enormous. But what was amazing was his penchant to learn compositions of his contemporaries and his juniors. Once, when I visited him, he was winding up a class for his student Akshay Padmanabhan. After the student left, he spoke with pride for over ten minutes about the tillana Akshay had composed. he would often remark, “AIR might not have given me a lot of money. But it gave me immense satisfaction to learn and propogate rare songs. The famous Purandara Dasa song “Srikanta Enakishtu” is usually sung in raga Kanada. However, a young girl from Mysore had come for a recital and had sung it in raga Kannada. I learnt from her and rendered in my concerts as well. It was only AIR that gave me such opportunities.”

For a long time, I couldn’t find this recording. I found it recently on Facebook through Mr. Subramanian Krishnan. I thank him for sharing this rendition. 



Rajam100 – 27 of 365

Another work from 40’s inspired by Bharathi’s verses.

theeradha vilaiyaattu

Rajam100 – Song 27 of 365

Today we present a full fledged RTP in Gowrimanohari from an AIR concert.


Rajam100 – 28 of 365

Here is another rare painting from 1939, when he was still a student.

For a long time, I couldn’t locate where this painting was published. A Few days back, Thank to Mr. Aravind Swaminathan, I came to know that this was published in the “Hanuman”.


Rajam100 – Song 28 of 365 – AtukaradhA – Manoranjani

Another recording illustrating why Rajam was considered a genius when it come to handling Vivadhi Ragas.

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Here I present Rajam’s depiction of Panchalinga Kritis along with his unplugged versions.

Akasha Lingam

panchalingam akasam.jpg


Tejo Lingam

panchalinga tejo


Prithvi Lingam

panchalingam prithvi


Vayu Lingham

panchalingam kalahasthi

Jambu Lingham

panchalingam jambu

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2014-ல் எழுதியது. இன்று பாலு அவர்களின் பிறந்த தினம். அவர் நினைவாய் இங்கு பகிர்கிறேன்.


கல்யாண வசந்த ராகத்தை யார் அழகாகக் கையாண்டாலும் வயலின் மேதை லால்குடி ஜெயராமன் நினைவுக்கு வருவதைப் போல தமிழ் விருத்தம் ஒன்றை அதன் சுவை ததும்பும்படி யார் பாடினாலும் வித்வான் செதலபதி பாலசுப்ரமணியம் (1937 – 2004) நினைவுக்கு வராமலிருப்பதில்லை.


கச்சேரிகளில் பொதுவாக இசைக்குக் கொடுக்கப்படும் முக்கியத்துவம் பாடல் வரிகளுக்குக் கொடுக்கப்படுவதில்லை. சில சமயங்களில் சுமாரான வரிகள் கூட சங்கீதத்தின் விசேஷத்தில் மிளிர்வதுண்டு. மனத்தை உருக்கும் வரிகள் சங்கீத சங்கதிகளுள் மூழ்கிப் போவதுமுண்டு.

செதலபதி பாலசுப்ரமணியம் போன்றவர்கள் பாடும் போதுதான் சங்கீதமும் சாஹித்யமும் இரண்டரப் பிணைந்து வார்த்தைகளுக்குச் சிறகு முளைத்து ஆனந்த களி நடனம் புரியும் அற்புதக் காட்சிகள் வெளிப்படுகின்றன.

இவரைக் கச்சேரி மேடைகளில் கேட்டவர்களை விட மார்கழி மாத பஜனைகளில் கேட்டவர்களே அதிகம். ரசிகர்களை ஈர்த்த வித்வான்களே இவரது முதன்மை ரசிகர்களாக விளங்கினர். பல வித்வான்களின் கச்சேரியின் முடிவில் கைத்தட்டல்கள் இரைந்து ஒலிக்கும். தான் பாடுவதில் தன்னையும் கரைத்து கேட்பவரையும் கரைக்கும் செதலப்பதி பாலசுப்ரமணியம் போன்றவர்களின் கச்சேரிகளின் முடிவில் கலங்கிய கண்களும் ஆழ்ந்த அமைதியுமே நிறைந்திருக்கும்.

பாபநாசம் சிவனின் பிரதான சிஷ்யரான இவர், தன் வாழ்வை சிவன் கீர்த்தனைகளைக் காக்கும் கருவூலமாக்கிக் கொண்டவர். ஒரு முறை கோயமத்தூருக்குச் செல்லும் வழியில் தன் உடைமைகள் அனைத்தும் காணாமல் போன பொது, “என் குருவுடன் பழகிய நினைவுகளும், அவருடைய கீர்த்தனைகளும் என் மனத்தை விட்டு அகலாத வரை நான் எதையுமே இழக்கவில்லை”, என்றாராம்.

கச்சேரிகளிலும், மார்கழி பஜனைகளிலும் பாபநாசம் சிவனின் கீர்த்தனைகளை இவர் பாடிக் கேட்பதே ஒரு அலாதியான அனுபவம். குறிப்பாக கீர்த்தனைகளுக்கு முன்னொட்டாய் விருத்தங்கள் பாடும் போது கண்களை மூடி, கைகளை முகத்தருகே வைத்தபடி ராகத்தை வளர்க்கும் போது சாகித்யம் அவர் மூடிய கண்கள் முன்னால் பேருரு எடுப்பது போன்ற பிரமை ஏற்படுவதுண்டு. மெதுவாக ராகம் படர்ந்து சூழலை நிறைத்து உச்சத்தை அடையும் அவ்வேளையில்,  ஒற்றை வார்த்தை ஒன்று மணியாகி, மாணிக்கமாகி, மாலையாகி ராக தேவதையை வகை வகையாய் அலங்கரிக்கும் அதிசயக் காட்சிகளைக் கண்டும் கேட்டும் களித்தவர்கள் எக்காலத்திலும் அந்தக் கணத்தின் மயக்கத்திலிருந்து விடுபடவியலாது.

இவரது மகன்கள் – கணபதிராமனும் சிவராமனும் – அவர் வழியில் இசைத் துறையிலேயே வாழ்வை அமைத்துக் கொண்டு அனைத்து முன்னணி வித்வான்களுக்கும் மிருதங்கம் வாசித்து வருகின்றனர்.


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