In January, this blog quietly celebrated it’s third birthday. What started as a whim has developed into a beloved project. My today’s post is in celebration of my fascination with music, Carnatic Music in particular.
As an analyst at heart, I will start with a graphical representation of the world of Carnatic Music as I see it.
The journey of a song before it reaches the humble ears of a rasika quite fascinates me. There is so much creativity in each step of the process, and by so many individuals !
Firstly there is this marvellous Raga-Melody relationship. The majority of Carnatic Ragas have not started their life in some structured process. Instead they emerged from an aesthetic developed over time based on the intellectual and emotional experience of a people or an individual. There seems to be a feedback loop, unstructured though it is; concrete ideas develop from such a cloud of experience and then contribute back to the cloud. At some point of time in the loop, there is a consensus on how a subset of melodies are to be sung. We just call this consensus a Raga. Obviously, there are multiple bursts of creativity even before this stage is reached!
A Raga is not set in stone; the consensus continues to evolve. Words and cadence, melodies and rhythm are then developed not in isolation, but feeding back from the Raga consensus and the collective experiences of all those concerned. The words, cadence and rhythm feed from the mood of the Raga. And as more lyrics are written, the mood of the Raga acquires new meaning from these. Each of these boxes I have drawn above – Raga, Words and Cadence, Melody and Rhythm are affected and affect the other.
Sometimes the definer of the Raga, the lyricist and composer are all the same (e.g. Omkarakarini in Lavangi by Balamuralikrishna). At times each step is by a different individual at a different time (e.g.. Hamir Kalyani from unknown origins, Andal writing Thoomani Madattil many centuries ago (dates contested), Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar tuning the words in the 20th century). Apart from the great bursts of creativity by the named individuals, there are many invisible others who contribute to the process by forming the cloud of experience in which the creators live.
And thus we have a composition. It is taught to a student with contributions from his or her guru, and their gurus and so on. There is intense creativity at this stage too. Sangatis, for example, belong to the guru-shishya parampara. In time, the student becomes a performer. By that time he or she has lived in this cloud of intellectual and emotional experience for years and absorbed so many influences. Their performance, including their manodharma, is in effect a wonderful fruit of a long evolution.
Thus we, the shrotas, finally come to hear a piece of music. You may think us of an unimportant part of the whole, but I beg to differ. That wonderful effect it has within your heart and mind and body? That is the culmination point of that piece of music, its point of self-actualisation. Imagine how far it has travelled, with how many creative contributions to finally reach your ears! It is as if our ancestors touch us across centuries! We, the listeners, do not stand in isolation, but become a part of the system, providing the feedback into the cloud of intellectual and emotional experience.
When I hear, for example, Arumo Aval, I wonder: Who first sang a melody with the yearning of separation in far away Rajasthan? Who all heard and loved it so much that they wrote more songs in the same style? When did this style of singing acquire an identity, a name? When and who turned it from a style of singing to a grammar called a Raga? How and when did it traverse 2500 kms across India to establish itself in Carnatic Music? I don’t know the answer to any of that. But when I look over my shoulder, I see an infinite web of silver strands, with countless nodes where contributors stand, some glowing bright with importance, others just shadowy figures, some with bright colourful turbans. I see the web continue far into the future too. And I am ensnared in this silver web, unable to move away. Will my yearning for more music ever be satiated? ArumO Aval?
And so to my song choice of today, based, I admit, purely on the rightness of the first two words to the theme of this post!
Arumo Aval is a lovely song written by Kannan Iyengar in Mand and made famous by the great songstress of yesteryears, M.L.Vasantakumari, to whom we shall listen first. To know more about Mand, click here.
Alternate link : click here.
The version I listen to most often is the one by T.M.Krishna, which I quite adore! As an aside, he rolls his Rs with such gusto, doesn’t he? I so like it!
Alternate link : click here.
With this post I am taking a short hiatus as I am away travelling. I will be back blogging in a month or so, see you then!
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Composer : Kannan Iyengar
Raga : Mand
Language : Tamil
ஆறுமோ ஆவல் ஆறுமுகனை நேரில் காணாது
ஏறுமயில் ஏறி குன்றுதோறும் நின்றாடியவன்
பெரும் புகழும் தெரிந்தும் அவன் பேரழகை பருகாமல்
ஞான குருபரன் தீனர்க்கருள் குகன்
வானவரும் தொழும் ஆனந்த வைபோகன்
காண கிடைக்குமோ கூறுதற்க்கில்லாமல்
அற்புத தரிசனம் கற்பனை செய்தால் மட்டும்
Arumo Aval Arumuganai nEril kANAdu
Erumayil Eri kunDRu tOrum ninDRADiyavan
perum pugazhum terindum avan pErazhagai parugAmal
jnAna guruparan dInarkkarul guhan
vAnavarum tozhum Ananda vaibOgan
arpuda darisanam karpanai seidAl maTTum
Will my yearning (Aval) be appeased (Arumo) without meeting (=without seeing (kANAdu) directly (nEril)) the six-faced Lord Murugan (Arumugan)?
Even after knowing the great (perum) fame (pugazh) of He who rode a peacock (Erumayil Eri) and danced (ninDRu Adiyavan=stood and danced) on each hilltop (kunDRu tOrum), will my yearning be appeased (ArumO Aval) without drinking (parugAmal) in his (avan) great beauty (pEr azhagai)?
He who is the guru and deity (paran) of knowledge (jnAna), the hidden One (guhan) who bestows grace (aRul) on the wretched (dInarkku), He is the one worshipped (tozhum) even by the celestials (vAnavarum), He delights (vaibOgan) in joy (Ananda)! Will I ever get to (kiDaikkumO) see (kANa) this wonderful (arpuda) vision (darisanam) without having to say (kUrudarkkillAmal)? Will my yearning be appeased (ArumO Aval) by imagining (karpanai seidAl) alone (maTTum)?