Monday, October 13, 2014


Our nadaswaram man Y Gopal reminds us that for a month we have strayed from the theme of the blog, i.e. Indian Classical. No, we were merely beating about the bush, nursing all these hours, days, weeks an old concern of ours, the endurance of our Classical, its eternal existence as a vibrant, virtuous system…that should hopefully offer solace, delight, and excitement to a steady stream or torrent of a spanking new set of young listeners….what are the conditions for the fulfillment of this wish....?

What makes a Music great? Here is what we speculated in the entry dated 13.07.2013, on the subject ‘There’s Hope for Boring Ragas’:

Musical consummation apparently comes from four variables, that is features of a composition: Contents (say vyakhya or vistara of the raga in our context), Technique, Emotional Content and an Unknown, an ‘x’-factor related in the main to the artiste, not occurring universally...The most important attribute according to IK is emotion...hence the sway held by Pt. Bhimsen or Lata or, Jesudas or KL Saigal or Ilayaraja...

Missus was quite excited when she found partial vindication of this theory in Pta. Kishori Amonkar’s book “Swarartharamani”. Tai- to avoid repeating the whole name- too believes that the supreme test of Music lies in the emotion it engenders. Only, she believes that the emotion is generated by an interplay of the swara and the raga, and that poetry results basically from this interplay. This to us is an utterly abstract and subjective assertion. The proof of the pudding lies in the eating. You must listen to awachita parimalu by Pta. Kishori Amonkar and Lata Mangeshkar, in the same sequence:

Even the tone-deaf can tell which of the two versions Dnyaneshwar Mauli really meant! According to the humble ear of YT or our readers like Arvind Pradhan, one can only express anguish at the disconnect between the Academics part and the sheer Thrill part of our music. That’s why we reckoned Emotion to be a primary or independent variable, rather than dependent upon technicals. Suppose you ‘want’ to suffuse your composition with emotion. Can you do so consciously? Can you work on raga+swara to reach there? Is it simply a matter of choosing 'right' sequences from the 5040 (7! or 7 factorial) long merukhand inventory? Take an analogy from the stage. Suppose a scene demands tears in the character’s eyes. Some actors like Nutan or Madhubala get it spontaneously, while many have to use glycerine.  That’s the equivalent of relying on some third parties to generate emotion in your composition. The twin factors named by Tai are both subsumed under ‘Content’ in the IK paradigm. Of course no one can challenge Tai, and for the present excuse ourselves with de gustibus non est disputandum-may be a matter of taste...after all she’s a Padmavibhushan ! Soo many movies on Youtube...!? Our Muse Pta Malini Rajurkar left her PR to audiences and could not log even a Padmashri, whereas Senior Tai has the ishtyle!....panduranga..asu de- for Malinitai couldn't care less -for her genius, a Padmashri is little more than a bauble and Padmavibhushan little more than a trinklet!

‘Swarartharamani’ (not 'swaartharamani I sayyyy...) is Tai’s book on music appreciation, which could have been eminently readable had she not received good-natured assistance from the editorial staff of Rajhans Prakashans. Whattdyu make of this:

निखळ स्वरविश्व हे शब्दविश्व आणि काल (लय ) विश्वाला सालंकृत, सार्थ करत असले, तर ते प्रत्यक्षात
किती सुंदर, किती अर्थवाही, किती रम्य असेल हा विचार काही केल्या मनातून जायीना

There are volumes to be written on the aesthetics of Classical Vocal, but let’s begin today with a simple point of departure: Tai’s views on the importance of the Word- you may say Ganesa vis-a-vis Saraswati! We take up only this single aspect of the emotional appeal of a vocal composition: the contribution of the Word. The House believes that in arrogantly repulsing the eminence of the Lyric in the classical vocal scheme of things, riding rough-shod over the spoken word, we are not aiding the survival of our Classical, or are we …?

Here go relevant extracts from the said book, duly translated:

स्वर भाषा ही एक निखळ कला आहे. त्यात जेन्ह्वा शब्दांचे सहाय्य घेतले जाते तेन्ह्वा या कलेच्या निखळतेला धक्का पोचत नाही का?: The swara-bhasha is unalloyed Art. Does the helping hand received from the Word not dent this Purity?

शब्द किंवा मात्रांचा अधिक वापर असलेले संगीत शेवटी लौकिक, भौतिक पातळीवर असते। ....Music rooted in the Word or the Matra (beat) is after all Physical (rather than Spiritual)

Does this mean that Pt. Bhimsen Joshi delivered whole ragas on the vehicle of an abhang because his swara+raga was found wanting? Given the contempt Tai regularly heaps on Lata Mangeshkar or that great craftsman of words Pt Jasraj (kasturi tilakam- fantastic Multani), one seriously suspects all is not well, of late, between Ganesa and Saraswati…!

The place of lyrics in bandishes has always been a matter of animated debate. The late Dr. Sobhana Nayar’s description of the phenomenon in ‘Bhatkhande’s Contribution to Music’ (1989) can  be taken as a fair summary. She notes three historical watersheds that govern the fate of the Word. The first is the advent of Mughals and development of the Dhruvpad traditions, presumably under Raja Man Singh Tomar (15th Century). Before this dateline, the words were as per the Prabandha Geeti, a highly sanskritised and lyrical genre. 
According to Dr. Giovanna Milanesi, “ The name dhruva indicated a kind of music that was composed with a fixed combination of swara, tãla and pada. The name also signifies that the music was 'made to fit a particular dramatic situation at a defined time, with specific structure and specific rhythm, and it could not be changed'. The dhruva songs had a strong metrical arrangement based on the number of syllables that constituted each verse, in the way that the metrical structure was based on the phrase. In the lyrics of dhrupad, we can find in some use of figures of speech like anuprasa, alliteration, obtained by repeating the same consonant sounds in a close succession of words: e.g. Mohan Jago Manohar Madhusudan, MadanMohan Madhi Mukund Man...” (Punyaswar, Pune University, 2011). Subject to these conditions, the traditions of Prabandha were maintained. The second watershed, advent of khayal led to momentous changes. Most of the khayal bandishes or  songs were written by Adarang and Sadarang. 
In the words of Dr. Nayar: “The beauty of these compositions was in the words embedded into notes and typically expressive of the raga form,… indicating movements, catch notes and rest notes…The rhythm part of these traditional compositions was intricate and intelligent, giving enough scope for pauses, which provided opportunities for extempore elaborations”. Raghava Menon has also devoted some effort to document this ‘spaces’  theme (Punyaswar). In shayari-speak you are saying that, in order to balance the radeef with the qafia, you will pad the qafia with taans.  It is really this phase that agrees with Tai’s beliefs and wherein she has locked herself and cast away the keys. Naturally.. if your gharana is known for convoluted murkis, this theory suits you belief (incidentally Missus is now learning Jaipur-Atrauli taans from a disciple of Pta ABD, who rocks..). But how off-putting to potential listeners would be the para-dropping of silly phrases like ‘sun payegi mori saas nanadiya’ in the midst a most sombre and spirituality redolent, life-and-death exposition of Bhimpalasi! It is certainly bad publicity for is almost as if for some obscure reason we were consciously choosing ugliness over beauty of expression...but whyyy!? The ordinary listener can’t be expected to share the wave-length of the greatest vocalist. She’d better start singing to herself I sayyy!

The third watershed is the appearance of Pt. Bhatkhande on the scene. He was the person who swept the Augean stables and performed the Herculean task of reorganising the body of knowledge on Classical in a manner that would breathe new life into our waning legacy. Our Classical was most fortunate in having the right apostle at the right time...His whirlwind tours aimed at gathering learning from the most reluctant sources are the stuff of legend. It was he who adapted the Caranatic’s scientific melkarta classification to Hindustani. His views on the importance of words therefore deserve attention.
There are really three user-categories or ‘interests’ when it comes to the attitude towards poetry in the khayal. One is the class of well-wishers and do-gooders like Chatur Pandit Bhatkhande, you and me, who would like to see reform and delight.  The second category is of the traditionalists or no-changers, that is purists. The third is the fakkad practitioner who cares two hoots about what the purist would say, and in the process changes practices with the times- people like Pt. BSJ who were self proclaimed eclectics with scant regard for a gharana culture- imagine- in an interview to Pt. Ashok Ranade, he reveals that his booming taans are a learning from none else than Kesarbai Kerkar of amcho Goa!

Lest this sound idle speculation or effrontery, let’s make mention of the authority on which we speak : it’s:  the persuasive Pt Bhatkhande’s Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati and Kramik Pustak Malika, ‘A Treatise on the Music of Hindoostan’ by Capt. N. Augustus Willard (1834),  the well-known treatise ‘Bhatkhande’s Contribution to Music’ by Dr. Sobhana Nayar already quoted (1989), and most of all, the ethereal music that flows from the vocal chords of say Pt. Bhimsen Joshi or Pt. Jasraj etc.. Capt. Willard’s book was the second book written on Indian Classical (in 1834) by a Britisher, an enthusiast who became a classical vocalist out of passion. It is, incidentally, interesting to note that Willard found Indian Classical more profound than contemporary Western Classical. He says about Western Music: “Indeed, perhaps all the most beautiful successions of tones which constitute agreeable melody are exhausted, and this is the reason of the poorness of our (Western) modern melody, and the abundant use of harmony.” 

Someone who denies the power of the spoken word and stays aloof of the দারুন- daroon-frighteningly emotional amalgam of word and swara, aiming simply at technical completeness can never be in possession of our  x-factor, and will never create the magical séance of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi singing Anuraniya Thokada or Tirtha Vitthala. He’ll be a Pope but not a Saint..Fortunately, Tai’s book, read between the lines, does offer a little Union Territory to the ‘Word’ called ‘Sugamistan’, which we shall inshallah elaborate…

This is what our ancient connoisseur Capt. Willard said about the  cold-shouldering of the word: “When we come to examine the sentiment which has been delivered in so delicate a strain, and which we fancy will be in accordance with the beauty of the melody, we find ourselves sadly disappointed for they contain odd sentences awkwardly expressed..”

To quote Dr. Nayar, in the khayal dominant phase, “driven by the idea that …literary aspect of the song was less important than the melodic structure, the musicians of the 19th century and early 20th century neglected the poetic part of the classical songs.” (and hilariously) “the illiteracy of musicians no less contributed to such criminal neglect”

In his ‘Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati” Pt Bhatkhande says “we have seen singers who do not know the meaning of compositions they sing….how can then they have the key to the emotion…?”

Pt. Bhatkhande made hundreds of compositions of his own and added to that the ones he compiled, cajoling the greatest maverick masters of the day, Ustad Aziz Khan and Ustad Wazir Khan- they make up bulk of the 4 volumes of Malika. We’ll illustrate his philosophy with one example. The following is an old bandish in teen taal for raga Darbari:

Madhuwa bhar laye meet more, hamse de lukai, ham tum bhar bhar peewen, make de lukai kahun lan na janen, jo jo det madhuwa hamra, to ham tum bhar bhar peewen.

Roughly translated the braj words mean: get me some wine my consort, and we shall drink to our heart’s content.  Does it support the Darbari mood? It’s like commissioning a cartoonist to draw a portrait of Urwashi!  Pt Bhatkhande made his own bandish to be sung identically (i.e. teen taal) yesssir…equipped with pegs to hang your taans and alankars upon:

Sumiran kar man pavitra nirgun par brahma, phir pachtayega to gani vrutha abhimaan..: this leads to a philosophical mood of renunciation.

Must your words go against the grain of the raga just to ensure that there are pegs to hang your vocal wizardry upon? Does the listener have - whaddyusay- a locus standi  in the whole affair. It all boils down to your manners I sayyy...Ustad Amir Khan of all persons set much store by the poetry. He abandoned some of the older saas-nanad stereotypes, calling them 'vulgar' and substituted them with chaste wordings. In this process he brought out the excellence contained in the seemingly meaningless and garbled tarana -'junk' words as our kids say. It was as if what we considered trinklets turned out to be precious antique jewellery after being burnished at the hands of the Ustad. Of course this is of little import to vocalists on the look out for pegs where to hang their virtuosity! See this for a flavour of the sufiana mijaz of our paak Indori soul:

To come to the last and final link in the above train of thought, in we had speculated upon the Pt. BSJ’s penchant for delivering bandishes  in the form of abhangas. Saas-bahu ki naseehat se bagawat, we had called it. Just listen to anuraniya thokada  in Malkauns, hailed as one of his greatest Malkaunses...

Panditji devotes at least 20% space to alaaps without displacing a single syllable from Tukaram’s words- the pegs to hang complex taans are in-built by the author!. In fact in the beginning, for a couple of minutes, you hear Panditji deliver the essence of Malkauns in taans like Sa ga ma ga sa (kauns) ga ni sa ni dha pa and uttarang sa ni ni ga sa (all swaras save ma are komal in Malkauns)

Of course Tai loves great poetry, but she has reserved it for her sugam, and she doesn’t rank sugam with classical when it comes to sublimeness. Panditji had no such hang-ups.

More Tai’s views later…most interesting being her matrix of the relation of emotions inspired by individual swaras and ragas, in the context of the navrasaas.. the matrix can assist artistes to choose appropriate lyrics for their composition…!

Disclaimer: The extreme and startling views expressed about Pta Dr Kishori Amonkar above are the personal views of the writer and not necessarily the official views of the Blog...Classical Music remains a mysterious, unexplored forest, and the possibility was always there of her being the lost prophet of an ancient faith- it was not as if what she said was untrue, or that there was an error on the part of the modern listener, but simply that the route which she chose to reveal to others had lost relevance or comprehensibility...(quoted from Phaedrus).


Years of listening, that is tonnes of processing feeble gold ore, has yielded one gold nugget: Kesarbai the ears of YT, that is the ideal KA thinks about: that voice leaves only the holy imprint of the raga on your does not make a difference whether she is crooning as in a lullaby, or croaking the swaras...what matters is only Madam and the swara..

No comments: