Book: The Lost World of Hindustani Music – by Kumar Prasad Mukherji

Anybody who comes in contact with Indian Classical musicians and/or moves around for quite some time in the ‘music circle’ will hear a lot of stories and anecdotes, not just about the current crop of musicians, but also about past practitioners. Many of these usually cannot be verified but do serve as the primary source of insights into the life and times of the masters, especially due to the dearth of written material on Indian Classical Music in general and on such topics in particular.

There have been attempts in the written form in the recent past at tracing the evolution of Hindustani Music and its Gharanas, at trying to make Hindustani Music easier to understand to the lay reader/listener and at chronicling the life of  the great masters.  If there is one book that tries to do all of this together, it is Kumar Prasad Mukherji’s “The Lost World of Hindustani Music” (Penguin Books, 2006). The following are some reasons that, in my opinion, combine to make this one of the most interesting reads on Hindustani music:

  • Kumar da, the author, was an accomplished musician himself, apart from being a rasika, a music critic and an organizer of music festivals
  • He did a lot of (formal) research into the music of the masters of different gharanas. This adds richness and a certain authenticity to the observations he makes vis-a-vis those made by other writers who, though endowed with good language skills, may not have been musically that adept
  • He had many  opportunities to interact/move around with other musicians from which he managed to collect a lot of stories/anecdotes
  • He seems to have read a lot of other books on the subject and has drawn references from them extensively
  • He wrote this book towards the very fag end of his life which enabled him to pen down most of his musical experiences with a maturity that usually only comes with many quality years of serious/passionate pursuit of music

Movie: Raavanan/ Raavan

Liked the movie for the cinematography, music (songs + BGM) and performances by some of the cast (especially Vikram). The movie though couldn’t have kept me engaged throughout if not for Santosh Sivan’s superb camera work and ARR’s work with the BGM. I also felt that the Tamil version “Raavanan’ has come out better than the Hindi one “Raavan”

Book: “Raga’n Josh – Stories from a Musical Life” by Sheila Dhar

Sheila Dhar had the knack for penning down in an interesting manner, her experience interacting with different people she came across in her life. In her book “Raga’n Josh – Stories from a Musical Life” (Black Kite, 2005) that combines her two earlier books “Here’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet” and “The Cooking of Music and Other Essays”, she writes about her interactions with bureaucrats and musicians, about her experience listening to some of the great masters of Hindustani Classical music and about her own thoughts on Indian Classical Music and the changes it has gone through during her times. Neither does she make attempts to unduly glorify the people (especially the musicians) she writes about, nor does she make attempts to tarnish their characters. Their frailties, wherever indicated, just give us a better idea of their personalities as a whole.
Coming back to the book, chapters 4 to 9 contain many interesting anecdotes related to the musicians Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Bundu Khan, Pandit Pran Nath, Begum Akhtar, Ustad Fayyaz Ahmed and Niaz Ahmed, Siddheshwari Bai and Kesar Bai Kerkar. Sheila writes about Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s fondness for good non-vegetarian food, which was almost a prerequisite for him to sing well, and his initial aversion towards getting recorded on the radio based on his belief that the microphone would suck out all the life from his voice. She describes how Ustad Bundu Khan was always absorbed in his music, how he played his sarangi at every single opportunity that presented itself – sometimes even playing for the flowers that bloomed during spring time and about how much precious he considered the art of Indian Classical Music to be. She describes her tutelage under Pandit Pran Nath and his strong views about the superiority of the style of music he had learnt/imbibed. The chapters on Pran Nath and Begum Akhtar contain some beautiful one-liners that summarize what many musicians/rasikas usually only realize after many years of practice/listening. The chapter on Siddeshwari Bai makes an interesting observation on how circumstances make rivals out of contemporaries and how despite admiring each other, artists might still resort to making snide remarks against each other. This is something I can see happening in the music circle today also.
The best part of her book to me is “Part II: The Cooking of Music and Other Essays”. This is where she condenses years of her experience in Hindustani Classical music into a few really powerful essays. One has to read these to experience the richness in the content. Put together, these offer a concise tutorial on Hindustani music and offer a lot of food for thought. Some of her conclusions, especially those regarding the changes that have happened in the field, are debatable but nevertheless it is interesting to know her points of view on these matters.
To summarize, this is one of the most interesting books I have read in the recent past and one that I would highly recommend to all connoiseurs of good writing, in general, and Indian Classical Music, in particular.

Book: A Rasika’s Journey Through Hindustani Music by Rajeev Nair

Though there are many books on Hindustani Music, Rajeev Nair’s “A Rasika’s Journey Through Hindustani Music” is one of the few I would highly recommend to all rasikas of Hindustani Music – from the uninitiated to the seasoned ones. Rajeev’s mastery over the English language is no surprise I guess, given that he is a teacher of English Literature at St. Stephens College, Delhi. The author’s literary prowess aside, what is really special about the book is that instead of dwelling a lot on technical details, Rajeev has chosen to elaborate his own musical experience, drawing from other writers on the subject, wherever required. He uses a lot of metaphors, especially while talking about the music the masters produced (sometimes at the risk of overdoing it).

The book starts by describing the different musical forms of Hindustani Music, their origins, their evolution and their decline (wherever applicable). It then goes on to describe the major vocal gharanas in Dhrupad and Khayal, their origins, their development, their characteristic features and the singers who contributed to their development. The raaga system and association of ragas with time are also touched upon. All this is completed within the first 80 pages of the book itself. The rest 300+ pages are devoted to description of music of the great masters and their contributions. Both vocalists and instrumentalists are covered in sufficient detail. Apart from biographical and other important details pertaining to their gharanas/ lineage, significant space is devoted to discussing the music they produced in live concerts as well as in their recordings. Every time I read about a song rendered by an artist that the author described about, I just felt the need to procure it to relish the music and the author’s portrayal of the same.

Lec Dem – Dwitala Avadhanam

Smt. Suguna Purushothaman gave a very educative lecture demonstration on “Teaching and Practice of Dwitala Avadhanam” at The Music Academy, Chennai on 23rd Dec 2009. The very fact that Smt. Suguna made her students (K. Gayatri, Sharanya Krishnan and Nandini Sharma) perform most of the exercises was very encouraging to see. They assisted her ably in the demonstrations. This led Shri Pappu Venugopala Rao to remark – “We have so many Sugunas on stage!”. Kudos to K. Gayatri who did most of the demonstrations based in the more complex talams.

Here are some excerpts from the session based on the notes I took.

DWITALA AVADHANAM

Avadhanam is the ability to do many things at the same time. There are many people who have done avadhAnam and have been called “avadhAnI”s. Dwitala avadhanam refers to putting two different talams simultaneously with both the hands for one song.

Smt. Suguna Purushothaman learnt this art from Shri Thinniyam Venkatarama Iyer.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHILE DOING DWITALA AVADHANAM

  • The talams put on both hands should be different
  • Total count of the two talams should be the same
  • Any musical composition can be taken up – but it should be pleasant to hear.

HOW TO DEVELOP THE ABILITY TO DO DWITALA AVADHANAM

Dwitala avadhanam can be performed by anyone with proper practice.

1)    There are basic exercises for laya while learning basic lessons of Carnatic music. These should be practised putting talam in both hands. This will help strengthen the talam/laya sense.

2)    Swaravali/ Sarali varisai should be practised starting with samam of the talam in one hand and at the same time starting after 0.25 beat from samam of the talam being put in the other hand. This should be repeated for a start after 0.50 and 0.75 beat from samam also in the other hand.

3)    Sapta tala alankarams should be sung in different kalams (speeds) while maintaining the same talam. Then they should be sung with two different talams in the two hands.

The following alankarams were demonstrated:

  • S R G S R G M | R G M R G M P | … – Tisra Triputa – in 3 kAlams/ speeds
  • 6 beats – S R S R G M | R G R G M P | … – Chatusra Rupakam in one hand and the usual way Rupakam is put these days (2 claps and one wave – hereafter referred to as Rupaka Chapu for the purpose of this post) on the other hand
  • 10 beats – S R G S R S R G M , | R G M R G R G M P , | … – Misra Jampa in one hand and Chatusra Matya in the other
  • 10 beats – S R G S R S R G M , | R G M R G R G M P , |  … – Tisra Ata in one hand and Misra Jampa in the other – 2 kalams
  • 14 beats – S R , G , S , R G , M , M , | R G , M , R , G M , P , P , | … – Kanda Ata in one hand and Tisra Triputa in the other
  • 14 beats – S R , G , S , R G , M , M , | R G , M , R , G M , P , P , | … – Kanda Ata in one hand and Chatusra Dhruva in the other
  • 14 beats – S R G M G R S R G R S R G M | R G M P M G R G M G R G M P | … – Chatusra Dhruva in one hand and Tisra Triputa in the other

4)    One can also try interchanging the talams being put on both hands i.e., if talam A was being put by the left hand and talam B by the right hand, one can also try singing the same exercise with talam B now being put by the left hand and talam A by the right hand. Smt. Suguna said that Shri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, while hearing her demonstrate the technique when she was young, asked her if she can interchange the talams and demonstrate. She was able to do it easily as she had already tried the same in her practice sessions.

5)    Varnams can be practised the same way. All adi talam varnams should be sung with tisram done to get a good grip over the talam in tisra gati.

  • KANDAM – Portions from the varNam viribONi (kEdAragauLa) were sung with Misra Jampa in one hand and Adi Talam Kanda Gati in the other
  • MISRAM – Portions from the varNam vanajAkSi (kalyANi) were sung with Kanda Ata in one hand and Adi Talam Misra Gati in the other in 2 kAlams. They were also demonstrated with Kanda Ata in one hand and Tisra Triputa in the other
  • MISRAM – Portions from the varNam viribONi (bhairavi) was sung in Adi Talam Misra Gati (without indicating the misra cApu like claps per beat to maintain misra gati). They were also sung with Kanda Ata in one hand and Adi Talam Misra Gati in the other and also with Panchanadai in one hand (3, 4, 5, 7, 9) and Kanda Ata in the other

6)    Kritis can also be sung. Sections from the following kritis were sung and demonstrated by Smt Suguna and Kum K. Gayatri:

  • CHATUSRAM – sari evvarammA (bhairavi) – Kanda Jampai in one hand and Chatusra Triputa (Adi Talam) in the other
  • TISRAM -  gaTTi gAnu nannu (begaDA) – Rupaka Chapu in one hand and Adi Talam Tisra Gati in the other
  • TISRAM – shankari shankuru (sAvEri) – Rupaka Chapu in one hand and Adi Talam Tisra Gati in the other
  • KANDAM – budhamAshrayAmi (nATTakurinji) – Misra Jampa in one hand and Adi Talam Kanda Gati in the other
  • KANDAM – dAtsukOvalEna (tODi) – Misra Jampa in one hand and Adi Talam Kanda Gati in the other
  • KANDAM – shrI kamalAmbAya (bhairavi) – Misra Jampa in one hand and Adi Talam Kanda Gati in the other
  • SANKIRNAM – kaNNA karunIla vaNNA (rAgamAlikA, a composition of Smt. Suguna Purushothaman) – Sankirna Chapu in one hand and Tisra Ekam Tisra Gati in the other
  • 108 TALAS – lakSmI samEta nArAyaNa (mOhanam, a composition of Smt. Suguna Purushothaman) – Lakshmisa Talam in one hand and Tisra Rupakam Kanda Gati in the other

7)    Kalpana swarams can also be sung. Care should be taken to complete the cycle of the longer taLam while ending the kalpana swarams each time. If we put a shorter talam in one hand, it might take multiple cycles for the same to match one cycle of the longer talam being put in the other hand. We should finish the kalpana swarams at the appropriate place of the longer talam (when the song is set to that talam)

Swarams were sung at the phrase “shyAma krishna sOdari” of shankari shankuru (sAvEri) by Kum K. Gayatri

8)    Kritis with eDuppu different from samam can be sung

The kriti himAdri sutE (kalyANi) was demonstrated with Rupaka Chapu in one hand and Adi Talam Tisra Gati in the other

9)    Pallavis can also be sung in a similar way

  • MISRAM – The pallavi line “rangashAyi yani pilacitE / O yanucu rA rAdA” was sung in Kanda Ata and Adi Talam Misra Gati (with eDuppu of 8 akSaram post samam and arudi kArvai of 9 akSaram). Trikalam was done
  • KANDAM – The pallavi line “kandA mukundA marugA guhA kA vA / kadirgAma madil vAzhum guruparanE” was sung with Misra Jampa (eDuppu 2 akSaram after samam, aruDi 12 akSaram) in one hand and Adi Talam Kanda Gati in the other
  • Smt. Suguna Purushothaman and Smt. Suguna Varadachari then together demonstrated another pallavi composed by the former.  Smt. Suguna Purushothaman said the usual dwitala avadhanam used to have one talam in chatusra gati and the other in a different gati. She wanted to sing with both hands putting talams in gatis other than chatusra gati. Hence she composed this pallavi. The two sang the pallavi “mAyA veNNai unDa vAyA / paN isaithu magizhvAyA”. They put Tisra Triputa Kanda Gati (eDuppu – 2 akSaram before samam, kArvai – 6 akSaram) in one hand and Tisra Rupakam Misra Gati (eDuppu – 3 akSaram before drutam starts, kArvai – 6 akSaram after lagu starts) in the other

10) Tillanas can also be sung in a similar way

A line from the tillAnA “tArAdipAnana” (kApi) was sung (Lakshmisa Talam in one hand and Tisra Rupakam Kanda Gati in the other)

11) Tiruppugazh can also be sung in a similar way

  • marukkulAviya (pUrvikalyANi) was sung with Tisra Jampai Tisra Gati in one hand and Kanda Triputa in the other
  • nilayAdha samudhiramAna (cencuruTTi) was sung with Sankirna Ata in one hand and Chanda Talam in the other (didn’t note down and forgot the structure of this)

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Shri Pappu Venugopala Rao spoke highly about Smt. Suguna Purushothaman and her students. He also made the following remarks:

  • avadhAnam” basically means concentration
  • The term is supposed to have come from the vedic lore as vedic scholars were supposed to have had the ability to recite the Vedas from up to down and also down to up
  • The term then started getting employed in literature – ashTAvadhAnam, satAvadAnam, sahasrAvadhAnam etc.
  • There is also nATya avadhAnam which Dhara Ramanatha Shastri is famous for – audience gives a topic, lyrics are composed on the spot, music for that is composed on the spot and the choreography is also done on the spot.
  • Adibhatla Narayana Dasu, who was titled Pancha Mukha Parameshwara, used to put 5 talams simultaneously – 2 with 2 legs, 2 with 2 hands and the 5th with his head.