Friday, December 23, 2005

Our languishing music heritage

India has an astonishing wealth of music. Besides the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions that we all have heard of, there are a number of lesser known ones such as:
  • Panns: The Tamil region since ancient times has had a well-developed music system, mentioned in the Sangam literature and extensively discussed in the 2nd century epic Silappadhikaram. The Tamil bhakti texts (circa 7th century AD) such as the Thirumurai and the Devaram were set to panns (ancient ragas). Unfortunately, large parts of this music was lost after Malik Kafur's raids in the south. Whatever remains has been assiduously preserved by a dwindling number of odhuvars, who traditionally sing these hymns in temples. The panns are believed to have had considerable influence on the development of the Carnatic ragas.
  • Abhang, the bhajans of the Marathi saints, Namadev, Jnaneshwar, Tukaram and others, who were bhaktas of Vitthala. To this day, their itinerant followers, called the varkari panthis, celebrate the names of the Lord in these songs of intense devotional fervour. The abhangs even spread to the Thanjavur region (which was ruled by Marathas) and were merged into the divya-nama tradition of Tamilnadu.
  • Vachanas: In the 12th century, a Shaiva movement was founded in Karnataka by Basaveshwara. A revolutionary, he fought caste, glorified manual labour and condemned ritualism. The ideas of Basava and his followers (cutting caste and gender) are expressed in Kannada poetry, called vachanas. The original melody of the vachanas are probably lost; they are now sung in the Hindustani style.
Such wonderful, but little known, music deserves a wide audience, but unfortunately there are few recordings widely available.

Recently I met a gentleman who has recorded such music, but is unable to find anybody willing to market them. He has produced the Thirumurai sung by an odhuvar in the original pann system, abhangs by varkaris as well as basava-vachanas. Marketing people expect a well-known name on the label for reasons of commercial viability, but the authentic sources of such music are unknown and poor persons languishing in remote villages or temples. The gentleman I met is very commited to such an undertaking; he has set up his own studio for this purpose; he also has a keen attention to detail evident even in the aesthetically created jackets for the CDs.

Do readers have any suggestions as to what could be done to market such productions? I was thinking along the lines of setting up an e-commerce site. Probably Yahoo! Store is an option to consider; does anyone have experience with such stuff? Or better ideas?


Suraj Kumar, a Carnatic enthusiast and guitarist who works at Amazon, suggested:
I talked to folks. Seems the Amazon Advantage Program will fit you right. BUT... are you trying to sell only to India? or Will this include global audience as well?

The good thing is the kind of systems that we have in place that would help you as a seller. Firstly, when you decide to sell via most online stores, the route is quite long. You as a publisher / producer will have to go to a distributor and the distributor would place your product on a lot of different places (amazon, barnesandnobles, etc.,.). But you end up paying up a lot of cuts. This would be advantageous if you expect a whole lot of audience purchasing your product (like you are selling iPods).

This is why the amazon Advantage program is beneficial for small sellers.
More suggestions from Shivku and Sivaram in the comments below.

Thanks a lot everybody!

Update 2: The details of the pann recordings: (These were produced by him for Kosmic Music, not for his own fledgling company.)

1. Pann muraiyil Thirumurai (3 volumes - audio cassettes)
2. Pann muraiyil Pasurangal (2 volumes - audio cassettes)
Both by Muthukandasami Desikar, the odhuvar at the famous (Rock Fort) Thayumanavar Temple, Trichy.

The panns covered are:
Nattapadai (Gambhira Natta), Sigamaram (Malavagowla), Thakkesi (Kambhoji), Kolligouvanam (Navaroz), Megharagakurinji (Neelambari), Pazhamthakkaragam (Arabhi), Vizhakurinji (Saurashtram), Thakkaragam (Kambhoji), Nattaragam (Panthuvarali), Sevvazhi (Yadukula kambhoji), Kausikam (Bhairavi) and many more. (I am too lazy to type all of them.)

These cassettes are also listed on the Kosmic Music site.


Suraj said...

Interesting write-up. I've been badly looking for listening to Pann music. I work at Amazon in Bangalore (a pure techie at that, so I have zero clue on what is the procedure to get one's product listed or what the rates might be like). I can find out info on this and come back to you.

Srikanth said...

Hi Suraj,

I'll talk to the person regarding your interest in Pann music. I am in Bangalore too, so could get the CD for you.

And it would be great to know how to get the recordings into Amazon. Do try - thanks!

You have an interesting blog over there - loved it!

Sunil said...

Actually, you are a little incorrect about vachanas.

It is traditional to end Carnatic concerts in Karnataka (especially Mysore, and also in Bangalore) with Vachanas, sung in a very typical Carnatic style. I myself know vachanas of Basaveshvara, Akka Mahadevi etc in ragas like Simhendramadhamam, Kalyana Vasantham, Vasantha, Lathangi, Sindhu Bhairavi etc. In fact, i've hardly heard them being sung in Hindustani ragas.

There are a bunch of recordings also available....made by small audio companies.

shivku said...

Heard about this one from Suraj. Just ctrl-C/ctrl-V-ing from my comment on his blog.

" Incidentally, a company like yahoo!(MNC) is not allowed to do B2C in India. Though, like the person I talked to told me, it should be easily possible if you want to sell it in USD.

But, if traffic is what you are looking at, Then get yourself online space (again, not with yahoo! ) first. I can help you get listed on shopping ( via rediff to yahoo! ). Else, you could wait a surprise from yahoo! soon :) Would atleast take 3 months though."

Hope you (or this gentleman) will let me listen to pann when you do give the records to Suraj.

Srikanth said...

Sunil, thanks - this is news to me! Could you point me to somewhere I can know more about these from?

The recording of the vachanas the gentleman played for me was in Hindustani style. As you may know, in northern Karnataka (where Kudala Sangama is situated) Hindustani is very popular. So probably they were tuned in Hindustani ragas as well. Don't you think the fact that we haven't heard of these, underscores the need for a better marketing approach?

Srikanth said...

Hi Shivku,
(Have cross-posted this comment on Suraj's blog too.)

Thanks a lot for the info!

I think this is the kind that might suit the person. I just spoke to him, he /is/ interested in a global reach and seems to have some arrangements to ship his stuff to US etc. He is excited about this online sales possibility.

If you feel the 3-month wait would be worth it, I will ask him to wait. In the meantime, he could try it with Amazon. Yes, traffic is definitely needed: let me see if he is interested in setting up a site as well.

Sivaram said...

[My friend Sivaram had mailed me his suggestions. I am posting them here on his behalf. - Srikanth]

There is a chance that when the recording is marketed (assuming that the gentleman intends to do so), it may catch on with the music-loving audience.

The things that come to mind immediately are marketing side-by-side with Karnatic recordings in prominent stores, setting up an online store and advertizing in google searches / related websites.

Beyond these, if there is some way to introduce some of these songs into mainstream recitals during a time like the 'music season' there may be an awareness. Not to mention, of course, creating a recording of those songs by some famous name(s). That would sideline the original performers and the vectors of the art, but the greater goal of preserving tradition may be achieved.

But everything considered, I tend to feel it would be a risky business proposition for the gentleman, and it may be a while before some tangible result is achieved. Kudos to him for working for a brave (and more importantly, a meaningful) cause.

Suraj said...

Srikanth! You called me a "Guitarist"! I'm far from being "professional" at that! :)) though, I'm enthusiastic to become a good guitarist someday, though ;)

I further talked to the retails person. Seems, the initial setup cost, enrolling cost, etc.,. all put together would work out to something like $25 or so. But once that is done, Amazon's "demand forecasting" system will be able to optimally start forecasting how many CDs are being sold and send you orders in advance. You won't have to over-produce or run out of stocks. :)

Please feel free to let me know if you need any help.

good luck!

Srikanth said...

Suraj, thanks once again!

I hope you'll remember me when you do become a professional guitarist, and give me free passes for your concerts! :-)

Vijayanand said...


Interesting and constructive post!

The panns are believed to have had considerable influence on the development of the Carnatic ragas.
I have been wanting to hear these panns in their original for a long time. Yes, I have heard that the raga shankarabharanam was derived from a pann called pazhampanjuram.

krishna said...

Dear Sri

Nice post..

u are absoilutely not sure if u are aware of

do check out if u havent

I dunno if u have heard abt the keralite soPAna sangeetham . check out

Srikanth said...

Hi Vijayanand and Krishna,

I have heard that the raga shankarabharanam was derived from a pann called pazhampanjuram.
I didn't know this detail! Can you tell me where I can find more about panns?

Krishna: Thanks for the links! While I have heard of sopana, I haven't had a chance to listen to it. Shall check out the samples from the site.

Vijayanand said...

Actually I heard it from my violin guru. I guess he knew it from his BA or MA music curriculum.

Suraj said...

Dear Srikanth,

Please pardon my ignorance if I failed to look at some obvious thing on the Kosmic site. Aren't there Audio CDs of these available?

Srikanth said...


It seems, at time of recording, it was meant to be a CD. But Kosmic (for business reasons) decided to release them as cassettes.