Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Delta of Fertile Minds - Thanjavur's Contribution to Music

At different times in history, certain regions become centres of immense creative output: Madurai in the Sangam Age (Tamil literature and music), Vienna in the 17-18th centuries (Western classical music) and Bengal in the 19th century (literature, science, etc.).

Similarly, the Cauvery delta region of Thanjavur seems to have been the happening place in the 18-19th centuries, as far as Carnatic music is concerned.

Ruled successively by Vijayanagara (Nayaka) chiefs of Karnataka/Andhra and Maratha kings of Maharashtra, this Tamil area saw an immigration of Telugu-, Kannada- and Marathi-speaking people. Such diversity resulted in a glorious cross-pollination of culture, one of whose fruits is the Carnatic classical music.

A slew of composers emerged, creating works in different languages (Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit and Marathi). The important names are Seshaiyengar, hailed as "mArgadarzi" or Pathbreaker; Uthukadu Venkata-kavi, whose Tamil and Sanskrit works include the famous alaippAyudE; the Tamil composers Arunachala-kavi, creator of the rAma nATakam and Gopalakrishna Bharati, whose magnum-opus is the nandanAr caritram. The pinnacle was reached with the Trinity of Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, who are known too well for me to go into details.

These compositions were created in various formats. In addition to the well-known kRti, is the Natakam (opera), exemplified in the bhAgavata mELA form. It consists of plays in Telugu and Marathi which are performed by an all-male cast of Telugu speakers from Melattur village in Thanjavur.

Of all these works, the ones that deal with Krishna-bhakti are always... erotic! One such is the kRSNa lIlA taraGgiNi, composed by Narayana Teertha (who moved in from Andhra). And Tyagaraja, who was as orthodox as they came, created the zRGgAra-laden opera naukA caritram. Other “madhura-bhakti” formats are the padam and jAvaLi.

Besides the intense composing activity, important strides were made in musicology as well. Venkatamakhin wrote the caturdaNDI prakAzikA, that deals with the 72 melas. This was refined into the Mela-karta raga system as we know it today by his grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin. Some of the kings were scholars themselves: Tulaja wrote the treatise saGgIta sArAmRta.

Furthermore, the bhajana sampradAya took shape here around this time. The primary gurus of this tradition were Bodhendra Saraswati and Sridhara Venkatesa (popularly known as "ayyAvAL"), a local of Telugu ancestry. (The late Swami Haridas Giri was the most visible face of this sampradAya in recent times.) This system was made rich with contributions from the earlier Kannada as well as Marathi (abhang) bhajana movements.

The Marathi settlers (thanks to their rhythm-dominant abhaGgs) also helped develop the mridangam techniques. This is evident from the Carnatic terms, chapu (as in the tala "Khanda Chapu") which is probably from the Marathi "chhaap" छाप; and mora (rhythmic patterns) from "mohra" मोहरा. (In fact, their influence can be seen in other spheres too - the original name of Bharatanatyam "sadir" and the famous "sambar" come from Marathi.) One of the foremost mridangam exponents was a Thanjavur Marathi, Nanasama Rao (aka Narayanaswami Appa).

Thus evolved our music - in a cultural melting-pot that was Thanjavur.
- - - - -

Other recent blog-posts on Carnatic Music that are great:

14 comments :

Suraj said...

Amazing write-up. You've mentioned a whole lot of things and you successfully did it in a very concise manner :)

You hit the nail right on the head with the words "cultural melting pot". I think that is precisely how Carnatic Music evolves. The melting rate, however, is quite controlled by a very strong negative feed-back loop by its Rasikas.

The rasikas don't allow "too much" of "breaking the rules" and the like but at the same time, without the rasikas themselves noticing, influence seems to set in over a long period of time. I would compare the rules to strong iron bars that were bent not by rash force but by pressure applied over a huge amount of time (where the 'pressure' here is extremely influential musical ideas/talents that seep in gradually due to the "melting of the pot" -- the Western Music bands of the late 19th century, the "Mughal" Influence and so on).

Carnatic Music evolves very much at the rate at which life itself evolves with large species of animals. In one's life time, one won't notice a whole lot of evolution. But it is clearly noticeable when one studies "fossil" evidences -- the 30s music vs the 60s music vs the 90s vs today's.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post... and thanks for linking to my stupid little post :)

Sunil said...

Excellent, Srikanth.

You should see if you can write for Sangeetam or something like that.

Srikanth said...

Suraj and Sunil: Thanks a lot!

Carnatic Music evolves very much at the rate at which life itself evolves with large species of animals.

A great analogy!

The melting rate, however, is quite controlled by a very strong negative feed-back loop by its Rasikas.

I too wonder if the rasikas and critics a trifle too reactionary. (Just ask Balamuralikrishna.) Ideally there should be a balance between preservation and innovation.

I see a potential series of blog-posts in your comment.

krishna said...

please visit http://www.carnaticindia.com , the complete website on south Indian Music

Anonymous said...

Von Miller Authentic Jersey

The feelings will followThink of your happiness as interest bearing bank account? the more you mindfully collect and deposit, the greater the compounded value Don't purchase anything new unless you eliminate one item form your home or office

Nike Nfl Jerseys From China

And it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completedUnless you believe in pet psychics, there's really no way for you to read your pooch's mind and figure out exactly what she's thinking As a dynamic speaker and facilitator her message to you is "TRANSFORM YOUR MOUNTAINS INTO OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADVENTURE AND POSITIVE CHANGE Create a style and treat it like your trademark or calling card

Broncos Peyton Manning Jersey

Anonymous said...

top [url=http://www.c-online-casino.co.uk/]c-online-casino.co.uk[/url] brake the latest [url=http://www.realcazinoz.com/]free casino bonus[/url] free no set aside reward at the chief [url=http://www.baywatchcasino.com/]casino bonus
[/url].

Anonymous said...

In the main part of the terminal building is a food court where there's a deli counter, a Tim Horton's, a Harvey's/Swiss Chalet, a Second Cup Coffee place, a bar called Lumberjack's. [url=http://www.monsterstudioshop.com]dr dre headphones[/url] exrvtezo
[url=http://www.beatsvipca.com]beats by dre outlet[/url] canada goose manitoba jacket black [url=http://www.canadagoose4canadian.com]canada goose on sale[/url]
[url=http://custombarnsaz.com]canada goose[/url]

Anonymous said...

The bank lobby named April 21, the deadline the Fed missed, My Debit Card Day and launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #savemydebitcard. [url=http://www.monsterstudioshop.com]cheap dr dre beats[/url] kxyhtwsa
[url=http://www.canadagoosehommes.com] parka canada goose[/url] imitation canada goose chilliwack [url=http://www.canadagoose4canadian.com]canada goose outlet [/url]
[url=http://custombarnsaz.com]canada goose outlet[/url]

Anonymous said...

Back then Mervyn's had a toy section, too, and we'd always finish out the trip with a stop at the toy department. [url=http://www.monsterstudioshop.com]dr dre beats outlet[/url] agxuzhgy
http://www.canadagoosehommes.com canada goose parka nyc [url=http://www.canadagoose4canadian.com]canada goose on sale[/url]
[url=http://custombarnsaz.com]canada goose on sale[/url]

Anonymous said...

Most recently, Simpson Thacher advised KKR earlier this month when the company snagged Pfizer Inc Capsugel unit in a $2.38 billion deal. [url=http://www.monsterstudioshop.com]dr dre beats outlet[/url] hjzksbml
[url=http://www.canadagoosehommes.com]canada goose france [/url] doudoune canada goose officiel [url=http://www.canadagoose4canadian.com]canada goose parka[/url]
[url=http://custombarnsaz.com]canada goose on sale[/url]

Anonymous said...

Punk music, however, did provide the Psychobilly subculture with ideas and style beyond flat-top hair cuts, 50s dresses, stand-up basses, and crewcut or slicked-back style hairdos (imagine the cast of Grease). [url=http://www.monsterstudioshop.com]dr dre beats outlet[/url] vtyxztfk
[url=http://www.beatsvipca.com]dr dre beats cheap[/url] canada goose montebello parka 2530l [url=http://www.canadagoose4canadian.com]canada goose outlet[/url]
[url=http://custombarnsaz.com]canada goose on sale[/url]

Anonymous said...

Для любителей клубнички [url=http://aftertube.net.ua/tags/Tanaka/]Tanaka[/url] Здесь [url=http://aftertube.net.ua/tags/Juggs/]Juggs[/url]
Слабонервным не смотреть!

Anonymous said...

Did you [url=http://www.onlinecasinos.gd]casino online[/url] advised of that you can do Handle Mansion speedily from your mobile? We comprise in the offing a prominence unfixed casino at associated with's disposal seeking iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows 7 and Smartphone users. Distil non-spiritual goods of your gaming with you and be a safe keeping guard [url=http://www.adults.gd]vibrators[/url] wherever you go.

Anonymous said...

We [url=http://www.casinogames.gd]online blackjack[/url] obtain a large library of utterly freed casino games championing you to sport sensibly here in your browser. Whether you want to unaccustomed a provisions encounter strategy or just sample manifest a occasional late slots before playing in the direction of unfeigned filthy lucre, we have you covered. These are the rigid uniform games that you can treat cavalierly at real online casinos and you can with them all quest of free.