Song of Surrender

Monday, 13 February 2012

Remembering Prof. Sambamoorthy: Synonym For Musicology

By Prof. S.R. Janakiraman

P. Sambamoorthy was born on 14th February 1901.

In the long course of history of music of our country, we I find celestials and mythological sages who were musicians and musicologists. In the mediaeval period, we find a plethora of musicological savants credited with great and memorable treatises on music and musicology. Most of these names have been referred to by Tyagaraja in his kriti Vidulaku mrokkeda in Mayamalavagaula raga. In his Sangeeta gnanamu bhakti vina in Dhanyasi, Tyagaraja refers even to celestial musicians like Bhringi, Natesa, Samiraja, Ghataja, etc. There was a flow from 1500 AD of further stalwarts like Ramamatya, Venkatamakhin, Tulaja and a host of others. This marks the modern period of musical history widely accepted as such. Professor P. Sambamoorthy came as a legend in the 20th century.

If we analyse the treatment of musicology in earlier times, it is clear that only a partial treatment of the theme has been focused on, with conspicuous omissions of the important topics in one treatise or the other. To mention one example, Ramamatya did not cover the gamut of musical compositions and tala-s. On the other hand, Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarangadeva (1213-1247 A.D.) offers us a full digest of the entire material on music and musicology. The beginnings of the 20th century gave us the gift of Subbarama Dikshitar, with his magnum opus Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini on music and musicology. It is no exaggeration to say that Prof. Sambamoorthy has traversed the entire gamut of musicology in the many volumes of his contributions. In the previous issue of Sruti, Dr. Bhageerathi has given copious details covering the Professor’s life and works and Dr. N. Ramanathan, a critical survey of the contribution of Prof. Sambamoorthy in several directions. In the following paragraphs, an attempt is made to touch upon certain other aspects of Prof. Sambamoorthy’s genius as a musicologist par excellence.

Prof. Sambamoorthy came from a middle class family: his father was the Station Master in Bitragunta Railway Station of the erstwhile South Indian Railway. A poor child, losing his father at the tender age of four, Sambamoorthy rose step by step with the grace of Providence, finally becoming great— greatness not thrust upon him. The Professor has said in his autobiographical account that he was lucky in two ways. First, he had the good luck to choose his own choice of a subject which he loved most— i.e. music. Second, he was extremely lucky to get a life partner who had similar interests in abundance and who helped him in his life-long pursuit. His span of untiring life was devoted to the subject of musicology and he pursued this study steadfastly and conscientiously, as described by Tyagaraja as Manasaaraga nidaanamuga salipinaanu in his Ganavaridhi kriti Daya joochutakidi velara.

We say of practitioners of music that one is the sishya of such and such a great musician. As far as Prof. Sambamoorthy is concerned, it is true that he had learnt vocal music, violin and flute from different stalwarts. From whom, and with whose grace he imbibed knowledge of musicology is a question to which we do not know the answer. He was the fountainhead of all South India musicology and was also well-versed in other systems of music of the world. He constituted the accumulated stock of wisdom of the theory of music in the ancient, mediaeval and modern periods of music.

How do we distinguish him from musicologists of learning of earlier times? simply stated, there is not a single aspect of the subject left untouched by him. Musicology, like other sciences, has both pure and applied streams. Prior to Prof. Sambamoorthy’s times, the subject of musicology had been dealt with purely in its applied aspects. Topics such as nada, sruti, swara, swarasthana, mela, raga, gamaka-s, tala-s and tala-dasaprana-s, janaka-janya schemes, instruments and their playing techniques, musical compositions and their lakshana-s, raga lakshana-s, etc., were covered in earlier musicological texts, but even among these topics, some were given expanded treatment by the Professor. For instance, the topic of mela came to be studied in its expanded spheres of mela paddhati and mela nomenclature by him. The raga lakshana-s as dealt with by previous writers were very meagre and flimsy. Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini of Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) throws considerable light on the study of raga lakshana-s in greater detail. Prof. Sambamoorthy followed the lead of Subbarama Dikshitar and expanded the subject exhaustively.

He did not rest content with this. His monumental contribution consists of his dictionary of music and musicians of which only three volumes have appeared. It is understood that the completion of the dictionary is under process in the Department of Music, University of Madras, headed by Dr. Prameela Gurumurthy. The dictionary is a great piece of work, with a vast glossary of raga-s, tala-s, composers, and technical terms. Quite a good number of raga-s have been mentioned with the arohana and avarohana and also their parent modes. Surprisingly, the sources for this information have not been acknowledged. Some of the raga-s mentioned by him are found in such sources as Manicka Mudaliar’s Sangeeta Chandrika, Nadamuni Panditar’s Sangeeta Swaraprastara Sagaramu, K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar’s Gana Bhaskaram and the late Ranga Ramanuja Iyengar’s Historical Development of South Indian Music. Sambamoorthy was the architect of so many other concepts in music, which, in his hands, blossomed into full-fledged subjects with an extensive treatment. They include:
  • (i) Music and mathematics.
  • (ii) Geographical factors and their impact on the growth of the musical culture of countries.
  • (iii) Comparative music—studying systems of music of different countries in two ways: taking them country by country and analysing the systems of music; taking different topics in music and musicology and studying them country-wise.
  • (iv) Music and temples.
  • (v) Musical iconography—study of musical stone pillars.
  • (vi) Moorchanakaraka and amoorchanakaraka mela-s.
  • (vii) Musical seats and their importance in the development of musical cultures.
  • (viii) Contemporary music—happy and regrettable futures.
  • (ix) Kutcheri dharma.
  • (x) Raga and rasa.
  • (xi) Mudra-s in musical compositions.
  • (xii) Theory of survival of the useful in the realm of musicology and survival of the beautiful in the practical realm of music.
  • (xiii) Musical pedagogy—teaching with the creation of university faculties and chairs and different undergraduate and post-graduate courses, curricula, syllabi, and other related topics. In this respect the whole of the musical community is greatly indebted to Prof. Sambamoorthy for all time to come.
  • (xiv) Careers in music in ancient, mediaeval and modern times.
  • (xv) History of music.
  • (xvi) Brief biographical sketches of notable composers of the Trinity and post-Trinity periods.
  • (xvii) Evolution of musical concepts from the embryonic stage to the stage of being crystallised into law.

All the topics listed above fall in the domain of pure musicology.

Prof. Sambamoorthy was connected with several music institutions in some capacity or other. The erstwhile Central College of Carnatic Music was started in the year 1949 and I was a student in the first batch of Sangeeta Vidwan title holders. I had the privilege of studying under him, but only for a few months. Even prior to that, I had been the student of the Professor when I was in Kalakshetra. I attended many classes there on an inter-collegiate basis between Kalakshetra and the Department of Music of the University of Madras, along with my senior colleague M.D. Ramanathan.

When the Sri Venkateswara College of Music and Dance was started in Tirupati in 1960 by the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam, Prof. Sambamoorthy was the first visiting Professor. I spent considerable time with him during those four/five years. During this period, my association was so close that it was the envy of my colleagues at the College. We had discussions on many a controversial topic of musicology. On such occasions, if he felt that I was in the right, he used to remain silent and was able to appreciate my point. Prof. Sambamoorthy always spoke to the point and softly. When thinking of him, I am reminded of Bernard Shaw’s words in another context: “It is dangerous to be too good”. Being good did not prove dangerous to the Professor but his goodness was responsible for a lack of firmness that affected the discharge of his duties sometimes. Because of his being a victim of circumstances.

Prof. Sambamoorthy paved the way for many people to get decorates and post-doctorates, but with all his profundity of learning and yeoman service to music/ musicology, he did not aspire for or get any honorary doctorate degrees, which should have been bestowed upon him unasked.

(Reproduced from Sruti 252)

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