Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Music his religion, perfection his aim

By Sruti
(Sheik Chinna Moula was born on 12 May 1924 in Andhra Pradesh.  The following article, reproduced from Sruti 164, was wriiten by B.M. Sundaram and Narayanan Pillai when the nagaswara vidwan was alive.)

“It is only because of [Ranganatha Swamy’s] benign grace and the blessings of my guru-s and parents, I am what I am today,” says Sheik Chinna Moula.

Raga alapana is his forte— a fact that should make his guru of the Tanjavur bani, Nachiarkoil Duraikkannu Pillai, feel immensely proud. In the olden days, nagaswara players used to render raga alapana for many hours, mesmerising listeners rather than putting them to sleep. They evolved and adopted an approach which emphasised a systematic and elaborate unfolding of the raga. Influencing them in this aspect were the rules of the road which forbade [except in Tiruvarur) those given the privilege of playing the nagaswara during the procession of the utsava moorti of the temple along the main streets bordering the temple complex, from playing any songs till the moorti returned to the temple. This tradition forced front-ranking nagaswara vidwans, given a lead role in the processional music, to develop the ability to play expansive raga alapana-s and execute pallavi-s.

Over the years, the man from Karavadi, even as the name got transformed from Moula to Moulana, blossomed into a master in presenting raga-s replete with bhava, using well-punctuated phrases and elegant nuances. At his best, the briga-laden passages he chooses to offer are remarkable for retaining clarity amidst the technical dexterity. His kriti-rendering is anything but routine: he plays them with feeling, his clean ‘diction’ serving as dwarapalaka-s to guard against corruption.

A melody-instrumentalist is generally expected to know the sahitya of any song to be performed, although this expectation is not fulfilled in many cases, especially among most of the nagaswara players. But Moula worked diligently to fulfil this important requirement— never mind the extensiveness of his song-repertoire. In fact, he went beyond learning the lyrics, to study and appreciate their sub-texts and nuances. It is such keen study that lies behind his ability to nuance his playing and give proper expression to sahitya bhava. It has as well equipped him to explain the meaning of the text, as needed, to his students. No wonder, only one tiling is missing from his musical vocabulary: imperfection. His recitals always exhibit his fascination with a finely sculpted aesthetic presentation.

All nagaswara players, both of Tamil Nadu and Andhra, generally use the fingers of the left-hand for stopping and closing the upper holes— the holes closer to the air-blowing orifice— and the fingers of the right hand for the lower ones. Sarangadeva’s treatise Sangeeta Ratnakara, which offers guidance on this subject also in its passages on wind instruments, specifies that the left-hand fingers are to be employed for the upper holes. It is the sastra, then. But Chinna Moula has reversed the roles of the left hand and the right hand— perhaps without deliberation. He explains that this had been done earlier by some members of the earlier generation of his family and he had learnt it that way. He then quickly adds: “This has in no way handicapped my playing.”

Deviations from the norms in the methods of playing instruments have to be judged, at bottom, on the acceptability or otherwise of the musical result. Chinna Moula’s deviation, which is copied by his grandson Kasim, has not placed him in an unfavourable light vis-a-vis other nagaswara players sticking to the sastra; nor has it in any way compromised the technical and artistic integrity of the music he produces. For that matter, he is not alone in deviating from the norm: there are masters of other instruments who have done the same, like, for example, the renowned violinist and composer Kocherlakota Rama Raju of Andhra, who wielded the bow with his left hand and employed the right hand for fingering.

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