Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Trinity in peril

By Bala Shankar

The Carnatic music world is moving so fast that the Trinity is in danger of obsolescence. Modern day concerts are setting new patterns of what they offer – a huge surge in ‘popular’ songs, mostly construed in the 20th century by anyone (that’s right – anyone) and tuned by another such person. This is peppered with a few classic songs – usually only in the first quartile segment of the concert – Saint Tyagaraja’s contribution of songs with verve that set a concert alight are still to be beaten! Dikshitar and Syama Sastry are special guests invoked once in a while on stage. The craving for “Tamilization”, ease of assimilation for an uninitiated audience, limited need for guru-led teaching, no pathantara dharma, novelty appeal and a ‘trend-setting’ sensation may have propelled what I would call a “drift”.

Instead of arguing against these (which maybe futile as the debate is not so much about the merits of the songs or the creators), we may reflect on what made the Trinity’s music great and sustained it for over 300 years, without recordings or even written notations. They are vaggeyakaras, for one. They composed the lyrics and tuned them. Subramania Bharati is a great poet, not a vaggeyakara. There are multiple tunes for Kakkai siraginile as everyone knows. O Rangasayee, Chakkani rajamargamu, Akshayalinga vibho or Bangaru Kamakshi are like renaissance paintings – grand, artistic, spiritual (bhakti is intrinsically woven), pregnant with meaning, music and language, all in perfect synchrony and above all, created almost miraculously (and with divine help, for sure) from a life-long dedication to mastery of all the components – not just the lyric or the tune or rhythm. It will be a pity if a perpetual cycle of gradual de-emphasis on Trinity songs over the years, robs the new musicians and the listeners of a great inner experience. Perhaps a full circle is nearing and we will soon have Trinity series (as opposed to non-Trinity series that have gained popularity in the last decade).

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