Song of Surrender

Friday, 17 May 2013

Raga relatives

By A. Seshan

R. Vedavalli’s series on Raga Relatives is timely when exotic experiments are taking place in the fields of classical music and dance in India, with only some of them healthy. The rebel artist may earn the title of Puratchi Kalaignar, but the damage to tradition is immeasurable. The article refers to the mix-up between Bhairavi and Manji. I remember reading an article by Mudicondan lamenting the demise of Manji.

That the musician-guru-s of the past insisted on strict adherence to the grammar of raga-s is illustrated by the following episode. When she was a student, Savithri Sathyamurthi, in later years a well-known violinist and eminent guru, participated in a violin competition held at the Music Academy. The consensus of the judges was that she should be given the first prize, but it was not to be, as Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai, the chairman of the panel raised an objection. Pillai said that while he agreed that her performance was the best, he could not consider her for the prize because she had oscillated the gandhara in Sankara-bharanam! Incidentally, Savithri was a disciple of Pillai.

On the raga Sree, according to Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini, ri ga ri sa and pa dha ni pa are important jeeva swara prayoga- s that contribute to the ranjakatva of Sree, but the latter should be resorted to only once, whether it is a geetam, prabandham, kriti or alapana. One cannot think of a better example of this rule than the charanam of Dikshitar’s Sree Kamalambike in the raga. While concluding the kriti, he cleverly brings in both the prayoga-s one after the other (Sundara/ deha – pa dha ni pa ma / ri ri ga ri sa). Similar is the case with the Sree segment of the navaragamalika varnam. However, Tyagaraja did not resort to the prayoga of pa dha ni pa in his Pancharatna piece or in such kriti-s as Nama kusumamula. Yet the colour of the raga comes out clearly.

As Vedavalli says, the swaroopa of a raga is revealed in the varnam-s and kriti-s of vaggeyakara-s. A good example is Tyagaraja’s Alakalalla (Madhyamavati) where, when he refers in the matu to the waving of the curly forelocks of Rama, the underlying rishabha in the dhatu also oscillates beautifully in kampita gamaka, as pointed out by Vidya Shankar (Art and Science of Carnatic Music). It is why we consider Tyagaraja as much a poet as a vaggeyakara. It is this oscillation of the rishabha that distinguishes Madhyamavati from Sree more than anything else.

Readers of Sruti look forward to further expert elucidation by Vedavalli of the nuances of the distinguishing characteristics of raga-s close to each other.

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