Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Vivaditva: reflections of a rasika

By P.K. Doraiswamy

(Following the Venkatamakhi convention, the three varieties of rishabha, gandhara, dhaivata and nishada are respectively referred to as ra, ri, ru; ga, gi, gu; dha, dhi, dhu; and na, ni, nu).

A few years ago, vidwan B. Krishnamurthy gave an endowments lecdem on vivadi melas. The lecdem broadly covered the following aspects:
  • A historical account of how earlier attempts by Ramamatya and Govinda Dikshitar at a systematic classification of melas culminated in Venkatamakhi’s 72 mela scheme.
  • How the dual denomination of rishabha, gandhara, dhaivata and nishada resulted in 42 more melas in addition to the 30 conventional melas.
  • Vivadi melas are referred to more in the context of the vivada (controversy) they generated than in the context of their alleged vivaditva (dissonance of the intervals between the notes of the scales).
  • Under the dual denomination scheme, the swaras sung were the same but were called by two different names while singing them or describing the scales.
  • Some pre-existing vivadi ragas like Nata were included in the scheme and fitted in at the appropriate place.
  • While singing, one should glide over the vivadi swaras without making them griha swaras but they should definitely be touched so as to establish the identity of the raga without totally avoiding them.
The lecdem, as was to be expected from a person of the calibre of Krishnamurthy, was scholarly and interesting. It was, however, oriented more towards giving information rather than discussing issues.

It would, therefore, be useful to examine some issues relating to the topic of the lecdem but not covered by it. Some of these issues are discussed below:

Though, like any innovation, Venkatamakhi’s daring dual denomination must have caused raising of eyebrows and led to a controversy, this could not have been the main reason for these melas to be referred to as vivadi melas. The real reason must have been the alleged vivaditva in these scales.

Acoustics has identified three phenomena known as consonance (samvaditva), assonance (anuvaditva) and dissonance (vivaditva). These are essentially objective physical phenomena based on the interval between notes which are sounded together. But the human mind subjectively perceives them as pleasant, moderately pleasant, and unpleasant respectively. This perception, in turn, is based, respectively, on whether one hears ‘beats ’ strongly, moderately or not at all. A relationship of fourth or fifth like sa-ma or sa-pa is samvaditva; intervals like sa-gi, ma-dhi are anuvadi, and all semi-tone intervals are vivadi according to this perception. Since the so-called vivadi melas involve singing the semi-tone intervals, they are called vivadi melas. The question then arises: how come melas involving singing sa-ra, gi-ma, pa-dha and nu-SA are not called vivadi melas though all these are adjacent notes?

The explanation, according to some musicologists, is that in all these cases one note is capable of taking on a gamaka while the other is achala or plain. (This is an instance of how gamakas, apart from breathing life into ragas and making Carnatic music unique, also serve the rather mundane purpose of lubricating the squeaks of vivaditva). The problem with vivadi ragas is that both notes separated by a vivadi interval have to be sung plain, for example, ru-gu in Nata or dha-na in Jhankaradhwani. If ru is given a gamaka, it may encroach on gu. If dha is given a gamaka, it may spill over into na. (The Varali ga is perhaps the only such note that takes a slight gamaka.)

Some musicians are so allergic to vivaditva that they suggest even in krama sampoorna vivadi melas, the skipping of one vivadi swara in the arohana and the other in the avarohana, thus virtually converting some vivadi ragas into bhashanga ragas. Would this not involve giving up the very concept of a vivadi raga? Tyagaraja, in Jagadananda karaka, has virtually avoided ru in the arohana and did not use dhu, a classic example of how lakshya always supersedes lakshana in our music.

The convention of calling the same note by two different names seems important only in vocal music (and that too only when swaraprastara is done) and not so much in instrumental music in which we hear only sounds and not the names of notes. In fact, Hindustani vocalists do not bother about the dual denomination and freely sing both versions of the same note successively.

The dual denomination may cause confusion – does a vocalist sing suddha Dhanyasi as sa gi ma pa ni SA or as sa ru ma pa dhu SA? Nadamuni Panditar has given a raga with the scale sa ga ma pa na SA which is the same as Suddha Saveri as we know it! This also raises another question: Does the dual denomination merely give two different names to the same note, or does it also involve singing the notes differently (however slightly) when sung under different names? In practice, though sadharana gandhara and shatsruti rishabha have the same swarasthana, the shatstruti rishabha in Nata is sung in a way which does not remind you of sadharana gandhara in Hindolam or Suddha Dhanyasi. This aspect needs further exploration.

In order to avoid the type of confusion created by scales like Nadamuni Panditar’s, the late Sangita Kalanidhi T.V. Subba Rao had suggested that the expression suddha gandhara should be used only when suddha rishabha is also present and that the expression shatsruti rishabha should be used only when antara gandhara is present, and so on.

There is one scale which Venkatmakhi’s scheme does not cover, and that is the scale containing both the madhyamas. It is said that attempts were made 36 more melas were derived. Maybe because ma is the point around which the 72 melakarta scheme is symmetric and also perhaps because of the difficulty in singing many ragas containing different types of notes, these melas did not survive. The only scale which seems to have survived and entered the Carnatic system via the Hindustani system is Lalit.

Venkatamakhi himself was against two successive notes being given the same name as it would make vocal singing somewhat uncouth and confusing, if not difficult, and that is why he adopted the dual denomination. Had he had wanted to rope in the scale with two madhyamas, he would have had to invent a fourth variety of ga or a second variety of pa!

There is also a view that concepts like consonance, assonance and dissonance are relevant only to polyphonic and chord-based music systems and not so much to a linear, melodic system like Indian classical music, especially vocal music where two or three notes are rarely, if at all, sounded together. In melodic music, notes are sounded not together but successively, and in classical music notes are more often than not embellished with gamakas. The concept of gamaka clearly negates the concepts of pure consonance or dissonance.

Is the concept of vivadi dosha, then, an irrelevant concept carried over into our music from Western music?

Perceptions of pure consonance and dissonance are the basis for simple, elementary musical enjoyment. Jazz and pop music have accepted dissonant chords as a deliberate, sophisticated effect in their total system. Classical music is not a simple, linear extrapolation of the enjoyment of sweet, consonant sounds one likes to hear in simpler music systems. It involves acquiring a sophisticated taste for liking and appreciating what may not immediately appeal to simpler musical instincts. There is a special beauty even in the so-called vivadi intervals. In fact, the term ‘vivadi dosha’ is a value-laden term which invites you to reject it. Creating and relieving musical tension alternately is the key to soulful music and I do feel that both samvaditva and vivadi intervals have a complementary, symbiotic role in this.

There is a very interesting explanation given by the late Lalgudi Jayaraman as to why certain melas became not only popular but the kingpin of any impactful concert and why other melas have not acquired this status. Historically, our music has started with a few scales (known as jatis and later as gramas) and new scales were obtained primarily through modal shift of tonic or graha bheda. It is found that scales and ragas accepted today as major, have vast exposition potential and aesthetic appeal and dominate most of the concerts (like Kharaharapriya, Kambhoji, Sankarabharanam, Kalyani, Mayamalayagaula, Todi, Harikambhoji), produce more ragas by graha bheda than any other scales. That is to say, a scale which produces, say, six more ragas by sruti bhedam will always be more popular and prevalent than a scale which can produce only one or two ragas. That is why the scales Todi, Kharaharapriya, Sankarabharanam, Harikambhoji, Mayamalavagaula, Kalyani and Natabhairavi are sometimes referred to as the seven pillars of Carnatic music. It is in this respect that the vivadi ragas seem to suffer from a handicap. Too short an interval between notes does not conduce to a fertile sruti bhedam. In other words, the samvaditva and sruti bhedam potential seem to be positively correlated. This explanation of Lalgudi seems to be more interesting and insightful than the usual criticism of vivaditva.

The fact that a raga like Nata was an established raga even before the 72 melakarta scheme was evolved shows that our ancestors did not have any bias against vivadi ragas. We owe Venkatmakhi a debt of gratitude for opening up a whole new world of vivadi ragas. To forego 42 melas merely because of a narrow conception of what is aesthetic and what is not, is to commit musical suicide. As Balamurali once said, “Some musicians sing even samvadi melas with a ‘dosha’; some others sing even vivadi mela with a ‘tosha’.

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