LEC DEM MELA

Friday, 31 August 2018

CONTROVERSY HITS CARNATIC MUSIC

Central to the recent campaign against Carnatic musicians who have allegedly betrayed their religion (which their critics claim is the essence of their art) have been aggressive, sometimes abusive language berating the artists and threats issued to their wellbeing. Some of the artists so abused have panicked and apologised while at the same time pleading their innocence of any intent to participate in Christian proselytisation attempts, or any substitution of the lyrics of Tyagaraja. 

Some leading artists have condemned the social media attacks on the musicians launched by fringe groups. Natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, a strong upholder of tradition in our arts besides being a bold innovator for decades, states that our “art forms have been the essence of our culture and ethos practised by our ancestors...part of  (the) Vedas and dharma, not a religious endeavour.”

“So,” Dhananjayan continues, portraying the arts as “Hindu religious arts” cannot be accepted.” According to him, “religions are man-made” and “arts have been  a tool to establish closeness to each and everyone around. We must see them in the light of this spirit of one human entity, eschew religious attributes to our performing art forms.”  In a typically forthright response to the attacks, star vocalist T.M. Krishna has promised to sing a song on Allah or Jesus every month, and he has been at the receiving end of some choice abuse and dire threats from the lunatic fringe.

While Dhananjayan condemns such acts of “plagiarism” as the alleged substitution of Tyagaraja’s lyrics, he has no objection to whole new songs being composed “on saints of other religions” in Carnatic or Hindustani ragas. He dismisses apprehensions of any threat from other religions to our deep rooted, unshakable Vedic foundation.”

While “unequivocally opposing forced religious conversions” (for which Carnatic music was being misutilised according to those raising the recent alarm), Sangita Kalanidhi N.  Ravikiran, has described the social media attacks “as vitriol hurled at certain artists for singing songs on Jesus Christ, without a shred of evidence that even a single artist was guilty of malicious intent towards any individual or community.” 

Sruti has for many years chosen to describe Carnatic music as art music rather than classical music. It has also stressed the distinction between concert music and devotional music. A sizable percentage of its audiences may see the very art as an expression of bhakti to Hindu gods and Sruti has always acknowledged their right to believe so, though not subscribing to such a view as a magazine. (Both Carnatic music and Hindustani music, especially the latter, have many wonderful practitioners from other faiths whose rendering of songs soaked in bhakti can be moving). 

At the same time, Sruti supports the right of other listeners and practitioners who see Carnatic music as a stylised art form based on a sophisticated grammar but with melody and rhythm at its heart, and bhakti as expressed in the lyrics  an incidental adjunct to them. Our successive editors and the Sruti team like to believe that we are deeply moved by the sheer beauty of raga music while not immune to the grandeur and poetry of the great compositions of the celebrated Trinity and other outstanding vaggeyakaras of Carnatic music, much of which is an expression of surrender to God. We like to tell devout rasikas who  don’t care for music without explicit bhakti towards Hindu gods: “Please don’t listen to it if you don’t like it, but do not place obstacles in the path of those who want to perform or appreciate songs of other types; on the other hand, some of them  may give the miss to bhakti-soaked music which lacks in musical value. We cannot question the right of the musician to purvey this or that kind of music. To call for official boycotts and bans, and to threaten artists with dire consequences if they don’t fall in line with your so-called philosophy of music is fascist, ugly, totally irreligious.” 

We extend our support to artists in their attempts to practise their art without fear. Some of them may sometimes commit errors of judgement, may even be tempted into less than ethically upright actions for “commercial reasons”, but no one has the right to impinge on their freedom and try them in kangaroo courts. Indian culture does not need these self-appointed guardians to protect it.

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