Friday, December 09, 2005


Self - doubt, Confusions and Me

"Aajnschaashraddhadhanascha Samshayathma Vinashyathi,
Naayam Lokosthi Na Paro Na Sukham Samshayathmanaha"
The ignorant one, the one without dedication, the one with self doubt as well as the one who doubts others - all these three perish. Especially the paranoid will never get comfort, neither in this world nor in another (meaning, after death).

How very true! Self doubt is the worst feeling one can have. You can't expect an individual having self-doubt to trust others. After all, if at all one knows about human psychology, it is mainly from what one knows about one's own mind. When one is doubting one's own intentions/capacities etc, when one does not have a pure clear mind, one can not imagine others having it. Like how one can dream only whatever one has seen in the past and can not see something entirely new, similarly one's understanding on others is limited by one's own understanding of the self. Hence the more one know about the self, the more does one know the entire human race.

But, sometimes I seriously wonder why must I know myself and others? What is the whole purpose of doing so much analysis? What do I get? Why do I even have to ponder whether I know myself, whether I have self doubt, whether I am good or bad? Why do I end up time and again in questions to which I already know that there is no answer? Worst, even after knowing my limitations, why do I do the same mistakes and encounter same unpleasant situations and get self-doubt? And, once I do a mistake, why can't I forget it and move on? Why do I always want to be correct? Why can't I say "It doesn't matter really?" and just let it all go? Why can't I accept myself the way I am-then it'll be lot more easy to accept others the way they are-? What is that which constantly drives me towards self-improvement?

What is confidence? Is it the absence of self-doubt? Or, is it the presence of a feeling of self-worth from within? What is Joy? Is it the absence of sorrow? Or is it the presence of a feeling of bliss from inside(Atlas Shrugged!)? What is being correct? Is it not being wrong? Or is it being the way my conscience guides me? What is this consicence?

The human brain is too small and still it is amazingly wonderful, how does it get all these thoughts? I'm confused...I don't know, I guess no one knows either...

Monday, December 05, 2005


Something About The "Esoteric" Indian Classical Music

After a short lull, I'm writing again. I've been pretty busy these days, with releases at office and some major personal tasks to complete. Since a long time I was planning to put a blog on Indian classical music, but never did. Some recent happenings have pushed me to write one immediately. The characters and incidents mentioned here are neither purely co-incidental nor targeted at someone. If you identify yourself with some, it is quite natural. Also, I want to make it clear that the information presented in this article can be in no way called complete. This is just a very basic article, covering some concepts of mainly "Karnataka Shaastriya Sangeetha". Here we go...

Whenever I meet a new person, after interacting for a few days, I start to hit him/her with my usual series of questions, first of which is, "What kind of music do you listen to?", to which I seldom find an answer, "Indian Classical Music". Now, this is something that hurts me deeply. In my 24.5 years of subsitence on this weird yet amazingly beautiful earth I've learnt not to let others' actions or rather the absence of it hurt me, in general. But if there is one exception to it, then that is the actions/attitudes of people towards music. Specially as a person gets closer to my heart, then the amount of pain I experience is more; head gets hot, mind becomes sour and I start pondering seriously on the questions "Why Junta generally don't listen to the Indian Classical Music? What can I do about it?"

I've heard from elderly people that about 50-100 years ago, our Indian Classical Music (will be referred to as Indian CM or plainly CM in short now on) was very popular throughout. At least one person per family was devoted to learn it and he was provided with all the means for survival, so that he could just focus on learning. Not very long ago also there was "Oonchavritthi" (Begging in simple terms) in practice by the students. It was considered to be a penance and music worshippers were revered by the rest of the society.

In contrast, nowadays if one says he/she is learning CM, others may not laugh just out of courtesy, but they do convey something through their indifference. Generally any kind of an artist/e is very emotional and touchy. The society does not understand what it is doing to the artist/e and the art by its apathy. By this attitude, the biggest loser is the society itself. Slowly the quality of the society will come down, for example, looking at the current rate of decrease of CM lovers, I feel within next 100-200 years, it is going to vanish. Many might disagree with my statement, but that'll be the reality.

I have my own doubts as to how many of today's generation know what/where CM is. Is it in the "Lambodhara Lakumikara" or "Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma" sung by Aunty during the Poojas? Is it in the traditional "Vaalaga" played in the weddings? Is it in what is taught to the kids by some local music teacher, who has never even heard a CM concert (forget giving) in his life? It is not a surprise to come across people who think that CM is in these. No offense meant to any of the people afore-mentioned, what I mean is that they don't represent the rich classical music that our country possesses to even 0.001 % accuracy.

Then what is true CM? I am tempted to say "I don't know", as that is what I feel with my current level of understanding. But having started to write this, I can't cheat myself as well as the readers without sharing at least what I know. Hence I'll make some honest attempts to pass on whatever little bit I know. I will first write about some statements I've encountered and then try to answer them.

Coming back to the questions part (mentioned in the first para), my next question to the person would be "Have you ever tried Indian classical music, either Carnatic (Karnataka) or Hindustani?, if not why no?" The reply would be "Yeah...A little bit, but I don't understand Telugu, so I can't make out the meaning, what's the point?" or "I tried once, it is so esoteric, it is beyond my level to understand, so I never tried again" or more interesting paradoxical answer is "If I know (means have heard before) the song, I enjoy it, otherwise I can't"! Beauty! Do you see the paradox in the statement? From somewhat 'advanced' music lovers (The adjective is to be applied to the person, not to the music), I have even heard "I can't make out which raaga or thala it is, they all sound alike, and more importantly, I can't make out which rasa does a raaga convey!??". Boy! hardly even a CM student can identify more than 50 raagas out of thousands of them, though thalas are easier to identify. I feel all these excuses come out due either to ignorance or to absence of alacrity to try it out.

I am going to venture into addressing the two big questions, "Where/What is CM?" and "How to understand CM?" First of all, a person who is not so familiar with CM must understand that it is not the lyrics he/she would be giving attention to, but the flow of a 'song'. In order to be able to do this, it is better to start listening to an instrument rather than vocal numbers. Instrument is more accurate representation because it can play a big range of frequencies (a range of frequencies from a basic note to another note of double the basic note frequency is called an octave)-Upto 4.5 octaves are available in Veena and about 4 in Violin, whereas with the human voice at the most 3 octaves are possible to sing. We do not need more, as our CM is based on melody (Variations/oscillations in a particular note) as opposed to Western CM which is based on harmony (Playing several notes together). All Indian CM pieces start slow, because all of them are mainly devotional and they deal with either praying to or arguing with the God. [Some are filled with Romance as well!]. I will tell more about Karnataka CM in the next paragraphs.

There are several-roughly 15-categories of musical pieces, starting from "Sarala Varasa" till "Raagam -Thaanam - Pallavi (RTP in short)". A Krithi(Keerthana) by any great composer will have 3 items, namely Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charana. A musician is not supposed to keep the music sheet in front of him while playing/singing. In a concert, the musician can apply his innovation and creativity to some pieces. He can add a prefix called 'Alaapana' to show the outline of the Raaga in which the Krithi was composed and is going to be presented. During Alaapana, percussion instruments are off. There can be suffixes to the Krithi, in the form of 'Neraval' and 'Kalpana swaras' - also called 'Swara Prasthara'. 'Neraval' means choosing a line from the Krithi (anywhere, Pallavi, Anupallavi or Charana) and singing/playing in a variety of ways within the scope of the raaga. Strictly, Neraval neednot be a suffix, it can come anywhere after the Krithi has started. It will be followed by the 'Kalpana swaras' which are pattern of notes lasting for exactly integral multiples of the thaala period. If it does not fit within that time frame, the musician is considered to be unfit to give any concerts! Presence of 'Neraval' implies that of 'Swara Prasthara', but not vice-versa. When 'Neraval' is done, the 'Swara's will end in a note near to the starting note of the line picked for 'Neraval'. Alternately, the swaras can also land at a particular 'Jeevaswara' (one of the main note) of the raaga. There will be 10-20 such swara patterns (each of them always ending at a particular note only at the end of the thala period) in different speeds. The 'Kaplana swara' part is one thing that a novice listener will enjoy the most. The first few will be for one period of thaala and they become progressively longer, with the last one being the longest, and it will end with a grand climactic pattern. In a vocal or flute concert, there will be a supporting violinist who will be playing along with the main performer during the Krithi. The 'Alaapana'-also called as 'Raaga', 'Neraval' and 'Swara Prasthara' are collectively called as 'Manodharma Sangeetha'. They will cover the entire range of the Raaga and show the mastery of the performer on the music. The accompanying violinist will play after the main player(not along with) during the 'Manodharma' part, as it is quite individualistic. The Krithi is based on certain theme depending on the context in which it was composed, and hence will not have much variations. Hence one might find that a Krithi started with a particular emotion, but towards the end it is quite different from how it started. Just before the end there can be "Thani Avarthana" which is the performance only by percussion musicians. This will be closely related to the 'Swaras' put by the main musician.

It is not uncommon to have 'RaagaMalika' (Different portions in different raagas) Krithis or 'Raagamalika' in 'Kalpana Swaras'. Even though, the raagas are different, when they join the Pallavi, you won't feel the discontinuity. Isn't this surprising? And, for those who say that they can't differentiate between the raagas, I strongly recommend listening to 'Raaga Malika's. A layman may not be able to name the raagas, but will be able to feel the difference. After all, what is in a name? Isn't the music all about feelings?

There is yet another term called 'Thaanam' in music jargon. This usually comes in 'Raagam-Thaanam-Pallavi(RTP)' pieces, in that order. RTP's will have all items listed in 'Manodharma Sangeetha'. They will not have Anupallavi and Charanam and hence are different from the Krithi's. So, they have less redundancy and more music. Only Pallavi will have one/two lines of lyrics composed by the performing musician usually. RTP is the ultimate thing in CM and needs many years of dedicated practice. Thaanam is very interesting, it is a kind of 'rhythmic raagalapana', yet without 'Laya Vaadyas' (percussion instruments) on. In the 'Swaraprasthara' part, it'll have swaras in the raaga of Pallavi and in addition usually in raagas which are very unrelated.

I think I've explained what to expect from a CM piece. Now you can decide whether to call Aunty's 'Lambodhara..' a part of CM. I would say, if Aunty sings it in its original form even without 'Manodharma Sangeetha' it is CM. "Shruthi Matha, Layaha Pitha". A performance which lacks either of these will not deserve to be called CM performance. Coming to the next question, "How to understand?". I don't know whether 'understand' is the correct word. Do you ever try to 'understand' any kind of music or do you 'experience', 'feel' and 'enjoy' it? I think I do the latter. But as a student of CM, yes, I do try to 'understand' the fundaes behind them. This 'experiencing' part is highly personal and hence I can't really say how you can/should enjoy it. Each one has his/her own way of enjoying the music. It should come from within. This is the reason why musicians pick all kinds of raagas and even within one item they present various emotions. There is nothing like one raaga would convey one 'rasa'. Just like how the minor scale notes of western music sound sad and major scale sound happy, here also some raagas sound melancholic if they are slow and some sound cheerful, but there is no such rule. A skilled musician can bring out all kinds of emotions with any raaga. (Reference : "Karnataka Sangeetha Vahini" by Dr. Ra. Sathyanarayana)

Classical music is not in Telugu/Tamil/Kannada/Hindi. But it is in our hearts. It is in the violin by Chowdiaha/Ganesh,Kumaresh/L Subramanian/M Chandashekhar (visually challenged!)/Kunnakkudi, in the Veena by Emani/Chittibaabu/Balachandar/Gaayathri, in the Flute by Shashaank/N Ramani, in the Saxophone of Kadri Gopalanathan, in the Mandolin of Srinivas, in the voices of Sudha raghunathan/Balamurali/Subbulakshmi and many more legends(living/dead) not named here.

While it is true that I'm a passionate advocate of Indian classical music, I'm not against any other music. Currently listening to Beethoven's Sonata No 29. In my view, we should appreciate all kinds of music, but also understand that, that which is ours only can lead us towards 'spiritual growth'; I would like to quote a line from Bhagavadhgeetha, "Swadharme Nidhanam Shreyaha, Paradharmo Bhayavahaha" (It is better to die following our 'Dharma'; that which is not ours is scary). Though it is an exaggeration that other culture is a threat, it can become a reality, if we ignore our own culture. We don't become modern by blindly following some other tradition, but we lose our identity by doing that. We become modern, when we are open to all other traditions, music etc and take pride in and love what is truly ours. It is our responsibility to preserve the precious music heritage we got from our ancestors and pass it on to the next generation without any deformation/distortion.

I would consider my efforts put on this essay to be fruitful if at least one of the readers makes genuine attempts to try Indian classical music. Even otherwise, it was really nice writing on something where I've put my heart.

So long then...

PS : This essay is dedicated to my close friends (exactly 3 in number), who have great appreciation for art in general, but unfortunately have no interest in Indian Classical music.

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