When the Editor of the Indian Express requested me to contributed to his daily, a series of sketches of some of our well-known musicians, it was not without considerable hesitation that I undertook the task. I could not think of them either as trifling cartoon studies or as serious scientific these. If I did venture at all on the work in the way in which it has been done, it was only by the promptings of my love and respect for the art and the artists. The appreciative manner in which my sketches were received by the public has encouraged me in giving them a more enduring form in the shape of this book. The original articles have been revised and supplemented by short biographical notes wherever possible. The studies contained herein do not pretend to be exhaustive of all the outstanding music talents available in the profession; nor do they purport to be detailed biographies. It is more in the nature of pen pictures of platform musician by a lover of the art than a treatise on high technique. If it can provide light enjoyment for an hour and incidentally some food for thought over our art and artists, it would not have been in vain.
I thank Messrs. T.V.Subba Rao, S. Doraiswamy Iyer and K.S. Venkatramani, Advocates, and others, for their suggestions and encouragement in revision.
I read, with great interest, your studies of the leading Carnatic artists of to day. Let me congratulate you on the success of your attempt. A sincere love for the art and for the artists has helped and guided you in your effort and you have shown a generous appreciation of the subjects of your study. You have observed and depicted things with insight, engaging frankness and commendable freedom from bias. Most of your readers will, I believe , agree with me that your observations and comments are, broadly speaking and taken as a whole, just and fair, thought I recognize that differences of opinion, especially in details are ineviatable in a matter like this. You have however, provided considerable food for thought and I hope that loose and scattered views and opinions on the subject of music and musicians will be replaced by unbiased, refined and enlightened criticism. Your work has certainly prepared the way for that.
In its truer and higher forms, music is the natural and spontaneous expression of the living contact of the artist with the airs and melodies of a super-physical world. Through such contact, the imagination of the artist in enriched with a wealth of wonderfully clear, luminious and soul-stirring melodies. He feels lifted up even into an exalted state of consciousness, feels a purer joy and expresses himself in song. The great master of the past created for us the enchanting Raga-forms of Carnatic music through such rapport. These Ragas, rendered by the true artist, cast their spell on you; your inner and deeper nature responds to the call of the music and you share with the artist the sheer joy he has brought down- pure, delicate and refined. Thought is stilled and is replaced by enjoyment.
Bur it is the habit of the thinking mind to try to ‘understand’ all things in terms of the intellect and the reason, to dicover and formulate the mechanism of all processes, to define, to arrange and classify. And so, it happens we have scientific studies of Carnatic music. Its Ragas and its Talas have been carefully studied, their forms. features, movements and modes carefully analysed. The notes of the ascent and descent of the Ragas have been fixed and the Ragas have been grouped and arranged. The talas have similarly been classified and their modes formulated Rules of correct music have been laid down.
So far it is alright. But let us not forget that correct music, music that conforms strictly to all the rules of the Shastras, that satisfies all the scientific test, can yet be flat and tiring. It may be faultless; but it may not be joy-infusing. We may admire the ability and the skill, the dexterity and the command of voice of the craftman and marvel at the complexity and elaboration of his improvisation, with the rush of the swaras and the changing patterns of the swarajatis. But the soul remains untouched and feels no appeal and gives no response. What we miss are the essential elements, the elements that form the Jiva of the Raga and the song, and make them animatic.
On the other hand, when a true artist sings a Raga or Kriti. we at once feel the contact with a living thing with music that sends its appeal to the soul and evokes a response. A trained and discerning ear recognizes, feels and enjoys certain delicate shades of musical sounds, fine touches and curves, and subtle movement- often deviations from the standardized swaras. These are of the soul and the essence of the Raga itself felt and rendered by the artist. These elements, however, these graces of the Ragas, are not vague and indefinite or obscure, but are clear vivid and precise and are recognized and identified by the aesthetic ear, though the science of music has not brought them within the control and domain of its rules. The tala, in such music, has the same place as metre in poetry, supports and blends with the music unobtrusively expresses its changing rhythms and patterns but never forces itself into the song and never seeks to imprison it. The song that is sung is the joyful expression of the imagination of the artist and invites the listener to accompany the artist to the source of his own inspiration.
Are we not to-day on the verge of almost forgetting this high state and royalty of Carnatic music, its true origin and its true nature? Are we not, too thinking, too intellectual in our appreciation of it? Are we not attaching too much value, based on Shastric rules, founded on the intricate and elaborate mechanical patterns and produced by the ability and skill of singers and players out lacking in inspiration? Are we not ignoring or at any rate paying but scant respect to those true and essential elements constituting the jiva of the Raga and of the song? Are we not even encouraging our young and promising musicians to imitate those artists whose sole claim to renown is their skill and power of voice and ability to produce elaborate strings of swaras, to complicated tala patterns and ability to vary the Kalas? In a word are we not almost setting up false musical values instead of true ones?
Your studies have come very timely. They would be found very useful, I am sure, by those who really desire to form correct standards of judgement, to discern and appreciate music with inspiration behind and above all, by those rare few who have imbibed the traditions of the masters of the past, a felt the stir and the appeal of their songs and are looking forward to the advent to a new creation in South Indian Music and the arrival of a great Master to bring down to us further harmonies from the unseen.
Standards in art and appreciation thereof can seldom be expected to be uniform anywhere and much less so in South Indian Music. There is a growing feeling among savants, that it has fallen down considerably from the high standards of the classic art of the past. The unsatisfactory nature of the average training in the art, the modern exigencies of earning one's livelihood in the musical profession. the uninformed tastes and requirements of audiences particularly in urban areas, lack of appreciably frank and helpful criticism of art and artists, absence of higher ideals in the art than the strict requirements of their trade among most of the professionals and want of effective and useful co-ordination of even the sporadic and small efforts of the few in that direction-these are set out as some of the many causes for the deterioration in standards.
On the other hand, a new kind of growing enthusiasm for music is found wide-spread in the land. Far greater number of people are now found to enjoy and take to it than in the past, Newer kinds of graces and styles, polish and presentation are also observable in a few exponents of the art. From being merely a sole monopoly of the professionals, music has come to be practiced by a large number of amateurs as well among men and women. At any rate, in the average audiences of today, in a music hall, one may be sure of finding an appreciable number of music lovers of both sexes having some touch with the songs sung in a performance.
Whatever may be the divergence in the general view points of past and present music, the effect of the change of patronage from discerning princes and patricians to the mixed crowd of the streets is indelibly marked in the present day growth and development of the art. The demand of the populace of varying tastes and degrees of understanding has brought in a corresponding supply in it A wholly ignorant audience would ordinarily enjoy the pleasing aspect of sweet sounds and might be con tent to take the lead of the initiated or: the scientific and higher features of the art. But considerable sections of the present day music hall audiences with their nibbling acquaintance with a good number of catchy songs are not seldom. found to crave more and more for what they them selves are very familiar with, than for other things. equally important. With them, the man who sings a large number of pieces-preferably short ones¬- has perhaps a better and surer chance of wide popularity than others who may be able to expound their ragas, pallavi and others scholarly features of the art in a profound or elaborate manner.' On the whole, there is more hurry than necessary leisure in the present day music in general. Those who go in for impressive, elaborate and leisurely rendering of ragas in particular or compositions in slow time measures are comparatively few. This combined with the excessive development of tala accompaniments. has had no small influence in shifting the centre of interest from some of the essentials of good Carnatic music, such as absolute melody and grace, ragas and raga bhava.
Of course, kritis and other pieces should in the nature of things form the mainstay of a South Indian Musical concert. But even there, the question of variety in ragas,talas and the authors of the pieces sung and the quality of the same with reference to raga bhava are as important as their numerical quantity. Carnatic music has been rich. in its composers and compositions and it is but natural that among them, the great Tyagaraja and, his lyrical treasures should tower above the rest. But you cannot afford to ignore or neglect the pieces of other good composers and part1cularly those of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Syama Sastri, Kshetriya, Arunachala kavi, Gopalakrishna, Bharati and the like.
The unique feature and glory of Carnatic music areto be found in its conception and beautifully classified system of ragas pure sound molodies of rich variety, exquisitely pleasing to the ear and capable of rousing different moods and emotions without the aid of words of any language whatsoever, though one may not believe in all the exaggerated and legendary notions of their magical effects. Classified and codified as they are with mathematical precision, you have got ample scope also in them for the play of your personal genius, skill and imagination. A musician who has got good conception of and mastery over ragas and raga bhava, gives a more distinct and exquisite flavour to what all he sings, than one who is comparatively deficient in them. And yet, as a result of the excessive development of tala accompaniments music his been 'driven to attune Itself to the steel-frame jathis of the rhythmic variety, to the detriment of ragas and raga Bhava. The climax is reached when raga alapana itself is not infrequently found to be reduced almost to a sort of swarajathis though veiled in form.
The learning and exposition of compositions, swara and tala are perhaps comparatively more mechanical, and easy than those of ragas, which are somewhat elusive and which require .no small skill, imagination, patience and other personal qualities. More than the latter, the former variety seems to suit easily the convenience and circumstances of the average professionals, with their struggle for life and desire to shoot up quickly into cheap fame and with their need to satisfy the tastes of large sections of modern audiences for music of the galloping variety particularly in pieces: and swam sancharas. In the paucity of the natural grace of raga bhaoa, some of them seek to make their wares attractive by a sort of mechanical finish and polish. In short; they have got only the dry bones of swara and sahitya and well nigh lost the flesh and blood of raga and raga bhava.
This naturally leads one to the question of taste in musicians and music lovers, which is after all the chief determining factor in standards and appreciation of art. You cannot expect much of uniformity, steadiness or refinement in that matter in the many headed multitude nor can you blame them for it. Hence all the more is the responsibility for forming good taste on the part of the musicians and the discerning among music lovers. The crowd will always follow what lead it is given, provided it is definite' and strong. Tastes in turn depend not a little upon culture and character. The former gives the arts capacity to discern good from bad and the latter enhance him to withstand or avoid any temptation to lower himself and his art or to pander to the vitiated or moribund taste of the gallery.
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