Possibilities of Innovations and Reformations in Yakṣagāna: Some Thoughts - Part 8

The music scene in India has undergone quite some changes since the introduction of microphones and loudspeakers. In the pre-technological era, it was natural for the singer to train himself for singing in different octaves, especially to be audible to everyone. Nevertheless, the kind of emotive content that a singer can deliver when he sings in his natural voice and at an octave that suits him best, cannot be brought about otherwise. Gentle oscillations of the notes, gradual transitions, and subtle embellishments are extremely important for classical music. If a musician sings at a pitch that is not naturally his, then, he will not be able to bring about the required nuances and subtilities in embellishments. Moreover, he might not be able to provide the fullest expression to his creative mind. Unnatural pitch will come in the way of accurate pronunciation, intonation, and elaboration. Rather than being an expression of manodharma, singing will end up as an art of torturing the throat. In other words, more than subtleties, gross elements of music come to foray.

In the past, when technology was in its infancy, it was difficult to record music. It was difficult to organically pass it on across times and spaces. Music had to be taught in the oral tradition and students had to write down notations or remember every aspect. Furthermore, some teachers were not generous enough to pass on certain maṭṭus and sañcāras to their students. They would rather retain it as an ‘inherited family treasure’ than pass it on to deserving students. Notions of ‘purity’ of bāni and gharānā and gurus being possessive about them also caused the stagnation of some aspects of music. It is hard to preserve all elements of beauty when art is transmitted in the oral medium; this was especially true at a time when music was not captured in the written medium. Due to these limitations, several interesting compositions and rāgas have remained only with a few musicians; some may have found print and documentation in unknown corners of the country and have been consumed by time. There has been immense loss because of jealousy between artistes and teachers. Their greed and biases have also contributed to loss of beauty.  

In the past, when voice amplifiers were not in vogue, musicians attempted to make their music audible to large gatherings. They strained their voices by singing at a pitch that was not naturally theirs and at a volume that would hurt their throat. More than evoking aesthetic pleasure, music only managed to create high frequency noise. This again brings us back to an instance where form is emphasized more than the content. In the past, this was the state of music in general and Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta, in particular.

In the last eight to nine decades, thanks to the advent of technology, a lot has changed in connection with music concerts. Several modifications have taken place in training the musician’s voice. Thanks to microphones, singers can render music at a pitch and volume they are comfortable with. Similarly, quite some refinement in the tonality, timbre, and speed have taken place. The nature and number of accompanying instruments has also undergone changes.  Artistes have started paying attention to lyrics. They modify the speed of their rendition as per the needs of the emotion. Artistes have started adapting their music to microphones and loudspeakers. They have also started documenting their music through audio recordings and written script[1]. Music rendition is more nuanced today, thanks to technology.

Today, microphones, amplifiers and loudspeakers are used in Yakṣagāna presentations. Thus, the music has to undergo suitable changes to make itself more beautiful and effective. The modifications brought about by Dr. Shivarama Karantha in this direction are noteworthy.

There is a tendency of having very slow-paced music in the Yakṣagāna of Uttara Kannada. The music is repetitive and monotonous, and is to an extent, influenced by Hindustani music. The music that accompanies Baḍagutiṭṭu of Kundapura is filled with unnecessary changes in volume and speed, thereby killing melody; the music also appears aggressive at times – due to these unwarranted musical features, the lyrics of the composition are not rendered accurately.  In the Tèṅkutiṭṭu, though melodious rāgas are used, the tendency to stretch every syllable accompanied by strange vocal modifications make the music rather harsh. While this is the general scenario, several bhāgavatas of Yakṣagāna have made good use of technology and added charm to music. With this background in mind and keeping a note of the success and failure of experimentations in the domain, let us briefly examine the nature of changes that can be brought about to further enhance the quality of Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta.

 

• Microphones are convenient and indispensable today. It would be good to use microphones in all Yakṣagāna performances. Artistes should understand the right usage of microphones and make sure that their voice is delivered well through the device. Artistes must examine the conditions under which cèṇḍè and maddaḻè will require microphones. This largely depends on the size of the hall and the audience. Artistes might have to undergo some training to optimize their singing or playing of their instrument to the accompaniment of a microphone.

• Artistes should keep in mind the chandas of the pada/padyas while rendering them. Tālas should help enhance the metrical patterns inherent to the lyrics and not disrupt them. Singing songs at extremely high or low speeds will disrupt the emotive content of the lyrics. The pada/padyas of Yakṣagāna are composed in nibiḍa-bandhas[2]; therefore, if the inherent pattern of the long and short syllables is kept in mind while setting it to tune, the in-built rhythmic pattern will reveal itself (i.e., there is no need to unnecessarily stretch or shorten the syllables). Therefore, singing at low speeds (vilamba-gati) or at high speeds (druta-gati) will absolutely not bring clarity to the lyrics. In fact, it hampers the natural flavour and rhythm of the language (bhāṣā-pada-gati) as well as its emotive potential.  Sediyapu Krishna Bhatta observes that bhāṣā-pada-gati and chandaḥ-pada-gati (the metrical pattern) need to be kept in mind and they must seamlessly blend into the tāla-gati (rhythmic pattern of the tāla). Usually the madhyama-laya (medium tempo) suits all kinds of lyrics. It is comfortable for the bhāgavatas and for the percussionists.

Bhāgavatas usually repeat the same line multiple times to enable the artiste of the mummeḻa to present different interpretations and emotions. Instead of rendering the line in the same format again and again, newer flavours can be brought in. It would certainly be useful to creatively bring out saṅgatis (melodic variations) when the same line is repeated. If the episode permits, it would be beneficial to add variety to the tāla-gati as well.

Bhāgavatas must regularly do svara-sādhana, i.e., they must practice regularly to strike the right svara at the right time. They must also learn to sing unbroken and unhindered a-kāra for long durations – this demands immense practice as well. Mastery over sixty or more rāgas is essential. Many bhāgavatas seem to be allergic to classical music and śāstra. The composer of the Yakṣagāna-prasaṅga also states the rāga and the tāla in which it needs to be rendered. Many a times, these pre-determined rāgas and tālas do not go well with the episode.  Nevertheless, the bhāgavata must use his discretion to decide if a rāga suits the particular context. Many bhāgavatas and scholars opine that maṭṭus are sufficient for Yakṣagāna. A maṭṭu is, after all, an aesthetic arrangement of the melodic phrases of a rāga. It is equivalent to the concept of ‘tune’ in western music. A rāga is an ocean of several such maṭṭus. For instance, Yakṣagāna-saṅgīta has delimited the Ānanda-bhairavī rāga for the rendition of karuṇa-rasa only and uses a fixed set of maṭṭus for the purpose. The potential of the rāga to bring out other emotions such as śṛṅgāra, hāsya, and śānta seems to have been ignored.

To be continued...
This series of articles is authored by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh and have been rendered into English with additional material and footnotes by Arjun Bharadwaj. The article first appeared in the anthology Prekṣaṇīyaṃ, published by the Prekshaa Pratishtana in Feburary 2020.

[1] Nevertheless, I must hasten to add that over-use and over-dependence on technology have their drawbacks. It is important to exercise caution in this regard. If Yakṣagāna does not undergo refinement out of the fear that technology is going to spoil its aesthetics, it will end up becoming a museum piece and will be showcased only during the Republic Day parade. Several theatrical forms including Mūḍalapāya, Keḻikā (Keḻikè), and Cindu are edging towards extinction! Yakṣagāna may become an object of dry academic interest and may not serve the purpose of entertainment at all!

[2] Except for compositions set to aṣṭa-tāla, dhavaḻāra, and sāṅgatya (which are abundant in trimūrti chandas), etc. most other compositions are endowed with mātrā-samaka.


 

 

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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