Tireless Striving and Innate Genius (Part 1)

Vīṇā Sheshanna (1852–1926) and Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer (1857–1913) were great sādhakas (hard-workers, musicians who practiced a great deal), but sādhanā (diligent practice) is not the ultimate in music. It is neither the mother of music, not even in part.[1] Music—just like poetry—has its origins in pratibhā (talent, creativity, genius) and kalpanā pratibhā (creative imagination). This is akin to Tvaṣṭṛ, the creator, who gives shape and characteristics to all objects of the world, as described in the Vedas. Similarly, pratibhā is the power that gives shape and characteristics to the musical ingredients, i.e. musical notes. This good fortune is obtained with the blessings of the divine or as a result of the good deeds done in the previous birth or by a combination of both. Of course, sādhanā (rigorous practice) should be undertaken as a tapas (penance, meditation, vow) in order to obtain the fruit of this good fortune.

The movement of the ladle in the vessel is the prerequisite penance a cook has to undertake in order to savour the good fortune of the pāyasa[2].

Pratibhā is the mental power that creates a heart-touching sanniveśa (experience; lit. ‘circumstance’ or ‘situation’). A poet, sculptor, artist, or a singer would first establish in his mind a strong emotional sandarbha (situation, circumstance, context). This should evoke a feeling of enjoyment, discomfort, enthusiasm, or fear in the hearts of the common man. Art is that which presents how a man behaves in such emotionally rich situations and thereby revealing the individual’s inner world. A great epic, or a great sculpture, or a great piece of music will be like a mirror to our inner soul. There we experience both extremes of our behaviour.

Svānubhava (Personal Experience)

We earlier said that sādhanā and pratibhā always go hand in hand. But there is another aspect above these that supports them both. This third aspect is svānubhava, one’s personal experience. Once the singer feels this personal experience, only then can he further create the same experience for others through his music. All arts comprise a transfer of a heart-felt experience to others.[3] To recreate that special experience felt by one’s heart for the sake of others is Art of Poetry. To make another individual experience the beauty seen in one’s mind is Art of Painting. To make another individual feel the beauty experienced by one’s heart is the Art of Singing. 

For all real art, this is the touchstone. First, we should experience in our heart something that we love and desire. Then that experience should be transferred to another’s heart. In this process, the singer should realize the standard of his own singing within himself, in the depths of his heart. If his music is pleasing to himself, then it can please others. This holds good for every student of art. Whoever the artist may be – author, sculptor, actor, or singer – an honest critique of his creation lies within him. Thus, his own heart is the origin for realizing the most interesting aspects of his work. Poetry takes birth in the heart’s desires and Art comes from its emotional conflict and turmoil.

Music should create a sense of positive disruption in our mind. Else it is not music, just sound. It should evoke a feeling of sorrow, compassion, love, happiness, anger, or vigour in the hearts of connoisseurs, creating lovely chaos. Music is the name given to that melodic flood, which can create this emotional turbulence. Hence we can say that music originates from the heart. Both the singer and the connoisseur are witnesses to this.

Tapassādhanā (Determined Toil)

It is through years of rigorous effort and sustained hard work that an artist attains creative imagination. It is like the day, after waiting for a long period of time, when a raw mango ripens fully, with the bitterness transformed into mature sweetness, resulting in a fruit with a rich taste. In the same way, hidden behind the most interesting aspects of music will be years of practice leading to maturity. Sheshanna’s musical talent had attained such maturity – this has been observed many a time by those who were close to him.

In one of his concerts in Mysore at the Vasanta Mahal, Sheshanna was playing Rāga Kalyani. After playing the rāga [ālāpanā] for a while, he lifted the fingerboard of the vīṇā, placed his ears in close proximity to the strings, and said to himself with a soft smile on his face, “It comes whenever it wants, and not when invoked!” Because it was a small gathering, we could easily hear his words.

On another occasion, a similar thing happened in Bangalore Ananta Shastri’s room. I’m aware of many such instances. What does it mean? That Art only gets better (with sādhanā). Sheshanna’s artistic talent kept growing every day until the very end. It never became stagnant with the thought ‘that’s enough!’ and never lost enthusiasm.

Characteristics of a Living Art

This sort of constant development is the characteristic of a living art. It can be compared to the growth of a tree. The tree is aged but its buds and tendrils are young. Day after day one sees new buds blossoming out of this old tree. It is only when this happens will it be established that there is life essence in the tree. The same has been described by the poet [Māgha]:

kṣaṇe kṣaṇe yannavatāmupaiti
tadeva bhāvaṃ ramaṇīyatāyāḥ

This is lāvaṇya (elegance). Every second it is new. This should take a fresh form every time – just like the glitter of the diamond earring of a beautiful girl. Every time a maiden closes and opens her eyes, a different beauty is seen. Such a thing is talent. It is the essence of music.

As I’ve said earlier, it is assumed that sādhanā—rigorous practice—is essential for this. Sādhanā is indeed tapas. This is crystal clear when we see the life of Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer. For the sādhaka, while he is undergoing sādhanā, as a result of his tireless efforts, new heartfelt feelings will blossom. Attuned to the new feelings, new rāgas and passages will emerge.

To be concluded...

This is the first part of a two-part English translation of the twenty-third essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.



[1] The original has ‘mātṛkā,’ which can mean ‘mother,’ ‘divine mother’, ‘maternal,’ ‘origin,’ etc. and ‘mātṛkāṃśa’ is a part or aspect (aṃśa) of it. DVG suggests that the source of great music lies not in tremendous practice.

[2] A type of dessert prepared by mixing rice with sweetened milk.

[3] In other words, any art requires the artiste to convey a certain emotion to the consumer of the art.

[4] Another version of this line is ‘tadeva rūpam ramaṇīyatāyāḥ.’



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Sridhar Saligram holds a post-graduate degree in management and presently works as a Sourcing Manger in Herman Miller India. He is an art lover with a deep interest in Indian classical music; he plays the Carnatic flute and also teaching young aspirants. He is passionate about Indian literature and writes poems in Kannada set to classical meters.

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