Tireless Striving and Innate Genius (Part 2)

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.

Imitation and Creation

Now, what does this prove? Our elders had a strong faith in sādhanā. There are two aspects to this sādhanā: one is imitation and the other is original creation.[1] What we see these days is that more and more effort is going towards imitation. Attempts towards original creation have reduced.[2] Without original creation, music will become stale. It becomes like a broken record, playing the same thing time and again. When one has a rich voice and an ensemble of capable accompanists, a music that leans towards imitation will [also] sound good. Indeed, this form of imitation music is not to be degraded. If one has to consciously enjoy the svārasya (essence, richly emotional aspect) of the superior form of music[3], this secondary form of music[4] prepares one for it. It is only when the ears attain refinement upon listening to this [imitative] form of music that they will develop a taste for the essence of kalpanā saṅgītā (creative music, improvised music).

The Specialty of the Music of Yore

These days, we see the emergence of a type of music that is of a lower degree compared to the aforementioned two types [i.e. imitation and original]. Much of the music that plays on gramophones[5] these days lacks any sort of sādhanā; and what to say of creative imagination, which is completely missing! One can say that a distorted imagination is in excess.

Nāda-mādhurya (melodic beauty) was the essential aspect of the music of the olden days. These days, cleverness in manipulating tāḻa (rhythmic cycle) has become the mainstay of music. The artist of yesteryears gave prominence to rāga ālāpanā[6]. They would take up majestic rāgas like Todi, Bhairavi, or Shankarabharana and sing them elaborately, with a detailed ālāpanā. It was common to present a rāga in the viḻamba-laya (slow tempo) and madhya-laya (medium tempo). After a detailed ālāpanā in a certain rāga, they would sing the kṛti[7] in two or three minutes and finish their rendition of it. It was not the tradition then to sing kalpana-svaras[8] after each line. The rāga’s flirtatious movement, its delightful play, and its myriad aspects of beauty should fill the ears of the connoisseur completely and then engulf his mind, drowning him in the rāga. It should possess one’s ear for a week or ten days and irrespective of where one goes, it should haunt him.

Of late, ālāpanā is fading away while svara-kalpanā is increasing. In addition, counting the beats of the tāḻa is getting louder.[9] And as for the musical ensembles that come from the Southern part of the country, music has become synonymous with the garish beats of the ḍhol[10]. If the nāgasvara[11] artist plays for a couple of minutes, the percussionist continues beating the ḍhol for ten minutes. And once this percussionist is overcome by fatigue owing to continuous beating of the drum, another drummer takes over and starts showing his hammering skills and rhythmifies the environment completely! Doubtless, the art of percussion is great. It has a strong base in śāstra (traditional treatises) and in minute calculations.[12] The art of percussion also requires several years of study and rigorous practice. Those who wish to independently enjoy the beauty of rhythm will find a lot of opportunity in the art of percussion. But for the typical connoisseur and music lover, it holds little attraction. Among the six tastes, salt is also important:

ṣaṇṇāṃ rasānāṃ lavaṇaṃ pradhānam

But who enjoys drinking salt water? And how much of it can they drink?

To delineate the beauty of music and describe it is next to impossible. A particular song gets value because of two elements: i. The refinement and competence of the singer and ii. The sensitivity and connoisseurship of the listener.[13] Both these skills must be constantly improving. I have already suggested that growth and development (in music, or any classical art) is the never-fading freshness (kept new by creativity). Just like the musician, if the listener too develops greater sensitivity by constantly sharpening his skills, it is my belief that good music will survive. The music thereby spontaneously gives rise to new buds, new blossoms, and constantly grows, thus giving immense comfort to the people’s souls – this is my firm belief.

nakhamukha mukharita vīṇā-
nādarasāsvāda navanavollāsam

...
vīṇāvādana velā
kampitaśirasaṃ namāmi mātaṅgīm
[14]

Concluded

This is the second 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.

 

Footnotes

[1] Singing a well-known song without any variations and remaining true to the original is here referred to as ‘imitation’ music. Singing a well-known song by introducing melodic and/or rhythmic variations in addition to creating new musical phrases spontaneously as a complementary addition to the song is here referred to as ‘original creation.’ Much of Indian classical music is of the latter type, at least in its ideal conception.

[2] Indian classical music, particularly Carnatic music, has a lot of compositions; even while singing the pre-composed songs, one can bring in variations and spontaneous embellishments. In addition, sections such as rāga ālāpanā, tānam, svara-kalpanā, and neraval are entirely improvised on the spot. These require great creativity. DVG speaks about the trend of younger musicians moving away from improvised music.

[3] The creative type.

[4] The imitative type.

[5] Possibly a reference to film music or semi-classical music.

[6] Free-style improvisation of the melodic idea without any rhythmic restrictions.

[7] A type of musical form in Carnatic music; typically it has three sections – Pallavi, Anupallavi, and Caraṇa.

[8] Improvisation using notes, but within the rhythmic framework of the tāḻa.

[9] In Carnatic music, the singer typically counts the rhythmic cycle of the composition using his hands – by means of finger counts, clapping the hand, etc. It helps him stay on the beat. DVG says that this act of counting the beats had become more pronounced and ostentatious in the younger singers of his time.

[10] Also called tavil; it a form of drum where one side has a soft skin and is played with a drum-stick; the other side has a thick skin and is played with the fingers.

[11] Also called nādasvaram; it is a double reed wind instrument.

[12] In other words, it is rooted in theory and practice.

[13] In both cases, DVG uses the term ‘saṃskāra-yogyate’ – saṃskāra means ‘refinement,’ ‘culture,’ etc. and yogyate means ‘competence,’ ‘skill,’ etc.

[14] Lines in praise of the delight of listening to the vīṇā; from Mysore Vasudevacharya’s rāgamālikā kṛtiOṃkāra pañjara.’

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

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.