Who are the Rasikas? (Part 1)

It will be appropriate to explain the purpose behind reminiscing several musicians and rasikas.[1] The purpose is simply the lament that connoisseurship has decreased in today’s world.  Everywhere and in all walks of life, the business mindset reflected by the materialistic nature of people has increased.  The number of people asking the question “What do you get by listening to music?” is increasing. High-rise buildings have value. Silk clothes have value. Motor cars have value. Gold and precious stones have always had immense value. Liquor and food also have great value – among the wealthy folk. Kāvya (poetry) and Saṅgītā (music) are the ones that aren’t valued any more. If there’s a wedding in the house, it is customary for a few sounds to fill the ambience. Kāvya-vācana[2], music, etc. are part of those sounds.  The three things that have lost value in our society are:

  1. Mantra[3]
  2. Kāvya (poetry)[4]
  3. Gāna (singing, music)

The notion among today’s elites is that let such programs take place, even if mediocre, with the least expenses. I can give an example of a true story that I heard about.

An anecdote

There was a wedding at a wealthy landlord’s house, in Bangalore. It was a very lavish wedding in every aspect.  A huge pandal, decorated with buntings, colorful electric lightings, sofa, chairs, and other furnishings – everything was in abundance.

Around 4pm in the evening, the music party arrived. A main vocalist, a singer to assist, a violinist, a mridaṅga (Indian drums) player, a tāṅpura player, a person for tāḻa[5] – all six people arrived with their instruments. One of them requested the landlord to reimburse the expenses of the car.

Landlord: “Are these to be paid separately? These expenses are included in the contract.”

The musicians kept quiet, as they did not want to obstruct the event. The concert began.  At around five-thirty, one of the musicians approached the landlord and asked, “Any coffee arrangements?”

Landlord: “They are not separate. It is included in the contract,” signaling a “No” by his hand gesture. The musicians bought their own coffee. 

It was half past eight. Landlord said, “Time’s up.” The musicians concluded the concert with maṅgaḻam[6].

The landlord said to the musician, “What’s this, sir! You charge a considerable amount for the concert, but you waste a lot of time between each of the songs,” while garlanding him.

To the violinist, he said, “The musician was at least gasping for breath. What about you? Is it so hard to move your fingers? Why were you idle?”

The mridaṅga player was criticized too; “How hard is it to beat the drums?”

He finally stood near the tāṅpura player. “You are truly loyal. You played without taking any break. The money paid to you is worthy,” he said and garlanded him.

This is the rasikatā of the wealthy. These kind of people apparently exist even in the western countries. They are called Nouveau riche – “The New Rich.”

Encouragement from the Business Community

I can strongly proclaim that rāsikya had not fallen to such low standards in our country, about forty-five to fifty years ago. In those times, many businessmen were also music enthusiasts. Whenever the Doḍḍaṇṇa Hall in Bangalore was available, it hosted concerts of vocalist Viduṣī Rajayi, Viduṣī Sarasvati-bai’s harikathā[7], music concert of Maharajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer and many more – In all these performances, one-third of the audience were wealthy businessmen; another one-third were officials and lawyers; remaining were commoners like me. I also knew businessmen who actively tutored music. I knew a person, a mason by profession, who went all the way to Pudukkottai, to learn khanjarā (also called khanjira)[8] from Dakshinamurthy Pillai. Both Bidaram Krishnappa and [Mysore] Vasudevacharya were patronized by the wealthy business community of Mysore.  Even a tiny village like Mulbagal generously rewarded the musicians who were invited to perform in their village. It was a golden era. Every town had enough number of people who revered the guest-scholars and extended great hospitality. There were fifty-sixty inquisitive listeners.  Out of them, at least ten were capable of providing monetary assistance. Usually, the remuneration was no less than five rupees.  Ten rupees was not uncommon. An artist would be pleased with ten rupees as remuneration. Even renowned scholars of the last forty-fifty years, were happy with ten-fifteen rupees of remuneration in those times.

In those days, art was felicitated. People were of the opinion that, just as good quality milk and ghee are essential to physical health, music and literature are essential to the well-being of the mind.

But today, everything is valued by money. Business mindset and commercial spirit mark the characteristics of today’s society. It gives more importance to the bahiraṅga[9] and less to the aṅtaraṅga[10]. The day emotional connect lost relevance in the society, humanity declined. We are distancing from humanity and falling towards barbarism.

This series of articles contains biographies of dancers and musicians. I believe that this will especially be appealing to the rasikas.

Who are rasikas?

A rich man on getting old, pondered about the future of his family and his wealth, and to know the inherent character of his four children, he came up with a plan. He called upon each of his sons separately and handed over a rupee to each one of them and said, “Buy any household item.”

The first son bought candles. Will it not light-up the entire house? The second son bought cow dung (usually used as fuel or sanitizer). Can’t it be used to sanitize the entire house? The third son got a stack of hay. Can’t it be spread around all the rooms of the house?

The fourth son bought aromatic incense sticks. Upon lighting the incense stick, does the fragrance not spread through the entire house?

Out of the four sons, the last one is a rasika.

In this world, an object carries value for two reasons: one for utility; another for beauty. Broomsticks and dust pans have value in terms of utility. Flowers and scents have value because of its essence (of fragrance and beauty).

There is no meal without rice, lentils, salt, and sugar. There is no life without these essentials. But without flowers or scents, no one will die. This is the argument of most people. But there is a counter-argument to this. What’s the use if you just eat rice and dal and do not experience any kind of fragrance in your entire life? Will it not be just like dogs or jackals?

It is a question that everyone ponders about. This is well-reflected in a Kannada proverb that translates to: “Fighting someone selling sandal powder is better than friendship with someone selling cowdung.”[11]

This is the first part of a two-part English translation of the twenty-first essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra.

 

Footnotes

[1] The title of this essay in Kannada is ‘Rasikarenthavaru,’ which literally translates into ‘What sort of people are rasikas?’ The word ‘rasika’ refers to a ‘seasoned connoisseur.’ Rāsikya and rasikatā are derived from the word rasika.

[2] Recitation of classical poetry, typically set to classical rāgas.

[3] Mantra is a sacred utterance that has spiritual power. It could be a syllable, a word, a phrase, a sentence, a verse, or a whole poem. It is often used for meditation.

[4] As per the traditional definition, kāvya, ‘poetry,’ refers to content and not to form. A prose piece can be a kāvya as long as it evokes rasa (aesthetic/emotional experience) while verses written in meter will not be kāvya if they don’t evoke rasa.

[5] Striking by hands and fingers to indicate the measure of time in music, while singing or playing musical instruments.

[6] A customary song that is sung at the end of a concert or an auspicious occasion.

[7] A mythological and musical discourse.

[8] A percussion instrument of Carnatic classical music.

[9] Outward appearance

[10]  Subtle emotional feelings, thoughts associated with the heart and mind.

[11] “ಸಗಣಿಯವನೊಡನೆ ಸರಸಕ್ಕಿಂತ ಗಂಧದವನೊಡನೆ ಗುದ್ದಾಡುವುದು ಲೇಸು.”

 

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:

Varuni KS has a masters degree in Electrical Engineering and is currently based out of Chicago, IL. She is trained in South Indian classical (Carnatic) music and has an abiding interest in Kannada literature.