Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Purpose Of Carnatic Music - IMHO

Image Courtesy :

I'll start by saying I have no formal training in Carnatic Music. But growing up in a middle class south-indian family leaves you no choice. The ethereal voice of M.S Subbulakshmi chanting Subrabaatham is as ubiquitous as the cock-a-doodle-doo early in the morning.

I grew up listening to the great compositions of Thyagaraaja , Purandaradasa and other great composers rendered by stalwarts of modern day Carnatic Music such as the inimitable MS, Balamurali Krishna , The Bombay Sisters, Radha Jayalakshmi, Unnirishnan and many others. Though many of my family members were trained in Carnatic music, I never showed interest in getting training in this medium - much to the chagrin of my father.

Maybe I never had the patience for the rigorous sadhana that accompanies learning this amazingly complex medium. Maybe my mind wandered too much and experimented too much with reading, sports, extra curricular activities , much like a butterfly that courts a flower only as long as it had sweet nectar to offer. Maybe.....

More recently I have been having rancorous debates with my dad - a big-time carnatic music enthusiast and aficionado and an amateur violinist . He can quickly recognize raagas like most other enthusiasts, easily recall which song was composed by which composer, the life history of the get the picture. And I cant do any of the above.

Me : Dad, today's singers are too commercial. They don't sing in devotion, only to show their talent and make fame and money.

Dad : They are like any other professional, some are dedicated, some are not.

Me: But Dad, Carnatic music is ALL about the Divine - every word.

Dad : Everything is all about the Divine, are all professionals devoted to their professions.

Me : The composers of yore were saints first and singers only after that. Today's singers are well....just singers.

Dad : Yes

Me : Dad , the purpose of Carnatic music is to take you deep within yourself - in touch with your being. The raagas dont matter, the words dont matter, the singer does not matter.

Dad : But it is the raags, the rendition and the words that take you deep within.

Me : But Dad ......

Sullen Silence . Nobody Wins.

I guess we are both coming to the same truth from different angles.

For my dad, complete appreciation of music means knowing about it as well - the composer, his/her life, the raaga, the variations, the renditions etc.

For me , music is an experience, just closing my eyes and dissolving in the sound. It does not matter what is being sung - A Bollywood number, a gazhal, a bhajan, a carnatic composition. It has to touch me deep within. If so the song has served its purpose. If not...something is missing. I became really aware of this during the deep bhajan satsangs we used to have in the Bay Area.

As Guruji Says : "Singing helps to bring serenity. Singing is simply merging into the sound, floating on its waves with sense of contenment and meditativeness"

Whats your experience like ?

Jai Guru Dev,

1 comment:

  1. Ummm.. When I listen to stuff like the AOL cassette Music Divine, I feel an old connection (yes, and more often than not I end up weeping )
    Otherwise I have no clue what is carnatic music :(
    I have heard Hari Prasad Chaurasia Live and yeah have some other ragas downloaded from the net and yeah it can be pretty overwhelming.
    Music is a need , Lucky ali, kailash Kher..
    However these days my heart is set on finding out about Folk Music, the village stuff, the beats of my country, the tradition-
    Listening to Raadhe Govind in the VM I realised something, I am not sure what it was - Like I had glimpse into something
    Jai Gurudev