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  • Can you please give a brief biography of Venkatamakhin, the author of Chaturdandi Prakasika?

Born in a family of seven brothers and sisters, Venkatamakhin or Venkateswara Dikshitar was the son of the great scholar, administrator and musicologist, Govinda Dikshitar, who was also a Minister in the kingdom of Tanjavur. He had his training in music under his elder brother, Yagnanarayana Dikshitar and later under Danappachariar, alias Venkata Sarma, in praise of whom he composed the Gita ‘Gandharva Janata’ (Arabhi). Vijayaraghava Bhoopala was the ruler who encouraged Venkatamakhin in his pursuits in musicology. Venkatamakhin also composed twenty four Ashtapadis on Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of Tiruvarur. Apart from this, very little is known about the life of this great musicologist.

The epoch-making work ‘Chaturdandi Prakasika’ was a landmark in the annals of Carnatic music. It had been in circulation only in manuscript form until it was taken up for print early last century. This immortal work gives a systematic and scientific classification of Mela ragas based on swaras. The name itself means ‘Exposition orillumination of the four channels through which a raga manifests itself’. Out of the ten chapters, the last and part of the ninth are said to be missing. Twelve hundred and odd couplets available are in simple, elegant Sanskrit. His grandson, Muddu Venkatamakhi, added a supplement to the work.

Father, Govinda Dikshitar and son, Venkatamakhin, were erudite scholars, geniuses in musicology and have carved out for themselves a lofty place in the history of Carnatic music. Govinda Dikshitar and Venkatamakhin are to musicology what Ramaswamy Dikshitar and Muthuswamy Dikshitar are to musical compositions.

It is said that Venkatamakhin freed himself from thieves by singing ‘Hare Nipidakantaka Dushpradesa’ (Lalita). He cared for his people too and freed them from the order of the ruler to get the symbols of conch and wheel tattooed by singing ‘Sankha Chakranganatyachara re’ (Ritigowla). He has also composed Lakshya Gitas and Prabandhas in Bandira Bhasha.

  • How many Sampradayas are there in Vina and which is more predominant? (Unknown)

There are basically four sampradayas or traditions of Vina playing - Tanjavur, Andhra, Mysore and Kerala, which is clearly a regional classification. Each style has its own fingering technique, especially in the way gamakas or ornamentations are played. There have been great proponents of each style and some have been able tocreate their own banis (individualistic style). Prominent among them are the Karaikkudi brothers who created a unique style for themselves. Although they belonged to the Tanjavur tradition, the Karaikkudi bani has now become a separate style. Similarly, there were other stalwarts like Vina Dhanammal and S Balachander who are known for their unique banis.

It is very difficult to say which is more predominant as there are a great number of artistes in each style.

  • What's the difference between Manji and Bhairavi? (B Sankari)

Manji seems to have been a very prominent raga earlier, with the difference between Manji and Bhairavi being more obvious. The popular contention is that Manji originated from the folk tribes. However, there are certain scholars who believe that Manji was just a folk version of Bhairavi. It is rather difficult to come to a conclusion based on these beliefs.

Nevertheless, Manji today has two clear versions, as can been seen in the compositions Brovavamma of Syama Sastri and Varugalamo of Gopalakrishna Bharati. The former is akin to Bhairavi, although scholars believe that the scale is a straight S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N2 S - S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S, where the Arohana takes the scale of Kharaharapriya and the Avarohana takes the scale of Natabhairavi. Whereas the scale of Bhairavi begins with a vakra prayoga (zig-zag pattern) S G R G, and retains the rest of the scale as it is. In Brovavamma one also sees that the Dhaivata in the descent is a little more elongated than Bhairavi. The rest of the gamakas (ornamentations) are not very distinctive though.

Varugalamo, on the other hand, is a more dramatic, emotional and folkish interpretation of Manji, probably because it happens to be a part of the opera, Nandanar Chartitram. One cannot really fathom whether these versions have come as a result of interpretation by musicians or whether they were in fact composed like that. The controversy continues.

Certain scholars like Prof. S Ramanathan, Calcutta Krishnamurthy and S R Janakiraman also highlight the scope for singing Bhairavi in different speeds. This is not found in Manji, which is predominantly used for slow tempo (chowka kala).

  • What are the phrases to be used while rendering alapana and tanam? (B Sankari)

In ancient Tamil literature we find that while singing alapana (which was known as Alatti), syllables like Te-na or ten-na were used. This was known as Tenakam. However, slowly this has evolved into Ta-da-ri-na, Ta-da-na, ta-na-na and so on. These syllables have no particular meaning. Nevertheless, the ideal way to sing alapana would be to use Akara. But since Akara doesn't always allow the comfortable use of stress, phrases that need stress are usually differentiated with ta-da-na and so on. There are times when Um-kara is also used for effect, particularly to dramatise. However, we find today that alapana is sometimes used with a minimum of akara and more of these mannerisms, which is not advisable. They should be used sparingly, only after one has attained perfection in akara.

Tanam on the other hand, uses the Hindu philosophy of Anantam Anandam (endless ecstasy). However in practice, we also use phrases like Namta, Omta, Nomta etc, which could be the break-up of the word Anantam itself. This, once again is used to lay emphasis on the musical patterns.

  • What are the Panchalinga kshetra kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar and what do they signify? (S Ramanan)

The Panchalinga-kshetra kritis of Dikshitar are a special set of kritis on Lord Siva, who assumes the form of the five natural elements of the Universe, namely, water, air, fire, earth and ether (space). These kritis were composed in 5 different holy places or sthalas and are:

Song Raga Tala Element Linga Composed at
Sri Kalahastisa Huseni Khanda Chapu Air Vayu Kalahasti
Anandanatana Kedaram Misra Chapu Ether Akasa Chidambaram
Chintayama Bhairavi Roopaka Earth Prithvi Kanchipuram
Jambupate Yamankalyani Tisra Eka Water Appu Tiruvanaikkaval
Arunachalanatham Saranga Roopaka Fire Jyoti Tiruvannamalai
  • What is the similarity between Madhuvanti and Madhukauns? (V Sowmya)

Madhuvanti is essentially the Hindustani counterpart of Dharmavati. The scale is: S G2 M2 P N3 S - S N3 D2 P M2 G2 R2 S. This raga uses Kakali Nishada. In the case of raga Madhukauns, the scale in the Arohana is the same as above except that it uses Kaisika Nishada instead of Kakali Nishada. The Avarohana however has the same notes as the Arohana unlike Madhuvanti, which has all the notes. Thus we get the scale: S G2 M2 P N2 S - S N2 P M2 G2 S for Madhukauns.

The Carnatic counterpart for this raga happens to be Sumanesaranjani, which of course has Suddha Madhyama in the Avarohana. The scale for this raga is: S G2 M2 P N2 S - S N2 P M2 G2 M1…. G2 S (With a slight oscillation of M1)

  • Why have you chosen the word Harikatha instead of the more traditional Kathakalakshepam? (S Gopalan)

Kathakalakshepam is indeed the right word for this art form, as it is a more general term. “Katha” means story and “Kalakshepam” means spending time. Hence, the word “Kathakalakshepam” means spending time listening to stories. However, the origin of this art can be traced to the Marathi saints in Maharashtra like Tukaram, Jnaneswar and others who used to perform this art with the stories of Lord Vishnu as the base. This art has its base in the Pandarpur area and singing and extolling the virtues of “Hari” was the main theme. It is also called “Hari Keertan”. When this was later adopted in South India, it was still called “Harikatha” or “Hari Kathakalakshepam”, though other stories were also taken as the theme. The name Harikatha is more popular and so adhered to.

  • Why there is no scale known as E-sharp in Carnatic music? But the scale exists in Western music. (Lakshminarasimhan)

Neither Carnatic nor Western music has 3 1/2-kattai or E-sharp. This can be easily explained. Since the Western music system has the major diatonic scale as its base, the notes occurring in this scale have the notes: C, D, E, F, G, A and B. One may notice here that all the notes here except E represent flat values. E already represents the sharp (extreme high) value of that note, so cannot have a sharper value, since that would take us to the next note, which happens to be F.

In Carnatic music terms, the above scale would be equivalent to the Sankarabharanam mela in which case, E would represent Antara Gandhara, which is the highest Gandhara. The next note would be Suddha Madhyama.

Besides, since we currently follow the Western system to determine the pitch, we also don’t have E # or 3 kattai. The word ‘Kattai” itself refers to the keys on the harmonium or piano.

  • Can you give a brief note on Raga Vasanti? (V Sowmya)

Raga Vasanti has a basic scale of S R2 G3 P D1 S – S D1 P G3 R2 S. It can be a janya of either the 25th melakarta, Mararanjani or the 26th, Charukesi or the 27th mela, Sarasangi. It seems to be a raga of recent origin so there aren't any traditional compositions in this raga. It hasn't found a place in most of the old treatises either, although the permutation and combination should have existed. The raga could even have been listed under some other name. This needs further exploration.

An interesting point here would be that a simple replacement of D2, the Chatusruti Daivata in Mohanam results in this raga.

  • How can one know that the Tani Avartanam is coming to an end? (Mohan Gandhi)

There are two ways of finding out when a Tani Avartanam is coming to an end. The first is a non-technical method, which even a lay rasika can easily identify. This was jocularly put forth by a great musician who said, "Observe the violinist! The moment he picks up his bow again and gets ready to play, we can more or less find out that the Tani Avartana is coming to an end!" However, the above is possible only in concerts where there is a violinist!

On a more serious note, what usually happens is that after a few of rounds of exhibiting one's technical prowess like changing Gati/Nadai etc., the percussionists play what is called the kuraippu. In the kuraippu, the longer rhythmic passages are gradually tapered to smaller rhythmic passages. For instance, in a Tani Avartanam in Adi tala, one can see that the 8-cycle passages are gradually tapered to 4, 2, 1, 1/2 and 1/4 cycles. At the end of this, all the percussionists (if there are more than one) join together in a crescendo for the first time to execute a series of what is called pharans (pronounced farans), which are nothing but continuous fast passages. This is followed by what is technically called a 'mohra'. The mohra is a standard set pattern and is followed by most of the percussionists. It also serves as a cue for the main artiste and the rasikas (this knowledge can easily be cultivated). After this, there is the main korvai or teermanam, which is usually played thrice. At the end of this, the main artiste picks up where he left off. The second round or the third round (in the case of long korvais) is the point where the main / accompanying artistes gear up.

  • Can the Tani Avartanam be played at the beginning itself? (Vikram Vasudevan)

Yeah, why not? It is left to the discretion of the main artiste. In olden days, when concerts were of longer duration, it was customary to have two tani avartanams - the first one short, and the second, longer. However, as the duration shrunk, due to lack of time, we now have just one Tani avartanam, mostly as an improvisation of the main piece of the concert. There are, however, some exceptions where we find that the Tani Avartanam is played for a kriti rather than the Ragam Tanam Pallavi in a concert. There are also instances where we have two tani-avartanams in a concert.

  • Where is the necessity for a neraval when the raga has been elaborated for so long? (Vikram Vasudevan)

Neraval is another aspect of manodharma (creativity) which is, no doubt, another means of bringing out the beauty of a raga. According to scholars and great musicians, the acid test for a musician's creativity is choosing the apt line for neraval in a given song, since the line has to provide scope for improvisation aesthetically, and also be meaningful lyrically. The unique feature of neraval is that it the only aspect of creative music where melody, rhythm and lyrics meet. It gives ample room for creativity while at the same time demands some discipline, since the artiste has to come back to the original tune after his forays into the raga. However, the artiste has to ensure that the different facets of creativity are properly balanced in a concert. Neraval is definitely a very distinctive feature of Carnatic music, very different from raga singing.

  • Is there any available list of Ragas with only one kriti? (S Raja)

Yes, there certainly is a list of Ragas with just one kriti in them (Ekaika ragas). Infact, there is a cassette of Sri S R Janakiraman, released by the Music Academy, Chennai, which contains such ragas. Carnatica shall soon make such a list available for music lovers.




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