|The Chembur Fine
Arts Society, one of the foremost cultural organisations in Mumbai, is going places with
its innovative and pioneering efforts in promoting and propagating Indian music and dance.
The recent thematic annual conferences on Carnatic music have certainly caught the
imagination of the music-loving public. The last three years have witnessed detailed
discussions and demonstrations on the Musical instruments of Carnatic music. The first
conference, on String instruments, was held in February 1999. Spread over two days, it
highlighted in detail the various stringed instruments used in Carnatic music. Whereas the
first day was dedicated to string instruments of Indian origin, like the Vina, Chitravina
etc, the second day covered instruments of western origin that have been successfully
adopted in Carnatic music (Violin, Guitar, Mandolin etc). The participants included
top-notch instrumentalists. Wherever possible, different schools and styles were also
featured. The conferences in 2000 and 2001 covered Wind instruments and Percussion
In the coming weeks, Carnatica will bring you the papers presented by the participants at these Conferences.
STRING INSTRUMENTS - 1999
|CHITRAVINA - AN INTRODUCTION
- By N Ravikiran
The Chitravina is one of the most beautiful musical instruments in the world today. Also referred to as Gotuvadyam, it is a twenty-one stringed fretless Indian lute. It has a hollow stem made of resonant wood, about thirty two inches long and four inches wide. It has a flat top and is set on two chambers; the main sound chamber is made out of wood and a secondary resonator is made of a gourd. It contains six melody strings and three secondary strings for maintaining drone. The remaining strings are sympathetic and run parallel to and below the melody strings.
A couple of plectrums on the fingers of the right hand are used to pluck the six main melody strings; a cylindrical block, made out of ebony, is glided over them with the left hand (I have replaced this with the smoother Teflon).
The smooth singing tone of Chitravina is probably its most unique feature. As the New York Times described, the Chitravina has '...infinite capacity for micro-tonal shadings reminiscent of the human voice' . This is not only because of its fretless nature but also because of its unique string arrangement. The Chitravina is a delicate, beautiful instrument , which in the hands of a master, can express all the nuances of Carnatic vocal and instrumental music. In recent times, it has proved its versatility as a major world instrument in fusion crossover concerts too.
The Chitravina, probably one of the oldest instruments in the world, is comparatively rare, but its popularity is steadily increasing. The major credit for its respectable stature should be given to stalwarts like Tiruvadaimarudur Sakha Rama Rao , Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, Budalur Krishnamoorti Sastri, Gotuvadyam Narasimhan etc. By Gods grace , I have had the honour and good fortune to share the beauty and greatness of his instrument with people all over the world.
Tiruvidaimarudur Sakha Rama Rao
Sakha Rama Rao
With his high intelligence, analytical approach and hardwork, he was able to re-design this instrument like the 24-fretted Vina, with 7 strings. Thus, from a distance, his instrument looked like a Vina without frets. It had 4 strings on the top and 3 in the side for drone and rhythm.
He practised regularly for hours on end and started performing on this occasionally, delighting music lovers wherever he went. Since he was not aware of the history of the instrument, he gave it a new name - Gotuvadyam. He casually referred to the slide as Gotu and vadyam (in Sanskrit and many other languages) means instrument. Thus Gotuvadyam was a very clear and scientific name for an instrument played with a slide , according to Sakha Rama Rao. (Many years later , I went into the origins of this instrument and restored the original name.)
Sakha Rama Rao was a musicians' musician and trained many a great artiste like Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar (my grandfather) and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Soon there were many others who started to play Gotuvadyam at various levels.
Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar
The next path blazer in this instrument was Narayana Iyengar who was a born genius. His innovations in this instrument were responsible for taking it tremendous heights and most of those innovations have come to stay. He changed the string arrangements almost totally, giving it a unique tonal depth, hitherto never heard before. A performer of the highest order and tremendous popularity , he still found time and energy to constantly refine and improve this instrument all through his life.
He experimented ceaselessly and added 3 more strings to the 4 main strings and also brought in 12 resonance strings in a special layer below the main strings. Now the instrument had 22 strings (which has since become 21 as one of the 7 main strings have been discarded later on by Chitravina Narasimhan , another great musician and son of Narayana Iyengar).
The tuning of the main strings is very unique in Chitravina as it uses an arrangement of 3
tonic notes (Sa) plucked simultaneously, one of which is in an octave lower than the other two; 2 notes in the fifth perfect
(Pa), again in two octaves; and 1 string
which is tuned to the lower octave tonic (Sa) . This gives a wonderful singing quality.
This particular tuning of octave strings
was emulated by violin maestro Chowdiah who had 7 to 19 strings on his violin.
The real edge of the fretless instrument was highlighted by Narayana Iyengar, who proved
that a fretless instrument could best emulate the vocal (gayaki) style because
of the almost total continuity that enables infinite micro- tones to be rendered with
accuracy and impact. Thus, Narayana Iyengar , literally made his instrument sing.
was also a great artiste who could bring to face the instrumental delights like Tanam
and Jhala) .
His resonance strings are again very unique . He arranged them in such a way as to give a
built in Tanpura effect. Also the use of the jivalam (a small thread on the
bridge which contributes to a qualitative and quantitative enhancement of the tone)
each of the 12 resonance strings made it vibrate much more steadily when music was
played on top. This in turn added to the overall richness of the tone of the