Tuesday, March 1, 2011

More gyan on the Mela-Janya topic

Ok here is some more gyan on the above issue as requested  by a commenter. The first point is that the mela-janya scheme in the current context is purely swara based. It only takes into account the swaras that occur in a raga.

For simplicity sake let us take the scale Mohanam. The scale would be

S R2 G3 P D2

The references to R, G and D mean the Chatusruti, Antara and Chatusruti respectively. Now in the mdoern classification Mohanam would become a janya of Harikambhoji as this the first melakarta to carry all the swaras that occur in Mohanam.

Now coming to the actual listener, when Mohanam is performed, he only listens to the melody that is Mohanam. A familiar melody that would remind him about Ninnukori or Mohana rama, Pazhaga theriya vendum or just some oriental melody depending upon his own level of understanding. This above familiarity is not enough to understand why Mohanam is a janya of Harikambhoji. The reason is that the classification is swara based and not melody based. However if the same listener has acquired the ability to distinguish swaras clearly when hearing he would know what the notes are that occur. For instance he would know that the Mohanam gandharam is G3 or its rishabham is R2. It is this ability to distinguish the swaras that helps the listener to understand the modern mela-janya classification scheme.

Of course given the technology and information that is available to us, the listener who can "live blog" a concert can also Google the ragam and check the notes that occur and find out what janyam it is!! Now here the listener is only accessing information and NOT understanding the information. The listeners also get this information over a period of time through sustained exposure to the music.

 Sometime in the early eighties I was listening to a concert by TV Sankaranarayan, and he was singing the raga Natakapriya. I had no idea what the ragam was but because of my basic swara gnana acquired through 7/8 years of formal learning, I had fixed the scale and the notes that were occuring. My dad who was sitting next to me   said it might be Natakapriya! Once the song Gita vadya started we knew the raga. I still could not understand how my father knew it to be Natakapriya. He said that sometime in the early seventies he heard a concert of TM Thiagarajan and after finishing the alapana TMT himself announced "This is Natakapriya. Todi below & Karaharapriya above!" Now here my dad was depending on identifying the ragam purely on a melodic basis without any swara gnana involved.

Another example of the above is a reference by my grandfather once about Simhendramadhyamam. I had sung that as the main piece in a concert. He just came upto me and said "Semmangudi used to sing this a lot and it sounded like a combination of Bhairavi and Sanmukhapriya!" Of course in a lighter vein Semmangudi himself remarked about Bhavapriya "Saibu below and Naidu above!" (கிழ சாயபு மேல நாய்டு) indicating the reference to a hindustani tilt in the lower octave suggesting subhapantuvarali and a more south indian todi like upper octave.

Anyway I am getting carried away a little but I want to make the point that if listeners have the ability to distinguish swaras clearly then it is obvious that they can identify the parent raga. They can also see if the raga sung is a complete 7 note scale or if any notes are missing. They can say if the scale is sampoornam or vakram. The thing is that this knowledge will be more than sufficient to identify the parent raga or even determine whether the ragam being performed is a mela or a janya in the first place!

That is why it does not really make sense for someone to aks what Janyam Shamalangi is if they could not make out that it was a mela in the first place.

The making of the album Kshetra - Kanchi

In 2003/04 I was discussing with Charsur about another album in their Kshetra series. My first one Chidambaram had done well and we were keen to continue with another kshetra. My choice for Kanchi was because it offered a variety of dieties to sing and would be different from the earlier Siva based Chidambaram. The first obvious diety for Kanchi was Kamakshi and the first song was Devi brova in Chintamani. I had just heard the MSS rendition of it and completely fell in love with it. If I sang this song it could only be this version. The idea was to include from one each of the Trinity and so for Tyagaraja I went with Vinayakuni (Madhyamavati) and for Dikshitar, Kamakshi varalakshmi in Bilahari. This was also the time when the SSP (Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini of Subbarama Dikshitar) bug had caught me. I had just given a lec dem at Cleveland (along with Rk Shriramkumar) on this subject and was keen to see if the songs could be sung as per the original tune. I had sung Shri krishnam in Rupavati in an AIR concert, but not entirely as per the original. I felt that, one should go forward with these versions and innovate according to one's manodharma without changing too much of the original. In some cases the original gives a perspective that is not very common and can provide a good platform to base one's innovations. (Like Stephen King using Clint Eastwood as an inspiration for the Dark Tower series!) In the case of Kamakshi varalakshmi I had added a few sangathis here and there in addition to rendering the chittaswaram that was available and not often sung. So the Trinity was used exclusively for the Goddess of Kanchi.

I then decided to go with Tamil songs for the other three deities to be featured - Vishnu, Siva & Muruga (Basically the murugan at Kumara kottam). My first source for Siva was Dr Prameela Gurumoorthy who was kind enough to selct some verses from the Tevaram on the Ekamranatha swamy. She gave me a choice of 2 tevarams and I chose Adutthaanai in Yadukulakambhoji. She also suggested that I preface the tevaram with a Thiruviruttham again referring to the Kacchi ekambaram deity however, she said there was an issue with singing thiruviruttham as it was normally rendered in Poorvikalyani or Bhairavi, so I chose the latter. Interestingly I did get to sing this in a concert and prefaced the Yadukulakambhoji with the said virutham in Poorvikalyani. Of course I had to make an announcement to clarify this before people jumped to the conclusion that this was one of my own zany modern innovations!

For the Vishnu song violinist S Varadarajan gave me a few verses with help from his father Shri Santhanam. I decided to sing the Adaikkalappatthu of Vedantha Desikar. This was a long piece, and so in true traditional style I just took three stanzas and set them up in Ahiri, Hamirkalyani and Surati and ignored the rest as they did with other such long pieces! This was quite a popular piece in Vishnu temples. I remember vividly chanting "Thirumagalum thiruvadivum" as well as "aaru payan verillaa" at the Lakshmipuram temple in Royapettah during Margazhi every day to get the wonderful pongal! The pongal dropped down from the Bhattar's hands and made for good catch practice! Invariably when we dropped catches our seniors would advise us to go regularly to the temple for pongal!

Finally for Muruga the wonderful internet gave me direction to choose "Arivilaa pitthar" for the Kumarakottam Murugan by Arunagirinathar. I set the tune up in jaganmohini and rendered it in the sandha talam, that is putting the talam according to the metre of the lyric.

Recording albums with Charsur was a great experience then in the studio. It was a lot fighting and argument about the choice of songs, tempo sangathis etc. We really put in a lot of time and effort. I must have sung Kamakshi varalakhmi atleast 30/40 times before okaying the final version. These days I prefer doing live concerts even if they are to be thematic.

The above album is available online for sale at the below link

Kshetra - Kanchi