Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Reason in Carnatic Music

C. Subrahmanya Ayyar

By C. Subrahmanya Ayyar, B. A.

IN the idealism evoked by the recently won freedom of India and in the stress laid by politicians on social harmony by removal of communalism, enthusiasts (pseudo-patriots) are prone to feel that the musical art of India should be coalesced into one form. Whether it is Possible and whether it will lead to good are questions which artists should ponder over. I do not say that a mutual understanding should not come about in the realms of the art of music.

My musical experience for more than two and a half decades during the period 1907-1938, has been in the north of India. During that period I listened to all types of music in all parts of India including the present Pakistan at Lahore. I have attended several performances in Bengal, Maharashtra, Bombay, Poona, Chittagong, Jullander, Lucknow, Amritsar, Allahabad, Benares, Trivandrum and Vizagapatam besides Madras. Hindustani music itself has several branches like the schools of Bhatkhande represented today by Pandit Ratanjankar, of Pandit Vishnu Digambar represented by Pandit Omkarnath, of Gopeshwar Banerjee of Bengal and the new occidental re-orientation of Bengali music by Rabindranath Tagore. I have even tried to learn and play Hindustani music for three years on the violin under a pupil of the late Vishnu Digambar while at Calcutta. My experience tells me that the several musical cultures of India should develop as emanating from a federation of peoples speaking different languages–for each language has its own intonation, though up till now the artistic communicable content of sound is fairly the same in the raga forms of Carnatic music, whether the music is couched in Telugu, Tamil, Kanarese, Malayalam or Sanskrit due to peculiar historic and other influences.

Early in 1935, Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya of Kumbakonam Mutt asked me at Banaras after two violin recitals of mine at his behest, about the important differences between Carnatic and Hindustani music. I expressed the opinion that Tyagaraja’s music in his Kritis is the highest of melodic art (Kala) I have known–by then I had travelled in continent of Europe and heard various melodies of different countries–and as I was hesitating for the correct word, commenting on the sweetness of Hindustani music in Vilambita time (fairly slow tempo) and the lack of Vivara (a Tamil word) or explicitness is swara singing, he suggested the word ‘Pamara’ meaning ‘for the masses’. Long after, I put the same question to the late Sangita Kalanidhi Muthiah Bhagavatar after he had served the Mysore Darbar for a few years and his travel in North India; his reply was: Hindustani music is ‘Manushya’ music, meaning ‘human with its mass appeal’ while Tyagaraja’s music is ‘deivika’ meaning ‘divine and transporting’. It is perhaps time one should give some thought to these pronouncements. Of course one can easily recognise at least a dozen Hindustani ragas akin to those of Carnatic music–but the raga forms are not the same, owing to micro-tonal changes in the swaras (notes) and the arrangement of musical phrases.

North Indian                                         South Indian
Bhoop Mohanam
Durga Suddhasaveri
Purvi Purvakalyani
Sohani Hamsanandi
Jayajayavanthi Dvijavandi
Tilang Nata
Bheempalas Abheri
Todi Subhapanthuvarali
Bhairavi Todi
Jogiya Saveri
Malkunj Natakurinji
Bagesari Sriranjani

The South Indian ragas Kalyani, Yamunakalyani, Kanada, Atana, Bchag, Khamas have almost the same names in Hindustani music.

Being of an analytic mind, I should place before discerning artists the features of ‘reason in Carnatic music’ in other words ‘Hellenism’ which Matthew Arnold used for culture. Though it is commonly said that Hindu music has its bases on the Sama Vedic chant, which has left its impress in the Carnatic Ritigaula raga in descent I may state that the foundations of Carnatic music have been freshly laid by about 1550 A.D. when Ramamatya wrote his ‘Swaramela Kalanidhi’ as a Grammar to the then existing music. The superstructure thereon built by the trinity of Carnatic music Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri has reached majestic heights, if I may suggest an architectural comparison, like gopurams of the great Shiva temple at Tanjore or the Subrahmanya temple near its precincts, unlike the small-domes on the Belur Temple on the banks of the Hoogli near the Ramakrishna Mutt or those lining the banks of the Ganges at Banaras, or the Muslim Imambaras at Lucknow–for Tyagaraja has composed melodies in over 200 mela and janya ragas.

For purpose of clarity I shall refer to the twelve swarasthanas of the South Indian vina thus:

Sa ri Ri ga Ga Ma ma Pa da Da ni Ni Sa/the last being the octave of the open string shadja. The capital letters represent the swarasthanas or fret positions of Sankarabharana (or Bilaval That) on the vina. Saa and Gaa for instance mean the prolongation of Sa and Ga for a further sub unit of time. I shall give a few examples from the musical science of Carnatic music.

Firstly, as already referred to it is probably from the days of Ramamatya i.e., from the middle of the 16th century that the vina has been fretted with the 12 fixed frets to the octave or 24 frets for the two octaves as he refers to ‘Chala-melavina and the ‘Sthira-melavina, the latter representing the one fixed with frets. Even today, North Indian fretted instrumets have only moveable frets like the Sitar, played by a a plectrum, and the Esraj and the Dilruba similar to Sitar, but bowed. [The non-fretted important instruments are: (1) the Sarangi played generally against the finger nails with a bow; (2) Sarod with a metal plate for its finger board but played with a plectrum; (3) the Vichitra vina (corresponding to our Gottuvadyam) and played with a plectrum by a moving glass thick rod of a peculiar oval shape, instead of the cylindrical ebony rod used for Gottuvadyam]. All the 12 frets to the octave have not been placed on the Sitar and Esraj. For some swarasthanas or fret positions, the edges of thin copper or brass tubes of an inverted segmental shape are bound to the body of the Sitar by a cotton string; the tube is shifted laterally by displacement to obtain other swaras when different ragas are played. They seem to have no fixed bases or “stepping stones” on which they could rest in several places. The vina itself of Northern India, which I had seen at Chittagong consists only of a large-sized bamboo tube, which is the real resonator though fretted with fixed metal frets (about this see later), the two gourds serving only for ornamental purposes and to rest on the human body; while in our South Indian vina–adorning the picture of Saraswati by Ravi Varma–produced at Tanjore, the fluted gourd on which the bridge rests as well as the slanting tube of varying cross section under the fixed frets, act as a single resonator.

Secondly, the four playing strings on all the North Indian instruments mentioned above are tuned to the pitches Ma Sa Pa Sa–the Sarangi has only 3 playing strings, Sa, Ma or Pa, and Sa–while on the Carnatic vina they are tuned as Sa Pa Sa Pa/the dots below show swaras of lower octaves. The important changes in the playing strings should be noticed. The Ma string has been discarded in the Carnatic vina; the ostensible reason is that though Suddha Ma coalesces with Sa it is not an upper partial of shadja or a svayambhu-swara. This makes a lot of difference in the very process of fretting of the vina, as will be referred shortly.

Thirdly, another important change is in the pronouncing of the swara dhaivata, a word hailing from the days of Panini, in abbreviation as Da or da in swara singing, the consonant being soft and unaspirate. This feature is a result of an accidental and supreme discovery of the 5th upper partial Ga at the fret Da on the South Indian vina. Ahobala who lived about a hundred years later, and had read Ramamatya did not realise this musical fact–vide Bhatkhande’s “A Comparative Study of some of the Leading Music Systems of the 15th to 18th Centuries” wherein he refers to the fact of the ambiguity of the fixation of the fret of dhaivata, Da–vide page 28 sub-para ‘Observation.’ That is to say, the Carnatic Da in the fret is A and not A+ as described in Western nomenclature. Hindustani musicians even today aver that A + is the note for them as Pandit Ratanjankar told me at the recent Conference of the Music Academy–while this A + or Da+ is only left as a vestige or produced in a gamaka form in Carnatic music. Again the Komal da (according to Hindustani) or Shuddha da according to Carnatic is pronounced da unaspirate–vide Carnatic Thodi or Saveri; for the aspirate dha will lose its musical quality.

Fourthly, all melodic music should be consonant with the shadja or the fundamental pitch of the singer and its fifth as it is usually called panchama. Therefore, the tambura or the drone is an important adjunct in melodic music. It has a gourd and a straight tube attached to it acting as a single resonator. It has four strings to play on i.e., to say to be plucked consecutively and they are tuned with the pitches Pa Sa Sa Sa. The pitches of the swaras of the strings are mentioned in the order of plucking them by the finger. It will be noticed that the two middle shadjas are of the same pitch; the last string gives the shadja of a lower octave and coalesces with it. The first string to be plucked is lower than the two middle shadja strings and practically forms the lowest pitch upto which the voice of the singer reaches in most cases; the trained voice can go down to the shadja still lower. The Hindustani musician does also tune the tambura accordingly, but he has certain vagaries, not correct according to scientific principles. In a raga where suddha madhyama is predominant and panchama is either absent or almost absent, he will reduce the Pa string to madhyama pitch. This is entirely against the spirit of the Carnatic understanding of melody. Carnatic music has so many ragas in which panchama is varjya or absent; yet we study the music in relation to this shadja and panchama. The latter does not act as a hindrance, but enables one to grasp the said raga-forms better. Further, when the Hindustani vocalist has two tamburas on either side for the drone, occasionally where Ni is an important swara he introduces Ni in one of the tamburas for Pa. The swara Ni is a Vivadi note being too near Sa and can only produce a certain sense of discord in the ear and this procedure is not in vogue now in Carnatic music and I am pretty sure every South Indian will agree that the Hindustani procedure is not scientifically and aesthetically correct.

There are occasions where the Carnatic musician also changes the Pa string of the tambura to Ma. But then, it is called madhyama sruti. That is to say, the Ma becomes the fundamental Sa of the singer for the subsequent music and Sa becomes Pa of the same music, so that all melodic music of South India is understood in relation to the shadja and its panchama in unison. I must also refer to the beginner’s lessons in Mayamalavagaula (or Bhair’on That) in South India, and not in Sankarabharana as in the North to familiarize the student of music with quarter tones.

Fifthly, in many of the stringed instruments e.g., Sarod, Esraj and Sarangi the Hindustani musician has twelve resonant strings to correspond to the twelve swarasthanas of the octave. Thus he belies the ancient Hindu theory of 22 srutis or pitches in the octave. Sometimes he has twenty-four for a lower and a higher octave. These resonant strings give to my ears only a buzz and it seems almost a noise for me. The Sarangi has as many as 34 resonant strings, the 12 swaras to the octave being repeated. Until these twelve resonant strings are given up, music cannot rise up to a higher melodic sensation. In this connection, I must also refer to the pronunciation of the abbreviated swara Ri or ri; he calls it Re or re. The vowel sound which the South Indian uses corresponds to that in the word pit, whereas the Hindustani vowel sound corresponds to a shortening of the vowel as in fate. One more important feature I must mention, regarding vowel sounds. In the sapta or seven swaras Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni, four of them end in the vowel sound ‘a,’ sounded as long or short as in Rama, while the second vowel “i’ is sounded long or short as in Sita. These sounds ‘aa’ and ‘e’ are Sanskritic vowel sounds; in spite of the fact that music is supposed to have arisen from the mystic symbol OM consisting of the vowels AUM, the U sound as in ‘put’ is not apparently sufficiently musical for its being included in the sapta swara endings.

Sixthly, a reference must now be made to the fretting of the South Indian vina by means of 12 fixed frets in the octave. It is very rarely that the vina player himself does the melam, as this process is called, and it is given over to the vina-maker himself or some other substitute worker. To my knowledge, the vina is not an instrument of equal temparament like the Piano. It has twelve unequal semi tones to the octave, whereas in the Piano the 12 semitones are theoretically equal. If one would investigate into the melam one will find that the Ri on Sa string is slightly lower in pitch than the Ri on the Pa string. Also that the ga on the Sa string is slightly lower in pitch than the ga on the Pa string. There are other features which I cannot dilate upon in the course of this small article.

The consonances between swaras are of four kinds. Firstly, the shadja-madhyama relationship, the shadja-panchama reletionship, the shadja-antaragandhara relationship and the shadja-sadharana gandhara relationship; the relative frequencies may be said to be respectively as 1:4/3–1:3/2–1:5/4–and 1:6/5. The last two are called in European phraseology the major third relationship and the harmonic minor third relationship. It will be noticed that the swaras of two arasthanas of the same name in the Sa and Pa strings will coalesce on one but not on both the Sa and Pa strings. There is another feature still in the South Indian music, that is recognised by me by constant hearing to both violin and vina music of a high standard, namely, the process of inversion by the voice of swaras both by a major third or a minor third. I can only give a single example in this article. Let the voice stop at the Suddha-madhyama; and an attempt be made to produce the pitch Ri. The Ri will be of a relative frequency of 10/9, a minor tone above Sa, and not the frequency of 9/8, a major tone above Sa. [Further, the South Indian mind has also found within the last century and a half a process of inversion by a septimal minor third, a frequency ratio of 7/6.] By these inversions, South Indian music has been able to obtain a facility of singing the highest melodic art that is known to the world. It is to facilitate such a complex musical structure that the madhyama string is rejected from the playing strings of the vina, while this feature has not yet been achieved in the North Indian stringed musical instruments.

I cannot but refer to a question put to me by Pandit Ratanjankar during his last visit to Madras, why we always play ga in gamaka i.e., why the sadharana gandhara (Carnatic nomenclature) or the Komala gandhara (Hindustani nomenclature) is played in gamaka. I explained to him that once the previous sound Ri or ri is reached, it is not possible to get straight to the ‘ga,’ though it is possible that we could and do reach the ‘ga’ straight or prolonged from either Sa or Ma. These delicate processes of methods of approach are understood fully only by instrumentalists, either a vina-player or a violin-player of South India.

I should like only to add that Hindustani Music with emotional exuberances should not be forced down the throats of our South Indian musicians and just as the Hindustani language purely colloquial with no standard literature of any worth is forced to be learnt for political purposes. I am aware that many of our high class South Indian musicians can produce similar effects like the highest Hindustani music, but I am pretty sure that the North Indian musicians cannot make even a feeble attempt to copy us, because of all the handicaps I have shown above. The Hindustani musician will soon find his level when he tries to reproduce his vocal music on the South Indian vina. Then he will probably get the realisation of its larger possibilities of the ten to fifteen gamakas existing in South Indian music.

Lastly, I should add I am not stating anything new, but have only abridged what I have already been talking about from the year 1931 onwards. These ideas have been published in the form of a book in 1939, “The Grammar of South Indian Music.” That book was written from an ab-initio study of the vina, and it is only very recently within the last year I have tried to understand the experimental observations, which Ramamatya suggests in his book ‘Swaramela-Kalanidhi,’ on which I have put this plausible interpretation and it seems that he came to similar conclusions in regard to the science of music.

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