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Monday, December 04, 2006

Carnatic Music - Is it only religious?


Find above a link to a magazine in Kannada. A two page article on page 18 of this pdf file is one of (if not The) reason for this post. A friend of mine happened to send it to me and asking me to reflect on it.


This is another link, given by the same friend. This piece seems to give some replies to the first article under consideration.

This is what i wish to say on this subject:

Carnatic Music, does have a religious make-up. It does have a very strong presence of hindu religion all over it. There is no deniance of that. Having said that, it is not all that Carnatic Music has to offer.

As mentioned in the second link cited above, the lyrical content alone has the religious make-up, while the improvisational parts are all completely musical and there is nothing religious about them.

There have been few compositions of the past, in carnatic music, which dont have a religious theme. Vaggeyakkaras like Vedanayagam Pillai, Abraham Panditar amongst others have all composed on non-hindu deities and also on abstract subjects like nature, time, flower and all that. There have been kritis praising Jesus Christ and also, in decent days, praising Allah as well. Thats not all, there are umpteen compositions on human beings. Compositions like 'sATi lEni guruguha mUrthivai' or 'bhUlOka nArada muni' or 'shyAmA sAstri namOstutE' are not unknown. These are kritis which have been composed about people. There are umpteen examples of such compositions which cannot exactly be called religious. Just because, the kriti praises a man who followed a particular religion, you cannot call it a religious composition.

One might still argue that nindha stuthi-compositions and sringara rasa compositions, vis-a-vis padams and jAvaLis, are all forms of bhakthi and hence they do form part of religious music. However, they do form a different kind of bhakthi and hence the flavour one gets from such compositions is different. They cannot classified along with the so called main stream compositions which are worship-based. If noticed in detail, there are many popular varNams which have such themes and hence one should not classify them as religious.

Arguably, the Ragam - Tanam - Pallavi is considered the most important part of a carnatic music recital. This is a completely improvisational presentation. And hence, artist can choose to form their own lyrics and fit it to a beat and tune them and sing them, either practiced and rehersed or improptu, which some experts do. The Pallavi part, which has the lyrical content, can be based on any theme. Usage of religion here is not needed at all. Some of the famous pallavis which have non-religious ideas are:

'mAlai pozhudu pochudhe, yen Asai kaNNALanE'
'varaTTum, manamE varaTTum, iru manamE varaTTum, padarAdiru manamE varaTTum'
'ninaippOm maNi mozhi vazhi naDappOm mahAtmA gAndhiyai'
'nATTai kuranji enbAr, siranda yengaLadu'
'Anandam anandAnandam jagadAnandam sangItam'
'sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa, pAduvOm, sAma gAnAmruta sAramAi'
'sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa, rajamulu, bhajimpavE manasA'
'ennavarai kaNDayO? en sakhiyE nI'
'sondhamaDi, nI keLaDi, pAraDi. yenakkavar '

The list can go on and on.

Having said all of that, One is bound also make a mention of Performers who did not practice Hinduism but still have made a mark for themselves in the world of carnatic music. I can immediately recollect, John Higgins, Sheik Chinna Moulana and K J Yesudas, off the cuff. Their proficiency in the field is not. something i wish to discuss here. They did make a name for themselves in the field. I should also mention, Chidambaram Jayaraman, who was an atheist, and hence would sing compositions which are not-religious in his performance. He was an accomplished cinema singer, but his live performances did include carnatic pieces which did not have a religious flavour.

Now that i have listed all that I know on the issue, it is quite evident that calling carnatic music as religious or hindu music is not acceptable. It has a wider perspective and cannot be bound by such sweeping statements.



Blogger Shreekrishna said...

Accepted. Kickass article. Yo Bhaand !!

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Jayan said...


Good Article... to add to what you have already said..

The "Kathakali Music" in Kerala, is based on the same "ragams" used in Carnatic Music and it have verse for every mood of the character. As you know the Kathakali performance is a "Drama" in classical dance form and has both conversations ( rendered in the form of songs) and descriptions recited by the singers. Since most of the stories are based on the Hindu Mythology , you would see "Bhakthi" also as a part of the songs. The difference I see between Kathakali music and Carnatic is that while "Bhakthi" is the main "Rasa" in carnatic, you have all 9 "rasa" in Kathakali. However, Kathakali songs does not have such systematic and methodical performance plan as it has to be within the framework of Drama. It is still very classical music form and these days "Kathakali pada kutcheri" is very popular in Kerala.

2. I have revcently seen a carnatic classical performance by a Young Muslim lady in one of the TV Channels. She was amazing , and the lyrics were in Arabic. Naturally, these were praising "Alla" and were bringing the same effect on me as if I'm listening to a Thyagaraja or Dikshitar krithi..

9:15 AM  

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