Friday, December 10, 2010

To enjoy Indian classical music, you must criticise it without too many inhibitions. Prejudice is preferred

It is understandable that those who do not grasp the tehnical intricacies of Indian classical music should not sit in judgment over it. It is a fair demand made by the lovers and devotees -- many of them are devotees than lovers -- of the Hindustani and Carnatic variants of classical music. (We also have to avoid the misty belief that there are no such divisions!) It was a pleasure attending two vocal music concerts of one hour duration each at the Meghdoot theatre complex on December 8. This was part of the Delhi International Arts Festival. The first hour was that of Meeta Mishra Pandit (Hindustani) and Sudha Reghunathan (Carnatic). Meeta sang Raag Bhopali and Sudha its counterpart in Carnatic, Raaga Mohanam. The two singers delineated and depicted the structure and the hue of their respective versions for 45 minutes. Even for the lay person, it was quite delighful.

There are nice differences between the two traditions and the singers were able to emphasise the strengths of each. Meeta's melodious rendering of Bhopali was captivating but one could not help noticing that it was the melody of her voice that carried the raag. No fault of either Meeta or that of the raag. That is how it was. On the other hand, Sudha's rendering highlighted the austere mode of the Carnatic style, where the focus is on the sharp play on the notes. But soon the two singers seemed to have unconsciously been drawn in by what the other was doing. Meeta went into the structural detail of the raag and Sudha let loose the melody in Mohanam. But each did it without giving up on the basic strength of their respective styles -- melody (Meeta) and pure structure (Sudha).
The last 15 minutes were given to singing a composition from Sanskrit poet Jayadeva's Ashtapadi, perhaps the right choice to bring together the two traditions.
Had it been a Carnatic recital alone, we would have heard four to five kritis or compositions before settlig down to delineate a raaga. A classical musician, it is to be assumed, is not so much interested in singing a song as he or she is in exploring the raaga. Which is perhaps what the cognoscenti would like too. There is a lot enjoyment in that. But, the general audience would like to hear words being strung on the raaga so that they can enjoy the song and the music.
There is a problem that has to be faced up front. In the Carnatic tradition, the 'sahitya' or compositions are an integral part. The 'sahitya' in the Hindustani variant is slightly thin. Of course, there are the compositions of Kabir, Surdas, Meera. The only time a song can come in is through a 'thumri' or 'tappa'.
So, in the Meeta-Sudha concert, the song was missing. The raaga delneation which comes in the latter part of the concert has been brought forward. The adjustment is perfectly acceptable but the gap remains.
 This was followed by another hour of a 'dhrupad' concert by Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha. They too devoted 45 to 50 minutes for an 'aalaap' in Raag Pooria, which took a little time to pick up momentum but it was quite pleasing. But the most attractive part of the Gundecha concert was again the song. In the last 10 minutes they sang, 'Shankara girijapati shankara ...jat mein ganga trilochana trishuldhari..namo kailashpati' in Raag Malkauns, which was wonderful. It was sheer magic with the inherent rhythm of the 'dhrupad' style giving it a vervy edge.
The brothers took some time to settle down, setting the tanpuras and then the pakhawaj. When an objection was raised as to why the instruments could not be tuned in before the concert starts, devotees sharply reminded that that is the way and that one should not dare object to these things.
Perhaps the brothers could have restricted the 'aalaap' to 20 minutes and given the rest of the time for the song which is the real winning card for any vocal concert. The Malkauns became doubly pleasurable because of the words -- it did not matter that this was a 'bhajan'.

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