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Understanding two schools

Karnatak music and Hindustani music share the same principles of raga and tala, yet many music lovers who enjoy one can't enjoy the other. This booklet turns the searchlight on the gulf between the two streams

Problems of Mutual Appreciation
Percussive Arts Centre
183, 8th Cross, 2nd Block
Jayanagar, Bangalore 560 011
Rs 10

Why is it that many people who appreciate Hindustani music find it difficult to relate to Karnatak music, and vice versa, when both systems spring from the same twin principles of raga and tala? Scholars and musicians address this question from diverse perspectives.

"A close look at the structure of these systems reveals that the attitude of the Hindustani musician to the swara is clearly different from the attitude of the Karnatak musician. This phenomenon gives each its structure, its look, its individuality and its characteristic aesthetic impact," says Prof R Viswesvaran. He feels it is easier for practitioners of Karnatak music to sing Hindustani music than for Hindustani musicians to sing Karnatak music because "the complex tonal structure and form of Karnatak music can digest the less complex tonal structure of Hindustani music".

The vainika says he played raga Kamavardhini (similar to raga Puriya Dhanasri in the Hindustani style) to a Calcutta audience, and enthused by their response, played the grand Karnatak raga Todi, in what he describes as one of his best presentations. The second raga failed to move the musician-audience because, he says, "they simply do not know or use this much gamaka sophistication".

He concludes that Karnatak music, being the stem of Indian music and Hindustani music being the branch born out of "Indo-Islamic cultural grafting", offer different kinds of aesthetic experience to the artiste and the listener. "It would be wrong to look for the taste of the mango of the main tree in the fruit of the grafted branch or vice versa," he remarks.

One observation that many scholars make is that people in the north don't care to appreciate southern music. Sitarist N R Rama Rao says, "South Indian musicians perform in the north only for south Indians settled there, and north Indian musicians perform in the south for listeners of both systems".

Sakunatala Narasimhan, journalist and Hindustani vocalist, feels even musically aware north Indians are apathetic towards south Indian music. Bombay University, she feels, has taken a positive step by making it compulsory for students of its BA music course to learn four Karnatak compositions. This may not be enough but it will help them acquire a better idea of what Karnatak music is all about.

A little note says vocalist T S Sathyavathi asked whether there were any music organisations promoting Karnatak music in the north. The answer was yes. Gandharva Sangeet Maha Vidyalaya does take some pains in this direction. But given the increasing hegemony Hindi enjoys in post-Independence India, and the pan-Indian acceptance that language and its culture has acquired thanks to television, it shouldn't surprise anyone that efforts to popularise Karnatak music in the north haven't borne much fruit.

T N Krishnan, the celebrated Karnatak violinist whose sister N Rajam happens to be a Hindustani violinist, refutes the idea that Karnatak music has no slow tempo. Why isn't there anything to match the Hindustani vilambit, and why do Karnatak musicians rush from composition to composition? Krishnan says that impression has gained ground because Karnatak musicians always sing a huge number of compositions, including some of their own, at any given concert. "You can't show your imagination," he says.

The 40-page booklet brings together varied experiences of musicians and music critics; the contributors are all southern, with the exception of Times of India music critic Mohan Nadkarni. Their responses turn the searchlight on the gulf between the two systems.

Percussive Arts Centre director Bangalore K Venkataram has edited this booklet. The seminar was held to mark the birth centenary of Pandit Panchakshari Gawai, who was proficient in both Karnatak and Hindustani music. The booklet came out in 1993, and the issues it addresses are as relevant today as they were seven years ago.

The co-existence of two classical systems in one country is something we ought to be proud of, and efforts such as this help in bridging sensitive souls on both sides.

O Priya

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