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The body as temple is a metaphor that asserts the dignity of the less affluent


Gurav's tune for Hasivaadode bhikshaannagaluntu has now acquired the status of a classic, and Hindustani vocalists hailing from Karnataka sing it as frequently as they sing Mansoor's tune for Akka kelavva
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Samyukta Vachanagalu, which has suddenly surfaced in the market, is a rare compilation of vachanas sung by Mallikarjun Mansoor, Sangameshwar Gurav, P Susheela and others

Samyukta Vachanagalu
Rs 40

Mansoor, Susheela and others sing on 'Samyukta Vachanagalu'
A rare cassette has surfaced. I had heard of Samukta Vachanagalu, but hadn't found it in any music shop. Last week I stumbled upon the tape in a Jayanagar shop, and picked it up without a second thought.

The cover says the tape contains vachanas by Pandit Mallikarjun Mansoor and other renowned singers, and the maestro's name is enough to induce most people to buy it. You have to turn to Side B to hear him. Mansoor's first track is a vachana that people in Karnataka will have heard on All India Radio -- Appanu namma maadara Channayya. This is a Basavanna vachana in which the leader of the 12th century bhakti movement disowns his privileged brahmin birth, and embraces fellow mystics and vachanakaras from lower castes as his family. Mansoor sings this in raga Todi. HMV Saregama mentions that these recordings appear by the courtesy of Shiva Electronics, Hubli. Apparently these are very old recordings, and their clarity has suffered during the transfer, either from spools or 78 rpm records, or even perhaps during the transfer from HMV's master to the copies. But Mansoor's voice is unmistakably in form, and these recordings will be treasured by collectors of his music.

Mansoor sings four vachanas on this tape, but they don't include his raga Pahadi-based Akka Mahadevi vachana Akka kelavva. Ullavaru shivalayava maaduvaru, perhaps Basavanna's most popular vachana, is commonly sung in raga Bhim Palas, but Mansoor sings it in Bageshri. The late Kannada writer Aaa Na Krishna Rao prompted Mansoor to make tunes for vachanas, and the Jaipur gharana maestro, initially reluctant, later came up with these melodies. In Ullavaru shivalayava maaduvaru, Basavanna says the rich build temples for Shiva, while the poor can only offer their pure selves in worship. "My legs are pillars, body the shrine, and head a cupola of gold," Basavanna says (A K Ramanujan's translation). The body as temple is a metaphor that asserts the dignity of the less affluent. "The standing will perish, while the moving shall ever live," Basavanna resolves the poem, which Mansoor sings in his celebrated, reedily fervent style.

The other Mansoor tracks are Andu indu mattondenabeda and Manake Manoharavalla, both by Basavanna. Seven of the eight vachanas on Side B are by Basavanna, and the eighth, sung by S Janaki, is by Akka Mahadevi.

Shyamala Jagirdar sings three vachanas with music by Upendra Kumar. Kannada film music lovers know him as the man behind many hit tunes. He was a favourite for Rajkumar productions, and Premada Kaanike, starring Rajkumar and Jayamala, had memorable songs like Baanigondu elle ellide and Idu yaaru bareda katheyo. Don't know if his tunes for these vachanas were done for a private album or for some film. The inlay card makes no mention of the year of recording or the exact source. His vachana tunes sound bare and simplistic, and somewhat oblivious to their poetry. For instance, Chalabeku paradhanavanolle emba ... prays for moral strength to be able to reject money and women that belong elsewhere, and Haavutindavara talks about how poverty the magician can transform the haughty, but the tunes show no angst or tension.

Upendra Kumar's tunes for C N Shastry score slightly better, and are all based on Karnatak ragas. Bettada melondu maneya maadi in raga Mukhari is the best among the four tracks Shastry sings. He also sings in ragas like Kalyana Vasanta, Athana and Sindhu Bhairavi. Again, there's no information in the inlay card about the singer. The late T G Lingappa's tune for Akka Mahadevi's Tanukaragadavaralli is based on raga Puriya Dhanasri, and it is a much loved song that makes it regularly to the radio programmes. Lingappa had a long innings in the Kannada film industry, and was always called in for Rajkumar mythologicals. He made the music for films like Babruvahana and Bhakta Prahlada. Lingappa also used to play the sarod for film recordings.

The two Pandit Sangameshwara Gurav renderings are absolute gems. Technically they are more audible and the words come through without much trouble, but most importantly, he sings with ardour. His tune for Hasivaadode bhikshaannagaluntu has now acquired the status of a classic, and Hindustani vocalists hailing from Karnataka sing it as frequently as they sing Mansoor's tune for Akka kelavva. Based on Bhatiyar, Gurav's rendering employs the jagged beauty of that raga to express to the poem's emotional warmth. Akka says she gets alms when she is hungry, drinks from the lakes and wells when she feels thirsty, finds temple ruins to sleep in, and above all, has Channamallikarjuna, her god, for companion. Gurav's tune sounds perfect for Akka's rejection of material things and her abstract yet intimate bonding with her lover-god. He also sings Shettyembene siriyalana, in which Basavanna again praises the qualities of his fellow mystics and ridicules his own caste privileges.

This tape offers a broad representation of the two classicist styles in which vachana tunes have been composed. The vachanas were spontaneous utterances that were not initially meant for singing, but they now form a significant musical repertoire. Incidentally, Mansoor never sang the verses of the Haridasas, just as Pandit Bhimsen Joshi has never sung a vachana.

Vachana lovers should pick up this tape the moment they spot it.

S R Ramakrishna

Published on 17 December 2001

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