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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - R.Shanmugalingam  > Excellence of Carnatic Music

Selected Writings

Excellence of Carnatic Music

English Translation of an Article by Kumutha
in Eelamurasu Weekly, 30 May-05 June 1996

[see also Tamil Music on the Web]

Note by R.Shanmugalingam: "I have tried to translate the article by Kumutha. I found it clear and inspiring. As always, I like to share anything good in Tamil with other Tamils who are not literate in Tamil and other non-Tamils who are interested in the excellence of Tamil works. I must admit that I try to understand the original and then put it in the English that I am capable of. My efforts will be rewarded so long as I do not vulgarise the original with my simple and unacademic translation."

Carnatic Music and Bharata Dance are the crown jewels and well established art forms from ancient times. Cultured Artists, Experts and Poets considered the Bharata Dance as the father, Music as the mother, and the other three art forms such as Drama, Sculpture and Painting, as the children and nurtured them with tender love and appreciation.

Today only a handful of geniuses are giving that love and appreciation in fostering the outstanding Carnatic Music and Bharata Dance forms, and perform for the benefit of a wonder struck international community. It is our responsibility to protect and preserve these from destruction for posterity. A nation's traditional glory and cultural resources are made known by that branch of art, namely an efficient Music. A nation can glow with lustre and fame only when their mother tongue is the seat of their learning.

Tamil Music is in disarray not only because of the disregard by Tamils, and wanton destruction by enemies, but also due to the widespread falsehood concocted about the origin of Tamil Music.

This has resulted in many teachings that tend to establish, Literary Tamil is of the Sanskrit line, Tamil Music is a branch of Carnatic Music, and Dance Tamil follows the Natya Sastra of Bharata.

Human living is made pleasant by the sweetness and soothing effect of musical companionship. Music not only sing in jubilation, but our saddest thoughts too have a place in music. Music that has the magic to minimise exhaustion from overwork, according to literature, music has helped to charm miscreants to mend their ways too.

As much as Tamil is a natural language so is Tamil Music a natural. Strumming the bowstring led to the invention of the Yarzh - Harp - and the drone from the hole in the bamboo drilled by the bee, was the forerunner to the Flute. Colour or the gamut of musical notes, the source to music is represented by the seven long vowels in Tamil.

KURUNTHOKAI illustrates the effect of music thus - the beetles drone beckoned the bush to blossom. Thus the elder South Indian musical tradition was born of nature to be borne with sweetness. The seat of life for the development of Music was the Tamil Sangams literary tradition and the adapted religious doctrine also flourished. Westerners attribute it to religion for the growth of music.

Music (icy), the Tamil word means to make it agreeable. The humans and other living beings, even God can be made to agree and consent with music the unique medium.

In English, the word MUSIC has its origin in the Greek word MOUSA. MUSES the Greek angels liked and encouraged this art form that came to be called MUSIC subsequently. RAGAM - Melodic Entity, the network of ascending and descending scale of notes which give or determine the pattern. is indispensable to Carnatic Music.

RAGAM is created by the combination of musical notes. It is a fact that, there is a wholeness in the RAGAS of the Carnatic Music tradition among the worlds music. The seven notes are the basis for RAGAM to be born. It is also said that these seven notes originated from SAMAGANAm. It was Vengadamahi in the 17th century A.D. who laid the foundation for the 72 main RAGAS. The Musical Octaves derived from the Seven SAMA notes is considered the PRIMORDIAL SCALE OF INDIAN MUSIC.

Ilankovadikal, who lived two thousand years ago authored the Tri-Tamil epic Cilapathikaram, a musical treasure-house. In the chapter ARCHIJAR KURAVY, the song cowherd women sang and he gave the beautiful name MULLYTH-THEEMPAANI . It took this name, since the song originated in one of the five great land classification, MULLY, the forest region. Madhavi, who sheltered Kannaki wanted to cheer her in one of Kannakis pensive moods. She assembled seven lasses and made them dance the KURAVY. One lass sang a MULLYTHTHEEMPAANI RAGAM song and the others started dancing. Professor of Music Dr. Parny wrote in his A GENERAL HISTORY OF MUSIC about this musical propriety : During humans cultural infancy and arts cultural infancy in the world, a simple clear naturally born musical propriety is the MULLY ISAI .

It is the unanimous opinion of researchers that the renowned ancient Tamil music is the mother of contemporary Carnatic Music. It is only Tamil culture that has classified a language into the three categories, namely : ijal -Literary, icy - Music and NAdakam - Drama.

The woman who did not want to disturb the husband who was sleeping on his watch, composed KURIGNCHIPPENN and sang to the accompaniment of the YARZH. The elephant that came to feed on the millet crop, under the spell of her song went to sleep. This is a story from Akanaanooru. We know from our own feelings that the humans have, from birth to death, become one with music.

One major reason for the development of our music is the policy of Music Exchange by our forbears. The Western VIOLIN was introduced to Carnatic Music during the latter part of the 18th century. Contemporaneously, the Western musical instruments such as the Clarinet, Viola, Sitar, Mandolin and Saxophone are added to the Carnatic Music ensemble.

Carnatic Music had adopted the TONI SOLFA-NOTATION, C, D, E, F, G, A, B way back three thousand years ago. A similar musical notation to our carkkam musical notation we practise with, (ca, ri, ka, ma, pa, ta, ni), was created by GUIDE DE AREZZO in the 10th century. Before learning whatever language, art (Music, Dance, Painting), it is imperative that the A B C of the particular field must be known.

Music is treated as a property in the public domain. It has no distinction of caste or religion. It is a natural gift, our voice and we should make the best of it. Larynx or the vocal chords that are the voice strings and they can be compared to a musical instrument.. In fact, of all the musical instruments of the world the human vocal strings (Vocal Music) is the best. There are a several ways for growth in Carnatic Music, but, generally, only 10 percent points of those methods are being followed. There is a drop in real appreciation of music in general. The reason being, a lack of patience to listen to music and appreciate the various beautiful components and nuances in the music.The power of imagination to involve in music has dropped. Singing expertly with a fine tuning songs that are beautiful have given way to programs that cater to the simple tastes of fans of the artists.

The aim to promote the greatness of music has changed to the sole purpose of increasing gate collections. The art of music has turned into a tool in the hands of many seeking publicity. The wealth and fame(INFLUENCE), is it everlasting? The preponderance of cinema songs has deprived many the opportunity to familiarise with the greatness of Carnatic Music. In the name of modernity, a full load of trash is dumped.

It is saddening to note in a Carnatic musical recital TABLA is given prominence and the MIRUTHANGAM is given second place. (Translartors notes : It is the MIRUTHANGAM in the Carnatic system capable of vast range of improvised and rhythmic variations. MIRUTHANGAM is capable of providing for the intricacies of microtonal intervals and in the hands of an expert, with adroit manipulations of rhythmic beats produce complex patterns required as an accompanying percussion instrument at Carnatic Music recitals.)

Music demands modernity as well as tradition. It is Carnatic Music that allows for the realisation of SPIRITUAL VALUES and capable of taking to its full depth. It is not for mere entertainment, but we get a mental satisfaction through a MENTAL FEELING we experience. Subramaniya Bharathy in his long essay, SAGEETHA VISHAYAM expressed some important opinions on music. Musical Refrains (pallavi) and verses or compositions noted for text more than RAGAS (kIrttany), without aesthetic knowledge when sung is like the life in music is dropped showing only the cadaver. It is important to differentiate the various RAGAS and the timing and style of rendering the RAGAS to get the full effect of any or all the nine aesthetic emotions. Music plays a very important role in dance as well. Music gives life to dance. It is the knowledge of music that helps to express feelings and in selecting the particular RAGAM for a particular mood. While RAGAM brings out the feelings, without music the harmonious blending between RAGAM and TALAM will be lost. It is very important that those who learn dancing should also learn music.

There is a danger of losing our individuality and identity to the avalanche of Western art forms, if we do not guard against pollution of our traditional culture and quality of our Music and Dance. Tamil fragrance should sweep Tamil Eelam is echoed today by Tamils standing up beating their breasts. This is the time for Tamil patriotic musical recitals.

Our land should be provided for adequately for posterity. Some are wandering amassing wealth for the sole purpose of providing for the pleasures of their future generations. Every artist should work within the grammar and rules of traditional culture of the arts. It is disheartening to note that despite signs that science and arts have developed in our land and yet there is a tendency for us to cling to unproductive old ways or methods. It is my candid opinion that we should get rid of factious disputes and petty jealousies, and dedicate ourselves in the service of our land and art for greater benefit.

The ingredients for advancement in art are the 3Ds : Discipline, Devotion, and Dedication.


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