The discussions today were dedicated to the memory of Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. Dr SAK Durga spoke briefly on this great stalwart, who was the bete noire of Bangalore Nagarathnamma.

Today, there were two lec dems. The first was on Mysore as a Seat of Music by Vikram Sampath, who recently published a book on the Wodeyars of Mysore (Splendours of Royal Mysore, the Untold Story of the Wodeyars). Vikram who learns music from Bombay Jayshree and researches the veena with Jayanthi Kumaresh gave a powerpoint presentation. He is an enthusiastic youngster with a great passion for the subject. If I were younger, slimmer and less bald, I would be like him 🙂

Prefacing his remarks with the fact that Mysore had been a musically vibrant kingdom and deserved to be classified as a seat of music, Vikram briefly traced the history of the dynasty which ruled Mysore for over five centuries. The speaker divided Mysore history into the Early (1399-1750), the Middle (1751-1880) and the Modern (1880-1947). The presentation was packed with facts and so I had a tough time noting down everything on the fly. But I managed to get quite a bit.

Among the early kings, Chikka Deva Raya (1673-1704) composed music and his work Gita Gopala is rather like the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva. Pacchaimiriyam Adiyappayyah was a vidwan in the court of a later Wodeyar of the same period and his great grandson was Veena Seshanna who pioneered the Mysore veena.

It was however Mummadi Krishna Rajendra (1794-1868) who really put Mysore on the musical map. He had his Dewan Poornaiah (he of Tipu fame and beyond) invite Veena Venkatasubbayya to court and presented him with a diamond studded veena. Venkatasubbayya later became a corrupt and politically powerful character who even engineered the downfall of Mummadi Krishna Rajendra. (Power corrupts, Musical Power corrupts Musically?) This king also composed a Saptataleswari Gita which was to be presented by seven musicians simultaneously. Each would render it in one of the sooladi sapta talas and at the end, all would finish together! (How did it sound I wonder). Mummadi Krishna Rajendra also composed a javali with detachment as its theme (most Javalis have attachment (:-))of one form or other as their theme).

He also got three works on music done. The first two were Sri Tatva Nidhi and Swara Choodamani. Both have paintings accompanying them and these are perhaps the first iconographic representations of music in South India. (Pallavi Doraiswami Iyer, who I think was a contemporary, painted the themes of his compositions. This may have been a parallel first in Tanjavur). The works portray the seven notes which are given 32 physical lakshanas (looks, number of hands, consort, vahanam etc). Thirty six ragas have been classified in these works. Six as males and thirty as females. The physical lakshanas of talas are also given in these works. (Was the name of the third work Sara Sangraha Bharata? I did not catch this clearly).

Among the famous musicians of this time, mention was made of Veena Ananthasubbayya, Sambayya, Dodda Subbayya who played the veen in the oordhva position, Basavappa Sastry, Lalgudi Ramayya, ‘Cyclone’ Subbayya, Appukutty Nattuvanar and Mysore Sadasiva Rao.

The modern period saw the unique Mysore veena bhani being established. Among the vainikas at court were Seshanna, Shamanna (the son of Subramania Iyya), Venkatagiriappa, Padmanabhiah, Sivaramayya and Veena Doreswami Iyengar. A rendering of a javali of Veena Seshanna, performed on the veena by Doreswami Iyengar was played.

Vikram spoke at length on the life of Seshanna. He then gave details of how the Mysore Veena is different from the Tanjore Veena. Some of the points:

1. Minimum ornamentation

2. Thinner kudam so that resonance is increased.

3. Bridge height is increased for better clarity.

4. Sarani string has an underlying second steel string for better volume.

The Mysore style is more veena oriented and does not strive to make the music as close as possible to the voice. It is therefore more fret dominant and is soft with plenty of plucking of the string. Mysore players do not use a metal clip and rely on their nail for the plucking (So did Dhanamma). Phrases of Western music chords usually crept into Mysore veena performances. The tribhinna or plucking of three strings to create a piano effect was common. So was the use of phrases from various octaves in quick succession.

There was apparently enormous rivalry between two cliques – the Kote group led by Seshanna which swore by melody and the Agrahara group led by Shamanna which preferred laya or rhythm. The former group derisively called the latter the Ta Din Gina Tom gang!

Under the penultimate ruler, Nalwadi Krishnarajendra (1884-1940), modernisation and reform became the buzzwords and these influenced musical development as well. The ruler had in his court artistes such as Mysore Vasudevachar, Karigiri Rao, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, Bidaram Krishnappa, Belakavadi Srinivasa Iyengar and Mysore Chowdiah. He also invited artistes such as Chembai, Ariyakkudi and Veena Dhanam (when? news to me). A clip of Vasudevachar singing was played.

Sarla Debi Choudhurani, the niece of Rabindranath Tagore was then in Mysore and she imbibed several facets of the music, inspiring her uncle to compose songs in Bengali to the tunes of songs such as Lavanya Rama and Meenakshi Me Mudam.

The ruler stressed on the importance of setting music to notation and introduced mikes and PA systems into the palace. Hulugur Krishnamacharya was encouraged to create the Vishwa Veena. The palace instrumental orchestra was led by Otto Schmidt and Carnatic Musicians worked on harmonising and putting Carnatic music into staff notation. A unique instrumental ensemble of Margaret Cousins on the piano, Otto Schmidt on the violin and Seshanna on the veena was formed.

Veena Venkatagiriappa composed three songs based on the North Indian nagma style in ragas Bhairav, Kiravani and Malkauns. North Indian musicians such as Calcutta Gauhar Jan and Abdul Karim Khan were also honoured.

Vikram dwelt at length on Mysore Vasudevachar’s life and also said that the composer preferred to create songs in Telugu and Sanskrit over his own language of Kannada. He also came into conflict with the king over this.

The last ruler Jayachamaraja (1919-1974) and his sister Vijaya Devi qualified in Western Classical Music. However the Maharajah’s interest turned Carnatic and in 1945 he composed his first song Sri Mahaganapatim in raga Athana. He took advice from Mysore Vasudevachar and it is clear that Muttuswami Dikshitar was his role model. All his songs are in Sanskrit, many employ madhyamakala charanas and incorporate the raga mudra. He was also, like Dikshitar a Sri Vidya upasaka. He used rare ragas and talas. A clip of his Sri Rajarajeswari in Jayasamvardhini was played.

Vikram ended his speech with an appeal that the Music Academy studies the songs of Jayachamaraja Wodeyar in detail.

The Experts Committee questions:

1. Dr N Ramanathan – Could the speaker throw light on Mysore Visveswaran’s new veena (was that the question I am not sure)?  Ans: Vikram said that he was not a technical person on the veena and was not qualified to answer this.

2. Dr NR – Could the speaker throw light on the rumours that Mysore Vasudevachar really composed the songs in the name of Jayachamaraja?

Vikram disagreed. He was of the view that Vasudevachar was not a Srividya Upasaka and it must be noted that several of the Maharajah’s songs had so many Srividya terms. He also said that the styles of Vasudevachar and the Maharajah were totally different.

Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao intervened at this stage and quoting from yours truly’s blog (preen preen!!) said that right from Krishnadeva Raya kings have been doubted for their scholarship mainly because they were kings. We must give the benefit of doubt to old JC.

Dr NR was of the view that the presentation was largely similar to Dr MB Vedavalli’s work “Mysore as a Seat of Music”. I would agree, but my contention is that such topics need revisiting and looking at from fresh eyes all the time and that is where Vikram is to be commended. In fact Dr NR also said that the analysis of the Mysore Veena was a new facet.

Vikram in his speech had said that the word Javali was of Kannada origin. Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao was of the view that this could not be said authoritatively.

Dr MB Vedavalli then spoke: What is the source for the information that Mooguru Subbanna was a palace singer as claimed in the speech? During her research she could only establish that he was a contemporary singer.

Vikram said he had based his view on the works of Dr R Sathyanarayana and Meera Rajaram.

AKC Natarajan in his summing up appeared upset that no nagaswaram artiste was mentioned by Vikram. He pointed out that Madurai Ponnuswami Pillai (d 1929) was an artiste honoured by Nalwadi Krishna Rajendra. In my view AKC was a trifle harsh on Vikram but we must also understand that AKC is a man who speaks his mind freely. Anyway, Vikram took it well. This boy is willing to learn and that is the hallmark of a true researcher.

The second presentation was by Dr KG Vijayakrishnan, disciple of R Rangaramanuja Iyengar. He spoke on Music and Language Faculty of Humans. He presented it well and the talk was in a good conversational format which lightened a heavy subject. It also showed the indepth research that he had undertaken on a very scientific subject. But alas! My mind could take only so much. The younger son had history today and the morning was spent on Akbar, Shah Jahan etc, all of whom I love. But teaching the younger son is a challenge. He has a tendency of cracking jokes, jumping up and down, suddenly stumping me with questions like “What is the purpose of studying” etc. I must say I had never thought of that.

Anyway, after the Mughals and the Wodeyars, my mind rebelled at anything more. So I stole out and there on the staircase Manna Srinivasan, Lakshmi Devnath and Vikram Sampath were holding a parallel lec dem. This was on the Ramanathapuram Setupatis. Soon we were neck deep in Nachhiars, Doraiswami Tevar, ALAR Somasundaram etc. I think we must have been pretty loud for soon a security man came and suggested that we take our custom elsewhere. So we did. Self to office, Lakshmi presumably home, Vikram to Bangalore and Mannaji to some Sabha or the other. The Setupatis will have to wait for another day…