The first day’s session began with the unveiling of portraits of C Saraswathi Bai and Tallapaka Annamacharya. Yours truly spoke for two minutes on the greatness of Bai and Pappu Venugopala Rao did the same for Annamacharya. N Murali, as President of the Academy unveiled the portraits. It was a matter of gratification for me that Bai’s portrait was unveiled in the presence of her nephew R Venkataramana Row, who in his eighties, did not mind the rain or his infirmities and came to witness the event. In a small way, this rights in an infinitesimal fashion, the wrong done to Bai by the Academy in 1950 when it denied her the Kalanidhi. I sincerely hope the portraits of both Bai and Annamacharya make it to one of the panels designated for this purpose in the Academy lobby. While working on the Academy book, I discovered at least ten such portraits, all ceremoniously unveiled and subsequently dumped in a cupboard in the library.
The lec dem today was on the role of upapakkavadyams in concerts. This was by V Krishna, son of the doyen Bangalore Venkataram whose Percussive Arts Centre in Bangalore is very well known. Krishna was accompanied by G Guruprasanna on the kanjira, Giridhar Udupa on the ghatam and Bangalore Rajasekar on the mohrsing. G Ravikiran provided vocal accompaniment.
It was very well presented in the sense that the English was flawless, the bonhomie and spirit of cooperation on stage was great and everyone was very good. But it suffered from poor time planning and no matter that the speaker repeated several times that such a presentation needs a day (agreed) he was fully aware when he accepted the lec dem invite that he had exactly an hour.
The lec dem was in two parts- the first explained the history of the instruments and when each was taken up for detailing, the concerned artiste gave a brief demo. Unfortunately, this took too long, almost 45 minutes and within this, the kanjira was given too much time. But the facts were very good. All this meant that the second part – the role of upapakkavadyams in concerts which was the main subject, had to be dealt with in 15 minutes and with some extension given by the chair, an additional ten minutes.
Invariably, and this is not just in this case, all speakers spend some time in complimenting the Sangita Kalanidhi designate and also thanking the Music Academy. I would suggest that this be avoided by a simple statement at the beginning of each year’s session from the President to the effect : O Sangita Kalanidhi Designate, all speakers and lec demmers compliment you and recognise your greatness. Similarly, the Music Academy acknowledges with grateful thanks, the gratitude of all those who have been given an opportunity to speak. Thanks to you all, now get on with the subject.
Getting on with the subject, V Krishna spoke very well. He had researched his subject thoroughly. Here are some facts:
Generally speaking, the mridanga is the pradhana laya vadya. All the others suffer from the inability to set them to a particular sruti and are therefore saha laya vadyas. Great artistes have overcome such limitations and performed amazingly with these instruments.
1. A member of the membranophone instrument family
2. Figurines of women playing a circular hand-held frame have been discovered dating to 2000 BC.
3. It has gone by various names across the world such as duff, tar, tambourine etc. Variants have existed in Assyria, China, Peru and Greenland.
4. Historical references to in India exist in Ahobila’s Sangita Parijata. The Sangam works refer to Chinnaparai which was a frame with a deerskin stretched on it and usually served as an accompaniment to the yaazh. It was held with one hand and played with some force by the other. Bharata called it the Dardara or the Dardura. In Tamil it instruments such as the Sallari, the Jhallari and Kai Parai approximate to it.
5. Structurally it has a frame of jackfruit wood of dia 7-9″ and a width of 2″. The skin of the monitor lizard is stretched on one side. A slit with a single jingle exists on the side frame. On being beaten, the parallel fibres of the skin vibrate and resonate sequentially. If wetted on the inside, a good bass effect is produced.
6. The use of the monitor lizard is now banned and so experiments have been tried with bandicoot skin, but the smell is awful. Artificial fibre has been tried with good results. But none can come near the original lizard. Apparently, the best place for this lizard is my own Bengal. When tuned, it should ideally match the left toppi of the mridangam.
7. Tha and Thom are the only two syllables possible on the kanjira. Two successive strokes with the index finger and the palm is a speciality.
8. The man who fashioned the present day kanjira was Pudukottai Manpoondia Pillai. Other stalwarts have been Dakshinamurthy Pillai, Palani Muthiah Pillai, Ramnad Chitsabhai Servai, Palani Subramania Pillai and G Harishankar.
1. One of the most ancient percussion instruments. Has existed in countries like Nigeria and of course in India and Pakistan. Called the hobbock and the ghara/matka (North India), it was largely a folk instrument.
2. The Valmiki Ramayana mentions the ghata as a musical instrument in the Sundara Kanda. The Sangita Ratnakara of Sarngadeva also mentions it. So does the Sangita Damodara.
3. It has the pancha bhutas in it. Made of prithvi along with ap and agni, it has vayu in its pores and the sound is produced by akasa.
4. There are two types. One is more spherical with a smaller neck and is less heavy and is made in Karnataka, Andhra and Northern Tamil Nadu. The other one is heavier and cylindrical with a longer neck and comes from Manamadurai and Palghat. Both varieties are made of mud with brass, copper and iron filings mixed.
5. The first variety is more suited for delicate strokes. You can reduce the pitch of a ghatam by applying beeswax or plasticene. If you want to reduce the pitch quickly, fill it with water, leave it for ten minutes, drain it and you will see an immediate reduction in pitch. But the volume does suffer.
6. Ranga Rao and Shama Rao of Mysore, Umayalpuram Sundaram Iyer/Narayana Iyer, Palani Krishna Iyer were the pioneers in the modern day ghatam. The last named is said to have trained under Coimbatore Anantachar.
7. Umayalpuram has a particularly rich tradition. Kothandarama Iyer was a stalwart who switched from the mridangam to the ghatam. V Krishna mentioned V Suresh and Sukanya Ramgopal and also Vikku Vinayakaram among present day names.
8. The double stroke with both hands and the gumki with both hands, the use of wrist and thumb, the double gumki with the stomach and wrists are all specialities in this instrument.
1. The construction was described in detail. But I found it a little confusing and so refrained from taking notes. It belongs to the lamellophone family.
2. It is an instrument used all over the world. Rajasekar played on Russian, Vitenamese, Japanese and Indian varieties and they all sounded amazingly the same! Truly this must qualify as an international instrument.
3. It goes by various names such as Mukhasangu, Morchang, Jews Harp, Jaws Harp.
4. A Buddhist work states this was used in monasteries like a conch and was meant to indicate the beginning of classes.
5. Sounds are produced by inhalation, exhalation and the tongue.
6. The sounds we here are by the konnakkol recitation of which care must be taken that all sounds must emanate only from the mohrsing.
7. Coimbatore Venkoba Rao, Adichapuram Seetharama Iyer and Mannargudi Natesa Pillai are some of the pioneers.
The programme then went on to part II. The technique of when it would be appropriate for each pakka vadyam to enter the piece being rendered was demonstrated for a varnam and also for sangatis in kritis.
The presentation had to be wound up after that. I was eagerly awaiting facts on how to play for niraval, swaram, kannakku, tani, teermanam etc, all of which I thought were more pertinent to the subject. But then, the Academy’s time schedules are cast in stone.
Trichy Sankaran praised the speakers and the accompanists. Dr Pappu questioned the etymology of this peculiar term upa (Sanskrit) pakka (Tamil and meaning Upa) vadyam (Sanskrit). He felt they must be called sahalayavadya. In the old days, a TV Subba Rao or a Raghavan would have brought in a resolution to that effect, but we live in egalitarian times.
TRS spoke. Valayappatti summed up in his unique style. The man is cast in a different mould. Having shaded his eyes he tried to recognise all those in the rows of Experts Committee Members and said “Yaaru amma anda lady? O Vedavalliya? Vanga Vanga”.
He told Ravikiran that he sang very well and quoted GNB to the effect that if any good singer needs to become a top ranker, he must have some anavasyams (unnecessary elements) in his music. He hoped Ravikiran would soon do so.
He then pleaded for retaining Tamil and Sanskrit in music. Having said this, he solemnly demonstrated various nadais by reciting the nursery rhyme Hickery Dickery Dock. He commented on how tame it all sounded. Whereupon Pappu thanked everyone and we all left.