What carnatic music means to me

Posted: August 13, 2015 in Music

The thunderous applause that M.S Subbulakshmi received at the end of ‘Maitreem Bhajata’ song at the UN General Assembly hall is in many ways a proof of the fact that music knows no boundaries of language and culture.

I have grown up in a traditional Tamil household where the Venkateshwara Suprabhatam resonates with the morning rays of the sun, a cup of filter coffee (Bournvita for a kid :P). As a kid, I was never particularly interested in classical music that would keep playing on the music system. I went to music classes just because every other kid in my neighbourhood did and because my mother insisted that I learn to sing.

So, even though I was exposed to Carnatic music at a very early age, I was never really influenced by it and neither was I particularly interested in other genres.

However, as I grew up, I became particularly fond of listening to MS Subbulakshmi’s songs. Her songs carried a lot of ‘Bhakti’ and ‘Bhava’ (devotion and emotion) and left me mesmerised even hours after I would stop listening to her music. To me, her soulful rendition was a proof of her devotion and attachment towards the art. Hence, the legend MS Subbulakshmi’s songs paved the way for what Carnatic music means to me today.

In the beginning, I was very restricted in the artists I listened to. However, with time, I began to appreciate the music of different artists including instrumentalists. Alapana, Kalpana Swaras and Thani Avartanams became much more meaningful. Each raga brought out a different mood and emotion. The more artists I listened to, the more I learnt about the different facets of a raga and the different moods the same raga could reflect. For instance, I find Vasanta Ragam very invigorating and energetic. There have been many instances when I have felt tired and exhausted and during those times, a brisk Alapana in Vasantha is all that is required for me to get going. (I have also experimented with other ragas such as Kalyani, Shankarabharanam and Bhairavi because these happen to be my favorites too..however, they are just not in the same league as Vasantha when it comes to energy and freshness). I am neither an expert in the theory and grammar of Carnatic music nor do I sing regularly. All I do is listen to the music for the soul-touching experience that it gives me every single time.

It was during the four years of my stay in Vadodara, that I learnt a lot about the nuances of singing and appreciating the lyrics of the song. It was in this city that I had the opportunity to come under the guidance of my guru, Smt. Mahalakshmi Ramachandran. My interaction with her and her dedication towards music has also gone a long way in shaping my interest and attachement towards Carnatic music.

Carnatic music has also given me a lot of idols, people whom I can look up to for their dedication, devotion and respect towards music like MS. Subbulakshmi, M.L Vasanthakumari, sincerity, hard work and perseverance to become successful exponents of the art form like Sanjay Subrahmanyan, great teachers and gurus like P.S Narayanaswamy and S.R Janakiraman.

The annual December season in Chennai is a huge event both for the rasikas (people who enjoy Carnatic music) as well as the artists. As a rasika, I believe that a certain amount of preparedness is required before attending a concert. I look forward to attending a music concert so that I can wholeheartedly and unconditionally immerse myself in the music. Given the academic and social commitments that we all have, it becomes impossible to devote one’s undivided attention to music alone. Therefore, needless to say, I just cannot attend more than a concert or two in a day and certainly not for weeks together. I feel that I can enjoy a song much more by listening and enjoying it from the comforts of my house rather than attending a live concert. The constant hush-ing among the audience to identify the ragam at the beginning of every song, the occasional talks among the members of the audience about the menu of the catering service outside the hall and remarks about the artist’s singing disengages me from the music.

During the initial years after I was taken to classical music, I found it extremely annoying when someone remarked about how boring or useless it was to listen to it. I have now come to realize that this form of music is not like a ripe mango, which seems delectable right from the first bite. Rather, it is akin to a rich and tasty nut inside a hard shell. Once the shell is cracked open, the goodness in it and the joy of consuming it is unparalleled.

I consider myself fortunate enough to have been exposed to Carnatic music and the fact that it has in more ways than one, become a way of life.

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