Classical Music of South India
Dr. L. Subramaniam and Viji Subramaniam
The Classical Music of South India is a book written by virtuoso violinst Dr. L. Subramaniam (Dr. LS) with Late Viji Subramaniam (ex-wife). It is a short book that gives an introduction to the vast ocean that is Carnatic Music (South Indian Classical Music). This was written as a book called Euphony in the 1990s and now published with some updates.
Dr. LS divides the history of Indian Music into four periods.
- The Ancient period: prehistoric times to 400 CE
- The Medieval period: fifth century to the fifteenth century CE
- The Modern period: sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth century
- The Post-Independence period: mid-twentieth century onwards
I have always wondered how the chanting of the vedas came about to be. I got my answer here.
The Rig Veda was at first recited in a monotone known as archika gana. This was later developed into a two-toned chant, the gathika, to be subsequently replaced by a three-toned chant, or the samika. In the samika, there was one main tone (swarita) and two accents, one higher (udatta) and one lower (anudatta). (Eventually) the chants had evolved to two main tones and two accents forming a tetrachord (first four notes). The Sama Veda laid the foundation for Indian music. It added three more tones to the existing tetrachord, resulting in the first full scale of seven notes.
There are lots of ancient texts cited all over. I wished there were more passages quoted and translated as well as linked. Oh well, at least the names are here for us to “Google”.
Dattilam (c. fourth to first centuries BCE) is an ancient Indian musical text ascribed to the sage Dattila. Dattilam expounds concepts of swara (note), sthana (position), murcchana, alankara (embellishment, elaboration), tana (combination of note sequences) and grama (groups of notes), which contain twenty-two microtones or shrutis in an octave. The melodic structure consists of eighteen groups called jati, which predates the raga system.
A pleasant finding was the Tamil names for the seven notes.
The seven notes were called kural, tuttam, kaikkilai, ulai, ili, vilari and taram and the microtones were called alagus. The parent scales were called panns and the derived scales were called tirims.
The book then covers the famous composers in almost chronological order.
A few of the greatests from the blessed list.
Jayadeva (twelfth century Sanskrit poet) known for Gita Govinda
Sarangadeva (1210–47) known for his musical treatise, the Sangita Ratnakara
- List of Ancient Tamil Composers
- Appar (also known as Tirunavukkarasar)
- Tirujnana Sambandar
- Sundarar or Sundaramurti
- Manikkiyavasagar (tenth century CE)
- Arunagirinathar (fifteenth century)
- Annamacharya (1424–1503)
Purandara Dasa (1484–1564) also considered the Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha
- The Trinity from Tiruvarur
- Shyama Shastri (1762–1827), born on 2 April 1762
- Tyagaraja (1767–1847) was born on 4 May 1767
- Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775–1835), born on 24 March 1775
Dr. LS goes on to describe some main difference between other forms of music and Carnatic music. And above all, the foundation of “‘Shruthi Mata Laya Pita’ — Shruthi (pitch) is the mother and Laya (rhythm) is the father”.
Interesting to note the names for these different types of instruments.
Bharata’s Natyashastra puts musical instruments into four categories: - Tata vadya (stringed instruments) - Susira vadya (hollow instruments) - Avanaddha vadya (covered instruments) - Ghana vadya (solid instruments) Similar classification of instruments published in 1914 by Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, as follows: - Chordophones - Aerophones - Membranophones - Idiophones
Some fun Tukkadas I read.
- It is believed that Amir Khusro modified the veena to create the sitar. His version had three strings and was known as seh-tar (seh meaning three in his mother tongue Persian, and tar meaning strings).
- Some people believe that Amir Khusro created this form. Another name associated with the khyal is that of Sultan Hussain Sharqi.
- It is believed that when Amir Khusro came to India, he was worried as all the compositions were in Sanskrit. He knew only Persian and Arabic, so he set meaningless sound-syllables and Persian words to ragas and this became a new form known as the tarana.
- The word javali is derived from the word ‘javadi’, which means ‘lewd poetry’ in Kannada.
- The word pallavi is derived from the three syllables pa-la-vi: padam (words), laya (rhythm) and vinyasam (variations).
Interesting to note that his father was the first (he says first) to play a Varnam in lot many speeds and innovate playing techniques to facilitate that. He cited his own performance of playing the Mohanam varnam in 15 speeds. He pointed out to two more works to illustrate the talas and nadais. I hadn’t listened to these before so I noted them down.
I have composed a pancha-nadai varnam in Kannada to showcase all the different nadais in the same varnam. I composed a tillana in Vasanta that uses all the five nadais along with other rhythmic syllables.
Overall a very nice book but just too short. This felt like a glossary to me.
There is a good section devoted to the various instruments but the book goes on to explain each and every single famous instrument used in Indian music. What would have been more awesome is a picture, where a picture is worth a thousand words and a one minute demo video worth 3.6 million words! (60 seconds * 60 frames per second * 1000 words per frame/picture = 3,600,000).
I can see this easily being translated to a full fledged one semester course.
I wish that he publishes his current work soon with even more enriching educational information and of course, lots of demo videos too. An interesting personal find for me while looking up on his wikipedia article - Dr. LS and I share the same birthday! (although, years apart in age and light-years apart in music).