Classifying the Classical
Carnatic music has two dimensions the meditative and the aesthetic. SVK
M.S. established that meditative music will succeed only when the musician and the listeners share the same Experience.
The December season has evoked a debate on the content and quality of Carnatic music. It is mainly due to some imposed sentiments based on the romantic image of the past vidwans in conflict with the present day liberalised, analytical dissection. In coming to any conclusion, what the role of music is, has first to be made clear.
Carnatic music has two dimensions meditative or contemplative, and aesthetic. The problem in assessing the state of music today arises from combining these two aspects. Practically speaking, meditative music is out of question on the performing platform. Meditation or contemplation is purely a personal experience. Does it mean then that meditative part is irrelevant? In fact, the music of the Trinity is hailed as the pinnacle of a devotional mind. But it must be remembered that the Trinity did not compose their songs for the concert hall. If the contemplative aspect has to be introduced in music halls, a meditative mind like that of Tyagaraja or Muthuswamy Dikshitar, has to be invoked in the minds of musicians and listeners alike. Can it be done? It can as the example of M. S. Subbulakshmi has proved. Hers was a meditative soul trying to satisfy it through music.
If Tyagaraja or Muthuswamy Dikshitar created their own kirtanas, Subbulakshmi saw to it that in her rendering, the soul of the vaggeyakaras was well reflected meditatively. When music lovers attended the performance of M. S. Subbulakshmi, they had in their mind the image of M. S. as a saintly singer. Subbulakshmi has established that meditative music will succeed on the platform only when the musician and the listeners share the same experience.
Did the vidwans in the post-Trinity period sing meditative music? Certainly not. The approach had always been the aesthetic content of Carnatic music. We have heard of a vidwan elaborating Todi raga for seven days or a vidwan, a laya-simham in pallavi, teasing all the percussion accompanists. So far as we know, no musician had taken the Trinity's contemplative path as M. S. Subbulakshmi had. The heritage of musicians today is that of post-Trinity vidwans, laying emphasis on elaborate raga elaboration. It is the pinnacle of the aesthetics of Carnatic music but not in the least meditative. If old-time vidwans perfected the aesthetics, today it remains in external form without the depth.
The dichotomy of the contemplative and aesthetic aspects is well provided by the popularity of the Namasankirtanam programmes. The same audience who deservingly or undeservingly clap for every item in a music performance, crowd the halls arranging Namasankirtanams. Why? It is again the way mind that rules. Everyone knows that Nama Sankirtanam is truly devotional. In fact, some Bhagavatars sing Thyagaraja kirtanas too as part of Nama Sankirtanam, the same songs that our musicians expatiate in their cutcheries. Thenwhy are they devoted in a Nama Sankirtanam environment, while they clap in a music hall? That provides the answer to today's debate. Meditative and aesthetic music are not mutually exclusive. A meditative mind goes before music. Till such a consummation is achieved classical Carnatic music will remain only at the terrestrial level, though the Trinity took it to the celestial level.
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