Monday, May 18, 2009



Ragam Tanam Pallavi is an important part of a concert in the realm of Carnatic Music.

It is regarded as the “piece-de- resistance” as it provides the ideal platform for a performer to exhibit his/her “vidwat” in terms of improvisation.
To draw a parallel it can be compared to writing an essay in English where the writer needs proficiency in Grammar and Language, besides being Imaginative in his approach. Essay writing also tests the ability of a person to weave a synchronous thread of continuity. In other words, the “story telling” capability of a person comes to the fore. Similarly, when singing a RTP the performer needs to have a strong grasp of “Raga Lakshana”, “Laya” and vivid imagination – strictly within the realms of the accepted grammar. This restriction makes performing a RTP challenging as well as exciting.

It is interesting to see the evolution of this aspect of performance in today’s context. To do proper justice to a RTP it may not be out of place to allot at least one hour for the same in a concert. In the days gone by it was quite regular for a performer to allocate even 2 hours to RTP if not more.
The accepted practice has been to:
• Sing / Play the Ragam in three stages;
• Sing / Play an elaborate Taanam;
• Engage oneself in a detailed neraval exercise; and
• Do a “Thri-kalam” of the Pallavi Passage;
o Many established performers like the inimitable Alathur Brothers would only chose a 4-kalai Pallavi or an 8-kalai Pallavi which would mean that “Anulomam and Prathilomam” would inevitably follow.
• This would then be followed by “kalpanaswarams” in Raga maligai.

In this context it would be most appropriate to mention Sangeetha Acharya Vidwan Shri Chengelput Ranganthan Sir. His neraval singing is a benchmark in itself! 4-kalai and 8 kalai pallavis are like child’s play for him! We only wonder how his Guru Maha Vidwan Shri Alathur Venakatesa Iyer would have performed!

Today – the “accepted practice” is under scrutiny. We find RTPs rendered in 15-20 min. 4-kalai and 8-kalai pallavis have become a rarity. The reasons perhaps are not far to seek:
• How do you do justice to a Pallavi when the concert duration is only for 2 hrs or less?
• Is there a danger of losing Rasika Interest if the performer indulges in a detailed RTP exercise?
• Does it also point to a rather embarrassing question, namely the ability to perform, for instance, an 1/4 eduppu 2-kalai or 1/8 eduppu “4-kalai” or “8-kalai” Pallavi?
• Should a detailed Pallavi be performed only if the concert is touted as a “4 hr” concert or a “Pallavi concert”?
This is a topic that does not have straightforward answers. This is open to discussion.

In this context, we are going to reproduce an excerpt of what the great vidwan late Shri S.Balachander had to say in this regard. Vidwan Shri S. Balachander never minced words. He was very forthright in his opinions and he had the mastery (read Vidwat) to back his words. So, here it goes – Ladies and Gentlemen - please tighten your seat belts:

Excerpts from the foreword written by the late Veena S. Balachander (in 1971) to "Icai-ulakil Maka Vaittiyanata Civan' by V.S. Gomathisankara Iyer

“How sad is the level of Pallavi-singing these days! For this deplorable condition prevailing today, I totally and unreservedly blame only most of those prominent musicians of "YESTERDAY". Except for 'Mudikondan' Venkatrama Iyer, G.N.B., and Alathur Brothers and a very few more, the majority of the others took no care, interest or efforts in learning, striving and maintaining the proper 'Laya-personified' and Thaala-interwoven' intelligent ...intricate...involving, intellectual...inspiring and inimitable PALLAVI-singing. They thought it wise not to take any risk! They were just satisfied traversing the "safe-sure-successful" path. "Success' mainly depended in not achieving the 'impossible', but only in as much maintaining all that was 'possible'. That is why we had (and suffered from) a surfeit of "Aadhi-thaalam Mukkal-eduppu PARIMALA RANGAPATHAY"... & "Aadhi-thaalam Sundu Viral Sama-eduppu THILLAI EESANAI" PALLAVIS! How so pathetically easy! How so shamefully simple and elementary! WHO CARES!? One just made "mountains out of mole-hills" with no substance but with lots of Pretence! Effortless Success was assured! And the fame won was Safeguarded! Just imagine as to what would have tragically happened if the same, very same (course of utter safety) was also adopted by those of the still previous eras...like 'Mahaa" Vaidhyanatha Iyer himself for instance, or 'Poochi' Srinivasa Iyengar or "Namakkal' Narasimha Iyengar, or...(the list seems endless).

Most of those of 'YESTERDAY' who, day in and day out..year in and year out, spoke volumes about the musical-glories of the past, of their Masters, of their Paramparas, of their ancient styles and hereditary assets, never exerted even their little-finger in the aspect of "PALLAVI singing". I can excuse their incompetence in this regard if need be. But, i have never tolerated and never forgive them for their wanton (and highly motivated) insolence in heartlessly discouraging even those few other (not yet prominent and not so successful) musicians, who, fervently wishing to preserve the 'sathya'-laya-oriented style of singing PALLAVIS as done in the good old days, were genuinely spending hours and hours in fruitful - truthful study, research, practice and pursuit. These sincere but not so popular musicians were told and advised that such 'intricate' & 'involved' Pallavi singing was out-moded and out-dated and out of style and out of the reach of listeners!THOSE VERY SAME VIDWANS who time and again insisted that THEY WERE PRESERVING ALL THE ANCIENT, TRADITIONAL, HEREDITARY AND SAMPRADAYA-BOUND "MUSICAL HERITAGE".If only they had the open goodness to admit that certain of these ancient Pallavis were only out of _ THEIR - reach and far - from - THEIR - grasp and if only they had had the graciousness to faithfully encourage those others who were attempting laya-oriented truly 'Sampradaya - PALLAVIS', then, today this sorry state of affairs could have been totally avoided. Even maintaining a rhythmic-tempo of "Sarvalaghu-suddham" had to be considered as a great formidable (and at times 'unsurmountable'!) task by certain Vidwans of yesterday.And thanks to them, as already quoted, the present 'upto-date' Pallavi-singing brought into popular vogue by them is nothing different from a most-simple and most-elementary and most-bland "Arai-eduppu' Pallavi as in the first line of the song "Brovabharama" .. or, even that of a "sama-eduppu" Pallavi as in the first line of the song "Daarini Telusukonti"!!! One should truly be ashamed to call them (under the grossly misused title of) PALLAVI singing.

(stuff deleted)

Before being conferred the Title of "Mahaa", Sri Vaidhyanatha Sivan, on that occasion, chose to sing the raagam, "CHAKRAVAAKAM". The mere rendering of the raaga-aalaapana itself made the entire Sadas start wondering as to "What" Ragam it was!!! They had never heard it before! They could not 'identify' it! ........ (stuff deleted) This incident happened more than one hundred years ago. And...even TODAY... inspite of the passing of years, ragas like even Vakulaabharanam, Kokilapriya, Hemavathi, Bhavapriya, Gamanasrama, Dharmavathi, Natabhairavi, Shadvidamaargini, Sarasangi etc, etc. are YET TO BE MADE POPULAR AND EASILY IDENTIFIABLE BY WE MUSICIANS, TO THE AUDIENCE AT LARGE!!! (Leave alone ragas like Naaganandini, Navaneetam, Maanavathi, Dhaatuvardhini, Roopavathi, Jankaaradhwani, Raghupriya, Kosalam, Soolini, Chitraambhari, Kantaamani, Saalagam, Naasika Bhooshani, etc etc etc) Again, who is to be blamed for this sorry state of affairs? I personally can and shall blame only those who, all these years kept on singing REPEATEDLY (as per their self-imposed SAFE MEASURE) ragas like Kalyaani, Kaambhoji, Sankarabharanam, Bhairavi, Thodi, Keeravani, Karaharapriya, Shanmughapriya ... and I am afraid the list ends here...full-stop!”

We have taken this excerpt from what was reproduced by “Ramana”. Ramana - thank you very much for bringing this piece to light.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be a finger pointing exercise. If it can bring people together for a meaningful discussion, it is something that would be followed with a lot of interest.


B. Karthickeyan said...

People cry foul that the days of singing true rtp is over but they fail to appreciate that even creative art is not free from the impact of the socio-economic changes.There is bound to be changes in the presentation of the art for it is guided by what is within and what is within is influenced by what is outside. Therefore I feel there is no need to panic and if we strongly feel about the loss in the quality of RTP then we must be prepared to introspect about the rot of materialism that has crept into our lifestyle AND are we ready !!

B Sridhar said...

In reference to the popular ragas and not so popular ragas in the foreward by the great S Balachander, in most cases people choose the easier path to (commercial) success. This is true with all art forms be it classical music, film music, painting, sculpture etc. etc. You can even see this is education at school levels - I mean a student getting 80% in WBSE just 20 years ago would be considered a genius but today he will stand nowhere. Look at the great Sanskrit Language. More that 90% of the population of India (where it originated and once widely spoken) doesn't even know that there is something called "Sanskrit". All is not lost. I STRONGLY BELIEVE THAT THERE WILL BE REVERSAL.

Natraj said...

Interesting read, Jeyaraaj / Jayasri. While on one hand we have RTPs tailor made to suit a two and half hour kutcheri we also have musicians who explore some of these not so familiar ragas which is heartening. Tanjore S Kalyanaraman's name crossed my mind while going through Sri Balachandar's views, an awesome musician who could strike the right balance