The second lecture on 27th December 2010 was by Sadanam Harikumar. He is a well-known Kathakali artiste. He began by stating a conjecture that Sopana Sangitam could have been akin to Tevaram music of the Tamil-speaking regions of South India. Both are bhakti-oriented and relate to shrines. Sopana later became a part of Kathakali music and today, Ashtapadis are also classified as Sopana. In this art form, tunes (akin to the paNNs) such as puranIr, pADi, innisai and indaLam are used. Improvisation on these tunes are rarely permitted. Today, Sopana is used in Kathakali to bring out the character of the person being portrayed. He demonstrated the song of Draupadi before Krishna leaves for the court of Dhrtarashtra to try and avoid a battle. Draupadi suggests that Krishna takes a look at her untied locks before going. The importance here is to bring out the sorrow of Draupadi and the piece sung was a piece of speech, beautified with music. There are thus no fixed and strict Carnatic rules of grammar in the rendition of the songs. Similarly, he demonstrated a piece of free-rhythm called Ganapathikai. This is a set of beats from a maddalam with a jati pattern to it. But it does not fit into the tALa paddhati of Carnatic music.
He then went on to demonstrate some musical pieces:
The puranIr paNN is used for rajasic characters and for the entry of such beings as Ravana or other Asuras. In sharp contrast it is also used for the song of the golden swan as it begs for mercy at the hands of Nala.
pantuvarALi is used to show anger as in a dialogue between Shiva and Arjuna in the Kiratarjuniyam.
suruTTi (that mangaLa raga) used in a battle sequence between Kusa/Lava and Shatrughna from the Uttara rama charitam.
dvijAvanti to depict the lament of Nala when after his being bitten by Karkotaka he is deformed and gets to know that Damayanti is contemplating a second marriage.
bEgaDa sung with madhyama sruti, as a companion to chenjuruTTi in the dialogue between Duryodhana and Krishna with the former’s lines being in bEgaDa and the latter’s in chenjuruTTi.
nIlAmbari which is used for lullabies, sorrowful/shrngAra padams can also be used to depict anger- This was demonstrated from the Saugandhikam episode in the Mahabharata when Bhima is unable to get Hanuman to move.
madhyamAvati used for depicting anger (I could not help thinking that Semmangudi was probably influenced by this while setting the last verse of bhAvayAmi to this raga. After all it is yuddha kANDam. But then again, he may have thought of it as a mangaLa raga also).
The speaker said that there is a feeling among a section of people that songs sung without sruti or swara perfection is Sopana. But this was not true. Definitely Harikumar’s singing was superb and had he trained to become a full-fledged Carnatic musician, many of our stars may have found the going tough. He has a great voice too.
There was however a lacuna in the presentation. While the demo was great, it was never made very clear as to what exactly is Sopana or what classifies a piece of music as Sopana. The word means steps and the music is supposed to lead us in steps to the divine. But the same definition can also hold good for any piece of Carnatic/bhajana/devotional music.