After the euphoria of the last three days when we had superlative presentations, today’s were relative let downs.
The first was on Sooladi, A Structural Analysis by Dr Sachidevi of Bangalore. The topic was not too easy to explain and the speaker, though a highly knowledgeable person, was not able to present it too well. Perhaps the subject does not lend itself to presentation. Certainly to a lay person like me, it was difficult to comprehend.
The following account is based on the notes I took and they may be completely wrong. So read on only at your own risk and do not form any opinion on Sooladis based on what is written here. Caveat Emptor.
Sooladis are a type of composition and mark the transition from the Prabandhas that ruled the music world for over a 1000 years. The Haridasas felt that music must be ranjaka and adhyatmaka (entertaining and spiritual) and so took to composing sooladis in the colloquial language, namely Kannada.
Purandara Dasa, arguably the greatest among the Haridasas when it comes to music, clearly used the Sangita Ratnakara of Sarngadeva as his reference. Tulaja, in his Sangita Saramrta refers to Sooladis and states that Vyasaraya and Purandara Dasa were the greatest gurus in explaining raga lakshanas.
The speaker then demonstrated a sooladi in raga Devagandhara (totally different from Devagandhari/Karnataka Devagandhari/Devagandharam etc of today) which was a janya of the 22nd mela Sriraga. The ascent and descent notes of this raga are
sa ri sa ga ga ma pa da ma ni ni sa
sa ni da pa ma ma ga ri sa
The gandhara, madhyama and nishada were jiva swaras of this raga.
A sooladi has three angas or parts- udgraha, dhruva and aabhoga. Between the udgraha and the aabhoga comes the antara. Each is sung in different talas and a sooladi usually comprises a set of five to seven gitas. At the end of the gitas comes the jate which has lyrics of religious, philosophical or sociological import.
The sooladi is sung in three speeds (or each part is sung in a different speed) vilamba (slow), madhya (medium) and dhruta (fast). These follow the same order when sung and the dhruta passage will lead to the jate which will be in vilamba kala again.
Sachidevi sang the prabandha mentioned above. The vilamba was in khanda jati matya tala, the madhya was in chaturashra jati dhruva tala, the dhruta was in chaturashra rupaka and the antara was in dhruta kala eka tala. The antara was sung in akara and swara. The jate was then sung in vilamba kala again.
There are specific rules in sooladi. The antara can be sung only in manta, pratimanta and eka talas. Niraval is to be done only in the madhya kala.
The speaker said that Annamacharya too composed Sooladis. The others are Narayana Teertha (in Sanskrit) and Sarabhoji (in Telugu). Latter day Haridasas she said, had changed the sooladi structure.
I simply loved Dr Sachidevi’s voice. It was bold, confident and a totally natural voice. She did not really need a mike and it was a welcome relief compared to mike cultivated, crooning voices that we often get to hear. I somehow think Carnatic music was meant for full throated singing and not all this business of dulcet tones in the name of voice modulation. I was taken back to the early gramophone voices of Calcutta Gauhar Jan, the Dhanakoti Sisters and Zohra Bai Ambalewali. This lady should be given a full two hours or so for her to warm up and present her talk in full.
There was considerable excitement in the air as the second speaker, Sudha Raghunathan had already arrived and the auditorium was filled to capacity and more. But despite this, I was happy to note that the experts committee was given its time to make points.
Prof SRJ (age cannot wither him nor custom steal him of his infinite variety) complimented the speaker. He too commended her style of singing and pointed out that it was not easy to sing sooladis and that the speaker executed it well was most praiseworthy. He also said that sooladis are usually long pieces extending to over 34 avartas at times and that the navavida bhakti sooladi (whose composition?) is one such example. So is the raga tala malika of Annamacharya.
Dr N Ramanathan asked a set of questions which are given with responses below:
1. Is the sooladi that the speaker sang a reconstruction from what is given in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini or is it still sung in Haridasa Mutts? (Ans: From the SSP. The Mutts have lost the music)
2. The speaker used her finger to count. In Dr Ramanathan’s view, the concept of using fingers came later. Is there a reference given to counting beats with fingers? (Ans: Yes, there is)
3. The Adi tala she presented used both laghu and dhruta. The old style of presenting Adi tala was only using laghus. Was this correct? (Ans: The concept of laghu and dhruta was introduced by the Haridasas). However, her answer was not agreed to by Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao and others.
In his summing up, AKC Natarajan felt that the speaker her erred when she said in her introduction that carnatic music was called so because it originated from the old Karnataka Empire of Vijayanagar. Then what about the music of Tanjavur, Madurai, Kerala etc, he wanted to know. He felt that it was wrong to attribute a regional origin to the name. Discussion became general at this point with several speakers joining in and small groups clapping when the speaker closest to them scored a point. Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao called the meeting to order by stating unequivocally that in his view, the name originates from Karna Ata- That which haunts the ear. Peace was restored and we proceeded to lec dem 2
Sudha Raghunathan spoke on the Bhakti and Philosophy of the Dasara Padagalu. She said she would dwell on the works of three great Dasas – Vyasaraya, Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa. It was more of a speech read out from a prepared script interspersed with songs. Some of the songs presented were Manava Janma (part) in Purvi Kalyani, Jagadodharana in Hindustani Kapi, Tugidali Rangana in Nilambari, Mella Mella Ne in Mohanam, Ragi Tandiro, Tamburi Mitidava. When I stole out, it was ten minutes to ten and I had to odidava to office. Purandara Dasa was still being dealt with and the other two were yet to make their appearance. Sudha sang well (do I need to say that?) and spoke confidently, but the talk was more an exposition on the meanings of the songs. Today, when several books are available on these things, a talk on the subject has little relevance.
The Academy needs to be commended on one thing. The active musicologists are now respected seniors and we need younger people coming in to keep the continuity going. And audiences do come when stars give lec dems. But can the content be diluted? It cannot be. Also we must realise that musicology by itself will always interest only a few. So do we need stars to give lec dems? Or are they better off performing?