Two Branches Of Indian Classical Music

  • Article by Sri. Harsha Karkenhalli

    North meets South in our house. I am a devout fan of Hindustani Music while my uncle has an extra feel for Carnatic Music with my aunt trying to bridge the two. It puzzles me that even though both these forms are based on the same foundation, same Surs (Swarsas) Sa, Ri Ga, Ma, Pa, Da and Ni their presentation is so vastly different, their effect again totally different at times. Why does this happen? I wonder. The presentation of music is different in the two styles, as I said. Let us look into it. I will start with Hindustani Music (it is near my heart). In a concert which runs for three hours, say, a singer or any performer in this school renders about four ragas. There is no warm up as in Carnatic music, the program starts in full swing. There is a detailed exposition of a raga followed by another raga which may not be as detailed. Then there is an interval (strangely in Carnatik Music concerts there is no interval, usually. Maybe the artists do not trust their audience!). Then two more ragas are treated in the same manner, the concert ending in Bhairavi. People tell of stories where artists of fame have sung only one raga for four hours and called it a concert. The choice of ragas, they are very careful. Hindustani Music has classified Ragas into Morning ones and the Evening ones. One shall not sing a morning Raga in the evening and vice versa! Sometimes concerts are arranged in the early morning to listen to a performer rendering Morning ragas. The exposition is detailed; starts with an Alap. The singer enters the thicket of the raga and does not come out till he or she is satisfied that it is job fully turned out. Then a short phrase is chosen for elaboration with rhythm, the Tabla joins. This exposition might be solely with words or just "Aa, Aa" or with surs. It all depends upon the Gharana. The Tabla is there as a time keeper. There is some openness and some liberty in Hindustani Music. To me it appears that there is a lack of this freedom in Carnatic music; it is bound it looks like. The exposition then takes place in different speeds. It starts at a slow pace, Vilambith and then Dhrith starts. The speed increases. Usually at the end is a very complicated sanchara and the hard beating of the Tabla to synchronise with the applause of the audience.

    A concert in Carnatic Music consists of not just four items, but there may be as many as twenty. While the Hindustani Music tries to elaborate a Raga, the Carnatic Music presents word compositions set to various ragas. Many times the compositions assume importance and they are all addressed to some deity, making the words very popular. However, in a concert one or two ragas do get elaborated, again with the help of a composition. The words catch the attention of the audience. Its music that flows through these words. When the late MS gave a concert or the present Bombay Jayashri gives a concert, the audience does exclaim when it hears some appeal, some praise or even some condemnation put in appropriate Raga. The stretching of a particular line of a composition for long followed by Kalpana Swaras becomes the centre of attraction or appeal of a concert. Some also deliver a Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi, which is based on exposition of a Raga and does not worry about the words. This brings the two musics closer. The concert begins with warming up through small expositions each taking three to five minutes. Then the main items begin. Smaller items are sung in between the major ones. The concert ends with the artist rendering small but popular and attractive pieces. The audience seems to wait for these for hours gossiping when the main item goes on. What seems to me is that The Carnatic Music concert is given as an offering to God and thus the artist (especially the males) comes with a face fully made up. The Hindustani concert remains as a piece of entertainment. But with the Hindustani Music, the elaboration of a rag is complete, more intense; it brings out the essence of a raga in all the shades. Thus the concerts by the late Mallikarjuna Manusr, Jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi or Parvin Sultana becomes an experience of a Raga, an experience which lingers for sometime in us. I don not know whether I can say the same of Carnatic Music. One is an escapade in a wonderland while the other is a visit to a garden with a variety of flowers.


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