Meet the reformists of Carnatic music

Indian Classical Music in particular has the feature of being extremely devotional and aims to attain higher spiritual being through the meodious renditions, lyrical value and nuances of the composition. The entire concept of practising Carnatic music and performing was supposed to reach the ultimate divine and not just for the entertainment of the rasikas.  This is perhaps because of the rich spiritual history of India where the religious aspects also come into picture. It essentially mentions that the created music (or even any art) should ultimately reach to the ultimate divine but not for materialistic fervour.

Carnatic Music – which is more prevalent in Southern India is quite rich in this regard with many composers hailing the name of God in various tunes, word play and of course- amazing innovation in the field. Right from the early time composers like Kshetrayya, till the recent Muttaiah Bhagavatar- every Carnatic Composer hailed the name of divine in various forms.  However, some of these composers also had a supreme deity and dedicated their entire musical compositions in thought of honor and supreme surrender.

But with changing social construct and foreign invasions- lot of rapid changes started happening which obviously reflected in the way music was perceived.  The medieval composers such as Annamayya and Saint Thyagaraja who came later chose to write compositions which reflect the social conditions of their age – in order to instill some thought into the rasikas.  What good is such music which cannot be reached to the common public of reflect the current day problems such as greed, jealousy, rat race by forgetting the ultimate purposeof life?  Perhaps these gifted composers felt the need of social responsibility through music quite much in advance even before reformers actually realized the importance of it!

The early composer Annamayya has witnessed untouchability and caste system being rampant and composed the brilliant keerthana Brahmamokkate in Bowli raagam. The lines:

Mendaina Brahmanudu Mettu Bhoomi Okate.. Chendaaludundeti Sadi Bhoomi Okate

(The highest caste Brahmin will die in the same ground.. and the lower caste shoodra is living in the same ground) makes the listener think about this social evil at a deeper level.

Let us dwell into the immortal words of Saint Thyagaraja in some of his select kritis which are even more wonderful to relish:

In the pancharatna kriti Dudukugala Nannedora in raaga Gowla, Saint Thyagaraja explains the fickle minded nature of human beings on how they run behind fleeting treasures of money, materialistic posessions and forgetting the brilliance of divinity. In the anupallavi:

Anupallavi: Kadudur Vishaya Krushtudai

Gadiyaa Gadiyaaru Nindaaru

( I dwell in many sins in which I am slammed every moment by moment!)

Charanam 4: Paradhanamulakora ku norula madi karaka baliki kadupu nim pa thirigi natti

(I went behind the riches of others and hurted people repeatedly for personal gains)

Charanam 5: Thana madh ni bhuvini soukyapu jeevana me Yanuchu sada dinamulu kadipe

(I am such a sinner that I am in a false notion that materialistic living is indeed happy living)

Charanam 10: Sathulakai Konnaallasthi kai Suthulakai konnallu dhana thadulakai thirigithinaiya thiagaraajaa ptha ituvanti Dudukugala Nanne Dora Koduku Brochura..

(For some days I wandered for wives, then I wandered for kids, then for money- which king’s son would help me (referring to Lord Rama) from this aggressive attitude?)

Even in the eternal composition Entha Nerchina in Suddha Dhanyasi- Thyagaraja sarcastically comments on those men who become slaves of their physical pleasures and taking the eternity of life for granted.  He also pleads the God in the kriti Gnanamosagaraada composed in the raaga Purvi Kalyani to give the right knowledge, instead of the one which misguides the purpose of life.

Hail these amazing composers who defy the rules and regulations of Carnatic Classical music being only devotional oriented but also highly responsible for a better society!