Monday, December 3, 2007

Obsessed with Bhairavi

Bhairavi has been running in my head for the past 3 days. MDR's Balagopala, Thanam in Bhairavi are the main culprits. Need to have a marathon Bhairavi session to appease myself. :-)

Krithi - [audio:]

Neraval,Swaram - [audio:]

Listen to the way he sings the word 'Maanicka'.... Pure bliss.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Swaraprasthara & Mridangists

I couldn't come up with a good title for this post but I'll let this be till I can think up of anything else.

Recently, I went back to listening to MMI (Madurai Mani Iyer) quite a bit and observed a few things. His rendition of swaras varies according to the style of the mridangist. The three mridangists whom I observed were Palghat Mani Iyer, Palani Subramania Pillai and Vellore Ramabhadran. With PMI, the kalapramanan seemed to be a little rushed. I had a strange feeling that both the vocalist and the mridangist were trying to adjust to each other. This could be due to the fact that PMI doesn't play sarvalaghu and tries to play the swaras. Sometimes he gets it right, sometimes he doesn't even try to guess and sometimes MMI has to adjust to PMI's anticipation. With Palani, MMI seems to be at total ease, especially because Palani doesn't hesitate to play sarvalaghu where required. His neravals too are comparatively better with Palani. Alongside VR, his gait is at its absolute best and he seems to go on a never ending spree of swaras. It helps that VR doesn't try anything other than sarvalaghu. For someone like MMI, it just suits him fine and he seems to sing as if uninterrupted.

I tried extending this observation to MDR and I noticed something similar. It seemed as if MDR was changing his style for VR. i.e. rendering sarvalaghu swaras and with him, it seemed to get a little boring. Someone like UKS, Raghu or even PMI is better suited for MDR especially since they have a lot of time to anticipate. I was under the impression that mridangists (I should be saying mridangam vidwan. UKS admonishes that a mridangist isn't like a dentist or a podiatrist) were the ones who had to change their style to suit the vocalist. Well, I could be imagining things too for all you care. I'll try to post a few clips to illustrate my observations.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pedagogical techniques in Carnatic Music

Sometime around the end of last year, I decided to learn Carnatic Music. I was OK with the first few classes but things began to go out of hand from then. I was in the same class as one other person who was also a beginner. Having listened to a lot of music, my learning progressed very rapidly and at a pace the other person could not keep up with. As a result, I found myself getting bored while my teacher was trying to correct the other person. Since I had to go to India in February, I decided to abandon the idea and discontinued the classes.
On introspection, I found that there was a more fundamental problem that was causing me to get bored. My primary motivation in wanting to learn was because of the fact that I love singing a lot of songs, tanams, raga alapanas, etc. (I'm not as bad as I make out myself to be, in other posts). I can sing quite a few songs completely with sangathis, along with the artist and some by myself. Given a cue, I can sketch some ragas decently. Tanams are a pet favorite and I use them to learn different patterns in a raga.

I found it boring to sing the varisais since I had nothing to compare them to or nothing else to relate them to. If, instead, I had been taught, say Ninnu kori varnam in Mohanam, I'd have probably perfected it by now. How? Because I had at least 20 versions of Ninnu kori to listen to and learn from, apart from the fact that I loved singing it. Also, I could not extract the musical content from the varisais. I think that the varisais are a great way for a kid to learn Carnatic Music but I'm wondering if it'd work for someone like me. I'm at a stage where I, probably, cannot blindly do something because it's been done that way for centuries.

Children, when they begin to talk, learn to say words that come to them easily. By the age of 2, they are able to converse easily. They are usually taught the alphabet at the age of 3 so that they can relate them to the words they know. e.g. M,U,M,M,Y is mummy which they already know. If this order were to be reversed, my guess is that children would find it difficult to learn to talk. I should probably read more on this though.

I'm trying to apply the same logic to teaching Carnatic Music. Why do we start with sarali varisais? Why not a krithi? Why not teach the basics through the krithi or krithis? Could this be a reason why a lot of kids completely abandon CM once they enter their teenage or become adults? Are there any teachers who teach this way? How have they fared in this attempt?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Want music? Contribute to charity

Since January last year, I have been active with a charity called India Literacy Project (ILP), here in California. The organization aims to contribute to the cause of literacy in India and promote awareness about the importance of education among the rural people. I've researched and analyzed the credibility of the organization before volunteering for them. I had a chance to speak to one of the representatives in India during my trip there and it was very pleasing to know that my dollars are being spent usefully. I'm planning to visit one of their projects next year and will come back with more information.

The California chapter of ILP predominantly raises funds and promotes awareness about ILP itself among the Indian diaspora here. Well, not many would willingly contribute if we just showed up and asked for money. So, to show our commitment to this cause, we take part in an annual 199-mile Relay from NAPA Valley to Santa Cruz ( We are a team of 12 runners who start at 7.AM on Saturday morning and finish around 4.PM on Sunday evening. We live in a van for the two days and run non-stop from start to finish. This year I have decided to run the second most toughest legs of the Relay adding up to a total of 20.1 miles.

Have I given you enough reason to contribute? I suppose not. As they say, there is no true altruism. I'll make you an offer. If you contribute a minimum of $25, I'll send you a DVD full of music of artists of your choice. (Hint 1: I have a lot of music. Hint 2: My MDR collection itself is more than 12 GB.). For every $10 above $25, I'll add a DVD. You don't have to pay me anything directly. I'll post the instructions for contributing below. The entire amount is tax deductible. I'm paying for the postage and DVD out of my own pocket plus the time spent in burning the DVDs and posting them. Obviously I cannot charge for the music since it's not mine. You'll receive the DVD(s) before the 1st of June, 2007.

NOTE: No contemporary musicians and no commercial recordings.


1. Go to http://www.ilpnet. org/donatenow. html
2. Click on "Donate Now" button
3. Enter Amount to Donate
4. Under "Designation (Optional)" Form Field, Type "ILP Relay Team"
5. Under "Dedication (Optional)" Form Field, Enter Name of the Runner i.e. Sripathi Guruprasannaraj
6. Enter email address and login
7. Once logged in, provide required credit card information to complete the donation
IMPORTANT: Please Note that Donors donating online will not get a paper receipt from ILP. A printer friendly receipt will be emailed to the Donor which they can print and save for tax deduction purposes.

Once you are done, send me your name, address, phone number and preferences by email. My email address is available in the Contact page. I shall send you the DVD(s) at the earliest.

I'm looking forward to your contribution.

"All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth." - Aristotle

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Art of Education

"Good musicians impress. Great musicians educate."


I'm not sure if someone has quoted this before. But this is what came to my mind as I was hearing TRS sing Suddha Dhanyasi for the 30th time this week. Prior to hearing this rendition, Suddha Dhanyasi (SD for short) wasn't exactly a favorite raga. I had dismissed it off as a light raga with not much scope for elaboration. I loved Narayana ninna naamadha smarane and knew that the song Punjai undu nanjai undu in the movie 'Unnal Mudiyum Thambi' was in SD. But it was not exactly a raga that turned my head or made me sit up and listen.


Subramanyena is also a favorite in the raga and MMI does a phenomenal job with kalpanaswaras for this krithi. But what I heard from TRS was simply out of this world. It was as if he thought the raga hadn't done been justice and decided to do it that day. The sangathis at Prabrava maadi Pujita Padena are just a precursor. The first brilliant moment comes at 'Bhogamoksha Pradaanena Nityena'. Just listen to the way he sings 'Bhogamoksha'. I can't describe my emotions when I listen to that phrase in this rendition. It's a mixture of love, devotion, enlightenment - all at the same time.


As he gracefully lands at Venkateshwara Nama Rupena, the time has arrived to start his agenda for the day. What follows is a lesson in Suddha Dhanyasi, an exhibition of the art of swara singing, the importance of aesthetics in Carnatic Music, all delivered in a beautiful package. I'll say no more lest it becomes redudant. Sit back and enjoy!!




Sunday, April 8, 2007

Does beauty depend on context?

This has to be one of the best articles I have read in a while. Read the article fully. The article makes you stop and think in a number of places. This is something that would never happen in India but that's an entirely different ball game altogether.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Am I hearing Sindhu Bhairavi?

I thought I heard some Sindhu Bhairavi in this Dhenuka swara prasthara by TRS. Can someone confirm it or is something wrong with my ears?


Damn. Wordpress conveniently removes these embedded audio. You'll have to download it. :-(

Updated: Ok, I think I should have posted only the snippet that sounded like Sindhu Bhairavi.


MMI's Sindhu Bhairavi ragamalika swaras: [audio:]

TNK's response: [audio:]

Listen to the new snippet and then listen to TNK's response. The phrases that TRS sings - M D P M G, M P M D P M G, D P M G, D P M G R G. I was intrigued mainly by the way he starts off - S R G M P D P and TNK starts off almost the same way. I'm not saying that TRS is singing Sindhu Bhairavi but there definitely seems to be a flavor attached to it.

Update: I see a lot of people visiting this page. It'd also help if you could give your opinion. :-)

Friday, March 16, 2007


Got an opportunity to visit Thiruvayyaru and pay homage to the Bard with my family during my India trip. I have posted some pictures. I'll comment on the experience as soon as I find some time.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Song requests

I had five days left in my vacation yesterday and a thousand things to do. Still, I decided to attend Sanjay's concert at Madipakkam. Now, Madipakkam is not exactly at the heart of the city. It's located in an obscure part of Chennai and getting there is an adventure in itself. To add to the adventure, the Papanasam Sivan Karnataka Sangeetha Sabha that organized the concert decided not to publish the address and phone number of the Sabha. But we (my dad, mom, bro and I) are a determined bunch and decided that we wanted to hear Sanjay come hell or high water. After much asking around and travelling around in circles, we finally made it to the Sabha and that too quite early. I wanted to listen to a Narayanagowla or a Saranga very badly but decided not to request it since it might take away the surprise factor in a concert. The concert was very good starting with the Reethigowla Ata tala varnam, Sankari Neeve, a surprise Narayani, an awesome Thodi and a sparkling Mohanam. After a post-thani piece, I wanted to listen to a thiruppugazh (I guess) 'Malaasai Kopam' that he usually sings just before the mangalam. I sent in a request 'chit' (cheetu kudukardhu in Tamil). I thought he nodded his head acknowledging that he would honor it. After a brilliant viruttham, he sang another krithi and finished the concert.

I'm not sure if I should be disappointed or not. I'd love to know if he had a good reason for not singing that song. I'd be very disappointed if it was just good old arrogance!!

Update: Maybe I just over-reacted to the whole issue. I'll give him the benefit of doubt on this one. Anyway, he is not obligated to honor my request just because I paid for the concert. There's always a next time I suppose!!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Going home for vacation!!

Finally, the week has arrived!! I'm not mentioning the date here as my Dad and brother do not know the date yet. But I'll just say that I'm going to be in India next week.

It's been 3 long years away from family, friends and country. It's been so long that I've forgotten what being with family is like. I've a long list of things to do but being with my family takes priority. I foresee a hectic trip with quite a bit of travel and food and not a lot of sleep.

India, here I come!!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sore knees and personal bests

Woke up with a bad back and a sore knee today. I was a little worried about my knee and wanted to take the day off considering that I had been working out continously for more than a week. Coming back from work a bit early, I started itching for a run. Have been reading George Sheehan's 'Running to Win' for sometime now and that added to the motivation. Decided to go for an easy 5-mile run on my usual route.

Well, when I hit the road, I was just flying. The first mile was a phenomenal 8:11. Phenomenal according to my standards. I've never run that fast before. A late evening snack of an orange, some grapes and some dried fruits + nuts + a litre of water is not exactly the ideal state to be in when you want to run fast. Nevertheless, buoyed by my first mile timing, I decided to see how long it was going to last. At the 2 mile mark, I had taken around 16 minutes and decided that I'd be happy if I could get to the turnaround point (which is exactly 2.5 miles) in 22 minutes. Shoreline Road, beyond the Amphitheatre Parkway, is pitch dark on one side and brightly lit on the other. I had to be careful about my step and that slowed me down a tad. I still managed to make it to the turnaround point in 20:07 and boy was I glad!!

I took a gulp of water and a breather (ok, cheated a bit there) and decided to take it easy on the return trip. Apparently someone forgot to inform my legs of that decision and they started from where they left off. I was still bounding at a 8:10 minute pace even though I was in a bit of pain. The fact that I was stopped at 3 traffic lights may have helped a bit I suppose. I managed to keep that pace and was on an even 32 minutes after 4 miles. I decided to go for a 8 minute mile again. I started the last mile a little harder than the others but it did not last long.  I was not ready to give up and had to continously motivate myself to keep up the pace. I sprinted the last few yards and stopped 0.13 miles short of my house finishing 4.87 miles on 39:07 which translates to 8:02 minutes per mile. I have dreamt of such speeds. I never believed I was capable of that speed. And to think I managed that on a day when I had a sore knee and a full stomach makes it all the more valuable.  How we underestimate ourselves!!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Running alone?

Ever since I started running last year, I've been asked a lot of questions about it by my friends. One of the prominent questions being 'Do you run alone?' Heck, no!! I run with a lot of people but not more than one at the same time. All of them are peculiar in the sense that they all insist on singing rather than talking. Yep, my best running buddies are MDR, MMI, SSI, KVN et al.

M.D.Ramanathan accompanies me on most of my runs. His vilamba kala singing suits my slow pace and I can run for hours without tiring when he sings. His elaborate renditions and his varnams are the best. Those runs to the tunes of Chakkani Raja, Nannu palimpa, O Rangasayee are some of my best runs.

Madurai Mani Iyer is who I choose when I want to go for a brisk run. The problem with him is that I find myself nodding in appreciation and running side to side sometimes. Semmangudi is very good for speed training with his superfast swaras. Sanjay is a great guy to run with. I usually listen to whole concerts of his and enjoy the variety he dishes out. KVN and S.Kalyanaraman are very good for the hills though I haven't understood why. Maybe it's because I'm more consciously listening to them and they keep me quite busy. I sometimes take Alathur Brothers, GNB, Ariyakudi along too but they don't make such great running buddies or probably they run at a different pace than me.

I'm open to recommendations for other running buddies though!! :-)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Song sequences…

I went to the theater after a long time to watch a movie today. The movie was Guru, directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Abhishek Bachchan. The movie itself was very great but I've a terrible problem with songs in a movie. Usually, when I watch desi movies at home, which itself is a rare occasion, I tend to skip all the songs immaterial of whether the song is good or bad. I miss having that option at the cinema and start fidgeting as soon as some stupid song starts. There should be Yes/No buttons on each seat. As soon as a song starts, the song vote button gets activated. Each person gets to vote on whether the song should continue or not within the first 10 seconds. Based on the majority, the operator decides whether to skip the song or let it continue. It might not solve my problem and maybe I'd still have to put up with the songs but at least I'd have the satisfaction of knowing that there are other people who are interested in watching the song. At the very least, it'd filter out bad songs and songs that are out of place. Hmm, no wonder my friends don't want me in a movie theater.


I'm hoping to start writing about ragas in terms of moods they create, different krithis, renditions, etc from a lay listener's perspective. I hope this will help other rasikas to pick up new krithis they might not have heard, new renditions that they might like or simply provide a start for people who are looking for something new.

I'll start out with my favorite raga - Kambhoji (or Kambodhi/Kambhodhi/Kamboji). Kambhoji, as described by experts or the knowledgeable, is a majestic raga. It's also a raga that supposedly induces courage. It's one of the ghana ragas and rightly so. More on the technical aspects here.

I'm not sure how my fascination with Kambhoji started. It was probably due to the first album I listened to with interest. That album by Madurai Mani Iyer had a 14 minute Maa Janaki with beautiful sarvalaghu swaras. Here is the link to the album - The sarvalaghu swaras are pure bliss and to this day it gives me goosebumps whenever I listen to it. Of course, Madurai Mani Iyer was famous for his Kambhoji. His trademark was to slowly build up the swaras ending on the pallavi or the neraval line and build up a crescendo starting with Ga Ma Gaa Ga Gaa Ga .... ending with Ga Ma Pa Ma Ga, Ri Ga Saa Ri Ga Ga (tara sthayi or 3rd octave) to spontaneous applause from the audience. Then he would continue the swaras ending on the Ga each time before finishing off with a final round of swaras. Kaanakankodi vendum, a Papanasam Sivan rendition, is a grand krithi in this raga which gained prominence due to Madurai Mani Iyer and his rendition of it. He does a neraval at maaNikkam vairam mudal navaratnaabaraNamum'. It must have been a really wonderful experience for those who had the opportunity to listen to MMI sing this at Kapaliswarar temple in Mylapore since the krithi was sung in praise of the deity at that temple.

  • 1939 Gramophone recording (Scroll down and click on the link)

  • MMI-LGJ-PMI-1956 - [audio:]

Here is a small clip of the aforementioned Maa Janaki by MMI - [audio:]
Lalgudi faithfully reproduces what MMI sings and Vellore Ramabhadran is absolutely non-intrusive allowing MMI to explore the depths of the raga. Observe your head swaying to the lilting patterns he creates.

Thiruvadi charanam by Gopalakrishna Bharathi was another MMI favorite. Again, his neraval at aDuttu vanda ennai taLLalAgAdu hara-harAvenru shonnAlum, was known to be very moving and he sings it with emotion. The meaning goes something like 'you can't ignore me when I have come for your refuge. Isn't it enough to say hara hara'. Shiva is referred to as 'hara' or 'haran'. I have a few renditions where you can really feel the desperation in his voice probably because he himself was struggling with leprosy then. Listen to his rendition of the krithi with Mayuram Govindaraja Pillai on the violin, Ramanathapuram C.S.Murugabhoopathy on the mridangam and Alangudi Ramachandran on the ghatam.

Listen to Thiruvadi charanam here - [audio:]

Download here.

Dikshithar's masterpiece in this raga, Sri Subramanyaya Namasthe was another krithi that was rendered differently by different schools, each one a classic in its own way. All the past masters have sung this krithi majestically and MMI was no different. His neraval at the standard line 'Vaasavadi sakala deva, vanditaya varenyaya' lacks the punch that the aforementioned neravals pack but is by no means flawed or boring. His renditions of this krithi with Palghat Mani Iyer or Palani Subramania Pillai are the best in my opinion.

Listen to a recording of Subramanyaya Namasthe here - [audio:]

Download here.

Finally, his RTP in Kamboji, especially the commercially available rendition, is a testament to the beauty of the raga and shines at his hands. His tanam in that particular RTP clearly reflects his mastery of this raga. Lalgudi's accompaniment is simply out of this world. The pallavi line that he takes up is 'Parimala Rangapathe Maam pahi'. The ragamalika swaras in Sahana and Kaanada are mindb(l)oggling. If you can get your hands on this pallavi, please do so by all means. I'll upload a clip of this soon.

Listen to the Thanam here. Delightful is the word I'd like to apply to it - [audio: ]

Download here.

Well, MMI himself has taken up most of the space today. I'll continue writing about other krithis and renditions by other masters in my next post. I'll be updating this post to include clips of the songs I mentioned. Please check back in a few days time.