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The best of Bhavan's Journal

English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture.

Vol: 27  No: 02


24 August 1980

Musical Moments Stories
Anecdotes About Indian Music

R. Srinivasan

True art is never made to order; it comes as a result of an irresistible inner urge. We hear a song of Tyagaraja and are enthralled; we see a majestic temple tower and gaze on it with wonder; we see some of our ancient sculptures and feel thrilled. Why? Behind all such works of art is a great spiritual urge. The artistes poured their devotion in the shape of such exquisite works of art; it was an act of self-effacing dedication.
Raga is the basis of Indian music; it is the soul of our musical system. Each raga has its own essential, unique, aesthetic quality, called bhava; each raga has an individuality of its own, it is as it were a unique entity. Each raga is associated with a devata (presiding deity), which is the enduring principle which gives life and unique structure to the raga.
In those days when vidwans were patronized by rulers and zamindars and had not to play to the tune of anyone who came in with ticket, the vidwans enjoyed great liberty; they sang as they liked without having to keep a programme which provided only twenty minutes for ragalapana, tana and Pallavi all together. Some of them used to sing a raga for hours, and for even days without any repetition; they were capable of such originality and creative expression. Some specialised in some ragas that they came to have the names of some ragas attached to their own names, such as Todi Sitaramiah, Begada Subramania Iyer, Kedaragowla Narasimha Iyengar and so on.
An interesting story has been told of Todi Sitaramiah who was a court musician at Tanjore. He was great favourite of the Raja; his rendering of the raga Todi was unrivalled, Sitaramiah was a spendthrift and in spite of all the favours showered on him by the Raja he was always in want. Once he was badly in need of money. He had pledged all his belongings for various debts incurred by him and so he could not again approach his creditors for money.
There was a moneylender at Tanjore who was a Shylock, and so people went to him only as the last resource. Sitaramiah had to go to him. The money-lender offered to give the loan on some suitable security. Sitaramiah pleaded that he had already pledged all his security. The shrewd money-lender had a brain-wave. He said, “Surely that cannot be. You must be having still something with you which you can pledge. Yes, I know you have something which you can offer as pledge. If you are prepared to pledge it, I shall let you have the loan at the usual rate of interest.”
Sitaramiah was surprised, but his need was so great that he said to the money-lender, “Well, as far as I am aware, I have nothing of my own to pledge. If you mention something which is really my own, I am prepared to leave it with you as security for the loan.”
The moneylenders eyes twinkled and he said, “Your Todi raga is still yours; you may pledge it and take the loan, and when you return the loan you can have it back.”

Sitaramiah was nonplussed, but he had no choice and so he pledged his Todi and got the loan. From that day he could not sing his favourite raga. Days passed and the Raja began to miss the Todi raga very much; he wondered why Sitaramiah did not sing Todi at all; it was a great surprise.
When he came to the court one day the Raja asked Sitaramiah to sing Todi for which he was hungering. Sitaramiah was in a fix; he was gulping in his throat and wringing his hands. On the Raja’s demanding an explanation the truth came out. The Raja appreciated the shrewdness of the money-lender, cleared the loan and redeemed his favourite Todi raga.
Certain ragas are considered appropriate to certain parts of the day; for example, Bhupalam in the early morning, Saveri and Dhamvasi in the early forenoon, Poorvakalyani in the evening, Kamboji and Nilambari at night are considered suitable.
There was a Zamorin at Calicut who was fond of music and had also a good knowledge of the art. He used to patronize deserving musicians and give them rich presents. Once a great Pallavi vidwan happened to go to Calicut; the Private Secretary to the Zamorin, himself a rasika, arranged for a concert by the vidwan at the palace.
The Zamorin had one weakness; he would ask the artiste to give beforehand the wording of the song he proposed to sing. When the vidwan had elaborated a raga and was about to begin the Pallavi the Zamorin made his usual demand.
The vidwan got wild: he shouted. “Which fool would care about the sahitya of a Pallavi?” and went away from the palace.
The Zamorin also got angry. The Private Secretary was a tactful man; he pacified the two and arranged for a recital the next day; he had managed to get the Zamorin to agree to waive his stipulation regarding the wording of the Pallavi. The vidwan started the Pallavi and elaborated it with such mastery and skill and charm that the Zamorin was highly pleased and made extra presents to the vidwan.
When, however, the artiste was about to leave the palace, the Zamorin asked him to give the wording of the Pallavi at least then. The vidwan faced the Zamorin and said, “I am prepared to give you the sahitya on condition that you will not get angry.”
The Zamorin agreed to the condition, and the vidwan gave him the sahitya, and immediately ran away. The Zamorin was taken aback and got into a rage, but he could not do anything as the vidwan had in the meantime run away. The sahitya was Samoodiri thavidu thinnu meaning that the Zamorin ate the chaff, the implication being that instead of enjoying the pure art of music, the Zamorin was after the words which especially in a Pallavi was as insignificant as the chaff as compared to the grain.

Bhavan's Journal

24 August 1980


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Language: English
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