South India's Carnatic music is based on compositions ofgreat saints and poets collected over many centuries. The compositions are religious and spiritual in their thoughts and movements and deeply soaked in the aesthetic idioms of the classical music structure. In India, Classical Music is believed and looked upon to elevate the soul rather than the senses and hence all the compositions are a kind of prayer to various Gods, to help redeem the composers from the sufferings caused by their negative karma or to protect them from sufferings caused by the mind of attachment towards objects of the senses. In essence this is a wish to be free from the bondage of cyclic existence.
Carnatic Music roots can be traced back as far as two thousand years. One of the earliest and most significant treatises is the Natya Sastra by Bharatha, a detailed essay on theatre, dance and music thought to have been written sometime between the second century B.C and the fifth century A.D. Purandaradasa (1484-1564), sometimes called the Father of Carnatic Music, composed many important songs alongside the standard lessons and exercises that are still memorized and practiced by music students today. Between 1750 and 1850 was a golden age for South Indian music when the forms and performance style that are prevalent today were set. The compositions of Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri from that period are performed in almost every Carnatic concert today.
In performance, a typical Carnatic raga is presented in a set form beginning with free improvisation in the 'alapana' section, followed by a composition (Kriti), and finally improvisation based on rhythmic ideas using the notes of the chosen raga.
Brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh are two of India's leading violinists, having developed a unique musical partnership that has blossomed since their earliest childhood. Trained by their father, Shri Rajagopalan, Ganesh and Kumaresh had played in their hundredth stage appearance before the younger brother was ten years old. Since then they have received numerous accolades and awards and developed a violin technique that is powerful, precise and displays an incredible virtuosity. Their style of playing is a true blend of tradition and creativity. As well as being an accomplished vocalist Ganesh has also featured in the celebrated Tabla Beat Project with Zakir Hussain and Bill Laswell.
The violin has taken to Carnatic music like no other western instrument. The playing technique has been so well Indianized that nearly all Carnatic vocal concerts today are conducted with the accompaniment of the violin which has replaced the ancient Veena. It was famously introduced into South India by Baluswamy Dikshitar who had been exposed to the European orchestra attached to the East India Company in the early nineteenth century. Since then the violin has seen many adaptations and innovations in the way that it is held, tuned and played. Because all Indian music is played sitting on the floor, the body of the violin is balanced against the chest with the neck of the violin pointed towards the foot. This position gives the violinist more freedom in the hand to slide the notes which is a significant feature of Indian music.
Raga is the pivotal concept of Carnatic music. It has been defined as 'that which colours the mind' in ancient Sanskrit texts. Each raga has a personality of its own and acts as a potent vehicle for the artist's creativity and improvisational skills. Tala is the rhythmic framework within which the raga compositions are played. There can be several percussion instruments used for this purpose, the most popular being the double sided, barrel shaped Mridangam. The Ghatam is a clay pot, remarkable for it simplicity, that has been used to ornament the rhythm of South Indian music for many centuries. It is played with the two hands, wrists, ten fingers and nails. The mouth of the pot is sometimes pressed against the stomach of the performer to modulate the bass tone.
1. Sadamadindaladu in Raga Gambeeravani.
In this song the great saint Thyagaraja extols Lord Shiva
'O Lord. Am I not always contemplating only on you in my mind? O source of happiness, Spouse of Parvathi, O Embodiment of Bliss, O Lord who is full of happiness, O Digambara you are the destroyer of the demon Antaka. O cosmic dancer come and protect me'
2. Andavane - Shanmugapriya Raga
In this song, the prolific Tamil composer Shri Papanasam Sivan cries to Lord Shiva, at the height of his humility by seeing himself as the slave of the slave of the lord.
'Bless me o lord since I am worth less without you...I will exalt and praise the flower offered at the feet of the cosmic dancer".
The composer sees himself has a small, fragile boat caught in the giant whirlpool of life, whom the great lord, who is an incomparable ocean of mercy will save. In such a deity I repose infinite faith. Raga Shanmugapriya has the effect of sharpening the intellect of the singer as well that of the listener. It instills courage in one's mind and replenishes the energy in the body. This is not surprising Shanmugapriya being the beloved raga of Shanmuga, who was born out of the blazing wisdom eye of Shiva.
3. Ragam Tanam Pallavi is a South Indian form which is traditionally played at the end of a concert. Here the duo have performed one of Ganesh's own compositions set to Raga Vasantha, an auspicious raga which is usually sung in the evening. This is one of the oldest ragas, which is said to have been played for more than one thousand years.
Ragam is a melodic improvisation of musical phrases in a given scale. Tanam is the melo-rhythmic improvisation without the support of the percussion instruments. Pallavi is a one-line composition, which is a recurring motif on which various melodic patterns of the same line are developed. The beauty of the raga is explored in depth in this Ragam Tanam Pallavi. Towards the end of the piece (track 6) the percussionists Patri Satish Kumar and Tripoonithura Radhakrishnan are given the chance to demonstrate their great virtuosity through an exciting rhythmic exchange on Mridangam and Ghatam respectively.