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Friday, March 04, 2016

Carnatic Music - PHRASEOLOGY

Using a musical tradition I salivate over, as a punch bag to satiate my satire, does not behoove of my unabashed adulation of it and its masterly exponents.  Yet, I am unable to resist my urge to blog on the blatant misuse of Sanskrit-ized terminology to describe certain prima facie assumptions about the characteristics of a performer.  Two such words flash immediately across the minds of all well-meaning rasikas - MANODHARMA of a vocalist and SARVALAGHU of a mridangist.

These two are indeed as elusive as spotting a spotted Indian Deer (Chital) in the lush Gir sanctuary, not withstanding the Lions that somehow spot them for their meal time. Even the word "hackneyed" becomes a cliche ruminating on these two exotic phrases. If there is anyone who understands completely what these two phrases actually mean (not merely signify) and convince me about it as well, I will feel very honored to have them vent their manodharma in all its sarvalaghu glory on this blog, for an entire year.

I can begin to sense your reader frustration at this point.  Without further ado, let me try to think through the phrase, Manodharma.  I have the following possibilities for it:
  • We are descendants of Manu, hence we follow Manu Dharma which is Manodharma
  • It is a wrongly pronounced word from Hindi, not Sanskrit, which splits as Maano Dharma (accept the Path of Virtue)
  • It is a wrongly pronounced word from Hinglish or Engdi, split as Mono Dharma or the "only path of virtue" which could ignite an accidental fratricidal war of all world religions
  • It is a misnomer for Manokalpitha or Manorachitha or Manoranjitha, any of these aptly summing up what the vocalist actually does, pleasurable improvisations to the music
If you picked the last one, I am on your side.  So much for my mano-log(ue). 

Now let's attempt to see what can be helped about our understanding of Sarvalaghu.  I will indeed be very glad to have this phrase change to "Sarva Raghu", which means everywhere you hear mridangam played, reminisce the maestro "Raghu Sir".  This way atleast, it would make some sense. The generic understanding about Sarvalaghu is that it is somewhat opposed to kaNakku playing. I am not sure about the reason behind the piNakku for kaNakku, but so long as the playing maNakkuthu, anyone would ask "unakku yenna kavalai?"  Gees, I am metamorphosing into another Vijaya TR. For the lay however, Sarvalaghu is that non-intrusive, unobtrusive, inclusive and progressive melodious mridangam accompaniment of a vocalist's Manodharma, per the definition of most mridangists.  The "enlightening" article that delineates Sarvalaghu versus kaNakku is here.

Summarizing, which mridangist will you term as playing Sarvalaghu versus kaNakku oriented?  Or is it at all a myth to think one style opposed to, or over another?  Is not a sunaadha sangeetha vaadhyam like mridangam to be played in either style as appropriate to the occasion, mood and "manodharma"?

It is indeed quite pathetic to see an unbroken lineage of misphrasing continuing to be glorified by ill-informed zealots.  Unless Carnatic musicologists consciously do a U-turn on such absurdities and focus on their strengths that have always been - precocious mastery over their chosen art and cautious abhorrence to quick publicity of their intellectual pomposity, credulity such as these will continue to haunt them instead of the jaunts their blissful rasikas can enjoy whenever a "real" musician ascends the kutcheri dais to sing.  Om Thath Sathguru Thyaagaraaja Swamine Namaha!