T M Krishna on the Disruption of Carnatic Music

Published: 26th September 2015 06:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th September 2015 06:09 AM   |  A+A-

Art is an integral part of Indian culture. For some, while art is priceless, others question the logic behind spending millions on a piece of art. Art Talk, the weekly show on NewsX is  dedicated to arts and profiles artists from various fields who have dominated their respective realms of art. Anchored by Jujhar Singh, the show reveals many anecdotes about the artist’s personal life and work.

This week, T M Krishna was featured on the show. The 39-year-old is one of the biggest names in Carnatic music. But how is he changing the rules and shaking the foundations of Carnatic music?

Fixed formats of tradion

TM.JPGCarnatic classical music concert - or Kutcheri - has had a fixed format since the 1930s. It begins with the varnam - a warm up piece. It is then followed by the kritis, which are compositions.

Then come the ragam, tanam, pallavi - where one elaborates the raga more exhaustively. Then the tukras, which are light pieces and it is all closed with a mangalam, an auspicious composition.

His version of Carnatic music

According to Krishna, the fixed format has deteriorated the aesthetic of the music, over the years. He feels every piece that he sings in a concert must only be about the music and that is demolished the moment he thinks about the structured format.

Whereas one usually begins a concert with varnam - a warm-up piece where one shows syntax and speed - Krishna sings it in the middle of the concert sometimes. But he argues against the supposed warming up act of the singer and feels that all the improvisational possibilities are lost with the old mindset of warming up.

After a varnam, one is supposed to sing kritis. These are songs. Sometimes they are treated as fillers. Krishna feels that whatever kriti one sings, it has to be treated with improvisation.

Next is the RTP or the ragam, tanam, pallavi. It is an amalgamation of all the possible kinds of improvisations there are in Carnatic music. One begins with a raga which is basically an alaap. After the ragam comes the tanam - a non-fixed rhythmic idea. There is a lot of play of  rhythm, but it is not fixed to a tala. After ragam and tanam is the pallavi. Pallavi means a single line composition. It is used to improvise, first melodically and then rhythmically. Together - ragam, tanam and pallavi - are the complete creations of improvisation.

A typical Carnatic presentation would mean you flow from the ragam to the tanam to the pallavi. And all three would usually be in one raga - so that one can see the entire format of the raga. Krishna looks at them in a slightly different manner. Along with the traditional format, he also presents ragams as separate pieces. He takes a raga, and sings a ragam - and the piece is over. No tanam, no pallavi.

The next piece after the ragam, tanam, pallavi is usually a tukra, a light piece. But Krishna doesn’t agree. To him, none of the tukras have a role within the aesthetic structure of Carnatic music. It’s about context. If there is an evening of bhajans, one can go there for a spiritual experience. Or not.

(Art Talk airs on Saturdays at 9.55 pm, Sundays at 1.25 pm and 10.25 pm; on NewsX. This weekend, contemporary artist Bharti Kher, will be on the show.)

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