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Art of rendering Harikatha

Kalyanapuram Aaraavamudhachariar — Pic. by K. Pichumani

"IF RECITING Bhagawan nama is insipid then it is up to us to make it sweet by introducing melody in it for an enjoyable flavour," said Kalyanapuram R. Aaraavamudhachariar in his lec-dem on `The Origin and Growth of Harikatha' at the Indian Fine Arts Society this past week. He was accompanied on the violin by Bombay Anand and on the mridangam by R. Ramachandran.

Decades ago when tales from mythology were narrated in temples, intermittent musical verses linked to the legend were introduced to make them pleasing to the ear. One notable fact is that Harikatha has now stepped out of the sphere of temples and is now a part of the Margazhi music season in sabhas too. Youngsters shying away from the bhakti-and-music form due to contemporary lifestyle is a matter of concern," said the exponent.

"People who come to listen to Harikatha have varied expectations," continued Aaraavamudhachariar. "It contains a variety of goodies and so it is like walking into a departmental store. Some want mythology, some revel in the anecdotes and comparisons drawn in the narration, some want short spells of music and still some want to soothe their weary nerves in its deep-rooted philosophy."

It was a form brought in to popularise the movement of bhakti. In Tamil Nadu it saw its origins in Thanjavur. In `Dasa Bodham' Chatrapathi Shivaji's guru, Samartha Rama Dasa (whose `Nandanar Harikatha' was used for Harikatha expositions) has specified Sangeetam and Sanskrit as the two eyes of Harikatha, said Aaraavamudhachariar.

In the 17th Century however, it was the Marathas who popularised Bhajana Sampradaya to propagate a movement of bhakti. Rulers Shaji-II and Serfoji-II brought in several forms of the well-known Maratha saint-composers such as Sakhi, Arya, Dindi and Abhang. Samples of Tukaram's Abhang describing Prahlada's devotion and the Ashwadati form from the Ramayana where the mridangist co-operates in creating the beats of a horse-ride were demonstrated for showcasing Harikatha's features.

Some of the stalwarts associated with Harikatha were Swati Tirunal (Kuchela Upakhyanam), Embar Vijayaraghavachariar, Sooramangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar (closely associated with Tyagaraja's festivals at Tiruvaiyaru) saint-composer Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar, Balakrishna Sastrigal, and as early as in 1954, Saraswathi Bai.

Specific ragas such as Kedaragowla, Behag and Sindhubhairavi were used according to the couplet chosen, but to bring in novelty within the periphery of tradition, Aaraavamudhachariar demonstrated the use of Ranjani for the descriptive nature of the chosen lines on God.

Comparing Harikatha with Upanyasa, he said, "While in an upanyasa the exponent sits on the floor and deals with a single subject in prose form, Harikatha is prose, poetry, melody and philosophy brought together with anecdotes and vaggeyakara's compositions in standing posture."


"Enchanting Bamboo Musical Instruments" by Dr. Anasuya Kulkarni was yet another interesting session at the Indian Fine Arts that threw light on a host of unknown bamboo musical instruments used in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and China. Dr. Anasuya of Bangalore has had vocal training under Mysore T. Chowdiah and has been an ambassador of cross-cultural musical exchanges in several countries abroad.

Dr. Anasuya Kulkarni of Bangalore creating music with bamboo instrument. — Pic. by N. Sridharan

Indian folklore has many stories of Lord Krishna as the shepherd treating village folk to enchanting music on his flute. But it is also said that this modest bamboo instrument had its origin in African countries when man noticed melodic sounds from the vast expanse of bamboo forests.

When the soothing wind wafted through the insect-bit holes of the bamboo, realisation dawned on humans to create a one-holed reed flute. As the size of each hole created different sounds, a multi-holed flute emerged.

Several instruments that belong to the generic family of bamboo or reed used for melody, rhythm or even for agricultural purposes were meticulously described by Anasuya along with tribal tunes and Carnatic music. For example, panpipes arranged in rows or bundled up create multi-tones and each is used to signify a special custom in African countries.

Anasuya spoke of flutes of myriad shapes - ones notched up with V or U at the top-end; those vertically held single to multiple play-holed flutes; the pencil-thin piston flute which actually produces a special sound when pushed with the attached piston and Kua Kumbha flutes used in Papua New Guinea for Pig Feast.

In Tripura, Lebang Gumani, a bamboo clapper is played on with other instruments to shoo away insects that attack crops. Hatong, the bamboo panpipe, is used by hunters in Indonesia, to attract stags. The Reed Box Rattle from Uganda is box-shaped and filled with dry seeds shaken vigorously for supporting rhythm.

The Indian laya patterns demonstrated on the fish-drum from Hawaii which has fish skin attached to bamboo tube, and Anasuya's "Vathapi Ganapathim" in Hamsadwani on the Indonesian Angklung, a diatonic instrument hung on a base and skilfully tapped with a slender bamboo stick for continuity in melodic vibrations, were the other highlights.


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