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The North-South Mellifluence

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Young exponents of Carnatic and Hindustani classical music are bringing the north and south a little closer with their collaborations

Among Chennai’s winter attractions is the Carnatic music season, with more than a thousand musical performances held across the city’s various halls. Though largely in the Carnatic format, there have been instances of concerts featuring a north-south blend mof music, with the likes of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Balmurali Krishna enchanting audiences with their jugalbandi performances. Long regarded as a meeting point for the accomplished, this form of presentation is now being attempted by young performers of repute, as was evident at Delhi’s International Arts Festival a few weeks ago.

It must be said that Hindustani and Carnatic classical music continue to be distinct as genres, and have their own devotees. At best, listeners are lured to such hybrid concerts by a sense of curiosity.

Artists themselves, though, are fiercely divided on the trend. Meeta Pandit, a doyen of the north Indian Gwalior gharana (school), says, “The aalap (opening) in the Carnatic style has heavy embellishments and is loaded with taan (syllabic patterning) formats. In northern music, the aalap is gradual and the taan patterning is around syllabic compilations. So in a duet with Carnatic music, the blending seems contrived as the speed of a Carnatic aalap elaboration clips Hindustani music of its core essence. The gradation system of a raga unfolding is impossible in such a situation. Therefore, to match my fellow artiste at the Delhi Arts Festival, without waiting for the flower to bloom, so to speak, I immediately plunged into the main part of the raga. And I felt that I was no longer the creator of the music.”

Theorists on the other hand, take a more indulgent stand, pointing out that the root of both forms is the same. “Only the decorative elements or the alankars differ,” maintains Dr Mallika Banerjee of Indira Gandhi National Open University’s Department of Visual and Performing Arts. “Performers of the two traditions, however, find it difficult to collaborate because of the pattern of presentation. The system of the standing note, or nyas swar, so essential to Hindustani classical music, is not a very pronounced one in the Carnatic style. Then, while the northern singer makes use of several forms of ornamentation, such as gamak and meend, and a slow to fast movement format, the Carnatic artiste depends on layakari (rhythmic speed) as the strongest weapon in his musical armour.”

But even Banerjee is not keen on the idea of a merger of the two forms into a singular singing style, incorporating tenets from both the north and south. “Both forms will lose their essence,” she feels. “The Hindustani singer revels in his creative approach, while the Carnatic singer is proud of his totally composed exposition. In the long run, it is creativity that will be lost, and the music will sound hollow. Such a manner of singing is good from an experimental angle, or for a variation in a concert series,” she suggests.

To others, like Dr TV Manigandam, professor at Delhi University’s department of music in, the idea of a merged form is a good possibility. “If the world is one at this moment, why should the Patiala gharana of the north not be appreciated in the south? Already, the great maestros of the north, such as Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, are known for their concerts in south Indian ragas like Hamsadhwani and Charukeshi. So the movement is already on. After all, it is only the khayal (performer’s interpretation of  a raga) and the slow, romantic thumri that have a distinct northern format. The bhajans (devotional songs) and lighter compositions are already similar to the Carnatic style. And in cities like Bangalore and Trivandrum, there are scores of students of the north Indian style, and concerts by Hindustani classical exponents have sizeable attendance.”

The jury is clearly out on this, but while the finer notes are discussed, enjoy the musical experiments.