Straining nerves to get in sync with English

 Dr Pappu Venugopala RaoOr, do we need a language and a text for classical music that transcend the barriers of space and time to reach a larger audience?

The dialectics between these two processes have often been tortuous in the modern era, when printing made possible the objectification of the learned corpus of any tradition.

It was even more so in classical music, to impart it the immortality of the printed form and word without losing its purity.

In that time-line,  the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini (SSP), hailed as the ‘last great magnum opus in the field of Carnatic music’ published in 1904, is now being re-created in English under a unique project taken up by the Music Academy in Chennai. The SSP covers almost the entire body of work of the late Muttuswami Dikshitar, one of the Carnatic music trinities.

While musicologists treasure the only surviving copy of the original SSP written in Telugu by Subbarama Dikshitar’, the nephew of the great composer Muttuswami Dikshitar,
protecting this masterful treatise, representing in a way the ‘Dikshitar school’ in Carnatic music, became impossible as the original edition’s pages are perilously brittle to handle.

Outstanding project

“Spanning 1700 pages, the work was truly monumental, a wonder of its time and age,” says musicologist Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao, Secretary of the Music Academy. The SSP, an outstanding project in itself taken up at the turn of the last century with munificence from the erstwhile Maharaja of Ettayapuram in South Tamil Nadu, was written “with an intention to create a language for music and to protect the ‘laksyam’ (practice) and ‘lakshna (theory)’ of the Venkatamaki tradition (of Carnatic Music) from being lost.”
The SSP, for the first time, apart from the descriptions of the 72 ‘melakarta raagas’, also referred to other versions of the ‘raagas’, contemporary changes. And amazing biographies of several great composers have been magically weaved into the magnum opus of Carnatic music, Rao told Deccan Herald. It is one of those very rare books that “bridges traditional texts and new works of musicology,” notes Rao.

That Subbarama Dikshitar could single-handedly write 1700-page manuscript in Telugu was a miracle those days. He was so original to give “symbols to Gamakaas”, for people to be able to read and learn music from the book, says Rao. The author also dealt with the ‘Janya ragaas’ and has given the characteristic of each ‘raaga’, when it should be sung and so on.

Considering the lasting value of this treatise, the Music Academy had embarked on a Tamil version of Subbarama Dikshitar’s work in 1961. A whole band of great music scholars worked on it and it was released in five volumes, with the last one brought out in 1980.

Eminent team

Now, “with a larger and often international audience wanting to know more about Carnatic music, last year the Music Academy decided that “it is time that an English edition of the SSP is brought out,” explained Rao. Hence, this work was taken up earnestly under his stewardship with an eminent team including musicians and scholars working on this project.

“While being faithful to the original, what we have now taken up involves both translation and transliteration, preserving the fragrance of the past even while exuding the flavour of the present and future,” says Rao poetically. “Anybody who has to do anything with Carnatic music must have this book,” he swears on the foundational nature of this seminal work.

The editorial board “is an amalgamation of scholars in music and practicing musicians including top ranking young musicians,” says Rao. They range from veterans like Dr N Ramanathan, ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’ R Vedavalli, to young performers like T M Krishna, V Sriram and Vijay Siva.

This mega re-creation project in English is also in five volumes and Nobel laureate Prof Venkatraman Ramakrishnan released the first one here recently. Two more volumes will come out this year and the remaining two by the end of 2012.

“Great care has been taken to ensure that the notations in the work are completely error free. In fact, the musicians sang from the original notations while transcribing them and then sang the songs once again, reading from the English notations to ensure that the new edition of SSP is faithful to the original,” added Rao.

He also emphasised the nuances adopted in this great saga of passion, labour of love and redeeming an old heritage for a new future.

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