Skip to content

Music makes Harmony

July 10, 2014

In the Kapaleeshwar temple in Mylapore, the ‘Vasanthorchav’ (celebration of Basant) used to be extra-special in those days. It is very muted in the present that our younger generation can never get what it meant for us some 30 years back. ‘Vasanth Utsav’ follows the ‘Panguni Utsav’ of the temple when the Lord marries his Missus. Vasant/Spring season blossoms around this time. In an age when satellite tv was not around as well as the computers and mobile phones, this was a great music season all of us looked forward to year after year. The tall massive carved wooden doors of the temple wouldn’t close for one whole month thrown open day and night, when nightlong ‘kutcheris’ (concerts) in open-air in the temple premises, on make-shift stages would draw the pious and the classical lovers in the vicinity of Mylapore outdoors. The vast multitudes of people, devout and otherwise, who thronged the temple precincts was like, we kids had to run to the temple in evenings to ‘book our places’  in advance for the ‘kutcheris’ that would start around 9 pm.

Today we are attending concerts in air-conditioned auditoriums. I am talking of an era when we the simple-minded souls stretched on cold and unforgiving, unpolished granite flooring centuries old,  awash with dew drops, all for the sake of Classical music. Like tidbits sometimes, filmy music flew in here and there though, like a welcome change.

Crowds would be spontaneous in their applause and even the artists obliging and in good spirit.

The sea-breeze would keep caressing us the whole night but most of us would keep awake, unmindful of the gnawing cold, remains from the Dec-Feb season – and the performers on stage would see to that we weren’t lulled to slumber at all. In ’70s and ’80s most houses in Mylapore were single-storeyed/tiled and there were hardly any tall structures between the temple and the beach that lay 1 km afar. (Santhome beach). Accompanied by elderly relatives/family friends, for years I was one of those lucky enough to have stayed back for some of those great live performances by the eminent in the field of classical music atleast upto around mid-night hour. That was the cut-off time for us girls – we would be walked back home surrounded by an army of aunties and uncles to go to sleep – no more staying-up in the open like boys. There is a lot to say about growing up in Mylapore, with schools, temples, library, beach, markets, the Sabhas where Tamil plays entertained us locals every weekend until the Classical music season caught on when musicians would take over – all within an arm’s reach. The right place to grow up: there were music schools both instrumental and vocal, there were sports coaching in schools like St. Bede’s and Santhome, there were language classes, etc etc. The spirit and soul of Mylapore lived in all these little little things. It is so until now in some ways. But the degeneration of the same Mylapore today in many other ways hurts my heart. Profound are the memories… We girls are what today because of what Mylapore gave us…

Who will believe me in the present if I say Mylapore used to be so beautiful when we were in our teens (except for those of us who have seen its better days)?

During the Vasanthotsav, there have been star performers like K J Yesudas, Ilayaraja and his brother Gangai Amaran, S P Balasubramaniam, music director M S Viswanathan just to name a few. The list of instrumentalists is a long one as well as that of other doyens from the Carnatic music world. The season started after a brief hiatus with the curtains down at the Margazhi music festival in the city, a month long affair in Dec-Jan. So in truth, for Mylaporeans, the classical music season would always end with a flourish with the coming to a close of the Vasanthotsav at Kapaleeshwar temple after beginning with a bang with the advent of December season. There weren’t many Sabhas in the city in those days. The nerve center of our culture lay in Mylapore.

For our grandfathers and grandmothers, there couldn’t have been a better way to spend their evenings. Remember those retired from our street walking to the temple with mats and pillows and a jug of water (in an age when there was no bottled water). What a beautiful, cherished memory is that. Rabid middle-class sentiments may be, but so innocent, so endearing. What an abandonment they trusted this world with – after all, the ladies bedecked in gold and diamonds were sitting ducks for anti-social elements, should anyone have dared. Reminds us also of what a safe haven dear old Madras was once upon a time. The city fares better compared to other metros, but crimes are happening and it is no more like the way we were once upon a time…

Now our oldies are hooked on to tv soaps – shedding tears by bucket-loads – how sad!

One of the regular performers in Kapali temple was also John Higgins, the American Carnatic vocalist (who is no more). I grew up listening to him live for many years among others and he used to be a top draw. It always impressed me how an angrezi (american) could get the carnatic diction so well.

Music traditions in the city continue to this day but has reached a different stage. Commercial sponsors have changed the entire scene in last 20 years. Who would now like to give a free live recital for temple crowds in 2014?

One of my nephews has cleared Hindustani 3 levels in vocal and plays the harmonium and keyboard without tutoring (self-guru). Many of my friends kids are instrumentalists – a welcome change from vocalists. I used to be a Veena player myself – one of the painful things that we don’t want to be reminded of. Hurts again to know that the no. of veena players in the city has dwindled to very dismal numbers as also the flutists, violinists etc. The computerized synchronization of music and instrumental music in particular killed brutally the traditional Indian instruments. It remains to be seen how many instrumentalists will be going on stage in GenNext. What a huge loss to India. We gain some, but every step we take forward we are also taking two steps backward in a way… Our greatest strength lies in our cultural heritage – to disown it or lose it is madness – like committing suicide.

Happy to share this link. There is a misgiving about christians when it comes to Indian classical music – be it Hindustani or Carnatic and also about classical dances like Bharatnatyam and even with ancient Hindu practices like the Yoga. Qualifying Yoga as Hindu does not go down well with some secular minded Indians for whom, Yoga is universal and should not be constrained to religious trappings.

Friends and I are livid when our carnatic compositions are mastered by some christian preachers in the city with the verses replaced with ‘converting’ messages/praises of Christ which is the greatest betrayal we can think of, worse than that inflicted by even the British and the Moghuls. ‘Yoga’ is now christian yoga and ‘Bharat Natyam’ is now the christian bharatnatyam adapted to preach ‘christianity’ with an aim to convert. Sickening.

So I am normally skeptical about any christian’s passion for Indian classical music/dance/art forms – even though our association with Christianity is strong and a very deep-rooted one.  The only exception was John Higgins for whom, it is said, it took years to win the trust and appreciation of the locals.

Once in my younger years when visiting Kapali temple (did every single day until I married), saw a foreigner (a caucasian) trying to enter the presiding deity (Lord Shiva who goes by the name Kapali)’s sanctum sanctorum. A couple of guards bodily pushed him out – I wince always at the printing that would greet you in all Hindu temples: ‘no admission to non-Hindus within the sanctum santorums.’ The man had taken out the shirt (which is actual custom still adhered to in many southern temples) and pleaded with the security how much he revered Shiva but his words fell on deaf ears. Our guys would let the preachers of alien faith hijack our Yoga, our Bharat Natyam, our Carnatic classical legacy, but could be blind enough not to spot how much reverence at the same time some non Hindus/non Indians nurture for this nation and our culture at the base of their hearts. Salute their respects, bow my head in shame for the manner we treat them.

In last 2 years when I visit Kapali temple occasionally, I am seeing this signboard missing which is good. Recently saw foreign tourists within the sanctums donning the’ kumkum’ and ‘vibhuthi’ – losing themselves to that one ‘darshan’ – overawed even more than us so-called spiritual Hindus by birth with their devotion and acceptance of various avatars of the One Supreme – which is so very enthralling, a hair-raising experience… Faith lies within our heart. You see it in these visitors from abroad who put this basic faith in their hearts to experience the ultimate ‘enlightenment.’

Heartening to see a religious preacher (a christian) performing at a Hindu temple especially in Kerala, because in Kerala, the rules are even more foreboding. No shirts allowed for men who have to don the dhotis to enter the temple premises and no woman allowed in western clothes. My friends keep warning me about visiting Kerala-type temples even in the city. Even if a woman’s hand mildly brushes the ‘namboothri’ they could initiate ‘the purification’ process the next moment. We are not clear, what is sacrilege and what is not. So whenever in Kerala temples, I am very edgy. But I love the aura of those ancient temples resonating with over a 1000 year old history – our heritage.

And if a christian preacher has breached boundaries and managed to perform in a Hindu temple in Kerala, accompanied by a muslim violinist, I have one thing to say to him: PLEASE DO NOT WORD OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC WITH PREACHING THEMES AND RECYCLE FOR CONVERSION at a later date. Breaks my heart to a 1000 pieces. India has been ravaged and butchered for centuries beyond recognition by alien invaders. Now let us not one of our own kind, a converted, kill our culture, inflicting into our soul mortal wounds. We can only take as much. We have already lost our meditation to christians and even our chorus bhajans. When will you leave us finally in peace, dear preachers, when the last Hindu perishes from Planet Earth?

Do not mean ill-will to the vocalist. Hearty wishes to him to go on and on… Not seen in December season in the city I guess? Why not?

A Christian priest rendering Carnatic Keethan in temple precincts with accompanist on violin being a muslim – sheer beauty of India.

Kya, ‘ache din aanewale hain?!’

PS: No more night ‘kutcheris’ in Kapali temple for security reasons instead there is a metal detector installed in the entrance for last 10 years.

Found this You Tube video. Listening to the priest for the first time. Not clear though.



Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: