Friday, July 03, 2015

Day 61: Jagadhodharana.......

Music can always change the vibrations around us. Each of us have our own favorite genre of music. I love all forms of music, but if I were to pick my first favorite, it is classical music, hands down. I love Western classical and Carnatic classical. Western classical from the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Chopin, Brahms and many more. Carnatic classical is the genre from the south of India and the composers like Purandaradasa, Muthuswami Dikshithar, Tyagaraja, Shyama Shastry, Mysore Vasudeva acharya, Swati Thirunal, Annamacharya and many others.

This does not mean I do not enjoy other forms of music. I do. However, if I were to listen to either of the above genres of music, I am in a trance state. I was always exposed to Carnatic music. When I listened to the songs of MS Amma, Maharajapsuram Santhanam, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, K.J.Yesudas, Bombay Sisters, D.K.Pattammal and many other instrumentalists like Lalgudi Jayaraman, Kunnakudi, Palghat Mani Iyer, A.Kanyakumari and so on, I was always wondering when and if I can ever sing like them.

Picture Courtesy-Google Images
Jagadhodharana, composed by Purandaradasa, the Pitamaha (the father) of Carnatic music, is one of my favorite compositions. Purandaradasa's compositions were mostly set in Kannada as he belonged to Karnataka. He mostly wrote about Lord Krishna. This particular song is on Krishna's greatness and how His mother, Yashoda played with Him without knowing the 'true' self of Krishna. The raga is set in Kapi and in Adi talam. Even those of you who have not heard Carnatic music, you  will love this if you hear it once. When I was a kid, I did not understand Kannada (not that I do now!) and all I could make out was it was Purandaradasa's song and it was about little Krishna. Purandaradas (1484-1564) was born into a wealthy family in Karnataka. After about 30 years of age, he gave up all his aspirations for materialistic world and wealth and sought the feet of Krishna. He is said to have composed over 4.5 lakh (0.45 million) songs. He was a great soul and his songs questioned the banes of the society. He set the current system of Carnatic music and hence is called the Pitamaha of Carnatic music. Most of his compositions were in Kannada and a few in Sanskrit.

However, now we only have a very few of his compositions left. There were a few that have the original raga set by Purandaradasa. However, many compositions are either lost or if available do not have the original tunes. R.K. Srikantan, yet another musical genius from Karnataka had popularized Dasa songs. He had also set tunes for various of Dasa's beautiful compositions. Read here to see about what R.K.S feels about Dasa's compositions. 

Talking about Jagadhodharana, this original song was set in Kapi by Purandaradasa, which at that time was called Karnataka Kapi. However, as many of his songs were lost, during the Mysore king's reign, the 'astana vidhwan' or the court musician revived this song in the music halls of Mysore Maharaja. The court musician belonged to the family of Rudrapatinam Krishna Shastri (I am not sure if it was someone from the family or Krishnashastri himself). The whole Rudrapatinam family were blessed musicians. R.K.Srikantan, thus grew up learning from his father and other gurus. He actually belongs to the musical tutelege of Saint Tyagaraja (as he learned from the 4th or 5th generation shishya of Tyagaraja). This specific song that we hear today was learnt by the Rudrapatinam family (includes, R.K.Srikantan his brothers and cousins) who then passed it on to the musicians like MS Amma, M.L.V, and others.

MS Amma has been credited with popularizing this song as she sang it in the United Nations program. The original style and the song was learned by R.K.Srikantan and probably a few other shisya's of Veena Sheshanna and Rudrapatinam family. R.K.S actually belongs to the Tyagaraja's lineage of music. Even though, there are many versions and styles of this song, a couple of them linger in your mind forever.

I know this connection of R.K.Srikantan and this specific song because of my 'A'. He was the student of R.K.Srikantan till 2014, when R.K.S breathed his last. I was lucky to have sought his blessings a couple of times before he passed away. It is so interesting, how this song has transitioned over time and is still has not lost its charm. It is the beauty of the song, the composition, and of course, little Krishna. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Day 60: Sir Nicholas Winton, a selfless and simple soul!

Picture Courtesy: Google Images
I wanted to write this yesterday. Then, I thought, let this be my 60th day post. So, here it is about the wonderful Sir Nicholas Winton, who breathed His last on 1st of July. If you do not know anything about him, please read this to know more. A couple of lines about Sir Nicholas: He was like the 'Scarlet Pimpernel' (not in every sense of power and wealth), but in the way in which he managed to single-handedly save over 600 children from the treacherous hands of Nazi. Yes, they were Jews. Nazis somehow felt, they did not deserve to live! So, they went on a mission to eliminate them, just like we kill pests at home. The world and its ways!

When there was this whole group of 'mentally challenged' folks trying to get rid of a whole group of people to just satisfy their demonic mind, there came one man, among the handful of such good folks, who was brave enough to help rescue these little children (then) from Prague. He had a cozy and wonderful life and needn't have gotten involved in any of this. However, the humanitarian in him brought out a brilliant but simple plan to move as many people as possible from Nazi occupied Prague to Britain. He fought his way through in Britain too, and finally managed to save 669 Jewish children.

Picture Courtesy: The Guardian
This post is not to praise him for his doing. It is in his 'being'. He has shown what a 'true' hero should be like. He did not talk about this to anyone and was very quiet. If wanted, he could have garnered all the attention that he wanted much earlier. Instead, he just did the deed and left it at that. It was his wife who discovered his old scrapbook from the attic much later, almost 50 years later. How could he possibly have not taken pride and shared it with at least his family, talking about what a wonderful person he was, what a hero he was, how he saved so many people, how organized he was... well, the list can go on. Of course, he was the 'real hero' and he did not 'boast' about his own good deeds. That is why I used the capitalized version of 'his' initially. We, in India, believe that everyone has 'God' inside their own self. During our life, we struggle to find that God. Sir Nicholas Winton has been so gracious and kind to not let his own achievements engulf the 'true self' and make let his pride win over him. To stay quiet for over half a century and only to talk about it after a lot of insistence shows his strength of character. I am writing this post today as the 60th post to show my respect for that departed soul, who was magnanimous not by just saving people, but by being less arrogant (and proud) about himself and his achievements. The world needs more people like Sir Nicholas Winton, one who is able to see oneself in others. One key takeaway from his life : Never boast about one's own achievements, especially when it comes to saving lives ! Let the world talk for you, and if they don't it is still fine. What you do is not just you, there is always a bigger power acting, you call it any name- Universe, God, self, the other person, doesn't matter. All that matters is how we handle our 'self' when we achieve big things in life. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Day 59: What if? : A (not so) Wordless Wednesday post!

What if?
Picture Courtesy: Meena Arvind
Location: Circle Park (University)

What if the world was topsy-turvy? What if we could have a designer sky when we want? What if the trees were like tall people looking 'over' us? What if aliens thought of us to be like super intelligent beings? What if the photographs are changing colors every season (all by themselves)? What if....? 
Observe. Smile. Question. Paint. Imagine. Let it run wild that we never doubt the possibilities our world has to offer us. Ever.  So long!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day 58: F.R.I.E.N.D.S in pop culture

The show that needs no introduction. I'm sure most of us (I won't say all) who have watched television once a while or are aware of pop culture should have heard of this brilliant show. Just like today's Big Bang Theory or the Modern Family, F.R.I.E.N.D.S just changed how sitcoms were accepted by audiences. It became the window for American pop culture and somehow, every other part of the world appreciated and devoured this show, so much so, that there were (and probably are) many who believed that life in the US was very much like this show.

Picture Courtesy: Google Images
With a star cast that bonded so well- both in the series and outside the series, this show has 'tickled' (read touched) millions of mind all over the world. Marta Kauffman and David Crane created some terrific characters, all flawed yet interesting and charismatic. With a critical lens, one can actually find a lot of issues in the way the story and the cast was set, but in reality, that did not matter. Coffee shops, hair style, pick up lines, english language style, even referring to 'Monica clean' for a sparkling clean apartment (well, I tend to think of that term whenever, I try to clean my place:D) and so on have just become a part of the culture. In fact, a culture not just in the place where this was set, but all over the world. On a side note, there was another show that was equally hilarious and brilliantly made called 'Seinfeld'. I love that one too. I think that show portrayed NY in a realistic fashion. Initially, I did not appreciate going behind the 'idea' of a 'single idea' being a part of a mass culture and accepted by a larger audience. I used to feel that just because it is a part of the mass culture, I probably should stay away. So, even when I did watch it while in India, I 'tried' to keep away from it. My 'S' is a big fan and if at all I watched it in India, it was with and for him. But thanks to him, now I just relax every time I watch one show. After coming to the US, I watched it regularly as I had it on my machine and felt it the best way to 'spend' time outside work. By the way, I do also believe that having background laughter track, changes how people appreciate the joke. Sometimes, I think, even without that laughter track, probably with just the right music this show would have been as good as it is now. Or probably not. I am not sure! 

Even though I have watched it many times, I still cannot stop laughing when I watch an episode.
I try to watch one episode a day before I go to bed to just forget the stress and laugh out loud. I even have a feeling that I have these characters alive in my head as at times, I laugh just by myself when I think of what would be Joey's reaction to something or may be Monica's ! So, if you haven't watched this yet, I do recommend you to try it once! 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Day 57: Manjadikuru (The Little Red Seeds)

Do you guys know about Manjadikuru ? They are the little red seeds. For anyone who is from God's own country or is familiar with Kerala wouldn't have missed this. There is something special about holding them, playing with these seeds. Usually, most homes will have a small 'uruli' or a bowl filled with these beautiful and shiny red seeds. In most Krishna temples in Kerala, you will come across a small 'uruli' with Manjadikuru. People believe that it is lucky to take these seeds with both hands and just play with them when you visit a temple. Some even leave a couple of coins as they do this.  In Guruvayoor (my favorite place), you can see a big 'uruli' with manjadi. 

Manjaadikuru-Vishukani at home
Picture Courtesy: Meena Arvind
So, why and how did this become prevalent ? It goes back to a story from the past. Many years ago, there lived a poor lady in northern Kerala. She was an ardent devotee of Lord Guruvayoorappan (Krishna) and always wanted to visit Guruvayoor.  She could not afford to buy any offering (nivedyam) for the Lord. As she was wondering what to take with her, she saw these tiny little seeds her backyard. She started collecting them and even polished and made sure every seed was neat and safe. Once she collected enough to fill a small pouch, she decided to embark on her quest. Walking through the dense forests and crossing rivers and streams, she took many days to reach her destination. 

On the first day of every month (Malayalam month), the local town leader visited the temple. The town leader also offered an elephant to the temple every month. The day this devotee reached the temple was the first day of the month. The town leader's strong and hefty security guards and soldiers tried to keep commoners away to make way for the elephant and the town leader. As they saw this poor and tired looking devotee, they pushed her away. She lost her balance and fell down with the pouch, that now scattered the red seeds all around. At the same moment elephant also went berserk. The town leader had never seen anything like this ever. He was perplexed and started praying to Krishna to help calm the elephant and the situation. Like an answer to his prayer, there was a loud voice that reverberated the temple premises. The voice asked for those red seeds and for that sweet devotee. The town leader understood how much the Lord loved his true devotee and helped her collect the scattered seeds. He also arranged for this lady to walk to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Once, the lady went inside, the elephant became calm and people realized how strong and true her devotion was. From then on, these seeds are a part of Guruvayoor and the His love for His devotees. May be this simplicity is what makes these seeds special and beautiful.

Now going back to the seeds, they are very specific to Southeast China and India. Red Sandalwood (Adenanthera Pavonina, the botanical name), is the common name of this tree. These seeds are called Circassian seeds. The tree belongs to the legume family and these are the only ones that give the best and the most beautiful seeds on earth. These seeds have a similar weight and in the olden days were used by goldsmiths as a standard for weighing precious metals and diamonds. Nature is always fair and beautiful!

Usually, I refrain from writing posts on a specific religion, however, the beauty of 'manjadikuru' is such that, it denotes the power of true devotion. It is about that simplicity in thoughts and a sincere heart. Simple is always beautiful.

The movie
Note: Do watch 'Manjadikuru' Malayalam movie by Anjali Menon (Bangalore Days fame). It is a brilliant movie  (it was her debut movie).  The nostalgic connection and the simplicity of a child's mind is all tied together with the memories strewn around as 'manjadikuru'! One of my favorite on Malayalam movie list! 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Day 56: Z for Zen

Zen. One word, even the way it sounds makes us feel a lot lighter. Of course, not that it just automatically makes us better, but at least the way it sounds, it brings in some kind of peace. Zen evolved in China and later moved through other nations and is now is known as Japanese Zen. It is from Buddhism. In fact, it is from the root word of 'dhyan' in Sanskrit (the mother of all languages). It is what Indian philosophy also teaches us through the concept of yoga and meditation. By yoga, I do not mean the physical exercise, but more of the yogic state of mind that helps us experience 'bliss' in 'nothingness'. In today's changing and fast-paced world, everything around us is chaotic. We can only work in peace and realize our 'self' only when we find that rhythm in the chaos. To do that, we need to appreciate different tools to reach that state of 'dhyanam' which can help our thoughts and mind.

Being 'still' even amidst the chaos
Picture Courtesy: Meena Arvind (2014)
Just because I'm writing about this does not mean, I'm capable or have been successful in finding that everyday. I'm writing this post today, as a reminder to myself and all others out there about the little changes we need to make in our life to be peaceful. There are days when stress does not let me even write a decent post here, or plan my reading for work or even focus for long. It could be a physical or mental stress. We need to seek help from such techniques that will actually help us focus. Dhyan and yoga techniques surely will help reach our 'zen state'.

Wishing y'all a peaceful night and see you tomorrow with a new series of posts. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Day 55: Y for Yadukulakamboji

Carnatic music is the classical music form from the southern part of India. Some of the elements in this style of music are sruthi/sruti, talam, ragam and swaram.  This is pitch, rhythm, melody and  musical sound respectively.  Now, the title of my topic today is the name of one of the ragas- melody. A raga is a form of specific rules for the note, that has to be obeyed either to a 't' or within that specific frequency. The ragas in Carnatic music can be divided as janaka raga and janya raga.

Now, the raga, Yadukulakamboji is a janya raga. There are some wonderful songs in this ragam. Here is one of my favorite ones. This is a beautiful song rendered by the great Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. It is on my favorite Guruvayurappan. This was written by Malayalam poet, Irayimman Thampi on Lord Guruvayurappan. This was later popularized by Chembai in this raga. Chembai's shishya was (also one of my favorite singers) Das uncle (Dr.K.J.Yesudas).

By the way, the original song was set in Sri ragam. The composition also sounds wonderful in this ragam. 

This is another one by the great Muthuswami Dikshithar. This is rendered by the great Semmangudi. This is a kriti on Shani Bhagavan

This is yet another beautiful song Kaalai thukki nindru.  This is rendered by Ranjani-Gayatri sisters. 

So, happy night to y'all.