Nobody will believe this magniloquent volume is a work of a bureaucrat. Sri Rajagopalan has missed his profession, for such a philosopher cum scholar could not have been confined within the perimeters of a soulless government department. Here is a great soul bursting out of his shackles and like the true genius he is, finding himself at home in the oceanic vastness of carnatic music. 'The Eloquent Garland' like Draupadi's divine 'vastra' is vast and expanding and it is a great pilgrimage from the plains of Kanyakumari to the spiritual heights of the Himalayas. Only an Indian scholar can produce such a magnificent work. India has never taken kindly to the rude arts of war or the sordid arts of money making. From the days of the Vedas and Mohenjadaro, the strength of our culture has been the Fine Arts of architecture, sculpture, poetry, music and dancing and in his work, though confined mainly to music and musicians, we can have a glimpse of the spiritual spires of Tanjore, Srirangam, the Meenakshi Temple, the Nataraja of Chidambaram, and Krishna, playing the Flute, the beautiful poetry of Valmiki and of course, the sweet concord of Saint Thygaraja, Dikshitar, Sama Shastri and Swathi Thirunal and many more great composers and musicians. He has not merely produced the biographies of some of the sublime musicians the world has seen but presented a grand procession of the all-time greats in all their glory, never before seen by any generation except in hear-say words. Halfway through, we are hypnotized by Mali's magical Flute, falling later into the enchanting spell of Veena Danammal and the modern magician, E. Gayathri to be caressed out of our reverie by Ariyakudi KVN, Semmangudi, Chembai and so the list goes, all these in the space of one book. Anyone reading it will wonder like the school boy of Goldsmith - "the wonder grew, how so small a head could contain all he knew"! Sri Rajagopalan has got us all flabbergasted by the range of his knowledge of music, the depth of his scholarship, a perfect musicologist, historian, a biographer par excellence and so learned in all the fine arts for which India is justly proud. And don't forget, but remember till your last breath, he gave this to us when he should have been in bed receiving medical care, when he is in mortal pain but preferring to heap happiness on all of us - a sacrifice that takes him to divine heights marking out his immortal character.
It is my privilege that I'm able to touch these hallowed pages from a great genius who was nearly lost in a mundane profession but for the Muses holding him back in time. The Eloquent Garland of Music is a delightful companion. When you listen to some fine music, the pleasures are enhanced by knowing all about the musician and those behind the Veena, the Violin and the Mridangam. I call it immortal service in the true spirit of the Gita.
Eminent Prof. K.R. Srinivasa Ayyangar succinctly observed:
'Indian Culture over the last ten thousand years has tried to preserve an impressive continuity of its own, whether it be the bullock -cart, the Gayatri or the spirit of the Yajna. '
With due respect to the learned Professor, Carnatic [Indian] Music can be added to it, since it is but the continuation of the timeless Indian Music as it was prior to the advent of its twin sister, Hindustani Music. Composers, musicians - vocalists, instrumentalists including percussionists, musicologists as well as dancers and folk artistes appear, perform and depart in a never-ending chain. Votaries of arts have been fortunately increasing fast in numbers keeping pace with the popularity of arts and the increase in population. It is a familiar scene that recognition, honours, fortune and publicity crown the lives of just a few of them while many a musical genius is born and left to blush unseen and waste the fragrance of his art in the desert air of neglect, lack of opportunity and perhaps suffer contempt too. Destiny, Luck and Time, with a complexity of their unraveled pulls and pressures, whims and fancies, choose to take notice of but a few. Fortune and Recognition confer their benign smile selectively with spartan frugality on fewer still, many a time sans basis. Even if some happen to be recognised, how many of them are remembered after their heydays? Gems of men with noble and immortal contributions have faded into the realm of anonymity with the passage of time. Many an illustrious soul had spent the evening of their lives sans attention, in chill penury. Yehudi Menuhin most figuratively confessed this fact with unfeigned pathos:
'All artistes are some gigantic Tennysonian band of light brigadiers forever doing and dying without questioning their fate.'
Institutions and lovers of the Art have, therefore, a duty to record alike –
'the short and simple annals' of the less fortunate artistes; and
'the boast of heraldry and the pomp of power' of the fortunate few.
There have been excellent books from ancient days on musicology, the theory of music. There are biographies of a few celebrated composers and musicians. There are some publications with a collection of more than one or two biographies. Revered Subbarama Dikshitar in his comprehensive presentation titled ‘Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini '  did bring out brief facts of seventy-seven lives. Abraham Pandithar in his Karnamrta Sagaram  and later Prof. P. Sambamurthi have recorded brief facts likewise on select musicians, etc. Venerable Dr.U.Ve. Swaminatha Ayyar presumably thought of bringing out a collection on the lives of eminent musicians but his noble life was a remarkable, unsurpassed fight against clock and calendar. His weighty contribution, that was non-pareil, would seem to have attracted the notice of the Lord that he was withdrawn before he could take up this work. The "Who's Who of Musicians" brought out by Government of India has but a highly limited coverage, scope and content. Thusthere is no book of biographies in English giving details of past and present composers, musicians and musicologists, as well as hymnodists and dancers for inspiration, guidance, universal reference, research and circulation. Hymnodists were hitherto a neglected tribe even though they play a continuous noble part in the preservation of musical hymns of lucid excellence and fragrant beauty of conception and presentation legated by apostles and poets. They need be brought into the main stream of musicians. Dancers? Is not dance [bharatanatya] a virtuous amalgam, fusion and portrayal of sahitya, sangita, bhava, rasa, etc., all through graceful body movements and perfected gestures? In fact, Sage Bharata included two millennia back dance as part of the definition of Sangitam A comprehensive book of reference presenting all known details and features of the cavaliers of the art has thus been a long felt vital need and necessity.
While the felt need had been so, it was, indeed, remarkably intriguing that few had taken up such a work in the past or even in the present in spite of the growing popularity of music and proliferation of institutions propagating, popularizing and patronizing arts and artistes. Hence I took up towards the close of 1987 the arduous task of collecting and collating the biographies of all from books, newspapers, magazines and by contacting living artistes and descendants of past artistes in person or by post. I spent weeks and months in many of the reputed libraries and visited places like Tiruvarur, Anandatandavapuram, Marudanallur, Govindapuram, Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Tirupathi, Tirunelveli, etc. My work analogous to that of a pearl diver or the honeybee has gone on like that of dedicated ants prior to the onset of the monsoon with the singular passion to collect all the best, codify and place them before the musical population, teachers, researchers, etc.
Mine has not been the role of a concert critic. I have neither the ear to listen nor the inclination to gather demeaning details. 'Human frailties are always welcome to the prurient palate.' One sees numerous works catering to it gathering prominence of tsunamic dimensions. Focus herein is thus more on the man, the God's creation and on his robust creations and less on unmusical fancies of man. Parentage and training, family legacy, trials and tribulations, achievements and attainments, honours and titles, anecdotes and landmarks have all been brought in as fully as is possible with sincerity backed by the opinions and views of renowned authorities and scholars, wherever necessary, to ensure conceptual fidelity.
I may pardonably mention that this pioneering volume of vast reach and coverage enjoys the merit and distinction of being -
i. the first of its kind in English with as many as seven hundred biographies - big and small, past and present; (Someone had said that the trouble with history is that few live beyond a page or two. Here one may find lives of scores of artistes covering many pages in spite of known constraints.
ii. the first of its kind to bring within its scope the hymnodists (odhuvars) who have sustained the spiritual grace and atmosphere for centuries without break through the medium of music in far-flung temples as part of their daily duties;
iii. the first of its kind to take Carnatic Music comprehensively without geographical or linguistic barriers, restraints and limitations; and
iv. a specialized one giving informative anecdotes, interesting features, articles of high relevance and much more food for thoughts.
This volume came out first with a bang in 1990 at the most apposite time when Classical Carnatic music was set to conquer untouched soils in other continents where advance guards had established contacts, connections and outposts. Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism had done it admirably in prehistoric times, the traces and vestiges remain to this day inspite of the havoc and vandalism of times and fanaticism. Sanskrit and Tamil had done it likewise to the everlasting glory of all arts. Buddhism had done it spectacularly. Indian culture and the essentials of spiritual pursuits once covered the entire region gloriously from Afghanistan to the Far East and even beyond as languages, landmarks, traditions, etc. prove with unmistakable veracity. Gandhian philosophy has done it recently and attracted the notice of earnest intelligentsia all over the world. Now Classical Carnatic music is set to succeed in like endeavour. May it succeed!
South India, the chosen Cradle of Virtuous Arts!
Undeniably South India enjoys the unique distinction of having set its vibrant heart and noble soul on Arts and Culture. Is there any parallel in any part of the world to the fabulous arresting scenario of hundreds of temples in clusters or in singles, with skyscraper towers and vast corridors full of architectural excellence, eye-devouring sculptures and other cultural landmarks and sober activities seen in the entire stretch of Bharat, particularly south of the rivers Narmada and Godavari? Likewise, it has nurtured Camatic music in the cradle of devotion with the fond professional care of nurses, the loving passion of mothers, far-sighted vision of fathers and the wisdom of gurus of eminence. Incidentally institutions bearing the stamp of Gurukulam had prospered in hundreds from ancient days in Bharat, had excelled in presenting a succession of remarkable stalwarts of undying fame and a legacy that is non-pareil. The trainees under gurukulavasa were treated as part of the family of the guru, fed and given training in arts and crafts including military, as our epics would testify to. Ever-lasting contribution of these had helped the growth and perfection of arts on a massive scale.
The fertile soil of the river systems, more particularly of the Cauvery, mothered the concerted growth and the resultant affluence of intellectual and cultural pursuits in a measure that is, indeed, without parallel. It sustained intact the innate art-conscious genius of the people and the robust cultural legacy of vibrant traditions handed down from prehistoric times providing the needed congenial environment for arts to blossom forth. Salutary environment helped the flowering and perfection of all arts, particularly the Art and Science of Carnatic [Indian] music. Music has all along been sine qua non for all auspicious functions and festivals - religious, social, cultural and even political. Temples and Maths were bastions and nerve-centres for the sustenance of musicians. and propagation of music. Royalty was assigned the duty to provide prime patronage while cultured families took patronage of musicians as status symbols. For instance, do the cultural
suzerainty and the magnitude of patronage extended by the Rulers of Thanjavur [and many others like them] bear any comparison to the extent and affluence of their geographical suzerainty? Their love and ardent desire to patronize artistes were profound and affluent which set at naught thoughts of inadequacies in wealth and health of the kingdom. Their image in the realm of arts was not only high and supreme but was genuine springing from a heart that was melodic and a head that was slavish to the exquisite charms of arts.
There is an allusion in Tamil literature of an imprisoned king, feeling sorry that he was not in a position to honour and help the visiting poet, gave him a letter addressed to the queen to help the poet if she could. The poet, attributing the fate of the ruler to his [poet's] own inimical, intransigent fate, went to the queen reluctantly as instructed to honour the word of the imprisoned ruler. Finding nothing to present, the queen silently tied turmeric in lieu of her mangalya sutra, took out the golden one and politely presented it in a cover to the sorrowing poet. Thanking her, the poet went out and opened the cover.
'Alas! This is my worst fateful day. The ruler had been imprisoned because of my harsh fate and now the queen has given her mangalya sutra! God, why have you made me to reach them in their woes?'
That was the lamentation of the poet and what happened was the climax of patronage to arts that was lauded in our country!
Affluence: Art vs. Artistes: An enlightened society enabled musicians command the respect of the ruler and the ruled. Sir Thomas Beecham, in the context of pathetic conditions in the United Kingdom, and obviously with intense regret, had said:
This is the only country in the world where musicians are not expected to live! Of course, composers and musicians have always starved and, as this is a sentimental country, we think the tradition should be continued.'
It is common knowledge that the remark may have had some relevance to the condition of musicians in India too particularly in the past. But Indian genius made a subtle distinction in the conferment of its approbation. Deliberate intent wove glory around the art and the contributions of the artiste and rarely on the economic wellbeing of the artiste himself. The composer or the musician received rich dividends of praise and respect but often they might not have touched the fringe of his economic wellbeing. The resultant indigence among majority of artistes was the accepted rule and fact of life. Nay, indigence was more often cultivated, practised and respected in India. It was eulogised as promoting the well being of Art and through Art, the attainment of Truth and Excellence and thus, the Ultimate.
It was the genius and marvel of the Indian that by giving the spiritual capsule and cover to a normal fact of life, he adroitly took away the sting of economic distress. Poverty was the basic warranty to the artiste's absolute devotion and contribution to Art, Religion and Society. This basic ideal presumably found its wavelengths in the concepts of Daridra Narayana, renunciation, etc. Rulers and the public respected such a status, as it was the acme of self-sacrifice and surrender to the common good. The artiste [particularly in the past] took delight, not in his economic affluence or material prosperity, but in his artistic affluence and eminence raised on the firm basement of poverty of sorts. A Drona begged for a cow to provide milk for his child though his magnificent archery would have driven herds of cattle to his home like a marauding Tartar or a Mongol. The Tallapakkam stalwarts, Purandara Dasa and the Trinity could have struck mines of gold but chose, by deliberate intent and conviction, to practise and propagate' Spiritualism in its pristine purity' as outlined in the song 'Nidhi Chala Sukhama'. The Saint of Tiruvisainallur, an intellectual seer, cried to the Lord not to curse him with wealth! The lives of Subrahmanya Bharati, etc. were an open page. This author has firm belief in this rule and role of life.
North Indian Music (289)
Original Texts (60)
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