: Thanks to Prabhu for bringing the relevant excerpt
from T. M. Krishna's book to my attention. Disclaimer
: I am not too knowledgeable in music, yet I do not see those who know better weighing in on this topic. Perhaps Hindu-friendly rasikas are scared of belling the cat. Since I inhabit the cyber-netherworld, let me do it to the extent I can here. Also, some of my kind friends have been very supportive of me by tweeting some of my posts; I urge them to exercise caution. I try to write on very unpopular issues and enjoy such a challenge, but it is only because of my anonymity that I am able to afford to do this.
For a while I have considered Shri T. M. Krishna to be most likely an agnostic or atheist. Though I am a Hindu myself, this only increased
my respect for him, as it seemed to me that his non-religiosity was a natural consequence of honesty and not `wannabe-ness'. Many of his talks struck me as refreshingly honest, and I always loved to hear his perspectives. Not that I always agreed with some of them. For instance, it seemed to me that he was torturing the definition of Bhakti, as he made comments like (freely translated from Tamil) "Even when I sing about (man-woman) love, it is Bhakti alone". Yet, it all seemed to be a good-natured, however naive, attempt at reconciliation. Recently when I wrote the post "Is carnaic music getting secularized?"
, I tried to give the musicians such benefit of doubt as I could, and still kept alive the hope that given the kind of news and opinion TMK may have been exposed to, he was probably just taking the path of least resistance, and not proactively being anti-Hindu.
Not any longer. Try as I may, I cannot see this
excerpt from his book as good-natured at all. It seems to be an example of extreme and pathological bhakti-baiting, and for the first ever time in my eyes, he comes across as anti-Hindu. Of course, that is a strong statement, and I am obliged to provide some justification.
1. He says :
The bhakti music of MS was beautiful, uplifting, unforgettable, but the fact that there was another ‘MS music’ that was capable of being, and did indeed become, serious with all the rigour of art music has been lost to the legend of the ‘divine MS’. I regard this as a great loss.
So according to Mr. Krishna, this `other MS music', namely with all the `rigour of art music' did realize itself, but got "lost to the legend of the divine MS". In other words, he is blaming bhakti not for preempting the alternate legacy (which he accepts was indeed realized) but rather for overshadowing that legacy. But really, was there any such competition between these legacies? If not for bhakti, her popularity may have been rather similar to that of the great Brinda
(in terms of the so called "art music", rated by many to be higher than MS?). What bhakti did rather was to give advertisement to the rest of her music, just as Yesudas' film song renditions advertised his carnatic concerts.
2. Next, TMK writes about D. K. Pattammal, celebrated as the first brahmin woman to peform carnatic music publicly:
All the masculinity of India’s svadeshi spirit shot through her patriotic songs. Nothing could have been more conducive to the patronising of Pattammal by male brahmins, many of whom were ardent nationalists and freedom fighters."
Masculinity of the svadeshi spirit? This about the more or less non-violent Indian freedom movement?
What could the word `masculinity' possibly refer to here, and why is the author using it here?
In such contexts, the word `masculinity' is usually used as a pejorative, without an exact denotation, but connoting negative phenomena such as empty bluster, impotent rage, exaggerated impression of own physical strength, attaching an exaggerated sense of relevance to the same, pointless aggression and so on. It is often used to great effect by left-liberals to not mean so much precisely, but still beat up their favorite whipping boy using vague connotations.
Whatever the intended meaning is, the author is insinuating that carnatic musicians recognized her because they were crazy about the "masculinity" that she infused into the svadeshi spirit. That aside, let us come to the larger point here. I don't know enough about the history, but I have been given to understand that D. K. Pattammal (see wikipedia
(a) had a steady rise from the age of 8, which looks like an unlikely age for someone to start popularly stimulating much nationalist fervor;
(b) was widely respected for having learnt many Muthuswami Dikshitar kritis from Ambi Dikshitar and Justice T. L. Venkatarama Iyer who were among the most authentic sources;
(c) was esteemed for being tutored by greats such as the rhythm-great Kanchipuram Naina Pillay;
(d) was held in awe for her general encyclopedic knowledge and ability to sing in complex thaalams (according to wikipedia she was called `Pallavi Pattammal'.
It seems to me from all this that her greatness was recognized in terms of her genuine musical skill, rather than for stimulating nationalist fervor. Am I mistaken or is TMK deliberately injecting lies into the discourse to cane his favorite scape goat, even if that means depriving the great DKP of the credit for her working her way up due to sheer knowledge as opposed to sentimentality?
3. Another question he raises is
Can an atheist or a non-Hindu be a Karnatik musician?
As TMK should know very well, some if not several of the prominent singers are actually atheists. So the correct question is not whether they can be a carnatic musician, but whether atheist musicians can publicly espouse and declare their atheism and retain their influence. And, to be fair, this is what TMK means and later asks more explicitly.
Now the audience that comes to Carnatic concerts includes those that come just for the music, as well as those for whom bhakti is a very significant attraction. If TMK declares himself as an atheist, possibly many bhaktas will stop attending his concerts, and those sabhas owned by bhaktas or those whose clientele is predominantly bhakti-centrist may stop inviting him. But they are within their rights to do so - if I am paying TMK to satisfy my bhakti needs, am I obliged to continue the payment if TMK stops catering to my needs?
4. Continuing with the above theme, he writes :
What about practitioners of other religions? Among the nagasvara community there were not a few Muslim families that mastered this art form. Most of them flourished in what is now Andhra Pradesh and a few still live alongside the most conservative Hindu communities of Srirangam in Tamil Nadu. My admiration for these people is immense, as they have been able to negotiate two very opposing ideas, but there is a nuance. They have had to, perhaps willingly, accept the Hindu pantheon within their world. You will find their homes adorned with pictures of Hindu deities and their immense respect for Hindu gods and goddesses even when their religious practices are Islamic. This is a credit to their ability to straddle two worlds. But they cannot display apathy for Hinduism and be accepted as musicians by the Karnatik world.
(a) Dabbling in bhakti-music is their livelihood, this is traditionally what they know as a means to make the ends meet, and they are paid for it. This can be called credit-worthy, but so is the tolerance of the Hindu patrons who are supporting from their pockets the Muslim artistes in return - embracing and welcoming them instead of accusing them of blasphemy.
(b) As regards how they cannot display their apathy, why should Hindus be obliged to give their money to anyone who does not respect their views? (i.e., Hindus should tolerate
everyone regardless of their views, as long as these views are nonviolent, but monetarily supporting amounts to far more than tolerating).
(c) Is it so difficult for these Muslim artistes to "straddle the two worlds", and would they rather have shown apathy for Hinduism otherwise? It is in most if not all cases part of their faith, unless TMK insists on equating their faith to the more Arabized variant. Many, if not all, of them actually believe
in Hindu deities. Sheikh Chinnamoulana is well known to have been extremely devoted to Lord Ranganatha (so much so that he chose to live very close to the temple). His ancestor, one Sheikh Nabi Sahib of 18th century Sattalur, is said to have taken to the instrument Nadasvaram upon recieving the grace of Goddess Munimandamma [link]
. These Muslims just happen to be not-so-Arabized, and worshiping Hindu deities is part of their faith. Just as Hindus have historically worshipped deities of various faiths and accepted them into their mainstream, and just as many Hindus continue to worship Muslim saints, celebrate Muharram even when Muslims of their village have migrated
and so on. In fact, semitic religions generally seem to be exceptions
(except in some places where their manifestation is relatively nominal) in that accepting deities from other religions seems quite natural to human psyche.
Conclusion on the alleged "Don't Ask Don't Tell" for atheist or secular musicians
In conclusion, in an eco-system that developed around both bhakti and art
, TMK wants to make a religion out of the art part, junking Hindu influences, and wants the lesser humans, namely the pure bhaktas, to continue their support nevertheless. If atheists want more secular environs for music, they should appeal to a wider secular audience, get their fellow-seculars interested instead of looking for the bhaktas' money. And they are always free to form their "Nastika Sangeetha Sabha" or what not. Herein lies the problem - there are many issues with the Carnatic music world today that severely restrict its potential popularity. For instance :
(a) Most Carnatic singers have poor adherence to shruti, meaning what the layman hears is a slightly perturbed and hence unclear version of what the singer intends. Also, many of the greats may be great singers from a Carnatic perspective, but they are poor singers from a lay man's perspective; it is an underappreciated fact that a great musician can be a bad singer;
(b) Bad voice - Carnatic musicians in general have voices far less pleasant (per the modern lay man aesthetics) than those of Hindustani musicians or filmi musicians;
(c) The Kritis in Carnatic music have a simple and not especially striking format, because Carnatic connoisseurs just happen to be interested in different sorts of parameters (such as the extent to which the Raga was explored etc.) than the format of a kriti;
(d) The difficulty in beginning to appreciate, since one should already do some pattern clustering before one can collect new inputs into tokens and group the tokens according to patterns.
But post independence too, without royal patronage, Carnatic music continued to be supported inspite of not catching up with the voice-innovations introduced by film music, and inspite of not matching up with the substantially more layman-friendly voice culture of Hindustani music (Carnatic voice culture encourages full-throated singing which is at odds with modern layman aesthetics). Because, notwithstanding whatever else, Carnatic music is considerably patronized by the large bhaktist clientele, and also by the fact that bhakti prompts many parents to get their children to learn Carnatic music as the default option. Bhakti is the oxygen tube that keeps Carnatic music alive
. If they want to remove it, let them go ahead and convulse all the way to a miserable death.
Side Remark :
TMK asks :
"Is Karnatik music inherently religious? To answer that, I must ask whether Karnatik music was intended to be religious. It is not possible to respond in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ terms to this."
I don't think the initial motivation of those who pursued Carnatic music matters here. If Carnatic music was initially only pursued by those who sacrificed babies, does that have any bearing on who should follow Carnatic music today?
Remarks on the leftist style guide.
Left-liberals follow a "style guide" that features among other things lists such as who should be acclaimed for the slightest reason, who should be trashed for the slightest reason etc. They manipulate the stock market of opinions to reward conformity-to-style-guide (though left-liberals are anti-market they seem to know the pulse of the opinion-market the best). Articles conforming to the style guide reinforce the acceptability of the style guide. I would like to now list some of the aspects of this style guide that show through from the above discussion. But before stating them, I remark that many of these conventions, when viewed in isolation, are not bad; it is the selectivity with which the conventions are applied that makes them sinister. This makes the entire issue murky and slippery and formidable to argue against, because no one really has the time to collate large amounts of hard data and conclusively establish the bias; people have far more pressing problems.
(a) Use the word `masculinity' as an ill-defined nebulous pejorative;
(b) At the slightest opportunity, praise some Muslims for their perceived tolerance (to repeat, it is the selectivity, and not praise for Muslims per se, that is grating);
(c) Whenever possible, criticize some societally dominant (according to perception) community, in this case male brahmins, as-a-group. They are the analogue of the white-males in the US, and the left-liberals hope to use hatred to form an umbrella coalition of various other denominations to unite against this perceived dominator. This is done not through the most overt stereotyping, which is too crass for leftists, but nevertheless using a language which, if used for most other groups of people, would still be denounced as stereotyping. For instance, note that he talks of the `patronising of Pattammal by male brahmins', without adding a `some' to temper the usage `male brahmins'. Were all male brahmins in a position of control or only a small subset, whose proportion among the set of all male brahmins is statistically insignificant? Again for instance, if a leftist author writes about the plight of Muslim women, language of a similar sweeping-range will not be used for Muslim men (rather, the focus will be on the sorrows of the Muslim women);
(d) Assiduously cultivate a cult-like status to art worship. Make comments such as `art elevates' or `art stimulates a multi-layered perception' - which have no precise meaning, but which foster a fuzzy reverence for art reinforcing the propaganda that people have picked up as children from their schools.
Use this Art-bhakti to promote artiste-bhakti, which then can be channeled into soft-power to force a wider and deeper reach for the artiste's opinion, however ill-considered it is. Or, use the fuzziness to inject enough confusion into the discourse which can be then made to serve as a smokescreen.