Friday, March 21, 2008

The Cosmic Dance of Shiva - a mystic destruction

The poet sings:
With each step He tookHe scattered stars in space
With each movement of his outstretched arms
He enveloped space and time
With his long hair flying in the wind
He dances in ecstasy to the delight of his devotees
These words are reflected almost like a mirror image in painstakingly crafted images in stone and bronze. Shiva in a dancing pose is known the world over as Nataraja, The King Of Dance
The dance of Shiva symbolises the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, birth and death. His dance is therefore the dance of the Universe. The parallel is seen in modern physics, which has shown that the cycle of creation and destruction is not only reflected in the turn of seasons and in the birth and death of living creatures but is also the very essence of inorganic matter.
For centuries, our culture has accepted that the dance of Shiva is the dance of life, myths, symbolism, mystic responses and philosophical explanations all merely add to the strength of such belief in a power that transcends the merely mortal. and when the human dancer enacts this act encompassing concept, he or she only makes a humble offering of acknowledgement. The earliest historical illustration of Nataraja preaching Natyagama in its pure form originates in the Chalukyan sanctuaries of Badami and Aihole in the mid 6th century A.D. The temple rituals necessitated the physical presence of women replacing the imaginative celestials, propitiating the Gods. The allegorical view of dance used for the purpose of the pleasure of devas, transformed into a divine service in the medieval temple traditions. As a result temples vied with one another in having the best dancers and musicians in their services. Thus temple dancing was institutionalised and the dancing girls were patronised by the kings and mahajans and were often respectfully mentioned in many inscriptions of temples built in the medieval age. The famous temple of Belur has several epithets glorifying the Hoysala queen Shantala as Natya Saraswati, Vichitra Suthradhare etc.
The dancing girls of the temples were called devadasis and the temple activity was considered as a means of dedication.
In the times of Vijayanagar the entire South India and parts of Orissa came under one rule and by this time the bhakti movement had lost its essence and the temples were the place of grandeur and celebration of events, the dancing girls were more exhibitionistic in their presentation.
The temples of Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar and Puri echoed with the lyrics of poet Jayadeva. The devadasi system in these temples was a living tradition till recently. Later due to factors like economic constraints, tantric practices and free sex enjoyed by the siddhas, jangamas, charanas, patrons and priests, these dancers in the temples were victimised to become public women and they were completely equated with prostitutes. The term devadasi which was used in the divine sense was replaced by the term Bhogastree and dance and music were used as a means of attracting clients.
The British government in India in order to uplift the women, their emancipation in education and to protect them from social evils abolished the devadasi system.
The present Bharatanatyam style finds its substance from the Dassiattam of colonial times. If at all we regard Indian dance as the spectacular contribution to human endeavour we should recall today with great reverence the entire class of devadasis who were the repository of delivering the tradition in most difficult situations from vedic to colonial times.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Indian Classical Dance - a journey

The Sangeet Natak Akademi currently confers classical status on eight Indian dance forms –
For lack of any equivalents in the European culture, the British colonial authorities called any performing art forms found in India as "Indian dance". Even though the art of Natya includes nritta, or dance proper, Natya has never been limited to dancing alone and in fact includes singing, abhinaya or expressive acting, mimetic acting and movement, and these features are common to all the Indian classical styles.
'Indian classical dance' is a relatively new umbrella term for the various codified art forms which are rooted in Natya, the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles, whose theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BC).
Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals were called Agama Nartanam. This was a spiritual dance form.
Dances performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical music were called Carnatakam. This was an intellectual art form.
Darbari Aattam form of dance appealed more to the commoners and it educated them about their religion, culture and social life. These dances were performed outside the temple precincts in the courtyards.
Out of the 8 styles, the most ancient ones and the ones that have their origin in Agama Nartanam are Bharatanatyam and Odissi. These two most faithfully adhere to the Natya Shastra.
Kuchipudi and Mohiniaattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms, just as Kathakali, and two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, that are quite similar. Kathak was influenced in the Mughal period by various other dance forms, including Persian dance.
A very important feature of Indian classical dances is the use of the mudra or hand gestures by the artists as a short-hand sign language to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts such as objects, weather, nature and emotion.
Classical Indian dance in the Raj and since 1947
The British Raj in India was a time of cultural hardship where these traditional dances were viewed by the British rulers as debauched and of doubtful morality. Furthermore, they were all labelled broadly as 'Indian dance' with no regard to the specifics of style. Later, linking dance with tawaifs and devadasis (both groups whom the government considered to be nothing more than simple prostitutes), British rule prohibited public performance of dance. In 1947, India won her freedom and for dance an ambience where it could regain its past glory. Classical forms and regional distinctions were re-discovered, ethnic specialties were honored.

Indian Classical Music - a journey

Hindustani Classical Music is a North Indian classical music tradition that has been evolving from the 12th centuries AD onwards, in what is now northern India and Pakistan, and also Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan. The tradition was born out of a cultural synthesis from several musical streams: the vedic chant tradition dating back to approx. one millennia BCE[1], the equally ancient Persian tradition of Musiqi-e assil, and also existent folk traditions prevalent in the region. The terms North Indian Classical Music or Shāstriya Sangeet are also occasionally used.
Around the 12th century, Hindustani classical music diverged from the principle which eventually came to be identified as Carnatic classical music. The central notions in both these systems are that of a melodic mode or raga, sung to a rhythmic cycle or tala. The tradition dates back to the ancient Samaveda, (lit. sāma=ritual chant), which deals with the norms for chanting of srutis or hymns such as the Rig Veda. These principles were refined in the Natyashastra by Bharata (2nd-3d c. CE) and the Dattilam (probably 3d-4th c. AD)[2]. In medieval times, many of the melodic systems were fused with ideas from Persian music, particularly through the influence of sufi composers like Amir Khusro, and later in the Moghul courts. Noted composers such as Tansen flourished, along with religious groups like the Vaishnavites. After the 16th century, the singing styles diversified into different gharanas patronized in different princely courts. Around 1900, Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande consolidated the musical structures of Hindustani Classical music into a number of thaats. In the 20th century, Hindustani classical music has become popular across the world through the influence of artistes like Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and many others.
Indian classical music has 7 basic notes (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni), with five interspersed half-notes, resulting in a 12-note scale. Unlike the 12-note scale in Western music, the base frequency of the scale is not fixed, and intertonal gaps (temper) may also vary; however with the gradual replacement of the sarangi by the harmonium, an equal tempered scale is increasingly used. The performance is set to a melodic pattern (raga or raag) characterized in part by specific ascent (Arohana) and descent (Avarohana) sequences, which may not be identical. Other characteristics include King (Vadi) and Queen (Samavadi) notes and a unique note phrase (Pakad). In addition each raga has its natural register (Ambit) and glissando (Meend) rules, as well as features specific to different styles and compositions within the raga structure. Performances are usually marked by considerable improvisation within these norms.

Anoushka Shankar

To be the heir to a famous name is difficult enough. To follow in your father's footsteps makes things far more complex. But sitar player Anoushka Shankar, who has just released her second album Anourag, has no problems being the daughter of the great Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar. "I was brought up in the public eye. I was raised in a family where being on view is normal," she explained. At 19, she's already achieved more than most performers twice her age. Two years ago, the British Parliament awarded her the rare House of Commons shield for her artistry and musicianship. She's performed with classical orchestras, and worked with former Beatle George Harrison on the Chants of India record, as well as issuing her own albums. But while she admits she's "done a lot, I don't think I'm doing that much more than the average successful kid who gets good grades and does a lot."
"She's driven she's her father's daughter," said music journalist, and Ravi Shankar biographer Ken Hunt. "That's both in genes, and in music. She has the same fire for the music that he has."
And the heat she can generate is perfectly demonstrated in her playing on "Yaman Kalyan.". Shankar, who grew up in England, India, and California, began learning the sitar from her father when she was 9, at her mother's behest."My dad didn't want to teach me, he wanted to wait until I went to him," she recalled. "It was technically uncomfortable and difficult. But by the time I was 11, I was playing better things and grew to enjoy it."
She made her professional debut at 13, and since then has been accompanying her father on stage, since, she pointed out, "it was more that I was assisting him. But for the past year, as he can't perform a full show anymore, I do the first half on my own, then assist him in the second half."
Anourag puts her firmly in the spotlight, with its six Ravi Shankar compositions, including "Shuddha Sarang.". "None of the pieces were written for the CD," Shankar explained. "They were pieces he'd already composed that I was performing, or stuff he'd taught me that wasn't finished. I liked the way things sounded, and I wanted people to hear them."
Of particular note is "Pancham Se Gara," where father and daughter duet, something that meant a lot to Shankar, because "I don't think he's done that for anyone before."
On her current headlining Full Circle tour, where Shankar will play some dates with her father, she'll be performing another of his works, the "Sitar Concerto No. 1," which she debuted with conductor Zubin Mehta and the London Symphony Orchestra when she was 16. Performing the opus with orchestras around America will, she said, be a bit nerve-wracking, because "it's a different musical style for the orchestra. It's not Western classical music, so it's not part of their training, and it doesn't come naturally."
Indian classical music is most definitely her training, however, and for now, with high school behind her, it's the real focus of her life. "I love it and it's my career. But 20 years from now I might not enjoy it as much, in which case I'll stop."
She admits that many see her as the keeper of a flame, and "there's a lot of external pressure on me, people looking for the family tradition to be continued. But I've never had it from my parents. My father wants me to be happy, he's always said that."
Even with two albums under her belt, she doesn't feel comfortable yet. One thing missing from her work, as she admits, is improvisation. But, asserted Hunt, "she'll develop not just an ear for playing, but for improvisation. Right now she's playing with her father's trademark style. She's still young, and I think she'll reach that stage of spontaneous creation."
And Shankar herself knows she's not the finished article yet. "I still think there's a way to go. I haven't done a solo tour in India, which is the real test. And I'm only just starting to tour solo. A year or two from now I'll feel that my career is established."

(content taken from:

Youssou N'Dour

Senegal's Youssou N'Dour is, perhaps, the biggest name in world music. Now 40, his eerie voice, high and keening, has barely lost a step from when he burst on the scene in his homeland in 1979 with the hit "Xalis." But in the two decades since his audience, and to an extent his music has become global. The mbalax music he created at the beginning of the ‘80s, a juddering modern mix of local and Cuban rhythms, with dashes of reggae and Western pop for seasoning, made him Senegal's biggest star - a status he's kept ever since. In 1983, Peter Gabriel heard and loved N'Dour's song "Immigres," and began championing the African. The two toured and recorded together, and the exposure introduced N'Dour's music to an international audience.
The Lion (Virgin, 1989) marked him as someone to watch, but it was with Wommat - The Guide (Sony/Work, 1994), and its massive hit single, "7 Seconds," a duet with British singer/rapper Neneh Cherry, that N'Dour hit the big time. And for six years after that, although N'Dour continued to recorded at perform at home, releasing cassettes at home on his Jololi label, there's been international silence, at least until earlier this year. Then N'Dour released Joko - From Village to Town in Europe. While it contained some rootsy material, there was an emphasis on duets with Sting, Gabriel, and The Fugees' Wyclef Jean, who also contributed some remixes. That disc was never released in America. However, N'Dour now has a new label, Nonesuch, which has issued Joko (The Link). Shoter, and decidedly more African, it's ditched most of the duets and the remixes, and added two more very Senegalese tracks, "Miss" and the brand new, hardcore mbalax of "Mademba (The Electricity Is Out Again)." The tracks have also been re-sequenced to give a much richer feel to the listening experience. The son of a mechanic and a griot (a singing mix of oral historian, praise-giver, and adviser), N'Dour grew up in the rough Medina section of Dakar, Senegal's capital. Even when young, he sang locally, creating a sensation with his vocal ability, and by the time he was 16, he was one of the singers with the Star Band, one of Senegal's seminal groups. Leaving them, he joined Etoile de Dakar, before forming his own Super Etoile de Dakar, whose personnel has remained remarkably stable for almost two decades, with guitarist Jimi Mbaye and bassist Habib Faye at the core of the exciting sound. Like many Senegalese, N'Dour is follower of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, the late Senegalese-Muslim saint who brought the Africanized Islam of Mouridism to the country, and spirituality has long been an important part of his music, along with the more traditional griotism; indeed, the two find a common home in the celebratory "Birima," for several years the centerpiece of N'Dour's live set. But as his horizons have expanded, so has his music.
While still based in Africa, it looks outward around the world, as on "This Dream," his collaboration with Peter Gabriel, and his work with artists from Paul Simon to jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis. N'Dour keeps his roots strong, but the frontiers have come down. The magazine Folk Roots crowned him Africa's Artist of the Century, and African journal Nouvel Horizon named him Senegalese Person of the Century. His impact has been, and remains, undeniable, and, in spite of the long silence, his creativity hasn't dried up. And the wondrous voice remains as powerful as ever.

A.R. Rahman launches first Indian orchestra 'Global Music'

Chennai: After waiting for seven years, India's most famous contemporary music composer A.R. Rahman on Wednesday launched his first full-fledged orchestra. It has been named "Global Music" and is the first homegrown orchestra."I kept hearing someone is setting up an orchestra and waited for seven long years for someone else to set up an orchestra like the New York, London or Budapest Philharmonic in India. But it did not happen", Rahman, whose recent works include music for "Guru" and "Jodhaa Akbar", told the media here."Whenever I want to compose for an orchestra, I have to go to London or Budapest," he complained.The music maestro announced setting up of the orchestra along with the launch of his KM Conservatory, a music school for professional musicians in the outskirts of the city.The orchestra, to be fully operational in the next two years, will have both Indian as well as Western musicians. "It will play combinations of two kinds of instruments. There is so much talent in India, but we have no symphony orchestra," Rahman told the media.He also said the orchestra was expected to bring more professionalism even in film music and introduce millions of Indian music-lovers to "opera and concert as entertainment".The symphony orchestra will be in the western mode, both as a resident studio orchestra to perform his own composition for the music industry and for the people in Chennai and elsewhere in India.This orchestra will be populated by professional musicians of international standard, both from India and abroad.The KM Conservatory of Music, in collaboration with Audio Media Education, an Apple-authorized training centre, which opens in June this year, will concentrate on instrumental and vocal music, both Indian and Western, and music technology."In order to bring the music culture to India, where music can be taken as a serious professional option and flourish in the coming generations, training young professionals is essential," Rahman said.The accomplished composer, who is trying to create opportunities for Indian wannabes, has carved a niche for himself outside the Indian film industry. He collaborated with international composer Andrew Lloyd Webber for "Bombay Dreams". Then he teamed up with the Finnish folk music band Varttina and composed for "The Lord of the Rings" theatre production and also did a piece, "Raga's Dance" for Vanessa Mae's album "Choreography".Source: Indo-Asian News Service