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Carnatic music

Charitha Isanaka | Friday, January 25, 2013

The Homo sapien is a highly gregarious creature. Its constant need to express and share was the basic premise for the development of multifold languages as we know today. There are around 10,000 languages spoken globally and we have various platforms to express them. The air is rife with communication. We talk, but is anybody listening?
Enter Art. Art, in my opinion, is born out of a need to share the real you. Unfiltered. Unfettered. It is a place where you do not need to don an avatar to adapt. It is a state of pure, unadulterated consciousness. From the graffiti artist to the virtuoso, they all share the same plane. My portal to that place is through Carnatic music.
Carnatic music is an Indian Classical art form and has a Hindu origin.  Predominantly practiced in Southern India, I was exposed to this ancient art at the age of five. Sruthi (the musical pitch), Swara (the musical note), Raga (the mode or tune) and Tala (the rhythmic cycle) are the basic elements on which this mesmerizing musical journey is built. Carnatic music, unlike many other musical genres, is heavily dependent on the vocals and is almost a cappella in nature.
I still remember my first class. I was awestruck by the timbres and tones of various human voices around me. As a child, it was an intimidating first experience, but I somehow could not resist going back to class. I began to look forward to it each day. This childhood love continued well into my teens and I practiced it even in high school. Eventually, my voice developed and I began to perform at Kacheris (concerts). ML Vasanthakumari, a diva of Carnatic music in her day, was my muse and through her compelling vocals, I understood the language of human emotion.
Carnatic music has always been an enigma to me, which propels me to delve further into it. It has a calming, almost tranquil, effect on my mood. It is a time machine, where I can traverse annals of time in an instant. It fosters strong bonds between people and makes me connect with others in ways never experienced before. I have become much more confident as an individual and also enjoy the happiness my music brings to people. Music has a surreal way of explaining the most difficult things for it appeals directly to the heart and not to the intellect.
It is disconcerting to see this genre of music being sidelined under the guise of being “passé.” While I do enjoy more trendy and instrument-heavy genres of music that have cropped up, only Carnatic music seems to be able to offer a platform to showcase the human voice in its purest form.
I am privileged to have in me a piece of tradition that I will be able to hand down to the next generation. Sometimes I wonder how things would have shaped up, had I walked away from that mildew teak door that harbored behind it, a million different voices, waiting to be heard.

Contact Charitha Isanaka at cisanaka@nd.edu
The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.