Eswara Ganamanjari – A useful handbook for music students

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Carnatic music has a huge repository of compositions that comprises those preceding the Trinity, of the Trinity and those belonging to the post-Trinity period. There were several composers, who were well-versed equally in languages, literature and music. In the contemporary Carnatic scenario, it’s hard to find vaggeyakaras, who, while being faithful to the tradition, manage to infuse a certain amount of newness and ingenuity into their compositions. Thamarassery Eswaran Bhattathiri has tried to achieve this in his book, Eswara Ganamanjari (volume 1), which was launched recently.

Eswaran, a disciple of Thrissur V. Ramachandran, hails from a family of composers. Proficient in Sanskrit and Malayalam, Eswaran has profound knowledge of classical music. The book contains three varnams, two compositions in praise of Ganesha, 16 kritis on Devi, 18 Vishnu keerthanas, and a few others on the deities in temples of Kerala.

The foreword are by Sri Vijayendra Saraswati of the Kanchi mutt, and veteran musicians, M. Chandrasekharan and T.K. Murthy.

In the book, Eswaran explains the role and significance of varnams and kritis. In this context, he quotes a suthravakya (aphorism), ‘Natakaantham kavithwam, varnnantham vaggeyakaarathwam’ (a poetic genius can write a play; one who can compose a varnam is a vaggeyakaara). Stalwarts of yore used to sing a varnam at the beginning of their concerts.

Eswaran stresses on the importance of practicing and singing varnams for shabdasadhana and to gain command over the rhythmic-patterns in the compositions. While expounding the salient features of kritis, the author underscores the confluence of sangeetha (music), sahitya (literature) and bhakti (devotion) as determinants of their merit.

Use of mudras

Of the varnams included in this book, the one beginning with ‘Sri kamakshi kancheepureswari’ calls for special mention as it is composed in raga Sivasakthi, an innovation of the late GNB. Varnams, the author says, usually do not carry the vaggeyakaramudra. Yet in this one, Eswaran has used his mudra, ‘Eswara’, since it sits well in a devotional composition.

The swaraakshara, ragamudra and vaageyyakaramudra are used dexterously. For instance, in the Tamil composition on Madurai Meenakshi in raga Saveri. in the charanam, ‘Isayinayamalithidum isaivadivanaval/saveriyaay sundareshwariyaay’, the ragamudra is obvious. Here the meaning of the word, ‘Saveri’, is deciphered at different levels, one of which refers to Parvathi as the one whose body exemplifies the raga. It is interesting here to note that while ‘saave’ is shadjaswara, ‘ri’ is rishabhaswara. Similarly, in the varnam on Krishna in raga Poornnachandrika, in the charanam, ‘poornachandrikaadhavala swaroopa’, the ragamudra is in perfect harmony with the sahitya. Eswaran’s penchant for dwitheeyaaksharaprasa is another attention-grabbing characteristic of some of his compositions.

The book provides not only the meaning and context of each kriti, but also the the technical details such as arohana-avarohana swaras, muktayi swaras and chittaswaras. The book could be useful to music students, teachers, artistes and rasikas.

The author is a critic and connoisseur of traditional artforms of Kerala.

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