Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Short Video of My Veena Playing

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Celebrating Smt.Mangalam Muthuswamy

The Guru's grace lives on, long after the expiration of her physical tenure on Earth......

Celebrating our beloved Veena Teacher, Veena Vidushi Smt.Mangalam Muthuswamy, on her third anniversary.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

"Death Be Not Proud" – Celebrating Smt. Mangalam Muthuswamy, Yet Again

It is now a little over two years after my wonderful Veena teacher, Smt. Mangalam Muthuswamy, left for her journey to the Other World. She had left her earthly abode on June 9, 2007. While all of us students deeply mourned her loss, I was in for a complete surprise, just a few months after her passing.

It is two years now and there has not been even a moment I do not think of her – about how loving she was, what kind of dedication she had and so on and so forth. What stuns me is that the same love, energy and dedication remain unaffected by her passing.

Many of you reading this article may this quite strange, but this is a true account of what I have experienced after (in fact, in spite of) her so-called death. These experiences, while bringing me closer to my beloved Guru than I ever was, have also changed my whole perception of life and death.

My first brush with the arcane came when I was asked to perform on the Veena during Ganesh Chaturthi that very year. Since it was my first time without Mami (as we all students addressed her), I was a little apprehensive of how I was going to handle the show. I had chosen to play one completely new and unfamiliar composition, “Ganesha Kumara Pahimam” in the Raga Jhinjoti. Though quite simple on the face of it, there were a few lighter gamakas I found it difficult to handle. Just as I was wondering how to deal with it, I clearly heard Mami talking to me!

Mami told me exactly how to play the gamaka, so that it could be rendered to perfection. I must admit I got really scared and nearly jumped out of my skin! But after I had calmed down a little, I tried the gamaka the way Mami mentioned, and lo! It came out with precision, and with the least bit of effort on my part.

Now, two years down the line, it has become commonplace for me to hear Mami’s voice each time I pray to her. Mami manifests like a voice ringing in my head. This voice is very clear and leaves me with no doubt that it was she who tried to “get in touch”. She often talks to me and guides me on how to reproduce certain nuances on the Veena, how to better my teaching technique and so on. Not only that, she even “visits” to warn me of impending dangers, much ahead of time, so that I am able to steer clear of them.

I wonder at the sheer ardour of such Mahatmas to fulfil their mission, even if it meant literally coming back from death. Many people have indeed reported of similar experiences, but this time, I have had the ahobhagya to actually experience my Guru’s grace on a day-to-day basis.

The above experiences bring to my mind, John Donne’s poem, “Death Be Not Proud”.

Donne says,

“DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so”

The poem concludes with the lines,

“One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”

How true it is that death is not the end of anything – it is merely the beginning of a new phase of life....

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Sangeeta Jnanamu Bhakti Vina.... is the Bhakti aspect of Carnatic music dwindling today?

Saint Thyagaraja, one among the “Mummoorthigal” or the Music Trinity of Carnatic Music, is universally loved by Carnatic musicians and students alike. Not for nothing is he celebrated as a Saint and a Parama Bhakta of Lord Shri Rama. While his compositions touch the heart, owing to their utter simplicity of language and bhakti rasa flowing throughout each kriti, what makes this saint composer so special is that he actually aimed to educate students and musicians on the higher values of life, through his compositions.

“Sangeeta Jnanamu” in Raga Dhanyasi is one such composition. Herein, Thyagaraja makes a clear statement in the very first line itself, “Sangeeta Jnanamu Bhakti Vina Sanmargamu Galadey”, which means, “the mere practice of music without the aspect of bhakti or devotion entering the craft, will not serve as a means to true mukti or liberation”. Indeed, music is the finest among fine arts and practising it with sincerity and total devotion bestows a high state of spirituality on the seeker, letting him get a glimpse of true “Sangeetananda”, enabling him to rise above the mundane, giving him true and lasting happiness.

The problem that plagues this field, though, is that students today, merely seem to be learning and reproducing these compositions, without trying to delve into the deep inner meaning and understand that compositions such as the above were meant to be learning experiences in life itself. Competition is on the rise everywhere and with it comes bickering and other related problems. The result? No artist is finally able to find that true peace and joy with the practice of this great art.

Some genuinely talented upcoming artists are pulled down mercilessly and have to struggle merely to keep their chin above the water. There are yet other instances where students are subjected to the same treatment in spite of having no particular ambitions of “becoming popular” or “famous” in the field; who practise music only to discover that true peace and joy.

Why is there so much insecurity, so much sadness in this Carnatic field? After all, this is a divine art and needs to be nurtured to flourish in all its glory. This priceless gift from our Purvajas (forefathers) desperately needs to be preserved. Students of music need to be made aware of the unique aspect of bhakti in Indian music, especially, Carnatic music. They have to be trained not merely to shine as brilliant performing artists in future, but also to behave in a manner that would elevate them to higher spiritual planes of existence.

Sangeeta can only be experienced and enjoyed when it comes along with true bhakti. No matter how much a student or musician excels in Carnatic music, they would never be able to lay their hands on the actual treasure, which, indeed, lies within them. Consciously letting go of negatives within the mind and approaching the subject of music with a pure, untainted heart, is the only way to discover the amazing, unending, wealth that music really is.

So let us get back again to that wonderful kriti, ‘Sangeeta jnanamu’, contemplate on it and commence our new journey towards bhakti-oriented music.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Fight For Freedom

Not for the first time did my eyes fill with tears and chest expand with pride and joy at the sight of our beautiful tricolour flag unfurling on India’s 61st Independence Day. I always have been and always will be proud of being an Indian. I have great respect for our Motherland’s rich and varied cultural heritage and have often delighted in traveling across many states of India, taking in the different sights, tastes and smells of each one of Her wonderful provinces.

On this Independence Day, hearing the song, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan”, my eyes filled yet again with tears. Only this time, it was for a very different reason. I thought of the dismal, in fact, abysmal condition of our beloved nation today. I reminisced about all those valiant freedom fighters who unflinchingly accepted the handman’s noose and wore it around their necks like a ‘Jayamala’, a garland signifying victory. I reflected on Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, who verily breathed for the cause of the nation’s Independence.

We have been an independent nation for the last six decades. Granted that India has achieved and accomplished much during these years. But can we really take pride on our independence? Are we really, truly, Independent in every sense of the term?

“Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan”? Do we even think of the enormous difficulties our jawans face at the border? They lay down their lives protecting the country against invaders – yet their families can never be assured of security and protection! And how about the ‘kisaan’ who commits suicide as he cannot even afford to provide his families a single square meal a day? Does our democracy even consider their sad plight?

The Mahatma had once remarked that India would become truly independent in every sense only when a woman could walk the streets alone at any time of the night, without as much as a speck of fear in her mind. This is a country that, today, sadly abounds with gory tales of female infanticide, dowry deaths and gang rapes of little children. Is this a sign of a truly Independent nation?

We oft times hero worship goondas, who support and abet terrorist activists; who consequently cause the cold-blooded murder of countless blameless souls. Are these offenders any better than the perpetrators of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre?

Some common criminals who have been responsible for slaying numerous innocents rule us. Their fault? They cast their vote for a different party! Yet we have only ourselves to blame – after all, this is a democracy and we brought them to power, right? Is this what we call true Independence?

These and other thoughts kept playing in my head as the song played on. Of course, there is hope yet - India is at last, definitely waking from its long slumber. Today, there are many who adopt girl children, many who dare to put their foot down against avaricious dowry-seekers, many who raise their voice against corruption. We are definitely making long strides in science and technology, sports and so on. The Wheel of Fortune finally seems to be slowly, yet steadily, turning in India’s favour.

We are the younger generation - the wealth of this vast nation. The onus of bestowing India Her real Independence lies entirely on us. Is it not our solemn duty to forge ahead and Fight for Freedom – for our own freedom as well as for the freedom of our revered Bharat Mata? Jai Hind!

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