The Maharaja and Musical Modernism

A Celebration of Patronage and Legacy - Maharaja Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar of Mysore

Bangalore will play host to pianist Karl Lutchmayer and Soprano Béatrice de Larragoïti as a tribute to Maharaja Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar of Mysore on his birth centenary year.

An Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) of Goan parents, in recent years Karl has focussed much of his time and attention on nurturing the burgeoning Western Classical music scene in India, his family home. While helping young musicians and music teachers to fulfil their potential, he has also been involved in audience creation projects in many of the major cities. It was for this work that he was awarded the Bharat Gaurav (Pride of India) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Speaking on Wadiyar’s legacy Karl Lutchmayer, says: ‘The legacy of Maharaja Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar in bringing little-known music to public attention cannot be overestimated. Indeed, as a student, it was the recordings that he sponsored that led me to discover music by Scriabin, Bartok, Busoni, and, perhaps most importantly, Medtner, which have been cornerstones of my repertoire ever since. As such, it is with utmost gratitude that I have prepared this lecture-recital which, in one concert, can only touch on that extraordinary legacy. Central to the programme are works by Medtner, including the rarely performed Sonata Vocalise for soprano and piano, which celebrate his single-handed promotion of the last and perhaps most subtle of the pre-revolutionary Russian composers. The Maharaja’s sponsorship of the Philharmonic orchestra is remembered through his patronage of the world premiere of Strauss’ Four Last Songs, whilst his broad vision of Modernism is recalled in the music of Busoni. But of course, in addition to the patron of the arts, we must remember the performer, and programming Rachmaninov we can recall his meeting with the great pianist, and the fact that, had it not been for his duties of state, he would surely have been celebrated as a great performer.”

Karl Lutchmayer is equally renowned as a concert pianist and a lecturer. A Steinway Artist, Karl performs across the globe, has worked with conductors including Lorin Maazel and Sir Andrew Davis, and has played at all the major London concert halls. He has broadcast on BBC Television and Radio, All India Radio and Classic FM, and is a regular chamber performer. A passionate advocate of contemporary music, Karl has also given over 90 world premieres and had many works written especially for him. 

Karl’s London lecture-recital series, Conversational Concerts, has garnered critical and public acclaim, and following his landmark recitals celebrating the Liszt and Alkan Bicentenaries, he has received invitations from four continents to give lecture-recitals. Karl also held an academic lectureship at Trinity Laban (formerly Trinity College of Music) for 15 years, and is a regular guest lecturer at conservatoires around the world, including the Juilliard and Manhattan Schools in New York.

Karl studied at the Junior Department of Trinity College of Music, then at the Royal College of Music and undertook further studies with Lev Naumov at the Moscow Conservatoire. His research interests include the music of Liszt, Alkan, Busoni and Enescu; The Creative Transcription Network; reception theory; and the history of piano recital programming.

Karl Lutchmayer

For the last two years Karl has been undertaking research at New College, Oxford, but he usually resides in London, where he is sometimes spotted in his alternative incarnation as keyboard, percussion and theremin player in the prog rock band The Connoisseur.

Shaping a distinctive career driven by a versatile artistry and wide-ranging performances, French-Brazilian soprano Béatrice de Larragoïti has been lately hailed for her ‘particular, dense and dark voice’ (Le Temps Tunisie), with ‘considerable resonance in the lower register’ (Seen and Heard International), as well as for her ‘sensitive, authentic and sensual’ stage presence (Operaportal), and ‘refreshing femininity’ (Early Music Today). Béatrice has performed on various stages, festivals and concert platforms across Europe, America and the U.K., including Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Grimeborn Festival, Oxford Lieder Festival, Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, Opéra de Baugé and Opéra en Plein Air, working under conductors such as Vincent Dumestre, Alexandre Piquion, Philip Sunderland, Jessica Cottis and Oliver John Ruthven. 

The concert is being partnered by The International Music and Arts Society founded in December 1974 by Rani Vijaya Devi Kotda-Sangani on a suggestion by her brother, Maharaja Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar of Mysore, to augment Bangalore’s existing cultural landscape by providing an international forum for Indian and foreign musicians and artistes. Designed by the English artist-dramatist-teacher, the late David Horsburgh, the Society’s logo embodies the spirit of the arts both East and West. Over the last forty-five years, the Society has worked in collaboration with other organisations such as the ICCR and USIS, and foreign embassies and cultural centres.

This effort has enabled a wide audience to enjoy the works of some of the finest international exponents of the performing and visual arts of our time. An important objective of the Society has been its work, through the medium of music and dance, to provide a platform for young and upcoming artists.

An important objective of the Society has been its work, through the medium of music and dance, to provide a platform for young and upcoming artists.

The early formative years of Rani Vijaya Devi Kotda-Sangani were spent in the palace where the family’s rich cultural atmosphere left a deep impression on her. The young princess grew up steeped in Carnatic music and dance, and became proficient in playing the veena. At the age of six, she also commenced formal piano lessons at the palace, and progressed through to the fellowship examination of the Trinity College of Music, London under the tutelage of Dr. Alfred Mistowski, professor of Trinity College.

After her marriage to the Thakore Saheb of Kotda-Sangani in 1941, Rani Vijaya Devi continued studying the piano in India. Later, during her husband’s posting in New York, she studied with Professor Edward Steuermann of the Juilliard School of Music. An accomplished concert pianist, she recorded for radio and television, and appeared in concerts in Hong Kong and India.

The Curse of Gandhari

US based author Aditi Bannerjee says her maiden book - The Curse of Gandhari - is in a new genre which can be called speculative fiction, where she weaves her story around a character from India's epic Mahabharata. She is one of a recent crop of Indian women writers who are interpreting Indian texts with fresh imagination while taking care to keep the original intact.

The Mahabharata uses a familiar human habit in its narration of transferring blame. Either through self-reproach or by blaming another.

It ends with Gandhari, the mother of Kauravas, holding Krishna responsible for the war. In anger and grief, Gandhari turns to Krishna and says (Chaturvedi Badrinath- The Mahabharata an Inquiry into the Human Condition):

You could have prevented all this from happening, but you didn’t. You let the destruction of this family take place.

If I have earned any merit in living the way I have, then with the force of that merit I curse you.

In the thirthy-sixth year from now, your sons and your relatives and your advisers will likewise die fighting each other.

You will drift in the deep woods, unseen, unknown, alone, helpless. And you will die a mean death.

As the women of the Bharata clan are weeping now, the women of your family will likewise weep over their dead.

Krishna does the unexpected. Instead of commiserating with a grieving mother, he blames her back. He accuses her of “transferring to him the accountability that properly belonged to her for not restraining her ‘wicked-hearted, vain and jealous, cruel and arrogant, disobedient and disregarding, contemptuous son Duryodhana. How can you blame me for what you should blame yourself for? You are wholly accountable for the destruction of the Kuru clan’ (Badrinath)

Aspects of accountability, reproach, human will, Dharma and even karma are all tossed back and forth. A corporate lawyer pursuing her Executive MBA in Columbia University, Aditi Banerjee couldn’t have picked a more complex figure for her first book – The Curse of Gandhari. In the midst of her busy life, she is learning Sanskrit and has as her source Bibek Debroy’s English translation of the unabridged Critical Edition of the Mahabharata. She took one year to write the book, which is engaging and brisk in its narration.  Uncomfortable with classifications into ‘mythological fiction’ or ‘fantasy’, she calls her book a ‘speculative fiction’ defined by her as – “ Taking something that is true, the Itihaasa, and using one’s imagination and creative liberties to ‘speculate’ about the characters and stories between and beyond the lines of the original.”

Banerjee says the book is for “lovers of the Mahabharata who would like to see an alternative perspective of a lesser known character. For people who would be drawn to Gandhari’s story as a strong, intelligent woman who was torn between Dharma and family loyalty, who had incredible willpower and strength but struggled to rise above her own circumstances, who won the respect of the rishis and devas yet could not move past her own bitterness and regret.”

Aditi Banerjee - The Curse of Gandhari

In this interview she explains her interpretation of the complexity of Gandhari:

Is there more than one meaning to the title The Curse of Gandhari?

I suppose it is a little bit of play on words. The two things Gandhari is most famous for are her blindfold and the curse she pronounces on Krishna at the end of the war. Both are actions she chooses on her own and are evidence of a strong, powerful, wilful princess and queen. In both acts, there is an element of pathos and poignancy – a woman in a way resisting her fate with the means available to her. Rather than meekly accept her marriage to a blind prince, she immediately blindfolds herself in an act of devotion or spite or some mix of both. Rather than submit to her family’s defeat in the war, she rails against Krishna and curses him, a curse he accepts with a smile. On the one hand, the curse is her act of agency in defiance of her fate. On the other, she appears to be accursed, perhaps self-accursed, in finding herself again and again on the losing side of life. So, ‘curse’ is meant to refer to both sides of her personality – astonishing acts of willpower and also the recurring sense of victimhood she falls prey to again and again.

In the blame-game, do you think Gandhari was a negligent mother, because of whose act of being blindfolded voluntarily, she could not keep an eye on the misdeeds of her children, literally as well as figuratively?

I have heard that characterization as well. Certainly she is not the extraordinary mother that Kunti proves to be for the Pandavas, including the two sons of Madri she adopts as her own, setting aside Kunti’s treatment of Karna. However, I do not think the Mahabharata lends itself to black-and-white judgements of its characters. Imagine what it must have been like for Gandhari to have one hundred sons (and one daughter). While it is a traditional blessing to pronounce on all wives and mothers, how difficult it must have been to rein in such strong personalities as the Kaurava boys. And what kind of influence could she wield when faced with Dhritarashthra’s own ambitions for the throne, his refusal to accept the wise counsel of Vidura, and then the wiles of her own brother Shakuni. The deck was stacked against her, even if she had not been blindfolded. It is easy to say that in blindfolding herself, Gandhari rendered herself less useful and therefore a weaker mother and queen. There is some truth to that. But the Mahabharata itself does not take such a pejorative view of her blindfold. It is because of this act of devotion, her piety, that she accumulates enough tapobala to protect her son from death, through the power of her gaze, to curse Krishna, to blacken Yudhishthira’s toenails with her mere glance. Gandhari and her blindfold resist easy characterization, so I do not think of her as either a bad mother or a good mother – she is just an extraordinarily complicated figure and one who I think we can admire and respect even as we acknowledge her potential flaws.

Do you find any parallels in contemporary life with Gandhari?

I actually think a lot of women today could relate with Gandhari. What to do when you find yourself in unfortunate circumstances? Do you martyr yourself, resist in some passive-aggressive way, or take responsibility for yourself and the situation? Gandhari was a woman of extraordinary strength and intelligence. I truly believe she could have been the best of queens had she fully engaged in her dharma as a queen of Hastinapur. But something held her back. And I think as women we often hold ourselves back instead of completely leaning in. I also think women can relate to Gandhari’s quandary of herself being a noble character but surrounded by men, her husband and sons, with wicked intentions. How can one be a devoted, loyal wife and mother but still stand up for Dharma in such a situation? There are no easy answers from Gandhari’s life but I think her struggle is one that we can relate to even today.

Which aspects of Gandhari's life did you feel connected with most?

I liked that she was not a conventional heroine. She was not meek or submissive, although she was pious and devout. As a child, I thought her act of blindfolding herself was terribly romantic and noble. As I grew up, I saw it through a more jaundiced eye, wondering if it was instead an act of spite or perhaps self-martyrdom that took her away from her own dharma and potential. In writing this book, I thought I would find an answer. But I realized that reducing Gandhari to a judgement of whether she should or should not have blindfolded herself does not do justice to the depth and nuance of her character. So, there is this ambiguity about her which draws me to her, because we tend to expect our females to be villains or heroines and it is refreshing to have someone who does not neatly fit either category. I think of her as a noble, strong woman of incredible potential who was not able to live up to that full potential in her lifetime.

Kunti is as much responsible for neglecting Karna as Gandhari is for the misdeeds of her sons. Do you find any similarity between the two?

I think there are such interesting parallels and contrasts between them. Kunti is criticized for abandoning her son; Gandhari is criticized for not letting go of her son. Both have to deal with the tragedy of their choices. A large part of the book is devoted to the relationship and dynamic between Kunti and Gandhari and their roles as mothers, wives and queens.

Where have you allowed yourself to take artistic liberty with the epic?

I tried to not contradict anywhere the text of the Mahabharata but did speculate large parts of her story beyond the confines of the epic. For example, her girlhood days in Gandhara, and most especially, the last days of her life in the forest, waiting to die. Her relationship with Satyavati and Kunti, her brother and Bhishma, her thoughts about her husband and Pandu, all of this has been influenced by my imagination. What I tried to do was be true to the ethos of Gandhari’s character and life as depicted in the Mahabharata and simply expand upon those qualities and themes in the creative liberties that I took. I was always careful to preserve her fundamental persona as a woman of incredible strength, power, piety and devotion.

 Can Gandhari appeal to modern gender sensibilities? How do you navigate explain that in your novel?

Yes. I think it is hard for one to fathom the depth of her piety and devotion. It is said that from the moment she blindfolded herself, she never thought of another man but her husband. The very act of giving up one’s eyesight for a stranger, for a husband who was perhaps unwanted, is astonishing. I think such an act of sacrifice may not neatly fit today’s gender sensibilities and a modern reader may take a more cynical view of it. However, I think it is possible to both see Gandhari as being a reluctant wife, one who had misgivings about her husband and sons, yet also as an utterly loyal, devout woman, mother and wife. It is possible to encompass that traditional sensibility with the scepticism of the modernist, and that is what I have tried to do in this novel.

Your Gandhari seems a far more superior character to Dhridhrashtra? Is that something you have done consciously?

Perhaps. I think it would be much less interesting if Gandhari had a high opinion of Dhritarashthra. The essential conflict for Gandhari, I think, is that as a truly noble woman herself, she can see the weaknesses of her husband and son but also feels loyalty towards them. She wants to be on the side of Dharma but also does not want to abandon them. That is the conflict she cannot resolve.

Learning from the Himalayas


The Anaadi Foundation organised its Himalayan weekly Yatras to the Valley of Flowers, Hemkund and Badrinath, between September 14-20. It is also organising a Tapovan Tapasya, a trek and retreat, at Gomukh and Tapovan between September 20-27 and the Dravya Guna Yatra, an Introduction to Himalayan herbs, from September 28-October 1, and Scaling Heights – the Himalayan Leadership programme for Corporate Professionals from October 2-7.

The white capped peaks of the Himalayas in the higher reaches of North India, have for centuries stolen the thunder from the living. The orange and purple flowers dotting verdant land overlooking thundering rivers, have always waited in humble attendance as mankind looked outwards to the high summits. Wild bulls, boars and even the leeches know who is king here. As one seeker put it, it is actually very difficult to meditate in the Himalayas – to look inwards when all one yearns is to look outwards.

Every mountain range in the world invokes a deep connect with nature. But the Himalayas are special. Founders of Anaadi Foundation - Adinarayanan and Smrithi - have tried to get people to be touched and inspired in environs that have always mesmerised the world. Says Smrithi – “Every mountain range has its unique appeal but the Himalayas surpass many of these. For thousands of years, rishis, sadhus, yogis, sadhakas and rajans have been visiting the Himalayas not just for mental peace but for a complete transformation. Many of the temples that you will find in the Kedar region are consecrated by the Pancha Pandavas. So a trek to the Himalayas is not just an adventure travel but an opportunity to come face to face with one's own limitation and transcend them. In the plains when you do yogic practices there is a certain experience. When you do the same in the Himalayan regions, the experience and the benefit is enhanced multi fold. So everything can be experienced in an enhanced manner in the Himalayas.”

Every program at Anaadi Foundation is designed based on the needs of the people they come in touch with. “Some people are capable of experiencing deeper states just by sitting in one place. Some will need other tools that are go beyond their will and the yatra is one such opportunity. It is our blessing that through us hundreds of people get the darshan of the Himalayas and the temples every year,” says Smrithi.

Yatra for them is a journey that liberates. “The very word Yatra means a journey that liberates just as Mantra and Yantra are tools for liberation. What happens in a Yatra especially that involves a rigorous journey on foot with limited access to resources - the physical, emotional and cognitive processes start transforming. We usually say that a walk up to Tunganath is like perfoming a lakh ‘kapalabhatis’ (a shatkriya which literally translates as illuminating the brain) in a go and that too in a non-harmful way. One feels physically rejuvenated and the body is not the same after returning. That is why we initiate people into yogic practices a month before the yatra so that they don't just experience the physical beauty of the kshetra but also draw spiritual benefits. Else all attention would be gone just managing limb aches.”

Psychologically, mundane problems fade, and a common experience of the yatris, “is that problems that seemed big before the yatra start looking small. The yatra takes them away from the routine context and secondly the grandeur of the Himalayas and the emotional experience that it brings makes one forget those mundane problems that they keep chewing in their heads.”

The Himalayas are also vulnerable. As Smrithi puts it, everything there is very fragile, despite the image of grandeur and invulnerability the mountains exude. Uttarakhand has been declared as the herbal state with the presence of numerous medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPS). But with an increase in human activity and modernization, there is a rapid decline in these herbs. The Dravya Guna Yatra has been designed to given a glimpse into some of the rare Himalayan herbs and their Ayurvedic benefits. The Himalayan region has about 5000 vascular plants of which 800 have been found to have value. There are many more to be discovered. Only a very few people have knowledge about them and more researchers are needed to uncover as many of these herbs as possible.

 “The Himalayas offer a deep ecological perspective. Everything is so fragile there and thereby the need for conservation is much more. The yatris become aware of the impact of human activity on such fragile ecosystems.”

The sustainability activities of Anaadi Foundation are carried out at the Center for Research in Ecology and Sustainable Technologies (CREST). In tune with the UN's Sustainability Development Goals, the center integrates various aspects of sustainability including Sustainable Health, Self-Reliant Agriculture, Natural Buildings, Alternate Energy, Waste Management and Chemical free living. The national and international visits are designed to given the participants a glimpse of various sustainable models and how they can be adapted and adopted to contextual needs.

Quietude is a word that comes uppermost to one’s mind in experiencing the Himalayas. Adinarayan has practiced Mouna Tapasya periodically as do other seekers visiting this land. “The Mouna Tapasya undertaken periodically by Shri Adinarayanan serve several purposes. In the constant chatter and hustle bustle of daily life, we accumulate a lot of what one call baggage. If the system has to be cleansed, Mouna tapasya is a great tool. A sadhana is gentle but tapasya is rigourous - tapah is fire. The fundamental quality of fire is to transform and that is what Mouna Tapasya is largely about. At Anaadi Foundation, mouna tapasya is also a means to first person research into consciousness. Yogic practices have significant benefits but they have to be constantly fine-tuned to reach that level of perfection. Just as a laboratory is used to fine tune the results of an experiment, mouna tapasya can be used to fine tune yogic experiments.

Engineers and educationists, Adinarayanan and Smrithi have worked hard to promote Indic knowledge Systems among the youth, and in the Yatras they combine a love for the outdoors with knowledge of our shastras and traditions. “One thing that connected us well with students when we were educators was the fact that we could patiently answer the questions that they had about all aspects of life - technical and non-technical. We have always felt that these questions have the potential to transform into a quest that can take them deeper. When young people find a mentor who is non-judgemental, who can accept their limitations as much as their strengths and who has walked the path, they are willing to enagage with them. Prescriptions don't work well with young people. Hence at our home and at Anaadi Foundation we have created a platform for self-exploration especially for young people. They are gradually guided into deeper aspects of life and at the moment we are able to offer them personalized attention and care. That is how the members of Anaadi Foundation, who were our past students, got associated with us. Each one pursues their Swadharma and we have a platform for that. They work with themselves, tinker, fine tune and arrive at insights on their purpose in life and carry forward that work. That is how we have these people working on Education, Well-being, Culture and Sustainability,” says Smrithi.

They have explored the Siddhar Parambarai, or the tradition of the Siddhars. And to them each of the Siddhas hold great appeal and offer great benefit to youngsters. “Each of the siddhas (within the 18 and outside) have explored several dimensions of human endeavour and can benefit humanity greatly. Since we are close to Palani and living with the blessings of Lord Murugan, Bogar is very close to our heart. He is a visionary who made the deity’s benefit available for many many years. Knowledge of Tamil is key to decoding the Siddha literature. We do find good number of people in and around Palani with knowledge of siddha works. We are interacting with them closely to see how Siddha literature can benefit modern people,” she adds.

Both of them were Professors of Computer Science at Amrita University for more than a decade. Their interactions with students were deep both in and outside the classroom. “Outside the classroom, we observed that most people we interacted with came to us for solving life problems than computer science problems. As faculty, we evolved tools that would be helpful for enhancing the learning potential of students. These tools blended asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana with modern concepts of time management and cognitive abilities. At some point, there were a group of our students who left their high-paying jobs and even potential US university admissions to stay with us for a deeper sadhana.”

Founders Adinarayanan and Smrithi

When the numbers increased of people wanting to contribute to society, they formed the Anaadi Foundation in 2015 on Guru Purnima day. At the Foundation since most of the ashramites are technologists, they combine technology, science and spirituality to promote and popularize Indic Knowledge Systems

Having spent their early lives as techies, the couple speaks the language that the younger generation can understand. Ofcourse, modern science is headed in a certain direction with researchers all over the world doing excellent work in science and technology, they say, but the scientific community is hesitant to embrace the Indian sciences because of various reasons. “One of the reasons could be that we do not have enough number of (critical mass) of Indians who can talk both the languages - modern and traditional. Interdisciplinary research, systematic publication and data-oriented approach will be needed to ensure that Indian knowledge systems are adopted. We will also need institutions- schools and colleges that promote the study and research of these sciences so that an interest is created in today's children to pursue Indian knowledge systems. It is only a question of time and history will have to be rewritten once there is a critical mass of people and their research talking about it.”

Modern neurocognitive sciences and Yogic Sciences are tied to Anaadi’s goals. “Neuroscience looks at experience from a third person perspective while yoga looks at it from a first person perspective. Both these perspective when put together can generate powerful outcomes. At Anaadi Foundation, in collaboration with other research groups, we are studying the neuro-cognitive benefits of Yoga. At the same time we are also look at the insights that yogic literature that can inform neuroscience research.”

The Anaadi Foundation emphasises that shastras are core to the Hindu way of live and Gnana, Bhakti and Kriya all are needed for a fulfilling life. “If one has to decode the experiences that one gains through the yogic path, the knowledge of the shastras is important. Just as research happens from theory to practice and practice to theory, shastras and our daily life are closely tied. The fundamental aspect of Indic teaching is that it encourages us to see everything as interconnected ecosystem - the microcosm and macrocosm and lead life based on the purushartha- goals of human life. What strikes us about the modern way of life is our consumption patterns- food, objects and even ideas and thoughts. When guided by the Purushartha, we lead an enjoyable life that has a purpose and is also aligned with the larger goal of life- moksha. The very way we look at material objects and consume them changes with this framework.”

All of these lessons will be tied in when managers climb up Himalayas, learning to manage expectations, abilities ofcourse with an eye on the goal.

Pull of her strings

Whether it is upholding the most traditional of values playing the most traditional of instruments, or collaborating with passion and panache with other musicians from different genres, Veena exponent Jayanthi Kumaresh has shown with grace and poise how true classicism and true liberalism are not antithetical at all

There is a row of Veenas lining the wall in the prayer room. There is a floor to ceiling image of the late Mahaperiyava of Kanchi Kamakoti peetam. The lamp is lit and an aromatic fragrance pervades the room. The very air seems to be waiting for Jayanthi Kumaresh to sound the notes of one of the most sacred instruments in the world, the Saraswathi Veena.

There are nine Veenas in all in this attic room in her home in Bangalore. The smallest one was played by her as a three-year old. One of them was damaged while travelling, but sounds louder as repaired Veenas are won’t to do. Her guru and ‘periamma’ Padmavathy Ananthagopalan has promised another 24 Veenas to add to her collection.

Veenas are handmade from the wood of 15-year old different trees grown in temple premises. In Mysore, this might be rosewood, in Thanjavur, jackfruit. In these temples, scattered all over South India, prayers are offered five times a day and the resonance of the bell gets into the wood and becomes a part of the Veena,” says Jayanthi

While performing at the 19th Century Théâtre de la Ville (The City Theatre) at Palace du Chatelett, which hosted German composer Wagner’s first Paris performance of Rienzi in 1869, Jayanthi brings to the evening a centuries old flavour of Indian culture and tradition. “Even abroad, we carry with us the smells of the jasmine, the smells of lit agarbathi and hours of the guru-shishya relationship, the spirit of Ambal, and all those things which make people feel good, even though they may not understand all this. Ga is not simply a note. It is not just a frequency in the ether. It is a Svara Devatha. Ga has an asthram, vasthram, shastram, a consort. Ga has a shlokam. The concept of the Svara Devathas is an integral part of this system and the system is built on these principles. So if you rip it off that and say that Ga is only a frequency and expect that to have the same effect, I am not sure if that is possible.”

“The entire Carnatic system is governed by these kinds of influences, where the music is created in sync with local practices and culture. Even the Gamaka, which is so characteristic of Indian classical music originates from our lifestyle, our ethos, our ecosystem. Devoid of this ecosystem and the ethos around which this system is created, I don’t know if this music will have the same charm,” says Jayanthi.

Her guru Padmavathi Ananthagopalan made sure Jayanthi soaked in everything that would enhance her appreciation and delivery of her art. She made her learn Sanskrit so that she could understand the literature and the sahitya. She made her learn Bharatanatyam so that when the time came to compose for dance ballets she would have the tools to do so. She made her learn French in case she got opportunities to perform abroad. She also told her that just as Jayanthi had got an A-top degree from AIR for the Veena, she should also do a PhD in music as that would give additional credence to everything Jayanthi said and played.

After four decades of playing the Veena, Jayanthi set out to explore the different Veena banis for her PhD research. The greatest virtue of researching music history is perhaps developing the ability to see the music from somebody else’s point of view. While playing is rewarding in itself, says Jayanthi, it is important to learn about one’s own performing skills through the work of the great Veena players of the past, the repertoire, the history, the theory, the culture, the audiences and the instrument makers.

The various Veena styles opened up new possibilities for her own playing style, which is rooted in the Thanjavur bani. There are so many different techniques in each of the styles, says Jayanthi, “and the greatest revelation for me is how the Veena itself is different in each of these styles. Jackfruit is used in Thanjavur and Kerala. There is a lot of pulling (or plucking) in the Thanjavur style which puts pressure on the bridge. That in turn presses the top board which has to be thick and strong in order to take this pressure. The Mysore Veena has a thin top board with the neck made of rosewood. Pulling along the strings can cause the weight of the strings to stress the bridge which can cause it to sink in. The structure thus doesn’t allow a lot of pulling of the strings.”

Jayanthi’s playing has all the ghambhiram and the Gayaki (melodic) style of the Thanjavur Bani, which she learnt from Padmavathy as well Veena legend S Balachander. The Mysore style known for the split fingering technique, speed, and the higher shruti can be seen in the playing of her contemporaries in Karnataka including senior vainikas D Balakrishna and R K Prakash. The Andhra style has a sweet or ‘Muddu’ tone as they say in Telugu, whose most celebrated exponent was Chitti Babu. The Trivandrum style is very similar to the Thanjavur style. “I wanted to know if at some later date, I could incorporate some things from each of these styles into my music. That means I have to open my mind and not shut the Gharana door on it,” says Jayanthi.

Who will build an auditorium in the shape of a Veena?

Whenever Jayanthi goes to Chowdaiah hall she wonders: ‘This is in the shape of a violin, who will build an auditorium in the shape of a Veena? As a child, Jayanthi grew up listening more to the sounds of the Violin than the Veena, with everyone from her mother, to sister to aunts and her maternal uncle Lalgudi Jayaraman playing the Violin.  Then her music education was taken over by her mother’s elder sister Padmavathy, the only relative to play the Veena. “For a person like me for whom the musical genes were there, the hardware was already installed, only the software had to be installed. If you ask me whether the lineage, the family, the growing up and memories had an effect on me, I would say there was no time to think about it. That influence became me. There was no me. I became that ambience or ecosystem.” 

Jayanthi has shot one of her music videos - Senthamizh nadenum - in Valadi on the Trichy-Thanjavur belt, as her ancestors originally hail from Valadi, before they moved to Lalgudi, 6 km away. Jayanthi’s ancestor had learnt directly from Thayagaraja and had once invited him to Lalgudi for a visit. During his visit to Lalgudi, Thyagaraja composed the Lalgudi Pancharathna Krithis.   The video begins with Jayanthi at the temple praharam and later playing the Veena at the Valadi railway station, bringing alive vivid images of the agriculturally rich and culturally vibrant belt.

There are many things which come together in the making of a musician. According to Jayanthi, they are “that which come with you with all your births, what you have assimilated in previous karmas, vasanas. Next is the ecosystem in which you grow. Then it is the work that you do. Then the person who guides you. If all that is there you don’t even have to be born in a music family. It’s a series of things that have to click.”

Jayanthi picked up her first Veena at the age of three. She believes that right from the beginning, “someone from up there was pulling the strings.” Her inspiration was her aunt and guru Padmavathy who used to live in Singapore and who took over Jayanthi’s training after relocating to Chennai.

Jayanthi sees benefits for every child in learning an instrument. Children who play instruments are constantly multi-tasking. “It’s a psychosomatic motor activity. The left hand is doing the creativity. The right hand is doing the motor activity, either bowing or plucking. You are sitting with your back straight in Padmasana. You are remembering the tala, the raga arohanam, avarohanam, the composition, the gamaka, which sangathi comes after which, the Pallavi, Annupalavi, how to finish the talam and go to Anupallavi, then play the svaram. You are doing 6-7 things at the same time. This increases the concentration span of that child in other areas too,” says Jayanthi.

Jayanthi’s first concert was given at Mylapore Fine Arts at the age of 15.  It was the 3 pm to 5 pm slot, but she had practiced so much that she finished performing in one and half hours at high speed.

Jayanthi stayed with Padmavathy for 22 years.  In those years, her guru not only trained her in Veena playing but also encouraged Jayanthi to seek guidance from other musicians including T R Subramaniam for Pallavi, Thanjavur Shankara Iyer to learn Tamil compositions, and Padams and Javallis from T Brinda. She also had the great opportunity to learn from S Balachander whom Padmavathy considered as her manasika guru.  

Of the special relationship she shared with each of her mentors, Jayanthi says, “A teacher only teaches a subject. The Guru teaches the Guna and Roopa and is also one who removes darkness. They teach you not just the art, but the spirit of the art, the soul within. He teaches not just that subject but guides your life. Once you establish a connection with the guru, that connect is on forever,” says Jayanthi.

When Jayanthi started performing solo professionally, she was exposed to what others were playing and she started exploring a bit of that. “At that point your music changes a bit. Then you collaborate with other musicians and a few jugalbandhi features will come into your music. Then comes western collaboration and that sticks to your music and you grow. Then you go abroad and go to Philharmonic and again it changes. Some of the changes are conscious. When you see someone playing the sitar at great speed, you think you have to do that. Sometimes it comes into my music without my knowledge. For instance I listen to Kumaresh ji (her husband) and some things come into my music and some of my music goes into his, unconsciously.”

Even after several decades of playing, Jayanthi says it’s difficult to say with certainty what one’s style is. “If you nail it down and say this is my style, I feel you are stagnating. When you are young you want to prove things. You play Kanakangi as a main ragam or you decide to play a five Kala Pallavi. But, slowly, your priorities keep changing. And at some point you play for inner peace.”

Indian National Orchestra

Giftedness researcher Ellen Winner says to make a major contribution in the arts, and even the sciences, “you need a rebellious spirit and the type of mind that can see new things. Most prodigies, however, are acclaimed not for their innovation but for doing something that's already been done.” Only prodigies who can reinvent themselves as innovators, she says, are likely to leave a lasting mark during adulthood. Introducing Jayanthi in a recent concert, the speaker said the ‘self-effacing’ Jayanthi’s most outstanding trait was “her audacity to be different.”

It was a major national celebration in New Delhi without the national instrument, which spurred Jayanthi to start the Indian National Orchestra in 2014. “We had a major event in Delhi and I saw that there was representation from every genre except our Shastriya Sangeetham. Maybe because they could not have a kutcheri in that forum. What were we doing having a national celebration without the national instrument of India, the Veena? That was when I felt we should have a national orchestra. The orchestra is not about the Carnatic dharma ecosystem, but about national fervour. It’s about ‘We Indians want to present something united’,” says Jayanthi.

The Indian National Orchestra brings together like minded musicians, and the compositions are not existing krithis, but new ones composed on national themes including one on Ganga, Ganesha, Kashmiri to Kanyakumari, the Himalayas. “Every part of India was covered. We used Sindhubhairavi Ragam which is used in every genre of Indian music - Carnatic, Hindustani, Sufi, folk - and created pieces. The team is united in presenting the purest shastriya sangeetham, doing it together, doing it for India,” says Jayanthi.

In the past, Veena maestros have composed orchestral pieces to popularise the Veena. Emami Shankara Sastri composed the orchestral piece Adarsha Sikhararohanam to honour Tensing Norway and Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Mount Everest in 1953. It was a composition in seven movements and played with six Veenas and suggests as one observer put it, “a Pilgrim’s progress to reach the pinnacle of an ideal.” Chitti Babu composed Temple Bells for an ensemble of 50 Veenas, a composition in five movements.

What Emami Shastri and Chitti Babu presented were exclusive for Veena. It was to bring out the beauty of the Veena, to popularise the instrument and to popularise it in an attractive package. The Indian National Orchestra is different from these compositions.

The music is composed by the INO musicians and is not exclusively to the Veena. “In the INO we felt that since Carnatic and Hindustani music is all about improvisation we cannot make all the instrumentalists play one kind of tune together. So there’s a lot of scope for improvisation in the orchestra. In every piece every instrument improvises. In every piece there is raga alapana, swara prasthara and scope for improvisation. There are places where we all play together and here is harmony,” says Jayanthi.

Her parting note will strike a chord when we consider how rife our culture is with conflict of various kinds and regular controversies. “After having spent so many years in music, whatever I want to express I express through my music. I can be a soft power and influence society and show how the fine arts can be used to change the world. I don’t have to talk or act like a politician,” she says.

Double the emotion

Two Shankars, one Ravi Shankar and one L Shenkar (Shankar) are probably the best known Indian names in World Music. One familiarised the Hindustani sitar, the other took Carnatic ragam music through his double violin and voice to every known idiom from classical, to rock and roll, to jazz to EDM (Electronic Dance Music), creating music that defies definition.

Go to the Tanam in his 1995 Grammy nominated album Raga Abheri on YouTube, play it for a few minutes, open another tab and play it at any other point of time. Played simultaneously, the music sounds even more brilliant and as one viewer puts it, even more ‘incredulously together’.

The creator of the title theme, and featured in the music of every episode, of the American hit TV show Heroes, Shenkar has worked hard to follow wherever his creativity would take him. Sometimes to criticism that he has gone too far, crossed over to pop and new age music. To his credit, he has worked with the biggest names in rock and pop and shown them what Indian raga music is all about. He even teaches raga music to heavy metal band Metallica members.

I think emotion is the key word. Everybody’s music has to be emotional

- L Shenkar

Shenkar’s music is all about emotion. He worked with Martin Sorcsese on The Last Temptation of Christ and with Mel Gibson on The Passion of the Christ.  “I used different ragas when I worked with Martin in the studio. He said he wanted more intense music. Jesus is being beaten, we need more crying. When we are working on all that, we realise music is universal. Emotions are the same everywhere but there are different interpretations. Maybe someone cries more hard, somebody has more tears, somebody has less tears. I think emotion is the key word. Everybody’s music has to be emotional.”  

Shenkar has been involved in all kinds of music from Carnatic, to pop, to rap to EDM (Electronic Dance Music which he played at Freedom Jam in Bangalore on Sunday), to world music but has always brought in his Indian influence.  He moved to the US in 1969 when he went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut to study Ethnomusicology and to teach music where he met legendary British guitarist John McLaughlin, who was learning to play the Veena from S Ramanathan, Shenkar’s uncle. They formed a band called Turiananda Sangeet and a year later it became the iconic band Shakti. He recalls the days when he, John, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinakayakram would sit in John’s apartment in New York and practice from 9 am to 3 pm. Indian music can spread only when Indians start working with non-Indian artistes, says Shenkar.

“I love the old, I love the new, I love the future. I am constantly changing so that people become secure of the unknown”

Shenkar’s training techniques are as eclectic as his music. Shenkar can sing for 14 hours non-stop except for eating. Apart from his early Carnatic music training, he has studied various systems for breathing.  “You can even learn from boxers. I have learnt from Mohammad Ali (when he worked on the film Ali) and from the Shaolin Temples in China. When they start their training, the teachers will ask you to carry buckets of water upstairs. After it is done they say bring it back down. This strengthens the upper portions of the body. I was also invited to Tel Aviv to work with opera singers. I think the key lies in long breathing.”

In his 1980s album Who’s to Know, Shenkar introduced his own invention the 10 string, stereophonic double violin built by Ken Parker. It could play the sounds of the cello, bass guitar, violin and viola. When he was told by several guitar manufacturers that it would be impossible to make. Shenkar replied “it may not be possible for you, but it is possible for me.” (Something that holds true for his music too). “I love the old, I love the new, I love the future. I am constantly changing so that people become secure of the unknown,” says Shenkar.

Shenkar moved from Los Angeles to Kattukulam in Kerala four years ago. He now lives in the 4,000 year old renovated Chepleeri Shiva temple with his guru Thirumeni Guruji and runs the Shiva Conservatory to mentor young musicians. Living in the middle of nowhere, is both heaven and hell, Shenkar says. “It was heaven as I saw Shiva all the time and there are peacocks everywhere. Hell because there are power cuts for 15 hours at a stretch. Last year there was so much floods, so much moisture, my violin broke. My computer and my microphone broke.” At that time he was working with American songwriter Stephen Perkins on Chepleeri Dream, where he has added Vedic Mantras to the music.

“I am making this kind of music for a world audience, for musicians to understand Vedic culture. This is also for the musicians I have worked with, from very well-known bands who love Indian music, who between them have nearly 1000 million records. They all want to come to India to experience this and I am going to bring them next year,” promises Shenkar.

Culture Connect with Japanese

Center for Soft Power had a Culture Connect programme with Japanese nationals in Bangalore.

The Japanese women's association read out three Japanese folk tales and Indian artist Sudhindra sketched the pictures in traditional Indian styles. The Japanese were told about the different art forms in India, and the connection of the folk tales to India's Panchatantra stories.

Some of the art forms included Madhubani which originated in the Mithila region of Bihar as a form of wall art and Gond paintings created with a series of intricately arranged dots and dashes which were developed by the Gondi tribe of central India.


Ganesha’s French Connection

Ganesha Chariot Festival has become the most sought after event in Paris

During his recent visit to France for the G7 Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Indian diaspora and highlighted a very unique aspect which has received less attention and in fact has hardly been reported about. While greeting those present in the audience, he spoke about how Paris lights up during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi.

Paris and Ganesh Chaturthi! Intrigued? It is the Manika Vinayakar Alayam in Paris, whose famous and colourful chariot festival is the reason that Ganesh Chaturthi has become such a hugely popular event in the metropolitan city.  Organic, bottom-up and people-driven, through the first ever Ganesha chariot festival, the Manika Vinayakar Alayam has well and truly been instrumental in mainstreaming and celebrating India's grand tradition in Paris.

Every successful event has an inspiring beginning. The nascent efforts of Manika Vinayakar Alayam started in 1985, at a University hall in Paris where the group set up a Ganesha puja. From then on in, there has been no looking back.  It was in 1994 that the Manika Vinayakar Alayam started the annual chariot festival which takes Ganesha in a procession through one of Paris’ most centrally located and crowded streets. The annual procession, led by priests, comprises of the Ganesha chariot steered by people. The festive procession is accompanied by musical instruments and the singing of devotional songs.

When the chariot festival was first thought of, the group faced a lot of flak and had to answer several tough questions from the civic and police authorities. But the lead organisers of the festival called for a meeting of authorities which was attended by several representatives of local media in Paris as well. “There were objections to the idea itself; questions were posed whether people will be safe. There were environmental and health concerns, there being the sound of musical instruments and use of fire during the festival, and so on. But we showed several videos of how Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, through which we started convincing the authorities - mainly the police - for permission. We were patient in answering all their queries, and while it did take time, finally, they had to agree to the idea of holding the chariot festival,” said Vairamuthu Vaithilingam, President, Manikaya Vinayakar Alayam

The police authorities in Paris agreed to give permission to the chariot festival just for a year, to begin with. The police additionally asked Manika Vinayakar Alayam to sign a document that would hold them responsible if there was any harm caused due to the result of the festival. There were 80 police personnel provided for the festival. Ganesha and his devotees won over everyone! “The first Ganesha chariot festival was a roaring success. The authorities were so impressed that they called us and appreciated the manner in which we had organised the festival, without causing any damage. From there on in, the festival became an annual affair in Paris.”

The numbers present at the chariot festival has incrementally increased over the years, and participants are from diverse backgrounds. “The footfall of people will be anywhere between 70,000 to 1, 50,000; such huge crowds that it becomes increasingly difficult to control, but it is managed well. We have about 30-40 volunteers who give their time and efforts to the festival. People from several countries participate wholeheartedly, especially from India, China, Mauritius, Britain, Columbia, to name a few.”

The French citizens and authorities have taken gradual but definite interest in the chariot festival as well. “Nearly 30% of the festival attendees are French citizens. Representatives from the French Ministry of Cultural and Religious affairs participate every time we organise the chariot festival, “says Vaithilingam.

The annual chariot festival as well as the inception of the Ganesha temple by the Manika Vinayakar Alayam is a simple yet dedicated effort of the family of Vairamuthu Vaidyalingam, who is passionate about the cause and significance of Ganesha. With no hidden agenda in what started as a nascent effort, the chariot festival has gone on to become a huge organic success and a much sought after event in Paris.

The great news is that this is not just a one-off event in Europe. “If you take countries like Denmark, Austria, Norway, and others, they have all started celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi now, and this shows the larger acceptance of eastern traditions and cultural practices,” added Vairamuthu.

While Vairamuthu is based in London currently, he is from Jaffna in Srilanka, but he attributes his ancestry to India. He also makes it a point to visit India often, especially Goa. “Our ancestors hail from India and migrated about 200 odd years ago. Currently, I am in pursuit of finding my exact roots in Tamil Nadu. I think I am from southern Tamil Nadu. Hopefully, we will be able to solve that mystery soon!” 

Everyday ambassadors like Vairamuthu Vaithilingam drive home the heart-warming point that one’s culture must be worn on ones sleeve, with pride and joy. Most importantly, customs and traditions should be all-inclusive, allowing anyone and everyone to take part in a spirit of friendship and brotherhood. More power to such visionaries; the world will certainly be richer for their contributions.

(Author is Senior Research Fellow and Administrative Head at India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power. Views expressed by the author are his own)

CSP Marks World Tourism Day

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) marks World Tourism Day every year on September 27. This year the organisation has selected India as the host country. Every year the celebrations have a theme; this year the theme is 'Tourism and Jobs: A Better Future For All'.

As part of World Tourism Day celebrations in India, the Center for Soft Power hosted a series of round table discussions to discuss and deliberate the importance of the tourism and hospitality sectors and their impact on cultural, social and economical development of respective destinations. The round table discussions were held in various Indian cities between September 5 – 20, 2019. A select group of people from the fields of tourism and hospitality were invited to be part of the round tables. The proceedings of the round tables will be used in preparing a roadmap for policymakers. 

Objectives of Road To World Tourism Day include:

  • To discuss current trends in India in the tourism and hospitality sectors
  • To discuss employment opportunities in the tourism and hospitality sectors and the scope for technology and innovation
  • Preparing destinations to enable the tourism and hospitality industries

Cities that took part in Road To World Tourism Day:

  1. Chennai
  2. Hyderabad
  3. Bengaluru
  4. Puducherry
  5. Anandpur Sahib
  6. Lucknow
  7. Ahmedabad
  8. Jaipur
  9. Patna
  10. Itanagar
  11. Kolkata
  12. Goa
  13. Delhi

The Center for Soft Power wishes to thank all its city host partners for graciously taking out time to curate these round tables in these cities.