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Pancha Jaati with Dr Pappu

This edition of Pancha Jaati, a periodic column featuring five questions from readers (artistes, connoisseurs and aspirants) to a chosen veteran in the field of arts, features well-known scholar Dr.Pappu Venugopala Rao.

Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao, renowned scholar, poet, musicologist, Sanskritist, dance expert, writer and orator, has more than 18 books to his credit on a variety of subjects. The most recent of his well acclaimed books include 'Flowers at His feet' and 'Rasamanjari of Bhanudatta: English translation and commentary'. Still a dedicated student of Indology, religion and philosophy, he has presented and published over 100 research papers. After 32 years of service as an academic administrator with the American Institute of Indian Studies, Dr Rao now holds many important portfolios in prominent institutions, like Sangeet Natak Akademi (Delhi), The Music Academy (Madras), Kalakshetra Foundation (Chennai) and others. An adjudicator of Doctoral dissertations in dance, music and literature for many universities globally, he is much sought after for his lectures at various institutions. He is a recepient of numerous awards, such as Sangita Sastra Nidhi, Sangita Sastra Visarada, Sangita Sastra Kovida, Asukavi Sekhara and Best book for 'Flowers at His feet'.

Dr. Anupama Kylash
Kuchipudi & Vilasini Natyam Dancer, Hyderabad

Dr. Anupama Kylash is a Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam exponent. She has a doctorate in dance from the University of Hyderabad and is a disciple of Dr. Uma Rama Rao for Kuchipudi and Padma Bhushan Swapna Sundari for Vilasini Natyam. She also has a ‘Visharad’ in Hindustani music from the Akil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalay.
Question: Do you think that in depth academic knowledge of one’s art would add to the capability of one’s artistry or take away from the spontaneity that distinguishes all great arts? How can a balance be struck?
Dr. Pappu: Dear Anupama, Thank you for this wonderful question. It comes at a very crucial time when most practicing performers of both music and dance are oscillating in this dilemma about having or not having the knowledge of theory. There are many brilliant researchers who are not necessarily performers and there are many astounding performers with very minimal theoretical knowledge. I strongly feel that the question needs to be addressed at two different levels.

The knowledge of theory or as you put it academic knowledge is injurious to budding artistes. Dancers or musicians should have very basic knowledge of theory at the beginning of their career. At this stage academic knowledge conflicts, confuses and sometimes impedes their performance talents. At the level 1, if
I can call it so, the artistes should focus on performance and learn the absolutely essential academic components or theory that goes with what they are performing.

Level 2 is the intermediary level where a little more than required knowledge does not really harm the performance or the spontaneity. By then the artiste becomes mature enough to discriminate between what is essential and what can be ignored.

It is at the advanced level or level 3 that the artiste’s knowledge not only helps; in fact it enriches the quality of the performance and confidence of the artiste.

If we go by these levels and keep academics as a gradual dimension in shaping an artiste, I think that in itself has the inherent balancing component.

To substantiate my point I can give you the most befitting example of your own Guru Dr. Swapna Sundari who is an amazing amalgamation of extraordinary theoretical knowledge and most astute performing brilliance! They are complimentary at that level and many times contradictory at the initial stage!
Question: We hear the constant term of creativity in music and have demonstration of creativity too. But can true creativity be practiced? If it’s practiced, then is it creativity? Then what is creativity? Also, if you describe creative, then does sticking to definition limit creativity? Bharadwaj Sathavalli
Morsing Artiste, Bangalore

Bharadwaj, a morsing artiste receiving training from Vid.H.S.Sudhindra, has accompanied stalwarts such as Dr.M.Balamurali Krishna, Vidyuths Ganesh-Kumaresh, Vid.T.M.Krishna, Vidwan R.K Srikantan and several others. He also has the rare acclaim of performing the "Morsing Tarang", with 6 Morsings and has titled the instrument "Hexamorse".
Dr. Pappu: Dear Bharadwaj, This is a very interesting question. Many Aalankarikaas, (writers on rhetoric) have dwelt upon precisely this topic.

Pandita Raya Jagannatha a 17th century poet in the court of Sha Jahan wrote a treatise on rhetoric called Rasagangaadhara in which he says there are 3 qualities in every artiste but in different proportions. They are:
  • Pratibha - creativity
  • Vyutpatti - scholarship in (&) productivity
  • and
  • Abhyaasam - practice

The first one pratibha is an inherent quality which is not acquired by practice or learnt from the teacher. It is creativity defined as 'nava navonmesha shaalini' ever new and every time astounding. Artistes who are child prodigies belong to this category though creativity is not necessarily confined to them. Anyone at any age can be creative.

The second quality has more to do with quantity and does not necessarily reflect scholarship alone. It is the outcome of hard work and industry.

The third one abhyasa is an essential component for all the artistes irrespective of their pratibha or vyutapatti.

These three qualities make an artiste. However, the stature of the artiste depends on the proportion in which these three exist in an artiste.

Now your question whether creativity can be practiced should be viewed from this background. The answer is a definite yes. Your creativity is NOT practiced but it invariably influences and enhances your creativity. In fact a constant saadhana makes an artiste more and more creative though creativity by itself is not practiced!

Sticking to definitions does not limit creativity, yet at times creating your own definitions also is creativity.

C.S Sharada Prasad
Student, UC Berkeley, California

Sharada Prasad is a student pursuing MS/Phd in Energy Resources from the University of Berkeley, California. Basically from Bangalore, he is a keen follower of arts and philosophy. He is also a cyclist and an amateur photographer, particularly interested in nature photography.
Question: We are losing a language/dialect every two weeks. I wonder what would be the kind of loss to humanity if we lose Sanskrit fully. Considering the fact that Sanskrit is no longer being spoken (except in few villages) in today's world, I am interested in knowing the role this "muted language" is still playing in our lives.
Dr. Pappu: Dear Sri Sharada Prasad, Thank you for this question which is bothering a lot of people. As a Sanskritist myself, I feel touched by your anxiety. It is true that there are many languages receding into oblivion by the day. The world today is not really serious about preserving these treasures; it is more oriented to mundane activities!

But in the case of Sanskrit I have no fear; it is a language with an inherent strength and a language that lives by itself. I don’t contribute to the idea of calling Sanskrit as ‘dead language’ or ‘muted language’.

There are many classical languages in the world which are not meant to be spoken languages! They are the languages of treatises, of culture of knowledge and wisdom of tradition and heritage and need not be spoken. Sanskrit language lives in the daily lives of all Indians irrespective of their religious affiliations.

All our treatises are in Sanskrit, A to Z, astrology to zoology. There are many institutions bringing out translations of all these into many Indian and world languages. There are more of these now than a hundred or fifty years ago indicating the growing interest in Sanskrit and understanding texts written in Sanskrit.

Right from the Vedas, books are being transliterated, translated and with commentaries.

I get on an average 10-15 calls a month asking for meanings, requesting me to write dance dramas in Sanskrit and many more research scholars approaching me with various kinds of Sanskrit related queries.

I never can think of a day when Sanskrit disappears. It has been there, is and will be!
Kathakali dance form has a unique tala called ADANTHA which is in 56 akshara kalam(56/8=7),which in common parlance is ‘Tripuda’. Is there any other Chauka thalam used in carnatic music or ‘Nritta Sangeetham’. Is this very difficult to use in dance? Sree Ranjini
Kuchipudi Dancer & Carnatic Vocalist, Kerala

Sree Ranjani is a student of music and dance from Kerala. Having completed her Bachelors in music
and specialized in Kuchipuidi, she is currently pursuing her Masters in Dance from the University of Hyderabad and is a recipient of the Ministry of Culture scholarship for advanced training in music.

Dr. Pappu: Dear Sree Ranjini, I am happy with these kind of questions which attempt to compare and see similarities or differences in different genres. In fact teaching is in itself a learning process and thank you for letting me expand my knowledge in this area.

I have verified with Gurus Sri Narasimhachari and Sri Sadanam Balakrishnan of Kalakshetra. They said Khanda jaathi Ata tala is the equivalent of Adantha talam in kathakali. Traditionally pancha vaadyam is played to this Adantha talam. It is reckoned as 5 beats (ghathams) +5 beats followed by two druthams ( no counting of fingers is involved). In Carnatic music there are several Ata tala varnams(tana varnams).

In Bharata Natyam we have the famous viriboni tana varnam and kirtanam Natanamaadinaar in raga vasantha of Gopalakrishna Bharati.

Nothing is difficult in the adept of hands of a good composer and an equally good choreographer.
Sweta Prasad
Carnatic Vocalist, Hyderabad

Sweta Prasad is a carnatic vocalist and an accompanist for classical dances based in Hyderabad. She is the grand daughter of veteran cine artiste C.Nagabhushanam. Having had a vibrant performing career of over 17 years, Sweta specially works on compositions of Saint Annamacharya and has released several audio products of the same. She is currently pursuing her Masters in music from the Padmavathi Mahila University, Tirupathi.
Question: According to you, what are the major differences and the most important points that a singer who performs for both, a kutcheri and a dance performance, should know in doing complete justice to both genres?
Dr. Pappu: Dear Sweta, This is a challenging question faced by vocalists who take both the roles.

I personally feel singing for dance is more tough and difficult job than being a normal Carnatic vocalist. While it is very independent to be a performing vocalist in Carnatic music, it is absolutely opposite to be a vocalist for dance.

The basic quality that we talk of in Carnatic music of being creative or expression of Manodharma ceases to exist in the vocalists who sing for dance. That is why more often we see vocalists singing for dance though qualitatively some times better than Carnatic vocalists, compelled to confine themselves to singing for dance.

It is altogether different if a performing vocalist sings now and then for dance. He or she comes back easily into their main stream. But there are hardly any singers who are used to perform for dance, singing Carnatic concerts. There are very few exceptions.

Therefore the parallel job of singing for both dance and kutcheris must be discouraged. Unless the vocalist is exceptionally brilliant and able to easily switch roles, this is a tough proposition. What normally happens these days is when a young musician sings well and cannot instantly make a mark in Kutcheri platforms, they are lured by the opportunities to sing and start singing for dance. Very often it stops there! I can give umpteen examples of this one way traffic. I repeat once again that a regular Kutcheri vocalist singing for dance a couple of times is a deviation and an exception.

But if a singer is faced with the challenging situation of singing for both dance and Kutcheris, then the most important exercise for such artistes will be to tread the parallel paths carefully not compromising the quality in either forum. They have to adhere to a very strict sadhana schedule of Carnatic Kutcheri format and focus on improvisation and manodharma very religiously.