Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Songs of a forgotten genius... Shahaji I

Shahaji I's compositions, though musically complex and highly evocative, are rarely sung today. Were his music more popular, he would be recognized as one of the greatest composers ever…

One of India's few traditions that is still going strong is Carnatic music. It cannot be disputed that Carnatic music as we know it today, owes it to Thanjavur for its birth and Chennai for its current day sustenance. Since the16th century, Thanjavur was the place where the rules of this music were created. It is therefore only to be expected that the finest music was also created in one of India's grandest and most erudite courts. A worthy successor to the Nayak patronage of music was the second Maratha king of Thanjavur, Shahaji I (1684 - 1712). As a standing example of tolerance, the Maratha kings in general and Shahaji in particular, seamlessly blended their culture into the existing Telugu, Sanskrit and Tamil culture of Thanjavur.

Shahaji's compositions don't figure in music concerts, a lesson worth learning for all who seek to create a culture. Great music, created by him and his royal successors, died with the short-sighted abolishment of the Devadasi community in the early 20th century. They never thought of popularising their music to a larger group nor did their descendants fund musicians to learn it. Among a constellation of royal composers, Shahaji I stands unsurpassed. His magnificent operas and padams that focus on the heroine seeking merger with the lord are soaked in metaphor and elegance, and must have had very creative deployment of the ragas. Sadly, all of this is relegated to dusty corners of the Thanjavur library in palm leaves that are rarely touched today. We have one tantalising glimpse of the music in an opera the king wrote, to be danced in his favourite temple for Siva as Tyagaraja in Tiruvarur....

...The later part of the opera has descriptive songs about the palanquin and the divine meal. Both of these give us a glimpse of the textiles and the food that were enjoyed in Thanjavur in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries... Tuned to the raga Sankarabaranam, the song describes the palanquin elegantly carved and inset with many gems... (From The Hindu : Arts / Magazine : "Songs of a forgotten genius" by Pradeep Chakravarthy).

Somayajulu and Manju Bhargavi in Omkara - Sankarabharanam

Shankara - Song from Movie Shankarabharanam

1 comment:

  1. Excellent stuff. Great blog. Look forward to more.