Melody is an experience, says Bombay Jayashri

By Sudha Jagannathan
Chennai: 28-02-2020 10:25PM
Last Updated: 28-02-2020 10:25PM

Vocalist Bombay Jayashri was at her eloquent best when she presented a lecture-cum-demonstration concert for Brhaddvani at Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium here on December 17, 2010. She was accompanied by violinist Embar Kannan, mridangist Manoj Shiva and three of her disciples - Chaitrra Prasanna, Keerthana V. Nath and Poornima Satish. Team Jayashri combined well to make quite an impact on the misty morning. The lecdem was a part of "Universe of Sound 2010’, a three-day festival co-hosted by Brhaddvani and MusicUniv. As dancer Anita Ratnam pointed out, Jayashri had indeed opened the doors of heaven with music on the auspicious day of Vaikunta Ekadesi.

Jayashri picked up Carnatic rag Todi to explain melody. By dropping the Nishadam or `ni’ in the ascent, she said, one could make rag Todi lot more melodious. She demonstrated it by singing the rag and slipping the `ni’ down. In Todi, there was melody in the space between notes. In this context, she pointed to innumerable possibilities the space between notes offered for an artiste to explore and experience. “Melody is the soul and life of Carnatic music or for that matter any other music,” Jayashri asserted, as she shared her musical experience of the Trinity the way in which they had composed. She elucidated this with a Janya raga of Todi, the Bhupalam. “Sadachaleshwaram” of Dikshitar brought Bhupalam to the fore in the first line itself. A child of Todi, Bhupalam arrived by dropping Madhyama and Nishada from Todi, she said. "Removing two important notes of the spectrum makes the other notes that are farther away want to jump the spaces, leading to a different melodic expression,’’ she pointed out. "Compositions form the fulcrum of melody for great composers,’’ Jayashri said. "Bhupalam is complete in “Sadachaleshwaram Bhavayeham,” she added. She then went on to sing "sa, ri, ga, pa, da, sa’.

In Carnatic construct, she said, there was melody in lyrics, notes and rhythm. Melody, she explained, could only be experienced. As such, melody could not be confined to a definition.

Until 1989 when she became a student of Lalgudi Shri G. Jayaraman, she had only a limited view of melody. "I could not fathom melody until then,’’ Jayashri said. She gained a wholesome experience of melody only after coming under the tutelage of Shri Jayaraman, whose knowledge was so deep and universal, she pointed out.

She then went on to talk about sangathis. Sangathis, she said, added further melody to a composition. Construction of sangathis was akin to decorating a kriti with ornaments, she said. "It occurs from the second or the third line of a kriti. Sangathis are nothing but melodic and rhythmic variations on a theme,’’ she said. Jayashri explained this by taking up the kriti “Na Jivadhara” of Thyagaraja. An entire gamut of sangathis figured in this composition. "Sahityam in itself is melody,’’ she said. "Adding music makes it sound lot more beautiful,’’ she added. Building of sangathi was similar to building a gopuram brick by brick, Jayashri said quoting her guru Shri Jayaraman. It was similar to building the Chidambaram or Tiruvannamalai temple gopuram, she added. "Sangathis are built line by line. They form a unique aspect of melody,’’ she said.

How do rhythm and music combine to enhance melody in creative singing? She sought the help of mridangist Manoj Shiva to demonstrate this. As Jayashri rendered kalpanswarams and Manoj Shiva played the mridangam simultaneously, many heads gently nodded. Drawing the audience’s attention to this, Jayashri said the nodding heads were indeed a proof of melody in music when combined with rhythm. "There are so many layers in music which cause melody. It can’t be explained. You can’t exactly say why and how of it,’’ she pointed out.

"Sahithyams or the lyrical compositions have melody,’’ she said. Jayashri asked her students to sing a viruttam of Arunagirinathar “Guruvai Maniyai Varuvai Arulvai Guhane”. This catchy lyric with rhyme-ending phrases was melodic to listen when set to tune. She demonstrated this by singing. In “Kaddanuvariki” (Todi), a composition of Thyagaraja, the sangathis were built beautifully so as to turn the kriti into a gem. In Dikshitar’s “Akshaya Suvarna Vatavriksha”, the word “ksha” of the sahitya enhanced the beauty of the kriti.

How do emotion, sahitya and sangathis combine to form melody? Jayashri cited the raga Charukesi as an outstanding example for this. Charukesi, she said, in itself was beautiful. One only had to sing it in pitch. “Adamodi Galade” of Thyagaraja was a monument of a kriti, she said. After listening to Charukesi one couldn’t listen to any other raga or a raga that was even close to it, she said.

Another aspect which enhanced the melody of music, she said, was silence or a brief pause. She said she had heard this from her guru Shri Jayaraman. In this context, she pointed out the way her guru sang the Charukesi kriti “Adamodi Galade”. He gave a brief pause before the word “Rammayya”, she said. Jayashri sang this elegantly to explain it. "Raga Charukesi is a quintessential of melody,’’ she said. Thyagaraja had summed up the entire Charukesi within a small space of half avarthanam (half the cycle of a tala) in this particular kriti, she said.

She sang a few more compositions of lyrical beauties such as “Kanna Kuzal Udum Azhaga” and “Chittham Eppadiyo Ayya”. They all depicted melody. Jayashri said that “all melody is within the system”. More often than not, a sudden foreign note, termed `bhasanga’ raga in Carnatic music, sounded wonderful to listen “The feel of melody is experienced here,’’ she said. Jayashri demonstrated this with raga Huseni and sang “Eppadi Manam Tunindado swami” and sang the line “Eppirappilum Piriyen viden enru kai Tottire”. After a pause, a smiling Jayashri pointed out how everyone nodded their heads in appreciation when the foreign note occurred. `As long as you don’t try to make an in-depth analysis of a raga and the occurrence of a foreign note, it will sound attractive,’’ she said. She also demonstrated a few examples of Geet in Hindustani sangeet with respect to melody. Emotions and varied moods of the song were brought out in this particular raga, Marwa, a playful song between Krishna and Radha. These Geets are light classical ones. They bring out the mood of a song very well. Hamsanandi somewhat resembled Marwa after a few variations, as Jayashri rendered “Srinivasa Tiruvengadamudayan”. “Jagannatha Shanka Chakra Dharane”, the pleading part of this kriti, brought melody to listeners.