By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Timeless Music in Madras Temple

In my note posted on December 25  (Chritmas Cameo In Calcutta), I had recalled an article I had written just before Christmas  in 2008 --  from Portland (Oregon) where I was staying  --  for my column Musicscan in THE HINDU, telling a soulful story of how I had been transfixed by a recorded version of Handel's Messiah played in a magnificent church in Calcutta exactly 50 years earlier. 
A few weeks later I was back home in Madras (as Chennai used to be called  earlier, a historic name to which we senior citizens still tend to cling on!) --  and in a religious spring festival, stood transfixed by the powerful spiritual music which reverberated inside and outside a splendid Hindu temple.   How could I resist recording my reflections in my column?

13 March 2009
Music in worshipful spirit
As the sun sets on the Western sky, earnest devotees begin to arrive on the scene in a steady stream.  And by the time the lights are switched on, hundreds of people have assembled in the very large auditorium which serves as a place of worship as well as a concert hall.  On the high dais, a splendidly decorated image of the Deity radiates great beauty and magnificence, illuminated by good, old-fashioned petromax lamps.
A dynamic team of a dozen musicians, who are seated on a low dais near the entrance of the hall, begin to play the naagaswaram and thavil, the classic open-air pipes and drums of South Indian temples.   This creates a truly worshipful spirit which pervades the whole atmosphere.  The music pauses for a while as a set of priests briefly recite sacred Sanskrit verses over the public address system.

Then, as the imposing Deity is carried on a grand palanquin across and outside the hall and is taken on a slow-moving procession along the streets adjoining the temple, the pipers and drummers resume the reverberating music, leading the procession. And true to the ancient tradition, they remain anonymous — or almost so — even though they are all highly accomplished and achieve great excellence as performing artists.

This could well have been a scene in a South Indian village a hundred years ago!  But when and where are we actually?  In the 21st century, in metropolitan Madras, during the annual Brahmotsavam prayers and music festival at the Anantha Padmanabha-Swami Temple in Adayar!

Not even the profusion of video machines, digital cameras and camera-phones in the hands of the devotees can take away this senior citizen’s forceful impression that he has been transported back to his grandparents’ village in Kerala State 50 or 60 years ago!

Is it not amazing how strongly anchored we South Indians are to our ancient spiritual traditions and practices, no matter how well we get along in the ultra-modern world?
And isn’t that one of the main reasons why Carnatic music goes on passing the test of time through many successive generations?

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