Saturday, September 27, 2008

Exploring the Ragas

This is an exclusive interview with Shri. Kudamaloor Janardan, which appeared on the 'Friday Review' supplement of 'The Hindu' dated Feb 24, 2006. The original version is available online at

Exploring the Ragas
G. Jayakumar

On a moonlit night at Kuthiramalika open-air stage in Thiruvananthapuram, flautist Kudamaloor Janardanan played a lullaby in the raag `Navroj.' The kriti was the evergreen `Omana Thinkal Kidavo.'

For the flautist, it was an unforgettable experience. Not just because of the ambience or the appreciative audience but because he felt he was able to do justice to the charm of the raga by taking it beyond the literary content of the composition.

Says Janardanan, "The scientific base of classical music is ragam, thalam and sruthi. A musician should have the capacity as well as the freedom to use this science to the fullest possible extent to appeal to the listeners."

Spirit of Indian Classical Music

Janardanan considers ragas as "the spirit of Indian classical music." And as an instrumentalist, he strives to bring to the fore the emotive and expressive quality of the raga in his concerts.

"A kriti like `Nagumo' became popular not only because of its poetic quality, but because it is based on the raag `Abheri.' Similarly, `Raghuvamshasudham budhi' became popular because of the unique features of the raag `Kadana Kuthoohalam," he contends.

To make his point clear, Janardanan cites the example of two film songs, `Enale nee oru sundara ragamai' and `Ambalaparambile.'

"Both were composed by Dakshinamoorthy Swami in the raag `Begada' and yet they sound so different! When I say that these songs are outstanding classical pieces, I know that there are music pundits who will disagree. These pundits belong to the school of thought that believes that only if you sit on the floor and perform, it can be called classical music!"

Resisting innovation and change and citing tradition as an excuse, hinders the growth of music resulting in listeners losing interest, feels Janardanan.

"Actually, the earlier generation of acharyas attempted to elaborate the ragas only as a pointer for the future. They never believed that theirs was the last word in music."


"In Carnatic music, kirthans and bhaktigeetams have been given a great deal of prominence. This has resulted in the general impression that classical music means devotional music. Only when it is freed from such notions will classical music be able to spread its wings and be enjoyed by more people," asserts Janardanan.

"If classical music is likened to a tree, devotional music is only a branch. It must be realised that when the blue sky or moonlight is being expressed in a raag, that is also classical music. In `Gita Govindam' where the theme is that of love between Radha and Krishna, it is the `shringara bhava' that should be brought forth by the musician. But many artistes still keep projecting the bhakti bhava."

On the limitations faced by instrumentalists, Janardanan says, "A kriti is usually written with vocal music in mind. The range of the instruments like the veena, violin or the flute is not taken into account. An instrument can go through different sthayis and appropriate sruthis. Most of the kritans end in madhya sthayi.

However, to the panchamam and above the gandharam kritis in this category are rare. Because of this, in veena, violin and flute some sthayis are not played. The instrumentalist can give his best by being fully aware of the possibilities of his instrument."

Janardanan, who holds Ronu Majumudar in high esteem, has brought out two albums recently - Madhava Murali and Swati Murali. The music moves gently through the air ,transporting the listeners to a world of bliss.

His Music

Born into a family with a glorious musical tradition, Janardanan proved a deep- down professional right from his early days, having acquainted with and mastered various genres of music. A wide musical exposure thus helped expand the horizons of his knowledge and he could speak of music in a different voice:

“Now days, there is much hyped talk on the value degradation in Indian classical music. A rebuilding of the so-called shattered musical edifice could be materialized only when the audience is receptive to any creative venture on the artiste’s part and responds with the right feedback. This, in turn is possible when they liberate themselves from the clutches of arbitrary judgments influenced by a dogmatic tradition, and aspire to listen, experience and imbibe what is new and innovative. It is then that there takes birth a creative musical tradition.”

Even while revolutionizing every concert in realizing his concepts, Kudamaloor Janardanan never actually defied tradition. In fact, he redefined it in a very broad and inclusive manner so that music is not arrested within the four walls of ‘tradition’ as is prevalent.

“Music is but a union of bhava, raga and laya and therefore is far beyond geographical, cultural and linguistic boundaries. Whatever be its form, the content in music certainly reflects the entire spectrum of emotions.”

Reversing existing norms for the better, Janardanan upholds that one should accept and respect tradition duly, but not without an uncompromising urge towards improvisation and creativity.

“The creative zeal is never to be checked by rigidity and the many dos and don'ts in the existing tradition.”

Being an instrumentalist makes a musician think in great depth about music in terms of the instrument in question. This is important, especially if the vision is to see music being ‘customized’ in accordance to each instrument, taking into account its scope, possibilities and limitations. Flautists are not numerous who believe that flute, in all its innateness, is a typical folk instrument. Restricting its use to any particular musical tradition, in Janardanan's opinion, would only conceal its true mettle.

"What we need is a style that preserves both the essence of our musical tradition as well as s the charisma of the instrument.”

Janardanan reiterates the fact that the treasure house of ragas and the mesmerising diversity in talas are what makes carnatic music coveted and upholds its identity.

“Spontaneous music is after-all a question infinite possibilities with finite means. One could create countless emotions with seven swaras just as one could paint enormous pictures with the basic seven colors."

Setting a trend to make a difference, in right earnest, Kudamaloor says with great zest:

“I am not one to shy away from creativity, sidelining it by saying that music is as eternal and vast as an ocean. If that is indeed the case, I would rather venture into its unexplored depths, to discover the coffer of pearls and gems. What all has been made so far are sweet indeed. What we hear now may be sweeter; however the sweetest is yet to come. Won't we benefit much if we start thinking in these lines?"

Kudamaloor Janardanan

Kudamaloor Janardanan enjoys a special status among the top-most array of flautists in India. At equal ease with vocal and instrumental styles of music, Janardanan is a self-taught artiste who made it to the centre stage solely by virtue of the amazing ease and dexterity with which he played (with) the melodious bamboo.

Right from his childhood, Janardanan displayed an exceptional talent in music, the basic lessons of which were imparted to him by his father, G.Krishna Iyer. Janardanan’s precocious skills with the seven notes and a never-ending quest for more soon allured him to the magnificent world of instrumental music. Interestingly, Janardanan began his journey of a thousand miles with a humble toy flute, commonly found in traditional festival fairs.

Janardanan was awarded the scholarship for further studies in music by the Department of Culture, Government of India. He went on to obtain a graduation in Violin from the Madras University.

At a time when flautists of repute in the state were less in number, the only possible way Janardanan could master all possible fingering techniques in flute was by imbibing vocal music nuances onto the flute. This actually turned out to be a huge blessing in his professional life- any keen musical ear could almost make out parts of the lyrics of any song he plays on flute, having never heard it before!

Janardanan’s concerts soon became talk of the Carnatic music world, owing to the way by which he transformed his ‘live’ concerts actually ‘alive’ and ‘lively’ by the spontaneity of his creative juices. No note in his entire concert is preset. Once he is on stage and touches his flute, the flute leads its player- the pied piper, along with his followers- the audience to a musical Utopia.

Praises were showered upon him; however deep down, the inquiring mind of a genuine student of music remained ever thirsty for true knowledge. The unexplored facets of music, those unheard melodies- apparently an enigma he knew was within reach to him, yet seemed elusive, refined his incredible sense of creativity and provided food for thought to a beautiful musical mind.

Mastering techniques plays a crucial role as far as an instrumentalist is concerned. "But who is the real master and where is he?" The exploration finally leads to nothing but music itself. Janardanan came to realize that the seven notes of music and the hues of ragas they give rise to through some divine chemistry is the only ultimate truth in music, transcending all barriers imposed by language, culture and nationality. All you need is the passion and dedication towards the noble art. No tutor could be better than the music in you, which is at the same time, a student and a teacher.

Today, an 'A' Grade artiste of the All India Radio and an empanelled musician at the ICCR, Janardanan maintains a distinct and inimitable style. A very popular and much sought-after stage performer, he never fails to leave any musical mind completely enchanted and spellbound by his performance. The adroitness with which he sails over octaves with absolute comfort, while preserving the musical charm has always been one of his signature traits. He enjoys a large number of faithful fans- true music lovers- following him wherever he performs.

He has gifted his enthusiastic fans with what they would cherish the most- his masterpieces in the form of records, which include:
  • Keli: 'The symphony of love' (Invis Multimedia)
  • Viraha: 'The strains of separation' (Invis Multimedia)
  • Kaivalya: 'the chimes of meditation' (Invis Multimedia)
  • Swati Murali (Manorama Music)
  • Madhava Murali (Manorama Music)
  • Mohana Murali -A concert on the sublime raga Mohanam
  • Ganesha Murali - A concert on Lord Ganesha
  • Pranam- A tribute to Ustad Bismillah Khan (Manorama Music)
  • Gokula Murali - Evergreen Krishna songs

Despite having come a long way, Janardanan is well aware of the road ahead and is now mastering new ways of blending technology into a creative environment and is devoted to assigning a distinct identity to flute as a solo instrument.