The translation of all quotations in Kannada to Enlgish is that of the authors.
To strike a reconciliation between Hindustani music and Kannada nationalism, Niranjana quotes the Kannada nationalist Alur Venkata Rao as saying “I do not see any difference between nationalism (rashtreeyatwa) and Karnatakatwa”, suggesting that the early Kannada nationalists did not see any contradiction between “national” culture and regional culture and that they saw Hindustani music being neatly accommodated within Karnataka regional culture. This might lead to an idea that early Kannada nationalists were all supportive of the Hindustani genre. But this is contrary to reality.
Alur Venkata Rao put his efforts in several cultural fronts to foreground his version of Kannada nationalism, and music was one among them. Contrary to the suggestion of Niranjana, nationalists like Alur were threatened by the spread of Hindustani music and he tried to popularise Karnataka Sangita (as Carnatic music is called in Kannada) in the region. He said, for example, that Karnataka Sangita is a jewel that Karnataka has ornamented Bharatidevi (the “goddess” called India) with (Rao 1999: 11). Alur was one who rallied for the name of Karnataka for the region to be unified, which was divided into several administrative units. He was instrumental in establishing the metaphor of Vijayanagara (empire) as the symbol of Kannadiga achievement in the context of Kannada nationalism. With this background, it was also possible to connect the music of the region to Purandara Dasa, also known as the “Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha” (the Grand Old Man of Carnatic Music), who lived during the Vijayanagara age. “Karnataka Sangit’’ meant the music of/from Karnataka and also helped the politics of Kannada nationalists.1 But did it really?
Alur tried to popularise Karnataka Sangita in north Karnataka by engaging musicians from Mysore. He invited Tirumale Rajamma to Dharwar from Mysore. She was a Karnataka style musician and a veena artist. Rajamma performed her recital for several days at different public places in Dharwar. Alur felt it was insufficient to kindle the taste for Karnataka Sangita among the Dharwar elites and sometime later, he called one Narsing Rao, also a Karnataka style musician and a flutist to perform. Even after these, Venkata Rao felt the inadequacy of his efforts. He opined that the taste for Karnataka Sangita could only be established through the Padas of Dasas.2 With this intention, he invited one Yoganarasimham3 to Dharwad and arranged for his concerts several times. Yet, he felt his efforts in establishing the Karnataka style did not bear fruit (Rao ibid: 28).4 Belur Keshava Dasa and Hulgur Krishnachar were other early Kannada nationalists who were of the opinion that Dasa Sahitya was essential to develop a corpus of Kannada music.5
Music in Transition
There are littérateurs who make sarcastic comments about the music in transition. Betageri Krishna Sharma captures this to much of his chagrin:
…In North Karnataka there is no voice that sings Karnataka Sangita; there are no ears that can listen and enjoy that music. A middle and mixed breed of Hindustani and Karnataka Sangita – just as the middle breed between a horse and a donkey – has rusted the ears of the people here…(Krishna Sharma 1936: 682). He said this while remembering of the National Congress session in 1924 in Belgaum when for the first time he heard the veena recital of Sheshanna, the celebrated veena player of Mysore. Shyama Rao Thatti was another public figure, who commented on similar lines. He said, “In this Department [region] if any Kannadiga sings, he would either sing Hindustani or a kind of mixed style. There are very less (sic) persons who can sing pure South Indian music” (Thatti 1926: 492).6The words of Mudavidu Krishna Rao,7 are also important in reconstructing the history of music in Karnataka. In a very clear tone of despair, he says:
…Karnataka style of music has disappeared among the common educated populace of our region [Dharwar]. Karnataka style of singing was heard even till 1895. In a few months after the establishment of Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha for the protection of the Karnataka culture, Late Phatak Gurunatha Rao, an eminent lawyer of this place established a Karnataka music school. Chimmalagi Venkanna, who was a Vidya Visharada [a degree] in Karnataka Sangita and who was a student of the famous Narayana Swamy of Tanjore, was the teacher here. Several young men had trained here. Around 1893 Venkanna died accidentally in the house of Phatak, when that part of the house was struck by lightning. This, in a way, was a lightning that struck the very Karnataka style of music in this place…Moreover, some of the Marathi officials who came over to Dharwar had some special liking for Hindustani music and put up efforts to spread that music. By that time the Karnataka music school was on the wane. Because of the death of Chimmalagi Venkanna, a Marathi gentleman by name Balavanta Rao Sahasrabuddhe came here as Inspector of Education. He had a great regard and respect for Hindustani music. He had learnt Hindustani music and was an expert in that. With inspiration from him, another music school started here. But this one imparted only Hindustani music. Meanwhile the Government approved the teaching of Hindustani music in the Kannada Training College here. The famous Hindustani musician Late Bhaskar Buva Bakhale was appointed as the music teacher in that College. When he was free, he used to work in the music school as well. The teachers who got trained in this college, and were taught music by Bhaskar Buva, helped Hindustani music spread even in the interiors…thus, one of the best and important part of Karnataka culture has been destroyed in this region (Mudavidu Krishna Rao, quoted in Dharwadkar 1975: 37-39).Popularity of Hindustani
The slow disappearance of Karnataka Sangita and the growing popularity of Hindustani music was certainly not to the liking of many early Kannada nationalists in and around Dharwar who made an effort to reverse the process, but in vain.8
However, it would be wrong to suggest that all Kannada nationalists and littérateurs were for Carnatic music. Boratti (2013) has shown in his response to Niranjana that the elite of the Lingayat community and nationalists such as Fa Gu Halakatti encouraged singing Vachanas in the Hindustani mode itself. Musician Mallikarjun Mansur says he started singing Vachanas first and Basavaraj Rajguru followed him. As he began singing, he was encouraged in his effort by Basavanal, another littérateur of north Karnataka. Basavanal was very elated that Mansur could do this experimentation. He started to bring new Vachanas, explain the meaning and encourage towards composing them to Hindustani music (Choudhary 2002: 331-34). There were other Lingayat musicians and composers who brought Vachanas to the Hindustani genre in the early 20th century.
We can tentatively deduce a few points from the above. First, the flourishing of Hindustani music in north Karnataka and Kannada nationalism seem not to be so much connected as Niranjana suggests in her paper. The emphatic musical change from the Karnataka style to the Hindustani takes place some two to three decades before a concerted, coherent voice of Kannada nationalism is heard from a sizeable number of individuals. Therefore, the effort at reversal in vain, since the genre enjoyed consolidation by the time nationalist voices could speak of it. Second, as Boratti argues, it would be more productive to look at the musical process in terms of community engagements even though they could be nationalist engagements. If we see the community configuration of the above-mentioned individuals, it would be interesting to note that the ones who argued for Karnataka Sangita were brahmins and the ones who worked for Vachanas, but without any hesitation about Hindustani music were Lingayats. More work is necessary in this area before we make a conclusive statement in this regard. Third, hardly any musician of early 20th century north Karnataka expressed any anxiety because of nationalism, unlike what Niranjana suggests. They only got fresh new lyrical genres to be composed in their musical genre because of Kannada nationalism. Looking at materials in Kannada could throw a lot of clarity in reconstructing a history of music in Karnataka.
1 For a small discussion on the origin of the term “Carnatic” music, see Shastry: 1999. In the Journals of Madras Academy of Music (which started getting published from 1930), apart from the term “Carnatic music”, we find it being referred to as south Indian music, Karnatak music, Karnatic music, etc. The academy was instrumental in institutionalising Carnatic music in the early 20th century. However, the term “Karnataka Sangita” in Kannada or Tamil was an established one before the 1930s.
2 Dasas are the Vasihnava Dasas who are incorporated into the Bhakti pantheon, and mostly figure from the 16th century. As Dasa literature got institutionalised as literature in the 20th century, it was seen as (contribution from) brahmin literature. The most often heard name among the Dasas is that of Purandara Dasa.
3 Yoganarasimham studied music from Mysore Vasudevachar. He was the principal of the Sanskrit College, Mysore and held various positions in Mysore Education Department (Shastry 1999: 408-09).
4 When exactly he invited these different Carnatic musicians is not known, except that his book was first published in the year 1957.
5 Hulgur Krishnachar (Krishnachar nd) argues Karnataka Sangita actually has origins in Karnataka and not in Tamil Nadu region as is usually thought, by going back to the shastrakaras of the 15th century. He argues in the nationalist mode by bringing in the Dasas also into the history that he wants to reconstruct for the Karnataka Sangita. Krishnachar was an early teacher of Karnataka Sangita to Gangubai Hangal. Beluru Keshavadasa (Keshavadasa 2000 ) argues that on the lines of the Marathi Bhakta Vijaya, Kannadigas need to have Karnataka Bhakta Vijaya, for which reason, he writes that book. The book is basically about the Dasas and connects them to Karnataka Sangita as well.
6 Alur Venkata Rao and Shyama Rao came together for certain nationalistic enterprises (Rao 1974: 251).
7 Krishna Rao was a prominent public figure of north Karnataka and an early Kannada nationalist. He ran a Kannada newspaper called Karnataka Vritta, to which Alur wrote editorials (Rao 1974: 140).
8 To unearth the reasons for this is a related and worthy exercise. Niranjana’s article throws some light on the reasons for consolidation of the Hindustani genre.
Boratti, M Vijayakumar (2013): “Community, Language and Music in Karnataka”, Economic & Political Weekly, 16 March.
Choudhary, Vidya Sapre (2002): Nadanadi (Kannada – The River of Sound/Music, a Biographical Novel on Mallikarjun Mansur), translated to Kannada by Shubhada A Aminabhavi (Bangalore: Ananya).
Dharwadkar, Ra Ya (1975): Hosagannada Sahityada Udayakaala (Kannada – The Dawn of the New Kannada Literature) (Dharwar: Karnataka University).
Keshava Dasa, Beluru (2000): Karnataka Bhakta Vijaya (Kannada – (Kannada – The Victory of Karnataka Bhaktas) (Mysore: DVK Murthi).
Krishnachar, Hulgur (nd): Karnataka Sangita Shastra Vimarshe (Kannada – A Theoretical Analysis of Carnatic Music) (Mysore: Harimandira Prakatanalaya).
Krishna Sharma, Betageri (1936): “Veene Sheshannanavaru” in Jayakarnataka, Vol 14 (9), pp 681-85.
Rao, Venkata Alur (1974): Nanna Jivana Smritigalu (Kannada – Reminiscences of My Life) (Dharwad: Manohara Grantha Male).
– (1999): Karnatakatvada Vikasa (Kannada – The Blooming of Karnatakatva/Kannadaness) (Bangalore: Kannada Sahitya Parishat).
Shastry, B V K (1999): Murali Vani: Sri BVK Shastry Felicitation Volume Including his Comprehensive Writings (Kannada and English) (Bangalore: Bangalore Gayana Samaja).
Thatti, Shyama Rao (1926): “Karnataka Sangita” (Kannada – Carnatic Music), in Jayakarnataka, Vol IV (6), pp 491-93.