oral transmission: motivation and memorization

S Krishna mahadevasiva at hotmail.com
Thu Jun 12 20:47:07 UTC 1997

 Allen Thrasher writes:
>On Thu, 12 Jun 1997, S Krishna wrote:
>> In South India, Carnatic music was( and is) still taught as an oral
>> tradition.This style of music emphasizes Bhakti and it is not 
>> to meet people who can remember the lyrics of 150+ Krtis.( Of late 
>> has been a profusion of books and other aids, but the traditionalists 
>> stick to the oral tradition). I must contrast this
>> tradition with the other tradition of singing "film-songs" or
>> "love lyrics" or whatever. No musician worth his or her name will
>> ever sing from memory...A tattered and torn , yellowing note book
>> ( with the lyrics) seems to be a sine qua non, irrespective of
>> the quality of singing.(I've seen people of the level of  
>> S.P.Balasubramaniam and K.S.Chitra all the way to our ex-neighbour
>> sing film-songs the same way;-)).
>Could the behavior of the filmi geet singers be because they have to
>produce a much larger  number of songs than the Carnatic classical
>musicians, and a lot of them are in many ways very much like each
 other,                         ----------------------------------

 If repitition of the lyric is what is implied, may I point out that 
this a fairly common phenomenon in  Carnatic music also. William 
Jacksons book on Tyagaraja "Tyagaraja and the renewal of tradition:
translations and reflections" lists a number of cases where Tyagaraja 
uses the same begining phrase in his krti i.e. He starts 4 krtis
with the expression "nenarunchi". If one were to examine the body of the 
krti, then one would  find that "Upacharamulanu" and "Raksha
Pettare"( both in Bhairavi) are  practically paraphrases as far as
the wording is concerned. Musicians like Patnam Subramania Iyer
who were heavily influenced by Tyagaraja repeat some of tyagarajas
pet phrases.
In the case of MuttusvAmi dikshitar, who uses "nAmAvaLi" for his lyric
repitition is but inevitable. Almost all his krtis in the raga nATa use 
the expression 'kAvyanATaka" in order to introduce the name of the raga. 
In the same way, all his krtis in Yamuna Kalyani use the
word "yamuna" in order to introduce the name of the raga.
There is no krti in praise of gaNESa where he has not refered to
gaNESa being the son of pArvati/Siva/both. Likewise there are many
krtis where he uses phrases like "shankara bhaktavashankara"
or "shankari bhaktavashankari"........ad infinitum.

I think that you may have a valid point in terms of the number of lyrics 
that need to be remembered i.e. there are not more than 5000
available krtis in Carnatic music of which 100-200 are heard frequently( 
I am overlooking purandara dAsas claim that he wrote 475000 krtis as 
mentioned in his krti "vAsudEva" in the raga "mukhahari."
Given the profusion of movies and the usual formulae that the songs need 
to follow, I suppose that there are only so many permutations and
combinations that the composer can follow. It also may have to do with 
the fact that most playback singers have to sing in a language that is 
not their mother tongue and run the risk of mispronounciation. As a way 
of preventing mispronounciation, they resort to lyric books so that they 
can pronounce correctly( or hope that they re pronouncing correctly).


>Allen W. Thrasher


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