viLari and tODi rAga (was Re: Q: Tamil literature)

Wed Sep 17 04:03:59 UTC 1997

At 08:13 PM 9/16/97 -0700, you wrote:
>I think Palaniappa is right in saying that the word narampu refers to the
>individual note/string. Besides the straightforward linguistic meaning,
>there is a practical matter which should decide the issue. Let us leave
>the comparison of the octave to the zodiac signs aside, as it could just
>be poetic in origin, and not have anything practical to do with music. How
>does one execute the vaTTappAlai or the kural tiripu in real life?
>The conceptual difference between the kural tiripu (standard shifting of
>the tonic) and the vaTTappAlai is this. When shifting the tonic, you
>maintain the interval relationships within an octave, but redefine them
>with respect to the pitch of the new tonic. In the vaTTappAlai technique,
>you keep the tonic constant, and directly change the distribution of
>intervals within the octave. From the excerpts of aTiyArkkunallAr that are
>given in S. Ramanathan's thesis, this seems possible only if each string
>is tuned to an individual note. Then, kural tiripu can easily be done by
>choosing a reference string, and retuning all other strings with respect
>to it. The tuning of the kural string would change in the process. On the
>other hand, vaTTappAlai would be done by keeping the kural string at a
>constant pitch and retuning the other strings as dictated by the various
>consonance relationships of a scale. In either case, the verbal
>description implies the retuning of strings. Surely, the practice must
>have predated the time of aTiyArkkunallAr's text itself.
>The interchangeable use of the word yAzh to mean both an instrument and a
>scale (e.g. marutayAzh, neytaliyAzh) is also explained thereby. Simply, a
>given scale and an instrument that was tuned to that scale were both
>referred to by the same name. Similarly, in the nATya SAstra, bharata's
>demonstration of the shaDja and madhyama grAmas on the cala and acala
>vINAs can only be done with multi-stringed instruments, with each string
>tuned to a different note.
>Now, this brings into question the standard notion that the vINA-s of
>bharata and the various yAzh-s in Tamil literature were fretted
>instruments. (Some contemporary musicologists insist that the yAzh-s were
>fretted instruments, and that they are the ancestors of today's vINA-s.)
>These instruments were probably more like harps/santoors/svar-maNDals.
>If so, the old story in which nIlakaNTa yAzhpANar was unable accompany a
>singer on his yAzh is also explained. The melody got the name yAzhmuRippaN
>(nowadays identified with aTANa), on account of this. If the yAzh were
>anything like a modern fretted stringed instrument, there should have been
>no problem in reproducing any of the standard vocal features on it. On the
>other hand, if the yAzh were more like a harp, the task would have been
>ps. Contemporary Indian music seems to have followed in the tradition of
>the vaTTappAlai, more than the mUrchana scheme described in early Skt
>texts. The tonic is kept constant, and in an instrument like the Sitar,
>the frets are moved around, in order to play a different rAga. If at all
>it is attempted, mUrchana within the elaboration of a rAga is quite brief,
>and drifting completely to the new scale is avoided.

The vina used by Samudragupta is clearly a harp as can be seen from the
coin. As late as to the time of Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar it was
necessary to retune the vina for each raga as can be seen from poet
PeddanA's Manucharitra. In that
poem an attendent tells nAyika:

" See, yesterday you were playing NAta with your pointed fingures. You did
not touch the veena again and the strings disturbed by the morning breese
are doling out NAta notes today at the wrong time ( because NAta is not a
morning rAgA). You better retune it to DEzAkshi."

For those people who know telugu the poem starts " vAlArun konagOLLa nI
valasatan vAinchuchO......"


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