Sunday assorted links

1. Interview with Pandit Nayan Ghosh.  Could it be that Indian classical music, along with Bach-Brahms Germanic classical music, are mankind’s two greatest aesthetic achievements?  Shakespeare too?  And an interview with John Adams.

2. Is the Indian judiciary losing its independence?

3. Ralph Ellison reviews Gunnar Myrdal.

4. Niall Ferguson By the Book (NYT).

5. Parfitian worms.

6. Julian Assange, chess Straussian.

7. “Sticks are probably where the story of craft begins…


#6 The Julian Gambit at the start of the Julian New Year.

It's actually the stem game of the Marshall Gambit, which is a tough line for white, and even GMs bypass it by playing a4 or h3 rather than c3 in the main line. Even I have problems against it as white. Ironically Marshall sprung it, after waiting ten years to play it, as black, on Capablanca, but the great Cuban player refuted it over the board.

The link for those of you that don't play chess is here: (they call it the Marshall Attack of the Ruy Lopez --pronounced Ree Lopeth, imitating the lisp that Philip II of Spain had, who the Philippines is names after--but it's also called the Marshall Gambit).

As Tyler's link notes, the claim that Marshall waited a decade to spring this gambit is almost certainly apocryphal.

Is this part of the gambit?

"Julian ate everything with his hands and he always wiped his fingers on his pants. I have never seen any pants as greasy as his in my whole life"

Good stuff here...and my internet is in the 'golden hour' where in rural Philippines I can surf greater than 56k Bps. Amazing that they are messing with retail internet at all other times.

1. Regarding Indian classical music, the roots of the tradition go back to the beginning of the Christian era, when the text Natyashastra was composed -

What is not clear however is the cleavage of the tradition into "northern" (hindustani) and "southern" (Carnatic) at around the 16th century. The two traditions are quite different today. While the Northern tradition is better known in the West, the Southern tradition is arguably more vibrant with a bigger mass following within India.

It would be interesting to study Indian musical compositions prior to 16th century, before the cleavage came about. I am not sure if there is a very good understanding of pre-16th century musical compositions, though the source texts like Natyasastra and the commentaries on the same (like that of Abhinavagupta) survive.

Also it would be interesting to study the impact of the tradition of Sanskrit prosody on Indian classical music. This is worthy of an academic study, which I am not sure has happened yet.

Never heard of this, and I'm well read. It could be like many modern things, including Hebrew, a re-creation. I mean look at polyphony, it was not invented until the middle ages. Before then, just a mass of people all sang in one voice not the same thing).

A flavor of the debate I'm hinting at is found here, from Wikipedia (" It is believed that the origins of polyphony in traditional music vastly predate the emergence of polyphony in European professional music. Currently there are two contradictory approaches to the problem of the origins of vocal polyphony: the Cultural Model, and the Evolutionary Model.[4] According to the Cultural Model, the origins of polyphony are connected to the development of human musical culture; polyphony came as the natural development of the primordial monophonic singing; therefore polyphonic traditions are bound to gradually replace monophonic traditions.[5] According to the Evolutionary Model, the origins of polyphonic singing are much deeper, and are connected to the earlier stages of human evolution; polyphony was an important part of a defence system of the hominids, and traditions of polyphony are gradually disappearing all over the world.[6]:198–210"

You can see from this blurb that there's a 'metaphysical' school --the Evolutionary Model--and an empirical, positivist school--the Cultural Model--that clash. Which school are you with my friend?

Likewise, regarding Sanskrit prosody, I bet the Wikipedia page was written (and guarded by) an Indian zealot who jealously defends their point of view. Not unlike the debate over the invention of modern chess--was it Persian (not), Chinese (not), Indian (not, except of course modern chess derived from the four-player version played in India), or European (yes, chess was invented in the medieval ages and later)?

There is nothing modern about Sanskrit prosody. The standard text on this subjet - Pingala's Chandah sutra - has been dated to roughly 2nd century BCE by most western Indologists (who are anything but Indian zealots).

#1: I’ve never understood the fascination with Shakespeare among the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual crowd.

I suspect the age of his stories and complicated (to us) language, which requires more effort than today’s plebs can extend, gives it an aura of status that is appealing to a certain group of people (the “top out-of-sight high class” of Paul Fussell). This high status, in turn, makes the lower groups want to emulate the highest classes, and fake/build a taste for the same thing. Next time you’re at a Shakespeare comedy, listen to how people laugh at the “jokes.” It sounds really fake. Like “I get this joke because I’m smart and I know the context. Ha ha ha.” But it’s not funny funny.

From where I sit, he wrote plot-hole-ridden, poorly researched stories designed for consumption by the uneducated masses. To me, it’s the same as if Aaron Spelling (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) becomes reborn as some sophisticated playwright in ~300 years because he is seen as an ancient scribe who coined tons of expressions, which were, in fact, common slang used by teens.

Tolstoy felt the same way (about Shakespeare, not Aaron Spelling), so I have a fellow cranky old man on my side.

So who wants to set the over/under on minutes per year Cowen actually spends listening to one of the two greatest aesthetic achievements of mankind (Indian classical music), excluding it being played over a video?

"I suspect the age of his stories and complicated (to us) language, which requires more effort than today’s plebs can extend, gives it an aura of status that is appealing to a certain group of people (the “top out-of-sight high class” of Paul Fussell)."
The English at least have revered for a long time. To the point that Boswell has pointed out that Doctor Samuel Johnson helped to tone downa little the Shakespeare idolatry, which was kinda ridiculous. So I doubt the issue here is Twitter addicted proles. By the way, who reads Johnso nowdays. People read Boswell on Johnson, abridged. Posterity has spoken.

I just read last week "A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" by Johnson. It was a pretty easy read and interesting if you know the areas in modern times.

But it will never be raed.

He is worse than unimpressive: Shakespeare is a danger to our cosmic endowment. Shakespeare scholars will not stop publishing on Shakespeare until the observable universe is tiled with scholarly articles and PhD theses no one will ever read.

Shakespeare and Johnson are very difficult for average readers. But skilled readers can enjoy both. We delight in Shakespeare's continual invention, the rapid succession of ideas and metaphors, the constantly surprising turns of language. We are moved by the depth and variety of his themes and situations. I rarely enjoy watching a Shakepeare play -- it all passes too fast to appreciate. But I've never regretted sitting down and reading a (preferably unannotated) any of his plays. What a wonder that they exist!

Johnson is a different beast. His Rambler and Idler essays are worthwhile not only for their copious and timeless wisdom, but for the masterful deployment of a classic vocabulary, and the bravura architecture of his sentences. And Johnson's comedic essays (of which there are more than a few) are, unlike Shakespeare's comedy, really quite funny.

There are many kinds of intelligence, and there are many very bright people who will never like or understand Shakespeare or Johnson, simply because they don't have a specifically literary intelligence. These are the people for whom science fiction is written.

Don't forget that his plots are so cliche'd. I mean, girl meets boys but their families are feuding? I mean, who hasn't seen that a thousand times?

In 300 years people probably will be worshiping Aaron Spelling. Studying the Gospel According to 90210. The point about religions is that you can take pathetic source material - like the Quran for instance (and arguably the Old Testament) and actually construct something interesting, intelligent and worthwhile if thousands of smart men sit down and think about what precisely Jason Priestley meant in Episode 12 of Season Three.

Although it is more likely that Association Football will have completely displaced Ballet as the Art of the Extremely Upper Class.

As for Tolstoy, let me recommend George Orwell's very insightful comments on Tolstoy's problems with Shakespeare and in particular Lear. You see how this works? Already I am citing a famous writer writing about another famous writer who was writing about a third famous writer. Keep this up for the next two thousand years and we could call it the Mishnah. Well, maybe *a* Mishnah because think what the Mishnah would look like by then.

In 300 years they'll be worshiping Neil Simon rather than Aaron Spelling.

There are supposed to be only 7 basic plots in drama anyway;

I suspect that Shakespeare is a little over rated, but you know I studied him at school and I have vivid memories of his plays that I studied which I simply don't have of other plays or literature. Maybe it is all recursive, but he is so culturally significant in English literature, that you see his influence everywhere, which in turn means he is important and significant and so on.

I don't see why Western and Indian classical musics should be seen as so special. Why not jazz or tango or rock? Or even Chinese classical music or maqam or Korean court music, etc? What makes Indian classical music seem better to you than those genres? Indian music is definitely more spontaneous than e.g. Chinese classical music, but then jazz is even more spontaneous than that. Tango expresses a more intense feeling, while the aesthetics of rock is clearly more widely accessible and important to more people. If think that accessibility works against rock, then why not laud Korean court music, which is just as ornate as Indian music but even less accessible to outsiders?

Answer: Indian people have long had a closer connection to the musical movers and shakers in Britain, which has broadcasted Indian music and used elements of Indian music for much longer, and in deeper ways, than e.g. Arab, Chinese or Korean music. So Indian music comes across as easier for Westerners to enjoy. But if you listen to some Chinese classical music long enough, those melodies will start to make sense to you eventually, just like the twang of a sitar eventually seeped into Anglo consciousness.

4, What books do you think best captures your own political principles? I suppose it would have to be Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” I wish I could force-feed — or perhaps force-read — it to every progressive who is convinced that her latest untested and hare-brained policy initiative will magically eliminate inequality, discrimination, climate change and all the rest, without any unintended consequences for individual liberty.

Is Ferguson unaware that Thomas Jefferson was cheering on the revolutionaries in France, even providing advice to the revolutionaries with his own "hare-brained policy initiative". Maybe it was a good thing that Jefferson was in France rather than in Philadelphia with the adults who were more interested in order and stability than Ferguson's misguided ideas about the meaning of "individual liberty". Ferguson can't even get history right, much less economics.

Ferguson is an interesting historian, polemicist and journalist, and it is not a requirement that he be right on all things. (I do not know him to be factually incorrect with sources though his interpretations of same may not be persuasive to all.)

At least he does not bore people with sweeping, long winded, predictable posts.

#1 "And an interview with John Adams."
Is he still alive?

#5 we knew muscle memory exists, we can learn to memorize precise movement. however no one expected to be "stored" in the muscles.

The human spine handles some fast decisions (moving a limb in response to pain, iirc) and the gut .. second brain blah blah

So sure, those crazy flatworms may be up to anything.

What an interesting link, thanks for sharing =)

“Sticks are probably where the story of craft begins…“

OK,ok I give the stick its due, but I still am a stone man. What was different with stone? Repeated trials, training. We got our humanity when we threw the stone because we learned the art of practice makes perfect. Throwing the stone accurately had an immediate effect of enlarging your safe zone and extracting fruit from trees. Plus,standing up became obligatory to throw the stone.

Aiming and practice resulted and that came first before crafts with sticks. We got the ability to watch our dominant hand, as if it were an external item, and deliberately map out all its possible configurations. That is a key design skill, simulating all the options with a hand nmd fingers.

Chimpanzees use sticks as tools, but I don't think they throw stones. That likely means sticks did indeed come first.

William Calvin has a theory about lots of neurons needed to accurately throw stones.

Actually, chimps do throw stones; just Google "chimps throwing stones" for examples. It's just that humans are much, much better at throwing than any ape.

If you want a theory of what initial differentiation separated humans from the basal chimp line, a reasonable theory is that one group of proto-chimps started throwing more, whether simply as a cultural divergence or due to a fortuitous mutation that made them more effective at it. This would translate into an advantage both in defense and in acquiring protein. After that, further mutations that made them better throwers would be conserved . . . which would include mutations that made it easier for them to carry around rocks, like improved bipedalism.

Using sticks and stones is intuitive. The more complex uses require thinking and complex actions. But it pales in comparison to the wheel. Having said that I will say again that the many complex uses of sticks, unique too humans, is impressive. Arguably a wheel is just sticks put to a higher use.

"I give the stick its due, but I still am a stone man."

Spooky. I wrote something very similar, and decided not to post.

I mentioned that when I heard something (probably not a mountain lion) behind me on the trail this morning I did look around for good throwing stones. Hand axe.

I realize those sounds are 99.99% likely to be birds, but still. We plan.

I was going to make a simplistic reply before reading the article, but the article is a nice piece, talking in depth about stones as well as sticks and even citing the opening scene of "2001: A Space Odyssey".

The article tantalizingly brings up the idea -- but does not follow up on it -- that what enabled a really big leap forward was not sticks nor stones alone but combining them into hafted axes.

But in raising that point, when it talks about using cord to tie a stone to a stick, it brushes past another key ingredient: cordage, which is another seemingly underrated technology. You can't securely tie a stone to a stick without knowing where to get good cordage (from either plant or animal sources) and who was the genius who invented the first knot?

It probably didn't take much genius to discover that twisted strands of cord are stronger than simply doubling or tripling the cord. From there we get braiding, yarns, and eventually textiles, yet another generally under-rated technology. As with cordage, they tend to decompose rather than being preserved to the extent that stones or even sticks are, so it's hard to track human development and cordage and textiles.

Some archeologists have also suggested that textiles are or at least were under-researched because most archeologists were men, who then to pay more attention to sharp or heavy stone objects than to textiles.

"Julian Assange, chess Straussian."

Actually, it is written "Astralian"

#4: "Simon Schama stands out as the Dickens of modern historiography: bewilderingly erudite and prolific, passionate in his enthusiasms and armed with the complete contents of the thesaurus."

Ferguson is a Scot, so it's conceivable that after the colon he meant:
he doesn't wear his learning lightly, he spreads himself too thin, he's prone to hysterics, and a bit of a bletherskite.

The comparison to Dickens might mean: he writes turgid, mechanical, sentimental tosh, and routinely locates events in the wrong decade.

Of these charges, if charges they be, the wrong decade point might be unfair.

Indian classical music is undoubtedly one of the cultural gems of civilization. I am consistently amazed by it. Well, ok, northern Indian classical music. And I still can’t listen to most of the singing. Can listen to sitar, sarrod, and rudra veena all day long though. Not sure what my hang up is about Carnatic music and vocal pieces. Oh, I do feel the need to say that tablas are no exception to the rule that drum solos are incredibly irritating. I can’t imagine an entire piece of just tabla...

Here's a Carnatic number. One of the finest. Might make you change your mind on Carnatic music. Persist through it.

Makes Dave Matthews sound good by comparison. Ouch.

Sorry that this is a late response. Regarding:

Not sure what my hang up is about Carnatic music and vocal pieces.

Very understandable. Here are some factors that interfere while one tries to appreciate carnatic music - I hope this might help you to decide whether to try to change your mind, and if so in which direction:

1. Carnatic musicians care far less about precision of the notes than Hindustani musicians. You may not be able to detect that they are making mistakes, but when what reaches your ears is different from what they intend to sing, picking up the mood becomes so much harder.

2. Hindustani vocalists have better voices, partly because:
(a) They have a better voice culture, or at least one that is better compatible with modern aesthetics (I don't know whether or not Islamic influence has played a part in this compatibility aspect; Islamic and western tastes are generally more compatible with each other than Hindu and western tastes);
(b) Carnatic music has many ragas (thodi, ahiri, even sahana etc. - I am using carnatic nomenclature here) that are arguably harsher on one's throats;
(c) The instrument nadaswaram has played a lot of role in shaping many vocalists' ideas about gamakas, and this has impacted the voice culture;
(d) Perhaps (I am being very speculative here) Carnatic music had more to do with singing to a large crowd in a temple, while Hindustani music was more confined to royal courts where you don't need to sing as "full-throatedly".

3. (a) Parts of the Hindustani alap are really slow, with relatively low information-density, which means that for those parts of the rendition you have enough time to absorb the melody without having to parse complex streams of swaras in quick succession;

(b) A Hindustani concert covers far fewer ragas than a Carnatic concert, and part of this is because, I think, Hindustani music tolerates more redundancy; so the singer returns to the same line that is being improvised more often, facilitating absorption thanks to repetition.

4. There are many short and simple kritis in carnatic (typically Tyagaraja kritis) that don't excite people much, but nevertheless continue to be sung due to "legacy issues".

5. (a) Rhythm plays a more crucial role in carnatic renditions; keep in mind that the "mental clocks" of people are never perfect, and the conflict-resolution in carnatic is made by everyone else following the singer's (and not percussionist's) clock. So to appreciate this aspect you will need to learn to listen to the vocal stream and based on that align with the vocalist's input stream.

(b) Carnatic singers and percussionists try to play many elementary arithmetic games, which can be a put-off for those who don't understand these games.

Now in case you really wish to start appreciating carnatic, what I recommend is

1. Try to start to identify what sort of carnatic you relatively like better, and try to boot-strap. e.g., Hindustani-based carnatic songs can be a good start, e.g., the abhangs sung by Ranjani-Gayatri or selected bhajans of M.S. Subbalakshmi;

2. On an average, violinists and female vocalists tend to be far less imprecise than male vocalists (of course this is on an average) - they are likely to offer a better likelihood of your being able to absorb what they actually mean to sing.

3. Try to listen to really slow pieces which will get you enough time to absorb.

4. Either try to pick up the percussion-aspects, or be at peace with the fact that you don't want to learn them and will focus on the rest.

More generally, don't try entire concerts - identify types of songs and ragas you are more likely to appreciate and focus on those.

Good luck, and please feel free to ask if you have more questions.

I have contradicted myself a bit in the above comments: e.g., the kind of abhangs etc. I recommended are usually fast, while I also recommended listening to slow ones. The explanation for this is that there exists a small set of fast and crowd-pulling numbers in carnatic that are easy to appreciate, while for the rest the slower ones are likely to offer you more space and time.

A couple more points I omitted; first, regarding factors that interfere in appreciating carnatic music:

6. Sort of related to point 2: the nature of many carnatic ragas is such that, while badly sung Hindustani music is usually only boring, badly sung carnatic music can get repulsive.

And secondly, regarding picking up appreciation of carnatic music:

5. There are south Indian movies with songs that can serve as "gentle" introduction to carnatic ragas (more gently sung, with better voice, pleasant orchestration etc.), but the only thing is that you should know where to look for such songs. I can give examples if someone wants it.

Those are fine comments.

But I think you are being a little apologetic about Carnatic music here.

- I wouldn't regard Tyagaraja Kritis as "simple" or "unappealing". They have tremendous appeal to this day, and their popularity is not purely a "legacy" thing. Take the kriti I just linked to above - "Aadamodi Galade" - it is a particularly difficult composition and not simple by any means.

- If "voice culture" is indeed better in HIndustani music, why is it that vocalists are less central to Hindustani music than to Carnatic music? I understand that the baritone is something that is more common among HIndustani vocalists than Carnatic. But that's partly got to do with the stronger Bhakti / religious orientation of Carnatic music which demands less stentorian voices.

- I am not entirely convinced about Carnatic music being less concerned with the precision of notes. I'd say that in Carnatic music the singing in general is more "discrete" while Hindustani singing is less "discrete" and "abrupt" and more "continuous" for lack of a better word.

- The centrality of the composer - I may be wrong here. But I think in Hindustani music, many singers are often composers. Whereas atleast in 20th century Carnatic music, very few singers have actually "composed" songs. With a few exceptions like Balamurali Krishna.

- Hindustani music isn't exclusively "north indian" - The state of Karnataka has contributed enormously to Hindustani classical music. Particularly the town of Dharwad, some 500 kms from Bangalore.

- The liberal intelligentsia has been kinder to Hindustani classical music because it helps them make a case for the "syncretism of Indian culture" and the Muslim contributions tp "high culture". They are naturally less enthusiastic about Carnatic music - partly because of the dominance of brahmins in the southern tradition, the total absence of muslims ofcourse, the emphasis on bhakti and spirituality, all of which are very inconvenient to the "secular Indian" narrative.

Thanks for the comments.

1. I wouldn’t regard Tyagaraja Kritis as “simple” or “unappealing”. ... “Aadamodi Galade”

Sure; my statement was sort of the converse; among the unappealing+simple ones, Tyagaraja Kritis predominate, but of course there are tonnes of deep and spectacular Tyagaraja kritis.

3. I am not entirely convinced about Carnatic music being less concerned with the precision of notes

Not the system of carnatic music (the system stresses it very much), but individual musicians. No Hindustani musician whose fidelity to shruti is as pathetic as TNS or GNB exists. We on the other hand elevate TNS/GNB to high pedestals and keep listening to them because of their creativity (not just brigas!).

4. Hindustani music isn’t exclusively “north indian” - my understanding is that Dharwad came onto the map only in early twentieth century.

5. The liberal intelligentsia has been kinder to Hindustani classical music because - Absolutely, no question. Just consider all these people who talk about the paucity of dalits in carnatic music; it doesn't occur to them to raise analogous questions about Hindustani music, since they follow the mental heuristic "So many muslims, so cannot be casteism".

6. The point about Jon Higgins: I am talking of having followers, not practitioners; no carnatic musician has anywhere near the fame of Ravi Shankar or Zakir Hussain (I remember being amazed several years ago at just how many westerners knew him).

2. If “voice culture” is indeed better in HIndustani music, why is it that vocalists are less central to Hindustani music than to Carnatic music?

I don't know why vocalists are less central in Hindustani (that said, Ravi Shankar makes noises about "gayaki ang"), but this fact is not inconsistent with Hindustani having a better voice culture (the number of Hindustani musicians whose voices are as rough as those of MMI or SSI is exactly zero; so is the number of carnatic musicians with the smooth soft voice of, say, Rashid Khan).

P.S.: I wouldn't recommend that Adamodi clip to someone who has difficulties appreciating carnatic music; it is somewhat, though not too much, "hard core". I may in fact recommend some film song like "Sundaran neeyum sundari njaanum" for the ragam kedaram etc.

"I may in fact recommend some film song like “Sundaran neeyum sundari njaanum”"

Ah. That's from what is arguably my all time favorite Tamil movie

"it doesn’t occur to them to raise analogous questions about Hindustani music, since they follow the mental heuristic “So many muslims, so cannot be casteism”

In fact, the brahmin dominance in Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam is a mid-late 20th century phenomenon. Carnatic music regards Purandara Dasa as one of its founding figures, who was not a brahmin. Sure, the Tanjore trio of Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, and Shama shastry were brahmins. But then I am not sure about the earlier trinity of Arunachala Kavirayar, Muthu Thandavar, and Marimuthu Pillai. Even in the 20th century, giants like MS Subbulakshmi and ML Vasanthakumari were of Devadasi heritage, and not brahmin.

In Bharatanatyam, influential figures like the Tanjore quartet in early 19th century weren't brahmins. Nor was Bala Saraswati, still regarded by many, as the greatest of all Bharatanatyam dancers.

Suddenly post 1950 or so, both Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam became brahmin strongholds. And the reason for that is the Dravidian movement. Which was anti-culture. Anti piety. A very negative movement which promoted indifference towards anything that smacked of high culture, but instead was very busy glorifying the vulgarity of the movies. So while the Brahmins continued to patronize and follow these arts, the non Brahmins got divorced from the tradition, which was very much theirs in earlier periods.

This is something that is never acknowledged by SJW's like TNS Krishna today who bemoan brahmin dominance in Southern classical music. Sorry. This wasnt the making of brahmins. But a direct outcome of Dravidian low culture politics.

Wait, are you talking of TMK or TNS Krishna? The latter is Seshagopalan's son; is he into politics?

Why did the number of non-brahmins in carnatic music diminish? Needs a study, but here are some obvious reasons:

(i) The end of the devadasi system is one reason;

(ii) Financial difficulties post-independence likely affected non-brahmins more, so they couldn't focus on music.

(iii) This includes the point I mentioned above: Many non-brahmins were concentrated in instruments like nadaswaram, which are unfortunately agree even less with modern aesthetic preferences than carnatic vocalization. Nadaswaram is a great instrument which has guided the evolution of gamakams, but due to these shifting aesthetics, the nadaswaram fellows couldn't enter the limelight much.

The above is a special case of what I think is an underappreciated point: the shifting to western aesthetics affected Hindu aesthetics, but in the process arguably affected non-brahmin groups even more than brahmin group; e.g., the following song rendition seems to me to have very classical non-brahmin aesthetics that are now nearly extinct:

(bonus: you can see a young Kunnakkudi making much the same weird faces etc. as the old Kunnakkudi).

I agree that the Dravidian movement could've antagonized people to carnatic music, but how many from those communities that were traditionally into music (who are these communities? "saiva pillais",...)?

It was a typo at my end.

I meant to say TM Krishna but for some reason wrote TNS.

Sorry TNS.

Blah - I was referring to carnatic composers from earlier centuries who were as likely to be non Brahmin as Brahmin. Tanjore quartet for instance who were saiva pillais, I think.

Swathi thirunal is another 19th century example of a great non Brahmin ( Kerala kshatriya) composer.

Come 20th century and such examples become much rarer. It is in my view the direct consequence of the desanskritization drive of the Dravidian movement.

Also regarding your point on western tastes being more compatible with Hindustani than Carnatic tastes - while that sounds right, I have my issues with that.

Has there been a major Western practitioner of Hindustani music? I don't recall any. However in Carnatic music, we have the example of Jon Higgins, who held his own against the best Indian singers in the tradition. Here's more on Jon Higgins, who hailed from Massachussets.

Here's his rendition of a very famous Tyagaraja Kriti -

Re: your point about slow pieces, I loved this rendition of Krishna Nee Begane Baro by John Higgins which is slower and feels a bit like a Hindustani piece? I agree with your point about the nature of the alap.

This is a very good example of what I meant: slower giving listeners enough time to absorb what is going on. But there is another reason why it feels like a Hindustani piece: it is primarily in a Hindustani raga, yamuna-kalyani!

Yamuna kalyani must have entered carnatic somewhere in late 18th or early 19th century, I guess, but it did not get very carnaticized, so retains its Hindustani feel to a larger extent than, say, Hamir kalyani.

That's quite interesting. Would you suggest any good books on Indian musicology that would help me understand the evolution of the dominant musical styles and a historical framework for them?

Unfortunately I don't know, simply because I haven't read books on the subject myself: all that I know, which is not much, comes from a combination of talking to knowledgeable people, reading various articles on music-related topics (not books, that is), and my own familiarity with music.

This is not to say there don't exist such books; I don't know them, and locating such will involve filtering from a large collection of mediocre books, which is a lot of investment. I am sure many have studied, or pretended to study, this fascinating question, and written PhD theses on it. But how many of them have done so with a rational historically sound perspective is another question. I find this subject to be fascinating and full of unanswered questions.

But here are some salient features of the timeline, from a carnatic perspective:

1. At least starting from Bharatha's Natyashastra, up to Sangita Ratnakara of the 13th century, are books that both south Indian and north Indian classical traditions claim allegiance to: in other words, these aren't exclusively Hindustani or exclusively carnatic.

2. In parallel, there are various panns in Tamil music, that correspond to many exclusively south Indian ragas today; these are ragas which we certainly know to be of Indic, indeed south Indian, origin.

3. Some people call Purandara Dasa, who lived around ~1500, the "grand father of carnatic music". But why exactly is not clear to me (as in, the usual explanations don't satisfy me), but what is clear is that this guy's work is considered strictly in the carnatic fold, unlike the Sangita Ratnakara of 13th century mentioned above. I may give tradition benefit of doubt in making this choice, but only out of my total ignorance.

Now part of why the explanations don't satisfy me is related to the fact that most of Purandara Dasa's songs are now-a-days sung in a different, often Hindustani-ized, tunes than they were originally sung, making it difficult for us to have an idea of what Purandara Dasa did (this is similar to how the song Krishna Nee Begane you linked above was originally written by Purandara Dasa's contemporary Vyasatirtha, but is now sung in a different, very Hindustani-ish, raga).

4. Somewhere around 1600's lived Venkatamakhi, in whose decidedly carnatic works one finds certain ragas described as "Turushka" or Turkish, which was the word used to refer to Muslims generally then. For instance, from this article: "Venkatamakhi in his Caturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1620 CE) dismissed it as “Turuska” (Turkish) and considered it unsuitable for three of four musical forms that he described in his treatise – gita, thaya and prabandha. He did not specify if it was suitable for alapa [7]. Another scale similarly described as turuska corresponds to the raga Todi. In his doctoral dissertation, Prof. Viswanathan notes that “neither raga seems to have particularly well known in South India before the seventeenth century, which fact seems to support the likelihood of Middle-Eastern origins.” [8]

From the above, it appears that the Kalyani scale has its origins in the North. The contours of the raga Kalyani were shaped by composers like Kshetragna (1600-1680) [9], who composed over 20 padas in this raga. Remarkably, these were composed within half a century of Venkatamakhi’s description, and these compositions show how borrowed scales can be adapted into an evolving musical system."

But note that today's kalyani is highly carnaticized and doesn't sound at all like middle eastern or even north Indian:

Thus, something happened within about half a century, that involved carnaticizing and developing a foreign scale and elevating its status from "turushka" to deserving 20 padas in it.

5. The trinity lived roughly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A good chunk of the songs sung now in carnatic were composed by them (though a lot of the varnams seem pre-trinity). But how much of today's renditions of those songs sounds like the way they sounded when the trinity lived, is a matter of controversy; let me not get into the details.

Krishna nee begane was comoosed by vyasathirtha who lived in the mysore region in late 15th century. He composed it in yamuna kalyani. So it does seem like this raaga has always been part of carnatic music.

Replied to the wrong comment - see below for the reply.

@blah: Thank you for that great comprehensive timeline, appreciate it. I'll probably do lots of Googling around things you mentioned. I'm also really enjoying the website you linked to, it's a treasure trove of resources about Indian music.

Glad you liked it. In fact, it was replying to you which reminded me of the article on Parrikar's website. So to answer your earlier question of books, may be you can search that and other articles on the site (the ones authored by Muthukumar and Ramana if you want the history of carnatic music), and among the references provided with the articles, there could be books of the kind you were asking for.

Parrikar is a bit opinionated and makes some obnoxious remarks now and then, but still, such a treasure trove of information and clips!

~1500, so not 14th century. I don't think yamuna kalyani was the original raga (remember, the low opinion Venkatamakhi had even of Kalyani). Most of vyasatirtha and puranadara dasa kritis are now sung as tuned by some twentieth century folks who preferred to keep it secret. That said, the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini of the late 19th century has some Purandara Dasa kritis with gamakam notation: you can take a look and see how much they differ from the tunes of modern Purandara Dasa kritis.

@shrikanthk: Gosh, I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote the first sentence in the reply above. I am not able to remember where I read/heard the assertion about yamunakalyani not being the original raga. But as a heuristic, you can yourself check out yamunakalyani songs by Dikshitar (e.g., Jamboopathe) or Tyagaraja, and see how a more "traditional carnatic" interpretation of the raga looks like.

Blah - it is also possible that there was regional variation in the rendering of a raga within carnatic music across regions.

Vyasathirtha was a kannadiga living in a region not immune to northern influences while dikshitar was from the TN heartland. Maybe that accounts for the variation.

Thanks Tyler for the offhand reference to Indian music in this post but for which we wouldn't have had this very enlightening discussion.

Thanks blah for the very erudite comments. For once black dalit and I agree wholeheartedly!

blah : A couple of other things -

a) DId we have a system of notation prior to 13th-14th century? Do any musical compositions (by which I mean tunes) (be it north or south) survive from the period prior to the cleavage of Indian music into the two traditions? I have never listened to any Indian music (from any part of India) which is older than 15th century. The oldest that I have heard is Annamacharya / Purandaradasa. Again the assumption is that the tunes of these composers have been preserved over time, atleast to some extent.

b) One thing that struck me just now is the relative dominance of female artists in the Carnatic tradition in the 20th century. This dominance has increased in the latter part of the 20th century. In contrast, one doesn't recall too many stellar female names from the Hindustani tradition. With the exception of Gangubhai Hangal. (who by the way awarded me a prize for winning an inter school quiz competition as a chief guest 22 years ago :) )

While SJWs talk a lot about the dominance of brahmins in the southern tradition, they never quite managed to raise any noise about the lack of female artists in the northern tradition.

c) Which tradition did you grow up with? I am betting you are a southerner :) As I have seldom seen northerners take a very deep interest in Carnatic music. While the reverse is pretty common.

(a) Good question, I don't know the answer. The best approach I know would be to search in Subbarama Dikshitar's late 19th century magnum ops Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP):

For Purandara Dasa, I would consider it reasonable to believe that those songs of his which are (SSP) are somewhat faithful to the original; at least likely in the original raga. I don't know if there are many Annamacharya songs for which such old tunes are available.

Did anyone use notation before Subbarama Dikshitar? I don't know (but you may get some info if you carefully read the book I linked to above). Subbarama Dikshitar's own notation was self-created: he looked at a set of gamakas, perhaps following Sarngadeva's 10 gamakas, assigned symbols to each of them, and augmented notes with symbols pertaining to the gamakas (as you can see in the book linked above): for instance a "kampitam" on "ga" would be indicated by putting a wavy line on the top of "ga". This doesn't tell us too much, but is much better than just giving the notes.

(b) Hindustani has had some very top notch female musicians too: Kishori Amonkar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Girija Devi, and from a much earlier generation, Zohrabai and Gauhar Jaan. But I don't know well enough about relative-dominances.

(c) I am a south Indian, but neither Tamil nor Brahmin!

Thanks again :)

As I mentioned elsewhere, the Indian cultural aversion to writing things down is a big handicap to a better understanding of our art forms and their history.

Isaiah at his best is better than Shakespeare at his best, although of course Isaiah did not (unfortunately) spend much time describing individual human characters, as Shakespeare did - if he had .... (whoa Nelly) .... as for Mozart and Beethoven they are very good but only at their almost impossibly good best when you listen to them for awhile - or better, sing along with or play their compositions for awhile - and then, later, listen to less of them (i.e., their inspiration, while almost angelic, is by definition not angelic for the reason I just gave - think about it), and as for Indian music - one of the glories of the old Musical Heritage Society was their wonderful LP entitled "Evening Ragas at Benares".

So I guess my answer to the question at #1 is yes, it could be, for what its worth , but there are millions of people who understand music better than me.

4. Ferguson: Funny he mentions Applebaum but not Solzhenitzyn.

#2: the appellate courts in the United States produce one grotesquerie after another, none of which the Mercatus crew can deign to notice. Instead, it's 'look squirrel' at Poland and India.

Maybe you should go be ruled by Christian-killing squirrels in India.

No love for Gunnar Myrdal? Seems reasonable. He may have written insightfully on African Americans. But a life time of sucking up to mass murderers - and recommending their policies for the Third World - is not made right but saying interesting things about American racism.

In retrospect everyone listened to Myrdal and people like him but the world did not turn out as expected. If anything most of it become even more, what is the right phrase?, more like a hell hole. China, in particular, has improved by ignoring absolutely everything Myrdal had to say on the subject and embracing almost everything his opponents supported.

Which makes me wonder if everyone wouldn't have been better off if Myrdal was ignored on African Americans too?

mankind’s two greatest aesthetic achievements

No mention of late 16th and 17th century European art, particularly Caravaggio but also Rembrandt, Metsu, and ter Borch. Isn't great art an aesthetic achievement?

#7 - relevant link -

This slightly contradicts the author where he says there are no preserved sticks from neolithic times.

On Indian music: FWIW, when I was working on my book on music (Beethoven's Anvil, Basic Books 2001) I visited the music department at Wesleyan U in Connecticut (which has a superb program in ethnomusicology) and observed a class in solkattu, which is a Carnatic method of rhythm instruction involving a system of vocal syllables and hand gestures. Astounding! It seems that for awhile at least this class was in vogue among football players, who thought it helped with timing and coordination.

On Shakespeare: Who knows how good he really is? He has been enormously influential, and that influence is what is being tracked in estimations of his excellence. Should he have been so influential? The question is meaningless. He WAS! He came along at a pivotal moment in the evolution of Western literary culture and was able to articulate new modes of feeling and desire. Think of him as marking an evolutionary bottleneck in literature – that's more or less what (the absurdly prolix) Harold Bloom has argued, though not in those terms.

@Bill - Jon Higgins, the person I referred to in my earlier comment in the thread, actually established that course at Wesleyan, if I am not mistaken.

Could be. I don't know the history of the Wesleyan program. At the time I visited the solkattu course was taught by Ramnad Raghavan.

Comments for this post are closed