Priya Purushothaman – Hindustani Vocalist

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Moments from a Day-Long Workshop on Manodharma, Pedagaogy, and the Classical Music Scenario, with T.M. Krishna

Photo: Hari Adivarekar


T.M. Krishna speaks with his whole body. His eyes dart left and right, full of intent, clarity, and reflection. Like the conductor of an orchestra, his hands accentuate his words and thoughts cascade in an uninterrupted flow. He is completely present.

Krishna was in Mumbai for a 2-week festival curated by First Edition Arts, Karnatik Modern II. Expanding upon its debut last year, the festival featured a combination of solo and collaborative performances, a workshop and master class, and panel discussions in different spaces across the city. “Manodharma,” was a day-long immersive workshop on creativity in Carnatic music. A highly interactive exchange with the audience, the day took the full arc of the musical spectrum –  from the seeds of creativity in this style, to a simulated “Carnatic classroom,” culminating in a dialogue with Hindustani musicians about professional challenges and goals for both musical communities.

In the first session, Krishna continued from his highly lucid lecture-demonstration on the same topic one year earlier, this time going deeper into the nuances of improvisation. His gift as an ambassador of Carnatic music lies in his ability to completely engage zealous music students and casual listeners alike. He did this fine balancing act while demonstrating – with an abundance of varied and captivating examples – the pillars of Carnatic improvisation.  While discussing alapanai, the free form melodic exploration of a raag, he probed the audience to unpack the same form in Hindustani music. What makes an alapanai different between the two styles? He also took a close look at the often misunderstood tani avartanam (rhythmic solo) section to reveal the sensitive layers built to complement what the vocalist has painted. Even while explaining more technical concepts, Krishna’s focus never deviated from the aesthetic and emotive textures that he believes are at the core of the listener’s experience.

While trying to decipher the magic of an “a-ha” or “sabbash” moment, Krishna said: “It is a complete immersion in the moment, a rediscovery on that specific day.” What about discovering a completely new musical idea in the tradition? “Utter rubbish,” Krishna stated emphatically. Like the setting of a diamond, a musical phrase could be placed in a context that allowed it to shine unexpectedly and create the impression of newness, he argued. But the chances of an idea being completely new? Slim to none, in his view.

His version of the Carnatic classroom enacted how these creative processes can be imparted and honed, while revealing that classical music can be taught with both rigour and tremendous affection. Featuring Krishna’s senior disciples Vignesh Ishwar and Rithvik Raja, the session demonstrated how he challenged his students to keep pushing the imagined boundaries of their creative thought, to the point of “physical and mental exhaustion.”

“We’re just jamming,” he said of the continuous exchange of ideas between all three of them. Of course as Guru, Krishna would intermittently bring their attention to a section of the raga to confine their exploration, or ideas of their own they had let pass by unknowingly that could be elaborated further, for instance.

The concluding session served as a neat segue from creativity and pedagogy to the professional music world. Krishna led a conversation with Hindustani musicians Ranjani Ramachandran, Samarth Nagarkar and myself, which examined the current state of both classical music systems for audiences, presenters, and musicians. Some significant questions were raised. Does one need to know or understand classical music to appreciate it? How can the curiosity of a person who has never heard of Indian classical music be triggered? How can audiences be diversified rather than merely enlarged? How can organisers find a balance between reliance on corporate sponsors and earning revenue through ticket sales? How do young artists support themselves without any patronage structures in place?

More thoughtful discussions and indeed time will be needed for concrete answers and actions to surface. But this exchange of ideas added much value to the ongoing search for solutions. Krishna shared the work and history of the Youth Association for Classical Music in Chennai (founded in 1985) as an effective model. This was the story of a generation of young musicians creating waves in the Carnatic music world by creating their own platforms and arenas to share the music, increasing the involvement of listeners and amateurs while building a community. This eventually influenced the mainstream music circuits and sabhas, who then co-opted new ideas (such as youth festivals) into their programming. Hindustani musicians may have to find a modified approach to suit their different needs and issues, but the consensus was the need for a community to work together with a common purpose. It was disappointing that very few from the Hindustani music world were present, but one notable exception was the veteran vocalist and guru Pandit Arun Kashalkar.

The day began at 10:30 am and lasted until 8:30 pm, and while a few attendees may have  had to sneak out as it got late, a sizable number were held rapt till the very end by Krishna’s artistry, charisma, and eloquence, all held together by his seemingly inexhaustible stamina.




Excerpts from Guru Purnima Performance

Raag Nand, vilambit

Tabla, Sri Sagar Bharathraj

Harmonium, Sri Vyasmurti Katti




Excerpt from Guru Purnima concert for Sri Yogesh Samsi, Mumbai

Full Concert, Kalakshetra, Chennai

Organized by The ArTery

Kajri, Raag Mishra Pilu