Carnatic Music and Hindustani Music – some tell me that both of these music forms are indigenous to India, although some historians consider Hindustani music to have had Persian influences.
I’ve learnt Carnatic music for about nine years (‘89-‘98) and Hindustani music for about a year. My roots with Carnatic music run deeper than my feeble attempts at learning the art. My father is a trained Carnatic musician – he is a very talented percussionist, and used to be a regular percussion accompaniment player to many popular Carnatic vocalists, and had also been with the Tamil movie industry – a percussionist for many yester-year composers. My mediocrity in practicing this wonderful form of music is in no way a testimony to his skills!
My music teacher bowled me over by asking a very pleasantly surprising favor of me – she is doing a research case study and wanted me to be a participant in her research, by coming with a write-up on how I’d compare Carnatic music with Hindustani music. And this is precisely what I’ve tried to pen down here. Needless to say, I felt honored to have even been asked this. In this write-up, I am focusing on purely the emotional side of rendering these two styles of music, and how, as a singer, these styles of singing make me feel. All that I’ve penned down here are therefore, matters of the heart, and not of the mind. Hence please condone any flaw in the technicality.
I’ve been asked numerous times why, when I decided last year to get back to pursuing and learning music, after a gap of 14 years, I chose to learn Hindustani and not Carnatic. I’d say the actual reason was purely emotional. Probably because of my 9-year long training, even after I gave up formally learning Carnatic music, I’d continued singing and educating myself, thanks to the internet boom, not being put down by the fact that I actually wasn’t very pleasant to hear! 🙂 I’d never had difficulties in taking the help of veterans (virtually), by playing their renditions over and over again, on sites like Youtube and getting to learn and sing new Carnatic songs.
Yet, somehow, I was never able to do this with Hindustani music. Try as I might, my Hindustani rendition would always sound like a pathetic, mal-nourished orphan, in comparison to the renditions I’d heard the masters come up with. I’d say that this point was the main factor that triggered me to take up formal training in Hindustani music. I wanted to sincerely learn and figure out why I wasn’t able to understand the nuances of this beautiful style of music.
After I’ve had the privilege of being coached by eminent vocalists, I’d say that I’m beginning to understand how the Hindustani style of music makes one’s soul sing. While the Carnatic music is a very majestic form of music, with the emphasis on right intonations, proper note placements, and the stress on the words, the Hindustani style gives a lot of room to the singer to explore the finesse of the raga and form a smooth but peculiar style for the notes rendition.
I’ve felt that Carnatic music with all its richness and splendor, is like walking by the sea – with the brisk and bubbly waves lapping up your feet and each step of yours stumbling on something new, such as a shell, a discarded bottle, and so on. It’s a magical kingdom where you do not know what the next moment would bring.
On the same scale, Hindustani music, with its simple grace and appeal, is like a boat-ride on a calm river by the moonlight. Its elements may be sparse in number, but one’s soul gets immensely soothed by it. And unless you have an eye for relishing the beauty of the moon-silhouetted forms around you, the boat-ride may not be memorable. And so I feel it is, with Hindustani music too.
To conclude, I feel it’s unfair to even remotely compare two diversely lush and stately forms of music. All one can do is take solace in the fact that, depending on what your frame of mind is, one of the two forms can help you indulge in some mind-searching through music.