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The best of Bhavan's Journal: 1954 - 2003
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Musical Moments Stories
Anecdotes About Indian Music
R. Srinivasan
(Published in 1980 Annual Number)
Incarcerated in Mandalay jail for six long years, this great son of India showered his love on books and a lowly cook making him blessed. True art is never made to order; it comes as a result of an irresistible inner urge. We hear a song of Tyagaraja and are enthralled; we see a majestic temple tower and gaze on it with wonder; we see some of our ancient sculptures and feel thrilled. Why? Behind all such works of art is a great spiritual urge. The artistes poured their devotion in the shape of such exquisite works of art; it was an act of self-effacing dedication.
Raga is the basis of Indian music; it is the soul of our musical system. Each raga has its own essential, unique, aesthetic quality, called bhava; each raga has an individuality of its own, it is as it were a unique entity. Each raga is associated with a devata (presiding deity), which is the enduring principle which gives life and unique structure to the raga.
In those days when vidwans were patronized by rulers and zamindars and had not to play to the tune of anyone who came in with ticket, the vidwans enjoyed great liberty; they sang as they liked without having to keep a programme which provided only twenty minutes for ragalapana, tana and Pallavi all together. Some of them used to sing a raga for hours, and for even days without any repetition; they were capable of such originality and creative expression. Some specialised in some ragas that they came to have the names of some ragas attached to their own names, such as Todi Sitaramiah, Begada Subramania Iyer, Kedaragowla Narasimha Iyengar and so on.
An interesting story has been told of Todi Sitaramiah who was a court musician at Tanjore. He was great favourite of the Raja; his rendering of the raga Todi was unrivalled, Sitaramiah was a spendthrift and in spite of all the favours showered on him by the Raja he was always in want. Once he was badly in need of money. He had pledged all his belongings for various debts incurred by him and so he could not again approach his creditors for money.
There was a moneylender at Tanjore who was a Shylock, and so people went to him only as the last resource. Sitaramiah had to go to him. The money-lender offered to give the loan on some suitable security. Sitaramiah pleaded that he had already pledged all his security. The shrewd money-lender had a brain-wave. He said, “Surely that cannot be. You must be having still something with you which you can pledge. Yes, I know you have something which you can offer as pledge. If you are prepared to pledge it, I shall let you have the loan at the usual rate of interest.”
Sitaramiah was surprised, but his need was so great that he said to the money-lender, “Well, as far as I am aware, I have nothing of my own to pledge. If you mention something which is really my own, I am prepared to leave it with you as security for the loan.”


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