AN EQUAL MU­SIC

Liv­ing Mu­seum of Urur-Ol­cott Kup­pam

India Today - - THE ARTS -

IN PORAMBOKE, WHICH means land out­side the purview of as­sessed land records, Magsaysay awardee T.M. Kr­ishna sings “it is not for you, nor for me, it is for the com­mu­nity, it is for the earth”. It sums up his choice of “un­usual lo­ca­tions”, like the liv­ing mu­seum that is the fish­ing ham­let of Urur-Ol­cott Kup­pam, to start what he called con­ver­sa­tions in 2014 in a bid to democra­tise Car­natic mu­sic. To take it to the man whose ear it had not fallen on thus far. To the peo­ple who could not af­ford his tick­eted con­certs. For them, he would sing, in the morn­ings.

“I see it as a metaphor for pos­si­bil­ity,” says Kr­ishna. “We re­main iso­lated. How can we lis­ten and talk?”

Kr­ishna re­counts an in­ci­dent over the phone. “I first heard it at the fes­ti­val (the vizha that Kr­ishna con­ducts ev­ery year in the vil­lage). I was walk­ing through the by­lanes of the vil­lage ask­ing peo­ple to come to the per­for­mance space when I heard it.” He is talk­ing about the para­iat­tam, a form of drum­ming tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with fu­ner­als. But it is ac­tu­ally about caste, which ex­tends to rit­ual, food, at­tire, even mu­sic. So the mri­dan­gam, thavil and parai are not mere mu­si­cal in­stru­ments but rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the caste hi­er­ar­chy. All are made of an­i­mal hide—mri­dan­gam from goatskin, thavil from buf­falo skin on one side and goatskin on the other and parai from cowhide. And in the preva­lent so­cial or­der, the mri­dan­gam, pre­sumed to be a di­vine in­stru­ment, was the pre­serve of the up­per castes, the thavil of the in­ter­me­di­ate castes and parai of the Dal­its. “The drum­ming,” says Kr­ishna, “is loud and pas­sion­ate and you have to dance to it. If a per­son does not dance or move his body to the beat of the parai, he is pre­sumed to be dead, they say.”

He danced to it. When he heard it first, on the street, and later on the stage, at the end of the fes­ti­val.

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