Tag Archives: Music

A look behind the book: Latest volume in Ome Swarlipi

{Write-up initiated to record steps for publishing book containing music compositions using OmeSwarlipi. The book is available here.}

Sitar Compositions in Ome Swarlipi was published for non-Hindi speaking enthusiasts who were interested in Indian classical music and were looking for different levels of string compositions in major Raga-s. In the past decade, readers have occasionally voiced their reactions to the book. One thing that was stressed by many, was publication of next volume with different Raga-s and compositions.

OmeSarlipi mein Misrabani, 2020
Companion Volume to Sitar Compositions in Ome Swarlipi

Since 2010 when this volume was published, mobile phones have made internet accessible across India and teaching has begun to incorporate healthy use of resources available online – an objective with which Omenad, Online Music Education for Novitiates, Academics and Demonstrators was started in 1999. Several universities and institutions in India have invited experts to initiate students in using Ome digital notation system and a number of performers and academics now routinely use Ome Swarlipi in documentation and teaching. While the notations in Bhatkhande system or even Ome Swarlipi come easy to students of music, the language of instructions on host website – omescribe.com – posed a challenge. I remember when a young student sent a proposal to the ministry to prepare learning material for computer languages in Hindi, it was summarily rejected. The student, an acclaimed professional developer today, had noticed that intelligent students, his classmates, suffered solely because they were unable to understand primary instructions in English; once he helped out, they progressed competitively.

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Pearls as bricks


Datta: what have we given?

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed


Curation  is primary directed by strong aesthetic sensibility. Serving others has also motivated people. Both, to collect and share, are essential elements of human gregariousness. Technology has empowered almost all fields of human enterprise. Just a decade back, while collecting had its own difficulties, sharing was  equally tedious.

The small foot-print audio format , mp3, changed it all. Enthusiasts, even to the day, are busy converting their audio collections to this format. Soon enough, video compression allowed easy exchange. Free repositories grant  users access to store and share.

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Taxing Music


The age of Technology is yet to arrive. For that matter, even industrialization has not come to many parts of the world. Dark ages and middle ages may still be discovered on earth. But human progress is measured largely by new vistas discovered and new possibilities created. It is amazing how this forward movement is not strictly linear; it is multi-dimensional.

Well, amazement is a part of human perception and thought. Alternating between  periods of illumination and darkness, civilization keeps discovering new thought, new tools, new Heroes. Pythagorean efforts surpassed the Herculean; for twenty five centuries mathematics lay in core of all rational thought. In the last two centuries this ‘pure science’ has been beleaguered with numerous uncertainties. Herman Weyl observed six decades back,

The question of the foundations and the ultimate meaning of mathematics remains open; we do not know in what direction it will find its final solution or even whether a final objective answer can be expected at all. “Mathematizing” may well be a creative activity of man like language or music, of primary originality, whose historical decisions defy complete objective rationalization.

It is not surprising then, that while one part of human ingenuity unravels itself in one direction, another may be involved with things in a different dimension. It may annoy the rational mind, but mystery (rising out of multiple action-bits, a few in process, unknown) is the yarn life uses to weave its carpet. ‘Man proposes, god disposes’ is no longer a religious homily; instead, it has become the truth of real life power game. Some of these power-maneuvers result in gain; it is equally possible for them to lead to situations, in which, the differend remains unaddressed. Questioning of authority results less in immediate gain; after losses of all kind, the gain is of truth alone. So, it is not surprising that while the rock-foundation of all science – Mathematics – may contain internal incongruity, all its applications measure up to expectations. Far greater in changing the face of earth would have been its tiniest failure in the complex experiment of  Long Hedron Collider than failure of computing electronics in Y2K.  Yet, none of these possible man-made catastrophes became real.  Mathematics still works. And even when a great part of world lies in differing  stages of development, it is now connected enough for everyone to make sympathetic evaluations. As the night, the day. It is a visible truth, now.

Only our concern for probable loss makes us take a stand that proven, would ensure encapsulation from a present wrong in future. The act may not be easy.  The efficient yet stifling bureaucracy has resulted through several steps accepted out of tiresome debate, deep meditation and vehement opposition. Bureaucracy is a wall – to protect and block. A shield against loss, an obstruction to gain.  In a  lecture delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October 2010,  William Deresiewicz outlined the need of solitude for developing true leadership. Contemplation grants direction and courage, to write rules for new reality. Giving example of General David Petraeus, he emphasized that even within an institution like Army (which gave foundation to very idea of regimentation), officers need to think flexibly, creatively, and independently. Only then, the mediocrities would yield leadership to excellence.

Civil life is no different. In a world fraught with inconstancies and counter-poised motivations, it is the institution of law devised to grant justice. Democracy runs on the right to disagree with existing body of thought and seek redress even if it means making a change in the law.  Yet, it seems burdensome and counter-productive to a person engaged in an absorbing activity to drop it, so after bringing about a change, he may engage in it again. Everyone knows that you can’t have them both. He who finds the principle valuable than the fruit, alone would strive to set things right. But apart from moral courage, it is immediate necessity that keeps one from standing up.

Yususf Mirajkar and Dr. Mukesh Garg

Yususf Mirajkar and Dr. Mukesh Garg: Role of Instruments in ICM

In a conference on “Role of Instruments in Indian Classical Music”, a seventh generation instrument-maker Yusuf Mirajkar  explained why in near future musicians may not have any instruments to make music with. It may no longer be possible for us to hear the original sounds as getting adequate raw material is becoming difficult. The forest department has regulations to provide forest resources for traditional crafts, but not for commercial purposes. Now a musician is the sole user of the instrument while it remains serviceable. But he needs another artiste to craft it according to his need. Bureaucracy can not be bothered with such fine distinctions. So long an instrument-maker is making a musical instrument not for his own use but for another person, it is a commercial activity and not traditional craft. Secondly, the actual commercial interests cause selective plantation so that plants/ trees used for musical instruments would not be available in future. A true Miraj Tanpura, warned Mr. Mirajkar, would turn into a museum piece so that future vocalists would not be able to sing with one. He said the makers have neither wealth, power or influence; it is artistes alone who may use their influence to safeguard musical instruments. No artiste has taken a public stand regarding this.

Another interesting and equally inimical is the move to label musical instruments as devices. Indian musical instruments have a continuous history of evolution for over two millennium now. In his seminal work, Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya, Dr. Lalmani Misra correlates this evolution with Indian music theory step by step, with evidence from contemporary texts and sculptures. The Goddess of learning and music, Saraswati carried the most evolved string instrument of the age as stated by one scholar. It is the Indian classification of instruments that serves as foundation of modern Sachs-Hornbostel system. The Sachs-Hornbostel system classified instruments into four main groups: idiophones, membranophones, chordophones, and aerophones.  Later Sachs added a fifth category, electrophones, such as theremins, which produce sound by electronic means. (Kartomi, p.176)

All Indian musical instruments, classical, folk and modern ones accepted in practice of classical music at the time of its writing were included in Dr. Misra’s book. It was the year of his death 1979, that first Indian Electronic musical Instrument was made. Evolution has always been technology driven and starting from a pedal harmonium through transistors, integrated chips, the electronic instruments  G.Raj Narayan created were representative of creative spirit. Unless one has been formally trained in rigors of Indian classical music, it is difficult to understand how small was the chance of distilling the vast knowledge necessary into successful creation of these instruments. Befittingly, in the 2002 edition of Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya, analytical description of the electronic musical instruments was included. Since then, syllabi of various universities have granted these instruments due place. The students are involved with these instruments both theoretically and practically.

It is not formal academia alone that vitalizes or enriches life. The innovator of these instruments deserves highest honor that may be imagined for making it possible to  encapsulate Indian music in its essence, undistorted in a life-style soon to turn virtual. Four decades back no one could have imagined that a nation dedicated to agriculture with human activities in complete sync with nature, would one day wake up to Gutka (tobacco-pouch) Pepsi, and China-made cell-phones / handsets with double batteries ( or mechanical charge) that provide them 4 gb of indi-films, pop-songs and Bhajan-s in their villages where their government is unable to provide them with promised 6 hours of electricity for powering irrigation-pumps. The descent of post-modern  has been so vigorous, that Indian society, which assimilated all invading cultures  for centuries without batting an eyelid, is like a charged bull stomping to tear down all fences.

Ever since the quiet fabric of a slumberous existence had finally been torn by the war, partition and the country awakened to its independent existence, music had lost its traditional patronage. In third decade after independence music had turned into an industry. The audio cassette revolution  blasted the control of record companies and music was ‘liberated’ in all senses. Accessible as personal choice to lowest common denominator, quality was no more an essential. Very soon, it was ‘undesirable’ and the elite, cerebral Classical music, difficult to learn, costly to practice that was thrown out of homes, schools and temples. The paltry state stipends and  apathetic broadcasting agencies were not even bothered to drive the last nail in.

Classical music was on its way out when Radel Tabla and Tanpura breathed in a new lease of life. While purists fought over nuances and all others had their backs turned, the blessed children of Saraswati – the ineffaceable reminder of excellence – could with these electronic instruments turn into Aranya-Rishi,  learning and practice music with just a few batteries and their capability for immersion. No longer the need to stay in the house of Guru (the poor man could barely support himself); visit him once a week or month and do the Sadhana, Riyaz at home. Raj Narayan had created the mythical philosopher’s stone, the Paras whose touch would turn metal into gold. Well, almost. It needed pure metal to be turned into gold, yet, it accorded an equal chance to all who wished to practice learning Classical music, even those who may not have received approval of the Guru. On the minus side, many lost or never developed the ability to rely on their ears alone to produce the exact Swar. The reason Raj Narayan persistently went on with innovation was the demand of musician within. He had seen the best of artistes losing concentration, achieving little in comparison to their effort and talent because their instruments would fail them at one point or another. Finally he began creating instruments where the musician would be able to design the instrument according to his own sensibility and render the Raga to fullest of his abilities without finding his instrument a burden or hurdle. If a good artiste could achieve a lot with a limiting instrument, what would he not create let free. It was the desire to liberate and empower the talented that served as his Muse.

It takes times. With scorn, derision, mockery that every inventor faces, acceptance, appreciation and regard came his way.  The Citation of the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 1996 admitted,

“Recognising with gratitude your outstanding service in the field of musical instrument manufacture, the Government of Karnataka is pleased to honour you with the Rajyotsava Award for the year 1996.”

The Citation of the Karnataka Kalashree Award for 2000-2001, presented by the Sangeetha Nrithya Academy says:

“For the invaluable service in the field of instrument manufacture, Karnataka Sangeetha Nrithya Academy honours Sri Raj Narayan, Radel Electronics, with the ‘Karnataka Kalashree’ award.”

So, he was not awarded or honored for creating a musical Paras, but for a musical instrument. After all bureaucracies do not admit legends and myths; they deal in reality. But these awards did indicate that his service to unknown enthusiasts, virtuoso and stalwarts was now visible to the collective mind. Unmindful, the genius was busy in his Sadhana and continued discovering greater depths.

The Techno-Classicist was soon overtaken by the techno-economist. If the people had accepted an invention that benefitted them, was not it their duty to pay tithe to Caesar? Only, in this case it was more than a tithe.  Commissioner of Commercial Taxes, (Govt. of Karnataka)  ruled with reference to these:

“Such electronic gadgets which are run on electrical / battery power without any human intervention can by no stretch of imagination be construed as musical instruments. These are not Indian musical instruments or even musical instruments but electronic devices that automatically produce similar sound; therefore they have to be taxed at the rate mandated for electronics gadgets, which is at present 14% from April 1, 2011”.

It is very clear that this ruling is not about collecting revenue alone. It seems to reflect a bias of the collective against the loner, the genius, the thinker. True to the reductive attitude of the post-modern age, the statement deconstructs the possibility of  any  quality beyond average in creation of product in question. That there can be a possibility of the product going beyond its immediate utility and contributing to a larger ideal or goal is obviously beyond the logic-system which subverts it. It does not matter that delivered in garb of detached objectivity, such statements are qualified, making value judgment by proxy. In the heat of moment, they exceed their limits and decimate the power of very ideal they purport to act on behalf of.

In an age where realization has percolated to the very top, so that to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage practices from insatiable acquisitiveness and destruction of unbridled commercialization,UNESCO  Convention 2003 was ratified, the very institutions created to support and protect need to evaluate each action so that they may not subvert their function.

India was home to thinker Chanakya who prescribed taxation – to be collected as bees collect nectar from flowers. Taxation has also been practiced as deterrent – in modern India sometimes on foreign goods, almost always on alcohol and tobacco. It is more perhaps because of insularity (again a political canon from the Sage) than intention that a benevolent bureaucracy shows a stranger aspect.

Taxation is materialization of the abstraction that a government is. When  Thoreau wished to register his protest against the government, he refused to pay his due and sitting in prison wondered about the concept of freedom. If through its actions, the abstraction does not manifest a benign face even though it wants to, then it should reexamine the mechanisms that manifest its will.

The order of the tax department also shows that Technology is still an alien in many nations of the world. Why else, should a musical instrument functioning on principles of Indian music, invented by an Indian musician-engineer within India for musicians practicing Indian music be denied the label of being Indian or musical or even instruments? Calling them electronic devices is not scientific classification but an intended denigration based on their (partly-comprehended) function of ‘automatically produce(ing) similar sound’.

Take a look at the headlines, the feed on your pod or adverts inviting you to enticing products, alluring services. You can not only talk, but send text, book tickets and authorize payments with your cell phones. Google wallet will not only change the way individuals handle money but affect the whole system of finance conceptually. The world eagerly looks forward to technology changing the way we work or relax, at times wary, but never with derision. If it is not good, it will cease to be. The choice is clear: celebrate or be unconcerned.

That a machinery should be celebrative is perhaps too optimistic; at best we may request its unbiased concern. In this case, determine the ultimate point where deterrent would take effect. An increase in price is certain to decrease the sale and therefore reduce the use of electronic music instruments. Consult a cross-section of users;  or just look at the sales record and examine its function most superficially. It will be clear that these instruments are used not by advertising agencies, nor commercial service-providers but by students and musicians who use it for their learning, practice and satisfaction. Raising its cost is certain to reduce the number of users, which in turn means that number of people espousing Indian Classical Music would fall. One more method of expressing individuality would wither away.  This is the goal of uni-polar mono-cultural economy that connects good with largeness of numbers. As representative of the largest parliamentarian democracy respected throughout the world for fairness of its constitution, is it right to act against the essence, the spirit that directs its culture, which is also world’s heritage? Is it even fair to the current divinity of Technology to hold its achievement against itself? When shall we mature to express gratitude open-heartedly, to find power in empowerment and joy in making others smile? It is only then we shall like Wordsworth, carry the music in our hearts.

I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.


Weyl, Hermann. “Mathematics and Logic.” The American Mathematical Monthly53 (1946): 2-13. Print.

Kartomi, Margaret J. “On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments”,  University of Chicago Press, Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology (CSE), 1990.

“528. Solitary Reaper. William Wordsworth. The Oxford Book of English Verse.”Bartleby.com: Great Books Online — Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and Hundreds More. Web. 04 June 2011. <http://www.bartleby.com/101/528.html&gt;.


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