Emotions in Carnatic Music

Article by Ms. Revathi S.

    Ms. Revathi S.The idea of life without "emotions" is just inanimate. We often use words to express emotions. We paint words so beautifully, yet sometimes fail to express the right emotion. Art is a means of expressing emotions to the fullest. One element that is common among all performing arts is their ability to express the emotions which make up different slices of life. Emotions characterize life as well as art. Music is one such language of emotion.

    Music without emotions is lifeless and an emotion without music is inadequate. Navarasayutha krithiche ...A famous phrase from Thyagaraja's "Sogasuga mridhanga thalamu" states that the nine emotions ("Rasas") are very essential aspects of a krithi. The present article focuses on the emotional power of music & the science behind these emotions.

    Science of emotion: The effect of music on emotions is a result of embodied mind thesis. According to a theory, an embodied philosophy or embodied mind thesis proves that the laws of thought are metaphorical, not logical. What this means is the truth would be constructed from metaphorical reasoning and is not an attribute of reality. The truth would be an outcome of feelings of certain situation, not attributed to facts, science or religion., say for instance the chirp of birds, cry of a child....There is no science written from where these emotions or feelings are derived, but they raise from situation. Each time we hear a piece of music, we are actually re-experiencing the emotion which we would have experienced earlier. So, the statement "Music brings out emotions" is wrongly termed. The correct way of stating this is- we reflect emotions on hearing to a piece of music. The first time when an emotion is aroused, it creates a pattern in certain part of the brain and each time a similar emotion is felt, this pattern/template is invoked.

    Source of emotions: Emotions in music need not be associated with the phrases and the words that make up the song. Pure music i.e., music without words (instrumental, aalaapana or swara kalpana) can bring out emotions too. To site a good example, the tone of a person on the other end of the phone can make us get a feel of his/her mood. Whether it is a face to face conversation or a phone conversation, gesture and tone constitute around 90% of what is being conveyed. In a similar way tone & its quality constitute a major part of what is being expressed in music. Perhaps the brain identifies and catches the gestures employed in music; gestures here being referred to the aural gestures and not the body language. On recognizing the gestures, the brain tends to imagine if it were to bring out these gestures, what would its emotional state be? That explains how music creates emotions. To quote the theory in a nut shell,

    • the ears capture the music and its tone
    • the brain listens and analyses the musical content
    • imagines what feelings/emotions would have produced that configuration of music


    If Raga is the soul of Carnatic music, rasa or bhava is its emotional quality. Good quality rendering can arise intense emotional feelings in both the person rendering the music and the person listening. Nine types of rasas are identified predominantly in Carnatic arts, be it music or dance.

    They are:

             Wonder- Adbhutha

             Love/Beauty- Shringara

             Anger- Roudhra

             Fear- Bhayanaka

             Compassion- Karuna

             Disgust- Bibhatsya

             Valor- Veera




    Ragas and rasas

    Each raga is associated with a rasa.A raga can portray more than one rasa if handled tactfully. Oscillating the relevant swaras vigorously could give rise to "Roudhra" rasa, while managing the same notes feebly could mean "Veera" rasa.Though rasa is an inbuilt trait of music, the extent of its exposure lies with the musician, his imagination and his control on the raga boundaries. Raga kamach maps to "shringara" Rasa and that is one good reason to have many successful javalis in this raga.

    Rasa could be associated with raga as well as the tone and the phrases in case of verbal music.

    Shantha rasa is the base of all emotions. Some people term it as a passive state, devoid of all emotions. To put it the right way, all emotions emerge out of Shantha rasa when their excitation state is achieved and merge back to Shantha rasa when they are withdrawn. Presence of all rasas in the right proportion or devoid of all rasa is equivalent to Shantha rasa. This is like saying white is a combination of all colours and black is devoid of any colour; we don't term either white or black as a colour J

    Let me try to interpret and explain the Navarasas with a close relevance to human life, its fabrics and flavors.

    Rasas, their interpretation and Navarasas in Carnatic music (Thyagaraja's compositions)

    Life is the true testing ground. Emotions are as large as life and twice as natural.

    As soon as a child is born, the awe that it feels while coming across every new act, every new incident is something that is felt for the first time and is a matter to wonder and ponder about. "Adbhutha rasa" is the curiosity of man, the astonishment caused by something not imagined earlier or felt. The emotional outpour of Saint Thyagaraja in his various compositions appeal even to the lay listeners.Thyagaraja, the king of Carnatic music has remarkably depicted Navarasas in his various compositions on Lord Rama.In his composition in raga "Kapi"-"Raama raghukula jalanidhi", he says he is wonderstruck at Sri Rama's greatness that it isn't possible even for Brahma, the creator of the Universe to know the vastness and boundaries of Rama's great achievements.

    Love is an indispensable part of life. It encompasses every relationship and influences all actions."Shringara rasa" represents love and beauty; any element of beauty evokes love. This emotion can be used to paint love between friends, love between a mother and her child, the love for god or the love between a Guru and his disciple. Thyagaraja has made so rich use of this emotion and expressed Love in all forms to Lord Rama, seeing Rama as his father, mother, friend, teacher and the most interesting being a beloved lover. In his composition "Chera raavadhemira" in raga reethigowla, Rama is addressed as his divine lover and Thyagaraja yearns to keep gazing at his lotus face.

    When love is not reciprocated, the definite feeling would be anger. This brings us to "Roudhra rasa", anger, which could be out of concern for another or out of experience of injustice.Thyagaraja couldn't target the intensity of his anger at Sri Rama. However he used nindha stuthi to express his anguish against Rama for the indifference shown to him. One such composition is his "Chalamelara saaketharama" in raga Marga Hindolam, where Thyagaraja questions why Rama is so emotionless with him when he has shown so much of love and sung his praises all the way.

    Anger, most of the times is a result of fear. The subtle feel of helplessness, the anxiety of being dismissed can be expressed better in no form than through music. In the plaintive and melancholic notes of raga Chakravakam, in composition "Etulabrothuvo theliyaa", Thyagaraja expresses the "Bhayanaka rasa".He says he has a despicable record of sins and he is afraid how Rama is going to give him refuge and save him from his past deeds.

    The next essence is the feeling of compassion. The sympathy and fellow-feeling that sorrow generates is "Karuna rasa".Thyagaraja is very tactful in praising Rama before he seeks compassion from him in most of his compositions. He chooses the somber tones of raga Amrithavahini in "Sriraama paadama" and says it is enough if he secures His grace.Rama has been so compassionate to Ahalya and redeemed her in the past and why not he show the same sympathy towards him.

    The sixth emotion is Disgust. This emotion is evoked by anything that is a symbol of repugnance, nausea .In his composition in raga Kalyani, "Nidhichaala sukhama", Thyagaraja expresses his deep aversion and disgust to material wealth through "Bibhatsya rasa", when the Maharaja of Tanjore attempts to buy him and his music through money.

    To fight disgust, one needs Valor. To be/become a hero doesn't need shining weapons. Heroism should be in body and soul. Any person who has courage to take a stand exhibits "Veera rasa".Rama, the hero of Ramayana is the embodiment of Veera rasa.In the composition,"Rama bana thrana" in raga Saveri, Thyagaraja has beautifully described Rama's manliness and valiance, his arrows' valor, the arrow that killed the army of Ravana, the arrow that destroyed the evil on the Earth.

    The ability to express amusement or laughter is one thing that separates the human species from animals. Teasing and laughing with a friend is one face of "Hasya rasa".Thyagaraja enjoys Hasya with his friend Sri Rama in the composition "Vararagalaya" in raga Kamboji expressing amusement at empty boasts of people who have scant knowledge of Music and brag themselves as scholars and experts.

    Beyond all these emotions lies the emotion of peace and serenity."Shantha Rasa" represents complete harmony among mind, body and the universe. This is a state where the mind is in rest, a state of tranquility. In his composition, "Shanthamuleka" in Sama raga, Thyagaraja has pleasingly delivered the essence of Shantha rasa.

    An attempt to depict emotions has evolved more rasas than the above mentioned 9 flavors. "Bhakthi rasa" and "Gana rasa" could be considered as derivatives of the Navarasas. The beautiful compositions namely "Ragasudharasa (raga: andholika)","Shobillu saptha swara (raga: jaganmohini)","Sripapriya sangeethOpasana (raga: atana)" conveys the nectar of music brings pleasure that is equivalent to the beneficent results of all the Navarasas.Further moving on to Bhakthi rasa, we have a range of compositions, quoting a few, "Ramabhakthi saamrajya(raga:shuddha bangala)","Apparamabhakthi(raga:panthuvarali)".How great and grand is the essence of devotion. It stops the wanderings of the mind and provides a protective shield as eyelids involuntarily serve to eyes.

    I have tried to provide my own interpretation to Navarasas to underscore two topics-their relevance to the mundane actions that characterize everyday life and their presence in Carnatic music through various examples from Thyagaraja's golden collections.

    Nothing in this paper is new, but the attempt is to combine the scientific, emotional and spiritual aspects of this vast ocean of music in one shell for easier consumption.

    "Through Music, we can experience emotions and add expression to our experience"

    Revathi S.

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