In my last post on tani Avartanam, I had outlined three broad profiles A, B, C for
carnatic music rasikas in terms of their level of appreciation of the tani. To recap:
Profile A: I am outta here Man!
Profile B: Dude, tell you what? I really wish I was outta here.
Profile C: I am in baby! Time for some serious tALam.

Of course, this does not cover the entire spectrum of rasikas as it specifically excludes the ones who do comprehend the inner details of the tani. Let me now call them Profile D. But, my guess is that they form a small minority. If you disagree, you can skip the rest of this blog – but please let me know where I missed the boat!

Now me, eventhough I am a fairly serious carnatic music rasika, when it comes to the tani, my level of appreciation puts me quite well in Profile C. If I say tani was excellent!, but you then ask me what the kOrvai was, what naDais where employed etc. and I would draw a blank. While I have some inkling nowadays, I cannot reliably say when the tani is going to end except from the subtle cue of the violinist picking up the violin.

But I wonder – What if most carnatic concert rasikas fall into A, B, C? What if at best most rasikas appreciate tani only at a peripheral i.e. “not too involved” level? Why? This is the subject of this blog.

But is this possible? I may be being overly presumptuous but for some reason it seems so to me. Yes – this does sounds harsh and damning to a highly refined skill – one that is featured in every concert. But if each rasika were to ask himself/herself honestly as what he/she thinks of a tani, and what makes him/her like/dislike/dont-care-for one particular tani, would he/she be at most only in Profile C?

Now Profile C of which I am part of, is a much much bigger set compared to Profile A and Profile B. With C, a common noticeable sign is that most of us put tALam enthusiastically and energetically. However, the technicalities of layam seems to imply that every beat (akshara) of the tALam is not really that important for the structure of the patterns in the tani. This is more so particularly during kOrvais that span multiple Avarthanams, may switch naDais, and generally do not remain in perfect synchrony with the tala aksharas or even the angas.

Would it then be rash to say that the most of us who actually pay attention to a particular tani (i.e. excluding Profile D) , are really focusing way too much of our attention on something not that integral to the specifics of that particular tani? Isn’t that a bit disturbing?

So I then wonder why doesn’t the tani attract a lot more average rasikas to become a more seriously interested in it? Why does it seem to suffer from a “lack of broader appeal”?

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t meant to say that we rasikas must know the technical aspects of everything we enjoy – else we are no good. It is safe to say that the average rasika at a concert who enjoys a rendition of a krithi in some raga does not know all the technical aspects of the raga (i.e. lakshaNa) and how it is used in the krithi. There is nothing wrong with it. Music appreciation has two aspects to it – emotional and intellectual. However, w.r.t to the tani doesn’t intellectual appreciation seem much rarer compared to the rasika appreciation of krithis?

In a krithi rendition, there are several elements that can attract listeners at various levels. Consider the (wide) spectrum of kELvi gnyAnam rasikas. I will boldly presume that this constitutes the majority among most concerts. Now in this kELvi gnyAnam spectrum, some may love a rendition because they love the raga or the particular krithi (tune and/or lyrics, meaning), some love the emotive impact the neraval that day even if they do not know the technical aspects of the neraval, and some may love the rapid kalpanaswara section. So, there is a lot of different sides to a krithi rendition, and even casual to average rasikas can find one or more aspects to like. Depending on the raga and the krithi, my appreciation can be at any of these levels.

However, with the tani, it seems to me that knowing anything beyond peripheral level involves some serious technical stuff about a narrow subject – the core mathematics behind the rhythms. The layam aspects with its simple but intricate math, can interest people with a mathematical bend, but does it have ready made appeal? Would an average rasika find the details interesting and care to know more? Can he translate the cold math to the aural experience? If not, is this the main reason as to why, in general, rasikas are not deeply involved in appreciating the tani?

Now, I am a technical kind of guy. I love knowing the nuts and bolts in Carnatic Music. But for some reason the intricate math behind the tani seems dry even to me! More importantly, I cannot easily translate the details to auditory perception of the tani and without that it seems drier. I can of course dismiss it as “just me”, but am I?

There are of course people in Profile D, who know the technicals behind it and can recognize and can appreciate the tani truly on its technical merits. I do not mean to take anything away from them! But they are a rare breed, rarer than the folks who know stuff about raga lakshana in varying details – aren’t they?

One can also squarely blame a tani illiterate like me as being lazy, not being driven etc. to understand the finer points of our art. Probably true – but that is a separate issue 🙂