A conversation with K Sridhar
“Any artist can write about scales – that’s simple, but what is the philosophical meaning behind this creative music?
“My guru made me realise the relationship between creative music and sound – as a yoga for therapy. His first lesson was this: the first seed that we sow in the ground is the seed known as creation, the tonic note. Then come the stem and the leaves which represent other notes. And when the plant is small it is in the creative period and when it grows it is in the preservation period; finally when it matures and the bulb blossoms – that is the culmination of the Raga of Life – or the raga of any kind of yogic practice.
“We use this yogic practice to raise the kundalini (the latent energy stored in the body at the base of the spine) through sound. During our teaching the guru would give us different kinds of breathing exercises to raise the energy and he would pick certain scales and ragas. For this he didn’t see them as ragas; he saw them as sound.
When we play with a tabla we reach the climax of the music and then stop suddenly, reminding one that this is temporary – everything in the world is short-lived. But we begin and end a concert with the tonic note – so it is cyclical.
“We use certain forms of music to raise the chakra (energy centres in the body). Every human body has 72,000 nadis – or meridians as the Chinese call them – and they represent the sympathetic strings on an instrument, while the seven main notes represent the chakras. So when we start playing a scale those sympathetic strings on the instrument or the 72,0000 nadis in the body all start vibrating – even without being plucked. Even if I keep the instrument away from me and start talking or making a noise the strings will vibrate. So likewise, the 72,000 nadis are awakened by the sound. Once you get control of this through a particular yogic posture or mantra chanting or mediation you will be able to control any form of desire.
“So on this level these are ragas that I use quite a lot. I used to play Raga Bageshri on the night of the full moon when I was in the caves with my guru. And to teach me feeling he used to put me in a big cave where there were nine paintings and he would ask me to concentrate on one in particular and meditate deeply upon the colours (because colours carry feelings also). And then after a few hours he would ask me to play, and my co-disciple – who would be outside of the cave – would listen to my music and tell the guru which painting I was trying to interpret.
“So that’s the way I’ve been working for 35 years. For me personally this is the yoga of sound. When I play I do not expect the audience to know anything about the music – you have to stir them emotionally. In the beginning they’ll be curious, there’ll be some lack of concentration or disturbance, but after they take the plunge they sink into music.
“In my concerts you hear from the heart, you leave the intellect out, you just surrender. At the moment of surrender the energy passes; if there is no surrender the energy cannot pass. There is an art to listening. This can have a therapeutic effect on the sick. Bageshri is traditionally played when it is a full moon – which is the time of the month that affects all creatures – as an antidote to the this so-called lunacy.
“My family is very important to the music played here. It is dedicated to my mother because it was her desire since our childhood to bring our plucking and bowing instruments together – which is technically very difficult to do. Musically it can be successful if both the artists have learnt from one master.
“However, for Shivakumar and myself, playing together had never clicked. During his career he had become very popular in South Indian music and he had no time, and I was always travelling to the North and my guru. In the last ten or fifteen years we tried to work together and it was getting better. It is like tuning an instrument – it had almost reached the perfect pitch, but never quite. And then finally it happened at the WOMAD Festival in Cananda. My brother was very excited the moment we came off stage; he had tears in his eyes and said – ‘I wish our mother was here.’ He was very close to her.”
This music is dedicated to Srimati Rajalak Shmi, the mother and first guru of K Sridhar and K Shivakumar.