I first started hearing of Keshav Desiraju in 2015, soon after I joined my first job in public health. He had in the previous year been transferred out of his position as Union Health Secretary. He was always referred to in tones of awe and loss - a wistfulness for a bygone golden age, and for what may have been achieved in public health if his tenure was longer. Our work focused on Rural Maternal Child Health and Nutrition, and it is in this context that I heard of how much he had contributed to the strengthening of the RMNCH+A…

Today (August 11) is the birth anniversary of vainika Doraiswamy Iyengar. Here is a short note of appreciation from back in 2008.

When I left for Middlebury, I took along with me a Meltrack tape which had Veena Doraiswamy Iyengar’s “Maestro’s Choice” recorded on it. It was one of my most favourite. Yesterday, long after the tape deck met its demise I bought the CD. And as I listen to it, I finally understand why I love the album so much.h

Apart from music being so pleasing in itself, what strikes me is that every piece feels about the same…

On Garuda, Thyagaraja and the Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam

The only Carnatic song I know on Garuda is Vinata Suta Ra Ra in the raga Huseini. The song is part of Thyagaraja’s ‘opera’ Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam.

Hiranyakashipu has bound his son in snakes (or in a ‘serpent spell’) and thrown him into the ocean. The Lord of the Sea asks Garuda (enemy of snakes) to come and free him. This is the song through which the Lord of the Sea appeals to Garuda to come and save Prahlada.

You can listen to S. Ramanathan’s rendition here:

Thyagaraja of course references Garuda in several other songs, usually in reference…

Sumiran kar le mere mana

This is the third in a series on non-obvious raga choices.

One of my favourite among the Rishi Valley School assembly ‘set’ songs is a verse of Guru Nanak — Sumiran Kar Le. We sang it in a fairly joyous, mildly chiding manner in what I think is raag Yaman. Here is my recent attempt at singing it (perhaps a little faster than we sang it in school). Apologies in advance for any off-key patches or mispronunciations:

The appeal of the song is also of course in its simple, easy to grasp lyrics. Here is one translation (source):


Vishnu as the father of Kama

There are many identities of Vishnu. Not only does he have ten official avatars, he even has a thousand official names (Sahasranamam). He manifests as numerous deities, and being who he is, has many wonderous attributes. Given all of this, it is fair to say that his identity as the father of Kama (or ‘Cupid’ to use the very bad transposition to English) is a fairly obscure one. Apparently according to the Matsya Purana, upon being burnt to ash by Shiva, Kama was reincarnated as Pradyumna, the son of Krishna and Rukmini.

Muthuswami Dikshitar is of course well known for…

Series: The Counterintuitive Raga Choice. 2

This is the second in a series in which I discuss compositions that seem (to me) to have counterintuitive choices of ragas given their subjects.

Entries for Angaraka and Brihaspati from ‘Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide’ by Roshen Dalal

Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Navagraha kritis on the nine ‘planets’ are well known. These are Suryamurte Namostute (Sun), Chandram Bhaja Manasa (Moon), Angarakam Ashryamyaham (Mars), Budham Ashryami (Mercury), Brihaspate Tarapate (Jupiter), Shri Shukra Bhagavantam (Venus), Shri Divakaratanujam (Saturn), Smaramyaham Sada Rahum (Rahu), Mahasuram Ketumaham (Ketu). There is a school of thought that insists the last two kritis on Rahu and Ketu were not composed by Dikshitar, but by some of his disciples. …

Series: The Counterintuitive Raga Choice. 1

This is the first in a series in which I discuss compositions that have what seem like very counterintuitive choices of ragas.

Consider the following lyrics (translated):

I was drowned in the ocean of family life; an ocean whose vastness and depth can never be measured. I used to make a lot of false statements which sounded like truth. In the meantime, I put in long hours of physical labor for many days. I used to hide myself from the company of respectable elders. I never used to think of serving You or seeking Your feet. Many major diseases attacked…

In a few days from now, on 23 February, 2021, I will have the pleasure of speaking with Keshav Desiraju on the music and life MS Subbulakshmi, in the context of his wonderful new biography of her. The online event is being organized by the Bangalore International Centre. You can register for the event here. To mark the event, I am resurrecting a blog post first published in 2013 on the ‘Big 6’ carnatic ragas, and embellishing it with offerings in the voice of MS Subbulakshmi.

When we think of the Big 6 ragas of Carnatic music, invariably the first…

Vishnu Vasudev

I write mainly about my experience as a listener of Carnatic music.

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