World renowned vocalist Bombay Jayashri’s rendition of 19th century Carnatic composer Mutthuswami Dikshitar’s krithi in Ragam Bhairavi Chintayamakanda is hauntingly beautiful. The krithi is a part of the five Panchabhuta krithis of the composer dedicated to the five elements of nature, with Chintayamakanda dedicated to Lord Shiva representing Earth as Prithvi Lingam in the beautiful temple town of Kanchipuram in South India.
The theme of nature and its elements has been part of her spectacular journey as a musician. In the Ang Lee’s film Life of Pi, she was nominated for an Oscar for her lullaby to the young Pi who was to soon lose everything he held dear and be on a boat for 227 days with a few animals. A movie that forces one to prioritise - what one needs, what one deserves and whom one trusts.
In her latest nature offering, Jayashri along with seven other musicians has created a musical tribute titled Dharti Ma on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day on April 22. The music for the album has been composed, arranged, and produced by her young musician son – Amrit Ramnath.
Link to Dharti Ma
Presenting the song are Bombay Jayashri Ramnath, Kaushiki Chakraborty, Hansraj Hans, Shankar Mahadevan, Mahesh Kale, Abhishek Raghuram, Shweta Mohan, MD Pallavi and Abhay Jodhpurkar. Each one of them singing in different languages. The song is sung in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada.
In an interview with CSP, Jayashri says that the saptaswaras or seven musical notes are represented by animals – Shadja by the peacock, Rishabha by the ox, Gandhara by the goat, Madhyama by the heron or Krouncha bird, Panchama by the cuckoo, Dhaivata by the horse and Nishada by the elephant.
The origins of Indian music date back to sacred Vedic scriptures over 6,000 years ago where chants developed a system of musical notes and rhythmic cycles. One expert says that “Indian classical music is very closely connected to nature, taking inspiration from natural phenomena including the seasons and times of the day to create ‘ragas’ or musical moods and many time cycles or ‘taals’ that have been further codified.”
Also, Indian musical and Vedic traditions are replete with references to nature and the earth. “There is mention of the Bhudevi in the Purushasukta, Andal and Mahakavi Bharatiyar have written on Bhudevi and Chintayamaa, in Ragam Bhairavi, is a composition by Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar on Bhumi,” says Jayashri.
Artistes have a role to play in creating awareness, “Since art sensitises and makes humans better beings, it leads to healing, regrowth, and renewal,” says Jayashri.
Asked about the connection between the music, the lyrics and themes in Carnatic music, she says, “Sahityam and Sangeetam are the vehicles to portray musicality. Emotions and Aesthetics arise from the deep recesses of the mind, ignited by the Sangeetham and Sahityam.”
A deeply introspective musician, Jayashri says that the “quietness of dawn, the chirping of the birds that wake you in the morning, the rustling of leaves, beautiful paths with kolams in the village manjakudi, the vastness of the ocean, the starlit sky - each of it inspires,” an artiste to create.
Everything in India resonates with Bhu Devi. Kolams are drawn by women all over India in front of their homes forming deep connect with both the earth and its ecology. Women draw kolams to remind themselves that day after day, we tread on Bhu Devi and for this we are eternally grateful to her for supporting us.
Jayashri’s 21-year old son Amrit has been learning Indian and Western Classical music from the age of 5. He began his musical guidance under violinist and composer Lalgudi Jayaraman and is currently training under his mother and Rajkumar Bharti. He has put together the music for the album Dharti Ma.
Of nature as inspiration, Amrit says, “Art is a manifestation of nature, and inspiration derived from the same.” He adds that if art is to remain organic, “then one must portray only what one resonates with, or emotes with, else art loses its truth.”Amrit composed, arranged, and produced the music for this novel album. “What was most exciting was for me to be able to watch my compositions translate through the voices of some of our country's finest musicians. These are musicians that I admire as complete artistes.”
Asked if Indian music needs to have newer compositions addressing contemporary themes in addition to the tremendous body of work of our classical composers, Amrit replies in the affirmative. “Absolutely. The whole point of art is its relevance. Music has more value if it is relevant (in terms of themes). I find that Indian music, as an artiste once put it so lucidly, is like water. If it begins to dry out, we will somehow find it back. We cannot do without (water) - Indian Music. Indian musical forms are phenomenally timeless. Therefore, I believe, that Indian music and contemporary themes embrace each other rather gracefully.”