There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shehnai: Its Origin and Evolution

By Deepanjana Sarkar
Kokata, India

In India, weddings and Sahnai are like Juno's Swans, completely inseparable from each other as if  all pomp and grandeur is incomplete without Sahnai. As I was listening to a beautiful light classical rendition by Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty yesterday. the beautiful use of sahnai in it kept me wondering about the origin and evolution of this beautiful instrument. Even though Sahnai is synonymous with auspicious occasions in India, specially marriage, it always takes me on a sad trip to a world of old memories, refreshing myriads of subdued emotions.  As I got completely immersed in its "Karun Ras", I kept on thinking about its origin, evolution, popularization and specially the reason(s) for its association with auspicious occasions in India. Is Sahnai an India instrument? - is a question that I kept on asking myself. I started searching for its origin and came across some interesting facts. Like several other musical instruments, Sahnai is also an instrument which had its origin in a different geographic region and later on infiltrated into the music culture of India and Pakistan and have now become ineluctable components of our melodic tradition. Sahnai, an ancient woodwind instrument, is played on many different happy occasions. In India, Hindu priests perform the nuptials amidst the renditions of Sahnai. In Pakistan, out in its rural hinterland, groups of musicians headed by Sahnai players lead marriage processions to and from the home of brides. In Punjab and Sindh, Sahnai is also played on other joyous occasions such as village fairs, sports competitions and male-folk dances. In the North West Frontier Province this instrument is now an important component of the repertoires of Khattak dancers. In the opinion of musicologists, Sahnai, like several other musical devices, traveled into the Indian Subcontinent with the invading armies from the North, or infiltrated into South Asia as a natural consequence of trans-regional melodic pollination. However, historians claim that Shehnai was introduced in the subcontinent by the immigrants from Central Asia where it is known as Surnai. In several parts of Afghanistan and the North West Frontier Province, it is still called by the same name. Sahnai (also Sanai, Shahnai, Shehnai) is a double-reeded wind instrument similar to the western Oboe. The name Sahnai is of Persian origin (In Persian, "Sah" means "King" and "Nai" means "Wind Instrument"), and some theorize that the instrument may have been taken to India from Persia by the Mughals, a tribe of Mongolian origin, which occupied much of northern India from the 16th century to the 18th century. Others believe the Sahnai may have developed from an earlier Indian instrument. The Sahnai or Shehnai, double-reeded instrument of the wind instrument category is one of the most ancient instruments used in India. Sahnai or Shehnai is mainly an outdoor instrument played particularly on occasions considered auspicious such as processions and weddings. The Shehnai is a tube that gradually widens towards the lower end. It usually has eight or nine holes. The Sahnai has a wooden tubular body of about 45 to 60 cm (1.5 to 2 ft) in length, backed by metal, ending in a wider bell shape. Of its or nine holes, only seven are used for playing; the others are left open or are closed with wax to define the pitch of the instrument. The reed is fixed at the narrow blowing end. The reeds used in Shehnai are made of pala grass. Spare reeds and an ivory needle with which the reeds are adjusted are attached to the mouth piece. The Sahnai produces a rich, expressive sound, with the characteristic timbre of the reed. It is considered to be an auspicious instrument and is used in celebrations and festivals, particularly at weddings. It is often paired with a shruti, a Sahnai with several closed holes, with the shruti supplying a drone (a continuous accompanying tone) at a suitable pitch.The origin of Shehnai instrument is shrouded in controversy; it does not seem to be more than three-four centuries old. We see similar-looking instruments in ancient carvings and paintings, but it is in the 20th century that the instrument has attained concert level status. Closely related to the Sahnai is the nagasvaram of South India, which is also double-reeded but longer at 60 to 76 cm (2 to 2.5 ft). The nagasvaram has 12 holes, of which 7 are used for playing, and the body ends in a metal bell. It produces a higher-pitched, sharper sound than the Sahnai, and is usually only performed outdoors. Also considered auspicious, the nagasvaram is frequently played at temple festivals and processions, and on ceremonial occasions. Shehnai or Sahnai has been an integral part of Indian culture for centuries. Any special occasion, with or without auspicious ceremonies began with the Shehnai or Sahnai. So strong is the association between this instrument and festivities that the very word Shehnai has become synonymous with celebrations and happiness. Perhaps no Indian wedding is complete without the sound of the Shehnai permeating the wedding venue. Because of its auspicious quality, it's a must in every Indian wedding. Since ancient times, the Shehnai has been regarded as an auspicious instrument and featured in religious ceremonies. In fact in several parts of the country even today the temples resonate with the sound of the Shehnai in the early hours of morning, to awaken the deities. A small wind instrument, Shehnai looks somewhat similar to Oboe, but instead of furnished keys as in Oboe, it has eight or nine open holes. The Shehnai is an integral part of the temple music of every part of India. The Shehnai found a place in every palace in every region of Nepal and India, whether in the palace of temple or on the top of fort.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Silence and Tears

By Bina Biswas

We would not recognise each other
even if we met again,
My face will all be smeared with dust,
my body glazed with frost.
In deepest night,
a sudden dream would return to you!

I sit on my small boat
and sail on.
We would look at each other without a word,
as tears flow.
I bid adieu
Where the moon shines brightly in the night,
and bare palms guard my sepulchre.

An Epic Retold

Reviewed by Anna Kishore

The Mahabharata is one of the greatest epics to be written ever. It would be a rare case that there would be a person on the sub-continent who did not grow reading or hearing the stories from this epic. And based on these inputs each person would have their own questions, opinions and conclusions on the numerous characters and incidents of Mahabharata. For instance each time I heard or saw, I would wonder how could the queen of the blind king, Dhritarashtra, blindfold herself for life, when she heard that she was to be married to a blind prince? Or how could Princess Panchali agree to get married to all the five Pandavas? But the somewhere with the passing years these questions, images and interpretations got pushed back into one corner of my mind.
Then, a few days back, I came across this very interesting book while browsing in the library. The name of the book is The Palace of Illusions written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The synopsis of the book given on the back intrigued me to read the book. It said the book was Mahabharata retold by the Princess of Panchal – Panchali, more commonly known as Draupadi. The story has been written in first person, as if being narrated by Draupadi herself. I was both, filled with curiosity to read the book and ready to find faults in the work. This was because, according to me, trying to give one’s own version to the epic which has stood the test of times is no mean task. But after reading the entire book, my critical mind was thoroughly impressed.
The character of Draupadi comes across as a strong, unconventional woman, who is caught in the customs and traditions of the society. But despite everything, within her limits how Draupadi manages to stand out and makes her mark in history. This has been narrated in an interesting as well as an inspiring manner.
From the very start the book holds the attention of the reader. The unusual way in which Draupadi is born into this world has been well described to capture the reader’s imagination. The emotions of a princess, who is born out of fire and who does not have anyone except her brother to call her own has been described in a manner such that one can empathise with her emotions. The pains and pleasures of being a princess, the doubts and thoughts that crosses the minds of even the greatest of princesses is very well handled. The attempt to portray Karna, the son of a charioteer and not Arjuna who actually won her hand for marriage, as the person whom the princess is actually attracted to is a good attempt to add a bit more of drama to the original work and thus make it entertaining.
The character of Krishna, which has little bit of divinity, a little bit of humanity, a little bit of chivalry and a little bit of slyness cannot be easily brought alive through words. But the cleverness of the author is evident in the way the complex character of Krishna can be visualised going through the various scenes of the story. The highlight was the famous or rather infamous scene, where Draupadi is dragged into the court room to be insulted in front of a large audience. In all the previous attempts of reproducing this particular scene, it was the divinity of Krishna, who is believed to be the incarnation of the Supreme power, has been glorified. But Chitra has used this scene to bring out the strength of her main character who is Draupadi. Her anguish and anxieties and her courage to question the wise men around and ask for justice was truly inspiring. Even in that moment of despair, her heart calling out not to her husbands but to the person, whom she is truly attracted to, to Karma, is indeed very bold. And last but not the least, her undying faith in Krishna whom, though, she looks upon more as friend than as a god accomplishes such feats that compels her to think or rather question his true identity.
Finally when her end is near, the author beautifully brings out the fear, the longings, the pains and pleasures that she goes through effectively. The reader is forced to look at this great Indian princess with new eyes. No doubt she is one the greatest princess of all times, but first and foremost is that she is a woman. And the book leaves you with the feeling that after all the great Draupadi, wife of the great Pandavas though did not have an ordinary life in many aspects still craved for things that every woman, no matter from which part of the society she comes from aspires for, like true love, recognition, attention and admiration from people around her.
After reading The Palace of Illusions the characters of this great epic called Mahabharata and particularly Princess Draupadi seemed to come to life amongst us yet again.