Example poetry

An interview with Carnatic singer Krithika Sreenivasan

Last time I spoke with Carnatic singer Krithika Sreenivasan, to congratulate her on the success of the second part of her Kannada Kavya Kamanabillus series, she was thrilled to share the overwhelming response the feature was generating.

This new exercise, which musically presents and discusses classic Kannada works, is broadcast on his YouTube channel.

What a challenge to have classic poems explained, the structure discussed, and to have them all presented in melody!

“This is an ocean project to cross the realm of Kannada literature. With my sister Deepikaa on the mridanga for my presentations, we are soon pulling the curtains on the second part of the series and soon rolling out the third part as promised,” says Krithika, Software Engineer and Head of Education at Indian Music Experience (IME) Museum in Bengaluru, Karnataka.

While Kannada’s works in literature are deep and mysterious, the sisters gained a solid foundation when their grandfather, Dr. CN Ramachandran, a professor and critic in Kannada, offered to choose the poetic content and explain the streams in all of his videos.

Krithika has since dealt with lyrics drawn from the classic poetry of Kannada writers, from the works of Adikavi Pampa to the modernist DV Gundappa and Pu Ti Narasimhachar.

Nearly two dozen metrical forms have unfolded to take on different identities since the poetic gems of 10th century Kannada – Pampa, Ponna and Ranna – gave us their works. “We bring 10 minutes of each form into our program every week, where Ramachandran explains the nuances of the lyrics, then we take over and demonstrate,” says Krithika.

Each form has its own characteristics in flow and in meters, which distinguishes it from other forms. Vritta, vacana, kandapadya, rattle, chatpadi, ugabhoga, daasarapada, sulaadi, global, tripad, saangatya, tatvapada, rangethe, kaggaand droolingthe are the forms managed by Kannada Kavya Kamanabillus.

Krithika, a native of Bengaluru, holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and quit his MNC (multi-national corporation) job to associate with music. She spoke to swarajya on the novelty of Kannada Kavya Kamanabillusreflecting his multi-faceted personality.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Kannada poetry presented in song is not new, but your curation of the Kannada Kavya Kamanabillus series comprehensively illuminates literary works for a better appreciation of their form and structure. Why this passion to release such a series?

I come from a literary background. My grandfather, Dr CN Ramachandran (CNR), winner of the Kendra Sahitya Akademi, is a renowned critic and writer in Kannada and English. My mother, Professor Geetha Sreenivasan, is an English teacher and translator. Thus, my sister Deepikaa, a Mridangist, and I aspire to dive into both literature and music.

I have always tried new experiences that give me the opportunity to broaden my creative horizon. One of these initiatives concerned the unexplored possibilities linked to Kannada Kavya Kamanabillus. It was conceptualized after the publication of CNR’s book on classical Kannada poetry. He proposed a tripartite project, classified by different eras of Kannada poetry and its evolution.

Initially, we were skeptical of responses to classical poetry presented in a way different from the traditional form of gamaka vaachana. The Tripartite Project became a reality primarily through the encouragement given by the late acclaimed poet Dr Nissar Ahmed, who urged me to take up selected verses from halegannada kavya (classical Kannada poetry) in the traditional Carnatic style.

The first part of Kannada Kavya Kamanabillus had minimal orchestration in our performances, such as the flute (Deepak Hebbar), mridangaand konnakkol (Deepikaa) to support my voice. We were overwhelmed by the wonderful response we received for the first set which highlighted 14 metric shapes (Chando Roopa), presented chronologically from the 10th century Adikavi Pampa to the 20th century Sri DV Gundappa.

For the second part, which is currently ongoing, we are funded by Aviratha Pratishthaana, a multi-faceted NGO (non-governmental organization) working for societal development, literature and the performing arts.

Can you explain the rich collection of verses you are dealing with, from 11th to 20th century writers from Karnataka?

The period from the 10th to the 20th century gives a student of Kannada literature an opportunity to appreciate the depth and literary depth of epic works, as each poet has explored the breadth and depth of Kannada poetry.

The three distinct periods of Kannada poetry—classical, medieval, and modern—have varying compositional characteristics. Classical poetry is narrative, while medieval poetry is both narrative and descriptive. Modern poets mainly describe varied experiences.

And, throughout this period, the change in the poet’s faith and beliefs resulted in altered metrical forms. To give a general idea, while Jain poets wrote in Sanskrit metrical forms (vruttas), the Shaiva poets used free verse and rattle as a means of expression. Vaishnava poets wrote extensively in the chatpadi form. And the Bhakti movement led to kirtanas meant to be sung. But every great body of poetry, whether classical, medieval or modern, is both reformist and steeped in moral values.

The striking point is that women from the 12th century (eg Akka Mahadevi) to the 20th century (eg Helavanakatte Giriyamma and Sanchi Honnamma) wrote engaging Kannada poetry. And Kannada poetry has been transmitted by people of various beliefs and religions: Jainas, Veerashaivas, Brahmins and Muslims.

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