Carnatic keys

What we can learn from the stories of South India’s saint-composers

Arts and music have a way of flourishing amid oppression.

In a world that seems to be growing more intolerant, I still have hope that things will change. History shows us they always do – whenever oppression, bigotry and prejudice became common, arts, music and poetry survived and flourished.

In these times, the stories of some saint-composers from South India should give us heart. Their works transformed society, altered the way it viewed itself, caused upheaval and broke caste prejudices – even if temporarily, until the cycle repeated itself.

Gopalakrishna Bharati, a 19th century scholar, composer and musician, is best known for his Nandanar Charitram, a musical ode to an extraordinary 8th century Shaivite saint called Nandanar. Born a Dalit, Nandanar was a labourer, town crier and handyman who was prohibited from worshipping in the temples he was so drawn to. Legend has it that his faith moved stone (the Nandi at Tirupunkur temple) and caused the temple doors to open to him, challenging the caste beliefs of the time.

His absolution – by walking into a pyre by a mystical divine decree – is viewed as “upper caste appropriation” or as “purification of a true devotee”. Either way, it has played a major part in the Dalit narrative against upper caste oppression. For many, though, the story carries the message of breaking free from the shackles of social differences.

Play

Bharati’s magnum opus Nandanar Charitram turned this story into beautiful compositions that are still the mainstay on the Carnatic platform. Bharati himself had an unusual life. Orphaned at an early age, he became a temple cook, but providential meetings with teachers of scriptures and patrons made him a legendary musician and storyteller. A story goes that the French governor of Karaikal was so moved by Bharati’s artistic prowess that he helped publish the composer’s works.

Play

Another narrative that exists both in the mystical and in the mundane is the story of Thiruppaan Azhwar, a Vaishnavite saint or Azhwar born in late 2700 BCE. Brought up by a childless couple from the Paanar community of village singers, he was marked an untouchable.

Though a gifted musician and a devotee of the deity at the Srirangam temple, he was prevented from worshipping before it – until, according to legend, the deity ordered the head priest to carry Thiruppaan Azhwar into the temple on his shoulders. His Amalanadhipiran, consisting of 10 verses, is performed till date, a run of nearly 4,000 years.

Play

This article was not about saints and their teachings. It was about hope that inspires devotion through art – and such art can introduce great change, transform lives, and break political and social shackles.

Anil Srinivasan is a classical pianist and music educator. His work in music education reaches over 100,000 children in South India.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The cost of setting up an employee-friendly office in Mumbai

And a new age, cost-effective solution to common grievances.

A lot has been theorised about employee engagement and what motivates employees the most. Perks, bonuses and increased vacation time are the most common employee benefits extended to valuable employees. But experts say employees’ wellbeing is also intimately tied with the environment they spend the bulk of the day in. Indeed, the office environment has been found to affect employee productivity and ultimately retention.

According to Gensler’s Workplace Index, workplace design should allow employees to focus, collaborate, learn and socialise for maximum productivity, engagement and overall wellbeing. Most offices lag on the above counts, with complaints of rows of cluttered desks, cramped work tables and chilled cubicles still being way too common.

But well-meaning employers wanting to create a truly employee-centric office environment meet resistance at several stages. Renting an office space, for example, is an obstacle in itself, especially with exorbitant rental rates prevalent in most business districts. The office space then needs to be populated with, ideally, ergonomic furniture and fixtures. Even addressing common employee grievances is harder than one would imagine. It warrants a steady supply of office and pantry supplies, plus optimal Internet connection and functioning projection and sound systems. A well-thought-out workspace suddenly begins to sound quite cost prohibitive. So, how can an employer balance employee wellbeing with the monthly office budget?

Co-working spaces have emerged as a viable alternative to traditional workspaces. In addition to solving a lot of the common problems associated with them, the co-working format also takes care of the social and networking needs of businesses and their employees.

WeWork is a global network of workspaces, with 10 office spaces in India and many more opening this year. The co-working giant has taken great care to design all its premises ergonomically for maximum comfort. Its architects, engineers and artists have custom-designed every office space while prioritising natural light, comfort, productivity, and inspiration. Its members have access to super-fast Internet, multifunction printers, on-site community teams and free refreshments throughout the day. In addition, every WeWork office space has a dedicated community manager who is responsible for fostering a sense of community. WeWork’s customised offerings for enterprises also work out to be a more cost-effective solution than conventional lease setting, with the added perks of WeWork’s brand of service.

The video below presents the cost breakdown of maintaining an office space for 10 employees in Vikhroli, Mumbai and compares it with a WeWork membership.

Play

To know more about WeWork and its office spaces in India, click here.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of WeWork and not by the Scroll editorial team.