Dec 1, 2009

Tweaking it the ‘Vaastu-way’

The Oxford Dictionary describes ‘superstition’ as “a practice or belief based on the irrational fear of the unknown; or the belief of a supernatural”. Today, in the world of Indian architecture, adhering to Vaastu principles is considered a superstition. A client expecting a Vaastu-based residence or structure is considered a petulant customer who doesn’t value the architect’s style.
What Indian architects fail to understand is that Vaastu Shilpa Shastra, as the text is originally called, is merely a set of rules that the ancient architects and builders followed that help to keep man better connected with his building. The text essentially deals with the correct placement of man `with respect to his environment to achieve harmony with nature.’ It is also based on the influences of the five natural elements – air, water, sun, sky and earth.
Sure, these text were practiced like a religion, especially among South Indians; sure, it was thought to bring prosperity and good health; sure, it uses phrases like cosmic influence, attaining total connection with the environment, and many more from astrology; but has anyone actually considered reading through it before casting it away?

The history behind the word itself, its meaning and significance could make for a whole chapter. ‘Vaastu’ means everything that is inclusive from the environment, ‘Shilpa’ is the art of creation and ‘Shastra’ denotes the knowledge bank. The Vaastu principles commonly known today were formulated by an architect and town planner, who belonged to an era somewhere between 10,000 – 5000 B.C., called Mayan.
This ideology originated for the purpose of temple construction. It was believed that to attain maximum positive energy, these principles had to be followed. On reading the scriptures, it is evident that they adhere to those principles commonly taught in colleges and expected from professionals. For, it is nothing but the climate that forms the basic idea. Smita Gupta from Arizona State University even went on to name it as ‘The Ancient Indian, Bioclimatically Responsive Science of Building.’
The cardinal directions for each plot represent some source of energy and these scriptures have mentioned what space should go where based on these cardinal directions only. The North is the Lord of Wealth, South the Lord of Death, East the Lord of Light, and West the Lord of Winds. The centre of the plot represents the Lord of the Cosmos. Following this, it is apparent that living spaces would occupy the North and the East, working spaces occupy the east and west and serviced areas should be aligned to the South.

The deities of the nine houses
Now, everyone knows that the Sun, which is considered the source of all energy, travels from the East to the West as far as the earth is considered. In fact, it tilts itself towards the South while travelling. Thus the light coming from the North is diffused and can be called indirect, unaccompanied by heat. So, maximum heat comes from the South and the West (the setting Sun). According to this information, the spaces should be designed as suggested by Vaastu Shilpa Shastra.

Placement of spaces according to Vaastu principles
This is just the beginning. There is much more truth and logic to the text than what meets the eyes. It gives information about ventilation, light, sanitation, working spaces, entrances and much more which also seem reasonable.

It is necessary that we give more importance to such an ancient text than just discard it as superstition or religion. It may be necessary that for once we refrain from becoming atheists and jettison personal egos, visual aesthetics and social acceptance, for which we architects are famed for. These maybe needed at some level but it is much more crucial to design better spaces for ourselves and Mother Nature.

Nov 29, 2009

A Rhythmic Merger

It is that time of the year again when the whole city and many foreign visitors congregate to pay homage to music of various genres and forms. Famously known as the December Music Festival of Chennai, this is part of our city’s tradition and culture.
As the second last month comes to an end, the November Fest of 2009, which is the curtain raiser for the much bigger cultural event next month, has already wrapped up after an impressive showing. With every performance attracting a full house audience, this festival is here to stay. Started by the Friday Review of The Hindu group of newspapers, this is the fifth edition of the festival which is already a huge sensation among music lovers – local and foreign.

This year saw an amalgamation of four foreign artists and two Indian artists, who between them performed six different kinds of music from all over the world in six days. Each one is a maestro, well known and acknowledged worldwide.
Abida Parveen started the Fest with a celebrated and mystical performance on November 17. Quoting messages of many Muslim saints, including Prophet Muhammad, in her lyrics, her artistry was very plain for everyone to see. The highlight of the evening was the Punjabi song ‘Main Har Dam Rab Rab Kardi’. Her fluent and harmonious composition was honored with two well deserved standing ovations.

She was followed by Pandit Channulal Mishra, who engrossed the audience with his stylishly-crafted music of the Kirana Gharana. A traditionalist in performance, his style was well received by the crowd with ‘Wah! Wah!’s throughout, for they could unmistakably feel his rapport with the audience.

Engaging in the traditional way - Pandit Channulal Mishra
The next performance was by the Australia based James Ryan Quartet, famed for their technique, precision and ideas. Comprising of James Ryan on the saxophone and flute, Scott Tinkler on the trumpet, Steve Hunter on the electric bass, and Ken Edie on the drums, they left the audience awe-struck by the end of the performance.

Quartet anyone?  - James Ryan
November 20 saw the ‘jugalbhandi’ of two classical musicians – O.S. Arun and Sanjay Abhyankar. Although the required heights and pitches were not reached, the combination of a Hindustani singer and a Carnatic vocalist to perform the celebrated Surdas’ compositions itself leaves one wanting for more. ‘Sur Sagar’, an extraordinary work of poetry, was ventured with varying emotions, situations and tempos to create a flawless recital.

A tribute to 'Sur Sagar' - O.S.Arun and Sanjay Abhyankar 
‘Gong Myoung’, a young band, came to join the celebrations the next day. A group of four friends sharing an amazing bond, both on and off stage, were able to extend this rapport with the audience too. Performing for the first time in Chennai, they had the crowd dancing and singing to their tunes very soon. Interspersing traditional Korean melodies with perky sounds, they performed using traditional instruments to provide messages of joyous mirth.

Playing it the Korean way...- Gong Myoung
The Fest ended with a rousing finale by the 40 year old rock band from Africa, Osibisa, who have returned to Chennai after three decades. Attired in clothes as vibrant and eclectic as their music, they enchanted a fervent audience with their musical tempo. Though their recent numbers, which were reserved for the end, weren’t as captivating as the earlier songs, the crowd thoroughly enjoyed their performance. What more could be the proof of such enjoyment, than the fact that the crowd kept asking for encores after almost every song.

Creating the African rock magic again- Osibisa
A blend of traditional Kirana Gharana and exceptional Sufiana with a pinch of Australian technique and a concoction of classical Sur Sagar intermingled with a smidgen of youthful ‘Gong Myoung’ brewed perfectly with the rocking and involving Osibisa created the ideal formula to stand true to the concept behind the Fest; leaving the Chennai crowd wanting for more to be served on their platter. Truly a huge affair, the November Fest 2009 has helped the Chennai crowd to get into the mood of celebration of music, to end the year on a melodious note.

Nov 22, 2009

A foreign ode to an Indian festival

At Music Academy, 168, TTK road,  Mylapore
From 17 - 22 November, 7.15 pm
Tickets Rs.3000, 1750, 600, 350-ground seats; Rs. 1000, 200-balcony
Available at The Music Academy, Landmark Nungambakkam and Concord Motors, No.42 Velachery Road

A congregation of living musical legends, maestros in their own compositions.
An eager audience, ready to engross themselves in a wide variety of music performances from all over the world.
A prelude to the December music festival that our metropolitan city is famous for.

This is the atmosphere created by the Friday Review group of The Hindu for the music connoisseurs of ‘namma’ Chennai. It is again that time of the year when the whole city gathers to appreciate and admire musical talents, starting with the six-day November Fest.
This festival, held at the Music Academy, was inaugurated on November 17 and will go on till November 22. Tickets have already started flowing out and every show seems to be fully booked by the previous night. And why not. The list of musicians lined up this time to captivate the crowd is tantalizing in itself. All having career backgrounds in different forms of music just adds to the lure.
“The cognoscenti of Chennai have an appetite for all genres of music and therefore we are certain this festival, which features an eclectic mix, will satisfy them,” the vice-president (Advertisement) of The Hindu, V. Kalidas, was found quoting at a press conference at Taj Coromandel on Friday.
Launching the Fest on November 17, N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, said, “In these volatile times, music is a way of building bridges across cultures and spaces. We believe our November Fest – by reaching out to different genres of music from different regions and climes – helps bring people together.”

Starting auspiciously by lighting the Kuththuvilakku....
This was then followed by a crowd-enticing performance by the sisters Ranjani and Gayatri, who are well versed in classical music. They began with a traditional Meera bhajan in Raag Kafi, moving on to the touching performance of Thevaram in Raag Sindhu Bhairavi, followed by a beautiful rendering of the evergreen Krishna Nee Begane, and ending with a well appreciated Marathi abhang.
Starting this Fest is the celebrated Abida Parveen, a Pakistani Sufiana singer, well known for her music that reflects the dominant, conscious spiritual concerns and the hidden, unconscious concerns of millions of soul seekers.
She is followed by Pandit Channulal Mishra, of the Kirana Gharana, who insinuates an eclectic and engaging stage presence combined with a sparkling rhythm sense. This versatile artiste evokes a twin strain of romance and devotion drawing his assets from music-steeped Varanasi.
The Chennai crowd is gripped by another foreign performer, James Ryan Quartet, from Australia, the following day. An international star with his commitment to precision and creativity, he has a penchant for improvisation on three instruments – tenor sax, flute and saxello.
O.S. Arun and Sanjay Abhyankar join in the celebrations on November , with the bhajans of the famed Surdas, choosing a new theme in “Sur Sagar”, evolving a creative partnership to refract the movement from the sensuous to the spiritual. Both are well known charismatic singers who have adventured in a range of genres from fusion and devotional to film music, while still firmly entrenched in the classical mode.
South Korea’s leading world music band Gong Myoung follows the next day coming to introduce Chennai to its music of distinctive moods. The young musicians integrate the past with the present to turn their medleys into a stunning performance, in a confluence of dance, drama and cinema.
This novel fiesta ends with evergreen music of the Osibisa, the popular British Afro-Rock band, formed in the late-1960s, returns to the city for the first time since 1983. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year (2009), Osibisa continues to make its audiences go wild in criss-crossing fusions of jazz, rock, soul, Latin, African and Caribbean rhythms.

A wide variety of musicians and music lovers at the launch
A fantastic array of maestros meet here in Chennai, most of them performing for the first time here, for this spectacular event. It looks like the fête is aiming at forging a global firmament of musical experiences.
Let’s join the gaiety to prepare ourselves for what the December festival has to offer.