Friday, December 29, 2006

Malkauns - The King of Raagas

Music: Malkauns, the King of Raagas

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There are some Raagas of such great depth that mere lifetimes
reveal next to nothing. Bhairavi is one such and so are Marwa,
Shree and Darbari.

But Malkauns....if honey were to be distilled into music,
it would result in Malkauns. Such is the spectacular greatness
of this Raaga, such is its haunting addictive quality that
the body and mind writhe in agony, unable to tolerate
sheer wonder of such magnitude.

Here is Malkauns.

Why so? There are so many Pentatonic Raags. None produce
the narcotic effect as pronounced as Malkauns. A nearby Raaga,
Chandrakauns, is a mere half note away and cannot reach as
soul-plumbing depths, though it is brilliant. The sustained
genius of Raaga Malkauns may perhaps reside in the flattened
Gandhar, Madhyam, Dhaivat and Nishad. But of what use is
such analysis? If music goads the spirit towards spiritual
release, then listen only to this Raaga.

A performance can analyze the approach to each note from
countless directions, revealing new roads and new wonders.
I recall the lovely sight of the late Pandit Shymal Bose
demonstrating a fascinating composition in Malkauns to me
many years ago in his flat in Kolkata. Mathematics, wonderful it was. His right hand waved gently
in the air as he followed notes as they emerged.
There was no Tanpura, no tabla. And how fantastic it was.

Only Kumar Gandharva made the bold attempt to introduce
the note Pancham in Malkauns but it is not possible for
most musicians to do so and get away with it.

Here is an extract from an my book, describing Malkauns
I rule over the emotions. I cause the deepest and gravest
feelings to swirl slowly around you, just as the Milky
Way with millions of stars moves imperceptibly around a
central point.

Komal Dhaivat gives peace, calm and order to the troubled
turbulent mind. The movement between notes is slow and
gradual, like an elephant bearing me as I survey my
Kingdom of lesser Raags. Each note blends into the next
without breaking. All that I do must show reason.
Nothing capricious can exist when I am sung.

Sing every note slowly and peacefully. All manner
of existence come to me with their own tale of sorrow
or joy and all are consumed within me. And so to one
I can appear to describe the flowers in a garden. To
another I seem to describe Nataraj performing his
shattering Tandav Nritya. To yet another, I describe
the beauty of the night. I am mature, all knowing,
suffused in wisdom from aeons past.
  Listen to more Malkauns compositions

Here's one

A Sarangi piece

Another one

Another One.

The Ultimate

My best wishes to all of you in 2007. May Malkauns be with you.



Friday, October 20, 2006

Pandit Jog this Diwali

Today, for some reason, my thoughts have been full of my late
Guru, Pandit V G Jog. And someone dropped by out of the blue
after several years and handed me a CD of a couple of his All
India Radio recordings.

In articles about Gurus and other legendary figures, I have
observed that the writer often hints of himself or herself
as the Chosen One. Since I wasn't the Chosen One, that should
not be a problem. But bear with me if I mention myself a
couple of times if its relevant to the tale.

Pandit Jog was a wonderful man. He was born on February 14
1922 in Bombay. His mother was the first musical influence
on him, if I recall right. Thereafter, after learning vocal,
tabla and harmonium, he gravitated towards the violin and
made it big. I'll skip information you can easily find on
the net. Let me focus on the man and the Guru.

The difficulty with this man was that he could not turn away
students. His tiny music room in Kolkata was always full of
admirers and students and unknown drifters. The image that
remains is of a short, stout man sitting on a sofa, guiding
a student (or two) or writing sequences of notes endlessly.
A talkative and social man, you could always expect a joke
or amusing anecdote from him. He suffered fools (like me)
and lived a life immersed in an ocean of music not available
to us.

He would take students on stage and actually give lessons
in real time. There was no possibility of making errors.
That tenuous link of student and guru was possibly invisible
to everyone else; something ethereal marked the moment. A
communique via notes, via silence, a deliberately missed beat can one explain that? Such magical moments are beyond
private - they are divine. Needless to say, the times I
played with him in public remain cherished memories, not so
much because I played in public but that he had faith in me.
I am sure my other fellow students had the same thoughts
when he called upon them.

Sometimes its tiresome to read endless praises about
someone. On the other hand, its easy to write endlessly
about someone one really loved and admired. I loved him
very much and he loved me in turn, as he loved all his
students. His brilliance as a teacher was mindblowing.
A gesture, an inflection in voice, a sudden digression
to explain an analog elsewhere; it was easy to be conned
into believing it was purely logical and simple. Such were
his subtle hints about Gara and Jaijaiwanti, the links between
Maru Bihag, Hamir, Alhaiya Bilawal, Gaur Sarang and more,
Bilaskhani Todi and Bhairavi. It does not matter that he
has gone, everything is vivid and will go when I do. The
foulest student could be polished into a maestro by such
a teacher.

I have avoided saying anything personal to which I was
privy. But I cannot help recalling with deep sorrow his
last painful years. It happened that I was in Kolkata as
he was sinking (though not at the end). Much was exchanged
as he drifted in and out of consciousness. His bright eyes
smiled for him as nature went ahead with her plans.

I was very lucky, of that I have no doubt. Guru, musician,
gentleman all rolled in one. That was Pandit Jog, whose
violin's sweet notes still remain in my heart. I wish
everyone the same fortune this Diwali.

I leave you with his Bhairavi.



The Colours of Jhinjhoti

The Colours of Jhinjhoti

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I borrowed that title from a mind-blowing album of the same
name by the late Ustad Vilayat Khan.

I often hear deeply wrenching Raagas that leave me baffled.
Simple scales, a complex seeding of emotions in its patterns,
an infuriating dead-end in its analysis…well, you've got to
be there to really understand, otherwise I probably seem to
be talking nonsense.

Jhinjhoti is a fantastic Raaga that can cause a lot of
distress. Two other Raagas that do the same to me are
Charukesi and
Bhairavi but that's not for now.

Here is Jhinjhoti by Shubra Guha. Notice how the composition
is "off-beat" and also ends on the Shuddha Gandhar, talked
about below.

Nevertheless, let's move on. Jhinjhoti belongs to the
Khamaj root. Saying so implies the existence of Komal Nishaad,
which is certainly the case. Shuddha Nishaad is rare,
though it can show up. But the pivot is Shuddha Gandhar.
Like a powerful magnet, it attracts all patterns a musician
might want to create such that the emphasis is on that
note again and again. You just can't get away from it.
Many Raags have this 'annoying' problem and some mistake
it for a weary repetitiveness, which is far from the case.
Shuddha Gandhar has a powerful magic in many Raagas that
causes it seem almost primordial. It happens to be my
favourite note. You'll find its beauty in Charukesi too.
In Jhinjhoti, the note's beautiful counterpoint is the
drooping Komal Nishaad, though some would argue its the
Shuddha Dhaivat.

Like other Raags that sound good in a particular octave,
Jhinjhoti is beautiful in the middle one, that which comes

This seems a particular favourite of the Vilayat Khan clan,
I think. I have heard pieces by Imrat Khan and others too.

I have a wonderful delicate Jhinjhoti piece of the late
Pandit Jog and Zakir Hussain which never fails to bring
tears to my eyes.

Here are examples

I do speak of Jhinjhoti in the penultimate chapter of my
book "What the Raags told me" where I try to describe it
is the Raaga of Memories. That's why the title "Colours
of Jhinjhoti" also made perfect sense. There is truly a
huge variety of emotions that Jhinjhoti describes well;
you'll see it in plenty of Thumris, for example. For
that reason, a lot of people feels it's a 'light' Raaga,
though I personally do not think so. Maybe it just shows
how versatile it is.

Enjoy Jhinjhoti, the Raaga of Memories!


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I won my case against Valley School

Fourth Additional District Consumers Disputes Redressal Forum
Bangalore Urban District
Sahakara Bhavan
Cunningham Road
Bangalore 560052


Sri Siddanagoud, President and C. Ramachandrappa, Member allowed complaint 1648/2005
by Vasudev Murthy against the Valley School, KFI, Haridvanam, Thatguni, Bangalore 560062 for recovery of Rs. 25,000 with costs.

Contact me if you want to know more.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

'Small' Raagas

Small Raagas

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There are a few Raagas which may be called 'small', for lack of
a better term. 'Limiting' might be another word option, but that
would wrong as well.

These Raagas have an implosive quality which tend to force a
performer to sound cramped. Playing this for more than a short
period causes a sense of deja vue, because it sounds like the
same sequence of notes is being repeated again and again. This
may be a flaw of the performer too, true, but something undefinable
in the Raaga serves to make it sound best when performed for brief

This is not a function of a number of the notes in the Raaga
at all; Malkauns and Bhupali are oceans despite having limited
notes. It may be a reflection of the movement within a Raaga;
you can only do so much.

Here are a few examples


This Raaga is a short step away from Bhimpalasi, a vast Raaga.
Dhaani misses the Dhaivat and so the rendition of the Raag is
fraught with the danger of a performer slipping in that note,
because its so tempting. Listen to Bhimpalasi first; Click on
the last option 'Prabhu Tero Naam'.

(Bhimpalasi is a deeply moving Raaga - I read somewhere that
Ali Akbar Khan said it could make even animals cry. The structure
of Bhimpalasi is here. )


A migrant from Carnatic Music, its become quite popular in the
Hindustani realm. Here is the formal scale.

On the violin, its a real challenge. That's because, if your
violin is tuned as S-P-S-P, shifting between strings causes
continuous changes in the middle and ring fingers. Hard to
explain. Nevertheless, its a lovely and deeply pleasing Raaga
and very exciting. Its quite popular in Marathi Natya Sangeet

Here are a few examples


A sweet Raaga, here's a rendition by Amir Khan.

Here's an example by Shiv Kumar Sharma.

And a classical Hindi film (a tiny sample) favourite.

Slightly away is a Janasammohini;
Here is a lovely song in the Raaga.


Okay, this is easy. Here's the structure.

This is another popular Raaga and used frequently in film
songs. It gets a bit tedious because it gets melancholy-
that's my point. We can take these only in short doses.
You'll remember the famous song from Mera Naam Joker.

Notice the wailing violin pieces. Its tough to believe
that the mere softening of a single note (Gandhar) of
the more energetic Bhupali makes this melancholy Raaga.

Mishra Shivaranjani is more amenable - the 'Mishra'
implying the mixing of foreign notes for effect.

Here's Shiv Kumar Sharma again.


Is this a small Raaga? Its difficult to make the claim except
to say that this is a very earthy Raaga, basic to the folk tunes
of India. You'll hear this mostly as a light interlude in some

Here's the structure.


An extract from my book, about Raag Maand:

When the men of our land went to fight wars as soldiers for
Kings they had never seen, we prayed for them and welcomes them
back with tunes composed in me. When the rains came and the first
tender shoots of sugarcane poked inquiringly through the soil
searching for the sun, I was there. I am Raag Mand, the Raag of
Mother Earth.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about music. With a little
effort, you can write something quite similar.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Desh - Sorath - Tilak Kamod

Desh - Sorath - Tilak Kamod

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In a previous post, I mused that Malhar seems to bring out the monsoon
so swiftly. No wonder that Raaga was named such; no otherwould
have done justice
to the rains.

The naming of Raagas must have been done by some very gifted and
individuals. Take a look at Raaga Desh. Does the fact that the
translates to 'country' or 'land' give the scale a patriotic tinge or
is it the other way around - that such a scale could only have been
named Desh?

Some thought leads me to believe that the extended Shuddha Nishadh
gives this
Raaga a distinctive Patriotic flavour.

Here is an introduction to Desh - Shubra Guha.

The term 'pakad' (which Shubra speaks of briefly) refers to a
signature that every Raaga possesses. The awesome
Paluskar has a fantastic
set of small pieces which present the
essence of each Raaga within a few
seconds of beginning.

Here are more examples, each showing the power of music to
invoke (sometimes
irrational) emotions in us. The Nine Rasas
(or emotions /feelings) are captured
exquisitely in our music,
though of course, we would want to avoid music that
fear and loathing in us (though it is possible; please visit me in

Bangalore and I shall play the violin for you. Fear will strike your
heart, he he).

Desh is not to be confused with Deshkar, which is a pentatonic
Raaga similar
to Bhupali but with a devotional tinge. It should
also not be confused
with Desi. Another fantastic example of
Desi is of
Nikhil Banerjee.

The span of Desh works well across all octaves, unlike Malhar
or Darbari which
sound more effective in the lower octaves.

Desh and Malhar blend beautifully to give us Desh Malhar; the
can be skipped. I was not able to find a sample.

Moving along, we find Sorath, a more delicate and timeless
version of Desh.
Sorath is employed in Sikh Shabads to excellent
effect. Desh is more
popular because it gives a more room to
manoeuver. I am not in complete
agreement with the version
sung here, but Shruti Sadolikar obviously
knows best.

I am quite taken by this piece by Bundu Khan.

From I find
this description

This raga is sung at the third part of the night i.e., from 12 a.m.
to 3 a.m. The season of its recitation is winter (sharad) i.e.,
during October and November. In Guru Granth Sahib it has hymns
from pages 595 - 659 (64 pages).

Here is a Sikh Shabad in Sorath.

Another nice example.

Here is something I wrote about Sorath in my worst-selling book.

"How beautiful the focused, calm mind is. No thought dares disturb
the mind that has found peace through singing me. The eternal
are twined within every phrase you make and create within
me and they
do not see the need to hide or be elusive. Why be
reborn? You can
commit no evil when you sing me. Your sins melt
and drip away as you
go past Nishad and into the next octave,
exploring, exploring, asking
the same questions over and over and
waiting to listen to the answers
again and again because they are
so clear. Your mind will dive deeper
and deeper into the depths of
your soul, finding more and more and yet
returning effortlessly to
the present, understanding that the restlessness
of the outer world
is an illusion that has to be endured till your soul
is ready to move
on from its temporary home. Your body does not seek
your attention
anymore. Your mind becomes the incense for the outside
After singing me, listen to silence and see that there was no

difference after all."

Tilak Kamod is a great favourite of mine. This lovely Raaga is ideal
putting babies to sleep and I remember composing a few tunes
in this Raaga
when my son was small. He did not sleep too well,
unfortunately, hehe.

Tilak Kamod is quite close to Desh but has interesting variations. The
Pa->Sa is a signal. Re-Ma(extended)- Ga is the lullaby touch. And
so is Sa->Ni

Here are some examples

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Here are some words I wrote on Tilak Kamod a long time ago.

The moon sighs with delight as the rays of its light gently
fall upon the face of your child. The glowing innocence on its
face is a challenge to its own beauty, and the moon smiles. It
seems as if the whispering cadence of the notes of this comforting
Raaga will never end as long as the child sleeps, with dreams
filled with flowers, colours and the ever-present love of its

Subtle differences make for unfathomable joy. The reader who has
not had
the fortune of learning formally should not feel intimidated.
Plenty of listening is just as good. Do not let regrets bog you down.
Let music fill your home, car, thoughts and heart.



Do not be misled. I know nothing about music and cannot accept
liability for
decisions or conclusions reached because you were
tricked by this article. Listen
at your own risk.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Withal, Eftsoons and Quotidian Certitudinaly, this is dedicated to our James Joyce.

A light rain in Bangalore and thoughts turn to Malhar.

This beautiful family of Raags is extremely fulfilling when heard during the monsoon. Something in Malhar captures moisture and the touch of wet earth, of grass in ecstasy as water caresses it, of trees in love with nature and fresh clean air. The birds sit quietly on branches letting the heavens bless them with water.

Malhar emerges from the Kafi thaat (root), noted for its use of both Gandhars. But the beauty is actually in the slowly undulating Nishaads; thats wherethe actual Malhar effect comes in. The cadence is slow and unhurried. The glide from one Nishaad to the other is constant but gradual, so gradual.

Played in the middle octave, Malhar is one of the most effective in capturing seasons. There are others like Basant and Hemant, true, but the association of Malhar and rain is immediate.

Here is Mian Ki Malhar by Ramakrishna Bua Vaze. A nice one by Mashkoor Ali Khan. An outstanding example on the Sarangi by Abdul Latif Khan.

Here is Ramdasi Malhar by Mashkoor Ali Khan (and a short extract from my 'book')

And then, without warning, came that brilliant movement between the two Gandhars!

Shuddha Gandhar trembled, caught between the quicksand of the Komal and the embrace of Shuddha Madhyam. Without a break, the Gandhar dipped and rose, serpentine, beautiful, glorious, brushing against the Madhyam. What joy! What wonder! The other notes seemed to hold their breath and watch, from across the other octaves. The Nishads must have asked who these usurpers were, behaving as they themselves were supposed to, but an arms length away!

I felt my father's chest shudder. His breath stopped and his heart beat faster. I looked up in alarm. His eyes were open and he was rigid. He looked down at me and exclaimed, "Did you hear? Did you hear?" And without waiting for my response, he fell back in his armchair, breathing deeply, smiling the sweetest of smiles.

And here is Surdasi Malhar (Sur Malhar) by Vinayakrao Patwardhan. And another example by Mashkoor Ali Khan.

Faster expositions, but distinctive Nishad movements; perhaps you noticed something.

We also have Anand Malhar, here by Kishori Amonkar.

Megh (Malhar) is another Rain Raag, again resting on the Nishaads, but bearing mild theoretical similarity with Brindavani Sarang.Amir Khan's Megh is here. Another example, Purnima Sen.

Bahar: This Raag is pretty much like Malhar except that it has a restless character and is executed more effectively in the upper octaves. Bahar is famous for its grafting with Basant to give Basant Bahar, a brilliant but hideously difficut Raaga to play. Another stunning example of Basant.

(Digression: Songs from that great movie Basant Bahar are here; you'll have to click selections.)

Here is Mian Ki Malhar followed by Gaur Malhar by Amir Khan. Another couple of examples of Gaur Malhar.

Shubra Guha
Buddhadeb Dasgupta

This monsoon, enjoy Malhar.

WARNING: I am not an expert. Do not follow any suggestions or misleading information here. Just enjoy, if you care to.

Marwa - wah!

Here are some small extract from one of my books on Raaga Marwa, a deep and grave Raaga. Marwa is related to Sohini.

You can listen to some examples of Raaga Marwa here. Warning - its a very very grand Raaga. Contemplative to the extreme. You may no longer see the value of living.

Baksh Gullo

Munir Khan

Nikhil Banerjee

Bhajan Sopori

Rais Khan


Father was obviously a deeply spiritual person; he saw divine plans in the infinite permutations of the notes. A true student to the end, each new discovery enthralled him and he gasped aloud like a child, even in public, when a phrase manifested itself in his mind. What must it be like, I remember thinking enviously, to be so thoroughly soaked in music, and yet find contentment in keeping it private?

In the evenings, Father and I used to stroll down to a lake about a mile away from our house. It was my special treat. Whether or not he was able to tear himself away from the obsession that ruled his life, I had him all to myself. One day it would be silence as he thought of this or the other Raaga, another day a discussion of my friends and what I had learned at school. The long walk to the lake, the half an hour or so sitting at our favourite spot feeding a few ducks and then the return just after sunset – these vignettes remained vivid in my mind as I grew. The association of his Tanpura was so strong that when he lifted me in his arms to begin the walk, I thought the sounds actually originated from him. His arms and chest seemed to vibrate with the Tanpura’s notes. In my innocence, I used to think that the Tanpura was echoing Father!

I cannot ever forget those walks. Secure in my father’s arms when very young and then walking with my hand in his as I grew, it was an experience intrinsic to my own existence. It helped me to understand him very early on. And it helped me to love that most complex and satisfying Raaga, Marwa.

Father would hum Marwa very seldom. He held it in awe and felt he should hum it only when it came to him on its own; he did not think he could evoke it himself, or that he had any right. “Such majesty!” he would say, “Much more than I can safely handle. And certainly not for a little girl like you!”

One such magical evening, when I was still small enough to be held easily by my father, we walked down the small path to our lake. Father was silent. The Tanpura within him sounded different. I pressed my ear to his chest. The Pancham had vanished, replaced by Nishad. Even the Shadaj seemed reluctant to express itself. Even I, a mere child, could detect that something was different. The canvas of the Raaga was being laid. In the sky, birds were returning to their nests after a long day. In the trees that we passed, they chirped loudly, preparing to roost.


Deep and grand, mysterious and grave. With rules few can understand and fewer act on. Do you seek peace and tranquillity in the evening? Do you seek shelter from the heat of Life? Do you crave an existence without turbulence? Do you find wisdom in a rock, waiting patiently for aeons for a reason for its being? Then I, Marwa, command you to sing me."
Marwa! The evening’s signature, bidding goodbye to light while preparing for the night. How bold, how indifferent! Teevra Madhyam seems to be the source of energy, hinting at secrets and solutions. See how the water in the lake seems to be less fluid as it moves imperceptibly towards this man sitting by the edge. The trees above are almost frozen and the birds on the boughs are silenced by these notes, though the wind blows powerfully, responding to the disturbing challenge of me, Marwa. Each note within me radiates boldness, power, gravity and understanding. They challenge the mind that seeks self-control. The notes merge with each other without haste, savouring each other.

Meditate. Be still. Let your mind cease to think.

Let your mind cease.

The Swans, thus far in attendance, lowered their slender necks in homage, turned and slid away silently into the water. It was almost night, and so my father got up, held my hand and we started our walk back home, in silence.

Behind me, it seemed that the still waters of the lake still hummed Marwa.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dying Cactus

Eftsoons a harsh day
A whirlwind of unheard pain
The love of a child

A piquant summer
Suppression of all desire
Fragrance of Java

Irritants withal
a chance to reconsider
The comfort of time

Glacial Summers
Winter, many drops of sweat
An imploding mind

Now time moves backwards
Filaments of lonely words
A dying cactus

Iridescent love
A fraying Satin blanket
A blind hate consumes

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Introduction to Eternity

Much too soon, the elegant end
arrives - detached, indifferent
to the sounds of panic
A welcoming cloak of finality
about me; mixed feelings swirl
Memories and dreams collapse.
And point
to a black hole in the future

And littered at the entrance,
of black flowers,
wilting to a dark sun's
reluctant gifts.
Smoky cadavers of the good
and the kind
Trampled and pushed aside
For you see,
in death too, evil wins -
Annihilation is faster.

I shall search for them
in this darkness
Those I had met in the light
A desire mutated,
by comforting solitude.
Then I shall see, I hope
A single sharp unending tone of beauty
cleaving through the clouds
I shall hold on to it
and ride in lonely comfort
into the darkness.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Black Clouds and Haikus

Black clouds, black edges
The future, a memory
Infinite blankness

Troubled mind in grief
Blue concave shapes of sorrow
A lone eagle glides

Slippery roads glide
Mocking masks breathing contempt
Black dog licks cold feet

Echoing jeers
bounce off cold merciless walls
Blossoms in concrete

The smell of wet blood
Malevolent bubbles form
A child holds my hands

A fermenting thought
An accelerating clock
A welcoming void

How then shall this end?
cold steel disguised in soft words
The Eagle takes flight

Monday, July 03, 2006

Wat Pho in Bangkok

Wat Pho in Bangkok

What for should we visit Bangkok?
Its a truly great city. Quite clean for the most part but
turn a corner and there'll be this amazingly filthy canal,
absolutely black, stinking to high heaven. Otherwise there
are quite a few waterways and plenty offerries and many
transport options. The people are quite nice and there's
plenty to see.

So then, after an excellent time in coma at Peachy, we
decided to visit a few more sights. We had been forewarned
that there would be many confidence tricksters about.

We went down to the Chao Praya River Express dock to get
onto the ferry toTha Thien, the stop for the Wat Pho and Wat
Phre Kaew temples - and also the Palace. Along the way we
were accosted by a confidence trickster (who I asked for
directions - a mistake) who assured me that the Ferry stop
was closed and he would accompany us to the next place.
We ignored him. Sure enough, the ferry stop was right there
and functioning well.

It was a pleasant enough ride along choppy waters and we got
off without incident at Tha Thien. First stop - Wat Pho, famous
for its gold-plated reclining Buddha.

As we crossed the road to the Entrance, a gentleman accosted us.

"Wat Pho? Closed today. You come this way", he said, pointing
vaguely,far away.

We ignored him and walked on, which was good. The Wat Entrance
was Open. We bought our tickets and went in.

Here is a glimpse of the huge Reclining Buddha, an absolutely
mind boggling sight.

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The wonderful thing about many Buddhist temples (Wat/Vat) are the lovely paintings and murals on the walls, reaching to the ceiling. It takes an enormous amount of time to fully understand how the narration goes - for it is a narration, not one static painting. Wat Pho has such paintings.The Buddha itself is reclining, in the state of near death. The feet are decorated with mother of pearl and the designs have esoteric significance.

I decided to take a National Geographic-suitable photo of the temple and setup the angle and spoke for some time about perspectives, light, composition etc. I finally got the frame I wanted to. I clicked.

Sadly, the batteries had run out.

I purchased very expensive batteries and returned. But now it was raining, so I failed to get that once in a lifetime shot.

Onwards to the Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, both of which happened to be nearby.

Along the way we were accosted by many individuals who offered to show us the Emerald Buddha. We strode on.

As we turned the corner heading to the entrance of the palace, we found this huge sign

Entrance to Temple of Emerald Buddha

0.0 m (<---- zero point zero metres)

We had apparently reached. It seemed credible.

A smart lady and a smart guy came up and asked us what we wanted.

"We want to see Palace and Emerald Buddha", I announced.

"Closed today", said the man, shaking his head, grieving for me. The lady clicked her tongue, disappointed for us.

"Why?" I asked.

He pointed to his watch and said "Look at time! Now ceremonies. Closed!"

He laughed a gay light laugh, rubbing it in, incredulous that I didn't know this elementary fact.

It was 11 am and it seemed a strange time for ceremonies.

The lady said "No problem. I show you Standing Buddha. I belong to Royal Palace. Don't worry. Standing Buddha that way." She pointed to an area away from the Palace.

Smelling rats, we declined the offer and strode on, feeling sad that we had missed seeing the Emerald Buddha.

But wait, right in front of us were a bunch of tourists streaming in andout of the Palace gates. I was befuddled. I inquired with the guard and he waved me in saying "Tickets inside".

So evidently we had just escaped being victims of a rather brazen scam. (On a serious note, scam artists are really doing well in Bangkok, announcing the closure of attractions and then taking you elsewhere and getting you mixed up in buying fake gems. Here is a link to a story about exactly that.)

Wat Phra Kaew is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within the Palace Grounds. It seems to have a very interesting history, having been found centuries ago and been taken away by marauding Laotian soldiers to Vientiene and then recovered after almost three centuries. The Buddha is actually made of Green Jade, not Emerald, but the name has stuck.

The Palace is quite fantastic with way too much to describe here. Worth mentioning are the Indian legends beautifully painted on all four walls. The Ramayana is particular is very important to the Thais. Here is an example of a mural. Its a scene from Ayodhya though I don't recall what it is about.

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And here is a picture of the palace from an unusual angle.

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Then there is a museum with Royal Jewellery, coins and memorabilia. I was surprised to learn that the King was actually born in Boston. He is the oldest reigning monarch and the 60th anniversary of his ascension to the throne had just concluded.

We finally left, determined to reach this exotic Vegetarian restaurant called Alloy near the palace. After a lot of meandering about, we did reach it. The fare was disappointing; the staff and management were engrossed in a discussion and were not pleased to have clientele.

We left, ate Guavas and Pineapples, and retired to Peachy

Friday, June 23, 2006

Travel Notes - Bangalore-Bangkok-Phnom Penh

Travelling to Siem Reap

Bangkok Airport – you can get a visa on arrival. But why take the risk? I suggest you get the Thai and Cambodian visas way before you start your journey, to avoid surprises. A Cambodian Visa costs $20 and a Thai one possible about $30. I got a double entry Thai visa because I needed to land in Bangkok first and cross to Cambodia by land and then return to Bangkok again. On that leg we flew from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, stayed there for a couple of days and then flew Indian Airlines to Chennai.

Right after immigration in Bangkok, you can pick up your baggage and head out through the green channel of customs assuming you have nothing to declare. Immediately to the left of the exit you’ll find at least three forex places where you can convert your currency to Thai Bhat. Right now, 1 USD is about 38 Thai Bhat.

On collecting your forex, IGNORE everyone who accosts you within the airport building, and head outside. You’ll find a public taxi stall, which is safer and better controlled.

Tell the guy at the counter you need to go to Mo Chit Bus Terminal and he’ll hail one of the dozens of cabs waiting and get you on the way. Mention clearly – Meter Taxi. The minimum is 35 baht. You will find that the meter would say about 100 bhat when you reach Mo Chit. You need to additionally pay 50 baht to the driver for the airport tax. On the way from the airport is a tollway that you can choose to take or not – the cab driver should ask you. He will ask you to pay 20 baht at that point.

That means that the journey from the airport to Mo Chit should have taken you about 170 Thai Bhat.

Once you get there, go INSIDE the building on the ground floor and proceed to counter 31 for the Aranyaprathet buses – this is the last town just before the border crossing into the Cambodian town of Poipet. There are counters outside too with about the same numbers, so it’s easy to get confused. Your ticket to Aranyaprathet should cost about 200 bhat.

The journey takes about 4 hours in a comfortable bus on smooth roads..

Let's assume you reach Aranyaprathet in the late evening or even at night. Head straight out of the bus station exit where you’ll see a few tuk-tuk guys waiting to pounce on you.

Your best bet is to ignore them if you are backpacking, as we did, and head due LEFT along the main road. After a longish walk of about 15 minutes, you should reach Hotel Thupthonckum (037) 21679, a large white building on your right.

The rooms are okay for the purpose and they have an adjoining little restaurant. We paid 300 baht for a double bed room.

Head out by 615 AM to the border crossing to the Cambodian town of Poipet. The tuk tuk will demand 80 baht or so; negotiate for about 50 to 60. In these areas, negotiation is expected as part of the protocol and you will hurt yourself by agreeing to the first number you hear.

You should get to the crossing BEFORE it opens at 7 am. There is always a huge crowd waiting to scramble across, especially small traders from Cambodia and quite a number of Thais. But do join the Foreigners queue to get your Thai visa stamped and get waved across to the Cambodian immigration which will be on your RIGHT.

I hear Cambodian visas are easy to get at the border, but again, why take a chance. Get it before hand. Cambodian immigration seems to be modern and fairly fast. Once you are through, keep walking till you reach a small traffic island/circle. There is a free shuttle bus available to take you to the government transport area from where you should take a shared taxi to Siem Reap. A friendly Cambodian Tourism authority guy helped us to get there – free - and even put us in a shared taxi without cheating us - but that might have been our luck, so don't trust anyone. Shared taxi to Siem Reap should cost between USD 10-15 per person, or 45 for the whole taxi.

The road is extremely bad and you can be assured of at least one travel-sick co-passenger before you are through.

Though the shared taxi guy says he will drop you to your guest house, he may mysteriously say on arrival at Siem Reap (after 4 hours) that he has never heard of that place. Insist that he call them and they send their tuk-tuk guy before you exit the taxi and hand over the stub of your receipt to him (he will need that to get his money from the boss in Poipet). We stayed at a wonderful place called Garden Village ( (Ref: Pohin, the manager). (855) 12 21 73 73. The country code for Cambodia is 855 and the mobile network code in Siem Reap (See-em Ree-aap) is 012. We paid about $7 per day for a large Cambodian style simple guest room with attached bathroom. Here is what it looked like:

Ticket to Angkor Vat - $20 per day or $40 for 3 days. A photo is required, so take along plenty or you will have to pay quite a bit for local service. The sequence to visit Angkor Vat is usually this way

Day 0: PM: ticket formalities and issue of an ID card. Sunset at Phnom Bakhen.

Day 1: Bayon/Baphuon/Phimeanakhas/Palace of the Leper King/Terrace of Elephants/ Angkor Vat in the afternoon/evening

Day 2: Banteay Srey, East Mabon etc

Day 3: Phrea Khan etc.

Do not travel to Angkor Vat if you have a problem with heat, are not in good enough physical condition to walk very long distances in the heat and do not like heights. The stone steps in most temples are only about 6-8 inches across and ascend at a terrifying angle of 70 degrees or so. One slip and you’re gone.

Phnom Penh – I strongly recommend The Boddhi Tree which is very well run and conveniently located. Its better that you make a reservation earlier. Get off the bus at Sisowat Road and get a tuk tuk to take you for $1 to The Bodhi Tree. We managed to get the fattest Tuk Tuk driver in Phnom Penh, a Mr. Mel Toy - a very nice man. Here is information you might need about the Bodhi Tree

50 Street 113 - Phnom Penh
Tel: (011) 854 430;

Avoid Dera Reang Seay Hotel, where we stayed the first night. Its absolutely horrible, though recommended by the PP Hotel Association or something. We ran out the very next morning and paid exactly the same amount ($10) for a much much better place (shared bathroom though with three other rooms).

A generally good idea is to hire a Tuk-Tuk for about $7 - $10 for the whole day. Always bargain.

Phnom Penh is a small town. To get from one place to another by a tuk-tuk should cost between 200o Riells to 6000 Riels (1 USD is about 4000 Cambodian Riels).

There are two main and busy markets in Phnom Penh - the old one Psar Thmey and the Russian market. You can get a lot from either of these places doing some fierce bargaining and being willing to walk away. We bought a Ta Khei, a traditional Cambodian instrument from the Central Old market.

There is a decent Indian Restaurant called Madras Cafe near the old market. Vegetarian options are few in Cambodia. Do not go by the recommendations of Lonely Planet in this department for sure. They have recommended a lousy place in PP which serves amazingly bad food.

Tuk-Tuk to the airport will cost you a standard $5 fro practically anywhere in PP. The airport is clean and modern and everything there is quite impressive. There is a $25 airport departure tax to be paid. Its 500 Baht at Bangkok.

Check out Air Asia for bargain deals ($10) between PP and Bangkok.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Deep Sea and You

The moon has waned today

to a mere speck of grey light
draped by red restless clouds

The salty winds in my town
near the Sea of Japan
by your dark screams
As I bite into your dreams
tasting the purple blood
of eternity.

Who hears them?

The mermaids have slept

In the dark green kelp
that floats for ever
and muffles your cries

The whales have gone away
with the currents
thinking sweet thoughts of your pain.
They shall be back next year
succulent bits of them
on your plate

The Octopii have descended deeper
All arms flailing
pretending to be you
As you try to die

In the morning
there shall be no blood
on those clean white sheets

Merely the impossible aroma
of the deep sea.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Odd Haikus

Heroes of the past
Come, Thor, to Alabama

the stench of beauty

Comet; Seventy Six Years
Did Haley ever see you fly?

From Roots
to Black Holes

Bidpay of Turkey
Capn Scott "It seems a pity"

London Library

Nascas of Peru
A grim pale Love in Dothan

Milarepa smiles

He, Tut Ahn Kha Mun
The black-ink pot of Basho
Pyramids, a waste

A Concert by Yesudas

I attended an EXCELLENT concert by the great K J Yesudas yesterday at the Fort High School in Chamarajpet, as part of the ongoing Ramanavami Celebrations.

Most of you know of Yesudas from his playback singing in movies.

Listen to a couple of Hindi songs

Ka Karoon Sajani


In fact, he is an outstanding classical Carnatic musician. The concert was electrifying. No fuss; a charismatic and highly energetic person. Perfect selection, not a single note out of place and a charming simplicity that endeared him to all.

A couple of Classical Pieces



I was thrilled by the subdued high-quality accompaniment - Mridangam and Violin. Unlike the average modern Hindustani recital where the accompanists battle for coverage, Carnatic concerts still seem to have restrained accompanists.

He started with a famous Nava Raaga Mallika composition by Patnam Subramania Iyer (of which I have a recording of when I had played at a concert when a boy, accompanying my Guru; a sudden thrilling memory). He sang Kanakangi - a very difficult Raaga - a composition by Thyagaraja. Others that I made notes of: Purandaradasa and Thyagaraja compositions etc etc. One more nostalgic piece was Yenta Velu Kundu Raghava, which my Great Grandmother taught me.

Yesudas was a student of the late great Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar.

There are a few stories about him being denied entry to the Guruvayoor Temple because of his religion and also that his own Christian community sub-sect wasn't pleased with him for singing "Hindu" compositions. Nevertheless, he has today established himself as a five-star classical singer.

The mixing of musical genius in South India is worth mentioning.

Thyagaraja was a Telugu Brahmin from the present Andhra Pradesh. He settled in Tamil Nadu in an area ruled by Maratha Kings. The Tamil community today are truly torchbearers in singing his Telugu compositions. Purandaradasa's works in Kannada are also part of this Carnatic tradition adopted by all hues of musicians.

For that matter, Kumar Gandharva, so famous in Hindustani music, was from a Malayali family that had migrated to North Karnataka (please correct me if this is an incorrect hazy recollection)

Kerala has contributed a great deal to Indian traditions, without question. One recalls the great Swati Tirunal, Maharaja of Travancore, who made a name for himself as a composer and musician. The Palghat Brahmin community has many musicians.

And otherwise, Sanksrit scholars abound in Kerala. The priests at the Pashupati Nath Temple in Nepal are traditionally from the Namboodiris of Kerala. And so is the case at the Badrinath Temple - I could be wrong. Just some trivia.

Anyway, hat tips to Jesudas. What a guy! A great and memorable evening!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Phnom Penh to Bangkok for $10!


I have purchased a ticket on Air Asia from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Bangkok for $10.00 Ten.

But Taxes are another $19.50!

And Airport Departure Tax is $25.00!

I think I still have good deal. What do you think??

Friday, April 21, 2006

Effective Proposal Writing

Ahhhh...well, signed a lucrative multi-million dollar contract for my book "Effective Proposal Writing" with Sage Publications.

Thanks to all who helped me!

did I say "Multi-million"?

Disregard that totally! :-)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two Concerts

After a very very long time, I attended a concert. Not one, in fact, but two.

The first- on Saturday - was in honour of the KC Das centenary. It started with a bang with us meeting the great Manna Dey himself and taking his autograph!! Wow!!

Then followed the inevitable delays and we finally came to the music.

Here goes.

First we had a young lady sing. She sang very well indeed. Oddly she did not sing any classical stuff - well, maybe a bhajan or thumri or so. She was accompanied by some other fellow (her husband?) on the Harmonium who was loud and painful. More on this fellow soon.

Then followed pain and misery. The daughter, a cute little thing, all of 4, was forced to sing Miyan ki Todi and Mian ki Malhar. Why?

The great man himself sang. With two tanpuras, a tabla, a harmonium and a swarmandal to help drown out his voice, he launched into an extended torture session. First he gave the usual spiel about how the great Gurus had blessed him etc. Absolute rubbish and fake nonsense. Then he sang a blood-chilling version of Jaijaivanti, a proper rendition of which, by Faiyaz Khan, is here.


Unfortunately, due to his obsession with himself and his family, he cut into the time of the brilliant and rather unassuming Sitar player Kushal Das, who's been mentioned in my entry about Todi. Here is his Bilaskhani Todi again. Superlative is not the word.

He played Rageshri and then Pahadi, examples of which are here and here. I loved his fluency and brilliance. No nonsense and in very very sharp contrast to the other clown. He gave no speeches about God's divine blessings. He just did what he had come to do. I was thoroughly impressed and the prior torture was worth it. I felt furious that I could listen to Kushal Das for such a small period of time, just because of some idiotic megalomaniac.

On Sunday, Sarang and I went to Fort High School to listen to the Ramanavami Music celebration concerts. The concert started an hour late. It featured Mysore Manjunath on the violin and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on the guitar. They played Charukesi. It was technically brilliant but it lacked soul; it was played on predicatable lines and did not have the gravity and softness I was hoping for. They might as well have played any other Raaga. Mostly histrionics. I was more impressed by Mysore Manjunath than Bhat. His bowing was simply wonderful!!

We left after a while and did not listen to the rest. Perhaps it was nice...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Bunch of Haikus

Elusive friends in
Many Capitols Unearthed
Koto in Maryot

a gray sky fails to becloud
March Friendship unseen

Distortion reigns on
friendship in a foreign land
The ethernet's quiet

The trees bend low
Leaves melt in the heat
friends in shadows

softly silent mind
A cold winds murmurs, afraid
Lost Samurai

A Cold Rising sun
Haunting are the Gulfstream Blues
a quixotic vanishing

My Koto's tunes jar
strings untaut rust patina
missing friend; come back

Far in Sapporo
DC beckons brutally
a good heart beats on

A Written poem
An Invisible Inkdrop
An Eternal clasp

A hot sun blazes
Cold is my heart, but alone
Your call I await

Children in a bed
Here I breathe strange lonely air
A good friend comforts

Blue Moon; A dog howls
Silent night an odd strange land
Safe Viriginia

Of Vicissitudes
Many aborted meetings
a cold barren heart

Pure is my Promise
Lincoln, so near yet so far
Torture Chronicles

Silently arrive
metal wings across cities
Breakfast is burnt toast

Who is Vasudev?
sad to see a doubting friend
Bald crow in winter

Accusations hurt
many contrite shrinking hearts
White House is quiet

public scorn of pal
prurient analysis
a calm lake disturbed

sorry, snarling friend
scared Japanese; a koto
dry autumn in spring

Hotels without walls
a sweet internet friendship
koto falls silent

Raging Potomac
Apologies for trouble
The Art of Living

A final goodbye
old age, perhaps a meeting
Glacial melting

Music in tune with the Divine

Music in tune with the Divine

Vasudev Murthy

First Published in the Deccan Herald on August 30, 2005

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Thyagaraja's inspired dialogue with a benevolent God, via music, is made more believable because of what we know of his simple lifestyle.

Just as the music of Tartini and Paganini was believed to be inspired by the Devil, there are other kinds of music that have strong religious connotations; melody, harmony and rhythm have been used to persuade invisible powers to shower grace and favours on a person or persons. Martial music is perhaps an exception. However, even military tunes have a purpose - to enthuse, to motivate and to convince soldiers or a nation that righteousness was on their side and the forces of darkness would shortly be annihilated.


Indian music has been blessed in many ways. Apart from the rigour of a grammar and taxonomy in both major streams of classical music via Sarangadeva and Venkatamakhi, the religious traditions of the country have sparked musical creativity to the extreme. Most examples are well known. Surdas of the Bhakti movement found inspiration in the life of Krishna to burst forth into song. Mira Bai was obsessed with Krishna and created bhajans spontaneously. She and Kabirdas were major figures of the Bhakti movement. Except perhaps for the period of Aurangzeb who frowned on it, music and religious dedication have been respected in India for centuries, and virtuosity has been admired rather than looked upon suspiciously.

Surdas Mirabai Kabirdas

A lesser known example of the tight bond between classical music and religion has been in the Sikh tradition. Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth Guru, set the entire Guru Granth Sahib to about thirty different classical raagas. Knowing how the mind reacts to various raagas, he took extreme care while choosing them.

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The lessons of the Granth Sahib thus prescribe correct behaviour and clean living through music; this is not imagination -- the feeling of elevation and the desire to do good does take shape if you listen to well sung shabads in certain raagas - try Ramkali, for instance.

Guru Arjan Dev was obviously gifted and understood group psychology and the power of music in shaping religious sentiment. This effect is seen elsewhere in choir music, bhajans and qawwalis alike, where the musicians and the audience collectively enter some kind of a rarified collective mental state for a period of time. This mass demonstration of piety via music is intended to inform a compassionate entity (God) of their devotion to Him.

And not too long ago, while Paganini was being looked at jealously in Italy, Thyagaraja (1767 -- 1848) performed musical miracles and composed hundreds of kritis across the entire complex spectrum of Carnatic raagas. Whether he was extremely pious and was consumed by the need to see Rama and therefore composed so many kritis or whether he was musically gifted anyway and found bhakti to Rama as a perfect channel to vent the music is a pointless debate. An obsession with his concept of the Supreme combined with musical genius gave us expressions of immense musical creativity which are unlikely to be ever surpassed. Thyagaraja was lucky - and so were we - that the social environment he lived in - Thanjavur in this instance - respected music and he was given recognition while he lived. He had exalted company - Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Sastry lived in the same area at about the same time - and was sufficiently motivated to enhance his genius.

Dikshitar Thyagaraja Shyama Sastry

Some people are tone deaf while others are believed to have a perfect ear for detecting variations in music. But generally, the range of audible frequencies means that our musical experience is limited by the construction of the ear and the etrainingf that our neurons receive over years - and occasionally genes. In our tradition, we also speak of anahat - the music that cannot be heard except by the spiritually exalted. We would like to believe that many geniuses derive inspiration from an unknown benign source because the extent of their musical experience is beyond the normal and they can perhaps access the anahat due to 'spiritual purity' or, at any rate, some peculiarity.

A Thyagaraja Composition
A Muthuswami Diskshitar Composition (Veena)
A Shyama Sastry Composition (Violin)

Thyagaraja is no longer available. His inspired dialogue with a benevolent God, via music, is made that much more believable because of what we know of his simple lifestyle and true rejection of the material world. It is fashionable today for modern musicians to refer to their 'divine' experiences and to mutter some intelligible shlokas, while having a keen eye on economic benefits and possible felicitations and awards in the pipeline. It is rare to find 'inner peace' in most of today's concerts, though one might find technical perfection and even a pleasing experience.

What set the music of - for instance -the late MS Subbalakshmi, Nikhil Bannerjee and Pannalal Ghosh apart was a definite element of inner contentment in their music and a distinct lack of interest in playing to the gallery. They communed with an invisible world via music while they were alive. Their music leaves clues to us about the Great Beyond.

Tartini Thyagaraja

Tartini and Thyagaraja. One spoke to the Devil and the other to God. And music was the language they both chose.


More links:
Here is a link to a Sikh Shabad in Ramkali

Some more classical pieces