Carnatic music aficionados are divided on the significance of the Nottuswara songs popularised by Muthuswami Dikshitar in the eighteenth century, which consist of Sanskrit lyrics set to Western tunes. These compositions make for pleasant light listening, though I have a sneaking suspicion regarding the original intent with which they were created.
Indian classical music and dance being essentially a blend of melody, rhythm and emotion or raga, tala and bhava as they are called in Sanskrit, the Nottuswara pieces stand out as they lack the essential component of emotion.
To illustrate, here is an example of some Nottuswaras, a pleasant rendition by Bhargavi Venkatram.
And here is an authentic piece of Carnatic music, enriched by all three aspects of rhythm, melody and emotions that transforms the listening experience into one of meditation, edifying the listener into a higher plane of consciousness. By the way, I think the child prodigy Rahul Vellal is one of the finest singers the country has produced.
The music of the East and the West have blended more successfully to create soulful listening experiences. An example is the blissful music that Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt creates on the Mohan Veena, a modified version of the Hawaiian guitar.
Another is the late American Professor Jon B. Higgins who is even today respectfully addressed as Higgins Bhagavathar in the elite circles of connoisseurs of Carnatic music. I stumbled upon Professor Higgins’ music serendipitously a few years back, while listening to a collection of songs by various artists in the lovely raga Bihag, one of my favourite ragas of all time.
Jon Higgins not only adheres to the rhythm and melody of the compositions, he also has a near-perfect pronunciation of the lyrics in Sanskrit and various other Indian languages that he sings in and above all, evokes the emotion that each song is meant to convey. The notes are pure, the cadences rendered with mathematical precision, transporting the listener into a state of blissful stillness. I wish he had left behind a larger body of work.