Other Interests
Carnatic Music

Along with academics, this is my first love. I acquired a taste for carnatic music from my father who is a professionally trained musician and very good theoretician as well (one of his masters dissertation reports a psychometric test to measure musical aptitude). Unfortunately, I never learned music formally in my young age, but carried on my own study of it. I can recognise most of the popular ragas and compositions. My favourite major raga is Kalyaani and I love many minor ragas – Behag, the best among them, Yamauna Kalyani, Vrindavana Saranga, Madhuvanthi, Shubha-panthuvarali and Ahir Bhairavi. My thaala knowledge is weak. However during 2006, I got a rare invitation to sing on Doordarshan programme, Sangeethika which turned out to be a great event for me. You can view excerpts here.

I am now a student of music, learning basic lessons from young, smart and dynamic guru, Payyannoor Mahendran. I still cherish the wild dream of staging a concert (I selected the compositions 25 years back). Give me 25 more years, I will surprise you! [June 13, 2010: I am happy to say that I finally made it! June 2011: I have now staged three concerts, Abedhanandha Ashram, TVPM; Muckolackal Temple, TVPM and Emoor Bhagavathy Temple, Palackad.

While at CDIT, I had the opportunity of leading the establishment of a massive web site on Swathi Thirunal (www.swathithirunal.in). Both for music and for historic information, the site is noteworthy. You can listen to almost 300 of the 385+ compositions of Swathi, read their lyrics and meaning in Malayalam and English. Here is an article about the site.

When I was a student at Cambridge, I fished out some rare documents on his music, including a western notation for his composition Saarasa sama mukha in raga Khamaas which I published. (Read this Malayalam article from Vijnana Kairali, January 2007: Download PDF).

My greatest break came when I was invited by the prestegious Madras Music Academy to give a talk on Swathi Thirunal. I did that during December season in 2008. The Academy has published the same as a full length article in Journal of Madras Music Academy. The report came in The Hindu can be viewed here. (Scanned image of the print: View HERE)

Here are some resources and some of my articles:

  1. Notes on 381 Swathi Compositions, prepared for the Swathi Web Site. Download PDF
  2. Royal Lullaby, Article which appeared in the Millennium Magazine, 2003. Download PDF
  3. A surprise in Variety, A review on Navarathri Concert (2004) of Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan, The Hindu. [Download PDF]
  4. Swathi – A fountain of Music, Article which appeared in the Millennium Magazine, 2003. [Download PDF]
  5. Valsala Shasthriar, Composer of Classical Music on Jesus Christ, Samskara Keralam, 1990. [Download PDF]
  6. Carnatic Compositions on Temples of Kerala, Malayalam Article, Samskara Keralam, 1995. Download PDF
  7. Hindustani Compositions of Swathi Thirunal with Malayalam Translation (compiled in 2001 by late Prof. P.T. Indira Devi, My Mother-in -law) [Download PDF]
  8. The Nava Melakartha  Raga Numbering Scheme: I have  devised a numbering scheme for Melakartha Ragas, suited for the modern times. According to this numbering, Shakarabharnam is numbered 2323, Kharaharapriya is  2222. [Download PDF]
  9. Swathi Thirunal – A fountain of Carnatic Music from Kerala: Invited talk at International Conference on Music organised by Indiranagar Sangeetha Sabha & Centre for Ethnomusicology, Churchill College, University of Cambridge, at Bangalore, 14 July 2008. Await uploading of article.
  10. Sessions Dedicated to Centenarians - A report published in The Hindu on Dec 19, 2008. [Download PDF](Web Link)
  11. Patron of Music & Science - An article on Swathi Thirunal published in The Hindu on Dec 26, 2008. [Download PDF] (Web Link)
  12. Royal stage for music - An article on Swathi Sangeetholsavam at Kuthiramalika published in The Hindu on Jan 01, 2010. [Download PDF](Web Link)

Gene Music

I have, during my computer science days done some work to simulate melakartha ragas on a computer. I published an algorithm for it in a British Journal in 1992. This was the time of skinny PCs, with no multimedia. Soon Mutimedia PCs and MIDI instruments appeared and my work lost its relevance except as a pedagogy. In 2005, I hooked on to gene/protein music. I was inspired by an article by the great science writer D Balasubramaniam in the Hindu Science Pages where he said he will one day find time to map genes to music. Searching the web, I came across many western attempts to create gene music. With the help of my bright student Gopakumar who coded the mapping in Perl language, I have produced a Protein music in Kalyani, my favourite Raaga. This is derived out of the Acidic Bovine Protein Sequence. Listen to it here: Download MP3.

What I have done is to take the amino acid sequences (proteins are basically amino acids sequences) and map them to some physico-chemical parameters of the acids. I have tried 3 parameters. Then I had a lookup table prepared where the amino acids were ordered based on increasing value of the physico-chemical parameters and each was assigned notes from 3 octaves. To make the music sound natural, I clubbed some amino acids which had very close parameter values. Finally I had 15 groups and they were assigned notes (Pa Dha Ni Sa) (Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa) (Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa) from Manthra Sthaayi (lower octave), Madhya Sthaayi (normal octave) and Thaara Sthayi (higher octave) respectively. As soon as I can find time and help, I am planning to use k-means clustering to group amino acids than just hand-picking them, so that the un-natural jumps you hear in the gene music can be smoothed out. Is this is of any use ? Well, if you want me to defend, those who know the soul of music will find it easy to believe that a normal gene should ‘somehow’ correspond to melodious music and a diseased gene should map to a cacophony. Well, I am not talking science ! But until we test out the hypothesis fully, I do not think I am wasting time with a Kalyani composition which rasikas would dread to listen!

19th Century History of Travancore

History was a boring subject to me in schools. But I had acquired some interest in history, related to my passion for music, as one of the composers who caught my fancy, Swathi Thirunal (here), was also an important historic personality. As I began to immerse in his music, I also unknowingly time-travelled to early 19th century (he lived from 1813-1846). I tried to imagine how he would have lived, how he talked (especially in English), what would have been his perceptions, how he sang, how he fell in love, how he was frustrated by the British and how he finally died, all shrouded in mystery even now. It sometimes made me feel very strange that I live in the same city where this man once lived, I walk the same streets which he must have tread. This made me look at history texts of the time with more eagerness.

Later, as the internet emerged, I had virtual chakara, with many rare documents and pieces of information gravitating to me through Google (what was I using before as search engine ? I do not remember !). I have 2 papers in the Journal of Kerala Studies and a number of brief notes waiting to be published.

While at CDIT, I had the opportunity of leading the establishment of a massive web site on Swathi Thirunal (www.swathithirunal.in). Both for music and for historic information, the site is noteworthy. Read about 75 artciles on Swathi, persons and institutions of his time and also see about 200 images related to him, some very rare. Here is an India Today Report on the Web Site: Page 1, Page 2.

    Here are links to my 3 major publications in History:

  1. Achuthsankar S. Nairand Catherine Logan, “Colin Paterson and his Medical Report of Travancore (1842)”, Journal of Kerala Studies, Published by University of Kerala, Vol. XXXII, 2006, pp 82-113. [Download PDF]
  2. Achuthsankar S. Nair “William Henry Horsley’s Memoir of Travancore (1839): Earliest English Treatise on History of Travancore ”, Journal of Kerala Studies, Published by University of Kerala, Vol. XXXI, 2004, pp 1-66 [Download PDF]
  3. Richard R. Walding, Mme Helen Stone, Achuthsankar S. Nair "The Russian Prince and the Maharajah of Travancore", Journal of Kerala Studies, Published by University of Kerala, Vol. XXXVI, 2009, pp 10-87 [Download PDF]
  4. To the best of my knowledge, Horsley’s book is the first book printed at the Trivandrum Govt Press, in 1839. I am also in the process of editing and publishing another book from the Trivandrum Govt Press, title “Kishun Koovr” (a strange spelling of “Krishna Kaur”) – A Tragedy, an English play written by Dewan Subba Rao who was also the English tutor of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal. This book is the second known publication from the Trivandrum Govt Press, and is printed in 1840.

    Here are some more of my publications (please note that some links have not been added yet):

  5. B. Arundhathi & Achuthsankar S. Nair, “19th Century Western Notation of 3 Swathi Thirunal Compositions, Vijnana Kairali, State Institute of Languages, January 2007 [Download PDF]
  6. Achuthsankar S. Nair “Early History of the Trivandrum Observatory” (Await)
  7. Achuthsankar S. Nair “Early History of the Trivandrum Govt. Press” (Await)
  8. Achuthsankar S. Nair “Early History of the Trivandrum Museum and Zoo” (Await)
  9. Here area few samples of large number of press cuttings on discovering new documents and curious information:

  10. “On the demise of Swathi Thirunal” 1. Mathrubhoomi News Paper 2. India Today Malayalam Page 1, Page 2
  11. “On Resident William Cullen’s Scientific Studies”: The Mathrubhoomi [Download PDF]
  12. “A rare English letter by Swathi Thirunal to Caldecott, first Director of Trivandrum Observatory in 1840s. : The Mathrubhoomi [Download PDF]
  13. “A rare sketch of the opening ceremony of the Trivandrum Karamana Bridge” [Download PDF]
  14. On locating Horsley's Memoir of Travancore, Mathrubhoomi [Download PDF]
  15. I will soon be linking some rare images and documents for History lovers.

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