A phenomenon called Rasikas.org - Ramesh Balasubramaniam

In this era where events happen at the speed of twitter and the ephemerality of snapchat, the influence of social media in our lives is undeniable. However, there is a place on the Internet where the world slows down to the pace of reading an old-fashioned morning newspaper with a cup of South Indian filter coffee. This is rasikas.org, a site dedicated to online discussions about every aspect of Carnatic music. With the Indian diaspora spread across multiple continents, rasikas.org provides music lovers with a much-needed canopy under which to learn, discuss, review and critique music.

Although there have been many discussion forums from the days of the old usenetgroups to the now extinct websites like Sangeetham.com, rasikas.org has an ardent following and dedicated membership like no other place, real or virtual. For example, Dr. Ravishankar, a New Jersey physician and an expert on dance and musical lyrics, seldom begins his day without a visit to rasikas.org. A moderator of the forum fromChicago, who posts under the moniker "Vasanthakokilam", feels a sense of withdrawal when the site is even down for maintenance.

The brain behind the website is its founder,Mr. S. Ramakrishnan, an IT professional based out of the United Kingdom. He started rasikas.org in 2005, when there were no other structured sources for free expression and scholarly discussions on Carnatic music. Although the site began with only five members, there are currently over 7000 registered members from around the globe. Till today, he diligently maintains the website, updates the engines that make it spin and protects it from spammers and hackers.

While some of therasika members have made their identities known to the public, manyhave chosen to remain anonymous. Some use the cloak of their anonymity to express their dissenting opinions without social consequence;although some use it exclusively to stir controversies. That said most of the discussions that take place in the forum are civil, scholarly, erudite and hugely informative.

Eminent vidwans and vidushis like ChitravinaRavikiran, NeyveliSanthanagopalan, Dr. M. Narmadha, Suryaprakash, GayathriVenkakataraghavan, Shashikiran, VijayalakshmiSubramaniam, AkellaMallikarjunaSarma, Erode Nagaraj and MannarkoilBalaji have all contributed significantly to the proceedings. Organizers, sabha secretaries and students of music all routinely check rasikas.org to get a sense of the latest goings on in the world of Carnatic music.

Many readers of the forum are not registered members; interestingly several of them are eminent musicians. The writer of this article, who routinely posts a number of reviews of major concerts, receives candid, appreciative comments from many leading performers(and the occasional brickbat too). Reviews of concerts trickle in from all around the globe; from people like Mr. Rajesh and Suresh in Chennai to several others in Bangalore, Mumbai, Australia, NZ, with a large majority of the overseas ones coming from the US and Canada.

However, as with any large family-like gathering, there are frequent intellectual disagreements amongst members on issues of interpretation, opinion and taste. Ms. Rajee Krishnan, herself a composer, often adds colour to the forum's discussions by offering an original perspective which helps people achieve middle ground during a heatedand passionate debate.

Another key contributor to the forum Mr. LakshmanRagde, based in Toronto, Canada shares lyrics from his repository of several thousand kritis. An erstwhile member Mr. Kulkarni has generously shared several hundred non-commercial recordings on the forum for academic and illustrative purposes. Veteran members like Dr. V.K. Viswanathan, a theoretical physicist at the Los Alamos labs in the USand Mr. M.K. Ramasubramaniam of New York often share scintillating stories from their five decades of experience of dealing with music. Mr. Nick Haynes, a prolific contributor, is now an instantly recognizable celebrity of sorts in all the sabhas of Chennai just from his posts on rasikas!

Mr. Uday Shankar, an intellectual powerhouse of the forum and inventor of a slide flute called the chitravenu, confesses that he has learned much about issues related to design and structure of instruments from the learned members of the forum, including professional musicians.

The forum hosts some deeply scholarly discussions ondiverse topics that range from how the brain processes musical information, the musical genius ofLalgudi, the different schools of mridangam playing, to less salubrious topics like the state of washrooms in leading sabhas. Conversations about the acoustics of leading sabhas tend to mirror the spirit of the discussions on the state of their restrooms.

Recently, a select few of the global membership of this now influential web forum gathered in Chennai for their annual pow-wow, graciously hosted by Sri Ravikiran. Much of the effort for bringing people together from literally every corner of the globe goes to Mr. Nageswaran, best described as a rasika-statesman. The annual meeting brings a great sense of camaraderie to this community and energizes the membership for another year.

The forum is presently in the midst of a deluge of the margazhiseason's reviews.Next week, things will return to normalcy where members will go back to intense discussions on who next year's SangithaKalanidhi will be, but Mr. Ramakrishnan, founder admin, will ensure that the proceedings always remain parliamentary.