Sisirkana Dhar Choudhury is a distinguished violinist throughout India and abroad. She had her first lesson on the violin and vocal music from Ustad Moti Mian when she was seven years old. Later she received systematic training from the renowned violinist Padmabhushan V G Jog from 1952 onwards. lmpressed’ with her talent, Swar Samrat Ali Akbar Khan accepted her as his pupil in 1956 Few years later, she received musical lessons for a short period from the rarely gifted musician Smt. Annapurna Devi, the worthy daughter of Acharya Baba Allauddin Khan Sahib, Maihar. Pandit Ravi Shankar also spared some few hours from his very busy schedule for imparting lessons to Sisir Kana. She started her performing career in Calcutta since 1953 She received talim in Dhrupad and Dhamar from the renowned musician-scholar Sri Birendra Kishore Roychowdhury, Calcutta around 1960 who has also imparted lessons on musicology. From the scholar-musician Acharya T L Rana, Calcutta around 1973 she received training on musicology.
She received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy award in 1997. Almost all over the world, Sisirkana toured for her violin performance. At some major universities in Europe and Japan, she held several workshops and lecture3 cum-demonstration. All through her career in public performance, she received high applause from a distinguished audience.
She was associated with Ali Akbar College of Music, San Rafael, CA, USA as Director of Bowed lnstrument from 1998to2004. At present she is working as the Principal, Sangeetanjali, college of music in Fremont, CA, USA. Besides her normal assignments, she is guiding a large number of students of India and abroad.
In this book an attempt has been made to trace the origin and development of violin as a musical instrument throughout the world. The book seeks to establish that the violin originates in India in a primitive form in the hands of Ravana, the mighty king of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). It was then known as ravanastram or dhanuryantram. The author sketches, in the narrow compass of the book, a long history of the journey of this instrument covering an equally long period of cross-cultural perspective. From Europe again back to India is the total journey of violin with all its modifications and sophistications. This is the main thesis of this book which the author has successfully worked out.
This constitutes the first part of the long term research which the author undertakes as early as in 2004. The second part is under preparation which covers the practical side about the technique of violin playing as practiced by Hindustani musicians. It also incorporates some of the author’s own compositions in vocal and instrumental music.
“…This lady has the musical ability to pack Carnegie Hall, but she’s a saint, she’s choosing to play at Ridgely Manor because the great Swami Vivekananda once stayed there.”
- Ray Spiegel
“It was such incredible music. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know if it was classical or music from outer space.
…She’s one of the greatest violinists in the world, including Issac Stern, Yitzhaak Perlman, anyone! I never saw her or met her, just listened to her from behind a closed door.”
“She’s regarded as a musician-saint, not concerned with fame and fortune. She never makes recordings, so you have to hear her in person.”
- Cassia Berman
I feel honoured to write the foreword of this book authored by a veteran musician of the stature of Professor Sisirkana Dhar Choudhury former Baba Alauddin Khan Professor and Head, Department of Instrumental Music and Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, India. Professor Dhar Choudhury has specialized in viola and violin in which she received lessons at an early age of seven. From the age of twelve, she has been performing on the public stage and never looks back. She was associated with Ali Akbar College of Music, California, USA for a long time. Even now, she prefers to remain in the States because of the strong demand of foreign students with their burning interest in learning Indian classical music in violin. Similarly, Indian students who have been in USA for their higher studies are not deprived of the opportunity of learning from this virtuoso. She, however, gives lessons also in vocal music and other branches of instrumental music. The institute with which she is now associated is known as Sangeetaanjali where she is holding the post of the Principal. It is a pleasure on my part to get involved with the academic work of such a prodigy who happens to be equally proficient in high level work on musicology and other allied disciplines.
This book deals with the origin and evolution of violin as a musical instrument and its contribution to the progressive flow of Indian classical music. Professor Dhar Choudhury has given me the responsibility of supervising her research work which, I think, I do not really deserve.
Music is essentially a performing art. It deals with sound which is ubiquitous. It has its theoretical part where the grammatical guidelines are given which a performer is supposed to follow. The unique feature which distinguishes Indian music from all other patterns of music of the world is the aspect of improvisation which enables the performing musician not to blindly follow the grammar, but to modify it according to his/her own emotional understanding of the appeal of any particular raga. The separate ragas are said to be like different living beings which are abstract in nature and can be understood only in one’s spiritual vision. The Indian musicians of antiquity are held to be the proper custodians to breathe life into these abstract raga structures. Consequently it is said that Indian music has a spiritual character of its own. It requires one’s vision for creating new forms on the basis of the raga structure as laid down by the Indian musician-saints. Initially, the generations of musicians have to obey the grammatical rules; but ultimately the music which is created dominates the grammar and not otherwise. It is the ethos with its rich melodic overtone which characterizes every form of Indian classical music.
In the opinion of Rabindranath, a musician is the dreamer of dreams, the designer of a paradise. It is a spiritual pilgrimage which is endless. Nobody knows where it starts and nobody knows where it ends. The aesthetic freedom in creating melodic beauty out of the phenomenon of sound which is all-pervasive can never come to an end. It is ever expanding with quest and conquest at every stage of its process of refinement. In its voyage, the musician creates new musical horizons glittering with endless combination of notes as demanded by the given raga structure together with his/her approval of spiritual vision. From the finite to the Infinite is the journey, and the musician submits his/her musical offerings to the Gods supposed to be inhabiting the supreme transcendent world. In the meeting point of the finite and the Infinite, lies the creation of musical beauty. Even though music comprehends a limited number of notes, it reveals the infinite. It is for man to produce the music of the spirit with all the notes which musicology has given him. If music is all grammar without any human touch, it may be nothing but noise. A musician is born, and not made; music is created, and not imitated. Any imitation in art is strictly forbidden. As the universe is not merely a cluster of electrons and protons, so music is not the conglomeration of several musical notes; it is the miracle (open only to a spiritual vision) of the self-adjusting interrelationship of different notes which works as the foundation of the musical creation and is impossible to analyze.
Swami Vivekananda has considered Indian music as essentially the spiritual factor iii human beings. Unless one has this spiritual outlook, to be cultivated by ascetic habits, the doors of music are eternally closed to him. Swamiji has given primary importance to the forms of Indian music known as dhrupad and kirtan. He always cherished the wish that kirtan form of songs which depict the deep emotional side of human beings, both in joy and sorrow, must be rooted in dhrupad style of singing. This is perhaps the beginning of introducing the human element in a voyage towards the realization of the divine in man. He believes that man is potentially divine. One, of these potentialities is called music.
Music is the most abstract of all art forms. Painting, sculpture, poetry are intrinsically good art forms in their own right. But in one way or other they have some reference to space positions from which music is free because it deals with abstract sounds which have reference only to time. It is created now and it merges into the then which again creates another now and this goes on indefinitely, resulting in a totality of sound- pattern. This in its turn again merges into another sound-pattern. It is in this way that a musician creates a garland of musical notes which have only a temporal character, but makes a permanent effect in the mind of the listeners. In fact, in performing music, the musician creates music and gets identified with the creation. But this is not all. The musician also takes the listeners into this transcendent identity, all rolled into one. The One is the indescribable infinite, hill of bliss and ecstasy.
In Indian context, music has undergone various classifications from various standpoints. It is said that music is of two kinds: (a) Marga Sangeet or classical music and (b) Desi Sangeet or semi-classical music. Marga Sangeet is that type of music which contains as its essential component, what is called alapa, an elaboration, without the assistance of any percussion instrument, of the pure and exact significance of the melodic structural patterns or raagas as worked out in the traditional scriptures (sastras). That is why it is called classical music or music of the highest order. But if the purity and exactness of the raagas are not strictly maintained and if the emphasis goes on to depict the soft emotional appeals of our feelings and sentiments, then the music is not called classical; it is, on the other hand, described as semi-classical music or Desi Sangeet. Classical music has been said to be the spontaneous manifestation of the inner call of the soul intrinsically born out of the musician’s total surrender to and the resultant conquest of the cause of Beauty in melodic tunes which are the best medium of its expression. Classical music has thus been regarded as the best and most refined of all the accepted art-forms in India. What cannot be said in any other way, can be said hilly and exhaustively in music. This is what Rabindranath strongly believes.
In another way, music has been classified into (a) vocal music and (b) instrumental music, according to the nature of the medium of expression. Again, if music is created on the basis of lyric, it is called lyrical music or lyric-dependent music; and when the lyrical content is nil or is negligible, it is called lyric-free music. Mostly what goes in the name of song stands for lyrical music. But it should be noted that Khayal and Dhrupad type of songs are normally regarded as lyric-free music; with a reservation. The alap portion of Dhrupad is lyric-free, because here the musician follows the basic melodic structure of Raaga in which the particular is composed; but he creates a super-structure of melody by his own creative improvisation through the tan and the alap. The style of presentation or interpretation of the basic melody is what differentiates a Khayal from a Dhrupad. This is, however, a completely different issue and I do not propose to enter into this issue in the present context. What is important to note is that improvisation is the landmark of Indian classical music and it is in this respect that it is basically different from Western music. Improvisation is exclusively the musician’s own creation. Though it is exclusively his/her own, it has a universal appeal where the musician gets himself/herself lost in the creation; it is a case of identification, as already pointed out, which takes the musician far beyond his/her empirical commitments, and here he/she attains what may be described as the spiritual transcendence. In music the empirical world is lost and a paradise emerges which is indescribable.
A musician’s universe is much more enriched than that of the ordinary man. It is a universe where the conventional laws of space, time and causality become inoperative. What operates is the fundamental law of the intrinsic necessity of human being in which man realizes his own self In the profound depth of the musical domain, the conventional attitude of localization and juxtaposition melts away in a higher form of colorful tones in their orderliness and coherent manifestation.
There is an important sense in which instrumental music is said to rise above vocal music in its abstraction and consequent purity. Vocal music, in any form, is generally associated with a lyrical content. The lyric part of a song naturally gives rise to some obstacles, namely, the injunction of poetry, the geographical barrier of pronunciation and the like which the musician is supposed to overcome in order to create a really artistic musical piece. From these so-called obstacles the instrumental music is absolutely free, and in this sense, is said to be the highest and purest of all art-forms. It deals with the musical notes in abstraction which in the hands of a musician swim freely in the vast canvas of the shapeless ocean of sound, as the clouds swim freely in the vast canvas of the boundless sky. This aspect of instrumental music may require further investigation.
The so-called performer-listener dichotomy is a misleading, rather faulty, approach to understand the phenomenon of music in its fullness. If any listener fails to appreciate a piece of music, the fault is his own and not that of the performer. He is not a faithful listener of music, because he has failed somewhere to pursue the running thread by which the performer took up the no-longer past note and rolled on to the not-yet future notes through the gracious present. What he has listened to are some arbitrary sounds which account for his failure to appreciate music which is an organic continuum. He is a real, genuine listener who can keep equal pace with the musician in his development of the sequence of notes, and once he is successful in this much needed task of a listener, the dichotomy disappears.
Indian classical music has an age-old oral tradition in the form of guru-shishyat parampara. The shishyas have the responsibility of innovating new pattern of musical forms on the basis of the training achieved from their respective gurus. Music is a progressively living phenomenon which is characterized by its incessant flow expressing itself in infinite number of compositions or improvisations on a rigorous and disciplined basis strictly in accordance with the intrinsic law of human feeling and imagination. If the upholders of any musical tradition do not make ample provision for the growth and development of music, then they are not to be regarded as genuine musicians. The value of any musical tradition thus consists in: (a) adaptation to the present socio-cultural environment and, (b) survival of the fittest, subject to a verdict, spiritually inclined towards artistic creativity. Any musical tradition should never be allowed to be a closed-door institution; rather it should have both entry and exit—the former unbiased, unsophisticated and the latter purified, enriched and ever-radiating.
All traditional structures of music must have a sufficient degree of flexibility and elasticity so that they can respond to, and receive from, the immense variety of the impulses of life in its ceaseless forms of rhythmic growth. The so-called orthodox scriptures on music are of no avail in the growth of performing music as a creative art form. Rabindranath says, very interestingly, that if Narada and Bharata, after mutual consultation, can be said to have contributed the ultimate perfection of music to such a degree that we have only to obey and cannot create, then within such perfection, the essential character of music will be totally destroyed. Thus if the upholders of any gharana do not make ample provision for the growth and pure creativity of music, then they would be good store-keepers, but do not deserve to be considered as real musicians. The role of musical tradition in maintaining the supreme cause of music is to see that music flows spontaneously for generations after generations not as blind repetitions, but as opening new horizons of the vast ineffable universe of music in the flullness of the spiritual life that man lives.
Music, whether Indian or Western, has a common point, namely, the discovery of frequency of sound which makes the sound musical. Music is essentially God’s message to the blessed few who can realize what God has whispered to their ears. But the musician’s feeling of the presence of God is within his/her music which is beyond any reason, but within the easy reach of all with a vision. It is everywhere in the world, loud or soft, and it exists within every man as the flash of will that takes him/her beyond the boundaries of sense. It is said that out of three notes, the musician creates not the fourth, but a star.
The music in man is the spark of divinity within him which he sustains with utmost care and devotion. It is customarily said that dhrupad is the beginning of all kinds of Indian music. Every form of dhrupad has four parts namely, sthayi, antara, sanchari, abhog which have their own contextual meanings. Every dhrupad is a song which is composed in the praise of one or other of several deities who are traditionally worshipped as parts of Indian culture. And the modern tendency of instrumental music in India is to follow the dhrupad style. Violin music is no exception to this.
Professor Sisirkana Dhar Choudhury, in her characteristic way of deeply meditating on the phenomenon of music, has chosen violin as a musical instrument to express her realization. She invariably follows the dhrupad style of music in her violin performance. Being a devoted disciple of the Ramakrishna order of spirituality, she had spent the larger part of her life in the company of monks and dedicated saints. Naturally she has developed a spiritual outlook which enables her not only to create a number of original melodies, but also to faithfully represent what she has learnt from her renowned masters. Her musical presentations have always borne the marks of her own original understanding of the theme with a spiritual profile. In the first part of the book she has devoted to the rather theoretical portion of the instrument of violin, including the various stages of its development throughout the world. Her main concern centers round presenting some evidence towards justifying her thesis that violin is not an imported instrument in India. It has its root in the early phase of ancient Indian culture around south India, particularly Sri Lanka. After a long journey in the hands of the Western experts, with their own sophistications, violin new innovations in structure and technique of playing in the hands of Indian musicians. In the next part, she proposes to deal with some practical aspects of music incorporating some musical compositions, vocal and instrumental, of her own, together with her suggestions of some techniques of playing the instrument.
I sincerely hope and firmly believe that this book will receive warm encouragement.
In this book a humble attempt has been made to trace the origin and gradual evolution of violin as a musical instrument, through different stages of the socio-cultural history of man. It seeks to highlight the special contribution of music creation in the context of violin which though primarily accepted as a European instrument is basically Indian in origin. This is the main thesis of the book. Incidentally it deals with the changing structure of this instrument and its various potentiality in enriching both Indian and Western music.
The limitation of space has forbidden us to delve into the details of Western music; we are at the same time forbidden to throw enough light on south Indian or Karnatic music. This book centers round north Indian music with occasional references to the use of violin in European countries. The cross-cultural involvement of violin in a global perspective is thus a major issue which has been discussed here.
This book seeks to establish that violin, with its structural potentiality, rises above the geographical boundaries of music and is as such elevated to the rank of an instrument for world music. It is quite natural that such a discussion does not include folk music within its purview and is consequently confined to classical Marga) music as practiced in north India, or in other words, Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet.
Relevant original Sanskrit sources have been consulted in solving some intricate and significant problems with appropriate references. Some compositions for the performing musicians have been incorporated in the concluding part of the book to make it interesting for the performers. The first part deals mainly with the historico-musicological aspect of the entire theme.
The purpose behind the discussion of the origin and historical development of violin s to explore the connecting link, of the instrument as being played by bow, between the practice followed by the ancient Indians and that by the rest of the world. Such a purpose induces me to work out the origin of violin and its different stages as in vogue in different parts of the world at different periods of history. Incidentally the role of expert manufacturers of violin both in India and in the West has also been taken into consideration.
The result which this book ventures to work out is that the present day violin in India is nothing but a case of its re-appearance in a modified and sophisticated version. This result may not be accepted by the readers. But one may find it worth considering for further discussion. Obviously the book is meant for readers who are not merely music lovers but are performing musicians, as well as inquisitive musicologists including students, both beginners and advanced. The first part of the book deals with the various aspects of evolution of this instrument at different stages of history, starting from the stone age.
The second part deals with the intricacies of the style of technique of playing violin. It records some compositions of classical music, both vocal and instrumental, preceded by a short analysis of the concept of musical scale (thaw) and raaga, the preparation for rigorous practice (sadhana) and the collateral requirement of meditation together with some ascetic habits.
Some musicologists are of opinion that the violin has an Indian ancestry which is traced to the ancient Indian civilization. These experts trace the gradual evolution of this instrument to one of the many varieties of bowed instrument found all over India in that age. One such variety is, in their opinion, the Ravanastram or Ravanayantram or Ravanahastam invented by Ravana, the mighty king of the then Lanka, now Sri Lanka. It is believed to be an instrument with strings to play on with the help of a bow. There are, however, different spellings of the name of this instrument. It is my proud privilege to acknowledge with deep gratitude and admiration the help and inspiration which I have received from stalwarts in this field and other scholarly personalities. It is but for their help and constant guidance that I have ventured to take the difficult task of writing this book.
First of all, I remember my parents Late Dr Bimal Ranjan Dey, my revered father and Srimati Late Suruchi Bala Devi, my revered mother who initiated me in music and took all the care and responsibility in introducing me to my Guru Late Ustad Matiur Rahaman Khan (Ustad Moti Mianh) who gave me the initial lessons in playing violin and also in classical vocal music. With the blessings of all of them I started my journey in performing music which is an unending task.
With deep respect from my heart, I remember my spiritual initiator Late Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj, former president, Ramakrishna Math & Mission, Belur. He inspired me to dive deep into the ocean of music in search of the abiding peace and joy of the soul. He helped me enormously by giving me many valuable books and research materials which I have considered to be of utmost importance in deciding to write this book. With equal respect and gratitude I remember Late Swami Prajnanananda Maharaj, the spiritual preceptor as well as the renowned philosopher and musicologist of India. He had also helped me by his enthusiastic discussions on the subject which I have tried to incorporate in this book to the best of my abilities.
Late Pandit Vishnu Govinda Jog, Padma Vibhushan, one of the very few top ranking renowned violinists, had been my musical gum for a long time. Most of my lessons that I pursue in playing violin are rooted in his tireless and ceaseless effort in guiding me through various stages of my musical career. I am deeply indebted to his way of imparting lessons in violin and I acknowledge my unfailing gratitude in recording a few of his own compositions in the next part. My musical lessons took the final shape in the hands of my gum Ustad Mi Akbar Khan Sahib, Padma Vibhushan, the topmost musician of India of his time and is recognized, in equal breath, over all parts of the world. My gratitude to him knows no bounds. MI that I try to produce in my performances are directly rooted to his teachings and guidance. I am not sure if I am successful enough to reproduce correctly what I have been taught.
I have learnt some of the difficult Raagas of Hindustani Music directly from Annapurna Devi, one of the chief exponents of Surbahar of Maihar Gharana. I offer my deep gratitude to her unfailing concern for me in imparting the lessons. From Pandit Ravi Shankar, Bharat Ratna, I learnt some rare Raagas, for a short time. Though the lesson is for a short period, it has created an everlasting impact upon my musical performance.
Late Pandit T. L. Rana, one of the very few top-ranking renowned musicians and musicologists, had come forward most generously in helping me to go through the intricate lessons of Dhrupad and Dhammar which, with his kind blessings, I have introduced in the style of my playing the violin. His lessons opened to me a vast horizon of the untold treasure of Indian music.
From Late Pandit Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury of Gouripur, the renowned Rababiya, I am fortunate enough to receive immense help in having access to rare traditional compositions of a variety of Raagas customarily practiced by Indian musicians. This does remain as an asset to my whole career both as a musician and as an academician. This book will go a long way in presenting before the readers the compositions into which Pandit Roy Chowdhury personally initiated me in early Seventies, just before he breathed his last.
I am grateful to the affectionate contribution, which worked as one of the chief sources of inspiration, rendered by Late Pandit Bimalakanta Roy Chowdhury, Late Pandit Ajay Sinha Roy, Late Professor Arun Bhattacharya, Late Professor Sisir Kumar Sen and Late Dr Bimal Roy. I remember these great personalities, with due respect, from the core of my heart.
To Sangeetacharya E. S. Perera I owe a great deal in all respects in my career. He was my colleague at the department of Instrumental Music, Rabindra Bharati University and he constantly kept me engaged in research activities on musicology. Unfortunately, he is no more with us. I am confident that he would have been immensely happy in seeing the publication of my research work in which he played a substantial role. I am equally grateful to Mrs. Amina Perera, his wife, who has helped me a lot in providing materials for this research work.
Barry Phillips, Santa Cruz, California, USA has helped me by providing necessary photographs and research materials. I am deeply indebted to him for his kindly helping me in working out the main theme. I am equally indebted to Sri Anindya Ghosh Choudhury in collecting important materials and photographs for this book. Indradeep Ghosh has also provided some important photographs.
From 1974 onwards I was fortunate enough to live in the guest house of Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Golpark, Kolkata, for a long time. This is all due to the affectionate attitude, which I take great pride in, of Late Swami Lokeswarananda Maharaj, the then Secretary of the institute. He gave me the opportunity of utilizing the vast and well-equipped library of the institute and took active interest in my musical activities. His deep concern for me always acted as a source of great inspiration.
In the course of writing this book, I have received immense cooperation from Swami Sarvabhutananda Maharaj, Secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, and Swami Geetatmananda Maharaj, Librarian of the Institute. They have helped me in getting access to some relevant source materials and the appropriate photographs. I am grateful to them for the help. While working in the Institute library, Srimati Gopa Basu Mallik and Srimati Reena Ghosh always stood by me in responding to my academic needs. I gratefully remember their cooperation. I am grateful to Mr. Shadulla (Tutubabu) of Dhaka, Bangladesh who has enormously helped me in providing materials for this book.
Pradip Kumar Sengupta, former Professor of Philosophy, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, worked as the supervisor of this project. The treatment of the book is done according as he has guided me in exploring the various historical stages of the modification of this instrument together with their musical / musicological undertones. I also gratefully remember the help which I have received from my granddaughter Kumari Riddhika. I.et me take the opportunity to put on record my gratitude and respect for my sister Srimati Jyotsna Dutta Roy for her untiring effort in collecting materials and other relevant information which constitute the vital aspect of this book. Her constant inspiration has enabled me in the entire process of writing this book upto the stage of taking it to the printer’s desk. Without her cooperation, it would not have been possible for me to complete this book, and this is a frank and sincere confession.
Sri Krishna Chandra Mondal, a renowned manufacturer of violin-family, belonging to the firm M/s N. N. Mondal & Co. has fortunately come forward in providing me the necessary and relevant photographs and incidental informatory materials. To him I owe a great deal because I have utilized his help to the best of my needs. I gratefully remember his help.
Sri Shib Sankar Mullick, with expertise in computer operating, has helped me in ways too numerous to mention. The processing of the manuscript of this book was left to his discretion. The scanning of all the photographs used in this book was done by him single-handedly. To acknowledge my indebtedness to his spontaneous cooperation in so many words would be to belittle him. This is taken for granted. He has very kindly processed the jacket design. In dealing with the informative details as gathered from the historical records of ancient Indian civilization, we have preferred to give a record of relevant approximate dates in a separate page in the Appendix.
There is no tall claim in this book. It is hereby acknowledged that some materials including photographs I diagrams used in this book are borrowed from different websites. I shall be happy if it provokes the readers in helping me with their valuable suggestions and constructive criticism which would enable me to revise the present shape of the book. I am grateful to Swami Paramatmanandaji Maharaj of Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, Kolkata, for his kindly agreeing to undertake the own of publishing this book. Swami Satyakamanandaji Maharaj has worked hard to see the book through the press. I am indebted to him for his unfailing concern to get the book published against many odds.
It is the most unfortunate part of my life that my guru, Baba Ustad Au Akbar Khan Sahib left his corporeal abode at the time when the manuscript was sent to the press. My desire to place my book at his noble feet and seek his blessings is thus shattered. May his soul rest in peace in the heaven of music which he tried to create all along his life for the human beings to enjoy. A brief homage to this great musical personality is being added here.
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