Only few kṛti-s enjoy the unique status of being both popular and liked by everyone. One such kṛti is ‘nagumōmu ganalēni’ of Tyāgarāja Svāmigaḷ. As much as the kṛti, the controversies surrounding the rāga of this kṛti too is equally popular. What is the rāga of this kṛti, Ābhēri or Karnāṭaka dēvagāndhāri? If it is ābhēri, which variety of dhaivatam is to be employed? If śuddha dhaivatam is to be employed, is it a different rāga from the Ābhēri of Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar? If so, is it allowed to have two lakṣaṇa for a single rāga? Almost all the students, performers, researchers and rasikā-s are equally aware of these questions. It is always a never ending debate whenever this kṛti is being played or heard. This article tries to find answers for some or all of these questions by considering the old versions, the keys to understand the truth.
Before we embark into analysis, let us first understand these rāga-s and the present version of this composition.
Ābhēri find its first mention in Saṅgīta Sudhā of Govinda Dīkśitar . This text and its successor, Caturdaṇḍiprakāśika of Vēṅkaṭamakhi consider this as a rāga with the svara-s taken by (present day rāga) Kīravāṇi. From the Rāga lakśaṇa of Śahaji onwards, this is considered as a rāga with the svara-s seen in the rāga Bhairavi. Rāga lakṣaṇa attributed to Vēṅkaṭamakhi also advocate the same lakṣaṇa. Thus the rāga Ābhēri had śuddha dhaivata from the period of Śahaji.
Though the svara variety has not changed, we see two different lakṣaṇa-s for this rāga across the texts. In several of our posts, we have classified the lakśaṇa grantha-s available into two types; those that explain a rāga by phrases and the other one, predominantly through a scale. The lakśaṇa grantha-s falling under the first category like the Rāga lakśaṇa of Śahaji, Saṅgīta Sārāmṛta of Tulaja etc., consider this as a sampūrṇa rāga with the svara-s rṣbham, dhaivatam and niṣādha varjya (omitted) in the ārohaṇa karma. Avarōhaṇa is sampurṇa. Hence we find phrases like GMPS or SMGMPSS. More about these phrases can be studied here. As expected, Rāga lakṣaṇa attributed to Vēṅkaṭamakhi follows the same structure and this is much elaborated by Subbarāma Dīkśitar in his text Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini. This old Ābhēri was visualized and immortalized by Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar in his kṛti ‘vīṇābhēri’ which can be heard here.
The other type is seen in the lakśaṇa grantha-s falling under the second category, namely Saṅgraha Cuḍāmaṇi and its allied texts like Rāga lakśana manuscript of unknown authorship, Saṅgita Sāra Saṅgrahamu and Mahābharata Cūḍāmaṇi. The rāga here follows the scale SGMPNS SNDPMGRS. Here, the svara niṣādha is present in ārōhaṇa karma and hence we see phrases like MPNS. Here, we do have an interesting point to ponder. Though the scales given in all the four texts are same, the Rāga lakśana manuscript of unknown authorship mention this rāga as Ābhīri and not Ābhēri! We will come to this a little later.
We can infer from the above discussion that there were two Ābhēri-s in practice between 17-19th centuries, though they take the same svara varieties. It can also be seen the dhaivata used is always of śuddha variety in both the varieties.
Popular version of the kṛti ‘nagumōmu ganalēni’
The presently rendered, popular version of this kṛti is in complete accordance with the lakśana of Ābhēri mentioned in Saṅgraha Cuḍāmaṇi and its allied texts. But the difference here is the dhaivatam employed in the present renditions; it is of catuśruti variety. We have seen Ābhēri always had śuddha dhaivata in the past. In such a case, can it be taken as a recent change happened in the last century?
Nagumōmu ganalēni – old versions
To get an answer for the question posed above, we need to look into the old versions available either as recordings or exist only in various texts and manuscripts. Let us now analyze the available versions.
Excluding a single version by Vidushi Saṅgita Kalānidhi R Vēdavalli, every other common rendition is sung only with catuśruti dhaivatam. She uses śuddha dhaivata throughout her rendition. Other than this, the basic structure of the kṛti is not much different between the versions.
In this section, we will be analyzing this kṛti in various published texts and unpublished texts. The first text taking account of this kṛti is Saṅgita Sarvārtha Sāra Saṅgrahamu of Vīṇa Rāmānujayya. The rāga-s assigned for Tyāgarāja kṛti-s in this book is a mystery and it requires a separate paper to address. For time being, we restrict ourselves to the kṛti in hand. The rāga of this kṛti is mentioned as Punnāgavarāḷi. Unfortunately, notation is not suffixed with the sāhityam.
The second text that makes a note of this kṛti is “Oriental Music in European Notation’ by AM Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār. He mention the rāga of this kṛti as Ābhēri, a janya of mēla 20, indicating the presence of śuddha dhaivatam. This text forms a new era as we find the rāga names (for Tyāgarāja kṛti-s) used here is to be followed by every other text published later (excluding few books which follow Saṅgita Sarvārtha Sāra Saṅgrahamu). Again, all the texts mention Ābhēri as a janya of 20, excluding a text published by Kākināḍa Kṛṣṇa Ayyar, published in the year 1911.2 This text forms an important source of reference as this author was a student of Paṭnam Subramaṇya Ayyar, one among the prime disciples of Mānambucāvaḍi Vēṅkaṭasubbaier. Vēṅkaṭasubbaier was a direct disciple of Svāmigal. At this moment of time, it is not possible to compare the version across this school. It is imperative to perform this, as it is very common to see the differences in the version, even among the members belonging to the same school. We shall provide a related example. Harikeśanallur Muttiah Bhāgavatar has a kṛti ‘īśvari rājēśvari’ in this rāga. He has treated this as a janya of mēla 20, that is with śuddha dhaivatam. It becomes clear now that the two musicians (Muttiah Bhāgavatar and Kākināḍa Kṛṣṇa Ayyar) belonging to the same Mānambucāvaḍi school giving two different lakṣaṇa for a single rāga! Unless we get some more versions from this family, we cannot conclude on the versions or the dhaivatha employed in this school.
Kṛṣṇa Ayyar clearly mentions Ābhēri as a janya of mēla 22, giving another important detail; this kṛti was sung with catuśruti dhaivatham even before Musiri Subramaṇya Ayyar cuts a record!
Version by Kākināḍa Kṛṣṇa Ayyar
This version is interesting in many aspects. First, it is the only early version which says catuśruti dhaivatam is to be employed. Second, it comes from one of the important disciple lineage of Svāmigal. Third, this version has one important phrase which gives an indication to identify the rāga of this version (not to be read as the kṛti).
The version here predominantly resembles the presently sung version with catuśruti dhaivatam. But, it has a very important phrase which can neither be detected nor allowed in the rāga Ābhēri. That key phrase, PNDNDP is found in the caraṇam of this kṛti. To understand the relevance of this phrase, we need to know about a rāga called as Dēvagāndhārī.
Dēvagāndhāri or Dēvagāndhāra
Dēvagāndhārī is an old rāga like Ābhēri seen from the text Saṅgīta Sudhā .1 In this text and in the treatises classified under the first type (see the section on Ābhēri), this rāga is said to be placed under Srīrāga mēla and should have catuśruti dhaivatam. This rāga is now referred as Karnāṭaka Dēvagāndhārī by some (See Footnote 1). This important phrase PNDNDP (or NDNDP) is seen in both sūlādi and gītaṃ notated in Pradarśini.3
Based on these evidences, it is clear that the version notated by Kākināḍa Kṛṣṇa Ayyar is better to be called as Dēvagāndhārī or Dēvagāndhāra or Karnāṭaka Dēvagāndhārī. It does not possess the features of the rāga Ābhēri, mentioned in any of the mentioned treatises.
We have another important version given by Taccur Brothers in the year 1905. They say Ābhēri is a janya of mēla 20 and the version is much similar to the present versions and the version given by Kākināḍa Kṛṣṇa Ayyar. Intriguingly, they give a phrase PNDNDP! The place where it occurs in the caraṇam too is same! Incidentally they have mentioned Karnāṭaka Dēvagāndhāri as a janya of mēla 21 and their Dēvagāndhāri is a janya of mēla 29 (the present popular Dēvagāndhāri).4
Have they got a version with catuśruti dhaivata and to be in line with the prevailing system, they have named it as Ābhēri? We raise this doubt considering the inconsistency seen in the versions and rāga lakṣaṇa given by them in their texts.
This kṛti is always a rare find in manuscripts. The popularity of a kṛti too differs across a century. In an article on the rāga Balahamsa, we have mentioned the popularity of the kṛti-s in the rāga Balahamsa in the earlier part of last century. Contrary to those kṛti-s, this kṛti seems to be relatively unpopular, at least until Musiri Subramaṇya Ayyar popularizing this. In our study, we were able to find only two manuscripts mentioning this kṛti – manuscripts by Bharatam Natēśa Ayyar and Śrīnivāsarāghavan.
Manuscript by Bharatam Natēśa Ayyar
Though the age of the manuscript is unknown, considering the time period of Natēśa Iyer (1855-1931), it can be very well believed to have been written either in the latter half of 19th century or in the first decade of 20th century. The notations does not have a mention about the use of dhaivatam. Though the basic structure of the kṛti is comparable to the common version, we see some unusual phrases to Ābhēri like SRGR, MRS, SGRGM and SNDMGS. This indicates the rāga of this kṛti could not be fitted in to any of the two varieties of Ābhēri mentioned!
Manuscript by Śrīnivāsarāghavan
Dr Śrīnivāsarāghavan was a nephew of Tillaisthānam Rāma Ayyaṅgar, a direct disciple of Svāmigal. But he has learnt from many sources; the sources that are known to us include Tillaisthānam Pañju Bhāgavatar and S A Rāmasvāmy Ayyar. His notebooks provide a valuable reference material to understand the tunes of the past as it is generally believed that he was faithful to the versions that he had learnt. In his notebooks, he has notated this kṛti, named it as Ābhēri and clearly says, it is a janya of mēla 20. To our surprise, the kṛti starts with the phrase PDNDPM, which is certainly not allowed in any of the two varieties of Ābhēri. He continues to surprise us by giving phrases like SRG, RGMG, GRG, SRGM and DNS. None of these phrases can be fitted into any of the two varieties of Ābhēri. An astute musician he was, he has mentioned the scale of this rāga as S(R)GMP(D)NS SNDPMGRS. Though the scale is much like Naṭabhairavi or its sampūrṇa janya-s like Nāgagāndhāri, Cāpaghaṇṭāravam et al, structure of the rāga, as evidenced from these phrases is strikingly different.
Vālājāpeṭṭai transcripts that we have make a note of this version. It mentions the rāga name as Ghaṇṭāravam! Since notations are not available, we are unable to proceed any further.
The versions see in these manuscripts might be insular. But this insularity is striking and is common to these versions seen in manuscripts.
There is a kṛti of Śyāma Sāstri ‘ninnuvina marigalada’ with two versions – one in Rītigaula and the other one in the mentioned in the texts. We are yet to get an older version and will be subjected to analysis once we procure.
What is the rāga of this kṛti?
The answer to this question depends on the version that we believe to be original and the lakṣaṇa embedded therein.
- If we rely on the version by Kākināḍa Kṛṣṇa Ayyar, it is better to call it as Dēvagāndhārī or Dēvagāndhāra. It is to be remembered that a lot of intra school differences exist within this school and we do not know whether this version was handed over to Kṛṣṇa Ayyar or it was the general version prevailed in Mānambucāvaḍi school. This becomes highly relevant as that determines the authenticity of the version.
- The version given by Bharatam Natēśa Ayyar and Śrīnivāsarāghavan cannot be placed into Ābhēri or Dēvagāndhāri / Dēvagāndhāra (irrespective of the dhaivatam). It is some unknown rāga, yet to be identified.
- The presently rendered version (śuddha dhaivatam version) is structured more like Ābhēri of the second class of treatises. In that case it could have been called by the name Ābhīrī, as seen in one of the treatise mentioned earlier. Over the years and also due to the ascension of Saṅgraha Cūḍāmaṇi, Ābhīrī could have been called as Ābhērī. Interestingly, there exists a rāga by name Ābhīr in Hindustani Music. The structure of this rāga is identical with Ābhēri seen in the present version using śuddha dhaivatam. The presently rendered catuśruti dhaivatam version, if it is added with the phrase PNDNDP can be comfortably called as Dēvagāndhārī / Dēvagāndhāra. In the absence of this arterial phrase, it is advisable to give a separate name as it does not satisfy the criteria to be called as Dēvagāndhāri / Dēvagāndhāra or Ābhērī.
- The presently heard versions could be actually an abridged version of the original with many of its non-scale abiding phrases removed.
- Getting a Vālājāpeṭṭai version definitely gives an added value.
This could be one of the apūrva rāga kṛti of Svāmigaḷ. Alternatively it could have been composed in an old rāga, yet to be identified. Perhaps, the lakṣaṇa seen in the version of Śrīnivāsarāghavan can be compared with all 20 mēla janya rāga-s.
Based on this analysis, it appears that the presently heard versions might not be portraying the complete lakṣaṇa of this rāga, as visualized by Svāmigaḷ. As with many other kṛti-s of Svāmigaḷ , we might be hearing a changed version(s).
The library in The Music Academy is a repository of many valuable manuscripts written in the early part of last century, like that of Bharatam Natēśa Ayyar. I thank Sri V Sriram, Secretary, The Music Academy for permitting me to access those valuable manuscripts.
I sincerely thank Dr Chandran, descendant of Dr Srinivasa Raghavan for parting me with the manuscripts in his possession.
1. Hema Ramanathan. Rāgalakṣaṇa Saṅgraha (collection of Rāga descriptions) from Treatises on Music of the Mēla Period with translations and notes, 2004.
2. Kākināḍa C S Kṛṣṇasvāmy Ayyar, Śrī Tyāgarāja Śata Kīrtana Svarāvali, 1911.
3. Subbarāma Dīkṣitulu. Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu, Vidyā Vilāsini Press, Eṭṭayapuraṃ Subbarāma Samasthānaṃ, 1905.
4. Taccur Śingarācāryulu, Cinna Śankarācāryulu. Gāyaka Siddhānjanamu. Kalā Ratnākara, Mudrākśara Śālā, Cennapuri, 1905.
In the second type of treatises, namely Saṅgita Sāra Saṅgrahamu Mahābharata Cūḍāmaṇi and Rāga lakśana manuscript of unknown authorship this rāga is called as Dēvagāndhāra considered as a janya of mēla 20 with the same scale as Ābhēri. In that instance the difference between Dēvagāndhāra and Ābhēri is not clear (as these texts do not furnish phrases or gītam). These three treatises along with Saṅgraha Cudāmaṇi also mention another rāga, Karnāṭaka Dēvagāndhāri with the same scale as Ābhēri and Dēvagāndhāra, but as a janya of mēla 21. Simply saying, Ābhēri mentioned in Saṅgīta Sudhā and Caturdaṇḍiprakāśika exist as Karnāṭaka Dēvagāndhārī in these texts.