Caturanana Pandita I – A Courtier-General & a Pontiff

Prologue:

Our country in the past has sired a great number of men whose valour, glory, contribution and many a times their very existence has been long forgotten, unwept and unsung. One such personality is Caturanana Pandita who is the subject matter of this blog post. He was a monk or the head of a monastic institution and  more precisely a ‘mahAvratin’ – (observer of a great vow) a member of a holy order of monks belonging to the kALAmukha sect of Saivas.  Historical records reveal that there was a succession of Caturanana Panditas between 950 CE-1175 CE, all of them being the head of the monastery at Tiruvottriyur (near Chennai) . The  subject matter of this post is Caturanana Pandita I who in fact set up the monastery at Tiruvottriyur and became its first titular head or Pontiff circa 957 CE. His history is an enigma and only through the works of a handful of epigraphists & historians, are we able to connect the dots and get to know this personality. This blog has been structured to look at the life sketch this Caturanana Pandita, the details as to the kALAmukha tradition of Saivas (which is virtually extinct today) to which he belonged to and we would end it of course with a homage by way of a composition.

An inscription attesting to this great personality was made 1077 years ago or to be exact, 14th of January 943 CE, in a temple in remote Tamilnadu.

kALAmukhas – A brief primer on an old Saivite tradition:

Sadly, as of today, no religious material or text in full pertaining to the practice of Kalamukhas have survived to reach us to provide us with first hand evidence as to their beliefs & practices. Lakulisa is the 28th avatara of Siva as mentioned in the Lingapurana. It is said that Lakulisa had four shishyas – Kusika, Garga, Maitreya and Kaurushya. From each of these four shishyas originated , Pasupata, Kapalika, Kalamukha and Saiva. According to the Vamana Purana, it is said that Kalamukhas were founded by Apastamba and his shishya Kratheshvara. The Kalamukhas based on inscriptional evidence seem to be orthodox brahmanas studying Veda and Sastra and thus different from Kapalikas.

The Kalamukhas were often clubbed together with the Kapalikas in terms of a negative portrayal by Ramanujacharya and Yamunacharya. Similar to the Kapalikas, some of the characters found in literary works such as “mAlatimAdhavA”, has cast even the kALAmukAs too in bad light. Notwithstanding the same it can be said the Kalamukhas were primarily reclusive students of Vedas and sastras – nyayavaisheshika in particular and were worshippers of Lord Shiva, who undertook ascetic vows thereby getting the designation of mahavratins.  They had their own matAs or monasteries and also enjoyed the patronage of the wealthy and the Royals. Their name derives from their practive of smearing their foreheads (sometimes the face) with a dark bhasma.

What commands our attention next is the form of Lord Shiva that these Saivas propitiated. While the fearsome Lord Bhairava was the presiding deity of the kApAlikAs, the Kalamukhas worshipped Lord Lakulisa. Lakulisa is represented as a naked yogi, carrying a japamala, a laguda or a club and a kapala or human skull. Befitting his yogic stance, he is also represented as urdhva-retah (ithyphallic). However there is an interesting form of Lakulisa , interpreted by some to be a form of Lord Dakshinamurti called as Gaulisa.  In this context I invite the attention of the discerning reader to the existence of a shrine in Tiruvottriyur , near Chennai in the temple complex of Lord Adipureesvara, wherein this form is enshrined. See Foot Note 1.

With this quick introduction to kaLAmukhas , we will quickly go back in time when the Medieval Cholas to the late 9th Century were entrenching themselves as a significant power in Southern Tamilnadu with their capital first at Uraiyur and later at Tanjore. Readers may remember that we encountered this piece of history in a previous blog post dealing with the quest for the long-lost Goddess Nishumbasudani of Tanjore.

Medieval Cholas – Circa 930 AD

King Vijayalaya Chola’s (the founder of the lineage of the medieval Cholas) son Aditya I who was the Chola ruler with his capital at Tanjore, at this point in time was buffeted by the Pallavas of Kanci and the Rashtrakutas of Deccan from the North and by the Pandyas and Cheras from the west and without significant military clout was unable to expand the boundaries of the Kingdom. It would be nearly 70 years later that the Cholas would reach their zenith under Emperor Raja Raja Chola ( closer to 1000 AD) and his son Rajendra Chola in establishing complete suzerainty of peninsular India. Nevertheless, it would be Aditya I’ son & grandsons who would lay the foundation for the medieval Cholas at this point in time. Aditya I’s eldest son was Parantaka I. In order to build relationships and neutralize enemies, as was the custom & practice of those times, Aditya I reached out to the Chera King (of mAkOttai as is referred in epigraphs) and had his son Parantaka I married to the Kerala Princess Kokkilan Atikal. Their son was the famous Prince Rajaditya a.k.a Kodandarama. ( see featured image , header to this blog post). This Prince was the scion of that lineage having both the Chola and Chera blood flowing in his veins, reflecting a great royal alliance of those times.

Prince Rajaditya was a young and brave warrior and as Crown Prince he went on to become the Commandant of the garrison of Chola forces at the northern borders of the Kingdom being thirumunaipAdi nAdu quartered at the place today known as Tirunavalur or Tirunamanallur. This region of modern-day Tamil Nadu is called Tondaimandalam and the valiant Crown Prince was anointed as the Viceroy of this northern bulwark of the Chola Kingdom. And most likely his entire retinue including probably his mother Queen Kokilan as well perhaps moved to this place to be with him. Or at the least the Queen must have visited this place frequently to be with her son. For, this Tirunavalur is also known to epigraphists as “Rajadityapuram” and the Siva temple there is recorded as having been endowed by Prince Rajaditya’s mother, the aforesaid Queen Kokkilan, of the Chera Royal House. Earlier when this Kerala Princess moved to her matrimonial home at Tanjore and into the Royal Chola household, a retinue of noblemen, warriors and also retainers too moved along with her from the Chera land accompanying her to Tanjore. And likely one amongst those, was a young Chera warrior by name Vellan Kumaran or to be precise Vallabhan Kumaran (corrupted to Vellan Kumaran) who was perhaps a son of one of those who moved in with the Chera Princess. And this young warrior went on to become a retainer, an aide-de-camp and thereafter a close, intimate friend and confidante of Crown Prince Rajaditya. The Chola records dating back to those times indicate that this Vellan Kumaran hailed from a place called Puttur on the banks of the Nandi river and he was a man of eminence hailing from Kerala (malainAdu)and he was a loyal and unswerving commander of the Prince (Rajaditya). The records further record that this warrior despite being a migrant to the Chola land had a meteoric rise in the Chola military ranks rising to the level of dandanAyakA or a Commander (perumpadai nAyakar in Tamil) and also was perhaps a vassal or perhaps an anointed chieftain of a Chola fiefdom as well. Chola records dating to this period hold that Vellan Kumaran was a ‘mUlabhritya’ of Prince Rajaditya and Dr V Raghavan records the following inscription from thsoe times, which attests to the foregoing:

Epigraphist S R Balasubramanian deduces the date of this inscription, found at the temple of Lord Siva at Tirumundeesvaram or Tirumudiyur or Mouligramam or Gramam ( as it is called today),  to 14th January AD 943, 1077 years ago ! ( see Foot note 2)

Dr Raghavan goes on to deduce that Vallabhan Kumaran alias Vellan Kumaran was not merely a warrior but he also exhibited scholarly and spiritual attainments and thus was ‘supratishthita-dhi’ or to use the vocabulary of Gita, a stitha-prajna .

And thus in short, Vellan Kumaran was a close companion and an indispensable member of Crown Prince Rajaditya’s Royal entourage ever since Prince Rajaditya assumed command of the Tirumunaipadi garrison, circa 930 AD leading up to the Battle of Takkolam (in 949 AD). During this period as Dr V Raghavan notes, a number of epigraphical evidences underlines Vellan Kumaran ‘s munificence and also the special relationship he shared with Prince Rajaditya.

In a while we will see that this epic Battle of Takkolam would prove a proverbial turning point not just for the Royal House of Medieval Cholas but also for Vellan Kumaran personally.

The Battle of Takkolam & Vellan Kumaran’s remorse

This is a contemporary depiction of the Battle of Takkolam (949 CE) as it is shown on a pillar of a temple built by Butuga II (939-960 CE) of the Western Ganga dynasty (a Rashtrakuta empire vassal) as a fitting finale to his victory over the Cholas of Tanjore at the Takkolam battle. The reliefs on the circular pillars of the Nandi Mandapa depict the defeat of Chola commander Rajaditya by Butuga Il who fought for the Rashtrakutas. Location: Arakeshwara temple (also spelt Arakeshvara or Arakesvara) in Hole Alur, Chamarajanagar district, Karnataka state, India.

Ever since Crown Prince Rajaditya was anointed as the commander of the northern Chola outpost at thirumunaipAdi nAdu, things began boiling on those frontiers. The Rashtrakuta King Krishna III ( referred to as Kannaradeva in inscriptions) , an adversary of the Cholas , during those times, decided to take on the Cholas led by the valiant Crown Prince Rajaditya and the battle was fought in Takkolam, a town today in North Arcot/Vellore District in Tamilnadu in the year 949 AD. According to Prof Nilakanta Sastri, the Rashtrakutas allied with the Banas and Vaidumbas along with the Western Ganga clan of Kings and went into the battle against the Cholas. Crown Prince Rajaditya died in this battle leading the Chola forces.

According to historical records, Butuga II of the Western Ganga clan who was fighting the Cholas alongside the Rashtrakutas, killed Prince Rajaditya, seated on an elephant, by deceit. Chola records of the period bemoan the death of the young & valiant Chola Prince & heir apparent eulogizing him as ‘AnaimEl tunjiya tEvar’ (the Prince who gave up his life, atop an elephant).  The Leyden Copper Plates tracing the Chola history recounts the event in its narrative as under:

“ The heroic Rajaditya, the ornament of the Solar race, having shaken in battle the unshakeable Krishna Raja with his forces by means of his sharp arrows flying in all directions, was himself pierced in his heart while seated on the back of  a large elephant, by the sharp arrows of the enemy and thus won the praise of the three worlds even as he ascended to the heaven of heroes in a tall vimana.”

While it definitely plunged the Royal House and the entire Chola Kingdom into grief, for Vellan Kumaran the Prince’s unfortunate and sudden demise would have been emotionally catastrophic, for he was the Prince’s vayasya – a constant companion and friend. It is known that for some unknown reason, Vellan Kumaran had not been by the side of the Crown Prince that fateful afternoon at the battlefield at Takkolam and most probably it added a further element emotional & mental trauma of not being there to defend his bosom friend and master.

Left to survive alone, without his much beloved Crown Prince, master and a bosom friend, this great warrior Vellan Kumaran went through pangs of guilt. The trauma that he underwent is captured by the following Sanskrit inscription which also captures the atonement that this great warrior resorted to, so as to assuage and rid himself of his feelings of guilt.

”bālye vidyāsamastās svayam adhigatavān bāhuśālī viśālībhūtoras sthāpitaśrīr bhuvanahitarataś coladeśaṃ sametya |

rājādityasya rājñaḥ prakaṭataragurusnehasamāntabhāvaṃ yaḥ prāpto’sannidhānāt sahamaraṇasukhaṃ saṃyuge tena nāptataḥ ||

Epigraphia Indica 27 (1947–48), no. 47: v. 2. Page 292-

Translation:

That strong armed one, having acquired as a child all the sciences of the world, and with Śrī fixed on his broad chest, and devoted to the welfare of the world ( i.e Vellan Kumaran) , entered the lands of the Chola, and achieved the position of a vassal of king Rājāditya on account of his great and very transparent affection, but did not obtain, owing to his absence, the happiness of dying with him together on the battlefield.

While we have no access to the feelings of Rājāditya and can only guess that Veḷḷaṉ Kumāraṉ’s remembrance and words such as Sneha points to a very close intimacy that is now sadly lost to us.  This is however attested by scholars who have studied this part of history.

Vellan Kumaran becomes Caturanana, the mahavratin :

Left to fend for himself emotionally and inwardly consumed by his pangs of guilt, history tells us this warrior left for Kashi seeking to cleanse his so-called sin that he himself deemed to have incurred (albeit for no fault of his). Dr V Raghavan in his commentary on the aforesaid inscription in Epigraphia Indica, mentions that Vellan Kumaran came to be inspired by one Niranjana Guru of Tiruvottriyur (Adigrama or Adipuri as it was known in ancient times) and whereupon sometime between 952 AD- 957AD, he perhaps first lived as a recluse in a cave at Tiruvottriyur which was perhaps the same cave which was inhabited decades prior by the said Niranjana Guru (Niranjana -guha). He then took upon the vow to cleanse his conscience, became a mahavratin and thereafter came to be known as Caturanana Pandita. Dr V Raghavan makes very interesting observations and deductions as to this transformation of Vellan Kumaran, a warrior into a monk Caturanana who then established a monastery (matha) at Tiruvottriyur.

In sum, Caturanana Pandita I was Vellan Kumaran is his pUrvAsrama and a warrior, between 930 AD – 945 or 949 AD (the year of the battle of Takkolam) and as the monk and as a Pontiff with the name of Caturanana Pandita between 949 or 950 till 959 AD where upon all records about his existence as available to us, fall silent. It is known that he was succeeded by a lineage of Pontiffs who all took the same titular appellation of Caturanana Pandita all the way till 1173 AD again where after, no mention of any Caturanana Panditas or of the matha at Tiruvottriyur survives for our benefit. According to Dr Raghavan there is no trace of this matha or its remnants anywhere in Tiruvottriyur today. It has to be mentioned that it was at the instance of one of the subsequent Caturanana Panditas that the vimAnam / temple tower for Lord Adhipurisvara of the Tiruvottriyur temple was built by the Chola Kings later in the 11th century.

In the context of Vellan Kumaran’s absence from Prince Rajaditya’s side in the Takkolam Battle theories abound and the take of historians on the same is given in Foot note 3.

MUSICAL HOMAGE TO THE GREAT SOUL

As attested to by Dr V Raghavan nothing survives to us from that age of roughly 1000 odd years back from today. Neither is there any trace of the matha/monastery at Tiruvottriyur or that of any immediate vestiges or artifacts attesting to the existence of the first Caturanana Pandita nee Vallabhan or Vellan Kumaran, save for the inscriptions that have come to us from those times. The temple complex at Tiruvottriyur being the shrine of Lord Adhipurisvara and the shrine of Lord Dakshinamurti or Gaulisa, the presiding deity of the kALAmukhas, therein are the only mute witnesses who can testify to this historical character and his existence. As we know Tiruvottriyur is one of the seven viTanka ksetras, being an abode of Lord Tyagaraja, the sOmAskanda form of Lord Shiva. And as a musical homage to that great soul Caturanana Pandita I, presented here is a composition on Lord Tyagaraja at Tiruvottriyur by Tiruvottriyur Tyagier, son of the great composer Veena Kuppayyar.

Both Dr V Raghavan and Dr Daud Ali in their works espouse a much higher and different level of friendship / affinity / closeness / intimacy that Vellan Kumaran and Prince Rajaditya shared. It is inferable that the protagonists must have shared this affinity mutually. For us today the closest emotion or bhava one can get to, in terms of the yearning they must have shared for each other can at best only be equated to the emotion of Virahotkantitha Nayika (विरहोत्कंठित नायिका – One distressed by separation), a highly aesthetic emotion being one amongst the so-called bouquet of eight, in the world of dance & music. And it certainly would have been an equivalent emotion, one of separation that Vellan Kumaran would have suffered post 949 AD along with his feelings of guilt and remorse.

In line with this bhAva, I seek to present a composition which in fact depicts a love lorn nAyikA, dispatching her friend with a message to her nAyakA, Lord Tyagaraja at Tiruvottriyur, asking him not to tarry and be in communion with her. And one can certainly place the song in perspective, as Vellan Kumaran in his metamorphosis as the mahAvratin Caturanana Pandita would have transformed that yearning or emotion, by directing that to Lord Tyagaraja, the Lord of Tiruvottriyur, the very place where he spent the rest of his life.

This composition ‘sAmi nI rammanavE sArasAkshirO’ is a sprightly pada varna in the raga Kedaram, set in rupaka tala rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanian. The varna as one can notice has sahitya for its cittasvara and ettugada svara sections which are rendered fully by the Vidvan.

CONCLUSION:

History is littered with many such undiscovered personalities and great men who made a lasting contribution during their life time. In the instant case from amongst several warriors Vellan Kumaran, a person who wasn’t a member of the Chola Royal House, is singled out in the Chola inscriptions of those times. And it must have been doubtless for some great contribution and importance, to the Kingdom. Again, given that he was a man of letters as well, it’s a tragedy that we know next to nothing about his contribution in his second life as Caturanana Pandita , except that the matha / monastery that he founded survived for more than 200 years after his demise and with his successors commanding the greatest of respect from successive Chola Kings, which is no mean feat. And so, His Holiness Caturanana Pandita I, a preceptor and founder of the great and now lost kALAmukha matha at Tiruvottriyur must have truly been a great man of those times. May glory be to him!

References:

  1. David N Lorenzen (1972) – “The Kapalikas and Kalamukhas”- Published by Thomson Press (India) Ltd – pp 73-140
  2. Dr V Raghavan (1947-1948) – Item No 47: “Tiruvorriyur Inscription of Caturanana Pandita”- Epigraphia Indica Vol XXVII- Printed & Published by the Govt of India; pp 292-303
  3. K V Subramanya Aiyar (1923)- ‘Travancore Archaeological Series Vol III – page 202
  4. K A Nilakanta Sastri (1955) – The Colas (English)– University of Madras- pp 128-139
  5. Dr Daud Ali (2017)- “The Death of a Friend: Companionship, Loyalty and Affiliation in Chola South India” – Studies in History Volume: 33 issue: 1, page(s):36-60 – Published by Jawaharlal Nehru University & Sage Publications
  6. Rajeswari Ghose (1996)- “The Lord of Arur, The Tyagaraja Cult in Tamil Nadu-A Study in conflict and Accommodation” published by Motilal Banarsidass – pp 148-181
  7. S R Balasubramanian (1971) – “Early Chola Temples”- published by Orient Longman Ltd – pp 299-309
  8. S R Balasubramanian (1975) – “Middle Chola Temples”- published by Thomson Press India Ltd – pp 299-309
FOOT NOTE 1:

The Gaulisa icon, being a variant of Lord Dakshinamurti, worshipped by kALAmukhAs, as enshrined in the temple complex at Tiruvottriyur has a yogic posture, four-armed, lower right arm in cin-mudra pose, the lower left hand is held parallel to the ground and close to the torso with the palm open upwards, the upper right hand holds a trident and the upper left hand holds a bowl. This unique icon has bewildered iconographers and historians as it is an odd and a not encountered elsewhere, form of Lord Shiva. The article tilted “Kalamukhas and an Interesting Dakshinamurti Image” – available in the URL below is an excellent commentary on this icon by Dr R Nagaswamy which can be read profitably – http://tamilartsacademy.com/articles/article04.xml

FOOT NOTE 2:

Archaeologist & Epigraphist S R Balasubramaniyan in his work opines that Tirumundeesvaram or Tirumudiyur or Mouligramam or Gramam (as it is called today) was perhaps the place which was the garrison town of the Cholas which was commanded by Prince Rajaditya. He even ventures to state that the name Tirumudiyur came to be assigned to this place as perhaps the anointment of Prince Rajaditya as the Crown Prince and heir apparent took place here and its from here that Prince Rajaditya perhaps held Court as the region’s Viceroy. The inscription records a number of grants made by Vellan Kumaran to this temple of Lord Sivalokanathasvami, situated on the south banks of the Pennai river, near Tirukkoyilur.

http://know-your-heritage.blogspot.com/search/label/Sivalokanathar%20Temple

In so far as the nativity of Vellan Kumaran is concerned , on a similar vein the Travancore Archaeological Series records that the village of Puttur situated in the banks of the Nandi River (as described in the Chola inscription) in Kerala, refers to the village of the same name located near Tirparappu, in Kanyakumari District, the river now being known as Nandiaaru.

http://tourmet.com/thirunandhikarai-cave-temple/

FOOT NOTE 3:

Historians like Prof Fleet,  based on Rashtrakuta inscriptions have hypothesized that Vellan Kumaran was a spy of the Rashtrakuta King Krishna and had a hand in the treacherous killing of Prince Rajaditya and which is why he wasn’t fighting beside him in the Battle of Takkolam. Both Prof Nilakanta Sastri and Dr V Raghavan with authority and proper reading of the Chola and Rashtrakuta inscriptions, cogently, authoritatively and conclusively negate Prof Fleet’s hypothesis as untrue. Dr V Raghavan goes on to say that such a conclusion is a baseless conjecture. Nevertheless, he also points out there is no inscription referring to Vellan Kumaran during the period of 943 AD and 957 AD & given that the Battle of Takkolam being dateable to the year 949 AD, the question that begs for an answer is where was this Commander Vellan Kumaran between AD 943-949?  Though historians like Prof Fleet probably looked at that as an evidence of Vellan Kumaran being a spy of the Rashtrakutas and having weaned him away, Krishna III found it easier to eliminate Prince Rajaditya, one is left grappling with a very tricky question. One wonders whether Prince Rajaditya directed Vellan Kumaran to be with his father Parantaka I, in case the war with the Rashtrakutas turned against the Cholas and Krishna III landed up outside the Tanjore Fort? And is that why Vellan Kumaran did not fight alongside Prince Rajaditya at Takkolam? This line of argument is a hypothesis and there is no shred of direct or collateral evidence to back this up. Be that as it may, the Tiruvottriyur inscription of 957 AD which captures the grief and the act of atonement of Vallabhan/Vellan Kumaran still leaves this question tantalizingly open for us.

It has to be pointed out that Prince Rajaditya was a also a great benefactor for modern Tamil Nadu as he was the one built the Veeranarayana Eri (Lake) or Veeranam Lake, which supplies water to Chennai and irrigates several acres of land by storing up the floods/surplus Cauvery waters, which would go waste when discharged directly to the sea, via Kollidam, in order to prevent floods in Tanjore delta areas. Legend has it that when Prince Rajaditya had mobilized his army to take on the Rashrakutas, he had to idle his troops till such time the weather/season and time was in his favour. In the interregnum he proceeded to deploy the troops productively by conceptualizing the Veeranarayana Eri (Lake) or Veeranam Lake and had it constructed by them to store the surplus waters and also prevent flooding of downstream Tanjore delta areas! Such was his foresight that till date the lake remains the largest man-made lake in this part of the world and an irrigational infrastructural marvel of the Cholas.

https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/a-chola-gift-to-chennai/article7089318.ece

Apurva raga-s handled by Tyagaraja Svamigal – Phalaranjani

Dr Aravindh T Ranganathan

This article was published in “Sruti” May, 2019 issue.

Śrī nārasiṃha māṃ pāhi is one of the very few kṛti-s of Tyāgarāja Svāmi on Lord Narasiṃha. It can be considered as a generic kṛti as we don’t see any reference to a particular kṣetraṃ. Earlier texts assign this particular kṛti to a rāgaṃ ‘Phalaranjani’, though we frequently hear this in the rāgaṃ ‘Phalamanjari’. This kind of confusion with respect to rāga nomenclature is very common as Svāmigal himself didn’t reveal the name of these apūrva rāga-s to his disciples (1). Years later, either his disciples or some other musician (s) were instrumental in assigning these rāga names. This topic has been discussed several times in The Music Academy conferences and it is the view of some musicologists that Taccur Siṅgarācāryulu was the musician involved and he named these rāga-s by referring to a treatise, namely Saṅgraha Chūḍamaṇi, whose authorship is unknown (2). Analysis of the available evidences reveals several inconsistencies with respect to the rāgaṃ of this kṛti and its lakṣaṇa. This article will be analyzing the musical aspects of this kṛti addressing the above said issue in the light of  Vālājāpet notations.

Vālājāpet notations

Vālājāpet manuscripts form an important source to understand the kṛti-s of Saint Tyāgarājā. These manuscripts were written by Vālājāpet Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar (VVB) and his son Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar (VKB). It is even said Tyāgarājā could have seen this as they were recorded during his life time.(3) These notations were preserved at Madurai Sourāṣtra Sabha and the transcripts are available in GOML, Chennai. Few of these transcripts can be accessed online here (4). These transcripts are the main source for this article. In the absence of first hand records made by Tyāgarājā, these notations form a very valuable and authentic source to understand the version learnt by his prime disciple Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar and his son. These notations when used appropriately help us to solve many problems seen with the apūrva kṛti-s of the Saint. 

‘Srī nārasiṃha māṃ pāhi’ in earlier texts

It is not a common kṛti to be seen in the earlier texts published between late 1800 and early 1900; it is even rarer to see this kṛti in notation. For the first time we see this kṛti in the text Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāra Saṅgrahamu by Vīṇā Rāmanuja (5). Here, it is mentioned as Phalamanjari, but notations or the lakṣaṇaṃ of the rāgaṃ is not provided. It serves no purpose to our study other than to know that this kṛti was in circulation even during 1857. The contents published in this book, especially those of Tyāgarāja kṛti-s in partial or complete can be seen in several texts published later like the texts published by Rāmanujadāsā (1895), Thangavēlu Mudaliyār (1905) et al. Whether they are exact reproductions of the earlier text or they are reproduced from different sources is not known. All these texts too are blinded towards rāga lakṣaṇaṃ of Phalamanjari. So,  Phalamanjari mentioned by them is the same as Phalamanjari mentioned in various lakṣaṇa granthā-s or it is a different one is unfathomable.

AM Chinnaswāmy Mudaliyār in his text ‘Oriental Music in European Notation’ (1893) mention the rāga of this kṛti as Phalaranjani for the first time placing it under the mēla 28, Harikāmbhoji (6). It is to be remembered that the main resource person for this text was Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavathar, though it was further approved by some other disciples of Tyāgarāja Svāmi. Same information can also be seen in the book published by Tillaisthānaṃ Narasiṃha Bhāgavatar in 1908 (7) and by SA Rāmasvāmy Ayyar (8) under the pseudonym Rāmānanda Yogi  in 1910. None of them give us the notations.

Taccur brothers, for the first time gives this kṛti in notation in their book published in the year 1912. They consider it as Phalamanjari and place it under the mēla 22. (9)

From the above discussion it is clear that this kṛti was not a popular one and not every musician was aware of this. Sources from Vālājāpet and Tillaisthānaṃ disciple lineage consider this as Phalaranjani, placing it under the mēla 28. Taccur brothers and other texts, whose source of this kṛti is unknown, placed it under the mēla 22. Also, only the book by Taccur brothers gives us this kṛti in notation.

Rāga lakṣaṇaṃ

Phalaranjani

Before proceeding further, lakṣaṇaṃ of Phalaranjani and Phalamanjari are discussed for getting a better understanding of this kṛti.

Phalamanjari cannot be seen in any of the lakṣaṇa grantha-s available. For the first time, it can be seen in ‘Oriental Music in European Notation’. Vālājāpet manuscripts too mention this name. Knowing the association between VKB and Chinnaswāmy Mudaliyār and the truth that Svāmi didn’t reveal the name of these apūrva rāga-s , it can be speculated that a musician known to Vālājāpet disciple or Vālājāpet disciple like VVB or VKB themselves might have named this rāgaṃ. This was then followed by Tillaisthānaṃ disciples too. Alternatively, a revered disciple of Tyāgarājā could have named this. The scale as deduced from Vālājāpet version (from Vālājāpet notations) is SGMPMDS   SNDPMGMRS.

Rāga pravāhaṃ (10) mentions about this rāgaṃ. Scale given here is same as mentioned above; but it is placed under the mela 22.  Usually, this text mentions the source from which a particular rāgaṃ was taken. For example, when mentioning the rāgaṃ Phalamanjari, it gives three entries and gives the source for these three entries namely Palaiyāzhi (two entries) and Sangīta Svara Prastāra Sāgaramu of Nāthamuni Panditar. Strangely, in the case of Phalaranjani, no such reference is given. Perhaps, the scale in which this kṛti is sung now is given for the sake of completion. Another Phalaranjani is given under mēla 28 with a different scale – SGPDS  SNDPMGMRS ; again source for this scale is not given.

Phalamanjari

Phalamanjari is mentioned as a janya of mēla 15 by Śahāji and Tulajā. Saṅgraha Chūḍamaṇi and its allied texts consider this as a janya of mēla 22, Kharaharapriya. Scale of this rāgaṃ, and  considering this as a janya of mēla 22 is uniform across the texts – SGMDS  SNDPMGMRS. It is not SGMPMDS in the ārōhaṇaṃ. This rāgaṃ can be seen invariably in any text that acts as a lexicon for these synthetic scales. Many varieties of Phalamanjari seem to exist and they are not discussed here as they do not come under the scope of this paper.

Notated versions of ‘Srī nārasiṃha māṃ pāhi’

Version by Taccur brothers

As said earlier, text by Taccur brothers is the single early text to give this kṛti in notation. Scale given by them is   SGMDS  SNDPMGMRS. Interestingly, a phrase SRGGRS is seen which cannot be fit into the given ārohaṇaṃ-avarōhaṇaṃ. Usually, kṛti-s in rāga-s like this follows the scale exactly. This raises a doubt regarding the rāgaṃ of this kṛti. Taccur brothers not acknowledging the musician who gave this version is to be remembered here.

It is a must to validate the rāgaṃ given in early texts like the books by Taccur brothers, Sangīta Sarvārtha Sāra Saṅgrahamu and its like as extreme discordance with the rāga name and the commonly accepted lakṣaṇa can be seen. For instance, Taccur brothers mention the ragaṃ of the kṛti ‘sattaleni dinamu’ of Tyāgarāja Svāmi as Jayantasenā. But an analysis of the notation provided rule out the mentioned rāgaṃ, as ṛṣabhaṃ is seen throughout the krithi and  Jayantasenā, being a ṛṣabha vaṛjya rāgaṃ cannot fit in (11).Though their immense service is to be acknowledged, only notated compositions are to be considered for research and those too only after a scrutiny is emphasized. All these facts raise suspicion regarding the rāgaṃ of this kṛti.

Tillaisthānaṃ version

Pārthasāradhi has given this kṛti in notation in a book published by him. He has learnt from Dr Srīnivāsa Rāghavan, a descendant of Tillaisthānaṃ Rāma Ayyaṅgār, a disciple of Tyāgarāja Svāmi (12). He mentions as Phalaranjani, a janya of mēla 28 and gives the scale as SGMDS  SNDPMGMRS. Here too, phrases like MPM,DNP and GRGM are found which don’t fit into the given scale.

‘Srī nārasiṃha māṃ pāhi’ in unpublished manuscripts

Much valuable information can be obtained by analyzing these unpublished manuscripts existing as a private collection. Inference obtained from few of these is provided here.

Vālājāpet notations                                                           

Importance of these notations is already mentioned. These notations, though mention the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Phalaranjani, did not give information about the mēla (of this rāgaṃ) or its scale. Scale can be easily deduced from the notation provided. For mēla assignation, book by Chinnaswāmy Mudaliyār is followed as the resource person is same (belongs to Vālājāpet lineage).

Version given here adhere exactly to the scale SGMPMDS  SNDPMGMRS. Phrases outside this scale can never be seen. The saṅgati-s are organized in such a way that the rāga structure is easily grasped. This is set to the tālaṃ  dēśādhi.

First two saṅgati-s clearly gives us an idea about the lakṣaṇa of this rāgaṃ and the same continues throughout the kṛti without creating any ambiguity. Gandaram, pañcamaṃ and dhaivathaṃ were used as gṛha svaraṃ-s and lot of pratyāgata phrases like NDD,DPP, PMM and RSS can be seen thoughout the kṛti.   Vālājāpet version can be heard here.                             

Manuscript of SA Rāmasvāmy Ayyar

SA Rāmasvāmy Ayyar is a disciple of both Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavathar and Umayāḷpuraṃ Kṛṣṇa and Sundara Bhāgavathar. Both were the direct disciples of Tyāgarāja Svāmi and he was a fortunate disciple to represent both these schools. He has notated (11) this kṛti and it is exactly in line with the Vālājāpet notations with respect to rāga lakṣaṇaṃ and basic structure of the kṛti. He has published a book (text only) wherein he clearly mentions the rāgaṃ and tālaṃ of this kṛti (see above discussion). To identify the source from which he learnt this kṛti (Vālājāpet or Umayāḷpuraṃ), sāhityam may be taken as a guide. Whereas Vālājāpet version (and the version by Tillaisthānaṃ Narasiṃha Bhāgavatar) reads the first line in anupallavi as ‘dīnārthi nivāraṇa bhavya guṇā’ , Umayāḷpuraṃ version (and the version by Taccur brothers) read as ‘dīnārthi bhaya hara bhavya guṇā’. It can be surmised that his source for this kṛti was from a Valajapet disciple. Additionally this also authenticates Vālājāpet notations.  

Umayāḷpuraṃ version

Umayāḷpuraṃ version too consider this as a janya of mēla 28. Scale is not given though we can redact it as SGMPDPMDS  SNDPMGMRS. Here too, Gandaram, pañcamaṃ and dhaivathaṃ were used as gṛha svaraṃ-s and lot of pratyāgata phrases like NDD,DPP, PMM and RSS can be seen thoughout the kṛti (13). Basic outline is much in line with Vālājāpet version. Main point of difference between this and Vālājāpet version is the phrase PDP which occurs only once. Whether it is to be considered as a time related change or not is a point to ponder.

Manuscript in the possession Srīvañchiyaṃ Rāmachandra Ayyar

A manuscript of unknown authorship in the possession of  Srīvañchiyaṃ Rāmachandra Ayyar mentions the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Pratāpacintāmaṇi, a janya of mēla 28. No inference can be made as the manuscript lack notation.

Comparison between Vālājāpet notations and the version by Taccur brothers

If we replace the sādhāraṇa gāndhāraṃ with antara gāndhāraṃ (making it as a janya of mēla 28), version by Taccur brothers resemble Vālājāpet version in the basic structure excluding the phrase SRGGRS. This makes one to hypothesize – was the kṛti sung only as a janyaṃ of mela 28 and Taccur brothers changed that to mēla 22 as Phalaranjani was totally unknown to them and earlier texts like Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāra Saṅgrahamu, which they followed say it as Phalamanjari ?

‘Srī nārasiṃha māṃ pāhi’ in oral tradition

Very few recordings of this kṛti are available in the public domain. All except one were labeled as Phalamanjari and consider it as a janyaṃ of mēla 22. The recordings adhere to the scale SGMPMDS  SNDPMGMRS. Frequency of hearing the phrase of MPM varies with the rendition. In one rendition the phrase GMDNSNDMGMRS is also found. A version considering Phalaranjani as a janya of mēla 22 can be heard here.

Version by Sangīta Kalānidhi Smt R Vēdavalli is labeled as Phalaranjani and considered as a janyaṃ of mēla 28. That too, adheres to the mentioned scale of Phalaranjani, but different from the Vālājāpet version with some additional phrases like DNP.

Conclusion

The following conclusions can be drawn from the above discussion:

1. Vālājāpet notations were the first one to use the name Phalaranjani and there is extreme adherence to the scale.

2. Almost all the earlier texts give the name Phalaranjani and consider this as a janyaṃ of mēla 28. Only Taccur brothers consider this as Phalamanjari, considering it as a janyaṃ of mēla 22. Were they influenced by the texts like Sangīta Sarvārtha Sāra Saṅgrahamu, as they were the editors of the later editions of the mentioned text is to be considered.

3. Vālājāpet version, an existing old version was passed on to next generation as evidenced by analyzing unpublished manuscripts. Identical basic structure of this kṛti seen in Vālājāpet notations, version by SA Rāmasvāmy Ayyar and Umayāṃpuraṃ version can be remembered here denoting the validity of the basic musical structure seen in the Vālājāpet notations.

4. Whereas Phalaranjani version (janya of mēla 28) is commonly associated with this kṛti in textual tradition, Phalamanjari (janya of mēla 22) version is commonly associated with this kṛti in oral tradition.

5. This article highlights the importance of analyzing Vālājāpet versions and other unpublished manuscripts.

Acknowledgements

I thank Srivanchiyam Sri Chandrasekar, son of Srivanchiyam Sri Ramachandra Ayyar for sharing the rare manuscripts collected and preserved by his father.

I thank Ms Janaki, Editor, Sruti Magazine for publishing this musicological work.

The library in The Music Academy is a repository of many valuable manuscripts written in the early part of the last century, like that of S A Ramaswamy Ayyar. I thank Sri V Sriram, Secretary, The Music Academy for permitting me to access those valuable manuscripts.

References

  1. Subbarāma Dīkṣitulu. Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu, Pg 129.  Vidyā Vilāsini Press, Eṭṭayapuraṃ Subbarāma Samasthānaṃ, 1905.
  2. Ramachandran K.V. (1938) – “The Melakarta – A Critique” – The Journal of the Music Academy 1938 volume IX: pg 31-33.
  3. Sāmbamurti P. The Walajapet manuscripts. Journal of Music Academy 1947: Pg 114-129.
  4. Vālājāpet manuscripts.   http://musicresearchlibrary.net/omeka/items/browse?collection=1&sort_field=Dublin+Core%2CTitle&page=12
  5. Vīṇā Rāmānujayya. Saṅgīta Sarvārta Sāra Saṅgrahamu, Pg. 231. http://musicresearchlibrary.net/omeka/items/show/666
  6. Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār. Oriental Music in European Notation, pg 75. Ave Maria Press, Madras,1893. http://musicresearchlibrary.net/omeka/items/show/507
  7. Ghṛtasthānaṃ Narasimha Bhāgavatar., ed.,Tyāgarājasvāmi Kīrtanalu , Pg 13; Sarasvathi Power Press, Rajahmundry, 1908.
  8. Rāmānanda Yōgi., ed., Tyāgarājasvāmi Kīrtanaṅgaḷ, Pg 120 . Kṛṣṇasvāmy and Sons, 1910.
  9. Taccur Śingarācāryulu, Cinna Śankarācāryulu . Gānenduśekharaṃ, Pg 57-61. Kalā Ratnākara, Mudrākśara Śālā, Cennapuri, 1912 
  10. Dr MN Dhandapāṇi, D Pattaṃṃāḷ. Rāga Pravāhaṃ. The Trinity Music Book Publishers, Chennai, 1984.
  11. Taccur Śingarācāryulu, Cinna Śankarācāryulu . Gāyaka Siddhāñjanaṃ, Pg 69-70. http://www.ibiblio.org/guruguha/MusicResearchLibrary/Books-Tel/BkTe-TaccuruBros-gAyaka-siddhAnjanam-Pt2-1905-Xrx-0084.pdf
  12. Pārthasāradhi, S., ed., Śri Tyāgarājasvāmi Kīrtanaigaḷ – Tillaisthānaṃ pāṭaṃ – part 1, Pg 6-9. Guru Sri Tyāgabrahma Ārādana Kainkaryaṃ, 1987.
  13. Manuscripts given by Vidvān Sri B Kṛṣṇamūrti, the versions he learnt from Umayāḷpuraṃ Sri Rājagōpāla Ayyar – http://musicresearchlibrary.net/omeka/files/original/83b9276a2529b0a8e26bf08c4cb7ba7e.pdf

The Kurinji of the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini


Prologue:

The raga Kurinji under Mela 29- Sankarabharana is a well-known dhaivatantya raga and popularly rendered in a lineal fashion in madhyama sruti. Along with its siblings Neelambari and Navaroz with which Kurinji shares the melodic fabric, it can be seen that these three melodies are used in compositions such as lullabies, lAlis, Oonjal and songs of similar genre. Being an old and hoary raga, without engendering a much broader discussion, this blog post just focusses on the raga dealt with in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradashini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshita.

Kurinji’s Raga Lakshana:

Kurinji is a melodic scale under Mela 29 Sankarabharanam, taking only the notes from this scale, with the nominal arohana/avarohana krama as under:

                        n3 S R2 G3 M1 P D2 and D2 P M1 G3 R2 S n3

Given the lack of movement below N3 in the mandhara stayi and D2 in the madhya stayi, the raga for felicity of rendition is rendered in madhyama sruti, whereby the madhyama note of the octave becomes the tonic. There are no sancaras below mandhara nishadha or above the madhya dhaivatha.

From an antiquity perspective it may be noted that the composition “Jaya Jaya Gokula Bala” a tarangam of Narayana Teertha which was famous once upon a time, was originally set fully to Kurinji. It was later fully reset to Bhairavi (published by K V Srinivasa Iyengar) and much later the modern extant version came into being, with the lyrics being set as  a ragamalika to Bhairavi, Atana, Kalyani, Kambhoji and Surati, with the retuning being ascribed to Tiruvotriyur Tyagier.

The raga lakshana of Kurinji heavily overlaps with that of Navaroz and is compounded by the fact that both the ragas have octaval constraint imposed by grammar and both of them are rendered in madhyama sruti. Navaroz runs as pdnSRGMP-PMGRSndp, traversing the madhya stayi pancama to the mandhara pancama alone. DIkshita has also composed both in Kurinji – “Sri Venugopala” and Navaroz- “hastivadanaya namstubhyam” which again is a magnum opus in itself.

According to the SSP, Kurinji once upon a time possessed a different contour (while being under the same Mela 29 – Sankarabharanam). This archaic Kurinji is recorded by Subbarama Dikshita on the authority of the eka tala lakshya gita of Muddu Venkatamakhin “Srimad Gopi nathure” as the refrain or udgraha. According to Subbarama Dikshita archaic Kurinji had the following features:

  1. It had tristayi sancaras, progressions spanning all three octaves
  2. It lacked dhaivatha (varjya) in its ascent and dhaivatha being vakra in the descent.
  3. The nominal arohana/avarohana went as SRGMGMPMPNNS – SNPNDDPMGGRS, which is provided by Subbarama Dikshita on the authority of the raga lakshana sloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin (circa 1750 AD)
  4. Nishadha was its jiva svara

It has to be pointed out here that this archaic Kurinji does not exists today.

Subbarama Dikshitar proceeds to record that post Muddu Venkatamakhin’s times the raga got truncated and had the following features, which we can call as the modern or the extant Kurinji in contrast to the archaic version as delineated above.

  1. It became a madhyama sruti raga.
  2. The raga’s melodic progression was nSRGMPD, traversing mandhara nishadha to madhya dhaivatha only.
  3. It had an exceptional n\pSS  prayoga commencing on mandhara nishadha to the mandhara pancama and back to the madhya sadja.
  4. The raga cannot be lightly dismissed as a minor madhyama sruti raga, for the ancients had accorded it the highest importance by placing it as the first upanga raga janya under Mela 29 Sankarabharanam as seen in the Sankarabharana lakshana gitam “ripupala khandanure”.

Additionally, Prof S R Janakiraman points out that the dhaivatha note (of the madhya stayi) is seen to occur very sparingly in this raga, more as a foray from the pancama note and back.

Thus, what survives today is the modern Kurinji that we hear today and as authority for the same Subbarama Dikshita provides two compositions, apart from his sancari.

  1. Sri Venugopala” – Muthusvami Dikshita – Jhampa tala
  2. Siva deeksha paru” – Ghanam Seenayya – Adi

We shall look into both these compositions in this blog post. But before that we will evaluate the Kurinji as was recorded atleast a little prior to 1750 AD.

Kurinji according to Sahaji & Tulaja:

The raga Kurinji is found recorded in both Sahaji’s “Ragalakshanam” (circa 1700 AD) and Tulaja’s “Saramruta” (circa 1732 AD) and the commentary of these two author Kings of Tanjore on this raga Kurinji in their respective works resonate with the definition of the archaic Kurinji of the SSP and of Muddu Venkatamakhin. However, one assertion made by Sahaji and Tulaja in their respective treatises which is relevant to us, as we will see shortly, is that “SRGM and PDNS should not occur in the raga.”

As we saw in previous blog posts this is a key architectural construct of the 18th century. The raga definitions were provided (apart from being categorized under a particular mela or raganga) in the following ways:

  1. A particular note is to be repeatedly emphasized being the raga’s jiva svara
  2. Certain notes being the choice notes to begin or end a musical phrase – graha, nyasa svaras
  3. Certain notes which cannot be used as the take-off or ending note, but which should only be used as a transit note – amsa svara
  4. A particular note being varjya (dropped)
  5. A particular note being vakra (devious)
  6. A specified murrcana (motif) was to occur or was to be emphasized repeatedly (leitmotif) in the raga in its progression.
  7. A specified murrcana (motif) was not supposed to occur.

This “composite” way of specifying the lakshana of a raga is completely lost to us today where we simply proceed lineally based on a single arohana or avarohana krama under a given mela. This ancient, archaic and now extinct practice of the 18th century is expressly found recorded in the works of Sahaji and Tulaja.

In so far as Kurinji is considered in terms of the aforesaid rules, Rule 7 above, specified that SRGM shall not occur in the melodic body of the raga according to Sahaji and Tulaja. With this in mind let us take up the first exemplar composition from the SSP, which is “Sri Venugopala” of Muthusvami Dikshita.

 “Sri Venugopala” of Muthusvami Dikshita:

The lyrics and the meaning of the composition is as under:

Pallavi:

SrI vENu gOpAla     –  O Lord the Cowherd bearing the flute!

SrI rukmiNI lOla    – O one who frolics in the company of Goddess Rukmini!

dEva nAyaka         – O lord of all the gods!

SriyaM dEhi dEhi    – Give, give (me) wealth and auspiciousness!

madhu mura hara     – O vanquisher of the demons Madhu and Mura!

Anupallavi

dEvakI su-kumAra    – O illustrious son of Devaki!

dIna jana mandAra   – O wish-fulfilling celestial tree of the downtrodden!

gOvardhana-uddhAra  – O the one who lifted the Govardhana mountain!

gOpa yuvatI jAra    – O beloved of the young Gopi maidens!

caraNam

gOkula-ambudhi sOma – O moon to the ocean of Gokula!

gOvinda             – O friend of the cows!

nata bhauma         – O one saluted by Angaraka – son of Bhumi (Earth Goddess)!

SrI-ku-ranjita kAma – O one who delights Lakshmi (Sri) and Bhumi (Ku) with your love!

Srita satya bhAma   – O one who has embraced Satyabhama!

kOka nada pada      – O one with feet hued like red lotus!

sOma guru guha hita – O one congenial to Shiva (in the company of Uma) and Guruguha

SyAma               – O dark one!

SrI kara tapa hOma SrI jayantI nAma – O one well-known for the Sri Jayanti (birthday festivities) in which penance and sacrifices cause welfare and prosperity!

prAkaTya raNa bhIma – O one who is formidable in battle!

pAlita-arjuna bhIma – O protector of Arjuna and Bhima!

pAka ripu nuta nAma – O one whose name is glorified by Indra (the slayer of the demon Paka)!

bhakta yOga kshEma  – O one who bestows welfare to the devotees!

It appears to be a generic composition without any reference to any ksetra or its presiding deity. Based on the lyrics which occur which is “sri jayanthi nama” there are those who opine that much like “Sri Varalakshmi namastubhyam” and “Siddhi Vinayakam” which were purportedly created to propitiate Goddess Lakshmi on Varalakshmi Pooja day and Lord Ganesa on Vinayaka Caturthi day respectively , Dikshita composed this kriti for “Sri Jayanthi”/”Krishna Jayanthi” – Lord Krishna’s birth day. The raga mudra is seamlessly interwoven as:

“SrI-ku-ranjita kAma” meaning “O the one who delights Lakshmi (Sri) and Bhumi (Ku) with your love!

The colophon of Dikshita “guru-guha” as always occurs in the composition.

The Melodic structuring of the composition:

From a melodic standpoint it is noticed that the composition is in line with the “extant” or modern version of the Kurinji. From the notation provided therein, Dikshita’s raga conception in the composition conforms to the modern Kurinji:

  • The melody traverses between mandhara nishadha and madhya dhaivatha only
  • Uses the occasional nn\pSS prayoga- seen at the first occurrence of the lyric ‘dEhi’ in the pallavi itself

It was pointed out earlier that according to Sahaji and Tulaja, in the case of Kurinji “SRGM and PDNS should not occur in the raga”. This is however not seen expressly commented upon or recorded in the SSP.

In this context the occurrence of SRGM or PDNS phrase in “Sri Venugopala” can be evaluated thus:

  • It is seen that the SRGM prayoga is avoided in the melodic setting after duly taking into account the caesura (s)which occur in the composition.
  • Though superfluous, it has to be formally noted that PDNS has no occasion to arise as the raga’s truncated progression provides no room for the same.
  • The following portions/lyrics of the composition would reveal that:
    • The composition begins as RGMR (“sri vEnugOpAla”) and thus SRGM is avoided. Though SRGM is forbidden, RGM or RGMP is a permitted prayoga
    • Caesura occurs at “lOla” which ends on rishabha note and when “dEvanAyaka” begins with the phrase being GMP. Thus, the SRGM phrase has been avoided.
    • Pointedly the anupallavi lyric “Devaki sukumara” begins as SRSMGM RGMP, avoiding a direct SRGM phrase.
    • Both “govardhanO” and “gOpayuvati” use SM and SP phrases to the exclusion of SRGM phrase.
    • The lyrics “sri kurinjita” and “kokhanatha pada” are again SMGMP and not SRGMP
    • The madhyama kala sahitya lyrics “pAlita-arjuna bhIma” is notated as SMGRGM to the exclusion of SRGMP
    • Though the ending of the pallavi, anupallavi and the madhyama kala sahitya portions is on the sadja and the pallavi take off being rishabha, on account of the intervening caesura/conclusion of tala marking the logical ending of the musical phrase, the rule of avoidance of SRGM can be deemed as kept.
  • Thus, it can be seen, that subject to the one exception below, Dikshita has eschewed the use of SRGM and has instead used SMGMP in the composition, as the default ascent phrase.

Exception:

From the SSP notation of this composition one outlier that is noticed, without in anyway being disrespectful, is that the lyric “srikara tapO hOma” is notated as SnSRGMP.. It is likely that this phrase too ought to have been “SnSMGMP” in line with the rest of the composition, as nowhere else where an ascent phrase is warranted, is the phrase SRGMP used. It can be very well deuced that Dikshita being completely aware of this ancient practice having avoided the use of SRGM everywhere would not have deigned to use that just in one place and most likely the notation seen in the SSP is an aberration.

It is very likely that the notation SnSRGMP is a typographical error/printer’s devil at play in the SSP or an error in the pAtham itself as was transmitted, which begs for a correction. Therefore, it is most respectfully submitted that this phrase ought to be rendered as SnSMGMP and NOT as SnSRGMP as given, keeping in view of the fact that SRGM has been consciously avoided everywhere else and it was perhaps how it was composed.

Thus, subject to the above exception we can safely conclude that the Kurinji of Dikshita and which evolved post 1700 was actually an improvisation of the old archaic Kurinji with SRGM being eschewed as well. In the modern version of the Kurinji we have completely forgotten this aspect of SRGM to be avoided.

The prayogas dealt with in the Kurinji as found in “Sri venugopala” are:

  • nSRGR -RGMP- GMPD
  • DMPG-PMGR-MGRSn
  • n\pSS being the outlier prayoga at “dEhi”
  • The use of a dainty phrase MRG\S at “madhu murahara”, skipping the rishabha- in the pallavi.

 If SRGM is to be eschewed, SRGR and SMGMRGM can take its place and cannot be generically stated that rishabha and/or gandhara should be vakra. This rule can only be stated negatively as “SRGM cannot occur” and cannot be stated otherwise.

The madhyama kala sahitya perfectly, pithily and unambiguously captures Dikshita’s conception of Kurinji and is the perfect & complete authority for the Kurinji that had evolved post 1700’s, the version truly documented in the SSP, albeit implicitly.

S,S,n               –           SRS,n             –           S,MGMG,       –           RGM,M             ||

prAktaya       –           raNabhIma   –           pAlitA            –            rjunabhIma ||          

P,DPM           –           GMP,P           –          M,GR              –           GMGGRS            ||

pAkaripu      –           nutarAma     –           bhakta-yO     –           ga..ksEma         ||

It can be seen that Dikshita has skilfully avoided the SRGM phrase by resorting to SMGMRGMM-PDPM at the juncture of the two jhampa tala avartas.

Discography – “srI vEnugOpAlA”:

There are very many versions of this oft-rendered composition. The version that best tallies with the notation found in the SSP is the one by Vidushi Sumitra Vasudev and I present the same (courtesy Sangeethapriya):

And off-course if one were to learn from this rendering, care should be taken to correctly render “srikara tapO hOma”rendering as SnSMGMP to ensure the consistency ( avoid the inconsistency) that I pointed out earlier.

With this I move on to the next exemplar found in the SSP.

“Siva deeksha paru” – The forgotten oeuvre

The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) records a few pre-trinity compositions in its main work (excluding the Anubandha) and one such is “Sivadeekshaparu” in Kurinji composed by Ghanam Seenayya. This classic composition, a padam, was very popular a hundred years ago and today barring a few instances of it being performed in dance recitals, the composition is nowhere found rendered on concert platforms.

The composition is recorded in the SSP by Subbarama Dikshita as the second exemplar of Raga Kurinji. From a historical perspective this composition comes from era (early 18th Century AD) when the Saivite and Vaishnavite doctrines of Hindu worship vied with each other to be in royal favour and patronage and the song is reflective of this politico-religious undercurrent. We will evaluate the song in that context as well.

Before we address the composition proper, lets first look at the composer and his times.

Composer of “Sivadeeksha paru” – Ghanam Seenayya:

Subbarama Diksita in his “Vaggeyakara Caritamu” records that Ghanam Seenayya, the composer of this Kurinji composition, was a Vaishnavite and the Chief Minister in the Court of the Nayak King Vijayaranga Cokkanatha (1706-1732 AD). We did refer to this Nayak King of Madurai in the context of the Yamuna Kalyani blog post

Ghanam Seenayya was learned man, very proficient in Sanskrit, Telugu and in music and this is found recorded in Sasanka Vijayam (of Seshamu Venkatapati Kavi). In fact, Subbarama Dikshita quotes a couplet from the said work as authority to state that Ghanam Seenayya composed with the ankita/colophon “mannaru ranga”. According to C R Srinivasa Iyengar (in his book “Indian Dance”- Natya and Nritya) Ghanam Seenayya composed the following padas with the ankita being “mannaru ranga”.

  • Magavaadani” in Durbar
  • Magavadu Valaci” – Neelambari
  • Siva Deeksha paru” – Kurinji
  • Vadevvaro” – Sankarabharanam –https://karnatik.com/c18080.shtml

The same is also echoed in toto by Vidvan Vinjamuri Varaha Narasimha-chari in his article titled “Contribution to the Telugu region to the Dance Art” – JMA (Vol XLV – 1974) pp 200.

The prefix “Ghanam” especially appended to the name of a vocalist/ musician may perhaps be linked to the expertise the person had in the “ghanam” mode of vocalization/singing. In the recent past Ghanam Krishna Iyer is recorded by Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer as an exponent and past master in the art of “ghanam” singing though not much detail is know as to what it really meant. Be that as it may given that Subbarama Dikshita has recorded the musical capability of Seenayya, it may well be perhaps that he was adept in this quaint musical art form.

The ankita “mannaruranga” refers to Lord Rajagopala of Mannargudi who was the titular deity of some of the Royal Houses of the medieval Tamil history. During circa 1600-1700 time period, it is seen that the Saivite and Vaishnavite cults had been vying for exclusive royal patronage at the expense of the other. For instance, Venkatamakhin (1620 AD) is said to have composed the Reetigaula gitam “sanka chakkrAnka nAtya ca rE rE” appealing to Lord Mahalingasvami at Madhyarjunam as the King a Vaishnavite acolyte was persecuting followers of Saivism. Apparently, the King Vijayaraghava Nayak of Tanjore, Venkatamakhin’s Royal patron was a staunch Vaishnavite so much so that he exhorted all his subjects to wear the sanka-chakra and other Vaishnavite emblems. Later the King took to bed and suffered stomach pains. Legend has it that he soon thereafter realized his folly and made amends and which is attributed to Venkatamakin’s prayers to Lord Mahalingasvami.

Returning to the subject matter on hand, the times of Nayak King Vijayaranga Chokkanatha of Madurai is captured by Sathianatha Iyer in his classic work “Nayaks of Madura” and according to him during this Nayak’s reign the kingdom seem to have gone into terminal decline. Sathianatha Iyer records that the King was very religious and barring a grant to the temple of Lord Shiva at Tiruvanaikka (Lord Jambukesvara) he seems to have made grants munificently to Vaishnavite temples underlining the fact that he was very favourably disposed towards the Vaishnavite cult.

The setting of the padam “Siva Deeksha” runs thus. The nAyika/heroine is ordained to the worship of Lord Shiva and she happenstance encounters the nayaka/hero who is irresistible and leaves her smitten. The padam attempts to capture her predicament as she is caught between the obligations cast on her because of the ochre she has donned and the craving from her very heart and soul tugging her to the nayaka/hero being none other than “mannaru ranga” or Lord Rajagopala, a vaishnavite God. Should she continue with the rites & duties to be done by her as per the holy order of Shiva worship to which she has been initiated by her Gurus or should she succumb to the call of her heart and allow the nayaka to take her body and soul?

The piece has been a traditional composition much amenable to abhinaya and depiction of a variant of the khandita type of nayika.

From a raga lakshana perspective, the following aspects can be noted:

  1. The padam composed in the first quarter of the 16th century/early 1700’s is in the modern version of the raga, spanning from mandhara nishada to madhya dhaivatha only. We do not know if it was composed so in circa 1700 AD, for Sahaji (circa 1700 AD) and Tulaja (1732 AD) record Kurinji as being archaic as documented in the SSP.
  2. Leaving this point as to the originality of the melodic setting of the composition, the notation as provided by Subbarama Dikshita of this composition in the SSP reiterates the point made in “Sri Venugopala” above. The same is bereft of SRGM and only SMGMP or RGMP or SMGMRGMP occurs as the uttaranga ascent phrases.

Thus, given that “Siva Deeksha” too uses only SMGM and not SRGM, can be cited as proof and in support of the assertion that Dikshita too would have followed the same rule and could not have used SRGM at all. Therefore, the SRGM notated in the SSP in one place in the composition “Sri Venugopala” is perhaps an aberration that we need to correct and render as SMGM.

Discography – “siva deeksha”:

I present two renderings of this composition, which are not strictly in line with the SSP but are nevertheless within the confines of the notation provided in SSP and making only reasonable departures from the same.

  • I present the vocal rendering of the song by Vidushi Preethy Mahesh being the audio track of the accompaniment to the dance performance of this song by Smt Priyadarshini Govind, an excerpt of which is available in the public domain. Clip 1 and Clip 2

The second rendering above, made for a dance performance is much richer, slower and improvised reflecting the true content and spirit of the song.

Kurinji in Ramasvami Dikshita’s 108 Raga Tala Malika:

The Anubandha to the SSP also provides the said composition in notation and the 40th khandika or portion of the said composition commencing with the lyric “Sri Parthasarati” set in Kurinji, too does not bear SRGM in its melodic construct. This provides additional evidence that SRGM phrase was to be eschewed in toto in Kurinji.

Vidushi R S Jayalakshmi presented a lecture demonstration of this mammoth composition of Ramsvami Dikshita in the Dec 2014. Here is the Youtube link to the same. The Kurunji portion is demonstrated starting from 1:48:05 onwards.

Kurinji in Subbarama Dikshita’s compositions:

Subbarama Dikshita’s own sancari and his raga malika too feature Kurinji. However his sancari is modelled on the archaic Kurinji and it seems that he has stuck to the old version on the supposed authority of Muddu Venkatamakhin, whom he always mistook for Venkatamakhin himself. It has to be pointed out that Venkatamakhin’s Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP) does not talk about Kurinji and it is only the Anubandha or the compendium / appendix to the CDP authored by Muddu Venkatamakhin circa 1750 AD which talks about Kurinji.

Epilogue:

While compositions can be rendered ad nauseum as taught, it is important that we correctly assimilate and imbibe the true spirit, grammar and confines of the raga and the composition. The raga Kurinji is an example in this regard. If one were to go with the public material and not-properly appraised pAthams, the raga’s definition would be wrongly learnt/taught with the raga progression of Kurinji as  nSRGMPD/DPMGRSn, whereas as the two exemplar compositions demonstrate that the raga’s progression is nSMGMRGMPD/DPMGRSn, duly disallowing the SRGM as the ancients did in this melody. And hopefully students/learners would take notice of this and properly render these compositions in this raga. And given this rich history of more than 300 plus years Kurinji like its illustrious parent Sankarabharana has stood athwart for centuries!

And in parting I leave readers with a thought. Was and is this raga Kurinji synonymous with Lord Venugopala/Rajagopala/Krishna, for the “nayaka” or the subject/object of all the three compositions found in the SSP (“srimad gOpi nAturE” of Muddu Venkatamakhin, “Sri Venugopala” of Dikshita and “Siva Deeksha” of Ghanam Seenayya) are all coincidentally Lord Krishna?

References:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) – Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Republished in Tamil by Madras Music Academy (1977) -Vol IV- Mela 29 Pages 837-842
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 742-746
  3. Sangita Kalanidhi T V Subba Rao & Dr S R Janakiraman (1993)- “ Ragas of the Sangita Saramruta” – Published by the Madras Music Academy – pp 134-139
  4. Dr R Sathyanarayana (2010)- “Ragalakshanam” of Sri Muddu Venkatamakhin- Published by IGNCA
  5. R. Sathianatha Iyer (1924) – “History of the Nayaks of Madura” -pages 223-231

Safe Harbour Statement:

  1. The renderings used or linked as above in the body of this blog has been made strictly for purposes of education and knowledge under fair use category. The intellectual property belongs to the respective artistes and the same cannot be shared or exploited without their consent.
  2. I place on record my gratitude to Smt Preethy Mahesh for permitting me to share the vocal rendering of the padam “siva deeksha” as was available in the public domain from where it was sourced.