Sukhi Evvaro – Kanada – An Evergreen Classic

By Ravi Rajagopalan

Introduction:

The composition and the raga need no introduction to a listener of our Karnataka Sangeetam. This blog post is about certain aspects of the raga on one hand and the way the composition has come to be handled over a period of time.

The composition ‘Sukhi Evvaro” is very ubiquitous and the raga even more, for varied reasons as it can be considered to generate greater ranjakatva with both the lay listeners as well as the cognoscenti. So much so the kriti and the raga has come to be handled commonly that the raga as it was and the kriti as it was perhaps, has now come to be forgotten.

While I embark on my narrative, I am not going to deal with the origins of Kanada or its meandering history. Instead I first present the contemporaneous version of the raga and the kriti and then go back by about 100 years just to savour the probably original version that was in vogue then. And this blog post is only about the kriti ‘Sukhi Evvaro” and the Kanada or perhaps its version that was native to it. Nothing else.

Kanada of Today:

Musical texts of today would place Kanada as a upanga janya of the 22nd Mela with a nominal arohana/avarohana krama as under:

S R2 P G2 M1 D2 N2 S

S N2 P M1 G2 M1 R2 S

The Kanada we deal with in this blog post is the one with kosher phrases, marked by a well oscillated gandhara and taking the svaras as above and nothing else. The leitmotif of the raga is the GMRS marked by the oscillated gandhara. The raga in this form and name cannot be traced back to prior to 1850 AD and its present form and contours that it has taken have been more or less between 1850-1950 AD. Suffice to state that none of the authentic pre 1850 AD texts talk of this raga. In fairness it has to be further stated that the melodic Chaya or svarupa that it shares with its sibling ragas such as Karnataka Kapi or Durbar contributes to our confusion about the origins of this raga.

Be that as it may, for the limited purposes of this blog post, the above contours of the raga would suffice along with the following classical features or lakshana of Kanada for which I cite the authority of the commentary provided by the revered Prof. S R Janakiraman (Prof SRJ) in his work, as under:

  • The raga is a melody which cannot be dealt with as is, within the framework of the janaka-janya system. Though the raga is treated as a janya of the 22nd mela Karaharapriya, Kanada shares no link whatsoever with the mela raga.
  • The best way to understand the raga is by learning and understanding the following two varnas which are ‘nikhandus’ or ‘raga katakas’ or the dictionary of Kanada, holding the set of all possible and permissible combinations of the raga’s notes or phrases.
    • ‘Neranamitti’ – Ata tala- Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar
    • ‘Ninne kori’ – Adi Tala – Tiruvottriyur Tyagier
  • In terms of svara progression the following rules apply:
    1. During descent when sadja occurs, dhaivatha becomes varjya. In other words, SNDP does not occur. Either SNP or NDPM can occur, but not SNDP.
    2. SRSSNNPM, NDPDPPMG, MRGMP, SDPD are special phrases occurring in the raga
    3. The raga’s contours can possibly be elaborated as below to accommodate the vakra sancaras which makes the raga blossom forth.

                                S R G M P M D N S

                                S N S D P M P G M R S

  • The arohana krama bears an uncanny resemblance to the raga Sahana, which is where the difference in the way the gandhara is intoned, which differentiates the ragas from one another.
  • In the SRGM phrase by intoning the sadharana gandhara with a ‘nokku’ thereby reducing the ‘frequency’, below the median sadharana levels, Kanada is ‘heard’. The intonation of the gandhara sharply higher than the median value for ‘sadharana’ levels, closer to the antara gandhara will make the same phrase SRGM sound as Sahana. MPMGMR is another phrase where the gandhara’s intonation determines if the phrase is of Kanada or of Sahana. It is perhaps for this slender difference that Hindustani Music has a melody called Shahana-Kanada which harnesses both these sub-varieties of the sadharana gandhara in its melodic body.
  • The key exemplars of this raga are the following compositions
    • ‘Sukhi Evvaro’ and ‘Sri Narada’ of Tyagaraja
    • ‘Vani Pondu’ – the javali of Pattabhiramayya
    • ‘Gauri Nayaka’ – the simhanandana tala tillana of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer.

When we absorb the commentary as above provided by Porf SRJ, it can be observed that the lakshana of Kanada is characteristically of the 18th century model which we had seen in previous blog posts. The progression of a raga being characterized with jumps, bends, turns and twists with the result that there is no preordained or unique progression in the purvanga or uttaranga section of the raga, is seen in Kanada as well.

Discography for Kanada- The two varnas:

It is to be pointed out that students as well as listeners of music ought to first train their ears and learn or understand the proper lakshana of this raga and hence as prescribed by Prof SRJ, firstly I present the two varnas which may please be heard profitably before we move on to the proper subject matter of this blog post.

I present first the Ata tala varna rendering by the mellifluous Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M S Subbulakshmi, for her clarity of rendering – sahitya and svaras stanas.

I next present ‘Nera nammiti’ by the legendary Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda, who in this AIR Concert recorded in the autumn of her performing career, still brings to life the composition learnt by her from her mother or grandmother who in turn learnt it first hand from the composer himself, Tiruvottriyur Tyagier.

I invite the attention to the intonation of the gandhara, which is in the lower bounds of the permissible frequency for the sadharana variety of the note. It can be said with the authority of Prof SRJ and with the exemplar rendering of the varnas by Smt M S Subbulakshmi and Smt T Brinda, as above, that the defining aspect of Kanada is the way in which the gandhara is to be intoned. With this point noted, we next turn to the subject matter on hand.

Sukhi Evvaro – Of Tyagaraja

Here is a detailed commentary on the composition along with the lyrics.  Arguably, the most popular versions of the compositions are the ones tracing back to the veterans Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Madurai Mani Iyer and theirs as well, which are available already in the public domain.

I however choose to present the rare and a revelatory version of the composition ‘Sukhi Evvaro’ by the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda.

Smt. T Brinda renders ‘Sukhi evvaro’

Attention is first invited to her raga vinyasa wherein she lays out the lakshana of the raga with the kriti firmly in her mind. Hark at the subtle oscillations she gives to the gandhara, the dhaivatha and the nishadha and how she caresses those notes even as she coaxes and cajoles the melody out of them, drawing upon her tutelage under Kancipuram Naina Pillai. The rishabha is perhaps the jiva svara of mela 22 ragas of yore including its ancient titular head Sriraga. And no wonder the anscestry is drawn upon for the eduppu of this composition which begins with the steady janta rishabha. Never does she deliver a sangati not aligning to this take off note.

A number of observations invite our attention to the rendering of the maestro, as under amongst others:

  1. The pace and the rhythmic gait of the rendering and how she changes it at the carana
  2. The eduppu of the composition at the rishabha as RRGGM – RPPMGGMRS-RRGGM, as pointed out earlier with the take off being a steady rishabha
  3. The way the gandhara, dhaivatha and the nishadha are oscillated. In fact at ‘nityamai’ in the carana one wonders whether the arohana krama is MPNNS, with the nishadha carrying the shades of the dhaivatha as well.
  4. The gandhara is always intoned at or less than sadharana levels and never being rendered sharper anywhere and is duly ornamented with the oscillated/kampita gamaka

All these key points hold our attention making this version of the composition unique and, in my opinion, it is in complete consonance with the Kanada delineated in the varnas and thus forming the gold standard or exemplar of the raga as it was in the closing quarters of the 19th Century. With due respects to all great vidvans/vidushis of the past and the present, it has to be frankly said that much liberties have been taken both with the raga and this composition as evidenced by the renderings of the same as available tu us today.

In so far as the composition is concerned while the common complaint could be the speeding up of the kriti, yet what is especially notable is the license and liberty taken with the gandhara svara. Almost as a rule the gandhara of modern Kanada has become sharper and less oscillated than what it was once upon a time. Is it the urge to tint it with the so- called Hindustani touch to make it closer to Durbari or Malhar? One does not know. Suffice to say that the Kanada of late 19th century vintage as embodied by this version of Smt Brinda has now been lost and nowhere heard on the modern concert platform.

I leave it to Prof SRJ who in this video between 5.49 and 9.06, waxes eloquent of this version of ‘Sukhi Evvaro” of Smt T Brinda contrasting it with the version that was taught to him by the Flute maestro Svaminatha Pillai. Watch how emotional and passionate he becomes as he recounts that experiance of hearing her sing the composition. QED.

Prof SRJ reminisces on T Brinda’s ‘Sukhi Evvaro between 5:49-9.06 of the clip

Conclusion:

There is nothing more to be said or added and I conclude this post by leaving a thought. As a listener or as a performer one needs to constantly evolve and develop ‘discernment’ in other words, the behavioural attribute to ‘discern’ – the dictionary meaning of which is “distinguish (someone or something) with difficulty/ effort by sight or with the other senses”, the close Tamil word being பகுத்தறிதல்.

We need to discern and discover the truly beautiful versions of great works of art /composition and perhaps only listen or learn them as the case may be. ‘Sukhi Evvaro” of Smt T Brinda is a work of art, an exemplar in its true and only sense and one can’t but silently second the view of the revered Prof SRJ.

References:

  1. Raga Lakshanangal -Part II (Tamil) (2009 Edition) – Prof S R Janakiraman- Published by the Madras Music Academy -pp 78-80

Safe Harbour Statement

The recording of Smt T Brinda as well the renderings provided through YouTube links as exemplars are the exclusive intellectual property of the artistes concerned. The same has been utilized here strictly on a non-commercial basis, under fair use for study & research, fully acknowledging their rights and no part of it may be copied, reproduced or otherwise dealt without the consent of the artistes or the concerned IP right holders.

“kāśīviśveśvara ehi mām pāhi’ – The forgotten magnum opus in Kāmbhoji

Prologue:

The raga Kāmbhoji needs no introduction to a discerning listener of our music. In it, is a composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar, which is the subject matter of this brief post, which is the first one in this new composition appreciation series of short blogposts. Personally, I consider this as one of the serious and contemplative pieces ever composed in our music and particularly by Dikshitar. Considerable thought ought to have gone into this composition as it is truly a magnum opus of epic proportions set in khanda ata tala, 14 aksharas, with a full suite of pallavi, anupallavi and carana and the last two sections invested with a madhyama kala portion, the sahitya rich in lyrics, sthala/ksetra references and needless to add, infused with Kambhoji as its life and blood.

The Kriti – A Background

During his stay at Tiruvarur, sometime CE 1820 , the itinerant he was, Dikshitar visited the nearby village of Kuzhikkarai perhaps on the occasion of the consecration of the Shiva temple there, whose patron was one Vaidyalinga Mudaliar. The temple being analogous to the one at Kasi, has Lord Kasi Visvanatha as its presiding deity. Musical history tells us that during his sojourn there, Dikshitar composed quite a few kritis including this Kambhoji masterpiece. ‘śrī viśvanātham’, the caturdasha ragamalika, ‘annapūrṇe viśālākṣi’ in sama, ‘viśvanāthena samrakṣitoham in samanta are the other ones which are recorded in history as having been composed by Dikshitar in this ksetra. Near the temple precincts in a water body/tank /kuLaM (in tamizh). The legend associated with the temple has it that by bathing in it, a person afflicted by leprosy would be cured of the same (“kuśṭha-roga-apaha-gartatīrtha-śambho”) and that, propitiating the Lord in this kshetra would give one, benefits greater than what can be got by being to kashi itself (“kāśī-kśetra-sadṛśa-adhika-phalada-garta-tīra-vāsa”).

The kriti in its sahitya sports all these references directly or indirectly as under:

भवरोगहर-चतुर-वैद्यलिङ्ग-विभो (bhava-roga-hara-catura vaidya-linga-vibho) – reference indirectly to Vaidyalinga Mudaliar

गर्ततीर-वास भक्तविश्वास ( gartatīra-vāsa bhaktaviśvāsa) & कुष्ठ रोगापह-गर्ततीर्थ-शम्भो (kuśṭha-roga-apaha-gartatīrtha-śambho) – Reference to the sacred water tank ‘gartatIra’ and its medicinal property to ward off leprosy (kushta roga)

And as is Dikshitar’s wont, the raga mudra and his colophon are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the composition as under:

भद्रदायक-अम्भोजकर-विभो – meaning “O the one whose lotus hands grant benign fortune and happiness!”

शिवगुरु-गुहजनक-पशुपते – meaning “O the auspicious one, the progenitor of Guruguha and master of all creatures!”

The complete lyrics and the meaning of this composition in Sanskrit can be found here:

http://guru-guha.blogspot.com/2007/09/dikshitar-kriti-kasi-visvesvara-raga.html

Kambhoji Quartet – The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP’s) take:

Subbarama Diksitar’s treatise documents the following compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar in the raga Kambhoji:

  1. Shri Subramanyaya Namaste – Rupaka
  2. Shri Valmikalingam – Ata
  3. Kamalambikayai Kanakamshukayai – Ata
  4. Kashi Vishvesvara -Ata

Each one of the above ‘Kambhoji Quartet’ is a musical marvel, presenting the raga Kambhoji in its seemingly infinite variations and facets and rivalling only each other in their beauty of the melodic construction and intricacy of architecture. But before one looks at the construct of the composition, it has to be first heard. Sadly, the composition “kAsi visvesvara” is never heard on the concert circuit and gives one the impression whether it is even being taught and learnt, leave alone being sung! While the performers, from amongst the above listing of compositions of Dikshitar, take to the ubiquitous ‘Sri Subramanyaya Namaste’, the three others have never been known to be taken up for rendering or serious elaboration. And sadly, keeping the above Kambhoji Quartet aside, performers have taken recourse to the other kritis, (mis)attributed to Muthuswami Dikshitar, such as “Marakatavallim” or “Kailasanathena” which are not only of doubtful antecedents but also not at all comparable or in the same league as the aforesaid Quartet of compositions.

Be that as it may, before we look at the lyrical and musical construct of the composition, the available renderings must be first heard.

Discography:

It is known with certainty that this composition formed part of the repertoire of the late Sangita Kalanidhi D K Pattamal who used to wonder at it saying that singing this composition was nothing short of performing a yagna. Unfortunately, we do not have any recordings of her rendering of this piece. In all probability she must have learnt it from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, the repository of Dikshitar compositions, from whom she learnt many Dikshitar compositions.

Presented first in this section is the rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi B Rajam Iyer who too learnt it from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, which we fortunately have.

Presented next is a rendering of the same by the revered Prof S R Janakiraman, who has rendered it in his own inimitable style.

It has to be pointed out here that the above two are the only available rendering of the composition in the public domain and perhaps luckily become a high-fidelity or pristine version/gold copy of the composition, unsullied by likely extensions or interpolations. A discerning listener ought to immerse himself/herself in the rendering, with the SSP notation by the side to soak up the musical and lyrical essence of the composition.

Musical & Lyrical Construct of the Composition:

From a musical perspective the following points stand out:

  1. The musical phrase ‘DP DM MG MR GR GS’ is the recurring leitmotif which occurs in this composition. The notation for the anupallavi & charana lyrical portions ‘bhakta viś v ā sa’, ‘vaidyalingavibho’, ‘gartatīrtha śambho’ and ‘cinmātra’ would show that they are set to this phrase as it were a refrain of sorts. The pallavi lyrical portion ‘karuṇānidhe’ too sports an equivalent phrase ‘DP DM MG MR rpmG MG MR GS’ as its mettu. By design this musical motif is found in the anupallavi and the charana portions, occurring in the 8th to the 14th akshara of the ata tala cycle.
  2. SN3P finds an acknowledged place in the musical setting. The loop back portions from the anupallavi and the charana back to the pallavi, respectively at ‘dakshina’ and ‘citsabhāpate’ sport SN3P explicitly.
  3. The raga’s purvanga as it appears in the composition eschews SRGMP completely save for a tāra sancara usage at the sahitya ‘rogāpaha’ occurring in the carana. Thus, it is SGRGM, SP or SMGM which dominate the raga’s purvanga prayogas. And the quaint MGPDS as well as the standard SMGMPD appear aplenty in the composition.
  4. The madhyama note is seemingly given a pride of place in the composition. For instance, the anupallavi section of the composition commences with a dheerga madhyama.
  5. The two madhyama kala sahitya portions appended to the anupallavi and the carana portions are a marvel in themselves. The word ‘deva’ is used consecutively but yet to connote different epithets of the Lord, a form of aNi (அணி)or a lyrical motif. This form of lyrical ornamentation is found in a number of compositions of both Muthusvami Dikshitar and Subbarama Dikshitar, as documented in the SSP.
  6. Similarly, the prathamakshara and dvitIyakshara prAsa concordance is found in the two madhyama kala sahityas as under:
  7. The syllable ‘de’ occurring at the 1st and 8th (exact half of ata tala 14 beat cycle) aksharas covering the two full tAla avartas of the anupallavi madhyama kala sahitya section “dEśika kaṭākṣeṇa darśita
    |dEvatā-sārvabhauma-mahā || dEva-devadeva-deva nuta |dEva rāja pūjita dakshiṇa||”
  8. The syllable ‘va’ occurring at the 2nd and 9th aksharas covering the two full tala avartas of the carana madhyama kala sahitya section “bhuvana bharaṇa-bhūtagaṇapate -bhava hara-nata-vidhi-śrIpate|| Siva guruguha-janaka-paśupate |nava maṇi-vilasita-citsabhāpate ||
  9. Dikshitar has made the composition capacious. In other words he distributes the sahitya in such a way that even while he keep prAsa in mind, he also incorporates long kArvais, pauses and musical phrases to fill every one of the 14 aksharas. I draw the attention of the reader to what we saw in the previous post on the composition ‘rEnuka dEvi samrakshitOham’ in Kannada Bangala. There Dikshitar took the stylistic route of matching the hrasva and dhirghA syllables of the sahitya to exactly fit the sahitya in a 1:2 ratio- for example if every hrasva sahitya syllable were to be sung for 1 akshara of the tala ( jhampa in that case) then the dhIrgha syllables would be at 2 aksharas and the entire sahitya of the composition would be structured as well to fit into exactly the total tala cycle, leaving no surplus or deficit of either sahitya syllables or tala aksharas. In other words, there was no need for a pause/kArvai to extend sahitya to fill the tala nor was there a need to accelerate to second speed in the midst in order to complete the sahitya within the tala cycle. This construct of mAtu laya is not adopted by Dikshitar here. Contrastingly in ‘kAsi visvEsara’ he liberates himself from this self-imposed constraint of matching the sahitya and tala in perfect mAtu laya. Instead he pitches for long kArvais – sustained intonation/elongation of sahitya/note on to multiple contiguous tala aksharas and gamakas keeping in mind the raga of his choice for the composition namely Kambhoji. Kambhoji as a rakti raga can we melded to this compositional style with elaborate gamakas or kArvais, which we can say as mellismatic whereas a raga like Kannada Bangala which is more note or phrase based would be amenable to a matu laya model composition.  It is an accepted tenet that kArvais or elongation of svaras is generally responsible for bringing visrAnti or reposefulness to rAga elaboration.
  10. In preparing his compositional canvas with ata tala , Dikshitar also pegs the pace of rendering the composition – the rendering ought to be sedate and languorous without either rushing the sahitya through or eliding/abbreviating the pauses. There are those who have attempted to abbreviate the compositions of Dikshitar to shorter talas, as we saw in the case of ‘rEnukA dEvi samrakshitOham’. In fact there are those who render the other Kambhoji ata tala creation of Dikshitar namely ‘srI valmIkalingam in a faster tempo, wreaking havoc on the composition and also eliding the kArvais therein. In sum Dikshitar’s idea of a longer tAla cycle with sparser sahitya per tala must have been to potentially make the performer linger a lot more on every note and have it rendered in a sedate style so that every note and its movement can be slowly partaken by the listeners.
  11. While the sahitya is rich, Dikshitar has strung them in the section with the greatest of care, creating a monumental edifice. From a tala perspective for example the Pallavi itself takes 4 cycles, anupallavi takes 6 cycles with two of them being madhyama kala sahityas and the caranam in 14 cycles again with two of the them being madhyama kala sahitya sections.
  12. And as Dikshitar proceeds to set the composition to music he has for some reason has chosen the phrase in second kAla DP DM MG MR GR GS as the quintessential leitmotif for this composition, repeating this in atleast 5 places spread over the composition as pointed out earlier.
  13. The anupallavi of the composition has been constructed effectively taking Kambhoji’s uttaranga followed by a foray into the tara stayi and back to the Madhya sadja. Launching thus on the madhyama note ( at ‘kAsi ksEtra’) the khandika or section proceeds all the way to the tAra gandhara ( fleetingly touching the tAra madhyama at ‘garthatIra”) before descending to sadja ar ‘vishvAsA’. The delectable anupallavi madhyama kala sahitya section ‘dEsika katAksEna’ distills the Kambhoji of yore for us, spanning exactly the same octaval coverage made earlier in the anupallavi proper.. Attention is invited to the different varieties of madhyama employed in the anupallavi, for example the straight/plain variety at ‘Kasi’ and the quivering variety at ‘ksEtra’.
  14. While this is so of the anupallavi, a serious commentary on the construct of the caranam is best provided by the late Veena Vidushi and Musicologist Smt Vidya Shankar in one of her articles ( “A Comparative Study of the Music Trinity”), wherein she demonstrates that the musical setting of this composition is the best exemplar as to how a raga has to be elaborated or laid out in a composition in a systematic/structured manner, which she refers to as ‘AlApana paddhathi’. Again the final madhayama kala sahitya section of the carana ‘bhuvana bharana…………citsabhApatE’ stands out as a grand finale of this magnum opus of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

Epilogue:

This magnificent composition deserves a thoroughly scholarly and aesthetic presentation by an artiste after duly absorbing the melody and lyrics. And it is probably for the likely effort involved in doing so which perhaps deters performers from learning and rendering it. One fervently hopes that this would change in the days to come.

And in parting I conclude this blog post with a piece, a tillana rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi Dr M L Vasanthakumari, in a very contrasting raga. It is in a haunting melody Dayavati which goes with the notes: Arohana : S R2 G2 P N2 S and Avarohana: S N2 P M1 G2 S composed by Late N S Ramachandran in khanda triputa tala. The composition is obviously a solitaire, the only one of its kind serving as the sole exemplar of this raga.