Nishumbasudani……. Mystery from the medieval Chola times!

Prologue:

Nishumbasudani Bas Relief ( Courtesy the Philadelphia Museum)

More than 14,000 Kms away from Tanjore in Southern India, half way across on the other side of earth is the American city of Philadelphia. A discerning lover of Indian art, residing in or near this city should definitely make that visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As a visitor goes to the Museum’s second floor which houses its South Asian collection of art, the most eye catching would be the Hall reassembled on site from remnants of the Madana Gopala Swamy Temple, Madurai which was shipped out of India circa 1912 AD, by a wealthy Philadelphian Ms Adeline Pepper Gibson.  While the antiquity of this Hall is just around 500-600 or so years only , in the room adjacent to this Hall, away from the spotlight would be the still older Chola artworks on display dating a further 500 years prior. And amongst the works of arts there, a discerning visitor can spot an icon of Goddess Durga or more specifically one should say, ‘nisumbhasUdanI’ or the Slayer of the demon Nishumbha, on display. A look at the card tagged to this bas relief would state its antecedents briefly as “Goddess Durga As the Slayer of the Demon Nishumbha (Nishumbhasudani), 900 to 925 CE, Tamil Nadu, India”.

A closer analysis of this sculpture would reveal that it is a 10th Century granite bas relief, albeit a little damaged, but nevertheless a masterpiece from the times of the medieval Cholas. We do not know from whom and where this icon was sourced from, but the Museum has this item in its Collection having purchased it from out of the funds of the Joseph E Temple Trust in the year 1965. This Devi, the slayer of Shumbha, Nishumbha and Mahishasura is the subject matter of this blog post.

Actually, the blog is about two mysteries, dating back to centuries prior which continue to hold us in thrall. And this Devi, ‘nishumbhasUdanI’ is the link with which we will look at these two mysteries. We have very few facts or solid information from those times, long bygone and this blog is to place them in proper perspective as always to provide a context for a raga and a composition.  This blog has been written, alternating between the two mysteries while at the same time providing some background then & there for which foot notes have been written so as to provide continuity.

Read On!

 Introduction:

The Cholas were the great Kings of southern Tamilnadu ruling from Tanjore. The subject matter for us are the Medieval Cholas who ruled first from Uraiyur and later from Tanjore between 848 AD and 1070 AD. The Chola Kings who ruled prior are called the Early Cholas and those who ruled after 1070 AD are called the Later Cholas by historians. Very well known in this lineage of medieval Chola Kings are Emperor Raja Raja I (whose actual name was Arulmozhi Varman) and his son Rajendra I who respectively constructed the Brihadeesvara Temple at Tanjore and its look like, the Great temple at Gangaikondacholapuram.

The first King of this medieval Chola lineage was Vijayalaya Chola (regnal years 848 AD-891 AD) who is also credited to have founded the modern city of Tanjore, making it the Capital of the Imperial Cholas. When he laid the foundation of this great Chola lineage and that of the City of Tanjore as his capital, legend has it that he made the icon of Goddess Durga or ‘nishumbasUdanI’ as the tutelary deity of the Cholas. She was revered as a war Goddess and legend has it that Vijayalaya built a temple for Her in Tanjore. Historians are unanimous in their opinion that this Temple no longer exists today. The only reference to this act of Vijayalaya Chola and vouching for the existence of Nishumbasudani is this following verse found in the Tiruvalangadu Copper plate (see Note 1) which in a set of verses, in the nature of hagiography, detailing the entirely lineage of Cholas as a brief history.

The Tiruvalangadu Copper Plates ( photo courtesy “The Hindu”)

தஞ்சாபுரீம் ஸௌத ஸுதாங்காராகாம்
ஜக்ராஹ ரந்தும் ரவிவம்ச தீப:
தத:பிரதிஷ்டாப்ய நிசும்ப சூதனீம்
ஸுராஸுரை:அர்ச்சித-பாதபங்கஜாம்
சது : ஸமுத்ராம்பர மேகலாம் புவம்
ரஹாஜ தேவோ தத்பராசதந”

तञ्जापुरीं सौध सुधाङ्गरागां
जग्राह रन्तुं रविवंश दीपः
ततः प्रतिष्ठाप्य निशुम्भसूदनीं
सुरासुरैः अर्चितपादपङ्कजां
चतुः समुद्राम्भर मेखलां भुवं
रहाज देवो तत्परासदन

(Verse 46 of the Tiruvalangadu Copper Plate – History of the Cholas- See Note 2)

 Meaning: Having next consecrated (there at Tanjore) (the image of) Nisumbhasudani whose lotus-feet are worshipped by gods and demons, (he, Vijayalaya Chola) by the grace of that (goddess) bore just (as easily) as a garland (the weight of) the (whole) earth resplendent with (her) garment of the four oceans.

And this Goddess Nishumbasudani as the tutelary deity of the Cholas becomes our object of attention. And consecrated in that Temple at Tanjore around 850 AD she must have overseen the rise and the fall of the medieval and later Cholas, spanning about 400 years thereafter before she herself probably disappeared from our view. Let us fast forward time by about 100 years to the reign of Vijayalaya’s grandson’s grandson Parantaka Sundara Chola or Parantaka II of the historians for a peek at a mystery which has for a very long time held the attention of Tamil historians, researchers and literary readers.

Circa 957 AD

Lineage of the Medieval Cholas from Vijayalaya till Rajendra I

Parantaka Sundara Chola, a descendant of Vijayalaya, ascended the Chola throne in 957 AD. His father Arinjaya Cola had earlier ruled for a brief period succeeding his own elder brother Gandaraditya. Since Gandaraditya died leaving a very young son (Madurantaka Uttama), Arinjaya ascended the throne and he also having died shortly thereafter, it became inevitable that Parantaka Sundara the son of Arinjaya ascended the throne as Madurantaka Uttama was still a minor. Nevertheless, given the patriarchal line of succession as was prevalent, Parantaka Sundara thus became King even while his father’s elder brother’s son Madurantaka Uttama, being the rightful claimant to the throne was there. We do not know the intrigues that went on in relation to this succession but nevertheless the same becomes a key pivot for the proceedings.

Parantaka Sundara’s eldest son was Prince Aditya Karikala (See Note 3) who records say was anointed as Crown Prince. And it was not Madurantaka Uttama the older claimant. We do not know, as between Aditya Karikala and Madurantaka Uttama who was elder by age but it was Aditya Karikala who became the heir apparent. Parantaka Sundara’s two other children were Prince Arulmozhi Varman and Princess Kundavai who would have been yet another set of siblings to the anointed Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, without any right to inherit the throne, but for the chain of events that were about to engulf Tanjore shortly thereafter, a veritable Game of Thrones, a medieval version at that, which brought these two younger royals to the forefront.

Even while Parantaka Sundara Chola ruled over from Tanjore, by 965 AD it was left to the young & mighty Crown Prince Aditya Karikala to expand the frontiers of the Chola Kingdom. Records say that he decimated the Pandyan army at the Battle of Sevur (near Pudukottai) and killed King Veerapandya earning for himself the title ‘The Vanquisher who took the Head of Veerapandya’ (‘vIrapAndiyan thalai konda parakesari’). Even the Thiruvalangadu copper plate verse No 68 too makes a mention to that effect, Dr Nilakanta Sastri opines that Aditya would have not literally done so and the said epithet was just to signify his victory over Veerapandya. The true import of this epithet would prove important later when we come to interpret the happening that would shake the very foundation of the medieval Chola rule.

Given the perpetual rivalry between the Cholas and Pandyas, a victory of that proportion must have been a truly momentous occasion. But that victory was to turn a pyrrhic one.  It is well likely that Madurantaka Uttama, the cousin of Parantaka Sundara, the reigning King upon attaining majority must have nursed ambitions to be the next King given the precedence of his claim to the throne. However, given the legendary & heroic exploits of the Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, Madurantaka Uttama’s claim would have likely been eclipsed by Aditya’s. Whether Madurantaka Uttama resented it and whether directly or indirectly he advanced his claims or wishes to ascend the throne, we do not know. In the same breath it has to be said that we do see inscriptions wherein Madurantaka Uttama is recorded as a Prince (if not as a Crown Prince) performing his royal duties in his own right during the reign of Parantaka Sundara Chola, such as the one at Tiruvottriyur, (Udayar is the tamil word which is used as a prefix to the Prince in the said inscription).

While all was well this far in Tanjore in the early months of 969 AD with Parantaka Sundara as King and Aditya Karikala as the Crown Prince & successor designate, let us leave the dramatis personae for a while and fast forward quickly to the present.

21st Century:

The Nishumbhasudani Goddess Durga icon which we one can see in the Philadelphia Museum, dateable to 900 AD, being the reign of Vijayalaya Chola or his successor Aditya I sets us thinking if it is perhaps from that very Temple which was constructed at Tanjore for Her by Vijayalaya and which today is just a legend. May be or maybe not, nevertheless the reference to the Nishumbhasudani Goddess Durga and that mythical temple would certainly encourage one to search for a reference to Her and the temple in our musical or literary heritage left behind by the poets, composers and savants of the past. However, a diligent search for Her seems to show no trace of any verse or reference or composition or any epigraphical record pointing us to this Devi. In sum, save for the solitary reference in the above referred Thiruvalangadu Copper plate to this Nishumbhasudani of Tanjore. Also the existing structures and temples in Tanjore for Goddess Durga too seem to have been much later constructed temples. See Note 4. Where was this Goddess who had as her abode the temple constructed by Vijayalaya Chola ?

In passing, it is worth mentioning that readers of Kalki’s classic ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ would doubtlessly recall the references to Goddess Durga Parameswari and also the allusion to this Devi’s Temple in the proceedings in the said work.

While this is so let’s move the clock back this time by just around 200 plus years to first two decades of the 19th century, when Muthusvami Dikshitar the itinerant composer spent some time at Tanjore.

Circa 1800 AD:

Biographers of Muthusvami Dikshitar (1775-1832 AD) refer to an extended period of time when he visited and stayed in Tanjore. His prime disciples namely the Tanjore Quartet being Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Sivanandam & Vadivelu when they were in the Court of Serfoji II, are said to have invited him to be with them and he reportedly obliged them by doing so sometime during this period. It was during this sojourn that Dikshitar at the request of the Quartet, commenced the project of investing a composition in every one of the 72 mela ragas of the compendium of Muddu Venkatamakhin. Even while as Dikshitar embarked on creating a number of them on the deities of the very many temples and around Tanjore, could he have created one on Nishumbasudani Goddess Durga? None of the biographers of Muthusvami Dikshitar attribute any kriti to Her and therefore one in left with their own devices to investigate if any kriti can be ascribed to this long-lost tutelary deity of the Imperial Cholas.

It does make one surmise whether Dikshitar would have craved to have a darshan of this great & hoary deity. He must perhaps got himself satisfied by visiting and paying obeisance to Her at the smaller shrine in the then ramparts of the Tanjore fort. Could he have perhaps having heard of this mythical yet fearsome war Goddess wondered where on earth she was and then hearing about the futility of discovering Her or the legendary temple, perhaps went on to eulogize her, invoking her imagery with his inner vision and thus creating a composition? If indeed there was one kriti at the very least we can surmise that it could be the one he might have composed on this Nishumbhasudani. And that composition could surely be a pen picture of that great Devi, which we can perhaps use as a proxy to that long-lost icon.

In other words, could Dikshitar have created a composition on that mythical Goddess just as how he had done for the mythical Goddess Sarasvati of Kashmir or the One who resided on the banks of the mythical Sharavati river, without having visited Her? And if he had composed one, which is the raga of choice Dikshitar would have employed? Before we progress further we must note one caveat here. In the first place we have attempted to search for this supposed composition on Nishumbhasudani, as there were no already attributed compositions to start with, with the embedded ksetra/stala or any other internal/external evidence. We have embarked on this only to surmise on the possible composition which could have been created by Dikshitar on this mythical Goddess of Tanjore and therefore for sure the composition will be bereft of any evidence to that effect.

In so far as the raga of the composition, it is entirely in the realm of possibility that Dikshitar must have applied great thought to the choice of the raga. And perhaps given his predilection for the rare and the archaic, he must have proceeded to compose the same in a long-forgotten raga, but which would have ruled the roost centuries ago and had been forgotten by 1800’s.

Thus, a composition in a long forgotten archaic raga for a mythical and again completely forgotten tutelary deity of the great Cholas of Tanjore would have been his complete and appropriate homage to that Nishumbhasudani. And could he have done it?

Having surmised a case for a probable composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar, on the Nishumbhasudani of Tanjore, it is time for us to go back to the times of Sundara Parantaka Chola once more.

Circa 969 AD

The year AD 969 would have been King Parantaka Sundara Chola’s 12th year of reign and his Crown Prince & anointed successor Prince Aditya Karikala must have been around 22 years old. And then sometime September that year, tragedy strikes the Royal Cholas.

The Tiruvalangadu Copper plates mourn the death of the young Crown Prince Aditya Karikala with the verse no 68 running thus:

Having deposited in his (capital) town the lofty pillar of victory (viz.,) the head of the Pandya king, Aditya disappeared (from this world) with a desire to see heaven.

In essence the copper plate records, bemoaned the setting of the sun (“Aditya”) probably plunging the entire Chola kingdom in grief & darkness.  It must be noted that Tiruvalangadu plates (which by themselves were created during the reign of Rajendra Cola, circa 1030 AD or more than 50 years or so later from this event) as above merely mention this untimely demise and it does not raise the sceptre of assassination or foul play in his death. Neither was there any war or battle on record in which the valiant Prince could have lost his life, at that point in time. And if so the epigraphs would have eulogized his death much like how his paternal uncle Rajaditya was. It is only the inscription at Udayarkudi (created later during the reign of King Raja Raja Chola, circa AD 1010) which throws further light on this mysterious tragedy. The said inscription attests to the assassination of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, implying that three brothers Soman Sambhavan, Ravidasan alias Panchavan Brahmadhirajan and Parameswaran alias Irumudichola Brahmadirajan being traitors, had been instrumental in the death of the Crown Prince. Modern historians opine that one or more of these three personalities were high ranking Chola Officials who were insiders to the regime and most probably they took revenge on the Crown Prince for the death of the Pandyan King and after doing the foul deed they probably fled for life, for we have no record of them having been caught, tried and sentenced. The Udayarkudi inscription unambiguously makes it know that the assassins and their relatives were banished and their assets confiscated by the State. Nothing is known further than this.

From inscriptions or the Chola era copper plates, nothing further is known as to how and where Crown Prince Aditya Karikala was killed even while different theories have been floated about both by historians and fiction writers in the 20th century. Be that as it may, the Royal House of the Cholas must have plunged into grief with the death of its Crown Prince. Tongues must have wagged and the loyalties of the members of the Royal Family and Courtiers must have been called into question. (See Note 5)

And thus, ended the life of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala some 1050 years ago in 969 AD. In his death perhaps unwittingly lay the glory of the Imperial Cholas. His brother Raja Raja I and thereafter his successor Rajendra I went on to become the great Emperors of Southern India expanding their influence even into modern day Malaysian peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago. And for these Chola Kings their tutelary deity Nishumbhasudani was always the greatest benefactor and guardian angel in whom they reposed undiminished faith, so much so that even the Mahratta Kings who came to rule from Tanjore much later, in a bid to capitalise on the same faith and authority as the Imperial Cholas, too made Her as their family deity. The medieval Chola history thus leaves amongst many others, chiefly two unsolved mysteries or questions for us today. First being the unsolved death of the young and chivalrous Crown Prince Aditya Karikala in AD 969 and secondly the whereabouts of the Nishumbhasudani icon and the temple venerated by them which was once upon a time in Tanjore.

And with these questions open, we will take leave of the Chola Royals and move on quickly some 800 years hence immersing ourselves now in matters musical.

Circa 1800 AD

As we surmised earlier if indeed Muthuswami Dikshitar had composed a kriti on this Nishumbasudani of Tanjore, it ought to be documented in the magnum opus Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar for sure. A perusal of Dikshitar’s compositions therein quickly reveals one which satisfies our query, the composition starting ‘mahishAsuramardhini’ in the raga Narayani under mela 29 Sankarabharanam.

We had further surmised earlier that the raga of the composition, if one exists is likely to be an archaic one. And Narayani is truly one. Before we deep dive to examine this statement, one omnibus declaration needs to be flagged right away. The raga tagged as Narayani by the Sangraha Cudamani with two Tyagaraja compositions as exemplars are certainly not Narayani. Again, as pointed out earlier the scale as exemplified by these two Tyagaraja composition has been wrongly assigned the name Narayani. It is a different raga altogether.

Narayani’s History:

The Narayani of Muthusvami Dikshitar as illustrated in the SSP (1904 AD) on the authority of the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika (circa 1750 AD) claims a hoary lineage all the way tracing back centuries prior, as a raga taking only the notes of Sankarabharana/29th mela of our present day Mela system. Ramamatya’s Svaramelakalanidhi ( 1550 AD) Poluri Govindakavi’s Ragatalachintamani ( circa 1650), Ragamanjari of Pundarikavittala ( circa 1575), Govinda Dikshitar’s Sangita Sudha ( AD 1614), Venkatamakhin’s Caturdandi Prakashika ( 1620 AD), Sangita Parijata of Ahobala ( 17th century), Srinivasa’s Ragatattva Vibhoda ( 1650AD), Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu ( 1710 AD), Tulaja’s Sangita Saramruta ( 1732 AD) and finally ending with Muddu Venkamakhin’s Anubandha, all these musical texts unequivocally & in unison assert that the Raga Narayani takes the notes of Mela 29 /Sankarabharanam. It is indeed incomprehensible how this hoary raga which has been so for centuries under Sankarabharana mela can be classified under Harikambhoji mela (as in Sangraha Cudamani).

Without much ado one simply needs to cast aside/discard the aberrant definition laid down for raga Narayani by the Sangraha Cudamani and proceed to evaluate the history and the lakshana of the raga as laid down unanimously by all previous musicological treatises or more precisely by the Triad – being the works of Sahaji (AD 1710), Tulaja (AD 1732) and Muddu Venkatamakhin (AD 1750) and proceed to draw the conclusions therefrom. We have seen time and again that the lakshana of a raga as given by this Triad together with the exemplar kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar as documented in the SSP would enable us to understand the true and correct picture of the raga. In the current context, we also need to evaluate why Narayani is archaic and went extinct. It is a fact that neither this Dikshitar kriti ‘mahishAsuramadhini’ nor any other kriti conforming to the Narayani of the 29th mela is even encountered on the concert circuit today.

But firstly, lets evaluate the lakshana of Narayani according to Sahaji, Tulaja and offcourse Muddu Venkatamakhin.

Lakshana of raga Narayani & likely why it went extinct:

The Triad of musicological texts and the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar provides us the following lakshana of the raga:

  1. The raga is sampurna, i.e all seven notes of mela 29 occurs in this raga.
  2. It is upanga in the modern as well, i.e it takes only the notes of mela 29 being R2, G3, M1, P, D2 and N3
  3. SRGM, PDNS, SNDP – these lineal combinations do not occur. Though MGRS is permitted by the definition the Dikshitar kriti sports only MG\S only, with the rishabha occurring more as an anusvara.
  4. It is a raga with vakra/ devious progression sporting RMGP, SMGP, GPD, GPDr, PMGS, SNDS, SNPD, DNP, SNP and MGPD as evidenced in the kriti of Dikshitar. Its perplexing that Subbarama Dikshitar provides two murcchanas SRMPNDS and GRSndS, which are not seen in the kriti and which would give a different melodic complexion to the raga, though GRSndS seems acceptable.
  5. In modern parlance SRMGPNDS or better still SMGPDNPDS /SNPNPDMPMGS can be notional arohana/avarohana krama.
  6. Needless to add that it is a quintessential raga aligning perfectly to the classic 18th century raga architecture with jumps, bends, turns and twists on one hands & multiple arohana/avarohana progressions as well. MGPD, MG\S seem to be the recurring leitmotifs.

The evaluation of the raga’s contours would show that it has considerable melodic overlap with modern day Bilahari. Bilahari is a much newer raga in comparison to Narayani for it is documented for the first time only by Sahaji in his work, circa 1710 AD. No prior musical work documents Bilahari. Given the subsequent popularity that Bilahari had gone on to acquire, Narayani must have ceded ground, giving up much of its musical material and thus became archaic.

In this context it has to be pointed out that modern musicological books wrongly provide Bilahari’s arohana plaintively as SRGPDS while it is actually SRMGPDS. And the raga Bilahari is bhashanga and takes the kaishiki nishada too in its melodic body which is attested for by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. However, we see popular presentations of Bilahari shorn of these two features making us wonder if what is being sung today is only Narayani, of yore! This apart again, we do have some long lost prayogas of Bilahari which would impart a hue very different from what we hear today as Bilahari. The complete analysis of Bilahari rightfully belongs to another separate blog post which will done shortly.

In so far as the Narayani and Bilahari as delineated in the SSP, without doubt it can be stated that on the basis of the lakshanas as laid out in the Triad with the Dikshitar kriti as exemplars, one can sing the two ragas with their respective individual identities intact. However, to understand the correct melodic identity of these two ragas we have to necessarily set aside the incorrect text book lakshana of Bilahari as being presented today popularly and also ignore the aberrant ‘modern’ lakshana of Narayani which has been advanced on the strength of the Sangraha Cudamani, giving the two Tyagaraja kritis ‘rAma nIvEgani’ and ‘bhajanasEyu mArgamunu’ as exemplars. As pointed out earlier, the raga found in these two compositions is a different melody under Harikambhoji mela for which a new name should be identified and given so that no confusion is made between these melodies. Again, it is reiterated that Tyagaraja never assigned names to his ragas and it was only much after his life time, his lineage of disciples, publishers of his compositions and authors who compiled ragas, assigned raga names post 1850 AD, to his kritis. This misnaming of the melodies of Tyagaraja’s compositions using the older raga names and established identities such as Sarasvati Manohari, Narayani etc has resulted in this confusion where we have a single raga name for two melodies with different musical identities. It is regrettable that this state of affairs has been perpetuated this far.

Be that as it may, for this blogpost the record is set straight once more here by reiterating that the Narayani of yore was only a melody under Mela 29/Sankarabharanam taking only its notes (upanga in modern parlance) and the kriti of Dikshitar ‘mahishasura mardhini’ set in this raga is the sole exemplar.

Text and meaning of the lyrics of ‘mahishAsuramardhini’ in Narayani:

The kriti is in the classic Dikshitar format sporting both the raga mudra as well as his colophon. It is to be pointed out here that the section of the caranam commencing ‘shankarAdra sarIrinIm’ is in a pseudo-madhyama kala and is not at double the akshara count of the rest of the composition.

pallavi

namāmi                        – I salute

mahiṣa-asura-mardinIm         – the destroyer of the demon Mahisha!

mahanIya-kapardinIm            – the venerable wife of Shiva (who wears matted locks),

anupallavi

mahiṣa-mastaka-naTana-bheda-vinodinIM – the one who revels in performing different dances on the head of the buffalo-demon Mahisha

mOdinIM                        – the blissful one,

mālinIM                        – the one wearing garlands,

māninIM                        – the honourable one,

praNata-jana-saubhAgya-dāyinIm – the giver of good fortune to the people who salute reverentially,

caraNam

shankha-cakra-shUla-ankusha-pANIM – the one holding a conch, discus, trident and goad in her hands,

shakti-senāM                    – the one leading an army of Shaktis (goddesses),

madhuravāNIM                  – the one whose voice and speech are sweet,

pankajanayanāM                – the lotus-eyed one,

pannagaveNIM                  – the one whose braid is (long and dark) as a cobra snake.

pālita-guruguhāM              – the one who protects Guruguha!

purāNIm                        – the ancient, primordial one,

shankara-ardha -sharIriNIM        – the one who has taken half the body of Shiva,

samasta-devatā-rUpiNIM         – the one who is the embodiment of all the gods,

kankaNa-alankRta-abja-karāM – the one whose lotus-like hands are adorned with bangles,

kātyāyanIM                     – the daughter of Sage Katyayana,

nārāyaNIm                      – the one related to Narayana (being his sister).

In the context of the lyrics, specific attention is invited to the line sankarArdha-sarIrinIm samasta-devatA-rUpiniM, by which Dikshitar alludes briefly to how the conception of Goddess Durga is said to happened as recorded in religious texts.

Here is the link to the rendering of the kriti which has been rendered very close to the notation found in the SSP, by Sangita Kala Acharya Dr.Seetha Rajan. ( see Foot Note 6)

 

A Brief Note on one other composition attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar:

While the SSP records only this Narayani composition ‘mahishAsura mardhini’, on Goddess Durga or her synonymous forms, Veena Sundaram Iyer during the 1960’s brought to light another composition (not found in the SSP), attributing the same to Muthuswami Dikshitar. The text of the same together with the meaning of the lyrics is as under:

mahishāsuramardini – rAgam gauLa – tāLam khaṇDa cApu

Pallavi

mahiṣāsura-mardhini māṃ pāhi madhya-deśa-vāsini

Anupallavi (samaṣṭi caraṇam)

mahādeva-mānasollāsini mā-vāṇI guruguhādi-vedini mārajanaka-pālini sahasra-dala-sarasija-madhya-prakāśini suruciranalini śumbha-niśumbhādi-bhanjani

(madhyamakāla-sāhityam) iha-para-bhoga-mokṣa-pradāyini itihāsa-purāNādi-viśvāsini gaurahāsini

Meaning:

mahiṣa-asura-mardini        – O destroyer of the demon Mahisha!

māṃ pāhi                     – Protect me!

madhya-deśa-vāsini           – O resident of Madhya Desha!

anupallavi (samaṣṭi caraṇam)

mahā-deva-mānasa-ullāsini   – O one who delights the heart of Shiva  (the great god)!

mā-vāṇi-guruguha-ādi-vedini – O one understood by Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Guruguha and others!

māra-janaka-pālini           – O protector of Vishnu (father of Manmatha)!

sahasradaLa-sarasija-madhya-prakāśini – O one resplendent at the centre of the thousand-petal lotus!

suruciranaLini              – O charming one, lovely as a lotus-creeper!

śumbha-niśumbha-ādi-bhanjani – O destroyer of the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha and others!

iha-para-bhoga-mokṣa-pradāyini – O giver of enjoyment and liberation for this world (iha) and the other (para), (respectively)!

itihāsa-purāṇa-ādi-viśvāsini – O repository of the faith of the epics and Puranas!

gaurahāsini                 – O one who has a shining white smile!

Keeping aside the question whether this composition truly is of Dikshitar based on its provenance, prasa, tala, meaning of some of the lyrics occurring in the composition, the mettu/musical setting of the composition etc two points arise for our consideration in the specific context of this blog post.

  1. The reference to the probable sthala of this composition – ‘madhya-desha-vasini’ occurring in the pallavi
  2. The reference ‘shumbha nishumbhAdi bhanjanI’ occurring in the so called samashti caranam or strictly in SSP parlance, anupallavi of the composition.

It has to be confessed that these points take us nowhere, as ‘madhya desa’ is certainly not Tanjore. The other reference as to Her as vanquisher of Nishumbha though relevant may not necessarily advance our case. The controversy as to the authorship of the composition coupled with the above factors, takes us no further forward and given that our objective is to merely speculate on the probable composition of Dikshitar on the mythical Nishumbhasudani of Tanjore, it is left to the reader to draw his own conclusions thereof. ( See Foot Note 7)

CONCLUSION:

With passage of every day, month, year and decade or century, the probability of finding any further evidence or epigraph or inscription which could potentially tell us of what truly happened to that mythical temple and icon of ‘nishumbhasUdani’ at Tanjore or what really happened that fateful day of 969 AD when Crown Prince Aditya Karikala was assassinated and who was behind that, keeps receding. Even Kalki Krishnamurthi in his classic read ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, keeps the mystery tantalizingly open, leaving it for the imagination of the reader for he felt that it would kill the suspense. (See Epilogue)

And for that event of 969 AD, that legendary Chola titular deity Nishumbhasudani had been a mute witness! And it was as if She too disappeared from the face of earth along with her Temple at Tanjore, constructed by Vijayalaya & thus leaving us with just the riddle which is wrapped in that single line verse in the Tiruvalangadu Copper plates.

And all that we have today, is that probable pen picture of the Goddess as etched by Muthusvami Dikshitar (in his kriti ‘mahishAsuramardanI’ in the archaic raga Narayani) which we have so surmised. And not to forget that granite bas relief of that Nishumbhasudani in that corner room in the second floor of the Philadelphia Museum’s South Asian Art section. And so, if one gets to see her at the Museum or were to get the opportunity to hear the composition ‘mahishAsuramadhini’ in Narayani of Dikshitar , they should pause for a moment to offer obeisance to that legendary Nishumbasudani of Tanjore and admire at the Narayani resurrected by Muthusvami Dikshitar for us. And perhaps one would also hark back and wonder what could have happened that fateful day in the year 969 AD when the young and valiant Chola Crown Prince died unnaturally.

Bibliography:

  1. K A Nilakanta Sastri (1955) – The Colas (English)– University of Madras
  2. Kudavoyil Balasubramanian ( NA) – Udayarkudi Inscriptions – A Relook/Review- ‘udayArkudi kalvettu – Oru mIL pArvai’ (Tamil) – Varalaaru.com article in 3 parts in Issue Nos 24, 25 and 27
  3. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) – Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Republished in Tamil by Madras Music Academy ( 1977) Part IV pp 843-846
  4. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 275-278 and 963-974

Foot Notes:

  1. Much of the material for this blog is sourced from the references from Prof Nilakanta Sastri’s seminal work, ‘The Cholas”. The works of Prof Nilakanta Sastri and that of Sadasiva Pandarathar, together with the monographs and works of latter day archeologists, historians and epigraphists such as Dr Nagaswami, N S Sethuraman, Kudavoyil Balasubramanian and Dr G Sankaranarayanan can be profitably read to draw useful inferences as to the timelines of the medieval Chola Kings, events during their reign and their accomplishments. It has to be said that the epigraphical records are prone to different interpretations by different epigraphists. In so far as the subject matter of this blog post is concerned all these historical personalities, dates and events pertaining to the medieval Cholas are grounded in the following set of sources:

Epigraphy – Specifically the Udayarkudi inscriptions together with inscriptions cited by the experts/historians cited above whose works I have read and relied upon.

Copper plates (‘cheppu aedugal’ in Tamil) – The records of the Chola Kings which were found later in the 20th century known to us today as Tiruvalangadu Copper plates pertaining to this specific period. The other two sources being the Anaimangalam copper plates (Leiden copper plates) and the Anbil copper plates have nothing to contribute directly to the subject matter of this blog post.

Off course reliance is primarily placed on Prof Nilakanta Sastri’s work and he in turn uses third party sources as well in his reconstruction of the history of the medieval Cholas.

  1. The first section of the Thiruvalangadu Copper plates contains a set of 137 verses in Sanskrit, written by one Narayana during the reign of Rajendra Cola and narrates the lineage and history in brief of the Imperial Cholas. Without just relying on one set of records, I personally find that the logic employed by modern epigraphists/historians like Kudavayil Balasubramanian and Dr G Sankaranarayanan by which they triangulate the dates and events with other evidences including those of rock and temple inscriptions, very persuasive. It must be remembered that the copper plate records serve as epigraphs recording history casting the reigning King in the most favourable light. The Tiruvalangadu Copper plates were created during the reign of Rajendra Cola, the Anaimangalam copper plates (known as Leyden plates as they are presently housed in Leyden Museum in Netherlands) were created during the reign of Raja Raja Chola (985 -1014 AD) and the Anbil Copper plates date back to the reign of Parantaka Sundara Chola.
  2. Author Kalki Krishnamurthi cogently and convincingly opines through his work that Crown Prince Aditya Karikala was probably named after in memory of the legendary King Karikala of the Old Chola lineage and Prince Rajaditya the short lived yet legendary grand uncle of his and a grandson of Vijayalaya, who was felled by deceit in battle at Takkolam when he was fighting atop his elephant and therefore eulogised in epigraphs as ‘Anai mEl thunjiya tEvar’.
  3. Though this medieval Nishumbhasudani Temple no longer exists, a number of other Durga/Kali temples in Tanjore exists today probably attesting to the popularity of this cult worship in this area. Currently the well-known ones are the Vadabadra Kali Amman Temple and the other being the Ugra Kaliamman Temple, which perhaps proclaim themselves to be the original one constructed by Vijayalaya in 10th Century AD
  4. For us only verses 68 & 69 of the Thiruvalangadu plates and the said Udayarkudi inscriptions tell us this unsaid & long forgotten mysterious death of the Chola Prince. The assassination of Prince Aditya Karikala and the unsolved mystery of who actually did or could have done the deed, spawned not just various theories of conspiracy by subsequent historians but also a number of literary works which went on to capture the imagination of 20th century readers. These were part true-part fiction works, the foremost amongst them being Kalki Krishnamurthi’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, Balakumaran’s “Kadigai’ and ‘Udayar’, Kovi Manisekaran’s ‘Aditya karikAlan kOlai” & ‘T A Narasimhan’s Sangadhara’. While Kalki Krishnamurti in his ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ created a host of real & imaginary characters in his plot and left the identity of the real killer open in suspense, Sri Balakumaran in his Kadigai, made Madurantaka Uttama Chola as the instigator-in-chief, even while in one other novel, Raja Raja Chola and Princess Kundavai, the siblings of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala were made as the mastermind for the royal assassination. Amongst the historians, the earliest being Prof T A Nilakanta Sastri based on epigraphical evidence argued that given the verses 68 & 69 of the Tiruvalangadu Copper plates, Madurantaka Uttama must have had a hand in the death of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, given that post Aditya’s assassination he had evinced interest to become the King & he was made one by Arulmozhi Verman who gave up his claim. In other words, Prof Nilakanta Sastri did not assign importance to the Pandyan conspiracy angle and the possibility of the three assassinators, named in the Udayarkudi inscription acting on their own to murder Aditya Karikala.  Archeologist Kudavoyil Balasubramanian in his analysis of the Udayarkudi Inscription, gives an excellent summary of the take of different historians and proceeds to argue that Prof Nilakanta Sastri was mistaken in his assessment. Sri Balasubramanian basing his case on multiple sources including the much later unearthed Chola copper plates from Rajendra’s reign from near Esalam near Villupuram during the 1980’s and reading the Udayarkudi inscriptions in context, concludes that Aditya Karikala’s assassination was only the handiwork of the three perpetrators named in the said Udyarkudi inscription namely Soman, Ravidasan and Parameswaran in revenge for the killing of their Pandyan master King Veerpandya by Aditya Karikala earlier and Uttama Chola had no role to play in the said tragedy, based on the reading of the available evidence. See Epilogue.
  5. Mysore Vasudevachar’s grandson in his publication ‘Sangita Samaya’ recounts a humorous incident that happened in the context of this Dikshitar composition ‘mahishAsura mardhini’ in Narayani.

…………………….After the Navaratri festival, the float festival would begin on the Chamundi hills and the Maharaja had directed that vidwans, Bidaram Krishnappa and Vasudevachar, should jointly sing Dikshitar’s “Mahishasura Mardhini” in Narayani raga. Neither of them knew this song; in no time they learnt the Pallavi and violinist Venkataramanayya the tune of the Pallavi. They managed to render it when the float carrying the royal party was there and stopped when the float moved away. Venkataramanayya was happy that they had successfully hoodwinked the royalty. Imagine their predicament when they were asked to render the Anupallavi and the Charanam also.”  https://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/2001/04/17/stories/1317017d.htm 

7. The composition in the raga Gaula attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar can be heard rendered in the following URL’s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02aBFW62wjM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMgl-hjeuLU

 

EPILOGUE:

Much as one would like to write an epilogue regarding some archaeological find regarding the discovery of that original icon of  ‘nishumbhasUdani’ of that Tanjore temple. Alas there isn’t one as yet.  That apart one other inspiration for this blog post, for me has been the enduring mystery of the death of Aditya Karikala, the Chola Crown Prince in 969 AD, fuelled by several re-readings of Ponniyin Selvan and the other fictions and also the historical works of Prof Nilakanta Sastri and Sri Sadasiva Pandarathar. Kalki Krishnamurthi in his part real/part fiction novel had created a number of characters in his narrative such as Nandhini, the cunning and seductive Junior Rani of Pazhuvoor, her consort the Periya Pazhuvettarayar (a Chola feudatory and the Chancellor of the Chola Exchequer in the story) alongside the real life ones being Vandhiya Tevar ( later Royal Consort of Princess Kundavai), Ravidasan and Soman and made them all come together with Aditya Karikala in that dark underground chamber in the Kadamboor Palace that fateful night in 969 AD even as he left the identity of the killer whose fateful act took Aditya’s life open. However he ensured that the needle of suspicion did not point to Uttama Chola ( there being two individuals one, an original and the other a pretender, again fictional). Sri Balakumaran on the contrary in Kadigai makes the Brahmin identity of the perpetrators as a key and spins his tale making Uttama Chola as well as the Queen Mother Sembian Madevi a party to the conspiracy and packing the proceedings with considerable action in Pandya and Kerala country. I should confess that I have not had the appetite to read the other novels based on this plot, but nevertheless got inquisitive to know the epigraphical basis for the storyline/actual event and also the true state of affairs that the historical evidence was pointing to. Finally, I got to read the unequivocal and expert assessment of available evidence by the respected Archaeologist/Historian Kudavoyil Balasubramanian together with the monograph on the Chola Era finds in Esalam in Villupuram, made by Dr Nagaswami in 1987, which proved to be the icing on the cake for me as these two monographs clinically summarizes the position based on available hard facts and likely clears the air as to the mystery who likely killed Aditya Karikala, a vexed question which has been lacking a formal closure all these years. The Tamil original version of Mr Balasubramanian’s monograph on the subject is here. I have taken the liberty of translating it in English which can be read here. A consolidated view of all these, deserves a separate blog post.

Udayarkudi Inscription – An In-depth Assessment ( Translated article)

Udayarkudi Inscription – An In-depth Assessment

(By Kudavoiyal Balasubramanian- Original in Tamil)

(online at the link below in 3 parts)

http://www.varalaaru.com/design/category.aspx?Category=Sections&CategoryID=9

(English translation by Ravi Rajagopalan)

In understanding medieval Tamil history or more specifically the royal Chola history, the Udayarkudi inscription is an important milestone of singular importance. This epigraph recorded as a granite inscription can be found today on the western wall of the inner sanctum of the Anantheesvaram temple complex of Lord Shiva in Udayarkudi Village near Kaattumannarkudi in Villupuram District of Tamilnadu. Marked as having been made in the second regnal year of King Rajakesari Varman (Raja Raja I) this epigraph was published by Prof Nilakanta Sastri in Epigraphia Indica cataloguing it in Volume XXI serial No 27 of the series. On the basis of this epigraph, in his book “History of Cholas” Dr Sastri has detailed the background to the murder of Aditya Karikala 𝟭. And therein he has advanced the view that in the assassination of Aditya Karikala, who was the eldest son of Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) and the elder brother of Raja Raja Chola I, Madurantaka Uttama Chola was guilty of treason as he conspired from behind. This assertion has since then become the blot besmirching the fair name of Madurantaka Uttama Chola.

The Evidence of the other Scholars:

Sri T V Sadasiva Pandarathar the author of the work ‘Later Cholas’ has argued emphatically against the above view advanced by Prof Nilakanta Sastri & emphasized that it was not possible for Madurantaka Uttama Chola to have had a hand in the royal assassination 𝟮. Nevertheless, he did not place convincing evidence to back up his claim. Sri R V Srinivasan writing about the said assassination much later in 1971 in his essay on Raja Raja Chola published in the Magazine of the Vivekananda College 𝟯 went on to advance his theory that it was Raja Raja and his sister Kundavai who were instrumental in liquidating their elder brother Aditya Karikala and vociferously invited rebuttals to this conclusion even as he raised a number of counter questions challenging the traditional view. Dr K T Tirunavukkarasu in his detailed rebuttal of Sri Srinivasan’s view, writing a piece for a collection of historical essays titled “Arunmozhi Aiyvu Thogudi”𝟰, comprehensively ruled out Madurantaka Uttama’s role in Aditya Karikala’s murder. In the said article, basing his view on a number of historical data points, Dr Tirunavukkarasu has gone on to explain that there was a delay in apprehending the perpetrators immediately thereafter and it was only during Raja Raja I’s second regnal year that the culprits were brought to book and given that the assassins were Brahmins, in accordance with the then prevailing Manu dharma sastra they could not be sentenced to death and were therefore sentenced otherwise. Apart from these above referred scholars many other professional historians and observers too have also cogently argued that Madurantaka Uttama could not be guilty of the said murder but none have cited any credible and irrefutable evidence to substantiate this view point beyond doubt.

The Evidence of the Novelists:

Late Kalki K Krishnamuthi who through his literary fiction ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ created an insatiable thirst for history in the minds of Tamil readers, kept this murder of Aditya karikala as the plot & center stage for this work. Therein he wove a story line enmeshing both real and imagined historical characters as the probable perpetrators of the murder but at the end he left the question as to the identity of the actual culprit tantalizingly open leaving it to the imagination of the Tamil reader. Writer/Wordsmith Balakumaran in his novel ‘Kadigai’ again belonging to the genre of literary fiction, ends his work with the murder of Aditya Karikala as its climax. And he too with his acumen and adept story telling convincingly portrays that even though the culprits were Brahmins the brain behind the assassination actually was Madurantaka Uttama. Even though works of fiction can be of no assistance or substitute for sound historical research, in so far as the murder of Aditya Karikala is concerned it has to be said that the assertion made by Prof Nilakanta Sastri as aforesaid has formed a solid foundation and fodder for the fiction authors. And this has resulted in the prevailing popular perception today that Madurantaka Uttama was the culprit.

The Udayarkudi Stone Inscription:

Let us now turn to the text of the actual inscription 𝟱 recorded on granite which makes a reference to the assassination of Aditya Karikala.

It runs thus:

‘svasti srI kO rAjakesari varmarukku yAndu rEndAvadu vadakarai Brhmadeyam vIranArAyana catuvEdimangalatu perunguri perumakkalukku cakkaravarthi srImukham

pAndiyanai talaikonda karikAla chozhanai kondru drOgigalAna sOman ……..<< illegible>>… thambi ravidAsanAna panchavan BrahmAdirAjanum ivandrambi paramEsvaranAna irumudichozha BrahmAdirAjanum ivargal udanpirandha malayanUrAnum ivargal thambimArum ivargal makkalidum ivar brahmanimAr petrAlum E ….<illegible>>…rAmathham pErappanmAridum ivargal makkalidam ivargalukku pillaikodutha mAmanmAridum thAyodu piranda mAmanmAridum ivargal udanpirandha pengalai vEttArinavum Aga ivvanaivar udamaiyum ANaikkuriyavAru kottaiyUr BrahmasrI rAjanum pullamangalathu chandrasEkara bhattanaiyum  pErathandOm.thAngalum ivargal kankAniyOdum ivargal sOnnavAru nam ANaikkurivAru kudiyOdu kudipperum vilaikku vittruthalathiduka ivai kurukAdikkizhAn ezhuthu enru ipparisuvara

E srImukhathin mErpatta malayanUrAnAna pApanacEri rEvadAsavittanum ivan maganum, ivan thAi pEriya nangai chANiyum immUvaridhum Ana nilam srI vIranArAyana chaturvEdimangalathu sabhaiyAr pakkal vennaiyUr nAttu vennaiyUr UdaiyAn nakkan aravanaiyAn Ana pallava mutharaiya magan bharathanAna viyazha gajamalla pallavarAyanEn innilam pazhampadi irandE mukkAlE oru mAvum ahamanai Arum Aha innilamum immanaiyum nUtrorupatthi iru kazhanju pOn kudutthu vilaikondivvUr tiruvanandIsvarathu bhattArakar koyililE ivvAtai mEsha nAyatru jnAyitrukkizhamai petra pUrattAdi jnAnru chandrAdittavar Alvar koil munbu mUvAyiratharu nUtruvanAna nilaiambalathu  thannEr atrum brAhmanan Oruvanukku nisa dambadi nAzhi nEllum Attaivattam Oru kAgam nisadham padhinaivar brAhmanar uNbadarkku Aga padinAru ivaRul Aivar sivayOgigal uNNavum vaithEn

Araiyan bharathanAna vyAzha gajamallapallavarayanEn I dharmam rakshikkindra mahAsabhaiyAr srI pAdangal En thalaimEl Ena.

The identity of ‘kO rAjakesari varmar’ referred in the Udayarkudi inscription:

The Chola Kings in lineal succession have alternatively prefixed their names with the title ‘rAjakEsari’ and ‘parakEsari’ and in this inscription the Royal appellation used is ‘kO rAjakEsari’ for the reigning King in whose name the authority to make this inscription is made out. In the absence of the specific reference to the reigning King’s first name or his Royal name conferred upon Coronation, we are forced to consider the possibility that this record must have been made in the name of any of the Chola Kings post the assassination of Aditya Karikala who had assumed the title of rAjakEsarI. Nevertheless, based on the reference to one ‘kurugAdi kizhAn’ an imperial Officer of the Chola Administration whose name is found mentioned in this record, it can be deduced that this inscription/record pertains only to the reign of Emperor Raja Raja Chola, for we find this Officer’s name mentioned in other inscriptions as well pertaining to Raja Raja’s period. Further based on this inference and the astral sign signified in line no 7 of the inscription being ‘mEsha gnAyitrukkizhamai petra pUrattAdi nAL’, it can be doubtlessly inferred that this grant was made during the reign of Raja Raja I.

The reference to Two dates/years in the inscription:

The inscription in its body refers to two dates/years signifying the events narrated in the inscription. The first being the one right at the outset (‘svasti SrI kO rAjakesari varmarukku yAndu rEndAvadu vadakarai’) which is the second regnal year of the reigning suzerain during which time the Royal Order/permission to perform the proposed action was dispatched. The second mention is of the time which is referred to in the 7th line ( ‘ivvaatai mEsha jnAyittrukkizhamai….’) of the said inscription which refers to the event/date on which the conveyance of the subject land was given effect to by the Mahasabha by conveying the land to Vyazhan Gajamallan. These two dates are different dates. However, Prof Nilakanta Sastri starts on the erroneous assumption that both the events are coterminous and proceeds to derive his conclusions.

Given the astral confluence signifying the date of the second event above being mEsha nAyattru (which is the tamil month of Chaitra) pUrattAdi vinmIn kUdiya jnAyitrukkizhamai (the Sunday coinciding with the star pUrattAdhi), the date/year in question in accordance with Indian Astronomical Ephemeris is 23 April CE 988. Assuming Raja Raja’s second year since ascension to be CE 986 or 987 (the first event), the same would be the year in which the Royal Order was dispatched to the Elders of the Udayarkudi granting Assent to the conveyance while the actual conveyance by this inscription pursuant to the said Assent was made ( an year perhaps later) only in CE 988.

Is this epigraph a Royal Proclamation/Order of Raja Raja?

Starting with Dr Sastri all historians and scholars who had provided their commentary on the inscription have represented that this inscription by itself is the original Royal Proclamation made by Raja Raja Chola by which the properties of the assassins of Aditya Karikala, who were labelled as traitors, were confiscated by the State and proceeded to build their case thereon. This is not true. A careful perusal of the inscription’s narrative would show that the first four lines are only the Royal Assent that was conferred by the reigning King Raja Raja Chola during his second regnal year (CE 986 or CE 987 latest) to the Elders of the village of Veeranarayana Chaturvedimangalam (Udayarkudi as it was known then). This Royal Assent granted for the conveyance of the property was a preamble to the actual conveyance done then by the Mahasabha/Elders in favour of Vyazhan Gajamalla (a mere land record). And therefore, this inscription should not be treated as a Royal Proclamation or Edict issued by Raja Raja directly.

The Identity of the Individual by/for whom the inscription was made:

According to the narrative in the inscription, an individual Bharathan also known as Vyazha Gajamalla Pallavarayan, son of ‘aravanaiyAn’ Pallava Muttharayan of Tiruvennainallur created an endowment in perpetuity for providing potable water supply source and for feeding 15 sivayogis inclusive of saivaite brahmanas, by purchasing from the Elders/Mahasabha of the Village consisting of lands measuring 2 ¾  velis & 1 mA and six house sites ( agamanai) for a sum of 112 gold coins. This purchase of land from the State and the consequential creation of this charitable endowment is what is evidenced by this inscription. It has to noted here that the creator /originator of this inscription is this individual Vyazha Gajamallan and is not Raja Raja.

The Details of the Land found in the Epigraph:

The inscription purports to document the purchase of 2 ¾ veli and 1 ma of land together with six house sites. Vyazha Gajamalla purchases this from the Sri Parantaka Veeranarayana Chaturvedimangalam village Mahasabha/Elders and the same is obvious from the phrase ‘sabhaiyaar pakkal’ occurring in the 6th line. Reviewing the language and the grammatical construct of the sentence and the usage of the word ‘pakkal’ ( EzhAm vEtrumai uruppu in tamil grammar) in conjunction with a similar usage seen in another Chola inscription ( SII VI 356) it is crystal clear that the Elders/Mahasabha of the Village, being a Chaturvedimangalam, were the sellers in the said conveyance and they sold it as Trustees. That the village was earlier a Royal tax-free gift of land to Brahmins (brahmadEyam) and was a resident settlement or enclave of Brahmins (Chaturvedimangalam) is obvious from the first line of the inscription.

And while so selling the land to an endowment being set up by an individual, as is practice, they as sellers disclosed the antecedents to their title to the property. The properties belonging to the killers of Aditya Karikala being traitors together with that of their immediate and close relatives ( dAyAdis) were confiscated by Royal Proclamation ( earlier) and pursuant to the same it stood vested with the Sri Parantaka Veeranarayana Chaturvedimangalam Village represented by its Mahasabha or Elders. The epigraph does not disclose when and under whose reign the confiscation and attachment of the properties of the perpetrators and their relatives took place (earlier) nor does it detail the total quantum of such lands which were confiscated earlier enmasse perhaps through a Royal Proclamation. Such details would be subject matter of the specific and separate Royal Order or Proclamation that would have been issued then, in that behalf.

From out of the said lands so confiscated belonging originally to the assassins, their immediate families and relatives and which were in the custody of the grama sabha/village elders, a portion of which, included the lands of the 3 individuals namely rEvadAsa grAmavitthan of Malayanoor, his son and & his mother by name Nangai chAnI, land aggregating to 2 ¾ velis & 1 mA along with the house sites were sold off by the Elders to Vyazha Gajamalla for this endowment for a sum of 112 gold coins ( ‘kazhanju pOn is the Chola coinage). The details of the previous owners of this property was provided as a narrative to the title of the sellers, in this case being the Elders/Mahasabha of the Village.

The inscription if read in context, would also show that Raja Raja during his second regnal year had appointed two administrators namely Kottaiyur BrahmaSri Rajan and Pullamangalam Chandrasekara Bhattar for this confiscated property  and by this srimukham (missive/Order) the King was granting the power to the Mahasabha/Elders to dispose of the confiscated property which had till date been held by them for and on behalf of the State and remit the consideration received, into the local treasury ( thalathiduga). And that was the context the initial line of the epigraph was providing as the preamble.

The reference in the preamble made to the Royal Order/permission/missive (Srimukham) has been misinterpreted by Dr Sastri to the effect that the perpetrators were arraigned only during the second year of Raja Raja’s reign and the said inscription by itself was the Royal Order of Confiscation of the property of the traitors. The same is not acceptable in the light of the foregoing. It has to be noted that nowhere does this epigraph mentions the apprehending of the culprits or the confiscation of their property and details of their lands so confiscated and attached. It can be stated that all that the preamble or the opening lines of the inscription conveys is that the sale was being executed pursuant to Raja Raja’s Royal Order according permission to the Village Mahasabha/Elders to sell the confiscated lands under supervision by the two named individuals and the lands having earlier been confiscated and attached by Royal Proclamation/Orders issued either during Sundara Chola’s reign or a little thereafter during Madurantaka Uttama’s reign. The Village’s Mahasabha after receiving the Royal permission ( srimukham) or assent to convey the land after an year or two, proceeded to give effect to the same by executing the sale of a portion of the original lot of lands which had been confiscated. The mistaken belief that this inscription (of Udayarkudi) by itself was the original Royal Order of Confiscation of property issued by Raja Raja has resulted in confusions beg faced by researchers down the line.

The Perpetrators & their Relatives:

The Udayarkudi inscription (found in the Thiruvanandeesvaram Temple of the Sri Parantaka Caturvedi Mangalam) has the following narrative about the identities of the perpetrators and their relatives as below.

“……..pAndiyanai talaikonda karikAla chozhanai kondru drOgigalAna sOman ……..<< illegible>>… thambi ravidAsanAna panchavan BrahmAdirAjanum ivandrambi paramEsvaranAna irumudichozha BrahmAdirAjanum ivargal udanpirandha malayanUrAnum ivargal thambimArum ivargal makkalidum ivar brahmanimAr petrAlum E ….<illegible>>…rAmathham pErappanmAridum ivargal makkalidam ivargalukku pillaikodutha mAmanmAridum thAyodu piranda mAmanmAridum ivargal udanpirandha pengalai vEttArinavum Aga ivvanaivar udamaiyum……”

The narrative of the above inscription upon examination makes it very clear that that only other three brothers namely Soman ( his alias is not decipherable in the inscription), Ravidasan alias Panchavan Brahmadirajan and Paramesvaran alias Irumudi Chola Brahmadirajan were the culprits/traitors who assassinated Aditya Karikala and since the other referred individuals are dealt with as ‘others’ (‘evagal’) it becomes obvious that these ‘others’ were only relatives of the 3 brothers and were not complicit otherwise to the said murder.

According to the narrative of this epigraph the original owner of the land and the house site (ahamanaigal) forming subject matter of this conveyance, is one pApanacEri rEvadAsa grAmavitthan hailing from Malayanoor (along with his son and mother) and he was a brother to the conspirators & obviously he did not participate in the said treacherous act. These individuals being related (dAyadIs) (though innocent) were therefore deemed culpable as well for the said murder and consequently their properties too were confiscated by the State, attached and was now being sold. It is pertinent to note that nowhere does this epigraph deals with the land & house site which stood in the name of the perpetrators themselves namely Soman, Ravidasan and Paramesvaran connected to the murder.

‘Brahmadirajan’ is a title bestowed by the Tamil sovereigns on high ranking Brahmin Officials in the Royal Service ( peruntharathu aluvalar). The portion of the inscription giving the titular appellation of the first of the perpetrators, mentioned in the inscription namely Soman has been damaged and is therefore not decipherable. The other two perpetrators bear the title of Panchavan Brahmadirajan, which is granted by Pandyan Sovereigns and that of Irumudichola Brahmadirajan, which is conferred by Chola Kings, to Brahmins who are senior ranking members of their Imperial Service. If we view the narrative of this inscription in totality, it can be logically deduced that the first of them being Soman, whose titular appellation is illegible must have been bearing an appellation (which is not decipherable) conferred most probably by the Pandyan sovereign.

The conspectus of these facts would show that it is definitive that the plot to kill Aditya Karikala was hatched only in the Pandya country. Dr Nilakanta Sastri while opining on inscriptions were Aditya Karikala proclaimed himself as ‘vIrapAndiyan talaikOnda kOperukEsari’ ( ‘the Royal who took the head of  Veerapandya’) advances his view that he (Aditya Karikala) used the epithet as a mere figure of speech as to mean that he vanquished him and he did not literally behead him ( Veerapandya)𝟲 . While this view has prevailed till date, much after Dr Sastri’s times, very recently a copper plate inscription as a part of a collection dating back to times of Rajendra Chola has been unearthed at esAlam village, Villupuram Taluk in Tamilnadu, wherein it is unequivocally recorded therein that Aditya Karikala beheaded King Veerapandya’s head, hoisted it on a post and had it displayed at the entrance of the Tanjore Palace for all to see 𝟳. It was thus in revenge for this macabre act done wantonly in blatant disregard for wartime conventions, that Aditya Karikala came to be assassinated.

Born in Sri Parantaka Veeranarayana Caturvedimangalam (Udayarkudi) and having occupied high Offices under both Pandyan and Chola sovereigns, the siblings after being successful in their conspiracy must have in all probability left the Chola dominions. They must have fled either to the Pandya country or to the Chera Kingdom being their allies and must have lived in exile there for a considerable period of time. Their immediate families and relatives too must have migrated out of the Chola land. And it was therefore that the Chola regime must have confiscated and attached their lands and house dwellings. There is no doubt that the above said Imperial action to confiscate, must have taken place either during Sundara Chola’s reign itself or immediately after Madurantaka Uttama Chola’s ascension to the throne.

Madurantaka Uttama Chola’s benign rule, the great respect that Raja Raja Chola had for him and the affinity he enjoyed as evidenced by Raja Raja naming his own son as Madurantaka, the love and affection the Dowager Queen Mother Sembian Maadevi ( Madurantaka Uttama’s mother) had for Raja Raja even while as she was the matriarch of the Royal Household even after the tragic episode are all documented for posterity and they would all go to demonstrate that there is no basis whatsoever to foist the blame of murder on Madurantaka Uttama and thus castigating him so is unfounded.

The other allegation made against Raja Raja in this matter is that since the perpetrators of this murder were Brahmins he deigned not to punish them. This too is unfounded and unsubstantiated. It is well known that one of Raja Raja’s Commanders was Krishnan Raman alias Mummudi Chola Brahmadirajan, a Chola General and a Brahmin to boot. Again, in the Chalukya inscriptions which details the military campaign Raja Raja Chola undertook against the Western Chalukyan King Satyasraya, it is recorded that Raja Raja remorselessly killed brahmin soldiers, during the said expedition. Thus, it was quite normal during those times that Brahmins took to weapons and fought battles and were also killed in them. Viewed in this context it would be unacceptable to blame Raja Raja in this regard in the absence of any historical evidence whatsoever.

The Udayarkudi inscription is just an epigraph which in a line therein as a part of the background narrative provides information as to the assassins of Aditya Karikala. And it is not a Royal Edict disclosing the other details in connection with the assassination or the punishment that was meted to the perpetrators Thus, in sum the Udayarkudi inscription is only a record of an individual Bharathan alias Vyazha Gajamallan having purchased property to create a charitable endowment.

Bibliography:
  1. The Colas, K A Nilakanta Sastri, University of Madras 1984, pp157-158
  2. Pirkaala Chozar Varalaaru, T V Sadasiva Pandaarathar, Annamalai University, 1974, pp 76-78
  3. A Note on the Accession of Raja Raja, R V Srinivasan, Vivekananda College Magazine, Madras 1971 p 13
  4. Aditya Karikala’s Murder – A Review by K T Tirunavukkarasu, Arunmozhi Research Collection, Tamilnadu Archaeological Department, Chennai 600028, 1988 pp143-153
  5. No 27, The Udayarkudi Inscription of Rajakesarivarman, K A Nilakanta Sastri, Epigraphia India Vol XXI pp 165-170
  6. The Colas, K A Nilakanta Sastri, University of Madras 1984, p 154
  7. Archeological Finds in South India, Esalam Bronzes and Copper Plates by Dr R Nagaswamy, Bulletin DE 1’ Ecole Francaise D’Extreme Orient Tome LXXVII, Paris, 1987 p14

 

The Quest for the true melodic contours of Tyagaraja’s “varadarAja ninnEkOri”

PROLOGUE:

The raga names and their associated melodic contour for Tyagaraja’s compositions, from a theoretical framework can be assessed by referring to the Sangraha Cudamani attributed to Govinda and to the Andhra edition of a manuscript called Ragalakshanam. The date of Sangraha Cudamani is not without controversy though. Votaries of the Sangraha Cudamani advance the argument that the work is antecedent to Tyagaraja and he composed and assigned ragas only using this treatise.  There are those who cogently put forth reasoned arguments that the Sangraha Cudamani is neither authoritative nor is it dateable atleast to the times of Tyagaraja. There are others who advocate the theory that Tyagaraja had a set of inherited ‘scale dictionaries’ through Vina Kalahasti Ayya and others (‘Katakamus’) which he then breathed life into as ragas. We have seen much of these in previous blog posts in this series. Leaving aside the question as to the authenticity and whether Sangraha Cudamani is ex post or ex ante to Tyagaraja’s life time, for us at the least it serves a useful reference or a lexicon for us to determine the true melody of Tyagaraja’s compositions.

 While assessing the correct melody of a Tyagaraja composition, though we can rely on the oral traditions – such as the primary sishya paramparas- we still have two important problems.

  1. It is very much discernible from history that Tyagaraja did not assign or disclose the name of the raga of a composition, when he taught it to his students. Therefore, in quite a few instances the different sishya paramparas held different raga names and/or different melodic contour for the same composition.
  2. The second issue is that outside of the sishya paramparas, early publishers of Tyagaraja’s compositions (1870-1920) gave the raga name/description simply as ‘apuroopam’ meaning rare for melodies which were uncommon or not discernible with certainty by them/at that point in time for quite a few of his compositions.

Doubts have been expressed about the correct raga and or /raga lakshana of many Tyagaraja compositions which have remained unresolved and unsettled for many different reasons till date. Examples include the popular as well the rare ones such as ‘nAdatanumanisam’, ‘sItamma mAyamma’& ‘nEnendhu vEdakudhurA’ on one hand and ‘nannu kanna talli’ and ‘prAnanAtha’ on the other to name a few. Our quest to identify the correct raga /melodic contour of compositions becomes severe in the case of compositions which are:

  1. Not much in currency
  2. In uncommon ragas
  3. In ragas not found described in the Sangraha Cudamani and also if many of the late 19th century and early 20th century publications do not offer much clue.

Paucity of systematic musicological research, proper tabulation/classification and scientific analysis of data/information have ensured that we have never gotten to certainty or truth on these questions. In this series of blog posts, we have looked at some of these compositions and with available data attempted to piece together a credible case for a particular raga as being the one in which Tyagaraja might have possibly composed a particular piece.

The composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’ set apparently to a raga called SvarabhUshani is a case in point and we will look at it in this blog post.

BACKGROUND TO THE COMPOSITION:

Let’s first look at the history and other aspects of the composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOrI’. Though Tyagaraja was apparently not an itinerant composer in the mould of Muthusvami Dikshitar, he reportedly did undertake a few journeys/pilgrimages to places away from Tiruvaiyyaru during his life time. His biographers including Prof Sambamoorthi and others based on his compositions/internal evidence, accounts of his disciples and such other collateral information, aver that he visited places like Srirangam, Nagapattinam, Tiruvottiyur, Kovur, Tirupati & Kancipuram. In fact, musical historians based on the kritis also advance the view that the following four deities, have been sung upon by every member of our Trinity

  1. Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram
  2. Goddess Kamakshi at Kancipuram
  3. Goddess Nilayathaksi at Nagapattinam
  4. Goddess Dharmasamvardhini at Tiruvaiyyaru

Taking the case of Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram, while Dikshitar composed ‘varadarAja avAva’ in Gangatarangini and Syama Sastri is said to have composed the Anandabhairavi varnam ‘sami nI rammanavE’ on Lord Vardaraja, Tyagaraja is said to have composed two compositions on Him:

  1. ‘varadarAja nine kOri’ in raga SvarabhUshani – rupaka tAlA
  2. ‘varada navanItAsha’ in raga rAgapanjaram- misra cApu tAlA

Standard texts of Tyagaraja’s compositions such as T S Parthasarathy’s give the text of ‘varadaraja ninnukori’, our subject matter composition as under:

pallavi

varadarAja ninnu kOri vacciti mrokkErA

anupallavi

surulu munulu bhUsurulu cuTTi cuTTi sEvince

caraNam

varagiri vaikuNTha maTa varNimpa daramugAdaTa nirjarulanu
tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa vara tyAgarAjanuta garuDasEva jUDa

THE EVIDENCE OF THEORY:

Dr. V Raghavan’s Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions has an entry for this piece based on its availability in the records of Chinnasvami Mudaliar/Walajapet manuscripts and that of Rangaramanuja Ayyangar. The raga name is given as Svarabhushanl. As pointed out earlier none of the lexicons of Tyagaraja’s songs namely Sangraha Cudamani or the Andhra text of the Ragalakshanam or the Tamil text Mahabharata Cudamani makes a mention of a raga by this name or the scale under the 22 mela. Again only 20th century listings of ragas make a mention of Svarabhushani with the varying arohana/avarohana kramas under mela 22. They do not have any prior authority whatsoever other than their very own which makes the raga a suspect for being tagged to a composition of Tyagaraja. This name is first documented in Nadamuni Panditar’s Svaraprastara Sagaram, circa 1914. And modern publications assign this raga name to the composition as Svarabhushani/Svarabhushini under mela 22 with SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS as the nominal arohana/avarohana.

It needs to be pointed out that mere mention of raga names in older manuscripts by itself does not confer legitimacy for ascribing a particular melody in the case of assigning that to Tyagaraja’s compositions. The learned critic of the last century Sri K V Ramachandran, records that Walajapet Ramasvami Bhagavathar Bhagavathar the scion of the authentic Walajapet line of sishyas confided to him that the raga names assigned in manuscripts were sourced from questionable sources without scrutiny ( “Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’s Songs”. – 1950 JMA XXI pp109)

With not much inputs available to us from a textual history standpoint beyond this, we move over to the oral tradition to determine the true melodic svarupa/contours of this raga and that of the composition.

THE EVIDENCE FROM PRACTICE- DISCOGRAPHY:

Vidvan S Rajam's depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition

Vidvan S Rajam’s depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition

Unfortunately, even here we do not have renderings of this composition from stalwarts of the previous century and hence the composition falls into the rare category. We have an account of Dr S Rajam narrating that Kancipuram Naina Pillai used to beautifully render this composition. But we do not have a recording of Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda, who learnt from him, rendering this composition. Similarly though it is known that Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao had been heard singing this composition, the composition has not been known to be sung popularly.

However, we do have a record of Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram who had his tutelage under Chittoor Subramanya Pillai, rendering this composition. Let’s first hear out his version of ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’.

Watch the video of the garuda seva of Lord Varadaraja with Vidvan Somu’s rendering as the sound track.

Vidvan Somu’s rendering ( Video with footage of Lord Varadaraja’s Garuda seva)

Its fortuitous that he renders svaras for this composition @ vara tyAgarAja, providing additional insights for us. But first if we were look at the opening bars of the composition that he renders and then the reminder of the composition, it’s very obvious that:

 

  1. The raga is sampurna having all svaras of the mela 22 having SNDP, PMGRS and SRS, SGRS and SGMPDNS
  2. He does not render the carana line “nirjarulanu tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa”.
  3. His articulation of the mettu/music of the sahitya ‘vacciti’ of the Pallavi line or the ‘daramugAdata’ is not clear at all, which could have thrown light on the purvanga prayoga, whether it is SRGMP or SGMP.
  4. While he rounds up the pallavi rendering between 0.47 to 0.52, he lends a touch of Anandabhairavi suggesting SGRGM.
  5. Similarly, in the tAra stayi uttaranga sancharas at ‘cutti cutti’ or ‘garuda sEva’ is clearly suggestive only of SRS or SGRS.   And in the svarakalpana he renders SGMP (an oscillated gandhara much like in Anandabhairavi) in the madhya sthayi and again SGRS in the tAra sthayi.

Leaving aside other factors, his rendering enables us to place the contours of this raga as per his pAtham as under:

                                         Arohana krama:     S G R G M P D N S

                                         Avarohana krama: S N D P M G R S

In other words, the melody he paints is a raga of mela 22 with a vakra gandhara in the arohana and a krama sampurna avarohana, without any anya svaras.

Now with this first version of the composition let us move to the next one presented by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Gopalakrishnan. The source of his pAtham of the composition is unknown.

The following points emerge from his presentation.

  1. His version stands out for the use of the oscillated sadharana gandhara through the “GMR” prayoga, a staple of the Kapi/Kanada family. SGMP also occurs which impart the Devagandharam flavour to the alapana.
  2. In the kriti rendering as well he uses the GMRS. Attention is invited to the pallavi closing ahead of the anupallavi commencement and the tAra sthAyi at the anupallavi sahitya section ‘cutti cutti’.
  3. SNDP is the way the pallavi begins. GMPDNS and such other prayogas native to the 22 mela occur otherwise. MRS or GMRS is the way the avarohana krama progresses as is obvious from the svara kalpana as well.

 In sum, this version of the raga and the kriti as painted by the violin virtuoso, provides us the melodic contours as:

            Arohana krama :     S G M P D N S

                                            Avarohana krama : S N D P M G M R S

The gandhara intoned in this version is of two types – one which occurs as GMPDNS and the other which occurs in the GMRS reminiscent of the kAnadA ang/motif native to the Kapi family. In contrast to Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram’s version, Sri MSG’s version though adopting apparently the same svara sets, imparts a different hue and color, due to the GMRS that occurs in his conception. Again, to reiterate we have no clue as to the source of Sri MSG’s pAtam and whether it has nexus to any of the main schools of Tyagaraja’s sishya parampara namely Walajapet, Umayalpuram or Tillaistanam.

We now move to the version of this composition by vocalist Vidushi Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian.

 Video recording from her Kshetra series concert is here.

  1. She begins with SNDP and uses SGMP for ‘vacciti’ in the pallavi. The gandhara occurring in the madhya stayi sounds like the one in Karnataka devagandharam and the tara stayi usage of GMRS at cutti cutti is the kAnada motif.
  2. Her rendering is more disjointed making the purvanga, uttaranga on one hand and the mandhara, Madhya and tara stayis on the other hand sound like different raga sets giving the impression of a misra raga rather than a cohesive/singular melody
  3. In the kalpana svara section the MRS sounds more like MGS. Her version is proximate to Sri MSG’s edition using the same svara sets. However, Sri MSG’s conception is apparently more homogenous for the ears.

ANALYSIS OF THESE RENDERINGS:

In the first cut of the analysis, one can clearly say that Vidvan Somasundaram’s edition is one bucket while the editions of Sri MSG and Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian is clearly of the second bucket. The versions of Sri MSG as well as Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian suggests that present day available editions that we hear are most possibly interpretations of available notations by the individual musicians. In other words, they learnt it from text and their reproduction is constrained by the initial conditions – the fidelity and correctness of the raga, it lakshana and the notation, from the book they learnt.

There are a few initial conditions/caveats that hold true for our discussion:

  1. The raga name Svarabhushani or its melodic contours suggested by prevailing musical texts beginning with Nadamuni Panditar are of recent 20th century vintage only.
  2. This raga name does not figure in the Sangraha Cudamani. Given that Tyagaraja did not assign raga names to his compositions, the absence of the lakshana of ‘svarabUshani’ in Sangraha Cudamani makes it clear that in this case the assignment of the raga name was clearly a very late 19th century or early 20th century development at best.
  3. Using the rendering available in the public domain of a composition, it is likely that the notional mela and arohana/avarohana krama that was implicit in the melodic fabric of this Tyagaraja composition under question was perhaps determined at that point in time.
  4. A perusal of historical records particularly musical books published during late 19th century and early 20th century validates the fact that ragas which were not as popular/well known/common as Sankarabharanam, Todi, Bhairavi, Sriranjani etc couldn’t be identified by them. The publishers of these printed musical books simply left it unspecified by giving the raga name ‘apurUpam’ or ‘rare’. Such was the state of our knowledge and capability from a musical publishing standpoint. Critics of the past century like Sri K V Ramachandran in their presentations before the Music Academy highlighted the need to research and catalogue the compositions and the correct ragas thereof of Tyagaraja. (See foot note 1)
  5. Given the situation the true melodic contours of a raga of Tyagaraja’s composition can be gauged only by triangulating/reconciling the three inputs namely:
    1. available notations from authentic sources & lakshana commentary of any from Sangraha Cudamani/Andhra edition of a document called Ragalakshanam
    2. renderings of vidvans/vidushis who learnt it through the oral tradition route
    3. the internal evidence if any within the composition with minimum but plausible assumptions.
  6. There seem to be no dependable research material or proper research done on this subject, for us to rely upon. See foot note 2.

SOME PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS:

This section and the next completely reflects my view point of this entire problem. Additional facts or authentic versions if any unknown till date, if made available can potentially help in resetting our findings/conclusions. With the available data so far, the following conclusions could be drawn based on the musical material on hand.

  1. The point that the raga name ‘Svarabhushani’ is missing from the listing in Sangara Cudamani makes it clear that the raga of the composition is suspect at the very outset. Most possibly the melody of this composition is already one which is found in the Sangraha Cudamani and is not Svarabhushani.
  2. The analysis of the available recordings as that of Vidvan Somu, Sri M S Gopalakrishnan (MSG) or Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian(VS) do not reconcile against each other for many different reasons:
  3. The contours of the raga itself differ considerably as between Vidvan Somu and the rest.
  4. The versions of Sri MSG and Smt VS employ SGMP and PMRS which do not provide a homogenous color to the raga nor does it appear facile. The artistes seem to have learnt it from notation intoning the notes as is and thus constrained by the nature of the source and its fidelity. The contours that they paint also lack musical authority from any known musicological text.
  5. Available notations too seem to have reconciled the composition to the prescribed scale. Who assigned this composition to this scale and/or who prescribed the arohana avarohana of SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS remains cloaked in mystery. We do have texts which give SNPMGMRS as avarohana krama.
  6. Even notations appear suspect and seem to have been written down from oral tradition without having clarity of the source. For example, the available notations do not seem to prescribe gandhara in the Madhya sthayi sancaras whereas the gandhara makes it appearance in the tAra sthAyi through the GMRS phrase (e.g the sahitya.  “cutti cutti” in the anupallavi). The notation seems to have been written from a source who perhaps did not properly render the tAra stayi phrases. The kriti even with the GMRS does not seem to belong to Kapi clan ragas as well such as Karnataka Kapi or Kanada, Durbar and their ilk. The aural effect, one can feel is that the gandhara appears to have been “thrust” into this composition. Vidvan Somu’ version sadly seems to be no better on this count as well. For the moment, we may treat this point as a hypothesis and we will revisit this point in a little while, as it will prove a clincher for us in determining the “possible true raga” of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’.

SVARABUSHANI IS NOT THE RAGA OF THE COMPOSITION

tyagayya-1946-VNagayyaArmed with this provisional finding I embarked on getting hold of an older rendering possibly of the composition which could provide a clue as to the true raga of this composition. And help came from not from our world of classical music but from unexpected quarters.  The composition was part of the Telugu musical cinema ‘tyAgayya’ starring V Nagayya of 1945 vintage. This movie being a bio-pic of Saint Tyagaraja, featured more than 20 of the his compositions.

The entire movie can be viewed here: Movie

The musical tracks featuring Tyagaraja’s compositions are marked in the progress bar of the movie.

While serious researchers can embark on determining the pAtham of the compositions in detail along with the sahitya and attempt it match it to a specific school of Tyagaraja’s, but for the purposes of the analysis on hand, a quick & dirty summary/high level assessment tells us a number of facts:

  1. All the compositions featured in the movie are of impeccable authenticity. None can be doubted as not being of Tyagaraja’s/spurious.
  2. One can reasonably surmise that given the attention the movie could have garnered, the choices of the compositions and their version must have been of the highest order. If not, they can potentially attract adverse criticism and or reviews.
  3. The melodic constructs of the commonly heard compositions, tracks to the classical versions and no dilution could potentially be imputed to the renderings.
  4. As a caveat, it must be acknowledged that the renderings in the movie do have, what I prefer to call as ‘desi’ quality. They are not pure concert-editions and are more ‘bhajana-sampradaya’ version. And thus, here and there they sport melodic extensions or a few sangathis which may not be completely aligned to the classical lakshana of the raga. In other words, given the source (cinema), one could & should anticipate a few phrases here and there which may not be kosher from the point of view of the classical definition of the raga.

Subject to these disclaimer(s) the musical idea, skeleton or musical construct of a composition sung in this film/available in the musical track of this movie, can (in my opinion) be used as evidence/input to determine the raga contour of that composition.

Here is the Youtube track of the video of the particular song: varadarAja

The audio track of the song is given below:

The analysis of the rendering of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’ from the film Tyagayya reveals the following:

  1. The core melody is unquestionably the raga Devamanohari as one can hear. The elements of the raga are all there.
  2. It conforms to the 22 mela, without any gandhara. The usage of the leitmotif DNP which for example appears at “ninnEkOri’ and other places makes it obvious. We do not see any SGM or GMRS anywhere in the melodic body.
  3. The gamut of the raga in the Madhya sthayi captured by the initial sangatis of the pallavi line and the anupallavi line ‘varnimpa  taramu gAdhada’ is plain unadulterated Devamanohari.
  4. The suspect tAra sancara movements at ‘chUti chUti’ does not paint an outright R..MRS which is what I referred to as ‘dEsI’ in its presentation/intonation. I suspect that these so called prayogas could have found its way to popular/mass version of the song and thus becoming a “corrupted” version of the composition.
  5. These suspect musical expressions together with certain prayogas such as SNDP in certain sangathis can be safely isolated as ‘’subsequently injected aberrations”, for Tyagaraja could not have created his composition with questionable phrases (SNDNP and SNDP in the same breath) that too in a raga of hoary antiquity.
  6. One can safely conclude that the core musical material of the song is Devamanohari and that must have been original raga of the song.
  7. The raga of the version presented by Sri MSG and Smt VS seems very contrived and artificial and no wonder the theoretical progression of that melody SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS did not at all gain traction as the resulting melody was not homogenous. Neither do we have any other compositions in this scale today. This is an aesthetic/harmonic aspect which can only be sensed & concluded aurally.
  8. Moreover, the foregoing makes one to logically conclude that the available notation too may have been derived from a corrupted version of the composition. The film version that we saw perhaps represents a least corrupted version of the composition as available to us.
  9. Devamanohari is an old raga recorded by Tulaja and Sahaji during the early 18th century. However it is sad, but true that during the late 19th and early 20th century, the raga Devamanohari was not known to a good proportion of the public. So much so many of the publications during that period simply labelled compositions in Devamanohari as ‘apuroopam’ or rare. The available copies of these publications are mute witness today to this blissful ignorance. The famous music critic Sr K V Ramachandran laments on the very same point in his seminal lecture/research paper titled ‘Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’ & “Carnatic angles from a new angle’- presented in the portals of the Music Academy decades ago. He mourns that the Bard’s compositions were normalized/mutilated by teachers of music and publishers as well, to standard versions based on their own knowledge with scant respect for textual tradition.

And in this instant case, based on the available evidence and the logic that we have employed, we can conclude the possible sequence of events that came about as under:

  • The melodic construct of this composition got corrupted due to abuse or disuse making the composition rare.
  • It came to be assigned a brand-new raga name ‘Svarabushani’ by editors/teachers who perhaps were impervious of Devamanohari and/or were they never knew the true & original melody of the composition, sometime during the latter half of the 19th century/early 20th century.
  • While the mainstream 20th century musicians totally forgot the raga & the composition, it possibly survived in a corrupted form in the oral tradition such as the one captured in the movie made in 1946.
  • Later day publishers probably got only these corrupted versions to notate which meant that they retrofitted a raga name for the corrupted version, for example accommodate only the tara gandhara phrases and hence normalized the body of the melody to create a brand-new raga SGMPDNS and SNDPMRS, without rhyme or reason. This line of reasoning is not novel and has been documented/seen in compositions such as ‘nagumOmU ganalEnI”, “sOgasu jUda taramA”, “nannu kanna talli’ et al.
  • The original score of the composition being lost, the composition today appears in a famished melody which lacks textual tradition, did not gain traction or public appeal.
On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)

On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)

In the light of the reasoning as above and unless we have further credible facts to rebut, the raga of the composition can only be presumed to be in Devamanohari. And the lyrics of the composition below as available from the music track seem to be most appropriate.

వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA             (varadarAja)

సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE    (varadarAja)

వరగిరివైకుంటమటవర్ణింపతరముగాదట
varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

  నిర్జరులనుతారకములలోచంద్రుడైమెరయుదువట
nirjarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

  వరత్యాగరాజసుతగరుడసేవజూడ
vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI             (varadarAja)

And much after I done this deduction I stumbled upon this presentation of the Tyagaraja composition by the scion of the Lalgudi sishya parampara of Tyagaraja, Sri G J R Krishnan.

Sri Krishnan renders the composition here in the company of Vidushi Vijayalakshmi which I have split into two parts.

Apparently in deference to tradition which assigns the raga name of Svarabhushani, at the outset the Vidvan announces the raga name as is, perhaps. But in his raga outline, the composition proper and the ensuing svarakalpana there is no doubt that the raga is Devamanohari. There is no gandhara “heard”at all, not even a trace of it anywhere in his rendering. SNDP occurs prominently both at the start of the pallavi and the anupallavi. Contrastingly the V Nagayya film edition started with PDNS. According to the pAtham of Sri G J R Krishnan, the raga’s kramA is SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS. If one were to reconcile the intonation of the gandhara and account for it, the explanation is perhaps it is so oscillated & close to rishabha.

It can also be argued that for all practical purposes the Swarabhushani in this edition is practically SRMPDNS/SNDPMRS, a gandhara varjya janya under Mela 22 with SNDNP occurring here and there. But that would beg the question ‘Does that make this raga any different from Devamanohari?’ Is there any textual authority for such a scale in our history so far?

One other version that can be considered is by Vidvan Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana given below.

The kriti rendering as well as the svaras can be dissected on the above lines and conclusions can be drawn. Again the authority for the SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS, the raga lakshana, the presence or absence of the gandhara, its intonation etc lack authority, textual or otherwise.

‘vAradarAja ninnEkOri’ is thus a classic case where in the absence of a supposed authority like Sangraha Cudamani or an authentic pAtham with considerable authority, we have struggled & are struggling to determine the contours of the raga. The presence or absence of the gandhara is the real clue but eludes a determination.

Actually, the solution to this question/struggle is rather straightforward . The raga is Devamanohari and we have to edit the available closest version of the song to the lakshana of this hoary raga, eschewing all ‘non-Devamanohari’ phrases/sangatis (particularly SNDP) and attempt to recreate a close to possibly original version.

This is the complication we have had with our tradition/past and I think we would continue with that without any resolution. In so far as this composition goes, it is my humble opinion that it was once a upon a time Devamanohari. An improperly sung Devamanohari down the line much later from the times of Tyagaraja has been legitimized over time by providing a name to it (as Svarabhushani) without any authority whatsoever with poor manuscript copying and careless publication and/or propagation causing all these dissimilar copies/versions. Some versions/pAthams included the gandhara. Some excluded it. And thus, today it speaks of the poor fidelity with which the compositions of the Saint have been transmitted over the centuries.

We also saw the similar cases of Natanarayani/Pratapavarali (how the p/S and S\p of Natanarayani morphed to PDS and SDP) and Sindhu Kannada/ Kesari/Sharavathi (how the D1/N1 morphed) in our previous blogs. The pattern keeps repeating and now these confusions are part and parcel of our tradition. We also touched upon this in the context of the previous blog on 18th century raga architecture when we dealt with Devamanohari itself.

I am atleast fortified in this aspect that this modern-day version of Vidvan G J R Krishnan stands as a solid proof that the melodic fabric of this raga is Devamanohari and not a scalar melody theoretically derived by Nadamuni Panditar decades after Tyagaraja had passed away.

I now leave this for the rumination of a discerning rasika of our music.

EPILOGUE:

The story for me did not end here. Whence investigating this there were at least a couple of more problems which were potential loose ends which had to be ironed out.

  1. The prAsA concordance of the carana lyric – line starting “nIrjarulanu” was an irritant. Potentially the ‘nIr’ had to figure as the ending sahitya for the previous line/previous rupaka tala avarta. But it cannot be accommodated within the tala akshara as the previous line sahitya itself was dense enough.
  2. Coincidentally the Walajapet manuscripts had an extra line added in its running notation as marudu siggu cE mandarara Athadu”which did not make meaningful sense. See foot note 3.

What these two points meant was potentially, the original composition had 4 rupaka tAla avartas worth of sahitya which were probably left out when the manuscript was copied. And the melodic flow of the composition had to be reorganized to accommodate these lines which can be done using the running notation found in the manuscripts themselves. This sahitya as available from the Walajapet manuscripts had to be edited to mean correctly in the context of the composition as well. See foot note 4.

The revised (edited) sahitya/lyrics for the entire composition and the meaning are given below: (See foot note 5)

Pallavi:

 వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA                  (varadarAja)

Meaning: O Varadaraja! I have come seeking you. I salute you!

Anupallavi:

సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE            (varadarAja)

Meaning: O the one whom the Devas, rishis & denizens of the earth surround and worship.

Caranam:

 వరగిరివైకుంటమటవర్ణింపతరముగాదట
varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

Hasthigiri (Kanchipuram, referred to here as the sacred giri) is considered equal to Vaikuntham and beyond all description.

మరుడుసిగ్గుచే     ముందురాడట

marudu siggucE mundhu rAdata (nir)

Manmatha abashed by your beauty hesitates to come forward.

 నిర్జరులనుతారకములలోచంద్రుడైమెరయుదువట

-jarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

Amidst the stellar assemblage of the Devas you shine like the moon.

వరత్యాగరాజసుతగరుడసేవజూడ
vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI                    (varadarAja)

O the one worshipped by Tyagaraja,I have come to have darshan of the Garuda Seva.

CONCLUSION:

As we saw both the textual tradition as evidenced by the notations on one hand and the oral traditions on the other provided discordant views to us as to the correct raga and mettu/musical contours of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’. The analysis based on available evidence indicates a balance of convenience in favour of Devamanohari.

What has been attempted is an amateur/armchair effort to uncover the truth from diverging musical material and history. It is fervently hoped that issues like these are taken up by professional/qualified researchers and the same goes to add to our body of knowledge so that students and serious listeners of music get the correct perspectives as to the versions of the compositions of the Trinity.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. There are very many articles and also lecture-demonstrations done on the subject of ragas of the compositions of Tyagaraja as given in pre-1930 publications and the dichotomy it has with the ragas that are actually sung in practice. Many of the items listed, would leave us agitated. While it is true that quite a few compositions suffered a change in the raga, ragas of well know compositions are printed differently in these texts. During the Dec 2016 Music Season Festival of the Madras Music academy atleast a couple of lecture demonstrations were done on this subject including one by Dr Hemalatha. The to be released JMA of 2017 would have that recorded. From the past one such example of a tabulation of the list of compositions whose actual currently rendered ragas is different from what appears in pre-1930 publications is by Smt.Radha Sarangapani in the Shanmukha (Vol XXXIII No 3& 4, July-Sep & Oct-Dec 2007). Suffice to say that the ragas of compositions listed in the publications and the actual ragas as per the authentic sishya paramparas in practice, manuscripts of the Walajapet Sishya parampara or of Chinnasvami Mudaliar or Subbarama Dikshitar as available should be compared before drawing a conclusion as to the actual raga of those compositions.
  2. The current state of musicological research more so in the context of this raga and composition can be rated by the Ph.D thesis ‘Rare and New ragas handled by Tyagaraja- A critical Study’, submitted at the Department of Music, Kannur University available here. In Chapter 3 of this thesis on pages 117-118, this raga ‘Swarabhushani’ and the composition ‘varadaraja ninnukori’ is dealt with by the Researcher.

   At the outset, the Researcher provides the arohana/avarohana of the raga as under, on the authority of Nadamuni Panditar.

Arohana        – s g m p d n s 

Avarohana   – s n p m g m r s

Attention is invited to the lack of dhaivatha in the avarohana krama as provided. Providing the narrative of the exemplar kriti, the Researcher goes on to say  that Tyagaraja brings in the phrase ‘s n d p, m’ even at the beginning. Mark the dhaivatha that makes its appearance now. What is the researcher trying to convey? Is there a dhaivatha in the descent or not. So much for the Researcher, the Guide and the Thesis. Such is the pitiable state of our research, academia and institutions. Not that I am nit-picking selectively from this so-called thesis. One can also find innumerable such faux pas. The raga Vegavauhini dealt with in page 141-142 suffers a similar fate. A reading of the passage thereunder will convey that Muthusvami Dikshitar composed in Vegavauhini with an arohana krama of SRGMPDNDS!

  1. I am thankful to Sri Aravindh Ranganathan for providing me with his copy of the extract of the notation of this composition as seen in the Walajapet manuscripts.
  2. A perusal of the Walajapet notation taking into account the defective sahitya, perhaps makes one surmise that the kriti was perhaps not part of the core set of compositions which was learnt/notated originally by Venkataraman Bagavathar. It is most likely that somebody subsequent to Walajapet Venkataraman Bagavathar in his sisya parampara must have heard this being sung from some others and must have then notated it as a part of their digest/record of Tyagaraja compositions. Walajapet Venkataramana Bagavathar himself was proficient in Telugu and also a composer of merit. And it would be rather unfair to tag the kriti with a defective sahitya line to his repository. If he had learnt it originally from the Bard himself, he for sure would have notated it correctly to make a proper meaning of the sahitya.
  3. I am indebted to Spencer Sri R Venugopal for helping me to understand the lyrical aspect of the composition and editing the Telugu lyrics suitably to make it meaningful, particularly the missing carana line of the composition.