Nishumbasudani……. Mystery from the medieval Chola times!


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!


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
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.


namāmi                        – I salute

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

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


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,


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


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


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)


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.


  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) – 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.” 

7. The composition in the raga Gaula attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar can be heard rendered in the following URL’s. and



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.

Melody of the Serpents – Nagadhvani


We have always seen that the musicological texts, ‘Ragalakshanamu’ of Sahaji (circa 1710 CE), the ‘Saramrutha’ of Tulaja(circa 1732 CE) and the ‘Ragalakshanam’ known to us as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika of Muddu Venkatamakhin ( circa 1750 CE) if read in conjunction, aided by the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar we can make two observations:

  1. The ragas of the 18th century as it prevailed in the run up to the Trinity can be found catalogued and recorded in these three treatises (which I prefer to call as the Triad). The Anubandha, being a listed compendium of ragas is a superset and almost as a rule the ragas found therein almost exactly mirror the lakshana found in Sahaji’s and Tulaja’s works (if documented by them)
  2. And the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar as notated in the SSP given that it provides commentary for every one of the ragas found in the Anubandha, serves as an exemplar or illustration for such raga lakshana.

But we do find certain ragas being exceptions to these two observations and specifically in those cases we are forced to develop a hypothesis to explain the said deviation. This blog post deals with one such raga named Nagadhvani, which forms an exception to both the above observations.

Over to this raga!

nagadhvani – Subbarama Dikshitar’s Commentary:

As we take up the analysis of this raga, we need to take a look at the contents of the SSP for, it is the most modern account (1904 CE) or laid down definition of the raga as technically the raga is practically extinct today. In the SSP amongst the ragas under Mela 29 Sankarabharanam is this raga Nagadhvani. In the SSP we do see that Subbarama Dikshitar for this raga provides just the following:

  1. The raga lakshana sloka attributable to Muddu Venkatamakhin followed by his commentary to the same.
  2. A gitam
  3. A sancari

If we take a minute and look at the rAgAnga lakshya gita for Sankarabharanam, the parent, at the very start of this cakra, we would find that the raga Nagadhvani is listed thereunder as an upanga janya of the mela raga Sankarabharanam. The ragas enumerated therein as upanga & bashanga deserves our attention & will revert to that again in a little while. Again, as always, what is meant as upanga and bhashanga in the slokas quoted in the SSP is different from what we mean by those terms today. Suffice to say that in the instant case of Nagadhvani, it is indeed a upanga raga as per modern definition sporting only the notes of mela 29.

Under the raga Nagadhvani we can see that Subbarama Dikshitar has not provided any composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar as illustration. Would that mean he had composed none for this raga and hence Subbarama Dikshitar had not given the same? Drawing such an omnibus conclusion wouldn’t be appropriate without considering every such case in the SSP. We will reserve our attention to this pesky question a little later in this blog post. But this does indeed pose problems for us for it is only a kriti which instantiates for us the structure of the raga and demonstrate its melodic contours which we can absorb & appreciate.

In so far as Subbarama Dikshitar is concerned if we view the lakshana sloka that he cites and also his commentary the following would emerge as the salient features of this raga:

  1. The arohana/avarohana krama that Subbarama Dikshitar states on the authority of (Muddu) Venkatamakhin is SRGSSMGMPDNS and SNDNPMGRGS. In fact, this raga is found in the original Caturdandi Prakashika (though not in the Sangita Sudha of Govinda Dikshitar a little prior) and even there the raga is classified under Sankarabharana mela.
  2. Subbarama Dikshitar very clearly states in his commentary, which follows, that notwithstanding the stated arohana and avarohana kramas the nominal arohana/avarohana movement for the raga as observed in practice is:



Attention is invited to the PDNS in the arohana being deprecated and PNDNS being made the uttaranga.

  1. The raga is sampurna. In other words, all the notes of Sankarabharana occurs in this raga taking both the arohana and avarohana together.
  2. Rishabha, gandhara and dhaivatha are vakra in the arohana while dhaivata is vakra and rishabha is varjya in the avarohana.
  3. Viewed as murrcanaas, the following holds true:
  4. SRGM, PDNS and SNDP does not occur due to the vakra prayogas and MGRS cannot occur as rishabha is dropped/varjya in the descent.
  5. Leitmotifs that occur in this raga are SRS, SMGS, SMGM, PNDN, and SNDN along with SRGS.
  6. His sancari very clearly validates the operative progressions highlighted above.
  7. It can also be seen that it nowhere does the illustrations sport phrases such as MGRGP, PDNS, GRSRS, SNDPM or PS and we will turn back shortly to why these specific phrases are being alluded to as non-existing.

Though the main SSP does not bear any exemplar kriti of Dikshitar in this raga, fortunately we do have a composition, ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ a ragamalika featuring this raga for a tAla Avarta, a composition bereft of the guruguha mudra but nevertheless attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar himself in the Anubandha to the SSP. The notation of the Nagadhvani raga portion is as under:

Sahitya parnE kundalininA gadhvanisahite dhvanisahite sahitehite te
Notation P, N, DNsrsNr g,sNsrs sNDNP sND,nP,,PMM


The notation albeit brief, conforms or validates the progression laid down in the SSP for Nagadhvani. Unfortunately, the few renderings of this unique composition (see Foot Note 1), leaves much to be desired as the artistes have rendered it as their own manodharma dictated, throwing to the winds the actual notation as found in the SSP and the lakshana for the respective ragas found therein namely Purnacandrika, Narayani, Sarasvati Manohari Suddha Vasanta, Nagadhvani and Hamsadvani.

Lyrics & Notation- as published by Veenai Sundaram Iyer

While we do have an idea of this raga and its theoretical structure from the foregoing, we encounter our first problem with a kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar published later by Veena Sundaram Iyer subsequently, in this raga. The notation of the composition is given here. A careful perusal of the same would throw up the following observations:

  1. Leaving out aspects such as prAsA concordance, quality of lyrics, grammatical constructs etc, we can see that the kriti carries the colophon of Dikshitar as well as the raga mudra in its body.
  2. The contours of the raga as notated herein shows a number of prayogas which are clearly not in accordance with Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary. PDNS, MGRGP, GRSRS and SNDPM occur in this kriti. Even assuming the Muddu Venkatamakhin definition which casts PDNS in the arohana and SNDNP in the avarohana, has been followed, the occurrence of SNDP explicitly along with phrases such MGRGP, makes it clear that the melodic structure/musical setting/mettu of the composition is inaccurate and cannot be sustained as genuine and making us suspect the provenance of the composition as well as the attribution. It is indeed sad that such attributions have been allowed to stand on record till date unscrutinised.

We are thus left with no option but to cast aside this composition for the stated reason and proceed. One other composition which has been assigned this raga and has been atleast rendered in the past which merits our attention is the composition ‘srI lalitAM’ in khanda triputa tala composed by Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. In the absence of a published notation of the composition, (see Foot Note 2) presented now is a rendering by Sangita Kalanidhi K V Narayanasvami, to enable us understand the raga.

Here is the text of the kriti along with the meaning:


SrI lalitAm mahAtripurasundarIm bhajEham

I pray to the great divine force called Lalita who is the most beautiful in the three worlds.

SrI rAjarAjESvarIm SrI vidyAtmaka bhuvanESvarIm

She is the consort of Shiva , she is the power of knowledge and ruler of the world


SrIcakrAntargata navAvaraNAvrtAm SankarIm |

She is the dweller of nine Shri Chakras and giver of good

SrI kESavAdi catvArImSat tattvanyAsa mAtRkESvarIm |

She is the force behind all the forty philosophies associated with Vishnu’s names

SrI bIjAkShara samupAsita mahESvarIm

She is worshipped with the power of bijaaksharaas

SrI karIm EkAnta manOlayakarIm

She is the giver of all good things and enchants the meditating mind


dUrvAsAdyarcita guptayOginIm|

She is the secret force worshipped by sages like Durvaasa

dUrvAdi patra puSpArcana toShiNIm |

She is pleased when worshipped with “durva” leaves and flowers

pUrvArjita puNya phala pradAyinIm |

She presents all the good things deserved by the punya of good deeds

pUrvAdi caturAmnAya madhyavartinIm |

She is the presiding deity of the four mathas

SarvANIm SuMbha niSuMbha mahiShAsurAdi bhanjanIm nAgadhvani rAgiNIm

She is omnipresent and the destroyer of asuras like Shumbha, Nishumbha and Mahishaasura , enjoys the raga Nagadhwani.

The rendering very clearly indicates the following for us:

  1. SRS SMGMPNDNS/SNDNPMGS has been adopted.
  2. SRGS or SGS or MRGS has not been used and instead SRSMGS and PMGS has been utilized in this composition. We do see an occasional PNS being intoned in the composition
  3. Gandhara is seen prolonged along with the dhaivatha svara.

In other words, the Nagadhvani seen in this composition does not encompass all the prayogas that Subbarama Dikshitar has highlighted in the SSP. It employs only a subset of murccanas, to the particular exclusion of SRGS and MRGS. It is not a requirement that the set of all murrcanas of a raga must find place in a composition in that raga. It is sufficient if a subset of majority pryogas/murccanas are utilized and the instant composition satisfies the said requirement. The composition also demonstrates that a vignette of the raga too can be provided by way of alapana and/or svaraprastara by vidvans without in any way encroaching upon allied ragas. The melodically closest allied raga would be Neelambari and we will reserve a brief discussion on this a little later.

We do not have any extant kritis of Tyagaraja available to us in this raga, which brings up the question if the raga is still documented in the Sangraha Cudamani. Indeed, we find that the Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda too defines the raga Nagadhvani under Sankarabharanam in its listing. And it closely tracks to the lakshana of Nagadhvani as given by Subbarama Dikshitar, under mela 29 Sankarabharanam as SRSMGMPNS/SNDNPMGS. As we can see dhaivatha is completely dropped in the ascent and rishabha in the descent while dhaivatha is vakra in the descent. In fact in the lakshana gita the last line of the phrasing goes as SRSMGMP,,NDMPNDNS,SNDNPPMGSRSMG….

If we compare the murrcanas found in the kriti ‘srI lalitAM’ as seen rendered by Sri Narayanaswami above, and compare it with the Nagadhvani enumerated by Sangraha Cudamani we find that it is identical to the melodic contours of the raga outlined in Sangraha Cudamani as above. And as highlighted before, the Nagadhavani of Sangraha Cudamani adopts a subset of the murrcanas of the Nagadhvani of SSP, excluding just a couple of them.

Whether ‘srIlalitAM’ was tuned by the Maharaja himself or whether his Guru, Mysore Vasudevacar had a hand in it we do not know. (See Foot note 3). All we can conclude is that given the Maharaja’s penchant for Muthusvami Dikshitar and his style, we can say that the setting of this composition while conforming to the SSP’s definition, adopts the version found in the Sangraha Cudamani.


Thus, three flavours of Nagadhvani is posited post 1750 CE by Muddu Venkatamakhin, Subbarama Dikshitar and finally by Govinda in their works. The Nagadhvani of Subbarama Dikshitar and Govinda are more proximate and the kriti that we hear today being ‘srI lalitAM’ of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar is an exemplar more of the Sangraha Cudamani version but nevertheless in conformance with the SSP definition as well. The available musical setting of ‘brihadIsvaraM bhajarE’, the kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar employs phrases which are not found in any of these three flavours, thus forcing us to question the very authenticity of the kriti and/or its tune. The brief Nagadhvani portion appearing in madhyamakala in the ragamalika ‘pUrnacandra bimbA’ from the anubandha to the SSP is the only available composition of Dikshitar incorporating this raga.


Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja:

While we see that the definition of a raga according to Muddu Venkatamakhin normally matches with that of Sahaji and Tulaja. Surprisingly in the case of Nagadhvani, we see that there is a dichotomy. Both Sahaji and Tulaja aver in their respective works that:

  1. The raga belongs to the Kambhoji mela
  2. It is devious/vakra with prayogas such as SRGS, SMGMRGS, PNDNs, NDMP, MRGS
  3. There are no tanas for rishabha and dhaivatha and the rest of the notes do not occur in straight movement. In fact, according to Sahaji in this raga there is no straight succession of four or five svaras.

One should pause here and absorb the import of the statement made by these two Royal musicologists in their works which is italicized as above. The statement is an evidence of one of the guiding principles of 18th century raga architecture.

What it means is that

  1. the rishabha and dhaivatha are not starting notes and are devious and that
  2. the prayogas such as GMPD or GMPDN, MPDN or MPDNS, PDNS, SNDP or SNDPM, NDPM or NDPMG, PMGR or MGRS does not occur. Thus implicitly, instead of them the prayogas GMPN or GMPND, MPNS or MPNDNS, PNDNP or PNDNS, SNDN or SNDNP, NDMP, PMRG or MGSRS can occur in the alternative, respectively. And this is to the exclusion of rishabha and dhaivatha which cannot be starting notes of the blocks. Attention is invited to the fact that the (melodic) building block ( or unit) according to Sahaji is a 3, 4 or a 5 note block and every such block which goes to make up Nagadhvani should conform to the rule that lineal progression is permitted only up to the 3rd svara and the 4th /5th svara cannot be a lineal svara and shall be skipped/vakra/varjya in accordance with the definition given the fact that the raga is sampurna. It is as if the definition is the consequence of the raga’s structure and not the other way around as in their times ragas were never derived theoretically but they evolved based on aesthetics and harmonics. And that is why we see that these two texts are not raga listing but a record of ragas that was in circulation during their times.

Thus, the foregoing commentary on the raga demonstrates how ragas were architected and their lakshana expressed in the 18th century. The advent of the 72 mela raga scheme, the obsession with the arohana/avarohana progression together with linearization and emphasis on the individual notes (and not on the motifs being a svara aggregation such as GMR or NMD etc), together with compendiums which gave listing of ragas based on permutation/combinations of the different varieties of notes with their own esoteric names,  spelt the death knell of many older ragas including Nagadhvani as they could not be easily incorporated into this new schemata.

While from a prayogas perspective, the definitions of Sahaji & Tulaja go along more or less with the Muddu Venkatamakhin’s definition, what is most problematic now is that the raga according to Sahaji and Tulaja sported kaisiki nishadha ( Kambhoji mela) while according to Muddu Venkatamakhin the raga belonged to Sankarabharana mela and sported kakali nishadha.

A possible explanation for this apparent dichotomy:

It must be reiterated here that:

  1. Venkatamakhin (1620 CE) and Muddu Venkatamakhin (circa 1750 CE) classified the raga under mela 29 with N3
  2. In between the above two, Sahaji (circa 1710 CE) and Tulaja (circa 1732 CE) who documented the ragas as was prevalent in their times placed the raga under Kambhoji with N2.

Did Muddu Venkatamakhin follow the footsteps of Venkatamakhin and therefore theoretically placed Nagadhvani under Sankarabharanam to maintain continuity, while the raga perhaps even by 1700’s had shed N3 and gained N2 which was taken note of by both Sahaji and Tulaja and therefore they classified the raga under Kamboji mela? We do not know. But what is known is that since 1750 CE, both these so called flavors (sporting respectively N2 and N3) of Nagadhvani had completely died out for, as on date save for the above referred kriti of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar we have none on record.

A perusal of our ragas today reveals that Neelambari is the only raga which is a reasonably close and has melodic affinity to Nagadhvani. If we quickly delve into the history of Neelambari, the following findings emerge:

  1. The raga Neelambari is not found listed by Venkatamakhin, Sahaji or Tulaja. Neither does the Sankarabharana raganga raga gitam found in the SSP in its bashanga khanda disclose Neelambari as a janya raga thereunder.
  2. It is only the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin which first lists out the raga Neelambari
  3. And it on this authority and that of the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar that Subbarama Dikshitar provides his commentary of Neelambari with two distinct prayogas MGS and the usage of the two nishadhas, N2 and N3.

Given this lakshana of Neelambari, let us turn to the evidence and explanation provided by Prof S R Janakiraman. The revered Professor advances his view that usage of the two nishadhas in Neelambari evidences its root in another raga of yore, Samantha, the 30th mela which goes with the notes S R2 G3 M1 P D3 N3 in its contours. We did see this in an earlier blog post. Though such a theory as advanced by Prof SRJ does indeed sound interesting given that the svara N2 when occurring along with N3 can be treated as D3 (a combination native to mela No 30), alternatively the raga Neelambari can also be thought of as a remnant of the Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja.

We do know that Neelambari had not made headway into our musical system before 1750 CE and was not recorded by Sahaji or Tulaja in their works as having been extant during their times. This gives us a very interesting hypothesis as to the evolution of Neelambari. The Nagadhvani of Sahaji & Tulaja which only had N2, perhaps also reacquired the N3 back and thereafter was rendered with both N2 & N3 (its original note as documented by Venkatamakhin in his CDP) together with some modifications such as PNs, SNP and MGS. This version of Nagadhvani survived into 1750 CE whence Muddu Venkatamakhin formally acknowledged it gave it a place under mela 29 Sankarabharanam with the name Neelambari, to uniquely differentiate it from the original Nagadhvani (of CDP) with N3 only. Thus, Mudduvenkatamakhin perhaps provided musicological continuity by

  1. Acknowledging tradition retaining the original Nagadhvani in his listing as a upanga janya with its N3 and
  2. incorporating the Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja which by taking both N2 and perhaps N3 as well and had so morphed, as Neelambari into his compendium.

It is doubtful if indeed he had notice of the ‘upanga’ Nagadhvani of Tulaja and Sahaji sporting just the N2. The absence of Neelambari in the Sankarabharana raganga lakshana gitam is yet another evidence as this gitam is perhaps older while the raga listing by Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to 1750 CE was much later wherein we will find both Nagadhvani as well as Neelambari listed.

And that leaves us finally to answer some questions:

  1. Whether given the foregoing, the kriti ‘brihadIsvaram bhajarE’ ( see foot note 4) with its melodic contour not conforming to the laid down lakshana of Nagadhvani (in the SSP) a spurious composition?

The point can be reconciled thus. Either Subbarama Dikshitar inherited the composition with a defective mettu and upon perusal he decided not to publish the same. Or it must have been a creation of somebody else subsequent to Muthuswami Dikshitar or even Subbarama Dikshitar which was passed off as a Muthusvami Dikshitar composition to us. Either ways the final answer to this vexed question can perhaps be determined by asking oneself whether Muthusvami Dikshitar being an avowed votary of sampradaya and being in the know of this raga and its laid down lakshana would have created a nonconforming composition without any basis whatsoever. It is indeed sad that many such compositions not found in the SSP which were brought to light subsequently, tracing back to Subbarama Dikshitar’s son Ambi Dikshitar’s corpus of compositions, have been published as-is, without properly editing or reconciling the same and attributed to Dikshitar without any basis whatsoever which has contributed to much confusion.

  1. As a corollary, if a raga in the SSP does not carry a composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar would it mean that he did not compose in that raga?

The answer to this question is again subjective and no such conclusion can be drawn. We have a number of such ragas in the SSP such as Binna Sadjam, Camara, Nagadhvani, Suddha Vasanta, Purvagaula, Nagavarali etc and surprisingly for each case we have a kriti which has come to us from the publications of the disciples of Ambi Dikshitar. Leaving aside the question as to whether these ‘later’ kritis are truly that of Dikshitar (based on lyrical quality, prasa concordance, raga lakshana etc) two possibilities exists:

Perforce these kritis are misattributions for whatever reasons.


Subbarama Dikshitar edited the compositions as was inherited by him, by scrupulously assessing them against the touch stone of proper lakshana, quality lyrics etc and proceeded to publish only those which passed his test/scrutiny,  in the SSP. Also where he felt that there was a deviation from laid down lakshana by Dikshitar but yet the authenticity of the composition was beyond reproach he perhaps proceeded to publish them, as in the case of Gopikavasanta which we saw in an earlier blogpost. In this process, he filtered a number of kritis which he felt did not meet his acceptance criteria and therefore kept them out of the SSP. It must be pointed out that his objective was to make the SSP as a treatise of the ancient music of Venkatamakhi and not as collection of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s compositions. If he had felt so he would have simply published the Dikshitar compositions along with notations as was available with him much like how the ‘Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’ was published much later by Vid Natarajasundaram Pillai.

In the instant case of ‘brihadIsvaram bhajarE’ given the melodic content not to comment on the lyrical aspect, one could most logically conclude that the kriti would likely fall in bucket (a) above rather than bucket (b).

  1. What ever happened to the Nagadhvani of Sahaji & Tulaja which perhaps went by the progression SR2S M1G2M1PN2D2N2S /SN2D2M1PM1G3M1R2G3S?

One doesn’t see such a raga catalogued or with compositions in our midst today. Or as hypothesised earlier it morphed into Neelambari, reacquiring the N3 again.


The only other raga in our midst, which by its name evokes the imagery of serpents, is the well-known raga Punnagavarali under the mela Todi due to the fact that the raga is the basis of the tune of the ‘magudi’ which is played by snake charmers. The allusion to serpents in the context of ragas is probably more a myth and the same is referred to in very many texts or in hagiographies to imply something mystical. Subbarama Dikshitar in his narrative on Chinnasvami Dikshitar records one such instance when this younger brother of Muthusvami Dikshitar was playing the raga Nagavarali, a snake made its appearance. In so far as this raga Nagadhvani is concerned it is practically extinct today and neither has it been by name associated as the raga of the Nagas (an ancient race) or of any particular region or as a melody which can charm serpents. The raga name has been used as an allusion to the Kundalini, a coil of physical energy running around the human spine, in the lyrics of the composition ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ set to Nagadhvani. While so, the composition ‘srI lalitAm’ of the Mysore Maharaja serves as an excellent example of this rare raga as it stands today. And the raga delineated therein does demonstrate the fact that an exposition of the raga as an alapana or svaraprastara can be done. One does hope that performing musicians take up this raga & this composition and embellish it with their imagination on the concert stage in the days to come.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) – Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Republished in Tamil by Madras Music Academy ( 1977) Part IV Sankarabharanam Mela and its janyas & the Anubandha to SSP – Ragamalikas
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 275-278 and 930-943
  3. Prof S R Janakiraman(1993)- Ragas of the Saramrutha- published by the Madras Music Academy

Foot Notes:

  1. The ragamalika ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ as found notated in the Anubandha to the SSP stands out for more than one reason, which are listed hereunder:
  2. The composition as found in the SSP in 6 ragas is bereft of the Dikshitar colophon ‘guruguha’
  3. The attribution to Dikshitar is only on the strength of Subbarama Dikshitar’s assertion made to that effect.
  4. Popularly referred to as the shat-rAgamAlika, the lyrics of the composition are set to 6 ragas whose names occur in the body the composition and all of them are upanga janya ragas of Sankarabharanam, being Purnacandrika, Narayani, Sarasvati Manohari, Suddha Vasanta, Hamsadvani and Nagadhvani.
  5. Apart from the fact that the raga names have been woven into the fabric of the kriti, a stylistic adornment being gOpuccAyati is found featured in the Nagadhvani section. As we know these two are compositional constructs, for which Dikshitar was justly known for.
  6. Curiously much later in time post 1950’s, another version ( second) of the same composition came to be published by Kallidaikurici Veena Sundaram Iyer. This second version apart from the original, also had a further set of lyrics set in ragas Kedaram and Bilahari inserted in between and which sported the guruguha mudra. And each of the khandikas were appended with a cittasvara section in the respective ragas which was not again not found in the original text being the one in the Anubandha to the SSP

The entire text of this composition as available is given below with its meaning:


(Raga – pUrNa candrikA)
pUrNa candra bimba vijaya vadanE – O one whose face excels the disk of the full moon!
kamalAmbikE              – O Goddess Kamalambika!
pAhi mAM                 – Protect me!
varadE                   – O giver of boons!
guru guha janani         – O mother of Guruguha!


(Raga nArAyaNI )
puNya jana pUjitE        – O one worshipped by good, meritorious people!
nArAyaNI                 – O one related to Narayana (as his sister)!
jagat-ambikE             – O mother of the universe!

(Raga sarasvatI manOhari)
pUrNa phala prada caraNE – O one whose feet bestow complete fruition!
sarasvatI manOharE       – O one captivating the heart of Sarasvati!

(Raga Suddha vasanta)
pushpita Suddha vasantE  – O one like the flowering, unequalled, spring season!
puNDarIka sadRSa karE    – O one whose hands resemble lotuses!

(Raga kEdAraM)
kEdAra-ISa sahAyE        – O companion of Shiva (lord of Kedara)!
guru guha vEdita hRdayE  – O one whose heart is understood by Guruguha!

(Raga bilahari )
bhaNDa prANa bila hari   – O one who destroyed the (hiding) hole of the life-breath of the demon Bhanda!
bhakta jana-Ananda-kari  – O giver of bliss to devout people!

(Raga haMsa dhvani)
haMsa dhvani virAjitE    – O one who is glorious with the sound of the Hamsa Mantra,
prakASamAna              – that shines forth,
ahar-niSaM               – day and night!

(Raga nAga dhvani)
aparNE                   – O Aparna, the one who performed penance without consuming even leaves!
kuNDalini nAga dhvani sahitE – O one associated with the sound of the snake of Kundalini!
dhvani sahitE            – O one associated with sounds (of music and dance etc.)!
sahitE                   – O one accompanied by the  well-disposed (companions, attendants)!
hitE                     – O beneficial, favourable one!
tE                       – O one taking the form of Lakshmi!

Suffice to state that a number of controversies crop up in the context of the multiple versions of this composition including the inclusion of 2 more ragas ( Kedaram and Bilahari)  in the second version, the appearance of cittasvaras of questionable lakshanas in a few cases as seen in the second version, the lack of the mudra of Dikshitar and its appearance in the subsequent version etc.


  1. An excellent introduction to the composer, his kritis and their text can be found on this link here: . Another web link providing details as to a published work can be found here : . Vidusi Seethalakshmi Venkatesan’s renderings of some of the kritis can be found here:


  1. The well-known novelist Late R K Narayan is on record making this point as under:

Question: Did you learn the kritis of the Mysore composers like Vasudevachar and Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar?

Answer: The so-called compositions of the Mysore Maharaja were actually composed by Vasudevachar. The Maharaja would call Vasudevachar and say I want these phrases from the Devi Ashtottram and the composer would do his bidding.

Vide the ‘Frontline’ Vol. 14 :: No. 23 :: Nov. 15 – 28, 1997 available online :


  1. Thanks are due to Mr Lakshman Ragde as always for sharing a copy of the lyrics of ‘brihadIsvaraM bhajarE’ as published by Veena Sundaram Iyer.

Obeisance to Lord Krishna – A Brief Blogpost


This blogpost is to celebrate today, Janmashtami being the birthday of Lord Krishna with a very rare kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar. We will quickly look at the raga and some connected facts and trivia even as celebrate the day of birth of this child God.

Muthusvami Dikshitar has to his credit, a number of compositions on the different Gods of the Hindu pantheon and also of demigods and savants as well. In so far as Lord Krishna is concerned, the most ubiquitous kriti is ‘cEta srI bAlakrishnam’ in Dvijavanti, and ‘srIrAjagOpAla’ in Saveri, often encountered on the concert platform.

In this blog post we shall look at ‘srIkrishnam bhajarE’ in Rupavati, the 12th mela raga in Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium, which was followed by Dikshitar and documented so in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar. Curiously it is also a raga, whose name has been used to name the corresponding krama sampurna/heptatonic scale of Sangraha Cudamani, the reigning musicological compendium, attributed to Govinda and which is usually held out as having been followed by Tyagaraja.

Bird’s eye view of the 12th Mela:


Rupavati, the 12th mela being the set of the following notes, can be stated as having been a theoretical derivation of Muddu Venkatamakhin ( circa 1750) , based on the mathematical logic that was expounded more  than a century prior to him by his ancestor Venkatamakhin in his Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP).

Arohana krama : S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S

Avarohana krama: S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S

Suddha rishbham, sadharana gandharam, suddha madhyamam, pancamam, shatsruti dhaivatam and kakali nishadam are the notes with the uttaranga being the vivadi combination D3N3 being featured by the raga.

The raga is not found recorded in Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s musical works dateable to the first half of the 18th century. The raga is thus found tabulated in musicological records for the first time in Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Anubandha to the CDP. In so far as Muddu Venkatamkahin’s schemata is concerned, the illustration of every one of the 72 mela ragas are documented by tanams or gitams along with the lakshana shlokas in the SSP (AD 1904), with attribution to Venkatamakhin/Muddu Venkatamakhin/pUrvikas. This is likely not true completely and it can be logically surmised that in so far as many mela ragas (barring the famous 21 melas which were documented in the earlier CDP) the gitams and tanams found in SSP for the rest of the theoretically derived ragas most probably were authored by Muddu Venkatamakhin himself sometime circa 1750 AD.

It was left to Muthusvami Dikshitar (AD 1775- 1832) to provide flesh & blood to every one of those melas especially the theoretically derived ones, by composing atleast one composition in every one of them. Rupavati belongs to this category and Dikshitar’s ‘srI krishnam bhajarE’ is an exemplar for the 12th Mela.

Melodic canvas of the Rupavati:

While one may expect that given the fact that D3N3, being a dissonant/vivadhi combination occurs in this mela, Rupavati could just be S R1 G3 M1 P N3 S / S N3 D3 N3 P M1 G2 R1 S. In fact a workaround for the dissonant svara combination is not the only key in this case. Even for the normal R1G2 combination in the purvanga, a workaround is made by Muddu Venkatamakhin in hisscheme by dropping the gandhara in the ascent and rishabha in the descent my making the progression as SRMP, PMGS . One can see this in Rupavati and also in Natabharanam (the 10th mela), where rishabha is dropped in the ascent.

In fact, Subbarama Dikshitar gives an even more truncated scale as the arohana krama for Rupavati as under:

Arohana : S R1 M1 P S

Avarohana: S N3 D3 N3 P M1 G2 S

Attention is invited to the arohana uttaranga where the dhaivata and nishada is dropped. The following can be laid down as the observed definition of the raga:

  1. SRGM, PDNS, SNDP or MGRS does not occur. It is a completely vakra raga in both purvanga/uttaranga and in arohana/avarohana. In other words jumps, bends, turns and twists, being the classical 18th century raga architectural pattern, is found in the construct of this raga.
  2. The gandhara is langhana in the arohana, meaning even a SGRM does not occur and similar is the status of rishabha in the descent (MGRGS is not seen). It has to be pointed out that the term “langhana” is seen only in the musicological literature prior to 1750 AD and is completely deprecated subsequently (for example it is not seen in the lakshana slokas found in the SSP, ascribed to Venkatamakhin but most probably propounded by his descendant Muddu Venkatamakhin). The word synonymously used is ‘varjya’.
  3. Nishada is vakra in the arohana krama (PNDNPS can occur) while dhaivata is vakra in the avarohana krama. SNDNS combination is seen in the raga, meaning the notes are not langhana in contradistinction to varjya. We can perhaps say that langhana can be meant as “dropped” whereas varjya means “jumped over” or “skipped”, taking a nuanced approach to the way in which the note is dealt with.
  4. Native gamakas to the raga/notes of this raga, based on the notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar are as under:
    1. The D3 shatsruti dhaivata note is supposed to be emphatically rendered (“adithu pidippadu’ according to Subbarama Dikshitar) and is ornamented with the “w” or the nokku variety of gamaka.
    2. Gandhara is sometimes oscillated with the kampita gamakam.
    3. The glide or the jArU gamaka is used profusely in the composition though not necessarily native to the raga.


The SSP built on the Anubandha to the CDP is the only authority for this raga and Dikshitar’s Sri Krishnam Bhajare’ is the sole exemplar for the raga which is notated with a pithy cittasvara section and gives is a wholesome view of the raga. The SSP of course as always, documents a lakshya gita, a tanam, and Subbarama Dikshitar’s own sancari as the other compositions illustrating the raga. In so far as the raga lakshana goes, in addition to the above, Subbarama Dikshitar makes a mention that the gita and tanam, here and there also features the MRS prayoga, which is not seen in the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

There are no other compositions in this version of Rupavati as seen documented by Subbarama Dikshitar with Sri Krishnam Bhajare being the exemplar. This statement is warranted as we do have a krama sampurna Rupavati featured by the Sangraha Cudamani which is a lineal heptatonic scale S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S/ S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S and in which we have a kriti of Tyagaraja being rendered being “ne mora bettithe’ . Again, the raga of this composition is controversial as some schools of Tyagaraja (Kanchipuram Nayana Pillai – Veena Dhanammal) render it in Todi. It has to be pointed out that the Veena Dhanammal school’s repertoire totally lacks compositions in ragas featuring vivadhi notes perhaps barring Natta. The ragas Sulini as well Rupavati which are the ragas for ‘Prananatha’ and off course ‘ Ne Mora Bettithe’ which other schools render so are rendered by in the Dhanammal’ family tradition in Sankarabharanam and Todi. See Foot note 1.

The Dikshitar composition does not seem to have been orally transmitted to us and the renderings that we hear today are in all probability, interpretation of the SSP notation. With that lets look at the composition and the associated discography.

Kriti – “Sri Krishnam Bhajare”:

Here is the text of the composition as found in the SSP which is set in tisra eka tala.

श्रीकृष्णं भजरे रे मानस |
श्रीरूपवती-गोपस्त्री-जारम् ||


चक्र-निवारित-भास्कर-प्रकाशं |
चन्द्रशेखर-गुरुगुह-विश्वासं |
अक्रूर-वन्दित-पदं अर्जुनप्रेम-आस्पदं |
नक्र-हत-दन्ति-वरदं नत-शुक-सनक-नारदम्||

rE rE mAnasa                 – O mind!

bhaja                                – Worship

SrIkRshNaM                  – Sri Krishna,

SrI-rUpavatI-gOpa-strI-jAram – the beloved of the Gopika women who are beautiful as Lakshmi (Sri),



cakra-nivArita-bhAskara-prakAshaM – the one who barred the light of the sun with his discus,

candrashekhara-guruguha-vishvAsaM – the trusted one of Shiva (who wears the moon) and Guruguha,

akrUra-vandita-padaM         – the one whose feet are saluted by Akrura,

arjuna-prema-AspadaM         – the object of Arjuna’s affection,

nakra-hata-danti-varadaM     – the giver of boons  to the elephant (Gajendra) injured by the crocodile,

nata-shuka-sanaka-nAradaM     – the one saluted by sages Shuka, Sanaka and Narada.

‘srI krishnam bhajare’ – Kriti – Some brief notes:


  1. The kriti does not feature any specific sthala-reference and is not assignable thus to any ksetra. Some texts/scholars may tend to assign the composition to an unknown deity in Tanjore, on the strength of the composition in the adjacent melas being ascribed so temples in and around Tanjore. Dr V Raghavan tends to make that conclusion implicitly in his work, the fact is that there is no external or internal evidence to back up such a statement.
  2. The kriti carries the standard colophon of Dikshitar as well as the rag mudra which has been woven into the pallavi lines to mean the beauty of the Gopikas.
  3. While the kriti features the well-known characters/devotees in its narrative – Gopikas, Akrura, Arjuna etc, the allusion to the sudarshana cakra of the Lord with which He blocked the rays of the sun finds mention in the anupallavi. During the Mahabaratha war Arjuna vows to kill Jayadratha to avenge his son Abhimanyu’s death before the sun sets, the next day. Even as the Kaurava Commander-In-Chief Drona got wind of this, he throws a three layered vyuha/defensive shield around Jayadratha so as to protect him till the end of the day at the least, as Arjuna had vowed to immolate himself if he was defeated in this endeavour. According to the legend, Lord Krishna to deceive the Kaurava troops so as to lull them to believe that the sun had set and thereby loosen the guard, used his discus/sudarshana cakra to elide the sun (total solar eclipse) that afternoon which had the desired effect. Before the end of the day Arjuna thus breaches the Kaurava defences, with Lord Krishna as his charioteer, kills Jayadratha and fulfils his vow. Archeo-astronomists have used this reference to the “solar eclipse” during the Kurukshetra war to go back in time to fix the time of the War given the timelines of the Kuru Dynasty and such other historical evidence, and triangulating it with this solar eclipse and also planetary conjunctions. See Foot note 3.


I present the rendering of this composition by Vidvan Ramakrishnan Moorthi, a disciple of Vidvan R K Sriramkumar which is complete with the cittasvara section and which I think best exemplifies the notation found in the SSP.

Attention is invited to the way the D3N3 is supposed to be intoned with a nokku on the dhaivatha note.

Rupavati – A controversy regarding Sangraha Cudmani

In the context of this raga & Sangraha Cudamani, an element of controversy as to the name that the raga/mela 20 ought to have had arises. In the Sangraha Cudamani, the heading of the relevant sloka gives the name as ‘Raupyanaga’ ( रौप्यनगमेललक्षणं) whereas in the body of the sloka, the name of the raga is given as rUpAvatI. Scholars like Dr T S Ramakrishnan have highlighted this error (amongst a couple of others) to surmise that the Sangraha Cudamani was a manuscript created around AD 1830 or thereabouts by the palace musicians of Tanjore in the run up to the creation of the Bhattara Ragamalika, a Marathi composition in 72 mela ragas composed by Lavani Venkata Rao in praise/honour of Sakharam Saheb the brother in law of Tanjore King Sivaji II. Given its erotic content, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer who was approached to set it to music, used the mettu to compose the 72 Melaragamalika later on Lord Pranatharthihara of Tiruvaiyaru. See Foot note 2.

In his melaragamalika, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer extoll Lord Shiva, thus even as he embeds the raga mudra ‘rupavati’ skilfully in the lyrics:

बहुरूपावतीह भवान्मां मुहुर्मुहुरूर्जित भक्तजनरन्जन ||
bahurUpAvatIha bhavAn mAM muhurmuhUrjita bhaktajanaranjana ||
Meaning: Taking various forms here, you have time and again confirmed that you please your devotees. (Hence) you protect me.


Discography – I Chakra 72 Mela ragamalika – Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer- featuring Rupavati:


We can hear the Rupavati section rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Subbulakshmi in this Youtube recording ( audio only) between 10:45 -11:21 in this recording.

Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli renders the Rupavati section here between 11:17 to 12:00 in the recording below.

In passing it is worth mentioning here that the heptatonic/krama sampurna Rupavati has also been invested with compositions much later by Koteesvara Iyer and Dr M Balamuralikrishna.


The kriti ‘ srI krishnam bhajarE’ and the melodic contours of Rupavati as dealt with by Muthusvami Dikshitar with its devious flow can be a little unsettling for some ears, to start with. And it is a raga without doubt which has to be negotiated skilfully given this meandering progression. Nevertheless, this short Dikshitar kriti with just the anupallavi and a pithy cittasvara section offers us an abject lesson as to how such ragas have to be dealt with. And I am sure that on this day of Janmashtami one can savour this musical experience or learn this short kriti to pay obeisance to this popular avatar of Lord Vishnu.


  1. Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol I – Tamil edition published by the Madras Music Academy (1961)
  2. Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyatha Sivan- Edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastri- The Adayar Library Series – Vol 16 (1989)
  3. Ragalakshana Sangraha – PhD Dissertation of Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004)


Foot Notes:


  1. The obvious total lack of vivadi raga compositions in the repertoire of the Dhanammal family makes one suspect if the ragas of these two compositions namely “Prananatha” and “ne Mora bettithe ‘were flipped to the nearer kosher melas sporting consonantal notes and rendered or taught/learnt by members of this family. According to the Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions compiled by Dr V Raghavan in JMA Vol XXXIX, page 149, Chinnasami Mudaliyar, K V Srinivasa Iyengar, Vissa Appa Rao & Dr Raghavan himself assign the kriti ‘ne mora bettithe’ ( tala triputa) with the raga Rupavati while Rangaramanuja Ayyengar ( on the authority of the patham of Veen Dhanammal ?) assigns the raga Todi to the said composition.


  1. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was commissioned to set the Marati composition of Lavani Venkata Rao to music which he perhaps reluctantly did, for the composition was narastuti. His biographers record that given the enormity of the work he thought that the music he had conceived ought to be made an offering to his Lord Pranatarthihara & hence proceeded to compose the magnum opus ‘Pranatarti hara prabho purare’, composing the Sanskrit lyrics ( on his own or perhaps in collaboration with his scholar brother) and setting the same to the same tune that he set for the original Marathi composition . Dr T S Ramakrishnan in his article titled “The Contribution of the Dikshitar Family to Karnatic Music”, advances the proposition that Govinda was a Tanjore Court musician who created the ‘Sangraha Cudamani” closer to 1830 and it was used as the basis for Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s project to set the ‘Bahattara Mela Raga Malika” and it thereafter went on to become the defacto standard of Carnatic musicology. And that perhaps the text was “promoted” to be the popular raga reference standard much to the detriment of the older Venkatamakin/Muddu Venkatamakhin’s so called Asampurna Mela Paddathi. The reference for this history can also be found in parts in the Introduction written by Sri P S Chandrasekara Iyer to the Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyatha Sivan- Edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastri- The Adayar Library Series – Vol 16 (1989), referred above. To state shortly, this raga Rupavati and the error made in the Sangraha Cudamani as to its name also, thus forms the nucleus for some musicologists to advance their so called “conspiracy” theory adverted as above. Incidentally Vidushi Bombay Jaisree Ramnath did a lecture demonstration in the Music Academy on the Mahratti Bahattara Mela Ragamalika which has been recorded in JMA Vol 86 (2015) pp 54-55.


  1. One such articulation can be read here :