Raga Malavi – A Misnomer?


The raga Malavi (mALavI) under mElA 28 ( Harikambhoji) as a scale is a creation of Tyagaraja with his well-known kriti ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ serving as his solitary exemplar in the raga. The raga has been inspirational for latter day composers including Patnam Subramanya Iyer & others. The raga today has less than a dozen kritis and two tAna varnas serving as illustration to its total melodic canvas. Given its apparently limited scope, the raga is termed by musicologists as a minor raga. Nevertheless, as we can see in this blog post the raga is definitely a melody of substance comparable to the others of its ilk such as Bahudari or Nagasvaravali. Unfortunately, today we do not encounter raga alapana, neraval or svara kalpana for this raga and performers simply render the ubiquitous ‘nEnarunci nanu’ in a breezy manner. If one were to delve deep into this raga we can conclude that a capable musician can do full justice to the raga in different formats be it alapana, neraval or svaraprastara. And through this blog post on the raga I intend to pay homage to a long-forgotten titan of our music Vidvan Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar ( photo on the left) who was famous for his bhava laden music and his explorations of ragas such as Malavi and Salaga Bhairavi. He was the one who inspired the likes of Vidvans G N Balasubramanian and Madurai Mani Iyer. (see Note 1).

In this blog post we shall exactly look at that and also take up a modern day kriti as an exemplar to understand this raga even while we evaluate the forgotten musical history of the raga’s name, which is a bit of an oddity.

Over to the raga!


As pointed out earlier, the melody which we call as Malavi under mElA 28 can be understood from the contours of the rAga as found in “nEnarunci nAnu” of Tyagaraja. All modern-day musicologists as well as popular raga compendiums provide the arohana/avrohana kramA under mela 28 as a upanga raga as given below:

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

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

This definition of the raga as found in the kriti, needless to say is echoed in the Sangraha Cudamani which, as we have seen in these series of blog posts, is a repository or lexicon of the lakshana of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions.  Additionally, it is worth pointing out that the cittasvara section of ‘nEnarunci nAnu’, which we hear today is a much latter-day creation of Violin Vidvan Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, tracing back to the last quarter of the 19th century. The cittasvara too validates the svara progression as above.

It may not out of place to mention that if one were to delve deeper and evaluate the musical material on hand, it would clearly indicate that the raga cannot be just understood as a progression of svaras as above but rather as an aggregation of murccanas with the following constructs:

  1. It is sampurna, meaning all the seven notes of the parent mela occur in the raga
  2. PDNS, SNDP and MGRS are not be used while SRGMP would be permitted.
  3. The raga is vakra and is not lineal. In other words, SRGMP, PNMDNS, SNDNP and PMGMRS forms the core building blocks for the purvanga and uttaranag sections
  4. The arohana progression SRGMPMDNS could evoke the raga Sahana and hence must be tactfully sung. SRGMPNMDNS would sound better and distinctive. RGMDN, PNMDN and PMDN could be alternated to distinctly present the raga along with phrases such as NMD.
  5. The avarohana kramas SNDNP is a Devamanohari leitmotif while the PMGMRS is a motif of Purnachandrika. The two in combination on the descent with the Sahana evoking ascent, potentially make the raga a compound raga of sorts.

The raga’s lakshana doesn’t seem to have been discussed by the Experts Committee of the Madras Music Academy, as evidenced by it Journals.


Following the footsteps of Tyagaraja who composed nEnarunci nanu’ , many later day composers have added to the corpus of compositions in this raga even while many tunesmiths too have set this raga as the melody for lyrics, such as for example the tarangams of Narayana Teertha. Leaving them aside the chief amongst the composers/compositions in the raga which are encountered in the concert circuit are:

  1. Patnam Subramanya Iyer – ‘Iti Nyayama’
  2. Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar- ‘shrikanta dayite’ & ‘nIlalOhita’
  3. Mysore Maharaja Jayacamaraja Wodeyar – ‘shankari sadananda lahari’
  4. Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian – ‘marivere gati nakevaru’ & ‘ninnu vina verevvaru’
  5. Calcutta K S Krishnamurthi – varna beginning ‘ninne koriyunna’ in adi tala
  6. SpencerVenugopal – ‘needasudane gada’, a varna beginning ‘e maye chesithivo’ in adi tala and a tillana


‘nEnarunci nAnu’ of Sri Tyagaraja by Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian

For this blog post I first take up Tyagaraja’s solitaire to understand the melody and also underscore the fact that a full suite of the raga i.e alapana, kriti, neraval and svarakalpana is entirely in the realm of possibility for this raga. This kriti has been the perennial staple for instrumentalists and vocalists alike for pepping up a sagging concert, with its fast and lively tempo so much so that modern musicologists have come to term the raga itself as a madhyama kala pradhana raga. It may be noted that elaborate alapana or neraval/svara kalpana is not seen rendered for Malavi for the perceived reason that the raga may tend to get repetitive and such an exercise is likely to lead the performer astray into neighbouring or allied ragas, given the apparently limited melodic scope. The public domain is littered with very many plain vanilla kriti renderings of this composition by performers of varied hues.

For this blog post I choose to present the one by the Prince Charming of Carnatic Music as he was endearingly held, the late Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian (GNB). I have chosen this recording for very many reasons not just for the overall duration of the rendering consisting of raga vinyasa, kriti rendering, neraval and svara kalpana, the quality of the accompaniment as well and for the adroitness with which the great master presents the raga with finesse without being repetitive by choosing the right starting/ending notes (such as the dhaivatha and the rishabha) and never once leaving one in doubt as to the raga’s svarupa. The sleeve note to this concert indicates the violinist as Vidvan Lagudi G Jayaraman with the percussion support being provided by Vidvans Murugabhoopathy and Alangudi Ramachandran

Sri GNB’s felicity in rendering ragas such as Suddha Saveri, Malavi, Devamanohari, Andolika and their ilk would buttress his virtuosity in expansively exploring the unfamiliar or the tricky. And his exposition of Malavi is no different and in the same mould. Rasikas from an era, long gone will recall misty eyed, the late Sangita Kalanidhi Subbarama Bhagavathar who was a forerunner and an inspiration to Sri GNB in his raga vinyasa, especially Malavi. See Note 2.


In this recording, the master embarks first on a raga alapana. As one can notice, he dwells on the raga’s uttaranga centering his pivot on nishadha and dhaivatha. Mark the way in which he intones the delicate nishada in the ascent coaxing the life of the raga from those phrases. Never in his alapana does he emphasise the purvanga in the madhya sthayi. He focuses on the PNMDNS-SNDNP in the madhya sthayi and SRGMRS in the tAra sthayi and only in the fast akara phrases does he dwell on the SRGMP purvanga. And neither does he venture into the mandhara stayi as well. Overall, he presents the raga with an uttaranga/avarohana pradhana pivot, bounded by the mandara nishadha and the tara pancama. In other words, he capitalises to the hilt the devious/vakra sancaras of the uttaranga and the descent to paint his conception of the raga.

And then he launches his neraval and kalpana svara at the carana beginning ‘kalilO’ showcasing the immense possibilities of the raga and especially the dhaivatha note that he oscillates to spectacular effect at ‘kalilO’ is a revelation. Again attention is invited to the pace of his rendering a steady madhyama kala gait, without the typical breakneck/breathless speed in which this composition is commonly rendered. Neither does the percussionist accelerate the rendering in any way, providing perfect balance overall. For the svarakalpana he showcases the raga svarupa in both the speeds freely using RGMP prayogas in the druta kala phrases lest the color of Sahana stains the melodic canvas that he paints. Sri GNB and his disciples have again made this raga their very own. We do have recordings of Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M L Vasanthakumari rendering ‘nEnarunchi nAnu’ with a kalpana svara rendering at ‘kalilo’ and accounts have it that she has rendered a brief pallavi in the raga, though no recording of the same is available in the public domain.

A more sedate presentation of Tyagaraja’s composition worth hearing is by Vidvan Voleti Venkateswarulu who presents it in a tad slower tempo but yet majestic gait, much as he does many other briskly rendered Tyagaraja compositions such as ‘pattividuvarAdU’ in Manjari.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osYzsWBzAVI (Audio only)

What stands out in this edition is the perfect diction with which he enunciates the lyrics on one hand and the comprehensible madhyamakala cittasvaras which are usually rendered in a rapid-fire manner leaving the artiste breathless and the listener clueless as to the actual notes of the cittasvara section.

And finally, is the popular evergreen version by Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, live in video, well past his prime in the company of the maestros Sangita Kalanidhis Trichy Sankaran and T N Krishnan in the portals of the Madras Music Academy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6PR8eyz8M0 (Video)

And despite his innumerable performances, there is a slip up in the cittasvara rendering, following the anupallavi and the titan without much ado promptly stops his disciples midway and restarts the cittasvara rendering all over again.

One other aspect of this composition is that recordings of artistes of varied hues and from different sisya paramparas of Tyagaraja, as available today ( starting with Veena Dhanammal, Veena Vidvan Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer and all others) would show that the mettu / pAtham of the composition is fairly uniform including the sangathis for the lyrics, across all their versions.

‘rAma nI dAsudanE gada’ of Spencer Sri Venugopal:

Rendering by Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu in a class session

In this section I take up this kriti and its exemplar rendering in the video below.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsDcyyjYPtY (Video)

This kriti of the contemporary composer Spencer Venugopal is best illustrated by this passionate rendering by Vidvan Malladi Suribabu in this Youtube video as he teaches it as was perhaps taught by his Guru the late Vidvan Voleti Venkateswarulu in his Radio program ‘sangIta Sikshana’ on AIR Vijayawada.

A number of distinct features stand out in this composition as well this rendering.

  1. The vilamba kala or the slow/sedate tempo of the composition. For me this attribute strikes so much as it negates the entire premise that this raga has to be rendered in madhyama kala only, as evidenced by almost all other compositions.
  2. The meandering melody with its long kaarvais and pregnant pauses as evidenced by this rendering.
  3. The looping sangathis which present the curvaceous contours of the raga starting and ending with the so called jIva svaras of the raga namely Ri, Dha and Ni.
  4. Whereas in nEnarUnci nAnu’, pancama is given a solid pride of place, apparently given the vakra sancaras around the pancama, in ‘nI dAsudanE’ we do not see emphasis on the pancama. Actually the pancama is muted with more emphasis to the dhaivatha, nishadha and rishabha which gives a distinctive color to the raga as implemented in this composition.
  5. The atIta eduppu of the composition which is a trifle rare in the world of kritis. More encountered in javalis, this form of eduppu occurs in Tyagaraja’s ‘nAtimAta marachitivO’ ( Devakriya of Sangraha Cudamani and not of SSP) which can be cited as an example.

Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu and his disciple sons, the Malladi Brothers have time and again presented this composition exquisitely. See Note 3.

Rendering by Vidusi Dr Ritha Rajan:

Presented next is the rendering of the same composition as a complete suite by Dr Ritha Rajan, disciple of the late Ramnad Krishnan and also of Smt T Brinda and others, even as she harnesses her musical acumen to paint a vivid portrait of the raga one winter afternoon decades ago at the portals of the Music Academy. See Note 4 & 5.

Hark at her raga vinyasa first as she takes off on the dhaivatha at the very start. For all practical purposes the dhaivatha of the raga is one of its life giving notes . And later as she embarks on a neraval at ‘sharadindu samashObita’ followed by an elegant svara sally with the violinist providing the perfect foil for her, she keeps her date always with the dhaivatha, nishadha and rishabha time and again . An observation as to her presentation of the raga in this recital/recording, is warranted here. As already pointed out, in this composition pancama is ‘not’ a pivot and is a muted or understated note. In line with that, the Vidushi has presented her alapana, neraval and svaraprastara emphasizing MDNS in the arohana krama and using pancama as a passing/transiting note and never for once using it as graha or nyasa. So much so apparently after the concert Vidvan S Kalyanaraman walked up to her and made a specific mention of the same opining that pancama had to be emphasised in the raga in line with the conception of Tyagaraja. See Note 6.

To reiterate, the complete full suite rendering of ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ by Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian and ‘rAma nI dAsudanE’ by Vidusi Dr Ritha Rajan proves the point that the raga is not a minor one and full justice can be made to it imaginatively within the confines of the modern concert template.

Rendering by the vaggeyakara himself:

And rarely do we get to hear a composer’s own visualization or articulation of his own creation. It was entirely fortuitous that I happened to stumble upon a rendering of the ‘rAma nIdasudanE’ by Spencer Sri Venugopal himself which encompasses a raga alapana and the kriti rendering together with the cittasvara section. See Note 7.

First is the kriti text together with the cittasvara section.


rAma || nI dasudane gada nannu|rakshimpa rAdA ||


tAma ||rasa nayana nIkU pAma |rUdaina natO vAdA (rAma) ||


vara | dA srI raghunAyakA bhakta|pAlA phaladAyakA |

shara|dhindU sama shObhitA sarva|sAdhU jana sEvitAh (rAma)||





        r,sNDNP,NDNP, |MGMRSRGMR,nSRGM || (nIdAsudanE)

(Note: mandhara stayi svaras are lower case, madhya stayi in upper case and tara stayi in lower case italics)


As one can notice the rendering of Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu is slower and he invests a number of additional/different sangathis ( much like in nEnarunci nAnu’ ) for the anupallavi and carana lines in comparison to the versions of Dr Ritha Rajan and that of Spencer Sri Venugopal.

In so far as the other compositions in the raga goes Vidvans S Kalyanaraman and Trichur Ramachandran have rendered the two compositions of Sri GNB while Vidvan Sanjay Subramanian has rendered the varnam of his Guru in this raga which is available in the public domain.


As pointed out many a time in these blog posts before, Tyagaraja never revealed the names of the nouveau ragas that he came to compose in, during his lifetime. The names of the ragas which we today know as Nalinakanthi, Ravichandrika, Bahudari, Nagasvaravali et al including Malavi came to be assigned to these melodies much later, either by the sisya parampara of Tyagaraja or by publishers of his compositions, much after the death of the composer. This fact has been attested to by several musicologists and musicians in the past. In the instant case as well, the raga name Malavi for the melody using the notes of Harikambhoji mElA (28th) is a later day assignment. We know for sure that in the first half of the 18th Century even before the birth of the Trinity, a raga by name Malavi existed. Tulaja II the musicologist King of Tanjore in his ‘Saramruta’ catalogues, circa 1732 AD, a raga by name Malavi under the modern day 15th Mela, Malavagaula, which shares no melodic affinity to the modern Malavi of the 28th mElA.

Neither is there a raga documented by Tulaja in the ‘Saramrutha’ that even faintly resembles the modern Malavi under the 28th mela. Or for that matter neither does Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium nor Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Samapradaya Pradarshini talk of this melody. As pointed out earlier the first musical compendium where this scale under mela 28 makes its first appearance is the Sangraha Cudamani, the lexicon of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions of 19th century vintage.

Thus, it can be safely surmised that this melody under 28th mela Harikambhoji is a later day creation of Tyagaraja i.e later in time to Saramrutha and the name Malavi came to be assigned to it post 1850, with the name belonging to a long dead raga (Malavi of the 15th Mela) which had fallen into disuse being repurposed to name this raga (under mela 28). Suffice to say that the Malavi of Tulaja (under Malavagaula) has no melodic affinity whatsoever to the modern Malavi, which is a creation of Tyagaraja with the documented lakshana as given in the Sangraha Cudamani. See Note 8

But one non-obvious aspect of this raga as conceptualized by Tyagaraja is that it is in conformance to the 18th century raga architecture, the principles of which we saw in earlier posts. The raga is completely vakra/devious and in fact employing the 18th century vernacular of describing ragas we can restate the raga’s lakshana as under:

  1. The raga is sampurna – i.e all 7 notes occur taking both arohana and avarohana together.
  2. SRGM is permitted while PDNS, SNDP and MGRS are to be eschewed.
  3. Dhaivata and gandhara are vakra in the avarohana krama whereas pancama is vakra in the arohana
  4. GMDNS, PMDNS and PNMDNS are alternate arohana progressions while SNDNP and PMGMR are leitmotifs occurring in the avarohana krama which go along in imparting rakti to the raga.

The individual notes, as one can see doesn’t make this raga. The raga’s life blood lies in its three motifs PNMDN, NDNP and PMGMR which are to be sung with the rishabha, dhaivatha and nishadha being the starting/ending notes as appropriate lend a unique melodic identity to the raga. The cittasvara for ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ appended by Vidvan Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer encapsulates all the salient murccanas of the raga.

From a composition rendering perspective it must be said that rendering of Tyagaraja’s compositions has been much accelerated, sacrificing the lyrics, melody and clarity of rendering at the altar of speed. See Note 9 & 10. And ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ has been no exception. The exemplar rendering of Vidvan Voleti Venkateswarulu of ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ and that of Vidvan Suri Babu of ‘rAma nIdAsudanE’ shows that the raga as well the compositions can blossom forth if it is rendered at perfect/appropriate gait and with passion and verve, holding an invaluable lesson for performers and connoisseurs/listeners of chaste music.


Legend has it that Tyagaraja got inspired to create the raga Nalinakanti when he was hearing the musical score for a Marathi drama. In the case of Malavi or the composition ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ we do not know when/where/how he got inspired to create this melody or this composition. It is an unassailable fact that the raga evokes rakti and his conception of the same is yet another demonstration of his incomparable musical creativity and his innate artistry in chiselling out very many ragas from out of the body of svaras/murccanas. One hopes that modern day musicians emulate the likes of Vidvans Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar and G N Balasubramaniam in rediscovering and imaginatively exploring the Malavi that Tyagaraja has bequeathed to us, on the concert platform.


  1. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 828-829
  2. Dr V Raghavan-Journal of the Music Academy XIV (1943)- Proceedings of the 1942 Music Conference with Vidvan Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar as the President of the Conference.
  3. Dr V Raghavan-Journal of the Music Academy XLIII (1972) – “Mazhavai Subbarama Iyer’s Note Book” by Dr P C Seetharaman, pp 100-107 and the Transcript of the proceedings of 28th Dec 1971 on pp 32-33
  4. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, page 73


  1. I am indebted in no small measure to Dr Ritha Rajan for sparing her time and effort and providing me with several valuable inputs and anecdotes that I have documented in this blog post.
  2. Vidvans Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer (maternal uncle of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer) and Mazhavaranendal Subbarama Bhagavathar (grandson of Mazhavai Cidambara Bharati, a Tamil composer of repute) are titans from an age long bygone. Legend has it that both of them were extraordinarily adept in rendering Malavi. And perhaps they had become so enamoured of the raga that they both went on individually to invest a cittasavara section for ‘nEnarunci nAnu’. While Krishna Iyer’s cittasvaram survives till date, Subbarama Bhagavathar’s (later to Krishna Iyer) cittasvaram survives in his books which was presented to the Music Academy on which a lecture demonstration was done in the year 1971. Subbarama Bhagavathar (born 1888) was anointed as Sangita Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy in the year 1942. His biography reveals that he revelled in rendering ragas like Janaranjani, Salagabhairavi, Sarasvati Manohari, Pratapavarali and Malavi with extraordinary felicity. Subbarama Bhagavathar’s Malavi rendering apparently inspired Sri GNB who went on to inherit the mantle of expounding some of these rakthi ragas. Though Subbarama Bhagavathar’s voice was slightly gruff yet by his prolific musical ideation and impeccable svara gnana he carved a niche for himself. And yet another gem (‘mani”) Sangita Kalanidhi Madurai Mani Iyer held him in awe as his manasIka guru for svara kalpana rendering. Its worth mentioning that the biographies of Smt M S Subbulakshmi records that she learnt the art of rendering complex pallavis from him. Subbarama Bhagavathar has also let behind his notebooks, immaculately notating several compositions including rare varnas. Similarly, musical raconteurs would recall Vidvan Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, nephew of Tirukodikaval krishna Iyer revelling in Malavi, exploring it impromptu, late at night much after a concert when his musical mind was still awake and in full flow- https://www.frontline.in/other/moving-the-heart/article6808048.ece . It is sad that no recording of Vidvan Subbarama Bhagavathar’s survives today despite the fact that he lived till 1950. Nevertheless it has to be said that whenever we hear Sri GNB rendering Malavi, Chenchukambhoji, Devamanohari or Andholika or Madurai Mani Iyer rendering a svara kalpana for Malavi or Kapinarayani, we should pause & remember for a minute that inspirational spirit for both of them, the long forgotten Sangita Kalanidhi Subbarama Bhagavatar !
  3. In the recent past Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu had presented the composition during the 2012 December Music Season ( photo from the Concert above, courtesy ‘The Hindu‘) a recording of which is available in the public domain. The concert recording of Vidvan Sri Voleti Venkateswarulu, his guru singing this composition is available on the Net. However as far as I know no recording of Sri Voleti teaching the same which was broadcast by AIR Vijayawada, is available. Should there be one, I would be grateful to have a copy of the same so that it can be made part of this blog post.
  4. This rendering of Malavi spanning 21 mins is from Vidushi Dr Ritha Rajan’s Music Academy after concert recital of 28-12-1984, a full 34 years ago with Vidushis Narmadha Gopalakrishnan, Sumati and Vid Dandamudi Rammohan Rao as accompanists. The concert features the Kanada Adi tala varna of Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar, Sobhillu Saptasvara in Jaganmohini, Jambupate mampahi in Yamunakalyani, Palincu Kamakshi in Madhyamavati and a pallavi in Latangi amongst others, apart from this 20 min long Malavi essay. For those of us who aren’t aware, she is an acknowledged authority on the patantharas of Tyagaraja’s compositions and of the tradition and repertoire of Smt Veena Dhanammal and her family. In this Youtube video she talks about the musical legacy of Vidushi Veena Dhanammal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvRXFQIeW8I
  5. Thanks are due to Dr Ritha Rajan for sparing her time and effort to unearth this old recording of this concert and for providing me the permission to share the same on this blog post.
  6. With the greatest of respect for the view expressed by the great Vidvan, I wish to disagree in the instant case. As pointed out earlier in the narrative, the melodic canvas of Malavi in this kriti ‘nIdasudanE gadA’ is engineered with the pancama being relegated as a minor note. The key notes are the nishadha, dhaivatha and rishabha and naturally in line with the same the Vidushi has dealt with the raga in her raga vinyasa, neraval & svaraprastara accordingly. Even from a musicological point of view the structuring of Malavi deemphasizing the pancama note adds its own beauty to the raga and is well within the vaggeyakara’s creative right. It does not detract or take-way the beauty of the raga in any way.
  7. I am indebted to Spencer Sri R Venugopal for helping me understand the melodic and lyrical aspect of this composition ‘rama nI dAsudanE gadA’ and also learn this composition and its nuances, first hand. During his interaction, he alluded to the 78-rpm recording of the Tyagaraja kriti ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ rendered by the legendary Veena Dhanammal and confessed that his belief in the enormous potential of the raga much beyond the contours of this kriti was reinforced by her playing an extended vinyasa of the raga at the fag end of the said recording. I thank him for permitting me to use the recording of his rendering for this blog post.
  8. As a caveat it must also be said that much like how the origin of certain ragas are traced back to geographical region or tribes, for instance as in the case of ragas such as Kambhoji or Gurjari or Devagandhara or Nishadha etc, no such reference exists for ascribing Malavi to a region. An enterprising musicologist or historian may seek to represent the origins of this raga to the region of Malwa for example but one may be rest assured that no proof of such nexus exists in our musicological history.
  9. In their interview to ‘Sruti’ (Issue 405 June 2018) the Malladi Brothers lament why the composition ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ given the plaintive appeal of Tyagaraja and the soulful lyrics therein, was being rendered always in a breakneck speed doing irreparable damage to the lyrical & emotional content of the composition not to mention the incalculable harm to the musical fabric.
  10. The Smule phenomenon (https://www.smule.com/) pervading the social media/internet today has provided a new genre of rendering Tyagaraja’s compositions including ‘nEnarunci nAnu’. Two such amateur performers get together to present their interpretation of this composition – https://youtu.be/Eyik5D-rjMI

Varadarāja ninnu kori and Svarabhūṣaṇi – Few insights

Out of 600 or 700 compositions of Saint Tyāgarājā available to us, a significant fraction was composed in vinta or apūrva rāgā-s. Tyāgarājā was the first to use these rāgā-s and the source of these rāgā-s remain obscure. Saint didn’t reveal the name of these rāgā-s to his disciples. Thus, they remain a source of confusion as many kṛti-s composed in these rāgā-s has multiple lakṣaṇā-s, as transmitted by different disciple lineage. Hence, it becomes essential at least, at this point of time to collect and analyze the present available evidences, to know the lakṣaṇaṃ seen in the older versions transmitted by authentic sources. In this post, we are going to discuss few issues related to a kṛti composed in one such vinta rāgāṃ. Before going to the topic proper, a few facts are provided which are helpful in studying the kṛti-s composed in these vinta rāgā-s.

Fact 1 : Generally, rāgā-s handled by this composer can be broadly divided into three categories:

  1. Rāgā-s mentioned in the earlier musical treatises and popular during his time like Nāṭa
  2. Rāgā-s not mentioned in the earlier musical treatises but popular during his time like Begaḍa.
  3. Rāgā-s seen in relatively later treatises (like Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāraṃ, Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi etc) or created by him like Kāpi nārāyaṇi.

Fact 2 : Tyāgarājā didn’t reveal the name of these apūrva rāgā-s to his disciples. This is an important fact as the name that we hear today or see today in various texts were named either by his disciples or by musicians of the gone century. 1

Fact 3 : When the composer himself has not revealed the name of these rāgā-s , it is illogical to say that Tyāgarājā has composed in the rāgā-s seen in the treatise Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi of Gōvinda. This point will be emphasized in future posts too.

Fact 4 : The main difference between the earlier musical treatises (treatises composed till Sangīta Sārāmṛtā, dated approximately to 1735, like Sangīta Sudhā , Catuṛdanḍi Prakāśika etc) and the later ones (like Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāraṃ (SSS), Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi (SC) etc) lies in the way in which a particular rāgā was handled. Whereas in the former treatises, each rāgā was explained by the phrases they take, latter treatises explain by giving a scale – ārohaṇa and avarōhaṇa. In some, we find a lakśaṇa gītaṃ. Hence, a rāgaṃ is visualized as an synthetic entity which strictly obeys its scale by the proponents of the later treatises; whereas the proponents of the earlier treatises view these rāgā-s as an organic structure which cannot be explained by a scale always.

Fact 5 : Rāgā-s that we come to know by SSS and/or SC is not a complete list; they are just a sample. We have got many manuscripts preserved carefully in various libraries waiting to confuse us. The point that this author tries to establish by quoting this point is, a rāgā can have multiple scales, depending on the author who writes the treatise. A rāgā which is placed under a particular mēḷā could have been placed under a different mēḷā by a different author. Also, a rāgā with a similar set of svarā-s could have been called by a different name by various authors.

Fact 6 : Unless, we see the notation, it is not advisable to get carried away by the rāgā name alone (see Fact 5).

With this basic understanding, we shall move to the post “Varadaraja ninnu kori”.

This is a relatively rare kṛti composed on the Lord Varadarājā of Kāñcipuram. This is believed to have been composed by the Saint during his sojourn to holy places like Kāñcipuram, Tirupati etc. Much about this composition has been mentioned in another relevant article in this site. This article will focus on the history of this rāgaṃ with a special emphasis on Vālājāpet notations.

Svarabhūṣaṇi in treatises and texts

Svarabhūṣaṇi belongs to the third category in the classification mentioned above. Strangely, it is not mentioned in SSS or SC. Hence, it must be in some treatise which is yet to be discovered or it can be a creation of the Saint itself.

It is one kṛti of the Saint which is not frequently seen in the texts published in the last century. First text to link the rāgaṃ with this kṛti is “Oriental Music in European Notation”, published by Sri AM Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār (AMC) in 18932 (see figure 1) . He tried to collect and record the authentic versions and kṛti-s of Tyāgarājā and hence approached one of his direct disciple, Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar (VKB). His versions were cross checked with other disciples of the Saint and what we see today is the version approved by more than musician excluding VKB. Though, this kṛti is not notated here, we clearly see for the first time, the rāgā for this kṛti is mentioned as Svarabhūsaṇi, a janya of mēḷā 22. Later this rāgaṃ placed under mēḷa 22 can be seen in various texts including Nathamuni Panḍitar’s Saṅgīta Svara Prastāra Sāgaraṃ published in 1914.

It is to be pointed here we are really clueless on who named this rāgaṃ as it is not seen in any treatises that are presently available to us. But, it can be safely said that the rāgaṃ of this composition is a janyam of mēḷā 22 and is much different from its allied rāga Dēvamanōhari. The musicians who worked with AMC and AMC were well aware of Dēvamanōhari. Listing of few kṛti-s of the Saint under Dēvamanōhari and notating a composition of Gōpāla Krṣṇa Bhārati in Dēvamanōhari in the same book proves the same.

From what we have seen till now, it can be summarized Tyāgarājā has not revealed the name of any of the apūrva rāgā used by him. Some unknown musician has named it as Svarabhūṣani. AMC, who was in search of the authentic compositions and versions of the Saint, accepted this as such.


Fig1 : This shows the index of kritis published in Oriental Music in European Notation (1893) by AM Chinnasamy Mudaliyar. Varadaraja ninnu kori can be seen here with the ragam mentioned as Svarabhushani, a janya of mela 22.

Svarabhūṣaṇi and Varadarāja ninnu kori in manuscripts

Though, efforts have been made from late 1800s to record our music in the form of printed texts, several material remain unknown in manuscripts and they exist as a private collection. A study of these manuscripts is a must as they give a broader picture of the issue in hand.

It is quite rare to find this kṛti in manuscripts too. This shows that this kṛti was not learnt by many disciples and this should have been in the repertoire of only very few. Vālājāpet Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar was one amongst them to learn this directly from the Saint.

Let us now see few manuscripts which make a mention about this kṛti.

Manuscript 1

Dr V Rāghavan, in a paper published in the Journal of Music Academy mentioned about the discrepancies in allotting a particular rāgā name to a particular kṛti (of Tyāgarājā). He has presented a paper based on a palm leaf manuscript which he had in his possession. This kṛti find its presence there and the rāgā of this kṛti is mentioned as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ, a janya of mēḷa 34, Vāgadhīṣvari. We are totally unaware of the musical structure as notation was not provided in the paper. 3

Manuscript 2

A manuscript by one Bālasubraḥmaṇya Ayyar, written in the year 1922 says the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Svarabhūṣaṇi. Notation is provided.

 Manuscript 3

A granta manuscript in the collection of Late, Srivanchiyam Sri Ramachandra Ayyar says the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ. Again, notation is not provided.

Manuscript 4

A manuscript written by Vīṇa Kuppaier mentions this kṛti. Unfortunately, rāgā name was not mentioned and notation too was not provided.

Manuscript 5

Vālājāpet notations mention as Svarabhūṣani.

From the study of manuscripts, it becomes clear that there was confusion in the rāgā of this kṛti. Two different sources saying the rāgā as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ is an issue to ponder. Also, two different sources ascribing this kṛti to Svarabhūṣaṇi also validates the musical structure, where in the rāgā takes the svarā-s of mēḷa 22. Unless, we get a manuscript or text which gives the version in Śāradhābharaṇaṃ, we cannot come to a conclusion that Śāradhābharaṇaṃ and Svarabhūṣaṇi are two different versions (See fact 4).


Svarabhūṣaṇi – its scale

To the best knowledge of this author, Saṅgīta Candrikai of Māṇikka Mudaliyār, published in the year 1902 is the first printed text to mention the scale of this rāgaṃ as SGMPDNS  SNDPMRS, placing it under the mēḷa 22. The two manuscripts mentioned above (manuscript 2 and 5) give the same scale. Vālājāpet notations give additional information that this takes the notes of Kharaharapriya.

Earlier texts and manuscripts are uniform in their opinion that this is a janyaṃ of Kharaharapriya and the scale can be taken as SGMPDNS   SNDPMRS.

Varadarāja ninnu kōri – Vālājāpet version

Vālājāpet manuscripts form an important source to understand the kṛti-s of Saint Tyāgarājā. These manuscripts were written by Vālājāpet Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar (VVB) and his son Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar. It is even said Tyāgarājā could have seen this as they were recorded during his life time.4 These notations were preserved at Madurai Sourāṣtra Sabha and the transcripts are available in GOML, Chennai. Few of these transcripts can be accessed online here. These transcripts are the main source for this post.

In the absence of first hand records made by Tyāgarājā, these notations form a very valuable and authentic source to understand the version learnt by his prime disciple Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar.

In the notations, it is mentioned as Svarabhūṣaṇi with the scale SGMPDNS SNDPMRS. This scale is much adhered to in the version given.

Pallavi starts from dhaivataṃ, reaches madhya ṣaḍjaṃ and goes to gāndhāraṃ as DPMRSGMP. This clearly shows the rāga lakshaṇaṃ without any ambiguity. Anupallavi again starts from dhaivataṃ, but here proceed upwards and reaches tāra ṣaḍjaṃ. From here again reaches tāra gāndhāraṃ. The intelligent use of dhaivataṃ as a graha svaram and careful emphasis on the scale gives a melodic structure much different from Dēvamanōhari. Nowhere we find the phrase NDNS in this version. It is only DNS.

Caraṇaṃ has something interesting to say. It has got an additional line “maruḍu śiggu chē manḍarāḍaṭa”.

This is not seen in any of the versions recorded – either oral or textual. Interestingly, this additional line is seen in the manuscripts of Vīṇa Kuppaier!! Knowing the association between VVB and Vīṇa Kuppaier, this line adds authenticity to this version.

But, in the manuscripts of Vīṇa Kuppaier, there is a slight change in the sāhityaṃ. It reads as “maruḍu  śiggu  chē    munḍararāḍaṭa”.    This was the correction mentioned by Ravi too (See another article on this topic in this site).

Errors like this where there is a replacement of one syllable to another is much common in manuscripts. They are not the printed texts which are proof-read several times before publication (even they are prone to errors!!) What we see now, the transcripts are the genuine duplicates of the manuscripts preserved at Madurai Sabhā. The scribe, when trying to duplicate the contents from manuscripts could have made this error involuntarily. In this case, except that syllable, absolute concordance is seen between the two manuscripts under consideration. An unbiased researcher who is accustomed in reading the manuscripts will never judge the authenticity of the composition or the source which gives this composition based on the errors of this magnitude.


Let us now see the importance of this additional line. Caraṇaṃ with the additional line is represented below:

varagiri vaikuṇṭha maṭa      varṇiṃpa taramukāḍaṭa

maruḍu śiggu chē  man      ḍarāḍaṭa – nir       (munḍararāḍaṭa)

-jarulanu tārakamulalō        candrudai merayuḍu vaṭa

vara tyāgarāja nuta             garuḍa sēva jūḍa srī


‘Ra’ is used as dvitīyākśara prāsaṃ in this caraṇaṃ. When it is sung in rūpaka tāḷaṃ (catusra rūpakaṃ), each tāḷa cycle ends with maṭa, dhaṭa, man, nir, mulalō, vaṭa, nuta and juḍa. Hence each āvartanaṃ starts with a word which has ‘ra´ as its second syllable. Totally, we get 8 tāḷa āvartanaṃ only due to the presence of this additional line. In the commonly heard versions, if sung in rūpakaṃ, runs only for 6 āvartanaṃ!! Also, ‘nir’ is pushed to previous āvartanam to be in accordance with the rules of prosody.

Hence, this line must have been an integral part of this kṛti known only to the disciples learnt directly from the composer and singing without this line is an aberration.


Here is the link to Vālājāpet version of this kṛti.


A note on the version by Sri Bālasubraḥmaṇya Ayyar

No detail can be collected about this musician. The version given by him is much in line with the version that we hear starting in tāra saḍjaṃ, though differences exist. A ciṭṭa svara passage is too seen. Additional line seen in the two manuscripts mentioned above is missing. This version too does not sound like Dēvamanōhari. Needless to say, the version given here is much different from that of Vālājāpet version.



The following are “take-home” messages from this post:

Our music is transmitted very well through both textual and oral tradition. In the absence of one, the other is to be taken into consideration. A wise researcher will never neglect an evidence gained through one source when the other one is unaware of the same. Oral renditions and the available texts are only samples to show what was sung in he past. Voice of many musicians were not recorded and the knowledge of many researchers remain unpublished. If we get an additional evidence from unpublished source, that should be analysed and digested. This an only be considered as a true research. In this case, Valajapet versions were in the dark for many years.  When the notations adhere well to the scale, it should be accepted as  an old version. This will be explained more in further posts too.

“Varadarāja ninnu kōri” was composed in a rāgaṃ which takes the svarā-s of mēḷa 22. (till we get an evidence from other authentic source saying it as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ or something else).

It is better to call this rāgaṃ as Svarabhūṣaṇi as it is the name seen in one of the earlier texts published (as gleaned from the available evidence) and no other rāgaṃ exist with that name.

We don’t have any textual tradition to call it as Dēvamanōhari. Even oral traditions call it as Svarabhūṣaṇi, though versions differ. Older version like Vālājāpet notations gives us the real lakṣaṇaṃ of a rāgaṃ like this. Svarabhūṣani had a distinct melody which can be best experienced by listening to Vālājāpet version.

The additional line, seen in Vālājāpet version and manuscript of Vīṇa Kuppaier is integral to this composition. That line is to be included to make this kṛti a complete one.

Vālājāpet notations help us to know about the authentic versions learnt by VVB, directly from the Saint and solve many issues pertaining to the rāga lakṣaṇaṃ of vinta rāgā-s like this.

This example also highlights the importance of collecting and analyzing unpublished manuscripts to understand the rāgā-s handled by the Saint.



I like to thank Sri V Sriram, Secretary, Music Academy for allowing me to peruse the manuscript of Sri Balasubrahmanya Ayyar preserved at Music Academy library.

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

I thank Sri Ravi Rajagopal for taking efforts to correct the error in sāhityam seen in the additional line .



  1. Subbarāma Dīkṣitulu. Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu, Pg 129. Vidyā Vilāsini Press, Eṭṭayapuraṃ Subbarāma Samasthānaṃ, 1905.
  2. Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār. Oriental Music in European Notation. Ave Maria Press, Madras,1893.
  3. Raghavan V. Two manuscript of Tyagaraja Songs. Journal of Music Academy. 1947: Pg 142.
  4. Sāmbamurti P. The Walajapet manuscripts. Journal of Music Academy. 1947: Pg 114-129.


mahAganapatim vandE in Todi – The Syamantaka Gem


GaneshaMy view to the world of Indian mythology, puranas and ancient history during my childhood was through the famous book series Amar Chitra Katha. Every book left a deep and indelible mark on my memory. And sometime last week I chanced to re-read a couple of them namely the titles “Ganesha”, “Tripura” & “Syamantaka Gem”. And in the same breath I also happened to read Dr V Raghavan’s article in Tamil (“Dikshitarum Vrathangalum Anushtanangalum Poojaikalum” part of his compendium of essays titled “Isaikatturaigal”. Needless to add the common thread was Lord Ganesha, especially with the upcoming Chathurthi- this year’s edition of the elephant God’s day of worship- ‘Vinayaka Chathurthi’ in September. It took me just a minute to connect these stories/dots and relate it to the lyrics of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s rarely rendered composition ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ in rupaka tAla and set in rAga tODi, with the carana lyric of the composition running as ‘tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam“ being the trigger to connect the song and the Amar Citra Katha narration.

My complete introduction to this song was when I was working as part of the Guruguha.Org project to translate Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai’s ‘Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’(DKP) sometime earlier.

And so here goes this short blog on this composition which also covers how Dikshitar encapsulates some of the puranic lore associated with Lord Ganesha therein and some points to ponder on the provenance/antecedents of this composition especially given that it does not figure in Subbarama Dikshitar’s magnum opus ‘Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini’.


Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, (SSP) published in AD 1906 in Telugu can be considered the first authentic compendia of Muthusvami Dikshitar compositions, coming especially from him as he was the scion of the Dikshitar family, being Muthusvami Dikshitar’s brother’s grandson & adopted son. With his formidable knowledge of the musical sastras and his tutelage under his great father Balasvami Dikshitar, Subbarama Dikshitar firmly enthroned the SSP as the Holy Bible and the last,first and complete reference point for Dikshitar kritis in its pristine form. And its legacy and reputation endures till date, more than a century later. While the SSP was a product from a direct lineage of Muthusvami Dikshitar, the year AD 1936 saw the creation of yet another luminaire, the aforesaid DKP, which can arguably be anointed as the possible first authentic edition of Dikshitar’s kritis in Tamil, from another line, of disciples this time. One of Muthusvami Dikshitar prime disciples was Tiruvarur Tambiappan Pillai for whose stomach colic, Dikshitar is said to have composed the vAra kriti on Guru Brhaspati set in the raga Athana. See foot note 1.

Tambiappan Pillai stayed on in Tiruvarur even as his venerable Guru Muthusvami Dikshitar relocated to Ettayapuram. Sathanur Pancanada Iyer became in turn one of the prime disciples of Tambiappan Pillai. Records from the second half of the 19th century tell us that Pancanada Iyer was one of the foremost exponents of Dikshitar compositions. Two later day musicians who survived into the first half of the 20th century we know, who learnt from him Dikshitar compositions in its pristine form, were Nagasvara vidvan Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai (TNS) and the legendary Veena Vidushi Dhanammal. Natarajasundaram Pillai learnt more than 200 compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar from Pancanada Iyer and in the year 1936, actively encouraged by Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, a Sangita Kalanidhi in his own right and Dr V Raghavan, published the first set of 50 composition in Tamil along with notation titling it “Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’. See foot note 2. 

For those who may want to look at the original Tamil text and its English translation, here are the links.

DKP- Tamil/DKP-English

Though not well known like the SSP even in music circles, in its own right DKP can be rightfully acknowledged as yet another authentic source of Dikshitar kritis. As mentioned in the context of an earlier blog, the notation of the songs in the DKP can be seen to be exactly/very closely matching to those found in the SSP, providing solid external reference as to the authenticity of the notation therein. It is our misfortune that while only 50 kritis made it to the first volume in 1936.The balance of 150 kritis, from out of the corpus of 200 kritis that Natarajasundaram Pillai learnt, never made it to publication, due to his death shortly thereafter. Sadly nothing is also known about the whereabouts of the notation / copies of the original manuscripts of Natarajasundaram Pillai, which he had in his possession wherein Sathanur Pancanada Iyer himself had written and corrected the text/notation in his own hand. Had they survived and today if we were to access the same, it would be a veritable goldmine offering us yet another perfect source of Dikshitar’s composition in its original form, rivalling the SSP in full measure. Sadly that is not the case.

Be that as it may, the kritis in the DKP and SSP and their compare reveals us one key point of discordance. Out of the 50 kritis in the DKP, 49 are found in the SSP. A solitary kriti which is notated in the DKP is not found in the SSP. In fact, this one kriti is never found in any prior publication and therefore the DKP becomes the first truly authentic publication for the notation of this composition. And this composition is none other than ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’. There are those who believe that the kritis found notated in the SSP are the only authentic creations of Dikshitar, given that a substantial number of compositions not found in the SSP came to published in the 1940’s or thereafter, chiefly by vidvans who trained under Ambi Dikshitar, son of Subbarama Dikshitar. Without in any way diluting the evaluation criteria/standard to determine the authenticity of a composition as being Dikshitar’s, just on the strength of pedigree and the fact of its publication to the world at large by Natarajasundaram Pillai, ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ can without doubt be accepted prima facie as an authentic kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar. We do have a few other kritis which by the sheer quality of lyrics, musical setting and stylistic similarity, can be anointed as authentic creations of Dikshitar, despite not being found in the SSP. Suffice to say that ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ is unique and is a singular instance of its class in comparison to the others such as ‘ekAmranAthaM’ – Gamakakriya, ‘vadAnyEsvaraM’ in Devagandhari, ‘srI sundararAjaM’ in Ramakriya and ‘siddhi vinAyakaM’ in Camaram. In fact from an oral tradition standpoint too, the repertoire of Dikshitar kritis of the Dhanammal family sourced from her tutelage under Sathanur Pancanada Iyer had only kritis found in the SSP and the Todi composition ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ was the sole exception.


In the context of appraising the authenticity of the kriti and also evaluate the melodic setting, I invite the attention at this point to the views of the expert Dr N Ramanathan in his seminal monograph ‘Problems in the editing of the compositions of Muddusvami Dikshitar’. The following are some of the salient points that he brings to our attention in the context of this composition:

1.   Acccording to him he had learnt this composition from Mahadeva Bhagavathar, from the Ambi Dikshitar side. He avers that the musical setting/notation he learnt is almost the same as found in the DKP providing a useful corroborative evidence that the kriti and its notation are authentic as it is the same in two independent lineages, despite not being found in the SSP.

2.    The melodic setting of the entire anupallavi line is very peculiar to Todi and is entirely native to this composition and is in fact the same in both the Ambi Dikshitar version as well as the DKP version, providing yet another validation as to the kriti being an authentic one of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

As we will hear in the discography section, the prAsa concordance, svarakshara,  the languorous rupaka tala and the marked cadences of Todi reaching up to tAra madhyama in its contours all mark out this beautiful creation of Dikshitar. As pointed out though this kriti did not make it to the SSP, subsequent publishers of Dikshitar’s compositions particularly those who were disciples of Subbarama Dikshitar’s son Ambi Dikshitar such as Calcutta Ananthakrishna Ayyar & Sundaram Ayyar on their authority published ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ with notation. One such publication is by Ananthakrishna Ayyar dateable to April 1956 wherein this composition is presented as the Invocatory song for the collection of the so called “Abhayambha Navavarana” kritis. Leaving aside the fact that the said collection cannot be ordained as a navAvarana, the notation of the song closely aligns to the one found in DKP, as pointed by Dr N Ramanathan. 


Having taken a view of the composition’s origins , we next move on to its lyrics. 

Krti:                      ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’      Raga: tODi / Tala: rUpakam

Pallavi:                 mahAgaNapatim vandE mAdhavAdyamara-bRndam ||

Anupallavi:         ahantAdirahitam shaktivihitam Anandadantamekadantam ||

Carana:                 tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam |

upaniSadpratipAditam umAmahEshvarasutam |

kapilavasiSThAdinatam kaHnjajAdibhirIDitam |

kapilam kRSNapUjitam karivadanena shObhitam |

suparNavAha-sevitam sura-guruguha-bhAvitam |

kapitthAmra-panasa-jambU-kadaLIphala-bhakSitam ||


The analysis of the text of the composition reveals that as always Dikshitar has embedded his standard colophon in the final carana segment ‘sura-guruguhabhAvitam’. The raga name Todi is not found in the composition, though it may be speculated that ‘ahantAdi’ is a sUcita reference. While Dikshitar explicitly refers to the iconic type of Lord Ganesa as Mahaganapathi, right at the outset, he also refers to ekadantam (the one with a single tusk) and one who feasts on kapittha (wood apple) , amra ( mango), panasa ( jackfruit) jambu (rose apple) and kadaliphala ( plantain) in the composition. In this composition Dikshitar alludes to Lord Vishnu thrice through the words ‘mAdhavAdyamara’, ‘krishnapUjitam’ and ‘suparnavAha-sEvitam’. The words ‘ahantAdi-rahitam’ reminds one of the contrasting usage of the word as in ‘ahantA-svarUpini’ occurring in the Andhali kriti ‘Brhannayaki varadayaki’. While in this kriti, it signifies ego, the word is played upon by Dikshitar as he says that She, the Mother Goddess manifests as the alphabets starting with A and ending with HA, in Sanskrit, in the Andhali composition which was covered in an earlier blogpost.


In sum, Dikshitar pays obeisance to the one-tusked harbinger of happiness, the Great Ganapati, extolled by Madhava and other celestials, the one free from ego, ordained by Shakti, the one worshipped by Lord Shiva for the destruction of Tripura, the One extolled by the Upanishads and the Son of Uma and Mahasvara, the One worshipped by Kapila,Vasishta, Vishnu, Brahma, Devas, Kartikeya and the One who feasts on the fruits -wood apple, mango, jackfruit, rose apple and plantain. The kriti is replete with svaraksharas right from the opening syllable.

While the pallavi and anupallavi employ standard epithets to extol Lord Ganesha, Dikshitar in the carana clearly alludes to two specific puranic lore/stories.

  • The first one is the reference to Lord Shiva propitiating Lord Ganesha before embarking on his mission to destroy Tripura , the mythical City created by his own devotee Maya the Asura, referred in the lyrics ‘tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam’.  
  • The second is the reference as ‘kapilam kRSNapUjitam’. At the outset, it may sound as a generic/ordinary reference of Krishna worshipping Lord Ganesha. In a while we will see that from a puranic perspective Dikshitar is referring to a not much popular story/episode from the Bhagavatham wherein Lord Krishna had to propitiate Lord Ganesha and seek his divine blessings to absolve himself of the sin of having to shoulder the accusation of killing his own kinsman Prasena.

Both these puranic episodes are interesting in themselves and one should revisit them in brief even as we immerse ourselves in the lyrical beauty of Dikshitar.


Tripuraनमस्ते अस्तु भगवन्  विश्वेश्वराय महादेवाय

त्र्यम्बकाय त्रिपुरान्तकाय त्रिकालाग्निकालाय

कालाग्निरुद्राय नीलकण्ठाय मृत्युञ्जयाय

सर्वेश्वराय सदाशिवाय श्रीमन् महादेवाय नमः

 So goes the passage from the Sri Rudram wherein Shiva is extolled as ‘tryambakAya tripurAntakAya’ amongst other epithets. While a deeper philosophical meaning for those terms can be enjoined, from a puranic perspective the reference is tagged to the destruction of the three worlds constructed by the Asuras by Lord Shiva. This puranic episode has come to feature the form of Shiva called ‘tripurAnthakA’.

Shortly after Lord Kartikeya the Commander in Chief of the Devas vanquished Tarakasura & drove the Asuras out of their domains, predictably his three sons plotted revenge to get back their abodes. Invoking Lord Brahma through austerity and penance they made him give a boon, enabling them to build three almost eternal and impregnable floating fortresses which would be their abodes. Lord Brahma’s only covenant /rider given that no boon can be granted for permanence, was that the cities would perish if one were to take aim and shoot them down when the three floating cities would be in a perfect straight line/occultation with each other, once every 1000 years when the star Pushya is in conjunction with the Moon. Maya the architect of the Asuras built the three cities called as Tripura from where Tarakasura’s sons unleashed their reign of terror and destruction. And as doomsday came – the day when the star Pushya conjected with the Moon, the Devas headed by the Trimurtis launched their final assault on Tripura. As the Cities transited into a straight line, Lord Shiva shot the fatal arrow which destroyed the three great Cities of Tripura, with which he earned himself the sobriquet of ‘tripurAntakA’, the annihilator of the three worlds and destroyer of Tripura. Incidentally Lord Ganesha is the ruling deity of the star Pushya. Lord Ganesha’s role in this story comes in when Lord Shiva fails to pay the customary obeisance to Lord Ganesha or Vigneshvara- the One who removes all obstacles, before he departs in his chariot to shoot that fatal arrow/pAshupatAstra which destroyed the three occulting cities. Legend has it that the axle of his chariot broke down as soon as he started. In a jiffy Lord Shiva realized his folly of not having worshipped Lord Vignesvara. To atone, he prayed forthwith to Lord Ganesha the remover of all obstacles, paid his obeisance before proceeding forward. Popular literature too highlights this episode. For instance Arunagirinathar in his well known Thiruppugazh eulogizes Lord Ganesha thus:

கைத் தலநிறை  கனி

முப்புரம்எரிசெய்த அச்சிவன்  உறைரதம்

அச்சது பொடிசெய்த அதிதீரா

The legend has a number of variations in the kshetra puranas for quite a few Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu including those at Thiruvirkolam, Thiruvadhigai and Accharapakkam particularly which in fact boasts of a shrine for Lord Ganesha wherein he is enshrined as ‘Acchumuri Vinayaka’. See footnote 3 below. Be that as it may, Dikshitar by referring to Tripura dahanam by Lord Shiva, highlights the role of Lord Ganesha as the vanquisher of all obstacles and reinforces the puranic injunct that He be worshipped before one embarks on any endeavour.


In this section we shall look at ‘krishnapUjitam’ in ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ & the cross reference it has to ‘rouhinEya anujArcitaM’ found in ‘siddhi vinAyakaM’ in raga cAmara, again another kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar on Lord Ganesa.

SyamantakaAs we embark on this let us go over to what Dr Raghavan has to say on the same context but in a different kriti of Dikshitar namely ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisaM’ in the raga cAmara. Dr V Raghavan in his essay in Tamil narrates how the 68th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta, Sri Chandrashekarendra Sarasvati clarified to him & others, the meaning of the lyric ‘rauhinEyAnujArcitham’ found in the cAmara kriti ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisham’.

Sometime during the 1950’s during September the Paramacharya was camping at the Madras Sanskrit College in Mylapore along with his entourage. On the Vinayaka Chaturthi day that fell during his stay, the Acharya bade his personal attendants to mould a figurine of Lord Ganesha from the clay soil in the premises and he personally performed puja to it with all spiritual splendour. Amongst the many apart from Dr V Raghavan who attended the puja and had darshan that day, was the legendary vocalist Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer who after completion of the puja and ahead of the arati to Lord Ganesha by the Paramacarya, proceeded to sing the Dikshitar composition ‘ siddhi vinayakam anisham’ in Camara as his offering.

Here is the clipping of Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer rendering the Dikshitar composition ‘ siddhi vinAyakam anisham’ as he must had done that September evening at the Sanskrit College, Mylapore premises decades ago, in the august presence of the Paramacharya.

After the veteran concluded his rendering, the Acharya nodding approvingly with his benign smile & affection queried those around him if they /anyone assembled knew the real import/meaning of the words ‘rouhinEyAnujArcitham’ which occurred in the carana of the composition. Seeing that none including Dr Raghavan had an answer, the Paramacharya went on to narrate when –‘rouhinEya anuja’ or the younger brother of Balarama, i.e Krishna had to worship Lord Ganesha. The instance occurs in the story of the Syamantaka gem which comes in the Bhagavatham. Prasena, a Yadava kinsman of Krishna owned the Syamanataka gem, a legendary gem of great attraction/value and many were reportedly rumoured to have been so enamoured of the gem that they were willing to take any risk to purloin it. Prasena in vanity always wanted to flaunt it and so used to wear it as a regular neck ornament. One day wearing it he went to the forest accompanied by Krishna, for hunting. As fate would have it he was attacked by a lion which killed him , dragged him away along with the jewel in his neck. Jambavan the bear dweller of the forest latter killed the lion, took the jewel and gifted it to his daughter Jambavati. In the mean while Krishna returned to Dvaraka without Prasena, and he conveyed to the Yadava elders the news of Prasena succumbing to the attack of a lion. However in the absence of proof – witness or body and with the gem too missing & unaccounted for, quite a few members of the citizenry suspected that something sinister was afoot. Dvaraka was soon agog with rumours that Krishna himself had liquidated Prasena so that he could appropriate the famed Syamantaka gem all for himself.  Without Prasena’s body or any other evidence to prove that the accident had happened, Krishna was left with no choice but to go back to the forest to recover the body and the gem so as to establish the truth, redeem his name and erase the blemish that had been caused to himself.

And so, Krishna went to the forest, fought Jambavan, won the battle with him, got back the gem and came back to Dvaraka. And immediately on his return he restored the gem to the deceased Prasena’s brother Shatrujith, as its rightful owner. Even then the travails of the gem and its owner did not end with that. Boding ill-luck to Krishna even thereafter, the gem put him in an extreme quandary as events continued to unfold much to his chagrin, lending ever greater credence to the original rumour that Krishna wanted to somehow own the gem. Krishna was thus left worrying in Dvaraka about all this.

And at this point in time Sage Narada came to visit him. Krishna confided to him his predicament and he sought the great sage’s guidance as to how to absolve himself of this liability once and for all. The Sage in his infinite wisdom told Krishna of the malefic effect of watching the Moon on Caturthi day and the pain that it brings to the incumbent, as the root cause of this apavAdA. He advised Krishna to worship Lord Ganesha and offering modaka and fruits on Caturthi day as atonement and that would cleanse him off this self-inflicted dOsha. And thus did Krishna redeem his lost honour and name, at the end by doing the Caturthi pooja to Lord Ganesha.

Dr Raghavan concludes his narrative by saying that this mythological story related by the Acharya is also found documented in the ‘Skandapurana’ under ‘Syamantaka AkhyAnam’ and in texts such as ‘vrata cUdAmani’. 

And just as Dikshitar highlights the virtue and cleansing of the malefic effect caused by Moon from an astrological perspective in the cAmara kriti, he makes a direct reference to this puranic episode as ‘krishnapUjitam’ in this Todi kriti, embedding the entire story/episode pithily as is his wont.


From amongst the popular vocalists of the previous century we do notice that Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian has sung ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ which is available in the public domain. There are no renderings of this composition by members of the Dhanammal family much to our disappointment. Instead for this blog post I seek to present the rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M S Subbalakshmi from a concert of unknown provenance.  She must have presumably learnt it from the scion of the Dhanammal family Smt T Brinda perhaps. Smt MSS is known for her fidelity of rendering true to the source from which she learns and it is on that basis that this version is specially sought to be presented.

Part 1 : pallavi & anupallavi


Part 2: caranam

The version she sings is mostly aligned to the notation found in the DKP except for a few melodic extensions or flourishes, which one can and should anticipate. Attention is invited to the anupallavi rendering which Dr N Ramanathan talks about as also some of the melodic variations she weaves around some of the carana lines. There is one point to highlight especially in the context of the pallavi. The line ‘mAdhavAdyamara brindam’ spans 3 rupaka tAla cycles or totally 9 beats as per the DKP notation whereas all performers complete the said sahitya snippet in 2 avartas itself ( total of 6 beats).

Presented next is the rendering of the kriti by ‘Dikshitarini’ Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Kalpakam Svaminathan. It is in all probability learnt either from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer or Ananthakrishna Iyer, under whom she was a pupil, both of them belonging to the Ambi Dikshitar lineage.

Apart from the version of Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian one other version which can be profitably listened to is the one by Sangita Kalanidhi R K Srikantan.

From amongst the renderings, in my opinion, Smt Subbulakshmi’s rendering is closest to the notation in the DKP with the correct gait/pace of rendering. One other distinctive aspect of this kriti and rendering by Smt Subbulakshmi is the dominance of pancama varjya phrases, in the kriti body together with emphasis more on madhyama. Its always been a practice to render Todi skipping frequently the pancama note for it has a beauty on it own.

Some modern musical texts refer to Todi bereft totally of pancama as Suddha Todi. This Todi bereft of pancama is a beauty in its own right. In fact Patnam Subramanya Iyer the prolific composer created the ubiquitous varna ‘erA nApai’ in adi tAla with the pancama being rare/alpA. Many might not know that Patnam has also created one more varna (sAmi ninnE kOriunnAnurA – Adi tAlA) with the following sahitya totally eschewing the pancama ( Suddha Todi). 

sAmi ninnE kOriyunnAnurA cAla namminAnurA (sAmi)

nA manavi vinarA shrI vEnkatEsa cennApuri nivAsA

cAla vE tOda mElukOra

Presented next is the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M L Vasanthakumari beginning one of her many concerts with this rare varna. Mark the complete absence of the pancama note in the body of the varna.

And she follows up by rendering a dainty set of imaginative kalpana svaras again without the pancama.

The varna is apparently composed on Lord Venkatesa of Chennapuri, as is obvious from the sahitya. Given that Patnam Subramanya Iyer was a denizen of North Chennai/George Town area one wonders if the Temple/diety in question was what is known as the Bairagi Temple at Muthialpet. Historian S Muthiah in his tome “Madras, Chennai: A 400 year record of the First City of Modern India- Vol 1” notes that this old temple dedicated to Sri Venkatesvara was mentioned as Lorraine’s Pagoda in olden records. Apparently it was built by Ketti Narayana, son of Beri Thimmanna, a 17th century Dubash. A detailed note on the temple appears in Joan Punzo Waghorne’s book “Diaspora of the Gods” published by OUP.


And in conclusion, for me the story and the lyric is a throwback to the days I read the Amar Citra Katha stories including ‘The Syamantaka Gem’ alluded in this blog post, abridged/adapted/published by the Late Anant Pai. What a great way to know these in a simple way! If the Amar Citra Katha is a visual pen picture of these legends & stories then Dikshitar’s classic ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ is an immortal musical pen picture, a modern day Syamantaka gem which he has bequeathed to us. In contrast to the puranic gem which brought ill luck, one can be sure that if this modern gem were to be sung it is sure to bestow us prosperity and the boundless Grace of Lord Ganesha, this Chathurthi.


  1. Dikshita Keertanai Prakashikai -Tamil ( 1936) – Vidvan Thiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai
  2. Problems in the editing of the Kirtanas of Muddusvami Dikshitar(1991) – Dr N Ramanathan- Paper presented in the 65th Annual Conference of the Music Academy Madras on 19-Dec-1991 and published in JMA Madras, 1998 Vol LXIX,pp 59-98.
  3. Isai Katturaigal – Tamil (2006)- Dr V Raghavan- Published by the Dr V Raghavan Center for Performing Arts, Adayar, Chennai – pp 68-70 


  1. Legend has it that Dikshitar examined the astro chart of his devoted disciple and sensed that that the recurring colic pain was due to the malefic impact of Jupiter ( graha dosha). Given that Tambiappan Pillai would not be able to recite shlokas to propitiate Guru and seek divine relief to ameliorate his suffering, because of his caste, Dikshitar proceeded to create the composition ‘Brhaspate’ in Atana condensing the very essence of Guru worship, bade his disciple to sing it. Needless to add he did so and recovered completely. The story finds mention in many of the Muthusvami Dikshitar biographies including those written by Subbarama Dikshitar, Dr V Raghavan and Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer.
  2. Readers are requested to read the Introductory sections of the English translation of the DKP given in the link above, for a detailed biography of Sri Sathanur Pancanada Iyer who was also called Sathanur Panju Iyer, the guru of Veena Dhanammal and Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai. Additionally readers may also read this article, published in Guruguha.Org sometime back.
  3. Given that we have a few Siva ksetras which feature Lord Ganesa having connection with the Tripura samhara episode as above, surprisingly we do not find modern day editors of Muthusvami Dikshitar kritis, arbitrarily assign ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ in Todi to the Ganesa enshrined in those temples.  

Disclaimer: The clippings used in this blog post have been purely used for educational/research purposes and no attribution is made or copyright claimed, which is exclusively the property of the producers/artistes concerned. The photos has been sourced from the web & belong exclusively to the trademark owners of ‘Amar Citra Katha’