A different perspective on the rāgam Rāmakali and the kṛti “Rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”

 

Tanjāvūr during 16-19 CE saw an influx of exotic rāgā-s from North and the other parts of this country. The rāgā-s which had their origin somewhere else and absorbed into our system of music are called as dēśīya rāga-s and one such dēśīya rāgam to be discussed here is Rāmakali.

Today, Rāmakali is survived only with a single kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” and a small passage in the rāgamālika-s “sāmaja gamana” and “nāṭakādi vidyāla” composed by Rāmasvāmy Dīkśitar. It is believed Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar was the first composer to employ these dēśīya rāga-s due to his stay in Kāśi. In reality, this composer eclipsed the achievements of his father Rāmasvāmy Dīkśitar. The latter is to be credited for using these rāga-s for the first time in our music. One can find plenty of rāga-s rāgā-s like Rāmakali, Hamvīr, Māruva, in his compositions. Though we find gītam-s in the rāga-s like Hamvīr and Māruva which can be dated to the period of Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar or slightly anterior to him, credits for including them in a kṛti must go only to Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar.

A discussion on Rāmakali gains importance due to its elusive description across the treatises, disputable authorship of the only kṛti available and the authority of using prati madhyamamm in this rāgam. This post tries to address these issues.

“Rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” and its disputable authorship

Rāmakali owes its gratitude to the family of Dīkṣitar, as Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar and one of his successor gave a commendable shape to this rāgam. Going by the textual history, the first text to record this kṛti is Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Disputes on the authorship raised when this kṛti was included under Rāma navāvarṇa or Rāma vibhakti set of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar in the texts published in the latter half of the last century. Interestingly, this kṛti has the mudra ‘guruguha’ and the rāga mudra ‘Rāmakali’ in the first line itself. These mudra-s along with the language in which this kṛti was composed, perhaps made the musicians to attribute this composition to Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar. Today, excluding Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī, no other evidence exist to proclaim that this is a kṛti of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar.

Let us take two set of evidences to fix the author of this kṛti: the first are those evidences that might have helped the musicians to attribute this kṛti to Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar and the second are those from the treatise Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī itself.

 

Evidences that helped in assigning the authorship to Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar

Guruguha mudra
Vāggeyakārā-s in our music sign their composition with an insignia and Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar used the śabdam ‘guruguha’. Though, it is a routine to see his compositions with this signature, we do have a couple of genuine compositions which do not feature this mudra. Contrarily, we also see some other vāggeyakārā-s using this signature. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar and his son Ambi Dīkṣitar fall under this category. Out of 33 compositions of Subbarāma Dīkśitar, 10 has this mudra. The mudrā ‘guruguha’  was not only adopted by Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar, but also by some of his family members is to be learnt.

Rāga mudra
It is the practice of Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar to lace the sāhityam with a rāga mudrā. This was followed by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar too, though not in all of his compositions. Punnāgagāndhārī in the Nāgagāndhārī kṛti can be cited as an example.

Language of the composition
Though Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar has primarily composed in Sanskrit, we have two of his compositions in Telugu. The reverse suits for Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, though we have only one Sanskrit composition of Subbarāma Dīksitar, Śaṅkarācāryam in Śaṅkarābharaṇam

It is clear from the above discussion that based on mudra-s or the language used in a composition, authorship of this kṛti cannot be ascertained.

 

Evidences from Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī

Author mentioned by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar

Being the author of this text, his words have the final say in arriving at a conclusion. Let us analyze this text in detail before proceeding further. Authorship of any particular composition is mentioned at two places in this treatise. First time in the beginning of this book as a table enlisting all the compositions in alphabetical order. Here, he marks the compositions of all the composers, except that of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar by a star symbol. It implies any kṛti without this symbol can be taken as a composition of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar.  Second time it is mentioned under the respective rāga section when a kṛti is given in notation.

Under the Rāmakali rāgam, “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha” is the only one notated kṛti and the author is mentioned as Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. This kṛti is also enlisted in the initial list mentioned above and here, no star symbol is given. Can this kṛti be taken as that of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar?

It is always to be remembered that this text was written by an astute musician and musicologist, whose thoughts were always clear, unbiased and genuine and it is up to the researcher to interpret, from the material available. Hence, this text opens up a discussion at multiple layers and results in more than an opinion several times. Many times, it requires a careful study of an entire segment under consideration and if necessary, other parts of this text and/or older treatises to get a solution for the question in hand.

Subbarāma Dīkṣitar has taken efforts to avoid mistakes, advertently or inadvertently to the best of his abilities. He must have scrutinized the manuscript and corrected the errors more than once before the publication of this text. Resultant errors or the errors which cannot be corrected are taken note by giving two sections ‘tappōppalu’ and ‘porabātalu’. Whereas the first section deals with a mistake and its corresponding correction that has to be applied, the second section deals with the ways by which a mistake, that has crept in even after unfeigned preparation of the manuscript can be identified and negotiated.

Hence, to decide the authorship we need to analyze the list, Rāmakali section and the section ‘tappōppalu’. Now, we have contradictory findings between the segments: the list mention this kṛti as a composition of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar by not having the star symbol and in the segment under the rāgam Rāmakali, this is mentioned as a work of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Either list or the text under Rāmakali must suffer from a printing error and it is up to us to identify the same.

When the list was carefully analyzed, one another finding glare us. A kṛti in Kāpi ‘raṅgapate’, also lacks this symbol and this too to be taken as a composition of Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar if we consider the symbol identification system followed by  Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. We know this is a composition of Mārgadarśi Śeśayyaṅgār, a pre trinity composer and similar to “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha”, the authorship gets corrected to Śeśayyaṅgār under the Kāpi section. This denotes the list given in the beginning is not free of mistakes. Also the section ‘tappōppalu’ covers the main text only and does not include the list. This is evident as we don’t find any corrections (‘tappōppalu’) for the content printed in this list.

All sort of corrections can be seen in the segment ‘tappōppalu’. Corrections pertaining to the use of a particular svaram or its variety, use of gamakam, errors in the sāhityam and the errors pertaining to authorship of a kṛti. For instance, author of the kṛti Śri dakśiṇāmūrtim in the rāgam Phēnadyuti is given as Subbarāma Dīkṣitar under the rāgam section; this is corrected as Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar in the section ‘tappōppalu’. Hence it, is advised to see this section before interpreting a composition given under the respective rāga section. We can consider the content given under Rāmakali section completely reflects the idea of Dīkṣitar as no changes / corrections were given for the entire segment. Relying only the main text after superimposing with ‘tappōppalu’ section, as followed here is recommended as it might help solving many debatable issues.

 

Svara segment

Apart from using rāga and ‘guruguha’ mudra, the composing style of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar resembles that of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar in some other aspects too. We can see madhyama kāla passages almost in all the kṛti-s and svara passages in many kṛti-s. Some of the kṛti-s were also composed in the pallavi – anupallavi format.

The kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha” is composed in the pallavi-anupallavi format with a svara segment. This also has a madhyama kāla sāhityam. Though, at the outset the compositional style is much similar, significant difference can be seen in the pattern used in the svara segment. Before going to the Rāmakali svara segment, svara section in Māruva is explained as we have a composition by both of the composers in this rāgam.

Māruva is a bhāṣāṅga janyam of Māyamālavagaula. Both the kṛti-s Māruvakādi mālini of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar and Ēmamma of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar are composed in the pallavi-anupallavi-svaram format. Both have madhyamakāla sāhityam and both are set to ādi tāḷam.

The svara patterns used by these composers can be easily understood from this table.

For both the kṛti-s, tāḷam is divided as 16+8+8 accounting for laghu + drutam + drutam. This svara segment run for two āvartanam.

 

Āvartanaṃ Segment in ādi tāḷaṃ   Māruvakādi mālini          Ēmamma
 

Āvartanaṃ 1

 

      16 segment 7+6+3 4+4+4+4
    First 8 segment 8 6+2
 Second 8 segment 5+3 4+4
 

Āvartanaṃ 2

 

      16 segment 8+3+5 3+3+4+6
    First 8 segment 8 8
 Second 8 segment 5+3 8

 

When we compare the svara patterns in these two kṛti-s, symmetrical svara pattern, profuse use of  laghu svara-s are more seen in ēmamma. Also attractive patterns like MGRsRND MGRsRGM are seen (small case indicates elongation of that particular svaram as a kārvai).

Attractive svara patterns are seen in almost all the kṛti-s of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Few examples that can cited are DdDPMG, MmPMGR, GgMGRS in the Nādarāmakriyā kṛti of Kṛṣṇasvāmy Ayya (tuned by Subbarāma Dīkśitar) and PmMgGrRs, RmMgGrRSR in a daru in Naṭanārāyaṇi. Contrastingly, complicated laya patterns are more common and is very rare to find rhythmic pattern in the kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar.

The number 4 and 8 are also handled differently by these composers:

In the kṛti “māruvakādi mālini”, 8 is split as 2+1+2+2+1 in the first āvartanam and 1+1+1+2+1+1+1 in the second āvartanam. Whereas in the kṛti ēmamma, it is split as 1+1+1+1 x 2 in the first and 1+1+1+2+1+1+1 in the second āvartanam. 4s are always treated as 1+1+1+1 by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar in this kṛti (See Footnote 1).

These patterns can be easily discerned from the audio links.

 

Svara segment in the kṛti“māruvakādi mālini”

 

 

Svara segment in the kṛti “ēmamma”

 

 

 

The kṛti “ēmamma” can be heard  in full here.

The kriti “māruvakādi mālini” can be heard in full here.

 

Having seen the basic pattern handled by these two composers, let us now compare these passages with the svara passage seen in the Rāmakali kṛti.

Svara passage seen in the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”

This is set to rūpaka tāḷam and has two āvartanam. 4 complete tāla cycles makes one āvartanam. Rūpaka tāḷam is reckoned as drutam + laghu, the way by which we render a rūpaka tāḷa alaṅkāram. This is divided as 4+8 units in each tāḷa cycle so that the count becomes 12. We see the following svara arrangement:

 

             Āvartanaṃ Tāḷa cycle Svara pattern
 

Āvartanaṃ 1

Tala cycle 1 (3+1) + (4+4)
Tala cycle 2 (2+2) + (2+2+2+2)
Tala cycle 3 (4) + (2+2+2+2)
Tala cycle 4 (2+2) + (2+2+4)
 

Āvartanaṃ 2

Tala cycle 1 (2+2) + (2+2+4)
Tala cycle 2 (2+2) + (2+2+4)
Tala cycle 3 (2+2) + (2+4+2)
Tala cycle 4 (2+2) + (4+4)

 

Svara segment in the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”

We can see an overall symmetry and use of lot of laghu svarā-s and a svara pattern arranged in even numbers. The first āvartanam itself is weaved with a beautiful pattern. Taken together, this svara segment resemble the svara pattern seen in the kṛti-s of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar.

 

Svara segment in the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”

 

 

Rūpaka tāḷam
The most common tāḷam handled by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar is rūpakam followed by tisra ēkam. When his compositions, other than varṇā-s are taken into consideration, rūpaka tāḷa compositions outnumber others. 6 out of 12 were in rūpaka tāḷam. Among his nine rāgamālika-s, five were in rūpakam. It is reminded here, “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” is also set to the tālam rūpakam !!

A careful analysis of this text, patterns observed in the svara segment and this kṛti being set in rūpaka tāḷam make us to consider Subbarāma Dīkṣitar could have composed this kṛti.

 

Use of prati madhyamam in this rāgam

Let us go to the next segment of this article, on the authority of using prati madhyamam in this rāgam, being a janyam of Māyāmālavagaula. It will not be incongruous if the history of this rāgam is explained, before taking up the main question.

Rāmakali

Rāmakali was relatively a popular rāga during 16-17 CE and we can see the treatises like Rāgamañjari of Paṇdarika Viṭṭala, Hṛudayakautuka and Hṛdayaprakāśa of Hṛdayanārāyaṇadeva and Anūpasaṅgītaratnākara of Bhāvabhaṭṭa mentioning about this rāgam. It is a general opinion that these treatises represent the Hindustāni tradition of our Classical music, indicating a rāga with this name was common in the Northern territory.

Circumstantial phrases delineating the rāgam was not given and we are left with a simple description – GPDS NDPGMGRS, credits to Hṛdayanārāyaṇadēva. It is to be remembered here that many of the earlier treatises belonging to16-17 CE do not describe a rāga with illustrative phrases. Hence, we are clueless about the melodic structure of Rāmakali of 16-17 CE excluding the remark that this rāgam drops madhyamam and niṣādam in the ascent and has the above mentioned phrase.  In the treatises mentioned, this is considered as a sampūrṇa janyam of a melam, equivalent to our present day Māyāmālavagaula, mēla 15 (See Footnote 2). This rāga was not catalogued by the musicologists of the Southern territory like Gōvinda Dīkṣita, Śāhāji or Tulajā.

Appendix to Caturdaṇdi Prakāśikā, published by Music Academy mention this rāgam. This is mentioned as a dēsīya rāgam and a bhāṣāṅga janyam of Māyāmālavagaula, the mela 15. Subbarāma Dīkśitar further elaborates and illustrate the various phrases used in this rāgam. Hence, a complete picture of this rāgam as we see today in the uruppaḍi-s mentioned is obtained only from Subbarāma Dīkṣitar’s treatise Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī. Here, he gives a hitherto unknown points, that it is customary to use prati madhyamam, also called by the name Pibhās and a rāgam imported from North of this country.

From the above discussion it is clear that Rāmakali was a sampūrṇa rāgam popular in the Northern territory of this country. Description of this rāgam is very scanty in the earlier treatises. As we move down the timeline, we can see this was described by a single phrase GPDS NDPGMGRS. This rāgam was totally unnoticed by the major musicologists of the Southern territory and a complete description of this rāgam is seen for the first time only in the year 1904, credits to Subbarāma Dīkśitar.

Bibhās

Bibhās could have been much more popular rāga than Rāmakali, both in both the territories, North and South. Almost every other book seems to mention this rāgam. When the raga structure with the available phrases were analyzed, there seem to be two Bibhās, one as a janyam of the mēla corresponding to the present day Kāmavardhani, mela 51 and the other one corresponding to the present day mela 15.

Bibhās as a janyam of mela 51

Bibhās aka Bibhāsu aka Vibhās aka Vibhāsa is mentioned in Rāga mañjari and Rāga mālā (both by Paṇḍarīka Viṭṭhala), Saṅgīta Pārijāta, Rāga Tattva Vibhōdha, and Anūpa Saṅgīta Vilāsa. Of these, descriptive elements are seen given in Rāga Tattva Vibhōdha and Saṅgīta Pārijāta. The phrase MGRGRS is stressed in Rāga Tattva Vibhōdha, whereas this is not seen in the description available in Pārijāta. Excluding these small differences, over all visualization of Bibhās is similar in both the treatises. In both the treatises, SRGPDS and the phrases involving GPD were given more prominence. Though DND is seen, the phrase DNS is avoided completely. Needless to say, madhyamam employed here is of tīvra variety and can be called as ‘prati madhyama Bibhās’.

Bibhās as a janyam of mela 15

Texts like Hṛudayakautuka and Hṛdayaprakāśa of Hṛdayanārāyaṇadeva, Rāga lakṣaṇamu of Śāhāji and Saṅgīta Sārāmṛta of Tulajā consider Bibhās as a janya of mēla 15 (śuddha madhyama Bibhās). Considerable difference exist in the descriptions across these treatises to the extent that they deserve an individual treatment. Also, all these treatises give just one or two phrases to illustrate this rāgam.

Bibhās in Hṛudayakautuka, Rāga lakṣaṇamu and Saṣgīta Sārāmṛta has the phrase DNS and is considerably different from the Bibhās seen in the earlier section. Hence, Bibhās mentioned by later lakṣaṇakāra-s like Śāhāji and Tulajā is totally different from the Bibhās prevalent during late 16 CE and early 17 CE (prati madhyama Bibhās).

Bibhās in Hṛdayaprakāśa omits gāndhāram and madhyamam and is different from both the varieties mentioned.

Appendix to Caturdaṇdi Prakāśikā mentions both Rāmakali and Bibhās and places both under the mela 15. Whereas the former was credited with a ślokam and the latter was not even described.

Rāmakali as described in Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī

More descriptive image of this rāgam comes only from Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. As mentioned earlier, despite being a janyam of mela 15, traditionally this uses prati madhyamam says Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. We don’t have adequate evidences from textual or oral tradition either to understand the melodic structure of Rāmakali extant during the days of Subbarāma Dīkśitar nor to compare this Rāmakali with the one described in the treatises. If we consider the single available phrase GPDS  NDPGMGRS (refer to the description of Rāmakali mentioned in earlier treatises mentioned elsewhere in this article), GPDS is the recurrent motif seen in all the compositions. We do not find NDPGM; we do find NDPmG at one place where madhyamam occurs more like an anusvaram. Though we are unable to conclusively say that Rāmakali mentioned here is same as the one mentioned by Hṛdayanārāyaṇadēva, we can say at least the phrase given there very well fits into the description given by Hṛdayanārāyaṇadēva.

More importantly, Rāmakali of Dīkṣitar goes very well with the Bibhāsu of the first type (the type employing prati madhyamam), provided we accept the madhyamam as tīvra.

 

Presumptions from the above discussion

The following presumptions can be made regarding Rāmakali – Bibhās:

Rāmakali is a rāgam of great antiquity and must have been popular in the Northern part of our country as few treatises make a note of this rāgam . It should have been a suddha madhyama rāgam. It is very difficult to understand the melodic structure of this rāgam with the single phrase available.
At the same time, there existed Bibhās, almost with a similar structure but featuring prati madhyamam. This should have been much more popular than Rāmakali, as every other treatise make a note of this rāgam. The melodic structure of the prati madhyama Bibhās is almost similar to Rāmakali mentioned by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. This prati madhyama Bibhās could have been alluded to in the Rāmakali section by Subbarāma Dīkśitar. It is emphasized here that the Rāmakali and the prati madhyama Bibhās were only mentioned in the treatises treating Hindustāni rāgā-s and the first Karnāṭaka Music text referring these rāga-s is the Anubandham or Appendix to Caturdaṇdi Prakāśikā published by Music Academy.
This could have a been period when all the three rāga-s co-existed; Rāmakali, a janyam of mēla 15 and the two Bibhās. It can be hypothesized here, Rāmakali was only practiced in North India and the prati madhyama Bibhās could have been referred as Rāmakali by Vēṅkaṭamakhin in the South (he is specifically mentioned considering the link given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar) in the South. Considering the old nomenclature, Subbarāma Dīkṣitar gives an additional information that Rāmakali is also called as Bibhās (See Footnote 3).
Subbarāma Dīkśitar mentions more than a time that Vēṅkaṭamakhin has authored another text dealing with the rāga lakṣaṇa. If we go by his words, that missing text could have been composed in the second half of 17 CE, the time when majority of the texts mentioning prati madhyama Bibhās were composed. Either Rāmakali or prati madhyama Bibhās or both of them could have been mentioned there.
Śuddha madhyama Bibhās could have flourished earlier or more popular than its prati madhyama counterpart in the South. This tradition later continues to Śāhāji and Tulajā wherein they have made a mention only about śuddha madhyama Bibhās. Not all the lakṣaṇa granthā-s are comprehensive in cataloguing the rāga-s prevalent during their time; hence Rāmakali could have been missed by Śāhāji and Tulajā (See Footnote 4).
Having seen the history and lakṣaṇa of Rāmakali and its ally Bibhās with its variations, an attempt will be made now to address the question on the use of prati madhyamam in this rāgam. As mentioned, the only evidence of using prati madhyamam comes from Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. The problem in use of this svaram arise not because of this rāgam being considered as a janyam of mēla 15, but only due to lack of a symbol denoting this svaram in the notation provided.

Rāmakali, being a janyam of mela 15 has śuddha madhyamam as a default svaram, and the anya svaram prati madhyamam is to be denoted with a symbol. This is the system followed by Dīkṣitar in his treatise for every other rāgam having an anya svaram. Strangely, despite using a symbol to denote this anya svaram (prati madhyamam) in the section wherein this rāgam is described, the notation system totally lacks this symbol. A question arises on the use of prati madhyamam and we are left with three interpretations – either to use śuddha madhyamam completely as this is a janya of Māyāmālavagaula (which takes only śuddha madhyamam) or to use prati madhyamam alone as he says it is customary to use only prati madhyamam or to use prati madhyamam only in the phrases DMPG, DPMG, MGDPMG and DPMG, as he has inserted the symbol to denote prati madhyamam for these phrases under the section explaining rāga lakṣaṇam.

To get an answer to this question we need to look into two aspects – history of this rāgam and the observations and interpretations we get it by analyzing this same text. History of this rāgam was explained and it will be recalled at a later period. Now, we will look in for the evidences/observations from this text.

This kind of discrepancy between the lakṣaṇa section (section explaining rāga lakṣaṇam) and the lakṣya segment (section giving the kṛti-s in notation) exist at various other places too in this same text at various other places. When a discrepancy is seen between any two segments, for example, difference in the assignment of foreign notes between the lakṣaṇa segment and the lakṣya section, do we have to take it as a printing error (or) considering the painful scrutinizing procedures followed and the various methods adopted to overcome these errors, these are to be taken as the actual ideas of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar himself? (Readers are requested to refer tappōppalu and porabāṭalu section explained elsewhere in this article).

Considering the above discussion, a student who tries to interpret this treatise is thus left with two options – first one is to believe these discrepancies as an inadvertent errors and tries to reconcile the errors with his level of knowledge and understanding. Second one is to accept as it is, confidently believing in Subbarāma Dīkṣitar and his sagacious grasp over the subject.   Both the options are acceptable as any research is open to interpretations. For this author, second approach appears to suit well as we are totally blind about the traditions that prevailed in the past, say around 200 years ago, and by following this approach, the individual fancies and inclinations of the researcher are kept to a bare minimum; it is more like an untainted aural reproduction of the visual representation. The second approach is also followed as this author believes the complete text is protected by the two sections mentioned.  errors could have crept in, but they are unfathomable to us.

When interpreting the notations given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, it is not only required to understand the context, but also develop an ability to relate other segments or rāgam-s given in this text. Now, let us go away from Rāmakali for a while and try to understand the lakṣaṇa of the rāga-s Ghanṭa and Sāvēri. Let us see an unseen similarity between these three rāga-s and how this can be used to solve the problem related to the madhyamam. Ghanṭa, now is a bhāṣāṅga janyam of mēla 8 and uses two varieties of ṛṣabham – śuddha and catuśruti (pañcaśruti). Subbarāma Dīkṣitar consider this as an upāṅga janyam of mela 20 and recommends the use of catuśruti ṛṣabham only. He clearly says the use of śuddha ṛṣabham came into practice only after the demise of Vēṅkaṭamakhin. Though he give phrases in the lakṣaṇa section wherein śuddha ṛṣabham is used, he never gives the symbol to denote the use of śuddha ṛṣabham in the notation (lakṣya section). This is exactly similar to Rāmakali, wherein he says only prati madhyamam is used as per the tradition in the lakṣaṇa section but fail to use the symbol for prati madhyamam in notation. This is clearly an indication that this text is filled with many abstruse details and these disparateness cannot be dismissed or neglected as a printing error for the lack of understanding on our side. To understand more, let us see the rāgam Sāvēri. Sāvēri is placed under the mēla 15, as a bhāṣāṅga janyam, implying it takes some anya svaram. Going by the normal rules, this should take antara gāndhāram and kākali niṣādham. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar says the common gāndhāram and niṣādham seen in this rāgam are sādharaṇa and kaiśiki respectively and he will give the symbols only for antara gāndhāram and kākali niṣādham whenever they occur (svagīya svaram or default svaram in this rāgam). This is the only rāgam in the entire treatise, wherein symbols are given for the default svaram (See Footnote 5). This pattern is followed since, if we need to mark the anya svaram in this ragam, namely sādharaṇa gāndhāram and kaiśiki niṣādham, the entire notation will be filled with these symbols as the default antara gāndhāram and kākali niṣādham occur very very rarely. This looks not only cumbersome but also could have been posed difficulties while printing.

Let us go back to Ghanṭā and Rāmakali. Though the discrepancies seen between the lakṣaṇa and lakṣya section is similar in both the rāga-s as pointed out earlier, they are introduced differently by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar and this is very vital for understanding any rāgam and employing a particular svaram – dhaivatam and madhyamam respectively in these rāgam. Whereas Ghanṭā is introduced as an upāṅga rāgam, Rāmakali is introduced as a bhāṣāṅga rāgam. If Rāmakali is to be used only with śuddha madhyamam and the use of prati madhyamam was introduced later, he could have tagged it as an upāṅga rāgam like Ghanṭā.

Hence we can surmise, either prati madhyamam alone can be used or a combination of śuddha and prati madhyamam can be used. Rāmakali share similarities with Sāveri and the method adopted for the latter is followed with the former for marking the anya svaram. Though the default svaram is śuddha madhyamam, it was a tradition to use only prati madhyamam is reminded again. If this rāga had both the madhyamam and the anya svaram prati madhyamam is the preponderant svaram, he would have marked the default svaram śuddha madhyamam with a symbol and given us a note (compare this with Sāvēri). But this rāgam, unlike Sāvēri, does not use its svagīya svaram – śuddha madhyamam and hence he didn’t mark madhyamam with any symbol in the lakṣya section allowing us to interpret this rāgam can be/to be sung with prati madhyamam only.

This finding can now be related with the history of this rāgam. We have seen Rāmakali was popular in the North and being recorded only in few treatises, indicate its limited popularity. We have also seen that the Rāmakali given in Sangīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī resembles more like prati madhyama Bibhās. This Bibhās could have been called as Rāmakali in the South. So, the Rāmakali of the North, a śuddha madhyamam rāgam, though similar to prati madhyama Bibhās, is different from the Rāmakali mentioned by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. The Rāmakali described by Subbarāma Dikṣitar is similar or could have been the same as the prati madhyama Bibhās. Hence, Subbarāma Dīkṣitar gives a disclaimer it is customary to sing this with prati madhyamam.

Now an explanation is invited for placing this rāgam under mēla 15. No conclusive explanations can be given until we get the treatise referred by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. However, this can be a rāgam similar to Dhanyāsi, getting allocated to a different mēla than where it ought to be.

Rāgamālika passages in the anubandham of Sangīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī

Apart from the kṛti discussed, we see this rāgam in two rāgamālika-s, “sāmaja gamana” and “nātakādi vidyāla” composed by Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar. We face a different problem with the Rāmakali lakṣya in these rāgamālika passages. In both the rāgamālika segments, prati madhyamam symbol is inserted, but at only one place.

Rāmakali passage in the rāgamālika “nātakādi vidyāla”

This rāgam comes at the end of this composition. Madhyamam is utilized in the following phrases – DPMG,DPPMG, MGPD and GMGRS. First phrase is the most common of all. The madhyamam in all these phrases are of śuddha variety only. Prati madhyamam is seen once in the phrase DPMG.  Interestingly, we see a new phrase SNSRS. This phrase SNS is not at all seen in the uruppaḍi-s featured under Rāmakali section. Also, the glide from avarōhaṇam to ārōhaṇam is always through the phrase DPMG in this rāgamālika. Phrases like PDM DMPG were not used (which are there in the Rāmakali section given in the main text). Now, can we hypothesize the Rāmakali seen in this rāgamālika is different from the Rāmakali described in the main text? If that is so, can this be the Rāmakali of the North, a janya of mēla 15 ?

We have seen before the Rāmakali of the North much resembles the prati madhyama Bibhās except in having a śuddha madhyamam (as a dominant svaram). So, the difference between these two rāga-s could have been the presence of the phrase SNS and the absence of the phrases PDM and DMPG in the Rāmakali of the North. This Rāmakali might also have had prati madhyamam as an anya svaram. To distinguish this Rāmakali (of North) from another Rāmakali (prati madhyama Bibhās), Subbarāma Dīkṣitar might have given an additional information that the Rāmakali given by him is also called as Bibhās. This hypothesis can be confirmed only if we get the text referred by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar or any other treatise or references taking us to the period between 16-17 CE.

Rāmakali passage in the rāgamālika “sāmaja gamana”

Rāmakali passage in this rāgamālika is very short to make any conclusions. The passage starts with the phrase MGGP, where the madhyamam is of tīvra variety. Madhyamam occur in two other phrases – DPMG and DPPMG, wherein it is of śuddha variety.

Though the phrase SNS is not seen, DPMG is the only linking phrase between avarōhaṇam and ārōhaṇam is to be noted.

With the present level of understanding, these are recondite findings and we need to search for more evidence.

But, Rāmakali employing only prati madhyamam can be very well applied for the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” as both the laskṣaṇa segment and this kṛti was authored by Subbarāma Dīkśitar. Regarding the use of prati madhyamam in the rāgam Rāmakali before the time of Subbarāma Dikṣitar and our hypothesis, we allow the readers to make their own interpretations and this post will be updated, if any valuable evidence surface out.

Note on the method of rendering the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha”  

Various renditions of this kṛti are easily available in various public domains. We frequently hear this kṛti rendered in Hindustāni style, perhaps due to the roots of this rāgam in the Hindustāni syatem and a popular belief that it was composed by Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar. Having revisited these thoughts and arriving at a conclusion which is contrary to the belief, at least, few of us will be interested to know the rāgam as conceptualized by Subbarāma Dīkśitar.  Analysis of the notations reveal, almost all the variety of gamaka-s were used – kaṃpitam, nokku, ōrika and jāru. The preponderance of jāru is not seen, making us to believe this can be sung in our style. Also, no instruction regarding the style for this kṛti was attached. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, being precise in his views would have mentioned the same if his intent was to render it in Hindustāni style . Hence, a humble attempt was made to render this composition in our style.

Research in any field allows multiple interpretations and every researcher is allowed to put forward his findings for the growth of any field. These views are not proposed to controvert with the prevalent notions; rather to give a different interpretation based on the available evidences.

Conclusion

We started with two queries – disputes regarding the author of the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” and the authority of using prati madhyamam in the rāgam Rāmakali.

Available evidences make us to believe this kṛti was composed by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar.

Regarding the use of prati madhyamam, though we cannot say what the system existed was before the period of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, it can be clearly inferred Subbarāma Dīkṣitar must have had some authentic references to use only prati madhyamam and he must have used the same in his kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”. We also hypothesized the Rāmakali handled by Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar could have been Rāmakali of the North and differs from the Rāmakali mentioned by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar in the main text.

This kṛti rendered with only prati madhyamam and in the style  of our Karnāṭaka music can be heard here.

 

References

Hema Ramanathan (2004) – Rāgalakṣaṇa Saṅgraha (collection of Rāga descriptions) from Treatises on Music of the Mēla Period with translations and notes, 2004.

Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Saṅgītasampradāyapradarśinī, Vidyavilasini Press, 1904.

 

Footnotes

  1. In general, we can find 1+2+1, 2+1+1 or 1+1+2 pattern more commonly than all laghu svarā-s while handling 4s in the kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar. Odd numbers are commonly used giving them a complicated and asymmetric appearance. We do have few kṛti-s wherein the pattern is simple, like the one we see in the kṛti śrī mātaḥ in Bēgaḍā; they are only exceptions. On the other kind, kṛti-s of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar are flooded with all 4 laghu svarā-s and most of the svara passages sound simple.
  2. From the days of Rāmamāṭya (or Vidhyāraṇyā), mēla system is in use and the number of mēlā-s vary across the treatise. Also varies the name of the head representing each clan. Hence, in this post, whenever the older mēla-s are mentioned, they are not mentioned by their names or number, but are just equated with the present mēlakarta number for easier understanding.
  3. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar mentions Vēṅkaṭamakhin authored a separate text on rāga lakṣaṇam. We have no clue about that work and musicologists are of the opinion that the Anubandham to Caturdanḍi Prakāśikā might be the work, as it contains the same rāga lakṣaṇa śloka-s mentioned by Dīkśitar in his treatise. Also, they believe Dīkśitar could have referred to Muddu Vēṅkaṭamakhin, a descendant of Vēṅkaṭamakhin whenever he mentions about a text on rāga lakśaṇam. This author has a different opinion and follows the idea of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar; will be uploaded as a separate post.
  4. Not all the treatises are comprehensive in cataloguing the rāga-s of their period. We do have evidence that the rāga-s like Bēgaḍa, Aṭāṇa and Suraṭi were used by Śāhāji; but they are not mentioned in his treatise !!
  5. When a rāgam takes a svaram which is foreign to its parent scale, that foreign svaram is considered as ‘anya’. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, always mentions this anya svaram with a symbol. Only for the rāgam Sāvēri, the svara-s inherent to that rāgam are denoted with a symbol.

 

Manuscripts in the possession of Śivakumar, a descendant of Tanjōre Quartette

Our music was propagated by two routes – oral and textual. Though we have a textual history of approximately 150 years recording the compositions of prominent composers, the corpus of compositions recorded by this way cannot said to be complete. Also, many compositions exist only in paper as they are not extant in the oral tradition. The converse is also true. Despite this extensive recording, many compositions have not seen the light and remain only in manuscripts and are yet to be published.

Tanjōre Quartette or Tanjai Nālvar as they are fondly called, hail from a family of rich musical heritage with their father and grandfather adorning the court of Maraṭṭa Kings. Cinnaiah (1802), Ponniah (1804), Śivānandam (1808) and Vațivēlu (1810) were born to Subbarāya Naṭṭuvanār, who was delegated to perform musical rites in Tanjāvūr Bŗhadīsvara temple. They were prodigious even at their young age and learnt the basics from their father and grandfather Gaṅgaimuttu Naṭṭuvanār.  Later they had their advanced training from Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar for a period of 7.5 years under ‘gurukulavāsam’.

We do not have exact details regarding the period of their stay with Dīkṣitar. But it can be presumed, these events could have happened during 1810-1820. Nālvar being exceptional musicians and related to a family having a hoary tradition related to classical dance, turned their focus towards Sadir (as it was called) and created a mārgaṃ, which is still followed. They have authored innumerable kṛti-s, padam-s, varņam-s, jāvaỊi-s, rāgamālikā and tillanā-s. Their compositional style for kṛti-s considerably differs from their dance compositions. It is said Nālvar has recorded their compositions and uruppaḍi-s they have learnt from Dīkṣitar in palm-leaf and paper manuscripts.

This family has given us illustrious musician-composers like Sri K Ponniah Pillai, Veena Vidvan Sri KP Śivanandam, who belong to the sixth and seventh descendant respectively from Gaṅgaimuttu Naṭṭuvanār, through the lineage of Śivanandam (of Tanjai Nālvar). These members are not only involved in the transmission and propagation of the compositions of Nālvar, but also involved in the preservation of these manuscripts.

These manuscripts are now, in the possession of Sri Śivakumār, an eight generation descendant and a proficient Veena and Violin vidvān. It is due to the persevering effort of this family, some of the unpublished compositions of Nālvar saw the light.

 

Paper manuscripts

Śivakumar has, in his possession several bundles of paper and palm leaf manuscripts. Though the palm-leaf manuscripts are under good condition, paper manuscripts require immediate attention.

Of the paper manuscripts available, a segment of a manuscript replete with the kṛti-s of Tanjai Nālvar and Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar are considered now. Though, the report cannot be considered as complete, this can definitely give us an idea about the repertoire of Nālvar.

As with any other manuscripts written before the advent of standardized notations, notational style is primitive; lacks a mark to identify sthāyi, anya svaram and ending of an individual āvartanam. Also, these notations do not indicate about second and third speed. Rāga names too was not mentioned for many kṛti-s. Savingly, svarasthāna and the parent mēla of the rāga are given clearly alongside the notations.

The available material can be divided into three segments based on the composer:

  1. Kṛti-s of Nālvar
  2. Kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar
  3. Others
  1. Kṛti-s of Nālvar

In the section analyzed, Guru-navaratnamālika kṛti-s are seen with notation. This set of 9 compositions was composed by Nālvar as a Guru stuti. This cannot be considered as a regular Guru stuti. Nālvar invoke their Lord Bŗhadīsvara and they are not paeans composed on their Guru.  Very few direct references to their Guru or his personality can be seen. These are to be compared and contrasted against the Guru kṛti-s composed by Vālājāpeṭṭai Vēṅkataramaṇa Bhāgavatar and/or other disciples of Tyāgarāja Svāmigaḷ.

Navaratnamālika of Nālvar

The following kṛti-s are held at high esteem due to the reasons mentioned above:

Māyātīta svarūpiņi – MāyāmālavagauỊa

Śrī guruguha mūrti – Bhinnaṣaḍjam

Jewel box made of Ivory gifted by Mahārājā Svāti Tirunāḷ to Vaṭivēlu Naṭṭuvanār

Sāṭilēni guruguha mūrtini – Nāța

Śrī karambu – Kanakāmbari

Sārekuni – Cāmaram

Śrī rājarājēsvari – Ramāmanōhari

Paramapāvani – VarāỊi

Sārasākși – Śailadēsākși

Nīdu pādamē – PantuvarāỊi

Two interesting observations can be made from this list. First, the rāga of the kṛti-s sāṭilēni and śrīkarambu is different from the present renditions. Now they are sung in the rāgam PūrvikaỊyāņi and Kāmbhojī respectively.  Second, all the kŗtis-s are set in the “Rāgāṅga rāgā-s” (a term equivalent to the term mēḷakarta, usually referred to the scales in the asaṃpūrṇa mēḷa system). Pantuvarāli is specifically mentioned as a rāgam with sādhāraņa gāndhāra. This is in line with the old practice of calling the present day Śubhapantuvarāli as Pantuvarāli. This was remarked by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar too in his Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu.

We also can see other kṛti-s of Nālvar in other rāgāṅga raga-s namely bṛhadīśvara in Gānasāmavarāli and bhakta pālana in Phēnadyuti. This totals to 11 kṛti-s belonging to this category. This makes us to surmise that Nālvar could have composed in all the 72 rāgāṅga rāga-s following the footsteps of their Guru. It is emphasized again that the manuscript referred here represents only a portion of their collection and the entire corpus is to be analyzed to get a definitive conclusion.

Though, an in depth analysis of the version given in this manuscript and the other printed versions is to be done, namely “Tanjai Peruvudaiyān Perisai” and “Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini”, the two authentic texts which give these kṛti-s (either all or a few) in notation, preliminary analysis revealed a significant finding which is worth discussing here. The version given here for the Māyātīta svarūpiṇi is exactly the same as given in Saṃpradāya Pradarśini !! There might be subtle differences which are trivial and some allowances need to be given considering the fact we are dealing with a manuscript.

Another interesting finding is related to the kṛti, “śrī rājarājeśvari” in the rāgam Ramāmanōhari. The version given in this manuscript has phrases like PRRSNN, PNS which are not seen in both the books mentioned though the version given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar closely follows the manuscript excluding the presence of the mentioned phrases. Though, these phrases appear to be outlandish in Ramāmanōhari, they feature in a gītam notated in Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini. This shows Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini is a veritable source to know the rāga structure of the by-gone centuries. One more noticeable feature seen in these manuscripts is the total absence of ciṭṭa svāra segment for all the kṛti-s, irrespective of the composer involved.

Three other kṛti-s found in this manuscript deserve a special mention – Sarasvati manōhari gauri, Śrī jagadīṣamanōhari and Śrī mahādēvamanohari. Rāgā-s are not marked for these compositions. The kṛti śrī mahādēvamanohari was published in the book “Tanjai Peruvudaiyān Perisai” by the descendants of Tanjai Nālvar with a slight variations in the sāhityam. Whereas their version starts as mahādēvamanohari, the manuscript adds a prefix ‘śrī’ to mahādevamanōhari. Adding ‘śrī’ satisfy the rules of prosody as anupallavi reads as ‘sōmaśekhari’. Dhātu of this composition, as given in this manuscript too give us an interesting finding. Dēvamanōhari described in the treatises belonging to 17-19 CE whose authorship is known always stress the phrase PNNS and a straight forward DNS was never accepted by them. PNNS can be seen only in the version given in these manuscripts.

Rāga of the other two kṛti-s is to be determined. Rāgam of the first kṛti can be presumed to be Gauri as Nālvar had the practice of incorporating the raga mudra in many of their sāhityam. The notation will be analyzed and updated.

Beside these kṛti-s, varṇam-s like viriboṇi and mā mohalāhiri are seen.

 

        2. Kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar

Around 90 compositions can be identified to be that of Dīkṣitar and all are available with notations. Out of these 90, 5 are unpublished. The remaining 85 can all be seen in Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. As mentioned earlier, the kṛti-s seen in this small portion of the corpus cannot be considered as the complete repertoire of Nālvar. Nevertheless, 85 denotes a significant number and it is to be borne in mind that not even a single composition seen here is outside Saṃpradāya Pradarśini. This shows any kṛti not mentioned in this text is always to be taken with a grain of salt.

A. Majority of the kṛti-s in the majority 85 belong to the clan of ”Rāgāṅga rāga-s”. Kṛti-s of Dīkṣitar can be seen in all the rāgāṅga rāgā-s except for ten. They include Toḍi (8), Bhinnaṣaḍjam (9), Māyamālavagaula (15), Varāli (39),  Śivapantuvarāli (45), Ramāmanōhari (52), Cāmaram (56), Niṣada (60), Gītapriyā (63), Caturaṅgiṇi (66), Kōsalam (71). It is to be remembered here that Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini too didn’t furnish the kṛti-s of Dīkṣitar in the rāga-s 9, 45, 52 and 56. Of these four, a kṛti of Ponniah (of Nālvar) was given for three rāga-s – 9, 52 and 56. Śivapantuvarāli was not awarded with any kṛti. Same pattern was followed in this manuscript too. Kṛti-s were given in order of the rāgāṅga raga. After the rāgāṅga rāga 7, we find the kṛti of Nālvar in the rāgam Bhinnașaḍjam (śrī guruguha mūrti) followed by a kṛti of Dīkṣitar viśvanātham bhajēhaṃ in the rāgāṅga rāgam Naṭābharaṇam (10). This pattern is being followed for the rest too [after Bhavānī (44), Kāśirāmakriyā (51) and Śyāmaḷā (55) we find a kṛti of Ponniah in 45, 52 and 56 followed by a kṛti of Dīkṣitar]. Blessed is Śivapantuvarāli to have a kṛti of Nālvar in this manuscript. This raises a doubt on the authenticity of the Dīkṣitar kṛti-s presently prevalent in the rāga-s 9, 45, 52 and 56.

It is to be accepted that we don’t find a kṛti of Dīkṣitar in others rāgāṅga rāga-s namely 15, 60, 63, 66, 70 and 71. Excluding 15 and 39, the rāga-s preceding and succeeding these left–outs do not occur in sequence. They occur haphazardly; perhaps they might have been written separately and those pages are lost. 15 is an exception here as it is seen in sequence succeeding Vasantabhairavī (14) and preceding Vegavāhini (16). Reason for māyātīta svarūpiṇi replacing śrīnāthādi is not clear. But, it could have been separately written and lost. We have another example to support this view – the kṛti bhajarē citta in Kaḷyāṇi (65) is found separately and not after Bhūṣāvati (64). We find only one kṛti in Kamalāmbā navāvaraṇam (śri kamalāmbikayā in Śaṅkarābharaṇam) and three in Navagraḥa series, namely divākaratanujam, bṛhaspate and sūryamūrte. Reason for not seeing any entry in 39 is an enigma.

B. It can be noticed, after the rāgāṅga raga 7, we see a kṛti of Ponniah in the rāga 9. Rāga 8, Tōḍi does not have any entry. Can we presume Kamalāmbike was the only kṛti composed by  Dīkyṣitar in Tōḍi before and/or during his stay in Tanjōre and due to some reasons  that  was not notated ? Either that was not known to Nālvar or that was composed by Dīkṣitar after his stay in Tanjōre ? Alternatively, was that notated separately and yet to be identified ? But not seeing a composition in such a major rāga is strange.

C. Regarding grouping a rāga under a mēla, this manuscript conforms with the grouping system followed by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Āndāḷi is given under mēḷa 28 and Sāma under 29. The only exception to this is Saurāṣtram; considered as a janya of Vēgavāhini in this manuscript. This is understandable due the presence of anya svaram in this this rāgam.

D. Four kṛti-s belonging to Guruguha vibhakti kṛti-s are seen – śri guruguha mūrtē in Udayaravicandrikā, śri guruguhasya dasōham in Pūrvi, guruguhādanyam in Balahaṃsa and guruguhāya in Sama. Bhānumati, though a rāgāṅga rāgam is represented only by the kṛti ‘bṛhadambā madambā’ and not ‘guruguha svāmini’.

E. None of the kṛti-s belonging to Tyāgarāja vibhakti group can be seen. Does it mean these kṛti-s were composed after his stay in Tanjōre ?

F. Almost all the kṛti-s addressing Bṛhannayaki or Bṛhadīśvarar, notated in Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini are seen here.

G. Mīnākṣi mēmudham dēhi is seen in this manuscript suggesting this kṛti must have been composed when he visited Madurai before his stay in Tanjōre.

H. Minority 5 is much more interesting. We see these compositions for the first time. They appear to be a part of Nirūpaṇam than kṛti-s. They include:

Jaya jaya gauri manōhari – 22 janyam (to be identified)

Kāmakṣi namōstute – Pāḍi

Śaranu kāmākṣi – Mēgarañjani

Manōnmaṇi bhavatutē maṅgaḷam – Mēcabauli

Śaranu śaranu mahēśa śaṅkari – Ārabhī

Of these, the first three has been mentioned by Dr Rīta Rājan in her thesis.

A reconstructed version of the Śaraṇu daru – ‘śaraṇu śaraṇu’ in the rāgam Ārabhī can heard here

I. Though, an in-depth comparison is to be done with the version given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, at the outset, can be confidently said not much difference exist between the two.

 

       3. Others

Other than the works of Dīkṣitar and Nālvar, we also find  padam-s of Kṣetrayya and some other kṛti-s of unknown authorship. Sri Śivakumar also possess another paper manuscript having around 300 gītam in notation. Examination of a sample showed that they are the replica of the gītam-s notated in Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi. This could been written by some other member in the family.

 

Conclusion

This inventory is not complete and highlights only some important findings seen in a section of a major collection. It is believed these findings will be more helpful to the researchers and musicians alike to get an idea about the Dīkṣitar kṛti-s learnt by Nālvar. When these kṛti-s are compared with the versions given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, we can get an overall image about the melodic structure of Dīkṣitar kṛti-s in general. This might be of some help In clearing the controversies revolving around these kṛti-s. Some other points in identifying the ‘real’ Dīkṣitar kṛti too is highlighted so that these findings can be applied or recollected when we progress further and get some additional material.

 

Acknowledgement

I profusely thank Sri KPS Śivakumar, an eighth generation descendant belonging to the family of Nālvar and the son of Sangīta Kaḷānidhi Sri KP Śivānandam for sharing these valuable manuscripts.

 

 

 

Nishumbasudani……. Mystery from the medieval Chola times!

Prologue:

Nishumbasudani Bas Relief ( Courtesy the Philadelphia Museum)

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

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

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

Read On!

 Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circa 957 AD

Lineage of the Medieval Cholas from Vijayalaya till Rajendra I

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

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

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

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

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

21st Century:

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

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

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

Circa 1800 AD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circa 969 AD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circa 1800 AD

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

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

Narayani’s History:

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

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

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

Lakshana of raga Narayani & likely why it went extinct:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pallavi

namāmi                        – I salute

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

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

anupallavi

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

mOdinIM                        – the blissful one,

mālinIM                        – the one wearing garlands,

māninIM                        – the honourable one,

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

caraNam

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

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

madhuravāNIM                  – the one whose voice and speech are sweet,

pankajanayanāM                – the lotus-eyed one,

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

pālita-guruguhāM              – the one who protects Guruguha!

purāNIm                        – the ancient, primordial one,

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

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

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

kātyāyanIM                     – the daughter of Sage Katyayana,

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

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

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

 

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

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

mahishāsuramardini – rAgam gauLa – tāLam khaṇDa cApu

Pallavi

mahiṣāsura-mardhini māṃ pāhi madhya-deśa-vāsini

Anupallavi (samaṣṭi caraṇam)

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

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

Meaning:

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

māṃ pāhi                     – Protect me!

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

anupallavi (samaṣṭi caraṇam)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gaurahāsini                 – O one who has a shining white smile!

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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

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

Bibliography:

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

Foot Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EPILOGUE:

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