Samanta – The Raga lost in the wilderness of time

Prologue:

Ragas sporting the vivadi combination of svaras has not been seen much in the world of our Music, prior to the advent of the Trinity.  There have been a couple of exceptions as always and most notable one has been the raga sAmantA, which has the vivadi svara combination D3N3. Nattai is another exception which we saw in a previous blog post. Samanta is found in many old musicological treatises and thus has a hoary past. In modern day musicology it goes under mela 30. Curiously for a raga sporting vivadi note combination, it is both sampurna – having all the notes in its arohana and avarohana together and also krama -sampurna for purposes of modern musicology.

A perusal of musicological history reveals that the raga lost out roughly 200 years ago and was resurrected by Dikshitar and Tyagaraja circa 1800. This blog post is all about Samanta and its allied ragas that we today have in our musical firmament.

HISTORY IN BRIEF:

Samanta is an old hoary raga with a rich textual history, which sported the vivadi combination D3N3. The earliest reference to Samanta is found in Vidyaranya’s SangitaSara (1320-1380), referenced by Govinda Dikshitar in his later work Sangita Sudha. It also figures in Ramamatya’s Svaramelakalanidhi (Circa 1550) and then in Somanatha’s Ragavibodha (Circa 1609). Somanatha mentions Samanta as one of his 23 melas in this seminal work. Apart from being found profusely in musicological works, it’s very obvious that Samanta was prolifically utilized by vaggeyakaras as well. In his Music Academy Lecture Demonstration of the raga – Prof S R Janakiraman avers that every third or fourth kriti of Annamacharya (circa 1400-1500), found in the copper plates of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, has been composed originally in Samanta. However the original notation of Annamacharya’s kritis have been lost forever and the extant versions that we hear are the tunes as set by musicians/musicologists of recent/current times, like Sangita Kalanidhi Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma & others. Next, in the middle of the 17th century Samanta was one amongst the so called 19 purva prasiddha melas of Venkatamakhi and was listed out by him in his Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP). The popularity of Samanta during its heydays becomes obvious when Subbarama Dikshitar mentions in his notes in the SSP that there are plenty of tanams available in this raga, composed by purvacharyas.

From a melodic standpoint, the raga has been made part of what we today number as melas 28, 29, 34 ,36 and finally mela 30. The first musicologist to formally make Samanta as the representative of Mela 30 of the mela prastara was Venkatamakhin, formally acknowledging the notes of Samanta as catusruti rishabha, antara gandhara, suddha madhyama, pancama, shatsruti dhaivata and kakali nishada. Given its melodic closeness to Sankarabharanam (excepting D3), Venkatamakhin even says that it has the chaya/shade of Sankarabharanam. Ramamatya in his Svaramelakalanidhi even calls Samanta an uttama/superior raga while stating that Sankarabharanam is an adhama/inferior raga and that Sankarabharanam has shades of Samanta! So much for musicological history in that, two elements are seen in the narrative of all of them:

  1. The two ragas which differ only on the dhaivatha( Sankarabharanam sports D2 while Samanta sports D3) were dealt with very closely like how Venkatamakhin and Ramamatya narrate as above. In fact post 1800, both Shahaji and Tulaja in their respective works class Samanta under Sankarabharanam mela.
  2. Both Sankarabharanam and Samanta were categorised as evening ragas.

Given the musical history, though Samanta gained independent existence as the head of mela 30, post 1800, in terms of melodic popularity it was eclipsed by Sankarabharanam. Also Samanta or Samantam as it is referred was the 30th entry in the so called earlier Kanakambari list and then it became a janya under Nagabharanam in the later Kanakambari scheme (approx 1700-1750).  In the run up to the Trinity perhaps Samanta was perhaps in hibernation. None of the great pre-trinity composers seem to have taken notice of the raga as evidenced by the lack of compositions available to us from the first half of the 18th century. Later it lost its complete scalar structure & identity to the new kid-off-the-block, Naganandini, the heptatonic 30th Mela raga under the Kanakangi-Ratnangi scheme (19th century) as documented in the Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda which is the lexicon in which the lakshana of much of the ragas in which Tyagaraja composed, can be found.

Today Samanta is nowhere to be seen on our musical horizon and is very rarely encountered in performances as well.

RAGA LAKSHANA

The analysis of the raga’s lakshana can be studied under the following buckets, based on vintage:

  1. Somanatha’s take on the raga, circa 1300, as an example
  2. The Anubandha and the SSP commentary ( circa 1750)
  3. The lakshana of the raga as per the notation of the Dikshitar composition published by Veenai Sundaram Iyer.

Somanatha gives the following as the notes for Samanta:

S(Shadja), R3 ( or as per Somanatha’s nomenclature tivratama rishabha),G3 ( Antara gandhara),M1 (Suddha Madhyama),P ( pancama),D3 ( Shatsruti dhaivata or as per his nomenclature tivratama dhaivata), N3 ( Kakali nishada). It is to be noted that Somanatha’s musical canvas was based on 17 pitches.

Turning next to the SSP, the raga is classified by Subbarama Dikshitar under the asampurna 30th mela Nagabharanam with the following murccana arohana/avaohana on the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP.

S R2 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S / S N3 D3 P M1 G3 R2 S

The Samanta lakshana shloka which Subbarama Dikshitar attributes to Venkatamakhi says “Samanta raga sampurnah, arohe vakra dhaivata…” And in line with the shloka, the tanam as given, also has D3 in vakra in all aroha passages. Curiously in his notes, Subbarama Dikshitar observes that the raga is sampurna without any varja or vakra. He gives just 2 exemplars there under- The gitam attributed to Venkatamakhi and his own sancari.

The lakshya gitam attributed to Venkatamkhin in the SSP offers us interesting insights as to the raga lakshana. Here is the summary of the same.

  1. Prayogas seen in the gitam includes:
    • sNDNs
    • sNDPM
    • MGMPNNs
    • SMGRG
    • PNNs ( no PDNs)
  2. Sancara span : Uttaranga and tara sthayi sancaras( reaching as far up to the tara dhaivata) in seen profusion.
  3. The notes M1 and N3 are seen in numerous janta prayogas.

In his notes, Subbarama Dikshitar wonders how the purvacaryas had given SN3D3P a direct descent instead of SN3D3N3P as vakra, given the semitones involved as it would give rise to vivadhi dosha. Nevertheless he tows Venkatamakhi’s line and uses SNDP once. PDNS is also noticed in his sancari. Subbarama Dikshitar also opines that rendering the D3 in the avaroha as SN3D3P, would be difficult to execute vocally but not so in the vina. See foot note 3.

Incidentally it is rather curious that Muddu Venkatamakhin created a new raga Nagabharanam with arohana PNDNS, a vakra sanchara to get around the vivadhi notes, as the representative of the 30th mela. And he proceeds to make the sampurna Samanta as a member/janya thereunder. Given that Samanta is a purva prasiddha raga dealt with by all musicologists of yore including Ramamatya, Govinda Dikshitar and Venkatamakhin prior to 1700 AD, Muddu Venkatamakhin could have simply made Samanta itself as the clan head of mela 30, prefixing it suitably to yield the number 30 according to the katapayAdi samkhyA scheme. That was not to be the case surprisingly. As an example in contrast for an other pUrva prasiddha raga Desakshi, the prefix ‘shaila’ was prefixed & it was made the clan head for the 35th mela.

In so far as Samanta goes post 1750, notwithstanding Subbarama Dikshitar’s assertion, it’s undeniable that the raga continued to be sampurna and the krama prayoga SN3D3P was treated as permissible. Unfortunately we do not have any kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar noted in the SSP or the anubandha. Veena Sundaram Iyer (a disciple of Ambi Dikshitar) was the first to publish two Dikshitar kritis in Samanta, one of them in the Music Academy Journal and subsequently both in the Dikshitar Kritimalai series.

We need to remember that when we deal with purva prasiddha ragas, that is ragas which ante-date the Kanakangi-Ratnangi scalar model, we need to assess them in the light of the earlier native prayogas as passed on to us traditionally/textually that were codified for them and practised. In the instant case, it is futile to talk about Naganandini scale & seek/attempt to justify how Samanta is or could be different from it. It is a reality that Naganandini is an ante dated and a ‘derived’ heptatonic scale and is at best an equivalent melody as compared to the purva prasiddha Samanta. Or its yet another name of Samanta under the Sangraha Cudamani.

The Muthusvami Dikshitar composition ‘pranatArthiharAya’ is notated by Vidvan Veena Sundaram Iyer in SRGM notation and the following is the summary of it.

  • He gives the ragas arohana/avarohana only as SRGMPDNS/SNDPMGRS
  • The kriti starts off as P N s s N D P M G S
  • Dhaivata & rishabha are varja in the aroha phrases
  • PNs, Ps, sP, smgr,sNPMGM, sNDP , sDNP , PsND are found
  • In one or two places the sancara goes far up to tara pancama
  • D3 is encountered in 5 places in the composition

We can observe that by-and-large the raga lakshana as per the Venkatamakhi gitam and Sundaram Iyer’s notation is fairly aligned. The profusion of janta prayogas on the Nishada and Madhayama notes, seen in the gitam is however not to be seen in ‘Pranatarthiharaya’. See foot note 1.

The raga Samanta is found documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani as a janya of Naganandini despite the fact that no known compositions of Tyagaraja are assigned to the raga. The arohana/avarohana krama is given as SRSMGMPDNS/SNDNPMGRS. As one can see later, the setting of Samantha for Annamacharya kritis by Rallapalli Sri Anantakrishna Sarma, tracks to this melodic contour.

With this theoretical background let us move on to the discography section.

DISCOGRAPHY:

We first take up the Dikshitar kriti ‘pranatArthiharAya’ notated by Veena Sundaram Iyer. Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli who had her tutelage under Vidvan Kallidaikurici Mahadeva Bhagavathar of the sisya parampara of Ambi Dikshitar, renders this composition. This audio clip is from the Dikshitar Day Concert of hers held in Madurai in 2007.

As one can notice, her version is much closer to the Sundaram Iyer notation. I invite the attention to two aspects of her rendition. The D3 is muted and is heard clearly only at”Pranataarthi haaraya”. In her rendering the avaroha seems more PMGS than PMGRS. And the kalapramana is slightly faster than one can expect to be in a normal Dikshitar krithi.

We move over to the rendering of the same kriti by Prof S R Janakiraman (SRJ). Before that we present his lecture on the raga’s lakshana with Annamacharya’s ‘sahaja vaishnavAcAra vartanula’ given as Samanta in the olden copper plates and set to the raga by Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma, as illustration. See foot note 4.

Next is his rendering Annamacharya’s “Sahaja Vaishnavacara” set to Samanta by Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sharma. Mark the opening bars starting SMGMP in the kriti, a point emphasized in the raga’s lakshana as documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani.

As always his emphasis on D3 is pronounced & strong in his conception of Samanta. The first nishadha occurring on the janta phrase PNNS seems to give the effect of D3 as an anusvara, given only a semi-tonal interval.

We next move on to the veteran musician/musicologist rendering ( edited), the Dikshitar kriti in a class session.

In the audio clip of his demonstration of this kriti, Prof SRJ keeps in line with Sundaram Iyer’s notation, overall. However we do see that the Professor invokes D3 in his rendering of Samanta. Watch out for the intonation of D3 at “Pranataarthihaaraya”, “KshtetrapalaSevitaya” and “Ghrini-sasi-vahni-nayana”. So based on the evidence available Prof S R Janakiraman assesses that Samanta’s melodic contour is SMGMPNNS/SNDPMGRS.

The third & final exemplar is the rendering of Pranatharthiharaya by Vidvan Balaji Shankar. This is from his album of Dikshitar kritis released by Sangeetha Music which is already made available by them in the public domain. Vidvan Balaji Shankar’s rendering is punctuated more by PNS and SN3D3P from the kriti point of view. It is worth noting here that he is a sishya of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman, another vidvan tracing is repertoire to the Dikshitar sishya parampara.

In contrast to all other versions of Samanta/Naganandhini featured in this section, one can perceive that Vidvan Balaji Shankar’s rendering is light and not heavy in its tonal texture, bereft of the so called Carnatic “charge”. It is perhaps due to the fact that it has been rendered with plainer notes to give a lighter feel rather than being embellished with our native gamakas.

We now move on to the rendition of Samanta by “Dikshitarini” Kalpagam Svaminathan. In a private concert from the year 2007, she plays ‘Vishvanathena Samrakshitoham” the other kriti of Dikshitar, available to us, composed on the presiding deity at Kuzhikkarai a very small village near Tiruvarur. She prefaces her rendition of “Vishvanathena” with a raga vinyasa, bringing out the salient features of her conception of Samanta. As one can see the contours of her Samanta is SGMPN3S/SD3PMGRS. Given the svarastanas of the notes, is one to take it so and imply that Samanta is a bhashanga with two nishadhas, each type occurring in the arohana and avarohana respectively then? But that’s how it is played by the veteran Vaineeka who was the storehouse of Dikshitar kritis. See Foot note 2 & 5.

We move over to a vocal rendering of the composition, pretty rare today. Vidushi K Gayatri, a disciple of the late Sangita Kala Acharya Suguna Purushothaman, presents her pAtham of ‘visvanAthEna’ complete with rAgam, kriti and svara prastara for our benefit. For her, this raga is sampurna both in arohana and avarohana and as she comments at the end of her raga vinyasa, it is treated synonymously with Naganandhini.

Thus in sum we find multiple versions of Samanta with same notes under mela 30, through the renderings of the two Dikshitar compositions. We do see lineal as well as vakra/varjya sancaras around D3 and N3 notes.

 And with that we move on to Tyagaraja’s creation ‘sattalEni’.

As pointed out earlier we have it on record that Tyagaraja did not provide names to the ragas of his compositions. Experts opine that raga names were assigned to his compositions, much later based on the melody found therein by correlating it with the definition found in the Sangraha Cudamani. Given that the sampurna krama arohana/avarohana of Naganandini found in the Sangraha Cudamani aligns with the definition of Samanta in the Anubandha to the CDP and the SSP, we can conclude perhaps both the ragas where one and the same. Better still Samanta can be thought of as the forerunner of modern day Naganandhini.

Tyagaraja’s kriti ‘sattalEni dinamU’ is a beautiful creation. See foot note 6.Here is Vidvan S Kalyanaraman rendering this composition. He prefaces the kriti with his alapana followed by that of the violinist Vidvan V V Subramanian Watch out how Vidvan S Kalyanaraman revels in this raga both in the alapana and his svara kalpana on the pallavi line with chaste accompaniment by the violinist.

Attention in invited to the svara vinyasa in the clipping at around 7:44 when the veteran embarks on his svara kalpana anchoring around N3. The vivid portrayal of the vividhi notes D3N3 in the uttaranga is a veritable lesson on how to aesthetically render them. It goes to the credit of the likes of Vidvan Kalyanaraman and Vidvan S Rajam for beautifully rendering vivadi ragas during their lifetimes in an age when singing them were not considered kosher by the so called traditional, more mainstream vidvans.

We next move to an allied raga which is given in modern day lexicons as Gambhiravani which is nothing but Naganandini with vakra sancaras. Tyagaraja’s ‘sadAmathim’ is assigned this raga. Also the raga Gambhiravani with the stated lakshana is not found documented in the Sangraha Cudamani, the authoritative lexicon of the ragas of compositions of Tyagaraja. The provenance of the raga name and its lakshana is highly questionable and seems to be of 20th century vintage, for the raga is found documented only in 20th century publications. Also this kriti came to be known only through the publication of Rangaramanuja Iyengar post 1950 and was not known to be part of the famous lineages of Tyagaraja ( vide the Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions – JMA Vol XXXIX pages 124-167). We do have that composition rendered by Flute Mali, Vidvan Lalgudi Jayaraman and Madurai Somu available in the public domain. See foot note 7.

Epilogue:

It indeed inexplicable why this raga, which was popular in the centuries bygone, is today all but forgotten. Musical history tells us that it had always fought a war for space, first with Sankarabharanam prior to 1700 and then later with Naganandhini post 1800, before it finally lost out. Tyagaraja’s kritis have been labelled off under Naganandini/Gambhiravani and so we are left only with the two Muthusvami Dikshitar compositions. The construct of the raga and its beautiful D3N3 makes one wonder why it is still very rarely encountered on the concert circuit. As always one does hope that performing musicians would at least take notice of this purva prasiddha raga and render it more in the days to come.

REFERENCES:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol IV– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions – pages 1197-1212
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai-pages 128-133
  4. A Sundaram Iyer(1995) -Sri Dikshita Kirtanamala- Part IV-Reprint, published by Music Book Publishers,Mylapore -pages 42-43

Foot Notes:

  1. The kriti ‘pranatArthiharAya’ is composed on the Lord of Tiruvaiyyaru – Panchanadeesvara or Pranatarthihara. Justice T L Venkatrama Iyer in his biography of Muthusvami Dikshitar says that amongst others, Dikshitar composed ‘Pranatarthiharam” in Nayaki on the Lord, “Sri Vatukanatha” in Devakriya on the Kshetrapala here and “Dharmasamvardhani” in Madhyamavathi on the deities of this holy kshetra. The kshetrapala or Bhairava, whom Dikshitar extols in his Devakriya composition, finds mention in this short Samanta kriti, which is structured with just the anupallavi alone. The kriti is bereft of the raga mudra but has the standard Dikshitar colophon, guruguha.
  2. The kriti ‘visvanAthEna rakshitOham’ is a composition on Lord Vishvanatha at Kuzhikkarai a couple of kilometers away from Tiruvarur. As recorded in his life history, Dikshitar visited this place on the invitation of this temple’s patron one Vaidyalinga Mudaliar to grace the consecration of this temple. Dikshitar composed the following compositions on the Lord (as available to us):
    1. Kashi Vishveshvara – Kambhoji – Ata tala – Found in the SSP, this kriti is a magnum opus of Dikshitar in this raga.
    2. Sri Visvanatham – Caturdasa Ragamalika – Adi – Found in the anubandha, again this ragamalika composition is a marvel in itself.
    3. Visvanathena Samrakshitoham – Samanta
    4. Annapurne Visalakshi – Sama

    These kritis are sometimes mistakenly attributed to have been composed on the deity at Kasi itself by some. But the internal evidence within the compositions themselves clearly shows that these were composed on the Lord at Kuzhikkarai. The reference “gartatIra prabhavEna” found in the Samanta composition refers to Kuzhikkarai. Additionally Dr V Raghavan mentions that ‘ehI annapUrnE” in Punnagavarali has been composed on the Goddess at Kuzhikkarai. I am not sure on what basis Dr Raghavan assigns this kriti to Kuzhikkarai. Suffice to say that there no direct or indirect references to this kshetra in the Punnagavarali composition. Coming back to Vishvanathena, Dikshitar brings out his colophon as well as the raga mudra, explicitly in the anupallavi line as:

    “sAshvatah-gUruguha-sampUjitEna || sAmantapushpamAlAdharEna”

    Similar to the mention in the Tyagaraja Vibakti kriti in the raga Rudrapriya ( ‘Sri Tyagarajasya baktho bhavami’) Dikshitar makes a mention of the Lord delighting in the dance of the rudra ganikas (the dasis attached to the temple).

  3. It is indeed a matter for deep deliberation for us as to why for certain ragas Subbarama Dikshitar did not provide any Dikshitar kriti as exemplars when we do have kritis, which made its way to the public domain long after his death, from the very same collection that he bequeathed to his son Ambi Dikshitar. Samanta and Camaram are stark examples wherein in the SSP we do have Subbarama Dikshitar giving his commentary for the raga and yet he does not provide the compositions ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisham’ or the two sAmantA compositions ‘pranatArthi harAya’ and ‘visvanAthEna rakshitOham’ as exemplars. It is likely that Subbarama Dikshitar ‘curated’ the available Dikshitar compositions with him and their notations and those which passed his ‘test’ were alone published in the SSP. We do not know Subbarama Dikshitar’s logic/test for selection till date. Yet this is what we are today left grappling with along with the unfortunate circumstance of being left with kritis of questionable sahitya and/or musical setting attributed to Dikshitar. In the case of Samanta, we have another factor to consider, which is that the SSP has a composition in Nagabharanam the nominal head of the clan of mela 30 as per the scheme of Muddu Venkatamakhin. Except for the vakra sancara around D3N3, there is no great melodic difference between the two ragas (Samanta and Nagabharanam).
  4. Prof SRJ’s way of rendering ragas reminds one of what Srini Pichumani had to say years ago on the Usenet news group.“….For lack of a better word or phrase, let me say that (Prof) SRJ’s  alapanas are for the major part composed of “constantly swirling” melodic phrasings. The rapids or eddies of a river come to mind instantly. Maybe this is how the great Tiger ( Varadacariar, his guru )sang.” I invite attention to the way Prof SRJ sings Samanta with great verve and passion in the lec dem ahead of ‘sahaja vaisnavAcAra vartula’ with the so called swirls, which Srini Pichumani alludes to.
  5. As we have seen in earlier posts, if a vivadhi raga is employed by Dikshitar he ornaments the same in his kritis, with appropriate gamakas. In this case we have no way of knowing the same as the compositions are not found documented in the SSP style notation.
  6. The lyrics of kriti of the Bard of Tiruvaiyaru, is a throwback in time, signifying perhaps his agony about the degradation of the society and its moral fabric. Perhaps those times weren’t different at all, one wonders. Here is the text and meaning of the kriti.
  7. It’s my personal opinion that mere usage of vakra sancaras in a melodic implementation doesn’t create a new raga. The vakra sancaras must cause a separate and distinctive melodic identity to be built and only then can it be deemed to be a new raga worthy of a separate existence from the parent. In the instant case one can notice that there is no melodic distinctiveness for Gambhiravani/Nagabharanam in comparison to Samanta/Naganandini. Even in Naganandhini’s case just because Samanta “also” uses SMGMP or SNPM, doesn’t in anyway confer melodic distinctiveness. Thus for all practical purposes, the melodies going by the names of Naganandhini, Samanta and Gambiravani are all one and the same. The melodic distinctiveness of all these ragas hinge on the usage of D3N3 combination as otherwise they can be subsumed by the ragas under Sankarabharanam mela.

The Melodic setting of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ of Muthusvami Dikshitar

Prologue:

It is one of the settled principles of music or for that matter any art form, that utmost fidelity to the intent of the composer/creator should be maintained. The original structure of a composition as intended by the composer must be reproduced at all costs/as much as possible, by all those who perform the same. In fact modern intellectual property law acknowledges this as a formal right of a composer, calling it the Right of Integrity of the composer creator or “droit de respect de l’oeuvre”. It effectively forbids all performers from mutilating, distorting or modifying his creative work. In our Music one instead witnesses the fact that we have taken much liberties with the compositions of very many composers particularly the Trinity. A comparison of the versions of the compositions that we hear today, say for example of Muthusvami Dikshitar with that of an authentic reproduction of the original setting as recorded in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini would show how much we have deviated considerably from the original setting. We have seen this as a regular theme in almost all cases which we have analyzed in this blog series.

In this blog post we will take up the case of a very well-known composition in a ubiquitous raga. And as we analyse it in the context of its original notation, it can be demonstrated how we have:

  1. Modified the very lakshana of a raga
  2. Changed the musical setting or mettu/mAthu of the composition

The composition is ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ in raga Nattai in adi tala. The core idea of this short blog post is not to censure ourselves, though we might deserve one, but is to demonstrate how Muthusvami Dikshitar has presented the grammatically correct laid down form of the raga for us.  And at the same time imprinted his own style in the musical setting of the composition.

The goal for a student or listener of music is to appreciate the original beauty of this composition and ruminate on the takeaways it provides us.

Overview of composition and modern lakshana of Nattai:

Let us first look at the sahitya or the lyrical setting of the composition in question.

  1. ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ is a composition ostensibly composed on the Lord at Svamimalai by Muthusvami Dikshitar, though its sahitya does not bear any details as to situs such as puranic or stala references etc.
  2. It is the pallavi-anupallavi-madhyamakala sahitya format, lacking the carana. Neither do we see a cittasvara section for this composition.
  3. It carries both the colophon (as in ‘vallIsa guruguha dEvasEnEsa’ in the pallavi) and raga mudra (‘kAvya nAtakAlankArabharana’ in the madhyama kala sahitya) in its sahitya body.
  4. It is found documented/notated in both Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar and in the Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai (DKP) of Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, the two most authentic textual authorities for Dikshitar’s compositions.

It is composed in Nattai, a raga which almost every text book on music would provide the modern day lakshana , under the 36th mela as under:

Arohana : S R3 G3 M1 P N3 S ( some give it as  SRGMPDNS)

Avarohana: S N3 P M1 R3 S

While prescribed theory is so, a perusal of available renderings of compositions in this raga feature the following svaragati/progression :

Arohana : S R3 G3 M1 P N3 S

Avarohana: S N3 P M1 G3 M1 R3 S

In modern musicological parlance it is almost always presented as a derivative of the heptatonic calanAta mela , excluding the shatsruti dhaivata D3in both arohana & avarohana, with both PMRS and GMRS in its descent.

Modern Nattai is encapsulated in this concise edited presentation below by Vidvan Neyveli Santhanagopalan, who provides his delineation of the raga for us through a short adi tala pallavi ‘nAttai kApadu nam kadamai, nallor vazhum bhAratha’, the raga name being embedded therein. He prefaces it with an alapana, tops it up with a few rounds of neraval and kalpana svaras as well.

There are very many compositions in this raga and for us the subject matter for this blog post is ‘Svaminatha Paripalaya’ kriti, which we take up concentrating on the extant version/rendering of the composition. Arguably one of the earliest popular vocalist to frequently render this composition was Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramaniam. And his version/presentation of the composition is what almost all modern day performers have adopted. Let us first hear that out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1t8BYA7CvQ

I would like to invite specific attention to the following factors in this rendering.

  1. The rhythmic setting – Many the eduppus/take off in the kriti lines are after 1/2 akshara (edam) after the first beat including the pallavi itself.
  2. The pace of the composition is medium & fast tempo. There is no slow or cauka kala exposition.
  3. The ragalakshana as is obvious from the svarakalpana is very clear. The above given arohana and avarohana, devoid of D3 and using both PMRS and GMRS is observed to the tee.

Now that we have looked at the raga and the popular exposition of this Muthusvami Dikshitar composition, let’s evaluate the form as notated in the SSP and DKP, which we alluded to before. But before that let’s evaluate the raga lakshana as summarized by Subbarama Dikshitar.

‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ in the SSP :

  1. The raga’s correct/complete name is cAlanAta, the same which has been assigned to the sampurna/heptatonic scale in Sangraha Cudamani.
  2. The arohana/avarohana murrcana is SRGMPDNS/SNPMRS
  3. Dhaivata and gandhara are varja in the avarohana. The reasoning is fairly obvious as in the Muddu Venkatamakhin scheme. D3N3 and R3G3 the vivadhi combinations are facile in their arohana krama. However in the avarohana krama they are worked around either as vakra or varja as SN3D3N3P or M1R3S.

In contrast to the modern lakshana, two features that we need to note at the outset are the prescribed usage of PD3N3S and PM1R3S. As we saw in the modern expositions in the discography above, PNS and GMRS seems to dominate the scheme of Nattai today. Nattai of today is totally bereft of D3 making it an shadava raga. See Foot Note 1.

Moving over to the notation of the kriti in the SSP, one is surprised to note the amount of deviation that we see in modern expositions compared to the notation provided in the SSP.

  1. PDNS occurs expressly in the composition in two places (‘guruguha’ and ‘vitarana’), the portions being in madhyama kAla. Along with PDNS we also see PS and Pr as well.
  2. GMRS does not occur, atleast in this composition. Everywhere it is only PMRS. Though GMRS is permissible or is not forbidden, it was perhaps a convention that in Nattai PMRS was to dominate ( i.e gandhara would not be vakra in avarohana passages) and which is why Subbarama Dikshitar gives the avarohana murccana as SNPMRS. And Dikshitar does not use that in ‘svAminAtha paripAlayA’.

Brief History of Nattai:

The above two features are not just found in the Natta of the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin which was supposed to have been followed by Muthusvami Dikshitar and which Subbarama Dikshitar uses as authority for his SSP. It was also the intrinsic component of the Natta of the 18thcentury for we see the same as documented by Tulaja in his Saramrutha (circa A D 1835). In fact Sangita Kalanidhi B Subba Rao and Prof S R Janakiraman in their commentary to Tulaja’s Saramrutha emphatically state that the raga’s lakshana had remained the same over centuries till today. In fact they add that in contrast to the older Nattai, modern Nattai had narrowed down by dropping the shatsruti dhaivatha completely from its melodic body.

Tulaja records the name of this melody as ‘Suddha Natti’ anointing it as a mela. He states:

  1. The raga lacks dhaivatha and gandhara in the avaroha
  2. And the svaragati/progression is straight both in arohana and avarohana, meaning it was SRGMPDNS and SNPMRS. Thus dhaivatha and gandhara were not again appearing vakra in the avarohana such as SNDNP or PMGMRS. He effectively rules out GMRS.

Needless to add, Nattai has a history tracing back centuries prior and is seen recorded in the works of Somanatha, Pandarika Vitthala, Venkamakhin and others. Even the Sangraha Cudamani which ploughs a lone furrow on many ragas gives the same svara progression for Nattai. In short Nattai is a purva prasiddha raga sporting the two vivadi combinations R3G3 and D1N1 in full in its melodic body. See Foot Note 2.

Thus we can safely conclude that Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘svAminAtha paripAlaya’ as notated in the SSP completely embodies the older, complete Nattai that was prevalent in the 18th century.

As stated, the two contrasting features between the Nattai of yore and the one today is that present day renderings of this composition and modern day delineation of the raga are devoid of PDNS. And they include GMRS as well, which prayoga is not found in the old Nattai.

Muthusvami Dikshitar’s Conception:

Even as he faithfully went about adhering to the older definition of Nattai, Muthusvami Dikshitar in his ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsu mAm’ chiseled out his own features, which are today not visible or conspicuous in modern day renderings.

  1. We have been repeatedly seeing in these blog analysis that jumps,bends,turns and twists were how the melodic progression of svaragati of ragas was in the 18th century. Taking that as a cue, Dikshitar implements the same through the repeated use of the prayoga/motif M/N and N\MP with the nishadha being ornamented with the kampita gamaka. Examples are the sahitya portions ‘nAradAdi bhAvita’ & ‘sammOhitAkAra’.
  2. Dikshitar has also kept the gandhara (G3) usage to the absolute minimum in this composition which spans 8 complete tala avartas, as a signature construct for the Nattai of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm. The 3 usages, namely two dIrgha and one hrsva usage is seen at :
    1. ‘svAminAtha’
    2.  ‘vAmadEva’
    3. ‘nipunacarana’

He works around the gandhara note by jumping over as SM or SP in his progression. But he does give G3 its pride of place elegantly/tellingly at ‘vAmadEva’ and this dIrgha gandhara placement right at the middle of the composition at the beginning of the 5th avarta, half way in this 8 tala avarta composition is poignant. See Foot Note 3.

  1. He has further clustered the sahitya and the underlying notes into a pattern almost – alternating hrsva and dIrgha syllables in the body. This point is brought out for the simple reason that this original setting has been completely lost due to the modern rendition style of this composition or what we can call as normalization.

A Comparison:

A compare of this notation with the modern day rendering provides us a number of insights:

  1. Sahitya for many tala avartas are started off (eduppu) at 1/2 edam/ after the first beat, by performers. One can see from the SSP notation of this composition that the sahitya for every one of the tala avartas ( 8 in total) start only at samam/on the beat.
  2. The sahitya syllables are equally spread out over the rest of the tala cycle, in contrast to the original notation.
  3. In the original scheme we see that there are either two hrasva svaras or one dIrgha svara per akshara in the sama kAla and double that in the madhyama kala. This is tampered with in modern renderings with the result that the actual svara notation deviates considerably from the SSP notation in very many places. One can even see that it is perhaps even 4 svaras per aksharas in sama kala sometimes, giving us the speeded up impression and also melodically denser, which was not the original construct.

For example the sahitya lines starting ‘svAminAtha’, ‘kArtikEya’ and ‘vAmadEva’ are all rendered not starting at samam but 1/2 after the beat. The word ‘kArtikEya’ which is notated for the first 4 aksharas of the adi tala cycle are sung as,SRGM rather than SRSMR. Similar is the fate of the line ‘vAmadEva’ which is again not rendered at samam/beat start and is rendered as GMPNSNP whereas the actual notation is GGMMP. As pointed out earlier, from the anupallavi start till the madhyama kala start, spanning 4 adi tala avartas, Muthusvami Dikshitar uses the gandhara note only one at the place vAmadEva. Whereas in all modern renderings we see that these 4 tala avartas are rendered with gandhara being indiscriminately used. The madhyama kala sahitya mettu too has been tampered with as one can see.

4. In a number of places the unique kampita gamakas as well as the jArus that are embedded in the composition is hardly ever heard in the modern day renderings of this composition. Simply put, the melodic artwork innate in the composition has been sacrificed at the altar of speed. See Foot Note 4.

These changes are a consequence of our poor understanding of the legacy bequeathed to us. Sadly the tempo of the rendering is speeded up and the composition is rendered as if it were a kriti of Tyagaraja. While we bear no ill will to that format, it is reiterated that this was not the style/format in which Dikshitar composed ‘svAminAtha paripAlaya’. And it does no justice to us to wrongly render a magnificent construction carelessly with scant respect for raga lakshana as well, by needlessly singing the unwarranted GMRS or eliding the PDNS.

We can aurally sense the normalization that we have done to the melodic body and gait of the composition in the discography section.

Discography:

Vidvan T M Krishna sings ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ as per notation found in the SSP. He first prefaces the composition with his take on the construct of the composition.

And then he renders the composition.

Attention is invited amongst others to:

  • Leisurely progression or tempo of the composition
  • N\MP and M/N usages,
  • The sama eduppu for all the tala avartas
  • The unique/poignant dIrgha gandhara take off at ‘vAmadEva’
  • The original musical setting of the madhyamakala sahitya in particular the mandhara stayi sancara which is not correctly rendered in modern versions.

In his presentation, the ‘PDNS’ usage atleast at the pallavi (‘guruguha’) isn’t very aurally perceivable and personally I wish it were articulated a little more.  Barring the same, this edition more or less reflects a very practical/faithful presentation of the intent of the notation in the SSP for me. In fact the PDNS is also incorporated in Vidvan Krishna’s kalpana svara section and the violinist response captures the D3N3 very well. Its worth noting that Vidvan Krishna only once ( inadvertently perhaps?) in his svarakalpana does use the prayoga GMRS in the tAra stAyi.

For many of us, this version interpreted from the notation from the SSP, may be a revelation. The contrast and the takeaways provided by this version in comparison with the modern version, presented earlier in this post, is something that is now left to the rumination and judgement of a discerning listener/connoisseur of our music.

Epilogue:

Many of the modern day presentations of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s compositions are found normalized both for melody and for rhythm/structure, deviating significantly from their original construct. Thankfully we have an authentic repository of notations of his compositions preserved by Subbarama Dikshitar in the form of the magnum opus, SSP as a benchmark/gold-copy for us. This blog post was to precisely demonstrate how we have significantly deviated from the original setting of Dikshitar’s creations. It is earnestly & sincerely hoped that students and performers of music would at least now, relearn & recalibrate their repertoire of Dikshitar compositions to be in alignment to the original intent of the composer. And finally rendering them on concert platforms in true fidelity to that would be the only greatest homage to composer nonpareil.

REFERENCES:
  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 980-998
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai – pages 41-43
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

I am indebted to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for permitting me to share the recording of his rendering of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayasumAm’ for this blog post. This is from his concert for Guruguhamrutha, held on 13th Nov 2016 @ Raga Sudha Hall, Chennai. Accompanying him in this recital were Vidvans Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sri Manoj Siva on the mrudangam and Sri B S Purushotham on the kanjira.

FOOT NOTE:

  1. The PD3N3S usage has always been problematic to many schools of music especially between the 1850 to 1950 time period. The vivadi combination was attributed with dosha so much so purists wouldn’t render them at all, fearing ill health upon doing so. Many ragas sporting this vivadi svara combination too were mutilated. In the case of Nattai, Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer went one step further when he stripped R3G3 vivadhi combination too in his rendering of ‘mahA ganapatim’, a famous kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar and not found in the SSP. Here, in this clipping from the Music Academy Concert of the year 1964, dubbed the Ghana Raga concert , the Carnatic veteran opens the concert at the Academy presenting his version of ‘mAhAganapatim’ and Nattai sans R3 and D3, a raga which we can call as Gambhira Nattai, prefacing it with a brief tanam !

Attention is invited both to the kriti and the kalpana svara section. One wonders what the rasikas and the cognoscenti of those times had to say upon hearing the veteran render the composition so! For a sharp ear a very muted R3 is discernible tinting the sadja as an anusvara in quite a few places, for example when he ends ‘mahAganapatim’ before commencing the svarakalpana.

  1. Tulaja’s commentary in the Sangita Saramrutha to the effect that Suddha Natti or Nattai of today is a Ghana raga and is to be sung in evenings is echoed verbatim by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. We have seen in an earlier blogpost what ‘ghanam’ means and in that context Nattai rightfully is a Ghana raga, being the first amongst equals in the Ghana raga pancakam. The attribute of a raga pegging its rendering to the time of a day seems to have lost its relevance except for a few ragas. One is unable to divine today, the reason why Nattai should be sung in the evenings only.
  2. Antara gandhara- G3 in the case of Nattai is found in the arohana alone. Normally as a rule a note found only in the arohana is very likely to be a weak note in the raga. If the note finds place in the avarohana as well, atleast as a vakra note then it is likely to emerge as a powerful pivot note. With PMRS alone being used, or in other words PMGMRS being excluded, it is likely that Dikshitar given the implicit deduction that G3 became weak, perhaps made its occurrence rare in this composition. It could also be hypothesized that the older or vintage form/definition of Nattai warranted this. It could also be that by his times Nattai had perhaps acquired in the meanwhile, GMRS or a vakra gandhara formally in its avarohana. And in this, then nouveau form of Nattai, Dikshitar perhaps composed the other composition ‘pavanAtmaja’, which has GMRS usage in its final madhyama kala sahitya section. An interesting line of thought one can say.
  1. The almost same notation of this composition that one sees both in the SSP and DKP is amazing to say the least. Barring a few extra kampita gamaka ornamentations that is seen in DKP, the two notations reinforce our belief in the original creation as the same comes through to us through two independent sishya paramparas of Muthusvami Dikshitar. One is humbled by the fact that the sishya paramparas to that point, namely Tambaippan Pillai –> Sattanur Pancanada Iyer –> Natarajasundaram Pillai for DKP on one hand and Balasvami Dikshitar –> Subbarama Dikshitar for the SSP on the other, have maintained the greatest of fidelity in transmitting the tradition without polluting/morphing it in anyway.

Sahana – The bejewelled tiara of our music

INTRODUCTION:

The raga Sahana is one of our crown jewels, a rakti raga par excellence. Almost every composer in our genre of music must have composed one in this raga. Surprisingly this raga is not a melody of great antiquity either in terms of it name or melodic contours. In fact when it was born or at the time it was conceptualized in our music, it was not what it is today. It had a different form and over a period of time much like how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, Sahana underwent a metamorphosis to be what she is today.

Being a very popular and ubiquitous raga, the idea of this blog post is not to look at the basics of this raga, but to evaluate its musical history and find how it likely evolved to what it is today.

Read on!

TEXTUAL HISTORY:

Sahaji’s Ragalakshanam dateable to circa 1700 or his descendant Tulaja I’s Saramruta collated circa 1736 do not speak about Sahana or any equivalent raga sharing its same melodic structure. In Northern music the raga name is associated with the Kanada family of ragas – Shahana Kanada, Nayaki Kanada et al and thus one is tempted to consider the possibility of the raga being imported into our Southern Music system by the travelling music itinerants. We can look at the possibility of the northern variant’s similarity to our Sahana but that would form no evidence for that having influenced the formation and features of the Southern Sahana unless we have a reliable evidence. From a musicological perspective only the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika dateable to circa 1750 and the probably subsequent Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda are the earliest musical compendia listing Sahana as a raga. Thus the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini ( SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar (1905) becomes the first treatise to provide us with a ring side view of what Sahana was as it is completely based on the Anubandha text. The exemplars in the SSP and the commentary of Subbarama Dikshitar are solid evidence for us in determining the origins and svarupa of Sahana. See foot note 1.

We do have a few collateral evidences dating back to the 18th century which provides an outside-of-SSP view as to what Sahana was or is today. Let us have a look at the material available to us.

THE EVIDENCE OF THE SSP:

On the authority of the Anubandha which Subbarama DIkshitar relies on to provide the raga schemata, Sahana is placed under by him under Sriraga, which is the raganga/mela #23. Thedescription given in SSP can be summarised as under:

  1. It is under mela 23 and so apart from sadja and pancama it sports R2, G2, M1, D2 and N2 in its arohana/avarohana.
  2. Sahana is grouped as a bhashanga janya of Sriraga. But if one were to look at the raganga lakshya gita for Sriraga in the SSP, which is ‘Sridhara rE Inkita’ in matya tala, under the enumerated bhashanga ragas therein, Sahana is not be found at all. This lakshya gita though attributed to Venkatamakhin( circa 1636)  himself by Subbarama Dikshitar, in all probability is a later day creation attributable to Muddu Venkatamkhin the presumed author of the Anubandha. Sahana is not of the 17th century vintage at all and never does Venkatamakhin talk about Sahana in his Caturdandi Prakashika. That said, we will leave this point as is, with the observation that this data point will be a key for us to determine Sahana’s evolution.
  3. As described in the lakshana sloka, in the arohana pancama is vakra appearing as MPMD.
  4. Muddu Venkatamakhin, the probable author of the anubandha makes as telling statement in the lakshana shloka as – ‘gIyatE lakshyavEdibhihi’ – meaning much beyond the lakshana, lakshya or practice is the key determinant or sound practical knowledge is required to understand/render the raga.
  5. With the practical implementation in mind, Subbarama Dikshitar provides the murrcchana arohana/avarohana karma as is his wont, duly highlighting the graha/jiva svaras of Sahana.

Arohana : S R G M P M D N S

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

  1. Attention is invited to emphasis given as janta for Nishadha and gandhara and the elongated rishabha note ( in bold italics) in Subbarama Dikshitar’s notes.
  2. In his fairly elaborate commentary Subbarama Dikshitar states that the raga is known as sAnA, sahana and shahana as well and is a desi raga.
  3. From a veena perspective, Subbarama Dikshitar provides instructions as to how the the dirgha nishadha, dirgha and janta gandhara has to be played.
  4. In so far as the gandhara goes, both in arohana and avarohana while the default type is G2 or sadharana gandhara, the G3 or antara gandhara also shows up in few places.
  5. GMRS is a musical motif and the gandhara alos comes with its unique kampita gamaka. Other prayogas include RGMP and PMDNS.
  6. He makes another telling comment that for the nishadha and gandharas, the notes must always be ornamented with the orikkai gamaka. We will elaborate on this as well in the next section.
  7. He concludes that given that the edict for this raga is ‘gIyatE lakshyavEdibhih’, the gandhara and nishadha svaras must be sung/intoned as how it is being done in practice or sampradaya.
  8. Normally for old ragas, as a standard practice one can see that Subbarama Dikshitar provides gitam and tanam as exemplars for the raga, in the SSP. For Sahana we see that apart from this lakshana shloka( from the Anubandha) , Subbarama Dikshitar provides 2 kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar, a kriti of Ramasvami Dikshitar, a varna of his and his own sancari as exemplars.

OUR APPROACH:

Subbarama Dikshitar is the first recorded musicologist to provide a commentary on this raga and hence his views are core and invaluable for us. To understand the raga and its history/evolution we need to:

  1. Distil our observations from Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary
  2. Evaluate the notation of the provided compositions in the SSP to understand the raga’s implementation
  3. Triangulate the inferences/data points with the external sources including other sources and also commentaries of modern day musicological experts.
  4. Hear out the compositions as rendered in practice.
  5. Determine the consensus theory and observed practice
  6. Attempt to reconcile theory and practice and finalize our understanding as to the evolution of the raga and its present or true melodic svarupa or contour

INFERENCES FROM SUBBARAMA DIKSHITAR’s COMMENTARY:

A perusal of modern musicological works and also by hearing present day version of Sahana at the outset would show that the gandhara of Sahana is definitely G3 or the sharper variety is what is profusely used and that the books provide Sahana as a janya of Harikambhoji mela. Now we do see that Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary departs from the above. Parking that aside let us consolidate the inferences first.

  1. The raga is a desi raga meaning it made its way to theory, from practice. It was evolved in the public domain, enjoyed the airtime with listeners and musicians and then it became important enough to be inducted into the portals of our music as a formal raga , distinct in its svarupa, appeal and capable of being moulded into compositions.
  2. Based on its svara collection as it was practiced Sahana was tagged to Sriraga mela. And the collateral inference is that the dominant svara for Sahana is G2 or sadharana gandhara as that is the gandhara for the mela 23. And he does say that G3 occurs sparingly or not that profusely.
  3. Sahana is not to be found in the Sriraga lakshya gitam nor does it have gitams and tanams of the purvacaryas or Muddu Venkatamakhin. Also from the language Subbarama Dikshitar employs it is evident that he is looking to practice- current and past as the authority for the lakshana rather than extant older compositions- gitas and tanas which were anyways unavailable. This gives us a clue that the raga is most probably of post 1750-1770 vintage only. Had it been prior to 1750 or so, Sahana would have been formally mentioned in the Sriraga lakshya gita and also one could have seen a gita or tana of Muddu Venkatamakhin.
  4. Gandhara and nishadha are jiva svaras and are to be rendered with sampradaya in mind. Practical delineation trumps theory in so far as the gandhara of Sahana goes.
  5. The key to presenting/intoning the Sahana gandhara is that the
    1. Dominant variety of gandhara to be used is G2 and G3 is marginal in use.
    2. Orikkai gamaka type has to be used
  6. The GMRS though not expressly made part of the murccana avarohana, Subbarama DIkshitar in his commentary says that the GGRS  which is encountered  is ĜĜmRS
  7. One can infer that Subbarama Dikshitar has presumably only gone on to document the raga Sahana as practiced by the Dikshitar family. Apart from the Dikshitar family compositions he does not deign to provide any more as exemplars. In contradistinction to Devagandhari of mela 29, Subbarama Dikshitar does not volunteer to give kritis outside of the DIkshitar fold. Its highly likely that he must have considered other compositions but they did not conform to the Sriraga mela implementation of the Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin sampradaya or to be precise the implementation of the Dikshitar family.
  8. One other point to note is that apart from the lakshya gitams of the Venkatamakhin lineage- specifically that of Venkatamakhin, Muddu Venkatamakhin, presumably the ones of Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitar and that of Ramasvami Dikshitar, Subbarama Dikshitar does not provide those of others in the SSP. While in the Pratamabyasa Pustakamu he does provide the gitams composed by others for example Paidala Gurumurti Sastrigal. This is generic point with reference to the SSP which we will quote subsequently.

EVALUATION OF THE NOTATION OF THE EXEMPLAR COMPOSITIONS:

Let us move on to the evaluation of the exemplar compositions presented in the SSP. As pointed out earlier only those from the Dikshitar family are presented. They are:

      1. Vasi vasi – Adi tala – Ramasvami Dikshitar
      2. Sri Kamalambikayam – Triputa tala – Muthusvami Dikshitar
      3. IsAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE – tisra eka – Muthusvami Dikshitar
      4. vArijAkshi – Ata tala – tAna varna – Subbarama Dikshitar
      5. sancari – matya tala – Subbarama Dikshitar

The notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar for all these indicates that they are aligned in full to his stated lakshana and commentary. They can be summarized as under:

  1. Sadharana gandhara dominates and antara gandhara as seen notated is minimal including the varnam. Barring this factor, the lakshana of the raga as we hear today and what we see in these compositions is virtually the same.
  2. Tellingly Muthusvami Dikshitar for his two kritis starts with rishabha as the graha svara/take off note. Ramasvami Dikshitar kriti as well as the varnam use sadja and pancama as the take-off notes.
  3. Subbarama Dikshitar’s varna has some unique prayogas such as those centred on the madhyama which one does not see in modern Sahana. In fact his varna is in the older form with an anubandha along with 5 carana ettugada svaras. Subbarama Dikshitar’s varnam on Lord Kartikeya is for all practical purposes an exemplar of the form of Sahana found documented in the SSP.

SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS SO FAR:

Here they are:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar with the apparent authority of the lakshana sloka of Sahana from the Anubandha , places it under the Sriraga mela #23 with dominating sadharana gandhara and a sparingly used antara gandhara.
  2. Subbarama Dikshitar emphasizes the importance of intoning uniquely the gandhara and nishadha, based on sampradaya or practice.

The implementation of the Sahana as found in the SSP is unique for the above stated reasons and we will evaluate the point as we progress.

COLLATERAL EVIDENCE

If one were to search outside the realm of the SSP for determining the lakshana of Sahana prior to 1850, we end up with the lakshana gita of Paidala Gurumurti Sastri (PGS), which is found documented in the Sangitananda Ratnakaramu (1917). PGS was a disciple of Sonti Venkatasubbayya, the Dean of the Palace Musicians during the reign of King Tulaja II (1765-1788). Subbarama Dikshitar also says he was a junior contemporary of Ramasvami Dikshitar and was a resident of Madras, perhaps during the second half of his life. He most probably lived beteen 1750-1810 or thereabouts. Gurumurti Sastri was a prolific composer having to his credit a 1000 gitas. So much so that he was held in high esteem as an authority on all matters musical. Subbarama Dikshitar profiles him with awe and greatest of respect. He provides the Natta raga gitam ‘gAna kalA dhurandhara ‘ in his Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu, which we saw in the Gamakakriya post. Now Sahana’s lakshana is laid out threadbare by this illustrious musicologist PGS. Here is the text of the lakshana gita which is set in Sahana itself and in matya tala.

kamsAsurakhandana rE murArE

gopikAjAra navanItacOra yadavAbdhicandra

krupAsAndhra narakAntaka rukminIsatyabhAmAvilasita

vEnunAdapriya rE surasEvya pAhimAm ||

sAnArAgam kAmbhojijanyam

kampitagAndhAram dIrghamadhyamam

dhaivatAvakra nishAdhakampitalasitam vakrasampUrnam

gurumUrtE cidrUpArjuna sArathE bhAshAnga rAgam srunu jaya krupAlO ||

We will see the rendering of this gitam as per notation and the lakshana provided therein, shortly. But in the meanwhile when we look into the lakshana a few points strike us immediately.

  1. The gitam is paean to Lord Krishna and the first part of the composition bears it out.
  2. In the second part of the gita which is dedicated to defining the raga lakshana/grammar, at the outset PGS says that the raga is sAnA, which perhaps was the preferred or default name.
  3. According to PGS, Sahana is an offspring of Kambhoji, born out of it. In modern day parlance it is a derivative/janya of Harikamboji or mela 28, making the default gandhara G3 or antara gandhara.
  4. PGS follows up by saying that the gandhara is kampita. In other words it is a well oscillated gandharam. We need to determine if the oscillation needs to be wide enough to sometimes make it G2. Or is it likely that the gandhara is trishanku in nature, i.e somewhere between G2 and G3?
  5. Next he says the madhyama note is dirgha
  6. PGS now throws the spanner in the works saying dhaivata is vakra
  7. Then he says the nishada is again kampita or well oscillated.
  8. And lastly he says sAnA is vakra sampurnam that is it has all the 7 notes but one of them is vakra, in this case dhaivatha according to PGS.
  9. One shouldn’t be confused with his statement that Sahana is bhashanga. In the 18th century bhashanga meant that a raga was a ‘bhasha’ of a grama raga. It did not imply usage of a note foreign to the parent mela, which definition took root only during the second half of the 19th century.

Given that this is a lakshana gitam, below is a rendering of the gitam by Vidvan K Hariprasad ( see foot note 2 ) to help us understand the same better. See foot note 3.

Now that we have the lakshana as per Gurumurti Sastri and also by Subbarama Dikshitar let us evaluate and compare them as a table:

Attribute Subbarama Dikshitar Paidala Gurumurti Sastri
Mela/Name Mela 23/  Sri Raga Mela 28 / Kambhoji
Gandhara Sadharana G2 Antara G3
Gamaka for gandhara Kampita kampita
Gamaka for nishadha Kampita kampita
Vakra svara for arohana Pancama dhaivatha
Krama Vakra sampurna Vakra sampurna
Madhyama Dirgha dirgha

There are two key points of discordance which needs reconciliation:

  1. The gandhara – should it be an oscillated G2 or an oscillated G3
  2. Vakra svara – Is it pancama or dhaivata?

On the second point if we run through the notation/matu of the PGS gitam to see if the svara dhaivata in vakra, we see prayogas such as RGMP, PMDNS , GMPDNDP, etc all of which are par for the course in modern Sahana. We do not see PNDNS for example which should make dhaivatha vakra. Given that we see PMDNS, it almost makes one suspect that the text is probably corrupt and that instead of pancama vakra, the scribal error made it dhaivata vakra. Other than that we see no reason for stating dhaivata as vakra.

We see that Subbarama Dikshitar and PGS agree almost on all the other points. The dIrgha madhyama is noticed specifically in the Subbarama Dikshitar varna. The other SSP exemplar compositions do not show a dhirgha madhyama at all.

Which makes us come to the first point which is a classic conundrum for any student of music, which can be stated thus:

What is the nature of the gandhara of Sahana that one sees in practice? Is it an oscillated G2 which sometimes shows up as G3 or is it an oscillated G3 which occasionally shows up as G2?

The answer to this question would provide us the parent/raganga for Sahana. If it is G2 then it becomes a janya of Sriraga and if the dominant note is G3 it comes under the Kedaragaula/Harikhamboji family.  See foot note 6.

RECONCILING THEORY & PRACTICE:

To clear these questions for us it is time we requisition the expertise of the learned Professor S R Janakiraman. In his essay on the raga Sahana, this what he has to say:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP normally determines a raga as bashanga if for just a svara its svarastana shifts above or below even slightly. In the case of Sahana he says in the prayoga RiiiGRS ( the first R being dirgha and is so indicated), the gandhara speaks at mrudhu kampita levels. And is likely that since that RiiGRS occurs in profusion in Sahana, the default mela should be Sriraga, perhaps according to Subbarama Dikshitar. While Paidala Gurumurti Sastri rightly on the basis of the dominating svara being G3 in other prayogas, takes Kambhoji or mela 28 as the parent for Sahana. See foot note 4.
  2. The arohana/avarohana of Sahana is as under, with one svara vakra in the arohana ( pancama) and madhyama and gandhara being (nominally) vakra in the avarohana:
    • S R G M P M D N S
    • S N D P M G M R G R S
  3. Dirgha dhaivata of the arohana and dhirgha nishadha, gandhara and rishabha of the avarohana are the defining notes of this raga.
  4. One curious prayoga which is krama sampurna in its aroha which is encountered in compositions in this raga is ‘RGMPDNSR’ belying the grammar according to which pancama is supposed to be vakra.
  5. Further in the context of the raga’s lakshana Prof S R Janakiraman’s states that the notes of the raga defy conventional grammar.
    • According to him despite the lack of clarity around the true nature of gandhara, whether it is G2 or G3, the gandhara note is an acknowledged amsa svara, implying that it adds beauty to the phrase to which it is added, much like how a diamond adds beauty to a woman’s face. Contrastingly for Sahana, rishabha is a key note and is the graha, nyasa and amsa svara. He says that in so far as Sahana and its gandhara is concerned, it is perhaps an exception to the rule stated by Sarngadeva that only if a svara is an amsa svara it automatically becomes jiva/nyasa as well. But in Sahana’s case the gandhara though is an amsa can never be a nyasa. Thus a phrase in Sahana can never ever be ended as PMGMG….. Gandhara will always be a beautiful buffer svara sandwiched between rishabha and madhyama. No phrase in Sahana can end with a gandhara note.
    • Now the dhaivata of Sahana can also act as a graha svara as evidenced by Patnam Subramanya Iyer’s varnam ‘evvarEmi bhOdhana’ wherein one can experience hearing notes which are not at all intoned.

It still leaves us with some open questions but given the inadequacy of our musicological history one has to make assumptions as to certain facts based on present practice and get a closure on those questions.

MELA OF SAHANA- A QUESTION TO PONDER:

As we saw earlier, Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha groups Sahana under 23 mela Sriraga with the exemplar compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar too being notated with G2/sadharana gandhara dominating and G2/antara gandhara occurring sparsely.

We also saw that Paidala Gurumurti Sastri a junior contemporary of Ramasvami Dikshitar and a disciple of Sonti Venkatasubbayya, groups it under Kambhoji mela 28 so that the raga’s gandhara is G3 or Antara gandhara.  And Gurumurti Sastri is no ordinary authority. He was beholden as a sastraic authority of music of his days and addressed with the honored epithet of ‘veyi gita’ or a composer of a 1000 gitas, several of them being lakshana gitams and prabhandams. And he in his lakshana gitam for Sahana states that with Khamboji as a mela, Sahana is a janya thereunder. Prof S R Janakiraman speculates that Paidala Gurumurti Sastri was following the earlier Kanakambari Nomenclature scheme, wherein Kambhoji must have been the 28th mela and not Kedaragaula, which is the 28th mela in the later Kanakambari nomenclature scheme documented in the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha to the CDP which is illustrated in the SSP.

It may not be out of place to mention here that for Tulaja too Kambhoji was a Mela and not Kedaragaula, as he says unequivocally in his Sangita Saramruta. Given the authority of both Tulaja and of Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, one is forced to draw a conclusion that for mainstream musicians of the 18th century, Kambhoji was a mela for the svara combination of R2, G3, M1, P, D2 and N2. And Gurumurti Sastri places Sahana under it based on practice, though we do not know clearly which ‘system’ or taxonomy, the mainstream musicians were following then, if there was one. Khamboji had always sported the said notes and if Sahana was unequivocally under Khamboji, by logical deduction the gandhara can only be G3. See foot note 5.

While this is so, we see evidence come from unexpected quarters to the effect that the mela of Sahana is indeed Mela 28. And surprisingly that comes from the documented sishya parampara of Muthusvami Dikshitar himself. One of the prime Dikshitar sishya parampara personage is Sathanur Pancanada Iyer. He was a disciple of Tambiappan Pillai of Tiruvarur, for whose benefit Dikshitar composed the Atana vAra kriti, Brihaspate. Veena Dhanammal and Thiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai were two of Pancanada Iyer’s disciples. Thiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai (father of Flute Svaminatha Pillai) learnt around 200 kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar from Sathanur Pancanada Iyer and he published the first set of 50 kritis complete with notation as vetted by Sathanur Pancanada Iyer himself, in the year 1936. This publication called Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai (DKP) in Tamil was one of the first Tamil editions to publish Dikshitar composition in notation and in it the kriti ‘isAnAdi sivAkAra mancE’ in tisra eka is found notated. At the very top of the notation while giving the raga name of the composition the mela is given as mela 28/Kedaragaula (it is to be noted that as per Anubandha and the mela system documented in the SSP said to have been followed by Muthusvami Dikshitar, Kedaragaula is the raganga of mela 28 and Kambhoji is a janya thereunder). But one observation needs to be made here. In the DKP, the compositions are sequenced as per ascending order of the mela to which they pertains. And curiously the kriti ‘isAnAdi sivAkAra mance’ in Sahana, is not found notated serially under Mela 28, as published. Instead it appears next to Nayaki bunched along with the Sriraga janya ragas(mela 23) and one entry ahead of Kedaragaula which is the next as per the listing!

Be that as it may, we have the weight of multiple authorities to the effect that Sahana ought to belong only under Mela 28 and should have antara gandhara. With this we move to the discography section.

DISCOGRAPHY:

When we move to practice we do have two sets of renderings of Sahana, as we see in theory.

  • One is a theoretical or strict implementation of the notation of the SSP which has prodigious G2 in its musical form and sparingly used G3, encountered here and there. Given that the notation in SSP is on these lines, one is tempted to call this as archaic or older Sahana, the form perhaps in which it was prior to 1800 which was utilized by Dikshitar. This is the Sahana of the SSP if one were to interpret the notation literally. We need to point out here that those vidvans who had learnt it from Ambi Dikshitar or from Vidvans through him, render Dikshitar’s compositions only in the modern form and not the form with dominating G2. Examples include the versions of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman or that of Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan. Given that there is no oral tradition for this flavour of Sahana, all renderings of this type are ‘interpreted’ ones from the SSP.
  • The second is the standard or the normal form with G3 to the hilt. As we will see in some of these versions the gandhara figuring in G2 in phrases such as SRGRS, particularly in the tAra stAyI falls completely to the sadharana value.

We shall see both these versions in the discography section.

SAHANA OF THE SSP WITH THE DOMINATING SADHARANA GANDHARA (UNDER MELA 23):

This ‘interpreted’ version is a rarity today and is not at all encountered in concerts. It has never been part of the orally transmitted version.  In the recent past, this form of Sahana with dominating G2 and less of G3 has been encountered very rarely and we will present two of them.

First is the rendering of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘isAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’ found in the SSP. Presented is the rendering of Vidvan T M Krishna which was broadcast over AIR. In connection with this it needs to be mentioned that in collaboration with Vidvan R K Sriram Kumar, Vidushi Dr. R S Jayalakshmi and Dr N Ramanathan, Vidvan Krishna has been involved in a project to resurrect the ragas of SSP, interpreting the notation therein literally & document the same.

Here in this rendering he first prefaces the rendering with his comments on the nature of the Sahana he is about to present. He follows up with an alapana of the raga , which is singularly instructive for  a student of music. The kriti rendering follows along with an equally illustrative svara kalpana.

Attention is invited especially to the RGRS and RGMP where the gandhara is G2 in nature and a sparing G3 appears here and there giving a very different appeal/flavour to the raga. In modern parlance Sahana of the Sriraga mela is bhashanga because it sports the two varities of gandhara.

Presented next is the rendering of the Subbarama Dikshitar tana varnam ‘vArijAkshi’ – an excerpt by Vidusi Sumitra Vasudev. The same is from an exclusive concert of Subbarama Dikshitar compositions done in the year 2014.

While the above two are pure interpretations of the notation in the SSP, we take up next the curious case of the so called trishanku gandhara, which we alluded to before, through the rendering of Sangita Kalanidhi B Rajam Iyer. Here he renders the Dikshitar navAvarana kriti ‘srI kamalAbikAyAM’. Attention is invited to the opening pallavi line itself where the Vidvan intones the gandhara as G2. The same may be compared with standard versions of the navAvarana kriti and the difference becomes obvious.

It is not known if Sri Rajam Iyer learnt it so from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer (TLV). Because the others who learnt from Justice T L V or through him sing the composition is the modern form. It may not be out of place to point out that Sri Rajam Iyer along with Dr S Ramanathan, under the supervision of Sangita Kalanidhis T L Venkatarama Iyer and Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer did the Tamil translation of the SSP for the Madras Music Academy. Inspired perhaps by the finding of the true original lakshana of Sahana that he got in the process of the translation work, one wonders if Sri Rajam Iyer then attempted to modify his version and bring it closer to the theoretical Sahana of the SSP with the dominating sadharana gandhara and thus rendered it so. One would never know.

THE STANDARD SAHANA WITH DOMINATING ANTARA GANDHARA (UNDER MELA 28):

In this section we will see the exemplar compositions of the SSP, presented not in an interpreted way, but by rendering it as per modern lakshana under Mela 28, Harikambhoji with pronounced use of antara gandhara.

vAsi vAsi – Adi tAla – Ramasvami Dikshitar

vasivasiva

The kriti to be presented is that of Ramasvami Dikshitar’s. The kriti ‘vasivasiva’ is a concise edition of Sahana composed on Lord Kalahasteesvara of the Vayu Ksetra Sri Kalahasti. One of the very few people to render is the late Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Suguna Purushottaman. She once rendered it in the Music Academy and a rendering is available as a commercial release. Given below is an excerpt of that rendering. See foot note 7. As noted earlier all compositions in the SSP are notated with G2 and G3 and this kriti is no exception. However the rendering by the Vidushi is the standard version of Sahana. She is accompanied by Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sr Neyveli R Narayanan on the mrudangam and Udipi Sri Sridhar on the ghatam.

 

Sri Kamalabikayam – Triputa Tala – Muthusvami Dikshitar

We did see a rendering of this composition by Sri B Rajam Iyer earlier, wherein the Sahana’s gandhara is rendered differently by him. There are very many mainstream renderings of this composition which one can say are normalized to standard Sahana.

As a refreshingly different take on the composition, presented next is what one can call as a gold standard rendering. It is by Sangita Kalanidhi T Visvanathan. For me, this rendering is straight out of the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, completely aligned to the letter and spirit of the notation one finds in the SSP. Barring fact that the gandhara is always interpreted as antara gandhara, Sri T Visvanathan’s rendering seems to be the best high fidelity rendering of this navAvarana piece. As the clock strikes 11 PM, the surroundings growing silent in the dead of the night, one has to listen to this rendering on a moonlit night in spring, with the faint fragrance of jasmine and other night blossoms wafting in the air. The rendering would be heavenly and the strains of the ethereal Sahana that the flute and the voice conjure up is fit for the celestials, one might say!

tvisva

T. Viswanathan (flute) and T. Ranganathan (mridangam) with American students; Image Courtesy: Prof.Bruno Nettl, University of Maryland Baltimore

For students of music this is the Sahana of Muthusvami Dikshitar, to be learnt from, with the notation of the SSP in hand. The gentle giant from the past, a scion of an illustrious musical family offers us a text book lesson in Sahana with his tour de force rendering. As he himself prefaces in the comments, the Sahana of ‘Sri Kamalambikayam’ is the most contemplative one to be ever created. Hark at the beautiful pattern he weaves around ‘hrimkAra vipina harinyam’ and how he plumbs the depth of Sahana in the mandhra stAyi at ‘virinci harisAna’ and surfaces back to the madhya stayi at ‘harihaya veditha rahasya yoginyam’, like a sleek whale gracefully surfacing from beneath the ocean languorously after plumbing its depths! And Sri Visvanathan does lend his voice in the interludes tantalizing while the violinist is all subdued following him in that forest formed by the notes of Sahana. And one can notice how the tAra gandhara drops in value to almost sadharana gandhara levels at the madhyama kala sahitya beginning of the anupallavi at ‘hrIm kAra vipinaharinyAM’, (RGM RGR SnGR) For a student of music and a connoisseur alike, it is as if the ‘teacher’ within the Sangita Kalanidhi T Visvanathan, telling us that the gandhara of Sahana is not true G2 or G3. It is something in between or perhaps beyond, a gandhara unique to Sahana. Which makes it an aesthetic delight for the discerning listener of our music. Prof SRJ’s categorical statement that the gandhara note is an amsa svara without which there can be no true Sahana dawns on us as we listen to this rendering.

So much so perhaps, Subbarama Dikshitar must have struggled to categorize the gandhara and probably took shelter under a fig leaf provided by Muddu Venkatamakhin who had cryptically/pithily postulated- ‘gIyaTe lakshya vEdibhiHI’ in the lakshana shloka! And it almost makes one imagine that if Subbarama Dikshitar were around to listen to this rendering, he would approvingly nod his head without an iota of doubt and call this out as the very exemplar of what he had in  mind when the purvacaryas had said ‘gIyatE lakshya vEdiBhiHI’ – this is the lakshya of Sahana!

To Dikshitar too it must have been a special choice of a raga for a navAvarana- the sarva rOga hara cakra. He had always planned to choose ragas which were old and hoary, for his magnum opus offering to the Mother. Right from Anandabhairavi, Kalyani, Sankarabharanam, Kambhoji, Bhairavi, Punnagavarali, Ghanta and Ahiri. Amongst this set of ragas, Sahana is probably the youngest in terms of musical history. As we saw earlier its inception must have only been post 1750 A D and it gathered momentum perhaps only post 1800 when it metamorphosed to what it is today. In fact by choosing Sahana, Dikshitar had anointed that it would go one to become one of the greatest rakti ragas to adorn our musical pantheon.

One is not sure from where Sri Visvanathan learnt the composition. The Navavaranas were never part of Veena Dhanammal’s heirlooms, given their content. Was it part of the repertoire that Sathanur Pancanada Iyer passed on the Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, the grand guru of Sri T Visvanathan (who was a disciple of Flute Svaminatha Pillai, son of Natarajasundaram Pillai)? Though Sri Natarajasundaram Pillai by his own admission had learnt more than 200 Dikshitar compositions from Pancanada Iyer, he published only 50 out of them as first and only instalment in which none of the Navavarana compositions figure. Neither do we know if the remaining compositions had the Navavaranas counted in. Be that as it may. Sri T Visvanathan’s rendering is a high fidelity reproduction of the Sahana as envisaged by the notation found in the SSP.

The other Dikshitar composition, which is attributed by some as the first kriti of the Kamalamba Navavarana kriti set- the kriti in obeisance to Mahaganapathi,  Sri Mahaganapatiravatumam in Gaula which though set in Tisra triputa is usually rendered normalized to kanda capu tAla. In this context one has to be thankful that Sri Kamalambikayam which too is set in tisra triputa has not been similarly normalized and it continues to be rendered in its original tala. According to the notation it has to be rendered in 1 kalai tisra triputa tala.  

isAnAdi sivAkAra mancE – tisra ekA

 We move on next to the other Dikshitar kriti ‘isAnAdi sivAkAra mance’. We saw this earlier rendered with the sadharana gandhara by Vidvan T M Krishna in the first part. Presented now is the same composition in the modern Sahana, by his disciple Vidvan G Ravi Kiran.

isanadhi1

Some years ago I was vacationing in a hill station in Southern India, staying in a British era bungalow in the midst of tea gardens. In the bungalow’s puja room I chanced upon a Tanjore style painting, which I had never seen before in that style. It was a painting of Goddess SivaKamesvari with brilliant details etched in gold and silver therein. And as I stared at it, it was getting clear. It must have been a similar form perhaps that Dikshitar must have had in mind which he musically captured in his lyrics of ‘IsAnAdi sivAkAra mancE’. Here is the snap of the picture I saw.

 As one goes over the lyrics with its prAsA concordance in place, it can be seen how the vista of the picture/painting maps in toto to the lyrics of the composer nonpareil.

pallavi

ISAnAdiSivAkAramancE  | SivakAmESvaravAmAnkasthE

namastE namastE gau(rISAnAdi)

anupallavi

SrISAradAsaMsEvitapArSvayugaLE | SRngArakaLE vinataSyAmaLAbhagaLE du- ||

rASApahadhurINatara-sarasijapadayugaLE | murAriguruguhAdipUjitapUrNakaLE sakaLE

(madhyama kAla sAhityam)

pASAnkuSEkshukArmuka-pancasumabANahastE |

dESakAlavasturUpa divyacakramadhyasthE||

 Every sahitya line and reference has a place in this picture, if one were to watch it intently. A plainer and more frequently seen version of this photo which is also available has been given below, along with the Tanjore painting which I saw.

isanadhi2

But the Tanjore painting of Sivakameshvari is something so original and beautiful much like this composition.

vArijAkshi – ata tAla tAna varna:

We do not have any rendering of Subbarama Dikshitar’s ata tala tana varnam in the standard Sahana. However as an exemplar I seek to present my rendering of this varnam ‘vArijAkshi nI’, interpreted to the best of my abilities from the notation found in the SSP.

A couple of observations from a practical perspective in rendering Sahana is required in the context of this varna.

  1. Phrases like N..GRS and R..GRS where the starting note nishadha and rishabha are dhIrgha, the following gandhara is always diminished in its svarastana, dipping to the sadharana gandhara levels. However if one were to consciously render, the phrase could sport G3 itself.
  2. Similar is the case of tAra sadja forays where the gandhara diminishes  as aforesaid.
  3. Phrases like RGMP or RG.MP or PMG.R where the gandhara is dhIrgha, the gandhara gets to the full blown antara gandhara levels.
  4. The varna has quite a few odd prayogas including the NN.D.NDP which is the start of the carana line, where the first nishadha is plainer and the second nishadha is closer to the tAra sadja. We also see dheergha madhyama usage and also more than GMR, we the GGR where the second gandhara is tinted with the madhyama note, occurring extensively.

To simply state, if the gandhara note is to be followed by the madhayama, the tone moves to near G3 and if it is followed by rishabha the note ‘tends’ closer to G2. We did see a similar case with Narayanagaula as well in a previous blog post where the gandhara though is supposed to be G3, but diminishes to G2 in the tara sadja prayogas. It is likely that given this harmonic issue in vocal rendering Sahana was rather considered to be under Sri raga mela with G3 occurring sparingly.

OTHER COMPOSITIONS:

Tana varnas are the best repositories of raga lakshana and as pointed out earlier this varna of Subbarama Dikshitar is the sole varna exemplar of the version of Sahana documented in the SSP.  While the Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar composed ‘karunimpa’ – adi tala tana varnam is a standard staple in the concert circuit, the ata tala tana varnam, ‘evvarEmi bodhana’ of Patnam Subramanya Iyer is hardly ever encountered.

Again this composition evokes awe for our learned Prof S R Janakiraman and presented next is his commentary of Sahana followed by the rendering of the varnam . He first gives a demonstration of how Sahana has to be sung in his own inimitable way, ahead of the ata tala varna rendering.

The repository of a great tradition, Prof SRJ in this recording holds a veritable lesson for us outlining how the rishabha is a jiva svara ; how it has to be sung with so called ghana nayam ; how Smt T Brinda would bring Sahana before us at the very outset itself for ‘giripai’  with RRS and not nSRS as it is rendered today & so on. The passion and verve with which he teaches the students, is an experience in itself.

Next is a concert edition of his rendering of the ata tala varnam.

There are many other memorable renderings and also beautiful compositions including those of Tyagaraja and also of Subbaraya Sastri/Annasvami Sastri. Given the scope of this blog post we are not covering them.

A LIKELY BRIEF HISTORY OF SAHANA:

It must have been a moment in time sometime during the run up to the Trinity, probably Pratapasimha’s reign (1749-1762) at Tanjore, that this raga Sahana must have heralded its entry. Though we see no mention of this raga either in Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s works, covering the period of 1700-1736, it is very likely that there could be some Northern melody which could have potentially been a forerunner or precursor. See foot note 8.

In the bashanga raga listing under the Sriraga lakshya gita documented in the SSP, attributed to Venkatamakhin and perhaps authored by Muddu Venkatamkhin, out of the quintet, only Kapi is found. None of the others are mentioned. While these ragas are illustrated in the SSP on the authority of the lakshana sloka found in the Anubandha to the CDP, no mention is found of them in the Sri raga raganga gita in the SSP. It is likely that all of them were popular in the public domain and made it to the portals of accredited and acknowledged melodies in the raga pantheon, sometime 1750-1770 perhaps. This is obvious, as all of them are tagged as desi ragas. Dikshitar for his part composed in every one of these quintet circa 1800 or thereafter. And we even see Ramasvami Dikshitar using every one of these ragas in his ragamalikas which he must have composed between the years 1750-1800. See foot note 9.

But one factor for us to still reckon with when dating the inception of raga Sahana is fact that we have  a pada of Ksetrajna ‘ moretopu’ which has been part of the repertoire of the Dhanammal family. Ksetrajna is a 17th century composer and that really sets the clock backwards for us. In the same breath we should also note that we see a pada ‘vedukato’ of his as well in the desi raga Devagandhari under mela Sankarabharanam mela 29. Devagandhari as we know again similar to Sahana is another desi raga and all other evidences point to only a 18th century induction of the raga into the musicological texts. So question is did Sahana and Devagandhari spend more than a century as a desi raga or the raga of the masses before the cognoscenti took to note of them and inducted them into the musical hall of fame by ordaining them as upanga/bashanga janyas of Sankarabharanam and Harikhambhoji sometime circa 1750? On the other hand will we be right if we were to advance the hypothesis that the said padas of Ksetrajna were tuned subsequently in Sahana or Devagandhari? One does not know for sure.

However the melismatic or rakti nature of the raga Sahana is brought to the fore by the musical contours of the famous Ksetrajna pada in this rendition by the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt.T Brinda, the quintessential musician of musicians. Here she is, showcasing one of her precious family heirlooms, demonstrating the fluid nature of rakti ragas like Sahana.

And we conclude with the memory of yet another illustrious musician of the past for whom Smt T Brinda represented all of music. And Sahana was always obligatory for him in any concert – alapana, kriti, viruttam, pallavi etc. The Vidvan is none other than the Late Ramnad Krishnan, whose virtuosity and musical acumen came to be discovered and revered much later after his premature death. This year 2016 marks the beginning of his 100th birth anniversary year and we conclude this blog post with a brilliant viruttam of his in which he encapsulates all that Sahana has to offer, in the true tradition of his illustrious mentor Smt T Brinda.

janatiramam

Text of the sloka ‘ jAnati rAmam’

ramnadkrishnantvisva

Ramnad Krishnan with T Visvanathan in Concert at Wesleyan University, United States ( Photo courtesy : Sri R K Ramanathan

Here is in this clipping which is an excerpt from a commercially available concert, Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan is accompanied by Vidvans V Tyagarajan on the violin, T Visvanathan on the flute, T Ranganathan on the mrudangam and V Nagarajan on the Kanjira and together they conjure up a Sahana, decking the up the sloka ‘jAnAti rAmam’ exquisitely for us.

CONCLUSION:

Given the controversy around the nature of the gandhara one is unable to speculate if the original Sahana indeed sported G2 predominantly. Be that as it may the raga must have surely stood out for its sheer beauty with the result Dikshitar chose it for his Navavarana composition despite being a nouveau raga of sorts.

Given the weight of textual evidence one is unable to express a view on the points whether Sahana only needs to be rendered with G2 and that the fidelity to the composer’s intent is lost otherwise. However if one were to answer this question, with aesthetics as the sole criterion, the version of Sahana with Kambhoji/Harikambhoji/Kedaragaula as parent under mela 28, resonates as the better one.

REFERENCES:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions – pages 1163-1164
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai
  4. Prof S R Janakiraman (2009) – Raga Lakshanangal (Tamil) – III Edition, Pages 135-137- Published by the Madras Music Academy
  5. Sruti (Dated June 2016) – Interview with Prof S R Janakiraman by Sri Navaneet Krishnan & Sri V Ramnarayan
FOOT NOTE 1:

The other notable musicological text which documents Sahana is the Sangraha Cudamani, which does it under mela 28 which is very clearly Harikhamboji in its scheme. Doubts exist as to date of the Sangraha Cudamani and it is most likely a second half of the 19th century vintage at the best. Hence the same is kept out of our purview in this blog post. In fact according to another text, The Mahabharata Cudamani’ Sahana is assigned to the 29th mela Sankarabharanam ! Dr Hema Ramanathan assigns a date of 18th- 19th century for this text which is a raga lexicon with lakshana slokas in Tamil. This version of Sahana sporting a kAkali nishadha is never encountered in practice.

FOOT NOTE 2:

Vidushi Savitri Rajan, a disciple of Tiger Varadacariar and Veena Dhanammal, grew intensely passionate about the musical teaching techniques and the introductory pieces that need to be taught to students of music ( abhyAsa gAnam), as documented in older texts such as Sangita Sarvarta Sara Sangrahamu and Sangitananda Ratnakaramu. Along with her students she even presented some pieces from these texts during the Experts Committee Meeting/Lec Dem Sessions in the Music Academy. An audio album of some of the pieces from these treatises too was created as a part of her initiative called ‘Sobhillu Saptasvara”. I am greatly indebted to Ludwig Pesch a student of Smt Savitri Rajan for sharing the audio of the Sahana lakshana gitam, from that initiative. Again this Vidushi and her initiative requires a separate blog post.

FOOT NOTE 3:

Apart from the other questions, the gitam of Paidala Gurumurti Sastri (PGS) and its provenance raises a couple of more questions for us:

  1. If for PGS, Kambhoji was the mela which system of raga categorization was he following? We know as per Anubandha to the CDP, Kedaragaula was mela/raganga 28 and Kambhoji is a janya thereunder. On the other hand the Sangraha Cudamani which is the raga lexicon supposed to have been followed by Tyagaraja, Harikhamboji was the mela 28 with Kambhoji being a janya thereunder.
  2. On the authority of Subbarama Dikshitar, we do know that PGS’s guru was Sonti Venkatasubbayya who he says was a follower for the Venkatamakhin system. Now if PGS were to be saying Kambhoji as a mela then does it mean that PGS was following a different system of raga categorization?

Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on the raga Sahana has an interesting take on the first question. According to him , if for Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, Kambhoji was a mela he must have been following the earlier or the first Kanakambari nomenclature system. And conversely by implication that for the first Kanakambari system, Kambhoji was the mela.  Whereas for Subbarama Dikshitar, the later Kanakambari nomenclature system which is laid out in the Anubandha to the CDP becomes the standard. And Prof SRJ’s hypothesis probably answers the second question as well.

FOOT NOTE 4:

For example, similar to Sahana, the desi raga Devagandhari (mela 29) does not have lakshana shloka, lakshya gita and gitams. So apart from providing the composition of Dikshitar “kshitijamanam’ as exemplar, Subbarama Dikshitar also provides ‘spUratutE’ of Paidala Gurumurti Sastrigal, additionally. However in a similar such situation, in the case of Sahana, Subbarama Dikshitar does not provide any external exemplars from outside of the Dikshitar family. Neither does Subbarama Dikshitar deign to refer to Gurumurti Sastri’s lakshana gitas in his raga lakshana commentary despite the fact that Gurumurti Sastri was a disciple of Sonti Venkatasubbayya an avowed votary of the Venkatamakhin Sampradaya, even as per Subbarama Dikshitar’s own account. The Venkatamakhin Sampradaya as practiced by the Dikshitar family could perhaps have been considered by the family themselves as very unique and a class apart from the rest. Or atleast that was perhaps the impression that Subbarama Dikshitar had and that played a role in his interpreting the CDP, the anubandha, the lakshana gitas and tanams when he published them through the SSP. In the absence of collateral evidence and inadequate research of the available material, one is unable to even make an informed guess.

FOOT NOTE 5:

Assuming that the Raganga gitas were written by Muddu Venkatamakhin during the first half of the 18th century, the absence of the ragas Sahana, Nayaki and Durbar from the Dvijavanthi from the bashanga khanda of the Sri raga lakshana gitam raises several questions for us. Are the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha to the CDP and the raganga lakshya slokas which enumerate the upanga and bashanga ragas under the raganga, coeval? If the Anubandha talks of ragas not found in the raganga lakshya gitas and they themselves do not have lakshya gitas and tanas, are we to conclude that the Anubandha was a document of a much later date or it was kept updated with newer ragas whereas the raganga lakshya gitas weren’t kept updated? Now all these are valid questions in the case of Sahana. It is with this circumstantial evidence and that of Gurumurti Sastri’s gitam we are able to place a date for the raga’s inception and formal induction into the modern musicological raga pantheon.

FOOT NOTE 6:

In so far as the SSP is concerned as the context of the entire treatise us the Anubandha to the CDP, the Ragalakshanam, the reference to a raga as a bashanga is always meant to be what it was meant in 18th century. That is, a raga under a raganga will be a bashanga if it were a basha of a grama raga. That was what the meaning was for the term bashanga to all older authors, including Venkamakhin, Sahaji, Tulaja and also the presumed author of the Anubandha, namely Muddu Venkatamakhin. This definition is redundant for us today.  Subbarama Dikshitar is actually confused by the term bashanga as it appears in olden texts , because during the late 19th  and the early 20th century, the term bashanga had come to mean a raga which took one or more notes which were not found in its parent mela. Thus for example the Mela 20 Ritigaula raganga gitam calls the raga Gopikavasanta as a bashanga and in the raga’s commentary Subbarama Dikshitar  plainly makes his confusion obvious in his commentary stating that the (his) presumed author of the gitam Venkatamakhin for some reason calls the raga bashanga, when in fact the raga Gopikavasanta has no foreign notes.

Thus in the case of Sahana, if we go by Subbarama Dikshitar’s assignment under Sri raga mela, with both G2 and G3 occurring, the Sahana of the SSP becomes a bashanga in modern parlance. However if we go with the standard Sahana that we see in practice which is tagged to the 28th mela Harikhamboji, occurrence of G2 is not reckoned at all the raga is plainly only an upanga janya under mela 28.

FOOT NOTE 7:

Apart from the kritis of Muthusvami DIkshitar found in the SSP, we do have a couple of more compositions published by Veen Sundaram Iyer in his “Dikshitar Kirtana Mala Series”, where we find compositions attributed to him but which are not found in the SSP itself. In fact during the 1950’s, even under the stewardship and watch of Dr V Raghavan and Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, many of these compositions were edited and published by Ananthakrishna Iyer in the Music Academy Journal. Much later these compositions also made their way to the Dikshitar Kritis collection as published by Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar and by Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao.

It has to go on record that there always been a divergence of musical setting and lakshana between the kritis published by Sundaram Iyer and others on one hand and the SSP on the other, despite the root being the same. Normalization, editorial errors, mis-attribution and lack of fidelity are marked in very many compositions published much later after the SSP. It has to be noted with sadness that kritis of doubtful authenticity and questionable musical setting were passed off as authentic original ones and published using the musical grammar of Tyagaraja’s kritis as baseline to define the melodic contours/lakshana. In fact in hindsight it could be concluded that Subbarama Dikshitar had spent lot of effort in ‘curating’ the compositions for publication in the SSP, reconciling them with gitams/tanams/compositions and such other compositions/versions before presenting them cogently in the SSP. Suffice to say that a similar effort was never even attempted during the 1940′s-1960′s when the missed-out compositions were sought to be published. Unfortunately very many musicians who learnt those questionable pieces either from those sources or from the literal text, have propagated the same so much so that today we have no clue as to which is the authentic kriti/tune and which is the spurious one.

 The only compendium of Dikshitar compositions which stands scrutiny and which has unimpeachable authority and authenticity is the Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai (DKP) edited and published by Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai in the year 1936. One can find almost complete synchronization in all aspects between this publication and the SSP, barring a couple of explainable deviations. In the case of Sahana, the DKP has notated only ‘isAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’. Outside of the SSP one composition of merit could potentially be the Abhyamabha Vibakti series kriti, ‘aBhayAbAyAm baktim karOmI’ again is tisra triputa tala. The rendering of the same by Sangita Kala Acharya late Kalpakam Svaminathan can be listened to as an exemplar.

FOOT NOTE 8:

Sahana, Nayaki, Durbar and Dvijavanthi along with Karnataka Kapi form a quintet of ragas which probably shared a common history or evolutionary cycle. In the Northern music they were/are part of the Kanada family sharing the GMRS as a motif. As they co-evolved each of these ragas underwent changes whereby they gave up their motifs or changed them. Sahana morphed the Kanada ang as a G3M1R2S, Durbar modified it GG.RS, Nayaki gave it up or used it as G.RS and Kapi still retained it as G2M1R2S, giving it away to Kanada while it took other svaras to metamorphose into what we today call as Hindustani Kapi. This by itself warrants a separate blog post.

From the Northern regions as mentioned earlier we have so called Shahana Kanada sharing a similar name to our Sahana. Deepak Raja dwells on that raga here. The Shahana Kanada as he points out shares no resemblance at all to our Sahana. And I doubt if there is a strict melodic equivalent of our Sahana with its beautiful rishabha, gandhara and nishadha.

FOOT NOTE 9:

The quintet of ragas that we see in this blog post are seen in Ramasvami Dikshitar’s compositions – ragamalikas as under, except Dvijavanthi, as documented in the Anubandha to the SSP:

  1. sAmaja gamana – Sahana, Kapi, Durbar
  2. sivamOhana saktI – Sahana, Nayaki,
  3. nAtakAdi vidyalaya – Sahana, Nayaki, Durbar and Kapi

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

  1. Thanks are due to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for permitting me to share his rendering of ‘IsAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’.
  2. The rendering of ‘IsAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’ by Vidvan Sri G Ravikiran was sourced from his website, where it was uploaded.
  3. The rendering of ‘moretopu’ by Smt T Brinda is already in the public domain and much shared. Same is the case of the recording of the Kamalamba Navavarana kriti by Sri B Rajam Iyer.
  4.  The sloka rendering of Vidvan Sri Ramnad Krishnan and the kriti rendering by Vidusi Suguna Purushottaman are commercial records and therefore only an excerpt has been shared.
  5. The rendering of ‘srI kamalAmbikAyAM’ by Sri T Visvanathan was sourced from the music collection of Sri Vagheesh Narasimhan.
  6. The gif of the sloka ‘jAnAti rAmam’ has been sourced from the web, from the blog of Sri Sachi.
  7. Thanks are due to Sri R K Ramanathan for providing me with the Concert photo of Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan and Sri T Visvanathan, taken during the concert in USA which has been commercially released by Swathi Soft Solutions as a part of their Sanskruthi Series.

Safe Harbor Statement: The clipping and media material used in this blog post have been exclusively utilized for educational / understanding /research  purpose and cannot be commercially exploited or dealt with. The intellectual property rights of the performers and copyright owners/creators are fully acknowledged and recognized.