Raga Architecture of the 18th Century – Part 1


A perusal of 21st century music and musicology and comparing it with what it was in 18th century in the run up to the Trinity, would show that a bunch of changes have happened. For instance, one can notice that today’s construct of a raga is more svara/note based with accent on linearization and conformance with the melakarta system – with Janaka/Janya relationship at its heart. This was not the case with 18th century music. Some of the musicians/musicology/commentators, today refer to this older 18th century music as “Art Music” or the gold standard.

The 18th century construct of a raga, encompassing its architecture and design had a set of unwritten/informal rules or axioms. There are three important musicological texts from the 18th century which has been passed on to us, which I prefer to call as the Triad in this blog post consistently. They are Ragalakshanamu of Sahaji (circa 1710), Sangita Saramrutha of Tulaja (circa 1835) and the Anubandha to the Catudandi Prakashika (circa 1750). It is my humble view that a critical study of these three texts/Triad would without doubt help us sense this unwritten grammar of the music of the 18th century. This music was the legacy that was passed on or inherited by the Trinity to which they infused flesh and blood with their compositions.

Today much water has flown under the bridge. Given the reality of what has happened till today, one can even wonder whether it is even worth investigating if the changes are for the good or otherwise. For it is undeniable that the changes that have happened are today permanent and immutable. Nevertheless for a student and an observer of music it is important to understand the tenets of 18th century music.

There are a number of these so called architectural and design constructs of ragas – axioms that one can deduce from these Triad or to be more precise, from the study of the structure of the ragas that have been compiled in these three texts. And thankfully we have the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini which one can see, offers the perfect illustration for many ragas found in the Triad.

In this blog post we shall look at three specific raga architecture/design constructs or axioms that was part of 18th century music amongst many others.

They are:

  1. Ragas almost as a rule had jumps, turns and twists. Never were they lineal in their melodic progression.
  2. The mela/parent of a raga and the arohana/avarohana alone did not determine a raga, as it does today. Ornamentation of particular svaras and/or leitmotifs was a distinct feature for many ragas, much beyond a mere arohana/avarohana krama .
  3. Ragas were not contained within a particular murcchana progression and they had multiple flows to provide the aesthetic/melodic form that they were supposed to project.

In this blog post we will look at in detail about these constructs or axioms and practically illustrating it with two ragas – Devamanohari and Purnachandrika. We will be first be taking up Devamanohari.

These two fairly popular ragas were different in the 18th century, in comparison to what they are today in their popular form. So much so, we are constrained to call the 18th century versions of these ragas as archaic version while what we sing today are the modern version. We will demonstrate in this blog post how these ragas conformed to the above constructs/axioms-of 18th century architecture/design of a raga- and how we have in modern musicology dispensed with these axioms with the result their melodic contours have now changed.

The question if this change is better or not is left to the discerning listener/connoisseur of music.


Before we embark on the illustrations with the ragas, let us seek to elaborate the axioms which we introduced in the previous section.


In the 18th century musicology, many ragas and even the rAgAngAs or the parents were non-linear or vakra in their so called complete arohana/avarohana or svaragati, to employ 18th century terminology. For example Kambhoji which was considered a mela (vide the schemata employed by Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, discussed in our earlier blog) had its svara progression like this :

S R2 M1 G3 P D2 S

S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Not only was Kambhoji supposed to have a vakra sancara MGP, it wasn’t required to sport all seven svaras in its arohana and avarohana considered separately and yet could be a rAgAngA. Today every musicological text book would give Kambhoji’s arohana/avarohana in a linearized fashion (watch the GMPD) only as:



And this is the legacy of the 19th century musicology. And neither can Kambhoji be a mela raga today as it is not krama sampurna in its arohana also. Jumps, bends, turns and twists were the ways in which a svaragati or the melodic progression of a raga – be it a parent or child- went. Aesthetics warranted this feature. A raga to be appreciated aurally with rakti needed to have vakra sancaras as its body without which no aesthetics or rasa could be imparted.

This axiom or rule/construct implies that vakra sancaras are the rule for almost all ragas and lineal progression is an exception.


Today a raga is simply defined by its parent mela and the svaras from the parent it is supposed to inherit from the parent for its arohana/avarohana. Sri K V Ramachandran, the much feared critic of the early 20th century likened this janaka-janya scheme and its obsession with mela numbering much like how convicts were given identifying numbers in a penitentiary! Beyond the pale of the mela and the arohana/avarohana, for 18th century musicians and musicologist ragas had embellishments such as gamakas and leitmotifs which were unique to the ragas and helped in identifying the ragas. This feature has been dispensed with in the case of many ragas.


Today the progression of a raga as indicated in its arohana and avarohana is the only way one can move from sadja to pancama to tara sadja, in any sthayi or octave. In the 18th century the melodic movement not only included linear but also vakra/alternate sancaras as well. In other words multiple courses of execution for a raga were available in a given sthAyi. So in a raga if there were alternate courses and if the progression/sancara cannot be brought within the ambit of its arohana/avarohana, in their modern form we can find that the alternate courses have been axed/dropped/deprecated in the raga.

Let’s move on to individually look at the ragas and see how these axioms which defined their melodic body in the 18th century, were deprecated/dropped sometime during the 19th century perhaps which resulted in their truncated modern forms.

While we are able to establish the existence of these axioms implicitly from the Triad, we are fortunate that practical exemplars are provided for these 18th century raga architecture/design principles through the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar with notation in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini of Subbarama Dikshitar. The rendering of the exemplar kritis, with fidelity to the notation in SSP thus provides us with the evidence as well as the opportunity to understand what the world of these ragas was in the 18th century.

Let’s take up Devamanohari, by first considering its form today.


Devamanohari is a beautiful and appealing raga, derived from Sriraga/Kharaharapriya rAgAnga/mela 22. The following are the noteworthy features of modern Devamanohari, on the authority of the Sangraha Cudamani which is relied upon by modern musicologists as the Bible for raga lakshana.

  1. Devamanohari falls under mela 22 and the notes we use in this raga are S, R2, M1, P, D2 and N2.
  2. It is an audava upanga janya of mela 22 lacking gandhara both in arohana and avarohana while dhaivatha is vakra in avarohana alone.

The defining arohana/avarohana krama for the raga under mela 22 is :



As one can see that almost all compositions that we hear today including those of Tyagaraja, Gopalakrishna Bharati, Ponnnayya, Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar, Papanasam Sivan, G N Balasubramaniam, and Mysore Vasudevacar are today notated and rendered only in the above form of Devamanohari. The notations of the Devamanohari compositions not rendered on the concert stage, but available in notation form such as those of Kotisvara Iyer or Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar are also in this form only.

The key attribute of this modern form of Devamanohari that I seek to draw particular attention is the usage of PDNS, the complete lineal ascent phrase in the uttaranga of its arohana.


Let us now move to renderings of (modern) Devamanohari to complete our understanding as to how it is actually presented in concert recitals. Tyagaraja’s classics including ‘kulabirudunu’, ‘evarikai avataramu’ and ‘ kannatandri napai’ along with Mysore Vasudevacar’s ‘palukavademira’ are often encountered in the concert circuit.

Presented first is the exposition of this raga and a kriti therein by Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M L Vasantakumari. She as well as her guru late Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian were known to render this raga with great felicity along with its close sibling Andolika.


Sangitakalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer renders ‘kannatandri nApai’ with rapid fire kalpana svaras.


Presented next is a consolidated & concise presentation of an alapana, elaboration – neraval and svaraprastara of modern Devamanohari by Vidvan Neyveli Santhanagopalan who takes the pallavi line ‘mahAdEva manohari’ of Ponnayya, for elaboration.


Other renderings which can be profitably listened to, from recordings in the public domain include the pallavi in Devamanohari by Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian and the rendering of Gopalakrishna Barathi’s ‘yArukkUdAn thEriyum’ by Centenarian Dr S Ramanathan, for which he was known for.

Presented next is a rare composition in Devamanohari. The late Sangita Kala Acharya Dr S Rajam a repository of many rare kritis renders Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar’s rarely ‘samayamidE yani dalaci’ in rupaka tala ( an excerpt from a commercially available album).

Attention is drawn to the pithy cittasvara which reiterates the PDNS in its body.

Tana varnams are the best repositories of raga lakshana. Arguably the older and most rendered varnam is ‘palumAru’ of Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer. Here is Sangita Kalanidhi R K Srikantan rendering it.

Apart from the aforesaid tana varna of Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer who was a disciple of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar, a disciple of Tyagaraja we have varnas in the raga chiefly from Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar ( cauka varnam- khanda ata – ‘ninnE entO vEdi’) & Muthaiah Bhagavathar ( tana – adi – ‘ninnu nEra nammi’).

The key point to highlight is that in all these compositions and also in alapana and neraval/svaraprastara we see PDNS plain and unambiguous in its usage, in line with the stated lakshana in Sangraha Cudamani.

In conclusion for this section, we can observe that the theoretical construct as per Sangraha Cudamani and the practical lakshana that we see through renderings points to an unambiguous structure of SRMPDNS/SNDNPMRS for Devamanohari as its modern day form.

Having taken stock of this, we now wind the clock back to discover what Devamanohari was once upon a time, in the 18th century.


Devamanohari is not a very old raga. It must have been born during the closing quarters of the 17th century, for Venkamakhin in his Caturdandi Prakashika (A D 1636) does not deal with this raga. The earliest/first reference to this raga is in Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu, dateable to circa 1710. Sahaji and his successor Tulaja (Sangita Saramrutha circa 1736) have in their works recorded Devamanohari as it was in the early quarters of the 18th century well prior to the times of the Trinity. Tulaja and Sahaji’s account are virtually the same. Their account of Devamanohari is as under:

  • The raga is shadhava
  • Dhaivata is skipped over both in the arohana and avarohana, implying it is vakra either ways.
  • PDNS does not occur. It is only PNNS which adorns the raga’s uttaranga.

The point as to Subbarama Dikshitar tabulating it as a ‘bhashanga’ janya of Sri raga mela ( # 22) has to be provided here. For all 18th century authorities the term bashanga connoted a meaning different from what was ascribe to it today. And Subbarama Dikshitar was merely reiterating/carrying it forward in the SSP, which he ought to have clarified. Suffice to say that older Devamanohari did not have any note foreign to the 22nd mela to which it belonged to, similar to modern Devamanohari.

In comparison to the modern lakshana of Devamanohari as practiced today and as evidenced by the Sangraha Cudamani, one can immediately note two divergences:

  • The arohana uttaranga prayoga is PNNS for Sahaji and Tulaja as found in the gita and thAya exemplars that they provide. Otherwise right from mela, to the notes, to the svaragati (otherwise) and the ubiquitous Devamanohari leitmotif namely SNDNP are all the same.
  • PDNS is not to be used. In other words dhaivatha is vakra in arohana also.

After Tulaja’s Saramrutha (dateable to 1736 or thereabouts) the only other lexicon of ragas/musical work dateable to that period of 1700-1750 is the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika, the authorship of which is attributed to Muddu Venkatamakhin. Subbarama Dikshitar’s SSP is a commentary on the same and we can examine the same to verify the lakshana of Devamanohari.

According to Subbarama Dikshitar, on the authority of the lakshana shloka found in the Anubandha, the melodic contours of Devamanohari is :



The raga lakshana narrative of Sahaji and Tulaja is maintained in the SSP/ Anubandha without any change. In other words:

  • The raga is shadhava, having 6 notes together in the arohana and avarohana.
  • Gandhara is varjya or totally excluded.
  • Dhaivata is vakra both in arohana and avarohana

Attention is invited to the longer arohana krama duly incorporating both the vakra dhaivatha and also the janta nishadha. In sum,  all 18th century musicologists record Devamanohari identically and Subbarama Dikshitar reiterates the same in the SSP. The sancara or svaragati of older Devamanohari in line with axiom 1 above, made dhaivatha vakra both in arohana and avarohana, with PDNS not being permitted.

Subbarama Dikshitar does not provide a very detailed commentary on the raga lakshana. Nevertheless the exemplars that he provides, namely the sole kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar ‘ bhArati maddisanA’ and his own sancari align completely to this lakshana in full.

The analysis of the notation of Dikshitar’s composition reveals us the following:

  • Gandhara is varjya.
  • Dhaivatha is vakra both in arohana as well as avarohana krama.
  • PDNS does not occur. PNNS and SNDNP are the recurring leitmotifs.
  • Nishadha is encountered in two forms. A plain one in say for example nSR & a dhirga janta variety with kampita gamaka which is always found in the leitmotif PNNS and adorned with kampita gamaka.

In the kriti the PNNS does not occur as is, in a plain vanilla form. It is always as a dIrgha nishadha adorned with the kampita gamaka. Examples are the sahitya portions of  ‘shAradE vAgadhIsvarI’ in the anupallavi and the carana line ‘ srIpura svapItAntarE’. Almost as a rule when we launch from pancama to tAra sadja the only prayoga to be used is PNNS with the nishadha svara being janta and the adornment for that being a well oscillated kampita gamaka, with PDNP thrown in as well.

Thus in the 18th century, PDNS or even PNDNS was not to be used in Devamanohari. Only PNNS was to be used as a rule whenever one had to reach the tara sadja from the pancama and the preferred route being PDNPNNS as pointed out by Subbarama Dikshitar as its murccana arohana/avarohana. And the descent was always through the motif SNDNP. That was the aesthetic make-up of Devamanohari for our ancestors. In fact while Sahaji and Tulaja talk about PNNS, they do not indicate how it was to be intoned. Clarity on this front comes to us from the composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar as notated by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. That is the core fact sought to be presented in this blog. In line with axiom 2 and 3 above, PNNS with the kampita gamaka was the unique leitmotif of the older Devamanohari apart from the NDNP & PDNP.

The notation system of SSP salvages this feature and presents it for us today in the 21st Century. The dhaivatha note tints the nishadha through the kampita/shake as an anusvara, when we render the PNNS motif. The janta nishadha occurring in PNNS should not be rendered unadorned. Neither should the dhaivatha be expressly intoned in full as PDNS either in the composition or manodharma such as alapana, neraval or svaraprastara.

We will revert to the PNNS/PDNS of Devamanohari in the next section and attempt get more clarity. In the meanwhile few other factors call our attention with reference to this composition.

  1. As is typical of Muthusvami Dikshitar, the raga mudra and his own colophon are embedded in the sahitya explicitly.
  2. It seems to be a generic composition on the Goddess of Learning and no other details are discernible from the composition.
  3. In his brief note following the arohana/avarohana, Subbarama Dikshitar calls out the nishadha as the jiva and nyasa svara of this raga, perhaps taking the cue from the note being repeated in janta form in the arohana krama as given in the anubandha. But Muthusvami Dikshitar seems to have thought otherwise and has not used that as his graha svara. He prefers M, R and P as his favored graha/nyasa svaras while employing Ni more as an amsa svara/indispensable life giving note.

Apart from the solitary kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar ‘bhArati maddishaNA’ found in the SSP, later day publications of Veena Sundaram Iyer attribute a few more to him namely ‘ mahAdEvEna’ and ‘tripurasundarI’. The notation as well as renderings of the same do not bear the melodic uniqueness of the archaic Devamanohari of ‘bhArati maddishanA’ outlined above. And hence they do make one suspect them for melodic authenticity and hence they are not presented in this blog post.

In a similar vein, we need to dissect the raga lakshana of Devamanohari as found in the kriti ‘mahAdEva manOharI’ composed by Ponnayya, the senior most of the Tanjore Quartet and the disciple of Muthusvami Dikshitar. The notation of the said composition in the authoritative ‘ tanjai peruvudaiyAn pErisai’, compiled/edited and published by his descendants, sports only PDNS in its melodic body. We are unable to assess the musical authenticity of the mettu and arrive at a judgement.


The motif, PNNS of Devamanohari must have in all probability been an inherent feature of the Devamanohari of all composers and not just Muthusvami Dikshitar. It must have been the part of the Devamanohari of Tyagaraja as well as all the three works dating to the 18th century (Sahaji, Tulaja and the Anubandha to the CDP with SSP as its commentary) provide the same melodic definition for Devamanohari. Tyagaraja or Dikshitar would not have deigned to deviate from the lakshana for a raga which was by then 100 years old when they started composing.

Today the raga’s lakshana has been morphed with PNNS being banished and PDNS taking its place in all compositions including Tyagaraja and Dikshita. The dhaivatha of PDNS is today expressly intoned and is part of the svara vocabulary of Devamanohari. Musicological texts created after 1850’s ( except the SSP) have now made PDNS an intrinsic feature of the raga violating two cardinal tenets which was enshrined as part of Devamanohari’s older 18th century definition:

  1. Dhaivata was supposed to vakra both for arohana and avarohana. Though this could mean that PNDNS could be used, yet it wasn’t par for the course to use that as well.
  2. And PNNS with dhirgha kampita janta nishadha was a defining feature/leitmotif of the raga for 18th century composers/musicians.

To summarize, for the 18th century music practitioners the dhaivatha note can occur only as PDNP, NDNP or was allowed to be intoned as an anusvara of the nishadha ( kampita gamaka) through the PNNS phrase. Which was why Tulaja says that PDNS was disallowed in Devamanohari. Neither does one see PDP for instance. The dhaivatha note was never used as-is and was used only through these three motifs namely PDNP, NDNP or PNNS. It’s a very subtle aesthetic ornamentation or rule. Dhaivatha cannot be dealt with as an independent note and is at best an amsa svara usable through these three phrases. And it cannot be a graha or nyasa. If thus one were to permit usage of PDNS this aesthetic rule, embodied as axiom 2 above is broken. This is the explanation one can give for the PNNS/PDNP/NDNP usage encountered in older Devamanohari. Modern 20th century musicology treats svara as a unit (atom) rather than the phrase/murccana/motif/leitmotif (molecule) as a building block. And for those of us schooled in the modern musicology, this entire feature turns confusing. And betraying our ignorance of the older 18th century architectural precept, we have introduced PDNS in Devamanohari, thus effectively killing PDNPNNS progression of the raga. Thus axiom 3 stands broken for Devamanohari. 

It is obvious that modern Devamanohari has now been permanently divested of this motif PNNS. It would be worth the effort to look at and see if any 20th or 21st century musicological works or commentaries have any inputs to provide on this.


It would not be far from truth if one were to conclude that despite the well documented evidence from the works of Sahaji, Tulaja and Subbarama Dikshitar we have no proper explanation for the change that has been wrought on Devamanohari. None of the available tomes on musicology talk about this archaic version of Devamanohari save for the SSP. Neither has there been any discussion by the Experts Committee of the Music Academy in this regard. If we were for instance to look at the tomes in the references section below numbered 2, 3 and 4 none of them record the PNNS of the older Devamanohari, ornamented with the kampita gamaka.

The learned Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on the raga lakshana of Devamanohari states that both SRMPDNS and SRMPNDNS are the permissible arohana krama for the raga. Nowhere does he even mention the usage of PNNS with the kampita gamaka in Dikshitar’s composition which would have afforded us an opportunity to know the truth. Prof S R J points out that Tyagaraja commences ‘Evarikai Avatharamu’ as NDNS, as a possible authority for PNDNS usage. If all known authorities of the 18th century agree that PDNS is not to be used, one is left wondering why at all should Tyagaraja purposefully break the rule? It has been shown time and again that the Bard’s compositions have been morphed, mutilated and short changed by later day publishers and performers. It is my considered opinion that ‘evarikai avatharamu’ perhaps started as NNNS with a prolonged kampita gamaka on the nishadha.

The point here is not to criticise the authors or question their credentials in any way but to lament the fact that the weight of historical authorities of the likes of Sahaji, Tulaja and that of Anubandha (Triad) backed by Subbarama Dikshitar and exemplified by the compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar has been totally ignored in assessing the correct musical history of the lakshana of raga Devamanohari. It is fervently hoped that musical history is correctly stated ascribing the right weight-age to credible authorities in a scientific manner driven by logic and proper research.


When delineating Devamanohari the PNNS articulation will sound closer to PDNS except that dhaivatha is heard through the oscillated nishadha. It is thus a very subtle feature and becomes obvious only in a kriti rendering and in svara kalpana. An expert musician can also effectively present the PNNS while eschewing the PDNS in alapana which can be identified by a discerning listener of music.

Therefore one could perhaps contend/argue that from an aural standpoint, PNNS with kampita gamaka wouldn’t sound much different from PDNS. And therefore the change shouldn’t matter.

This point can be answered from a couple of perspectives:

  1. It was a defined convention/grammar driven by aesthetics that dhaivata was supposed to be vakra in the arohana also. This rule is now broken in modern Devamanohari. In olden times, ragas almost as a rule had jumps, turns and twists and were never lineal. Devamanohari was no exception and the PDNS usage is a blatant attempt to linearize the scale thus breaking the first axiom that we highlighted earlier.
  2. The kampita gamaka on the janta nishadha in the phrase PNNS was part and parcel of the raga’s lakshana. Now in the modern context where the raga is solely defined by its mela and arohana/avarohana, aesthetic features like these such as native gamakas fore example cannot be accommodated. As pointed out earlier this feature, given as the second axiom, was lost and it was conveniently morphed to PDNS.
  3. In the older lakshana, dhaivatha was always vakra and was invoked not in isolation but only through the two murcchanas/leitmotifs NDNP or PDNP. The anointment of the dhaivatha as a formal svara via the PDNS usage may prompt modernists to use the dhaivata itself as a graha svara, which was not the original intent. Similarly there can be no place for PDP in this raga.

In any case there can be no justification for leaving out phrases or morphing a raga by disrupting its core features passed on to us. The question also arises as to maintaining fidelity to the intent of the composer and to the tradition handed over to us. It goes without saying that the kritis of the older composers should be dealt with only using the older raga lakshanas in which they were composed and complete fidelity to their original intent should be maintained.

In olden times ragas were defined with a much wider melodic body. The arohana/avarohana krama brought in to define lakshana, as a ready reckoner/shorthand has now become the sole arbiter to define lakshana with the result multiple features of a raga and also its svaragati has become constrained.


Given that Devamanohari has acquired a modern hue, the older Devamanohari with vakra dhaivatha in arohana and PNNS with kampita gamaka archived in the SSP with Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘bhAratI maddishanA’ can now be called as the archaic Devamanohari.

In this section let us look at available recordings of Dikshitar’s composition (with fidelity to the notation as found in the SSP), which is the sole composition available to us today which enables us to crystallize our understanding of this older Devamanohari.

Vidushi Sumitra Vasudev a disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli, interprets the composition from the SSP emphasizing the PNNS with the kampita gamaka, at the appropriate places in this AIR Concert. (Courtesy Sangeethapriya)

She begins her AIR concert with a sloka and follows up with the kriti. Attention is invited to the places where she invokes the kampita gamaka and also the places where a plain vanilla nishadha has to be intoned.

Presented next is a rendering of the Dikshitar composition by Vidvan G Ravikiran, with svarakalpana on the pallavi line duly incorporating PNNS and eschewing PDNS. The clip begins at the madhyama kala sahitya rendering.

There are also other renderings of ‘bhArati maddishanA’ which are not in complete conformance to the older raga lakshana of Devamanohari as notated in the SSP and I have not provided them therefore in this section.

As mentioned before it may be a trifle difficult to consciously articulate the PNNS in the alapana, especially after having been used to elaborating modern Devamanohari with PDNS. Presented finally is the raga vinyasa by Vidusi Amrutha Murali, a disciple of Vidvan Sri R K Sriramkumar, as a prelude to the Dikshitar kriti, ‘bhArati maddishanA’. The same is an excerpt from the commercial album ‘Sarveshvari”, in which the Dikshitar kriti is rendered in full.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader of this blog to hear out this alapana, determine its fidelity to the definition of the older Devamanohari and discover the PNNS.



As narrated, the older Devamanohari adhered to the three stated axioms. Perhaps during the second half of the 19th century as the Sangraha Cudmani began to gain traction as the holy grail of modern musicology, it impacted Devamanohari also, by embedding the PDNS as its arohana uttaranga and dropping the PNNS with its kampita gamaka. We have no clue or explanation save for this, to account for the change that we see in the raga lakshana of Devamanohari.

 In parting I leave the readers of this blog post with the notation of a composition by Koteesvara Iyer (1870-1936) which is an ode in praise of Muthusvami Dikshitar, in Tamil. The twist here is that Koteesvara Iyer has composed his oeuvre in Devamanohari, apparently of the modern variety, eschewing the PNNS! Was the original notation different and it was perhaps interpreted/represented by later day performers/printers in this form, one does know. Nevertheless it leaves us wondering if the composition in the modern version would meet the approval of the Itinerant Composer!

We will consider the case of Purnachandrika in the next blog post to conclude this two part series.


  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 368-371
  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) Vol II , Pages 69-70- Published by the Madras Music Academy


Thanks are due to Sri Lakshman Ragde for providing the notations for the kriti of Koteesvara Iyer and the varnam of Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar, both in Devamanohari.

Samanta – The Raga lost in the wilderness of time


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


  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


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.


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.


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.


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.

  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

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.


  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.