The Quest for the true melodic contours of Tyagaraja’s “varadarAja ninnEkOri”

PROLOGUE:

The raga names and their associated melodic contour for Tyagaraja’s compositions, from a theoretical framework can be assessed by referring to the Sangraha Cudamani attributed to Govinda and to the Andhra edition of a manuscript called Ragalakshanam. The date of Sangraha Cudamani is not without controversy though. Votaries of the Sangraha Cudamani advance the argument that the work is antecedent to Tyagaraja and he composed and assigned ragas only using this treatise.  There are those who cogently put forth reasoned arguments that the Sangraha Cudamani is neither authoritative nor is it dateable atleast to the times of Tyagaraja. There are others who advocate the theory that Tyagaraja had a set of inherited ‘scale dictionaries’ through Vina Kalahasti Ayya and others (‘Katakamus’) which he then breathed life into as ragas. We have seen much of these in previous blog posts in this series. Leaving aside the question as to the authenticity and whether Sangraha Cudamani is ex post or ex ante to Tyagaraja’s life time, for us at the least it serves a useful reference or a lexicon for us to determine the true melody of Tyagaraja’s compositions.

 While assessing the correct melody of a Tyagaraja composition, though we can rely on the oral traditions – such as the primary sishya paramparas- we still have two important problems.

  1. It is very much discernible from history that Tyagaraja did not assign or disclose the name of the raga of a composition, when he taught it to his students. Therefore, in quite a few instances the different sishya paramparas held different raga names and/or different melodic contour for the same composition.
  2. The second issue is that outside of the sishya paramparas, early publishers of Tyagaraja’s compositions (1870-1920) gave the raga name/description simply as ‘apuroopam’ meaning rare for melodies which were uncommon or not discernible with certainty by them/at that point in time for quite a few of his compositions.

Doubts have been expressed about the correct raga and or /raga lakshana of many Tyagaraja compositions which have remained unresolved and unsettled for many different reasons till date. Examples include the popular as well the rare ones such as ‘nAdatanumanisam’, ‘sItamma mAyamma’& ‘nEnendhu vEdakudhurA’ on one hand and ‘nannu kanna talli’ and ‘prAnanAtha’ on the other to name a few. Our quest to identify the correct raga /melodic contour of compositions becomes severe in the case of compositions which are:

  1. Not much in currency
  2. In uncommon ragas
  3. In ragas not found described in the Sangraha Cudamani and also if many of the late 19th century and early 20th century publications do not offer much clue.

Paucity of systematic musicological research, proper tabulation/classification and scientific analysis of data/information have ensured that we have never gotten to certainty or truth on these questions. In this series of blog posts, we have looked at some of these compositions and with available data attempted to piece together a credible case for a particular raga as being the one in which Tyagaraja might have possibly composed a particular piece.

The composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’ set apparently to a raga called SvarabhUshani is a case in point and we will look at it in this blog post.

BACKGROUND TO THE COMPOSITION:

Let’s first look at the history and other aspects of the composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOrI’. Though Tyagaraja was apparently not an itinerant composer in the mould of Muthusvami Dikshitar, he reportedly did undertake a few journeys/pilgrimages to places away from Tiruvaiyyaru during his life time. His biographers including Prof Sambamoorthi and others based on his compositions/internal evidence, accounts of his disciples and such other collateral information, aver that he visited places like Srirangam, Nagapattinam, Tiruvottiyur, Kovur, Tirupati & Kancipuram. In fact, musical historians based on the kritis also advance the view that the following four deities, have been sung upon by every member of our Trinity

  1. Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram
  2. Goddess Kamakshi at Kancipuram
  3. Goddess Nilayathaksi at Nagapattinam
  4. Goddess Dharmasamvardhini at Tiruvaiyyaru

Taking the case of Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram, while Dikshitar composed ‘varadarAja avAva’ in Gangatarangini and Syama Sastri is said to have composed the Anandabhairavi varnam ‘sami nI rammanavE’ on Lord Vardaraja, Tyagaraja is said to have composed two compositions on Him:

  1. ‘varadarAja nine kOri’ in raga SvarabhUshani – rupaka tAlA
  2. ‘varada navanItAsha’ in raga rAgapanjaram- misra cApu tAlA

Standard texts of Tyagaraja’s compositions such as T S Parthasarathy’s give the text of ‘varadaraja ninnukori’, our subject matter composition as under:

pallavi

varadarAja ninnu kOri vacciti mrokkErA

anupallavi

surulu munulu bhUsurulu cuTTi cuTTi sEvince

caraNam

varagiri vaikuNTha maTa varNimpa daramugAdaTa nirjarulanu
tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa vara tyAgarAjanuta garuDasEva jUDa

THE EVIDENCE OF THEORY:

Dr. V Raghavan’s Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions has an entry for this piece based on its availability in the records of Chinnasvami Mudaliar/Walajapet manuscripts and that of Rangaramanuja Ayyangar. The raga name is given as Svarabhushanl. As pointed out earlier none of the lexicons of Tyagaraja’s songs namely Sangraha Cudamani or the Andhra text of the Ragalakshanam or the Tamil text Mahabharata Cudamani makes a mention of a raga by this name or the scale under the 22 mela. Again only 20th century listings of ragas make a mention of Svarabhushani with the varying arohana/avarohana kramas under mela 22. They do not have any prior authority whatsoever other than their very own which makes the raga a suspect for being tagged to a composition of Tyagaraja. This name is first documented in Nadamuni Panditar’s Svaraprastara Sagaram, circa 1914. And modern publications assign this raga name to the composition as Svarabhushani/Svarabhushini under mela 22 with SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS as the nominal arohana/avarohana.

It needs to be pointed out that mere mention of raga names in older manuscripts by itself does not confer legitimacy for ascribing a particular melody in the case of assigning that to Tyagaraja’s compositions. The learned critic of the last century Sri K V Ramachandran, records that Walajapet Ramasvami Bhagavathar Bhagavathar the scion of the authentic Walajapet line of sishyas confided to him that the raga names assigned in manuscripts were sourced from questionable sources without scrutiny ( “Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’s Songs”. – 1950 JMA XXI pp109)

With not much inputs available to us from a textual history standpoint beyond this, we move over to the oral tradition to determine the true melodic svarupa/contours of this raga and that of the composition.

THE EVIDENCE FROM PRACTICE- DISCOGRAPHY:

Vidvan S Rajam's depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition

Vidvan S Rajam’s depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition

Unfortunately, even here we do not have renderings of this composition from stalwarts of the previous century and hence the composition falls into the rare category. We have an account of Dr S Rajam narrating that Kancipuram Naina Pillai used to beautifully render this composition. But we do not have a recording of Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda, who learnt from him, rendering this composition. Similarly though it is known that Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao had been heard singing this composition, the composition has not been known to be sung popularly.

However, we do have a record of Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram who had his tutelage under Chittoor Subramanya Pillai, rendering this composition. Let’s first hear out his version of ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’.

Watch the video of the garuda seva of Lord Varadaraja with Vidvan Somu’s rendering as the sound track.

Vidvan Somu’s rendering ( Video with footage of Lord Varadaraja’s Garuda seva)

Its fortuitous that he renders svaras for this composition @ vara tyAgarAja, providing additional insights for us. But first if we were look at the opening bars of the composition that he renders and then the reminder of the composition, it’s very obvious that:

 

  1. The raga is sampurna having all svaras of the mela 22 having SNDP, PMGRS and SRS, SGRS and SGMPDNS
  2. He does not render the carana line “nirjarulanu tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa”.
  3. His articulation of the mettu/music of the sahitya ‘vacciti’ of the Pallavi line or the ‘daramugAdata’ is not clear at all, which could have thrown light on the purvanga prayoga, whether it is SRGMP or SGMP.
  4. While he rounds up the pallavi rendering between 0.47 to 0.52, he lends a touch of Anandabhairavi suggesting SGRGM.
  5. Similarly, in the tAra stayi uttaranga sancharas at ‘cutti cutti’ or ‘garuda sEva’ is clearly suggestive only of SRS or SGRS.   And in the svarakalpana he renders SGMP (an oscillated gandhara much like in Anandabhairavi) in the madhya sthayi and again SGRS in the tAra sthayi.

Leaving aside other factors, his rendering enables us to place the contours of this raga as per his pAtham as under:

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

                                         Avarohana krama: S N D P M G R S

In other words, the melody he paints is a raga of mela 22 with a vakra gandhara in the arohana and a krama sampurna avarohana, without any anya svaras.

Now with this first version of the composition let us move to the next one presented by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Gopalakrishnan. The source of his pAtham of the composition is unknown.

The following points emerge from his presentation.

  1. His version stands out for the use of the oscillated sadharana gandhara through the “GMR” prayoga, a staple of the Kapi/Kanada family. SGMP also occurs which impart the Devagandharam flavour to the alapana.
  2. In the kriti rendering as well he uses the GMRS. Attention is invited to the pallavi closing ahead of the anupallavi commencement and the tAra sthAyi at the anupallavi sahitya section ‘cutti cutti’.
  3. SNDP is the way the pallavi begins. GMPDNS and such other prayogas native to the 22 mela occur otherwise. MRS or GMRS is the way the avarohana krama progresses as is obvious from the svara kalpana as well.

 In sum, this version of the raga and the kriti as painted by the violin virtuoso, provides us the melodic contours as:

            Arohana krama :     S G M P D N S

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

The gandhara intoned in this version is of two types – one which occurs as GMPDNS and the other which occurs in the GMRS reminiscent of the kAnadA ang/motif native to the Kapi family. In contrast to Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram’s version, Sri MSG’s version though adopting apparently the same svara sets, imparts a different hue and color, due to the GMRS that occurs in his conception. Again, to reiterate we have no clue as to the source of Sri MSG’s pAtam and whether it has nexus to any of the main schools of Tyagaraja’s sishya parampara namely Walajapet, Umayalpuram or Tillaistanam.

We now move to the version of this composition by vocalist Vidushi Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian.

 Video recording from her Kshetra series concert is here.

  1. She begins with SNDP and uses SGMP for ‘vacciti’ in the pallavi. The gandhara occurring in the madhya stayi sounds like the one in Karnataka devagandharam and the tara stayi usage of GMRS at cutti cutti is the kAnada motif.
  2. Her rendering is more disjointed making the purvanga, uttaranga on one hand and the mandhara, Madhya and tara stayis on the other hand sound like different raga sets giving the impression of a misra raga rather than a cohesive/singular melody
  3. In the kalpana svara section the MRS sounds more like MGS. Her version is proximate to Sri MSG’s edition using the same svara sets. However, Sri MSG’s conception is apparently more homogenous for the ears.

ANALYSIS OF THESE RENDERINGS:

In the first cut of the analysis, one can clearly say that Vidvan Somasundaram’s edition is one bucket while the editions of Sri MSG and Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian is clearly of the second bucket. The versions of Sri MSG as well as Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian suggests that present day available editions that we hear are most possibly interpretations of available notations by the individual musicians. In other words, they learnt it from text and their reproduction is constrained by the initial conditions – the fidelity and correctness of the raga, it lakshana and the notation, from the book they learnt.

There are a few initial conditions/caveats that hold true for our discussion:

  1. The raga name Svarabhushani or its melodic contours suggested by prevailing musical texts beginning with Nadamuni Panditar are of recent 20th century vintage only.
  2. This raga name does not figure in the Sangraha Cudamani. Given that Tyagaraja did not assign raga names to his compositions, the absence of the lakshana of ‘svarabUshani’ in Sangraha Cudamani makes it clear that in this case the assignment of the raga name was clearly a very late 19th century or early 20th century development at best.
  3. Using the rendering available in the public domain of a composition, it is likely that the notional mela and arohana/avarohana krama that was implicit in the melodic fabric of this Tyagaraja composition under question was perhaps determined at that point in time.
  4. A perusal of historical records particularly musical books published during late 19th century and early 20th century validates the fact that ragas which were not as popular/well known/common as Sankarabharanam, Todi, Bhairavi, Sriranjani etc couldn’t be identified by them. The publishers of these printed musical books simply left it unspecified by giving the raga name ‘apurUpam’ or ‘rare’. Such was the state of our knowledge and capability from a musical publishing standpoint. Critics of the past century like Sri K V Ramachandran in their presentations before the Music Academy highlighted the need to research and catalogue the compositions and the correct ragas thereof of Tyagaraja. (See foot note 1)
  5. Given the situation the true melodic contours of a raga of Tyagaraja’s composition can be gauged only by triangulating/reconciling the three inputs namely:
    1. available notations from authentic sources & lakshana commentary of any from Sangraha Cudamani/Andhra edition of a document called Ragalakshanam
    2. renderings of vidvans/vidushis who learnt it through the oral tradition route
    3. the internal evidence if any within the composition with minimum but plausible assumptions.
  6. There seem to be no dependable research material or proper research done on this subject, for us to rely upon. See foot note 2.

SOME PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS:

This section and the next completely reflects my view point of this entire problem. Additional facts or authentic versions if any unknown till date, if made available can potentially help in resetting our findings/conclusions. With the available data so far, the following conclusions could be drawn based on the musical material on hand.

  1. The point that the raga name ‘Svarabhushani’ is missing from the listing in Sangara Cudamani makes it clear that the raga of the composition is suspect at the very outset. Most possibly the melody of this composition is already one which is found in the Sangraha Cudamani and is not Svarabhushani.
  2. The analysis of the available recordings as that of Vidvan Somu, Sri M S Gopalakrishnan (MSG) or Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian(VS) do not reconcile against each other for many different reasons:
  3. The contours of the raga itself differ considerably as between Vidvan Somu and the rest.
  4. The versions of Sri MSG and Smt VS employ SGMP and PMRS which do not provide a homogenous color to the raga nor does it appear facile. The artistes seem to have learnt it from notation intoning the notes as is and thus constrained by the nature of the source and its fidelity. The contours that they paint also lack musical authority from any known musicological text.
  5. Available notations too seem to have reconciled the composition to the prescribed scale. Who assigned this composition to this scale and/or who prescribed the arohana avarohana of SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS remains cloaked in mystery. We do have texts which give SNPMGMRS as avarohana krama.
  6. Even notations appear suspect and seem to have been written down from oral tradition without having clarity of the source. For example, the available notations do not seem to prescribe gandhara in the Madhya sthayi sancaras whereas the gandhara makes it appearance in the tAra sthAyi through the GMRS phrase (e.g the sahitya.  “cutti cutti” in the anupallavi). The notation seems to have been written from a source who perhaps did not properly render the tAra stayi phrases. The kriti even with the GMRS does not seem to belong to Kapi clan ragas as well such as Karnataka Kapi or Kanada, Durbar and their ilk. The aural effect, one can feel is that the gandhara appears to have been “thrust” into this composition. Vidvan Somu’ version sadly seems to be no better on this count as well. For the moment, we may treat this point as a hypothesis and we will revisit this point in a little while, as it will prove a clincher for us in determining the “possible true raga” of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’.

SVARABUSHANI IS NOT THE RAGA OF THE COMPOSITION

tyagayya-1946-VNagayyaArmed with this provisional finding I embarked on getting hold of an older rendering possibly of the composition which could provide a clue as to the true raga of this composition. And help came from not from our world of classical music but from unexpected quarters.  The composition was part of the Telugu musical cinema ‘tyAgayya’ starring V Nagayya of 1945 vintage. This movie being a bio-pic of Saint Tyagaraja, featured more than 20 of the his compositions.

The entire movie can be viewed here: Movie

The musical tracks featuring Tyagaraja’s compositions are marked in the progress bar of the movie.

While serious researchers can embark on determining the pAtham of the compositions in detail along with the sahitya and attempt it match it to a specific school of Tyagaraja’s, but for the purposes of the analysis on hand, a quick & dirty summary/high level assessment tells us a number of facts:

  1. All the compositions featured in the movie are of impeccable authenticity. None can be doubted as not being of Tyagaraja’s/spurious.
  2. One can reasonably surmise that given the attention the movie could have garnered, the choices of the compositions and their version must have been of the highest order. If not, they can potentially attract adverse criticism and or reviews.
  3. The melodic constructs of the commonly heard compositions, tracks to the classical versions and no dilution could potentially be imputed to the renderings.
  4. As a caveat, it must be acknowledged that the renderings in the movie do have, what I prefer to call as ‘desi’ quality. They are not pure concert-editions and are more ‘bhajana-sampradaya’ version. And thus, here and there they sport melodic extensions or a few sangathis which may not be completely aligned to the classical lakshana of the raga. In other words, given the source (cinema), one could & should anticipate a few phrases here and there which may not be kosher from the point of view of the classical definition of the raga.

Subject to these disclaimer(s) the musical idea, skeleton or musical construct of a composition sung in this film/available in the musical track of this movie, can (in my opinion) be used as evidence/input to determine the raga contour of that composition.

Here is the Youtube track of the video of the particular song: varadarAja

The audio track of the song is given below:

The analysis of the rendering of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’ from the film Tyagayya reveals the following:

  1. The core melody is unquestionably the raga Devamanohari as one can hear. The elements of the raga are all there.
  2. It conforms to the 22 mela, without any gandhara. The usage of the leitmotif DNP which for example appears at “ninnEkOri’ and other places makes it obvious. We do not see any SGM or GMRS anywhere in the melodic body.
  3. The gamut of the raga in the Madhya sthayi captured by the initial sangatis of the pallavi line and the anupallavi line ‘varnimpa  taramu gAdhada’ is plain unadulterated Devamanohari.
  4. The suspect tAra sancara movements at ‘chUti chUti’ does not paint an outright R..MRS which is what I referred to as ‘dEsI’ in its presentation/intonation. I suspect that these so called prayogas could have found its way to popular/mass version of the song and thus becoming a “corrupted” version of the composition.
  5. These suspect musical expressions together with certain prayogas such as SNDP in certain sangathis can be safely isolated as ‘’subsequently injected aberrations”, for Tyagaraja could not have created his composition with questionable phrases (SNDNP and SNDP in the same breath) that too in a raga of hoary antiquity.
  6. One can safely conclude that the core musical material of the song is Devamanohari and that must have been original raga of the song.
  7. The raga of the version presented by Sri MSG and Smt VS seems very contrived and artificial and no wonder the theoretical progression of that melody SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS did not at all gain traction as the resulting melody was not homogenous. Neither do we have any other compositions in this scale today. This is an aesthetic/harmonic aspect which can only be sensed & concluded aurally.
  8. Moreover, the foregoing makes one to logically conclude that the available notation too may have been derived from a corrupted version of the composition. The film version that we saw perhaps represents a least corrupted version of the composition as available to us.
  9. Devamanohari is an old raga recorded by Tulaja and Sahaji during the early 18th century. However it is sad, but true that during the late 19th and early 20th century, the raga Devamanohari was not known to a good proportion of the public. So much so many of the publications during that period simply labelled compositions in Devamanohari as ‘apuroopam’ or rare. The available copies of these publications are mute witness today to this blissful ignorance. The famous music critic Sr K V Ramachandran laments on the very same point in his seminal lecture/research paper titled ‘Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’ & “Carnatic angles from a new angle’- presented in the portals of the Music Academy decades ago. He mourns that the Bard’s compositions were normalized/mutilated by teachers of music and publishers as well, to standard versions based on their own knowledge with scant respect for textual tradition.

And in this instant case, based on the available evidence and the logic that we have employed, we can conclude the possible sequence of events that came about as under:

  • The melodic construct of this composition got corrupted due to abuse or disuse making the composition rare.
  • It came to be assigned a brand-new raga name ‘Svarabushani’ by editors/teachers who perhaps were impervious of Devamanohari and/or were they never knew the true & original melody of the composition, sometime during the latter half of the 19th century/early 20th century.
  • While the mainstream 20th century musicians totally forgot the raga & the composition, it possibly survived in a corrupted form in the oral tradition such as the one captured in the movie made in 1946.
  • Later day publishers probably got only these corrupted versions to notate which meant that they retrofitted a raga name for the corrupted version, for example accommodate only the tara gandhara phrases and hence normalized the body of the melody to create a brand-new raga SGMPDNS and SNDPMRS, without rhyme or reason. This line of reasoning is not novel and has been documented/seen in compositions such as ‘nagumOmU ganalEnI”, “sOgasu jUda taramA”, “nannu kanna talli’ et al.
  • The original score of the composition being lost, the composition today appears in a famished melody which lacks textual tradition, did not gain traction or public appeal.
On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)

On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)

In the light of the reasoning as above and unless we have further credible facts to rebut, the raga of the composition can only be presumed to be in Devamanohari. And the lyrics of the composition below as available from the music track seem to be most appropriate.

వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA             (varadarAja)

సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE    (varadarAja)

వరగిరివైకుంటమటవర్ణింపతరముగాదట
varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

  నిర్జరులనుతారకములలోచంద్రుడైమెరయుదువట
nirjarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

  వరత్యాగరాజసుతగరుడసేవజూడ
vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI             (varadarAja)

And much after I done this deduction I stumbled upon this presentation of the Tyagaraja composition by the scion of the Lalgudi sishya parampara of Tyagaraja, Sri G J R Krishnan.

Sri Krishnan renders the composition here in the company of Vidushi Vijayalakshmi which I have split into two parts.

Apparently in deference to tradition which assigns the raga name of Svarabhushani, at the outset the Vidvan announces the raga name as is, perhaps. But in his raga outline, the composition proper and the ensuing svarakalpana there is no doubt that the raga is Devamanohari. There is no gandhara “heard”at all, not even a trace of it anywhere in his rendering. SNDP occurs prominently both at the start of the pallavi and the anupallavi. Contrastingly the V Nagayya film edition started with PDNS. According to the pAtham of Sri G J R Krishnan, the raga’s kramA is SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS. If one were to reconcile the intonation of the gandhara and account for it, the explanation is perhaps it is so oscillated & close to rishabha.

It can also be argued that for all practical purposes the Swarabhushani in this edition is practically SRMPDNS/SNDPMRS, a gandhara varjya janya under Mela 22 with SNDNP occurring here and there. But that would beg the question ‘Does that make this raga any different from Devamanohari?’ Is there any textual authority for such a scale in our history so far?

One other version that can be considered is by Vidvan Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana given below.

The kriti rendering as well as the svaras can be dissected on the above lines and conclusions can be drawn. Again the authority for the SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS, the raga lakshana, the presence or absence of the gandhara, its intonation etc lack authority, textual or otherwise.

‘vAradarAja ninnEkOri’ is thus a classic case where in the absence of a supposed authority like Sangraha Cudamani or an authentic pAtham with considerable authority, we have struggled & are struggling to determine the contours of the raga. The presence or absence of the gandhara is the real clue but eludes a determination.

Actually, the solution to this question/struggle is rather straightforward . The raga is Devamanohari and we have to edit the available closest version of the song to the lakshana of this hoary raga, eschewing all ‘non-Devamanohari’ phrases/sangatis (particularly SNDP) and attempt to recreate a close to possibly original version.

This is the complication we have had with our tradition/past and I think we would continue with that without any resolution. In so far as this composition goes, it is my humble opinion that it was once a upon a time Devamanohari. An improperly sung Devamanohari down the line much later from the times of Tyagaraja has been legitimized over time by providing a name to it (as Svarabhushani) without any authority whatsoever with poor manuscript copying and careless publication and/or propagation causing all these dissimilar copies/versions. Some versions/pAthams included the gandhara. Some excluded it. And thus, today it speaks of the poor fidelity with which the compositions of the Saint have been transmitted over the centuries.

We also saw the similar cases of Natanarayani/Pratapavarali (how the p/S and S\p of Natanarayani morphed to PDS and SDP) and Sindhu Kannada/ Kesari/Sharavathi (how the D1/N1 morphed) in our previous blogs. The pattern keeps repeating and now these confusions are part and parcel of our tradition. We also touched upon this in the context of the previous blog on 18th century raga architecture when we dealt with Devamanohari itself.

I am atleast fortified in this aspect that this modern-day version of Vidvan G J R Krishnan stands as a solid proof that the melodic fabric of this raga is Devamanohari and not a scalar melody theoretically derived by Nadamuni Panditar decades after Tyagaraja had passed away.

I now leave this for the rumination of a discerning rasika of our music.

EPILOGUE:

The story for me did not end here. Whence investigating this there were at least a couple of more problems which were potential loose ends which had to be ironed out.

  1. The prAsA concordance of the carana lyric – line starting “nIrjarulanu” was an irritant. Potentially the ‘nIr’ had to figure as the ending sahitya for the previous line/previous rupaka tala avarta. But it cannot be accommodated within the tala akshara as the previous line sahitya itself was dense enough.
  2. Coincidentally the Walajapet manuscripts had an extra line added in its running notation as marudu siggu cE mandarara Athadu”which did not make meaningful sense. See foot note 3.

What these two points meant was potentially, the original composition had 4 rupaka tAla avartas worth of sahitya which were probably left out when the manuscript was copied. And the melodic flow of the composition had to be reorganized to accommodate these lines which can be done using the running notation found in the manuscripts themselves. This sahitya as available from the Walajapet manuscripts had to be edited to mean correctly in the context of the composition as well. See foot note 4.

The revised (edited) sahitya/lyrics for the entire composition and the meaning are given below: (See foot note 5)

Pallavi:

 వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA                  (varadarAja)

Meaning: O Varadaraja! I have come seeking you. I salute you!

Anupallavi:

సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE            (varadarAja)

Meaning: O the one whom the Devas, rishis & denizens of the earth surround and worship.

Caranam:

 వరగిరివైకుంటమటవర్ణింపతరముగాదట
varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

Hasthigiri (Kanchipuram, referred to here as the sacred giri) is considered equal to Vaikuntham and beyond all description.

మరుడుసిగ్గుచే     ముందురాడట

marudu siggucE mundhu rAdata (nir)

Manmatha abashed by your beauty hesitates to come forward.

 నిర్జరులనుతారకములలోచంద్రుడైమెరయుదువట

-jarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

Amidst the stellar assemblage of the Devas you shine like the moon.

వరత్యాగరాజసుతగరుడసేవజూడ
vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI                    (varadarAja)

O the one worshipped by Tyagaraja,I have come to have darshan of the Garuda Seva.

CONCLUSION:

As we saw both the textual tradition as evidenced by the notations on one hand and the oral traditions on the other provided discordant views to us as to the correct raga and mettu/musical contours of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’. The analysis based on available evidence indicates a balance of convenience in favour of Devamanohari.

What has been attempted is an amateur/armchair effort to uncover the truth from diverging musical material and history. It is fervently hoped that issues like these are taken up by professional/qualified researchers and the same goes to add to our body of knowledge so that students and serious listeners of music get the correct perspectives as to the versions of the compositions of the Trinity.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. There are very many articles and also lecture-demonstrations done on the subject of ragas of the compositions of Tyagaraja as given in pre-1930 publications and the dichotomy it has with the ragas that are actually sung in practice. Many of the items listed, would leave us agitated. While it is true that quite a few compositions suffered a change in the raga, ragas of well know compositions are printed differently in these texts. During the Dec 2016 Music Season Festival of the Madras Music academy atleast a couple of lecture demonstrations were done on this subject including one by Dr Hemalatha. The to be released JMA of 2017 would have that recorded. From the past one such example of a tabulation of the list of compositions whose actual currently rendered ragas is different from what appears in pre-1930 publications is by Smt.Radha Sarangapani in the Shanmukha (Vol XXXIII No 3& 4, July-Sep & Oct-Dec 2007). Suffice to say that the ragas of compositions listed in the publications and the actual ragas as per the authentic sishya paramparas in practice, manuscripts of the Walajapet Sishya parampara or of Chinnasvami Mudaliar or Subbarama Dikshitar as available should be compared before drawing a conclusion as to the actual raga of those compositions.
  2. The current state of musicological research more so in the context of this raga and composition can be rated by the Ph.D thesis ‘Rare and New ragas handled by Tyagaraja- A critical Study’, submitted at the Department of Music, Kannur University available here. In Chapter 3 of this thesis on pages 117-118, this raga ‘Swarabhushani’ and the composition ‘varadaraja ninnukori’ is dealt with by the Researcher.

   At the outset, the Researcher provides the arohana/avarohana of the raga as under, on the authority of Nadamuni Panditar.

Arohana        – s g m p d n s 

Avarohana   – s n p m g m r s

Attention is invited to the lack of dhaivatha in the avarohana krama as provided. Providing the narrative of the exemplar kriti, the Researcher goes on to say  that Tyagaraja brings in the phrase ‘s n d p, m’ even at the beginning. Mark the dhaivatha that makes its appearance now. What is the researcher trying to convey? Is there a dhaivatha in the descent or not. So much for the Researcher, the Guide and the Thesis. Such is the pitiable state of our research, academia and institutions. Not that I am nit-picking selectively from this so-called thesis. One can also find innumerable such faux pas. The raga Vegavauhini dealt with in page 141-142 suffers a similar fate. A reading of the passage thereunder will convey that Muthusvami Dikshitar composed in Vegavauhini with an arohana krama of SRGMPDNDS!

  1. I am thankful to Sri Aravindh Ranganathan for providing me with his copy of the extract of the notation of this composition as seen in the Walajapet manuscripts.
  2. A perusal of the Walajapet notation taking into account the defective sahitya, perhaps makes one surmise that the kriti was perhaps not part of the core set of compositions which was learnt/notated originally by Venkataraman Bagavathar. It is most likely that somebody subsequent to Walajapet Venkataraman Bagavathar in his sisya parampara must have heard this being sung from some others and must have then notated it as a part of their digest/record of Tyagaraja compositions. Walajapet Venkataramana Bagavathar himself was proficient in Telugu and also a composer of merit. And it would be rather unfair to tag the kriti with a defective sahitya line to his repository. If he had learnt it originally from the Bard himself, he for sure would have notated it correctly to make a proper meaning of the sahitya.
  3. I am indebted to Spencer Sri R Venugopal for helping me to understand the lyrical aspect of the composition and editing the Telugu lyrics suitably to make it meaningful, particularly the missing carana line of the composition.

Obeisance to a Holy Benefactor

INTRODUCTION:

For us in the 21st century world of music the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar published in 1904 is a true and invaluable magnum opus. The SSP offers a peek into the music of yore, the music of the 18th century, capturing in its pages the very essence of it. And we are in great debt to Subbarama Dikshitar, the scion of the Dikshitar family for having bequeathed to us the tome. Apart from Subbarama Dikshitar, we have seen in past blog posts that there are a number of benefactors who have directly and indirectly assisted Subbarama Dikshitar when he compiled the SSP. The Royals of Ettayapuram who funded the publication, Cinnasvami Mudaliar the man who assiduously followed up to seek the intervention of the Raja of Ettayapuram to issue a Royal edict commanding Subbarama Dikshitar to publish all that he knew, the personages whom Subbarama Dikshitar mentions in his preface to the SSP as having been of great assistance to him, to them all we owe a great debt of gratitude as they were our benefactors in every conceivable way.

But there is one benefactor who stands out, but not mentioned formally anywhere and not connected at all directly in the entire exercise of the compilation of the SSP, which was started sometime 1899 and finished in 1904. In fact this personage had passed way close to a decade earlier in 1891 itself. He is none other than His Holiness Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati, the 65th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta who adorned the same during 1850-1891 AD.

Subbarama Dikshitar records in his two works, SSP -Vaggeyakara Caritamu and in his Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu that he is in gratitude to this 65th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati as he had provided the original manuscripts pertaining to the Caturdandi Prakashika to him at Kumbakonam. His narration both in his own biographic note as well as in the foot note to the Gamakakriya raga gitam in the Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu bears this out.

His Holiness Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati was anointed as Peetadhipati/Pontiff on November 27, 1850 (tamil/lunar month of karthigai, 14th). This week marks the 166th Anniversary of the Acharya’s ascension/peetArohana as a Pontiff of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam. In this blog post we will look at this great Acharya with emphasis from a musical standpoint and Subbarama Dikshitar’s paeans on this Acharya who was an acknowledged rasika & patron of our music.

He is/will be referred to interchangeably in this blog and also in all books and in the compositions on him as Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati or Sri Mahadeva Sarasvati or Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati Samyameendra.

BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF HIS HOLINESS MAHADEVENDRA SARASVATI:

The Acharya in his pUrvAsrama was named Mahalingam. He was born in Tiruvidaimarudur, which is very near Kumbakonam, in the year 1831 where he grew up. His father Sesha(dri) Sastrigal, a rigvEdin being his tutor, taught him all that he knew. Mahalingam’s paternal grandfather Subramanya Sastri, a Hoysala/Kannada Brahmin was the Mudradhikari – the person in charge of the treasury/finances of the Kanci Kamakoti Mutt, which was then quartered at Kumbhakonam. This family hailed from Kannada region and they were descendants of Govinda Dikshitar. See foot note 1.

acharyas-6465Mahalingam was extremely precocious and his knowledge, personality and spiritual profile drew the admiration of many. Not surprisingly the young boy’s capabilities reached the ears of the then Acharya His Holiness Chandrasekharendra Sarasvathi VI (pontificate 1813-1850). This reigning 64th Acharya was in his purvasrama named Venkatasubramanya Dikshita and was himself a direct descendant of Venkatamakhin, the third son of Govinda Dikshitar. Given his/common background and credentials, the 64th Acharya bade Mahalingam to be part of his entourage. So impressed was the Acharya that shortly thereafter the he must have decided that he should succeed him next. Subsequently the hardly 15 year old Mahalingam was ordained into sanyAsA as Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati sometime circa 1843.

Between the years 1845 and 1850, the young disciple/Junior Pontiff/successor designate, His Holiness Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati performed great service to the cause of religion and the Kamakoti Peeta much to the delight of his Guru. The Royals of those time as well as the ordinary public, the followers of the Matha and also learned scholars, musicologists and musicians were drawn to him. We do have records of the communication in the form of epistles written by Maharaja Svati Tirunal Rama Varma of Travancore (1813-1846), a musician/musicologist himself, to Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati, even while he was still a successor designate. Svati Tirunal presented an elephant to His Holiness as an offering to Lord Chandramouleesvara.

svatiletter

Maharaja Svati Tirunal’s epistle to His Holiness Mahadevendra Sarasvati sent circa 1844

It is apparent from the letter that His Holiness desired to visit the holy shrine of Lord Padmanabha and the Maharaja earnestly wishes in his communication that it will be fulfilled in the very near future. His Highness remarks in the first epistle that once the ongoing monsoon/rainy season concludes he would dispatch a young elephant as an offering to Lord Chandramouleesvara the presiding deity of the Acharyas of Kanchi. And he does that soon after as evidenced by his second epistle. See foot note 2.

It must have been a source of great joy for venerated seer, the 64th Pontiff Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati VI to see his ward/disciple playing a great role and vindicating the choice that was made to anoint him successor. The Acharyas of Kanci had been discharging the sacred duty of replacing the tATankAs of Goddess Akhilandesvari at TiruAnaikAval, replacing it once every 60 years. In the year 1848 when the incumbent Pontiff Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati VI embarked on performing the same, many an obstacle arose. His disciple perhaps rose to the occasion by meticulously planning and conducting the event. See foot note 3 & 4.

When his Guru attained samadhi on Nov 21, 1850 at Kumbakonam, His Holiness Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati became the 65th Pontiff in the hoary lineage of the SankarAcharyas of Kanci. Maharaja Sivaji of the Tanjore Kingdom held him in high reverence and performed kanakAbhisheka to this seer. Years later the Raja of Pudukottai also performed kanakabhisheka as well. The Royals of Travancore, Zamorin of Calicut, Satara, Pudukkottai and Ettayapuram were devout followers of this Acharya and they all contributed to the sustenance of the Kanci matha/monastery.

His Holiness during his lifetime performed Vijaya Yatras and visited many places in modern Tamil Nadu and also Vijayanagaram in Andhra Pradesh and Puri in Orissa. He was feted by the Maharaja of Vijayanagaram Ananda Gajapati Raju in July 1885 (Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Anubandha gives a ragamalika that he had composed on this ruler).

Accounts have it that this Acharya was a great Siva bhakta and his puja to Sri Chandramouleesvara during the Pradosha days, was a sight to behold. Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer in his chronicles has mentioned about this Acharya and his awe inspiring presence.

Apart from agamas, sastras and puranas, this Acharya was very knowledgeable in music apparently and he patronized a number of musicians with whom he enjoyed great rapport. A galaxy of musicians including some of the greatest of that era were patronized by His Holiness and were part of his sangita vidvat sadas/gathering. In the next section we will look at the key contributions of the Acharya to the cause of Music.

ilayathangudi-epitaph-found-on-the-tombstone

Epitaph at the samadhi of His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati at Ilayathangudi, Ramanathapuram Dt

During the Acharya’s southern sojourn, circa 1889 after visiting Ramesvaram he visited Ettayapuram where he was again ceremoniously welcomed by the then Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa, who was then a minor. Records have it that a tamil poet attached to the Court of Ettayapuram composed verses in His honor. Needless to add, Subbarama Dikshitar too must have been in attendance during the Acharya’s visit. This Rajah of Ettayapuram was the one who ascended the throne later in 1899 upon attaining majority and he was the one who funded the publication of the SSP.

In early 1890 when the Acharya was in Ilayaatangudi, a village about 20 kms near Karaikudi, Sivaganga District in southern Tamilnadu, he had a premonition of his approaching end. He attained beatitude on 20th March 1890 (tamil/lunar month of panguni the 8th). His mortal remains interned in the Samadhi there, is today an adhishtAnam with a sivalinga installed atop. The premises has been taken care by the Nattukkotai Nagarathar clan who had revered him and one can visit the shrine even today. See foot note 5 10, 11.

THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE 65th ACHARYA HIS HOLINESS SUDARSANA MAHADEVENDRA SARASVATI:

A study of the Acharya’s divyacarita, makes us realize a number of his contributions to the cause of music which are listed below.

PATRON OF MUSIC:

Much like a patron Royal, this great Acharya was also a great connoisseur of music. He must have been well versed in musicology as well. Never in the history of the monastic orders of Southern India in recent history has an Acharya of such eminence been sung about much and known for hosting the great musicians of his era in his vidvat sadas. Available records indicate that the musicians who flocked to him included Veena Subbukutty Ayya (vaineeka and grandson of Patchimiriyam Adiyappayya and the asthana vidvan of Pudukkottai) Tirumalairayan pattinam Ramudu Bhagavathar, Tirukkadaiyur Bharati (disciple of Muthusvami Dikshitar), Subbarama Dikshitar, Mysore Sadasiva Rao, Kavi Kunjara Bharati and others.

A number of musicians during that age apparently vied with one another in performing before the Acharya. Old timers of those days apparently recalled time and again in awe one such recital with a spellbinding rendering of a pallavi complete with neraval, svarakalpana etc by the legendary Vidvan Talaignyayar Somu Iyer ( refer the book ‘Cameos – The Memoirs of Sulamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar, pp 96-97, for a profile of this vidvan) one evening during the evening/sAyaraksha puja performed by the Acharya to Lord Chandramouleesvara. Vidvans including Padakam Gopala Iyer, Fiddle Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Svaragat Krishna Iyer, Dholak Nannumiya regularly performed for the Acharya.

It is also said that the Acharya was greatly enamoured of the compositions of Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra and he used to immerse himself in the renderings by vidvans. He also used to emphasise the importance of maintaining the fidelity of the compositions and frequently provide a commentary on the sahitya & its meaning.

SETTING THE TUNES FOR ASTAPADIS:

Acharya was instrumental in re-popularizing the singing of the Gitagovinda Ashtapadis of Jayadeva which had nearly gone extinct during those times, circa 1860. The older tunes of the Ashtapadis had been long forgotten and the practice of reciting the same particularly in the bhajana sampradaya had virtually ceased. The Acharya got Tirumalairajanpattinam Ramudu Bhagavathar to set the Ashtapadis to an appropriate raga and tala.

PROVIDING THE COPY OF THE CATUDANDI PRAKASHIKA OF VENKATAMAKHIN TO SUBBARAMA DIKSHITAR:

Subbarama Dikshitar the scion of the Dikshitar family and a votary of the Venkatamakhin tradition circa 1860’s was on the mission to acquire the original manuscripts of the Caturdandi Prakshika. From his own family he had inherited a number of musicological texts and also the exemplar compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar which practically illustrated the schemata of ragas, of what we call today as the later Kanakambari nomenclature or the so-called Asampurna mela scheme. Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps did not possess the complete framework for the scheme and he perhaps only had only portions or parts of the Caturdandi Prakashika and the document/text which today we call as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. It is likely that when Subbarama Dikshitar evaluated all the texts he had and the practical exemplars of the scheme of ragas through the compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar, he found gaps between the theory and practice. He perceived therefore that he did not have the complete theoretical basis or the complete manuscript of the Caturdandi Prakashika which he knew was the holy grail of the Venkatamakhin Sampradaya to which his ancestors as well as himself, were followers. See foot note 6.

To this end to secure the original manuscripts, circa 1864 he set about scouring the town of Kumbhakonam and Tiruvaidaimarudur /Madhyarjunam where most of the Hoysala/Kannada Brahmins had settled down, particularly those who were descendants of Govinda Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin. The 64th Acharya, Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati VI whom we saw earlier, in His purvasrama was born and he lived in a house very adjacent to the Sankara Matam premises in Kumbakonam and was a direct descendent of Venkatamakhin himself.

Subbarama Dikshitar’s objective must have been to tap the heirlooms of these families/descendants and get a copy of the elusive original text of the Caturdandi Prakasika and related manuscripts if any. His search proved futile and needless to add he must have been dejected and crestfallen. At Kumbakonam, with all earnestness and sincerity at his command he placed his wish and quest to access the manuscripts to His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati, whom he knew to be a descendant of the Govinda Dikshitar family in his purvasrama.

When Subbarama Dikshitar expressed his ask after seeking the permission of the Acharya, the Pontiff in his boundless Grace let him know that he had those manuscripts in his custody. Given both the Acharyas, the 64th and the 65th Pontiffs were from the Govinda Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin clan, we do not know for sure who had procured it and kept it in custody. Be that as it may, it must have been a moment of great joy and happiness that day at Kumbakonam circa 1865 for Subbarama Dikshitar when he was given the manuscripts by His Holiness.

The copy of the original manuscripts provided by His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati is acknowledged by Subbarama Dikshitar both in the Vaggeyakara Caritamu and his Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu. Needless to add the manuscripts provided, must have given him the complete basis/foundation when he later created the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, which is today the only lexicon of authentic 18th century music for us capturing both the theory and practice of the music of Venkatamakhin Sampradaya.

One can imagine the shining countenance of the Acharya as he summoned the attendants in his entourage to fetch the manuscripts and Subbarama Dikshitar with all humility and respect, bowed reverentially in front of the Acharya all agog and excited beyond words to receive the manuscripts. Later in the day as he retired to his quarters provided by the Acharya for his stay in the premises of the Matha, it must have been sleepless night for Subbarama Dikshitar must have been too excited and filled with joy and contentment for he had achieved what he had set about to do.

And he must have spent the sleepless night, poring over the texts atleast as a cursory glance. And the next day when Subbarama Dikshitar must have gone to the Cauvery banks for his morning bath at the adjacent Bhagavath bathing ghat (paditturai in tamil) he must have started wondering how on earth he can ever repay the debt to this great mahatma who had granted his life’s wish. What is that he, Subbaraman can give to the Pontiff of a hoary monastic order, who had given up everything in life and donned the ochre? And then it must dawned on Subbarama Dikshitar that the best way would be etch this great personage forever in the fabric of our music by creating a couple of compositions as a paean on the Acharya Shresta. And the Acharya being the greatest of connoisseurs meant that he would cherish the same without doubt.

The more Subbarama Dikshitar thought about it the more convinced he was that no greater homage can ever be possible as the Acharya’s Grace and memory will stand reinforced and sung every time the composition is rendered for ages down the line.

And Subbarama Dikshitar must have given considerable thought to the raga and the composition type. A tana varna and a conventional kriti must has easily struck him as obvious ones. And as he decided to choose the ragas, he was in no doubt perhaps. They shall be old and hoary ragas, the greatest amongst melodies-Sankarabharanam and Ramakriya. And so he must have gone about fashioning them that early afternoon in Kumbakonam. As he composed the sahitya and notated it, he must have had his disciple perhaps by his side as a scribe who would have also been made to practice the pieces countless times to meet with the final approval of Subbarama Dikshitar who in turn must have also corrected it then and there to burnish the compositions to a perfect finish. In sum two brilliant compositions formed Subbarama Dikshitar’s offering to his benefactor.

  • kriti – ‘sankarAcAryaM’ in Sankarabharanam and Adi tAlA
  • tAna varnA – ‘srI kanci kAmakOti’ in Ramakriya and ata tAlA

Shortly thereafter, once Subbarama Dikshitar had gained the confidence that the pieces would secure expert approval he must have approached the Acharya perhaps with great trepidation after the evening puja, one of the following days in the Matha premises at Kumbakonam. With humility he must have submitted to him that he would like to debut the compositions he had newly created and must have sought the Acharya’s blessings, permission and direction.

Subbarama Dikshitar says in his own biography that he presented the two compositions to his Holiness in the presence of several other musical giants of that age, including Veena Subbukutty Ayya (vaineeka and grandson of Patchimiriyam Adiyappayya) Tirumalairayanpattinam Ramudu Bhagavathar and Tirukkadaiyur Bharati (disciple of Muthusvami Dikshitar), who were in the vidvat sadas. We do not know if he played it on the veena or he sang or did both or perhaps had one of his illustrious disciples to render it, we do not know. Nevertheless it must have been a defining moment in time for Subbarama Dikshitar for the occasion was truly momentous. Here he was in the possession of the long sought after manuscripts. He had the blessings of a great savant of those times. The compositions he had created in great debt and gratitude to this great benefactor had met with the approval of not only the Holiness but also of the musical greats of that era. Subbukutty Ayya or Thirukkadaiyur Bharathy must have been no ordinary personages. They were representing the old and hoary musical lineages of the past. It must have been truly euphoric for Subbarama Dikshitar and the effort in terms of both sahitya and melody he has invested in the two songs was monumental. Let’s partake the sweetness of that moment in time for Subbarama Dikshitar by celebrating it by hearing & relishing the renderings of these two classics.

ANALYSIS OF THE KRITIS & DISCOGRAPHY:

‘sankarAcAryam’ – Sankarabharanam – Adi tala
mahadevendrasarasvati

A photograph of “srImat paramahamsa parivrAjakAcArya srImat sankara bhagavatpAda pratishTita srI kAmakOti pItAdhIsvara srImat sudarshana mahadEvEndra sarasvatI samyamIndra”

The Sankarabharanam kriti was well known and was part of the repertoire of the Veena Dhanammal family. We do have a record of the 68th Pontiff, the Paramacharya himself saying so as a part of his commentary on Muthusvami Dikshitar’s classic Kambhoji kriti ‘ Sri Subramanyaya namaste’. The web documents an instance of the Paramacharya, having given his commentary for three long hours on this kriti ‘sankarAcAryam’ which is recorded here. But sadly no details are available.

The meaning of the sahitya of the kriti is given in the footnote 7. A number of compositional features or alankaras/ornamentation which are signatures of Subbarama Dikshitar are found in this composition.

  1. The kriti is constructed like a magnificent edifice. For example the pallavi section has three subsections to be rendered as if it were a refrain with ‘sankarAcAryam’. A similar construct can be seen in the Ahiri navAvaraNa kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar which has 4 individual segments in the pallavi itself.
  2. Both the anupallavi and the caranam are invested with distinct madhyama kAla sahityas.
  3. The cittasvara section is uniquely constructed in two aspects:
    • It is set in two avartas of adi tala. Assuming that the main composition is set to vilamba kAla, the the first avarta is set to the madhyamakAla just as the preceding madhyamakAla section of the carana beginning ‘karakalita danda’ while the second avarta is set to the druta kala, twice the speed of the previous avarta.
    • The svaras forming part of the cittasvara section are arranged uniquely with the entire sequence of the first avarta, repeated in the first 4 aksharas of the second avarta at twice the speed and ending with a crowning makuta svara sequence.
  4. In the pallavi,anupallavi and caranam he uses the words ‘pankajAta, ‘sankara’ and ‘parama’, repeatedly, a form of sabdalankara or ornamentation with words. One can find a similar device used by Subbarama Dikshitar for example in ‘pArthasArathini’ in Yadukulakambhoji.
  5. The pallavi and anupallavi have a profusion of words ending with ‘ra’ while in the caranam they end with ‘lam’
  6. The kriti has many P/s, S/s which has to be sung very inimitably.

We do have renderings of very many Vidvans and Vidushis of the composition including Sangita Kalanidhis Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Smt M S Subbulakshmi. Considering the authentic rendering which can be truly expected of the Veena Dhanammal lineage, presented below is the rendering by the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda. In this excerpt from the National Program of Music for AIR, she is assisted by her daughter Smt Vegavahini Vijayaraghavan and by Kandadevi Alagiriswami on the Violin and Coimbatore Ramaswami on the mrudangam. She first prefaces the kriti with a succinct vinyasa of the raga and later at the caranam portion begining ‘parama jnAna’ in the rendering she performs neraval and svaraprastara as well.

In the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar provides a cittasvara section as well for this composition, which is not rendered at all in the concert circuit. Presented below is a rendering of the same by me presented for the purposes of understanding the construction of the same.

 ‘Sri Kanci Kamakoti’ – Ramakriya – Ata tala:

Let us first look at the construction of the varNa. See foot note 8.

  1. The varNa is found to be in the older format with a pallavi, anupallavi, muktAyi svara section with sahitya, carana, 5 ettugada svara section and an anubandha which has to be sung following the final ettugada svara section. After singing the anubandha, the anupallavi and the muktayi svara has to be sung before ending with the pallavi refrain.
  2. As is his self-imposed norm, Subbarama Dikshitar makes the fourth carana ettugada svara section as sarva laghu.
  3. Along with his other varnas in Balahamsa, Sahana, Durbar and Purnacandrika, Subbarama Dikshitar’s Ramakriya varna is the perfect example of an ideal varna replete with all the features and complete with all the melodic contours of the raga as aforesaid.
  4. The anupallavi muktAyi svara section and its lilting sahitya captures all the salient features of Ramakriya.
  5. The anubandha section features the sahitya ‘ srI cakrOdhAraka’ – an apparent reference to the Acharya being a Sri Vidya upasaka as well. We have records that on more than one occasion he had performed Sri Cakra puja. Given that Sir Subbarama Dikshitar was a Sri Vidya upasaka too, it is no surprise that the reference is made in the composition.

The text of the varNa and its meaning is provided in foot note 9.

Let us next look at the musical construct of the varna. The raga of this composition is Ramakriya or Kasiramakriya the raganga raga of the 51st mela and it sports sadja, suddha rishabha, antara gandhara, prati madhyama, pancama, suddha dhaivatha and kakali nishadha. A very old and hoary raga of great antiquity, it was once known as Suddha Ramakriya. The name Ramakriya or Ramakriti was used for a scale known as Ramkali, a raga which is different in its scalar structure and also sported both the madhyamas. However Suddha Ramakriya and Kasiramakriya are today used synonymously with Ramakriya to refer to the raganga raga of the 51st mela. Suffice to say that this raga is melodically very different from the heptatonic scale of mela 51 Kamavardhani which is also synonymously called as Pantuvarali today. Unfortunately today Ramakriya is all but forgotten and the melodic implementation of mela 51 as available today is the raga Pantuvarali, which is called so rightly or wrongly.

Ramakriya was not a linear svara implementation of the 51st mela. Its melodic svarupa can never be explained with the modern arohana/avarohana constructs, a legacy of the Sangraha Cudamani. We can understand Ramakriya by evaluating the contours/melodic svarupa that Subbarama Dikshitar presents to us in the varna. One sees the following features in the varna.

  • Ramakriya’s salient murcchanas/motifs are SGRGMP, SRGMGR, GPD, dSR,Dgrs,SNDP, PMGR, DMGR, SDS.
  • If the arohana were to lead to the pancama then the route would be SGRGMP. If the movement from the sadja were to end with the gandhara or rishabha or back to sadja itself then SRGMGR appears. In other words SRGMP is never seen.
  • Nishadha is a very weak svara, langhana/skipped if not varjya. On a similar note PDNS is never seen. PDs is prolific in its usage. Neither does one see DNsrg as well.  Nishada is significantly underplayed and it is never a graha, amsa or nyasa.
  • Also SNDP is not copious. Nishada varjya prayogas abound. dGRs leading from the madhya stayi dhaivata to tara gandhara is an oft repeated leitmotif.
  • GPD or GMD, DMGR , PGRS  making the pancama or the madhyama langhana/skipping over is the norm in the raga.

Though in the SSP, the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti ‘Uccishta ganapatou’ and the Purandara Dasa composed suladi are also given for this raga as exemplars, it is the varna of Subbarama Dikshitar which is the encyclopedia for us in understanding this old raga in its entirety.

A detailed analysis of the raga and the kriti exemplars will be dealt with in an upcoming blog post.

DISCOGRAPHY:

The varna to the best of knowledge is not part of the modern day repertoire. Very strangely it has never been known to be rendered at all, despite its beautiful structure. This observation would go for almost all of Subbarama Dikshitar’s varnas and sadly the loss is certainly ours. Given the lack of a recording, I have endeavored to learn and sing the same to the best of abilities, interpreting the notation found in the SSP.

 OTHER COMPOSITIONS:

We do have compositions of Mysore Sadasiva Rao and couple of other anonymous compositions. Records from the early 20th century reveal that there has been a number of compositions on this savant. Here is the listing.

Sl No Kriti Raga & tala Composer Remarks
1 Sri Sanmukha Janaka Sankarabharanam – catusra Dhruva tala Mysore Sadasiva Rao The kriti is on Lord Chandramouleesvara the icon which is the puja vigraha of of the Kanci Acharyas. The said kriti has a line eulogizing the AchAryA- “pAsandamata kandana sanmatastApana sriman mahAdEvEndra sarasvatI sri bhagavat pAdAcArya pUjita pAda nandanadanahita namAmi lOkakAnta parama shAnta”
2 nAmAmi sriman mahadEvEndra sarasvati Chandrachooda Raga   Misra jhampa tala Mysore Sadasiva Rao See note below in discography section
3 Guruvaram AsrayE Mohanam, capu Anonymous Notation is unavailable
4 sankaracarya SadguruvArya Sriragam, misra capu Anonymous Notation is unavailable
6 GurucaranAravindamE (telugu) Kambhoji Anonymous Notation is unavailable
7 lOka guruvE sankara nAma taruvE( tamil) NA Mazhavai Cidambara Bharati Notation is unavailable

DISCOGRAPHY:

Mysore Sadasiva Rao (circa 1804-1880) a disciple of Walahahpet Venkataraman Bhagavathar in the sishya parampara of Tyagaraja, seems to have been closely associated with Acharya Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati. None of his available biographies talk about this association with the Acharya. We are left to deduce the same only from the compositions themselves. It is likely that Sadasiva Rao a senior contemporary of the Acharya made frequent visits to Kumbakonam to have his darshan. The visits must be been musical interactions of the highest order. And it is no surprise that Sadasiva Rao has composed one kriti exclusively as his obeisance. He has utilized a new raga melodically akin to Kamalamanohari under mela 15. Chandrachooda raga is the name that Vidvan Chennakesavayya assigns during his presentation of this composition for the first time in Music Academy in the year 1957. Incidentally this composition does not find place in the publication of Mysore Sadasiva Rao Kritis by Sangeeta Kalabhivardhini Sabha, Mysore in 1954. Vidvan Chennakesavayya indicates in his demonstration that these compositions were discovered after much effort – vide JMA XXX1 pages 161-164.

sadasivarao-kriti

Notation of Mysuru Sadasiva Rao kriti in Chandrachooda raga as published in JMA

Chandrachooda raga is a melody, a janya under mela 15 malava gaula with an operative arohana/avarohana as under, resembling Kamalamanohari, very much.

Arohana : S M1 G3 M1 P D1 N3 S

Avarohana: S N3 D1 P M G3 S

Much like the Ramakriya varna of Subbarama Dikshitar, this kriti too has remained unsung and unseen from the point of view of modern Carnatic repertoire. Again given its novelty value, I have ventured to interpret the notation of the song provided by Vidvan Chennakesavayya, the rendering of which is presented next.

The raga as implemented by Sadasiva Rao spans from mandhara nishadha to tAra madhyama. To keep it distinct from Kamalamanohari he has emphasised both the SMGM as well as PDNS in the kriti. Though the kriti is in jhampa I have rendered it in khanda eka, without in anyway impacting the rhythmic gait of the  composition. The notation of the composition in Tamil as published in JMA is given above.

In the Bangalore Univ publication “Kannada Javaligalu”, wherein many javalis are given with lyrics alone, a few are found notated. Therein there is a javali listed as being in Kamalamanohari, but  an occasional PDNS and SNDP is seen notated ( information courtesy Sri Keerthi)  

See foot note 12 for the text and meaning of the kriti. Also see foot note 13.

Apart from this composition, we find that the Acharya is mentioned in the Sankarabharanam kriti ‘Sri Sanmukha Janaka’. Sadasiva Rao’s Sankarabharanam kriti has been released as a part of the music disc ‘Sankara Stuti’ by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Subbulakshmi. Provided is a brief excerpt of the composition, the rendering of the anupallavi portion which refers to His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati- vide table above.

Provided next is a rendering of the full composition – courtesy Sangeethapriya.

CONCLUSION:

The objective of these blog posts including the current one on His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati is to understand our music and its artefacts in a historical context and to bolster our understanding and our appreciation of the music with other facets as well. Apart from the musical aspect it’s indeed an opportunity to know and understand the contributions of some of these great personalities to the cause of our music.

One wishes that the Ramakriya varna and the other nearly extinct compositions are learnt and rendered more by vidvans and vidusis. It has to mentioned here that more than 115 year later we still continue to uncover golden nuggets like these compositions buried in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini and as often reiterated in this blog, we will continue to be in eternal debt to the great karmayogi, the great Subbarama Dikshitar.

REFERENCES:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
  2. Pudukkottai Malladi Dakshinamurti Sastri(1954)- Sankaracarya Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati – A Biography (Tamil)– Published by Sri R Svaminatha Iyer, Sri Kailasanatha Svami Nityakalyani Amman Devasthanam, Ilyathangudi, Ramanathapuram District.
  3. Vidvan V Mahadevan(1988) – Jagadguru Sri Sankaracarya Svamigal Thirumarabu Arul Varalaru (Tamil) published by Sri Kamakoti Aivu Mayyam, Kumbakonam(Tamil)
  4. Vyasa Vidvat Sadas Souvenir (1963)- An account of the proceedings of the Sadas (convened by the 68th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam at Ilayathangudi in the year 1962)and a collection of valuable articles contributed and the speeches made by eminent men in the fields of agama, silpa, temple-building, bharata-pravachana, temple-arts, etc published by the Sri Kamakoti Kosasthanam( English/Tamil)
  5. Dr R Satyanarayana(2008) – Karnataka Music as a Aesthetic form- Published by PHISPC

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

I am in deeply indebted to Vidvan Sri Ganesa Sarma, Scholar and well versed in the genealogy and life histories of the Acharyas of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam, for providing me with inputs in collating the biography of His Holiness.

FOOT NOTE 1:

Accounts have it that since Kanci was northernmost from a geographical perspective, it was open to invaders especially from the Muslim Kingdoms of Deccan and from North. King Pratapasimha the powerful King of Tanjore whose regnal years were 1749-1765, requested the then Kanci Acharya, the 62nd in the lineage, His Holiness Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati V, to move his quarters to Tanjore. The Acharya acceded to his request sometime circa 1750 perhaps and later he moved the quarters to Kumbakonam.

FOOT NOTE 2:

The epistle from the Maharaja of Travancore is subject to a controversy of authorship.  The version that I have provided to the effect that they were written sometime circa 1845 by Svati Tirunal to His Holiness Mahadevendra Sarasvati the 65th Acharya is based on the narration provided by “Select Epistles of the sovereigns of Travancore addressed to the Acharyas of the Kamakoti Peetha”, edited by  K. G. Natesa Sastri and published by G S Sarma Eliyurkar, Kalyanasrama, Mylapore, Madras, in 1928. The same is the authority cited by  the biographers of Svati Tirunal as well. However a contrary view is expressed  by Sri N Ramesan in his article ‘Sri Kamakoti Peeta of Sankaracarya’ found in the book ‘Preceptors of Advaita’ published by Sri Kanci Kamakoti Sankara Mandir , Secunderabad (1968) pages 439-440, which was published to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of the Ascension of the 68th Acharya to the Kamakoti Peeta. In his account Sri Ramesan advances the view that the said epistles were written much earlier by Svati’s predecessor King Bala Rama Varma I or Avittam Tirunal ( regnal years 1798-1810) as he was known to then Kanci Acharya who was His Holiness Mahadevendra Sarasvati (1783-1814) who was the 63rd Acharya.

The Kings of Travancore sharing the same name as well as the titular names of the Acharyas of the Kamakoti Peetam too getting repeated is a probable cause of confusion. It would not be appropriate to ascertain the fact using secondary evidences such as those found narrated in books. Only a first hand analysis of the actual epistles together with other collateral evidences by professional historians/paleographers could possibly help us in finding out the truth.

 FOOT NOTE 3:

Legend has it that the Devi enshrined at Tiruvanaikaval/Jambukesvaram at Trichy was an embodiment of fury/ugra  so much so that Adi Sankara himself in order to mitigate the effulgence of the deity and make her benign, invested the tATankAs or ear rings to Goddess Akhilandesvari with Sricakra encrusted on it. He also proceeded to install the figurine of Lord Mahaganapathy right in front of the sanctum sanctorum in the Temple at Trichy to subdue her anger/radiance and bring about the benign, merciful Grace of the Devi to the devotees visiting the temple. Muthusvami Dikshitar in his kriti ‘Sri Matah SivavAmAnke’ in raga Begada alludes to this as ‘sri cakra rupa tATankE’. More can be read here:

http://www.kamakoti.org/peeth/origin.html

http://www.sutrajournal.com/akhilandeshwari-the-power-of-brokenness-by-laura-amazzone

 FOOT NOTE 4:

The Mahasvamigal of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam, the 68th Acharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati has reportedly narrated a version of the event as told to him by his grandmother ( from his pUrvAsramA) surrounding the litigation about the right to perform the tATanka pratishta to Goddess Akhilandesvari and some subsequent events including the role the Rajah of Tanjore Sivaji, in the matter. http://www.kamakoti.org/souv/4-12.html

From this narrative it emerges that there was one Hoysala brahmin a descendant from the family of Govinda Dikshitar who had settled down in Tiruvidaimarudur by name Subramanya Sastri. He was held in high esteem in the Court of Raja Amarasimha of Tiruvidaimarudur/Madhyarjunam. From Tiruvidaimarudur he used to go over to the Kanci Kamakoti Mutt at Kumbakonam where he was employed as a mudrAdhikari. He had two sons Sesha Sastrigal the elder one and Ganapati Sastri the younger one. Sesha Satrigal’s son was Mahalingam who went on to become His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati, the 65th Acharya. The younger son Ganapati Sastri was the paternal grandfather (in pUrvAsrama) of the Mahasvamigal, the 68th Acharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati.

The same narrative is given as a biography of the Mahasvamigal Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati here:

https://mahaperiyavaa.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/sri-mahaswamy-charitram-1.pdf

This narrative is ascribed to the Paramacharya himself with his source of information being his own paternal grandmother Kamakshi Ammal, wife of Ganapati Sastri.

FOOT NOTE 5:

vyasavidvatsabha-1962People who interacted very closely with the Paramacharya, the 68th Pontiff, would recall his performing the Vyasa Puja at Ilayathangudi in the year 1962. On the occasion of the same, during the almost year-long celebrations, the Acharya conducted seminars and exhibitions. The same was published as a souvenir which offers a wealth of information.

The town/village of Ilayathangudi is a Siva stala, having a temple dedicated the Lord Kailasanatha and his consort Goddess Nityakalyani, apart from the Adhistanam of the 65th Acharya which is in a separate premises. Many of the devout and the followers of the Kanci Kamakoti Acharya, who participated in the said Vyasa Puja festivities, named their daughters or grand-daughters born that year as Nityakalyani, considering its newness and novelty! Close associates to the Paramacharya would recall that he would request the Matha employees to arrange for jackfruit to be included as a part of the offerings on the 65th Acharya’s Annual Jayanthi day, mentioning nostalgically that the 65th Acharya Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati used to like Jackfruit.

FOOTNOTE 6:

It needs to be pointed out that most of the time in the past, Acharyas of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta were chosen only from a Brahmin sub-sect, particularly those hailing from Kannada country or Hoysala brahmins. Govinda Dikshitar was one such, whose ancestors were residents of the ancient city of Vijayanagar (modern day Hampi) and after the demise of the Vijayanagar empire circa 1550 they sought Royal patronage by migrating to Tanjore which became the hot bed of learning and music. Tanjore was under the Rule of the powerful Nayaks who were then feudatory to the powerful Vijayanagar Kings. With the demise of the suzerain power of the Vijayanagar Empire, these vassals including those of Tanjore, Madurai etc they began to assert themselves as independent Kings. Circa 1580 Govinda Dikshitar became the Chief Minister of the Nayak King Raghunatha who was one of the most powerful Tanjore Rulers of the Nayak dynasty. He composed the Sangita Sudha. His son Venkatamakhin adorned the Court of his son Vijayaraghava and composed the Catudandi Prakashika circa 1636. The demise of the Nayak rule in Tanjore circa 1670, coincided with the installation of Ekoji of the Mahratta Royal House of Bhonsales as the Ruler of Tanjore. His successor Sahaji (1680-1712) composed Ragalakshanamu and he is seen as the patron of Venkamakhin’s grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin as recorded by Subbarama Dikshitar. The records of the period of 1700-1750 provides us with reference to two personages as descendants of Venkatamakhin as having lived then namely Muddu Venkamakhin, the paternal grandson and Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshita a maternal grand/great rand son who was the preceptor of Ramasvami Dikshitar. As we saw earlier, the 64th Acharya Chandrasekarendra Saravati VI in his purvasrama was called as Venkatasubramanya DIkshita and is recorded as a direct descendant of Venkatamakhin himself. The 65th Acharya Mahadevendra Sarasvati and the later 68th Acharya Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati are in their purvasrama, descendants from an other line from Govinda Dikshitar . The connection between the Govinda Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin family and the lineage of the Kanci Kamakoti Acharyas is unmistakable.

FOOT NOTE 7:

Pallavi:

sankarAcAryaM SrImacchhankarAcAryaM bhaktamanovasankarAcAryaM smarAmyaham Sri (sankarAcAryaM)

शङ्कराचार्यं श्रीमच्छङ्कराचार्यं भक्तमनोवशंकराचार्यं स्मराम्यहम्

I remember the revered Sankaracharya who captivates the mind of devotees.

pankajAta-bhava-vedyam hRdyam pankajAta-bhavarOga-vaidyam Aadyam (sankarAcAryaM)
पङ्कजातभववेद्यं ह्रदयं पङ्कजातभवरोगवैद्यम् आद्यम् (शङ्कराचार्यं)

(I remember Him) who has realized (the likes of ) Brahma – the lotus-born, who looks inward / is pleasant,
who cures the diseases of the world –  made of dust.

sadguNasAndraM  srImahAdEvasarasvatIsamyamIndra-candram (sankarAcAryaM)

सद्गुणसान्द्रं श्रीमहादेवसरस्वतीसम्यमीन्द्रचन्द्रम्

(I remember Him)  who is full of virtues, (who bears the name) MahadevaSarasvati, The one shining like a moon amidst the kings of ascetics (who have controlled their senses).

Anupallavi

sankarabhagavaccaranAparavaryaM sankarakRpayAvardhitavIryaM
sankarAgasita-yasho-dhuryam ani-  saM karAbjamavArya-tapashshauryam

शङ्करभगवच्छरणापरवर्यं शङ्करकृपयावर्धितवीर्यं
शङ्करागसित-यशो-धुर्यम् अनिशं कराब्जमवार्य-तपश्शौर्यम्

(I remember Him) who is extremely revered as dedicated to the sacred feet of Sankara(charya) and whose prowess grows due to the grace of Sankara. Whose lotus hands are known for forever warding off doubts and desires.
Who possess unparalleled penance and valor.

Charanam

paramajnAna-latAlavAlaM bhavyatarasUmanOjAlaM
paramatakhaNDana-chaNDimashIlaM paramAdvaita-sthApanalIlam

परमज्ञान-लतालवालं भव्यतरसूमनोजालं
परमतखण्डन-चन्डिमशीलं परमाद्वैत-स्थापनलीलम्

(I remember Him) Who is the sustaining base that irrigates the creeper of supreme knowledge,
Who captivates the minds that are good and extremely humble,
who is unsurpassable in refuting the other paths,
who as if by mere sport, established the great Advaita philosophy.

karakalita-daNDa-kamaNDalaM kAshAyadharaM vinata-munimaNDalaM
varamativijitahara-kuNDalaM shubhavaradaM natadharAkhaNDalam (shrI)

करकलित-दण्ड-कमण्डलं काशायधरं विनत-मुनिमण्डलं
वरमतिविजितहर-कुण्डलं शुभवरदं नतधराखण्डलम् श्री

Whose hands bear the staff and a kamaNDala, Who wears the ochre robes, One who is worshipped by sages
Whose wisdom outshines Siva’s earrings (Sesha), Who bestows auspicious boons, Who is worshipped as Siva
(the bearer of the regions)

FOOT NOTE 8:

Subbarama Dikshitar apart from kritis has created a good number of varnas in ragas like Khamas, Surati, Sahana, Durbar, Purnacandrika, Yadukulakambhoji,Atana and Balahamsa apart from Ramakriya. We get to hear very few of these on the concert stage. That apart from a musicological perspective, his varnas are a compendium of the respective raga’s lakshana and sadly that factor has never been appreciated in any quarters. As the late music critic Sri K V Ramachandran lamented in 1950, in his lecture titled ‘ Carnatic ragas from a new angle- Sankarabharana’ (vide JMA XXI pages 88-89) –  Subbarama Dikshitar was respected but not followed while Taccur Singaracariar was not respected but was followed.

FOOT NOTE 9:

Pallavi:

shrI-kanci-kAmakOtI-pIThAbhishikta shrI-sankarAcArya-vArya nannu brovumu

O revered Sankaracharya anointed as the head of the KanchikamakotipITa – Protect me!

Anupallavi:

shrIkaNTharupa lOkAnugrahakAra shrImahAdEvEndrasarasvatIyatIndra anantakalyAnaguNagaNA

SrimahAdevendrasarasvati -the king of ascetics, The form of Siva Himself, and the one graces the world, the one whose is the repository of all the auspicious virtues

muktayi svara sahitya

sAdhujanavinuta natamahipAlala mAnitagunA sAntarasarUpa yOgasastramArganubhava

bhavajaladhidharana subhamulOsagumu deva sArasanayana sankarAvatAra nIdu sumahita

padamulanu santatambu chinta jEsedanu

caranam

srIkAmaksI-katAksapAtra

anubandha

srIcakrodhArakA

Who is worshipped by sage and kings, Whose qualities are admired, who is of serene countenance, who is a torchbearer in the path of yogasastra. Who is a support in this ocean of samsara – Bestow auspiciousness on me, O Lord, I Lotus-eyed one, The incarnation of Sankara, your petal-like benevolent feet, I forever meditate. One who is blessed with the grace of Kamakshi, the one who worships the Sri chakra.

FOOT NOTE 10 :

The full titular appellation of this Acharya can be given as under:

‘srImat-paramahamsa-parivrAjakAcArya srImat-sankarabhagavatpAdapratishTita srIkAmakOtipItAdhIsvara srImat sudarshanamahadEvEndrasarasvatI samyamIndra’

FOOT NOTE 11 :

The records of the Kanchi Mutt indicate that the seat moved from Kanci to Tanjore and on to Kumbakonam circa 1745. Between 1750 and 1850 Kumbakonam  became the seat of the monastery. During the fag end of the Pontiffship of the 64th Acharya His Holiness Sri Chandrasekarandra Saravati VI, moves were initiated to move back the Matham/monastery back to its old seat, that of Kanci. By 1850, most of India was already under British Rule and all principalities had more or less been subsumed or played a very nominal political role. The political and military issues faced earlier due to Muslim rulers of Deccan, Mysore and Wallajah which had necessitated the move to be under a protective Hindu ruler at Tanjore had by now completely dissipated. Thus on 22 Jan 1840 the 64th Acharya arranged for the Kumbabishekam of the Kanci Kamakshi Amman temple. In fact this 64th Acharya is the last of the Pontiffs to be interned in the Matham premises at Kumbakonam. The 65th Acharya attaned samadhi while travelling in Southern Tamilnadu in Ilayathankudi. His successors the 66th and 67th Acharyas were interned at Kalavai a village near Kancipuram. By 1891 soon after the attainment of beatitude by the 65th Acharya, the Matham had for all practical purposes moved back to Kancipuram. And thus after a gap of nearly 150 years, circa 1900 it once again became the permanent abode, to the lineage of the Acharyas of Kanci.

FOOT NOTE 12 :
Pallavi

namAmi srimanmahAdevendrasarasvatIM srI bhagavatpAdAcArya guro

नमामि श्रीमन्महादेवेन्द्रसरस्वतीं श्रीभगवत्पादाचार्य गुरो

I prostrate the revered mahAdevendrasarasvati. O preceptor in the line of Sankarabhagavatpada.

Anupallavi

ramApativinuta srIcandramoulIsvara-pAdAbja-makaranda-pAna-dhurINa
kamalAsana-mukha-jAta-sakalvEda-vEdAntatattvapArINa-dhurINa-caNa

रमापतिविनुत-श्रीचन्द्रमौलीस्वर-पादाब्ज-मकरन्द-पान-धुरीण

कमलासन-मुख-जात-सकलवेद-वेदान्ततत्त्वपारीण-धुरीणचण

Foremost in drinking the nectar of the feet of Candramaulisvara – worshipped by Vishnu – the Lord of Rama.
Foremost in realizing the essence of vedas  – born of Brahma’s mouth and vedanta .

carana

sakala-sishyajana-hRt-tApa-hara subhakara sadAsivavinuta sujnAnAlamkAra
sakala-hrudaya-panditOttama-samudAya-mahA-tapah-kAya bhava-jaya mAmpAlaya

सकल-शिष्यजन-हृत्तापहर शुभकर सदाशिवविनुत सुज्ञानालङ्कार
सकल-हृदय-पण्डितोत्तम-समुदाय महा-तपः-काय भवजय मां पालय

Remover of the afflictions of every disciple’s heart, Worshipped by Sadasiva (the composer) and decorated with the ornament of knowledge;
Surrounded by the learned assembly of scholars, Personage sanctified by penance.
One who is victorious over samsara. Protect me!

cittasvara sahitya

gurucaraNa-sarOruha-madhu-pAna kritisurasana sphaTika-maNimayahAra-gala mrudulacarana

गुरुचरण-सरोरुह-मधुपान कृतिसुरसन स्फटिक-मणिमयहार-गल मृदुलचरण

One who relishes the drinking of honey from the lotus feet of the guru
One who wears a sphaTika garland and one whose feet are soft.

FOOT NOTE 13:

Mysuru Sadasiva Rao seems to have created compositions similarly on another seer. There are two compositions of his, worth recording here:

  1. ‘krupAlaya srI gurumadvarAya’ in Todi and adi tala
  2. ‘namAmi satyavijaya svAmi gurO’ in Dhanyasi and adi tala

sadasivaraomysuruThe examination of these two kritis reveal that they are composed on Sri Satya Vijaya Teertha, a Madhva monk of the Uttaradhi Mutt who lived during the first half of the 18th century and who lived in a village in Tiruvannamalai District, near Aarani, presently called Satyavijayanagaram. The Ruler/Raja/Jaghirdar of Aarani one Venkatanatha Rao Sahib patronized the seer. During the 19th century the monastery was led by Swami Satyaveera Teertha who was patronized by the then Raja of Arani Srinivasa Rao Saheb and later his son Tirumala Rao Sahib. The name of the patron of this Acharya is found embedded in the composition. The details of this seer and also that of place are available here.

http://srisatyavijaya.org/index.php

According to the biography published by Vidvan Chennakesavayya in the compilation of the Composer’s kritis as aforesaid, Sadasiva Rao’s wife Sundara Bayee was the aunt of the aforesaid Tirumala Rao Saheb.

On an entirely unrelated note, Subbarama Dikshitar’s profile of musicians who lived during his times also included Sadasiva Rao. Amongst so many others it appears that Subbarama Dikshitar has singled out this composer from the sprawling sisya parampara of Tyagaraja, and documented him perhaps driven by the common bond they shared, the devotion to Acharya Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati. They could have perhaps met in Kumbakonam during the sojourns they would have undertaken to pay their obeisance to the Acharya Sreshta.

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 are fully acknowledged and recognized.

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Update History:
  1. The rendering of the Sadasiva Rao kriti ‘ namAmi sriman’ in Chandrachooda raga has been added along with the commentary and the picture of the notation. 10 Dec 2016
  2. The narration as to the authorship of the epistle of the Maharaja of Travancore has been added as foot note 2. 10-Dec-2016
  3. The raga being found notated in the Kannada Javali publication, courtesy information provided by Sri Keerthi.

Natanarayani – A melody lost in the forest of time

Introduction

Very many ragas which predate the formal classification schemes, that of Venkatamakhin, Muddu Venkatamakhin, Sahaji, Tulaja & Govindacharya have been sacrificed or mutilated in the process of retro-fitting them to the schemes in question. These so called purva prasiddha ragas defy the formal grammar of today- which demand a lineal ascent and descent & also need a formal parent in the so called raganga or melakartha scheme. Ancient music was guided only by two melodic principles- that of harmonics and aesthetics. Individual svaras were never the building block of ragas. Only murccanas or svara aggregations were the building blocks of ragas and they determined the melodic contour of a raga. Within a murccana or a motif, svaras assumed melodic relationship to one another and created a stable melodic unit. Bends, turns, twists and jumps were the rule. There were no foreign notes or need for a raga to be a parent or be a child raga under a parent to justify melodic existence. Ragas were even given a persona, color, sex, time of the day, season etc for rendering so that the aural effect they create could be part of the overall artistic or aesthetic experience.

Today much of the ragas exist for the sake of grammar & on the basis of individual svaras rather than murrcanas/motifs. Older ragas have been force fitted to the new models/schemes and in that process few have survived , quite many have become practically extinct (Samantha, Velavali & Desakshi) and quite some have been mutilated. Music today is subservient to grammar rather than to aesthetics or harmonics. Ragas derived today, evolve as mere scalar structures and do not have a melodic existence beyond the single kriti that hosts them. As a silver lining, few of the ancient ragas which survived this onslaught, were given life to by Muthusvami Dikshitar. Those compositions and the related documentation of the same by Subbarama Dikshitar in his priceless and invaluable work the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP, hereafter) offers us a peek into those times when melody and aesthetics ruled supreme.

One such raga which has survived and reached us today is Natanarayani, which is the subject matter of this blog post. His solitaire in this raga serves as the only beacon light for us in understanding this melody.

Read on!

A Brief History – textual

Natanarayani or Natanarayana/Nattanarayana, as it has been referred to in older musical texts, always took the notes which today form part of Mela # 28 (Kedaragaula/Harikambhoji) or Mela 29(Sankarabharanam). It has been documented by both Northern as well as Southern musicological texts. The earliest text which refers to Natanaraya(ni)/(na) is Narada’s ‘Sangita Makaranda’. Many compositions of Talapakka Annamacharya seem to have been set in Natanarayani, according to copper plates. It is seen documented in works such as Sadraga Chandrodaya, Rasa Kaumudi etc well into the 16th CE.- see Footnote 2.

And then the raga seem to have gone extinct/out of vogue during the times of Govinda Dikshitar (1614 AD) & Venkatamakhi (circa 1620 AD), for it is not recorded in their treatises namely Sangita Sudha & Caturdandi Prakashika. There is also no other raga which closely resembles it in terms of melody, except for the raga Sama which can be considered as an allied melody from a scalar perspective.

Natanarayani makes an appearance again in the treatises of the Mahratta Kings Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu (end of 17th CE & early 18th CE) and King Tulaja I’s Saramruta (circa 1730). From the textual evidence the raga thus seems to have gained currency but in a truncated form. While prior to 1700’s it was sampurna with kakali nishada, in its post 1700’s form it dropped the nishada totally & moved fully under the then Kambhoji mela (which is akin to the modern day raganga/mela # 28). In line with this Muddu Venkatamakhin too documented this raga under Kedaragaula as an upanga, in his Raga Lakshanam compendium (first quarter of the 18th century) available to us as Anubandha to the original Caturdandi Prakashika.  See Foot note 1 & 7

Subbarama Dikshitar faithfully follows the footsteps of Muddu Venkatamakhin & documents the raga under raganga # 28 in his SSP with a set of illustrative compositions.

Melodic structure of Natanarayani

Before we embark on assessing the contours of this raga, a couple of caveats are in order:

  1. There is a divergence between the musicological texts/treatises & the compositions. In other words the raga form as per theory & the structure one seen is practice or the implementation in the exemplar compositions, are different. See foot note 4.
  2. The scalar structure which is the modern assessment of a raga’s body through the lens of the melakartha scheme doesn’t fully help us appreciate the melodic worth of this purva prasiddha raga.

The structure of this raga post 1700 as illustrated by Sahaji, Tulaja and Muddu Venkatamakhin in their works is what is relevant for us today, because the exemplar compositions, available to us today, pertain to that Natanarayani only.

Sahaji & Tulaja’s Textual Evidence

Sahaji and Tulaja’s version of this raga are virtually one and the same. The salient features of Natanarayani according to them,are:

  1. The raga is grouped under Kambhoji and is shadava as nishada is varja
  2. It is a ghana raga
  3. Gandhara never occurs in the aroha
  4. Melodic phrases are Ppmgr, mgrgrr/pddrrsr/mmpdssdsS/pdssrr/mgr/grr/mmppddss/ dsdd pm /pmmgrgrr

We need to partake the definition as above in the context of what the terms meant during Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s times. The term ‘ghana’ has not been defined and we do not know what it meant (see foot note 5). And Sahaji makes no mention of the Caturdandi Prakashika of Venkatamakhin as well.  However from the the foregoing the arohana murccana karma seems to be SRGSRMPDS. Since gandhara is varja in arohana, RGM and GMG phrases are forbidden by implication. However we do have RGRR occurring in the outlined melodic phrases.

Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga definition

As we move over to Muddu Venkatamakhin’s assessment of this raga, we are faced with a confusing situation- we have two versions of Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana shloka – one in Raga Lakshanam (Appendix to the Caturdandi Prakashika as published by the Music Academy) and one published by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. The key difference to be reconciled being, if the gandhara in the ascent is varjita(devoid) or vakrita(deviant). Thus according to Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar as in the shloka below, gandhara is said to be vakritah.

natanArayanI ragastvArOhE tu gavakritAh |

nivarjyashAdavastu syAt gIyatE satatam budhaih ||

Subbarama Dikshitar interprets Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana shloka and provides his commentary of the raga as under:

  1. Natanarayani’s arohana/avarohana murccanas/movements are SRGSRMPDS/SDPMGRS under Harikedaragaula mela #28. Also point to note is that the lakshana shloka does not talk of a vakra dhaivata in the arohana and it is Subbarama Dikshitar’s interpretation probably on the basis of what was practiced. See footnote 5.
  2. It is shadava (having 6 notes in whole- considering both arohana and avarohana); Nishada is varja or totally absent in the scale.
  3. Sadja is the graha svara
  4. Gandhara is vakra in the arohana
  5. Jumps in the raga’s movements such as: RdSR\pdSR- Madhya rishabha to mandhara dhaivata and pancama ; S\pdpmgr and SSmpdpmgr – tara sadja to Madhya pancama or madhyama- make the raga beautiful.
  6. ‘giyate satatam budhaih’ seems to indicate that despite the proposed scalar structure, rendering is not for novices, seemingly to indicate the amount of experience & expertise one has to have to render the raga.

Exemplar Compositions & the musical contour of the raga therein

The SSP & its Anubandha are the sole repository of this raga’s compositions & it lists about 5 of them which are in different genres:

  • ‘nandanamdana’- Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana gitam – eka tAla
  • ‘mahA ganapatE pAlayasUmAm’ – kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar – Adi tAla
  • ‘sarasAgre sarasa’ – a daru of Subbarama Dikshitar – tisra eka tAla( see footnote 2)
  • Sancari of Subbarama Dikshitar – matya tAla
  • Portion of the rAga tAla mAlikA “nAtakAdi vidyAlaya” of Ramasvami Dikshitar-(section # 30) commencing “ nagu natanarAyani yanu nAmamu” set to raga Natanarayani & caturmukhi tAla
  • Portion of the ragamalika of Ramasvami Dikshitar – ‘sivamOhana sakti’ where the raga is found in the 5th caranam in the company of Brindavana Saranga, Ritigaula, Purnacandrika, Devakriya, Megharanji, Hamvira and Bhupalam and set in adi tala. The composition is on Goddess Meenakshi at Madurai.

Leaving aside Muddu Venkatamakhin’s gitam, we see that all the other compositions broadly conform to the melodic contours outlined by the shloka definition of Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar but with some additional features.

  1. Almost apparently as a rule none of the compositions have PDS or SDP usage in the Madhya sthayi, though not forbidden by the definition. See foot note 4.
  2. There is no sancara beyond tara sadja at all, which again is not forbidden by the lakshana shloka.
  3. Though Subbarama Dikshitar gives the arohana murccana as SRGSRMP- we see no evidence of SRGS at all. The GS prayoga is seen in the daru though but with rishabha marked as an anusvara GrS. It would have been clarifying had he given it as SRGRS instead.
  4. We also see RGMG and RGRG prayogas which would be forbidden if we were to go by the Subbarama Dikshitar murccana definition. Even Subbarama Dikshitar’s own sancari and daru have those prayogas.
  5. Rishabha svara seems to be a jiva and nyasa (ending note) as it occurs in profusion, while madhyama seems to be the preferred take off note. Janta svaras have been used in profusion in all the compositions.
  6. The Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti, the daru as well as the rAgatAla mAlikA have been invested with the cittasvara/muktayi svara section which clearly encapsulates the melodic identity of Natanarayani in a nutshell.
  7. The raga & the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti seem much amenable to a madhyamakala exposition. Was it on this strength that Shahaji categorize this as a ghana raga?
  8. The raga spans effectively only between mandhara pancama to the madhya daivatha with occasional touches of tara sadja, thus resembling more a dhaivatantya raga which can be comfortably rendered in madhyama sruti. We will address this question in a while.
  9. Given the usage of gandhara in phrases such RGMG and RGR, the shloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar seems to be the original one.

Discography

In the public domain we only have recordings of the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti in Natanarayani which is ‘mahA ganapatE pAlayAsumAm’. This composition is a generic kriti on Mahaganapathi and does not have any reference to a particular kshetra. The raga mudra is given very clearly in the lyric as ‘natanArAyani nandana’ & the kriti also bears the standard Dikshitar colophon. We have commercial recordings of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman & his disciple Vidvan Vijay Siva, rendering this composition along with the cittasvaras as per SSP.

Interestingly this composition used to be frequently rendered by Chittoor Subramanya Pillai a rendering of which is already in the public domain. The version can probably be traced back to Kancipuram Naina Pillai and perhaps on to Ettayapuram Ramachandra Bagavathar who was one of Subbarama Dikshitar’s prime disciples. These artistes have not sung the cittasvara portion of the kriti.

As an example of rendering from this school, featured here first is a rendering by a protégé of this school, Vidvan Sri. Tadeppalligudem Lokanadha Sarma from this AIR concert ( courtesy Sangeethapriya)

tadepalli-inconcert

Vidvan Lokanadha Sarma in Concert at Musiri Chambers in 2016 where he commenced his recital with ‘mahAganapatE pAlayAsumam’

Attention is specifically invited to the svara kalpana on the opening pallavi line. One can notice that the MGS phrase along with PDSDP (“…mAyAmaya…” in the Pallavi) though not found in the composition, but in conformance with the SSP text book definition, are rendered in profusion. The first kAla svaras are almost Sama like.

Presented next is a rendering by the venerable Prof S R Janakiraman who concludes his rendering with his pungently humorous remark on the raga’s melodic association with Sama.

Presented next is the rendering of Vidvan T M Krishna from a concert recording in the public domain. He sticks to the SSP. One can see the ‘middukku’ or tautness with which he renders the composition and also the kalpana svaras on the pallavi line. He pointedly does not use a mrudhu madhyama which could potentially reflect Sama.

The composition begins on a svarakshara with Ma(‘ma’) and then the the sahitya syllable’hA’ is at Gandhara which as one can see is strong and pronounced/prolonged, not the weak gandhara of Sankarabharanam. It is a strong gandhara native to (Hari)Kedaragaula, very pronounced and part of the MGGR which appears in this composition as a leitmotif. Along with the madhyama, this gandhara operates to distinguish Natanarayani with Sama, as we will see later. The midukku/tautness as alluded earlier, the intonation of the gandhara and its dense and janta usage in Sri T M Krishna’s svarakalpana provide us illustration of the so called ‘ghana’ feature as a marker for this raga.

A few more points merit our attention though. In the madhyama kala sahitya section he sings as “…..manikka vadanendrathi vandana” or something to that effect whereas the SSP text is ‘mAtamga vadanEndrAdi vandana”. Also to note is that he doesn’t render the cittavara section given in the SSP. In the svara kalpana section he sticks to the script of the raga as found in the SSP for most except in the two rounds of svaras where he brings on PDs, sDP and tara sancaras. To his credit he does highlight DPs, sPDPM etc to bring jump from pancama to tara sadja jump and back in his svara kalpana.

Presented now is the clip of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman rendering the cittasvara section of the composition ‘mahAganapatE’ for our understanding, from this concert available in the public domain.

Presented next is the Natanarayani portion of the raga-tala-malika composition of Ramasvami Dikshitar, rendered by Sangita Kala Acharya Vidusi Dr.R S Jayalakshmi, who gave a lecture demonstration of the magnum opus composition in 2014 at Chennai under the auspices of Nada Inbam. Dr Jayalakshmi’s interpretation is strictly in line with the notation found in the Anubandha to the SSP. One can note as well how identical it is from a scale/melodic point of view with the Dikshitar composition.

Presented finally is the blog author’s personal rendering/interpretation of the Subbarama Dikshitar daru. According to the explanatory note provided to this composition in the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar composed this as an ode on Sri Nagayasvami Pandiyan, the Zamindar of Periyur. There are a couple of historical references to this Zamindar which points to the probably date of this piece being composed around 1889 CE. Please see footnote 2 & 3 below.

Did Tyagaraja compose in Natanarayani ?

Today none of the compilations of Tyagaraja’s kritis show Natanarayani as one of the ragas in which the Bard of Tiruvaiyaru composed. Even the earliest listing, such as the one by Chinnasvami Mudaliar does not show any kriti in Natanarayani. In fact it is known with certainty that Tyagaraja never communicated the ragas names for his creations. Experts such as K V Ramachandran have always with forceful authority proposed that raga names available today for Tyagaraja’s compositions were assigned by the authors/printers who started publishing the text of Tyagaraja’s compositions during the late 19th CE and early 20th CE, the first of them being the Taccur Brothers. And this is attested by the Walajapet manuscripts and also the accounts of Tyagaraja’s lineage by his disciples. Thus given this set of facts, we may have to find out the piece available to us today, which could have been set by Tyagaraja to Natanarayani.

We do not have to search afar. The kriti is right there – “vinanAsa koniyunnAnurA” in desAdhi tala masquerading under the raga name of Pratapavarali, a raga which has no textual history at all prior to the Sangraha Cudamani and grouped under Harikambodhi mela. Unsurprisingly this raga is an ekakriti raga & there exists no other composition. It goes with the same scale of Natanarayani with a little twist – SRMPDPS/SDPMGRS. This is the flavor of Natanarayani that Tyagaraja implemented with sancaras up to tAra madhyama, a liberty he perhaps took which Dikshitar didn’t deign to take. In fact both of them use PDPS in the aroha krama phrasings. In the absence of nishada both ways, PDPS or PDS are not significantly different from a melodic stand point. But that doesn’t make the melody of ‘vinanAsakoni’ any different from that of Natanarayani. In fact one can even speculate if the tara sthayi phrases and additions of SDP were latter day additions by musicians when they added sangatis, but that would be stretching the argument too far, in the absence of a shred of evidence.

Now to the renderings. Presented below is the rendering of this composition by the legendary, Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda, the doyenne of the Dhanammal musical lineage, who must have most probably learnt it from Kancipuram Naina Pillai, under whom she learnt music initially.

Presented also is the rendering of the same composition by her disciple Vidushi Aruna Sairam from the year 1984. Attention is drawn to the kalpana svaras she sings on the pallavi line, well in line with the melodic contours of the composition itself.

Question for us is, do we require this plethora of unnecessary multiple raga names for the same melodic material/scale & shouldn’t we dispense the newer ones in favor of those which have a long textual documented history, more so for those one which have one such as Natanarayani? This is definitely a point of view worth ruminating.

Thus we do have strong evidence that both Dikshitar and Tyagaraja composed using the same melodic material of what we have been calling as Natanarayani for centuries. Renaming it as Pratapavarali with no melodic or historical basis, needs to be set aside without much ado. But is that it? The point remains whether Natanarayani can be safely and securely be ring fenced from its popular sibling Sama, so that its independent melodic existence can be secured.

Natanarayani & Sama – a study in contrast

If we have to understand the melodic structure of Natanarayani deeply, we may need to reset and revisit some of the assumptions we make as a part of modern musicology. Modernists may say that this raga is a minor one and is incapable of being sung elaborately. But so is the case with very many ragas including those created by Tyagaraja. Natanarayani existed as one amongst the 109 ragas that Tulaja documented as very popular & in currency during the first half of the 18th CE, in the run up to the times of the Trinity. It existed along with its close melodic sibling Sama with a unique melodic identity with which it shared the same set of svaras. How do we assess & quantify the musical individuality of this raga as distinct from Sama? With the same set of svaras we already have examples of ragas which have evolved and thrived to this date, Arabhi and Devagandhari & Surati and Kedaragaula, for instance. And they have become the crown jewels of our music. So can’t we draw up a matrix to distinguish the melodic contours of Sama and Natanarayani?

Before we embark on that, its worth noting here that the Music Academy at Madras did deliberate on the question of the raga lakshana of all the three ragas – Natanarayani, Sama and Pratapavarali the year 1932, the year when Sangita Kalanidhi Sabesa Iyer was the President. Sadly the Experts Committee was virtually split between the votaries of the so called Tyagaraja & Dikshitar schools and they arrived at no meaningful consensus. They only ended up reiterating the status quo and establishing no connection between them and thus frittered away the opportunity to make a contribution towards clarity.

Let us turn our attention to what some musicologists have to say on this. When discussing this point, the revered Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on Tulaja’s Saramruta, forcefully advances the view that since both the ragas – Natanarayani & Sama have the same scale, Natanarayani may safely be made a dhaivatantya madhyama sruti raga, omitting the fleeting touches of the tara sadja found in the Dikshitar kriti. By rendering it so, the learned Professor says, the melodic independent existence of Natanarayani can be justified distinctively from Sama.  It is respectfully submitted, that this would provoke more questions than answers. Thus the counterpoint would be, are we to amputate/mutilate the raga, deprive it of its tAra sadja just to bring melodic conformance to the standard? We need to bear in mind that Shahaji & Tulaja merely captured ragas which were popular and in currency during their times, some 109 of them and classified them under melas. And they were not dealing also with technically generated scalar ragas using mathematical permutation/combination (like the raga compendiums of Govindacarya, Nadamuni Panditar et al which fall in this category).

So by logical deduction one can surmise that in so far as the ragas captured in the works of Shahaji and Tulaja are concerned, the musical cognoscenti and composers of the first half of the 18th century were able to acknowledge the independent & individual musical worth/identity of all of those ragas including Sama and Natanarayani. Also we know that Dikshitar and Tyagaraja (second half of 18th CE) composed in both Sama and Natanarayani/Pratapavarali and if so they would have definitely found them to be musically distinctive to start with or if not, at the least they would have endeavored to bring about or magnify the point of distinction between these two ragas in their compositions.

And thus it follows that even today we must be able to find what these distinguishing attributes between the two ragas are, a subject worthy of a full research paper in itself. As Muddu Venkatamakhin’s classification scheme was the basis for Muthusvami Dikshitar, the analysis of these two ragas under this scheme is a useful starting point.

  1. In Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme, Sama is classified under Sankarabharanam while Natanarayani is under Harikedaragaula, despite both of them lacking nishada (varjya). The melodic reason if any is not formally given. It is quite possible for ragas to be grouped under Sankarabharanam if they have a weak gandharam. For example Mohanam can come under multiple melas. Still it is normally assigned to Kalyani because of the gandhara being strong & so unlike the gandhara of Sankarabharanam. Gandhara will be weaker still if it appears only in the avarohana as well. Au contraire, Prof S R Janakiraman holds the view that given the weaker dhaivata in Sama which is only at trisruti level it should be categorized under Harikambhoji rather than Sankarabharanam. Again he passionately argues that even Mohanam should be under Harikambhoji as well given the usage of both the gandhara and dhaivata at trisruti levels. And so this is the generic problem encountered in assigning preexisting ragas to the janaka/janya system on an unscientific or no standard basis.
  2. For Sama, gandhara is totally absent in the ascent/arohana while in Natanarayani the gandhara is vakrita in the arohana and we see SRGR profusely in Natanarayani. This is a key differentiator.
  3. The gandhara is prolonged and strong in Sama in comparison to Natanarayani where the janta phrasing MGGR and the vakra phrasing SRGR is used profusely. It can quite likely be argued that dhaivata too is slightly stronger in Natanarayani in comparison to Sama.
  4. In Sama the madhyama seems to be a more powerful note occurring in profusion and also being the key to the raga being a shanta rasa pradhana raga. From the kritis, the rishabha seems to be a favored phrase ending note in Natanarayani.
  5. In madhya sthayi, for Sama, PDS and SDP are used phrases while in Natanarayani, PDPS and SP or SM phrases alone are used. PDS and SDP though not forbidden by lakshana, the kritis are devoid of those prayogas. Also in practice Sama has some characteristic vakra phrases such PMD & MDP which is not seen in Natanarayani, while on the other side Natanarayani sports MGMG and RGRG which is not seen in Sama.
  6. In sum, the play of the notes/phrases & the emphasis given to them leading them to be vilambakala/shanta rasa as the color of Sama and the madhyamakala /vira or playfulness as the rasa in the case of Natanarayani, makes for their contrasting nature.
  7. Much like Ritigaula, Natanarayani sports different sets of prayogas for mandhara sthayi and madhya sthayi for the same svaras. We see no such constraint in Sama.
  8. The identical scalar structure but different melodic structure is akin to the phenomenon of Isomerism one encounters in physical Chemistry. Much like how isomers have same molecular formula but different structural formula, Sama and Natanarayani exhibit musical isomerism. Other examples are Kedaragula and Surati, Malahari and Kannadabangala & Kannada and Suddha Vasanta.

A more in-depth research on the lakshanas found documented in the two works, namely Shahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’ and Tulaja’s ‘Saramruta’ along with the constructive interpretation of the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar & Tyagaraja should help us get some more clarity on this point. Also see Note 6.

References

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006 – pages 666-671
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 1005-1013
  3. Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
  4. Dr S. Sita (1983) – “The Ragalakshana Manuscript of Sahaji Maharaja’ – Pages 140-182- JMA Vol LIV
  5. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, pages 201-205 & 207-210

Footnotes:

 

NOTE 1.

To understand some of the medieval raga nomenclatures and it’s connect with aesthetics, the musical work ‘Sangita Siromani’ written around 1428 AD offers interesting insights. For instance this text defines the raga Natanarayana as: Having born from raga Kakubha with Dha is its dominant final note,Ga in the upper octave is the predominant note, Pa in the lower octave is its lower limit; it is heptatonic preferably performed during raining season and is capable of evoking pathos.

NOTE 2.

Daru – According tomethe Lakshana Sangraha – the preamble to the SSP, daru as a composition is akin to a padam with sringara as the rasa/theme. A daru has normally one carana and can be sung in a slightly accelerated tempo. Darus with more than one carana is not uncommon though. According to Dr Gowri Kuppuswamy & Dr Hariharan (“Darus in Carnatic Music” – Sanmukha-Vol XII No 4 Oct 1986 Pages 1-10) daru is a musical piece written for a drama – yakshagAna, geyanAtaka or opera. In a drama, a dialogue if not spoken but is sought to be conveyed musically, then it is done through a daru. This article gives a historical perspective of daru and its evolution, types & examples & can be referred to, to know more about this compositional genre. The SSP itself documents a number of darus including Ramasvami Dikshitar’s in Gangatarangini, Muthusvami Dikshitar’s in Sriranjani raga, Balusvami Dikshitar’s in Rudrapriya, a tillana daru of Krishnasvami Ayya in Surati apart from the aforesaid daru in Natanarayani & one in Yadukulakambhoji of Subbarama Dikshitar. Curiously except Muthusvami Dikshitar’s one which is composed on Lord Valmikesvara of Tiruvarur, all other have been composed as an ode on patrons/mortals – Manali Cinnaya Mudaliar, Venkatesvara Ettappa of Ettayapuram, Nagayasvami Pandian of Periyur and Varaguna Rama Pandian the Zamindar of Sivagiri. Probably these darus were retrofitted into the existing panegyric plays depicting the life of the patrons & their clan. They were then staged/performed on occasions by the artistes, in the presence of the patrons, obviously to their delight. The case could have been same in the case of the Dikshitar Sriranjani daru as well. Plays were done in the Tiruvarur Tyagaraja temple eulogizing the deity, recounting the stala purana etc and enacted by the dasis and the musicians attached to the temple. Arguably Muthusvami Dikshitar must have perhaps composed this daru on Lord Valmikesvara, for one such play and not as a standalone music composition and which is why it is bereft of his standard colophon, ‘guruguha’.

NOTE 3.

The Zamindar of Peraiyur (not Periyur as given in the SSP, a village near the town of Tirumangalam) is one of the large zamindaris or pAlayams amongst the 72 ones in Madurai district in Tamilnadu. Periayur was the second largest zamindari the taluk with about 30 villages spread over 21 square miles. According to the “Madura Gazetteer’ of W.Frances (page 329), there was a Zamindar in 1889  who went by the name of Nagayasvami Tumbichi Nayakkan , the last two parts of the name being titular appellations. We know no more than that. Probably this Zamindar was the one on whom Subbarama Dikshitar composed this daru. Curiously there was another Nagayasvami Kamayya Nayakkar II, of the neighboring Saptur Zamindari who is documented in the “Aristocracy of Southern India- Vol II” by A Vadivelu (Page 315- 321). This Zamindar who was the last in his line, lived during 1845-1889. He has been documented as a very intelligent & independent person, a Tamil scholar and a patron of music. Given this information, the fact that the Zamindaris of Saptur and Peraiyur were intertwined in history and relationship and also the fact that Sri Jagannatham Chetty (who was associated with the Ettayapuram Royals & on whose authority the SSP was published) assisted the minor son of the Zamindar Sri Nagayasvami after his death, makes one to speculate whether the daru was on the Zamindar of Saptur instead.

NOTE 4.

In the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar gives the lakshana of raga Abheri as SMGMPPS as the aroha karma even though the Muddu Venkatamakhin lakshana shloka only says ‘abherI sagrahA pUrna; syAdArohE nivarjitA’. The shloka does not say that rishabha, gandhara and dhaivata are varjya. Yet Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of the purvacharyas and their tAnams in this raga, says that SMGMPPS is the arohana krama to be used in compositions.

NOTE 5.

According to Subbarama Dikshitar the notes of a ghana raga need to emanate from the nAbhi/navel. The discussion on the nature of raga and its classification under the ghana, naya and desi categories from a historical perspective is done in the work “Ghana, Naya and Desi Ragas” by Smt Premalatha Nagarajan which is available here. Here is what she has to say on ‘ghana’ ragas in the modern context.

From the description of ghana raga as being suitable for t¡na or madhyamakala, it couldbe inferred that such raga-s were based more on svara-s with moderate oscillations and which were devoid of extreme kampitam or vali. It is also possible that the form of a svara in these raga-s, was more or less static or rigid and not fluid. On the other hand, the raktiraga-s must have been characterised by some svaras which had more fluid form than a static one. If we consider the raga-s referred to as ghana today namely, nata, gaula, arabhi and varali (leaving out varali), the forms of the svara-s in these raga-s appear to be centred around their svarasthana-s. None of the svara-s seem to have excessive kampita gamaka. It is these raga-s that seem to be used for singing or playing tanam.

The classification of ragas under ghana, naya and desya by Shahaji is perhaps on the basis of melodic movement, according to performing musician Vidvan T M Krishna (Southern Music – Karnatak Story- Page 405). A raga classified as ghana probably meant (as in Tamil – heavy or dense) its rendering ought to be rigid & dense. In fact Vidvan Sri T M Krishna opines that this classification or the attribute of a raga to be a ghana/naya/desi, was then a component of the aesthetics of that raga. The word ghana has been used not only in the context of ragas as above but also in the context as one of the modes of singing (ghana mArga). And then there is this connection to tanam and madhyamakala rendering as well. In the context of a raga and its melodic personality (as distinct from the way or mArga in which a musician renders ragas in general), we are left only with the meaning that a raga to be ghana has to be phrased in a dense & rigid manner. Did it imply employment of janta svaras for example to give that feel? One doesn’t know for sure if that logic was what was used in Shahaji’s times to classify a raga as ghana.

NOTE 6.

In the Hindustani idiom there doesn’t seem to any raga close to the melodic svarupa of Natanarayani, though there is a name sake, Nata Narayan. It’s said to belong to the Bilaval thaat (Sankarabharanam) with N3 or tivra/sharp nishada. Off course our Natanarayani lacks nishada totally. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi apparently on the strength of the Carnatic Natanarayani seems to have implemented his version of Nata Narayana under the Khamaj thaat with a komal nishad (N2) to boot.

NOTE 7.

For the purpose of this article/blog post, Govindacharya’s Sangraha Cudamani (as well as other works which are allied in their content such as ‘Sangita Sara Sangrahamu’ of Akalanka and also recent raga compendiums such as those of Nadamuni Panditar or K V Srinivasa Iyengar) has not been considered, due to lack of clarity around the date of some of them & given that all these texts were much later to the times of the Trinity & hence are not relevant to assess the music of the compositions of Ramasvami Dikshitar, Muthusvami Dikshitar & Subbarama Dikshitar.