Melody of the Serpents – Nagadhvani

Prologue:

We have always seen that the musicological texts, ‘Ragalakshanamu’ of Sahaji (circa 1710 CE), the ‘Saramrutha’ of Tulaja(circa 1732 CE) and the ‘Ragalakshanam’ known to us as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika of Muddu Venkatamakhin ( circa 1750 CE) if read in conjunction, aided by the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar we can make two observations:

  1. The ragas of the 18th century as it prevailed in the run up to the Trinity can be found catalogued and recorded in these three treatises (which I prefer to call as the Triad). The Anubandha, being a listed compendium of ragas is a superset and almost as a rule the ragas found therein almost exactly mirror the lakshana found in Sahaji’s and Tulaja’s works (if documented by them)
  2. And the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar as notated in the SSP given that it provides commentary for every one of the ragas found in the Anubandha, serves as an exemplar or illustration for such raga lakshana.

But we do find certain ragas being exceptions to these two observations and specifically in those cases we are forced to develop a hypothesis to explain the said deviation. This blog post deals with one such raga named Nagadhvani, which forms an exception to both the above observations.

Over to this raga!

nagadhvani – Subbarama Dikshitar’s Commentary:

As we take up the analysis of this raga, we need to take a look at the contents of the SSP for, it is the most modern account (1904 CE) or laid down definition of the raga as technically the raga is practically extinct today. In the SSP amongst the ragas under Mela 29 Sankarabharanam is this raga Nagadhvani. In the SSP we do see that Subbarama Dikshitar for this raga provides just the following:

  1. The raga lakshana sloka attributable to Muddu Venkatamakhin followed by his commentary to the same.
  2. A gitam
  3. A sancari

If we take a minute and look at the rAgAnga lakshya gita for Sankarabharanam, the parent, at the very start of this cakra, we would find that the raga Nagadhvani is listed thereunder as an upanga janya of the mela raga Sankarabharanam. The ragas enumerated therein as upanga & bashanga deserves our attention & will revert to that again in a little while. Again, as always, what is meant as upanga and bhashanga in the slokas quoted in the SSP is different from what we mean by those terms today. Suffice to say that in the instant case of Nagadhvani, it is indeed a upanga raga as per modern definition sporting only the notes of mela 29.

Under the raga Nagadhvani we can see that Subbarama Dikshitar has not provided any composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar as illustration. Would that mean he had composed none for this raga and hence Subbarama Dikshitar had not given the same? Drawing such an omnibus conclusion wouldn’t be appropriate without considering every such case in the SSP. We will reserve our attention to this pesky question a little later in this blog post. But this does indeed pose problems for us for it is only a kriti which instantiates for us the structure of the raga and demonstrate its melodic contours which we can absorb & appreciate.

In so far as Subbarama Dikshitar is concerned if we view the lakshana sloka that he cites and also his commentary the following would emerge as the salient features of this raga:

  1. The arohana/avarohana krama that Subbarama Dikshitar states on the authority of (Muddu) Venkatamakhin is SRGSSMGMPDNS and SNDNPMGRGS. In fact, this raga is found in the original Caturdandi Prakashika (though not in the Sangita Sudha of Govinda Dikshitar a little prior) and even there the raga is classified under Sankarabharana mela.
  2. Subbarama Dikshitar very clearly states in his commentary, which follows, that notwithstanding the stated arohana and avarohana kramas the nominal arohana/avarohana movement for the raga as observed in practice is:

S R G S M G M P N D N S

S N D N P M G R G S SNNS

Attention is invited to the PDNS in the arohana being deprecated and PNDNS being made the uttaranga.

  1. The raga is sampurna. In other words, all the notes of Sankarabharana occurs in this raga taking both the arohana and avarohana together.
  2. Rishabha, gandhara and dhaivatha are vakra in the arohana while dhaivata is vakra and rishabha is varjya in the avarohana.
  3. Viewed as murrcanaas, the following holds true:
  4. SRGM, PDNS and SNDP does not occur due to the vakra prayogas and MGRS cannot occur as rishabha is dropped/varjya in the descent.
  5. Leitmotifs that occur in this raga are SRS, SMGS, SMGM, PNDN, and SNDN along with SRGS.
  6. His sancari very clearly validates the operative progressions highlighted above.
  7. It can also be seen that it nowhere does the illustrations sport phrases such as MGRGP, PDNS, GRSRS, SNDPM or PS and we will turn back shortly to why these specific phrases are being alluded to as non-existing.

Though the main SSP does not bear any exemplar kriti of Dikshitar in this raga, fortunately we do have a composition, ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ a ragamalika featuring this raga for a tAla Avarta, a composition bereft of the guruguha mudra but nevertheless attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar himself in the Anubandha to the SSP. The notation of the Nagadhvani raga portion is as under:

Sahitya parnE kundalininA gadhvanisahite dhvanisahite sahitehite te
Notation P, N, DNsrsNr g,sNsrs sNDNP sND,nP,,PMM

 

The notation albeit brief, conforms or validates the progression laid down in the SSP for Nagadhvani. Unfortunately, the few renderings of this unique composition (see Foot Note 1), leaves much to be desired as the artistes have rendered it as their own manodharma dictated, throwing to the winds the actual notation as found in the SSP and the lakshana for the respective ragas found therein namely Purnacandrika, Narayani, Sarasvati Manohari Suddha Vasanta, Nagadhvani and Hamsadvani.

Lyrics & Notation- as published by Veenai Sundaram Iyer

While we do have an idea of this raga and its theoretical structure from the foregoing, we encounter our first problem with a kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar published later by Veena Sundaram Iyer subsequently, in this raga. The notation of the composition is given here. A careful perusal of the same would throw up the following observations:

  1. Leaving out aspects such as prAsA concordance, quality of lyrics, grammatical constructs etc, we can see that the kriti carries the colophon of Dikshitar as well as the raga mudra in its body.
  2. The contours of the raga as notated herein shows a number of prayogas which are clearly not in accordance with Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary. PDNS, MGRGP, GRSRS and SNDPM occur in this kriti. Even assuming the Muddu Venkatamakhin definition which casts PDNS in the arohana and SNDNP in the avarohana, has been followed, the occurrence of SNDP explicitly along with phrases such MGRGP, makes it clear that the melodic structure/musical setting/mettu of the composition is inaccurate and cannot be sustained as genuine and making us suspect the provenance of the composition as well as the attribution. It is indeed sad that such attributions have been allowed to stand on record till date unscrutinised.

We are thus left with no option but to cast aside this composition for the stated reason and proceed. One other composition which has been assigned this raga and has been atleast rendered in the past which merits our attention is the composition ‘srI lalitAM’ in khanda triputa tala composed by Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. In the absence of a published notation of the composition, (see Foot Note 2) presented now is a rendering by Sangita Kalanidhi K V Narayanasvami, to enable us understand the raga.

Here is the text of the kriti along with the meaning:

Pallavi

SrI lalitAm mahAtripurasundarIm bhajEham

I pray to the great divine force called Lalita who is the most beautiful in the three worlds.

SrI rAjarAjESvarIm SrI vidyAtmaka bhuvanESvarIm

She is the consort of Shiva , she is the power of knowledge and ruler of the world

Anupallavi

SrIcakrAntargata navAvaraNAvrtAm SankarIm |

She is the dweller of nine Shri Chakras and giver of good

SrI kESavAdi catvArImSat tattvanyAsa mAtRkESvarIm |

She is the force behind all the forty philosophies associated with Vishnu’s names

SrI bIjAkShara samupAsita mahESvarIm

She is worshipped with the power of bijaaksharaas

SrI karIm EkAnta manOlayakarIm

She is the giver of all good things and enchants the meditating mind

Carana

dUrvAsAdyarcita guptayOginIm|

She is the secret force worshipped by sages like Durvaasa

dUrvAdi patra puSpArcana toShiNIm |

She is pleased when worshipped with “durva” leaves and flowers

pUrvArjita puNya phala pradAyinIm |

She presents all the good things deserved by the punya of good deeds

pUrvAdi caturAmnAya madhyavartinIm |

She is the presiding deity of the four mathas

SarvANIm SuMbha niSuMbha mahiShAsurAdi bhanjanIm nAgadhvani rAgiNIm

She is omnipresent and the destroyer of asuras like Shumbha, Nishumbha and Mahishaasura , enjoys the raga Nagadhwani.

The rendering very clearly indicates the following for us:

  1. SRS SMGMPNDNS/SNDNPMGS has been adopted.
  2. SRGS or SGS or MRGS has not been used and instead SRSMGS and PMGS has been utilized in this composition. We do see an occasional PNS being intoned in the composition
  3. Gandhara is seen prolonged along with the dhaivatha svara.

In other words, the Nagadhvani seen in this composition does not encompass all the prayogas that Subbarama Dikshitar has highlighted in the SSP. It employs only a subset of murccanas, to the particular exclusion of SRGS and MRGS. It is not a requirement that the set of all murrcanas of a raga must find place in a composition in that raga. It is sufficient if a subset of majority pryogas/murccanas are utilized and the instant composition satisfies the said requirement. The composition also demonstrates that a vignette of the raga too can be provided by way of alapana and/or svaraprastara by vidvans without in any way encroaching upon allied ragas. The melodically closest allied raga would be Neelambari and we will reserve a brief discussion on this a little later.

We do not have any extant kritis of Tyagaraja available to us in this raga, which brings up the question if the raga is still documented in the Sangraha Cudamani. Indeed, we find that the Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda too defines the raga Nagadhvani under Sankarabharanam in its listing. And it closely tracks to the lakshana of Nagadhvani as given by Subbarama Dikshitar, under mela 29 Sankarabharanam as SRSMGMPNS/SNDNPMGS. As we can see dhaivatha is completely dropped in the ascent and rishabha in the descent while dhaivatha is vakra in the descent. In fact in the lakshana gita the last line of the phrasing goes as SRSMGMP,,NDMPNDNS,SNDNPPMGSRSMG….

If we compare the murrcanas found in the kriti ‘srI lalitAM’ as seen rendered by Sri Narayanaswami above, and compare it with the Nagadhvani enumerated by Sangraha Cudamani we find that it is identical to the melodic contours of the raga outlined in Sangraha Cudamani as above. And as highlighted before, the Nagadhavani of Sangraha Cudamani adopts a subset of the murrcanas of the Nagadhvani of SSP, excluding just a couple of them.

Whether ‘srIlalitAM’ was tuned by the Maharaja himself or whether his Guru, Mysore Vasudevacar had a hand in it we do not know. (See Foot note 3). All we can conclude is that given the Maharaja’s penchant for Muthusvami Dikshitar and his style, we can say that the setting of this composition while conforming to the SSP’s definition, adopts the version found in the Sangraha Cudamani.

Summary:

Thus, three flavours of Nagadhvani is posited post 1750 CE by Muddu Venkatamakhin, Subbarama Dikshitar and finally by Govinda in their works. The Nagadhvani of Subbarama Dikshitar and Govinda are more proximate and the kriti that we hear today being ‘srI lalitAM’ of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar is an exemplar more of the Sangraha Cudamani version but nevertheless in conformance with the SSP definition as well. The available musical setting of ‘brihadIsvaraM bhajarE’, the kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar employs phrases which are not found in any of these three flavours, thus forcing us to question the very authenticity of the kriti and/or its tune. The brief Nagadhvani portion appearing in madhyamakala in the ragamalika ‘pUrnacandra bimbA’ from the anubandha to the SSP is the only available composition of Dikshitar incorporating this raga.

 

Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja:

While we see that the definition of a raga according to Muddu Venkatamakhin normally matches with that of Sahaji and Tulaja. Surprisingly in the case of Nagadhvani, we see that there is a dichotomy. Both Sahaji and Tulaja aver in their respective works that:

  1. The raga belongs to the Kambhoji mela
  2. It is devious/vakra with prayogas such as SRGS, SMGMRGS, PNDNs, NDMP, MRGS
  3. There are no tanas for rishabha and dhaivatha and the rest of the notes do not occur in straight movement. In fact, according to Sahaji in this raga there is no straight succession of four or five svaras.

One should pause here and absorb the import of the statement made by these two Royal musicologists in their works which is italicized as above. The statement is an evidence of one of the guiding principles of 18th century raga architecture.

What it means is that

  1. the rishabha and dhaivatha are not starting notes and are devious and that
  2. the prayogas such as GMPD or GMPDN, MPDN or MPDNS, PDNS, SNDP or SNDPM, NDPM or NDPMG, PMGR or MGRS does not occur. Thus implicitly, instead of them the prayogas GMPN or GMPND, MPNS or MPNDNS, PNDNP or PNDNS, SNDN or SNDNP, NDMP, PMRG or MGSRS can occur in the alternative, respectively. And this is to the exclusion of rishabha and dhaivatha which cannot be starting notes of the blocks. Attention is invited to the fact that the (melodic) building block ( or unit) according to Sahaji is a 3, 4 or a 5 note block and every such block which goes to make up Nagadhvani should conform to the rule that lineal progression is permitted only up to the 3rd svara and the 4th /5th svara cannot be a lineal svara and shall be skipped/vakra/varjya in accordance with the definition given the fact that the raga is sampurna. It is as if the definition is the consequence of the raga’s structure and not the other way around as in their times ragas were never derived theoretically but they evolved based on aesthetics and harmonics. And that is why we see that these two texts are not raga listing but a record of ragas that was in circulation during their times.

Thus, the foregoing commentary on the raga demonstrates how ragas were architected and their lakshana expressed in the 18th century. The advent of the 72 mela raga scheme, the obsession with the arohana/avarohana progression together with linearization and emphasis on the individual notes (and not on the motifs being a svara aggregation such as GMR or NMD etc), together with compendiums which gave listing of ragas based on permutation/combinations of the different varieties of notes with their own esoteric names,  spelt the death knell of many older ragas including Nagadhvani as they could not be easily incorporated into this new schemata.

While from a prayogas perspective, the definitions of Sahaji & Tulaja go along more or less with the Muddu Venkatamakhin’s definition, what is most problematic now is that the raga according to Sahaji and Tulaja sported kaisiki nishadha ( Kambhoji mela) while according to Muddu Venkatamakhin the raga belonged to Sankarabharana mela and sported kakali nishadha.

A possible explanation for this apparent dichotomy:

It must be reiterated here that:

  1. Venkatamakhin (1620 CE) and Muddu Venkatamakhin (circa 1750 CE) classified the raga under mela 29 with N3
  2. In between the above two, Sahaji (circa 1710 CE) and Tulaja (circa 1732 CE) who documented the ragas as was prevalent in their times placed the raga under Kambhoji with N2.

Did Muddu Venkatamakhin follow the footsteps of Venkatamakhin and therefore theoretically placed Nagadhvani under Sankarabharanam to maintain continuity, while the raga perhaps even by 1700’s had shed N3 and gained N2 which was taken note of by both Sahaji and Tulaja and therefore they classified the raga under Kamboji mela? We do not know. But what is known is that since 1750 CE, both these so called flavors (sporting respectively N2 and N3) of Nagadhvani had completely died out for, as on date save for the above referred kriti of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar we have none on record.

A perusal of our ragas today reveals that Neelambari is the only raga which is a reasonably close and has melodic affinity to Nagadhvani. If we quickly delve into the history of Neelambari, the following findings emerge:

  1. The raga Neelambari is not found listed by Venkatamakhin, Sahaji or Tulaja. Neither does the Sankarabharana raganga raga gitam found in the SSP in its bashanga khanda disclose Neelambari as a janya raga thereunder.
  2. It is only the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin which first lists out the raga Neelambari
  3. And it on this authority and that of the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar that Subbarama Dikshitar provides his commentary of Neelambari with two distinct prayogas MGS and the usage of the two nishadhas, N2 and N3.

Given this lakshana of Neelambari, let us turn to the evidence and explanation provided by Prof S R Janakiraman. The revered Professor advances his view that usage of the two nishadhas in Neelambari evidences its root in another raga of yore, Samantha, the 30th mela which goes with the notes S R2 G3 M1 P D3 N3 in its contours. We did see this in an earlier blog post. Though such a theory as advanced by Prof SRJ does indeed sound interesting given that the svara N2 when occurring along with N3 can be treated as D3 (a combination native to mela No 30), alternatively the raga Neelambari can also be thought of as a remnant of the Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja.

We do know that Neelambari had not made headway into our musical system before 1750 CE and was not recorded by Sahaji or Tulaja in their works as having been extant during their times. This gives us a very interesting hypothesis as to the evolution of Neelambari. The Nagadhvani of Sahaji & Tulaja which only had N2, perhaps also reacquired the N3 back and thereafter was rendered with both N2 & N3 (its original note as documented by Venkatamakhin in his CDP) together with some modifications such as PNs, SNP and MGS. This version of Nagadhvani survived into 1750 CE whence Muddu Venkatamakhin formally acknowledged it gave it a place under mela 29 Sankarabharanam with the name Neelambari, to uniquely differentiate it from the original Nagadhvani (of CDP) with N3 only. Thus, Mudduvenkatamakhin perhaps provided musicological continuity by

  1. Acknowledging tradition retaining the original Nagadhvani in his listing as a upanga janya with its N3 and
  2. incorporating the Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja which by taking both N2 and perhaps N3 as well and had so morphed, as Neelambari into his compendium.

It is doubtful if indeed he had notice of the ‘upanga’ Nagadhvani of Tulaja and Sahaji sporting just the N2. The absence of Neelambari in the Sankarabharana raganga lakshana gitam is yet another evidence as this gitam is perhaps older while the raga listing by Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to 1750 CE was much later wherein we will find both Nagadhvani as well as Neelambari listed.

And that leaves us finally to answer some questions:

  1. Whether given the foregoing, the kriti ‘brihadIsvaram bhajarE’ ( see foot note 4) with its melodic contour not conforming to the laid down lakshana of Nagadhvani (in the SSP) a spurious composition?

The point can be reconciled thus. Either Subbarama Dikshitar inherited the composition with a defective mettu and upon perusal he decided not to publish the same. Or it must have been a creation of somebody else subsequent to Muthuswami Dikshitar or even Subbarama Dikshitar which was passed off as a Muthusvami Dikshitar composition to us. Either ways the final answer to this vexed question can perhaps be determined by asking oneself whether Muthusvami Dikshitar being an avowed votary of sampradaya and being in the know of this raga and its laid down lakshana would have created a nonconforming composition without any basis whatsoever. It is indeed sad that many such compositions not found in the SSP which were brought to light subsequently, tracing back to Subbarama Dikshitar’s son Ambi Dikshitar’s corpus of compositions, have been published as-is, without properly editing or reconciling the same and attributed to Dikshitar without any basis whatsoever which has contributed to much confusion.

  1. As a corollary, if a raga in the SSP does not carry a composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar would it mean that he did not compose in that raga?

The answer to this question is again subjective and no such conclusion can be drawn. We have a number of such ragas in the SSP such as Binna Sadjam, Camara, Nagadhvani, Suddha Vasanta, Purvagaula, Nagavarali etc and surprisingly for each case we have a kriti which has come to us from the publications of the disciples of Ambi Dikshitar. Leaving aside the question as to whether these ‘later’ kritis are truly that of Dikshitar (based on lyrical quality, prasa concordance, raga lakshana etc) two possibilities exists:

Perforce these kritis are misattributions for whatever reasons.

(or)

Subbarama Dikshitar edited the compositions as was inherited by him, by scrupulously assessing them against the touch stone of proper lakshana, quality lyrics etc and proceeded to publish only those which passed his test/scrutiny,  in the SSP. Also where he felt that there was a deviation from laid down lakshana by Dikshitar but yet the authenticity of the composition was beyond reproach he perhaps proceeded to publish them, as in the case of Gopikavasanta which we saw in an earlier blogpost. In this process, he filtered a number of kritis which he felt did not meet his acceptance criteria and therefore kept them out of the SSP. It must be pointed out that his objective was to make the SSP as a treatise of the ancient music of Venkatamakhi and not as collection of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s compositions. If he had felt so he would have simply published the Dikshitar compositions along with notations as was available with him much like how the ‘Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’ was published much later by Vid Natarajasundaram Pillai.

In the instant case of ‘brihadIsvaram bhajarE’ given the melodic content not to comment on the lyrical aspect, one could most logically conclude that the kriti would likely fall in bucket (a) above rather than bucket (b).

  1. What ever happened to the Nagadhvani of Sahaji & Tulaja which perhaps went by the progression SR2S M1G2M1PN2D2N2S /SN2D2M1PM1G3M1R2G3S?

One doesn’t see such a raga catalogued or with compositions in our midst today. Or as hypothesised earlier it morphed into Neelambari, reacquiring the N3 again.

Conclusion:

The only other raga in our midst, which by its name evokes the imagery of serpents, is the well-known raga Punnagavarali under the mela Todi due to the fact that the raga is the basis of the tune of the ‘magudi’ which is played by snake charmers. The allusion to serpents in the context of ragas is probably more a myth and the same is referred to in very many texts or in hagiographies to imply something mystical. Subbarama Dikshitar in his narrative on Chinnasvami Dikshitar records one such instance when this younger brother of Muthusvami Dikshitar was playing the raga Nagavarali, a snake made its appearance. In so far as this raga Nagadhvani is concerned it is practically extinct today and neither has it been by name associated as the raga of the Nagas (an ancient race) or of any particular region or as a melody which can charm serpents. The raga name has been used as an allusion to the Kundalini, a coil of physical energy running around the human spine, in the lyrics of the composition ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ set to Nagadhvani. While so, the composition ‘srI lalitAm’ of the Mysore Maharaja serves as an excellent example of this rare raga as it stands today. And the raga delineated therein does demonstrate the fact that an exposition of the raga as an alapana or svaraprastara can be done. One does hope that performing musicians take up this raga & this composition and embellish it with their imagination on the concert stage in the days to come.

Bibliography:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) – Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Republished in Tamil by Madras Music Academy ( 1977) Part IV Sankarabharanam Mela and its janyas & the Anubandha to SSP – Ragamalikas
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 275-278 and 930-943
  3. Prof S R Janakiraman(1993)- Ragas of the Saramrutha- published by the Madras Music Academy

Foot Notes:

  1. The ragamalika ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ as found notated in the Anubandha to the SSP stands out for more than one reason, which are listed hereunder:
  2. The composition as found in the SSP in 6 ragas is bereft of the Dikshitar colophon ‘guruguha’
  3. The attribution to Dikshitar is only on the strength of Subbarama Dikshitar’s assertion made to that effect.
  4. Popularly referred to as the shat-rAgamAlika, the lyrics of the composition are set to 6 ragas whose names occur in the body the composition and all of them are upanga janya ragas of Sankarabharanam, being Purnacandrika, Narayani, Sarasvati Manohari, Suddha Vasanta, Hamsadvani and Nagadhvani.
  5. Apart from the fact that the raga names have been woven into the fabric of the kriti, a stylistic adornment being gOpuccAyati is found featured in the Nagadhvani section. As we know these two are compositional constructs, for which Dikshitar was justly known for.
  6. Curiously much later in time post 1950’s, another version ( second) of the same composition came to be published by Kallidaikurici Veena Sundaram Iyer. This second version apart from the original, also had a further set of lyrics set in ragas Kedaram and Bilahari inserted in between and which sported the guruguha mudra. And each of the khandikas were appended with a cittasvara section in the respective ragas which was not again not found in the original text being the one in the Anubandha to the SSP

The entire text of this composition as available is given below with its meaning:

Pallavi

(Raga – pUrNa candrikA)
pUrNa candra bimba vijaya vadanE – O one whose face excels the disk of the full moon!
kamalAmbikE              – O Goddess Kamalambika!
pAhi mAM                 – Protect me!
varadE                   – O giver of boons!
guru guha janani         – O mother of Guruguha!

Anupallavi

(Raga nArAyaNI )
puNya jana pUjitE        – O one worshipped by good, meritorious people!
nArAyaNI                 – O one related to Narayana (as his sister)!
jagat-ambikE             – O mother of the universe!

(Raga sarasvatI manOhari)
pUrNa phala prada caraNE – O one whose feet bestow complete fruition!
sarasvatI manOharE       – O one captivating the heart of Sarasvati!

(Raga Suddha vasanta)
pushpita Suddha vasantE  – O one like the flowering, unequalled, spring season!
puNDarIka sadRSa karE    – O one whose hands resemble lotuses!

(Raga kEdAraM)
kEdAra-ISa sahAyE        – O companion of Shiva (lord of Kedara)!
guru guha vEdita hRdayE  – O one whose heart is understood by Guruguha!

(Raga bilahari )
bhaNDa prANa bila hari   – O one who destroyed the (hiding) hole of the life-breath of the demon Bhanda!
bhakta jana-Ananda-kari  – O giver of bliss to devout people!

(Raga haMsa dhvani)
haMsa dhvani virAjitE    – O one who is glorious with the sound of the Hamsa Mantra,
prakASamAna              – that shines forth,
ahar-niSaM               – day and night!

(Raga nAga dhvani)
aparNE                   – O Aparna, the one who performed penance without consuming even leaves!
kuNDalini nAga dhvani sahitE – O one associated with the sound of the snake of Kundalini!
dhvani sahitE            – O one associated with sounds (of music and dance etc.)!
sahitE                   – O one accompanied by the  well-disposed (companions, attendants)!
hitE                     – O beneficial, favourable one!
tE                       – O one taking the form of Lakshmi!

Suffice to state that a number of controversies crop up in the context of the multiple versions of this composition including the inclusion of 2 more ragas ( Kedaram and Bilahari)  in the second version, the appearance of cittasvaras of questionable lakshanas in a few cases as seen in the second version, the lack of the mudra of Dikshitar and its appearance in the subsequent version etc.

 

  1. An excellent introduction to the composer, his kritis and their text can be found on this link here: http://www.carnatica.net/special/navaratri2009-jayachamaraja-ppn.htm . Another web link providing details as to a published work can be found here : https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/Royal-salutations/article15415100.ece . Vidusi Seethalakshmi Venkatesan’s renderings of some of the kritis can be found here: http://radioweb.in/content/kritis-jayachamaraja-wodeyar

 

  1. The well-known novelist Late R K Narayan is on record making this point as under:

Question: Did you learn the kritis of the Mysore composers like Vasudevachar and Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar?

Answer: The so-called compositions of the Mysore Maharaja were actually composed by Vasudevachar. The Maharaja would call Vasudevachar and say I want these phrases from the Devi Ashtottram and the composer would do his bidding.

Vide the ‘Frontline’ Vol. 14 :: No. 23 :: Nov. 15 – 28, 1997 available online : https://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1423/14231000.htm

 

  1. Thanks are due to Mr Lakshman Ragde as always for sharing a copy of the lyrics of ‘brihadIsvaraM bhajarE’ as published by Veena Sundaram Iyer.

Obeisance to Lord Krishna – A Brief Blogpost

Prologue:

This blogpost is to celebrate today, Janmashtami being the birthday of Lord Krishna with a very rare kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar. We will quickly look at the raga and some connected facts and trivia even as celebrate the day of birth of this child God.

Muthusvami Dikshitar has to his credit, a number of compositions on the different Gods of the Hindu pantheon and also of demigods and savants as well. In so far as Lord Krishna is concerned, the most ubiquitous kriti is ‘cEta srI bAlakrishnam’ in Dvijavanti, and ‘srIrAjagOpAla’ in Saveri, often encountered on the concert platform.

In this blog post we shall look at ‘srIkrishnam bhajarE’ in Rupavati, the 12th mela raga in Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium, which was followed by Dikshitar and documented so in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar. Curiously it is also a raga, whose name has been used to name the corresponding krama sampurna/heptatonic scale of Sangraha Cudamani, the reigning musicological compendium, attributed to Govinda and which is usually held out as having been followed by Tyagaraja.

Bird’s eye view of the 12th Mela:

Musicology:

Rupavati, the 12th mela being the set of the following notes, can be stated as having been a theoretical derivation of Muddu Venkatamakhin ( circa 1750) , based on the mathematical logic that was expounded more  than a century prior to him by his ancestor Venkatamakhin in his Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP).

Arohana krama : S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S

Avarohana krama: S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S

Suddha rishbham, sadharana gandharam, suddha madhyamam, pancamam, shatsruti dhaivatam and kakali nishadam are the notes with the uttaranga being the vivadi combination D3N3 being featured by the raga.

The raga is not found recorded in Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s musical works dateable to the first half of the 18th century. The raga is thus found tabulated in musicological records for the first time in Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Anubandha to the CDP. In so far as Muddu Venkatamkahin’s schemata is concerned, the illustration of every one of the 72 mela ragas are documented by tanams or gitams along with the lakshana shlokas in the SSP (AD 1904), with attribution to Venkatamakhin/Muddu Venkatamakhin/pUrvikas. This is likely not true completely and it can be logically surmised that in so far as many mela ragas (barring the famous 21 melas which were documented in the earlier CDP) the gitams and tanams found in SSP for the rest of the theoretically derived ragas most probably were authored by Muddu Venkatamakhin himself sometime circa 1750 AD.

It was left to Muthusvami Dikshitar (AD 1775- 1832) to provide flesh & blood to every one of those melas especially the theoretically derived ones, by composing atleast one composition in every one of them. Rupavati belongs to this category and Dikshitar’s ‘srI krishnam bhajarE’ is an exemplar for the 12th Mela.

Melodic canvas of the Rupavati:

While one may expect that given the fact that D3N3, being a dissonant/vivadhi combination occurs in this mela, Rupavati could just be S R1 G3 M1 P N3 S / S N3 D3 N3 P M1 G2 R1 S. In fact a workaround for the dissonant svara combination is not the only key in this case. Even for the normal R1G2 combination in the purvanga, a workaround is made by Muddu Venkatamakhin in hisscheme by dropping the gandhara in the ascent and rishabha in the descent my making the progression as SRMP, PMGS . One can see this in Rupavati and also in Natabharanam (the 10th mela), where rishabha is dropped in the ascent.

In fact, Subbarama Dikshitar gives an even more truncated scale as the arohana krama for Rupavati as under:

Arohana : S R1 M1 P S

Avarohana: S N3 D3 N3 P M1 G2 S

Attention is invited to the arohana uttaranga where the dhaivata and nishada is dropped. The following can be laid down as the observed definition of the raga:

  1. SRGM, PDNS, SNDP or MGRS does not occur. It is a completely vakra raga in both purvanga/uttaranga and in arohana/avarohana. In other words jumps, bends, turns and twists, being the classical 18th century raga architectural pattern, is found in the construct of this raga.
  2. The gandhara is langhana in the arohana, meaning even a SGRM does not occur and similar is the status of rishabha in the descent (MGRGS is not seen). It has to be pointed out that the term “langhana” is seen only in the musicological literature prior to 1750 AD and is completely deprecated subsequently (for example it is not seen in the lakshana slokas found in the SSP, ascribed to Venkatamakhin but most probably propounded by his descendant Muddu Venkatamakhin). The word synonymously used is ‘varjya’.
  3. Nishada is vakra in the arohana krama (PNDNPS can occur) while dhaivata is vakra in the avarohana krama. SNDNS combination is seen in the raga, meaning the notes are not langhana in contradistinction to varjya. We can perhaps say that langhana can be meant as “dropped” whereas varjya means “jumped over” or “skipped”, taking a nuanced approach to the way in which the note is dealt with.
  4. Native gamakas to the raga/notes of this raga, based on the notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar are as under:
    1. The D3 shatsruti dhaivata note is supposed to be emphatically rendered (“adithu pidippadu’ according to Subbarama Dikshitar) and is ornamented with the “w” or the nokku variety of gamaka.
    2. Gandhara is sometimes oscillated with the kampita gamakam.
    3. The glide or the jArU gamaka is used profusely in the composition though not necessarily native to the raga.

Compositions:

The SSP built on the Anubandha to the CDP is the only authority for this raga and Dikshitar’s Sri Krishnam Bhajare’ is the sole exemplar for the raga which is notated with a pithy cittasvara section and gives is a wholesome view of the raga. The SSP of course as always, documents a lakshya gita, a tanam, and Subbarama Dikshitar’s own sancari as the other compositions illustrating the raga. In so far as the raga lakshana goes, in addition to the above, Subbarama Dikshitar makes a mention that the gita and tanam, here and there also features the MRS prayoga, which is not seen in the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

There are no other compositions in this version of Rupavati as seen documented by Subbarama Dikshitar with Sri Krishnam Bhajare being the exemplar. This statement is warranted as we do have a krama sampurna Rupavati featured by the Sangraha Cudamani which is a lineal heptatonic scale S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S/ S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S and in which we have a kriti of Tyagaraja being rendered being “ne mora bettithe’ . Again, the raga of this composition is controversial as some schools of Tyagaraja (Kanchipuram Nayana Pillai – Veena Dhanammal) render it in Todi. It has to be pointed out that the Veena Dhanammal school’s repertoire totally lacks compositions in ragas featuring vivadhi notes perhaps barring Natta. The ragas Sulini as well Rupavati which are the ragas for ‘Prananatha’ and off course ‘ Ne Mora Bettithe’ which other schools render so are rendered by in the Dhanammal’ family tradition in Sankarabharanam and Todi. See Foot note 1.

The Dikshitar composition does not seem to have been orally transmitted to us and the renderings that we hear today are in all probability, interpretation of the SSP notation. With that lets look at the composition and the associated discography.

Kriti – “Sri Krishnam Bhajare”:

Here is the text of the composition as found in the SSP which is set in tisra eka tala.

पल्लवि:
श्रीकृष्णं भजरे रे मानस |
श्रीरूपवती-गोपस्त्री-जारम् ||

अनुपल्लवि:

चक्र-निवारित-भास्कर-प्रकाशं |
चन्द्रशेखर-गुरुगुह-विश्वासं |
अक्रूर-वन्दित-पदं अर्जुनप्रेम-आस्पदं |
नक्र-हत-दन्ति-वरदं नत-शुक-सनक-नारदम्||
Meaning:
Pallavi

rE rE mAnasa                 – O mind!

bhaja                                – Worship

SrIkRshNaM                  – Sri Krishna,

SrI-rUpavatI-gOpa-strI-jAram – the beloved of the Gopika women who are beautiful as Lakshmi (Sri),

 

Anupallavi:

cakra-nivArita-bhAskara-prakAshaM – the one who barred the light of the sun with his discus,

candrashekhara-guruguha-vishvAsaM – the trusted one of Shiva (who wears the moon) and Guruguha,

akrUra-vandita-padaM         – the one whose feet are saluted by Akrura,

arjuna-prema-AspadaM         – the object of Arjuna’s affection,

nakra-hata-danti-varadaM     – the giver of boons  to the elephant (Gajendra) injured by the crocodile,

nata-shuka-sanaka-nAradaM     – the one saluted by sages Shuka, Sanaka and Narada.

‘srI krishnam bhajare’ – Kriti – Some brief notes:

 

  1. The kriti does not feature any specific sthala-reference and is not assignable thus to any ksetra. Some texts/scholars may tend to assign the composition to an unknown deity in Tanjore, on the strength of the composition in the adjacent melas being ascribed so temples in and around Tanjore. Dr V Raghavan tends to make that conclusion implicitly in his work, the fact is that there is no external or internal evidence to back up such a statement.
  2. The kriti carries the standard colophon of Dikshitar as well as the rag mudra which has been woven into the pallavi lines to mean the beauty of the Gopikas.
  3. While the kriti features the well-known characters/devotees in its narrative – Gopikas, Akrura, Arjuna etc, the allusion to the sudarshana cakra of the Lord with which He blocked the rays of the sun finds mention in the anupallavi. During the Mahabaratha war Arjuna vows to kill Jayadratha to avenge his son Abhimanyu’s death before the sun sets, the next day. Even as the Kaurava Commander-In-Chief Drona got wind of this, he throws a three layered vyuha/defensive shield around Jayadratha so as to protect him till the end of the day at the least, as Arjuna had vowed to immolate himself if he was defeated in this endeavour. According to the legend, Lord Krishna to deceive the Kaurava troops so as to lull them to believe that the sun had set and thereby loosen the guard, used his discus/sudarshana cakra to elide the sun (total solar eclipse) that afternoon which had the desired effect. Before the end of the day Arjuna thus breaches the Kaurava defences, with Lord Krishna as his charioteer, kills Jayadratha and fulfils his vow. Archeo-astronomists have used this reference to the “solar eclipse” during the Kurukshetra war to go back in time to fix the time of the War given the timelines of the Kuru Dynasty and such other historical evidence, and triangulating it with this solar eclipse and also planetary conjunctions. See Foot note 3.

Discography:

I present the rendering of this composition by Vidvan Ramakrishnan Moorthi, a disciple of Vidvan R K Sriramkumar which is complete with the cittasvara section and which I think best exemplifies the notation found in the SSP.

Attention is invited to the way the D3N3 is supposed to be intoned with a nokku on the dhaivatha note.

Rupavati – A controversy regarding Sangraha Cudmani

In the context of this raga & Sangraha Cudamani, an element of controversy as to the name that the raga/mela 20 ought to have had arises. In the Sangraha Cudamani, the heading of the relevant sloka gives the name as ‘Raupyanaga’ ( रौप्यनगमेललक्षणं) whereas in the body of the sloka, the name of the raga is given as rUpAvatI. Scholars like Dr T S Ramakrishnan have highlighted this error (amongst a couple of others) to surmise that the Sangraha Cudamani was a manuscript created around AD 1830 or thereabouts by the palace musicians of Tanjore in the run up to the creation of the Bhattara Ragamalika, a Marathi composition in 72 mela ragas composed by Lavani Venkata Rao in praise/honour of Sakharam Saheb the brother in law of Tanjore King Sivaji II. Given its erotic content, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer who was approached to set it to music, used the mettu to compose the 72 Melaragamalika later on Lord Pranatharthihara of Tiruvaiyaru. See Foot note 2.

In his melaragamalika, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer extoll Lord Shiva, thus even as he embeds the raga mudra ‘rupavati’ skilfully in the lyrics:

बहुरूपावतीह भवान्मां मुहुर्मुहुरूर्जित भक्तजनरन्जन ||
bahurUpAvatIha bhavAn mAM muhurmuhUrjita bhaktajanaranjana ||
Meaning: Taking various forms here, you have time and again confirmed that you please your devotees. (Hence) you protect me.

 

Discography – I Chakra 72 Mela ragamalika – Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer- featuring Rupavati:

 

We can hear the Rupavati section rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Subbulakshmi in this Youtube recording ( audio only) between 10:45 -11:21 in this recording.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80dedub-8_Q

Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli renders the Rupavati section here between 11:17 to 12:00 in the recording below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8jN0FGZz8s

In passing it is worth mentioning here that the heptatonic/krama sampurna Rupavati has also been invested with compositions much later by Koteesvara Iyer and Dr M Balamuralikrishna.

Conclusion:

The kriti ‘ srI krishnam bhajarE’ and the melodic contours of Rupavati as dealt with by Muthusvami Dikshitar with its devious flow can be a little unsettling for some ears, to start with. And it is a raga without doubt which has to be negotiated skilfully given this meandering progression. Nevertheless, this short Dikshitar kriti with just the anupallavi and a pithy cittasvara section offers us an abject lesson as to how such ragas have to be dealt with. And I am sure that on this day of Janmashtami one can savour this musical experience or learn this short kriti to pay obeisance to this popular avatar of Lord Vishnu.

References:

  1. Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol I – Tamil edition published by the Madras Music Academy (1961)
  2. Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyatha Sivan- Edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastri- The Adayar Library Series – Vol 16 (1989)
  3. Ragalakshana Sangraha – PhD Dissertation of Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004)

 

Foot Notes:

 

  1. The obvious total lack of vivadi raga compositions in the repertoire of the Dhanammal family makes one suspect if the ragas of these two compositions namely “Prananatha” and “ne Mora bettithe ‘were flipped to the nearer kosher melas sporting consonantal notes and rendered or taught/learnt by members of this family. According to the Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions compiled by Dr V Raghavan in JMA Vol XXXIX, page 149, Chinnasami Mudaliyar, K V Srinivasa Iyengar, Vissa Appa Rao & Dr Raghavan himself assign the kriti ‘ne mora bettithe’ ( tala triputa) with the raga Rupavati while Rangaramanuja Ayyengar ( on the authority of the patham of Veen Dhanammal ?) assigns the raga Todi to the said composition.

 

  1. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was commissioned to set the Marati composition of Lavani Venkata Rao to music which he perhaps reluctantly did, for the composition was narastuti. His biographers record that given the enormity of the work he thought that the music he had conceived ought to be made an offering to his Lord Pranatarthihara & hence proceeded to compose the magnum opus ‘Pranatarti hara prabho purare’, composing the Sanskrit lyrics ( on his own or perhaps in collaboration with his scholar brother) and setting the same to the same tune that he set for the original Marathi composition . Dr T S Ramakrishnan in his article titled “The Contribution of the Dikshitar Family to Karnatic Music”, advances the proposition that Govinda was a Tanjore Court musician who created the ‘Sangraha Cudamani” closer to 1830 and it was used as the basis for Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s project to set the ‘Bahattara Mela Raga Malika” and it thereafter went on to become the defacto standard of Carnatic musicology. And that perhaps the text was “promoted” to be the popular raga reference standard much to the detriment of the older Venkatamakin/Muddu Venkatamakhin’s so called Asampurna Mela Paddathi. The reference for this history can also be found in parts in the Introduction written by Sri P S Chandrasekara Iyer to the Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyatha Sivan- Edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastri- The Adayar Library Series – Vol 16 (1989), referred above. To state shortly, this raga Rupavati and the error made in the Sangraha Cudamani as to its name also, thus forms the nucleus for some musicologists to advance their so called “conspiracy” theory adverted as above. Incidentally Vidushi Bombay Jaisree Ramnath did a lecture demonstration in the Music Academy on the Mahratti Bahattara Mela Ragamalika which has been recorded in JMA Vol 86 (2015) pp 54-55.

 

  1. One such articulation can be read here : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/drishtikone/2010/09/astronomical-proof-mahabharata-war-shri-krishna/

Raga Malavi – A Misnomer?

PROLOGUE:

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

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

Over to the raga!

THE MELODIC CONTOUR OF MALAVI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMPOSITIONS:

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

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

RENDERINGS:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘rAma nI dAsudanE gada’ of Spencer Sri Venugopal:

Rendering by Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu in a class session

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Rendering by Vidusi Dr Ritha Rajan:

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

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

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

Rendering by the vaggeyakara himself:

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

First is the kriti text together with the cittasvara section.

pallavi:

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

Anupallavi:

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

Carana:

vara | dA srI raghunAyakA bhakta|pAlA phaladAyakA |

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

cittasvara:

GM|N,PMGMRSRNR | S,RGMR,ndnSRGM |

DMGMNNPNM,NDsN|DNPMGM,rpmgmrsND |

NPMGMRSndnmdnSRG|M,NDNM,NDNsrgm |

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

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

 

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

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

SOME HISTORY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

REFERENCES:

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

FOOTNOTES:

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