Varadarāja ninnu kori and Svarabhūṣaṇi – Few insights

Out of 600 or 700 compositions of Saint Tyāgarājā available to us, a significant fraction was composed in vinta or apūrva rāgā-s. Tyāgarājā was the first to use these rāgā-s and the source of these rāgā-s remain obscure. Saint didn’t reveal the name of these rāgā-s to his disciples. Thus, they remain a source of confusion as many kṛti-s composed in these rāgā-s has multiple lakṣaṇā-s, as transmitted by different disciple lineage. Hence, it becomes essential at least, at this point of time to collect and analyze the present available evidences, to know the lakṣaṇaṃ seen in the older versions transmitted by authentic sources. In this post, we are going to discuss few issues related to a kṛti composed in one such vinta rāgāṃ. Before going to the topic proper, a few facts are provided which are helpful in studying the kṛti-s composed in these vinta rāgā-s.

Fact 1 : Generally, rāgā-s handled by this composer can be broadly divided into three categories:

  1. Rāgā-s mentioned in the earlier musical treatises and popular during his time like Nāṭa
  2. Rāgā-s not mentioned in the earlier musical treatises but popular during his time like Begaḍa.
  3. Rāgā-s seen in relatively later treatises (like Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāraṃ, Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi etc) or created by him like Kāpi nārāyaṇi.

Fact 2 : Tyāgarājā didn’t reveal the name of these apūrva rāgā-s to his disciples. This is an important fact as the name that we hear today or see today in various texts were named either by his disciples or by musicians of the gone century. 1

Fact 3 : When the composer himself has not revealed the name of these rāgā-s , it is illogical to say that Tyāgarājā has composed in the rāgā-s seen in the treatise Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi of Gōvinda. This point will be emphasized in future posts too.

Fact 4 : The main difference between the earlier musical treatises (treatises composed till Sangīta Sārāmṛtā, dated approximately to 1735, like Sangīta Sudhā , Catuṛdanḍi Prakāśika etc) and the later ones (like Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāraṃ (SSS), Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi (SC) etc) lies in the way in which a particular rāgā was handled. Whereas in the former treatises, each rāgā was explained by the phrases they take, latter treatises explain by giving a scale – ārohaṇa and avarōhaṇa. In some, we find a lakśaṇa gītaṃ. Hence, a rāgaṃ is visualized as an synthetic entity which strictly obeys its scale by the proponents of the later treatises; whereas the proponents of the earlier treatises view these rāgā-s as an organic structure which cannot be explained by a scale always.

Fact 5 : Rāgā-s that we come to know by SSS and/or SC is not a complete list; they are just a sample. We have got many manuscripts preserved carefully in various libraries waiting to confuse us. The point that this author tries to establish by quoting this point is, a rāgā can have multiple scales, depending on the author who writes the treatise. A rāgā which is placed under a particular mēḷā could have been placed under a different mēḷā by a different author. Also, a rāgā with a similar set of svarā-s could have been called by a different name by various authors.

Fact 6 : Unless, we see the notation, it is not advisable to get carried away by the rāgā name alone (see Fact 5).

With this basic understanding, we shall move to the post “Varadaraja ninnu kori”.

This is a relatively rare kṛti composed on the Lord Varadarājā of Kāñcipuram. This is believed to have been composed by the Saint during his sojourn to holy places like Kāñcipuram, Tirupati etc. Much about this composition has been mentioned in another relevant article in this site. This article will focus on the history of this rāgaṃ with a special emphasis on Vālājāpet notations.

Svarabhūṣaṇi in treatises and texts

Svarabhūṣaṇi belongs to the third category in the classification mentioned above. Strangely, it is not mentioned in SSS or SC. Hence, it must be in some treatise which is yet to be discovered or it can be a creation of the Saint itself.

It is one kṛti of the Saint which is not frequently seen in the texts published in the last century. First text to link the rāgaṃ with this kṛti is “Oriental Music in European Notation”, published by Sri AM Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār (AMC) in 18932 (see figure 1) . He tried to collect and record the authentic versions and kṛti-s of Tyāgarājā and hence approached one of his direct disciple, Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar (VKB). His versions were cross checked with other disciples of the Saint and what we see today is the version approved by more than musician excluding VKB. Though, this kṛti is not notated here, we clearly see for the first time, the rāgā for this kṛti is mentioned as Svarabhūsaṇi, a janya of mēḷā 22. Later this rāgaṃ placed under mēḷa 22 can be seen in various texts including Nathamuni Panḍitar’s Saṅgīta Svara Prastāra Sāgaraṃ published in 1914.

It is to be pointed here we are really clueless on who named this rāgaṃ as it is not seen in any treatises that are presently available to us. But, it can be safely said that the rāgaṃ of this composition is a janyam of mēḷā 22 and is much different from its allied rāga Dēvamanōhari. The musicians who worked with AMC and AMC were well aware of Dēvamanōhari. Listing of few kṛti-s of the Saint under Dēvamanōhari and notating a composition of Gōpāla Krṣṇa Bhārati in Dēvamanōhari in the same book proves the same.

From what we have seen till now, it can be summarized Tyāgarājā has not revealed the name of any of the apūrva rāgā used by him. Some unknown musician has named it as Svarabhūṣani. AMC, who was in search of the authentic compositions and versions of the Saint, accepted this as such.


Fig1 : This shows the index of kritis published in Oriental Music in European Notation (1893) by AM Chinnasamy Mudaliyar. Varadaraja ninnu kori can be seen here with the ragam mentioned as Svarabhushani, a janya of mela 22.

Svarabhūṣaṇi and Varadarāja ninnu kori in manuscripts

Though, efforts have been made from late 1800s to record our music in the form of printed texts, several material remain unknown in manuscripts and they exist as a private collection. A study of these manuscripts is a must as they give a broader picture of the issue in hand.

It is quite rare to find this kṛti in manuscripts too. This shows that this kṛti was not learnt by many disciples and this should have been in the repertoire of only very few. Vālājāpet Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar was one amongst them to learn this directly from the Saint.

Let us now see few manuscripts which make a mention about this kṛti.

Manuscript 1

Dr V Rāghavan, in a paper published in the Journal of Music Academy mentioned about the discrepancies in allotting a particular rāgā name to a particular kṛti (of Tyāgarājā). He has presented a paper based on a palm leaf manuscript which he had in his possession. This kṛti find its presence there and the rāgā of this kṛti is mentioned as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ, a janya of mēḷa 34, Vāgadhīṣvari. We are totally unaware of the musical structure as notation was not provided in the paper. 3

Manuscript 2

A manuscript by one Bālasubraḥmaṇya Ayyar, written in the year 1922 says the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Svarabhūṣaṇi. Notation is provided.

 Manuscript 3

A granta manuscript in the collection of Late, Srivanchiyam Sri Ramachandra Ayyar says the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ. Again, notation is not provided.

Manuscript 4

A manuscript written by Vīṇa Kuppaier mentions this kṛti. Unfortunately, rāgā name was not mentioned and notation too was not provided.

Manuscript 5

Vālājāpet notations mention as Svarabhūṣani.

From the study of manuscripts, it becomes clear that there was confusion in the rāgā of this kṛti. Two different sources saying the rāgā as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ is an issue to ponder. Also, two different sources ascribing this kṛti to Svarabhūṣaṇi also validates the musical structure, where in the rāgā takes the svarā-s of mēḷa 22. Unless, we get a manuscript or text which gives the version in Śāradhābharaṇaṃ, we cannot come to a conclusion that Śāradhābharaṇaṃ and Svarabhūṣaṇi are two different versions (See fact 4).


Svarabhūṣaṇi – its scale

To the best knowledge of this author, Saṅgīta Candrikai of Māṇikka Mudaliyār, published in the year 1902 is the first printed text to mention the scale of this rāgaṃ as SGMPDNS  SNDPMRS, placing it under the mēḷa 22. The two manuscripts mentioned above (manuscript 2 and 5) give the same scale. Vālājāpet notations give additional information that this takes the notes of Kharaharapriya.

Earlier texts and manuscripts are uniform in their opinion that this is a janyaṃ of Kharaharapriya and the scale can be taken as SGMPDNS   SNDPMRS.

Varadarāja ninnu kōri – Vālājāpet version

Vālājāpet manuscripts form an important source to understand the kṛti-s of Saint Tyāgarājā. These manuscripts were written by Vālājāpet Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar (VVB) and his son Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar. It is even said Tyāgarājā could have seen this as they were recorded during his life time.4 These notations were preserved at Madurai Sourāṣtra Sabha and the transcripts are available in GOML, Chennai. Few of these transcripts can be accessed online here. These transcripts are the main source for this post.

In the absence of first hand records made by Tyāgarājā, these notations form a very valuable and authentic source to understand the version learnt by his prime disciple Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar.

In the notations, it is mentioned as Svarabhūṣaṇi with the scale SGMPDNS SNDPMRS. This scale is much adhered to in the version given.

Pallavi starts from dhaivataṃ, reaches madhya ṣaḍjaṃ and goes to gāndhāraṃ as DPMRSGMP. This clearly shows the rāga lakshaṇaṃ without any ambiguity. Anupallavi again starts from dhaivataṃ, but here proceed upwards and reaches tāra ṣaḍjaṃ. From here again reaches tāra gāndhāraṃ. The intelligent use of dhaivataṃ as a graha svaram and careful emphasis on the scale gives a melodic structure much different from Dēvamanōhari. Nowhere we find the phrase NDNS in this version. It is only DNS.

Caraṇaṃ has something interesting to say. It has got an additional line “maruḍu śiggu chē manḍarāḍaṭa”.

This is not seen in any of the versions recorded – either oral or textual. Interestingly, this additional line is seen in the manuscripts of Vīṇa Kuppaier!! Knowing the association between VVB and Vīṇa Kuppaier, this line adds authenticity to this version.

But, in the manuscripts of Vīṇa Kuppaier, there is a slight change in the sāhityaṃ. It reads as “maruḍu  śiggu  chē    munḍararāḍaṭa”.    This was the correction mentioned by Ravi too (See another article on this topic in this site).

Errors like this where there is a replacement of one syllable to another is much common in manuscripts. They are not the printed texts which are proof-read several times before publication (even they are prone to errors!!) What we see now, the transcripts are the genuine duplicates of the manuscripts preserved at Madurai Sabhā. The scribe, when trying to duplicate the contents from manuscripts could have made this error involuntarily. In this case, except that syllable, absolute concordance is seen between the two manuscripts under consideration. An unbiased researcher who is accustomed in reading the manuscripts will never judge the authenticity of the composition or the source which gives this composition based on the errors of this magnitude.


Let us now see the importance of this additional line. Caraṇaṃ with the additional line is represented below:

varagiri vaikuṇṭha maṭa      varṇiṃpa taramukāḍaṭa

maruḍu śiggu chē  man      ḍarāḍaṭa – nir       (munḍararāḍaṭa)

-jarulanu tārakamulalō        candrudai merayuḍu vaṭa

vara tyāgarāja nuta             garuḍa sēva jūḍa srī


‘Ra’ is used as dvitīyākśara prāsaṃ in this caraṇaṃ. When it is sung in rūpaka tāḷaṃ (catusra rūpakaṃ), each tāḷa cycle ends with maṭa, dhaṭa, man, nir, mulalō, vaṭa, nuta and juḍa. Hence each āvartanaṃ starts with a word which has ‘ra´ as its second syllable. Totally, we get 8 tāḷa āvartanaṃ only due to the presence of this additional line. In the commonly heard versions, if sung in rūpakaṃ, runs only for 6 āvartanaṃ!! Also, ‘nir’ is pushed to previous āvartanam to be in accordance with the rules of prosody.

Hence, this line must have been an integral part of this kṛti known only to the disciples learnt directly from the composer and singing without this line is an aberration.


Here is the link to Vālājāpet version of this kṛti.


A note on the version by Sri Bālasubraḥmaṇya Ayyar

No detail can be collected about this musician. The version given by him is much in line with the version that we hear starting in tāra saḍjaṃ, though differences exist. A ciṭṭa svara passage is too seen. Additional line seen in the two manuscripts mentioned above is missing. This version too does not sound like Dēvamanōhari. Needless to say, the version given here is much different from that of Vālājāpet version.



The following are “take-home” messages from this post:

Our music is transmitted very well through both textual and oral tradition. In the absence of one, the other is to be taken into consideration. A wise researcher will never neglect an evidence gained through one source when the other one is unaware of the same. Oral renditions and the available texts are only samples to show what was sung in he past. Voice of many musicians were not recorded and the knowledge of many researchers remain unpublished. If we get an additional evidence from unpublished source, that should be analysed and digested. This an only be considered as a true research. In this case, Valajapet versions were in the dark for many years.  When the notations adhere well to the scale, it should be accepted as  an old version. This will be explained more in further posts too.

“Varadarāja ninnu kōri” was composed in a rāgaṃ which takes the svarā-s of mēḷa 22. (till we get an evidence from other authentic source saying it as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ or something else).

It is better to call this rāgaṃ as Svarabhūṣaṇi as it is the name seen in one of the earlier texts published (as gleaned from the available evidence) and no other rāgaṃ exist with that name.

We don’t have any textual tradition to call it as Dēvamanōhari. Even oral traditions call it as Svarabhūṣaṇi, though versions differ. Older version like Vālājāpet notations gives us the real lakṣaṇaṃ of a rāgaṃ like this. Svarabhūṣani had a distinct melody which can be best experienced by listening to Vālājāpet version.

The additional line, seen in Vālājāpet version and manuscript of Vīṇa Kuppaier is integral to this composition. That line is to be included to make this kṛti a complete one.

Vālājāpet notations help us to know about the authentic versions learnt by VVB, directly from the Saint and solve many issues pertaining to the rāga lakṣaṇaṃ of vinta rāgā-s like this.

This example also highlights the importance of collecting and analyzing unpublished manuscripts to understand the rāgā-s handled by the Saint.



I like to thank Sri V Sriram, Secretary, Music Academy for allowing me to peruse the manuscript of Sri Balasubrahmanya Ayyar preserved at Music Academy library.

I thank Srivanchiyam Sri Chandrasekar, son of Srivanchiyam Sri Ramachandra Ayyar for sharing the rare manuscripts collected and preserved by his father.

I thank Sri Ravi Rajagopal for taking efforts to correct the error in sāhityam seen in the additional line .



  1. Subbarāma Dīkṣitulu. Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu, Pg 129. Vidyā Vilāsini Press, Eṭṭayapuraṃ Subbarāma Samasthānaṃ, 1905.
  2. Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār. Oriental Music in European Notation. Ave Maria Press, Madras,1893.
  3. Raghavan V. Two manuscript of Tyagaraja Songs. Journal of Music Academy. 1947: Pg 142.
  4. Sāmbamurti P. The Walajapet manuscripts. Journal of Music Academy. 1947: Pg 114-129.


mahAganapatim vandE in Todi – The Syamantaka Gem


GaneshaMy view to the world of Indian mythology, puranas and ancient history during my childhood was through the famous book series Amar Chitra Katha. Every book left a deep and indelible mark on my memory. And sometime last week I chanced to re-read a couple of them namely the titles “Ganesha”, “Tripura” & “Syamantaka Gem”. And in the same breath I also happened to read Dr V Raghavan’s article in Tamil (“Dikshitarum Vrathangalum Anushtanangalum Poojaikalum” part of his compendium of essays titled “Isaikatturaigal”. Needless to add the common thread was Lord Ganesha, especially with the upcoming Chathurthi- this year’s edition of the elephant God’s day of worship- ‘Vinayaka Chathurthi’ in September. It took me just a minute to connect these stories/dots and relate it to the lyrics of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s rarely rendered composition ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ in rupaka tAla and set in rAga tODi, with the carana lyric of the composition running as ‘tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam“ being the trigger to connect the song and the Amar Citra Katha narration.

My complete introduction to this song was when I was working as part of the Guruguha.Org project to translate Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai’s ‘Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’(DKP) sometime earlier.

And so here goes this short blog on this composition which also covers how Dikshitar encapsulates some of the puranic lore associated with Lord Ganesha therein and some points to ponder on the provenance/antecedents of this composition especially given that it does not figure in Subbarama Dikshitar’s magnum opus ‘Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini’.


Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, (SSP) published in AD 1906 in Telugu can be considered the first authentic compendia of Muthusvami Dikshitar compositions, coming especially from him as he was the scion of the Dikshitar family, being Muthusvami Dikshitar’s brother’s grandson & adopted son. With his formidable knowledge of the musical sastras and his tutelage under his great father Balasvami Dikshitar, Subbarama Dikshitar firmly enthroned the SSP as the Holy Bible and the last,first and complete reference point for Dikshitar kritis in its pristine form. And its legacy and reputation endures till date, more than a century later. While the SSP was a product from a direct lineage of Muthusvami Dikshitar, the year AD 1936 saw the creation of yet another luminaire, the aforesaid DKP, which can arguably be anointed as the possible first authentic edition of Dikshitar’s kritis in Tamil, from another line, of disciples this time. One of Muthusvami Dikshitar prime disciples was Tiruvarur Tambiappan Pillai for whose stomach colic, Dikshitar is said to have composed the vAra kriti on Guru Brhaspati set in the raga Athana. See foot note 1.

Tambiappan Pillai stayed on in Tiruvarur even as his venerable Guru Muthusvami Dikshitar relocated to Ettayapuram. Sathanur Pancanada Iyer became in turn one of the prime disciples of Tambiappan Pillai. Records from the second half of the 19th century tell us that Pancanada Iyer was one of the foremost exponents of Dikshitar compositions. Two later day musicians who survived into the first half of the 20th century we know, who learnt from him Dikshitar compositions in its pristine form, were Nagasvara vidvan Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai (TNS) and the legendary Veena Vidushi Dhanammal. Natarajasundaram Pillai learnt more than 200 compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar from Pancanada Iyer and in the year 1936, actively encouraged by Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, a Sangita Kalanidhi in his own right and Dr V Raghavan, published the first set of 50 composition in Tamil along with notation titling it “Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’. See foot note 2. 

For those who may want to look at the original Tamil text and its English translation, here are the links.

DKP- Tamil/DKP-English

Though not well known like the SSP even in music circles, in its own right DKP can be rightfully acknowledged as yet another authentic source of Dikshitar kritis. As mentioned in the context of an earlier blog, the notation of the songs in the DKP can be seen to be exactly/very closely matching to those found in the SSP, providing solid external reference as to the authenticity of the notation therein. It is our misfortune that while only 50 kritis made it to the first volume in 1936.The balance of 150 kritis, from out of the corpus of 200 kritis that Natarajasundaram Pillai learnt, never made it to publication, due to his death shortly thereafter. Sadly nothing is also known about the whereabouts of the notation / copies of the original manuscripts of Natarajasundaram Pillai, which he had in his possession wherein Sathanur Pancanada Iyer himself had written and corrected the text/notation in his own hand. Had they survived and today if we were to access the same, it would be a veritable goldmine offering us yet another perfect source of Dikshitar’s composition in its original form, rivalling the SSP in full measure. Sadly that is not the case.

Be that as it may, the kritis in the DKP and SSP and their compare reveals us one key point of discordance. Out of the 50 kritis in the DKP, 49 are found in the SSP. A solitary kriti which is notated in the DKP is not found in the SSP. In fact, this one kriti is never found in any prior publication and therefore the DKP becomes the first truly authentic publication for the notation of this composition. And this composition is none other than ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’. There are those who believe that the kritis found notated in the SSP are the only authentic creations of Dikshitar, given that a substantial number of compositions not found in the SSP came to published in the 1940’s or thereafter, chiefly by vidvans who trained under Ambi Dikshitar, son of Subbarama Dikshitar. Without in any way diluting the evaluation criteria/standard to determine the authenticity of a composition as being Dikshitar’s, just on the strength of pedigree and the fact of its publication to the world at large by Natarajasundaram Pillai, ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ can without doubt be accepted prima facie as an authentic kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar. We do have a few other kritis which by the sheer quality of lyrics, musical setting and stylistic similarity, can be anointed as authentic creations of Dikshitar, despite not being found in the SSP. Suffice to say that ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ is unique and is a singular instance of its class in comparison to the others such as ‘ekAmranAthaM’ – Gamakakriya, ‘vadAnyEsvaraM’ in Devagandhari, ‘srI sundararAjaM’ in Ramakriya and ‘siddhi vinAyakaM’ in Camaram. In fact from an oral tradition standpoint too, the repertoire of Dikshitar kritis of the Dhanammal family sourced from her tutelage under Sathanur Pancanada Iyer had only kritis found in the SSP and the Todi composition ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ was the sole exception.


In the context of appraising the authenticity of the kriti and also evaluate the melodic setting, I invite the attention at this point to the views of the expert Dr N Ramanathan in his seminal monograph ‘Problems in the editing of the compositions of Muddusvami Dikshitar’. The following are some of the salient points that he brings to our attention in the context of this composition:

1.   Acccording to him he had learnt this composition from Mahadeva Bhagavathar, from the Ambi Dikshitar side. He avers that the musical setting/notation he learnt is almost the same as found in the DKP providing a useful corroborative evidence that the kriti and its notation are authentic as it is the same in two independent lineages, despite not being found in the SSP.

2.    The melodic setting of the entire anupallavi line is very peculiar to Todi and is entirely native to this composition and is in fact the same in both the Ambi Dikshitar version as well as the DKP version, providing yet another validation as to the kriti being an authentic one of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

As we will hear in the discography section, the prAsa concordance, svarakshara,  the languorous rupaka tala and the marked cadences of Todi reaching up to tAra madhyama in its contours all mark out this beautiful creation of Dikshitar. As pointed out though this kriti did not make it to the SSP, subsequent publishers of Dikshitar’s compositions particularly those who were disciples of Subbarama Dikshitar’s son Ambi Dikshitar such as Calcutta Ananthakrishna Ayyar & Sundaram Ayyar on their authority published ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ with notation. One such publication is by Ananthakrishna Ayyar dateable to April 1956 wherein this composition is presented as the Invocatory song for the collection of the so called “Abhayambha Navavarana” kritis. Leaving aside the fact that the said collection cannot be ordained as a navAvarana, the notation of the song closely aligns to the one found in DKP, as pointed by Dr N Ramanathan. 


Having taken a view of the composition’s origins , we next move on to its lyrics. 

Krti:                      ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’      Raga: tODi / Tala: rUpakam

Pallavi:                 mahAgaNapatim vandE mAdhavAdyamara-bRndam ||

Anupallavi:         ahantAdirahitam shaktivihitam Anandadantamekadantam ||

Carana:                 tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam |

upaniSadpratipAditam umAmahEshvarasutam |

kapilavasiSThAdinatam kaHnjajAdibhirIDitam |

kapilam kRSNapUjitam karivadanena shObhitam |

suparNavAha-sevitam sura-guruguha-bhAvitam |

kapitthAmra-panasa-jambU-kadaLIphala-bhakSitam ||


The analysis of the text of the composition reveals that as always Dikshitar has embedded his standard colophon in the final carana segment ‘sura-guruguhabhAvitam’. The raga name Todi is not found in the composition, though it may be speculated that ‘ahantAdi’ is a sUcita reference. While Dikshitar explicitly refers to the iconic type of Lord Ganesa as Mahaganapathi, right at the outset, he also refers to ekadantam (the one with a single tusk) and one who feasts on kapittha (wood apple) , amra ( mango), panasa ( jackfruit) jambu (rose apple) and kadaliphala ( plantain) in the composition. In this composition Dikshitar alludes to Lord Vishnu thrice through the words ‘mAdhavAdyamara’, ‘krishnapUjitam’ and ‘suparnavAha-sEvitam’. The words ‘ahantAdi-rahitam’ reminds one of the contrasting usage of the word as in ‘ahantA-svarUpini’ occurring in the Andhali kriti ‘Brhannayaki varadayaki’. While in this kriti, it signifies ego, the word is played upon by Dikshitar as he says that She, the Mother Goddess manifests as the alphabets starting with A and ending with HA, in Sanskrit, in the Andhali composition which was covered in an earlier blogpost.


In sum, Dikshitar pays obeisance to the one-tusked harbinger of happiness, the Great Ganapati, extolled by Madhava and other celestials, the one free from ego, ordained by Shakti, the one worshipped by Lord Shiva for the destruction of Tripura, the One extolled by the Upanishads and the Son of Uma and Mahasvara, the One worshipped by Kapila,Vasishta, Vishnu, Brahma, Devas, Kartikeya and the One who feasts on the fruits -wood apple, mango, jackfruit, rose apple and plantain. The kriti is replete with svaraksharas right from the opening syllable.

While the pallavi and anupallavi employ standard epithets to extol Lord Ganesha, Dikshitar in the carana clearly alludes to two specific puranic lore/stories.

  • The first one is the reference to Lord Shiva propitiating Lord Ganesha before embarking on his mission to destroy Tripura , the mythical City created by his own devotee Maya the Asura, referred in the lyrics ‘tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam’.  
  • The second is the reference as ‘kapilam kRSNapUjitam’. At the outset, it may sound as a generic/ordinary reference of Krishna worshipping Lord Ganesha. In a while we will see that from a puranic perspective Dikshitar is referring to a not much popular story/episode from the Bhagavatham wherein Lord Krishna had to propitiate Lord Ganesha and seek his divine blessings to absolve himself of the sin of having to shoulder the accusation of killing his own kinsman Prasena.

Both these puranic episodes are interesting in themselves and one should revisit them in brief even as we immerse ourselves in the lyrical beauty of Dikshitar.


Tripuraनमस्ते अस्तु भगवन्  विश्वेश्वराय महादेवाय

त्र्यम्बकाय त्रिपुरान्तकाय त्रिकालाग्निकालाय

कालाग्निरुद्राय नीलकण्ठाय मृत्युञ्जयाय

सर्वेश्वराय सदाशिवाय श्रीमन् महादेवाय नमः

 So goes the passage from the Sri Rudram wherein Shiva is extolled as ‘tryambakAya tripurAntakAya’ amongst other epithets. While a deeper philosophical meaning for those terms can be enjoined, from a puranic perspective the reference is tagged to the destruction of the three worlds constructed by the Asuras by Lord Shiva. This puranic episode has come to feature the form of Shiva called ‘tripurAnthakA’.

Shortly after Lord Kartikeya the Commander in Chief of the Devas vanquished Tarakasura & drove the Asuras out of their domains, predictably his three sons plotted revenge to get back their abodes. Invoking Lord Brahma through austerity and penance they made him give a boon, enabling them to build three almost eternal and impregnable floating fortresses which would be their abodes. Lord Brahma’s only covenant /rider given that no boon can be granted for permanence, was that the cities would perish if one were to take aim and shoot them down when the three floating cities would be in a perfect straight line/occultation with each other, once every 1000 years when the star Pushya is in conjunction with the Moon. Maya the architect of the Asuras built the three cities called as Tripura from where Tarakasura’s sons unleashed their reign of terror and destruction. And as doomsday came – the day when the star Pushya conjected with the Moon, the Devas headed by the Trimurtis launched their final assault on Tripura. As the Cities transited into a straight line, Lord Shiva shot the fatal arrow which destroyed the three great Cities of Tripura, with which he earned himself the sobriquet of ‘tripurAntakA’, the annihilator of the three worlds and destroyer of Tripura. Incidentally Lord Ganesha is the ruling deity of the star Pushya. Lord Ganesha’s role in this story comes in when Lord Shiva fails to pay the customary obeisance to Lord Ganesha or Vigneshvara- the One who removes all obstacles, before he departs in his chariot to shoot that fatal arrow/pAshupatAstra which destroyed the three occulting cities. Legend has it that the axle of his chariot broke down as soon as he started. In a jiffy Lord Shiva realized his folly of not having worshipped Lord Vignesvara. To atone, he prayed forthwith to Lord Ganesha the remover of all obstacles, paid his obeisance before proceeding forward. Popular literature too highlights this episode. For instance Arunagirinathar in his well known Thiruppugazh eulogizes Lord Ganesha thus:

கைத் தலநிறை  கனி

முப்புரம்எரிசெய்த அச்சிவன்  உறைரதம்

அச்சது பொடிசெய்த அதிதீரா

The legend has a number of variations in the kshetra puranas for quite a few Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu including those at Thiruvirkolam, Thiruvadhigai and Accharapakkam particularly which in fact boasts of a shrine for Lord Ganesha wherein he is enshrined as ‘Acchumuri Vinayaka’. See footnote 3 below. Be that as it may, Dikshitar by referring to Tripura dahanam by Lord Shiva, highlights the role of Lord Ganesha as the vanquisher of all obstacles and reinforces the puranic injunct that He be worshipped before one embarks on any endeavour.


In this section we shall look at ‘krishnapUjitam’ in ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ & the cross reference it has to ‘rouhinEya anujArcitaM’ found in ‘siddhi vinAyakaM’ in raga cAmara, again another kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar on Lord Ganesa.

SyamantakaAs we embark on this let us go over to what Dr Raghavan has to say on the same context but in a different kriti of Dikshitar namely ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisaM’ in the raga cAmara. Dr V Raghavan in his essay in Tamil narrates how the 68th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta, Sri Chandrashekarendra Sarasvati clarified to him & others, the meaning of the lyric ‘rauhinEyAnujArcitham’ found in the cAmara kriti ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisham’.

Sometime during the 1950’s during September the Paramacharya was camping at the Madras Sanskrit College in Mylapore along with his entourage. On the Vinayaka Chaturthi day that fell during his stay, the Acharya bade his personal attendants to mould a figurine of Lord Ganesha from the clay soil in the premises and he personally performed puja to it with all spiritual splendour. Amongst the many apart from Dr V Raghavan who attended the puja and had darshan that day, was the legendary vocalist Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer who after completion of the puja and ahead of the arati to Lord Ganesha by the Paramacarya, proceeded to sing the Dikshitar composition ‘ siddhi vinayakam anisham’ in Camara as his offering.

Here is the clipping of Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer rendering the Dikshitar composition ‘ siddhi vinAyakam anisham’ as he must had done that September evening at the Sanskrit College, Mylapore premises decades ago, in the august presence of the Paramacharya.

After the veteran concluded his rendering, the Acharya nodding approvingly with his benign smile & affection queried those around him if they /anyone assembled knew the real import/meaning of the words ‘rouhinEyAnujArcitham’ which occurred in the carana of the composition. Seeing that none including Dr Raghavan had an answer, the Paramacharya went on to narrate when –‘rouhinEya anuja’ or the younger brother of Balarama, i.e Krishna had to worship Lord Ganesha. The instance occurs in the story of the Syamantaka gem which comes in the Bhagavatham. Prasena, a Yadava kinsman of Krishna owned the Syamanataka gem, a legendary gem of great attraction/value and many were reportedly rumoured to have been so enamoured of the gem that they were willing to take any risk to purloin it. Prasena in vanity always wanted to flaunt it and so used to wear it as a regular neck ornament. One day wearing it he went to the forest accompanied by Krishna, for hunting. As fate would have it he was attacked by a lion which killed him , dragged him away along with the jewel in his neck. Jambavan the bear dweller of the forest latter killed the lion, took the jewel and gifted it to his daughter Jambavati. In the mean while Krishna returned to Dvaraka without Prasena, and he conveyed to the Yadava elders the news of Prasena succumbing to the attack of a lion. However in the absence of proof – witness or body and with the gem too missing & unaccounted for, quite a few members of the citizenry suspected that something sinister was afoot. Dvaraka was soon agog with rumours that Krishna himself had liquidated Prasena so that he could appropriate the famed Syamantaka gem all for himself.  Without Prasena’s body or any other evidence to prove that the accident had happened, Krishna was left with no choice but to go back to the forest to recover the body and the gem so as to establish the truth, redeem his name and erase the blemish that had been caused to himself.

And so, Krishna went to the forest, fought Jambavan, won the battle with him, got back the gem and came back to Dvaraka. And immediately on his return he restored the gem to the deceased Prasena’s brother Shatrujith, as its rightful owner. Even then the travails of the gem and its owner did not end with that. Boding ill-luck to Krishna even thereafter, the gem put him in an extreme quandary as events continued to unfold much to his chagrin, lending ever greater credence to the original rumour that Krishna wanted to somehow own the gem. Krishna was thus left worrying in Dvaraka about all this.

And at this point in time Sage Narada came to visit him. Krishna confided to him his predicament and he sought the great sage’s guidance as to how to absolve himself of this liability once and for all. The Sage in his infinite wisdom told Krishna of the malefic effect of watching the Moon on Caturthi day and the pain that it brings to the incumbent, as the root cause of this apavAdA. He advised Krishna to worship Lord Ganesha and offering modaka and fruits on Caturthi day as atonement and that would cleanse him off this self-inflicted dOsha. And thus did Krishna redeem his lost honour and name, at the end by doing the Caturthi pooja to Lord Ganesha.

Dr Raghavan concludes his narrative by saying that this mythological story related by the Acharya is also found documented in the ‘Skandapurana’ under ‘Syamantaka AkhyAnam’ and in texts such as ‘vrata cUdAmani’. 

And just as Dikshitar highlights the virtue and cleansing of the malefic effect caused by Moon from an astrological perspective in the cAmara kriti, he makes a direct reference to this puranic episode as ‘krishnapUjitam’ in this Todi kriti, embedding the entire story/episode pithily as is his wont.


From amongst the popular vocalists of the previous century we do notice that Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian has sung ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ which is available in the public domain. There are no renderings of this composition by members of the Dhanammal family much to our disappointment. Instead for this blog post I seek to present the rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M S Subbalakshmi from a concert of unknown provenance.  She must have presumably learnt it from the scion of the Dhanammal family Smt T Brinda perhaps. Smt MSS is known for her fidelity of rendering true to the source from which she learns and it is on that basis that this version is specially sought to be presented.

Part 1 : pallavi & anupallavi


Part 2: caranam

The version she sings is mostly aligned to the notation found in the DKP except for a few melodic extensions or flourishes, which one can and should anticipate. Attention is invited to the anupallavi rendering which Dr N Ramanathan talks about as also some of the melodic variations she weaves around some of the carana lines. There is one point to highlight especially in the context of the pallavi. The line ‘mAdhavAdyamara brindam’ spans 3 rupaka tAla cycles or totally 9 beats as per the DKP notation whereas all performers complete the said sahitya snippet in 2 avartas itself ( total of 6 beats).

Presented next is the rendering of the kriti by ‘Dikshitarini’ Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Kalpakam Svaminathan. It is in all probability learnt either from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer or Ananthakrishna Iyer, under whom she was a pupil, both of them belonging to the Ambi Dikshitar lineage.

Apart from the version of Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian one other version which can be profitably listened to is the one by Sangita Kalanidhi R K Srikantan.

From amongst the renderings, in my opinion, Smt Subbulakshmi’s rendering is closest to the notation in the DKP with the correct gait/pace of rendering. One other distinctive aspect of this kriti and rendering by Smt Subbulakshmi is the dominance of pancama varjya phrases, in the kriti body together with emphasis more on madhyama. Its always been a practice to render Todi skipping frequently the pancama note for it has a beauty on it own.

Some modern musical texts refer to Todi bereft totally of pancama as Suddha Todi. This Todi bereft of pancama is a beauty in its own right. In fact Patnam Subramanya Iyer the prolific composer created the ubiquitous varna ‘erA nApai’ in adi tAla with the pancama being rare/alpA. Many might not know that Patnam has also created one more varna (sAmi ninnE kOriunnAnurA – Adi tAlA) with the following sahitya totally eschewing the pancama ( Suddha Todi). 

sAmi ninnE kOriyunnAnurA cAla namminAnurA (sAmi)

nA manavi vinarA shrI vEnkatEsa cennApuri nivAsA

cAla vE tOda mElukOra

Presented next is the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M L Vasanthakumari beginning one of her many concerts with this rare varna. Mark the complete absence of the pancama note in the body of the varna.

And she follows up by rendering a dainty set of imaginative kalpana svaras again without the pancama.

The varna is apparently composed on Lord Venkatesa of Chennapuri, as is obvious from the sahitya. Given that Patnam Subramanya Iyer was a denizen of North Chennai/George Town area one wonders if the Temple/diety in question was what is known as the Bairagi Temple at Muthialpet. Historian S Muthiah in his tome “Madras, Chennai: A 400 year record of the First City of Modern India- Vol 1” notes that this old temple dedicated to Sri Venkatesvara was mentioned as Lorraine’s Pagoda in olden records. Apparently it was built by Ketti Narayana, son of Beri Thimmanna, a 17th century Dubash. A detailed note on the temple appears in Joan Punzo Waghorne’s book “Diaspora of the Gods” published by OUP.


And in conclusion, for me the story and the lyric is a throwback to the days I read the Amar Citra Katha stories including ‘The Syamantaka Gem’ alluded in this blog post, abridged/adapted/published by the Late Anant Pai. What a great way to know these in a simple way! If the Amar Citra Katha is a visual pen picture of these legends & stories then Dikshitar’s classic ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ is an immortal musical pen picture, a modern day Syamantaka gem which he has bequeathed to us. In contrast to the puranic gem which brought ill luck, one can be sure that if this modern gem were to be sung it is sure to bestow us prosperity and the boundless Grace of Lord Ganesha, this Chathurthi.


  1. Dikshita Keertanai Prakashikai -Tamil ( 1936) – Vidvan Thiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai
  2. Problems in the editing of the Kirtanas of Muddusvami Dikshitar(1991) – Dr N Ramanathan- Paper presented in the 65th Annual Conference of the Music Academy Madras on 19-Dec-1991 and published in JMA Madras, 1998 Vol LXIX,pp 59-98.
  3. Isai Katturaigal – Tamil (2006)- Dr V Raghavan- Published by the Dr V Raghavan Center for Performing Arts, Adayar, Chennai – pp 68-70 


  1. Legend has it that Dikshitar examined the astro chart of his devoted disciple and sensed that that the recurring colic pain was due to the malefic impact of Jupiter ( graha dosha). Given that Tambiappan Pillai would not be able to recite shlokas to propitiate Guru and seek divine relief to ameliorate his suffering, because of his caste, Dikshitar proceeded to create the composition ‘Brhaspate’ in Atana condensing the very essence of Guru worship, bade his disciple to sing it. Needless to add he did so and recovered completely. The story finds mention in many of the Muthusvami Dikshitar biographies including those written by Subbarama Dikshitar, Dr V Raghavan and Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer.
  2. Readers are requested to read the Introductory sections of the English translation of the DKP given in the link above, for a detailed biography of Sri Sathanur Pancanada Iyer who was also called Sathanur Panju Iyer, the guru of Veena Dhanammal and Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai. Additionally readers may also read this article, published in Guruguha.Org sometime back.
  3. Given that we have a few Siva ksetras which feature Lord Ganesa having connection with the Tripura samhara episode as above, surprisingly we do not find modern day editors of Muthusvami Dikshitar kritis, arbitrarily assign ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ in Todi to the Ganesa enshrined in those temples.  

Disclaimer: The clippings used in this blog post have been purely used for educational/research purposes and no attribution is made or copyright claimed, which is exclusively the property of the producers/artistes concerned. The photos has been sourced from the web & belong exclusively to the trademark owners of ‘Amar Citra Katha’ 


Raga Architecture of the 18th Century – Part 1


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

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

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

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

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

They are:

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

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

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

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


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


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

S R2 M1 G3 P D2 S

S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

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



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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

This point can be answered from a couple of perspectives:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 368-371
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai
  4. Prof S R Janakiraman (2009) – Raga Lakshanangal (Tamil) Vol II , Pages 69-70- Published by the Madras Music Academy


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