“kāśīviśveśvara ehi mām pāhi’ – The forgotten magnum opus in Kāmbhoji

Prologue:

The raga Kāmbhoji needs no introduction to a discerning listener of our music. In it, is a composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar, which is the subject matter of this brief post, which is the first one in this new composition appreciation series of short blogposts. Personally, I consider this as one of the serious and contemplative pieces ever composed in our music and particularly by Dikshitar. Considerable thought ought to have gone into this composition as it is truly a magnum opus of epic proportions set in khanda ata tala, 14 aksharas, with a full suite of pallavi, anupallavi and carana and the last two sections invested with a madhyama kala portion, the sahitya rich in lyrics, sthala/ksetra references and needless to add, infused with Kambhoji as its life and blood.

The Kriti – A Background

During his stay at Tiruvarur, sometime CE 1820 , the itinerant he was, Dikshitar visited the nearby village of Kuzhikkarai perhaps on the occasion of the consecration of the Shiva temple there, whose patron was one Vaidyalinga Mudaliar. The temple being analogous to the one at Kasi, has Lord Kasi Visvanatha as its presiding deity. Musical history tells us that during his sojourn there, Dikshitar composed quite a few kritis including this Kambhoji masterpiece. ‘śrī viśvanātham’, the caturdasha ragamalika, ‘annapūrṇe viśālākṣi’ in sama, ‘viśvanāthena samrakṣitoham in samanta are the other ones which are recorded in history as having been composed by Dikshitar in this ksetra. Near the temple precincts in a water body/tank /kuLaM (in tamizh). The legend associated with the temple has it that by bathing in it, a person afflicted by leprosy would be cured of the same (“kuśṭha-roga-apaha-gartatīrtha-śambho”) and that, propitiating the Lord in this kshetra would give one, benefits greater than what can be got by being to kashi itself (“kāśī-kśetra-sadṛśa-adhika-phalada-garta-tīra-vāsa”).

The kriti in its sahitya sports all these references directly or indirectly as under:

भवरोगहर-चतुर-वैद्यलिङ्ग-विभो (bhava-roga-hara-catura vaidya-linga-vibho) – reference indirectly to Vaidyalinga Mudaliar

गर्ततीर-वास भक्तविश्वास ( gartatīra-vāsa bhaktaviśvāsa) & कुष्ठ रोगापह-गर्ततीर्थ-शम्भो (kuśṭha-roga-apaha-gartatīrtha-śambho) – Reference to the sacred water tank ‘gartatIra’ and its medicinal property to ward off leprosy (kushta roga)

And as is Dikshitar’s wont, the raga mudra and his colophon are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the composition as under:

भद्रदायक-अम्भोजकर-विभो – meaning “O the one whose lotus hands grant benign fortune and happiness!”

शिवगुरु-गुहजनक-पशुपते – meaning “O the auspicious one, the progenitor of Guruguha and master of all creatures!”

The complete lyrics and the meaning of this composition in Sanskrit can be found here:

http://guru-guha.blogspot.com/2007/09/dikshitar-kriti-kasi-visvesvara-raga.html

Kambhoji Quartet – The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP’s) take:

Subbarama Diksitar’s treatise documents the following compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar in the raga Kambhoji:

  1. Shri Subramanyaya Namaste – Rupaka
  2. Shri Valmikalingam – Ata
  3. Kamalambikayai Kanakamshukayai – Ata
  4. Kashi Vishvesvara -Ata

Each one of the above ‘Kambhoji Quartet’ is a musical marvel, presenting the raga Kambhoji in its seemingly infinite variations and facets and rivalling only each other in their beauty of the melodic construction and intricacy of architecture. But before one looks at the construct of the composition, it has to be first heard. Sadly, the composition “kAsi visvesvara” is never heard on the concert circuit and gives one the impression whether it is even being taught and learnt, leave alone being sung! While the performers, from amongst the above listing of compositions of Dikshitar, take to the ubiquitous ‘Sri Subramanyaya Namaste’, the three others have never been known to be taken up for rendering or serious elaboration. And sadly, keeping the above Kambhoji Quartet aside, performers have taken recourse to the other kritis, (mis)attributed to Muthuswami Dikshitar, such as “Marakatavallim” or “Kailasanathena” which are not only of doubtful antecedents but also not at all comparable or in the same league as the aforesaid Quartet of compositions.

Be that as it may, before we look at the lyrical and musical construct of the composition, the available renderings must be first heard.

Discography:

It is known with certainty that this composition formed part of the repertoire of the late Sangita Kalanidhi D K Pattamal who used to wonder at it saying that singing this composition was nothing short of performing a yagna. Unfortunately, we do not have any recordings of her rendering of this piece. In all probability she must have learnt it from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, the repository of Dikshitar compositions, from whom she learnt many Dikshitar compositions.

Presented first in this section is the rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi B Rajam Iyer who too learnt it from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, which we fortunately have.

Presented next is a rendering of the same by the revered Prof S R Janakiraman, who has rendered it in his own inimitable style.

It has to be pointed out here that the above two are the only available rendering of the composition in the public domain and perhaps luckily become a high-fidelity or pristine version/gold copy of the composition, unsullied by likely extensions or interpolations. A discerning listener ought to immerse himself/herself in the rendering, with the SSP notation by the side to soak up the musical and lyrical essence of the composition.

Musical & Lyrical Construct of the Composition:

From a musical perspective the following points stand out:

  1. The musical phrase ‘DP DM MG MR GR GS’ is the recurring leitmotif which occurs in this composition. The notation for the anupallavi & charana lyrical portions ‘bhakta viś v ā sa’, ‘vaidyalingavibho’, ‘gartatīrtha śambho’ and ‘cinmātra’ would show that they are set to this phrase as it were a refrain of sorts. The pallavi lyrical portion ‘karuṇānidhe’ too sports an equivalent phrase ‘DP DM MG MR rpmG MG MR GS’ as its mettu. By design this musical motif is found in the anupallavi and the charana portions, occurring in the 8th to the 14th akshara of the ata tala cycle.
  2. SN3P finds an acknowledged place in the musical setting. The loop back portions from the anupallavi and the charana back to the pallavi, respectively at ‘dakshina’ and ‘citsabhāpate’ sport SN3P explicitly.
  3. The raga’s purvanga as it appears in the composition eschews SRGMP completely save for a tāra sancara usage at the sahitya ‘rogāpaha’ occurring in the carana. Thus, it is SGRGM, SP or SMGM which dominate the raga’s purvanga prayogas. And the quaint MGPDS as well as the standard SMGMPD appear aplenty in the composition.
  4. The madhyama note is seemingly given a pride of place in the composition. For instance, the anupallavi section of the composition commences with a dheerga madhyama.
  5. The two madhyama kala sahitya portions appended to the anupallavi and the carana portions are a marvel in themselves. The word ‘deva’ is used consecutively but yet to connote different epithets of the Lord, a form of aNi (அணி)or a lyrical motif. This form of lyrical ornamentation is found in a number of compositions of both Muthusvami Dikshitar and Subbarama Dikshitar, as documented in the SSP.
  6. Similarly, the prathamakshara and dvitIyakshara prAsa concordance is found in the two madhyama kala sahityas as under:
  7. The syllable ‘de’ occurring at the 1st and 8th (exact half of ata tala 14 beat cycle) aksharas covering the two full tAla avartas of the anupallavi madhyama kala sahitya section “dEśika kaṭākṣeṇa darśita
    |dEvatā-sārvabhauma-mahā || dEva-devadeva-deva nuta |dEva rāja pūjita dakshiṇa||”
  8. The syllable ‘va’ occurring at the 2nd and 9th aksharas covering the two full tala avartas of the carana madhyama kala sahitya section “bhuvana bharaṇa-bhūtagaṇapate -bhava hara-nata-vidhi-śrIpate|| Siva guruguha-janaka-paśupate |nava maṇi-vilasita-citsabhāpate ||
  9. Dikshitar has made the composition capacious. In other words he distributes the sahitya in such a way that even while he keep prAsa in mind, he also incorporates long kArvais, pauses and musical phrases to fill every one of the 14 aksharas. I draw the attention of the reader to what we saw in the previous post on the composition ‘rEnuka dEvi samrakshitOham’ in Kannada Bangala. There Dikshitar took the stylistic route of matching the hrasva and dhirghA syllables of the sahitya to exactly fit the sahitya in a 1:2 ratio- for example if every hrasva sahitya syllable were to be sung for 1 akshara of the tala ( jhampa in that case) then the dhIrgha syllables would be at 2 aksharas and the entire sahitya of the composition would be structured as well to fit into exactly the total tala cycle, leaving no surplus or deficit of either sahitya syllables or tala aksharas. In other words, there was no need for a pause/kArvai to extend sahitya to fill the tala nor was there a need to accelerate to second speed in the midst in order to complete the sahitya within the tala cycle. This construct of mAtu laya is not adopted by Dikshitar here. Contrastingly in ‘kAsi visvEsara’ he liberates himself from this self-imposed constraint of matching the sahitya and tala in perfect mAtu laya. Instead he pitches for long kArvais – sustained intonation/elongation of sahitya/note on to multiple contiguous tala aksharas and gamakas keeping in mind the raga of his choice for the composition namely Kambhoji. Kambhoji as a rakti raga can we melded to this compositional style with elaborate gamakas or kArvais, which we can say as mellismatic whereas a raga like Kannada Bangala which is more note or phrase based would be amenable to a matu laya model composition.  It is an accepted tenet that kArvais or elongation of svaras is generally responsible for bringing visrAnti or reposefulness to rAga elaboration.
  10. In preparing his compositional canvas with ata tala , Dikshitar also pegs the pace of rendering the composition – the rendering ought to be sedate and languorous without either rushing the sahitya through or eliding/abbreviating the pauses. There are those who have attempted to abbreviate the compositions of Dikshitar to shorter talas, as we saw in the case of ‘rEnukA dEvi samrakshitOham’. In fact there are those who render the other Kambhoji ata tala creation of Dikshitar namely ‘srI valmIkalingam in a faster tempo, wreaking havoc on the composition and also eliding the kArvais therein. In sum Dikshitar’s idea of a longer tAla cycle with sparser sahitya per tala must have been to potentially make the performer linger a lot more on every note and have it rendered in a sedate style so that every note and its movement can be slowly partaken by the listeners.
  11. While the sahitya is rich, Dikshitar has strung them in the section with the greatest of care, creating a monumental edifice. From a tala perspective for example the Pallavi itself takes 4 cycles, anupallavi takes 6 cycles with two of them being madhyama kala sahityas and the caranam in 14 cycles again with two of the them being madhyama kala sahitya sections.
  12. And as Dikshitar proceeds to set the composition to music he has for some reason has chosen the phrase in second kAla DP DM MG MR GR GS as the quintessential leitmotif for this composition, repeating this in atleast 5 places spread over the composition as pointed out earlier.
  13. The anupallavi of the composition has been constructed effectively taking Kambhoji’s uttaranga followed by a foray into the tara stayi and back to the Madhya sadja. Launching thus on the madhyama note ( at ‘kAsi ksEtra’) the khandika or section proceeds all the way to the tAra gandhara ( fleetingly touching the tAra madhyama at ‘garthatIra”) before descending to sadja ar ‘vishvAsA’. The delectable anupallavi madhyama kala sahitya section ‘dEsika katAksEna’ distills the Kambhoji of yore for us, spanning exactly the same octaval coverage made earlier in the anupallavi proper.. Attention is invited to the different varieties of madhyama employed in the anupallavi, for example the straight/plain variety at ‘Kasi’ and the quivering variety at ‘ksEtra’.
  14. While this is so of the anupallavi, a serious commentary on the construct of the caranam is best provided by the late Veena Vidushi and Musicologist Smt Vidya Shankar in one of her articles ( “A Comparative Study of the Music Trinity”), wherein she demonstrates that the musical setting of this composition is the best exemplar as to how a raga has to be elaborated or laid out in a composition in a systematic/structured manner, which she refers to as ‘AlApana paddhathi’. Again the final madhayama kala sahitya section of the carana ‘bhuvana bharana…………citsabhApatE’ stands out as a grand finale of this magnum opus of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

Epilogue:

This magnificent composition deserves a thoroughly scholarly and aesthetic presentation by an artiste after duly absorbing the melody and lyrics. And it is probably for the likely effort involved in doing so which perhaps deters performers from learning and rendering it. One fervently hopes that this would change in the days to come.

And in parting I conclude this blog post with a piece, a tillana rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi Dr M L Vasanthakumari, in a very contrasting raga. It is in a haunting melody Dayavati which goes with the notes: Arohana : S R2 G2 P N2 S and Avarohana: S N2 P M1 G2 S composed by Late N S Ramachandran in khanda triputa tala. The composition is obviously a solitaire, the only one of its kind serving as the sole exemplar of this raga.

Some reflections on Raga Narayanagaula and its allied ragas

INTRODUCTION:

 

We did see the detailed analysis of Narayanagaula in our earlier blog post. Now in this short  blog post we shall see a few more aspects of this raga including a comparative study with some allied ragas along with a note on Kuppayyar’s beautiful kriti which is never at seen in the concert circuit.

Read on!

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS – SUMMARY:

There is considerable melodic relationship between Narayanagaula and the following set of ragas:

  1. Kedaragaula
  2. Surati
  3. Kapinarayani

While the first two have considerable music history backing them, the last raga Kapi Narayani is a eka kriti raga the creation of which is attributed to Tyagaraja. Given the common svaras and murcchanas which form the single body for these ragas/melodies, one needs to get down to the musical analysis using the notes and the motifs and jiva, nyasa and graha svaras on one hand and the practical musical exposition of the ragas on the other.

Let’s first look at the comparative chart of these ragas as above. The chart below is prepared with Narayanagaula as focus raga and how it contrasts from its siblings.

Raga Nominal arohana Nominal avarohana
Kedaragaula S R M P N S S N D P M G R S
Surati S R M P N S S N D P M G R S
Narayanagaula S R M P N D N S S N D P M G R G R S
Kapi Narayani S R M P D N S S N D P M G R G R S

 

Narayanagaula Kapi Narayani Kedaragaula Surati
Key aroha phrases SRMPNNS ;SRMPNDNS ;Ghana raga; tristayi raga SRMPDNS PNDNS not seen ; rakti raga; tristhayi raga SNDNS & NDNS are seen;  No movement below mandara Nishada
Distinctive avarohana krama combinations SNDPMGRGRS ;SNDMPMGRGRS SNDPMGRG.R.. SNDPMGRS SNDPMGPMRS ; SNDPMGRS
Distinctive murcchanas PDM and PNDM; G.RGR. is seen while MRS does not occur. Again MGS is used; MGRGR is a patented murccana for this raga & is to be avoided in allied ragas MG..RGr… with a marked emphasis on the G and R & r as a repeated nyasa marks this raga MGS is never used;  Use of MGMPR is distinctive of Surati.
Weak notes Gandhara is an extremely strong note. Dhaivata is an accepted graha svara as well. Gandhara falls to sadharana value in some phrases ( nGRS) G2 is not seen. Emphasis is always on the nyasa note rishabha. True to its rAgAngA status, it cannot be tinted with G2 at all. Gandhara & dhaivata are very weak notes & is never a graha or nyasa. Gandhara is very close to madhyama as if it were a simple place holder svara and similarly dhaivata is close to nishada.
Strong notes Ni and Ma are very strong and are preferred graha svaras /starting notes. Always begin murcchanas with them and end them/nyasa svara with Ri. Given PDNS as a complete uttaranga, all these notes are powerful graha/nyasa notes. Ni is the graha svara Ni is a strong note and is a preferred jiva svara; Sadja is the graha svara
Melodic structuring Jhanta notes to be favoured ; sA or pA  to be avoided as resting notes. In an exposition of the raga always place the pivot of the raga on the graha/jiva notes and start on the graha and end on the preferred nyasa note. Jhanta notes to be favoured. Sa and Pa are preferred resting notes. Ri is a preferred resting note was well while sa and pa preferred graha svaras apart from Nishada . PMR, NDPPMR and MGMPR , is used profusely.

 

An excellent svara gnanam/musical competence and practiced experience is needed to perform manodharma/Kalpana sangitam in this raga. It is certainly not a raga for the faint-hearted. It cannot be sung with traces of Kedaragaula or Surati. It demands intimate knowledge of rendering the unique micro tones of nishadha and madhyama, usage of appropriate start and ending notes, emphasis on janta notes and ability to sing the raga in the first kalam/speed. The renditional complexity of the raga increases as under:

Plain Kriti ->plain varnam -> svara Kalpana in second speed -> svara Kalpana in first speed – > tanam –> alapana -> neraval

Kedaragaula, Narayanagaula and Surati can never be understood and distinguished just on the basis of grammar or svaras. A student who has not heard these ragas can never sing them true to form from notation. Only by hearing the practical exposition of these ragas by great masters can one really be able to understand the notation, as well as the melodic contours and the distinguishing features of these ragas.

A NOTE ON ‘NANNU BROCEVAREVVARE’ of KUPPAYYAR:

A common theme underlying the practical exposition of these ragas is the telling use of individual notes as a graha or nyasa, emphasizing the jiva and dhirga svaras and the leitmotifs in the svara prastara. These are the keys to present a proper picture of these ragas distinctly. The exemplars for Narayanagaula has been shared in the earlier blog post covering the Varna, kriti and a couple of svara Kalpana clippings. The Narayangaula kriti of Veena Kuppayyar was mentioned in passing in my previous post but I would like to present a personal rendering of the same. Given the fact that the composition is never ever rendered plus the fact that the composer specialized in the raga, intrigued me so so much that I learnt it from notation with the raga knowledge gained from Dikshitar’s ‘Sri ramam’ and the Kuppayyar varna. Any errors or omission is entirely due to my amateurish knowledge/presentation.

A few points merit our attention in the architecture of this composition:

  1. Much like Dikshitar, Kuppayyar gives pride of place to Dha. He starts the anupallavi with Dha, like the anupallavi take off at ‘dhIrAgraganyam’ in Sriramam.
  2. The anupallavi is decorated with a sprightly cittasvara section while the carana loops back to the pallavi through a crowning madhayama kala sahitya section a la Dikshitar!
  3. MGRGRS, the leitmotif occurs aplenty in the composition. It occurs 2 times in the pallavi, 3 times in the anupallavi and 9 times in the carana excluding the cittasvara section. A staggering 14 total occurrences with at least  one for every tala avarta! So much for this leitmotif. He also uses DMP deliberately as well. One is forced recollect the intervention of Gayakasikhamani Harikesanallur Muthiah Bagavathar during the Experts Committee meeting of the Music Academy when it met to deliberate on this raga’s lakshana, which I have summarized elsewhere in this blog post. He wanted DMP to enshrined in the avarohana murrcana which will distinguish it from Kedaragaula beyond doubt. He wanted it to be SNDMPMGRGRS, so much for the veteran’s formidable lakshya and lakshana gnana! The same is recorded in JMA 1935-37 pp156-157. The Experts Committee unsurprisingly without much ado concluded that SRMPNDNS and SNDPMGRGRS as the arohana and avarohana krama on 31st December 1934. They too agreed that MGRGRS was a lietmotif to be used and enshrined it as a part of the avarohana.
  4. In sum this kriti encompasses the set of all permissible murccanas which distinctively form the basis of the lakshana of Narayangaula – SRMP ; MPNNS ; MPNDNS ; Nsrmgrgrs; NNDPMP ; NDMP; PMNNDP; MGRGRS ; MGS; nndpnnsS ( the svaras in normal upper case are mandhara stayi svaras; lower case are tAra stAyI and lower case italics are  mandhara stayi svaras.

DISCOGRAPHY OF ALLIED RAGAS:

Covered next is a set of curated renderings of Surati, Kapi Narayani and Kedaragaula as svarakalpana or as viruttam singing as they offer the most in terms of understanding raga architecture.

First of the lot is Surati and presented herein is the improvisation as a part of the pallavi ragamalika by Vidvan T M Krishna, from a concert in the public domain.

The rendering is a part of the pallavi in the raga Janaranjani with its sahitya being the pallavi portion of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s  composition ‘ Pahimam Sri Rajarajesvari krupAkari sankari’. Attention is invited at the unique nishadha svara with which the vidvan invokes the imagery of Surati for us.

Presented next is the svara kalpana rendering of Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer for the classic Veenai Kuppayyar adi tala tana varnam in Surati, ‘entO prEma’. We pick up action at the beginning of the last ettugada svara section for the caranam line ‘panta mEla jEsEvu IvEla’ . The veteran almost concludes the piece with the last avarta with the mrudangist too playing the concluding stroke even as Sri Srinivasa Iyer changes his mind at the very last moment and launches his sarva laghu svaraprastara. The way the legendary Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman follows the maestro like a devoted slave, as somebody put it, is a treat.

As one an see the raga blossoms forth in the uttarAngA  around nishada svara and in the pUrvAngA of the top octave.

Surati is always included as  a part of the suite of ragas in viruttam singing at the fag end of any concert, tailing into the mangalam. The legendary doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda takes a beautiful anonymous Sanskrit sloka, ‘vihAya kamalAlaya’ and strings the verses in a garland of ragas including Purvikalyani, Sahana, Behag, Kanada, Surati and finally Madhyamavathi. I am presenting the entire rendering of her’s for the simple reason that it is wholesome and she packages all our crown jewels that our music can offer, in less than 10 minutes.

Here is the text of the sloka for those of us who may be interested.

vihAya kamalAlayA vilasitAni vidyunnaTI
viDambana paTUni mE viharaNam vidhattAm manaH |
kapardini kumudvatI ramaNa khaNDa cUDAmaNau
kaTI taTa paTI bhavat-karaTicarmaNi brahmaNi ||

 

विहाय कमलालया-विलसितानि विद्युन्नटी-
विडम्बन-पटूनि मे विहरणं विधत्ताम् मनः ।
कपर्दिनि कुमुद्वती-रमण-खण्ड-चूडामणौ
कटी-तट-पटी-भवत्-करटिचर्मणि ब्रह्मणि ॥

 

Hark at how ravishingly she packs the entire essence of Surati within a minute. She starts Surati at 7:26 into this clip, distilling all that perfume of the East in a minute and rapidly transitioning into its close cousin Madhyamavati. A veritable lesson for a student of music in elaborating a raga in a sloka/viruttham.

For Kapi Narayani , Tyagaraja’s sole exemplar kriti ‘Sarasamadhana’ has been made his own by the great vocalist Ganakaladhara Madurai Mani Iyer. His inimitable rendering of the composition, his copious mandharma in his execution of the neraval and sarvalaghu svarakalpana littered with janta prayogas on the carana line, ‘hitavumAta’ gives goose bumps, to  a listener  even to this date, decades after his passing away. In his recording which is available in the public domain, Mani Iyer uses the dhaivatha note as a graha and nyasa note for his imaginative svaraprastara. For our understanding, I present the rendering of contemporary performer, Vidushi Amrutha Murali. The Vidusi in the company of her guru, Vidvan R K Sriramkumar and mrudangist Arun Prakash leverages the nishadha note instead as her pivot/anchor svara for her svara kalpana sorties. As pointed out earlier Narayanagaula has a vakra uttaranga PNDNS while Kapi Narayani has a lineal PDNS as its uttaranga. The clipping commences with her neraval on the caranam line ‘hitavUmAta’. Did the raga Narayangaula give Tyagaraja the inspiration to sculpt this noveau raga Kapinarayani, a raga without a textual history ? We do not know.

We move on finally to Kedaragaula, a raganga raga of yore. The readers are invited to hear out the versions of Kedaragaula which is available in abundance in the public as well commercial domain. But personally nothing beats the beautifully encapsulated pristine, classical Kedaragaula by Smt K B Sundarambal from a Tamil film of yester years. She starts her viruttam in Mohanam, moves on to Kedaragaula and finally on to Kanada. Hear her dwell on Kedaragaula  starting  at 0.28.

In this clip, the veteran stage singer famed for her majestic voice spanning 3 full octaves, open throat singing and impeccable purity of sruti paints a perfect Kedargaula fit for a novice and the cognoscenti, in the same breath. For me it is much like how Prof SRJ waxes eloquent on the beauty of M K Tyagaraja Bagavathar’s rendering of ‘Siva peruman krupai vendum” in Surati ( at 9:47 in the clipping) which was alluded to in an early blog post.

As the respected Professor points out, by extension just on the gandhara and dhaivata the distinction between the the three ragas Surati, Kedaragaula and Narayanagaula can be brought out in conjunction with the graha/nyasa svaras.

CONCLUSION:

In sum Narayanagaula is not a raga for novices or for the faint hearted. It demands an in-depth or intimate if not extraordinary knowledge of the raga on the part of a performer, given the melodic overlap it has with its neighbouring ragas, which share the same melodic material.

We always like some sort of an apocryphal/sensational/spicy story or two about melodies or musical personages. And chroniclers both present and past seem to have a predilection for exaggerating the facts or events as they go about recording them during their lifetimes. I end this rumination blog post with one such story/event, probably true, about how the vocalist nonpareil Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) used this raga Narayanagaula to stump his opponent in a musical contest. True or untrue, the raga becomes the pivot of the story which is recorded for posterity by Vidvan Gomathisankara Iyer ( “Isai Vallunargal” published in 1970) as told to him by his musician father Pallavi Subbiah Bhagavathar, who was a disciple of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer being his pupil between the years 1876-1882. In his almost panegyric narration, Vidvan Gomathi Sankara Iyer provides all the elements of suspense and intrigue.

In the late 1880’s, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was on an extended stay at Madras on a musical sojourn enjoying his popularity, the adulation and patronage extended by the denizens of the city and the of the officials of the administration including the Governor of Madras. A special dinner was hosted in his honor by the Governor Robert Bourke known more by his peerage name of Baron/Lord Connemara along with his wife Baroness/Lady Connemara. Post the dinner, the invited celebrities were treated with a sumptuous concert by the legend, who apparently even sang English notes for the benefit of the assembled English speaking glitterati. Perhaps they must have been the nottusvara sahityas of Muthusvami Dikshitar !

This public display of adulation for Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer did not fail to make a few of the vidvans envious or jealous, for so popular and sought after he was that many thought, never mind if music emanated or not, thousands would gather at the mere move of his mouth! Vidvan Venugopal Das Naidu, a vocalist of not so well known provenance and a citizen of the City, was one of those who viewed the entire spectacle with envy. A man who prided himself by decking in a royal demeanour, Venu as he was endearing called vented his fury to his violinist friend ‘Photograph” Masilamani Mudaliar. His opinion was to the effect that “Maha” was a fake appellation which Vaidyanatha Iyer did not at all deserve and he was simply putting up a charade without an ounce of practical musical worth. According to Subbiah Bagavathar, Venu and Mudaliar acting “in concert” so as to put it, decided that forthwith Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer should be challenged for a contest and went public with that. In pursuance to that, a fund raising spree was launched, mopping up a princely sum of more than Rs. 2000/, which was to defray the cost of a huge silver salve and gold ear studs which the winner would eventually take. Notices were printed and distributed as advertisement, fixing the terms of the concert, unilaterally, virtually rigging up the entire contest. Thus the duo put it out that the residence of Fiddle Ramayya Pillai, a wealthy musician of George Town would be the venue, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer would be given the first opportunity to sing first, choosing the raga of the Pallavi and elaborating it. Venugopal Naidu will then sing a Pallavi in that raga following which Vaidyanatha Iyer would have to elaborate it. If he could not he would have to relinquish his title in public. The duo set the rules of the game, the time, date and venue as well to their advantage apparently and threw the gauntlet at the great vocalist.

The stratagem was not too complicated. Given that pallavis were traditionally sung in the heavy ragas namely Bhairavi, Kambhoji, Sankarabharanam or Kalyani, the idea was to entrap Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer with Venu setting the Pallavi in a complicated rhythmic setting, without openly putting the tala so that it would stump the veteran vocalist. As if to result-proof this contest even further, Masilamani Mudaliyar himself was anointed as the arbiter/referee of this contest!

When Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and his elder brother Ramasvami Sivan, who was his alter ego and accompanying junior partner/vocalist in his concerts, heard of the challenge, they grew extremely uncomfortable. Subbiah Bagavathar’s version has it that Vaidyanatha Iyer’s ardent & leading rasikas/admirers would have none of it and they goaded Vaidyanatha Iyer into accepting the challenge.

On the appointed day and time at the venue in George Town, rasikas agog with excitement had assembled to watch the proceedings with bated breath. With Masilamani Mudaliar as referee the proceedings commenced in right earnest and in deference to protocol, Vaidyanatha Iyer asked Venu his challenger if he had any raga as his preference for the Pallavi exposition. We do not have any evidence if there was any premeditated strategy on tackling the situation on his part. On Vaidyanatha Iyer’s seemingly innocuous question, Venugopal Naidu perhaps haughtily, responded “Any raga of your choice”. Vaidyanatha Iyer in line with the prevailing practice had planned to sing the Pallavi in Sankarabharanam and he prepared himself to do so. Perhaps as fortune would have it, a brainwave struck Ramasvami Sivan who was sitting behind next to his brother, strumming the tanpura perhaps. In a trice he leaned forward and whispered into Vaidyanatha Iyer’s ears to junk the plan to sing the Pallavi in Sankarabharanam. He proceeded to suggest Narayanagaula as the raga of the Pallavi and he said so in their secret coded language (pAnDava bAshA is the name, Pallavi Subbiah Bagavathar gives for that coded language that was used by the brothers), lest it may be over heard & understood by Venu. Apparently the rarity of the raga and the equally rare practice perhaps to use it as a vehicle of Pallavi exposition was the plan that what Ramasvami Sivan had to win this contest, hands down. Gomathi Sankara Iyer records further that the raga Narayanagaula with its vakra sancaras or its “turn of notes” makes it difficult for manipulation in a Pallavi and this proved to be a master stroke! As the great titan held in awe by his contemporaries, began humming (Vaidyanatha Iyer had a ‘hUmkAra way of raga elaboration) the raga and began his exposition, a cloud of silence descended on the venue. The unique and and not so frequently heard raga coming forth from the vocal chords of the Prince Charming of Music of those days, cast a spell on the crowd.

One can easily envision Vaidyanatha Iyer performing his alapana in a grand and eloquent manner, for Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar and Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer in their respective memoirs, provide that vivid picture of Vaidyanatha Iyer’s inimitable way of singing. Subbiah Bagavathar records that on that day, Vaidyanatha Iyer had performed a complete alapana of Narayanagaula for about 45 minutes perhaps spanning the three octaves he was known for. Needless to add it must have been a veritable feast for the celestials.

The narration goes on to say that not surprisingly, Venu had no clue as to the raga. So bedevilled and muddled he was that even as Iyer was immersed in his exposition, he retired from the stage to a quiet corner to re-plan by retrofitting his preplanned pallavi to the melody that he was hearing, without any success.  By then Vaidyanatha Iyer had finished his tour-de force alapana and perhaps the tanam as well and Venu was nowhere to be seen. It must have been a great tanam, par excellence, as the raga is so amenable to madhyama kala exposition for which Vaidyanatha Iyer was justly famous for during his heydays. And with the challenger Venu who went missing from the stage, not seen at all, the referee Masilamani Mudaliar grudgingly requested Vaidyanatha Iyer to complete the rendering with his own Pallavi which the veteran did as if like a fish taking to water. The final Pallavi rendition must have been a proverbial icing on the cake for the assembled cognoscenti of Chennapattana. And not surprisingly at the end of the performance, Vaidyanatha Iyer was felicitated and presented with the prize money and gifts.

Thus ends the story of Vaidyanatha Iyer leveraging this great raga Narayanagaula to defend his title ‘Maha’ conferred on him by the Pontiff of the Siva Mutt at Tiruvavaduthurai, decades prior. Needless to add, he returned home adding one more exotic event to his already legendary reputation and also richer by the gifts bestowed on him. So much for the raga Narayanagaula!

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/