The true identity of the raga of Tyagaraja’s ‘nannu kanna talli’

Introduction:

There are two raga names assigned to this composition ‘nannu kanna talli’ of Tyagaraja, by the authors of the different compendia of Tyagaraja kritis. One is a raga called Sindhu Kannada and another is Kesari. The kriti is found documented in almost all of the collections of Tyagaraja’s kritis with the ragas as above and the melody being assigned to the 28th Mela Harikambhoji.

The idea of this short blog post is to determine what is the true and original contours of this raga or in other words what indeed in the original raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’.  The standard text of this composition goes as under. There may be minor variants with some of the words though.

pallavi

nannu kanna talli nA bhAgyamA nArAyaNi dharmAmbikE

anupallavi

kanakAngi ramApati sOdari kAvavE nanu kAtyAyani

caraNam

kAvu kAvumani nE morabeTTagA kamala lOcani karagu cuNDaga nIvu brOvakuNTE nevaru brOturu sadA varambosagu tyAgarAjanutE

Read on!

DISCOGRAPHY:

For a change let us first hear how this kriti of Tyagaraja is rendered in practice, understand the melody with our ear and then proceed to the theory of the raga.

There are very many popular editions of this composition in the public domain. All of them are fairly similar and the melody is only a derivative/Janya of Harikambhoji, the 28th mela. Exemplar renderings include those by Sangita Kalanidhis M S Subbulakshmi, Dr M Balamuralikrishna, T M Thyagarajan and a whole galaxy of other artistes.

A sample rendering is presented which is by a Vidvan of an age bygone, late Srivanchiyam Ramachandra Iyer, a disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer.  ( courtesy Sangeethapriya)

ANALYSIS OF THE MELODY AND THE KRITHI AS PRESENTED:

  1. The raga’s svarupa is fairly obvious for a student of music. It is unambiguously taking the notes of the 28th Mela Harikambhoji
  2. The operative arohana/avarohana is easily discernible from the rendering as under:

  Arohanam:    S M1 G3 M1 R2 G3 M1 P D2 P S or S M1 G3 M1 P D2 S

 Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 N2 P M1 G3 R2 S

  1. The standard notation for this kriti is available here, along with the text, meaning and notation. http://www.shivkumar.org/music/Nannukannathalli.pdf
  2. Almost all musical texts provide the raga name – the melody as embodied in this extant rendering of this composition as Kesari or Sindhukannada under Mela 28.
  3. There may be minor changes to the way in which the composition is rendered by different vidvans but the soul of the melody / raga is always the arohana/avarohana krama as above under mela 28.

EVALUATING THE MUSICAL HISTORY/MATERIAL OF SINDUKANNADA/KESARI:

One of the earliest authentic texts notating this composition is the work of Chinnasvami Mudaliar. Towards the closing quarters of the 19th century and the first few years of the 20th century, he went about meticulously collecting the kritis of Tyagaraja in their authentic form, sourcing them particularly from the Walajapet sishya parampara of the bard, which was considered authentic for very many reasons. The manuscripts of the notation and text of many compositions were zealously maintained by this sishya parampara in true fidelity to the original melody of the compositions.

While a few other texts gave the raga of this composition as Sindhukannada a raga name which first appears in a raga compendium ‘ragalakshanam’ (RL hereafter – see foot note 1) under Mela 28, the Chinnasvami Mudaliar’s compilation assigns the raga name of Kesari to this composition. Sindhukannada is not found in the Sangraha Chudamani the musical text which is thought to have been utilized by Tyagaraja or which is also considered a lexicon of all ragas that Tyagaraja is said to have composed in.

In contrast the raga name Kesari appears in the Sangraha Cudamani and hence most likely the raga of ‘Nanu kanna talli’ can only be the melody which goes with the name of Kesari.

AND SO IS THE AVAILABLE SVARUPA OF THE RAGA OF NANNU KANNA TALLI, CORRECT AS PER THEORY:

Now while the raga of the composition as seen in practice is under Mela 28, the raga name now being known with clarity as Kesari, the next step is to evaluate to find whether the mathu is right. The raga Kesari according to the Sangraha Cudamani is under Mela 25, Mararanjani ! And as per the lakshana shloka of Sangraha Cudamani the raga should be having the following arohana avarohana.

 Arohanam:    S M1 G3 M1 R2 G3 M1 P D1 P S

 Avarohanam:  S N1 D1 N2 P M1 G3 R2 S

As one can see it is exactly same in structure to the Sindhu Kannada lakshana of RL except that Kesari is under mela 25 with D1 and N1 while Sindhukannada has D2 and N2, that is under Mela 28. Structurally they are akin, while melodically they are different.

Thus one can safely conclude at this juncture that the extant version of the composition ‘nannu kanna talli’ is rendered with D2 (catusruti dhaivata) and N2 ( kaishiki nishadha) while the theory backed up by Sangraha Cudamani ( a perfect lexicon of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions) says that the raga for this composition should instead use only D1 ( suddha dhaivata) and N1 ( suddha nishadha).

So somewhere somebody threw a spanner in the works by which all renderings of ‘ nannu kanna talli” by prominent sishya paramparas of Tyagaraja got normalized to a version with D2 and N2 ( mela 28) with the result that the probably original raga of the composition was simply morphed by shifting the notes especially the dhaivata and nishadha from D1 and N1 to D2 and N2 ! This version with D2 and N2 became prolific and mainstream completely eclipsing the original version.

SO WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL FORM OF THE RAGA OF ‘NANNU KANNA TALLI’ ?

As one can see the change that took place was that the raga of the Tyagaraja’s composition ‘nannu kanna talli’ was simply amended by replacing the notes D1 and N1 with D2 and N2 . The notation and lakshana by Cinnasvami Mudaliar and the Sangraha Cudamani, respectively – two unimpeachable witnesses in so far as Tyagaraja’s composition goes are the mute witnesses to this disfigurement done to ‘nannu kanna talli’ . The raga Kesari under mela 25 was done away with by replacing the D1 and N1 notes with D2 and N2 and a new raga Sindhukannada was created to replace it. And this morphing of the raga of this composition was most likely done during the first half of the 20th century.

And what was the need to deprive the composition of its original tune? The motive is perhaps not too complicated. The raga sported D1 and N1, a vivadi combination. In very many schools, especially at that time it was considered ‘traditional’ not to render vivadhi combinations as it was thought of as a ‘dosha’ so much so in private it was believed that the dosha brought misfortune. Musicians with such a belief system eschewed rendering such ragas/compositions which sported vivadhi combinations. Its quite likely that instead of avoiding rendering ‘nannu kanna talli’ with D1N1, one/ some or many considered that the composition being so beautiful should be brought to ‘mainstream’ by flipping its raga, by replacing the D1N1 combo with D2N2 and thus working around the problem!

So much so, notwithstanding the evidence of the Sangraha Cudamani which the musicians of that era adored, the notes D1 and N1 for the raga of ‘nannu kanna talli ‘were set aside without much ado as they suffered vivadi dosha, perhaps on the strength of the text RL and also perhaps of Nadamuni Panditar. It must have been as well considered that the D1N1 rendering was not harmonically facile , notwithstanding the fact that the sampradaya of Venkatamakhin provided for the workaround – PD1N1D1Ps and SN1D1P respectively for the arohana and avarohana. See foot note 2.  Such a change could not have been so easily propagated unless musicians/practitioners of those days had acted ‘in concert’.

Au contraire, the acclaimed music critic of those times, a titan who was feared both for his formidable knowledge and an acerbic tongue, Sri K V Ramachandran argued from the portals of the Music Academy that the new melody of nannu kanna talli was not authentic. And neither was the the raga Sindukannada of mela 28 found in the hoary musical tradition of Dikshitar or Tyagaraja. He records that he had heard the original version of ‘nannu kanna talli’ being rendered with D1. But apart from being recorded in the JMA for posterity, his sole voice of truth and reason was and has long been ignored and forgotten.

And post 1950, for certainty there is no version of Kesari/’nannu kanna talli’ with D1 and N1. Kesari was long dead and all musicians therefter and well now in to the second decade of the 21st century, unaware of this raga change, have proceeded to sing ‘nannu kanna talli’ with D2 and N2.

AND SO IS THIS THE TRUTH ?

Well the answer is yes. The raga of ‘nannu kanna thalli ‘ is not Sindukannada under Mela 28 but it is Kesari under mela 25. The problem is it is still not yet the  complete truth! So isn’t Kesari which sport D1 and N1, the raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’ the original tune of the composition?

On the authority of ‘Sangraha Cudamani’, Kesari is indeed the raga of the composition and indeed it sports the vivadhi notes D1 and N1. But Kesari is not its original name. It is the name given by Sangraha Cudamani whose date is debatable. Kesari is a name without a textual history. And this melody masquerading under the name of Kesari is older than many of us think. It is older than the Trinity. It was not discovered by Tyagaraja. The melody of Kesari which goes by the arohana/avarohana murcchana as given by the Sangraha Cudamani, is found documented in the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika dateable to the first half of the 18th century, prior to the days of the Trinity.

On the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP, this raga sporting D1/N1can be found documented in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini as a raganga, head of the clan of Mela 25. Subbarama Dikshitar provides the arohana/avarohana krama as under:

Arohana :      S M1 G3 M1 P D1 N1 D1 P S

Avarohana:   S N1 D1 P M1 G3 R2 S

The raga is Sharavati, a pre trinity raga which was derived by Muddu Venkatamakhin to be the head of the clan 25. Subbarama Dikshitar provides the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti ‘ Sharavati tata vasini’ as the exemplar. As we can see the implementation of Sharavati both by Tyagaraja and Dikshitar goes by the text book definition afforded by Muddu Venkatamakhin as documented and commented upon by Subbarama Dikshitar. While the heptatonic Mararanjani is the melakartha and Kesari a janya thereunder ( in sangraha Cudamani), Sharavati which shares the same structure as that of Kesari, is the raganga under Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme.

The comparison of the raga lakshana given for Kesari in Sangraha Cudamani under Mela 25 and that of Sharavathi as a raganga for mela 25 by Muddu Venkatamkhin will completely tally. Sharavati and Kesari are one and the same !

So if we were to know the original setting of the Tyagaraja composition, we can see the exemplar provided by the Dikshitar composition for Sharavati and use that to reconstruct the original melody/mathu of ‘nannu kanna talli’. Here is the rendering of ‘sharavati tata vasini’ by Vidushi Gayathri Girish learnt by her from the Late  V V Srivatsa and rendered by her for one of his Guruguhanjali Programs.

DIVINING THE ORIGINAL TUNE OF ‘NANNU KANNA TALLI’

From the notation of the Tyagaraja composition it is very clear that the same device used by Dikshitar for dealing with D1 and N1 svaras has been used as the arohana/avarohana murcchana given by Subbarama Dikshitar would show.

  1. PD1PS or PDN1DPS is the arohana krama
  2. SN1D1P is the avarohana krama.

In the existing patham of ‘nannu kanna talli’ by simply intoning D1 instead of D2 and N1 instead of N2 and by respecting the arohana and avarohana krama as above the possible original melodic svarupa of ‘nannu kanna talli’ can be obtained. Also the feature to note is both Tyagaraja and Dikshitar invoke the same arohana purvanga krama SM1G3M1P though SRGM suffers no dosha/dis-harmony. Yet the motif of the older Sharavati is only SM1G3M1 which both of them faithfully enshrine in their compositions, which is additional proof that Sharavati is the raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’.

Muthusvami Dikshitar has also appended a cittasvara section to pithily provide the raga lakshana of Sharavati.  Here is the rendering of the kriti together with the cittasvara section by the disciples of Vidushi Ambujam Vedantham. Though the kriti rendering has been augmented with embellishments for some of the lines, the spirit of the sharavati of Dikshitar is kept overall. Attention is invited to the ragas motifs in the cittasvara section. See foot note 4.

Based on the above here is my reconstruction of the beautiful Tyagaraja composition with D1 and N1, in Kesari, originally known as Sharavati.

NOTE: A note has to be placed here, which is the point which was reiterated in the earlier post on the raga Kalavati which too sported the PD1N1S in its uttaranga. The svara N1 can never be a nyasa, meaning one should not park on that note, when delineating the raga or singing the composition. The suddha nishadha has to be shown while executing a glide PD1/N1\D1, as a shade when intoning the suddha dhaivatha. While in the descent it should fleetingly appear when moving from the tAra sadja to the suddha dhaivata svara as S\N1\D1P. In all the renditions above presented, one would find that this mode of rendering is not strictly adhered to. While rendering, vidvans and students alike should take care to stick to the true spirit of this mode of rendering and not violate the same. In the same breath it is to be noted that in a few places the suddha nishadha appears as dheergha as well which has to be treated accordingly – For example mOdhinI in the madhyamakala sahitya which is a svarakshara is a dhirgha nishadha. Also we see Dikshitar using P/N1D1P as well in the composition.

CONCLUSION:

The likes of Sri K V Ramachandran and Vidvan Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer have always voiced their  opinion that the original ragas of very many compositions of Tyagaraja’s has been lost or mutilated. The raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’ is one such instance. Much water has flown under the bridge. Much of the evidence if any for such statements are now no longer available due to efflux of time. But with the texts and the so called internal evidence of the compositions themselves, we can attempt to divine the true melodic contours of some of these classics so that an attempt can be made to restore the pristine original beauty of these works of art.

While Tyagaraja apparently kept the ragas of his compositions secret, Muthusvami Dikshitar made it obvious, embedding them in the very sahitya/text itself. And with his composition “sharavati tata vasini’ as an exemplar, this blog post has been an attempt to re-examine and determine the melody of his illustrious contemporary, Tyagaraja. The raga Sharavati, a raganga enthroned by Muddu Venkatamakhin as the head of the clan/mela 25 has been the vehicle for both DIkshitar and Tyagaraja and on this day one can celebrate their memory and their shared/common heritage with ‘nannu kanna talli’!

REFERENCES:

  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
  3. Ramachandran K.V. (1950) – “Carnatic Ragas and the Textual Tradition” – The Journal of the Music Academy XXI, pp. 99-106, Madras, India.
  4. Ramachandran K.V. (1950) – “Apurva ragas of Tyagaraja’s Songs” – The Journal of the Music Academy XXI, pp. 107-109, Madras, India.
  5. C Ramanujachari (2008) -The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja – Reprint- Published by Sri Ramakrishna Mission – page 67- Text & Translation of song

FOOTNOTES:

  1. A suspicious entry or rather an insertion is found in a musicological text confusingly named ‘Ragalakshanam’ ( Andhra text) of unknown authenticity, provenance and date. Dr Hema Ramanathan in her work ( page 1312) states that without any preamble, the raga name Sindukannada with the aroha/avaroha krama is inserted as just a line with no other information under another raga Isamanohari under mela 28. It is certainly grist for the mill and fodder for conspiracy theorists. The raga listing of Nadamuni Panditar (1906) gives Sindhukannada under mela 28. Similarly Ragakosam of RR Kesavamuthi too lists this raga Sindukannada under mela 28.
  2. In humor it also makes one wonder, if the entire episode of the raga of ‘Nannu Kanna talli’ getting flipped was a freak incident. Perhaps it was a work of a musician with a poor sense of svara gnana who ignorant of the actual raga and its svarupa began to mistakenly render or went on to teach the raga/composition with the facile notes D2/N2 so much so a mistake became the standard !
  3. We do have similar such changes that were introduced during the first half of the 20th century. Example is the raga of another Tyagaraja’s well known composition ‘nagumOmU ganalEnI’. The account of old timers as well historical/musical records would show that the raga sported only D1/suddha dhaivatha. But for some reason a particular school of Tyagaraja or a particular musician started rendering the raga with D2/catusruti dhaivata with the result that the spurious edition became popular/mainstream. It has lead to a comedy of errors, with the result today one treats the original tune of ‘nagumOmU’ with suspicion. The same has been the case with quite a few other vivadhi raga compositions of Tyagaraja.
  4. The permission granted by Smt Gayathri Girish to use the recording of her rendering of ‘sharavati tata vAsini’ in this blog post is gratefully acknowledged. The recording of the kriti by the disciples of Smt Ambujam Vedantham is already available in the public domain.

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One thought on “The true identity of the raga of Tyagaraja’s ‘nannu kanna talli’

  1. Very interesting and sensible article. Your reconstructed version is almost close to the original version!!

    I have a few points to say:

    1. Sri Thyagaraja might have followed the lexicons like Sangeetha Sarvartha Saram (SSS), Raga LAkshana (RL) manuscript, Sangraha Chudamani (SS){very very rare or not at all), Sangita Saramrutham (SS), Chaturdandiprakashika (CDP) and some unidentified lexicon. His school is definitely not different from the school of Sri Deekshithar or his likes. But the main difference is Thyagaraja has employed many different scales; probably he might have invented a few too. An analysis of Valajapet manuscripts and few other early manuscripts reveal this. I need not mention about the ingenuity of the manuscripts written by the pioneers of Valajapet school. With this in mind, let me explain about the song/raga under discussion.

    2. I think saying kesari and sharavathi are one and the same is not right.

    I dont know what made you to give the scale of kesari as smgmrgmpdps- sndnpmgrs. SC says kesari takes the scale smgmgrgmpds – sdndpmgrs. SS says srgmpmdpds -sdndpmgrs Though it seems to be subtle, its not so in reality.
    Valajapet version of this song mentions this as as kesari, a janya of 25 mela. While the song mainly lives with the phrases smgm, it also takes the phrase srgm, srgr occassionally. This absolutely confirms with the lakshana given by SSS. A raga having srgm can also take smgm. It is always pds or pdnd and never pdns.
    Contrarily, sharavathi takes gmpd, sdp, mrgrs, rgs. All these are allowed in sharavathi as it is given an exalted status (as a raganga raga). The above mentioned phrases never find its presence in kesari in the version which mentions it as a janya of 25.

    To conclude, I like to say there exist a subtle difference between kesari and sharavathi and both are not same.

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