Latest posts by Ravi Rajagopalan (see all)
- The Quest for the true melodic contours of Tyagaraja’s “varadarAja ninnEkOri” - February 23, 2018
- mahAganapatim vandE in Todi – The Syamantaka Gem - July 23, 2017
- Raga Architecture of the 18th Century – Part 1 - March 26, 2017
It is one of the settled principles of music or for that matter any art form, that utmost fidelity to the intent of the composer/creator should be maintained. The original structure of a composition as intended by the composer must be reproduced at all costs/as much as possible, by all those who perform the same. In fact modern intellectual property law acknowledges this as a formal right of a composer, calling it the Right of Integrity of the composer creator or “droit de respect de l’oeuvre”. It effectively forbids all performers from mutilating, distorting or modifying his creative work. In our Music one instead witnesses the fact that we have taken much liberties with the compositions of very many composers particularly the Trinity. A comparison of the versions of the compositions that we hear today, say for example of Muthusvami Dikshitar with that of an authentic reproduction of the original setting as recorded in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini would show how much we have deviated considerably from the original setting. We have seen this as a regular theme in almost all cases which we have analyzed in this blog series.
In this blog post we will take up the case of a very well-known composition in a ubiquitous raga. And as we analyse it in the context of its original notation, it can be demonstrated how we have:
- Modified the very lakshana of a raga
- Changed the musical setting or mettu/mAthu of the composition
The composition is ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ in raga Nattai in adi tala. The core idea of this short blog post is not to censure ourselves, though we might deserve one, but is to demonstrate how Muthusvami Dikshitar has presented the grammatically correct laid down form of the raga for us. And at the same time imprinted his own style in the musical setting of the composition.
The goal for a student or listener of music is to appreciate the original beauty of this composition and ruminate on the takeaways it provides us.
Overview of composition and modern lakshana of Nattai:
Let us first look at the sahitya or the lyrical setting of the composition in question.
- ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ is a composition ostensibly composed on the Lord at Svamimalai by Muthusvami Dikshitar, though its sahitya does not bear any details as to situs such as puranic or stala references etc.
- It is the pallavi-anupallavi-madhyamakala sahitya format, lacking the carana. Neither do we see a cittasvara section for this composition.
- It carries both the colophon (as in ‘vallIsa guruguha dEvasEnEsa’ in the pallavi) and raga mudra (‘kAvya nAtakAlankArabharana’ in the madhyama kala sahitya) in its sahitya body.
- It is found documented/notated in both Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar and in the Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai (DKP) of Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, the two most authentic textual authorities for Dikshitar’s compositions.
It is composed in Nattai, a raga which almost every text book on music would provide the modern day lakshana , under the 36th mela as under:
Arohana : S R3 G3 M1 P N3 S ( some give it as SRGMPDNS)
Avarohana: S N3 P M1 R3 S
While prescribed theory is so, a perusal of available renderings of compositions in this raga feature the following svaragati/progression :
Arohana : S R3 G3 M1 P N3 S
Avarohana: S N3 P M1 G3 M1 R3 S
In modern musicological parlance it is almost always presented as a derivative of the heptatonic calanAta mela , excluding the shatsruti dhaivata D3in both arohana & avarohana, with both PMRS and GMRS in its descent.
Modern Nattai is encapsulated in this concise edited presentation below by Vidvan Neyveli Santhanagopalan, who provides his delineation of the raga for us through a short adi tala pallavi ‘nAttai kApadu nam kadamai, nallor vazhum bhAratha’, the raga name being embedded therein. He prefaces it with an alapana, tops it up with a few rounds of neraval and kalpana svaras as well.
There are very many compositions in this raga and for us the subject matter for this blog post is ‘Svaminatha Paripalaya’ kriti, which we take up concentrating on the extant version/rendering of the composition. Arguably one of the earliest popular vocalist to frequently render this composition was Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramaniam. And his version/presentation of the composition is what almost all modern day performers have adopted. Let us first hear that out.
I would like to invite specific attention to the following factors in this rendering.
- The rhythmic setting – Many the eduppus/take off in the kriti lines are after 1/2 akshara (edam) after the first beat including the pallavi itself.
- The pace of the composition is medium & fast tempo. There is no slow or cauka kala exposition.
- The ragalakshana as is obvious from the svarakalpana is very clear. The above given arohana and avarohana, devoid of D3 and using both PMRS and GMRS is observed to the tee.
Now that we have looked at the raga and the popular exposition of this Muthusvami Dikshitar composition, let’s evaluate the form as notated in the SSP and DKP, which we alluded to before. But before that let’s evaluate the raga lakshana as summarized by Subbarama Dikshitar.
‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ in the SSP :
- The raga’s correct/complete name is cAlanAta, the same which has been assigned to the sampurna/heptatonic scale in Sangraha Cudamani.
- The arohana/avarohana murrcana is SRGMPDNS/SNPMRS
- Dhaivata and gandhara are varja in the avarohana. The reasoning is fairly obvious as in the Muddu Venkatamakhin scheme. D3N3 and R3G3 the vivadhi combinations are facile in their arohana krama. However in the avarohana krama they are worked around either as vakra or varja as SN3D3N3P or M1R3S.
In contrast to the modern lakshana, two features that we need to note at the outset are the prescribed usage of PD3N3S and PM1R3S. As we saw in the modern expositions in the discography above, PNS and GMRS seems to dominate the scheme of Nattai today. Nattai of today is totally bereft of D3 making it an shadava raga. See Foot Note 1.
Moving over to the notation of the kriti in the SSP, one is surprised to note the amount of deviation that we see in modern expositions compared to the notation provided in the SSP.
- PDNS occurs expressly in the composition in two places (‘guruguha’ and ‘vitarana’), the portions being in madhyama kAla. Along with PDNS we also see PS and Pr as well.
- GMRS does not occur, atleast in this composition. Everywhere it is only PMRS. Though GMRS is permissible or is not forbidden, it was perhaps a convention that in Nattai PMRS was to dominate ( i.e gandhara would not be vakra in avarohana passages) and which is why Subbarama Dikshitar gives the avarohana murccana as SNPMRS. And Dikshitar does not use that in ‘svAminAtha paripAlayA’.
Brief History of Nattai:
The above two features are not just found in the Natta of the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin which was supposed to have been followed by Muthusvami Dikshitar and which Subbarama Dikshitar uses as authority for his SSP. It was also the intrinsic component of the Natta of the 18thcentury for we see the same as documented by Tulaja in his Saramrutha (circa A D 1835). In fact Sangita Kalanidhi B Subba Rao and Prof S R Janakiraman in their commentary to Tulaja’s Saramrutha emphatically state that the raga’s lakshana had remained the same over centuries till today. In fact they add that in contrast to the older Nattai, modern Nattai had narrowed down by dropping the shatsruti dhaivatha completely from its melodic body.
Tulaja records the name of this melody as ‘Suddha Natti’ anointing it as a mela. He states:
- The raga lacks dhaivatha and gandhara in the avaroha
- And the svaragati/progression is straight both in arohana and avarohana, meaning it was SRGMPDNS and SNPMRS. Thus dhaivatha and gandhara were not again appearing vakra in the avarohana such as SNDNP or PMGMRS. He effectively rules out GMRS.
Needless to add, Nattai has a history tracing back centuries prior and is seen recorded in the works of Somanatha, Pandarika Vitthala, Venkamakhin and others. Even the Sangraha Cudamani which ploughs a lone furrow on many ragas gives the same svara progression for Nattai. In short Nattai is a purva prasiddha raga sporting the two vivadi combinations R3G3 and D1N1 in full in its melodic body. See Foot Note 2.
Thus we can safely conclude that Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘svAminAtha paripAlaya’ as notated in the SSP completely embodies the older, complete Nattai that was prevalent in the 18th century.
As stated, the two contrasting features between the Nattai of yore and the one today is that present day renderings of this composition and modern day delineation of the raga are devoid of PDNS. And they include GMRS as well, which prayoga is not found in the old Nattai.
Muthusvami Dikshitar’s Conception:
Even as he faithfully went about adhering to the older definition of Nattai, Muthusvami Dikshitar in his ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsu mAm’ chiseled out his own features, which are today not visible or conspicuous in modern day renderings.
- We have been repeatedly seeing in these blog analysis that jumps,bends,turns and twists were how the melodic progression of svaragati of ragas was in the 18th century. Taking that as a cue, Dikshitar implements the same through the repeated use of the prayoga/motif M/N and N\MP with the nishadha being ornamented with the kampita gamaka. Examples are the sahitya portions ‘nAradAdi bhAvita’ & ‘sammOhitAkAra’.
- Dikshitar has also kept the gandhara (G3) usage to the absolute minimum in this composition which spans 8 complete tala avartas, as a signature construct for the Nattai of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm. The 3 usages, namely two dIrgha and one hrsva usage is seen at :
He works around the gandhara note by jumping over as SM or SP in his progression. But he does give G3 its pride of place elegantly/tellingly at ‘vAmadEva’ and this dIrgha gandhara placement right at the middle of the composition at the beginning of the 5th avarta, half way in this 8 tala avarta composition is poignant. See Foot Note 3.
- He has further clustered the sahitya and the underlying notes into a pattern almost – alternating hrsva and dIrgha syllables in the body. This point is brought out for the simple reason that this original setting has been completely lost due to the modern rendition style of this composition or what we can call as normalization.
A compare of this notation with the modern day rendering provides us a number of insights:
- Sahitya for many tala avartas are started off (eduppu) at 1/2 edam/ after the first beat, by performers. One can see from the SSP notation of this composition that the sahitya for every one of the tala avartas ( 8 in total) start only at samam/on the beat.
- The sahitya syllables are equally spread out over the rest of the tala cycle, in contrast to the original notation.
- In the original scheme we see that there are either two hrasva svaras or one dIrgha svara per akshara in the sama kAla and double that in the madhyama kala. This is tampered with in modern renderings with the result that the actual svara notation deviates considerably from the SSP notation in very many places. One can even see that it is perhaps even 4 svaras per aksharas in sama kala sometimes, giving us the speeded up impression and also melodically denser, which was not the original construct.
For example the sahitya lines starting ‘svAminAtha’, ‘kArtikEya’ and ‘vAmadEva’ are all rendered not starting at samam but 1/2 after the beat. The word ‘kArtikEya’ which is notated for the first 4 aksharas of the adi tala cycle are sung as,SRGM rather than SRSMR. Similar is the fate of the line ‘vAmadEva’ which is again not rendered at samam/beat start and is rendered as GMPNSNP whereas the actual notation is GGMMP. As pointed out earlier, from the anupallavi start till the madhyama kala start, spanning 4 adi tala avartas, Muthusvami Dikshitar uses the gandhara note only one at the place vAmadEva. Whereas in all modern renderings we see that these 4 tala avartas are rendered with gandhara being indiscriminately used. The madhyama kala sahitya mettu too has been tampered with as one can see.
4. In a number of places the unique kampita gamakas as well as the jArus that are embedded in the composition is hardly ever heard in the modern day renderings of this composition. Simply put, the melodic artwork innate in the composition has been sacrificed at the altar of speed. See Foot Note 4.
These changes are a consequence of our poor understanding of the legacy bequeathed to us. Sadly the tempo of the rendering is speeded up and the composition is rendered as if it were a kriti of Tyagaraja. While we bear no ill will to that format, it is reiterated that this was not the style/format in which Dikshitar composed ‘svAminAtha paripAlaya’. And it does no justice to us to wrongly render a magnificent construction carelessly with scant respect for raga lakshana as well, by needlessly singing the unwarranted GMRS or eliding the PDNS.
We can aurally sense the normalization that we have done to the melodic body and gait of the composition in the discography section.
Vidvan T M Krishna sings ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ as per notation found in the SSP. He first prefaces the composition with his take on the construct of the composition.
And then he renders the composition.
Attention is invited amongst others to:
- Leisurely progression or tempo of the composition
- N\MP and M/N usages,
- The sama eduppu for all the tala avartas
- The unique/poignant dIrgha gandhara take off at ‘vAmadEva’
- The original musical setting of the madhyamakala sahitya in particular the mandhara stayi sancara which is not correctly rendered in modern versions.
In his presentation, the ‘PDNS’ usage atleast at the pallavi (‘guruguha’) isn’t very aurally perceivable and personally I wish it were articulated a little more. Barring the same, this edition more or less reflects a very practical/faithful presentation of the intent of the notation in the SSP for me. In fact the PDNS is also incorporated in Vidvan Krishna’s kalpana svara section and the violinist response captures the D3N3 very well. Its worth noting that Vidvan Krishna only once ( inadvertently perhaps?) in his svarakalpana does use the prayoga GMRS in the tAra stAyi.
For many of us, this version interpreted from the notation from the SSP, may be a revelation. The contrast and the takeaways provided by this version in comparison with the modern version, presented earlier in this post, is something that is now left to the rumination and judgement of a discerning listener/connoisseur of our music.
Many of the modern day presentations of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s compositions are found normalized both for melody and for rhythm/structure, deviating significantly from their original construct. Thankfully we have an authentic repository of notations of his compositions preserved by Subbarama Dikshitar in the form of the magnum opus, SSP as a benchmark/gold-copy for us. This blog post was to precisely demonstrate how we have significantly deviated from the original setting of Dikshitar’s creations. It is earnestly & sincerely hoped that students and performers of music would at least now, relearn & recalibrate their repertoire of Dikshitar compositions to be in alignment to the original intent of the composer. And finally rendering them on concert platforms in true fidelity to that would be the only greatest homage to composer nonpareil.
- Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
- Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 980-998
- Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai – pages 41-43
I am indebted to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for permitting me to share the recording of his rendering of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayasumAm’ for this blog post. This is from his concert for Guruguhamrutha, held on 13th Nov 2016 @ Raga Sudha Hall, Chennai. Accompanying him in this recital were Vidvans Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sri Manoj Siva on the mrudangam and Sri B S Purushotham on the kanjira.
- The PD3N3S usage has always been problematic to many schools of music especially between the 1850 to 1950 time period. The vivadi combination was attributed with dosha so much so purists wouldn’t render them at all, fearing ill health upon doing so. Many ragas sporting this vivadi svara combination too were mutilated. In the case of Nattai, Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer went one step further when he stripped R3G3 vivadhi combination too in his rendering of ‘mahA ganapatim’, a famous kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar and not found in the SSP. Here, in this clipping from the Music Academy Concert of the year 1964, dubbed the Ghana Raga concert , the Carnatic veteran opens the concert at the Academy presenting his version of ‘mAhAganapatim’ and Nattai sans R3 and D3, a raga which we can call as Gambhira Nattai, prefacing it with a brief tanam !
Attention is invited both to the kriti and the kalpana svara section. One wonders what the rasikas and the cognoscenti of those times had to say upon hearing the veteran render the composition so! For a sharp ear a very muted R3 is discernible tinting the sadja as an anusvara in quite a few places, for example when he ends ‘mahAganapatim’ before commencing the svarakalpana.
- Tulaja’s commentary in the Sangita Saramrutha to the effect that Suddha Natti or Nattai of today is a Ghana raga and is to be sung in evenings is echoed verbatim by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. We have seen in an earlier blogpost what ‘ghanam’ means and in that context Nattai rightfully is a Ghana raga, being the first amongst equals in the Ghana raga pancakam. The attribute of a raga pegging its rendering to the time of a day seems to have lost its relevance except for a few ragas. One is unable to divine today, the reason why Nattai should be sung in the evenings only.
- Antara gandhara- G3 in the case of Nattai is found in the arohana alone. Normally as a rule a note found only in the arohana is very likely to be a weak note in the raga. If the note finds place in the avarohana as well, atleast as a vakra note then it is likely to emerge as a powerful pivot note. With PMRS alone being used, or in other words PMGMRS being excluded, it is likely that Dikshitar given the implicit deduction that G3 became weak, perhaps made its occurrence rare in this composition. It could also be hypothesized that the older or vintage form/definition of Nattai warranted this. It could also be that by his times Nattai had perhaps acquired in the meanwhile, GMRS or a vakra gandhara formally in its avarohana. And in this, then nouveau form of Nattai, Dikshitar perhaps composed the other composition ‘pavanAtmaja’, which has GMRS usage in its final madhyama kala sahitya section. An interesting line of thought one can say.
- The almost same notation of this composition that one sees both in the SSP and DKP is amazing to say the least. Barring a few extra kampita gamaka ornamentations that is seen in DKP, the two notations reinforce our belief in the original creation as the same comes through to us through two independent sishya paramparas of Muthusvami Dikshitar. One is humbled by the fact that the sishya paramparas to that point, namely Tambaippan Pillai –> Sattanur Pancanada Iyer –> Natarajasundaram Pillai for DKP on one hand and Balasvami Dikshitar –> Subbarama Dikshitar for the SSP on the other, have maintained the greatest of fidelity in transmitting the tradition without polluting/morphing it in anyway.