The Quest for the true melodic contours of Tyagaraja’s “varadarAja ninnEkOri”

PROLOGUE:

The raga names and their associated melodic contour for Tyagaraja’s compositions, from a theoretical framework can be assessed by referring to the Sangraha Cudamani attributed to Govinda and to the Andhra edition of a manuscript called Ragalakshanam. The date of Sangraha Cudamani is not without controversy though. Votaries of the Sangraha Cudamani advance the argument that the work is antecedent to Tyagaraja and he composed and assigned ragas only using this treatise.  There are those who cogently put forth reasoned arguments that the Sangraha Cudamani is neither authoritative nor is it dateable atleast to the times of Tyagaraja. There are others who advocate the theory that Tyagaraja had a set of inherited ‘scale dictionaries’ through Vina Kalahasti Ayya and others (‘Katakamus’) which he then breathed life into as ragas. We have seen much of these in previous blog posts in this series. Leaving aside the question as to the authenticity and whether Sangraha Cudamani is ex post or ex ante to Tyagaraja’s life time, for us at the least it serves a useful reference or a lexicon for us to determine the true melody of Tyagaraja’s compositions.

 While assessing the correct melody of a Tyagaraja composition, though we can rely on the oral traditions – such as the primary sishya paramparas- we still have two important problems.

  1. It is very much discernible from history that Tyagaraja did not assign or disclose the name of the raga of a composition, when he taught it to his students. Therefore, in quite a few instances the different sishya paramparas held different raga names and/or different melodic contour for the same composition.
  2. The second issue is that outside of the sishya paramparas, early publishers of Tyagaraja’s compositions (1870-1920) gave the raga name/description simply as ‘apuroopam’ meaning rare for melodies which were uncommon or not discernible with certainty by them/at that point in time for quite a few of his compositions.

Doubts have been expressed about the correct raga and or /raga lakshana of many Tyagaraja compositions which have remained unresolved and unsettled for many different reasons till date. Examples include the popular as well the rare ones such as ‘nAdatanumanisam’, ‘sItamma mAyamma’& ‘nEnendhu vEdakudhurA’ on one hand and ‘nannu kanna talli’ and ‘prAnanAtha’ on the other to name a few. Our quest to identify the correct raga /melodic contour of compositions becomes severe in the case of compositions which are:

  1. Not much in currency
  2. In uncommon ragas
  3. In ragas not found described in the Sangraha Cudamani and also if many of the late 19th century and early 20th century publications do not offer much clue.

Paucity of systematic musicological research, proper tabulation/classification and scientific analysis of data/information have ensured that we have never gotten to certainty or truth on these questions. In this series of blog posts, we have looked at some of these compositions and with available data attempted to piece together a credible case for a particular raga as being the one in which Tyagaraja might have possibly composed a particular piece.

The composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’ set apparently to a raga called SvarabhUshani is a case in point and we will look at it in this blog post.

BACKGROUND TO THE COMPOSITION:

Let’s first look at the history and other aspects of the composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOrI’. Though Tyagaraja was apparently not an itinerant composer in the mould of Muthusvami Dikshitar, he reportedly did undertake a few journeys/pilgrimages to places away from Tiruvaiyyaru during his life time. His biographers including Prof Sambamoorthi and others based on his compositions/internal evidence, accounts of his disciples and such other collateral information, aver that he visited places like Srirangam, Nagapattinam, Tiruvottiyur, Kovur, Tirupati & Kancipuram. In fact, musical historians based on the kritis also advance the view that the following four deities, have been sung upon by every member of our Trinity

  1. Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram
  2. Goddess Kamakshi at Kancipuram
  3. Goddess Nilayathaksi at Nagapattinam
  4. Goddess Dharmasamvardhini at Tiruvaiyyaru

Taking the case of Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram, while Dikshitar composed ‘varadarAja avAva’ in Gangatarangini and Syama Sastri is said to have composed the Anandabhairavi varnam ‘sami nI rammanavE’ on Lord Vardaraja, Tyagaraja is said to have composed two compositions on Him:

  1. ‘varadarAja nine kOri’ in raga SvarabhUshani – rupaka tAlA
  2. ‘varada navanItAsha’ in raga rAgapanjaram- misra cApu tAlA

Standard texts of Tyagaraja’s compositions such as T S Parthasarathy’s give the text of ‘varadaraja ninnukori’, our subject matter composition as under:

pallavi

varadarAja ninnu kOri vacciti mrokkErA

anupallavi

surulu munulu bhUsurulu cuTTi cuTTi sEvince

caraNam

varagiri vaikuNTha maTa varNimpa daramugAdaTa nirjarulanu
tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa vara tyAgarAjanuta garuDasEva jUDa

THE EVIDENCE OF THEORY:

Dr. V Raghavan’s Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions has an entry for this piece based on its availability in the records of Chinnasvami Mudaliar/Walajapet manuscripts and that of Rangaramanuja Ayyangar. The raga name is given as Svarabhushanl. As pointed out earlier none of the lexicons of Tyagaraja’s songs namely Sangraha Cudamani or the Andhra text of the Ragalakshanam or the Tamil text Mahabharata Cudamani makes a mention of a raga by this name or the scale under the 22 mela. Again only 20th century listings of ragas make a mention of Svarabhushani with the varying arohana/avarohana kramas under mela 22. They do not have any prior authority whatsoever other than their very own which makes the raga a suspect for being tagged to a composition of Tyagaraja. This name is first documented in Nadamuni Panditar’s Svaraprastara Sagaram, circa 1914. And modern publications assign this raga name to the composition as Svarabhushani/Svarabhushini under mela 22 with SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS as the nominal arohana/avarohana.

It needs to be pointed out that mere mention of raga names in older manuscripts by itself does not confer legitimacy for ascribing a particular melody in the case of assigning that to Tyagaraja’s compositions. The learned critic of the last century Sri K V Ramachandran, records that Walajapet Ramasvami Bhagavathar Bhagavathar the scion of the authentic Walajapet line of sishyas confided to him that the raga names assigned in manuscripts were sourced from questionable sources without scrutiny ( “Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’s Songs”. – 1950 JMA XXI pp109)

With not much inputs available to us from a textual history standpoint beyond this, we move over to the oral tradition to determine the true melodic svarupa/contours of this raga and that of the composition.

THE EVIDENCE FROM PRACTICE- DISCOGRAPHY:

Vidvan S Rajam's depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition

Vidvan S Rajam’s depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition

Unfortunately, even here we do not have renderings of this composition from stalwarts of the previous century and hence the composition falls into the rare category. We have an account of Dr S Rajam narrating that Kancipuram Naina Pillai used to beautifully render this composition. But we do not have a recording of Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda, who learnt from him, rendering this composition. Similarly though it is known that Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao had been heard singing this composition, the composition has not been known to be sung popularly.

However, we do have a record of Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram who had his tutelage under Chittoor Subramanya Pillai, rendering this composition. Let’s first hear out his version of ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’.

Watch the video of the garuda seva of Lord Varadaraja with Vidvan Somu’s rendering as the sound track.

Vidvan Somu’s rendering ( Video with footage of Lord Varadaraja’s Garuda seva)

Its fortuitous that he renders svaras for this composition @ vara tyAgarAja, providing additional insights for us. But first if we were look at the opening bars of the composition that he renders and then the reminder of the composition, it’s very obvious that:

 

  1. The raga is sampurna having all svaras of the mela 22 having SNDP, PMGRS and SRS, SGRS and SGMPDNS
  2. He does not render the carana line “nirjarulanu tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa”.
  3. His articulation of the mettu/music of the sahitya ‘vacciti’ of the Pallavi line or the ‘daramugAdata’ is not clear at all, which could have thrown light on the purvanga prayoga, whether it is SRGMP or SGMP.
  4. While he rounds up the pallavi rendering between 0.47 to 0.52, he lends a touch of Anandabhairavi suggesting SGRGM.
  5. Similarly, in the tAra stayi uttaranga sancharas at ‘cutti cutti’ or ‘garuda sEva’ is clearly suggestive only of SRS or SGRS.   And in the svarakalpana he renders SGMP (an oscillated gandhara much like in Anandabhairavi) in the madhya sthayi and again SGRS in the tAra sthayi.

Leaving aside other factors, his rendering enables us to place the contours of this raga as per his pAtham as under:

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

                                         Avarohana krama: S N D P M G R S

In other words, the melody he paints is a raga of mela 22 with a vakra gandhara in the arohana and a krama sampurna avarohana, without any anya svaras.

Now with this first version of the composition let us move to the next one presented by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Gopalakrishnan. The source of his pAtham of the composition is unknown.

The following points emerge from his presentation.

  1. His version stands out for the use of the oscillated sadharana gandhara through the “GMR” prayoga, a staple of the Kapi/Kanada family. SGMP also occurs which impart the Devagandharam flavour to the alapana.
  2. In the kriti rendering as well he uses the GMRS. Attention is invited to the pallavi closing ahead of the anupallavi commencement and the tAra sthAyi at the anupallavi sahitya section ‘cutti cutti’.
  3. SNDP is the way the pallavi begins. GMPDNS and such other prayogas native to the 22 mela occur otherwise. MRS or GMRS is the way the avarohana krama progresses as is obvious from the svara kalpana as well.

 In sum, this version of the raga and the kriti as painted by the violin virtuoso, provides us the melodic contours as:

            Arohana krama :     S G M P D N S

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

The gandhara intoned in this version is of two types – one which occurs as GMPDNS and the other which occurs in the GMRS reminiscent of the kAnadA ang/motif native to the Kapi family. In contrast to Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram’s version, Sri MSG’s version though adopting apparently the same svara sets, imparts a different hue and color, due to the GMRS that occurs in his conception. Again, to reiterate we have no clue as to the source of Sri MSG’s pAtam and whether it has nexus to any of the main schools of Tyagaraja’s sishya parampara namely Walajapet, Umayalpuram or Tillaistanam.

We now move to the version of this composition by vocalist Vidushi Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian.

 Video recording from her Kshetra series concert is here.

  1. She begins with SNDP and uses SGMP for ‘vacciti’ in the pallavi. The gandhara occurring in the madhya stayi sounds like the one in Karnataka devagandharam and the tara stayi usage of GMRS at cutti cutti is the kAnada motif.
  2. Her rendering is more disjointed making the purvanga, uttaranga on one hand and the mandhara, Madhya and tara stayis on the other hand sound like different raga sets giving the impression of a misra raga rather than a cohesive/singular melody
  3. In the kalpana svara section the MRS sounds more like MGS. Her version is proximate to Sri MSG’s edition using the same svara sets. However, Sri MSG’s conception is apparently more homogenous for the ears.

ANALYSIS OF THESE RENDERINGS:

In the first cut of the analysis, one can clearly say that Vidvan Somasundaram’s edition is one bucket while the editions of Sri MSG and Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian is clearly of the second bucket. The versions of Sri MSG as well as Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian suggests that present day available editions that we hear are most possibly interpretations of available notations by the individual musicians. In other words, they learnt it from text and their reproduction is constrained by the initial conditions – the fidelity and correctness of the raga, it lakshana and the notation, from the book they learnt.

There are a few initial conditions/caveats that hold true for our discussion:

  1. The raga name Svarabhushani or its melodic contours suggested by prevailing musical texts beginning with Nadamuni Panditar are of recent 20th century vintage only.
  2. This raga name does not figure in the Sangraha Cudamani. Given that Tyagaraja did not assign raga names to his compositions, the absence of the lakshana of ‘svarabUshani’ in Sangraha Cudamani makes it clear that in this case the assignment of the raga name was clearly a very late 19th century or early 20th century development at best.
  3. Using the rendering available in the public domain of a composition, it is likely that the notional mela and arohana/avarohana krama that was implicit in the melodic fabric of this Tyagaraja composition under question was perhaps determined at that point in time.
  4. A perusal of historical records particularly musical books published during late 19th century and early 20th century validates the fact that ragas which were not as popular/well known/common as Sankarabharanam, Todi, Bhairavi, Sriranjani etc couldn’t be identified by them. The publishers of these printed musical books simply left it unspecified by giving the raga name ‘apurUpam’ or ‘rare’. Such was the state of our knowledge and capability from a musical publishing standpoint. Critics of the past century like Sri K V Ramachandran in their presentations before the Music Academy highlighted the need to research and catalogue the compositions and the correct ragas thereof of Tyagaraja. (See foot note 1)
  5. Given the situation the true melodic contours of a raga of Tyagaraja’s composition can be gauged only by triangulating/reconciling the three inputs namely:
    1. available notations from authentic sources & lakshana commentary of any from Sangraha Cudamani/Andhra edition of a document called Ragalakshanam
    2. renderings of vidvans/vidushis who learnt it through the oral tradition route
    3. the internal evidence if any within the composition with minimum but plausible assumptions.
  6. There seem to be no dependable research material or proper research done on this subject, for us to rely upon. See foot note 2.

SOME PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS:

This section and the next completely reflects my view point of this entire problem. Additional facts or authentic versions if any unknown till date, if made available can potentially help in resetting our findings/conclusions. With the available data so far, the following conclusions could be drawn based on the musical material on hand.

  1. The point that the raga name ‘Svarabhushani’ is missing from the listing in Sangara Cudamani makes it clear that the raga of the composition is suspect at the very outset. Most possibly the melody of this composition is already one which is found in the Sangraha Cudamani and is not Svarabhushani.
  2. The analysis of the available recordings as that of Vidvan Somu, Sri M S Gopalakrishnan (MSG) or Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian(VS) do not reconcile against each other for many different reasons:
  3. The contours of the raga itself differ considerably as between Vidvan Somu and the rest.
  4. The versions of Sri MSG and Smt VS employ SGMP and PMRS which do not provide a homogenous color to the raga nor does it appear facile. The artistes seem to have learnt it from notation intoning the notes as is and thus constrained by the nature of the source and its fidelity. The contours that they paint also lack musical authority from any known musicological text.
  5. Available notations too seem to have reconciled the composition to the prescribed scale. Who assigned this composition to this scale and/or who prescribed the arohana avarohana of SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS remains cloaked in mystery. We do have texts which give SNPMGMRS as avarohana krama.
  6. Even notations appear suspect and seem to have been written down from oral tradition without having clarity of the source. For example, the available notations do not seem to prescribe gandhara in the Madhya sthayi sancaras whereas the gandhara makes it appearance in the tAra sthAyi through the GMRS phrase (e.g the sahitya.  “cutti cutti” in the anupallavi). The notation seems to have been written from a source who perhaps did not properly render the tAra stayi phrases. The kriti even with the GMRS does not seem to belong to Kapi clan ragas as well such as Karnataka Kapi or Kanada, Durbar and their ilk. The aural effect, one can feel is that the gandhara appears to have been “thrust” into this composition. Vidvan Somu’ version sadly seems to be no better on this count as well. For the moment, we may treat this point as a hypothesis and we will revisit this point in a little while, as it will prove a clincher for us in determining the “possible true raga” of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’.

SVARABUSHANI IS NOT THE RAGA OF THE COMPOSITION

tyagayya-1946-VNagayyaArmed with this provisional finding I embarked on getting hold of an older rendering possibly of the composition which could provide a clue as to the true raga of this composition. And help came from not from our world of classical music but from unexpected quarters.  The composition was part of the Telugu musical cinema ‘tyAgayya’ starring V Nagayya of 1945 vintage. This movie being a bio-pic of Saint Tyagaraja, featured more than 20 of the his compositions.

The entire movie can be viewed here: Movie

The musical tracks featuring Tyagaraja’s compositions are marked in the progress bar of the movie.

While serious researchers can embark on determining the pAtham of the compositions in detail along with the sahitya and attempt it match it to a specific school of Tyagaraja’s, but for the purposes of the analysis on hand, a quick & dirty summary/high level assessment tells us a number of facts:

  1. All the compositions featured in the movie are of impeccable authenticity. None can be doubted as not being of Tyagaraja’s/spurious.
  2. One can reasonably surmise that given the attention the movie could have garnered, the choices of the compositions and their version must have been of the highest order. If not, they can potentially attract adverse criticism and or reviews.
  3. The melodic constructs of the commonly heard compositions, tracks to the classical versions and no dilution could potentially be imputed to the renderings.
  4. As a caveat, it must be acknowledged that the renderings in the movie do have, what I prefer to call as ‘desi’ quality. They are not pure concert-editions and are more ‘bhajana-sampradaya’ version. And thus, here and there they sport melodic extensions or a few sangathis which may not be completely aligned to the classical lakshana of the raga. In other words, given the source (cinema), one could & should anticipate a few phrases here and there which may not be kosher from the point of view of the classical definition of the raga.

Subject to these disclaimer(s) the musical idea, skeleton or musical construct of a composition sung in this film/available in the musical track of this movie, can (in my opinion) be used as evidence/input to determine the raga contour of that composition.

Here is the Youtube track of the video of the particular song: varadarAja

The audio track of the song is given below:

The analysis of the rendering of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’ from the film Tyagayya reveals the following:

  1. The core melody is unquestionably the raga Devamanohari as one can hear. The elements of the raga are all there.
  2. It conforms to the 22 mela, without any gandhara. The usage of the leitmotif DNP which for example appears at “ninnEkOri’ and other places makes it obvious. We do not see any SGM or GMRS anywhere in the melodic body.
  3. The gamut of the raga in the Madhya sthayi captured by the initial sangatis of the pallavi line and the anupallavi line ‘varnimpa  taramu gAdhada’ is plain unadulterated Devamanohari.
  4. The suspect tAra sancara movements at ‘chUti chUti’ does not paint an outright R..MRS which is what I referred to as ‘dEsI’ in its presentation/intonation. I suspect that these so called prayogas could have found its way to popular/mass version of the song and thus becoming a “corrupted” version of the composition.
  5. These suspect musical expressions together with certain prayogas such as SNDP in certain sangathis can be safely isolated as ‘’subsequently injected aberrations”, for Tyagaraja could not have created his composition with questionable phrases (SNDNP and SNDP in the same breath) that too in a raga of hoary antiquity.
  6. One can safely conclude that the core musical material of the song is Devamanohari and that must have been original raga of the song.
  7. The raga of the version presented by Sri MSG and Smt VS seems very contrived and artificial and no wonder the theoretical progression of that melody SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS did not at all gain traction as the resulting melody was not homogenous. Neither do we have any other compositions in this scale today. This is an aesthetic/harmonic aspect which can only be sensed & concluded aurally.
  8. Moreover, the foregoing makes one to logically conclude that the available notation too may have been derived from a corrupted version of the composition. The film version that we saw perhaps represents a least corrupted version of the composition as available to us.
  9. Devamanohari is an old raga recorded by Tulaja and Sahaji during the early 18th century. However it is sad, but true that during the late 19th and early 20th century, the raga Devamanohari was not known to a good proportion of the public. So much so many of the publications during that period simply labelled compositions in Devamanohari as ‘apuroopam’ or rare. The available copies of these publications are mute witness today to this blissful ignorance. The famous music critic Sr K V Ramachandran laments on the very same point in his seminal lecture/research paper titled ‘Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’ & “Carnatic angles from a new angle’- presented in the portals of the Music Academy decades ago. He mourns that the Bard’s compositions were normalized/mutilated by teachers of music and publishers as well, to standard versions based on their own knowledge with scant respect for textual tradition.

And in this instant case, based on the available evidence and the logic that we have employed, we can conclude the possible sequence of events that came about as under:

  • The melodic construct of this composition got corrupted due to abuse or disuse making the composition rare.
  • It came to be assigned a brand-new raga name ‘Svarabushani’ by editors/teachers who perhaps were impervious of Devamanohari and/or were they never knew the true & original melody of the composition, sometime during the latter half of the 19th century/early 20th century.
  • While the mainstream 20th century musicians totally forgot the raga & the composition, it possibly survived in a corrupted form in the oral tradition such as the one captured in the movie made in 1946.
  • Later day publishers probably got only these corrupted versions to notate which meant that they retrofitted a raga name for the corrupted version, for example accommodate only the tara gandhara phrases and hence normalized the body of the melody to create a brand-new raga SGMPDNS and SNDPMRS, without rhyme or reason. This line of reasoning is not novel and has been documented/seen in compositions such as ‘nagumOmU ganalEnI”, “sOgasu jUda taramA”, “nannu kanna talli’ et al.
  • The original score of the composition being lost, the composition today appears in a famished melody which lacks textual tradition, did not gain traction or public appeal.
On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)

On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)

In the light of the reasoning as above and unless we have further credible facts to rebut, the raga of the composition can only be presumed to be in Devamanohari. And the lyrics of the composition below as available from the music track seem to be most appropriate.

వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA             (varadarAja)

సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE    (varadarAja)

వరగిరివైకుంటమటవర్ణింపతరముగాదట
varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

  నిర్జరులనుతారకములలోచంద్రుడైమెరయుదువట
nirjarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

  వరత్యాగరాజసుతగరుడసేవజూడ
vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI             (varadarAja)

And much after I done this deduction I stumbled upon this presentation of the Tyagaraja composition by the scion of the Lalgudi sishya parampara of Tyagaraja, Sri G J R Krishnan.

Sri Krishnan renders the composition here in the company of Vidushi Vijayalakshmi which I have split into two parts.

Apparently in deference to tradition which assigns the raga name of Svarabhushani, at the outset the Vidvan announces the raga name as is, perhaps. But in his raga outline, the composition proper and the ensuing svarakalpana there is no doubt that the raga is Devamanohari. There is no gandhara “heard”at all, not even a trace of it anywhere in his rendering. SNDP occurs prominently both at the start of the pallavi and the anupallavi. Contrastingly the V Nagayya film edition started with PDNS. According to the pAtham of Sri G J R Krishnan, the raga’s kramA is SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS. If one were to reconcile the intonation of the gandhara and account for it, the explanation is perhaps it is so oscillated & close to rishabha.

It can also be argued that for all practical purposes the Swarabhushani in this edition is practically SRMPDNS/SNDPMRS, a gandhara varjya janya under Mela 22 with SNDNP occurring here and there. But that would beg the question ‘Does that make this raga any different from Devamanohari?’ Is there any textual authority for such a scale in our history so far?

One other version that can be considered is by Vidvan Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana given below.

The kriti rendering as well as the svaras can be dissected on the above lines and conclusions can be drawn. Again the authority for the SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS, the raga lakshana, the presence or absence of the gandhara, its intonation etc lack authority, textual or otherwise.

‘vAradarAja ninnEkOri’ is thus a classic case where in the absence of a supposed authority like Sangraha Cudamani or an authentic pAtham with considerable authority, we have struggled & are struggling to determine the contours of the raga. The presence or absence of the gandhara is the real clue but eludes a determination.

Actually, the solution to this question/struggle is rather straightforward . The raga is Devamanohari and we have to edit the available closest version of the song to the lakshana of this hoary raga, eschewing all ‘non-Devamanohari’ phrases/sangatis (particularly SNDP) and attempt to recreate a close to possibly original version.

This is the complication we have had with our tradition/past and I think we would continue with that without any resolution. In so far as this composition goes, it is my humble opinion that it was once a upon a time Devamanohari. An improperly sung Devamanohari down the line much later from the times of Tyagaraja has been legitimized over time by providing a name to it (as Svarabhushani) without any authority whatsoever with poor manuscript copying and careless publication and/or propagation causing all these dissimilar copies/versions. Some versions/pAthams included the gandhara. Some excluded it. And thus, today it speaks of the poor fidelity with which the compositions of the Saint have been transmitted over the centuries.

We also saw the similar cases of Natanarayani/Pratapavarali (how the p/S and S\p of Natanarayani morphed to PDS and SDP) and Sindhu Kannada/ Kesari/Sharavathi (how the D1/N1 morphed) in our previous blogs. The pattern keeps repeating and now these confusions are part and parcel of our tradition. We also touched upon this in the context of the previous blog on 18th century raga architecture when we dealt with Devamanohari itself.

I am atleast fortified in this aspect that this modern-day version of Vidvan G J R Krishnan stands as a solid proof that the melodic fabric of this raga is Devamanohari and not a scalar melody theoretically derived by Nadamuni Panditar decades after Tyagaraja had passed away.

I now leave this for the rumination of a discerning rasika of our music.

EPILOGUE:

The story for me did not end here. Whence investigating this there were at least a couple of more problems which were potential loose ends which had to be ironed out.

  1. The prAsA concordance of the carana lyric – line starting “nIrjarulanu” was an irritant. Potentially the ‘nIr’ had to figure as the ending sahitya for the previous line/previous rupaka tala avarta. But it cannot be accommodated within the tala akshara as the previous line sahitya itself was dense enough.
  2. Coincidentally the Walajapet manuscripts had an extra line added in its running notation as marudu siggu cE mandarara Athadu”which did not make meaningful sense. See foot note 3.

What these two points meant was potentially, the original composition had 4 rupaka tAla avartas worth of sahitya which were probably left out when the manuscript was copied. And the melodic flow of the composition had to be reorganized to accommodate these lines which can be done using the running notation found in the manuscripts themselves. This sahitya as available from the Walajapet manuscripts had to be edited to mean correctly in the context of the composition as well. See foot note 4.

The revised (edited) sahitya/lyrics for the entire composition and the meaning are given below: (See foot note 5)

Pallavi:

 వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA                  (varadarAja)

Meaning: O Varadaraja! I have come seeking you. I salute you!

Anupallavi:

సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE            (varadarAja)

Meaning: O the one whom the Devas, rishis & denizens of the earth surround and worship.

Caranam:

 వరగిరివైకుంటమటవర్ణింపతరముగాదట
varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

Hasthigiri (Kanchipuram, referred to here as the sacred giri) is considered equal to Vaikuntham and beyond all description.

మరుడుసిగ్గుచే     ముందురాడట

marudu siggucE mundhu rAdata (nir)

Manmatha abashed by your beauty hesitates to come forward.

 నిర్జరులనుతారకములలోచంద్రుడైమెరయుదువట

-jarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

Amidst the stellar assemblage of the Devas you shine like the moon.

వరత్యాగరాజసుతగరుడసేవజూడ
vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI                    (varadarAja)

O the one worshipped by Tyagaraja,I have come to have darshan of the Garuda Seva.

CONCLUSION:

As we saw both the textual tradition as evidenced by the notations on one hand and the oral traditions on the other provided discordant views to us as to the correct raga and mettu/musical contours of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’. The analysis based on available evidence indicates a balance of convenience in favour of Devamanohari.

What has been attempted is an amateur/armchair effort to uncover the truth from diverging musical material and history. It is fervently hoped that issues like these are taken up by professional/qualified researchers and the same goes to add to our body of knowledge so that students and serious listeners of music get the correct perspectives as to the versions of the compositions of the Trinity.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. There are very many articles and also lecture-demonstrations done on the subject of ragas of the compositions of Tyagaraja as given in pre-1930 publications and the dichotomy it has with the ragas that are actually sung in practice. Many of the items listed, would leave us agitated. While it is true that quite a few compositions suffered a change in the raga, ragas of well know compositions are printed differently in these texts. During the Dec 2016 Music Season Festival of the Madras Music academy atleast a couple of lecture demonstrations were done on this subject including one by Dr Hemalatha. The to be released JMA of 2017 would have that recorded. From the past one such example of a tabulation of the list of compositions whose actual currently rendered ragas is different from what appears in pre-1930 publications is by Smt.Radha Sarangapani in the Shanmukha (Vol XXXIII No 3& 4, July-Sep & Oct-Dec 2007). Suffice to say that the ragas of compositions listed in the publications and the actual ragas as per the authentic sishya paramparas in practice, manuscripts of the Walajapet Sishya parampara or of Chinnasvami Mudaliar or Subbarama Dikshitar as available should be compared before drawing a conclusion as to the actual raga of those compositions.
  2. The current state of musicological research more so in the context of this raga and composition can be rated by the Ph.D thesis ‘Rare and New ragas handled by Tyagaraja- A critical Study’, submitted at the Department of Music, Kannur University available here. In Chapter 3 of this thesis on pages 117-118, this raga ‘Swarabhushani’ and the composition ‘varadaraja ninnukori’ is dealt with by the Researcher.

   At the outset, the Researcher provides the arohana/avarohana of the raga as under, on the authority of Nadamuni Panditar.

Arohana        – s g m p d n s 

Avarohana   – s n p m g m r s

Attention is invited to the lack of dhaivatha in the avarohana krama as provided. Providing the narrative of the exemplar kriti, the Researcher goes on to say  that Tyagaraja brings in the phrase ‘s n d p, m’ even at the beginning. Mark the dhaivatha that makes its appearance now. What is the researcher trying to convey? Is there a dhaivatha in the descent or not. So much for the Researcher, the Guide and the Thesis. Such is the pitiable state of our research, academia and institutions. Not that I am nit-picking selectively from this so-called thesis. One can also find innumerable such faux pas. The raga Vegavauhini dealt with in page 141-142 suffers a similar fate. A reading of the passage thereunder will convey that Muthusvami Dikshitar composed in Vegavauhini with an arohana krama of SRGMPDNDS!

  1. I am thankful to Sri Aravindh Ranganathan for providing me with his copy of the extract of the notation of this composition as seen in the Walajapet manuscripts.
  2. A perusal of the Walajapet notation taking into account the defective sahitya, perhaps makes one surmise that the kriti was perhaps not part of the core set of compositions which was learnt/notated originally by Venkataraman Bagavathar. It is most likely that somebody subsequent to Walajapet Venkataraman Bagavathar in his sisya parampara must have heard this being sung from some others and must have then notated it as a part of their digest/record of Tyagaraja compositions. Walajapet Venkataramana Bagavathar himself was proficient in Telugu and also a composer of merit. And it would be rather unfair to tag the kriti with a defective sahitya line to his repository. If he had learnt it originally from the Bard himself, he for sure would have notated it correctly to make a proper meaning of the sahitya.
  3. I am indebted to Spencer Sri R Venugopal for helping me to understand the lyrical aspect of the composition and editing the Telugu lyrics suitably to make it meaningful, particularly the missing carana line of the composition.

2 thoughts on “The Quest for the true melodic contours of Tyagaraja’s “varadarAja ninnEkOri”

  1. 1. “This name is first documented in Nadamuni Panditar’s Svaraprastara Sagaram, circa 1914. ”

    This statement cannot be accepted as:
    “Oriental music in European Notation” by Sri AMC Mudaliyar published in the year 1892 and “Thyagarajaswamy Keertanamu” by Thillaisthanam Sri Narasimha Bhagavathar published in the year 1908 link this krithi with this ragam and were published much earlier than Sangita Svara Prastara Sagaramu of Sri Nathamuni Pandithar.
    Whereas , AMC Mudaliyar consider this as a janyam of Karaharapriya, Narasimha Bhagavathar considers this as a janyam of Gowrimanoahri. Since, both the books fail to us to give the krithi in notation, no useful information can be added more than this.
    But, this ragam was much in circulation even before 1914 is much clear.

    2. Sangraha Chudamani is not the only lexicon followed by Tyagarajar.

    A tabulation of around 90 vinta ragas handled by this Saint reveals, only 5 -10 ragas were handled as given in Sangraha Chudamani.

    3. “perhaps makes one surmise that the kriti was perhaps not part of the core set of compositions which was learnt/notated originally by Venkataraman Bagavathar.”

    This is an extended and inappropriate hypothesis.
    Let me try to explain and solve the difficulties which can be experienced while studying Walajapet notations.
    It should be remembered the available evidence for us is only transcripts of the manuscripts. On all possibilities, the scribe could have made an error in transcribing the sahityam form the manuscripts.
    In my analysis, this krithi has a charanam running for 4 sahitya avartanam (not tala avartanam) and only having this line makes it as 4 !!

    This is indeed an inherent stock of Walajapet disciples which can be explained with 2 illustrations:

    a. If Walajapet disciples had got this from other school, this additional line could have been missing in their version too!! On the other hand, this line is seen in
    the texts of Tyagaraja krithis written by Vina Kuppaier, attesting the authenticity of this line.
    The association between Vina Kuppaier and Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar is well known and it can be safely guessed, this krithi could have been
    composed during Tyagarajar’s sojourn to the places like Walajapet, Kanchipuram, Madras, Thirupathi etc.
    b. Raga lakshanam portrayed in Walajapet version is much different from the common version available (Walajapet version is available in YouTube). This closely
    adhers to the scale given by Nadhamuni Pandithar. This makes me to hypothesize that Nadhamuni Pandithar could have got this version and hence included
    this ragam and the scale followed by Walajapet disciples in his book.

  2. Thanks are due to this reader for this reply and my point wise reply is as under:

    1. In so far as the first point goes the assignment of the mela for this raga becomes moot. Now this raga even according to this additional information provided, is assigned to Kharaharapriya & Gaurimanohari by the other authors apart from the assignment therof by Nadamuni Panditar. If this raga was sung prior to 1914, there is no clarity to as to which Mela was the raga assigned. Neither is there a proper notation on unassailable provenance and hence these additional information takes us no further. And nowhere is there an oral tradition to back up this assertion. Relying on unverified and unsubstantiated historical records without triangulating them with third party references would lead to ad absurdum !

    2. As I have always stated whether Tyagaraja followed Sangraha Cudamani or whether Sangraha Cudamani was post his life time creation is moot. The fact that Svarabushani is not found catalogued therein is an unassailable fact. And I do not want to venture into the trap of determining the lexicons followed by Tyagaraja.

    3. On the third point, I have not even deigned to get into the analysis of the notation of the Walajapet manuscripts. I have only tried to evaluate the evidence from a standpoint of determining the actual raga lakshana. It has to be pointed out that the lyrics fails the basic test of having a proper meaning as I have pointed out in the context of this kriti.And neither have I got into the vexed question of the antecedents thereof for which I can only rely for now on the assertion of Late K V Ramachandran as was confessed to him by Walajapet Ramaswami Bhagavathar which is documented for posterity.

    That said the said objections if any to my surmises fails and the information or comments as above take us nowhere beyond the realms of what we already know. I leave it to the wisdom of a discerning reader to draw his/her conclusions.

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