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:
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:
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- Native gamakas to the raga/notes of this raga, based on the notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar are as under:
- 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.
- Gandhara is sometimes oscillated with the kampita gamakam.
- The glide or the jArU gamaka is used profusely in the composition though not necessarily native to the raga.
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.
श्रीकृष्णं भजरे रे मानस |
अक्रूर-वन्दित-पदं अर्जुनप्रेम-आस्पदं |
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),
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli renders the Rupavati section here between 11:17 to 12:00 in the recording below.
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.
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.
- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol I – Tamil edition published by the Madras Music Academy (1961)
- Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyatha Sivan- Edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastri- The Adayar Library Series – Vol 16 (1989)
- Ragalakshana Sangraha – PhD Dissertation of Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004)
- 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.
- 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.
- One such articulation can be read here : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/drishtikone/2010/09/astronomical-proof-mahabharata-war-shri-krishna/