Raga Lakshana – Vamsavati – Ravi Rajagopalan
The raga Vamsavati (the Asampurna 54th raganga of the latter Kanakambari* nomenclature), the equivalent to the sampurna mela raga Vishwambari has been given an expansive treatment by Muthusvami Dikshitar who has invested 2 krithis in this raga. His co-trinitarians Tyagaraja and Syama Shastri have not composed in either of the ragas. We have a composition of Tyagaraja in a janya Vijayavasantham. Given the textual evidence on hand, Vamsavati is probably a circa 1700-1750 entrant into our music system, if not earlier. This blog post is an analysis of the raga lakshana of this raga through a deep dive of Dikshitar’s composition, a magnum opus:
Kshetra : Composed on Lord Bakthavatsala at Thirukkannamangai a pilgrim town near Tiruvarur
This kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar is not a typically short (the so called samashti charana krithi) one from the prati madhyama family considering the fact that the raga is also vivadhi in nature as the shatshruthi dhaivatha( D3) and kakali nishada(N3) occur in succession in this raga. The majority of the kritis in the vivadhi ragangas as found in the SSP are short kritis with just a pallavi & an anupallavi, called today as samashti charana kritis. In the midst of these short kritis , the raganga mela 54, Vamsavati has been invested by Dikshitar with 2 kritis and one of them ‘Bakthavatsalam’ a kriti dedicated to the Perumal at Thirukkannamangai,one of the holy 108 shrines (Divyadesas), revered by the vaishnavites on whom the Alwars have performed Mangalasaasanam. This temple town is located very close to Tiruvarur town (about 6 kms) where Dikshitar resided for a good part of his life.
The raga for this krithi is the 54th ragangam – Vamsavati (equivalent to Vishvambari in the Kanakangi-Ratnangi Sampoorna scheme*). In the so called earlier Kanakambari nomenclature*, it was referred to as ‘Vaishaka’. The murcchana arohanam / avarohanam as given by Subbarama Dikshitar in the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) is:
S R1 G3 M2 P D3 N3 S
S N3 P M2 G3 R1 S
The lakshana shloka given by SD attributed to Venkatamakhi is given as: ‘Purna rago vamsavati avarohe dha varjitah’
The following are the compositions that are presently available to us & all of them are notated fortunately in the SSP. They are presented in chronological order:
- The Gitam attributed to Venkatamakhi
- ‘Vamsavati Shivayuvathi’ in Adi tala of Muthusvami Dikshitar
- ‘Bhaktavatsalam’ in Adi tala of Muthusvami Dikshitar
- ‘Viragamuvasa’ – A cauka varna in tamizh – dhatu of Balasvami Dikshitar and matu of Muttukumara Pulavar & set to Adi tala.
- The Vamsavati raga portion, starting with ‘Momu momu na jerci’ in the raganga ragamalika ‘E Kanakambari’ composed by Subbarama Dikshitar in rupaka tala, found in the Anubandha of the SSP.
- The sanchari of Subbarama Dikshitar in rupaka tala.
Here are some relevant observations, which would help us understand the raga svarupa of Vamsavati.
- Subbarama Dikshitar in his commentary says that the native murcchana prayogams for this ragam include NDNS, PNS & PRS. However if one analyses the lakshana gitam attributed to Venkatamakhi, the treatment is more krama sampurna. PDNS is the default usage & is found even in the opening ‘dhruvam’ part of the gitam. Also there is no usage of PRS anywhere in the gitam.
- Both the kritis of Dikshitar have PRS, PNS and PNDNS. PDNS is not found in the krithis at all while Venkatamakhi’s gitam has this prayoga.
- The gitam on one hand and the 2 krithis of Dikshitar, on the other, lead us to conclude that the musical conception of Vamsavati was improvised by Dikshitar.
- We can safely conclude that Subbarama Dikshitar has substantially based his lakshana conception on Dikshitar’s interpretation. And in fact he has attempted to bridge the versions of Venkatamakhi & Dikshitar through his sancari.
- Though the Caturdandiprakashika theorizes the existence of the 72 melas, Vamsavati is not among the 19 purva prasiddha melas that Venkatmakhi lists out. It is only the Anubandha or the Ragalakshana section which lists out the the 72 ragangas that Vamsavati makes its first appearance as the 54th entry, therein. The date of this anubandha is however a matter of controversy.
- Vamsavati is also not found amongst the 21 popular melas dealt with by Tulaja I (1729-1735) in the Sangita Saramruta & apparently it wasn’t in the musical mainstream at that point in time.
- Arguably the first composition in this raga is the lakshana gitam given in the Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini attributed to Venkatamakhi himself. Given certain facts it can be deduced that the gitam may probably be a creation of his descendant Muddu Venkatamkhin or perhaps Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshita. It is to be noted here that the gitam doesnt have any mudra whatsoever.
- One can see that the varna set to music by Balasvami Dikshitar closely follows the contours drawn by Muthusvami Dikshitar. In fact D3 occurs only 4 times in the long varna which also has a very unusual anubanda. This varna is apparently on the crown prince Muthusvami Ettendra of the Royal House of Ettayapuram.
- Also in the Vamsavati portion of the Subbarama Dikshitar raganga ragamalika, we see that he emphasizes PRS and SNDNS on the lines of Dikshitar.
- Subbarama Dikshitar usually gives the jeeva/nyasa svara for the raga under discussion. Here is doesnt mention the same. Given the fact the Dikshitar begins both his krithis on the pancama note; we can reasonably surmise that pancama is the jeeva/nyasa/vadi svara for this raga. Also gandhara is encountered prolifically & probably it is the samvadi.
Dikshitar’s Treatment of Vamsavati:
His Conception of Vamsavati’s raga Lakshana:
Dikshitar’s conception and how it differs from the older conception of Vamsavati as found in the lakshana gitam attributed to Venkatamakhi can be understood by the comparison given below.
Raga Lakshana as evidenced by Venkatamakhi’s Lakshana Gitam:
Salient sancaras/murcanas : PDNS, SNP
Murccanas not seen: SNDNP, PNS, Prs, pRS
Murccana Arohana/avarohana: SRGMPDNS-SNPMRS
Sancara span: Madhya stayi shadja till tara pancama
Raga Lakshana as outlined by Muthusvami Dikshitar:
Salient sancaras/murcanas : PNS, Prs, pRS, PNDNS
Murccanas not used : PDNS
Murccana Arohana/avarohana: pRSRGMPNs – PrsNDNPMGRS
Sancara span: Mandhara pancama till tara gandhara
Jeeva/Nyasa/Vadi Svara – Pancama ( inferential)
Samvadi – Gandhara( inferential)
Gamaka – Kampita predominantly for Ga and Ri and Jaaru as in to reach the Dhaivatha
(Note: Lower case signifies mandhara stayi svara , upper case signifies madhya stayi svara and italics in lower case denotes tara stayi)
It may not be out of place to mention here that the foregoing also proves that Dikshitar was no blind follower of tradition. He suitably improvised & innovated to enhance aesthetics, while leveraging the legacy left behind by the illustrious purvacharyas. Such examples abound, which is recorded for posterity by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP.
Dikshitar’s treatment of the vivadi combination of D3 & N3 in Vamsavati :
Given the presence of D3N3 combination in its structure, the PN3D3N3S workaround and omission of D3 in the avarohana is executed by Dikshitar. D3 usage in the 2 Vamsavati krithis of Dikshitar is characterized by the use of the jaaru (glide) type of gamaka, denoted in SSP notation as SN3D3/N3P (the refers to the erakka jaaru and / refers to the ettra jaaru).That is D3 is approached by the ettra and irakka jaaru & is not intoned directly. Also executing PN3D3N3S may be considered difficult given the fact that vocalists render very frequently the close cousins of Vamsavati namely Ramakriya (SN3D1P) and Purvikalyani or Gamakakriya (SN3D2P) which differ only on the dhaivatha.
The analysis of Dikshitar’s vivadi raga krithis would show that he has,” in general as a rule”, employed a three pronged strategy while utilizing the vivadi combinations. They are:
- Adjusting the usage density of the vivadi combination within the krithi
- Intelligently encasing the vivadi notes into a pattern (as in this case flanking the D3 between the 2 N3 svaras) &
- Utilize a type of gamaka to embellish it (as in this case jaaru for D3, denoted as / or ) so that the intonation of the svara by a vocalist or on the veena is manipulated and is heard appropriately by our ear.
Sangita Kalanidhi T V Subba Rao in his Lec-Dem in the Music Academy on the usage of shatshruthi dhaivatha in succession with kakali nishada in the raga Kaikavasi (a janya of Nitimati, mela 60) for the Tyagaraja composition ‘Vachamagocharame’ deals with a similar point. It may be interesting to note that this axiom pertaining to the D3N3 combination has an exception in the raga Samantha (under Mela 30), where even in the SSP, its avarohana murcchana is given as SN3D3P. Subbarama Dikshitar in his raga lakshana commentary wonders how the purvacharyas had given a direct descent instead of SN3D3N3P and virtually castigates them & considers the SN3D3P as a typo on the part of the scribe!
Turning back our focus on Vamsavati, the jaaru gamaka is to be rapidly executed as in the PN3D3/N3. This ensures that only an attentive listener can hear the so called semi-tonal dissonance just for a fleeting moment. The objective is, the listener has to hear but only a wee bit. It has to be executed via the jaaru & time and not by weakly intoning the svara. Non usage of D3 for Vamsavati can render it as an upanga janya of say a mela like Dhavalambari. So at least for ensuring its raganga status, D3 needs to find a place. Dikshitar by his three pronged approach intended to achieve the right balance between raga lakshana, the so called vivadhitva/dosha on one hand and harmony & aesthetics on the other.
A mention here needs to be made about the usage of pRS and Prs as recurring prayoga by Dikshitar in his Vamsavati conceptualization. The use of such leitmotifs is a regular feature of Hindustani ragas and we can see relics of this approach in the compositions notated in SSP. This feature indeed is worthy of a separate blog post & shall be dealt with then. Needless to say, Dikshitar has made use of this concept for Vamsavati. It can be surmised that these motifs would also serve to distinguish Vamsavati from its more famous cousins Ramakriya( Pantuvarali) and Gamakakriya ( Purvikalyani) & so Dikshitar has apparently ornamentedthe raga with this unique musical identity or anga, as all these ragas share a common purvanga.
Some Statistics :
In this krithi the counts of D3 usage, via the only N3D3N3S prayoga is (per SSP notation) given below.
- Pallavi – None
- Anupallavi -Only once at ‘Su(S/R1) ra(SN3) dhya(D3N3) ksham(S)’
- Charana- Once at ‘guru guha(PN/s) ve(ND3N)dhyam(s)’ & another in the madhyama kala section at ‘sushobito tpala(R1G3) vata(R1S) ka(N3D3)sti(N3) tham(S)’
Thus there are only 3 instances and also the D3 usage is restricted to madhya stayi only. If we investigate the musical setting of the other Vamsavati krithi (the much smaller samashti carana kriti namely ‘Vamsavati Shivayuvathi’) we find that D3 has been profusely used as much as 7 times, one for every avarta of adi tala, with last avarta accounting for 2. All of them sport the ND3NS combination while using D3. In one instance N3D3N3P has been used when looping back to the pallavi. Probably Dikshitar wanted to provide an exercise for a learner in executing the vivadi svara D3 and the piece is short, sort of a gitam.
pR1S & Pr1s Usage:
As pointed out earlier, the anga/leitmotif which has been repeatedly used is the pRS or Prs. It is encountered twice in the pallavi, twice in the anupallavi and 4 times in the carana section, reinforcing the fact that Dikshitar had indeed wanted this to be Vamsavati’s unique musical identity.
While elaborating as in a raga alapana or adding sangatis or while performing neraval or svara prastara for the Bakthavatsalam kriti, the following need to be borne in mind.
- Emphasize G3 as is done throughout the kriti and employ kampita gamaka in profusion for G3 and R1.
- Employ the musical contours as S R1 G3 M2 P N3 D3 N3 S – S N3 P M2 G3 R1 S.
- Employ PNs, pRS and Prs in profusion.
- Employ PND3NS or/& SND3NP sparingly.
Lyrical aspects of this composition:
As in the case of many of the other Dikshitar kritis, this kriti also is replete with sthala references and pointers to the kshetra puranas, iconography etc. Here is a listing of them:
“Bukthi-Mukti pradayaka daksham”-
There is a practice/belief that if one spends a night in this holy town, it would enable one to be liberated of the cycle of births and deaths by the benign grace of Lord Bakthavatsala.
There are 5 temples in the banks of River Cauvery in Tamilnadu, which are dedicated to Lord Krishna and are among the 108 Divya Desams (Holy Shrines of Lord Vishnu) where the Azhwars had sung hymns in praise of the Lord. They are
These five are revered as the five Krishna mangala kshetras and Thirukkannamangai is one of them.
“Vidhi durita nivrittikkaram”-
The Lord here saved the four Vedas from demons Madhu Kaidaba at the request and penance of Brahma, the Creator. Brahma himself is believed to have built the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord here. He also prayed to the Lord that he be accorded blessings and have the privilege of being next to the Lord in this temple.
The Lord married Mahalakshmi here.
“Vishaala veda saagara mantapam” -
The temple complex has a spacious mantapam, so named. As the Lord himself saved the Vedas, in eternal gratitude perhaps they have lent themselves as the four stately pillars of this mantapam located in the temple premises & hence the name.
“Shashanka gurutalpa doshahara darsha pushkarini thata paschimabhaga” -
Chandra got rid of the dosha (of having had a relationship with Brihaspati’s wife (Tara)), by merely having a darshan of the holy tank and so the tank was hence christened Darsha pushakarini. The legend of Chandra having had a dip and rising from the holy waters of this tank is musically signified by Dikshitar with an upward glide starting from the mandhara panchama to the adhya stayi rishaba which is also a leitmotif murccana that he has employed widely in this krithi.
Also in this kriti, Dikshitar directly & indirectly alludes to the seven attributes of a sapthamrutha kshetra ( this kshetra being one), which are:
- The Vimana or the canopy above the sanctum sanctorum
- The Mandapam in the temple complex
- The status of the forest( vanam) found here
- The river that flows through the kshetra
- The location of the temple
- The city or nagari and
- The pushakarini or tank
“Sushobitotpalavataka stitham” -
The temple canopy above the sanctum sanctorum belongs to the Utpalavata type/style as per shilpa sashtras. Also the other Saptamruta kshetra Thirukannapuram ( Lord Sowriraja Perumal) too has a Utpalavataka vimanam. Similar references in other Dikshitar krithis include ‘Pranavakara vimanam’ (Ranganayakam Bhavaye-Nayaki), Kusumakara vimanam ( Kusumakara Sobhita-Kusumakaram) and Somacchanda vimanam ( Sri Sundararajam-Ramakriya).
The local legend has it that the Devas wanted to secretly witness the marriage of the Lord and hence took the form of bees and stayed on in the beehive in this temple.
For the purpose of this article, the following renditions were considered.
- ‘Bhaktavatsalam’ by Vid Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer from an undated AIR Madras Broadcast accompanied by Vid T N Krishnan on the violin and Vid Umayalpuram Sivaraman on the mridangam
- ‘Bhaktavatsalam’ by an anonymous lady duet, from an undated AIR broadcast.
- ‘Vamsavati Shivayuvathi’ by Vid Kalpagam Svaminathan from a 2007 AIR Chennai FM Gold Arangisai broadcast.
I have not heard any other version of these krithis or that of the varna of Balasvami Dikshitar. I suspect that Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer may have reconstructed it directly from the SSP. I would greatly appreciate pointers to any oral or other patantharam, if there exists.
- Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s kriti rendition was ‘fairly’ adhering to the SSP notation. He does not execute any sangathi in the krithi with D3 other than the 3 places mentioned above. However the D3 doesn’t figure prominently in all the three places & was intoned rather ‘weakly’ or rather not heard at all. There was additionally a few avarthas of kalpana svaras on the pallavi line featuring D3 such as SNDNP again the D3 coming very weakly. No PDNS was noticed. Also the PRS usage was not conspicuous.
- The other rendition of “Bhaktavatsalam” by the lady duet in fact uses PDNS in a sangati for the pallavi itself. The anupallavi and a good portion of the charana section was way off the notation given in SSP with liberal usage of D3 as PDNS. I am not sure of the notation or patantharam they were following. However it’s worth noting here that the PNDNS in the madhyamakala sahitya section (utpalavataka sthitam) was beautifully executed with the right & fleeting intonation of the D3 with the jaaru. Wish they had struck to the SSP patantharam throughout to make it a real archival rendition.
- Kalpagam Svaminathan’s rendition of the other Vamsavati krithi is very close to the SSP. She also renders the cittasvara portion as well. Her D3 is played more as an anusvara for N3.
- Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (Telugu) and its Tamil translation published the Music Academy, Madras.
- T V Subba Rao -’Vachamagocharame & Banturithi’-The Journal of the Music Academy Vol XXV, parts I-IV, Editor Dr.V. Raghavan.
- Prof. S.R.Janakiraman(2002) -’Ragas at a Glance’-Shrishti’s Carnatica P Ltd, Edited by Kiranavali Vidyashankar.
- * Earlier Kanakambari Nomenclature – The naming convention/tabulation as given in the Sangraha Cudamani. Names given here do not always conform to the Katapayadhi scheme of prefixing.
- * Latter Kanakambari Nomenclature – The naming convention adopted in SSP and these names given in the headings adhere to the Katapayadhi convention
- * Kanakangi-Ratnangi Nomenclature- The naming convention & tabulation scheme, currently prevalent and found in the Sangraha Cudamani and considered to have been adopted by Tyagaraja.
Footnote: I have made every reasonable effort to present fair and accurate information to the best of my abilities. Also my thoughts and comments herein have been made in good faith . Should there be any errors or points of opinion feel free to post them as a comment.