Pallavi Gopala Iyer is one of the composers from the pre-trinity period who adorned the Tanjore Court and was a vaggeyakara par excellence, in his own right. We do have accounts of him from Subbarama Dikshitar and also from manuscripts and references in the Sarasvathi Mahal Library of Tanjore and from Prof Sambamoorthy. Subbarama Dikshitar has also recorded for posterity, the notation for a number of his compositions which offers us an invaluable glimpse of the music of those days bygone and which help us understand raga lakshana as it existed in the run up to the times of the Trinity.
HIS LIFE & TIMES:
In his “Vaggeyakara Caritamu”, Subbarama Dikshitar states that Gopala Iyer adorned the Tanjore Court during the times of King Amarasimha(1787-1802) and King Serfoji(1802-1832)¹. Prof Sambamoorthy places the timeline of Pallavi Gopala Iyer as the latter part of 18th century and first quarter of 19th century. Given this and other collateral evidences, he should have lived circa 1750-1820. And thus he was in all probability slightly elder to the Trinitarians.
Here is his biography in brief as dealt with in the records and accounts available to us:
Gopala Iyer hailed from “northern regions” according to Subbarama Dikshitar. He was the son of one Callagalli Veeraraghava Iyer. Gopala Iyer also had a brother by name Sanjeeva Iyer. The honorific title “Callagalli” (telugu) came to be conferred, probably because the music that Veeraraghava Iyer sang was like pleasant cool breeze, as the term implied in Telugu! Both the sons of Veeraraghava Iyer were enrolled under no less a teacher as Patchimiriam Adiyappayya, the legendary composer of the classic Bhairavi Ata tala varnam, “Viribhoni”. From amongst the all time greats of Carnatic Music, the honorific title “mArgadarshi” or “Trail Blazer” has been conferred on 4 icons :
- Karvetinagar Govindasamayya – for his magnum opus adi tala tana varna in Navaroz and probably for the ‘pedda varnamu’, “SarigadAni pai” in raga Mohana as well.
- Melattur Veerabhadrayya (for his now lost classic, the Huseni Svarajathi “Sami Ninne” in Adi tala)
- Sesha Iyengar (for his immortal set of 60 krithis, selected no less by the Lord at Srirangam) and
- Patchimiriam Adiyappayya ( for his Bhairavi ata tala tana varna)
Adiyappayya’s other illustrious disciples include Syama Shastri, Ghanam Krishna Iyer and “bhUlOka gAndharva” Narayana Svami Iyer (of the Udayarpalayam Samasthanam). Needless to say each one of Adiyappayya’s disciples went on to make a mark in the world of music with their contribution!
Prof Sambamurthy with authority credits Adiyappayya as the first to systematize the art of rendering raga, tana and pallavi as an organized mechanism of exposition. And he went on to teach that to his worthy disciples. Gopala Iyer became so adept in it that he became the first to be conferred the title “Pallavi” in recognition of his mastery over this (then) new art form. This title also adorns the name of many other latter musicians/composers including Pallavi Duraisvami Iyer, Pallavi Sesha Iyer etc. And Pallavi Gopala Iyer was one of the prominent gems of the Tanjore Court, which at that point in time had more than 360 vidvans ornamenting it!
Pallavi Gopala Iyer also seems to have had a son by name Krishnayyar who too was a musician of merit. This apart we have no other personal details available about Gopala Iyer or about his descendants.
GOPALA IYER – THE VAGGEYAKARA:
Gopala Iyer’s colophon was “Venkata”. Apart from having been part of the Tanjore Court, he also visited the Mysore Court during the reign of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1799-1868). His compositions sport the raja mudra as an ankita as well.The following are the compositions that are available to us through the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP), its anubandha and manuscripts found in the Sarasvati Mahal Library.
- Vanajakshi – Kalyani – Ata tala (Mudra : Kasturiranga)
- Kanakangi – Todi – Ata tala
- Intacalamu – Kambhoji – Ata tala
- Amba Nadu – Todi – Adi tala (Mudra : Venkatapati Sahodari)
- Hari sarva paripurna -Misra Eka (Mudra : Varada Venkata Sriramana)
- Mahishasura mardhini – Kalyani – Tisra Eka (Mudra : Varada Venkata Sriramana)
- Needu carana pankaja – Kalyani – Adi (Mudra : Varada Venkata )
- Needu Murtini – Nattakurinji – Adi (Mudra : Venkatesa)
Apart from the above ,we have the following compositions ascribed to Gopala Iyer available to us from Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s Kritimani Malai Vol IV.
- Mahatripura Sundari – Bhairavi – Rupaka
- Sri Rama ramani manohara – Mohanam – Adi
- Shripura nivasini – Mohanam – Rupaka
Amongst these compositions, the tana varnas in Kalyani and Todi are heard in the concert circuit along with the Todi, Kalyani (‘Needu carana’) and Nattakurinji krithis.
Also there are 2 other daru’s found in the Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal collection -“Sringara Na Mohana” in the raga Begada and “Vintadanara” in Madhyamavathi, both of which sport “kasturiranga” as an ankita/mudra. One cannot but wonder if they could also be Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s. Again we do not know for sure.
AN ANALYSIS OF GOPALA IYER’S CREATIONS:
According to Prof Sambamoorthy, as a composer Pallavi Gopala Iyer was the first or perhaps one of the earliest to adopt the so called “sampurna varika” style of approach. Under this approach in a composition every note is invested with kampita gamaka, totally eschewing flat notes. Indeed this is a very interesting point of discussion. Gopala Iyer purposefully applied it on the then “auttara ragas”, namely Todi & Kalyani . In that era long bygone, these 2 ragas along with Pantuvarali were treated as auttara/turuska/northern/videsi ragas. The transformation of Todi and Kalyani is one of the remarkable examples of the dynamics of our music system during the run-up the period of the Trinity.
Perhaps one can surmise that in the hands of Pallavi Gopala Iyer, Todi and Kalyani got a royal treatment with the result they became mainstream ragas along with the Sankarabharanams, Bhairavis and Kambhojis and the Trinitarians subsequently went on to compose some of their greatest gems adopting the approach Gopala Iyer took.
Prof Sambamoorthy also credits Gopala Iyer of reformatting the then existing structure of a tana varna, to its current modern form. And this view is also advanced by Prof S R Janakiraman in one of his lecture demonstrations.
Older structure of a tana varna ( circa 1750):
The varna was structured with a pallavi, followed by anupallavi & muktayisvara, followed by ettugadda Pallavi/carana & its sets of ettuagada svaras, followed by a small sahitya portion called anubandha. The ettugada svaras were composed in increasing avartas of the tala in which the tana varna was composed.
The pallavi line was first rendered, followed by anupallavi with a round of muktayi svara as its appendage. This was then followed by the ettugada pallavi or carana which was used as a refrain to render the 4 or 5 sets of ettugada svaras. After the last ettugada svara was sung, the ettugada pallavi/carana/refrain was sung followed by a portion of sahitya called anubandha. After singing the anubandha, the anupallavi was to be sung followed by the muktayi svara and finally the pallavi line had to sung once to conclude the rendering.
- “Viribhoni” – Bhairavi – Ata tala – The notation as provided by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP for the ettugada section and for the anubandha can be referred. As one can notice , modern day renditions are a truncated version of the original template.
- Many of the varnas found in the SSP including those composed by Subbarama Dikshitar himself (“Intamodi”- Durbar- Ata, “Varijakshi” -Sahana – Ata et al ) follow this conventional but lengthy format.
- Another older varna dating to the early half of the 18th century, which can be cited as an example is “Nenarunchi” – Bilahari – Ata of Sonti Venkatasubbayya as also the tana varnas of Ramasvami Dikshitar.
A tana varna today is structured with just the pallavi, followed by anupallavi & muktayi svaras and end with the ettugada pallavi/refrain with 3 to 5 ettugada svaras with upto a maximum of 3 tala cycles in the last ettugada svara sequence. The anubandha portion no longer exists. In terms of rendering, a tana varna is concluded with the singing of the last ettugada svara sequence with the ettugada pallavi refrain.
Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s varnas are the earliest examples of this modern form, which is bereft of the anubandha portion. In fact his ata tala tana varna in Kambhoji “Intachalamu” is one of the smallest of its breed with the following structure:
- Pallavi, Anupallavi, muktayi svara section each with 2 cyles/avarthas of ata tala
- Ettugada pallavi – 1 cycle/avartha of ata tala
- Ettugada svara 1 – 1 cycle/avartha of ata tala
- Ettugada svara 2 – 1 cycle/avartha of ata tala
- Ettugada svara 3 – 2 cycles/avarthas of ata tala
Prof Sambamoorthy, also goes on to add that much latter Veena Kuppier, also applied Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s modified form for all his varnas by dispensing with the anubandha portion. However it needs to go on record that this is not entirely true. Quite a few varnas of Veena Kuppier do have the anubandha and this is recorded for posterity by the notation and text of the varnas as published in the invaluable ‘Pallavi Svarakalpavalli’ by his equally illustrious son Tiruvottriyur Tyagier. In fact the famous Sankarabharana Adi tala varna “Sami Ninne” taught to all beginners, has a short and beautiful anubandha with the following sahitya:
“nEnarUnci nE nI mAruni kelI kUdi maninca rA kUmArA”
Vidushi Seetha Rajan, true to tradition renders the varna completely with the anubandha in this clipping below in a “varnas only” concert !
Clip 2: Sami Ninne – Sankarabharanam
The ata tala tana varna in Kalyani has been a staple concert starter for many vidvans. Prof Sambamoorthy rates the varna as one of the best vocalizers to kick start a concert. Gopala Iyer’s conceptualization of Kalyani in his gem-of-a composition is a veritable lesson in Kalyani for any listener or learner. The varna sports the mudra “mA kasturi ranga”. Prof Sambamoorthy opines that it refers only to Vishnu, the father of manmatha & not on any mortal or King. Interestingly there is another varna “(Y)Enthani vedinaga” in the raga Navaroz which also sports the mudra “kasturiranga” as well and in some of the publications it is attributed (perhaps without authority) to Maharaja Svati Tirunal.
According to Prof Sambamoorthy, it seems Gopala Iyer composed this Kalyani varna even when he was under the tutelage of Adiyappayya. The disciple took the courage to sing this in front of his revered guru, who heard it with rapt attention. And then Adiyappayya apparently remarked that it was a ‘schoolboy’s composition’, probably out of goodwill, lest his illustrious disciple were to become proud should he praise him profusely ! The master must have undoubtedly been secretly happy with his ward’s attainment, no doubt!
Clip 3: Architect of modern day recital format (which starts with a varna), Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar begins his concert with the Kalyani varna
In the Todi varna “Kanakangi” which is attributed by Subbarama Dikshitar to Pallavi Gopala Iyer, the ankita/raja mudra that one finds therein is “Tulajendruni tanayudaina Sarabhoji maharajendra..”, composed on Sarabhoji II who ruled between 1802-1832. Interestingly Dr B M Sundaram on the strength of the manuscripts of the Tanjore Quartet & the publication “Tanjai Peruvudaiyan Perisai” ascribes it to Ponniah .
Clip 4: Sangita Kalanidhi K V Narayanasvami renders the Todi varna “Kanakangi“
Gopala Iyer’s another magnum opus is his Nattakurinji composition “Nidu Murtini”. This composition along with the Kambhoji varna “Intachalamu” and the Kalyani varna “Vanajakshi” is found in the SSP and Subbarama Dikshitar upholds them as authority/examples of raga lakshana for those ragas. Nattakurinji is one of the old ragas of our system with a documented textual tradition. One of the oldest compositions in Nattakurinji is the varna “Inta aluka” in Ata tala composed by Kuvanasamayya, one of the Karvetnagar brothers, dating to circa 1700! The varna is found documented in the SSP (1904) and the much older printed publication Sangita Sarvaarta Saara Sangrahamu (1852). Gopala Iyer interprets Nattakurinji in his own inimitable way. Attention is invited to Gopala Iyer’s version of Nattakurinji especially the repeated emphasis on the vakra sancara MNDNs and its exquisite citta svara.
Clip 5: Prof S R Janakiraman renders the kriti “Needumurti ni” here :Needumurtini – Nattakurinji
The Prof opines that Gopala Iyer was the first to add cittasvara as a section/appendage to krithis. However Dr Sita in her article says that Kavi Matrubhutayya (circa 1850, slightly earlier to Gopala Iyer) was possibly the first to add the cittasvara feature to krithis as exemplified by the beautiful cittasvara of his classic ‘Neemadi callaga’ in Anandabhairavi.
Moving over next to Gopala Iyer’s other Kalyani piece “nIdu carana”, according to Prof Sambamoorthy it is a composition on Goddess Anandavalli, enshrined in the temple on the Vennar river banks at Tanjore. Muthusvami Dikshitar has composed on this diety, refer his kriti “Chayavatim Anandavallim” in the raga Chayavati, the asampurna mela equivalent of Suryakantham. We also have another krithi of Dikshitar (“Agasteesvaram”)in the raga Lalitha on the Lord Shiva at this temple.
Clip 6: Sangita Kalanidhi M S Subbulakshmi renders Needu carana
Prof Sambamoorthy opines that the dhatu/musical setting of the pallavi “Needu carana” is very unique/beautiful and has been thrust on Tyagaraja’s compositions “Sundari nee divya rupa” and “Vasudevayani”. According to him the present dhatu of the pallavi of these two songs is spurious, being derived from Needu carana. The original dhatu of the pallavi of “Vasudevayani” starts off as GMPDNs only and not as one hears today! And Svati Tirunal’s “sArasa suvadhana” too is a similar victim!
I have not heard the renditions of the other krithis of Gopala Iyer namely ‘Harisarva paripurna’ in Kambhoji and ‘Mahishasura mardhini’ in Kalyani. I would be grateful if somebody were to share any recordings of these 2 compositions. The tana varna in Kambhoji is again a rare one and luckily we do have authentic renditions and I intend covering that in the next post!
PS: I have drawn much of the content of this blog post from the references cited below and for the sake of brevity I have not indicated them in the body itself. Also thanks are due to Sri Lakshman Ragde for providing the listing of Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s compositions.
- Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) – Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini – Reprinted in Tamil by the Madras Music Academy, India
- Prof.P. Sambamoorthy (1970) – “Pallavi Gopala Iyer” – Published in the “The Hindu” dated 12th April 1970
- Dr B M Sundaram (2002) – “Varna Svarajathi” – Published by Sarasvathi Mahal Library, Tanjore
- Dr S Sita (1970)- “Kavi Matrubhutayya” – Published in the “The Hindu” dated 6th December 1970