Our music was propagated by two routes – oral and textual. Though we have a textual history of approximately 150 years recording the compositions of prominent composers, the corpus of compositions recorded by this way cannot said to be complete. Also, many compositions exist only in paper as they are not extant in the oral tradition. The converse is also true. Despite this extensive recording, many compositions have not seen the light and remain only in manuscripts and are yet to be published.
Tanjōre Quartette or Tanjai Nālvar as they are fondly called, hail from a family of rich musical heritage with their father and grandfather adorning the court of Maraṭṭa Kings. Cinnaiah (1802), Ponniah (1804), Śivānandam (1808) and Vațivēlu (1810) were born to Subbarāya Naṭṭuvanār, who was delegated to perform musical rites in Tanjāvūr Bŗhadīsvara temple. They were prodigious even at their young age and learnt the basics from their father and grandfather Gaṅgaimuttu Naṭṭuvanār. Later they had their advanced training from Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar for a period of 7.5 years under ‘gurukulavāsam’.
We do not have exact details regarding the period of their stay with Dīkṣitar. But it can be presumed, these events could have happened during 1810-1820. Nālvar being exceptional musicians and related to a family having a hoary tradition related to classical dance, turned their focus towards Sadir (as it was called) and created a mārgaṃ, which is still followed. They have authored innumerable kṛti-s, padam-s, varņam-s, jāvaỊi-s, rāgamālikā and tillanā-s. Their compositional style for kṛti-s considerably differs from their dance compositions. It is said Nālvar has recorded their compositions and uruppaḍi-s they have learnt from Dīkṣitar in palm-leaf and paper manuscripts.
This family has given us illustrious musician-composers like Sri K Ponniah Pillai, Veena Vidvan Sri KP Śivanandam, who belong to the sixth and seventh descendant respectively from Gaṅgaimuttu Naṭṭuvanār, through the lineage of Śivanandam (of Tanjai Nālvar). These members are not only involved in the transmission and propagation of the compositions of Nālvar, but also involved in the preservation of these manuscripts.
These manuscripts are now, in the possession of Sri Śivakumār, an eight generation descendant and a proficient Veena and Violin vidvān. It is due to the persevering effort of this family, some of the unpublished compositions of Nālvar saw the light.
Śivakumar has, in his possession several bundles of paper and palm leaf manuscripts. Though the palm-leaf manuscripts are under good condition, paper manuscripts require immediate attention.
Of the paper manuscripts available, a segment of a manuscript replete with the kṛti-s of Tanjai Nālvar and Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar are considered now. Though, the report cannot be considered as complete, this can definitely give us an idea about the repertoire of Nālvar.
As with any other manuscripts written before the advent of standardized notations, notational style is primitive; lacks a mark to identify sthāyi, anya svaram and ending of an individual āvartanam. Also, these notations do not indicate about second and third speed. Rāga names too was not mentioned for many kṛti-s. Savingly, svarasthāna and the parent mēla of the rāga are given clearly alongside the notations.
The available material can be divided into three segments based on the composer:
Kṛti-s of Nālvar
Kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar
Kṛti-s of Nālvar
In the section analyzed, Guru-navaratnamālika kṛti-s are seen with notation. This set of 9 compositions was composed by Nālvar as a Guru stuti. This cannot be considered as a regular Guru stuti. Nālvar invoke their Lord Bŗhadīsvara and they are not paeans composed on their Guru. Very few direct references to their Guru or his personality can be seen. These are to be compared and contrasted against the Guru kṛti-s composed by Vālājāpeṭṭai Vēṅkataramaṇa Bhāgavatar and/or other disciples of Tyāgarāja Svāmigaḷ.
Navaratnamālika of Nālvar
The following kṛti-s are held at high esteem due to the reasons mentioned above:
Māyātīta svarūpiņi – MāyāmālavagauỊa
Śrī guruguha mūrti – Bhinnaṣaḍjam
Sāṭilēni guruguha mūrtini – Nāța
Śrī karambu – Kanakāmbari
Sārekuni – Cāmaram
Śrī rājarājēsvari – Ramāmanōhari
Paramapāvani – VarāỊi
Sārasākși – Śailadēsākși
Nīdu pādamē – PantuvarāỊi
Two interesting observations can be made from this list. First, the rāga of the kṛti-s sāṭilēni and śrīkarambu is different from the present renditions. Now they are sung in the rāgam PūrvikaỊyāņi and Kāmbhojī respectively. Second, all the kŗtis-s are set in the “Rāgāṅga rāgā-s” (a term equivalent to the term mēḷakarta, usually referred to the scales in the asaṃpūrṇa mēḷa system). Pantuvarāli is specifically mentioned as a rāgam with sādhāraņa gāndhāra. This is in line with the old practice of calling the present day Śubhapantuvarāli as Pantuvarāli. This was remarked by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar too in his Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu.
We also can see other kṛti-s of Nālvar in other rāgāṅga raga-s namely bṛhadīśvara in Gānasāmavarāli and bhakta pālana in Phēnadyuti. This totals to 11 kṛti-s belonging to this category. This makes us to surmise that Nālvar could have composed in all the 72 rāgāṅga rāga-s following the footsteps of their Guru. It is emphasized again that the manuscript referred here represents only a portion of their collection and the entire corpus is to be analyzed to get a definitive conclusion.
Though, an in depth analysis of the version given in this manuscript and the other printed versions is to be done, namely “Tanjai Peruvudaiyān Perisai” and “Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini”, the two authentic texts which give these kṛti-s (either all or a few) in notation, preliminary analysis revealed a significant finding which is worth discussing here. The version given here for the Māyātīta svarūpiṇi is exactly the same as given in Saṃpradāya Pradarśini !! There might be subtle differences which are trivial and some allowances need to be given considering the fact we are dealing with a manuscript.
Another interesting finding is related to the kṛti, “śrī rājarājeśvari” in the rāgam Ramāmanōhari. The version given in this manuscript has phrases like PRRSNN, PNS which are not seen in both the books mentioned though the version given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar closely follows the manuscript excluding the presence of the mentioned phrases. Though, these phrases appear to be outlandish in Ramāmanōhari, they feature in a gītam notated in Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini. This shows Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini is a veritable source to know the rāga structure of the by-gone centuries. One more noticeable feature seen in these manuscripts is the total absence of ciṭṭa svāra segment for all the kṛti-s, irrespective of the composer involved.
Three other kṛti-s found in this manuscript deserve a special mention – Sarasvati manōhari gauri, Śrī jagadīṣamanōhari and Śrī mahādēvamanohari. Rāgā-s are not marked for these compositions. The kṛti śrī mahādēvamanohari was published in the book “Tanjai Peruvudaiyān Perisai” by the descendants of Tanjai Nālvar with a slight variations in the sāhityam. Whereas their version starts as mahādēvamanohari, the manuscript adds a prefix ‘śrī’ to mahādevamanōhari. Adding ‘śrī’ satisfy the rules of prosody as anupallavi reads as ‘sōmaśekhari’. Dhātu of this composition, as given in this manuscript too give us an interesting finding. Dēvamanōhari described in the treatises belonging to 17-19 CE whose authorship is known always stress the phrase PNNS and a straight forward DNS was never accepted by them. PNNS can be seen only in the version given in these manuscripts.
Rāga of the other two kṛti-s is to be determined. Rāgam of the first kṛti can be presumed to be Gauri as Nālvar had the practice of incorporating the raga mudra in many of their sāhityam. The notation will be analyzed and updated.
Beside these kṛti-s, varṇam-s like viriboṇi and mā mohalāhiri are seen.
2. Kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar
Around 90 compositions can be identified to be that of Dīkṣitar and all are available with notations. Out of these 90, 5 are unpublished. The remaining 85 can all be seen in Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. As mentioned earlier, the kṛti-s seen in this small portion of the corpus cannot be considered as the complete repertoire of Nālvar. Nevertheless, 85 denotes a significant number and it is to be borne in mind that not even a single composition seen here is outside Saṃpradāya Pradarśini. This shows any kṛti not mentioned in this text is always to be taken with a grain of salt.
A. Majority of the kṛti-s in the majority 85 belong to the clan of ”Rāgāṅga rāga-s”. Kṛti-s of Dīkṣitar can be seen in all the rāgāṅga rāgā-s except for ten. They include Toḍi (8), Bhinnaṣaḍjam (9), Māyamālavagaula (15), Varāli (39), Śivapantuvarāli (45), Ramāmanōhari (52), Cāmaram (56), Niṣada (60), Gītapriyā (63), Caturaṅgiṇi (66), Kōsalam (71). It is to be remembered here that Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini too didn’t furnish the kṛti-s of Dīkṣitar in the rāga-s 9, 45, 52 and 56. Of these four, a kṛti of Ponniah (of Nālvar) was given for three rāga-s – 9, 52 and 56. Śivapantuvarāli was not awarded with any kṛti. Same pattern was followed in this manuscript too. Kṛti-s were given in order of the rāgāṅga raga. After the rāgāṅga rāga 7, we find the kṛti of Nālvar in the rāgam Bhinnașaḍjam (śrī guruguha mūrti) followed by a kṛti of Dīkṣitar viśvanātham bhajēhaṃ in the rāgāṅga rāgam Naṭābharaṇam (10). This pattern is being followed for the rest too [after Bhavānī (44), Kāśirāmakriyā (51) and Śyāmaḷā (55) we find a kṛti of Ponniah in 45, 52 and 56 followed by a kṛti of Dīkṣitar]. Blessed is Śivapantuvarāli to have a kṛti of Nālvar in this manuscript. This raises a doubt on the authenticity of the Dīkṣitar kṛti-s presently prevalent in the rāga-s 9, 45, 52 and 56.
It is to be accepted that we don’t find a kṛti of Dīkṣitar in others rāgāṅga rāga-s namely 15, 60, 63, 66, 70 and 71. Excluding 15 and 39, the rāga-s preceding and succeeding these left–outs do not occur in sequence. They occur haphazardly; perhaps they might have been written separately and those pages are lost. 15 is an exception here as it is seen in sequence succeeding Vasantabhairavī (14) and preceding Vegavāhini (16). Reason for māyātīta svarūpiṇi replacing śrīnāthādi is not clear. But, it could have been separately written and lost. We have another example to support this view – the kṛti bhajarē citta in Kaḷyāṇi (65) is found separately and not after Bhūṣāvati (64). We find only one kṛti in Kamalāmbā navāvaraṇam (śri kamalāmbikayā in Śaṅkarābharaṇam) and three in Navagraḥa series, namely divākaratanujam, bṛhaspate and sūryamūrte. Reason for not seeing any entry in 39 is an enigma.
B. It can be noticed, after the rāgāṅga raga 7, we see a kṛti of Ponniah in the rāga 9. Rāga 8, Tōḍi does not have any entry. Can we presume Kamalāmbike was the only kṛti composed by Dīkyṣitar in Tōḍi before and/or during his stay in Tanjōre and due to some reasons that was not notated ? Either that was not known to Nālvar or that was composed by Dīkṣitar after his stay in Tanjōre ? Alternatively, was that notated separately and yet to be identified ? But not seeing a composition in such a major rāga is strange.
C. Regarding grouping a rāga under a mēla, this manuscript conforms with the grouping system followed by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Āndāḷi is given under mēḷa 28 and Sāma under 29. The only exception to this is Saurāṣtram; considered as a janya of Vēgavāhini in this manuscript. This is understandable due the presence of anya svaram in this this rāgam.
D. Four kṛti-s belonging to Guruguha vibhakti kṛti-s are seen – śri guruguha mūrtē in Udayaravicandrikā, śri guruguhasya dasōham in Pūrvi, guruguhādanyam in Balahaṃsa and guruguhāya in Sama. Bhānumati, though a rāgāṅga rāgam is represented only by the kṛti ‘bṛhadambā madambā’ and not ‘guruguha svāmini’.
E. None of the kṛti-s belonging to Tyāgarāja vibhakti group can be seen. Does it mean these kṛti-s were composed after his stay in Tanjōre ?
F. Almost all the kṛti-s addressing Bṛhannayaki or Bṛhadīśvarar, notated in Saṅgīta Saṃpradāya Pradarśini are seen here.
G. Mīnākṣi mēmudham dēhi is seen in this manuscript suggesting this kṛti must have been composed when he visited Madurai before his stay in Tanjōre.
H. Minority 5 is much more interesting. We see these compositions for the first time. They appear to be a part of Nirūpaṇam than kṛti-s. They include:
Jaya jaya gauri manōhari – 22 janyam (to be identified)
Kāmakṣi namōstute – Pāḍi
Śaranu kāmākṣi – Mēgarañjani
Manōnmaṇi bhavatutē maṅgaḷam – Mēcabauli
Śaranu śaranu mahēśa śaṅkari – Ārabhī
Of these, the first three has been mentioned by Dr Rīta Rājan in her thesis.
A reconstructed version of the Śaraṇu daru – ‘śaraṇu śaraṇu’ in the rāgam Ārabhī can heard here
I. Though, an in-depth comparison is to be done with the version given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, at the outset, can be confidently said not much difference exist between the two.
Other than the works of Dīkṣitar and Nālvar, we also find padam-s of Kṣetrayya and some other kṛti-s of unknown authorship. Sri Śivakumar also possess another paper manuscript having around 300 gītam in notation. Examination of a sample showed that they are the replica of the gītam-s notated in Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi. This could been written by some other member in the family.
This inventory is not complete and highlights only some important findings seen in a section of a major collection. It is believed these findings will be more helpful to the researchers and musicians alike to get an idea about the Dīkṣitar kṛti-s learnt by Nālvar. When these kṛti-s are compared with the versions given by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, we can get an overall image about the melodic structure of Dīkṣitar kṛti-s in general. This might be of some help In clearing the controversies revolving around these kṛti-s. Some other points in identifying the ‘real’ Dīkṣitar kṛti too is highlighted so that these findings can be applied or recollected when we progress further and get some additional material.
I profusely thank Sri KPS Śivakumar, an eighth generation descendant belonging to the family of Nālvar and the son of Sangīta Kaḷānidhi Sri KP Śivānandam for sharing these valuable manuscripts.
The blog’s heading may be a bit of a surprise. While, Goddess Meenakshi, the presiding deity of Madurai was a legendary Pandyan Princess and has been so eulogized by very many poets and composers, yet hidden in the heap of history and long forgotten is a Goddess Meenakshi, a look alike of her who made Kerala her home and thus veritably became a Queen of the Land of Parasurama and a tutelary deity enshrined in the precincts of the Palace of the Kerala Royals. And eventually while we shall look at a musical composition on this Meenakshi of Kerala in the process, we would also evaluate collateral historical information and remember a Royal who set up the Imperial House of Travancore (to which the musical composer Svati Tirunal belonged to) and who had a hand in this history.
At the outset I should confess that the inspiration for this blog post came from another avid blogger Sri Sharat Sundar Rajeev, a professional conservation architect and a history buff and an original one at that! Again, my interest in the Royal family of Travancore got kindled last year since reading the classic work “Ivory Throne- Chronicles of the House of Travancore” of Manu Pillai which went on to get him the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Purasakar. It’s indeed sad that very many historical personages and events not to say of temples and other historical monuments lie forgotten. In these blog posts I have attempted to provide that insight as well even while we get to know and relish a raga or a composition. In other words, the idea is to know and enjoy the historical context as well when we get to hear, know or learn a composition.
Over to the Goddess!
FLASH BACK CIRCA A D 1635 – Tirumalai Nayak invades nanjil nadu/southern Kerala
Tirumalai Nayak the founding father of the Royal lineage of the Madurai Nayakas ruled from Madurai, his regnal years being 1623-1659 AD. A vassal earlier to the Emperors of Vijayanagar, the Nayaks of Madura, after the collapse of the Vijayanagar Empire, in the epic Battle of Talikota had broken free and become rulers in their own right. Tirumalai Nayak was one of the greatest in that line. And when he ascended the throne, he ruthlessly went about expanding his empire and, in his conquests, laid siege to many of the small principalities of south western coastal regions of peninsular India. He was the Nayak King who moved the Capital from Trichirapalli to Madurai and thus his tutelary deity was Goddess Meenakshi enshrined at Madurai. Tirumalai Nayak thus adopted the ancient signage of the erstwhile Pandyan sovereigns, imparting both political as well as religious legitimacy to their power by anointing Her as his kuladevata. Royals of those days, to derive power and authority always aligned themselves and their lineage to a well known and fiercely venerated Temple and/or godhead. Lord Tyagaraja at Tiruvarur, Lord Brihadeeswara of Tanjore, Lord Rajagopala at Mannargudi are classic examples where the reigning Kings and Chieftains took those deities to be their mascots and shortly we will see that the Royal House of Travancore took it a step further. (See Note 1)
Tirumalai Nayak circa 1635 forayed into nAnjil nAdu (vide Satyanatha Iyer ‘s ‘Nayaks of Madura” page 121) being modern day southern Kerala, which shared its borders with his kingdom. Kerala at that point in time, was an aggregation of small principalities and for the powerful Nayak King they were no match. History has it that perhaps as a mark of his conquest and victory, Tirumalai Nayak perhaps renovated and consecrated the 13th century temple at Padmanabhapuram, the imperial seat of the Royals of Travancore, modelled on the Dravidian architecture, rather than the typical Kerala style, and installed the icon of his tutelary deity, Goddess Meenakshi therein. And legend has it that he ensured that the mUla vigrahA or idol in the sanctum sanctorum too was stylistically made on the lines of the one at Madurai, complete with a parrot on her hand! Unsurprisingly he named this deity too as Goddess Meenakshi, in the process transplanting the hoary history of the Pandya Princess into the Land of Parasurama.
And thus, while history has left us with this piece of information, if one were to embark on a search today at Padmanabhapuram, for this Nayak enshrined deity, it will yield no Goddess named Meenakshi!
CIRCA 1720 – The House of Kulashekaras or Kupakas, the Travancore Royal Family, assume sovereignty
Venad, the strip of land which stretches from Attingal to Kanyakumari in modern day Kerala was the small principality nominally ruled by the Royals of the House of Travancore or the Kulashekaras or the Kupaka dynasty as they were held, with their seat at Padmanabhapuram. Emasculated of their power they were nominal figureheads while, the real power lay with two entities. One being the Ettuveetil Pillamar (Lords of the Eight Houses) an aggregation of powerful Nair nobles, on one hand and the powerful Ettara Yogam which was an entity which managed and controlled the Temple of Lord Padmanabhaswami at Travancore. And it was at this point in time that in this Royal House of Kulashekaras/Kupakas was born Prince Marthanda Varma, known later as Anizham (Anusham- the star) Tirunal Marthanda Varma (born 1706 AD) whose regnal years was AD 1729-1758. When he ascended the Ivory throne, he quietly went about consolidating power by annexing the principalities of Quilon, Kayamkulam, Kottarakara, Ambalapuzha & Changanaserry. Marthanda Varma extended his dominions further by taking control of the holdings of the Kings of Cochin and the Zamorin of Calicut. In the famous Battle of Colachel (circa 1741) he defeated the Dutch who had interceded on behalf of the Kottarakara Royals and in the process, he became one of the handful of sovereigns of the sub-continent who had defeated a European colonial power. And finally, years later the Dutch completely succumbed to his suzerainty when they signed the Treaty of Mavelikkara which for all practical purposes anointed him Marthanda Varma as the Lord of Keralaputras. Assisted ably by his trusted Prime Minister (“Dalavai”) Ramayyan , he consolidated the Kingdom of Travancore, ushered in reforms and cut to size the entities including the Ranis of Attingal, the Ettuveetil Pillamar and the Ettara Yogam being the Devaswom Board known as Yogakkaras. (See Foot Note 2). Also realizing that all battles cannot be won militarily, Marthanda Varma calculated that he had to sue for peace with external powers as necessary including the British who were on the anvil of getting a toehold in Southern India. And so, he entered into friendship treaties including the one with the Nayaks of Madurai, who anyway by that time were a spent force. And thus, within a century after Tirumalai Nayaka had seized Padmanabhapuram, the Kulashekaras of Travancore had regained the place back, making the Royal Estate and the Palace there as their imperial seat of power. And in fact, it was his edicts and the policy that he set, which was followed to the T by his descendants all the way till 1950 when Travancore was subsumed by the Indian Union.
But Marthanda Varma wasn’t done yet. Even as he consolidated his hold over the entire Venad, he was about to perform an act that no other sovereign before him had done, which would endure all the way up to the 21st Century.
17th January 1750 – Truppadidanam
Whether it was a political master stroke to enable his suzerainty and establish and completely legitimise the rule of his Royal House of Kulashekaras into perpetuity or whether it was his unbridled devotion to Lord Padmanabha, we do not know. (See Note 5). On this date January 1750 AD, when the then 44-year-old Marthanda Varma who was at his very pinnacle of glory, made his coup de maître.
History tells us that this great King went in all pomp and splendour to the Temple of Lord Padmanabhaswami and in a ceremony called ‘thruppadi dAnam’ he laid down all his Royal regalia including his ceremonial sword before the Lord and dedicated all that he had including the kingdom to Lord Padmanabha. Travancore as a whole, thus became the property of Sri Padmanabhaswamy, the deity of the Travancore Royal family or in other words it became “God’s Own Country” as Kerala is called today!
In essence Marthanda Varma firmly ensconced himself as a mere vice regent or nominee of Lord Padmanabha/a mere dAsA who would rule for and on his behalf! Adversaries and foes would dare not wage a war again against his Kingdom for its Ruler was Lord Padmanabha himself.
And then on Anusham Tirunal Marthanda Verma went on to assume the complete Royal title “Sri Padmanabha Dasa Vanchi Pala Anusham Thirunal Marthanda Varma”. After this date all sovereigns of the Kulashekara/Kupaka House ruled in the name of Lord Padmanabha, with this title. In fact, Marthanda Varma went on to lay down the protocol that all Royal children in the matriarchal line as was the line of inheritance in the Royal families of Kerala, upon attaining the age of one would be laid before the Lord as a symbol of this dedication. Even female rulers adopted a corresponding title, for example Rani Gauri Lakshmi Bayi who was a Regent was titled as “Sri Padmanabha Sevini Vanchi Rajeshwari Maharani Ayilyam Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, Attingal Mootha Thampuran, Rani of Travancore”.
Goddess mInAkshi, the giver of eternal bliss becomes Goddess Anandavalli
Having made this lasting contribution to the history of his Kingdom, this sovereign Marthanda Varma perhaps one fine day sometime circa 1755 turned his attention to the quaint temple of Lord Neelakantaswami near the precincts of his Padmanabhapuram palace which was his imperial seat. It was his successor Karthika Tirunal who in 1795 AD shifted the imperial seat from Padmanabhapuram to Travancore.
And Marthanda Varma must have mulled the fact that it was his Nayak ally, the sovereign of Madurai then back in 1635 AD nearly 100 years ago, who had consecrated this Temple and named the consort of Lord Neelakanteswara as Meenakshi, after the great guardian deity of Madurai, building it completely in the Dravidian style. And he perhaps thought that without in anyway erasing the legacy of the Temple or remodelling or rebuilding the temple in the Kerala style, wanted to just make a symbolic change perhaps by anointing the Goddess anew with a different name. Was it that perhaps in gratitude of this Goddess having gotten him what he wanted in life, did he deign to change the name of the Deity? One does not now, but we do know for sure that this padmanabha dasa during his reign went on to change the name of Goddess Meenakshi to Goddess Anandavalli, the giver of eternal bliss!
And thus, ends our search for that old Goddess Meenakshi of yore consecrated by Tirumalai Nayak. History tells us this for sure and whence one gets a chance to visit the Temple of Lord Neelakanteswara and Goddess Anandavalli nee Meenakshi, today at Padmanabhapuram one can witness the fact that the temple bears the heritage of both its patron royale, Tirumalai Nayaka as well as Marthanda Varma whose figurines still adorn the temple. And the Goddess in the sanctum sanctorum will be holding a parrot just as the celestial Pandya Princess does in Madurai, with that suppressed smile, manda hAsa !
And before we move to matters musical, it is over to Sharat Sundar Rajeev to provide his narrative of this Temple at Padmanabhapuram along with the photos– read his blog post here which actually appeared in print in The Hindu.
And the personality of Marthanda Varma pervades even today (see Foot Note 3). And as to his master stroke in performing the Truppadidanam, his dying instructions to his successor may prove his credentials to one and all and would show why perhaps he was and is so revered even today. (See Foot Note 4)
Circa 1840 – the Musical Chapter of Goddess Anandavalli nee Meenakshi
The successors of Anusham Tirunal Marthanda Verma who ruled till modern India came into being, were:
The 6th in the lineage above who came to occupy the Ivory Throne of Travancore was the musical composer Svati Tirunal who needs no introduction. And it was left him to the immortalize this Goddess by etching her on the fabric of our music by composing the beautiful composition ‘Anandavalli’ in the haunting melody of Neelambari. Legend had already associated this sovereign known as ‘gharbha srImAn’ with the raga Neelambari, when Irayimaan Tampi the Royal Courtier composed ‘Oomana thingal kidavo’ as the lullaby for the baby King Svati Tirunal. ‘Anandavalli’ ranks on par with the other beautiful compositions in this raga and it is trifle unfortunate that it has not been rendered very frequently. Besides quite a few publishers/editors of Svati Tirunal’s compositions classify this composition as a padam. Given the lyrics of the composition, attempting to class it as padam for the simple reason it is rendered slowly in cauka kAlam does not seem logical and for all practical purposes this composition is only a kriti.
We do not have any further information as to the background of this composition and one may perhaps just conjecture that this Maharaja perhaps on one of his frequent sojourns to the Padmanabhapuram Palace must have composed it in a trice. Be that as it may this bewitching composition in chaste Sanskrit, is replete with similes and other linguistic adornments.
The text and meaning of this composition runs thus.
radanE pArijAtatarupallava caranE padmanAbhasahajE hara mE shucam || 3 ||
Oh Anandavalli! Grant me happiness without fail!
Your smile is like a ray of nectar which can wipe off the darkness of grief. O the one holding a young parrot! Hail!
One whose feet are worshipped by Indra, foe of Jambha; daughter of the king of mountains. One who is adorned with camphor on the crescent like forehead. You are like the bee to the lotus face of Shiva. O the one with lotus-like eyes. Always dwell in my heart.
Your long tresses surpass the water bearing collection of clouds. You are the only skilful one in dispelling the misfortunes of those who worship your lotus feet. One who has the glory of removing the afflictions of the three worlds. Please grant me insurmountable prosperity.
One whose face is beautiful like the charming autumnal moon; resides in the hearts of ascetics. One who has charming teeth like the beautiful jasmine buds and feet like the tender leaf of Parijata. O The sister of Lord Padmanabha! Dispel my grief!
And one should for a moment savour the lyrics at ‘dhruta shuka pota vilAsini’ in the anupallavi for that marks the fact that the icon of Goddess Anandavalli sports a parrot, the only reference in this kriti which links the past of this Goddess, when once she was Meenakshi a full hundred years ago even prior to the times of Svati Tirunal. ( See Foot Note 5)
And it wasn’t Svati Tirunal alone who had sung on this Goddess. The quite well own composer Nilakantha Sivan too had composed verses on this Goddess of Padmanabhapuram.
ஐந்து மோராறும் மீரைந்து மீராறும்
ஐமூன்று மோரொன்றும் அட்சரமாக
மந்திரம் அருள் வடிவமான தாயே
ஐந்து கரனொடு ஈராறுகரனையுமீன்ற
அம்பிகே இன்ப நிதியே அகிலாண்ட கோடி புகழ் மகராசியான
பரமானந்த வல்லி உமையே
– Nilakanta Sivan (from his “Anandavalli Dasakam”- See Foot Note 6)
Two clarifications are in order :
Older publications of Maharaja Svati Tirunal’s kritis such as the one by Sri Sambasiva Sastri( see Bibliography) provide the tala of the composition as ‘cempata’ which in Kathakali too is a 8 beat cycle tala ( some give it as 16 beats as well, a multiple) with probably a difference in the kriya or the way the beat is struck/visually demonstrated.
To the best of my knowledge none of the publications including the very latest being Sri T K Govinda Rao’s, provide the stala of this composition as Padmanabhapuram. There is a actually another ksetra known as Anandavallishwaram in Kollam, Kerala where too the Devi is named as Anandavally. Nevertheless given the facts such as the holding of the parrot by the deity and also the association of the dramatis personae to the shrine at Padmanabhapuram, this kriti can only be assigned to the Devi in that ksetra.
Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanian, Vidvan Rama Verma and his disciple Vidusi Amruta Venkatesh have presented this composition in the public space. But for this blog I seek to present the version by Vidvan Dileep Kumar who sings two of the three caranas of this composition in this rendering of his:
And here is a brief excerpt of Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanian singing the cittasvara section of the composition. The cittasvara section is not found notated in T K Govinda Rao’s publication.
Audio & Visuals – See Foot Note 7
The Kerala Royals are all but gone with the passing away of the last of them Utharadom Tirunal (see Foot Note 8) in 2013 and whoever survives from the very many branches are already commoners. Yet today the Royal composer’s kriti and the emotions that it evokes convinces one that a visit at least once to that hallowed shrine in the backdrop of the verdant vELI Hills at Padmanabhapuram has to be made. And one can’t but wonder what an ethereal experience it would be to sit, one autumn evening, perhaps during Navaratri on the banks of that emerald green water filled temple tank’s stone steps with the dark sky lit with the autumnal moon, the grand pavilion at the centre resplendent with the oil lit lamps even while the soft fragrance of jasmine pervades the air suffused by a soft tanpura drone and one soulfully sings or listens to an enchanting rendering of this Neelambari composition! And I am sure as one dissolves oneself in the melody, the reverie would take us all the way starting from the 13th century when the Temple was perhaps built and on to the 17th century when Tirumalai Nayak consecrated his iconic Goddess Meenakshi therein and then to Marthanda Varma who thus in the mid-18th century changed Her name to Goddess Anandavalli and on to Svati Tirunal of 19th century who composed this beautiful piece and to that moment is time in the present to feel the ambrosial experience of extolling Her as “paramAnandavallI”.
Satyanathier (1924) – Oxford University Press- ‘History of the Nayaks of Madura’ – Chapter VIII pp 110148
Shungoony Menon (1878) – Higginbotham & Co – ‘A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times’ – Vol 1- Chapter II pp -112- 175
K Sambasiva Sastri (Editor)(1932)-Trivandrum Sanskrit Series No CXIII – “The Sangita Kritis of Swati Sri Rama Varma Maharaja” pp 101-102
T K Govinda Rao (2002) – Ganamandir Publications- ‘Compositions of Maharaja Swati Tirunal’- Music Series VI pp 370-371
Sovereigns of yore have always invoked divinity to add legitimacy to their rule in one form or the other. Royal lineages, clans and dynasties have always invoked godhead and history is replete with examples. Rajeswari Ghose’s – ‘The Tyagaraja Cult’ especially Chapter 9 titled ‘Tyagaraja as Cult Typology and Legitimization of Power’ is an illustrative text on this subject.
Ettuveetil Pillamar or the Lord of Eight Houses of Kerala and Madempimar were the Nair nobles who held sway at that point in time in the run up to the ascendancy of Marthanda Varma. Curiously they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Chieftains/feudatories of the Chola Kingdom of the 9th and 10th century AD pictured so beautifully by Kalki in his “Ponniyin Selvan”, who held considerable sway and control over their overlord the Chola Kings. The Mazhavarayars of Ariyalur/Tirumalapadi, Sambuvarayar of Kadambur, Pazhuvettarayars of Pazhuvur, Malayamans of Tirukkoilur & others are the illustrated feudatories of the Colas.
Marthanda Varma was an iconic personality so much so novels and movies came to produced eulogizing him. C V Raman Pillai brought out a novel on him in 1891 adding a romantic angle as well to his history. A critical appraisal of the novel can be read here: https://wiki2.org/en/Marthandavarma_(novel)
And just as how later in the 20th century ‘Ponniyin Selvan” (of Kalki K Krishnamurthi) a historical novel with Arulmozhi Varman (later Raja Raja Chola I) as the protagonist went on to capture the imagination of the Tamil readers, Raman Pillai’s Malayalam work too became a best seller. Raman Pillai’s novel has been published by the Sahitya Akademi in Malayalam and along with the English and Tamil translations ( by Padmanabhan Tampy) as well which makes an interesting read.
A movie too was produced based on the novel which was released after a court battle over copyright, in 1933. One can read about it here:
According to Shungoony Menon (page 175 of his work), when Marthanda Varma in 1758 AD was on his death bed, he ushered in his successor, being his nephew, the next King designate Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma and gave him his instructions which provide a glimpse of this great founder of the modern Kupaka Dynasty & his innermost thoughts for his land and his subjects. His dying instructions to his successor were :
There shall be no deviation whatever made to the dedication of the Kingdom to Sri Padmanabha Swamy and all further territorial acquisitions if done shall be made over to the Devaswom
Not a hair’s breadth alteration or deviation shall be done to the established charities and institutions connected to the Devaswom
There shall be no dissension or quarrel in the Royal House
Expenses of the State should not be allowed to exceed the income at any cost
The Palace expenditure should be defrayed only from the profits of the commercial Department
And above all the friendship existing between the Kingdom of Travancore and the English East India Company shall be maintained at all costs and that full confidence should always be placed in the support and aid of that honourable association.
These six commands would show his great foresight, statesmanship and conviction without doubt.
For me ‘Anandavalli’ makes me reminisce on the similarly structured Neelambari composition ‘karunAnda catura’ of Kumara Ettendra which we featured in a blog post some time ago. The subject matter being Goddess Parvati and usage of words such as ‘nitilE’, kunda mukula radanE, padmanAbha sahajE or sAranga varada sahajE’ seems to prompt the same, while few others might see a musical correspondence with ‘shringAra lahari’ of Lingaraja Urs.
Nilakanta Sivan has to his credit a number of Tamil compositions which were a rage once upon a time. Sivanai ninaindhu (Hamirkalyani), Enraikku Siva krupai (Mukhari), Navsiddhi Petrallum (Kharaharapriya), Sambo Mahadeva ( Bhauli), Ananda natanamaduvar ( Purvikalyani) and Teruvadeppo nenje (Khamas) are some of the kritis which were sung frequently and immortalized by the likes of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, M S Subbulakshmi and D K Pattammal by their gramophone records. Sivan’s original name was Subramanian and he changed his name due to his great devotion to this Lord Neelakantaswami of Padmanabhapuram. A play list of his compositions on YouTube can be heard/viewed here:
The clippings have been sourced from Sangeethapriya and thanks are due to Sr TVG for his painstaking effort to record and collate recordings on the website. And some spectacular visuals of the Padmanabhapuram Palace, I would recommend the Flickr account of Manfred Sommer which you can access here:
For us in the 21st century world of music the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar published in 1904 is a true and invaluable magnum opus. The SSP offers a peek into the music of yore, the music of the 18th century, capturing in its pages the very essence of it. And we are in great debt to Subbarama Dikshitar, the scion of the Dikshitar family for having bequeathed to us the tome. Apart from Subbarama Dikshitar, we have seen in past blog posts that there are a number of benefactors who have directly and indirectly assisted Subbarama Dikshitar when he compiled the SSP. The Royals of Ettayapuram who funded the publication, Cinnasvami Mudaliar the man who assiduously followed up to seek the intervention of the Raja of Ettayapuram to issue a Royal edict commanding Subbarama Dikshitar to publish all that he knew, the personages whom Subbarama Dikshitar mentions in his preface to the SSP as having been of great assistance to him, to them all we owe a great debt of gratitude as they were our benefactors in every conceivable way.
But there is one benefactor who stands out, but not mentioned formally anywhere and not connected at all directly in the entire exercise of the compilation of the SSP, which was started sometime 1899 and finished in 1904. In fact this personage had passed way close to a decade earlier in 1891 itself. He is none other than His Holiness Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati, the 65th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta who adorned the same during 1850-1891 AD.
Subbarama Dikshitar records in his two works, SSP -Vaggeyakara Caritamu and in his Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu that he is in gratitude to this 65th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati as he had provided the original manuscripts pertaining to the Caturdandi Prakashika to him at Kumbakonam. His narration both in his own biographic note as well as in the foot note to the Gamakakriya raga gitam in the Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu bears this out.
His Holiness Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati was anointed as Peetadhipati/Pontiff on November 27, 1850 (tamil/lunar month of karthigai, 14th). This week marks the 166th Anniversary of the Acharya’s ascension/peetArohana as a Pontiff of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam. In this blog post we will look at this great Acharya with emphasis from a musical standpoint and Subbarama Dikshitar’s paeans on this Acharya who was an acknowledged rasika & patron of our music.
He is/will be referred to interchangeably in this blog and also in all books and in the compositions on him as Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati or Sri Mahadeva Sarasvati or Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati Samyameendra.
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF HIS HOLINESS MAHADEVENDRA SARASVATI:
The Acharya in his pUrvAsrama was named Mahalingam. He was born in Tiruvidaimarudur, which is very near Kumbakonam, in the year 1831 where he grew up. His father Sesha(dri) Sastrigal, a rigvEdin being his tutor, taught him all that he knew. Mahalingam’s paternal grandfather Subramanya Sastri, a Hoysala/Kannada Brahmin was the Mudradhikari – the person in charge of the treasury/finances of the Kanci Kamakoti Mutt, which was then quartered at Kumbhakonam. This family hailed from Kannada region and they were descendants of Govinda Dikshitar. See foot note 1.
Mahalingam was extremely precocious and his knowledge, personality and spiritual profile drew the admiration of many. Not surprisingly the young boy’s capabilities reached the ears of the then Acharya His Holiness Chandrasekharendra Sarasvathi VI (pontificate 1813-1850). This reigning 64th Acharya was in his purvasrama named Venkatasubramanya Dikshita and was himself a direct descendant of Venkatamakhin, the third son of Govinda Dikshitar. Given his/common background and credentials, the 64th Acharya bade Mahalingam to be part of his entourage. So impressed was the Acharya that shortly thereafter the he must have decided that he should succeed him next. Subsequently the hardly 15 year old Mahalingam was ordained into sanyAsA as Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati sometime circa 1843.
Between the years 1845 and 1850, the young disciple/Junior Pontiff/successor designate, His Holiness Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati performed great service to the cause of religion and the Kamakoti Peeta much to the delight of his Guru. The Royals of those time as well as the ordinary public, the followers of the Matha and also learned scholars, musicologists and musicians were drawn to him. We do have records of the communication in the form of epistles written by Maharaja Svati Tirunal Rama Varma of Travancore (1813-1846), a musician/musicologist himself, to Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati, even while he was still a successor designate. Svati Tirunal presented an elephant to His Holiness as an offering to Lord Chandramouleesvara.
It is apparent from the letter that His Holiness desired to visit the holy shrine of Lord Padmanabha and the Maharaja earnestly wishes in his communication that it will be fulfilled in the very near future. His Highness remarks in the first epistle that once the ongoing monsoon/rainy season concludes he would dispatch a young elephant as an offering to Lord Chandramouleesvara the presiding deity of the Acharyas of Kanchi. And he does that soon after as evidenced by his second epistle. See foot note 2.
It must have been a source of great joy for venerated seer, the 64th Pontiff Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati VI to see his ward/disciple playing a great role and vindicating the choice that was made to anoint him successor. The Acharyas of Kanci had been discharging the sacred duty of replacing the tATankAs of Goddess Akhilandesvari at TiruAnaikAval, replacing it once every 60 years. In the year 1848 when the incumbent Pontiff Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati VI embarked on performing the same, many an obstacle arose. His disciple perhaps rose to the occasion by meticulously planning and conducting the event. See foot note 3 & 4.
When his Guru attained samadhi on Nov 21, 1850 at Kumbakonam, His Holiness Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati became the 65th Pontiff in the hoary lineage of the SankarAcharyas of Kanci. Maharaja Sivaji of the Tanjore Kingdom held him in high reverence and performed kanakAbhisheka to this seer. Years later the Raja of Pudukottai also performed kanakabhisheka as well. The Royals of Travancore, Zamorin of Calicut, Satara, Pudukkottai and Ettayapuram were devout followers of this Acharya and they all contributed to the sustenance of the Kanci matha/monastery.
His Holiness during his lifetime performed Vijaya Yatras and visited many places in modern Tamil Nadu and also Vijayanagaram in Andhra Pradesh and Puri in Orissa. He was feted by the Maharaja of Vijayanagaram Ananda Gajapati Raju in July 1885 (Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Anubandha gives a ragamalika that he had composed on this ruler).
Accounts have it that this Acharya was a great Siva bhakta and his puja to Sri Chandramouleesvara during the Pradosha days, was a sight to behold. Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer in his chronicles has mentioned about this Acharya and his awe inspiring presence.
Apart from agamas, sastras and puranas, this Acharya was very knowledgeable in music apparently and he patronized a number of musicians with whom he enjoyed great rapport. A galaxy of musicians including some of the greatest of that era were patronized by His Holiness and were part of his sangita vidvat sadas/gathering. In the next section we will look at the key contributions of the Acharya to the cause of Music.
During the Acharya’s southern sojourn, circa 1889 after visiting Ramesvaram he visited Ettayapuram where he was again ceremoniously welcomed by the then Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa, who was then a minor. Records have it that a tamil poet attached to the Court of Ettayapuram composed verses in His honor. Needless to add, Subbarama Dikshitar too must have been in attendance during the Acharya’s visit. This Rajah of Ettayapuram was the one who ascended the throne later in 1899 upon attaining majority and he was the one who funded the publication of the SSP.
In early 1890 when the Acharya was in Ilayaatangudi, a village about 20 kms near Karaikudi, Sivaganga District in southern Tamilnadu, he had a premonition of his approaching end. He attained beatitude on 20th March 1890 (tamil/lunar month of panguni the 8th). His mortal remains interned in the Samadhi there, is today an adhishtAnam with a sivalinga installed atop. The premises has been taken care by the Nattukkotai Nagarathar clan who had revered him and one can visit the shrine even today. See foot note 5 10, 11.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE 65th ACHARYA HIS HOLINESS SUDARSANA MAHADEVENDRA SARASVATI:
A study of the Acharya’s divyacarita, makes us realize a number of his contributions to the cause of music which are listed below.
PATRON OF MUSIC:
Much like a patron Royal, this great Acharya was also a great connoisseur of music. He must have been well versed in musicology as well. Never in the history of the monastic orders of Southern India in recent history has an Acharya of such eminence been sung about much and known for hosting the great musicians of his era in his vidvat sadas. Available records indicate that the musicians who flocked to him included Veena Subbukutty Ayya (vaineeka and grandson of Patchimiriyam Adiyappayya and the asthana vidvan of Pudukkottai) Tirumalairayan pattinam Ramudu Bhagavathar, Tirukkadaiyur Bharati (disciple of Muthusvami Dikshitar), Subbarama Dikshitar, Mysore Sadasiva Rao, Kavi Kunjara Bharati and others.
A number of musicians during that age apparently vied with one another in performing before the Acharya. Old timers of those days apparently recalled time and again in awe one such recital with a spellbinding rendering of a pallavi complete with neraval, svarakalpana etc by the legendary Vidvan Talaignyayar Somu Iyer ( refer the book ‘Cameos – The Memoirs of Sulamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar, pp 96-97, for a profile of this vidvan) one evening during the evening/sAyaraksha puja performed by the Acharya to Lord Chandramouleesvara. Vidvans including Padakam Gopala Iyer, Fiddle Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Svaragat Krishna Iyer, Dholak Nannumiya regularly performed for the Acharya.
It is also said that the Acharya was greatly enamoured of the compositions of Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra and he used to immerse himself in the renderings by vidvans. He also used to emphasise the importance of maintaining the fidelity of the compositions and frequently provide a commentary on the sahitya & its meaning.
SETTING THE TUNES FOR ASTAPADIS:
Acharya was instrumental in re-popularizing the singing of the Gitagovinda Ashtapadis of Jayadeva which had nearly gone extinct during those times, circa 1860. The older tunes of the Ashtapadis had been long forgotten and the practice of reciting the same particularly in the bhajana sampradaya had virtually ceased. The Acharya got Tirumalairajanpattinam Ramudu Bhagavathar to set the Ashtapadis to an appropriate raga and tala.
PROVIDING THE COPY OF THE CATUDANDI PRAKASHIKA OF VENKATAMAKHIN TO SUBBARAMA DIKSHITAR:
Subbarama Dikshitar the scion of the Dikshitar family and a votary of the Venkatamakhin tradition circa 1860’s was on the mission to acquire the original manuscripts of the Caturdandi Prakshika. From his own family he had inherited a number of musicological texts and also the exemplar compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar which practically illustrated the schemata of ragas, of what we call today as the later Kanakambari nomenclature or the so-called Asampurna mela scheme. Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps did not possess the complete framework for the scheme and he perhaps only had only portions or parts of the Caturdandi Prakashika and the document/text which today we call as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. It is likely that when Subbarama Dikshitar evaluated all the texts he had and the practical exemplars of the scheme of ragas through the compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar, he found gaps between the theory and practice. He perceived therefore that he did not have the complete theoretical basis or the complete manuscript of the Caturdandi Prakashika which he knew was the holy grail of the Venkatamakhin Sampradaya to which his ancestors as well as himself, were followers. See foot note 6.
To this end to secure the original manuscripts, circa 1864 he set about scouring the town of Kumbhakonam and Tiruvaidaimarudur /Madhyarjunam where most of the Hoysala/Kannada Brahmins had settled down, particularly those who were descendants of Govinda Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin. The 64th Acharya, Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati VI whom we saw earlier, in His purvasrama was born and he lived in a house very adjacent to the Sankara Matam premises in Kumbakonam and was a direct descendent of Venkatamakhin himself.
Subbarama Dikshitar’s objective must have been to tap the heirlooms of these families/descendants and get a copy of the elusive original text of the Caturdandi Prakasika and related manuscripts if any. His search proved futile and needless to add he must have been dejected and crestfallen. At Kumbakonam, with all earnestness and sincerity at his command he placed his wish and quest to access the manuscripts to His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati, whom he knew to be a descendant of the Govinda Dikshitar family in his purvasrama.
When Subbarama Dikshitar expressed his ask after seeking the permission of the Acharya, the Pontiff in his boundless Grace let him know that he had those manuscripts in his custody. Given both the Acharyas, the 64th and the 65th Pontiffs were from the Govinda Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin clan, we do not know for sure who had procured it and kept it in custody. Be that as it may, it must have been a moment of great joy and happiness that day at Kumbakonam circa 1865 for Subbarama Dikshitar when he was given the manuscripts by His Holiness.
The copy of the original manuscripts provided by His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati is acknowledged by Subbarama Dikshitar both in the Vaggeyakara Caritamu and his Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu. Needless to add the manuscripts provided, must have given him the complete basis/foundation when he later created the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, which is today the only lexicon of authentic 18th century music for us capturing both the theory and practice of the music of Venkatamakhin Sampradaya.
One can imagine the shining countenance of the Acharya as he summoned the attendants in his entourage to fetch the manuscripts and Subbarama Dikshitar with all humility and respect, bowed reverentially in front of the Acharya all agog and excited beyond words to receive the manuscripts. Later in the day as he retired to his quarters provided by the Acharya for his stay in the premises of the Matha, it must have been sleepless night for Subbarama Dikshitar must have been too excited and filled with joy and contentment for he had achieved what he had set about to do.
And he must have spent the sleepless night, poring over the texts atleast as a cursory glance. And the next day when Subbarama Dikshitar must have gone to the Cauvery banks for his morning bath at the adjacent Bhagavath bathing ghat (paditturai in tamil) he must have started wondering how on earth he can ever repay the debt to this great mahatma who had granted his life’s wish. What is that he, Subbaraman can give to the Pontiff of a hoary monastic order, who had given up everything in life and donned the ochre? And then it must dawned on Subbarama Dikshitar that the best way would be etch this great personage forever in the fabric of our music by creating a couple of compositions as a paean on the Acharya Shresta. And the Acharya being the greatest of connoisseurs meant that he would cherish the same without doubt.
The more Subbarama Dikshitar thought about it the more convinced he was that no greater homage can ever be possible as the Acharya’s Grace and memory will stand reinforced and sung every time the composition is rendered for ages down the line.
And Subbarama Dikshitar must have given considerable thought to the raga and the composition type. A tana varna and a conventional kriti must has easily struck him as obvious ones. And as he decided to choose the ragas, he was in no doubt perhaps. They shall be old and hoary ragas, the greatest amongst melodies-Sankarabharanam and Ramakriya. And so he must have gone about fashioning them that early afternoon in Kumbakonam. As he composed the sahitya and notated it, he must have had his disciple perhaps by his side as a scribe who would have also been made to practice the pieces countless times to meet with the final approval of Subbarama Dikshitar who in turn must have also corrected it then and there to burnish the compositions to a perfect finish. In sum two brilliant compositions formed Subbarama Dikshitar’s offering to his benefactor.
kriti – ‘sankarAcAryaM’ in Sankarabharanam and Adi tAlA
tAna varnA – ‘srI kanci kAmakOti’ in Ramakriya and ata tAlA
Shortly thereafter, once Subbarama Dikshitar had gained the confidence that the pieces would secure expert approval he must have approached the Acharya perhaps with great trepidation after the evening puja, one of the following days in the Matha premises at Kumbakonam. With humility he must have submitted to him that he would like to debut the compositions he had newly created and must have sought the Acharya’s blessings, permission and direction.
Subbarama Dikshitar says in his own biography that he presented the two compositions to his Holiness in the presence of several other musical giants of that age, including Veena Subbukutty Ayya (vaineeka and grandson of Patchimiriyam Adiyappayya) Tirumalairayanpattinam Ramudu Bhagavathar and Tirukkadaiyur Bharati (disciple of Muthusvami Dikshitar), who were in the vidvat sadas. We do not know if he played it on the veena or he sang or did both or perhaps had one of his illustrious disciples to render it, we do not know. Nevertheless it must have been a defining moment in time for Subbarama Dikshitar for the occasion was truly momentous. Here he was in the possession of the long sought after manuscripts. He had the blessings of a great savant of those times. The compositions he had created in great debt and gratitude to this great benefactor had met with the approval of not only the Holiness but also of the musical greats of that era. Subbukutty Ayya or Thirukkadaiyur Bharathy must have been no ordinary personages. They were representing the old and hoary musical lineages of the past. It must have been truly euphoric for Subbarama Dikshitar and the effort in terms of both sahitya and melody he has invested in the two songs was monumental. Let’s partake the sweetness of that moment in time for Subbarama Dikshitar by celebrating it by hearing & relishing the renderings of these two classics.
ANALYSIS OF THE KRITIS & DISCOGRAPHY:
‘sankarAcAryam’ – Sankarabharanam – Adi tala
The Sankarabharanam kriti was well known and was part of the repertoire of the Veena Dhanammal family. We do have a record of the 68th Pontiff, the Paramacharya himself saying so as a part of his commentary on Muthusvami Dikshitar’s classic Kambhoji kriti ‘ Sri Subramanyaya namaste’. The web documents an instance of the Paramacharya, having given his commentary for three long hours on this kriti ‘sankarAcAryam’ which is recorded here. But sadly no details are available.
The meaning of the sahitya of the kriti is given in the footnote 7. A number of compositional features or alankaras/ornamentation which are signatures of Subbarama Dikshitar are found in this composition.
The kriti is constructed like a magnificent edifice. For example the pallavi section has three subsections to be rendered as if it were a refrain with ‘sankarAcAryam’. A similar construct can be seen in the Ahiri navAvaraNa kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar which has 4 individual segments in the pallavi itself.
Both the anupallavi and the caranam are invested with distinct madhyama kAla sahityas.
The cittasvara section is uniquely constructed in two aspects:
It is set in two avartas of adi tala. Assuming that the main composition is set to vilamba kAla, the the first avarta is set to the madhyamakAla just as the preceding madhyamakAla section of the carana beginning ‘karakalita danda’ while the second avarta is set to the druta kala, twice the speed of the previous avarta.
The svaras forming part of the cittasvara section are arranged uniquely with the entire sequence of the first avarta, repeated in the first 4 aksharas of the second avarta at twice the speed and ending with a crowning makuta svara sequence.
In the pallavi,anupallavi and caranam he uses the words ‘pankajAta, ‘sankara’ and ‘parama’, repeatedly, a form of sabdalankara or ornamentation with words. One can find a similar device used by Subbarama Dikshitar for example in ‘pArthasArathini’ in Yadukulakambhoji.
The pallavi and anupallavi have a profusion of words ending with ‘ra’ while in the caranam they end with ‘lam’
The kriti has many P/s, S/s which has to be sung very inimitably.
We do have renderings of very many Vidvans and Vidushis of the composition including Sangita Kalanidhis Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Smt M S Subbulakshmi. Considering the authentic rendering which can be truly expected of the Veena Dhanammal lineage, presented below is the rendering by the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda. In this excerpt from the National Program of Music for AIR, she is assisted by her daughter Smt Vegavahini Vijayaraghavan and by Kandadevi Alagiriswami on the Violin and Coimbatore Ramaswami on the mrudangam. She first prefaces the kriti with a succinct vinyasa of the raga and later at the caranam portion begining ‘parama jnAna’ in the rendering she performs neraval and svaraprastara as well.
In the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar provides a cittasvara section as well for this composition, which is not rendered at all in the concert circuit. Presented below is a rendering of the same by me presented for the purposes of understanding the construction of the same.
‘Sri Kanci Kamakoti’ – Ramakriya – Ata tala:
Let us first look at the construction of the varNa. See foot note 8.
The varNa is found to be in the older format with a pallavi, anupallavi, muktAyi svara section with sahitya, carana, 5 ettugada svara section and an anubandha which has to be sung following the final ettugada svara section. After singing the anubandha, the anupallavi and the muktayi svara has to be sung before ending with the pallavi refrain.
As is his self-imposed norm, Subbarama Dikshitar makes the fourth carana ettugada svara section as sarva laghu.
Along with his other varnas in Balahamsa, Sahana, Durbar and Purnacandrika, Subbarama Dikshitar’s Ramakriya varna is the perfect example of an ideal varna replete with all the features and complete with all the melodic contours of the raga as aforesaid.
The anupallavi muktAyi svara section and its lilting sahitya captures all the salient features of Ramakriya.
The anubandha section features the sahitya ‘ srI cakrOdhAraka’ – an apparent reference to the Acharya being a Sri Vidya upasaka as well. We have records that on more than one occasion he had performed Sri Cakra puja. Given that Sir Subbarama Dikshitar was a Sri Vidya upasaka too, it is no surprise that the reference is made in the composition.
The text of the varNa and its meaning is provided in foot note 9.
Let us next look at the musical construct of the varna. The raga of this composition is Ramakriya or Kasiramakriya the raganga raga of the 51st mela and it sports sadja, suddha rishabha, antara gandhara, prati madhyama, pancama, suddha dhaivatha and kakali nishadha. A very old and hoary raga of great antiquity, it was once known as Suddha Ramakriya. The name Ramakriya or Ramakriti was used for a scale known as Ramkali, a raga which is different in its scalar structure and also sported both the madhyamas. However Suddha Ramakriya and Kasiramakriya are today used synonymously with Ramakriya to refer to the raganga raga of the 51st mela. Suffice to say that this raga is melodically very different from the heptatonic scale of mela 51 Kamavardhani which is also synonymously called as Pantuvarali today. Unfortunately today Ramakriya is all but forgotten and the melodic implementation of mela 51 as available today is the raga Pantuvarali, which is called so rightly or wrongly.
Ramakriya was not a linear svara implementation of the 51st mela. Its melodic svarupa can never be explained with the modern arohana/avarohana constructs, a legacy of the Sangraha Cudamani. We can understand Ramakriya by evaluating the contours/melodic svarupa that Subbarama Dikshitar presents to us in the varna. One sees the following features in the varna.
If the arohana were to lead to the pancama then the route would be SGRGMP. If the movement from the sadja were to end with the gandhara or rishabha or back to sadja itself then SRGMGR appears. In other words SRGMP is never seen.
Nishadha is a very weak svara, langhana/skipped if not varjya. On a similar note PDNS is never seen. PDs is prolific in its usage. Neither does one see DNsrg as well. Nishada is significantly underplayed and it is never a graha, amsa or nyasa.
Also SNDP is not copious. Nishada varjya prayogas abound. dGRs leading from the madhya stayi dhaivata to tara gandhara is an oft repeated leitmotif.
GPD or GMD, DMGR , PGRS making the pancama or the madhyama langhana/skipping over is the norm in the raga.
Though in the SSP, the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti ‘Uccishta ganapatou’ and the Purandara Dasa composed suladi are also given for this raga as exemplars, it is the varna of Subbarama Dikshitar which is the encyclopedia for us in understanding this old raga in its entirety.
A detailed analysis of the raga and the kriti exemplars will be dealt with in an upcoming blog post.
The varna to the best of knowledge is not part of the modern day repertoire. Very strangely it has never been known to be rendered at all, despite its beautiful structure. This observation would go for almost all of Subbarama Dikshitar’s varnas and sadly the loss is certainly ours. Given the lack of a recording, I have endeavored to learn and sing the same to the best of abilities, interpreting the notation found in the SSP.
We do have compositions of Mysore Sadasiva Rao and couple of other anonymous compositions. Records from the early 20th century reveal that there has been a number of compositions on this savant. Here is the listing.
Raga & tala
Sri Sanmukha Janaka
Sankarabharanam – catusra Dhruva tala
Mysore Sadasiva Rao
The kriti is on Lord Chandramouleesvara the icon which is the puja vigraha of of the Kanci Acharyas. The said kriti has a line eulogizing the AchAryA- “pAsandamata kandana sanmatastApana sriman mahAdEvEndra sarasvatI sri bhagavat pAdAcArya pUjita pAda nandanadanahita namAmi lOkakAnta parama shAnta”
nAmAmi sriman mahadEvEndra sarasvati
Chandrachooda Raga Misra jhampa tala
Mysore Sadasiva Rao
See note below in discography section
Notation is unavailable
Sriragam, misra capu
Notation is unavailable
Notation is unavailable
lOka guruvE sankara nAma taruvE( tamil)
Mazhavai Cidambara Bharati
Notation is unavailable
Mysore Sadasiva Rao (circa 1804-1880) a disciple of Walahahpet Venkataraman Bhagavathar in the sishya parampara of Tyagaraja, seems to have been closely associated with Acharya Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati. None of his available biographies talk about this association with the Acharya. We are left to deduce the same only from the compositions themselves. It is likely that Sadasiva Rao a senior contemporary of the Acharya made frequent visits to Kumbakonam to have his darshan. The visits must be been musical interactions of the highest order. And it is no surprise that Sadasiva Rao has composed one kriti exclusively as his obeisance. He has utilized a new raga melodically akin to Kamalamanohari under mela 15. Chandrachooda raga is the name that Vidvan Chennakesavayya assigns during his presentation of this composition for the first time in Music Academy in the year 1957. Incidentally this composition does not find place in the publication of Mysore Sadasiva Rao Kritis by Sangeeta Kalabhivardhini Sabha, Mysore in 1954. Vidvan Chennakesavayya indicates in his demonstration that these compositions were discovered after much effort – vide JMA XXX1 pages 161-164.
Chandrachooda raga is a melody, a janya under mela 15 malava gaula with an operative arohana/avarohana as under, resembling Kamalamanohari, very much.
Arohana : S M1 G3 M1 P D1 N3 S
Avarohana: S N3 D1 P M G3 S
Much like the Ramakriya varna of Subbarama Dikshitar, this kriti too has remained unsung and unseen from the point of view of modern Carnatic repertoire. Again given its novelty value, I have ventured to interpret the notation of the song provided by Vidvan Chennakesavayya, the rendering of which is presented next.
The raga as implemented by Sadasiva Rao spans from mandhara nishadha to tAra madhyama. To keep it distinct from Kamalamanohari he has emphasised both the SMGM as well as PDNS in the kriti. Though the kriti is in jhampa I have rendered it in khanda eka, without in anyway impacting the rhythmic gait of the composition. The notation of the composition in Tamil as published in JMA is given above.
In the Bangalore Univ publication “Kannada Javaligalu”, wherein many javalis are given with lyrics alone, a few are found notated. Therein there is a javali listed as being in Kamalamanohari, but an occasional PDNS and SNDP is seen notated ( information courtesy Sri Keerthi)
See foot note 12 for the text and meaning of the kriti. Also see foot note 13.
Apart from this composition, we find that the Acharya is mentioned in the Sankarabharanam kriti ‘Sri Sanmukha Janaka’. Sadasiva Rao’s Sankarabharanam kriti has been released as a part of the music disc ‘Sankara Stuti’ by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Subbulakshmi. Provided is a brief excerpt of the composition, the rendering of the anupallavi portion which refers to His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati- vide table above.
Provided next is a rendering of the full composition – courtesy Sangeethapriya.
The objective of these blog posts including the current one on His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati is to understand our music and its artefacts in a historical context and to bolster our understanding and our appreciation of the music with other facets as well. Apart from the musical aspect it’s indeed an opportunity to know and understand the contributions of some of these great personalities to the cause of our music.
One wishes that the Ramakriya varna and the other nearly extinct compositions are learnt and rendered more by vidvans and vidusis. It has to mentioned here that more than 115 year later we still continue to uncover golden nuggets like these compositions buried in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini and as often reiterated in this blog, we will continue to be in eternal debt to the great karmayogi, the great Subbarama Dikshitar.
Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
Pudukkottai Malladi Dakshinamurti Sastri(1954)- Sankaracarya Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati – A Biography (Tamil)– Published by Sri R Svaminatha Iyer, Sri Kailasanatha Svami Nityakalyani Amman Devasthanam, Ilyathangudi, Ramanathapuram District.
Vidvan V Mahadevan(1988) – Jagadguru Sri Sankaracarya Svamigal Thirumarabu Arul Varalaru (Tamil) published by Sri Kamakoti Aivu Mayyam, Kumbakonam(Tamil)
Vyasa Vidvat Sadas Souvenir (1963)- An account of the proceedings of the Sadas (convened by the 68th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam at Ilayathangudi in the year 1962)and a collection of valuable articles contributed and the speeches made by eminent men in the fields of agama, silpa, temple-building, bharata-pravachana, temple-arts, etc published by the Sri Kamakoti Kosasthanam( English/Tamil)
Dr R Satyanarayana(2008) – Karnataka Music as a Aesthetic form- Published by PHISPC
I am in deeply indebted to Vidvan Sri Ganesa Sarma, Scholar and well versed in the genealogy and life histories of the Acharyas of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam, for providing me with inputs in collating the biography of His Holiness.
FOOT NOTE 1:
Accounts have it that since Kanci was northernmost from a geographical perspective, it was open to invaders especially from the Muslim Kingdoms of Deccan and from North. King Pratapasimha the powerful King of Tanjore whose regnal years were 1749-1765, requested the then Kanci Acharya, the 62nd in the lineage, His Holiness Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati V, to move his quarters to Tanjore. The Acharya acceded to his request sometime circa 1750 perhaps and later he moved the quarters to Kumbakonam.
FOOT NOTE 2:
The epistle from the Maharaja of Travancore is subject to a controversy of authorship. The version that I have provided to the effect that they were written sometime circa 1845 by Svati Tirunal to His Holiness Mahadevendra Sarasvati the 65th Acharya is based on the narration provided by “Select Epistles of the sovereigns of Travancore addressed to the Acharyas of the Kamakoti Peetha”, edited by K. G. Natesa Sastri and published by G S Sarma Eliyurkar, Kalyanasrama, Mylapore, Madras, in 1928. The same is the authority cited by the biographers of Svati Tirunal as well. However a contrary view is expressed by Sri N Ramesan in his article ‘Sri Kamakoti Peeta of Sankaracarya’ found in the book ‘Preceptors of Advaita’ published by Sri Kanci Kamakoti Sankara Mandir , Secunderabad (1968) pages 439-440, which was published to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of the Ascension of the 68th Acharya to the Kamakoti Peeta. In his account Sri Ramesan advances the view that the said epistles were written much earlier by Svati’s predecessor King Bala Rama Varma I or Avittam Tirunal ( regnal years 1798-1810) as he was known to then Kanci Acharya who was His Holiness Mahadevendra Sarasvati (1783-1814) who was the 63rd Acharya.
The Kings of Travancore sharing the same name as well as the titular names of the Acharyas of the Kamakoti Peetam too getting repeated is a probable cause of confusion. It would not be appropriate to ascertain the fact using secondary evidences such as those found narrated in books. Only a first hand analysis of the actual epistles together with other collateral evidences by professional historians/paleographers could possibly help us in finding out the truth.
FOOT NOTE 3:
Legend has it that the Devi enshrined at Tiruvanaikaval/Jambukesvaram at Trichy was an embodiment of fury/ugra so much so that Adi Sankara himself in order to mitigate the effulgence of the deity and make her benign, invested the tATankAs or ear rings to Goddess Akhilandesvari with Sricakra encrusted on it. He also proceeded to install the figurine of Lord Mahaganapathy right in front of the sanctum sanctorum in the Temple at Trichy to subdue her anger/radiance and bring about the benign, merciful Grace of the Devi to the devotees visiting the temple. Muthusvami Dikshitar in his kriti ‘Sri Matah SivavAmAnke’ in raga Begada alludes to this as ‘sri cakra rupa tATankE’. More can be read here:
The Mahasvamigal of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam, the 68th Acharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati has reportedly narrated a version of the event as told to him by his grandmother ( from his pUrvAsramA) surrounding the litigation about the right to perform the tATanka pratishta to Goddess Akhilandesvari and some subsequent events including the role the Rajah of Tanjore Sivaji, in the matter. http://www.kamakoti.org/souv/4-12.html
From this narrative it emerges that there was one Hoysala brahmin a descendant from the family of Govinda Dikshitar who had settled down in Tiruvidaimarudur by name Subramanya Sastri. He was held in high esteem in the Court of Raja Amarasimha of Tiruvidaimarudur/Madhyarjunam. From Tiruvidaimarudur he used to go over to the Kanci Kamakoti Mutt at Kumbakonam where he was employed as a mudrAdhikari. He had two sons Sesha Sastrigal the elder one and Ganapati Sastri the younger one. Sesha Satrigal’s son was Mahalingam who went on to become His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati, the 65th Acharya. The younger son Ganapati Sastri was the paternal grandfather (in pUrvAsrama) of the Mahasvamigal, the 68th Acharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati.
The same narrative is given as a biography of the Mahasvamigal Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati here:
This narrative is ascribed to the Paramacharya himself with his source of information being his own paternal grandmother Kamakshi Ammal, wife of Ganapati Sastri.
FOOT NOTE 5:
People who interacted very closely with the Paramacharya, the 68th Pontiff, would recall his performing the Vyasa Puja at Ilayathangudi in the year 1962. On the occasion of the same, during the almost year-long celebrations, the Acharya conducted seminars and exhibitions. The same was published as a souvenir which offers a wealth of information.
The town/village of Ilayathangudi is a Siva stala, having a temple dedicated the Lord Kailasanatha and his consort Goddess Nityakalyani, apart from the Adhistanam of the 65th Acharya which is in a separate premises. Many of the devout and the followers of the Kanci Kamakoti Acharya, who participated in the said Vyasa Puja festivities, named their daughters or grand-daughters born that year as Nityakalyani, considering its newness and novelty! Close associates to the Paramacharya would recall that he would request the Matha employees to arrange for jackfruit to be included as a part of the offerings on the 65th Acharya’s Annual Jayanthi day, mentioning nostalgically that the 65th Acharya Sri Sudarsana Mahadevendra Sarasvati used to like Jackfruit.
It needs to be pointed out that most of the time in the past, Acharyas of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta were chosen only from a Brahmin sub-sect, particularly those hailing from Kannada country or Hoysala brahmins. Govinda Dikshitar was one such, whose ancestors were residents of the ancient city of Vijayanagar (modern day Hampi) and after the demise of the Vijayanagar empire circa 1550 they sought Royal patronage by migrating to Tanjore which became the hot bed of learning and music. Tanjore was under the Rule of the powerful Nayaks who were then feudatory to the powerful Vijayanagar Kings. With the demise of the suzerain power of the Vijayanagar Empire, these vassals including those of Tanjore, Madurai etc they began to assert themselves as independent Kings. Circa 1580 Govinda Dikshitar became the Chief Minister of the Nayak King Raghunatha who was one of the most powerful Tanjore Rulers of the Nayak dynasty. He composed the Sangita Sudha. His son Venkatamakhin adorned the Court of his son Vijayaraghava and composed the Catudandi Prakashika circa 1636. The demise of the Nayak rule in Tanjore circa 1670, coincided with the installation of Ekoji of the Mahratta Royal House of Bhonsales as the Ruler of Tanjore. His successor Sahaji (1680-1712) composed Ragalakshanamu and he is seen as the patron of Venkamakhin’s grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin as recorded by Subbarama Dikshitar. The records of the period of 1700-1750 provides us with reference to two personages as descendants of Venkatamakhin as having lived then namely Muddu Venkamakhin, the paternal grandson and Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshita a maternal grand/great rand son who was the preceptor of Ramasvami Dikshitar. As we saw earlier, the 64th Acharya Chandrasekarendra Saravati VI in his purvasrama was called as Venkatasubramanya DIkshita and is recorded as a direct descendant of Venkatamakhin himself. The 65th Acharya Mahadevendra Sarasvati and the later 68th Acharya Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati are in their purvasrama, descendants from an other line from Govinda Dikshitar . The connection between the Govinda Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin family and the lineage of the Kanci Kamakoti Acharyas is unmistakable.
FOOT NOTE 7:
sankarAcAryaM SrImacchhankarAcAryaM bhaktamanovasankarAcAryaM smarAmyaham Sri (sankarAcAryaM)
(I remember Him) who is extremely revered as dedicated to the sacred feet of Sankara(charya) and whose prowess grows due to the grace of Sankara. Whose lotus hands are known for forever warding off doubts and desires.
Who possess unparalleled penance and valor.
(I remember Him) Who is the sustaining base that irrigates the creeper of supreme knowledge,
Who captivates the minds that are good and extremely humble,
who is unsurpassable in refuting the other paths,
who as if by mere sport, established the great Advaita philosophy.
करकलित-दण्ड-कमण्डलं काशायधरं विनत-मुनिमण्डलं
वरमतिविजितहर-कुण्डलं शुभवरदं नतधराखण्डलम् श्री
Whose hands bear the staff and a kamaNDala, Who wears the ochre robes, One who is worshipped by sages
Whose wisdom outshines Siva’s earrings (Sesha), Who bestows auspicious boons, Who is worshipped as Siva
(the bearer of the regions)
FOOT NOTE 8:
Subbarama Dikshitar apart from kritis has created a good number of varnas in ragas like Khamas, Surati, Sahana, Durbar, Purnacandrika, Yadukulakambhoji,Atana and Balahamsa apart from Ramakriya. We get to hear very few of these on the concert stage. That apart from a musicological perspective, his varnas are a compendium of the respective raga’s lakshana and sadly that factor has never been appreciated in any quarters. As the late music critic Sri K V Ramachandran lamented in 1950, in his lecture titled ‘ Carnatic ragas from a new angle- Sankarabharana’ (vide JMA XXI pages 88-89) – Subbarama Dikshitar was respected but not followed while Taccur Singaracariar was not respected but was followed.
bhavajaladhidharana subhamulOsagumu deva sArasanayana sankarAvatAra nIdu sumahita
padamulanu santatambu chinta jEsedanu
Who is worshipped by sage and kings, Whose qualities are admired, who is of serene countenance, who is a torchbearer in the path of yogasastra. Who is a support in this ocean of samsara – Bestow auspiciousness on me, O Lord, I Lotus-eyed one, The incarnation of Sankara, your petal-like benevolent feet, I forever meditate. One who is blessed with the grace of Kamakshi, the one who worships the Sri chakra.
FOOT NOTE 10 :
The full titular appellation of this Acharya can be given as under:
The records of the Kanchi Mutt indicate that the seat moved from Kanci to Tanjore and on to Kumbakonam circa 1745. Between 1750 and 1850 Kumbakonam became the seat of the monastery. During the fag end of the Pontiffship of the 64th Acharya His Holiness Sri Chandrasekarandra Saravati VI, moves were initiated to move back the Matham/monastery back to its old seat, that of Kanci. By 1850, most of India was already under British Rule and all principalities had more or less been subsumed or played a very nominal political role. The political and military issues faced earlier due to Muslim rulers of Deccan, Mysore and Wallajah which had necessitated the move to be under a protective Hindu ruler at Tanjore had by now completely dissipated. Thus on 22 Jan 1840 the 64th Acharya arranged for the Kumbabishekam of the Kanci Kamakshi Amman temple. In fact this 64th Acharya is the last of the Pontiffs to be interned in the Matham premises at Kumbakonam. The 65th Acharya attaned samadhi while travelling in Southern Tamilnadu in Ilayathankudi. His successors the 66th and 67th Acharyas were interned at Kalavai a village near Kancipuram. By 1891 soon after the attainment of beatitude by the 65th Acharya, the Matham had for all practical purposes moved back to Kancipuram. And thus after a gap of nearly 150 years, circa 1900 it once again became the permanent abode, to the lineage of the Acharyas of Kanci.
FOOT NOTE 12 :
namAmi srimanmahAdevendrasarasvatIM srI bhagavatpAdAcArya guro
Remover of the afflictions of every disciple’s heart, Worshipped by Sadasiva (the composer) and decorated with the ornament of knowledge;
Surrounded by the learned assembly of scholars, Personage sanctified by penance.
One who is victorious over samsara. Protect me!
One who relishes the drinking of honey from the lotus feet of the guru
One who wears a sphaTika garland and one whose feet are soft.
FOOT NOTE 13:
Mysuru Sadasiva Rao seems to have created compositions similarly on another seer. There are two compositions of his, worth recording here:
‘krupAlaya srI gurumadvarAya’ in Todi and adi tala
‘namAmi satyavijaya svAmi gurO’ in Dhanyasi and adi tala
The examination of these two kritis reveal that they are composed on Sri Satya Vijaya Teertha, a Madhva monk of the Uttaradhi Mutt who lived during the first half of the 18th century and who lived in a village in Tiruvannamalai District, near Aarani, presently called Satyavijayanagaram. The Ruler/Raja/Jaghirdar of Aarani one Venkatanatha Rao Sahib patronized the seer. During the 19th century the monastery was led by Swami Satyaveera Teertha who was patronized by the then Raja of Arani Srinivasa Rao Saheb and later his son Tirumala Rao Sahib. The name of the patron of this Acharya is found embedded in the composition. The details of this seer and also that of place are available here.
According to the biography published by Vidvan Chennakesavayya in the compilation of the Composer’s kritis as aforesaid, Sadasiva Rao’s wife Sundara Bayee was the aunt of the aforesaid Tirumala Rao Saheb.
On an entirely unrelated note, Subbarama Dikshitar’s profile of musicians who lived during his times also included Sadasiva Rao. Amongst so many others it appears that Subbarama Dikshitar has singled out this composer from the sprawling sisya parampara of Tyagaraja, and documented him perhaps driven by the common bond they shared, the devotion to Acharya Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati. They could have perhaps met in Kumbakonam during the sojourns they would have undertaken to pay their obeisance to the Acharya Sreshta.
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Carnatic music owes much of its corpus of compositions & musical heritage, to the Guru-Sishya tradition. Music was passed on generation after generation through this chain with one illustrious Guru, enriching it himself passing on the legacy to the even more illustrious disciples in their lineage. One such preceptor was Sonti Venkatasubbayya. He in turn sired even worthier disciples such as Paidala Gurumurti Sastrigal and his own son Sonti Venkataramanayya. As history shows, Venkataramanayya in turn went on to be the Guru of the Trinitarian Saint Tyagaraja. Much of the information on Sonti Venkatasubbayya is made available by Subbarama Dikshitar and a few collateral details are gleaned from the academic research done by Prof Seetha and documented in her published doctoral dissertation ‘Tanjore as a Seat of Music”. In this blog post we shall see a brief profile of this Guru Sreshta Sonti Venkatasubbayya and his varnam in the raga Gamakakriya and how it laid the foundation for the raga in our musical firmament.
Muthusvami Dikshitar’s life history as documented by Subbarama Dikshitar, has it that Gamakakriya was the last raga to be rendered by the composer nonpareil Muthusvami Dikshitar. A 181 years ago on 21st Oct 1835, a Deepavali day, Muthusvami Dikshitar gave up his mortal coil even as he along with his disciples were singing the magnum opus ‘mInAkshI mEmudham dEhI’ created by him in Gamakakriya. On the occasion of his anniversary, this blog post is presented to celebrate his memory, the raga that perhaps he last rendered and the varna therein, composed by a parama Guru of sorts to him. It is highly probable that this varna itself was taught to Dikshitar and it perhaps so enthralled him that he went on to build his grand offering to the Goddess at Madurai.
Read on !
SONTI VENKATASUBBAYA – A PROFILE:
According to Subbarama Dikshitar, Sonti Venkatasubbayya was an acknowledged exponent of the Venkatamakhin School, well versed in the grammar of music. He was a junior contemporary of Adiyappayya, the composer of the immortal Bhairavi varna “Viribhoni”. While Adiyappayya lived during the reign of Pratapasimha (1740-1765), Venkatasubbayya reached his zenith during the reign of Tulaja II (1765-1788) who was Pratapasimha’s son and successor. Sonti being his family name, came to become the Dean of the Palace musicians during Tulaja II’s regnal years. Prof Seetha records in her work that Tulaja II gifted 5 velis of land to Venkatasubbaya.
Tulaja II’s rule was marred by the wars with Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan during 1780’s which is when the British provided cover as well as loans for the Tanjore King. Manali Muddukrishna Mudaliar the Dubash of Governor Pigot who was liaising with King Tulaja II with respect to the loans, became a patron of Sonti Venkatsubbayya who must have migrated to Madras, during the tumultuous decade of 1780’s. In Sarva Deva Vilasa, the anonymous Sanskrit work which documents the great patrons of Madras dating to 1800 or thereabouts, portrays Sonti Venkatamanayya, his son as being patronized by Venkatadri, yet another plutocrat of those times. Subbarama Dikshitar is his profile of Muthusvami DIkshitar’s younger brother & his own adopted father Balasvami DIkshitar narrates an episode involving Sonti Venkatasubbayya. In the Court of Manali Cinnaya Mudaliyar once Sonti Venkatasubbaya rendered a gita and a tana in the raga Takka ( under Mela 15 Malavagaula) and stated that raga Takka was known only to members of his family and so as such it was their property.. Balasvami Dikshitar promptly got up sought the Mudaliyar’s permission and then rendered the gita ‘aramajju aparadha’ which is published in the SSP by Subbarama DIkshitar as an exemplar/lakshana of the pancama varja version of Takka. Balasvami DIkshitar was felicitated by the Mudaliyar for his knowledge and erudition. The said gita found in the SSP is attributed as usual to Venkatamakhin by Subbarama Dikshitar but most likely it is of Muddu Venkatamakhin perhaps. Be that as it may, we can infer that Venkatasubbayya and his son must have migrated to Madras circa 1780-90 as evidenced by both Subbarama Dikshitar and Sarvadeva Vilasa. Given the absence of references post 1800, one may infer that Sonti Venkatasubbayya must have lived somewhere between the years 1740-1800 approximately, reaching the pinnacle of his career in the Court of Tulaja II. We see no mention of Sonti Venkatasubbaya in the subsequent rule of Amarasimha ( by which time he was in the patronage of Manali Muddu Krishna Mudaliyar and Chinnayya Mudaliyar) or of Sarabhoji II.
Subbarama Dikshitar credits Sonti Venkatasubbayya as a great votary of the Sampradaya or the musical lineage of Venkatamakhin. See foot note 1. In his SSP apart from profiling him briefly, he credits two compositions, both being tana varnas in the SSP referring to him as the foremost amongst composers. In fact the SSP records just a couple of more varnas which predate these two compositions, namely that of Karvetinagar Govindasamayya. These two varnas are reproduced by Subbarama Dikshitar faithfully as authority for the raga lakshanas of the respective ragas. For this blog post as a mark of honor to the memory of that great composer, the varna in the raga Gamakakriya, the raganga raga of the mela 53 is taken as the exemplar. Of course the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar ‘Meenakshi Memudham Dehi’ too is available in the SSP.
The other varna of Venkatasubbayya is in the raga Bilahari and his carries the patron/poshaka mudra that of Tulaja II.
Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, the great composer and his disciple, records for posterity the greatness of his Guru Sonti Venkatasubbaya in his magum opus gitam in raga Natta, ‘gAna vidyA durandhara’ , notated by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Pratamabhyasa Pustakamu.
Prof Seetha, translates this for our benefit thus :
My Revered Preceptor VenkatasubhArya !
Foremost amongst the masters of gAna vidya !
Born into CinakOTi vamsA, may I have
Bhakti at your lotus feet ;
Wonderful is thy control over nAdA and its intricacies !
Thy amazing skills in rAgA and its varieties,
Thou hath the fortune of training a lineage of Disciples !
Proficient in gItA and prabandhA,
Victory to Thee, O My Guru VenkatasubbArya !
Further Dr Seetha adds that this Natta gitA which is set in dhruva tAla has an excellent rhythmic structure with 30 AvartAs or 420 kAla aksharas, which is in turn a multiple of 42, 70, 42, 60, 30 and 105 and so can also be rendered in matya, rupaka, jhampa, triputa, ata and eka tala. So in a trice one can render the same gita in the sUlAdi sapta tAlAs. The phrases employed in this composition bring out the Nattai of yore for us.
RAGA LAKSHANA OF GAMAKAKRIYA
This rAgAnga raga first makes its appearance only in the Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium which is illustrated in the SSP. This varna of Sonti Venkatsubbayya is perhaps the first authoritative version of this raga, as available to us. There seems to be no melodic nexus between Gamakakriya and another raga called Purvi which is more a janya raga of Malavagaula. None of the previous works such as Shahaji’s Ragalakshanamu or Tulaja’s Saramruta , all dateable between 1700 to 1736, talk about Gamakakriya. This could potentially mean that the raga was definitely a post 1740 development or atleast should have blossomed forth during the decades of 1750-1770.
Subbarama Dikshitar both in the SSP and in his PratamAbhyAsa Pustakamu provides a gitam in this raga composed most probably by Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to the period circa 1750. According to the SSP, the following are the salient features of the raga Gamakakriya:
It has an operative/nominal arohana & avarohana murcchana as SRGMPDS/SNDPMGRS, as the raganga raga of mela 53, with nishadha being varjya in the arohana.
It is a desi and a rakti raga. See foot note 2.
Sadja is the graha and in the commentary Subbarama Dikshitar indicates that Gandhara is the preferred jiva svara which almost as a rule appears as dirgha/elongated/stressed and adorned with the oscillated kampita gamaka.
He also provides a few illustrative murcchanas which we will cover in the analysis of the varna.
The gitam provided (brndAraka sanGha in Dhruva tala) in the SSP ( see foot note 3 )together with the varna of Sonti Venkatsubbayya gives us the complete gamut of this raga. We also see that Ramasvami Dikshitar made this raga a part of his ragamalikas, dateable to the pre trinity times. It is also a raga which sports the suffix kriya in its name ( see foot note 4)
In his SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar states categorically that this raga is also called as Purvikalyani today (early years of the 20th century), meaning the two ragas are synonymous. However we can see that Gamakakriya was the forerunner of what we call as Purvikalyani today. A few of the melodic murcchanas which were part of Gamakakriya were dropped and or modified and it became the body of the latter day Purvikalyani. In other words the murccanaas of Gamakakriya are a super set and that of Purvikalyani are a larger sub set thereunder, in the strict sense.
ANALYSIS & DISCOGRAPHY FOR ‘NINNU KORI’ – the Gamakakriya varna
Let’s move to the rendering of the varna and analyse the same with the notation found in the SSP. As always we fall back on the learned Professor S R Janakiraman, who is a repository of many a rare varna & other compositions to provide us with the authoritative version of the varna. Here is a recording of the veteran, opening his recital at the residence of his guru, Late Sangita Kalanidhi Musiri Subramanya Iyer, in the year 2005, accompanied by S Varadarajan on the violin and Mannargudi Esvaran on the mrudangam.
A few points command our attention at the outset.
This varna is cast in the modern ata tala varna format and is bereft of the anubandha section. In contrast, Venkatasubbayya’s Bilahari varna has an anubandha section. This is, given the notation/text provided in the SSP.
The anupallavi muktayi svara as well as the carana ettugada svaras have sahitya tagged to them. The extant renderings of the varna do not include the sahitya section.
As against the normal 5 ettugada sections seen in older varnas dateable to this period, this varna has only 4 sections.
The varnam appears to be in praise of Lord Krishna.
The rendering of the varna and the notation in the SSP provides us with the following observations regarding the phrases and the key notes which have been repeatedly used in the raga. Prof SRJ also provides his commentary on this raga in his published work which we can rely upon to help us get clarity on the raga’s architecture.
The anupallavi muktayi svara section is extremely instructive about the salient features of the raga, encompassing the very essence of the raga.
Gandhara is the favoured jiva svara and it appears almost always ornamented with the kampita gamaka. The ranjaktva of the raga and the raga’ness and rakti’ness can be entirely attributed to the gandhara svara when it occurs in profusion with other notes.
Ri, Ga, Dha and Pa occur as janta prayogas in profusion
Both PDDPS and PDS have been used in equal measure. SDS and SDP too is seen.
Similarly SDP and SNDP are both used.
sNRs, DNPD, grNRnD, PDDNPDP and SNDNPDP are also encountered in profusion centering the nishadha note. However nishada is never a strong note nor is it a graha or a nyasa svara.
Apart from Sa and Pa , Ri and Ga are the only graha/take off notes. Ga is also a nyasa svara.
Skipping madhyama or pancama in the svara progression seems to be pattern – GRPMG or DMGRS.
In sum only the PDNS prayoga is not found. Almost all other svara combinations are utilized in this varna.
Presented finally is another edition of the same varna by Vidushi Gayathri Girish rendered by her in a lecdem concert on Pre Trinity compositions @ Nada Inbam under the aegis of Parivadhini in Dec 2015. While she follows Prof SRJ in the varna rendering, having learnt form him she additionally renders the sahitya of the anupallavi muktayi svara, which is found in the SSP.
DIKSHITAR AND GAMAKAKRIYA
We next move on to discuss the melodic construct of Dikshitar’s master piece ‘mInAkshi mEmudham dEhI’ in Gamakakriya along with a few allied aspects.
Given that Muddu Venkatamakhin has used the raga name as Gamakakriya, Ramasvami Dikshitar as well as Muthusvami Dikshitar have followed suit in going with the same name in their compositions.
Ramasvami Dikshitar’s 108 raga tala malika uses Gamakakriya – 55th section of his ‘nAtakAdi vidyAlaya’ – using the permitted murcchanas is found in the SSP Anubandha.
Dikshitar’s “mInAkshi mEmudham dEhi’ features very many Gamakakriya prayogas – usage of both PDS and PDPS or SDS for example is seen. But we do not see nishadha centric prayogas such as SNrS or DNPD or PMDM in the kriti. It could be that Dikshitar chose to compose with a subset of murcchanas given that a composition need not have the set of all permissible murcchanas for the raga. The raga mudra is plainly embedded in the phrase “dasa gamakakriyE” leaving us in no doubt as to the raga of the composition.
Renderings of the raga and ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ in the modern context have taken a fully Purvikalyani flavor. PDS has completely given way to PDPS fully. Also while the carana section of the composition commences only at madhya sadja ( mathurA puri nilayE, SdS is how it begins) as per SSP notation, all renderings start only at pancama.
We do have a few other compositions in Gamakakriya attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar mainly from Veena Sundaram Iyer’s publications and others as well. Three of them are :
One composition of merit from this set of compositions outside of the SSP is ‘ ekAmranAtham bhajEham’. Curiously enough Subbarama Dikshitar in his biography on Muthusvami Dikshitar ( covered in Vaggeyakara Caritamu) records a few compositions which he says Dikshitar composed while he visited the holy places of Kanci, Mayuram/Vallalar Kovil and Madurai, which are not notated by him in the SSP. And he mentions ‘eKamranAtham’ as Dikshitar’s creation on the Lord at Kanci, though he does not provide the notation of the same under the raga in his SSP, for some reason. According to Dr Rita Rajan the musical setting of , ‘ekAmranAtham’ in which it is sung today, was a contribution of her Guru, Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan. Apparently the original musical setting as was rendered then, was presumably of a poor finish and hence the Vidvan proceeded to tunesmith/embellish the same. An examination of the said version reveals that the melodic setting is entirely on the lines of modern day Purvikalyani only. We do not know, which oral tradition’s version Ramnad Krishnan utilized, to build his edition of ‘ekAmranAtham’. It is indeed sad that we have forever lost the original setting of the composition which is a paean to the Lord of Kanci, eKamranAthA.
It would not be out of place to mention with some qualification of course, that compositions provided to us from an authentic source or notation should be rendered with the highest fidelity to the source/notation and the intent of the composer. Thus it would not be appropriate to morph the PDS in the Gamakakriya compositions into PDPS to normalize the lakshana of Gamakakriya.
GAMAKAKRIYA & PURVIKALYANI – SOME CONCLUSIONS
Given the melodic definition of Gamakakriya/Purvikalyani and what one encounters in practice, we can conclude thus:
Gamakakriya is a raga slightly wider in scope having PDS, sNRs, GrNrnD and such other phrases which are not seen in modern Purvikalyani.
It could be that Gamakakriya simply cast off these phrases and evolved as modern day Purvikalyani, making these phrases as arsha prayogas. One does notice a similar pattern in the case of Bilahari for example. We have phrases which were prevalent in Bilahari as found in the varna of Veena Kuppayar, which have now gone out of vogue. However in the case of Bilahari, the name did not change however.
To state simply, Gamakakriya is an older raga with a slightly broader canvas with the simple edict that except for PDNS all other prayogas can occur. This was how ragas were once a time defined, especially in the 18th century. In contrast Purvikalyani is a modern offshoot with a comparatively narrower melodic basis.
One can see that from a pure melodic standpoint there is practically no difference between the ragas. The phrases native only to Gamakakriya being a very small sub set, was not deemed to ‘significantly’ impact the overall melodic body and hence as Subbarama Dikshitar himself says, Gamakakriya and Purvikalyani are indeed synonymous for all practical purposes.
We commence this section with the renderings of the two Dikshitar compositions , ‘mInAkshi memudham’ and ‘ekAmranAtham’. There are very many renderings of ‘mInAkshi memudham’ in the public domain, being one of the few well known Dikshitar kritis, which is part of the repertoire of musicians of all hues.
Presented here is the rendering by Prof S R Janakiraman first, available as a video on Youtube.
Presented next is the rendering by ‘Dikshitarini’ Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan. She learnt very many DIkshitar compositions from Sangita Kalanidhi T L Venkatarama Iyer and Calcutta Ananthakrishna Iyer of the Dikshitar sishya parampara and so one is tempted therefore to say she learnt this piece as well from them. However per her own account she learnt it from Musiri Subramanya Iyer. Here is her rendering with alapana, tanam and svarakalpana.
The composition was also part of the repertoire of the Dhanammal family. The rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda is available in the public domain. Interestingly she renders a cittasvara following the anupallavi , which is found neither in the SSP nor in the Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai (DKP) of Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, wherein this composition is found notated. A clipping of that section alone, from an AIR Concert of hers is presented below.
Natarajasundaram Pillai and Dhanammal learnt together, Dikshitar kritis from Sathanur Pancanada Iyer a scion of the Dikshitar sishya parampara. Since the cittasvara is not found in the DKP, it looks to be a certain later day addition to the kriti, by the Dhanammal family, perhaps. However attention needs to be drawn to the PDNPDP…S usage in the cittasvara section the Smt Brinda renders. Dr Ritha Rajan has an interesting set of observations on the question of PDNDPS found in the cittasvara and how the PDPS or PDS could have become native to the uttaranga of Gamakakriya.
PDPS must have been a very casual phrase earlier and later became prominent and included in the murchana. In the old renderings of the kirtanas like paripurnakama, ninnuvinaga, ekkalatilum and parama pavana rama, pdps occurs or it is not there at all.
Members of the Dhanammal family musicians sing the raga with the least use of panchama.
Gamakakriya/Purvikalyani has some characteristic jarus and phrases with d and p endings which are immediately followed with phrases starting with s or r. This has led to the fixing of the arohana as srgmpds or srgmpdps. Thus in the cittasvara section there is a pause after pdp and then s occurs.
In so far the phrase pdnp, it is perhaps part of the overall phrase pdn pdp and not a phrase by itself. This is akin to phrases in Begada where we sing mpd mpm, gmp gmr and so on.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Smt Brinda’s rendering is the phrase ” G…..(p) m R…s”, the notation for the word ‘dehi’ in the pallavi line “mInAkshI mEmudham dEhI”. We will not find it any other version of this composition.
Presented next is the rendering of ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ by Vidvan Sri T M Krishna, as an interpretation of the notation of the notation found in the SSP. He first provides a commentary of the distinctness of the raga as found in the kriti and also demonstrates how the musical setting has been standardized, for example the start of the caranam, ‘madurApuri nilayE’ and the madhyamakala sahitya, ‘madhumatha mOdita’.
We next present ‘ekAmranAtham’ being sung by Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan, given that we have an account, that he had a hand in musically resetting the composition.
Even as the composition ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ has held the attention of our music world with its highly contemplative melodic appeal, it is no surprise that it has gone on to enrapture composers and listeners of the music of other genre as well. Perhaps much like how Tyagaraja’s Kharaharapriya and Dhanammal’s rendering of ‘ rama nI samAnamEvaru’ inspired Abdul Karim Khan to render the same, Rabindranath Tagore was inspired by the Gamakakriya and ‘mInakshi mEmudham’ of Muthusvami Dikshitar. Now part of the repertoire of Rabindra Sangeeth, a modern day exponent of that music, Smt Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta in a style inimitable of the genre, gives life to ‘mInakshi mEmudham’ in her beautiful cultivated voice.
Hear her render Dikshitar’s chef-d’oeuvre ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ with the unique vocalization:
Attention is invited to her raga vinyasa ahead of the kriti. One can also discern the PD1P prayoga, elegantly used for ranjakatva ( not jarring) involving a sparing use of the suddha dhaivata ( a foreign note for the raga) invoking the pathos of Puriya of the Hindustani Music, providing a clue as to how some of these misra ragas come about by usage through motifs with the anya svara sandwiched in between the native svaras.
Presented next is her rendering of Tagore’s verses inspired by the lyrics as well the melody of Dikshitar. Gamakakriya becomes the melodic canvas for the Bengali composition ‘basanti he bubhanamohini’, of Tagore propitiating the Mother Goddess much like how Dikshitar does in ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’! ( See foot note 5). You can hear it on Youtube here.
Circa 1730 or thereabouts, it must have been that Gamakakriya was an upcoming raga on the horizon, capturing the popular imagination and gaining popularity amongst the masses. It was thus a desi raga. Muddu Venkatamakhin circa 1750 or so, when he formally compiled the table of the 72 ragangas together with their offsprings namely the upangas and bashangas, thought it fit to elevate Gamakakriya as a raganga and thus anointing it as a head of mela 57. As the years rolled by, the raga thence must have gained traction with the cognoscenti and students of classical music. So much so a decade or two later, circa 1765 the great Guru and the Dean of the Palace Musicians Sonti Venkatasubbayya thought it fit to invest this raga with a tana varna, in the process laying out systematically the melodic contours of Gamakakriya, etching forever his name in the annals of our music. With this masterpiece, he had laid the foundation for a nouveau rakti raga, a rarity from the prati madhyama stable which would rival Kalyani and Ramakriya/Pantuvarali in terms of melodic popularity and charm.
Into the 19th and 20th century the raga became a mainstay through its melodic sibling/offshoot Purvikalyani, being invested with kritis by the Trinitarians. And as we saw it even went on to inspire musicians of another genre.However the root and seed of it all, Sonti Venkatasubbayya’s varna ‘ninnu kori’ is all but forgotten and remains archived in the SSP as a mere musical notation. He was, who Subbarama DIkshitar in awe referred as a guru shreshtha – the foremost amongst musicians/musicologist! His varna and Dikshitar’s ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ makes an awe inspiring visage for us and on this day of remembrance , we must pay obeisance to this great lineage of acharyas, all paragons of music.
No greater homage is possible to the guru shreshta Venkatasubbaya, by students and performers of music other than by sincerely learning this tana varna in total fidelity to the notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP, without in anyway normalizing it to Purvikalyani and rendering it frequently on the concert platforms.
Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) -Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini with its Tamil translation published by the Madras Music Academy
Dr S Seetha (2001) – ‘ Tanjore as a Seat of Music’
Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
Dr N Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Sargam & Musical Conception in Karnataka System’ – paper presented on 11-09-2004 at the Seminar on ‘Sargam as a Musical Material’
Thanks are due to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for providing me with a copy of his rendering of ‘mInAkshi mEmUdham dEhI’ and permitting me to use the same for this blog post. This is from his recent concert for Guruguhamrutha, held on 13th Nov 2016 @ Raga Sudha Hall, Chennai. Accompanist in this recording are Vidvans Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sri Manoj Siva on the mrudangam and Sri B S Purushotham on the kanjira.
We do not know from whom Venkatasubbaya learnt. Much as one would like to tag Muddu Venkatamakhin or Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitar, who was Ramasvami Dikshitar’s preceptor as Venkatasubbayya’s guru, but that would be stretching facts too far without a shred of evidence. In fact Subbarama Dikshitar advances his argument that given Sonti Venkataramanayya (Sonti Venkatasubbayya’s son) was Tyagaraja’s guru, Tyagaraja therefore was yet another disciple of the hoary lineage/sishya parampara of Venkatamakhin.
The term ‘rakti’ in the context of a raga seems to signify a certain set of subjective attributes. If a raga could be elaborated or sung with “feeling” or “emotion” or ‘charm’ then the raga was said to be a rakti raga. Here the subjectivity is not with reference to the performer but entirely a property of a raga and its attributes. In other words if a raga is ideal for a highly aesthetic presentation, appealing to the sensory perception of listeners, the raga can be said to be a rakti raga or a raga which can be elaborated with ‘rakti’. Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli (“Rakthi in Raga and Laya” – Vedavalli Speaks- Sruti June 2011-pp 65-66) argues that rakti as an aesthetic concept has two different connotations- one from a raga or melody perspective (rakti raga) and another from a laya or a rhythm perspective (rakti melam). She proceeds to suggest that rakti ragas are more gamaka oriented and are mellismatic in contradistinction to svara oriented ragas. Thus ragas which create rakti are Nattakurinji, Saveri, Sahana, Dhanyasi, Begada, Mukhari, Surati, Devagandhari etc whereas ragas like Dharmavati or Charukesi are more svara based and hence not rakti ragas. Some of the musicological works represent aesthetics as a triad of raga, bhava and rasa. Readers are referred to the literature on these aspects such as “Semiosis in Hindustani Music” by Jose Luiz Martinez.
From a rhythm perspective, rakti is a composition with jatis as sahitya and is set to a tala much like a Pallavi and is played on the nagasvara with the chosen raga as the vehicle. Not surprisingly ragas which qualify for being rakti ragas are chosen for rakti melam exposition. From amongst the pratimadhyama ragas Gamakakriya or Purvikalyani is a chosen one apart from Kalyani or Pantuvarali/Ramakriya.
Foot Note 3:
Attention is invited to the fact that, Subbarama Dikshitar for the Gamakakriya gitam in the Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu gives two sets of sahitya for the same svara notation. He says in his footnote that one is the sahitya as per his copy of the manuscript and the second/concurrent sahitya line is from the manuscripts provided by the then Sankaracharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam His Holiness Mahadevendra Sarasvati the 65th Pontiff whom he met circa 1864 CE at Kumbakonam. Apparently Muddu Venkatamakhin for some reason composed two sets of raganga gitams, one which revealed the suddha & vikruta svara , the melam and the raganga raga name while the other had other substituted sahitya or words in those places. Why it was so done would remain a mystery, except that the original manuscripts which had the gitams with the raga details was with the Pontiff in complete secrecy. We do know that this Sankaracharya hailed from Tiruvidaimarudur was a descendant of Venkatamakhin himself. The indefatigable Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps after having exhausted his attempts to source the original manuscripts, reached out for the benign Grace of this Pontiff who shared them, which became Subbarama Dikshitar’s corpus of documents which enabled him to create the SSP. Subbarama Dikshitar composed a tana varna in Ramakriya and the Sankarabharanam kriti ‘ Sankaracharyam” on this Pontiff perhaps in eternal gratitude to His Holiness.
Foot Note 4:
This raga given its name, is a member of a kriyanga family of ragas which included ragas like Devakriya, Nadaramakriya, Sindhuramakriya, Gundakriya and Ramakriya, sharing the word ‘kriya’ as a suffix ( additionally krti or kri is seen in older musicological texts). This is part of the older raga classification scheme where ragas were grouped as upanga, kriyanga, raganga and bhashanga, normally referred to as the angA quartet. The older definitions & classification thereof have since become redundant/irrelevant in modern musicology. These terms today connote a very different definition as in – raganga being the raga implemented with all the seven notes considering both the arohana and avarohana krama, upanga means a raga thereunder which takes in notes only from the raganga/mela and bashanga meant a raga under a mela/raganga which also took notes which were foreign/not found in the raganga/mela. In the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika, while the terms of raganga, upanga and bashanga are seen but not defined, the term kriyanga is not at all seen. Using the same as his authority, Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps dispensed with the terminology in the SSP. Even in the raga naming done for the derived melodies in the 72 melas/ragangas, we see one melody ‘Ravikriya’ the 42nd raganga, apart from Gamakakriya being suffixed with kriya. Perhaps the author of the Anubandha did so without any nexus whatsoever with the older kriyanga concept.
Much older texts imply that kriyAnga ragas were melodies employed as a part (angA) of a kriyA (activity), perhaps involving prayer or praise of God or employed to connote the emotions of sorrow, joy, valour etc. In other words these ragas were perhaps used to depict specific rasas or aesthetically embellish verses/compositions for these emotions/activities. According the commentary of Emmie Te Nijenhuis for the ‘Sangitasiromani’ Sarangadeva and Kumbha refer to three kriyanga ragas, Ramakrti or Ramakriya being a hymn to Lord Rama, Gaudakrti a hymn to Goddess Sarasvati and Devakrti or Devakriya a hymn to Lord Vishnu. Suffice to say the kriyAngA concept has long gone out of vogue.
FOOTNOTE 5 :
The lyrics of the Tagore’s verses in Bengali goes like this ( courtesy the Web). They show how Tagore was inspired by the lyrics of Dikshitar’s ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ – he uses ‘madhu maatha modhita hrudaye’ and ‘veena gana’ tellingly in his verse and off course the melody of Gamakakriya to embellish those verses with almost the same setting.
Hey bhuvana-mohini (Oh charmer / enchanter / soother of the earth); dika-prantey (in all directions),
Van-vanantey (in the woods and wildernesses), Shyama-prantarey (in the green fields),
amra-chhaye (in the shadow of the mango trees), sarovara-teerey (by the lakes),
nadi-neerey (in the river waters), neel akashey (in the azure sky),
malaya batasey (in the scented breeze), byapilo ananta taba madhuri (your endless sweetness spreads).
Nagarey, graamey, kaananey (across towns – villages and gardens), diney-nishithey (day and night),
pika-sangeetey (in the songs of the cuckoo), nritya-geeta kalaney (through music and dance), vishva anandita (the world rejoices).
Bhavaney bhavaney beena taan rana rana jhankrita (from the houses emanate the reverberations of the veena)
Madhu-mada-modita hridaye hridaye re nava-praana uchchhwasilo aaji (from the drunkenly euphoric hearts – new life springs forth today)
Bichalita chito ucchali re (The restless mind leaps) ; Bichalita chito ucchali unmaadana (the feverish mind dances – ecstatic)
Jhono jhono jhonilo monjirey monjirey (resonates – throbs – like the clashing cymbals).
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Updates Nov 25 2016 – Updated with Vidvan Sri T M Krishna’s exemplar rendering of ‘mInAkshi mEmudam dEhI’
History is littered with instances of many Kings falling from grace due to political bickering, back room or royal intrigues, machinations of foreign powers or neighboring Kingdoms, outright misrule bringing about a palace coup or public revolt and the like. The period of 1765 to 1800 in the case of Tanjore regionlikewise was a period of great political turmoil and polarization. Apart from the native rulers of the area which included the Maratta clan of Tanjore, the Nawab of Arcot and the smaller fiefdoms of Udayarpalayam and others, the dramatis personae also included Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan from Mysore. Pitching these rulers one against the other, in the game of elimination were the two foreign powers namely France and England. The British East India Company was attempting to consolidate its hold through its Governor at Madras Fort St, Sir George Pigot while the French were trying to be one up with their Governor in Pondicherry the famous Dupleix providing the stewardship.
Amidst all this war and political turmoil, Art was patronized and it grew to its zenith. Kings & Chieftains played patrons to the hilt even while as they involved themselves in wars and in cunning machinations to stay in power. For many of us, Tanjore and hence that Maharatta rule of Tanjore is synonymous with King Sarabhoji whose regnal years were 1799 to 1832 ( see foot note 1) .
This blog post is about his predecessor, King Amarasimha or Ramaswami Amarasimha Bhonsle ( the full Royal titular name) who ruled for a brief period of 1787 to 1799 as a Regent of the minor Prince Sarabhoji. This King Amarsimha was a patron in his own right like many of his illustrious kinsmen who ruled before him, right from King Sahaji who was a composer & musicologist (author of Ragalakshanamu), King Tulaja I who is tagged with the authorship of the Saramruta and Pratapasimha who was a great patron of arts & music and who was called as Abhinava Bhoja. Amarasimha too was a patron of many musicians including Ramasvami Dikshitar the father of the Trinitarian Muthusvami Dikshitar. Amarasimha is referred to as Amar Sing(h) as well in very many documents and also as Madhyarjunam Amarasimha, for later in his life he was banished to live in exile at Madhyarjunam / Tiruvidaimarudur, a few miles from Kumbakonam. This blog is about this King Amarasimha ( always referred to as is) & his times and from a musical angle we will see an exemplar composition sung on him by Ramaswami Dikshitar. This piece is a ragamalika documented in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP hereafter) of Subbarama Dikshitar and from a performance perspective it is extinct for all practical purposes. As pointed out in an earlier blog post in this series , the overall enjoyment of a composition is enhanced by knowing about the historical background, the setting, the composer’s perspective and such other factors like the nayaka of the song etc. . Hence the profile of the patron King Amarasimha, the context of the composition – time, place etc. and the composition ‘sAmajagamana’ along with the discography is sought to be presented.
THE ROYAL HOUSE OF BHONSALES- The TANJORE MAHARATTAS:
The Mahratta rule of Tanjore commenced in the year 1675 (from the remains of the erstwhile Nayak rule). The lineage of Kings who ruled from Tanjore from this Royal House is given in the genealogy chart below. They were apart o the extended Bhonsale clan of Maharashtra to which King Shivaji of fame, belonged to.
Though the Tanjore Bhonsale clan were rank outsiders from a territorial perspective, the Kings of this Royal House went about enmeshing themselves in the social fabric of the then Tanjore area. The Kings of this House made Lord Rajagopala at Mannargudi, Lord Tyagaraja of Tiruvarur and finally Lord Brihadeesvara at Tanjore as their titular deities and for practical purposes even attempted to rule in the name of these Gods. Along with Marathi they made Telugu as well as the lingua franca of the Court, taking the previous Nayak rule as a template. The local Brahmin learned men were made the Prime Minister or Rayasam akin to how the Nayak Kings had, including the way they administered the kingdom. And lastly if not the least, the Kings though hailing from Central India, became great connoisseurs and patrons of South Indian music. The “Modi records” as they are called, which are the Royal records of this rule which has been preserved in the Sarasvathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur vouches for the retainers which has been paid to the musicians, courtesans and others attached to the Royal Court. That apart several compositions are still available to us composed on these Kings which bears testament to their munificence as well. Dr Sita ‘s ‘ Tanjore as a Seat of Music’ is a fairly complete reference for the musical history of this period.
THE HEADY DAYS OF THE RULE OF PRATAPASIMHA:
We begin the journey with King Pratapasimha whose regnal years were 1739 to 1763, one of the longest rulers in the Tanjore Maharatta Royal house. Despite many external threats he was a powerful ruler and administrator. Given his acumen, the British East India Company accorded high regard for him and he was the last King of Tanjore to be referred to as “His Majesty” in the company records from that period. All subsequent Kings became puppets in the hands of the British. Pratapasimha faced considerable odds in holding on to Tanjore given the threats from the Nawab of Carnatic and from the French. He allied with the British and in 1761, participated in the siege of Pondicherry which resulted in a crushing defeat for the French. Despite all these political upheavals, Pratapasimha played the role of benefactor and patron of arts. Many musicians and artistes flourished during his rule. Amongst so many compositions from his reign, one fine exemplar stands out, the magnum opus, the Huseini Svarajati composed by Melattur Virabadrayya, the guru and preceptor of Ramasvami Dikshitar, whom Subbarama Dikshitar alludes to in awe as ‘Margadarshi’ or “Trailblazer”. For very many decades and even well into the 20th century this Svarajathi was a piece-de-resistance with its lilting carana refrain “au rE rA sAmi vinara…….”. This masterpiece in adi tala started as “sAmi nEnarElla”, was composed on Lord Varadarajasvami of Melattur spawned many copies inspired by its melting tune and evergreen popularity. In fact Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP has documented one such copy commencing with the words ‘ emantayAnarA’ attributing it to Patchimiriyam Adiyappayya, which bears the poshaka mudra/colophon as ‘Pratapasimha’. Pratapasimha who himself was a son of a concubine had ascended the throne by banishing the legal contender to the throne Prince Sahuji. Records indicate that when he died he had atleast two sons. The elder one and next to the throne, was Prince Tulaja II (born in 1738) through his Royal Queen. He later ascended the throne as a rightful heir. And the younger one was Prince Amarasimha, the protagonist of this blog post, a son through Pratapasimha’s concubine. Pratapasimha died on 16th Dec 1763 after reigning for 24 long years and the 25 year old Tulaja II ascended the throne.
THE TURMOIL DURING TULAJA II’s RULE
The British with an eye on assimilating the Royal Kingdom of Tanjore to its growing empire, started destabilizing King Tulaja II’s rule right from day one. Tulaja II by nature was not a formidable character like his great father and he became amenable to the intrigues, both inside and outside of the Fort at Tanjore. Implementing the divide-and-rule policy which they perfected as a fine art to perpetuate their imperialistic rule for more than 3 centuries, the British set Tulaja II against the Rajas of Ramanathapuram and the Nawab of Carnatic. To defray the cost of wars, Tulaja II was forced to borrow money and incur huge debts with the British East India Company at usurious interest rates. In fact it was Manali Muthukrishna Mudaliar ( the later day Patron of Ramasvami Dikshitar) who was then the Dubash of the then Governor of Madras, Pigot, who came periodically to negotiate financial matters with Tulaja II at Tanjore and to Tiruvarur. It was then when the Mudaliar came to be introduced to Ramasvami Dikshitar which would prove fortuitous for the Dikshitar clan, later on. The British finally forced Tulaja II into a Treaty with the result he was divested of his army and thus was rendered into a yet another tribute paying vassal of the British. Their plan to annex the Tanjore territory was complete. See Footnote 2.
Turning to matters musical, probably some time, circa 1768 is when Ramaswami Dikshitar was perhaps directed by Tulaja II to go to Tiruvarur to formulate the musical paddhathi for the Tyagaraja temple. Subbarama Dikshitar is his Vaggeyakara Caritamu, alludes to this with a dream that Ramasvami Dikshitar had, in which Lord Tyagaraja bade him to come over to Tiruvarur to carry out the divine task. We can see later that it was sometime circa 1770 that Prince Amarasimha came visiting Tiruvarur. Between the years 1780 & 1786, Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan plundered the Tanjore region, driving out Tulaja II into exile. According to the records of the Christian Missionary Schwartz, children numbering more than 20,000 were carried away and the entire region was ransacked. The scorch-the-earth policy of Tipu Sultan between 1780 and 1786, the impoverished Treasury of the Tanjore King together with successive famines in the Cauvery delta due to poor monsoons during the period of 1780-1800 took a toll. Records show that the region lost the 2 decades and it recovered only after 1800, following the political stability afforded by the ascension of Serfoji II in 1799. Many people including the likes of Ramasvami Dikshitar & his family fled to Madras to be under the protective cover of the British. They were absorbed into the society by the cognoscenti of the City ( Chennapattana/Madras) namely Manali Muthukrishna/ Cinnaya Mudaliar & others. ‘Sarva Deva Vilasa’ the Sanskrit work narrates the state of the City and also the high and mighty who served the British during the last decade of 1700’s and the early years of 1800’s. Reverend Schwarz ( 1726-1798) the renowned Danish Christian Missionary was a close confidant of Tulaja II for very many years and was a faithful interlocutor for the King when he dealt with the local British Resident and the Commandant of the Tanjore Garrison. In fact given the proximity between the two, it was rumored, as accounts show, that Tulaja II had either converted to Christianity or was a closet Christian. In fact when Tulaja II adopted Serfoji II (born 1777, a son of Tulaja II’s cousin) as his son sometime 1787 or thereabouts, the British retrieved Tanjore and reinstated him on the throne, Rev Schwarz was a source of great solace and his memoirs offer a glimpse as to how Tulaja II was grieving inwardly. So much was Tulaja’s faith in this Padre that on his deathbed in the year 1787, wanted Rev Schwarz to be the guardian of the minor Serfoji. It was apparent that the dying King feared for the life of the young adopted Prince Serfoji. But the Missionary refused. We would see that he would later go on to become a philosopher and guide to the young Serfoji and support his claim to Kingship through his minority till 1799.
THE ASCENDANCE OF AMARASIMHA
Tulaja II passed away in 1787, a year or two after he had taken back Tanjore. On his deathbed he summoned the British resident and the Commandant of the Tanjore garrison and held over the minor Serfoji to their care. This was when intense jockeying started as to who would be the Regent and rule the Tanjore Kingdom till Serfoji attained majority. Prince Amarasimha the paternal uncle of Serfoji played his cards well notwithstanding the support of Rev Schwarz who was the interlocutor for the Minor Serfoji. It was quite a departure from established mores for a religious missionary to be interfering in the political affairs of the country where he had come to preach. The existing Hindu establishment in Tanjore had animosity towards Rev. Schwarz whom they considered as a meddler who was instrumental in Tulaja II’s religious bias towards Christianity which they had greatly resented. Moreover given Schwarz’s influence over the young Prince, the palace establishment was of the firm view that he too could be a potential Christian convert which would be anathema to them. Arguably this greatly tilted the balance of power in favor of Prince Amarasimha who with the connivance of the local British resident and his masters in the Madras establishment, successfully wrested the Regency for himself in 1787. The problem was also arbitrated upon by religious experts from Kashi to provide inputs on Sastraic sanction for rule by Regency, royal succession etc, which in turn gave rise to allegations of bribery and chicanery. See foot note 4. It would not be out of place to mention that there were bickering going on even within the British establishment of Madras with the East India Company’s London Directors taking a very dim view of many a political happenings in India and the financial malfeasance of the Company’s Officers in India. They believed that the Company officials in India including the Governor of Madras were accumulating wealth by taking bribes from the local Princes in return for Kingship and reduction in the peshcush/tribute payable to the Company. Firmly ensconced as the Regent, King Amarasimha began his 12 year rule from Tanjore. Accounts have it that he ill-treated the minor Serfoji greatly and Rev Schwarz together with Serfoji paid several visits to Madras to plead with the British establishment there for succor. It was not to happen so easily. Matters only turned for the worse for Serfoji on his return to Tanjore as it made his uncle King Amarasimha even more inimical to his interest. (see foot note 2). Even though the rivalry and discord was simmering inside, Amarasimha could not wish away the fact that he was a Regent and so he had to necessarily present himself in public along with the boy King Serfoji. In fact many paintings from that era depict both of them in the Royal regalia, for an example see here. One account has it that in 1793, Amarasimha went ahead and proclaimed himself the King and absolute ruler, much to the chagrin of the British and the faction of the family supporting Prince Serfoji which included Tulaja II ‘s Queens. While from a political standpoint Amarasimha appears in a different light, from an arts perspective he played his role to the hilt. With an efficient Prime Minister Sivarayamantri on hand, he patronized a great number of scholars and musicians. The composer of the famous Anandabhairavi kriti, ‘Nee mati Callaga’ and that of Parijataapaharana’, Kavi Matrubhutayya was one such recipient. Apart from the Anandabhairavi kriti, we also have a couple of more available from this composer, one such being ‘tarali boyyE” in Todi, which is found notated in the SSP. (Refer pages 160-169 of Dr Sita’s work – Reference # 5 below).
THE ANOINTMENT OF SERFOJI in 1799 & THE BANISHMENT OF AMARASIMHA
Due to the continued efforts of Reverend. Schwarz and the change in perception of the British, fortuitously for Serfoji, moves were afoot to restore him to the throne with the taking over of Lord Wellesley as the the Governor General of India. The fact that Amarasimha’s rule wasn’t auguring well for the British became obvious and a deal was struck by the then Resident Benjamin Torin at Tanjore acting on the instructions from Governor General Lord Wellesley. ( See Foot note 3). As a part of the tripartite deal the British negotiated, Amarasimha was to move to Tiruvaidaimarudur (also known as Madhyarjunam), a few miles from Kumbakonam, where he set up his Samasthanam/Royal Estate funded by the Treasury at Tanjore. Serfoji for his part would ascend the throne giving away all the powers to the British and relegating himself as a nominal ruler from the Fort at Tanjore converting the Kingdom in essence to a Principality, in return for the Privy Purse. The British plan to annex Tanjore to the Empire was complete. Some accounts have it that Amarasimha grew ill even during the Regency and in the run up to this tripartite deal. Records from a British standpoint go cold after 1799 in so far Amarasimha goes. The details if any about him reduces to a trickle thereafter. Few of such sources includes Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer. He is recorded as “Madhyarjunam Amarasimha” and apparently according to Dr. U Ve Svaminatha Iyer, he was the patron of Ghanam Krishna Iyer, Hindustani musician Ramdas & others. In fact the above referred Ramadas taught music to Gopalakrishna Bharathi (1811-1881) who used to reside in Mayavaram. A reconciliation of the dates of these personages and the life time of Amarasimha reveal even more confusion. It could be that Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer is confusing himself with Madhyarjunam Pratapasimha, the son of Amarasimha who was the successor to his father. Dr Sita in her treatise ( Reference 5, pages 104-106) provides a historical summary of the King. Given the chronology of events and logical reasoning, Amarasimha should have died sometime during the early years of the first decade of the 19th century, 1805 or thereabouts. (See Footnote 5below)
Amarsimha’s son Madhyarjunam Pratapasimha (named after his illustrious grandfather) is briefly profiled by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakkara Caritamu which gives us some clue as to the timelines. He says that Madhyarjunam Pratapasimha was well versed in music and mrudangam playing. He was also a composer having created a Navaratnamalika and a ragatalamalika in mahratti language with beautiful svara patterns. According to Subbarama Dikshitar he died sometime before the period of Sivaji Maharaja. Now King Serfoji died in 1833 and Sivaji ascended the Tanjore throne that year. Thus it is quite possible that Madhyarjunam Pratapasimha died circa 1832. Barring the dilapidated palace & buildings at Tiruvidaimarudur, ( see note 6 )there exist no other artifact attributable to this branch of the Royal House of Bhonsales. We do have a couple of paintings of Amarasimha and one of Madhyarjunam Pratapasimha his son.
COMPOSITION & DISCOGRAPHY
Ramasvami Dikshitar is said to have moved to Tiruvarur after his stay in Tanjore where he was patronized by King Tulaja II. About 1768 or 1770, he visited Tiruvarur, according to Subbarama Dikshitar, to take part in the Temple festivities. It was during this time by Royal decree from Tulaja II and/or by divine orders in his dream that Ramasvami Dikshitar embarked on codifying the musical rituals for the Tyagaraja Temple. During the temple festivities, Prince Amarasimha (as he was then, during the reign of Tulaja II) happened to visit Tiruvarur. Ramasvami Dikshitar must have been granted an audience with the Royal. And in a trice he perhaps composed & rendered a ragamalika piece ‘sAmajagamana’, which is the musical core of this blog post. The objective as pointed out earlier is to first deconstruct and quickly understand the history, the situation and the setting in which the composition was born and then deep dive into the composition, to make the experience wholesome. Now moving over to the very composition, one can see from the musical history that the entire Dikshitar clan reveled in composing Ragamalikas. The SSP has captured them for posterity in notation from which one can recreate therefrom. This ragamalika of Ramasvami Dikshitar notated in the Anubandha to the SSP,is an archetype and has the following features:
‘sAmajagamana’ has a Pallavi (2 ragas), anupallavi( 2 ragas) and 4 caranas( 4 ragas each). In sum we have 20 ragas which have been utilized in this composition.
The composition is set in Adi tAla
The Pallavi is made of 2 ragas – sAma and Lalitha which has a makuta svara section in sAma for ½ tala avarta which is rendered after the anupallavi and caranas to loop back to the Pallavi refrain.
The anupallavi consist of 2 ragas – Hamvira ( or Hamirkalyani) and Bhupalam and muktayi svara in Bhupalam for ½ avarta of tala
The carana section ragas are:
1st carana – Natta, Padi, Mohanam, Sahana, followed by muktayi svara/jathi in Sahana for ½ avarta tala
2nd carana- Manirangu, Kapi ( Karnataka), Shri and Durbar followed by muktayi svara/jathi in Durbar for ½ avarta tala
3rd carana – Kannada, Ramkali, Kalyani and Saranga followed by muktayi svara in Saranga for ½ avarta tala
4th Carana – Ghanta, saurashtra, Varali and Ahiri followed by muktayi svara in Ahiri for ½ avarta tala
The raga names are expressly made part of the sahitya, segueing with it seamlessly. Ahiri appears as “A harI”, Sahana appears as ” sogsusAnanI, Hamirkalyani appears as ‘hamvIrU’, rAmakali appears right at the conjunction of the Kannada and Ramkali section and so on.
The poshaka mudra is found in the anupallavi sahitya which goes as “Sri mahA hamvirU pratApa simhEndrUni tanaya ; chiranjeevI amarasimha bhUpAla” extolling Prince Amarasimha as the son of that great warrior King Pratapasimha. Reference is made again in the Saranga raga section as ‘ mA cakkani amarasimhEndra sAranga’.
The entire sahitya is structured as an erotic composition with the nAyika pining for Prince Amarasimha.
A couple of important points stand out from a musical perspective:
Usage of ragas sharing common murcchanas, being placed next to each other is a marked feature. Ramasvami Dikshitar himself in his 108 raga tala malika, ‘nAtakadi vidyAlaya’ uses the same stratagem. Even as one sings for that ½ or 1 avarta, the raga structure is made out distinctively in the midst of other ragas from the same family. In this case Manirangu, Kapi, Shri and Durbar bring that feature.
Ragas like Hamir, Ramkali etc have traditionally been believed to have been imported into our music, by Muthusvami Dikshitar post his visit to Kashi. In this ragamalika, assignable to a date much earlier to the birth of Muthusvami Dikshitar (1775), we see the ragas Ramkali and Hamir being used, pointing to the fact that the usage of these ragas predate the Trinity.
With the greatest of gratitude to Subbarama Dikshitar for gifting us with the SSP, one can see that he has notated Ramkali in this composition with both the madhyamas ( m and m#). In the SSP main raga lakshana text, Subbarama Dikshitar assigns Ramkali under Mela 15. And therein he mentions that it is the convention to render the madhyama of the raga as m# and gives a few sample murcchanas. But in the notation for the solitary exemplar composition(kriti) for the raga, ‘rAma rAma kalikalusha virAma”, he does not notate the prati madhyama (m#) at all. Whereas for this composition ‘sAmajagama’ in the anubandha he marks the place where the prati madhyama has to be rendered and thus provides a formal authority for the sanctioned usage. In fact the prati madhyama is so positioned by Ramasvami Dikshitar in this composition that the sahitya line in Kannada ends in M1 ( the preceding sahitya line) and the Ramkali portion begins with M2, producing the Lalitanga like effect via GM1M2G . In North Indian music this classic musical motif is called ‘lalitAnga” with the improvisation that the M2 is sandwiched between two M1’s. Additionally Ramasvami Dikshitar skillfully spreads the rAmkali raga mudra over the Kannada portion and rAmkali portion as well showing that perhaps the GM1M2G is a motif for Ramkali!
The final carana ends with the benedictory appeal for the benign Grace of Lord Tyagaraja – “A harIndrUnI pUjincU tyAgEsa krupa nijamU”
Just as a passing observation, we do not see the standard colophon that Ramasvami Dikshitar usually uses namely “venkatakrishna” in this composition.
This ragamalika composition as far as one knows, has never been part of the concert platform repertoire and there exists no known recording of this composition. During the music festival season of 2015, Parivadhini presented a thematic concert on Pre-Trinity compositions @ Nada Inbam by Vidushi Smt. Gayathri Girish. (See Note 7), wherein this piece was rendered. Here is the complete composition rendered by her from that concert. Accompanying her, on the violin is Dr Hemalatha and on the mrudangam by Sri. B Sivaraman.
The virtuosity and proficiency of the great composers needs to be researched further in the context of both musical and social history. Such an effort should encompass identifying & publishing hitherto undiscovered compositions and archiving the music material to be preserved for posterity. Performing musicians too should take the lead in adding these rare and unheard compositions in their repertoire and presenting them frequently in concerts.
Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) -Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini with its Tamil translation published by the Madras Music Academy
William Hickey (1875) -The Tanjore Mahratta Principality in Southern India- Second Edition- Published by Foster & Co. eBook published by Google
K R Subramanian(1928 & 1988) – The Maratha Rajas of Tanjore – Published by Asian Educational Services
Dr U.Ve.Svaminatha Iyer (2005) – Urainadai Noolgal – Part 1( Reprint)
Dr Sita (2001)- Tanjore as a Seat of Music
Tanjore was actually called the ‘Eden of the South’ as it was lush & green, a picture of prosperity coupled with the fact like just like Silicon Valley in modern U.S.A, the place became a beehive for all of performing arts. The water of the Cauvery, the fertility of the delta alluvial soil, the inclination of the people to arts, temple, religion and culture ensured that the cognoscenti flocked to the Tanjore Kings who ruled the area. In her treatise, “Tanjore as a seat of Music”, Dr Sita says that at some point the Tanjore Court hosted more than a 1000 vidvans !
Much of the intrigues surrounding the Royal House of Tanjore during the period of 1760-1775 can be found documented in the “Original Papers Relative to the Restoration of the King of Tanjore and the Arrest of the Rt. Honble George Pigot” available here.
This Royal skulduggery and the untold misery of Prince Serfoji was much later a subject of a historical novel “Old Tanjore” written by Seshachalam Gopalan & published by P R Rama Iyer and Sons, Madras (1938). This novel has as its plot, the intrigues at the Tanjore Court. The aspirations of Prince Serfoji, Maharaja Tulaja’s lawfully adopted son is checkmated by Amarasimha who aspires for the throne and for achieving that he even deigns to liquidate him. But the Dowager Maharani (Tulaja’s mother) and two of Tulaja’s wives who didn’t commit Sati, namely Queen Sujanabayee and Queen Girjabayee save Serfojee with the help of the famous Danish Christian missionary Schwarz. Assisting them is Tukaram Rao, a courtier and friend of Tulaja . They finally succeed in removing the Amarasimha from the throne and anointing Serfoji as King. “Old Tanjore” is a historical novel dealing with a period in Tanjore history which is at once the twilight of the Mahratta royal rule and the dawn of the British Raj. We get in it preserved with great skill, the aroma of days by-gone. And the characters and events assume a living dimension. Rev Schwarz and Tukaram, the energetic courtier who though on the same side to promote the interest of Prince Serfoji, frequently come into conflict in these pages and they realize at the last for a fleeting moment the kindred nature of their mission on earth. All these are vividly portrayed by the author Sri. Gopalan and it lends its own peculiar charm to the story. The underlying religious ferment in the ancient city which throws up a lofty character like Tukaram, the intrigues of Amarasimha to usurp the throne from the young Serfojee & persecute him, his final rescue by Schwarz & others thus constitutes the central theme of the story. One does not know whether these characters and their actions as depicted in the novel are completely true or fiction, save for a few. Wish one does. The author, Seshachalam Gopalan a resident of Tanjore much like Madhaviah another English writer from the early 20th century,seems to have written a bunch of novellas apart from ‘Old Tanjore’. These include ‘Jackal Farm or Jungle of good Jackals’ (1949) a satire, “Tryst with Destiny” (1981), “From my Kodak” and ‘Distant Views”.
The Memoirs of Lord Wellesley, archived here by Google offers the view of the British establishment then with respect to the question of making Prince Serfoji the King. For more on Reverand Scwarz and his take on the entire affair one can refer to Lives of Missionaries in Southern India archived here by Google books. Many other documents too have been referred to and this listing is not complete.
In those days with life span hardly exceeding 50 years on an average it is quite possible that Amarasimha’s life time was 1755-1805. It agrees well with Pratapasimha’s reign of 1739-1763 and Tulaja’s life time of 1740-1787. In the same breath given King Serfoji’s life time was 1777 to 1833 or an age of 56 years, Madhyarjunam Pratapasimha (who is a cousin) could have lived between the period of 1780-1832, assuming Subbarama Dikshitar is correct in stating the date of demise.
However another contrarian evidence emerges from the precincts of the sprawling temple of Lord Mahalingasvami in Tiruvidaimarudur where one can see in the outer prahara, a statuette of a lady with a lamp called ‘pAvai vilakku’. The temple authorities have written a commentary – see photograph, roughly translating the note written on the base of the statuette, as under:
“The Maharatta Raja Amar Singh (Amarasimha) used to reside in the palace on North Street. His son was Pratap Singh (Pratapasimha). Yamunabhayee Sahib and Sagavarbayee Sahib were respectively his first and second wives. Neither of them had any progeny. Pratap Singh desired to marry Ammanubayee Saheb, a daughter of his maternal uncle. They were deeply in love with each other. The said Ammanubayee prayed to Lord Mahalingasvami and undertook to light a 1000 lamps if her heart’s desire was fulfilled. And when the marriage indeed took place the Rani lit those 1000 lamps and she had this figurine of herself forged and installed in the temple. This is dated to Salivahana era 1775, 22nd day of the month of Jaiyshta(AnI),a sOmavAra, corresponding to 4th July 1853 of the English calendar”
This certainly complicates matters as the date of demise given by Subbarama Dikshitar doesn’t tally with the date inscribed in the figurine which should be accorded higher evidentiary value. If we are to take this into consideration, Madhyarjunam Pratapasimha must have lived well into the second half of the 19th century. On the left is the photo of the narration in Tamil found in the temple precincts, mentioned above.
6. V Sriram( 3rd Jan 2014, The Hindu) has his account of the abode of Amarasimha at Tiruvidaimarudur here. His brief narration of the historical background is entirely based on Dr Sita’s ‘Tanjore as a Seat of Music’, reference # 5 above.
7. In that concert, ‘sAmajagamana’ was presented as an exemplar for the ragamalika archetype composition and this blog author had a hand in that choice. The permission granted by Smt Gayathri Girish to share a recording of his composition in the public domain is gratefully acknowledged.
Safe Harbor Statement: The clipping and media material used in this blog post have been exclusively utilized for educational / understanding /research purpose and cannot be commercially exploited or dealt with. The intellectual property rights of the performers and copyright owners are fully acknowledged and recognized.
Subbarama Dikshitar in his preface to his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) mentions a number of personalities who played a major role in enabling him to complete the treatise. They are:
The past rulers and members of the Royal family of Ettayapuram (profiled by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu – entries 67 to 71)
Sri Cinnasvami Mudaliar
Rao Bahadur Jagannatham Chettiar the then Divan of Ettayapuram
Sri Radhakrishna Iyer, the then Principal of the Maharaja’s College, Pudukottai.
Subbarama Dikshitar singles out his benevolent patron His Highness Raja Jagadveera Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa who ascended the Ettayapuram throne in December 1899, in his preface saying he was eternally in gratitude to the Raja for having provided him with the support to bring out the SSP and thus making him famous. It was to this ruler that Chinnasvami Mudaliar earnestly appealed to convince Subbarama Dikshitar to document all that he knew. And it was under this Raja’s direction that Subbarama Dikshitar embarked on the creation of the SSP. And on top the Raja sanctioned a princely sum of Rs.10,000/, arranged for importing the typesets and the machinery so that Vidya Vilasini Press could complete the production of the entire treatise with all its notations.
The photo on the left features a page from the original Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, capturing the notation in telugu of the tana varna in Atana that Subbarama Dikshitar had composed on Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa(1878-1915)
December 2010 marks the Raja’s 132nd birth anniversary as well the 111th anniversary of his coronation in the year 1899 which was when the groundwork was done by Chinnasvami Mudaliar to get the task of collating the SSP started. According to Dr. T. S. Ramakrishnan, the actual work began on 21 December 1901 (a full two years later) and ended with the publication of the SSP on 15th February 1904. This article is to commemorate the memory of Raja Venkatesvara Ettappa and that of the Royal House of Ettayapuram without whom the magnum opus would not have seen the light of the day. And the musical tribute is through a chef-d’oeuvre conjured up by Subbarama Dikshitar, a bewitching cauka varna in the raga Surati, along with 3 rare compositions of an Ettayapuram ruler.
A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF ETTAYAPURAM:
Ettayapuram is today a small town in the district of Tuticorin in Southern Tamilnadu. Prior to the British annexation in the year 1775 (appr), it was a principality ruled by Poligars/Kings with quasi independence having the Vijayanagar Kings or the Nayaks of Madura as their overlords. We do have historical accounts of this royal family from the British chronicler Robert Caldwell. In the local language, we have the historical account of one Swami Dikshitar (circa 1860) who was patronized by the Ettayapuram Royals, called “History of Ettayapuram” which provides the lineage of a total of more than 30 rulers, till 1870. Apart from this, as mentioned in the introduction, Subbarama Dikshitar has provided a brief biographical sketch of the Royals of Ettayapuram in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu. The Ettayapuram Royals have also been profiled by Sri A Vadivelu (a chronicler of Indian royal families from the last century), Dr T S Ramakrishnan (a past member of the Experts Committee of the Music Academy) and Dr V Raghavan.
The members of the Royal House and the rulers during the period of 1775-1905 are given in the genealogy chart below for reference. Quite a few musical books and historical accounts, given the commonality of names of the different Rajas, give a confusing account of the Rajas mixing them up and also wrongly attributing compositions. For example, many publications blindly attribute all available compositions to Kumara Ettendra. For the sake of clarity I have documented the correct Raja name as attributed by Subbarama Dikshitar and cross-validated with other accounts as found in the references section, in the footnote.
The history of the Royal House of Ettayapuram apparently traces back to circa 856 CE. However, evidence in the form of historical documentation is traceable only from circa 1423 CE onwards. There is a stone inscription in the town of Devikapuram dateable to 1479 AD that mentions of Ettappa Nayaka making available devadasis to the temple. There are also stone inscriptions dating to 1690 which talks of the acts done by Nayakas of Ettayapuram.
Throughout this article and also in all historical accounts, the principality of Ettayapuram is referred to synonymously as a palayam or zamindari or estate or samasthana(m) and those in-charge are addressed as King, Raja, Zamindar and poligar. The names of the rulers/zamindars are usually prefixed by Jagadveera and the common suffixes include Ettappa, Ettendra, Ayyan, Pandian and Nayaka(n).
Genealogy chart of the Ettayapuram Rajas CE 1775-1904
The Rajas of Ettayapuram were originally called Nayaks/ Nayakkar with a common surname of Ettappa Nayaka and were a warrior clan hailing from the Chandragiri region which is in modern day Andhra Pradesh. They had been local chieftains who then moved into the Madurai region and became a vassal of the Pandyan Kings in 1423 CE. According to Robert Caldwell (‘A History of Tinnellvely’ p.49) Kumaramuttu Ettappa Nayaka, an ancestor of the Ettayapuram Rulers fled from Chandragiri with his huge retinue to the Madurai region fearing reprisal from the Bahmini Kings. They perhaps represented the first wave of Telugu speaking people to migrate to the Tamil hinterland. The Pandyan Kings conferred the title of ‘Jaga(d)veera Rama’ on these chieftains which is used by them till today. The 20th Ruler in this line was one Raja Jagaveera Ramakumara Ettappa Nayaka who in January 1567 (vide Henry Heras’s ‘The Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara’) founded the present day Ettayapuram and moved his headquarters there. Bishop Caldwell in his book ‘Political and General History of Tinnelvelly’ records the year as 1565.
During the 1500’s, when the Vijayanagar Empire was at its zenith these chieftains of Ettayapuram became poligars (or palayakkarar in Tamil i.e royalty paying Chieftains) under the overall suzerainty of the Vijayanagar Kings. The Nayakas of Madura and Tanjore were higher in terms of their pecking order while the Nayakas of Ariyalur, Gingee, Udayarpalayam and Ettayapuram were next in line. The Nayakas of Ettayapuram were on very friendly terms with the Nayakas of Madura and in turn they were conferred the title of ‘Ayyan’ oor the support and friendship that was extended. They Nayakas of Ettayapuram were also granted the village of Kazhugumalai in 1500’s. The temple of Lord Subramanya was constructed by the Ettayapuram rulers there and the Lord enshrined therein became the presiding deity of the Royals from then on. During early 1800’s when the British consolidated their hold over Southern India, the Ettayapuram rulers like the rest of the others followed suit and became vassals of the British and became kist/peshcush paying Zamindars.
The Rajas/Zamindars of Ettayapuram (those who are given in the genealogy chart above) have been profiled in detail by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu and I refer readers to the same available in English online. The Rajas were patrons of music, arts and literature. Subbarama Dikshitar lists out a number of great musicians and poets who ornamented the Nayaka Court at Ettayapuram.
The famous Tamil poet Kadigaimuttu Pulavar, who was patronized by the Royals, wrote a panegyric of a 100 Tamil verses on Raja Venkatesvara Ettappa (marked as Ruler 2 in the genealogy chart above), was patronized by the Ettayapuram Royals. Above is an excerpt from that work called ‘Samudravilasam’ extolling the Raja.
MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS OF THE RAJAS:
As Subbarama Dikshitar points out, the Rajas and the family as whole were great patrons of arts and culture. Some of the rulers were also composers in their own right, such as Rama Kumara Ettappa Maharaja or Kumara Ettendra (as he is named in the SSP), who ruled between 1840 and 1850. The SSP lists out 13 compositions of this Raja Kumara Ettappa (herein after referred only as Kumara Ettendra) such as ‘Gajavadana Sammodita’ in Todi, ‘Karunananda Catura’ in Neelambari and ‘Sivananda Rajayoga’ in Surati with the ankita ‘kartikeya’.
The discography section features three of his compositions. See Foot Note 1 for a compilation of the compositions of the Rajas of Ettayapuram.
Some of compositions of Kumara Ettendra given the style and also considering the fact that they were on Lord Subramanya have been mistakenly attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar himself by the Taccur Brothers in their works/publications.
The compositions of the Rajas have been encountered very rarely in the concert platform. ‘Gajavadana Sammodita’ in Todi has perhaps been the sole exception and that too these days the piece has become a rarity. Dr T. S. Ramakrishnan in his Music Academy Lecture demonstration on 18th December 1976, rendered a number of rare compositions along with his daughters, accompanied on the veena. The compositions that were rendered were:
Ashtangayoga prabhava – Sankarabharanam
Nityananda Kartikeya – Asaveri
Sarasadala Netra – Atana
Karunarasa madhura – Mukhari
Karunarasalahari – Yadukulakhamboji
Apart from the musical contributions, the Rajas have also contributed to arts and literature especially. G U Pope’s and L D Barnett’s “Catalogue of Tamil Books in the British Museum Library’ in two volumes, bear out that Raja Venkatesvara Ettappa had written a Tamil drama in three acts called ‘Gnanavalli – A Creeper of Wisdom’ with an English translation by S A Tirumalai Kozhundu Pillai, published in 1915. Subbarama Dikshitar also lists out the contributions and literary acumen of the personalities from this family in the Vaggeyakara Caritamu.
The name of these Rajas came to be sullied in history in relation to the episode of the capture of Kattabomman, the polygar of the neighboring Pancalamkurici, dating to the year 1799. See Footnote 2.
A BRIEF PROFILE ON RAJA RAMA VENKATESVARA ETTAPPA AND HIS DEWAN JAGANNADAM CHETTIAR:
It would be befitting to formally record what is known of these two eminent personalities instrumental in the publication of the SSP. Profile # 71 of the Vaggeyakara Caritamu of Subbarama Dikshitar is of Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa.
Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa was born in December 1878 as the first son of Raja Rama Kumara Ettappa who reigned between 1875 and 1890. When Rama Kumara Ettappa died in circa 1890, Venkatesvara Ettappa was a minor and hence could not ascend the throne. The British instrumentation of Court of Wards was invoked and the minor Raja was placed under the care of a group of Englishmen and an Indian. Mr.Potts, Mr.Ellison, Mr. Morrison, Mr.Payne and Sri.Jagannadam Chettiar were handpicked by the Court of Wards to handhold the minor Raja till he attained the age of 21. Till the minor Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa attained majority in 1899, this group of tutors kept a watchful eye as guardians and ensuring he was educated and well informed. He was taken around the country and to Sri Lanka to make him worldly wise as well. The affairs of the Zamindari Estate, was in the meanwhile first handled by Sri Venkata Royar and then by Sri Sivarama Iyer as the Dewan or Manager working under the supervision and control of the British Collector. Sri Sivarama Iyer was also the tutor/guardian of Raja Bhaskara Sethupati who was profiled in an earlier article.
The photograph on the left ( circa 1900 ), features Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa Nayaka(the benefactor who funded the publication of the SSP) in his royal regalia. To his right is Dewan K Jagannadam Chettiar on whose authority the SSP was published. Photo Courtesy: ‘Aristocracy of Southern India’ by A.Vadivelu
Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa’s paternal uncle (brother of Raja 6 in the genealogy chart), Venkatesvara Ettendra Pandian took significant interest in running the zamindari during the Raja designate’s minority. This Venkatesvara Ettendra Pandian is also mentioned by Subbarama Dikshitar as a great patron and connoisseur of music and arts. Apparently there were litigations galore between Rama Venkatesvara and his uncle as well. It may not be out of place to mention here that Krishnasvamy Ayya (whose compositions are notated in the SSP) was a solicitor/advocate, who had his residence in Tirunelveli and it was he who handled litigations in connection with the Zamindari and provided legal advice to the Royals.
Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa attained majority in the year 1899 and he became the Zamindar/Raja in December of that year. His marriage was also performed just before this coronation. Upon his ascension, Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa made K Jagannadam Chettiar as the Manager of the Estate/Dewan. Jagannadam Chettiar was also honored with the title of ‘Rai Bahadur’. Records indicate that he was an officer of marked ability, unblemished reputation and long experience. Jagannadam Chettiar during 1904 retired from service on a hefty pension and was succeeded by Mr. S T Shanmugham Pillai who had earlier served as a Deputy Collector.
Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa was also a patron of Subramanya Barathi the renowned tamil poet and freedom fighter. Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa Nayaka died circa 1915.
In the Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu and Vaggeyakara Caritamu, three kritis are recorded as having been composed by Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa. They are:
‘Muruga Tarukilaya’ – Raga Khamas
‘Va Va nee valli manala’ – Raga Bhairavi
‘Engal Valli Deivanai’ – Raga Mohanam
In the SSP the lyrics of the first composition are also found notated additionally under ragas Anandabhairavi and Vasanta. The second composition is also notated under Sankarabharanam. Did Subbarama Dikshitar set the lyrics to these ragas? One does not know. The third composition is found notated in the 1905 work of Subbarama Dikshitar, Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu and was probably composed post 1902.
COMPOSITIONS BY SUBBARAMA DIKSHITAR ON HIS BENEFACTOR:
Subbarama Dikshitar has composed two varnams, a padam and a daru in honor of these two personages.
‘Sri Raja Raja Maharaja’ – Purnacandrika – Ata tala – Tana varnam
‘Sri Raja Raja Maharaja’ – Atana – Ata tala – Tana varnam ( same sahitya as the above)
‘Imdemdu vaccitira’ – Begada – Misra eka – Padam
‘Emani Pogadudune’ – Pharaz – Adi – Daru
Compositions 1 and 2 are found in the SSP, 3 in the Anubandha and 4 in the Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu.
Compositions 1-3 are in honor of Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa.
In the case of composition 3, the telugu lyrics have been composed by Sri Jagannadam Chettiar and Subbarama Dikshitar has set it to music and is in honor of Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa.
Composition 4 is an ode on Sri Jagannadam Chettiar composed by Subbarama Dikshitar. This daru is constructed with a crowning makuta svara or muktayi svara passage which has sahitya as well.
No known renderings of these compositions exist.
MUSICAL TRIBUTE AND DISCOGRAPHY:
In this section, four compositions are sought to be presented as a musical tribute to the munificent benefactor Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa and his Royal House.
The first is a cauka varna composed by Subbarama Dikshitar on his patron Raja Muttusvami Jagadveera Rama Ettappa who ruled between 1858-1868. This Raja is marked with the number 5 in the genealogy chart above and is profiled by Subbarama Dikshitar in the Vaggeyakara Caritamu under serial number 69. Also known as Muddusvami Ettendra this Raja was the grandfather of Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa who ascended the throne in 1899 and was instrumental in funding the publication of the SSP.
The text of this cauka varna is available in full in all its regal splendor in the SSP. Set in rupaka tala and the raga Surati, the varna is a connoisseurs delight. It is also encountered in the dance circuit and is performed in full as the center piece.
Before we present the rendering of this composition, Prof S R Janakiraman talks first of raga Surati and how Subbarama Dikshitar has handled the elongated dhaivatha of raga Surati in the varna. It’s not without reason that the Professor says that the varna is a veritable encyclopedia of Surati.
According to Prof S R Janakiraman , the following are salient aspects of the raga:
The raga called as Sorata or Surati is clearly a post 1700s raga with a skeletal arohana/avarohana murrcana of SRMPNs/sNDPMGRS which it shares with Kedaragaula.
And without doubt it’s a documented melody of Muddu Venkatamakhi and not of Venkatamakin as the raga is not found in the Caturdandi Prakashika.
It is to be noted that the avarohana murrcana sNDPMGPMR is a later day refinement. On the authority of the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar and of the adi tala tana varna of Veenai Kuppaier, ‘Ento Prema’ we can say that sNDPMGRS is the older or in terms of today, a rather visesha avarohana krama.
In this raga, the notes gandhara and dhaivatha are not intoned at their respective svarasthanas as applicable for Kedaragaula/Harikambhoji mela. Rather the gandhara is rendered close to/as madhyama and the dhaivatha close to the nishada itself. Surati is thus a raga to be dealt with and understood from lakshya rather than lakshana.
The dhaivata that is found documented in Subbarama Dikshitar’s composition is elongated in its intonation, rare and has been so used in Muttusvami Dikshitar’s Surati compositions including ‘Angarakam’ and ‘Sri Venkatagireesam’.
Apparently the composition was learnt by the Professor from Tiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai in the company of Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao. Years ago in an Academy concert as Sri Govinda Rao was rendering this mammoth composition, he beckoned over to Prof Janakiraman who was in the audience to join him in rendering the remaining portion of the varna! In sum this composition in its pristine glory exemplifies the greatness of Subbarama Dikshitar as a musicologist and as a composer par excellence.
Next is a composition of Kumara Ettendra’s ‘Karunananda Catura’ in Neelambari. Vidushi Padma Varadan the daughter of renowned musicologist and veena vidvan Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar, who passed away some time back, renders this gem of a composition. This rendering is a one to cherish for its singular beauty and aesthetic presentation of a very high order.
The source of this patham of the composition ‘Karunananda Catura’ could be interesting to know. This composition of Kumara Ettendra dates back to the time when Balusvami Dikshitar was the Court Musician or astana vidvan of the Ettayapuram Court. Whether he played any role in contributing to this creation, particularly in terms of the musical setting, is not known. For example, the cittasvara section of the Todi composition of Kumara Ettendra, ‘Gajavadana Sammodita’ with its emphasis on the different shades of the gandhara svara is a creative addition of Balusvami Dikshitar. In this case Subbarama Dikshitar clearly marks it as a composition of Kumara Ettendra himself. It is not known for sure how this Neelambari composition went on to ornament the repertoire of the legendary Veena Dhanammal. Was it through Satanur Pancanada Iyer/Panju Iyer by any chance as it was also known to Tiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai also given that Panju Iyer taught both Dhanammal and Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai? One does not know. Dhanammal’s Friday musical soirees featured for sure a rendering of this composition on the veena to the solitary accompaniment of her lilting voice. Rangaramanuja Iyengar for sure must have learnt it as rendered by the femme royale of our music of the last century and passed it on to his daughter. Not surprisingly, Vidushi Padma Varadan renders vocally the song even as she plays it on the veena in a style typical of Dhanammal herself.
Attention is invited to the madhyama sruti rendering of this composition which gives Neelambari a different lilt and hue.
This section concludes with the renderings of two other compositions of Kumara Ettendra which are extremely rare. Featured first is a rare rendering of Kumara Ettendra’s composition in Surati, ‘Sivananda Rajayoga’. Again this recording is from an AIR Concert of Vidushi Padma Varadan from the year 2008.
Incidentally these two compositions namely ‘Karunananda’ and ‘Sivananda’ seem to be part of a set of compositions (the ‘Ananda’ series) which are listed in the SSP as composed by Kumara Ettendra. The others in this so called series are ‘Nityananda’- Asaveri, ‘Nikhilananda’ – Saveri and ‘Paramananda’ – Bhairavi. It’s worth noting here that the text of this Surati kriti features the word ‘pranava hrimkara’ being repeated four times as the starting point for each of the carana lines of the kriti.
Presented finally is Kumara Ettendra’s Sriraga composition ‘Shadadhara tatva’ rendered by Vidushi Srirangam Gopalaratnam.
As one can see that the composition is melodically modeled on Muttusvami Dikshitar’s Sriraga composition ‘Sri Muladhara cakra vinayaka’. While Dikshitar’s creation does not feature the vakra dhaivatha usage, this composition as per practice utilizes the dhaivatha via the murccana PDNP just once in the kriti and once in the cittasvara section.
Burton Stein(1990)– Vijayanagara Vol 1- Pages 77-80 published by Cambridge University Press ISBN: 9780521266932
Anthony Good (2004) – Worship and the ceremonial economy of a royal South Indian Temple, Edwin Mellen Press
A. Vadivelu (1903)- Aristocracy of Southern India- Volume I, pp 154-178
Dr T.S Ramakrishnan(1973)–‘Subbarama Dikshitar & his contributions’- JMA Volume XLI pages 194-207
Dr T.S Ramakrishnan(1976)- ‘Compositions of Kumara Ettappa Maharaja’ – Lecture Demonstration, JMA Volume XLVIII, pages 28-29
Prof S.R. Janakiraman(1995) – ‘Raga Lakshanangal’ Volume I published by the Madras Music Academy, pp 132-134
The audio recordings and photographs in this blog post have been used purely for educational/research purpose and is covered by fair use and the copyrights for the same vests with the authors/performers as applicable.
I am grateful to Sri Naresh Keerthi for providing me with a copy of the recording of ‘Shadadhara cakra’ in Sriraga.
FOOTNOTE 1: LIST OF COMPOSITIONS OF THE ETTAYAPURAM ROYALS
The references to the Rajas in the above listing are as under:
Kumara Ettendra refers to Kumara Ettappa Maharaja (name found in the SSP), the raja listed with number 3 in the genealogy table above and 67 in Subbarama Dikshitar’s listing in Vaggeyakkara Caritamu.
Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa refers to the Raja listed with number 7 in the table and 71 in Subbarama Dikshitar’s listing.
Raja Venkatesvara Ettendra refers to the Raja listed with number 2 in the table & number 66 in Subbarama Dikshitar’s listing in Vaggeyakkara Caritamu
Of the above barring the two compositions the source/publication of which are given in braces, the rest are found notated in the SSP and its anubandha.
For an academic analysis of the compositions of the Ettayapuram Royals, readers may please refer to the Journal of the Music Academy Volume LXII 1991, pages 82-94, ‘Compositions of the Ettayapuram Rulers’ by Dr Gowri Kuppusvami and Dr N Hariharan.
FOOTNOTE 2: THE ETTAYAPURAM RAJA & THE KATTABHOMMAN EPISODE
It needs to be mentioned here that popular historical/folklore accounts also reference the Rajas of Ettayapuram in poor light in the context of the episode relating to Veerapandiya Kattabhomman the chieftain/poligar/palayakkarars of Pancalamkurici. So much so that in Tamil vernacular, the word ‘Ettappan’ is used to signify a person who performs an act of betrayal or treachery. The popular version of the story/events is that Veerapandiya Kattabomman, the recalcitrant poligar of Pancalamkurici, who had defied the British Raj was caught by the British with significant assistance from Raja Muthu Jagadveera Ramkumara Ettappa (1784-1816) and executed. This popular version is recorded for posterity by Ma.Po.Sivagnanam (1980) in his work ‘The First Patriot Veerapandiya Kattabomman’ which for all purposes is relied upon as authentic account by the general public. We do have older versions of this incident by Caldwell and others as documented in the ‘Political and General History of Tinnelvelly’.
The facts as it appears documented is that, right from day one the Rulers of Ettayapuram were not at all on friendly terms with the polygar of the neighboring Pancalamkurici namely Kattabomman. Kattabomman and his kinsmen seem to have raided the villages under Ettayapuram as well as other neighboring polygars and were plundering them regularly. And on top Kattabomman was refusing to submit himself to the British sovereignty. In the face of such belligerence, the British launched an offensive to capture Kattabomman and sought the assistance of all the friendly poligars of the area. The chief support thus came from the Ettayapuram Raja. Accounts have it that Kattabomman even came down to Madras and had an audience with the British Governor. He offered gifts to the Governor and in turn was showered with gifts and pardoned by the British. The truce apparently was short lived with the Pancalamkurici polygar reverting to his ‘old ways’ in the eyes of the British. With the British Collector Mr.Lushington at the helm of affairs, the operation to quell Kattabomman took place between 17th August and 21st Oct 1799 and it set Kattabomman on the run. And in the end he sought refuge with Raja Tondaiman of Puducottai who took him into custody and handed him over to the British.
Thus it is indeed open to question whether such an unfortunate consequence of being branded a traitor or performer of an act of betrayal can be fastened on to the Ettayapuram Ruler who had provided overt logistical support to the British and had not acted covertly/treacherously. And neither does history record the Ettayapuram Rajas as having played any role whatsoever in the final capture of Kattabomman at Puducottai. And yet reality is that it has come to stay as part and parcel of Tamil history that it was the act of betrayal by the Raja of Ettayapuram that cost Kattabomman his life with their royal name being besmirched with the taint of treachery and betrayal. Readers may refer to Kanakalatha Mukund’s ‘The View from Below: Indigenous society, Temples and the early Colonial State in Tamilnadu, 1700-1835’, published by Orient Longman, pp 176-185 and “A Manual of the Tinnevelly District in the Presidency of Madras” by A J Stuart pages 54-58 which sums up the entire sequence of events as documented by Caldwell and in traditional tamil ballads. The account of the British Collector Mr.Lushington and his appreciation of the role played by the Rajas of Ettayapuram as a loyal tribute paying principality are recorded in the pp 543-546 of “The Fifth Report from the Proceedings of the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company ( Madras Presidency)” Volume 2 (1812).
Interestingly this question came up for judicial resolution before the Madras High Court in 2008 when a Tamil movie was named ‘Ettappan’ and the descendants of the Ettayapuram royal family sought to restrain the producers from naming the film so with a negative connotation.
FOOT NOTE 3: OTHER COMPOSITIONS OF SUBBARAMA DIKSHITAR IN HONOR OF THE ROYALS OF ETTAYAPURAM
1. ‘Sareku’ – Anandabhairavi – Adi – Cauka Varna – In honor of Raja Muttusvami Ettappa
2. ‘Sami Entani’ – Surati – Rupaka – Cauka varna – In honor of Raja Muttusvami Ettappa
3. ‘Sri Maharajasrita’ – Atana – Adi- Tana varna – In honor of Venkatesvara Ettendra Pandian ( brother of Raja numbered as 6 in the genealogy chart)
4. ‘Sri Raja Raja’ – Atana – Ata – In honor of Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa
5. ‘Sri Raja Raja’ – Purnachandrika – Ata- In honor of Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa
6. Parikkani – Kalyani – Adi- Svarasthana padam – In honor of Raja Rama Venkatesvara Ettappa
7. Enduku rara – Ragamalika – Adi – In honor of Raja Muttusvami Ettappa
8. Manathodinangi – Ragamalika – Adi – In honor of Raja Muttusvami Ettappa
Balasvami Dikshitar during his tenure as astana vidvan of the Ettayapuram Court has composed on his patrons or has set lyrics to music as under:
1. Neeve rasikashikhamani – Rudrapriya –Adi – Daru – Balasvami Dikshitar on Raja Venkatesvara Ettendra ( Raja with number 2 in the genealogy table above)
2. Collakel – Sriranjani – Adi – Tamil padam – Mukku Pulavar & Balasvami Dikshitar-( Raja with number 2 in the genealogy table above)
3. Sarasa durai unnai – Sama – Misra Eka – Tamil padam – Mukku Pulavar & Balasvami Dikshitar-( Raja with number 2 in the genealogy table above)
4. Virakamu – Vamsavati – Adi – Cauka varna – Muttukumara pulavar & Balasvami Dikshitar (In honor of Raja Muttusvami Ettappa)
Adiyapayya (Adippayya or Adiyappa Iyer/Ayya), whom Subbarama Dikshitar refers to in awe as a Margadarshi or trailblazer for the genre of tana varnas, shall forever be remembered just for his magnum opus, the Bhairavi ata tala varna “Viribhoni”. This varna has captured the imagination of both lay rasikas and the cognoscenti spanning across centuries. Sangita Kalanidhi Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer, an acknowledged authority, even advances a hypothesis that it was this varna and its popularity that propelled Bhairavi to the forefront, enabling it to capture popular imagination and thus eclipsing its sibling Manji. Adiyappaya will also be remembered as the guru/preceptor of the great Trinitarian Syama Sastri. The worthy disciple went on to craft another monumental classic in Bhairavi, the svarajati.
We have a historical account of Adiyappayya by Subbarama Dikshitar. Later day writers like Prof Sambamoorthi, Dr S Seetha and Dr B M Sundaram too have documented details about him both from oral traditions and from manuscripts from the Saraswati Mahal Library in Tanjore. Dr.U.Ve.Saminatha Ayyar also records a short biographical sketch of his while listing the eminent personages who adorned the Udayarpalayam Zamindari.This post is a consolidation of the information on Adiyapayya available to us together with a discography of his compositions.
Adiyapayya – His Life time:
In so far as the time period that Adiyappayya lived, we have four important references:
Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu says that he was Madhva Brahmana, hailing from modern day Karnataka who lived during the times of the Tanjore Mahratta kings Pratapasimha (regnal years 1739-1763 as per historical records, while according to Subbarama Dikshitar it is 1741-1765) and Tulaja II(1763-1787). Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP, under raga Huseini gives the composition “Emandayanara” with the ankita “pratapasimha” and credits Adiyappayya as the composer. Based on Subbarama Dikshitar’s record, Adiyappa’s life time can be placed as 1725-1775. Dr Seetha too in her seminal work “Tanjore as a Seat of Music” echoes Subbarama Dikshitar as to Adiyapayya’s timeline.
According to the book Gayakasiddanjanam (1904) of Taccur Singaracar, Adiyappayya was a musician of the Pudukottai Court and his period was 1750-1820.
Prof Sambamoorthi in his biography on Syama Shastri(1762-1827) records that Adiyappayya was over 50 years , when the 18 year old Syama Sastri came under his tutelage. Extrapolating based on this evidence, Adiyappayya must have been born no latter than 1730.
According to Dr V Raghavan, Adiyappayya lived even during the reign of Tulaja II. Thus Adiyappayya might not have lived beyond 1780 or thereabouts.
All the above historical references point to Adiyapayya having lived during the period of 1725-1780. In all probability, Adiyappaya must have been a contemporary of Melattur Veerabadrayya, the other ‘margadarshi’ who was a guru and musical preceptor of Ramasvami Dikshitar (1735-1817). Subbarama Dikshitar in his work adds that Adiyappayya followed the footsteps of Veerabhadrayya when it came to the style of music. According to Dr B M Sundaram, Adiyapayya must have lived for a long time in Tanjore and later in Pudukkottai. In Pudukottai, he must have been patronized by King Vijaya Raghunatha Tondaiman (1730-1769), perhaps. A descendant of his was part of the Pudukottai Court.
Subbarama Dikshitar lists out one Veena Krishnayya as a son of Adiyapayya. Veena Krishnayya was adept in playing veena and was also a composer prabandhas such as saptataleshvaram. Krishnayya’s son was Veena Subbukutti Ayya who was another veena expert. When Subbarama Dikshitar composed & presented his Ramakriya varna and the Sankarabharana kriti “Sankaracaryam” extolling Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvathi, the 65th Pontiff of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam at Kumbakonam (which was then the seat of the mutt) circa 1860, Subbukutti Ayya was also present in the sadas. Additionally Dr Seetha in her work, mentions in the context of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) that when he performed the raga Darbar in the Court of Raghunatha Tondaiman, the Rajah of Pudukkottai ( the reigning Raja should have been Ramachandra Tondaiman who ruled between 1839-1886. I am unsure how Dr Seetha says it was Raghunatha Tondaiman) Vina Subbukutti Iyer who was in the Court along with the other assembled expert vidvans, appreciated Vaidyanatha Iyer’s rendition.
Veena Subbukutti Ayya/Iyer seems to have visited Svati Tirunal Maharaja’s Court as well.
Prof Sambamoorthi records that the great Veena virtuosos Veena Seshanna (1852-1926) and Veena Venkataramana Das of Vijayanagar are the descendants of Adiyapayya. No reference is given regarding the prefix Pachimiriya or Pacchimiriyan. Perhaps the epithet represents his native village or is a familial name.
Syama Sastri, Pallavi Gopala Iyer and BhUlOka Gandharva Narayanasvami Iyer are recorded as Adiyappayya’s illustrious disciples by almost all authorities. A yati by name Sangeeta Svami is recorded by Prof Sambamoorthi as the first musical guru of Syama Sastri. It is further recorded by him that it was this Sangeeta Svami who recommended that Syama Sastri develop his musical skill /prowess by hearing to Adiyappayya. Prof Sambamoorthy also records the (apocryphal?) betel juice episode as a part of Syama Sastri’s life history which involved Adiyappayya.
Pallavi Gopala Iyer was another illustrious disciple, who has been covered in an earlier article in this series. Bhuloka Gandharva Tanjore Narayanasvami Iyer is the third disciple of Adiyappayya. He is recorded as having been patronized by the Udayarpalayam Zamindar, Kaci Yuvaranga BhUpati. According to Dr B M Sundaram, Narayanasvami Iyer too was a composer of great merit. Again we do not have any compositions of him, handed down to us.
Dr.U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer records that Ramaswami Iyer of Tanjavur sent his sons Periyatirukkunram Subbarama Iyer, Ghanam Krishna Iyer to Tanjavur to be educated under Pachimiriyan Adiyappayya. They too turned out to be master composers. Dr U Ve Sa further records that Adiyappayya appreciated the compositions of Subbarama Iyer and called him by the epithet “Chinna Srinivasan” alluding to another composer of great merit from Srirangam.
As mentioned earlier according to Subbarama Dikshitar, Adiyappayya was well versed in music and Telugu and he followed the footsteps of Melattur Veerabadrayya who was probably an iconic figure of that generation. Adiyappayya was the one to standardize “Pallavi” as a unique platform for musical exposition comprising of raga alapana, tana or madhyamakala rendering followed by the Pallavi. His two disciples namely Pallavi Gopala Iyer and Syama Sastri went on to become exponents nonpareil in this genre. Prof Sambamoorthi also records the story of a pallavi contest involving vidvan Bobbili Kesavvayya and Adippayya’s illustrious disciples held in the Tanjore Court.
Adiyappayya – The Vaggeyaka/Composer:
He was a composer of kritis which were ornate with exquisite gamakas and composed with the ankita ‘sri venkataramana’. Subbarama Dikshitar further adds that he followed the path of Veerabhadrayya in his compositional style. U.Ve.Svaminatha Iyer further notes that Adiappayya has composed in many languages including Telugu, Sanskrit, Marathi and Tamil and had visited Udayarpalayam during the reign of Kacchi Yuvaranga and had composed on him in ragas such as Nattakuranji and Sahana and that musicians such has Pudukkottai Veena Subbayyar have sung two of his compositions.
None of the kritis composed by him has been handed down to us. As of date we have only the following three compositions ascribed to him:
The ata tala tana varna in Bhairavi, “Viribhoni”
The ata tala tana varna in Pantuvarali ( mela 51- Kamavardhani), “Madavati”
The rupaka tala svarajathi in Huseni, “Emandayanara”
In the context of Adiyappayya’s available compositions, the following merit our attention.
The standard colophon of Adiyappayya ‘sri venkataramana’ (according to Subbarama Dikshitar) is not found in any of the above compositions. Compositions 1 & 2 have ‘sri rajagopala’ as mudra while the third composition, the svarajati has ‘pratapasimha’ as the ankita representing the patron of Adiyappayya, namely the Mahratta King of Tanjore Pratapasimha. The ankita ‘rajagopala’ (of different varieties) has also been used by Moovanallur Sabhapatayya, who is said to have lived during the times of the Trinity, slightly latter than Adiyappayya.
Compositions 1 & 3 are found documented in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini with Subbarama Dikshitar ascribing authorship to Adiyappayya.
While Composition # 1 is universally acknowledged as Adiyappaya’s, as we will see presently there is some ambiguity or rather, lack of unanimity on the other two compositions.
Composition # 2 was brought to light by Vidvan Mysore Chennakesavayya, a disciple of Tiger Varadacariar and was published by the Madras Music Academy. Vidvan N Chennakesavayya published a number of rare varnas from out of his family’s manuscripts dating back to early 19th century. As a member of the Experts Committee of the Music Academy, he did a number of lecture demonstrations on some of these rare compositions. The authorship of this varna has been ascribed to Adiyappayya on the strength of the ankita found within the composition and as such no other independent source of reference or authority is available. Dr Seetha in “Tanjore as a Seat of Music’ unequivocally says that “Viribhoni” is the only composition of Adiyappayya as available to us.
On composition # 3, Subbarama Dikshitar ascribes authorship of the Huseni svarajathi to Adiyappayya with an accompanying footnote to the effect that the sahitya for the jatis were done by Melattur Venkatrama Sastri. This attribution is controversial and disputable on more than one ground. Dr V Raghavan and Dr B M Sundaram on different grounds negate, directly or indirectly the attribution of this piece to Adiyappayya. An additional aspect is the fact that this svarajati is a scaled down version of the legendary Melattur Veerabadrayya’s original Huseni svarajati raising the question as to Adiyapayya’s authoring a composition of such a nature. The svarajati and its companion pieces (composition having the same dhatu (musical setting) but different matu (lyrics)) namely ‘Emayaladira’, ‘Pahimam Bruhannayike’ etc are ascribed to members of the family of the Tanjore Quartet and forms part of their family manuscripts.
So considering all these factors, this svarajati is not held by the musicologists, historians and the cognoscenti in the same breath as “Viribhoni” as Adiyappayya’s composition, not withstanding Subbarama Dikshitar’s attribution in the SSP. The Bhairavi varna and the svarajati, will be dealt in a seperate blog post on Bhairavi and the Pantuvarali varna is presented in the discography section of this post.
In this section let us look at renderings of the two masterpieces of Adiyappayya. While the Bhairavi varna is frequently encountered and is synonymous with Bhairavi even for a lay listener of classical music, the Pantuvarali varna “Madavati’ is seldom heard. The Bhairavi varna is almost always presented in its truncated form.
Madavati in Pantuvarali:
Lets first take up Madavati. Vidushi Mythili Nagesvaran who learnt music from Vidvan Chennakesavayya ( amongst many other including Jayammal, Savitri Rajan & others) presents the varna in a chamber recital circa 1990. As mentioned earlier this varna made its way out of obscurity when it was presented by Vidvan Chennakesavayya in the portals of the Music Academy. Given the rarity of the varna, link is provided to the notation of the composition as well for the benefit of the readers of this blog.
In the past, there has been a confusion as to the raga Pantuvarali & whether the name referred to Subhapantuvarali or to the scale which is presently assigned to Kamavardhani. The version of this varna as documented and available to us is only the scale of Mela 51.
Current day performers should learn these long forgotten and rare masterpieces, polish and burnish them and present them with absolute fidelity in their concerts and that would be the best homage one can ever provide to the great composers of our past. One hopes that this Pantuvarali varna will be resurrected and sung and will be passed on to the next generation in the same way as Adiyappayya’s Bhairavi varna.
Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) – Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini – Reprinted in Tamil by the Madras Music Academy, India
DR B M Sundaram (2002) – “Varna Svarajathi” – Published by Sarasvathi Mahal Library, Tanjore, India
Dr S Seetha (2001)- “Tanjore as a Seat of Music “- Published by the University of Madras, India
Chennakesavaiah. N (1964) -” Four Rare Compositions” – Edited and published in the Journal of the Madras Music Academy Vol XXXV, Pages 175-179 Madras, India
Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer – ‘Ragas Lalita and Manji’ – Journal of the Music Academy XXVIII- Pages 122-125
Patrons have played a very great part in our past in fostering Carnatic Music. Composers and musicians have been sustained, patronized & honored by both the Royals as well as the aristocratic/business magnates of the last few centuries. They were one of the essential components of the musical ecosystem of India. Given the social milieu it would be uncharitable to just say that they did this as a quid pro quo/in return for the singers/composers creating compositions in their praise. Some of these patrons themselves were musicians/composers themselves, such as King Shahaji or Maharaja Svati Tirunal. Then there were those who were lovers of music and so sustained the art and the artistes themselves such as the Rajas/Zamindars and nobles who also came to be recorded as the nayakas in the compositions such as the padas, cauka varnas etc. Well-known amongst them are the Raja of Karvetinagar, the Zamindars of Udayarpalayam and the Rulers of Ettayapuram. The Rajas, nobles and chieftains who have been sung upon include the known & the unknown. And the list of such patrons is quite a lengthy one.
And one amongst them is Rajah Bhaskara Sethupati of Ramanathapuram(1868-1903) of the Royal House of Ramnad. The contribution of the Sethupathis to art & culture and to Tamil has now been almost forgotten. As Bhaskara Sethupathi’s brief life time would show us, he was a sort of a confluence of the orient and the occident. Given his education and background, he should have risen to be one of the “model” Zamindars of the British era, but it was never to be as he indulged in philanthropy so much that the coffers of his Zamin ran dry. And finally the pressure telling on him perhaps, Bhaskara Sethupathi died prematurely when he was just 35 years old.
In this post, I intend to cover this great patron and analyse two compositions – a varna and a ragamalika composed in his honor by Subbarama Dikshitar. And this post is being made this month, which marks the death anniversary of this patron who died in December 1903, when he was just 35 years young.
PROFILE OF BHASKARA SETUPATI:¹
The erstwhile Southern coastal Indian Kingdom of Ramanathapuram or Ramnad had been ruled by the Sethupathis – translated to mean the ‘Overlords of the Causeway’. Tradition has it when Lord Rama, crossed over to Ceylon over the bridge built by his vAnara army, he built the temple for Lord Ramanatha as a thanksgiving upon his victory. He also appointed the first Sethupathi to protect the piligrims who would be using the causeway. Since then, they were traditionally been referred so and ruled over the “marava” country, which is the land mass between Madurai and the sea, in Southern India. They have always been till date the administrators of the Ramanathasvami temple with all hereditary rights. Famous kings of this lineage include Raghunatha Tevar or Kilavan Sethupathi (1673-1708) and Muthuramalinga Sethupathi I (1760-1794) and during the latter’s reign the Sethupatis lost their sovereignty completely to the British and ended up being a mere Zamindari, paying rent(kist/peshcush) to the British as their vassal.
Bhaskara Sethupati was born on 3rd November 1868 as the first son of Raja Muthuramalinga Sethupathi II (regnal years 1862-1872) and his wife Muthathaal Nacciyar. In 1830, when Raja Ramasvami Sethupathi died without leaving behind a heir, his wife Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar ruled the Zamindari. She was assisted by her brother Kottasami Thevar. At the end her life time, Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar took in adoption the second son of her sister, by name Muthuramalingam who was then a minor to succeed as the Zamindar. Till his majority, his elder brother Ponnusvami Thevar ruled as his Regent. There were several legal wrangles which were witnessed during this period, challenging the adoption. Ponnusvami Tevar acting as Manager played a major political role in ensuing that his younger sibling duly became the Sethupati. And even after Muthuramalinga had attained majority, Ponnusvami Thevar (who died in 1870) continued to guide the young Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II in running the affairs of Ramanathapuram. Both the brothers were great lovers of Tamil and Music. Ponnusvami Thevar’s son was the famous Panditurai Thevar (Zamindar of Pazhavanattam, 1867-1911) who founded the 4th Tamil Sangam at Madurai. Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II was adept in the arts & in Tamil. Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II passed away suddenly in 1872 when his son Bhaskara Sethupathy was barely 4 years old. As per the then existing British administered system, the minor heir was placed under the custody of the Court of Wards till such time he attained majority.
The “Court of Wards” was an instrument of control used by the British government purportedly to ensure that minor Zamindars, who were “deemed” incapable of running the Zamindari were ‘tutored’ and trained up to become model Zamindars to subserve their interest . By the late 19th century, as a policy and as a practice, the British resorted to this instrument of control very frequently when a minor became a Zamindar. The Court of Wards as an institution which functioned under the control of the Board of Revenue in Calcutta operated in every district and was headed by the district collector, an Englishman. The classic situation of when the Court of Wards would step in to administer a Zamindari was when the proprietor of the estate namely the Zamindar died leaving behind minor sons. Even in cases where a Zamindar was found unfit to run the affairs of the estate, upon the report of the District Collector, the Board of Revenue was empowered to step in to manage the estate. The Court of Wards apart from taking the responsibility of managing the estate also took charge of educating the heir apparent, the minor Zamindar. While the district collector was the nominal head, the tasks were run by a motley group of Englishmen and local learned Indians or the “natives” to put in the then English parlance.
Bhaskara Sethupathi was taken to Madras to be educated both in English and in Western manners and etiquette. He had an English tutor who put him through the learning of the English classics and music as well and apparently Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivan Hoe” was one of his favorites. Bhaskara Sethupathi learned to play piano as well. To make him worldly wise, the Court of Wards made him travel to different parts of India and Ceylon as well, accompanied by his tutor. Well trained in the Western ways, Bhaskara Sethupathi did make his tutor proud as is obvious from his certification to the Court of Wards upon attainment of majority. Bhaskara Sethupathi was formally anointed by the then British Government as “Maharaja” & took over the Zamindari on 3rd April 1889. Earlier in 1888 he married Sivabhagyam Nacciar, daughter of one of his kinsmen.
Bhaskara Sethupathi though western educated had his moorings in Indian culture and arts. There is a kriti in the raga Suratti which this Raja has apparently composed on Goddess Padmasini Thayar at the temple at neighboring Tiruppullani kshetra. He was devoted as a true Sethupathi, to Lord Ramanatha of Ramesvaram and to Goddess Rajarajesvari, the tutelary deity of the Sethupathis. He was so greatly enamored of Svami Vivekananda & his teachings. He funded the Svami’s historic trip to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. Though Sethupathi was the original invitee to the Conference, he chose instead to send Svami Vivekananda and the rest is history. Svami Vivekananda too held Sethupathi in high esteem and called him a ‘Rajarishi’. And when the Svami returned back from Chicago and set foot at Pamban in Ramesvaram on Jan 26th, 1897, he was given a tumultuous welcome and to commomerate the same Bhaskara Sethupati constructed a 40ft high monument inscribed with the words ‘Satyameva Jayate’, which went on to become the motif of the Indian State some 50 years later!
Bhaskara Sethupathy funded many charitable/philanthropic activities and events. S Tiruvenkatachari in his book, “Setupatis of Ramnad”, wrote that Bhaskara Setupati became a “byword for benevolence, charity and phenomenal generosity”. His giveaways were truly phenomenal in the literal sense of the word. Rs 10,000 to the Indian National Congress, Rs 40,000 to the Madras Christian College, an endowment for educating less privileged students in his alma mater etc. A thorough and meticulous person, he maintained a personal dairy, the contents of which, provides a great insight into his character. Even during his minority he maintained this habit and in 1890, publishers G W Taylor of Madras brought it out as a book, “My Trip to India’s Utmost Isle”. ¹
His unbridled philanthropy together with the practice of supporting/employing individuals with dubious credentials as a part of the paraphernalia of the Zamindari, which he failed to dispense with, put an enormous drain on the Zamin’s finances. He also inherited a debt of more than Rs 350,000, a legacy of his stepmother, the Senior Rani who had borrowed heavily. Expenses to fund the cost of litigation that was launched against him by his younger brother too had to be covered. The inevitable result was that the finances of the Zamindari fell into complete disarray. He had started borrowing from the wealthy Nattukottai Chettiars and the temple endowments to fund his spree of philanthropy, by mortgaging the property and other assets³. And ironically so, the great man who was well learned otherwise but had failed in the maths subject in high school, didn’t get his numbers right and so went literally bankrupt. Barely 26 years old and with creditors knocking at his doors, Sethupathy was forced to put the Zamin Estate under trust for his minor son. ¹
Neither did the people who were beneficiaries of his munificence help him in any way. In fact a few of them petitioned to the Collector at Madurai about the impudent extravagance of the Sethupathy, which finally spelt the death knell, literally so. He is said to have remarked during his last days thus, “I have within the last four years spent forty lakhs and though I have thus been foolishly extravagant, the leeches that drunk my blood are not a whit more grateful to me.” ¹
The congratulatory letter that Bhaskara Sethupathi wired to his illustrious contemporary Sri Jagadveera Rama Venkateshvara Ettappa ( see his profile as captured by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu) on his coronation as the Maharaja of Ettayapuram Zamindari at the end of his minority, in December 1899, is eye opening on more than one count. This Rajah of Ettayapuram too was a product of the Court of Wards and is well known in musical history as the benefactor who funded the printing & publication of Subbarama Dikshitar’s “Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini” on the earnest appeal of Chinnasvami Mudaliar. And that appeal was made to the Ettayapuram King during that coronation in December 1899, which Subbarama Dikshitar refers to in his Introduction to the SSP.
Below is the text, verbatim of the congratulatory letter that Bhaskara Sethupathi wrote⁴:
“My heartfelt congratulations to you, on your assumption of charge of your ancient and historical estate. My fervent prayers to Sree Ramanatha and to Kalugachala Shanmuga Moorthi to grant you long life and continued prosperity and to make you and your truth flourish. I have little in the way of advice except to beg you most earnestly as the son of one who was most devoted to me as a brother, to take my complete failure as a Zamindar as sufficient warning to you in your future career and to remind you of the words of Lord Ripon to the Nizam, “Look to your finances”, an advice which I disregarded but which I must beg you bear in mind to avoid the consequences. I suffer by disregarding it. You know what great affection and regard I have for you personally and it is that that prompts me, even presses me to wire to you thus opening my heart to you. Your manager, Mr.Sivarama Iyer is in a way my guardian and I have fatherly regard for him. I regret his leaving you. I am performing Abhishekam and Archanai in your name this day grandly to my Lord Sri Ramanatha and to our Divine Mother and will send you prasadam. Be ever loyal to our Sovereign and Her Government and use your wealth, power, and influence to benefit others, and to injure none and above all, be devoted to the feet of Him who from Kalugachalam protects you all, and thus you will be happy now and ever.”
Some clarifications/additional information here would not be out of place.
While Lord Ramanathasvami at Ramesvaram is the family deity of the Ramnad Sethupatis, Lord Subramanya at Kazhugumalai or Kazhugachalam or Kankagiri (about 22 kms from Kovilpatti in Southern Tamilnadu) is the presiding deity of the Ettayapuram Royals. The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini records a number of compositions created by the Ettayapuram Rajas as well by Balusvami Dikshitar and Subbarama Dikshitar on this Lord Kartikeya. We do have one kriti ‘Subramanyena Rakshitoham’ published by Kallidaikurici Sundaram Iyer, in the raga Suddha Dhanyasi attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar, composed on this deity.
An examination of Bhaskara Sethupathi and his persona would show that he in fact played two parts & with finesse – one as a loyal vassal of His Majesty’s Government and secondly as a nationalist who sympathized with the Indian National Congress. Two contradictory roles/approaches ,yet apolitical and it probably reflected his desire to remain relevant in the politics of the then Provincial Madras.
The text of the letter above gives a wholesome perspective of Bhaskara Sethupati. His erudite knowledge and use of English language, his moorings in Hindu beliefs and above all his open admission as to his misjudgment in running the affairs of the Ramnad Estate & his goodwill toward Venkatesvara Ettappa stand out in his letter.
Early in the year 1900, when the estate was in dire financial straits, the Pontiff of the Sringeri Mutt is said to have played a key role in ensuring that the Estate was bailed out and Bhaskara’s son Rajesvara Sethupathi was safely put in charge of whatever was remaining. All these events perhaps took its toll on Bhaskara Sethupati’s health and quickly led to his untimely death on 27th December 1903. When he died, the great Tamil scholar the revered Mahavidvan R Raghava Iyengar (1878-1960) wrote a eulogy in Tamil thus:
SengaiyyAl vAri aLitthAyE SetupatI !
EngayyA engatkku inimEl idam?
Translation: Oh Setupati, the one who gave away all, with your noble hands! Where do we now go?
And the other great titan U Ve Svaminatha Iyer during his visit to the Ramnad Court composed this couplet on this benevolent patron, in Tamil:
vinniR siranthidu pARkkarar pOl virumbum indha
manniR sirundUyar pARkkara bUpathi vAzhiyavE !
MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS HAVING A NEXUS TO RAMNAD:
A number of musicians/composers have been patronized by the Ramnad Royal House. Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer (1816-1889), Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893), Patnam Subramanya Iyer (1845-1902), Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar(1860-1919) and Subbarama Dikshitar are the notable ones. In fact for Bhaskara Sethupati’s ascension to the Ramnad throne, the triumvirate of Krishna Iyer, Patnam and Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer performed together.
We have quite a few compositions composed on some of the Ramnad Royals as below:
“sAmi nI vEga”, a tana varna in Ata tala in the raga Nattakurinji with the ankita “kottasAmi bhUpala”, composed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer in praise of Kottaisami Thevar the brother of Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar who ruled Ramanathapuram.⁶
“sAmi nInnE” in Atana with the ankita “ugrapAndia bhUpAla” on Panditurai Tevar(1867-1911), the Zamindar of Pazhavanattham and the paternal cousin of Bhaskara Setupati, also composed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer.⁶
“Nadhru dhru deem”, tillana in Sindhubhairavi composed by Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar again on Panditurai Thevar.
‘kamalAkshi ninnE koriyunnadi’ , a tana varna in Kambhoji set to jhampa tala composed by Kundrakudi Krishna Iyer on Bhaskara Sethupati’s father Muthuramalinga Sethupathi. This apart he has composed a few pada varnas as well on both Muthuramalinga Sethupati and Bhaskara Sethupati.
“srI rAjadhirAja” -Ata tala tana varna composed by Subbarama Dikshitar in the raga Balahamsa, in praise of Bhaskara Sethupati himself.( See Foot Note 1)
“gAravamu ganna dUraiyani” – Ragamalika in 9 ragas set in rupaka tala, composed by Subbarama Dikshitar again on Bhaskara Sethupati
‘edO pArAmukam’ a Tamil svarajati in the raga Khamas composed on Bhaskara Setupati and ascribed to the Tanjore quartet descendant Sangita Kalanidhi Ponnayya Pillai.
Some interesting points need attention here:
Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer were a trio belonging to the same (performing) generation roughly who indulged in ‘vyavahara’ laden music, in other words indulging in complex svara and rhythmic pyrotechnics as a part of their pallavi renditions. All the three of them were recipients of honours from the Ramanathapuram Court. We do have accounts that they constantly competed actively on & off the concert stage. Interestingly we have a a unique varna from each of them in raga Kambhoji. Krishna Iyer’s aforesaid varna is in jhampa tala, a rare one. Similarly Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s Kambhoji creation “Pankajakshi Neepai” is littered profusely with beautiful svaraksharas. One can indeed wonder if they produced them in (friendly ?) rivalry!
All the above three performed together, setting aside their professional rivalry at the request of Bhaskara Sethupathi on the occasion of his ascension as King. The three of them sang together the famous Todi pallavi ‘Ganalola Karunalavala’, which incidentally was derived from the pallavi line of the kriti in the same raga, composed by Chinnasvami Dikshitar, brother of Muthusvami Dikshitar and is found notated in the SSP. Sulamangalam Bagavathar in his memoirs recalls that the rendition of the pallavi by the three titans in unison was a veritable treat, fit for celestials ! (See Foot Note 2)
The reference of both Patnam Subramanya Iyer & Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar to the great Panditurai Tevar as “UgrapAndya” is hardly surprising. King Ugrapandya was the last of the Madurai/Pandyan sovereigns who had presided over the last (Third) Tamil Sangam (College of Poets). Panditurai Tevar was the key force behind the 4th Tamil Sangam which set helped set up with the participation of U Ve Svaminatha Iyer, R Raghava Iyengar, Paridhimarkalignar, Shanmugham Pillai & others. Also Panditurai Tevar’s father was a close associate of Tamil Mahavidvan Meenakshisundaram Pillai, the preceptor of U Ve Svaminatha Iyer.
It was Panditurai Tevar/Ponnusvami Tevar who had apparently recommended and also sponsored Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar to learn under Patnam Subramanya Iyer. Apart from Patnam and Pooci Iyengar, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and his brother Ramasvami Sivan were closely associated with the Ramanathapuram Royals.
We have a varna in Mohana by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bagavathar “Manamohana” in ata tala with the raja mudra of “Mudduramalinga” which Dr B M Sundaram, says as alluding to Muthuramalinga Sethupati, Bhaskara’s father. Muthuramalinga Sethupathi passed away in 1872 while Muthiah Bagavathar was born only in 1877. I am unsure how this varna can be ascribed as having been composed so.
The Royal House of Ramnad also patronized a descendant of the Tanjore Quartet, Vadivelu Pillai- a grandson of the Quartet Sivanandam. by making him an AstAna vidvan. We have a beautiful Svarajati in the raga Khamas ‘ edO pArAmukam’ composed probably by this Vadivelu Pillai or by his brother’s (Kannusvami Pillai) son Sangita Kalanidhi Ponnayya Pillai (1889-1945) . This composition in which Bhaskara Setupati is portrayed as a nAyakA is again a very rare one. The svarajathi made its way out of oblivion from the private manuscripts of the famous dance guru K P Kittappa Pillai and was subsequently published by the Music Academy.
The Balahamsa varna and the navaratna ragamalika are the ones that Subbarama Dikshitar composed on Bhaskara Setupati, which find place respectively in the SSP and its Anubandha. Interestingly both have an oral tradition as well and for the present blog post I will take up these two compositions of Subbarama Dikshitar, both of them being beautiful in themselves.
The Balahamsa varna of Subbarama Dikshitar is a veritable encyclopedia of the raga Balahamsa. Its sahitya runs as under:
srI rAjadhiraja sannuta mahAraja sevita
srI rAmanAtha padAmbhoja
srI rAjarAjeshvari krUpa pAtra sudhIndra
srI bhAskara setUpatI sArvabhauma bOgha dEvEndra
kAmini nInnE koriyunnadirA
kAmUni kEli dhani nElu kOra
This apart the, composition has sahitya for the muktayisvara and the ettugada svaras apart from having an anubandha. In the text of the varna, Subbarama Dikshitar invokes the name of Lord Ramanatha of Ramesvaram, given that the Sethupathis are the considered the guardians of the mythological bridge Ramasethu that was built and are also the traditional patrons of the Ramanathasvami Temple. Subbarama Dikshitar also refers to Bhaskara Sethupathi as a recipient of the benign Grace of Goddess Rajarajesvari . One may think that its a casual mention of a Goddess from the Hindu pantheon & nothing more. A little more study of the history of the Ramnad Royals would show that She is the tutelary diety of the Sethupatis. And so it would be appropriate to digress here a bit to know more about this Goddess worshipped by the Sethupathis.
SRI RAJARAJESHVARI AT ‘RAMALINGA VILASAM’ :
Goddess Rajarajeshvari, was the tutelary deity of the Royals of Ramanathapuram. She had a temple within the precincts of ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’ the royal residence of the Sethupathis, which can be visited even today. In fact the Goddess with similar names/form has been the family deity of the Royals of the neighboring Sivaganga and also of the Tanjore Kings, reminding us of Goddess Camundesvari and how she is the family deity of the Wodeyar Kings of Mysore. Goddess Rajarajeshvari of the Ramanathapuram Palace used to be worshipped daily by the ruling Sethupathy and also grand pujas for her were held on occasions such as the Navaratri celebrations. The Sri Rajarajeshvari icon that was worshipped by the Setupathis of Ramnad is in the form of Mahishasuramardhini or Durga with eight hands and is mounted on an emerald/maragatha peetam. Legend has it that the golden figurine was gifted to the Sethupatis by the Nayaks of Madura. The green emerald base was got from the Kings of Mysore, during a conquest and it itself was originally supposed to have been sourced by the Sankaracharya from Himalayas. The worship of this Rajarajeshvari icon during the Navaratri celebrations of the year 1892 is recorded in detail in Chapter V of the book “Kingship and Colonial Practice in Colonial India” by Pamela Price, published by Cambridge University Press. This Royal icon never leaves the precincts of the Palace, ‘Ramalinga Vilasam” and was only worshipped by the Sethupathy & members of his royal family and on rare occasions a few esteemed guests of the Royals were invited to witness the puja. The Goddess & King Sethupathis shared a common external identity, that as together, they preserved dharma and ensured peace and prosperity in the Kingdom. Even today akin to the Dussehra Festival done royally in Mysore, the Navaratri celebrations in Ramnad are celebrated grandly, see news report here.²
U Ve Svaminatha Iyer in his chronicles records his participation in one such Navaratri celebrations on the invitation of Raja Bhaskara Sethupati. He records the gala event during which a special 1008 shankhabhisheka was performed to the Godesses.
Muthu Vijaya Raghunatha Sethupathi (1710-1725) offering obeisance to Goddess Rajarajesvari – A Mural Painting in “Ramalinga Vilasam” the Royal Palace of the Ramanathapuram Rulers (Photo Courtesy: “The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India” – by Jennifer Howes)
Bhaskara Sethupathy was deeply devoted to Goddess Rajarajeshvari. In his personal dairy, in an entry dating to January 1893, Bhaskara Sethupathy recorded that one of his life ambition was to completely renovate her temple. And in that year he offered a bejeweled cup and a sari weaved in gold, which he had purchased in Madras ! ¹ Apparently till then animal sacrifices were made to this deity, which was stopped by Bhaskara Sethupathi with the guidance and benign blessings of the Sankaracharya of Sringeri.
As referred earlier, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) was patronized by the Rajas of Ramanathapuram, particularly by Bhaskara Sethupathi’s father Muthuramalinga Sethupathi II (1862-1873). It is worth noting here that Vaidyanatha Iyer is never known to have a sung on a mortal. One can surmise that probably one evening, during a visit to the ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’, Vaidyanatha Iyer must have been probably invited to witness the puja of this Rajarajeshvari and he went on to compose his Janaranjani composition “pAhimAm srI rAjarAjeshvarI” in praise of the deity!
Though this kriti does not have any reference in its sahitya to Ramanathapuram or its Royals, still the nexus seems worth imagining at least! And another interesting reference in this connection is the pallavi rendered by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer during the coronation celebrations of Bhaskara Sethupati. As before mentioned, after Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer along with Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Kundrakudi Krishna Iyer finished rendering the Todi pallavi, ‘Ganalola karunalavala’, Bhaskara Sethupati requested Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer to render one more pallavi in the Simhananda tala, egged on by the assembled vidvans. The veteran composer/singer composed one in praise of Goddess Rajarajesvari, in a trice , in the 108 akshara tala and rendered it splendidly.
This also leads one to another interesting trail of thought as to the circumstance in which Subbarama Dikshitar might have composed the varna on Bhaskara Sethupati. As a matter of fact apart from these compositions given in text/notation in the SSP we do not have any record of the time and place in which Subbarama Dikshitar must have met Bhaskara Sethupati. The piece could have been composed by Subbarama Dikshitar in April 1889 to commemorate the coronation of Bhaskara Sethupati when he formally became the Raja of Ramnad at the end of his minority.
Also there is one other piece of information with which we can surmise/imagine another probable scenario! Bhaskara Sethupati as is obvious from his personal dairies ,was a Devi upAsakA. In the entry made in January 1893 he had indicated that he wanted to learn and practice Sakti Tantra. Indeed so in that same year the Sethupathi conducted the kumbhabishekam of the Rajarajesvari temple. And Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps met Bhaskara Sethupati on the occasion of that consecration. We well know that Subbarama Dikshitar was a practitioner of Sri Vidya cult and was initiated into it very early in life. This could have made the young & hardly 25 year old Sethupathi to look upon the sage-like looking Subbarama Dikshitar as his guru/preceptor to guide him in the worship of Devi.
Let us first hear the rendering of this very rare varna by Prof S R Janakiraman and his disciple Sriram Kannan in this video clipping below recorded a few weeks ago.
The Professor’s enviable repertoire traces back to two illustrious lineages as exemplified by Sangita Kalanidhi Flute Svaminatha Pillai and Tiger Varadacariar. While SSP additionally gives the sahitya for the muktayisvara and for the ettugada svaras, the same is not rendered by Prof SRJ. Attention is invited to the rendering of the concluding portions of the varna, i.e the sequential rendering of the last avarta of ettugada svara followed by the anubandha sahitya, the anupallavi, the muktayi svara and finally ending with the pallavi sahitya, which marks the logical conclusion to the rendering. This varna is a classic example of the older form of which the Bhairavi ata tala varna ‘Viribhoni’ is a prime example. Though the extant renderings of the Bhairavi varna is a truncated one, the SSP has the text & notation of the complete varna together with the anubandha.
ANALYSIS OF BALAHAMSA⁷
The varna contains older/archaic phrases not in vogue and presents a picture of what Balahamsa was, once upon a time. In the SSP itself, we have the following compositions given from this raga.⁴
(Muddu)Venkatamakhi’s gitam in matya tAla
Muthusvami Dikshitar’s Guruguha Vibakthi kriti, “guruguhAd anyam na janEham” set in jhampa tAla
Subbarama Dikshitar’s aforesaid Tana varna in ata tAla
His sancari in matya tAla
While we do have good number compositions of Tyagaraja and that of the post trinity composer Mysore Sadasiva Rao, Subbarama Dikshitar’s creation is the lexicon for this raga & contains a number of phrases which have since gone out of vogue. From a historical perspective Balahamsa finds first mention in King Shahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’ followed by Tulaja’s ‘Sangita Saramruta’. Subbarama Dikshitar’s interpretation is completely aligned to the older version as given by Shahaji, with vakra murccanas. Barring a sequential SRGM and PDNs, other prayogas abound, to put it simply.
In the SSP, Balahamsa is defined by Subbarama Dikshitar thus:
Upanga and sampurna with nishada being varjya in the arohana, under the Kedaragaula raaganga.
Rishabha is the jiva and nyasa svara and sadja is graha svara.
Salient murccanas include SRPMR, SRGMPMR, dSRMGR, SRMGRGS, RSndpdSR and GMPMR (tara sadja svara is denoted in lower case, madhya stayi in upper case and mandhara stayi svaras in lower case italics. Those in bold font are svaras to be emphasized)
It needs to be noted that the contemporaneous version of Balahamsa as evidenced by the kritis of Tyagaraja and Sadasiva Rao has its roots in Govindacarya’s definition of Balahamsa with the arohana/avarohana being S R M P D s/s N D P M R M G S as an upanga janya under Harikambhoji mela. And also instead of rishabha, madhyama and dhaivatha are seen in profusion. The melodic difference between the Balahamsa as documented by Subbarama Dikshitar on one hand and that found in the version propounded by Govindacarya is best exemplified by the Mysuru Sadasiva Rao’s kriti.
Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Seetha Rajan renders Sadasiva Rao’s “Evarunnaru” in this concert excerpt here: Evarunnaru – Balahamsa
Attention is invited to the marked difference in the treatment of the raga in this composition. And it does make us wonder when this change to raga lakshana of this raga took place. Suffice to state that this raga is another member of that list which represent a difference in treatment as evidenced by the compositions of Tyagaraja on one hand & Dikshitar on the other.
Prof.S.R.Janakiraman follows up & touches upon some of the musical aspects and an anecdote around this raga :
SOME POINTS ON BALAHAMSA:
It’s interesting to note that the final avarta of the not-sung citta svara of the Guruguha vibhakti krithi ‘Guruguhad anyam’,starting with the phrase SRMPDPs is reproduced almost verbatim by Subbarama Dikshitar in his varna in the muktayi svara section. The conception of Subbarama Dikshitar of this raga is closely aligned to Muthusvami Dikshitar’s.
The ragas Natanarayani and Mahuri have melodic overlap with Balahamsa. While Natanarayani goes as SRGSRMPDs/sDPMGRS and Mahuri goes as SRMGRMPDs/sNDPMGRS, despite the presence/absence of nishada, they would sound identical as they are all purvanga pradhana raga. They differ on the jiva svara – Rishabha is the jiva svara for Balahamsa and Madhyama for Mahuri.
Muthusvami Dikshitar also employs additional motifs in Balahamsa such as the the drop from the madhya sadja to the mandhara pancama and a similar jump from the madhya pancama to the tara sadja. Similar such approach is seen in Natanarayani as well, such as dropping from madhya rishabha to mandhara dhaivatha, vide the Dikshitar composition ‘mahAganapate pAlayasumAm’ as notated in the SSP.
NAVARAGAMALIKA -‘gAravamuganna doraiyani’⁸
We move over next to the ragamalika composed by Subbarama Dikshitar. This navaragamalika or a garland of 9 ragas is set in Kalyani, Todi, Saveri , Atana , Neelambari , Manirangu, Kambhoji, Mukhari and Mohana. The setting of this composition is similar, in that it is conceived as an expression of the unifocal love of a damsel named Kalyani, whose longing for the nAyaka (Bhaskara Sethupathi) is conveyed to him through her friend. Subbarama Dikshitar has skillfully woven in the raga names in the telugu sahitya appropriately. In this composition Kalyani’s friend while addressing the nAyaka, first invokes the benign grace of Lord Subrahmanya, then proceeds to describe Kalyani and her yearning for him and finally ends by appealing to him to accept her. Similar to the Balahamsa varna, here too Dikshitar refers to the Sethupathi as the recipient of Goddess Rajarajesvari’s grace, thus:
vIra dAsa mukhari sEtu vibhU bhAskara mahipAla
sakala sUrAsura sEvita shrI rajarajEsvari karunA katAksha labdha
nikhila bhAgya dhurandharudagu srI bhAskara
The translation of the telugu lyrics of this rAgamAlikA can be read here.
Vidushi Rama Ravi who traces her repertoire to her mother as well as to the scion of the Dhanammal family, Prof T Vishvanathan has also rendered this composition. This is part of a commercial release by Carnatica.
And finally we have Prof S R Janakiraman rendering the rAgamalikA.
In the sahitya of this composition Subbarama Dikshitar gives the lyric as “tirunElu srI kArtikEya divya mOhana shikivAhana”. It’s a puzzle as to which town/temple does ‘tirunElu’ imply! Does it refer to Tirunelveli? And if so which temple there, does it refer to and what is the nexus between that temple/kArtikEya and Bhaskara Setupati, to be so mentioned in this composition? Wish one knew the answers!
Today Bhaskara Sethupathi is all but a distant & fading memory. The memorial he constructed to commemorate Svami Vivekanda’s return from America and his philanthropy may soon be completely forgotten. But Subbarama Dikshitar has immortalized him by these two compositions thus etching his memory forever on the fabric of our music.
Foot Note 1:
Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini contains many of his compositions in praise of royal patrons. Some of them are listed below:
‘sAmi entanI’ – Surati – Rupaka – Cauka Varna in praise of King/Prince Muddusvami Ettendra of Ettayapuram one of the several pieces that have been composed by Subbarama Dikshitar, quite naturally so as he was the Asthana Vidvan of the Ettayapuram Samasthanam.
‘enduku rA rA’ – Ragamalika – Rupaka -In praise of King/Prince Muddusvami Ettendra of Ettayapuram
‘nI sarilErani’ – Ragamalika – Tisra Eka – In praise of King Rama Varma of Travancore
‘kAmincina kalAvati’ – Ragamalika -Tisra Eka – In praise of Sri Ananda Gajapati Raju, the Maharaja of Vijayanagaram
‘sArasAgrE sarasa’ – Daru – Natanarayani – Tisra eka – In praise of Zamindar Nagayasvami Pandiyan of Periyur
Foot Note 2:
According to Prof Sambamoorthy ( ‘Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer’ – An article in “The Hindu” dated 25-10-1970), the trio of musicians rendered the pallavi “Setupati Jaya Jaya Ravikula Raja Vijaya Raghunatha Sri Bhaskara Sami” in raga Bhairavi, Jhampa tala with atitagraha, at ¾ count with Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer as the senior performer.
Pamela G Price(2002) – “Kingship and Colonial Practice in Colonial India” published by Cambridge University Press
Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar (2005)-“Cameos – Memoirs of Sulamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar” – Published by Sunadham, Chennai
David West Rudner (1994) – ‘Caste & Capitalism in Colonial India -The Nattukottai Chettiars’ -University of California Press
A Vadivelu (1903) -“Aristocracy Of Southern India” Vol I -Published by Vest & Co, Madras
Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) – Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini – Reprinted in Tamil by the Madras Music Academy, India
Dr B M Sundaram (2002) – “Varna Svarajathi” – Published by Sarasvathi Mahal Library, Tanjore
T V Subba Rao & S R Janakiraman(1993) – ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramruta of King Tulaja’ – Published by the Madras Music Academy
K C Kamaliah(1977) -‘Subbarama Dikshitar’s Navaragamalika’ – Journal of Music Academy Vol XLVIII, pages 186-191
Dr B M Sundaram (1984/85 ) – Mudras in Tana Varnas – Lecture demonstration at the Krishna Gana Sabha
Jennifer Howes (2002) -“The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India”-Royal Asiatic Society Books Series, published by Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7007-1585-5
Since the post I made on Pallavi Gopala Iyer, I came across a couple of more points which I thought should form part of the original post.
WHO WAS PALLAVI GOPALA IYER?
Per Prof Sambamoorthy and Dr B M Sundaram as well, Gopala Iyer was the son of Tsallagali Veeraraghava Iyer as mentioned in my previous post. I should confess that I had not looked to into Dr Sita’s magnum opus, “Tanjore as a Seat of Music” to see what she had to say. Dr Sita provides a brief profile of Pallavi Gopala Iyer under pages 179-180 of her work and therein there is no mention of his forefathers or descendants. Further in pages 256-262, of her thesis/publication, she profiles the famous Minister of the Tanjore Court, Varahappa Dikshita Pandit (1795-1869) along with his descendants and therein she makes a mention of another/different Gopala Iyer who was called Tsallagali Gopala Iyer and he was the son of Tsallagali Veeraraghava Iyer. They were a famous line of vaineekas attached to the Tanjore Court. In sum, there seem to have been two different Gopala Iyers in question, in the Tanjore Court. Also according to Dr Sita, Tsallagali Gopala Iyer belonged to the period of King Sivaji and thus he belonged to a time much latter than Pallavi Gopala Iyer.
The point I want to place on record is that as per Dr Sita, Pallavi Gopala Iyer had nothing to do with Tsallagali Veeraraghava Iyer whose son Tsallagali Gopala Iyer is a different musician from a different time period altogether. My original post refers to Pallavi Gopala Iyer as the son of Tsallagali Veeraghava Iyer, which is based on the account of Prof Sambamoorthy and Dr B M Sundaram. It also needs to be mentioned here that historians/researchers typically refer to the Modi records found in the Saravathi Mahal Library in Tanjore to verify or reconstruct history. Dr Sita provides a facsimile reproduction of a Modi record in her work as an example. Interpreting those records/scripts has a great bearing on the final conclusion/deduction and this may probably account for the divergences that one notices in the two sets of accounts about Pallavi Gopala Iyer.
Secondly, since my original post I came across the rendition of the kriti , “shrI ramA ramani” in the raga Mohanam which is found in Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s Kritimanimalai, attributed to Pallavi Gopala Iyer. Vidvan Sanjay Subramaniam, accompanied by Vidvan S D Sridhar on the violin and Vidvan Trivandrum Vaidyanathan on the mrudangam, opens his All India Radio Concert, broadcast by Chennai A Station on 26th June 2009@ 8:45 AM, with this kriti of Pallavi Gopala Iyer.
Apparently this composition was fairly well encountered in concerts decades ago and musicians including G N Balasubramaniam (GNB) used to render it elaborately. As one can see this kriti is structured in the old kriti template, akin to Needumurtini in Nattakurinji which is as under:
Pallavi – 1 avarta of adi tala
Anupallavi – 1 avarta of adi tala
Caranam – 2 avarta of adi tala
Additionally we can see that the kriti template has multiple caranas (at least two) and a cittasvara section spanning 2 avartas of adi tala. This seems to have been the classic structure from the pre-trinity days. Another example from that period is ‘Sphuratute’ in Devagandhari of Paidala Gurumurti Sastrigal notated in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini(SSP). Many of kritis of Melattur Veerabadrayya are in this template as well, barring the cittasvara section. These proto-kriti form comes to us from an age when compositions such as varnas, svarajatis and padas dominated. The trinity perhaps went on to impart a slightly more expansive kriti template, investing sahitya for atleast an additional avarta of tala in the anupallavi and couple of more for the caranams. Muthusvami Dikshitar contributed an additional segment called the madhyama kala sahitya portion as an appendage to the carana. It would’nt be out of place to mention a very odd form for a kriti as utilized by Dikshitar for the kriti ‘Sri Meenakshi Gauri’ in the rare raga Gauri. This kriti as documented in the SSP has a number of oddities bunched together:
The pallavi itself has a madhayama kala sahitya portion
The pallavi is immediately followed by a portion of svaras called muktayisvara
The anupallavi(samashti carana) has four rupaka tala avartas of madhyamakala sahitya followed by 4 avartas of cittasvaras.
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)
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 !
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.
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