Composers, Raga

The ragam Ramakali and the krti “Rama rama kali kalusa”- Part I


Tanjāvūr during 16-19 CE saw an influx of exotic rāgā-s from North and the other parts of this country. The rāgā-s which had their origin somewhere else and absorbed into our system of music are called as dēśīya rāga-s and one such dēśīya rāgam to be discussed here is Rāmakali.

Today, Rāmakali is survived only with a single kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” and a small passage in the rāgamālika-s “sāmaja gamana” and “nāṭakādi vidyāla” composed by Rāmasvāmy Dīkśitar. It is believed Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar was the first composer to employ these dēśīya rāga-s due to his stay in Kāśi. In reality, this composer eclipsed the achievements of his father Rāmasvāmy Dīkśitar. The latter is to be credited for using these rāga-s for the first time in our music. One can find plenty of rāga-s rāgā-s like Rāmakali, Hamvīr, Māruva, in his compositions. Though we find gītam-s in the rāga-s like Hamvīr and Māruva which can be dated to the period of Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar or slightly anterior to him, credits for including them in a kṛti must go only to Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar.

A discussion on Rāmakali gains importance due to its elusive description across the treatises, disputable authorship of the only kṛti available and the authority of using prati madhyamamm in this rāgam. This post tries to address these issues.

“Rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” and its disputable authorship

Rāmakali owes its gratitude to the family of Dīkṣitar, as Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar and one of his successor gave a commendable shape to this rāgam. Going by the textual history, the first text to record this kṛti is Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Disputes on the authorship raised when this kṛti was included under Rāma navāvarṇa or Rāma vibhakti set of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar in the texts published in the latter half of the last century. Interestingly, this kṛti has the mudra ‘guruguha’ and the rāga mudra ‘Rāmakali’ in the first line itself. These mudra-s along with the language in which this kṛti was composed, perhaps made the musicians to attribute this composition to Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar. Today, excluding Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī, no other evidence exist to proclaim that this is a kṛti of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar.

Let us take two set of evidences to fix the author of this kṛti: the first are those evidences that might have helped the musicians to attribute this kṛti to Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar and the second are those from the treatise Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī itself.

Evidences that helped in assigning the authorship to Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar

Guruguha mudra
Vāggeyakārā-s in our music sign their composition with an insignia and Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar used the śabdam ‘guruguha’. Though, it is a routine to see his compositions with this signature, we do have a couple of genuine compositions which do not feature this mudra. Contrarily, we also see some other vāggeyakārā-s using this signature. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar and his son Ambi Dīkṣitar fall under this category. Out of 33 compositions of Subbarāma Dīkśitar, 10 has this mudra. The mudrā ‘guruguha’  was not only adopted by Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar, but also by some of his family members is to be learnt.

Rāga mudra
It is the practice of Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar to lace the sāhityam with a rāga mudrā. This was followed by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar too, though not in all of his compositions. Punnāgagāndhārī in the Nāgagāndhārī kṛti can be cited as an example.

Language of the composition
Though Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar has primarily composed in Sanskrit, we have two of his compositions in Telugu. The reverse suits for Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, though we have only one Sanskrit composition of Subbarāma Dīksitar, Śaṅkarācāryam in Śaṅkarābharaṇam

It is clear from the above discussion that based on mudra-s or the language used in a composition, authorship of this kṛti cannot be ascertained.

Evidences from Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśinī

Author mentioned by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar

Being the author of this text, his words have the final say in arriving at a conclusion. Let us analyze this text in detail before proceeding further. Authorship of any particular composition is mentioned at two places in this treatise. First time in the beginning of this book as a table enlisting all the compositions in alphabetical order. Here, he marks the compositions of all the composers, except that of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar by a star symbol. It implies any kṛti without this symbol can be taken as a composition of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar.  Second time it is mentioned under the respective rāga section when a kṛti is given in notation.

Under the Rāmakali rāgam, “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha” is the only one notated kṛti and the author is mentioned as Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. This kṛti is also enlisted in the initial list mentioned above and here, no star symbol is given. Can this kṛti be taken as that of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar?

It is always to be remembered that this text was written by an astute musician and musicologist, whose thoughts were always clear, unbiased and genuine and it is up to the researcher to interpret, from the material available. Hence, this text opens up a discussion at multiple layers and results in more than an opinion several times. Many times, it requires a careful study of an entire segment under consideration and if necessary, other parts of this text and/or older treatises to get a solution for the question in hand.

Subbarāma Dīkṣitar has taken efforts to avoid mistakes, advertently or inadvertently to the best of his abilities. He must have scrutinized the manuscript and corrected the errors more than once before the publication of this text. Resultant errors or the errors which cannot be corrected are taken note by giving two sections ‘tappōppalu’ and ‘porabātalu’. Whereas the first section deals with a mistake and its corresponding correction that has to be applied, the second section deals with the ways by which a mistake, that has crept in even after unfeigned preparation of the manuscript can be identified and negotiated.

Hence, to decide the authorship we need to analyze the list, Rāmakali section and the section ‘tappōppalu’. Now, we have contradictory findings between the segments: the list mention this kṛti as a composition of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar by not having the star symbol and in the segment under the rāgam Rāmakali, this is mentioned as a work of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Either list or the text under Rāmakali must suffer from a printing error and it is up to us to identify the same.

When the list was carefully analyzed, one another finding glare us. A kṛti in Kāpi ‘raṅgapate’, also lacks this symbol and this too to be taken as a composition of Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar if we consider the symbol identification system followed by  Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. We know this is a composition of Mārgadarśi Śeśayyaṅgār, a pre trinity composer and similar to “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha”, the authorship gets corrected to Śeśayyaṅgār under the Kāpi section. This denotes the list given in the beginning is not free of mistakes. Also the section ‘tappōppalu’ covers the main text only and does not include the list. This is evident as we don’t find any corrections (‘tappōppalu’) for the content printed in this list.

All sort of corrections can be seen in the segment ‘tappōppalu’. Corrections pertaining to the use of a particular svaram or its variety, use of gamakam, errors in the sāhityam and the errors pertaining to authorship of a kṛti. For instance, author of the kṛti Śri dakśiṇāmūrtim in the rāgam Phēnadyuti is given as Subbarāma Dīkṣitar under the rāgam section; this is corrected as Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar in the section ‘tappōppalu’. Hence it, is advised to see this section before interpreting a composition given under the respective rāga section. We can consider the content given under Rāmakali section completely reflects the idea of Dīkṣitar as no changes / corrections were given for the entire segment. Relying only the main text after superimposing with ‘tappōppalu’ section, as followed here is recommended as it might help solving many debatable issues.

Svara segment

Apart from using rāga and ‘guruguha’ mudra, the composing style of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar resembles that of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar in some other aspects too. We can see madhyama kāla passages almost in all the kṛti-s and svara passages in many kṛti-s. Some of the kṛti-s were also composed in the pallavi – anupallavi format.

The kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha” is composed in the pallavi-anupallavi format with a svara segment. This also has a madhyama kāla sāhityam. Though, at the outset the compositional style is much similar, significant difference can be seen in the pattern used in the svara segment. Before going to the Rāmakali svara segment, svara section in Māruva is explained as we have a composition by both of the composers in this rāgam.

Māruva is a bhāṣāṅga janyam of Māyamālavagaula. Both the kṛti-s Māruvakādi mālini of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar and Ēmamma of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar are composed in the pallavi-anupallavi-svaram format. Both have madhyamakāla sāhityam and both are set to ādi tāḷam.

The svara patterns used by these composers can be easily understood from this table.

For both the kṛti-s, tāḷam is divided as 16+8+8 accounting for laghu + drutam + drutam. This svara segment run for two āvartanam.

Āvartanaṃ Segment in ādi tāḷaṃ   Māruvakādi mālini          Ēmamma

Āvartanaṃ 1

      16 segment 7+6+3 4+4+4+4
    First 8 segment 8 6+2
 Second 8 segment 5+3 4+4

Āvartanaṃ 2

      16 segment 8+3+5 3+3+4+6
    First 8 segment 8 8
 Second 8 segment 5+3 8

When we compare the svara patterns in these two kṛti-s, symmetrical svara pattern, profuse use of  laghu svara-s are more seen in ēmamma. Also attractive patterns like MGRsRND MGRsRGM are seen (small case indicates elongation of that particular svaram as a kārvai).

Attractive svara patterns are seen in almost all the kṛti-s of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Few examples that can cited are DdDPMG, MmPMGR, GgMGRS in the Nādarāmakriyā kṛti of Kṛṣṇasvāmy Ayya (tuned by Subbarāma Dīkśitar) and PmMgGrRs, RmMgGrRSR in a daru in Naṭanārāyaṇi. Contrastingly, complicated laya patterns are more common and is very rare to find rhythmic pattern in the kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar.

The number 4 and 8 are also handled differently by these composers:

In the kṛti “māruvakādi mālini”, 8 is split as 2+1+2+2+1 in the first āvartanam and 1+1+1+2+1+1+1 in the second āvartanam. Whereas in the kṛti ēmamma, it is split as 1+1+1+1 x 2 in the first and 1+1+1+2+1+1+1 in the second āvartanam. 4s are always treated as 1+1+1+1 by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar in this kṛti (See Footnote 1).

These patterns can be easily discerned from the audio links.

Svara segment in the kṛti“māruvakādi mālini”

Svara segment in the kṛti “ēmamma”

The kṛti “ēmamma” can be heard  in full here.

The kriti “māruvakādi mālini” can be heard in full here.

Having seen the basic pattern handled by these two composers, let us now compare these passages with the svara passage seen in the Rāmakali kṛti.

Svara passage seen in the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”

This is set to rūpaka tāḷam and has two āvartanam. 4 complete tāla cycles makes one āvartanam. Rūpaka tāḷam is reckoned as drutam + laghu, the way by which we render a rūpaka tāḷa alaṅkāram. This is divided as 4+8 units in each tāḷa cycle so that the count becomes 12. We see the following svara arrangement:

             Āvartanaṃ Tāḷa cycle Svara pattern

Āvartanaṃ 1

Tala cycle 1 (3+1) + (4+4)
Tala cycle 2 (2+2) + (2+2+2+2)
Tala cycle 3 (4) + (2+2+2+2)
Tala cycle 4 (2+2) + (2+2+4)

Āvartanaṃ 2

Tala cycle 1 (2+2) + (2+2+4)
Tala cycle 2 (2+2) + (2+2+4)
Tala cycle 3 (2+2) + (2+4+2)
Tala cycle 4 (2+2) + (4+4)

Svara segment in the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”

We can see an overall symmetry and use of lot of laghu svarā-s and a svara pattern arranged in even numbers. The first āvartanam itself is weaved with a beautiful pattern. Taken together, this svara segment resemble the svara pattern seen in the kṛti-s of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar.

Svara segment in the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”

Rūpaka tāḷam
The most common tāḷam handled by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar is rūpakam followed by tisra ēkam. When his compositions, other than varṇā-s are taken into consideration, rūpaka tāḷa compositions outnumber others. 6 out of 12 were in rūpaka tāḷam. Among his nine rāgamālika-s, five were in rūpakam. It is reminded here, “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” is also set to the tālam rūpakam !!

A careful analysis of this text, patterns observed in the svara segment and this kṛti being set in rūpaka tāḷam make us to consider Subbarāma Dīkṣitar could have composed this kṛti.

Note on the method of rendering the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣha”  

Various renditions of this kṛti are easily available in various public domains. We frequently hear this kṛti rendered in Hindustāni style, perhaps due to the roots of this rāgam in the Hindustāni syatem and a popular belief that it was composed by Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar. Having revisited these thoughts and arriving at a conclusion which is contrary to the belief, at least, few of us will be interested to know the rāgam as conceptualized by Subbarāma Dīkśitar.  Analysis of the notations reveal, almost all the variety of gamaka-s were used – kaṃpitam, nokku, ōrika and jāru. The preponderance of jāru is not seen, making us to believe this can be sung in our style. Also, no instruction regarding the style for this kṛti was attached. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, being precise in his views would have mentioned the same if his intent was to render it in Hindustāni style . Hence, a humble attempt was made to render this composition in our style.

Research in any field allows multiple interpretations and every researcher is allowed to put forward his findings for the growth of any field. These views are not proposed to controvert with the prevalent notions; rather to give a different interpretation based on the available evidences.


We started with two queries – disputes regarding the author of the kṛti “rāma rāma kali kaluṣa” and the authority of using prati madhyamam in the rāgam Rāmakali.

Available evidences make us to believe this kṛti was composed by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar.

This kṛti of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar can be heard here.

The authority on treating this as a prati madhyama rāgam will be covered in part II of this series.

The rāgam Rāmakali and the kṛti “Rāma rāma kali kaluṣa”- Part II


Hema Ramanathan (2004) – Rāgalakṣaṇa Saṅgraha (collection of Rāga descriptions) from Treatises on Music of the Mēla Period with translations and notes, 2004.

Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Saṅgītasampradāyapradarśinī, Vidyavilasini Press, 1904.


  1. In general, we can find 1+2+1, 2+1+1 or 1+1+2 pattern more commonly than all laghu svarā-s while handling 4s in the kṛti-s of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar. Odd numbers are commonly used giving them a complicated and asymmetric appearance. We do have few kṛti-s wherein the pattern is simple, like the one we see in the kṛti śrī mātaḥ in Bēgaḍā; they are only exceptions. On the other kind, kṛti-s of Subbarāma Dīkṣitar are flooded with all 4 laghu svarā-s and most of the svara passages sound simple.
Raga, Repertoire

Some reflections on Raga Narayanagaula and its allied ragas




We did see the detailed analysis of Narayanagaula in our earlier blog post. Now in this short  blog post we shall see a few more aspects of this raga including a comparative study with some allied ragas along with a note on Kuppayyar’s beautiful kriti which is never at seen in the concert circuit.

Read on!


There is considerable melodic relationship between Narayanagaula and the following set of ragas:

  1. Kedaragaula
  2. Surati
  3. Kapinarayani

While the first two have considerable music history backing them, the last raga Kapi Narayani is a eka kriti raga the creation of which is attributed to Tyagaraja. Given the common svaras and murcchanas which form the single body for these ragas/melodies, one needs to get down to the musical analysis using the notes and the motifs and jiva, nyasa and graha svaras on one hand and the practical musical exposition of the ragas on the other.

Let’s first look at the comparative chart of these ragas as above. The chart below is prepared with Narayanagaula as focus raga and how it contrasts from its siblings.

Raga Nominal arohana Nominal avarohana
Kedaragaula S R M P N S S N D P M G R S
Surati S R M P N S S N D P M G R S
Narayanagaula S R M P N D N S S N D P M G R G R S
Kapi Narayani S R M P D N S S N D P M G R G R S


Narayanagaula Kapi Narayani Kedaragaula Surati
Key aroha phrases SRMPNNS ;SRMPNDNS ;Ghana raga; tristayi raga SRMPDNS PNDNS not seen ; rakti raga; tristhayi raga SNDNS & NDNS are seen;  No movement below mandara Nishada
Distinctive murcchanas PDM and PNDM; G.RGR. is seen while MRS does not occur. Again MGS is used; MGRGR is a patented murccana for this raga & is to be avoided in allied ragas MG..RGr… with a marked emphasis on the G and R & r as a repeated nyasa marks this raga MGS is never used;  Use of MGMPR is distinctive of Surati.
Weak notes Gandhara is an extremely strong note. Dhaivata is an accepted graha svara as well. Gandhara falls to sadharana value in some phrases ( nGRS) G2 is not seen. Emphasis is always on the nyasa note rishabha. True to its rAgAngA status, it cannot be tinted with G2 at all. Gandhara & dhaivata are very weak notes & is never a graha or nyasa. Gandhara is very close to madhyama as if it were a simple place holder svara and similarly dhaivata is close to nishada.
Strong notes Ni and Ma are very strong and are preferred graha svaras /starting notes. Always begin murcchanas with them and end them/nyasa svara with Ri. Given PDNS as a complete uttaranga, all these notes are powerful graha/nyasa notes. Ni is the graha svara Ni is a strong note and is a preferred jiva svara; Sadja is the graha svara
Melodic structuring Jhanta notes to be favoured ; sA or pA  to be avoided as resting notes. In an exposition of the raga always place the pivot of the raga on the graha/jiva notes and start on the graha and end on the preferred nyasa note. Jhanta notes to be favoured. Sa and Pa are preferred resting notes. Ri is a preferred resting note was well while sa and pa preferred graha svaras apart from Nishada . PMR, NDPPMR and MGMPR , is used profusely.


An excellent svara gnanam/musical competence and practiced experience is needed to perform manodharma/Kalpana sangitam in this raga. It is certainly not a raga for the faint-hearted. It cannot be sung with traces of Kedaragaula or Surati. It demands intimate knowledge of rendering the unique micro tones of nishadha and madhyama, usage of appropriate start and ending notes, emphasis on janta notes and ability to sing the raga in the first kalam/speed. The renditional complexity of the raga increases as under:

Plain Kriti ->plain varnam -> svara Kalpana in second speed -> svara Kalpana in first speed – > tanam –> alapana -> neraval

Kedaragaula, Narayanagaula and Surati can never be understood and distinguished just on the basis of grammar or svaras. A student who has not heard these ragas can never sing them true to form from notation. Only by hearing the practical exposition of these ragas by great masters can one really be able to understand the notation, as well as the melodic contours and the distinguishing features of these ragas.


A common theme underlying the practical exposition of these ragas is the telling use of individual notes as a graha or nyasa, emphasizing the jiva and dhirga svaras and the leitmotifs in the svara prastara. These are the keys to present a proper picture of these ragas distinctly. The exemplars for Narayanagaula has been shared in the earlier blog post covering the Varna, kriti and a couple of svara Kalpana clippings. The Narayangaula kriti of Veena Kuppayyar was mentioned in passing in my previous post but I would like to present a personal rendering of the same. Given the fact that the composition is never ever rendered plus the fact that the composer specialized in the raga, intrigued me so so much that I learnt it from notation with the raga knowledge gained from Dikshitar’s ‘Sri ramam’ and the Kuppayyar varna. Any errors or omission is entirely due to my amateurish knowledge/presentation.

A few points merit our attention in the architecture of this composition:

  1. Much like Dikshitar, Kuppayyar gives pride of place to Dha. He starts the anupallavi with Dha, like the anupallavi take off at ‘dhIrAgraganyam’ in Sriramam.
  2. The anupallavi is decorated with a sprightly cittasvara section while the carana loops back to the pallavi through a crowning madhayama kala sahitya section a la Dikshitar!
  3. MGRGRS, the leitmotif occurs aplenty in the composition. It occurs 2 times in the pallavi, 3 times in the anupallavi and 9 times in the carana excluding the cittasvara section. A staggering 14 total occurrences with at least  one for every tala avarta! So much for this leitmotif. He also uses DMP deliberately as well. One is forced recollect the intervention of Gayakasikhamani Harikesanallur Muthiah Bagavathar during the Experts Committee meeting of the Music Academy when it met to deliberate on this raga’s lakshana, which I have summarized elsewhere in this blog post. He wanted DMP to enshrined in the avarohana murrcana which will distinguish it from Kedaragaula beyond doubt. He wanted it to be SNDMPMGRGRS, so much for the veteran’s formidable lakshya and lakshana gnana! The same is recorded in JMA 1935-37 pp156-157. The Experts Committee unsurprisingly without much ado concluded that SRMPNDNS and SNDPMGRGRS as the arohana and avarohana krama on 31st December 1934. They too agreed that MGRGRS was a lietmotif to be used and enshrined it as a part of the avarohana.
  4. In sum this kriti encompasses the set of all permissible murccanas which distinctively form the basis of the lakshana of Narayangaula – SRMP ; MPNNS ; MPNDNS ; Nsrmgrgrs; NNDPMP ; NDMP; PMNNDP; MGRGRS ; MGS; nndpnnsS ( the svaras in normal upper case are mandhara stayi svaras; lower case are tAra stAyI and lower case italics are  mandhara stayi svaras.


Covered next is a set of curated renderings of Surati, Kapi Narayani and Kedaragaula as svarakalpana or as viruttam singing as they offer the most in terms of understanding raga architecture.

First of the lot is Surati and presented herein is the improvisation as a part of the pallavi ragamalika by Vidvan T M Krishna, from a concert in the public domain.

The rendering is a part of the pallavi in the raga Janaranjani with its sahitya being the pallavi portion of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s  composition ‘ Pahimam Sri Rajarajesvari krupAkari sankari’. Attention is invited at the unique nishadha svara with which the vidvan invokes the imagery of Surati for us.

Presented next is the svara kalpana rendering of Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer for the classic Veenai Kuppayyar adi tala tana varnam in Surati, ‘entO prEma’. We pick up action at the beginning of the last ettugada svara section for the caranam line ‘panta mEla jEsEvu IvEla’ . The veteran almost concludes the piece with the last avarta with the mrudangist too playing the concluding stroke even as Sri Srinivasa Iyer changes his mind at the very last moment and launches his sarva laghu svaraprastara. The way the legendary Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman follows the maestro like a devoted slave, as somebody put it, is a treat.

As one an see the raga blossoms forth in the uttarAngA  around nishada svara and in the pUrvAngA of the top octave.

Surati is always included as  a part of the suite of ragas in viruttam singing at the fag end of any concert, tailing into the mangalam. The legendary doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda takes a beautiful anonymous Sanskrit sloka, ‘vihAya kamalAlaya’ and strings the verses in a garland of ragas including Purvikalyani, Sahana, Behag, Kanada, Surati and finally Madhyamavathi. I am presenting the entire rendering of her’s for the simple reason that it is wholesome and she packages all our crown jewels that our music can offer, in less than 10 minutes.

Here is the text of the sloka for those of us who may be interested.

vihAya kamalAlayA vilasitAni vidyunnaTI
viDambana paTUni mE viharaNam vidhattAm manaH |
kapardini kumudvatI ramaNa khaNDa cUDAmaNau
kaTI taTa paTI bhavat-karaTicarmaNi brahmaNi ||


विहाय कमलालया-विलसितानि विद्युन्नटी-
विडम्बन-पटूनि मे विहरणं विधत्ताम् मनः ।
कपर्दिनि कुमुद्वती-रमण-खण्ड-चूडामणौ
कटी-तट-पटी-भवत्-करटिचर्मणि ब्रह्मणि ॥


Hark at how ravishingly she packs the entire essence of Surati within a minute. She starts Surati at 7:26 into this clip, distilling all that perfume of the East in a minute and rapidly transitioning into its close cousin Madhyamavati. A veritable lesson for a student of music in elaborating a raga in a sloka/viruttham.

For Kapi Narayani , Tyagaraja’s sole exemplar kriti ‘Sarasamadhana’ has been made his own by the great vocalist Ganakaladhara Madurai Mani Iyer. His inimitable rendering of the composition, his copious mandharma in his execution of the neraval and sarvalaghu svarakalpana littered with janta prayogas on the carana line, ‘hitavumAta’ gives goose bumps, to  a listener  even to this date, decades after his passing away. In his recording which is available in the public domain, Mani Iyer uses the dhaivatha note as a graha and nyasa note for his imaginative svaraprastara. For our understanding, I present the rendering of contemporary performer, Vidushi Amrutha Murali. The Vidusi in the company of her guru, Vidvan R K Sriramkumar and mrudangist Arun Prakash leverages the nishadha note instead as her pivot/anchor svara for her svara kalpana sorties. As pointed out earlier Narayanagaula has a vakra uttaranga PNDNS while Kapi Narayani has a lineal PDNS as its uttaranga. The clipping commences with her neraval on the caranam line ‘hitavUmAta’. Did the raga Narayangaula give Tyagaraja the inspiration to sculpt this noveau raga Kapinarayani, a raga without a textual history ? We do not know.

We move on finally to Kedaragaula, a raganga raga of yore. The readers are invited to hear out the versions of Kedaragaula which is available in abundance in the public as well commercial domain. But personally nothing beats the beautifully encapsulated pristine, classical Kedaragaula by Smt K B Sundarambal from a Tamil film of yester years. She starts her viruttam in Mohanam, moves on to Kedaragaula and finally on to Kanada. Hear her dwell on Kedaragaula  starting  at 0.28.

In this clip, the veteran stage singer famed for her majestic voice spanning 3 full octaves, open throat singing and impeccable purity of sruti paints a perfect Kedargaula fit for a novice and the cognoscenti, in the same breath. For me it is much like how Prof SRJ waxes eloquent on the beauty of M K Tyagaraja Bagavathar’s rendering of ‘Siva peruman krupai vendum” in Surati ( at 9:47 in the clipping) which was alluded to in an early blog post.

As the respected Professor points out, by extension just on the gandhara and dhaivata the distinction between the the three ragas Surati, Kedaragaula and Narayanagaula can be brought out in conjunction with the graha/nyasa svaras.


In sum Narayanagaula is not a raga for novices or for the faint hearted. It demands an in-depth or intimate if not extraordinary knowledge of the raga on the part of a performer, given the melodic overlap it has with its neighbouring ragas, which share the same melodic material.

We always like some sort of an apocryphal/sensational/spicy story or two about melodies or musical personages. And chroniclers both present and past seem to have a predilection for exaggerating the facts or events as they go about recording them during their lifetimes. I end this rumination blog post with one such story/event, probably true, about how the vocalist nonpareil Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) used this raga Narayanagaula to stump his opponent in a musical contest. True or untrue, the raga becomes the pivot of the story which is recorded for posterity by Vidvan Gomathisankara Iyer ( “Isai Vallunargal” published in 1970) as told to him by his musician father Pallavi Subbiah Bhagavathar, who was a disciple of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer being his pupil between the years 1876-1882. In his almost panegyric narration, Vidvan Gomathi Sankara Iyer provides all the elements of suspense and intrigue.

In the late 1880’s, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was on an extended stay at Madras on a musical sojourn enjoying his popularity, the adulation and patronage extended by the denizens of the city and the of the officials of the administration including the Governor of Madras. A special dinner was hosted in his honor by the Governor Robert Bourke known more by his peerage name of Baron/Lord Connemara along with his wife Baroness/Lady Connemara. Post the dinner, the invited celebrities were treated with a sumptuous concert by the legend, who apparently even sang English notes for the benefit of the assembled English speaking glitterati. Perhaps they must have been the nottusvara sahityas of Muthusvami Dikshitar !

This public display of adulation for Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer did not fail to make a few of the vidvans envious or jealous, for so popular and sought after he was that many thought, never mind if music emanated or not, thousands would gather at the mere move of his mouth! Vidvan Venugopal Das Naidu, a vocalist of not so well known provenance and a citizen of the City, was one of those who viewed the entire spectacle with envy. A man who prided himself by decking in a royal demeanour, Venu as he was endearing called vented his fury to his violinist friend ‘Photograph” Masilamani Mudaliar. His opinion was to the effect that “Maha” was a fake appellation which Vaidyanatha Iyer did not at all deserve and he was simply putting up a charade without an ounce of practical musical worth. According to Subbiah Bagavathar, Venu and Mudaliar acting “in concert” so as to put it, decided that forthwith Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer should be challenged for a contest and went public with that. In pursuance to that, a fund raising spree was launched, mopping up a princely sum of more than Rs. 2000/, which was to defray the cost of a huge silver salve and gold ear studs which the winner would eventually take. Notices were printed and distributed as advertisement, fixing the terms of the concert, unilaterally, virtually rigging up the entire contest. Thus the duo put it out that the residence of Fiddle Ramayya Pillai, a wealthy musician of George Town would be the venue, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer would be given the first opportunity to sing first, choosing the raga of the Pallavi and elaborating it. Venugopal Naidu will then sing a Pallavi in that raga following which Vaidyanatha Iyer would have to elaborate it. If he could not he would have to relinquish his title in public. The duo set the rules of the game, the time, date and venue as well to their advantage apparently and threw the gauntlet at the great vocalist.

The stratagem was not too complicated. Given that pallavis were traditionally sung in the heavy ragas namely Bhairavi, Kambhoji, Sankarabharanam or Kalyani, the idea was to entrap Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer with Venu setting the Pallavi in a complicated rhythmic setting, without openly putting the tala so that it would stump the veteran vocalist. As if to result-proof this contest even further, Masilamani Mudaliyar himself was anointed as the arbiter/referee of this contest!

When Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and his elder brother Ramasvami Sivan, who was his alter ego and accompanying junior partner/vocalist in his concerts, heard of the challenge, they grew extremely uncomfortable. Subbiah Bagavathar’s version has it that Vaidyanatha Iyer’s ardent & leading rasikas/admirers would have none of it and they goaded Vaidyanatha Iyer into accepting the challenge.

On the appointed day and time at the venue in George Town, rasikas agog with excitement had assembled to watch the proceedings with bated breath. With Masilamani Mudaliar as referee the proceedings commenced in right earnest and in deference to protocol, Vaidyanatha Iyer asked Venu his challenger if he had any raga as his preference for the Pallavi exposition. We do not have any evidence if there was any premeditated strategy on tackling the situation on his part. On Vaidyanatha Iyer’s seemingly innocuous question, Venugopal Naidu perhaps haughtily, responded “Any raga of your choice”. Vaidyanatha Iyer in line with the prevailing practice had planned to sing the Pallavi in Sankarabharanam and he prepared himself to do so. Perhaps as fortune would have it, a brainwave struck Ramasvami Sivan who was sitting behind next to his brother, strumming the tanpura perhaps. In a trice he leaned forward and whispered into Vaidyanatha Iyer’s ears to junk the plan to sing the Pallavi in Sankarabharanam. He proceeded to suggest Narayanagaula as the raga of the Pallavi and he said so in their secret coded language (pAnDava bAshA is the name, Pallavi Subbiah Bagavathar gives for that coded language that was used by the brothers), lest it may be over heard & understood by Venu. Apparently the rarity of the raga and the equally rare practice perhaps to use it as a vehicle of Pallavi exposition was the plan that what Ramasvami Sivan had to win this contest, hands down. Gomathi Sankara Iyer records further that the raga Narayanagaula with its vakra sancaras or its “turn of notes” makes it difficult for manipulation in a Pallavi and this proved to be a master stroke! As the great titan held in awe by his contemporaries, began humming (Vaidyanatha Iyer had a ‘hUmkAra way of raga elaboration) the raga and began his exposition, a cloud of silence descended on the venue. The unique and and not so frequently heard raga coming forth from the vocal chords of the Prince Charming of Music of those days, cast a spell on the crowd.

One can easily envision Vaidyanatha Iyer performing his alapana in a grand and eloquent manner, for Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar and Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer in their respective memoirs, provide that vivid picture of Vaidyanatha Iyer’s inimitable way of singing. Subbiah Bagavathar records that on that day, Vaidyanatha Iyer had performed a complete alapana of Narayanagaula for about 45 minutes perhaps spanning the three octaves he was known for. Needless to add it must have been a veritable feast for the celestials.

The narration goes on to say that not surprisingly, Venu had no clue as to the raga. So bedevilled and muddled he was that even as Iyer was immersed in his exposition, he retired from the stage to a quiet corner to re-plan by retrofitting his preplanned pallavi to the melody that he was hearing, without any success.  By then Vaidyanatha Iyer had finished his tour-de force alapana and perhaps the tanam as well and Venu was nowhere to be seen. It must have been a great tanam, par excellence, as the raga is so amenable to madhyama kala exposition for which Vaidyanatha Iyer was justly famous for during his heydays. And with the challenger Venu who went missing from the stage, not seen at all, the referee Masilamani Mudaliar grudgingly requested Vaidyanatha Iyer to complete the rendering with his own Pallavi which the veteran did as if like a fish taking to water. The final Pallavi rendition must have been a proverbial icing on the cake for the assembled cognoscenti of Chennapattana. And not surprisingly at the end of the performance, Vaidyanatha Iyer was felicitated and presented with the prize money and gifts.

Thus ends the story of Vaidyanatha Iyer leveraging this great raga Narayanagaula to defend his title ‘Maha’ conferred on him by the Pontiff of the Siva Mutt at Tiruvavaduthurai, decades prior. Needless to add, he returned home adding one more exotic event to his already legendary reputation and also richer by the gifts bestowed on him. So much for the raga Narayanagaula!

History, Raga

Nishumbasudani……. Mystery from the medieval Chola times!


Nishumbasudani Bas Relief ( Courtesy the Philadelphia Museum)

More than 14,000 Kms away from Tanjore in Southern India, half way across on the other side of earth is the American city of Philadelphia. A discerning lover of Indian art, residing in or near this city should definitely make that visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As a visitor goes to the Museum’s second floor which houses its South Asian collection of art, the most eye catching would be the Hall reassembled on site from remnants of the Madana Gopala Swamy Temple, Madurai which was shipped out of India circa 1912 AD, by a wealthy Philadelphian Ms Adeline Pepper Gibson.  While the antiquity of this Hall is just around 500-600 or so years only , in the room adjacent to this Hall, away from the spotlight would be the still older Chola artworks on display dating a further 500 years prior. And amongst the works of arts there, a discerning visitor can spot an icon of Goddess Durga or more specifically one should say, ‘nisumbhasUdanI’ or the Slayer of the demon Nishumbha, on display. A look at the card tagged to this bas relief would state its antecedents briefly as “Goddess Durga As the Slayer of the Demon Nishumbha (Nishumbhasudani), 900 to 925 CE, Tamil Nadu, India”.

A closer analysis of this sculpture would reveal that it is a 10th Century granite bas relief, albeit a little damaged, but nevertheless a masterpiece from the times of the medieval Cholas. We do not know from whom and where this icon was sourced from, but the Museum has this item in its Collection having purchased it from out of the funds of the Joseph E Temple Trust in the year 1965. This Devi, the slayer of Shumbha, Nishumbha and Mahishasura is the subject matter of this blog post.

Actually, the blog is about two mysteries, dating back to centuries prior which continue to hold us in thrall. And this Devi, ‘nishumbhasUdanI’ is the link with which we will look at these two mysteries. We have very few facts or solid information from those times, long bygone and this blog is to place them in proper perspective as always to provide a context for a raga and a composition.  This blog has been written, alternating between the two mysteries while at the same time providing some background then & there for which foot notes have been written so as to provide continuity.

Read On!


The Cholas were the great Kings of southern Tamilnadu ruling from Tanjore. The subject matter for us are the Medieval Cholas who ruled first from Uraiyur and later from Tanjore between 848 AD and 1070 AD. The Chola Kings who ruled prior are called the Early Cholas and those who ruled after 1070 AD are called the Later Cholas by historians. Very well known in this lineage of medieval Chola Kings are Emperor Raja Raja I (whose actual name was Arulmozhi Varman) and his son Rajendra I who respectively constructed the Brihadeesvara Temple at Tanjore and its look like, the Great temple at Gangaikondacholapuram.

The first King of this medieval Chola lineage was Vijayalaya Chola (regnal years 848 AD-891 AD) who is also credited to have founded the modern city of Tanjore, making it the Capital of the Imperial Cholas. When he laid the foundation of this great Chola lineage and that of the City of Tanjore as his capital, legend has it that he made the icon of Goddess Durga or ‘nishumbasUdanI’ as the tutelary deity of the Cholas. She was revered as a war Goddess and legend has it that Vijayalaya built a temple for Her in Tanjore. Historians are unanimous in their opinion that this Temple no longer exists today. The only reference to this act of Vijayalaya Chola and vouching for the existence of Nishumbasudani is this following verse found in the Tiruvalangadu Copper plate (see Note 1) which in a set of verses, in the nature of hagiography, detailing the entirely lineage of Cholas as a brief history.

தஞ்சாபுரீம் ஸௌத ஸுதாங்காராகாம்
ஜக்ராஹ ரந்தும் ரவிவம்ச தீப:
தத:பிரதிஷ்டாப்ய நிசும்ப சூதனீம்
சது : ஸமுத்ராம்பர மேகலாம் புவம்
ரஹாஜ தேவோ தத்பராசதந”

तञ्जापुरीं सौध सुधाङ्गरागां
जग्राह रन्तुं रविवंश दीपः
ततः प्रतिष्ठाप्य निशुम्भसूदनीं
सुरासुरैः अर्चितपादपङ्कजां
चतुः समुद्राम्भर मेखलां भुवं
रहाज देवो तत्परासदन

(Verse 46 of the Tiruvalangadu Copper Plate – History of the Cholas- See Note 2)

 Meaning: Having next consecrated (there at Tanjore) (the image of) Nisumbhasudani whose lotus-feet are worshipped by gods and demons, (he, Vijayalaya Chola) by the grace of that (goddess) bore just (as easily) as a garland (the weight of) the (whole) earth resplendent with (her) garment of the four oceans.

And this Goddess Nishumbasudani as the tutelary deity of the Cholas becomes our object of attention. And consecrated in that Temple at Tanjore around 850 AD she must have overseen the rise and the fall of the medieval and later Cholas, spanning about 400 years thereafter before she herself probably disappeared from our view. Let us fast forward time by about 100 years to the reign of Vijayalaya’s grandson’s grandson Parantaka Sundara Chola or Parantaka II of the historians for a peek at a mystery which has for a very long time held the attention of Tamil historians, researchers and literary readers.

Circa 957 AD

Parantaka Sundara Chola, a descendant of Vijayalaya, ascended the Chola throne in 957 AD. His father Arinjaya Cola had earlier ruled for a brief period succeeding his own elder brother Gandaraditya. Since Gandaraditya died leaving a very young son (Madurantaka Uttama), Arinjaya ascended the throne and he also having died shortly thereafter, it became inevitable that Parantaka Sundara the son of Arinjaya ascended the throne as Madurantaka Uttama was still a minor. Nevertheless, given the patriarchal line of succession as was prevalent, Parantaka Sundara thus became King even while his father’s elder brother’s son Madurantaka Uttama, being the rightful claimant to the throne was there. We do not know the intrigues that went on in relation to this succession but nevertheless the same becomes a key pivot for the proceedings.

Parantaka Sundara’s eldest son was Prince Aditya Karikala (See Note 3) who records say was anointed as Crown Prince. And it was not Madurantaka Uttama the older claimant. We do not know, as between Aditya Karikala and Madurantaka Uttama who was elder by age but it was Aditya Karikala who became the heir apparent. Parantaka Sundara’s two other children were Prince Arulmozhi Varman and Princess Kundavai who would have been yet another set of siblings to the anointed Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, without any right to inherit the throne, but for the chain of events that were about to engulf Tanjore shortly thereafter, a veritable Game of Thrones, a medieval version at that, which brought these two younger royals to the forefront.

Even while Parantaka Sundara Chola ruled over from Tanjore, by 965 AD it was left to the young & mighty Crown Prince Aditya Karikala to expand the frontiers of the Chola Kingdom. Records say that he decimated the Pandyan army at the Battle of Sevur (near Pudukottai) and killed King Veerapandya earning for himself the title ‘The Vanquisher who took the Head of Veerapandya’ (‘vIrapAndiyan thalai konda parakesari’). Even the Thiruvalangadu copper plate verse No 68 too makes a mention to that effect, Dr Nilakanta Sastri opines that Aditya would have not literally done so and the said epithet was just to signify his victory over Veerapandya. The true import of this epithet would prove important later when we come to interpret the happening that would shake the very foundation of the medieval Chola rule.

Given the perpetual rivalry between the Cholas and Pandyas, a victory of that proportion must have been a truly momentous occasion. But that victory was to turn a pyrrhic one.  It is well likely that Madurantaka Uttama, the cousin of Parantaka Sundara, the reigning King upon attaining majority must have nursed ambitions to be the next King given the precedence of his claim to the throne. However, given the legendary & heroic exploits of the Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, Madurantaka Uttama’s claim would have likely been eclipsed by Aditya’s. Whether Madurantaka Uttama resented it and whether directly or indirectly he advanced his claims or wishes to ascend the throne, we do not know. In the same breath it has to be said that we do see inscriptions wherein Madurantaka Uttama is recorded as a Prince (if not as a Crown Prince) performing his royal duties in his own right during the reign of Parantaka Sundara Chola, such as the one at Tiruvottriyur, (Udayar is the tamil word which is used as a prefix to the Prince in the said inscription).

While all was well this far in Tanjore in the early months of 969 AD with Parantaka Sundara as King and Aditya Karikala as the Crown Prince & successor designate, let us leave the dramatis personae for a while and fast forward quickly to the present.

21st Century:

The Nishumbhasudani Goddess Durga icon which we one can see in the Philadelphia Museum, dateable to 900 AD, being the reign of Vijayalaya Chola or his successor Aditya I sets us thinking if it is perhaps from that very Temple which was constructed at Tanjore for Her by Vijayalaya and which today is just a legend. May be or maybe not, nevertheless the reference to the Nishumbhasudani Goddess Durga and that mythical temple would certainly encourage one to search for a reference to Her and the temple in our musical or literary heritage left behind by the poets, composers and savants of the past. However, a diligent search for Her seems to show no trace of any verse or reference or composition or any epigraphical record pointing us to this Devi. In sum, save for the solitary reference in the above referred Thiruvalangadu Copper plate to this Nishumbhasudani of Tanjore. Also the existing structures and temples in Tanjore for Goddess Durga too seem to have been much later constructed temples. See Note 4. Where was this Goddess who had as her abode the temple constructed by Vijayalaya Chola ?

In passing, it is worth mentioning that readers of Kalki’s classic ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ would doubtlessly recall the references to Goddess Durga Parameswari and also the allusion to this Devi’s Temple in the proceedings in the said work.

While this is so let’s move the clock back this time by just around 200 plus years to first two decades of the 19th century, when Muthusvami Dikshitar the itinerant composer spent some time at Tanjore.

Circa 1800 AD:

Biographers of Muthusvami Dikshitar (1775-1832 AD) refer to an extended period of time when he visited and stayed in Tanjore. His prime disciples namely the Tanjore Quartet being Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Sivanandam & Vadivelu when they were in the Court of Serfoji II, are said to have invited him to be with them and he reportedly obliged them by doing so sometime during this period. It was during this sojourn that Dikshitar at the request of the Quartet, commenced the project of investing a composition in every one of the 72 mela ragas of the compendium of Muddu Venkatamakhin. Even while as Dikshitar embarked on creating a number of them on the deities of the very many temples and around Tanjore, could he have created one on Nishumbasudani Goddess Durga? None of the biographers of Muthusvami Dikshitar attribute any kriti to Her and therefore one in left with their own devices to investigate if any kriti can be ascribed to this long-lost tutelary deity of the Imperial Cholas.

It does make one surmise whether Dikshitar would have craved to have a darshan of this great & hoary deity. He must perhaps got himself satisfied by visiting and paying obeisance to Her at the smaller shrine in the then ramparts of the Tanjore fort. Could he have perhaps having heard of this mythical yet fearsome war Goddess wondered where on earth she was and then hearing about the futility of discovering Her or the legendary temple, perhaps went on to eulogize her, invoking her imagery with his inner vision and thus creating a composition? If indeed there was one kriti at the very least we can surmise that it could be the one he might have composed on this Nishumbhasudani. And that composition could surely be a pen picture of that great Devi, which we can perhaps use as a proxy to that long-lost icon.

In other words, could Dikshitar have created a composition on that mythical Goddess just as how he had done for the mythical Goddess Sarasvati of Kashmir or the One who resided on the banks of the mythical Sharavati river, without having visited Her? And if he had composed one, which is the raga of choice Dikshitar would have employed? Before we progress further we must note one caveat here. In the first place we have attempted to search for this supposed composition on Nishumbhasudani, as there were no already attributed compositions to start with, with the embedded ksetra/stala or any other internal/external evidence. We have embarked on this only to surmise on the possible composition which could have been created by Dikshitar on this mythical Goddess of Tanjore and therefore for sure the composition will be bereft of any evidence to that effect.

In so far as the raga of the composition, it is entirely in the realm of possibility that Dikshitar must have applied great thought to the choice of the raga. And perhaps given his predilection for the rare and the archaic, he must have proceeded to compose the same in a long-forgotten raga, but which would have ruled the roost centuries ago and had been forgotten by 1800’s.

Thus, a composition in a long forgotten archaic raga for a mythical and again completely forgotten tutelary deity of the great Cholas of Tanjore would have been his complete and appropriate homage to that Nishumbhasudani. And could he have done it?

Having surmised a case for a probable composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar, on the Nishumbhasudani of Tanjore, it is time for us to go back to the times of Sundara Parantaka Chola once more.

Circa 969 AD

The year AD 969 would have been King Parantaka Sundara Chola’s 12th year of reign and his Crown Prince & anointed successor Prince Aditya Karikala must have been around 22 years old. And then sometime September that year, tragedy strikes the Royal Cholas.

The Tiruvalangadu Copper plates mourn the death of the young Crown Prince Aditya Karikala with the verse no 68 running thus:

Having deposited in his (capital) town the lofty pillar of victory (viz.,) the head of the Pandya king, Aditya disappeared (from this world) with a desire to see heaven.

In essence the copper plate records, bemoaned the setting of the sun (“Aditya”) probably plunging the entire Chola kingdom in grief & darkness.  It must be noted that Tiruvalangadu plates (which by themselves were created during the reign of Rajendra Cola, circa 1030 AD or more than 50 years or so later from this event) as above merely mention this untimely demise and it does not raise the sceptre of assassination or foul play in his death. Neither was there any war or battle on record in which the valiant Prince could have lost his life, at that point in time. And if so the epigraphs would have eulogized his death much like how his paternal uncle Rajaditya was. It is only the inscription at Udayarkudi (created later during the reign of King Raja Raja Chola, circa AD 1010) which throws further light on this mysterious tragedy. The said inscription attests to the assassination of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, implying that three brothers Soman Sambhavan, Ravidasan alias Panchavan Brahmadhirajan and Parameswaran alias Irumudichola Brahmadirajan being traitors, had been instrumental in the death of the Crown Prince. Modern historians opine that one or more of these three personalities were high ranking Chola Officials who were insiders to the regime and most probably they took revenge on the Crown Prince for the death of the Pandyan King and after doing the foul deed they probably fled for life, for we have no record of them having been caught, tried and sentenced. The Udayarkudi inscription unambiguously makes it know that the assassins and their relatives were banished and their assets confiscated by the State. Nothing is known further than this.

From inscriptions or the Chola era copper plates, nothing further is known as to how and where Crown Prince Aditya Karikala was killed even while different theories have been floated about both by historians and fiction writers in the 20th century. Be that as it may, the Royal House of the Cholas must have plunged into grief with the death of its Crown Prince. Tongues must have wagged and the loyalties of the members of the Royal Family and Courtiers must have been called into question. (See Note 5)

And thus, ended the life of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala some 1050 years ago in 969 AD. In his death perhaps unwittingly lay the glory of the Imperial Cholas. His brother Raja Raja I and thereafter his successor Rajendra I went on to become the great Emperors of Southern India expanding their influence even into modern day Malaysian peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago. And for these Chola Kings their tutelary deity Nishumbhasudani was always the greatest benefactor and guardian angel in whom they reposed undiminished faith, so much so that even the Mahratta Kings who came to rule from Tanjore much later, in a bid to capitalise on the same faith and authority as the Imperial Cholas, too made Her as their family deity. The medieval Chola history thus leaves amongst many others, chiefly two unsolved mysteries or questions for us today. First being the unsolved death of the young and chivalrous Crown Prince Aditya Karikala in AD 969 and secondly the whereabouts of the Nishumbhasudani icon and the temple venerated by them which was once upon a time in Tanjore.

And with these questions open, we will take leave of the Chola Royals and move on quickly some 800 years hence immersing ourselves now in matters musical.

Circa 1800 AD

As we surmised earlier if indeed Muthuswami Dikshitar had composed a kriti on this Nishumbasudani of Tanjore, it ought to be documented in the magnum opus Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar for sure. A perusal of Dikshitar’s compositions therein quickly reveals one which satisfies our query, the composition starting ‘mahishAsuramardhini’ in the raga Narayani under mela 29 Sankarabharanam.

We had further surmised earlier that the raga of the composition, if one exists is likely to be an archaic one. And Narayani is truly one. Before we deep dive to examine this statement, one omnibus declaration needs to be flagged right away. The raga tagged as Narayani by the Sangraha Cudamani with two Tyagaraja compositions as exemplars are certainly not Narayani. Again, as pointed out earlier the scale as exemplified by these two Tyagaraja composition has been wrongly assigned the name Narayani. It is a different raga altogether.

Narayani’s History:

The Narayani of Muthusvami Dikshitar as illustrated in the SSP (1904 AD) on the authority of the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika (circa 1750 AD) claims a hoary lineage all the way tracing back centuries prior, as a raga taking only the notes of Sankarabharana/29th mela of our present day Mela system. Ramamatya’s Svaramelakalanidhi ( 1550 AD) Poluri Govindakavi’s Ragatalachintamani ( circa 1650), Ragamanjari of Pundarikavittala ( circa 1575), Govinda Dikshitar’s Sangita Sudha ( AD 1614), Venkatamakhin’s Caturdandi Prakashika ( 1620 AD), Sangita Parijata of Ahobala ( 17th century), Srinivasa’s Ragatattva Vibhoda ( 1650AD), Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu ( 1710 AD), Tulaja’s Sangita Saramruta ( 1732 AD) and finally ending with Muddu Venkamakhin’s Anubandha, all these musical texts unequivocally & in unison assert that the Raga Narayani takes the notes of Mela 29 /Sankarabharanam. It is indeed incomprehensible how this hoary raga which has been so for centuries under Sankarabharana mela can be classified under Harikambhoji mela (as in Sangraha Cudamani).

Without much ado one simply needs to cast aside/discard the aberrant definition laid down for raga Narayani by the Sangraha Cudamani and proceed to evaluate the history and the lakshana of the raga as laid down unanimously by all previous musicological treatises or more precisely by the Triad – being the works of Sahaji (AD 1710), Tulaja (AD 1732) and Muddu Venkatamakhin (AD 1750) and proceed to draw the conclusions therefrom. We have seen time and again that the lakshana of a raga as given by this Triad together with the exemplar kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar as documented in the SSP would enable us to understand the true and correct picture of the raga. In the current context, we also need to evaluate why Narayani is archaic and went extinct. It is a fact that neither this Dikshitar kriti ‘mahishAsuramadhini’ nor any other kriti conforming to the Narayani of the 29th mela is even encountered on the concert circuit today.

But firstly, lets evaluate the lakshana of Narayani according to Sahaji, Tulaja and offcourse Muddu Venkatamakhin.

Lakshana of raga Narayani & likely why it went extinct:

The Triad of musicological texts and the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar provides us the following lakshana of the raga:

  1. The raga is sampurna, i.e all seven notes of mela 29 occurs in this raga.
  2. It is upanga in the modern as well, i.e it takes only the notes of mela 29 being R2, G3, M1, P, D2 and N3
  3. SRGM, PDNS, SNDP – these lineal combinations do not occur. Though MGRS is permitted by the definition the Dikshitar kriti sports only MG\S only, with the rishabha occurring more as an anusvara.
  4. It is a raga with vakra/ devious progression sporting RMGP, SMGP, GPD, GPDr, PMGS, SNDS, SNPD, DNP, SNP and MGPD as evidenced in the kriti of Dikshitar. Its perplexing that Subbarama Dikshitar provides two murcchanas SRMPNDS and GRSndS, which are not seen in the kriti and which would give a different melodic complexion to the raga, though GRSndS seems acceptable.
  5. In modern parlance SRMGPNDS or better still SMGPDNPDS /SNPNPDMPMGS can be notional arohana/avarohana krama.
  6. Needless to add that it is a quintessential raga aligning perfectly to the classic 18th century raga architecture with jumps, bends, turns and twists on one hands & multiple arohana/avarohana progressions as well. MGPD, MG\S seem to be the recurring leitmotifs.

The evaluation of the raga’s contours would show that it has considerable melodic overlap with modern day Bilahari. Bilahari is a much newer raga in comparison to Narayani for it is documented for the first time only by Sahaji in his work, circa 1710 AD. No prior musical work documents Bilahari. Given the subsequent popularity that Bilahari had gone on to acquire, Narayani must have ceded ground, giving up much of its musical material and thus became archaic.

In this context it has to be pointed out that modern musicological books wrongly provide Bilahari’s arohana plaintively as SRGPDS while it is actually SRMGPDS. And the raga Bilahari is bhashanga and takes the kaishiki nishada too in its melodic body which is attested for by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. However, we see popular presentations of Bilahari shorn of these two features making us wonder if what is being sung today is only Narayani, of yore! This apart again, we do have some long lost prayogas of Bilahari which would impart a hue very different from what we hear today as Bilahari. The complete analysis of Bilahari rightfully belongs to another separate blog post which will done shortly.

In so far as the Narayani and Bilahari as delineated in the SSP, without doubt it can be stated that on the basis of the lakshanas as laid out in the Triad with the Dikshitar kriti as exemplars, one can sing the two ragas with their respective individual identities intact. However, to understand the correct melodic identity of these two ragas we have to necessarily set aside the incorrect text book lakshana of Bilahari as being presented today popularly and also ignore the aberrant ‘modern’ lakshana of Narayani which has been advanced on the strength of the Sangraha Cudamani, giving the two Tyagaraja kritis ‘rAma nIvEgani’ and ‘bhajanasEyu mArgamunu’ as exemplars. As pointed out earlier, the raga found in these two compositions is a different melody under Harikambhoji mela for which a new name should be identified and given so that no confusion is made between these melodies. Again, it is reiterated that Tyagaraja never assigned names to his ragas and it was only much after his life time, his lineage of disciples, publishers of his compositions and authors who compiled ragas, assigned raga names post 1850 AD, to his kritis. This misnaming of the melodies of Tyagaraja’s compositions using the older raga names and established identities such as Sarasvati Manohari, Narayani etc has resulted in this confusion where we have a single raga name for two melodies with different musical identities. It is regrettable that this state of affairs has been perpetuated this far.

Be that as it may, for this blogpost the record is set straight once more here by reiterating that the Narayani of yore was only a melody under Mela 29/Sankarabharanam taking only its notes (upanga in modern parlance) and the kriti of Dikshitar ‘mahishasura mardhini’ set in this raga is the sole exemplar.

Text and meaning of the lyrics of ‘mahishAsuramardhini’ in Narayani:

The kriti is in the classic Dikshitar format sporting both the raga mudra as well as his colophon. It is to be pointed out here that the section of the caranam commencing ‘shankarAdra sarIrinIm’ is in a pseudo-madhyama kala and is not at double the akshara count of the rest of the composition.


namāmi                        – I salute

mahiṣa-asura-mardinIm         – the destroyer of the demon Mahisha!

mahanIya-kapardinIm            – the venerable wife of Shiva (who wears matted locks),


mahiṣa-mastaka-naTana-bheda-vinodinIM – the one who revels in performing different dances on the head of the buffalo-demon Mahisha

mOdinIM                        – the blissful one,

mālinIM                        – the one wearing garlands,

māninIM                        – the honourable one,

praNata-jana-saubhAgya-dāyinIm – the giver of good fortune to the people who salute reverentially,


shankha-cakra-shUla-ankusha-pANIM – the one holding a conch, discus, trident and goad in her hands,

shakti-senāM                    – the one leading an army of Shaktis (goddesses),

madhuravāNIM                  – the one whose voice and speech are sweet,

pankajanayanāM                – the lotus-eyed one,

pannagaveNIM                  – the one whose braid is (long and dark) as a cobra snake.

pālita-guruguhāM              – the one who protects Guruguha!

purāNIm                        – the ancient, primordial one,

shankara-ardha -sharIriNIM        – the one who has taken half the body of Shiva,

samasta-devatā-rUpiNIM         – the one who is the embodiment of all the gods,

kankaNa-alankRta-abja-karāM – the one whose lotus-like hands are adorned with bangles,

kātyāyanIM                     – the daughter of Sage Katyayana,

nārāyaNIm                      – the one related to Narayana (being his sister).

In the context of the lyrics, specific attention is invited to the line sankarArdha-sarIrinIm samasta-devatA-rUpiniM, by which Dikshitar alludes briefly to how the conception of Goddess Durga is said to happened as recorded in religious texts.

Here is the link to the rendering of the kriti which has been rendered very close to the notation found in the SSP, by Sangita Kala Acharya Dr.Seetha Rajan. ( see Foot Note 6)


A Brief Note on one other composition attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar:

While the SSP records only this Narayani composition ‘mahishAsura mardhini’, on Goddess Durga or her synonymous forms, Veena Sundaram Iyer during the 1960’s brought to light another composition (not found in the SSP), attributing the same to Muthuswami Dikshitar. The text of the same together with the meaning of the lyrics is as under:

mahishāsuramardini – rAgam gauLa – tāLam khaṇDa cApu


mahiṣāsura-mardhini māṃ pāhi madhya-deśa-vāsini

Anupallavi (samaṣṭi caraṇam)

mahādeva-mānasollāsini mā-vāṇI guruguhādi-vedini mārajanaka-pālini sahasra-dala-sarasija-madhya-prakāśini suruciranalini śumbha-niśumbhādi-bhanjani

(madhyamakāla-sāhityam) iha-para-bhoga-mokṣa-pradāyini itihāsa-purāNādi-viśvāsini gaurahāsini


mahiṣa-asura-mardini        – O destroyer of the demon Mahisha!

māṃ pāhi                     – Protect me!

madhya-deśa-vāsini           – O resident of Madhya Desha!

anupallavi (samaṣṭi caraṇam)

mahā-deva-mānasa-ullāsini   – O one who delights the heart of Shiva  (the great god)!

mā-vāṇi-guruguha-ādi-vedini – O one understood by Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Guruguha and others!

māra-janaka-pālini           – O protector of Vishnu (father of Manmatha)!

sahasradaLa-sarasija-madhya-prakāśini – O one resplendent at the centre of the thousand-petal lotus!

suruciranaLini              – O charming one, lovely as a lotus-creeper!

śumbha-niśumbha-ādi-bhanjani – O destroyer of the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha and others!

iha-para-bhoga-mokṣa-pradāyini – O giver of enjoyment and liberation for this world (iha) and the other (para), (respectively)!

itihāsa-purāṇa-ādi-viśvāsini – O repository of the faith of the epics and Puranas!

gaurahāsini                 – O one who has a shining white smile!

Keeping aside the question whether this composition truly is of Dikshitar based on its provenance, prasa, tala, meaning of some of the lyrics occurring in the composition, the mettu/musical setting of the composition etc two points arise for our consideration in the specific context of this blog post.

  1. The reference to the probable sthala of this composition – ‘madhya-desha-vasini’ occurring in the pallavi
  2. The reference ‘shumbha nishumbhAdi bhanjanI’ occurring in the so called samashti caranam or strictly in SSP parlance, anupallavi of the composition.

It has to be confessed that these points take us nowhere, as ‘madhya desa’ is certainly not Tanjore. The other reference as to Her as vanquisher of Nishumbha though relevant may not necessarily advance our case. The controversy as to the authorship of the composition coupled with the above factors, takes us no further forward and given that our objective is to merely speculate on the probable composition of Dikshitar on the mythical Nishumbhasudani of Tanjore, it is left to the reader to draw his own conclusions thereof. ( See Foot Note 7)


With passage of every day, month, year and decade or century, the probability of finding any further evidence or epigraph or inscription which could potentially tell us of what truly happened to that mythical temple and icon of ‘nishumbhasUdani’ at Tanjore or what really happened that fateful day of 969 AD when Crown Prince Aditya Karikala was assassinated and who was behind that, keeps receding. Even Kalki Krishnamurthi in his classic read ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, keeps the mystery tantalizingly open, leaving it for the imagination of the reader for he felt that it would kill the suspense. (See Epilogue)

And for that event of 969 AD, that legendary Chola titular deity Nishumbhasudani had been a mute witness! And it was as if She too disappeared from the face of earth along with her Temple at Tanjore, constructed by Vijayalaya & thus leaving us with just the riddle which is wrapped in that single line verse in the Tiruvalangadu Copper plates.

And all that we have today, is that probable pen picture of the Goddess as etched by Muthusvami Dikshitar (in his kriti ‘mahishAsuramardanI’ in the archaic raga Narayani) which we have so surmised. And not to forget that granite bas relief of that Nishumbhasudani in that corner room in the second floor of the Philadelphia Museum’s South Asian Art section. And so, if one gets to see her at the Museum or were to get the opportunity to hear the composition ‘mahishAsuramadhini’ in Narayani of Dikshitar , they should pause for a moment to offer obeisance to that legendary Nishumbasudani of Tanjore and admire at the Narayani resurrected by Muthusvami Dikshitar for us. And perhaps one would also hark back and wonder what could have happened that fateful day in the year 969 AD when the young and valiant Chola Crown Prince died unnaturally.


  1. K A Nilakanta Sastri (1955) – The Colas (English)– University of Madras
  2. Kudavoyil Balasubramanian ( NA) – Udayarkudi Inscriptions – A Relook/Review- ‘udayArkudi kalvettu – Oru mIL pArvai’ (Tamil) – Varalaaru.com article in 3 parts in Issue Nos 24, 25 and 27
  3. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) – Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Republished in Tamil by Madras Music Academy ( 1977) Part IV pp 843-846
  4. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 275-278 and 963-974

Foot Notes:

  1. Much of the material for this blog is sourced from the references from Prof Nilakanta Sastri’s seminal work, ‘The Cholas”. The works of Prof Nilakanta Sastri and that of Sadasiva Pandarathar, together with the monographs and works of latter day archeologists, historians and epigraphists such as Dr Nagaswami, N S Sethuraman, Kudavoyil Balasubramanian and Dr G Sankaranarayanan can be profitably read to draw useful inferences as to the timelines of the medieval Chola Kings, events during their reign and their accomplishments. It has to be said that the epigraphical records are prone to different interpretations by different epigraphists. In so far as the subject matter of this blog post is concerned all these historical personalities, dates and events pertaining to the medieval Cholas are grounded in the following set of sources:

Epigraphy – Specifically the Udayarkudi inscriptions together with inscriptions cited by the experts/historians cited above whose works I have read and relied upon.

Copper plates (‘cheppu aedugal’ in Tamil) – The records of the Chola Kings which were found later in the 20th century known to us today as Tiruvalangadu Copper plates pertaining to this specific period. The other two sources being the Anaimangalam copper plates (Leiden copper plates) and the Anbil copper plates have nothing to contribute directly to the subject matter of this blog post.

Off course reliance is primarily placed on Prof Nilakanta Sastri’s work and he in turn uses third party sources as well in his reconstruction of the history of the medieval Cholas.

  1. The first section of the Thiruvalangadu Copper plates contains a set of 137 verses in Sanskrit, written by one Narayana during the reign of Rajendra Cola and narrates the lineage and history in brief of the Imperial Cholas. Without just relying on one set of records, I personally find that the logic employed by modern epigraphists/historians like Kudavayil Balasubramanian and Dr G Sankaranarayanan by which they triangulate the dates and events with other evidences including those of rock and temple inscriptions, very persuasive. It must be remembered that the copper plate records serve as epigraphs recording history casting the reigning King in the most favourable light. The Tiruvalangadu Copper plates were created during the reign of Rajendra Cola, the Anaimangalam copper plates (known as Leyden plates as they are presently housed in Leyden Museum in Netherlands) were created during the reign of Raja Raja Chola (985 -1014 AD) and the Anbil Copper plates date back to the reign of Parantaka Sundara Chola.
  2. Author Kalki Krishnamurthi cogently and convincingly opines through his work that Crown Prince Aditya Karikala was probably named after in memory of the legendary King Karikala of the Old Chola lineage and Prince Rajaditya the short lived yet legendary grand uncle of his and a grandson of Vijayalaya, who was felled by deceit in battle at Takkolam when he was fighting atop his elephant and therefore eulogised in epigraphs as ‘Anai mEl thunjiya tEvar’.
  3. Though this medieval Nishumbhasudani Temple no longer exists, a number of other Durga/Kali temples in Tanjore exists today probably attesting to the popularity of this cult worship in this area. Currently the well-known ones are the Vadabadra Kali Amman Temple and the other being the Ugra Kaliamman Temple, which perhaps proclaim themselves to be the original one constructed by Vijayalaya in 10th Century AD
  4. For us only verses 68 & 69 of the Thiruvalangadu plates and the said Udayarkudi inscriptions tell us this unsaid & long forgotten mysterious death of the Chola Prince. The assassination of Prince Aditya Karikala and the unsolved mystery of who actually did or could have done the deed, spawned not just various theories of conspiracy by subsequent historians but also a number of literary works which went on to capture the imagination of 20th century readers. These were part true-part fiction works, the foremost amongst them being Kalki Krishnamurthi’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, Balakumaran’s “Kadigai’ and ‘Udayar’, Kovi Manisekaran’s ‘Aditya karikAlan kOlai” & ‘T A Narasimhan’s Sangadhara’. While Kalki Krishnamurti in his ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ created a host of real & imaginary characters in his plot and left the identity of the real killer open in suspense, Sri Balakumaran in his Kadigai, made Madurantaka Uttama Chola as the instigator-in-chief, even while in one other novel, Raja Raja Chola and Princess Kundavai, the siblings of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala were made as the mastermind for the royal assassination. Amongst the historians, the earliest being Prof T A Nilakanta Sastri based on epigraphical evidence argued that given the verses 68 & 69 of the Tiruvalangadu Copper plates, Madurantaka Uttama must have had a hand in the death of Crown Prince Aditya Karikala, given that post Aditya’s assassination he had evinced interest to become the King & he was made one by Arulmozhi Verman who gave up his claim. In other words, Prof Nilakanta Sastri did not assign importance to the Pandyan conspiracy angle and the possibility of the three assassinators, named in the Udayarkudi inscription acting on their own to murder Aditya Karikala.  Archeologist Kudavoyil Balasubramanian in his analysis of the Udayarkudi Inscription, gives an excellent summary of the take of different historians and proceeds to argue that Prof Nilakanta Sastri was mistaken in his assessment. Sri Balasubramanian basing his case on multiple sources including the much later unearthed Chola copper plates from Rajendra’s reign from near Esalam near Villupuram during the 1980’s and reading the Udayarkudi inscriptions in context, concludes that Aditya Karikala’s assassination was only the handiwork of the three perpetrators named in the said Udyarkudi inscription namely Soman, Ravidasan and Parameswaran in revenge for the killing of their Pandyan master King Veerpandya by Aditya Karikala earlier and Uttama Chola had no role to play in the said tragedy, based on the reading of the available evidence. See Epilogue.
  5. Mysore Vasudevachar’s grandson in his publication ‘Sangita Samaya’ recounts a humorous incident that happened in the context of this Dikshitar composition ‘mahishAsura mardhini’ in Narayani.

…………………….After the Navaratri festival, the float festival would begin on the Chamundi hills and the Maharaja had directed that vidwans, Bidaram Krishnappa and Vasudevachar, should jointly sing Dikshitar’s “Mahishasura Mardhini” in Narayani raga. Neither of them knew this song; in no time they learnt the Pallavi and violinist Venkataramanayya the tune of the Pallavi. They managed to render it when the float carrying the royal party was there and stopped when the float moved away. Venkataramanayya was happy that they had successfully hoodwinked the royalty. Imagine their predicament when they were asked to render the Anupallavi and the Charanam also.”  https://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/2001/04/17/stories/1317017d.htm 

7. The composition in the raga Gaula attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar can be heard rendered in the following URL’s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02aBFW62wjM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMgl-hjeuLU



Much as one would like to write an epilogue regarding some archaeological find regarding the discovery of that original icon of  ‘nishumbhasUdani’ of that Tanjore temple. Alas there isn’t one as yet.  That apart one other inspiration for this blog post, for me has been the enduring mystery of the death of Aditya Karikala, the Chola Crown Prince in 969 AD, fuelled by several re-readings of Ponniyin Selvan and the other fictions and also the historical works of Prof Nilakanta Sastri and Sri Sadasiva Pandarathar. Kalki Krishnamurthi in his part real/part fiction novel had created a number of characters in his narrative such as Nandhini, the cunning and seductive Junior Rani of Pazhuvoor, her consort the Periya Pazhuvettarayar (a Chola feudatory and the Chancellor of the Chola Exchequer in the story) alongside the real life ones being Vandhiya Tevar ( later Royal Consort of Princess Kundavai), Ravidasan and Soman and made them all come together with Aditya Karikala in that dark underground chamber in the Kadamboor Palace that fateful night in 969 AD even as he left the identity of the killer whose fateful act took Aditya’s life open. However he ensured that the needle of suspicion did not point to Uttama Chola ( there being two individuals one, an original and the other a pretender, again fictional). Sri Balakumaran on the contrary in Kadigai makes the Brahmin identity of the perpetrators as a key and spins his tale making Uttama Chola as well as the Queen Mother Sembian Madevi a party to the conspiracy and packing the proceedings with considerable action in Pandya and Kerala country. I should confess that I have not had the appetite to read the other novels based on this plot, but nevertheless got inquisitive to know the epigraphical basis for the storyline/actual event and also the true state of affairs that the historical evidence was pointing to. Finally, I got to read the unequivocal and expert assessment of available evidence by the respected Archaeologist/Historian Kudavoyil Balasubramanian together with the monograph on the Chola Era finds in Esalam in Villupuram, made by Dr Nagaswami in 1987, which proved to be the icing on the cake for me as these two monographs clinically summarizes the position based on available hard facts and likely clears the air as to the mystery who likely killed Aditya Karikala, a vexed question which has been lacking a formal closure all these years. The Tamil original version of Mr Balasubramanian’s monograph on the subject is here. I have taken the liberty of translating it in English which can be read here. A consolidated view of all these, deserves a separate blog post.


Melody of the Serpents – Nagadhvani



We have always seen that the musicological texts, ‘Ragalakshanamu’ of Sahaji (circa 1710 CE), the ‘Saramrutha’ of Tulaja(circa 1732 CE) and the ‘Ragalakshanam’ known to us as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika of Muddu Venkatamakhin ( circa 1750 CE) if read in conjunction, aided by the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar we can make two observations:

  1. The ragas of the 18th century as it prevailed in the run up to the Trinity can be found catalogued and recorded in these three treatises (which I prefer to call as the Triad). The Anubandha, being a listed compendium of ragas is a superset and almost as a rule the ragas found therein almost exactly mirror the lakshana found in Sahaji’s and Tulaja’s works (if documented by them)
  2. And the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar as notated in the SSP given that it provides commentary for every one of the ragas found in the Anubandha, serves as an exemplar or illustration for such raga lakshana.

But we do find certain ragas being exceptions to these two observations and specifically in those cases we are forced to develop a hypothesis to explain the said deviation. This blog post deals with one such raga named Nagadhvani, which forms an exception to both the above observations.

Over to this raga!

nagadhvani – Subbarama Dikshitar’s Commentary:

As we take up the analysis of this raga, we need to take a look at the contents of the SSP for, it is the most modern account (1904 CE) or laid down definition of the raga as technically the raga is practically extinct today. In the SSP amongst the ragas under Mela 29 Sankarabharanam is this raga Nagadhvani. In the SSP we do see that Subbarama Dikshitar for this raga provides just the following:

  1. The raga lakshana sloka attributable to Muddu Venkatamakhin followed by his commentary to the same.
  2. A gitam
  3. A sancari

If we take a minute and look at the rAgAnga lakshya gita for Sankarabharanam, the parent, at the very start of this cakra, we would find that the raga Nagadhvani is listed thereunder as an upanga janya of the mela raga Sankarabharanam. The ragas enumerated therein as upanga & bashanga deserves our attention & will revert to that again in a little while. Again, as always, what is meant as upanga and bhashanga in the slokas quoted in the SSP is different from what we mean by those terms today. Suffice to say that in the instant case of Nagadhvani, it is indeed a upanga raga as per modern definition sporting only the notes of mela 29.

Under the raga Nagadhvani we can see that Subbarama Dikshitar has not provided any composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar as illustration. Would that mean he had composed none for this raga and hence Subbarama Dikshitar had not given the same? Drawing such an omnibus conclusion wouldn’t be appropriate without considering every such case in the SSP. We will reserve our attention to this pesky question a little later in this blog post. But this does indeed pose problems for us for it is only a kriti which instantiates for us the structure of the raga and demonstrate its melodic contours which we can absorb & appreciate.

In so far as Subbarama Dikshitar is concerned if we view the lakshana sloka that he cites and also his commentary the following would emerge as the salient features of this raga:

  1. The arohana/avarohana krama that Subbarama Dikshitar states on the authority of (Muddu) Venkatamakhin is SRGSSMGMPDNS and SNDNPMGRGS. In fact, this raga is found in the original Caturdandi Prakashika (though not in the Sangita Sudha of Govinda Dikshitar a little prior) and even there the raga is classified under Sankarabharana mela.
  2. Subbarama Dikshitar very clearly states in his commentary, which follows, that notwithstanding the stated arohana and avarohana kramas the nominal arohana/avarohana movement for the raga as observed in practice is:



Attention is invited to the PDNS in the arohana being deprecated and PNDNS being made the uttaranga.

  1. The raga is sampurna. In other words, all the notes of Sankarabharana occurs in this raga taking both the arohana and avarohana together.
  2. Rishabha, gandhara and dhaivatha are vakra in the arohana while dhaivata is vakra and rishabha is varjya in the avarohana.
  3. Viewed as murrcanaas, the following holds true:
  4. SRGM, PDNS and SNDP does not occur due to the vakra prayogas and MGRS cannot occur as rishabha is dropped/varjya in the descent.
  5. Leitmotifs that occur in this raga are SRS, SMGS, SMGM, PNDN, and SNDN along with SRGS.
  6. His sancari very clearly validates the operative progressions highlighted above.
  7. It can also be seen that it nowhere does the illustrations sport phrases such as MGRGP, PDNS, GRSRS, SNDPM or PS and we will turn back shortly to why these specific phrases are being alluded to as non-existing.

Though the main SSP does not bear any exemplar kriti of Dikshitar in this raga, fortunately we do have a composition, ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ a ragamalika featuring this raga for a tAla Avarta, a composition bereft of the guruguha mudra but nevertheless attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar himself in the Anubandha to the SSP. The notation of the Nagadhvani raga portion is as under:

Sahitya parnE kundalininA gadhvanisahite dhvanisahite sahitehite te
Notation P, N, DNsrsNr g,sNsrs sNDNP sND,nP,,PMM


The notation albeit brief, conforms or validates the progression laid down in the SSP for Nagadhvani. Unfortunately, the few renderings of this unique composition (see Foot Note 1), leaves much to be desired as the artistes have rendered it as their own manodharma dictated, throwing to the winds the actual notation as found in the SSP and the lakshana for the respective ragas found therein namely Purnacandrika, Narayani, Sarasvati Manohari Suddha Vasanta, Nagadhvani and Hamsadvani.

Lyrics & Notation- as published by Veenai Sundaram Iyer

While we do have an idea of this raga and its theoretical structure from the foregoing, we encounter our first problem with a kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar published later by Veena Sundaram Iyer subsequently, in this raga. The notation of the composition is given here. A careful perusal of the same would throw up the following observations:

  1. Leaving out aspects such as prAsA concordance, quality of lyrics, grammatical constructs etc, we can see that the kriti carries the colophon of Dikshitar as well as the raga mudra in its body.
  2. The contours of the raga as notated herein shows a number of prayogas which are clearly not in accordance with Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary. PDNS, MGRGP, GRSRS and SNDPM occur in this kriti. Even assuming the Muddu Venkatamakhin definition which casts PDNS in the arohana and SNDNP in the avarohana, has been followed, the occurrence of SNDP explicitly along with phrases such MGRGP, makes it clear that the melodic structure/musical setting/mettu of the composition is inaccurate and cannot be sustained as genuine and making us suspect the provenance of the composition as well as the attribution. It is indeed sad that such attributions have been allowed to stand on record till date unscrutinised.

We are thus left with no option but to cast aside this composition for the stated reason and proceed. One other composition which has been assigned this raga and has been atleast rendered in the past which merits our attention is the composition ‘srI lalitAM’ in khanda triputa tala composed by Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. In the absence of a published notation of the composition, (see Foot Note 2) presented now is a rendering by Sangita Kalanidhi K V Narayanasvami, to enable us understand the raga.

Here is the text of the kriti along with the meaning:


SrI lalitAm mahAtripurasundarIm bhajEham

I pray to the great divine force called Lalita who is the most beautiful in the three worlds.

SrI rAjarAjESvarIm SrI vidyAtmaka bhuvanESvarIm

She is the consort of Shiva , she is the power of knowledge and ruler of the world


SrIcakrAntargata navAvaraNAvrtAm SankarIm |

She is the dweller of nine Shri Chakras and giver of good

SrI kESavAdi catvArImSat tattvanyAsa mAtRkESvarIm |

She is the force behind all the forty philosophies associated with Vishnu’s names

SrI bIjAkShara samupAsita mahESvarIm

She is worshipped with the power of bijaaksharaas

SrI karIm EkAnta manOlayakarIm

She is the giver of all good things and enchants the meditating mind


dUrvAsAdyarcita guptayOginIm|

She is the secret force worshipped by sages like Durvaasa

dUrvAdi patra puSpArcana toShiNIm |

She is pleased when worshipped with “durva” leaves and flowers

pUrvArjita puNya phala pradAyinIm |

She presents all the good things deserved by the punya of good deeds

pUrvAdi caturAmnAya madhyavartinIm |

She is the presiding deity of the four mathas

SarvANIm SuMbha niSuMbha mahiShAsurAdi bhanjanIm nAgadhvani rAgiNIm

She is omnipresent and the destroyer of asuras like Shumbha, Nishumbha and Mahishaasura , enjoys the raga Nagadhwani.

The rendering very clearly indicates the following for us:

  1. SRS SMGMPNDNS/SNDNPMGS has been adopted.
  2. SRGS or SGS or MRGS has not been used and instead SRSMGS and PMGS has been utilized in this composition. We do see an occasional PNS being intoned in the composition
  3. Gandhara is seen prolonged along with the dhaivatha svara.

In other words, the Nagadhvani seen in this composition does not encompass all the prayogas that Subbarama Dikshitar has highlighted in the SSP. It employs only a subset of murccanas, to the particular exclusion of SRGS and MRGS. It is not a requirement that the set of all murrcanas of a raga must find place in a composition in that raga. It is sufficient if a subset of majority pryogas/murccanas are utilized and the instant composition satisfies the said requirement. The composition also demonstrates that a vignette of the raga too can be provided by way of alapana and/or svaraprastara by vidvans without in any way encroaching upon allied ragas. The melodically closest allied raga would be Neelambari and we will reserve a brief discussion on this a little later.

We do not have any extant kritis of Tyagaraja available to us in this raga, which brings up the question if the raga is still documented in the Sangraha Cudamani. Indeed, we find that the Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda too defines the raga Nagadhvani under Sankarabharanam in its listing. And it closely tracks to the lakshana of Nagadhvani as given by Subbarama Dikshitar, under mela 29 Sankarabharanam as SRSMGMPNS/SNDNPMGS. As we can see dhaivatha is completely dropped in the ascent and rishabha in the descent while dhaivatha is vakra in the descent. In fact in the lakshana gita the last line of the phrasing goes as SRSMGMP,,NDMPNDNS,SNDNPPMGSRSMG….

If we compare the murrcanas found in the kriti ‘srI lalitAM’ as seen rendered by Sri Narayanaswami above, and compare it with the Nagadhvani enumerated by Sangraha Cudamani we find that it is identical to the melodic contours of the raga outlined in Sangraha Cudamani as above. And as highlighted before, the Nagadhavani of Sangraha Cudamani adopts a subset of the murrcanas of the Nagadhvani of SSP, excluding just a couple of them.

Whether ‘srIlalitAM’ was tuned by the Maharaja himself or whether his Guru, Mysore Vasudevacar had a hand in it we do not know. (See Foot note 3). All we can conclude is that given the Maharaja’s penchant for Muthusvami Dikshitar and his style, we can say that the setting of this composition while conforming to the SSP’s definition, adopts the version found in the Sangraha Cudamani.


Thus, three flavours of Nagadhvani is posited post 1750 CE by Muddu Venkatamakhin, Subbarama Dikshitar and finally by Govinda in their works. The Nagadhvani of Subbarama Dikshitar and Govinda are more proximate and the kriti that we hear today being ‘srI lalitAM’ of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar is an exemplar more of the Sangraha Cudamani version but nevertheless in conformance with the SSP definition as well. The available musical setting of ‘brihadIsvaraM bhajarE’, the kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar employs phrases which are not found in any of these three flavours, thus forcing us to question the very authenticity of the kriti and/or its tune. The brief Nagadhvani portion appearing in madhyamakala in the ragamalika ‘pUrnacandra bimbA’ from the anubandha to the SSP is the only available composition of Dikshitar incorporating this raga.


Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja:

While we see that the definition of a raga according to Muddu Venkatamakhin normally matches with that of Sahaji and Tulaja. Surprisingly in the case of Nagadhvani, we see that there is a dichotomy. Both Sahaji and Tulaja aver in their respective works that:

  1. The raga belongs to the Kambhoji mela
  2. It is devious/vakra with prayogas such as SRGS, SMGMRGS, PNDNs, NDMP, MRGS
  3. There are no tanas for rishabha and dhaivatha and the rest of the notes do not occur in straight movement. In fact, according to Sahaji in this raga there is no straight succession of four or five svaras.

One should pause here and absorb the import of the statement made by these two Royal musicologists in their works which is italicized as above. The statement is an evidence of one of the guiding principles of 18th century raga architecture.

What it means is that

  1. the rishabha and dhaivatha are not starting notes and are devious and that
  2. the prayogas such as GMPD or GMPDN, MPDN or MPDNS, PDNS, SNDP or SNDPM, NDPM or NDPMG, PMGR or MGRS does not occur. Thus implicitly, instead of them the prayogas GMPN or GMPND, MPNS or MPNDNS, PNDNP or PNDNS, SNDN or SNDNP, NDMP, PMRG or MGSRS can occur in the alternative, respectively. And this is to the exclusion of rishabha and dhaivatha which cannot be starting notes of the blocks. Attention is invited to the fact that the (melodic) building block ( or unit) according to Sahaji is a 3, 4 or a 5 note block and every such block which goes to make up Nagadhvani should conform to the rule that lineal progression is permitted only up to the 3rd svara and the 4th /5th svara cannot be a lineal svara and shall be skipped/vakra/varjya in accordance with the definition given the fact that the raga is sampurna. It is as if the definition is the consequence of the raga’s structure and not the other way around as in their times ragas were never derived theoretically but they evolved based on aesthetics and harmonics. And that is why we see that these two texts are not raga listing but a record of ragas that was in circulation during their times.

Thus, the foregoing commentary on the raga demonstrates how ragas were architected and their lakshana expressed in the 18th century. The advent of the 72 mela raga scheme, the obsession with the arohana/avarohana progression together with linearization and emphasis on the individual notes (and not on the motifs being a svara aggregation such as GMR or NMD etc), together with compendiums which gave listing of ragas based on permutation/combinations of the different varieties of notes with their own esoteric names,  spelt the death knell of many older ragas including Nagadhvani as they could not be easily incorporated into this new schemata.

While from a prayogas perspective, the definitions of Sahaji & Tulaja go along more or less with the Muddu Venkatamakhin’s definition, what is most problematic now is that the raga according to Sahaji and Tulaja sported kaisiki nishadha ( Kambhoji mela) while according to Muddu Venkatamakhin the raga belonged to Sankarabharana mela and sported kakali nishadha.

A possible explanation for this apparent dichotomy:

It must be reiterated here that:

  1. Venkatamakhin (1620 CE) and Muddu Venkatamakhin (circa 1750 CE) classified the raga under mela 29 with N3
  2. In between the above two, Sahaji (circa 1710 CE) and Tulaja (circa 1732 CE) who documented the ragas as was prevalent in their times placed the raga under Kambhoji with N2.

Did Muddu Venkatamakhin follow the footsteps of Venkatamakhin and therefore theoretically placed Nagadhvani under Sankarabharanam to maintain continuity, while the raga perhaps even by 1700’s had shed N3 and gained N2 which was taken note of by both Sahaji and Tulaja and therefore they classified the raga under Kamboji mela? We do not know. But what is known is that since 1750 CE, both these so called flavors (sporting respectively N2 and N3) of Nagadhvani had completely died out for, as on date save for the above referred kriti of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar we have none on record.

A perusal of our ragas today reveals that Neelambari is the only raga which is a reasonably close and has melodic affinity to Nagadhvani. If we quickly delve into the history of Neelambari, the following findings emerge:

  1. The raga Neelambari is not found listed by Venkatamakhin, Sahaji or Tulaja. Neither does the Sankarabharana raganga raga gitam found in the SSP in its bashanga khanda disclose Neelambari as a janya raga thereunder.
  2. It is only the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin which first lists out the raga Neelambari
  3. And it on this authority and that of the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar that Subbarama Dikshitar provides his commentary of Neelambari with two distinct prayogas MGS and the usage of the two nishadhas, N2 and N3.

Given this lakshana of Neelambari, let us turn to the evidence and explanation provided by Prof S R Janakiraman. The revered Professor advances his view that usage of the two nishadhas in Neelambari evidences its root in another raga of yore, Samantha, the 30th mela which goes with the notes S R2 G3 M1 P D3 N3 in its contours. We did see this in an earlier blog post. Though such a theory as advanced by Prof SRJ does indeed sound interesting given that the svara N2 when occurring along with N3 can be treated as D3 (a combination native to mela No 30), alternatively the raga Neelambari can also be thought of as a remnant of the Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja.

We do know that Neelambari had not made headway into our musical system before 1750 CE and was not recorded by Sahaji or Tulaja in their works as having been extant during their times. This gives us a very interesting hypothesis as to the evolution of Neelambari. The Nagadhvani of Sahaji & Tulaja which only had N2, perhaps also reacquired the N3 back and thereafter was rendered with both N2 & N3 (its original note as documented by Venkatamakhin in his CDP) together with some modifications such as PNs, SNP and MGS. This version of Nagadhvani survived into 1750 CE whence Muddu Venkatamakhin formally acknowledged it gave it a place under mela 29 Sankarabharanam with the name Neelambari, to uniquely differentiate it from the original Nagadhvani (of CDP) with N3 only. Thus, Mudduvenkatamakhin perhaps provided musicological continuity by

  1. Acknowledging tradition retaining the original Nagadhvani in his listing as a upanga janya with its N3 and
  2. incorporating the Nagadhvani of Sahaji and Tulaja which by taking both N2 and perhaps N3 as well and had so morphed, as Neelambari into his compendium.

It is doubtful if indeed he had notice of the ‘upanga’ Nagadhvani of Tulaja and Sahaji sporting just the N2. The absence of Neelambari in the Sankarabharana raganga lakshana gitam is yet another evidence as this gitam is perhaps older while the raga listing by Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to 1750 CE was much later wherein we will find both Nagadhvani as well as Neelambari listed.

And that leaves us finally to answer some questions:

  1. Whether given the foregoing, the kriti ‘brihadIsvaram bhajarE’ ( see foot note 4) with its melodic contour not conforming to the laid down lakshana of Nagadhvani (in the SSP) a spurious composition?

The point can be reconciled thus. Either Subbarama Dikshitar inherited the composition with a defective mettu and upon perusal he decided not to publish the same. Or it must have been a creation of somebody else subsequent to Muthuswami Dikshitar or even Subbarama Dikshitar which was passed off as a Muthusvami Dikshitar composition to us. Either ways the final answer to this vexed question can perhaps be determined by asking oneself whether Muthusvami Dikshitar being an avowed votary of sampradaya and being in the know of this raga and its laid down lakshana would have created a nonconforming composition without any basis whatsoever. It is indeed sad that many such compositions not found in the SSP which were brought to light subsequently, tracing back to Subbarama Dikshitar’s son Ambi Dikshitar’s corpus of compositions, have been published as-is, without properly editing or reconciling the same and attributed to Dikshitar without any basis whatsoever which has contributed to much confusion.

  1. As a corollary, if a raga in the SSP does not carry a composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar would it mean that he did not compose in that raga?

The answer to this question is again subjective and no such conclusion can be drawn. We have a number of such ragas in the SSP such as Binna Sadjam, Camara, Nagadhvani, Suddha Vasanta, Purvagaula, Nagavarali etc and surprisingly for each case we have a kriti which has come to us from the publications of the disciples of Ambi Dikshitar. Leaving aside the question as to whether these ‘later’ kritis are truly that of Dikshitar (based on lyrical quality, prasa concordance, raga lakshana etc) two possibilities exists:

Perforce these kritis are misattributions for whatever reasons.


Subbarama Dikshitar edited the compositions as was inherited by him, by scrupulously assessing them against the touch stone of proper lakshana, quality lyrics etc and proceeded to publish only those which passed his test/scrutiny,  in the SSP. Also where he felt that there was a deviation from laid down lakshana by Dikshitar but yet the authenticity of the composition was beyond reproach he perhaps proceeded to publish them, as in the case of Gopikavasanta which we saw in an earlier blogpost. In this process, he filtered a number of kritis which he felt did not meet his acceptance criteria and therefore kept them out of the SSP. It must be pointed out that his objective was to make the SSP as a treatise of the ancient music of Venkatamakhi and not as collection of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s compositions. If he had felt so he would have simply published the Dikshitar compositions along with notations as was available with him much like how the ‘Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’ was published much later by Vid Natarajasundaram Pillai.

In the instant case of ‘brihadIsvaram bhajarE’ given the melodic content not to comment on the lyrical aspect, one could most logically conclude that the kriti would likely fall in bucket (a) above rather than bucket (b).

  1. What ever happened to the Nagadhvani of Sahaji & Tulaja which perhaps went by the progression SR2S M1G2M1PN2D2N2S /SN2D2M1PM1G3M1R2G3S?

One doesn’t see such a raga catalogued or with compositions in our midst today. Or as hypothesised earlier it morphed into Neelambari, reacquiring the N3 again.


The only other raga in our midst, which by its name evokes the imagery of serpents, is the well-known raga Punnagavarali under the mela Todi due to the fact that the raga is the basis of the tune of the ‘magudi’ which is played by snake charmers. The allusion to serpents in the context of ragas is probably more a myth and the same is referred to in very many texts or in hagiographies to imply something mystical. Subbarama Dikshitar in his narrative on Chinnasvami Dikshitar records one such instance when this younger brother of Muthusvami Dikshitar was playing the raga Nagavarali, a snake made its appearance. In so far as this raga Nagadhvani is concerned it is practically extinct today and neither has it been by name associated as the raga of the Nagas (an ancient race) or of any particular region or as a melody which can charm serpents. The raga name has been used as an allusion to the Kundalini, a coil of physical energy running around the human spine, in the lyrics of the composition ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ set to Nagadhvani. While so, the composition ‘srI lalitAm’ of the Mysore Maharaja serves as an excellent example of this rare raga as it stands today. And the raga delineated therein does demonstrate the fact that an exposition of the raga as an alapana or svaraprastara can be done. One does hope that performing musicians take up this raga & this composition and embellish it with their imagination on the concert stage in the days to come.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) – Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Republished in Tamil by Madras Music Academy ( 1977) Part IV Sankarabharanam Mela and its janyas & the Anubandha to SSP – Ragamalikas
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 275-278 and 930-943
  3. Prof S R Janakiraman(1993)- Ragas of the Saramrutha- published by the Madras Music Academy

Foot Notes:

  1. The ragamalika ‘pUrnachandra bimba’ as found notated in the Anubandha to the SSP stands out for more than one reason, which are listed hereunder:
  2. The composition as found in the SSP in 6 ragas is bereft of the Dikshitar colophon ‘guruguha’
  3. The attribution to Dikshitar is only on the strength of Subbarama Dikshitar’s assertion made to that effect.
  4. Popularly referred to as the shat-rAgamAlika, the lyrics of the composition are set to 6 ragas whose names occur in the body the composition and all of them are upanga janya ragas of Sankarabharanam, being Purnacandrika, Narayani, Sarasvati Manohari, Suddha Vasanta, Hamsadvani and Nagadhvani.
  5. Apart from the fact that the raga names have been woven into the fabric of the kriti, a stylistic adornment being gOpuccAyati is found featured in the Nagadhvani section. As we know these two are compositional constructs, for which Dikshitar was justly known for.
  6. Curiously much later in time post 1950’s, another version ( second) of the same composition came to be published by Kallidaikurici Veena Sundaram Iyer. This second version apart from the original, also had a further set of lyrics set in ragas Kedaram and Bilahari inserted in between and which sported the guruguha mudra. And each of the khandikas were appended with a cittasvara section in the respective ragas which was not again not found in the original text being the one in the Anubandha to the SSP

The entire text of this composition as available is given below with its meaning:


(Raga – pUrNa candrikA)
pUrNa candra bimba vijaya vadanE – O one whose face excels the disk of the full moon!
kamalAmbikE              – O Goddess Kamalambika!
pAhi mAM                 – Protect me!
varadE                   – O giver of boons!
guru guha janani         – O mother of Guruguha!


(Raga nArAyaNI )
puNya jana pUjitE        – O one worshipped by good, meritorious people!
nArAyaNI                 – O one related to Narayana (as his sister)!
jagat-ambikE             – O mother of the universe!

(Raga sarasvatI manOhari)
pUrNa phala prada caraNE – O one whose feet bestow complete fruition!
sarasvatI manOharE       – O one captivating the heart of Sarasvati!

(Raga Suddha vasanta)
pushpita Suddha vasantE  – O one like the flowering, unequalled, spring season!
puNDarIka sadRSa karE    – O one whose hands resemble lotuses!

(Raga kEdAraM)
kEdAra-ISa sahAyE        – O companion of Shiva (lord of Kedara)!
guru guha vEdita hRdayE  – O one whose heart is understood by Guruguha!

(Raga bilahari )
bhaNDa prANa bila hari   – O one who destroyed the (hiding) hole of the life-breath of the demon Bhanda!
bhakta jana-Ananda-kari  – O giver of bliss to devout people!

(Raga haMsa dhvani)
haMsa dhvani virAjitE    – O one who is glorious with the sound of the Hamsa Mantra,
prakASamAna              – that shines forth,
ahar-niSaM               – day and night!

(Raga nAga dhvani)
aparNE                   – O Aparna, the one who performed penance without consuming even leaves!
kuNDalini nAga dhvani sahitE – O one associated with the sound of the snake of Kundalini!
dhvani sahitE            – O one associated with sounds (of music and dance etc.)!
sahitE                   – O one accompanied by the  well-disposed (companions, attendants)!
hitE                     – O beneficial, favourable one!
tE                       – O one taking the form of Lakshmi!

Suffice to state that a number of controversies crop up in the context of the multiple versions of this composition including the inclusion of 2 more ragas ( Kedaram and Bilahari)  in the second version, the appearance of cittasvaras of questionable lakshanas in a few cases as seen in the second version, the lack of the mudra of Dikshitar and its appearance in the subsequent version etc.


  1. An excellent introduction to the composer, his kritis and their text can be found on this link here: http://www.carnatica.net/special/navaratri2009-jayachamaraja-ppn.htm . Another web link providing details as to a published work can be found here : https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/Royal-salutations/article15415100.ece . Vidusi Seethalakshmi Venkatesan’s renderings of some of the kritis can be found here: http://radioweb.in/content/kritis-jayachamaraja-wodeyar


  1. The well-known novelist Late R K Narayan is on record making this point as under:

Question: Did you learn the kritis of the Mysore composers like Vasudevachar and Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar?

Answer: The so-called compositions of the Mysore Maharaja were actually composed by Vasudevachar. The Maharaja would call Vasudevachar and say I want these phrases from the Devi Ashtottram and the composer would do his bidding.

Vide the ‘Frontline’ Vol. 14 :: No. 23 :: Nov. 15 – 28, 1997 available online : https://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1423/14231000.htm


  1. Thanks are due to Mr Lakshman Ragde as always for sharing a copy of the lyrics of ‘brihadIsvaraM bhajarE’ as published by Veena Sundaram Iyer.
Raga, Repertoire

Obeisance to Lord Krishna – A Brief Blogpost



This blogpost is to celebrate today, Janmashtami being the birthday of Lord Krishna with a very rare kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar. We will quickly look at the raga and some connected facts and trivia even as celebrate the day of birth of this child God.

Muthusvami Dikshitar has to his credit, a number of compositions on the different Gods of the Hindu pantheon and also of demigods and savants as well. In so far as Lord Krishna is concerned, the most ubiquitous kriti is ‘cEta srI bAlakrishnam’ in Dvijavanti, and ‘srIrAjagOpAla’ in Saveri, often encountered on the concert platform.

In this blog post we shall look at ‘srIkrishnam bhajarE’ in Rupavati, the 12th mela raga in Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium, which was followed by Dikshitar and documented so in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar. Curiously it is also a raga, whose name has been used to name the corresponding krama sampurna/heptatonic scale of Sangraha Cudamani, the reigning musicological compendium, attributed to Govinda and which is usually held out as having been followed by Tyagaraja.

Bird’s eye view of the 12th Mela:


Rupavati, the 12th mela being the set of the following notes, can be stated as having been a theoretical derivation of Muddu Venkatamakhin ( circa 1750) , based on the mathematical logic that was expounded more  than a century prior to him by his ancestor Venkatamakhin in his Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP).

Arohana krama : S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S

Avarohana krama: S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S

Suddha rishbham, sadharana gandharam, suddha madhyamam, pancamam, shatsruti dhaivatam and kakali nishadam are the notes with the uttaranga being the vivadi combination D3N3 being featured by the raga.

The raga is not found recorded in Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s musical works dateable to the first half of the 18th century. The raga is thus found tabulated in musicological records for the first time in Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Anubandha to the CDP. In so far as Muddu Venkatamkahin’s schemata is concerned, the illustration of every one of the 72 mela ragas are documented by tanams or gitams along with the lakshana shlokas in the SSP (AD 1904), with attribution to Venkatamakhin/Muddu Venkatamakhin/pUrvikas. This is likely not true completely and it can be logically surmised that in so far as many mela ragas (barring the famous 21 melas which were documented in the earlier CDP) the gitams and tanams found in SSP for the rest of the theoretically derived ragas most probably were authored by Muddu Venkatamakhin himself sometime circa 1750 AD.

It was left to Muthusvami Dikshitar (AD 1775- 1832) to provide flesh & blood to every one of those melas especially the theoretically derived ones, by composing atleast one composition in every one of them. Rupavati belongs to this category and Dikshitar’s ‘srI krishnam bhajarE’ is an exemplar for the 12th Mela.

Melodic canvas of the Rupavati:

While one may expect that given the fact that D3N3, being a dissonant/vivadhi combination occurs in this mela, Rupavati could just be S R1 G3 M1 P N3 S / S N3 D3 N3 P M1 G2 R1 S. In fact a workaround for the dissonant svara combination is not the only key in this case. Even for the normal R1G2 combination in the purvanga, a workaround is made by Muddu Venkatamakhin in hisscheme by dropping the gandhara in the ascent and rishabha in the descent my making the progression as SRMP, PMGS . One can see this in Rupavati and also in Natabharanam (the 10th mela), where rishabha is dropped in the ascent.

In fact, Subbarama Dikshitar gives an even more truncated scale as the arohana krama for Rupavati as under:

Arohana : S R1 M1 P S

Avarohana: S N3 D3 N3 P M1 G2 S

Attention is invited to the arohana uttaranga where the dhaivata and nishada is dropped. The following can be laid down as the observed definition of the raga:

  1. SRGM, PDNS, SNDP or MGRS does not occur. It is a completely vakra raga in both purvanga/uttaranga and in arohana/avarohana. In other words jumps, bends, turns and twists, being the classical 18th century raga architectural pattern, is found in the construct of this raga.
  2. The gandhara is langhana in the arohana, meaning even a SGRM does not occur and similar is the status of rishabha in the descent (MGRGS is not seen). It has to be pointed out that the term “langhana” is seen only in the musicological literature prior to 1750 AD and is completely deprecated subsequently (for example it is not seen in the lakshana slokas found in the SSP, ascribed to Venkatamakhin but most probably propounded by his descendant Muddu Venkatamakhin). The word synonymously used is ‘varjya’.
  3. Nishada is vakra in the arohana krama (PNDNPS can occur) while dhaivata is vakra in the avarohana krama. SNDNS combination is seen in the raga, meaning the notes are not langhana in contradistinction to varjya. We can perhaps say that langhana can be meant as “dropped” whereas varjya means “jumped over” or “skipped”, taking a nuanced approach to the way in which the note is dealt with.
  4. Native gamakas to the raga/notes of this raga, based on the notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar are as under:
    1. The D3 shatsruti dhaivata note is supposed to be emphatically rendered (“adithu pidippadu’ according to Subbarama Dikshitar) and is ornamented with the “w” or the nokku variety of gamaka.
    2. Gandhara is sometimes oscillated with the kampita gamakam.
    3. The glide or the jArU gamaka is used profusely in the composition though not necessarily native to the raga.


The SSP built on the Anubandha to the CDP is the only authority for this raga and Dikshitar’s Sri Krishnam Bhajare’ is the sole exemplar for the raga which is notated with a pithy cittasvara section and gives is a wholesome view of the raga. The SSP of course as always, documents a lakshya gita, a tanam, and Subbarama Dikshitar’s own sancari as the other compositions illustrating the raga. In so far as the raga lakshana goes, in addition to the above, Subbarama Dikshitar makes a mention that the gita and tanam, here and there also features the MRS prayoga, which is not seen in the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

There are no other compositions in this version of Rupavati as seen documented by Subbarama Dikshitar with Sri Krishnam Bhajare being the exemplar. This statement is warranted as we do have a krama sampurna Rupavati featured by the Sangraha Cudamani which is a lineal heptatonic scale S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S/ S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S and in which we have a kriti of Tyagaraja being rendered being “ne mora bettithe’ . Again, the raga of this composition is controversial as some schools of Tyagaraja (Kanchipuram Nayana Pillai – Veena Dhanammal) render it in Todi. It has to be pointed out that the Veena Dhanammal school’s repertoire totally lacks compositions in ragas featuring vivadhi notes perhaps barring Natta. The ragas Sulini as well Rupavati which are the ragas for ‘Prananatha’ and off course ‘ Ne Mora Bettithe’ which other schools render so are rendered by in the Dhanammal’ family tradition in Sankarabharanam and Todi. See Foot note 1.

The Dikshitar composition does not seem to have been orally transmitted to us and the renderings that we hear today are in all probability, interpretation of the SSP notation. With that lets look at the composition and the associated discography.

Kriti – “Sri Krishnam Bhajare”:

Here is the text of the composition as found in the SSP which is set in tisra eka tala.

श्रीकृष्णं भजरे रे मानस |
श्रीरूपवती-गोपस्त्री-जारम् ||


चक्र-निवारित-भास्कर-प्रकाशं |
चन्द्रशेखर-गुरुगुह-विश्वासं |
अक्रूर-वन्दित-पदं अर्जुनप्रेम-आस्पदं |
नक्र-हत-दन्ति-वरदं नत-शुक-सनक-नारदम्||

rE rE mAnasa                 – O mind!

bhaja                                – Worship

SrIkRshNaM                  – Sri Krishna,

SrI-rUpavatI-gOpa-strI-jAram – the beloved of the Gopika women who are beautiful as Lakshmi (Sri),



cakra-nivArita-bhAskara-prakAshaM – the one who barred the light of the sun with his discus,

candrashekhara-guruguha-vishvAsaM – the trusted one of Shiva (who wears the moon) and Guruguha,

akrUra-vandita-padaM         – the one whose feet are saluted by Akrura,

arjuna-prema-AspadaM         – the object of Arjuna’s affection,

nakra-hata-danti-varadaM     – the giver of boons  to the elephant (Gajendra) injured by the crocodile,

nata-shuka-sanaka-nAradaM     – the one saluted by sages Shuka, Sanaka and Narada.

‘srI krishnam bhajare’ – Kriti – Some brief notes:


  1. The kriti does not feature any specific sthala-reference and is not assignable thus to any ksetra. Some texts/scholars may tend to assign the composition to an unknown deity in Tanjore, on the strength of the composition in the adjacent melas being ascribed so temples in and around Tanjore. Dr V Raghavan tends to make that conclusion implicitly in his work, the fact is that there is no external or internal evidence to back up such a statement.
  2. The kriti carries the standard colophon of Dikshitar as well as the rag mudra which has been woven into the pallavi lines to mean the beauty of the Gopikas.
  3. While the kriti features the well-known characters/devotees in its narrative – Gopikas, Akrura, Arjuna etc, the allusion to the sudarshana cakra of the Lord with which He blocked the rays of the sun finds mention in the anupallavi. During the Mahabaratha war Arjuna vows to kill Jayadratha to avenge his son Abhimanyu’s death before the sun sets, the next day. Even as the Kaurava Commander-In-Chief Drona got wind of this, he throws a three layered vyuha/defensive shield around Jayadratha so as to protect him till the end of the day at the least, as Arjuna had vowed to immolate himself if he was defeated in this endeavour. According to the legend, Lord Krishna to deceive the Kaurava troops so as to lull them to believe that the sun had set and thereby loosen the guard, used his discus/sudarshana cakra to elide the sun (total solar eclipse) that afternoon which had the desired effect. Before the end of the day Arjuna thus breaches the Kaurava defences, with Lord Krishna as his charioteer, kills Jayadratha and fulfils his vow. Archeo-astronomists have used this reference to the “solar eclipse” during the Kurukshetra war to go back in time to fix the time of the War given the timelines of the Kuru Dynasty and such other historical evidence, and triangulating it with this solar eclipse and also planetary conjunctions. See Foot note 3.


I present the rendering of this composition by Vidvan Ramakrishnan Moorthi, a disciple of Vidvan R K Sriramkumar which is complete with the cittasvara section and which I think best exemplifies the notation found in the SSP.

Attention is invited to the way the D3N3 is supposed to be intoned with a nokku on the dhaivatha note.

Rupavati – A controversy regarding Sangraha Cudmani

In the context of this raga & Sangraha Cudamani, an element of controversy as to the name that the raga/mela 20 ought to have had arises. In the Sangraha Cudamani, the heading of the relevant sloka gives the name as ‘Raupyanaga’ ( रौप्यनगमेललक्षणं) whereas in the body of the sloka, the name of the raga is given as rUpAvatI. Scholars like Dr T S Ramakrishnan have highlighted this error (amongst a couple of others) to surmise that the Sangraha Cudamani was a manuscript created around AD 1830 or thereabouts by the palace musicians of Tanjore in the run up to the creation of the Bhattara Ragamalika, a Marathi composition in 72 mela ragas composed by Lavani Venkata Rao in praise/honour of Sakharam Saheb the brother in law of Tanjore King Sivaji II. Given its erotic content, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer who was approached to set it to music, used the mettu to compose the 72 Melaragamalika later on Lord Pranatharthihara of Tiruvaiyaru. See Foot note 2.

In his melaragamalika, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer extoll Lord Shiva, thus even as he embeds the raga mudra ‘rupavati’ skilfully in the lyrics:

बहुरूपावतीह भवान्मां मुहुर्मुहुरूर्जित भक्तजनरन्जन ||
bahurUpAvatIha bhavAn mAM muhurmuhUrjita bhaktajanaranjana ||
Meaning: Taking various forms here, you have time and again confirmed that you please your devotees. (Hence) you protect me.


Discography – I Chakra 72 Mela ragamalika – Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer- featuring Rupavati:


We can hear the Rupavati section rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Subbulakshmi in this Youtube recording ( audio only) between 10:45 -11:21 in this recording.


Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli renders the Rupavati section here between 11:17 to 12:00 in the recording below.


In passing it is worth mentioning here that the heptatonic/krama sampurna Rupavati has also been invested with compositions much later by Koteesvara Iyer and Dr M Balamuralikrishna.


The kriti ‘ srI krishnam bhajarE’ and the melodic contours of Rupavati as dealt with by Muthusvami Dikshitar with its devious flow can be a little unsettling for some ears, to start with. And it is a raga without doubt which has to be negotiated skilfully given this meandering progression. Nevertheless, this short Dikshitar kriti with just the anupallavi and a pithy cittasvara section offers us an abject lesson as to how such ragas have to be dealt with. And I am sure that on this day of Janmashtami one can savour this musical experience or learn this short kriti to pay obeisance to this popular avatar of Lord Vishnu.


  1. Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol I – Tamil edition published by the Madras Music Academy (1961)
  2. Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyatha Sivan- Edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastri- The Adayar Library Series – Vol 16 (1989)
  3. Ragalakshana Sangraha – PhD Dissertation of Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004)


Foot Notes:


  1. The obvious total lack of vivadi raga compositions in the repertoire of the Dhanammal family makes one suspect if the ragas of these two compositions namely “Prananatha” and “ne Mora bettithe ‘were flipped to the nearer kosher melas sporting consonantal notes and rendered or taught/learnt by members of this family. According to the Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions compiled by Dr V Raghavan in JMA Vol XXXIX, page 149, Chinnasami Mudaliyar, K V Srinivasa Iyengar, Vissa Appa Rao & Dr Raghavan himself assign the kriti ‘ne mora bettithe’ ( tala triputa) with the raga Rupavati while Rangaramanuja Ayyengar ( on the authority of the patham of Veen Dhanammal ?) assigns the raga Todi to the said composition.


  1. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was commissioned to set the Marati composition of Lavani Venkata Rao to music which he perhaps reluctantly did, for the composition was narastuti. His biographers record that given the enormity of the work he thought that the music he had conceived ought to be made an offering to his Lord Pranatarthihara & hence proceeded to compose the magnum opus ‘Pranatarti hara prabho purare’, composing the Sanskrit lyrics ( on his own or perhaps in collaboration with his scholar brother) and setting the same to the same tune that he set for the original Marathi composition . Dr T S Ramakrishnan in his article titled “The Contribution of the Dikshitar Family to Karnatic Music”, advances the proposition that Govinda was a Tanjore Court musician who created the ‘Sangraha Cudamani” closer to 1830 and it was used as the basis for Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s project to set the ‘Bahattara Mela Raga Malika” and it thereafter went on to become the defacto standard of Carnatic musicology. And that perhaps the text was “promoted” to be the popular raga reference standard much to the detriment of the older Venkatamakin/Muddu Venkatamakhin’s so called Asampurna Mela Paddathi. The reference for this history can also be found in parts in the Introduction written by Sri P S Chandrasekara Iyer to the Mela Ragamalika of Maha Vaidyatha Sivan- Edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastri- The Adayar Library Series – Vol 16 (1989), referred above. To state shortly, this raga Rupavati and the error made in the Sangraha Cudamani as to its name also, thus forms the nucleus for some musicologists to advance their so called “conspiracy” theory adverted as above. Incidentally Vidushi Bombay Jaisree Ramnath did a lecture demonstration in the Music Academy on the Mahratti Bahattara Mela Ragamalika which has been recorded in JMA Vol 86 (2015) pp 54-55.


  1. One such articulation can be read here : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/drishtikone/2010/09/astronomical-proof-mahabharata-war-shri-krishna/

Raga Malavi – A Misnomer?



The raga Malavi (mALavI) under mElA 28 ( Harikambhoji) as a scale is a creation of Tyagaraja with his well-known kriti ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ serving as his solitary exemplar in the raga. The raga has been inspirational for latter day composers including Patnam Subramanya Iyer & others. The raga today has less than a dozen kritis and two tAna varnas serving as illustration to its total melodic canvas. Given its apparently limited scope, the raga is termed by musicologists as a minor raga. Nevertheless, as we can see in this blog post the raga is definitely a melody of substance comparable to the others of its ilk such as Bahudari or Nagasvaravali. Unfortunately, today we do not encounter raga alapana, neraval or svara kalpana for this raga and performers simply render the ubiquitous ‘nEnarunci nanu’ in a breezy manner. If one were to delve deep into this raga we can conclude that a capable musician can do full justice to the raga in different formats be it alapana, neraval or svaraprastara. And through this blog post on the raga I intend to pay homage to a long-forgotten titan of our music Vidvan Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar ( photo on the left) who was famous for his bhava laden music and his explorations of ragas such as Malavi and Salaga Bhairavi. He was the one who inspired the likes of Vidvans G N Balasubramanian and Madurai Mani Iyer. (see Note 1).

In this blog post we shall exactly look at that and also take up a modern day kriti as an exemplar to understand this raga even while we evaluate the forgotten musical history of the raga’s name, which is a bit of an oddity.

Over to the raga!


As pointed out earlier, the melody which we call as Malavi under mElA 28 can be understood from the contours of the rAga as found in “nEnarunci nAnu” of Tyagaraja. All modern-day musicologists as well as popular raga compendiums provide the arohana/avrohana kramA under mela 28 as a upanga raga as given below:

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

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

This definition of the raga as found in the kriti, needless to say is echoed in the Sangraha Cudamani which, as we have seen in these series of blog posts, is a repository or lexicon of the lakshana of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions.  Additionally, it is worth pointing out that the cittasvara section of ‘nEnarunci nAnu’, which we hear today is a much latter-day creation of Violin Vidvan Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, tracing back to the last quarter of the 19th century. The cittasvara too validates the svara progression as above.

It may not out of place to mention that if one were to delve deeper and evaluate the musical material on hand, it would clearly indicate that the raga cannot be just understood as a progression of svaras as above but rather as an aggregation of murccanas with the following constructs:

  1. It is sampurna, meaning all the seven notes of the parent mela occur in the raga
  2. PDNS, SNDP and MGRS are not be used while SRGMP would be permitted.
  3. The raga is vakra and is not lineal. In other words, SRGMP, PNMDNS, SNDNP and PMGMRS forms the core building blocks for the purvanga and uttaranag sections
  4. The arohana progression SRGMPMDNS could evoke the raga Sahana and hence must be tactfully sung. SRGMPNMDNS would sound better and distinctive. RGMDN, PNMDN and PMDN could be alternated to distinctly present the raga along with phrases such as NMD.
  5. The avarohana kramas SNDNP is a Devamanohari leitmotif while the PMGMRS is a motif of Purnachandrika. The two in combination on the descent with the Sahana evoking ascent, potentially make the raga a compound raga of sorts.

The raga’s lakshana doesn’t seem to have been discussed by the Experts Committee of the Madras Music Academy, as evidenced by it Journals.


Following the footsteps of Tyagaraja who composed nEnarunci nanu’ , many later day composers have added to the corpus of compositions in this raga even while many tunesmiths too have set this raga as the melody for lyrics, such as for example the tarangams of Narayana Teertha. Leaving them aside the chief amongst the composers/compositions in the raga which are encountered in the concert circuit are:

  1. Patnam Subramanya Iyer – ‘Iti Nyayama’
  2. Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar- ‘shrikanta dayite’ & ‘nIlalOhita’
  3. Mysore Maharaja Jayacamaraja Wodeyar – ‘shankari sadananda lahari’
  4. Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian – ‘marivere gati nakevaru’ & ‘ninnu vina verevvaru’
  5. Calcutta K S Krishnamurthi – varna beginning ‘ninne koriyunna’ in adi tala
  6. SpencerVenugopal – ‘needasudane gada’, a varna beginning ‘e maye chesithivo’ in adi tala and a tillana


‘nEnarunci nAnu’ of Sri Tyagaraja by Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian

For this blog post I first take up Tyagaraja’s solitaire to understand the melody and also underscore the fact that a full suite of the raga i.e alapana, kriti, neraval and svarakalpana is entirely in the realm of possibility for this raga. This kriti has been the perennial staple for instrumentalists and vocalists alike for pepping up a sagging concert, with its fast and lively tempo so much so that modern musicologists have come to term the raga itself as a madhyama kala pradhana raga. It may be noted that elaborate alapana or neraval/svara kalpana is not seen rendered for Malavi for the perceived reason that the raga may tend to get repetitive and such an exercise is likely to lead the performer astray into neighbouring or allied ragas, given the apparently limited melodic scope. The public domain is littered with very many plain vanilla kriti renderings of this composition by performers of varied hues.

For this blog post I choose to present the one by the Prince Charming of Carnatic Music as he was endearingly held, the late Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian (GNB). I have chosen this recording for very many reasons not just for the overall duration of the rendering consisting of raga vinyasa, kriti rendering, neraval and svara kalpana, the quality of the accompaniment as well and for the adroitness with which the great master presents the raga with finesse without being repetitive by choosing the right starting/ending notes (such as the dhaivatha and the rishabha) and never once leaving one in doubt as to the raga’s svarupa. The sleeve note to this concert indicates the violinist as Vidvan Lagudi G Jayaraman with the percussion support being provided by Vidvans Murugabhoopathy and Alangudi Ramachandran

Sri GNB’s felicity in rendering ragas such as Suddha Saveri, Malavi, Devamanohari, Andolika and their ilk would buttress his virtuosity in expansively exploring the unfamiliar or the tricky. And his exposition of Malavi is no different and in the same mould. Rasikas from an era, long gone will recall misty eyed, the late Sangita Kalanidhi Subbarama Bhagavathar who was a forerunner and an inspiration to Sri GNB in his raga vinyasa, especially Malavi. See Note 2.


In this recording, the master embarks first on a raga alapana. As one can notice, he dwells on the raga’s uttaranga centering his pivot on nishadha and dhaivatha. Mark the way in which he intones the delicate nishada in the ascent coaxing the life of the raga from those phrases. Never in his alapana does he emphasise the purvanga in the madhya sthayi. He focuses on the PNMDNS-SNDNP in the madhya sthayi and SRGMRS in the tAra sthayi and only in the fast akara phrases does he dwell on the SRGMP purvanga. And neither does he venture into the mandhara stayi as well. Overall, he presents the raga with an uttaranga/avarohana pradhana pivot, bounded by the mandara nishadha and the tara pancama. In other words, he capitalises to the hilt the devious/vakra sancaras of the uttaranga and the descent to paint his conception of the raga.

And then he launches his neraval and kalpana svara at the carana beginning ‘kalilO’ showcasing the immense possibilities of the raga and especially the dhaivatha note that he oscillates to spectacular effect at ‘kalilO’ is a revelation. Again attention is invited to the pace of his rendering a steady madhyama kala gait, without the typical breakneck/breathless speed in which this composition is commonly rendered. Neither does the percussionist accelerate the rendering in any way, providing perfect balance overall. For the svarakalpana he showcases the raga svarupa in both the speeds freely using RGMP prayogas in the druta kala phrases lest the color of Sahana stains the melodic canvas that he paints. Sri GNB and his disciples have again made this raga their very own. We do have recordings of Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M L Vasanthakumari rendering ‘nEnarunchi nAnu’ with a kalpana svara rendering at ‘kalilo’ and accounts have it that she has rendered a brief pallavi in the raga, though no recording of the same is available in the public domain.

A more sedate presentation of Tyagaraja’s composition worth hearing is by Vidvan Voleti Venkateswarulu who presents it in a tad slower tempo but yet majestic gait, much as he does many other briskly rendered Tyagaraja compositions such as ‘pattividuvarAdU’ in Manjari.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osYzsWBzAVI (Audio only)

What stands out in this edition is the perfect diction with which he enunciates the lyrics on one hand and the comprehensible madhyamakala cittasvaras which are usually rendered in a rapid-fire manner leaving the artiste breathless and the listener clueless as to the actual notes of the cittasvara section.

And finally, is the popular evergreen version by Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, live in video, well past his prime in the company of the maestros Sangita Kalanidhis Trichy Sankaran and T N Krishnan in the portals of the Madras Music Academy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6PR8eyz8M0 (Video)

And despite his innumerable performances, there is a slip up in the cittasvara rendering, following the anupallavi and the titan without much ado promptly stops his disciples midway and restarts the cittasvara rendering all over again.

One other aspect of this composition is that recordings of artistes of varied hues and from different sisya paramparas of Tyagaraja, as available today ( starting with Veena Dhanammal, Veena Vidvan Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer and all others) would show that the mettu / pAtham of the composition is fairly uniform including the sangathis for the lyrics, across all their versions.

‘rAma nI dAsudanE gada’ of Spencer Sri Venugopal:

Rendering by Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu in a class session

In this section I take up this kriti and its exemplar rendering in the video below.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsDcyyjYPtY (Video)

This kriti of the contemporary composer Spencer Venugopal is best illustrated by this passionate rendering by Vidvan Malladi Suribabu in this Youtube video as he teaches it as was perhaps taught by his Guru the late Vidvan Voleti Venkateswarulu in his Radio program ‘sangIta Sikshana’ on AIR Vijayawada.

A number of distinct features stand out in this composition as well this rendering.

  1. The vilamba kala or the slow/sedate tempo of the composition. For me this attribute strikes so much as it negates the entire premise that this raga has to be rendered in madhyama kala only, as evidenced by almost all other compositions.
  2. The meandering melody with its long kaarvais and pregnant pauses as evidenced by this rendering.
  3. The looping sangathis which present the curvaceous contours of the raga starting and ending with the so called jIva svaras of the raga namely Ri, Dha and Ni.
  4. Whereas in nEnarUnci nAnu’, pancama is given a solid pride of place, apparently given the vakra sancaras around the pancama, in ‘nI dAsudanE’ we do not see emphasis on the pancama. Actually the pancama is muted with more emphasis to the dhaivatha, nishadha and rishabha which gives a distinctive color to the raga as implemented in this composition.
  5. The atIta eduppu of the composition which is a trifle rare in the world of kritis. More encountered in javalis, this form of eduppu occurs in Tyagaraja’s ‘nAtimAta marachitivO’ ( Devakriya of Sangraha Cudamani and not of SSP) which can be cited as an example.

Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu and his disciple sons, the Malladi Brothers have time and again presented this composition exquisitely. See Note 3.

Rendering by Vidusi Dr Ritha Rajan:

Presented next is the rendering of the same composition as a complete suite by Dr Ritha Rajan, disciple of the late Ramnad Krishnan and also of Smt T Brinda and others, even as she harnesses her musical acumen to paint a vivid portrait of the raga one winter afternoon decades ago at the portals of the Music Academy. See Note 4 & 5.

Hark at her raga vinyasa first as she takes off on the dhaivatha at the very start. For all practical purposes the dhaivatha of the raga is one of its life giving notes . And later as she embarks on a neraval at ‘sharadindu samashObita’ followed by an elegant svara sally with the violinist providing the perfect foil for her, she keeps her date always with the dhaivatha, nishadha and rishabha time and again . An observation as to her presentation of the raga in this recital/recording, is warranted here. As already pointed out, in this composition pancama is ‘not’ a pivot and is a muted or understated note. In line with that, the Vidushi has presented her alapana, neraval and svaraprastara emphasizing MDNS in the arohana krama and using pancama as a passing/transiting note and never for once using it as graha or nyasa. So much so apparently after the concert Vidvan S Kalyanaraman walked up to her and made a specific mention of the same opining that pancama had to be emphasised in the raga in line with the conception of Tyagaraja. See Note 6.

To reiterate, the complete full suite rendering of ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ by Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian and ‘rAma nI dAsudanE’ by Vidusi Dr Ritha Rajan proves the point that the raga is not a minor one and full justice can be made to it imaginatively within the confines of the modern concert template.

Rendering by the vaggeyakara himself:

And rarely do we get to hear a composer’s own visualization or articulation of his own creation. It was entirely fortuitous that I happened to stumble upon a rendering of the ‘rAma nIdasudanE’ by Spencer Sri Venugopal himself which encompasses a raga alapana and the kriti rendering together with the cittasvara section. See Note 7.

First is the kriti text together with the cittasvara section.


rAma || nI dasudane gada nannu|rakshimpa rAdA ||


tAma ||rasa nayana nIkU pAma |rUdaina natO vAdA (rAma) ||


vara | dA srI raghunAyakA bhakta|pAlA phaladAyakA |

shara|dhindU sama shObhitA sarva|sAdhU jana sEvitAh (rAma)||





        r,sNDNP,NDNP, |MGMRSRGMR,nSRGM || (nIdAsudanE)

(Note: mandhara stayi svaras are lower case, madhya stayi in upper case and tara stayi in lower case italics)


As one can notice the rendering of Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu is slower and he invests a number of additional/different sangathis ( much like in nEnarunci nAnu’ ) for the anupallavi and carana lines in comparison to the versions of Dr Ritha Rajan and that of Spencer Sri Venugopal.

In so far as the other compositions in the raga goes Vidvans S Kalyanaraman and Trichur Ramachandran have rendered the two compositions of Sri GNB while Vidvan Sanjay Subramanian has rendered the varnam of his Guru in this raga which is available in the public domain.


As pointed out many a time in these blog posts before, Tyagaraja never revealed the names of the nouveau ragas that he came to compose in, during his lifetime. The names of the ragas which we today know as Nalinakanthi, Ravichandrika, Bahudari, Nagasvaravali et al including Malavi came to be assigned to these melodies much later, either by the sisya parampara of Tyagaraja or by publishers of his compositions, much after the death of the composer. This fact has been attested to by several musicologists and musicians in the past. In the instant case as well, the raga name Malavi for the melody using the notes of Harikambhoji mElA (28th) is a later day assignment. We know for sure that in the first half of the 18th Century even before the birth of the Trinity, a raga by name Malavi existed. Tulaja II the musicologist King of Tanjore in his ‘Saramruta’ catalogues, circa 1732 AD, a raga by name Malavi under the modern day 15th Mela, Malavagaula, which shares no melodic affinity to the modern Malavi of the 28th mElA.

Neither is there a raga documented by Tulaja in the ‘Saramrutha’ that even faintly resembles the modern Malavi under the 28th mela. Or for that matter neither does Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium nor Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Samapradaya Pradarshini talk of this melody. As pointed out earlier the first musical compendium where this scale under mela 28 makes its first appearance is the Sangraha Cudamani, the lexicon of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions of 19th century vintage.

Thus, it can be safely surmised that this melody under 28th mela Harikambhoji is a later day creation of Tyagaraja i.e later in time to Saramrutha and the name Malavi came to be assigned to it post 1850, with the name belonging to a long dead raga (Malavi of the 15th Mela) which had fallen into disuse being repurposed to name this raga (under mela 28). Suffice to say that the Malavi of Tulaja (under Malavagaula) has no melodic affinity whatsoever to the modern Malavi, which is a creation of Tyagaraja with the documented lakshana as given in the Sangraha Cudamani. See Note 8

But one non-obvious aspect of this raga as conceptualized by Tyagaraja is that it is in conformance to the 18th century raga architecture, the principles of which we saw in earlier posts. The raga is completely vakra/devious and in fact employing the 18th century vernacular of describing ragas we can restate the raga’s lakshana as under:

  1. The raga is sampurna – i.e all 7 notes occur taking both arohana and avarohana together.
  2. SRGM is permitted while PDNS, SNDP and MGRS are to be eschewed.
  3. Dhaivata and gandhara are vakra in the avarohana krama whereas pancama is vakra in the arohana
  4. GMDNS, PMDNS and PNMDNS are alternate arohana progressions while SNDNP and PMGMR are leitmotifs occurring in the avarohana krama which go along in imparting rakti to the raga.

The individual notes, as one can see doesn’t make this raga. The raga’s life blood lies in its three motifs PNMDN, NDNP and PMGMR which are to be sung with the rishabha, dhaivatha and nishadha being the starting/ending notes as appropriate lend a unique melodic identity to the raga. The cittasvara for ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ appended by Vidvan Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer encapsulates all the salient murccanas of the raga.

From a composition rendering perspective it must be said that rendering of Tyagaraja’s compositions has been much accelerated, sacrificing the lyrics, melody and clarity of rendering at the altar of speed. See Note 9 & 10. And ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ has been no exception. The exemplar rendering of Vidvan Voleti Venkateswarulu of ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ and that of Vidvan Suri Babu of ‘rAma nIdAsudanE’ shows that the raga as well the compositions can blossom forth if it is rendered at perfect/appropriate gait and with passion and verve, holding an invaluable lesson for performers and connoisseurs/listeners of chaste music.


Legend has it that Tyagaraja got inspired to create the raga Nalinakanti when he was hearing the musical score for a Marathi drama. In the case of Malavi or the composition ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ we do not know when/where/how he got inspired to create this melody or this composition. It is an unassailable fact that the raga evokes rakti and his conception of the same is yet another demonstration of his incomparable musical creativity and his innate artistry in chiselling out very many ragas from out of the body of svaras/murccanas. One hopes that modern day musicians emulate the likes of Vidvans Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar and G N Balasubramaniam in rediscovering and imaginatively exploring the Malavi that Tyagaraja has bequeathed to us, on the concert platform.


  1. Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 828-829
  2. Dr V Raghavan-Journal of the Music Academy XIV (1943)- Proceedings of the 1942 Music Conference with Vidvan Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar as the President of the Conference.
  3. Dr V Raghavan-Journal of the Music Academy XLIII (1972) – “Mazhavai Subbarama Iyer’s Note Book” by Dr P C Seetharaman, pp 100-107 and the Transcript of the proceedings of 28th Dec 1971 on pp 32-33
  4. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, page 73


  1. I am indebted in no small measure to Dr Ritha Rajan for sparing her time and effort and providing me with several valuable inputs and anecdotes that I have documented in this blog post.
  2. Vidvans Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer (maternal uncle of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer) and Mazhavaranendal Subbarama Bhagavathar (grandson of Mazhavai Cidambara Bharati, a Tamil composer of repute) are titans from an age long bygone. Legend has it that both of them were extraordinarily adept in rendering Malavi. And perhaps they had become so enamoured of the raga that they both went on individually to invest a cittasavara section for ‘nEnarunci nAnu’. While Krishna Iyer’s cittasvaram survives till date, Subbarama Bhagavathar’s (later to Krishna Iyer) cittasvaram survives in his books which was presented to the Music Academy on which a lecture demonstration was done in the year 1971. Subbarama Bhagavathar (born 1888) was anointed as Sangita Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy in the year 1942. His biography reveals that he revelled in rendering ragas like Janaranjani, Salagabhairavi, Sarasvati Manohari, Pratapavarali and Malavi with extraordinary felicity. Subbarama Bhagavathar’s Malavi rendering apparently inspired Sri GNB who went on to inherit the mantle of expounding some of these rakthi ragas. Though Subbarama Bhagavathar’s voice was slightly gruff yet by his prolific musical ideation and impeccable svara gnana he carved a niche for himself. And yet another gem (‘mani”) Sangita Kalanidhi Madurai Mani Iyer held him in awe as his manasIka guru for svara kalpana rendering. Its worth mentioning that the biographies of Smt M S Subbulakshmi records that she learnt the art of rendering complex pallavis from him. Subbarama Bhagavathar has also let behind his notebooks, immaculately notating several compositions including rare varnas. Similarly, musical raconteurs would recall Vidvan Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, nephew of Tirukodikaval krishna Iyer revelling in Malavi, exploring it impromptu, late at night much after a concert when his musical mind was still awake and in full flow- https://www.frontline.in/other/moving-the-heart/article6808048.ece . It is sad that no recording of Vidvan Subbarama Bhagavathar’s survives today despite the fact that he lived till 1950. Nevertheless it has to be said that whenever we hear Sri GNB rendering Malavi, Chenchukambhoji, Devamanohari or Andholika or Madurai Mani Iyer rendering a svara kalpana for Malavi or Kapinarayani, we should pause & remember for a minute that inspirational spirit for both of them, the long forgotten Sangita Kalanidhi Subbarama Bhagavatar !
  3. In the recent past Vidvan Malladi Suri Babu had presented the composition during the 2012 December Music Season ( photo from the Concert above, courtesy ‘The Hindu‘) a recording of which is available in the public domain. The concert recording of Vidvan Sri Voleti Venkateswarulu, his guru singing this composition is available on the Net. However as far as I know no recording of Sri Voleti teaching the same which was broadcast by AIR Vijayawada, is available. Should there be one, I would be grateful to have a copy of the same so that it can be made part of this blog post.
  4. This rendering of Malavi spanning 21 mins is from Vidushi Dr Ritha Rajan’s Music Academy after concert recital of 28-12-1984, a full 34 years ago with Vidushis Narmadha Gopalakrishnan, Sumati and Vid Dandamudi Rammohan Rao as accompanists. The concert features the Kanada Adi tala varna of Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar, Sobhillu Saptasvara in Jaganmohini, Jambupate mampahi in Yamunakalyani, Palincu Kamakshi in Madhyamavati and a pallavi in Latangi amongst others, apart from this 20 min long Malavi essay. For those of us who aren’t aware, she is an acknowledged authority on the patantharas of Tyagaraja’s compositions and of the tradition and repertoire of Smt Veena Dhanammal and her family. In this Youtube video she talks about the musical legacy of Vidushi Veena Dhanammal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvRXFQIeW8I
  5. Thanks are due to Dr Ritha Rajan for sparing her time and effort to unearth this old recording of this concert and for providing me the permission to share the same on this blog post.
  6. With the greatest of respect for the view expressed by the great Vidvan, I wish to disagree in the instant case. As pointed out earlier in the narrative, the melodic canvas of Malavi in this kriti ‘nIdasudanE gadA’ is engineered with the pancama being relegated as a minor note. The key notes are the nishadha, dhaivatha and rishabha and naturally in line with the same the Vidushi has dealt with the raga in her raga vinyasa, neraval & svaraprastara accordingly. Even from a musicological point of view the structuring of Malavi deemphasizing the pancama note adds its own beauty to the raga and is well within the vaggeyakara’s creative right. It does not detract or take-way the beauty of the raga in any way.
  7. I am indebted to Spencer Sri R Venugopal for helping me understand the melodic and lyrical aspect of this composition ‘rama nI dAsudanE gadA’ and also learn this composition and its nuances, first hand. During his interaction, he alluded to the 78-rpm recording of the Tyagaraja kriti ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ rendered by the legendary Veena Dhanammal and confessed that his belief in the enormous potential of the raga much beyond the contours of this kriti was reinforced by her playing an extended vinyasa of the raga at the fag end of the said recording. I thank him for permitting me to use the recording of his rendering for this blog post.
  8. As a caveat it must also be said that much like how the origin of certain ragas are traced back to geographical region or tribes, for instance as in the case of ragas such as Kambhoji or Gurjari or Devagandhara or Nishadha etc, no such reference exists for ascribing Malavi to a region. An enterprising musicologist or historian may seek to represent the origins of this raga to the region of Malwa for example but one may be rest assured that no proof of such nexus exists in our musicological history.
  9. In their interview to ‘Sruti’ (Issue 405 June 2018) the Malladi Brothers lament why the composition ‘nEnarunci nAnu’ given the plaintive appeal of Tyagaraja and the soulful lyrics therein, was being rendered always in a breakneck speed doing irreparable damage to the lyrical & emotional content of the composition not to mention the incalculable harm to the musical fabric.
  10. The Smule phenomenon (https://www.smule.com/) pervading the social media/internet today has provided a new genre of rendering Tyagaraja’s compositions including ‘nEnarunci nAnu’. Two such amateur performers get together to present their interpretation of this composition – https://youtu.be/Eyik5D-rjMI
Composers, Raga

Apurva raga-s handled by Tyagaraja Svamigal – Svarabhusani


Out of 600 or 700 compositions of Saint Tyāgarājā available to us, a significant fraction was composed in vinta or apūrva rāgā-s. Tyāgarājā was the first to use these rāgā-s and the source of these rāgā-s remain obscure. Saint didn’t reveal the name of these rāgā-s to his disciples. Thus, they remain a source of confusion as many kṛti-s composed in these rāgā-s has multiple lakṣaṇā-s, as transmitted by different disciple lineage. Hence, it becomes essential at least, at this point of time to collect and analyze the present available evidences, to know the lakṣaṇaṃ seen in the older versions transmitted by authentic sources. In this post, we are going to discuss few issues related to a kṛti composed in one such vinta rāgāṃ. Before going to the topic proper, a few facts are provided which are helpful in studying the kṛti-s composed in these vinta rāgā-s.

Fact 1 : Generally, rāgā-s handled by this composer can be broadly divided into three categories:

  1. Rāgā-s mentioned in the earlier musical treatises and popular during his time like Nāṭa
  2. Rāgā-s not mentioned in the earlier musical treatises but popular during his time like Begaḍa.
  3. Rāgā-s seen in relatively later treatises (like Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāraṃ, Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi etc) or created by him like Kāpi nārāyaṇi.

Fact 2 : Tyāgarājā didn’t reveal the name of these apūrva rāgā-s to his disciples. This is an important fact as the name that we hear today or see today in various texts were named either by his disciples or by musicians of the gone century. 1

Fact 3 : When the composer himself has not revealed the name of these rāgā-s , it is illogical to say that Tyāgarājā has composed in the rāgā-s seen in the treatise Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi of Gōvinda. This point will be emphasized in future posts too.

Fact 4 : The main difference between the earlier musical treatises (treatises composed till Sangīta Sārāmṛtā, dated approximately to 1735, like Sangīta Sudhā , Catuṛdanḍi Prakāśika etc) and the later ones (like Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāraṃ (SSS), Saṅgraha Chūḍāmaṇi (SC) etc) lies in the way in which a particular rāgā was handled. Whereas in the former treatises, each rāgā was explained by the phrases they take, latter treatises explain by giving a scale – ārohaṇa and avarōhaṇa. In some, we find a lakśaṇa gītaṃ. Hence, a rāgaṃ is visualized as an synthetic entity which strictly obeys its scale by the proponents of the later treatises; whereas the proponents of the earlier treatises view these rāgā-s as an organic structure which cannot be explained by a scale always.

Fact 5 : Rāgā-s that we come to know by SSS and/or SC is not a complete list; they are just a sample. We have got many manuscripts preserved carefully in various libraries waiting to confuse us. The point that this author tries to establish by quoting this point is, a rāgā can have multiple scales, depending on the author who writes the treatise. A rāgā which is placed under a particular mēḷā could have been placed under a different mēḷā by a different author. Also, a rāgā with a similar set of svarā-s could have been called by a different name by various authors.

Fact 6 : Unless, we see the notation, it is not advisable to get carried away by the rāgā name alone (see Fact 5).

With this basic understanding, we shall move to the post “Varadaraja ninnu kori”.

This is a relatively rare kṛti composed on the Lord Varadarājā of Kāñcipuram. This is believed to have been composed by the Saint during his sojourn to holy places like Kāñcipuram, Tirupati etc. Much about this composition has been mentioned in another relevant article in this site. This article will focus on the history of this rāgaṃ with a special emphasis on Vālājāpet notations.

Svarabhūṣaṇi in treatises and texts

Svarabhūṣaṇi belongs to the third category in the classification mentioned above. Strangely, it is not mentioned in SSS or SC. Hence, it must be in some treatise which is yet to be discovered or it can be a creation of the Saint itself.

It is one kṛti of the Saint which is not frequently seen in the texts published in the last century. First text to link the rāgaṃ with this kṛti is “Oriental Music in European Notation”, published by Sri AM Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār (AMC) in 18932 (see figure 1) . He tried to collect and record the authentic versions and kṛti-s of Tyāgarājā and hence approached one of his direct disciple, Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar (VKB). His versions were cross checked with other disciples of the Saint and what we see today is the version approved by more than musician excluding VKB. Though, this kṛti is not notated here, we clearly see for the first time, the rāgā for this kṛti is mentioned as Svarabhūsaṇi, a janya of mēḷā 22. Later this rāgaṃ placed under mēḷa 22 can be seen in various texts including Nathamuni Panḍitar’s Saṅgīta Svara Prastāra Sāgaraṃ published in 1914.

It is to be pointed here we are really clueless on who named this rāgaṃ as it is not seen in any treatises that are presently available to us. But, it can be safely said that the rāgaṃ of this composition is a janyam of mēḷā 22 and is much different from its allied rāga Dēvamanōhari. The musicians who worked with AMC and AMC were well aware of Dēvamanōhari. Listing of few kṛti-s of the Saint under Dēvamanōhari and notating a composition of Gōpāla Krṣṇa Bhārati in Dēvamanōhari in the same book proves the same.

From what we have seen till now, it can be summarized Tyāgarājā has not revealed the name of any of the apūrva rāgā used by him. Some unknown musician has named it as Svarabhūṣani. AMC, who was in search of the authentic compositions and versions of the Saint, accepted this as such.


Fig1 : This shows the index of kritis published in Oriental Music in European Notation (1893) by AM Chinnasamy Mudaliyar. Varadaraja ninnu kori can be seen here with the ragam mentioned as Svarabhushani, a janya of mela 22.

Svarabhūṣaṇi and Varadarāja ninnu kori in manuscripts

Though, efforts have been made from late 1800s to record our music in the form of printed texts, several material remain unknown in manuscripts and they exist as a private collection. A study of these manuscripts is a must as they give a broader picture of the issue in hand.

It is quite rare to find this kṛti in manuscripts too. This shows that this kṛti was not learnt by many disciples and this should have been in the repertoire of only very few. Vālājāpet Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar was one amongst them to learn this directly from the Saint.

Let us now see few manuscripts which make a mention about this kṛti.

Manuscript 1

Dr V Rāghavan, in a paper published in the Journal of Music Academy mentioned about the discrepancies in allotting a particular rāgā name to a particular kṛti (of Tyāgarājā). He has presented a paper based on a palm leaf manuscript which he had in his possession. This kṛti find its presence there and the rāgā of this kṛti is mentioned as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ, a janya of mēḷa 34, Vāgadhīṣvari. We are totally unaware of the musical structure as notation was not provided in the paper. 3

Manuscript 2

A manuscript by one Bālasubraḥmaṇya Ayyar, written in the year 1922 says the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Svarabhūṣaṇi. Notation is provided.

 Manuscript 3

A granta manuscript in the collection of Late, Srivanchiyam Sri Ramachandra Ayyar says the rāgaṃ of this kṛti as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ. Again, notation is not provided.

Manuscript 4

A manuscript written by Vīṇa Kuppaier mentions this kṛti. Unfortunately, rāgā name was not mentioned and notation too was not provided.

Manuscript 5

Vālājāpet notations mention as Svarabhūṣani.

From the study of manuscripts, it becomes clear that there was confusion in the rāgā of this kṛti. Two different sources saying the rāgā as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ is an issue to ponder. Also, two different sources ascribing this kṛti to Svarabhūṣaṇi also validates the musical structure, where in the rāgā takes the svarā-s of mēḷa 22. Unless, we get a manuscript or text which gives the version in Śāradhābharaṇaṃ, we cannot come to a conclusion that Śāradhābharaṇaṃ and Svarabhūṣaṇi are two different versions (See fact 4).


Svarabhūṣaṇi – its scale

To the best knowledge of this author, Saṅgīta Candrikai of Māṇikka Mudaliyār, published in the year 1902 is the first printed text to mention the scale of this rāgaṃ as SGMPDNS  SNDPMRS, placing it under the mēḷa 22. The two manuscripts mentioned above (manuscript 2 and 5) give the same scale. Vālājāpet notations give additional information that this takes the notes of Kharaharapriya.

Earlier texts and manuscripts are uniform in their opinion that this is a janyaṃ of Kharaharapriya and the scale can be taken as SGMPDNS   SNDPMRS.

Varadarāja ninnu kōri – Vālājāpet version

Vālājāpet manuscripts form an important source to understand the kṛti-s of Saint Tyāgarājā. These manuscripts were written by Vālājāpet Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar (VVB) and his son Vālājāpet Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar. It is even said Tyāgarājā could have seen this as they were recorded during his life time.4 These notations were preserved at Madurai Sourāṣtra Sabha and the transcripts are available in GOML, Chennai. Few of these transcripts can be accessed online here. These transcripts are the main source for this post.

In the absence of first hand records made by Tyāgarājā, these notations form a very valuable and authentic source to understand the version learnt by his prime disciple Vēṅkaṭaramaṇa Bhāgavatar.

In the notations, it is mentioned as Svarabhūṣaṇi with the scale SGMPDNS SNDPMRS. This scale is much adhered to in the version given.

Pallavi starts from dhaivataṃ, reaches madhya ṣaḍjaṃ and goes to gāndhāraṃ as DPMRSGMP. This clearly shows the rāga lakshaṇaṃ without any ambiguity. Anupallavi again starts from dhaivataṃ, but here proceed upwards and reaches tāra ṣaḍjaṃ. From here again reaches tāra gāndhāraṃ. The intelligent use of dhaivataṃ as a graha svaram and careful emphasis on the scale gives a melodic structure much different from Dēvamanōhari. Nowhere we find the phrase NDNS in this version. It is only DNS.

Caraṇaṃ has something interesting to say. It has got an additional line “maruḍu śiggu chē manḍarāḍaṭa”.

This is not seen in any of the versions recorded – either oral or textual. Interestingly, this additional line is seen in the manuscripts of Vīṇa Kuppaier!! Knowing the association between VVB and Vīṇa Kuppaier, this line adds authenticity to this version.

But, in the manuscripts of Vīṇa Kuppaier, there is a slight change in the sāhityaṃ. It reads as “maruḍu  śiggu  chē    munḍararāḍaṭa”.    This was the correction mentioned by Ravi too (See another article on this topic in this site).

Errors like this where there is a replacement of one syllable to another is much common in manuscripts. They are not the printed texts which are proof-read several times before publication (even they are prone to errors!!) What we see now, the transcripts are the genuine duplicates of the manuscripts preserved at Madurai Sabhā. The scribe, when trying to duplicate the contents from manuscripts could have made this error involuntarily. In this case, except that syllable, absolute concordance is seen between the two manuscripts under consideration. An unbiased researcher who is accustomed in reading the manuscripts will never judge the authenticity of the composition or the source which gives this composition based on the errors of this magnitude.


Let us now see the importance of this additional line. Caraṇaṃ with the additional line is represented below:

varagiri vaikuṇṭha maṭa      varṇiṃpa taramukāḍaṭa

maruḍu śiggu chē  man      ḍarāḍaṭa – nir       (munḍararāḍaṭa)

-jarulanu tārakamulalō        candrudai merayuḍu vaṭa

vara tyāgarāja nuta             garuḍa sēva jūḍa srī


‘Ra’ is used as dvitīyākśara prāsaṃ in this caraṇaṃ. When it is sung in rūpaka tāḷaṃ (catusra rūpakaṃ), each tāḷa cycle ends with maṭa, dhaṭa, man, nir, mulalō, vaṭa, nuta and juḍa. Hence each āvartanaṃ starts with a word which has ‘ra´ as its second syllable. Totally, we get 8 tāḷa āvartanaṃ only due to the presence of this additional line. In the commonly heard versions, if sung in rūpakaṃ, runs only for 6 āvartanaṃ!! Also, ‘nir’ is pushed to previous āvartanam to be in accordance with the rules of prosody.

Hence, this line must have been an integral part of this kṛti known only to the disciples learnt directly from the composer and singing without this line is an aberration.


Here is the link to Vālājāpet version of this kṛti.


A note on the version by Sri Bālasubraḥmaṇya Ayyar

No detail can be collected about this musician. The version given by him is much in line with the version that we hear starting in tāra saḍjaṃ, though differences exist. A ciṭṭa svara passage is too seen. Additional line seen in the two manuscripts mentioned above is missing. This version too does not sound like Dēvamanōhari. Needless to say, the version given here is much different from that of Vālājāpet version.



The following are “take-home” messages from this post:

Our music is transmitted very well through both textual and oral tradition. In the absence of one, the other is to be taken into consideration. A wise researcher will never neglect an evidence gained through one source when the other one is unaware of the same. Oral renditions and the available texts are only samples to show what was sung in he past. Voice of many musicians were not recorded and the knowledge of many researchers remain unpublished. If we get an additional evidence from unpublished source, that should be analysed and digested. This an only be considered as a true research. In this case, Valajapet versions were in the dark for many years.  When the notations adhere well to the scale, it should be accepted as  an old version. This will be explained more in further posts too.

“Varadarāja ninnu kōri” was composed in a rāgaṃ which takes the svarā-s of mēḷa 22. (till we get an evidence from other authentic source saying it as Śāradhābharaṇaṃ or something else).

It is better to call this rāgaṃ as Svarabhūṣaṇi as it is the name seen in one of the earlier texts published (as gleaned from the available evidence) and no other rāgaṃ exist with that name.

We don’t have any textual tradition to call it as Dēvamanōhari. Even oral traditions call it as Svarabhūṣaṇi, though versions differ. Older version like Vālājāpet notations gives us the real lakṣaṇaṃ of a rāgaṃ like this. Svarabhūṣani had a distinct melody which can be best experienced by listening to Vālājāpet version.

The additional line, seen in Vālājāpet version and manuscript of Vīṇa Kuppaier is integral to this composition. That line is to be included to make this kṛti a complete one.

Vālājāpet notations help us to know about the authentic versions learnt by VVB, directly from the Saint and solve many issues pertaining to the rāga lakṣaṇaṃ of vinta rāgā-s like this.

This example also highlights the importance of collecting and analyzing unpublished manuscripts to understand the rāgā-s handled by the Saint.



I like to thank Sri V Sriram, Secretary, Music Academy for allowing me to peruse the manuscript of Sri Balasubrahmanya Ayyar preserved at Music Academy library.

I thank Srivanchiyam Sri Chandrasekar, son of Srivanchiyam Sri Ramachandra Ayyar for sharing the rare manuscripts collected and preserved by his father.

I thank Sri Ravi Rajagopal for taking efforts to correct the error in sāhityam seen in the additional line .



  1. Subbarāma Dīkṣitulu. Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu, Pg 129. Vidyā Vilāsini Press, Eṭṭayapuraṃ Subbarāma Samasthānaṃ, 1905.
  2. Chinnasvāmy Mudaliyār. Oriental Music in European Notation. Ave Maria Press, Madras,1893.
  3. Raghavan V. Two manuscript of Tyagaraja Songs. Journal of Music Academy. 1947: Pg 142.
  4. Sāmbamurti P. The Walajapet manuscripts. Journal of Music Academy. 1947: Pg 114-129.


Composers, Raga

mahAganapatim vandE in Todi – The Syamantaka Gem



GaneshaMy view to the world of Indian mythology, puranas and ancient history during my childhood was through the famous book series Amar Chitra Katha. Every book left a deep and indelible mark on my memory. And sometime last week I chanced to re-read a couple of them namely the titles “Ganesha”, “Tripura” & “Syamantaka Gem”. And in the same breath I also happened to read Dr V Raghavan’s article in Tamil (“Dikshitarum Vrathangalum Anushtanangalum Poojaikalum” part of his compendium of essays titled “Isaikatturaigal”. Needless to add the common thread was Lord Ganesha, especially with the upcoming Chathurthi- this year’s edition of the elephant God’s day of worship- ‘Vinayaka Chathurthi’ in September. It took me just a minute to connect these stories/dots and relate it to the lyrics of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s rarely rendered composition ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ in rupaka tAla and set in rAga tODi, with the carana lyric of the composition running as ‘tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam“ being the trigger to connect the song and the Amar Citra Katha narration.

My complete introduction to this song was when I was working as part of the Guruguha.Org project to translate Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai’s ‘Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’(DKP) sometime earlier.

And so here goes this short blog on this composition which also covers how Dikshitar encapsulates some of the puranic lore associated with Lord Ganesha therein and some points to ponder on the provenance/antecedents of this composition especially given that it does not figure in Subbarama Dikshitar’s magnum opus ‘Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini’.


Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, (SSP) published in AD 1906 in Telugu can be considered the first authentic compendia of Muthusvami Dikshitar compositions, coming especially from him as he was the scion of the Dikshitar family, being Muthusvami Dikshitar’s brother’s grandson & adopted son. With his formidable knowledge of the musical sastras and his tutelage under his great father Balasvami Dikshitar, Subbarama Dikshitar firmly enthroned the SSP as the Holy Bible and the last,first and complete reference point for Dikshitar kritis in its pristine form. And its legacy and reputation endures till date, more than a century later. While the SSP was a product from a direct lineage of Muthusvami Dikshitar, the year AD 1936 saw the creation of yet another luminaire, the aforesaid DKP, which can arguably be anointed as the possible first authentic edition of Dikshitar’s kritis in Tamil, from another line, of disciples this time. One of Muthusvami Dikshitar prime disciples was Tiruvarur Tambiappan Pillai for whose stomach colic, Dikshitar is said to have composed the vAra kriti on Guru Brhaspati set in the raga Athana. See foot note 1.

Tambiappan Pillai stayed on in Tiruvarur even as his venerable Guru Muthusvami Dikshitar relocated to Ettayapuram. Sathanur Pancanada Iyer became in turn one of the prime disciples of Tambiappan Pillai. Records from the second half of the 19th century tell us that Pancanada Iyer was one of the foremost exponents of Dikshitar compositions. Two later day musicians who survived into the first half of the 20th century we know, who learnt from him Dikshitar compositions in its pristine form, were Nagasvara vidvan Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai (TNS) and the legendary Veena Vidushi Dhanammal. Natarajasundaram Pillai learnt more than 200 compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar from Pancanada Iyer and in the year 1936, actively encouraged by Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, a Sangita Kalanidhi in his own right and Dr V Raghavan, published the first set of 50 composition in Tamil along with notation titling it “Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai’. See foot note 2. 

For those who may want to look at the original Tamil text and its English translation, here are the links.

DKP- Tamil/DKP-English

Though not well known like the SSP even in music circles, in its own right DKP can be rightfully acknowledged as yet another authentic source of Dikshitar kritis. As mentioned in the context of an earlier blog, the notation of the songs in the DKP can be seen to be exactly/very closely matching to those found in the SSP, providing solid external reference as to the authenticity of the notation therein. It is our misfortune that while only 50 kritis made it to the first volume in 1936.The balance of 150 kritis, from out of the corpus of 200 kritis that Natarajasundaram Pillai learnt, never made it to publication, due to his death shortly thereafter. Sadly nothing is also known about the whereabouts of the notation / copies of the original manuscripts of Natarajasundaram Pillai, which he had in his possession wherein Sathanur Pancanada Iyer himself had written and corrected the text/notation in his own hand. Had they survived and today if we were to access the same, it would be a veritable goldmine offering us yet another perfect source of Dikshitar’s composition in its original form, rivalling the SSP in full measure. Sadly that is not the case.

Be that as it may, the kritis in the DKP and SSP and their compare reveals us one key point of discordance. Out of the 50 kritis in the DKP, 49 are found in the SSP. A solitary kriti which is notated in the DKP is not found in the SSP. In fact, this one kriti is never found in any prior publication and therefore the DKP becomes the first truly authentic publication for the notation of this composition. And this composition is none other than ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’. There are those who believe that the kritis found notated in the SSP are the only authentic creations of Dikshitar, given that a substantial number of compositions not found in the SSP came to published in the 1940’s or thereafter, chiefly by vidvans who trained under Ambi Dikshitar, son of Subbarama Dikshitar. Without in any way diluting the evaluation criteria/standard to determine the authenticity of a composition as being Dikshitar’s, just on the strength of pedigree and the fact of its publication to the world at large by Natarajasundaram Pillai, ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ can without doubt be accepted prima facie as an authentic kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar. We do have a few other kritis which by the sheer quality of lyrics, musical setting and stylistic similarity, can be anointed as authentic creations of Dikshitar, despite not being found in the SSP. Suffice to say that ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ is unique and is a singular instance of its class in comparison to the others such as ‘ekAmranAthaM’ – Gamakakriya, ‘vadAnyEsvaraM’ in Devagandhari, ‘srI sundararAjaM’ in Ramakriya and ‘siddhi vinAyakaM’ in Camaram. In fact from an oral tradition standpoint too, the repertoire of Dikshitar kritis of the Dhanammal family sourced from her tutelage under Sathanur Pancanada Iyer had only kritis found in the SSP and the Todi composition ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’ was the sole exception.


In the context of appraising the authenticity of the kriti and also evaluate the melodic setting, I invite the attention at this point to the views of the expert Dr N Ramanathan in his seminal monograph ‘Problems in the editing of the compositions of Muddusvami Dikshitar’. The following are some of the salient points that he brings to our attention in the context of this composition:

1.   Acccording to him he had learnt this composition from Mahadeva Bhagavathar, from the Ambi Dikshitar side. He avers that the musical setting/notation he learnt is almost the same as found in the DKP providing a useful corroborative evidence that the kriti and its notation are authentic as it is the same in two independent lineages, despite not being found in the SSP.

2.    The melodic setting of the entire anupallavi line is very peculiar to Todi and is entirely native to this composition and is in fact the same in both the Ambi Dikshitar version as well as the DKP version, providing yet another validation as to the kriti being an authentic one of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

As we will hear in the discography section, the prAsa concordance, svarakshara,  the languorous rupaka tala and the marked cadences of Todi reaching up to tAra madhyama in its contours all mark out this beautiful creation of Dikshitar. As pointed out though this kriti did not make it to the SSP, subsequent publishers of Dikshitar’s compositions particularly those who were disciples of Subbarama Dikshitar’s son Ambi Dikshitar such as Calcutta Ananthakrishna Ayyar & Sundaram Ayyar on their authority published ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ with notation. One such publication is by Ananthakrishna Ayyar dateable to April 1956 wherein this composition is presented as the Invocatory song for the collection of the so called “Abhayambha Navavarana” kritis. Leaving aside the fact that the said collection cannot be ordained as a navAvarana, the notation of the song closely aligns to the one found in DKP, as pointed by Dr N Ramanathan. 


Having taken a view of the composition’s origins , we next move on to its lyrics. 

Krti:                      ‘mahAganapatiM vandE’      Raga: tODi / Tala: rUpakam

Pallavi:                 mahAgaNapatim vandE mAdhavAdyamara-bRndam ||

Anupallavi:         ahantAdirahitam shaktivihitam Anandadantamekadantam ||

Carana:                 tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam |

upaniSadpratipAditam umAmahEshvarasutam |

kapilavasiSThAdinatam kaHnjajAdibhirIDitam |

kapilam kRSNapUjitam karivadanena shObhitam |

suparNavAha-sevitam sura-guruguha-bhAvitam |

kapitthAmra-panasa-jambU-kadaLIphala-bhakSitam ||


The analysis of the text of the composition reveals that as always Dikshitar has embedded his standard colophon in the final carana segment ‘sura-guruguhabhAvitam’. The raga name Todi is not found in the composition, though it may be speculated that ‘ahantAdi’ is a sUcita reference. While Dikshitar explicitly refers to the iconic type of Lord Ganesa as Mahaganapathi, right at the outset, he also refers to ekadantam (the one with a single tusk) and one who feasts on kapittha (wood apple) , amra ( mango), panasa ( jackfruit) jambu (rose apple) and kadaliphala ( plantain) in the composition. In this composition Dikshitar alludes to Lord Vishnu thrice through the words ‘mAdhavAdyamara’, ‘krishnapUjitam’ and ‘suparnavAha-sEvitam’. The words ‘ahantAdi-rahitam’ reminds one of the contrasting usage of the word as in ‘ahantA-svarUpini’ occurring in the Andhali kriti ‘Brhannayaki varadayaki’. While in this kriti, it signifies ego, the word is played upon by Dikshitar as he says that She, the Mother Goddess manifests as the alphabets starting with A and ending with HA, in Sanskrit, in the Andhali composition which was covered in an earlier blogpost.


In sum, Dikshitar pays obeisance to the one-tusked harbinger of happiness, the Great Ganapati, extolled by Madhava and other celestials, the one free from ego, ordained by Shakti, the one worshipped by Lord Shiva for the destruction of Tripura, the One extolled by the Upanishads and the Son of Uma and Mahasvara, the One worshipped by Kapila,Vasishta, Vishnu, Brahma, Devas, Kartikeya and the One who feasts on the fruits -wood apple, mango, jackfruit, rose apple and plantain. The kriti is replete with svaraksharas right from the opening syllable.

While the pallavi and anupallavi employ standard epithets to extol Lord Ganesha, Dikshitar in the carana clearly alludes to two specific puranic lore/stories.

  • The first one is the reference to Lord Shiva propitiating Lord Ganesha before embarking on his mission to destroy Tripura , the mythical City created by his own devotee Maya the Asura, referred in the lyrics ‘tripuravadArttham shivEna tryambakEnArccitam’.  
  • The second is the reference as ‘kapilam kRSNapUjitam’. At the outset, it may sound as a generic/ordinary reference of Krishna worshipping Lord Ganesha. In a while we will see that from a puranic perspective Dikshitar is referring to a not much popular story/episode from the Bhagavatham wherein Lord Krishna had to propitiate Lord Ganesha and seek his divine blessings to absolve himself of the sin of having to shoulder the accusation of killing his own kinsman Prasena.

Both these puranic episodes are interesting in themselves and one should revisit them in brief even as we immerse ourselves in the lyrical beauty of Dikshitar.


Tripuraनमस्ते अस्तु भगवन्  विश्वेश्वराय महादेवाय

त्र्यम्बकाय त्रिपुरान्तकाय त्रिकालाग्निकालाय

कालाग्निरुद्राय नीलकण्ठाय मृत्युञ्जयाय

सर्वेश्वराय सदाशिवाय श्रीमन् महादेवाय नमः

 So goes the passage from the Sri Rudram wherein Shiva is extolled as ‘tryambakAya tripurAntakAya’ amongst other epithets. While a deeper philosophical meaning for those terms can be enjoined, from a puranic perspective the reference is tagged to the destruction of the three worlds constructed by the Asuras by Lord Shiva. This puranic episode has come to feature the form of Shiva called ‘tripurAnthakA’.

Shortly after Lord Kartikeya the Commander in Chief of the Devas vanquished Tarakasura & drove the Asuras out of their domains, predictably his three sons plotted revenge to get back their abodes. Invoking Lord Brahma through austerity and penance they made him give a boon, enabling them to build three almost eternal and impregnable floating fortresses which would be their abodes. Lord Brahma’s only covenant /rider given that no boon can be granted for permanence, was that the cities would perish if one were to take aim and shoot them down when the three floating cities would be in a perfect straight line/occultation with each other, once every 1000 years when the star Pushya is in conjunction with the Moon. Maya the architect of the Asuras built the three cities called as Tripura from where Tarakasura’s sons unleashed their reign of terror and destruction. And as doomsday came – the day when the star Pushya conjected with the Moon, the Devas headed by the Trimurtis launched their final assault on Tripura. As the Cities transited into a straight line, Lord Shiva shot the fatal arrow which destroyed the three great Cities of Tripura, with which he earned himself the sobriquet of ‘tripurAntakA’, the annihilator of the three worlds and destroyer of Tripura. Incidentally Lord Ganesha is the ruling deity of the star Pushya. Lord Ganesha’s role in this story comes in when Lord Shiva fails to pay the customary obeisance to Lord Ganesha or Vigneshvara- the One who removes all obstacles, before he departs in his chariot to shoot that fatal arrow/pAshupatAstra which destroyed the three occulting cities. Legend has it that the axle of his chariot broke down as soon as he started. In a jiffy Lord Shiva realized his folly of not having worshipped Lord Vignesvara. To atone, he prayed forthwith to Lord Ganesha the remover of all obstacles, paid his obeisance before proceeding forward. Popular literature too highlights this episode. For instance Arunagirinathar in his well known Thiruppugazh eulogizes Lord Ganesha thus:

கைத் தலநிறை  கனி

முப்புரம்எரிசெய்த அச்சிவன்  உறைரதம்

அச்சது பொடிசெய்த அதிதீரா

The legend has a number of variations in the kshetra puranas for quite a few Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu including those at Thiruvirkolam, Thiruvadhigai and Accharapakkam particularly which in fact boasts of a shrine for Lord Ganesha wherein he is enshrined as ‘Acchumuri Vinayaka’. See footnote 3 below. Be that as it may, Dikshitar by referring to Tripura dahanam by Lord Shiva, highlights the role of Lord Ganesha as the vanquisher of all obstacles and reinforces the puranic injunct that He be worshipped before one embarks on any endeavour.


In this section we shall look at ‘krishnapUjitam’ in ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ & the cross reference it has to ‘rouhinEya anujArcitaM’ found in ‘siddhi vinAyakaM’ in raga cAmara, again another kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar on Lord Ganesa.

SyamantakaAs we embark on this let us go over to what Dr Raghavan has to say on the same context but in a different kriti of Dikshitar namely ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisaM’ in the raga cAmara. Dr V Raghavan in his essay in Tamil narrates how the 68th Acharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peeta, Sri Chandrashekarendra Sarasvati clarified to him & others, the meaning of the lyric ‘rauhinEyAnujArcitham’ found in the cAmara kriti ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisham’.

Sometime during the 1950’s during September the Paramacharya was camping at the Madras Sanskrit College in Mylapore along with his entourage. On the Vinayaka Chaturthi day that fell during his stay, the Acharya bade his personal attendants to mould a figurine of Lord Ganesha from the clay soil in the premises and he personally performed puja to it with all spiritual splendour. Amongst the many apart from Dr V Raghavan who attended the puja and had darshan that day, was the legendary vocalist Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer who after completion of the puja and ahead of the arati to Lord Ganesha by the Paramacarya, proceeded to sing the Dikshitar composition ‘ siddhi vinayakam anisham’ in Camara as his offering.

Here is the clipping of Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer rendering the Dikshitar composition ‘ siddhi vinAyakam anisham’ as he must had done that September evening at the Sanskrit College, Mylapore premises decades ago, in the august presence of the Paramacharya.

After the veteran concluded his rendering, the Acharya nodding approvingly with his benign smile & affection queried those around him if they /anyone assembled knew the real import/meaning of the words ‘rouhinEyAnujArcitham’ which occurred in the carana of the composition. Seeing that none including Dr Raghavan had an answer, the Paramacharya went on to narrate when –‘rouhinEya anuja’ or the younger brother of Balarama, i.e Krishna had to worship Lord Ganesha. The instance occurs in the story of the Syamantaka gem which comes in the Bhagavatham. Prasena, a Yadava kinsman of Krishna owned the Syamanataka gem, a legendary gem of great attraction/value and many were reportedly rumoured to have been so enamoured of the gem that they were willing to take any risk to purloin it. Prasena in vanity always wanted to flaunt it and so used to wear it as a regular neck ornament. One day wearing it he went to the forest accompanied by Krishna, for hunting. As fate would have it he was attacked by a lion which killed him , dragged him away along with the jewel in his neck. Jambavan the bear dweller of the forest latter killed the lion, took the jewel and gifted it to his daughter Jambavati. In the mean while Krishna returned to Dvaraka without Prasena, and he conveyed to the Yadava elders the news of Prasena succumbing to the attack of a lion. However in the absence of proof – witness or body and with the gem too missing & unaccounted for, quite a few members of the citizenry suspected that something sinister was afoot. Dvaraka was soon agog with rumours that Krishna himself had liquidated Prasena so that he could appropriate the famed Syamantaka gem all for himself.  Without Prasena’s body or any other evidence to prove that the accident had happened, Krishna was left with no choice but to go back to the forest to recover the body and the gem so as to establish the truth, redeem his name and erase the blemish that had been caused to himself.

And so, Krishna went to the forest, fought Jambavan, won the battle with him, got back the gem and came back to Dvaraka. And immediately on his return he restored the gem to the deceased Prasena’s brother Shatrujith, as its rightful owner. Even then the travails of the gem and its owner did not end with that. Boding ill-luck to Krishna even thereafter, the gem put him in an extreme quandary as events continued to unfold much to his chagrin, lending ever greater credence to the original rumour that Krishna wanted to somehow own the gem. Krishna was thus left worrying in Dvaraka about all this.

And at this point in time Sage Narada came to visit him. Krishna confided to him his predicament and he sought the great sage’s guidance as to how to absolve himself of this liability once and for all. The Sage in his infinite wisdom told Krishna of the malefic effect of watching the Moon on Caturthi day and the pain that it brings to the incumbent, as the root cause of this apavAdA. He advised Krishna to worship Lord Ganesha and offering modaka and fruits on Caturthi day as atonement and that would cleanse him off this self-inflicted dOsha. And thus did Krishna redeem his lost honour and name, at the end by doing the Caturthi pooja to Lord Ganesha.

Dr Raghavan concludes his narrative by saying that this mythological story related by the Acharya is also found documented in the ‘Skandapurana’ under ‘Syamantaka AkhyAnam’ and in texts such as ‘vrata cUdAmani’. 

And just as Dikshitar highlights the virtue and cleansing of the malefic effect caused by Moon from an astrological perspective in the cAmara kriti, he makes a direct reference to this puranic episode as ‘krishnapUjitam’ in this Todi kriti, embedding the entire story/episode pithily as is his wont.


From amongst the popular vocalists of the previous century we do notice that Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian has sung ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ which is available in the public domain. There are no renderings of this composition by members of the Dhanammal family much to our disappointment. Instead for this blog post I seek to present the rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M S Subbalakshmi from a concert of unknown provenance.  She must have presumably learnt it from the scion of the Dhanammal family Smt T Brinda perhaps. Smt MSS is known for her fidelity of rendering true to the source from which she learns and it is on that basis that this version is specially sought to be presented.

Part 1 : pallavi & anupallavi


Part 2: caranam

The version she sings is mostly aligned to the notation found in the DKP except for a few melodic extensions or flourishes, which one can and should anticipate. Attention is invited to the anupallavi rendering which Dr N Ramanathan talks about as also some of the melodic variations she weaves around some of the carana lines. There is one point to highlight especially in the context of the pallavi. The line ‘mAdhavAdyamara brindam’ spans 3 rupaka tAla cycles or totally 9 beats as per the DKP notation whereas all performers complete the said sahitya snippet in 2 avartas itself ( total of 6 beats).

Presented next is the rendering of the kriti by ‘Dikshitarini’ Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Kalpakam Svaminathan. It is in all probability learnt either from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer or Ananthakrishna Iyer, under whom she was a pupil, both of them belonging to the Ambi Dikshitar lineage.

Apart from the version of Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian one other version which can be profitably listened to is the one by Sangita Kalanidhi R K Srikantan.

From amongst the renderings, in my opinion, Smt Subbulakshmi’s rendering is closest to the notation in the DKP with the correct gait/pace of rendering. One other distinctive aspect of this kriti and rendering by Smt Subbulakshmi is the dominance of pancama varjya phrases, in the kriti body together with emphasis more on madhyama. Its always been a practice to render Todi skipping frequently the pancama note for it has a beauty on it own.

Some modern musical texts refer to Todi bereft totally of pancama as Suddha Todi. This Todi bereft of pancama is a beauty in its own right. In fact Patnam Subramanya Iyer the prolific composer created the ubiquitous varna ‘erA nApai’ in adi tAla with the pancama being rare/alpA. Many might not know that Patnam has also created one more varna (sAmi ninnE kOriunnAnurA – Adi tAlA) with the following sahitya totally eschewing the pancama ( Suddha Todi). 

sAmi ninnE kOriyunnAnurA cAla namminAnurA (sAmi)

nA manavi vinarA shrI vEnkatEsa cennApuri nivAsA

cAla vE tOda mElukOra

Presented next is the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M L Vasanthakumari beginning one of her many concerts with this rare varna. Mark the complete absence of the pancama note in the body of the varna.

And she follows up by rendering a dainty set of imaginative kalpana svaras again without the pancama.

The varna is apparently composed on Lord Venkatesa of Chennapuri, as is obvious from the sahitya. Given that Patnam Subramanya Iyer was a denizen of North Chennai/George Town area one wonders if the Temple/diety in question was what is known as the Bairagi Temple at Muthialpet. Historian S Muthiah in his tome “Madras, Chennai: A 400 year record of the First City of Modern India- Vol 1” notes that this old temple dedicated to Sri Venkatesvara was mentioned as Lorraine’s Pagoda in olden records. Apparently it was built by Ketti Narayana, son of Beri Thimmanna, a 17th century Dubash. A detailed note on the temple appears in Joan Punzo Waghorne’s book “Diaspora of the Gods” published by OUP.


And in conclusion, for me the story and the lyric is a throwback to the days I read the Amar Citra Katha stories including ‘The Syamantaka Gem’ alluded in this blog post, abridged/adapted/published by the Late Anant Pai. What a great way to know these in a simple way! If the Amar Citra Katha is a visual pen picture of these legends & stories then Dikshitar’s classic ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ is an immortal musical pen picture, a modern day Syamantaka gem which he has bequeathed to us. In contrast to the puranic gem which brought ill luck, one can be sure that if this modern gem were to be sung it is sure to bestow us prosperity and the boundless Grace of Lord Ganesha, this Chathurthi.


  1. Dikshita Keertanai Prakashikai -Tamil ( 1936) – Vidvan Thiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai
  2. Problems in the editing of the Kirtanas of Muddusvami Dikshitar(1991) – Dr N Ramanathan- Paper presented in the 65th Annual Conference of the Music Academy Madras on 19-Dec-1991 and published in JMA Madras, 1998 Vol LXIX,pp 59-98.
  3. Isai Katturaigal – Tamil (2006)- Dr V Raghavan- Published by the Dr V Raghavan Center for Performing Arts, Adayar, Chennai – pp 68-70 


  1. Legend has it that Dikshitar examined the astro chart of his devoted disciple and sensed that that the recurring colic pain was due to the malefic impact of Jupiter ( graha dosha). Given that Tambiappan Pillai would not be able to recite shlokas to propitiate Guru and seek divine relief to ameliorate his suffering, because of his caste, Dikshitar proceeded to create the composition ‘Brhaspate’ in Atana condensing the very essence of Guru worship, bade his disciple to sing it. Needless to add he did so and recovered completely. The story finds mention in many of the Muthusvami Dikshitar biographies including those written by Subbarama Dikshitar, Dr V Raghavan and Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer.
  2. Readers are requested to read the Introductory sections of the English translation of the DKP given in the link above, for a detailed biography of Sri Sathanur Pancanada Iyer who was also called Sathanur Panju Iyer, the guru of Veena Dhanammal and Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai. Additionally readers may also read this article, published in Guruguha.Org sometime back.
  3. Given that we have a few Siva ksetras which feature Lord Ganesa having connection with the Tripura samhara episode as above, surprisingly we do not find modern day editors of Muthusvami Dikshitar kritis, arbitrarily assign ‘mahAganapatim vandE’ in Todi to the Ganesa enshrined in those temples.  

Disclaimer: The clippings used in this blog post have been purely used for educational/research purposes and no attribution is made or copyright claimed, which is exclusively the property of the producers/artistes concerned. The photos has been sourced from the web & belong exclusively to the trademark owners of ‘Amar Citra Katha’ 



Raga Architecture of the 18th Century – Part 1



A perusal of 21st century music and musicology and comparing it with what it was in 18th century in the run up to the Trinity, would show that a bunch of changes have happened. For instance, one can notice that today’s construct of a raga is more svara/note based with accent on linearization and conformance with the melakarta system – with Janaka/Janya relationship at its heart. This was not the case with 18th century music. Some of the musicians/musicology/commentators, today refer to this older 18th century music as “Art Music” or the gold standard.

The 18th century construct of a raga, encompassing its architecture and design had a set of unwritten/informal rules or axioms. There are three important musicological texts from the 18th century which has been passed on to us, which I prefer to call as the Triad in this blog post consistently. They are Ragalakshanamu of Sahaji (circa 1710), Sangita Saramrutha of Tulaja (circa 1835) and the Anubandha to the Catudandi Prakashika (circa 1750). It is my humble view that a critical study of these three texts/Triad would without doubt help us sense this unwritten grammar of the music of the 18th century. This music was the legacy that was passed on or inherited by the Trinity to which they infused flesh and blood with their compositions.

Today much water has flown under the bridge. Given the reality of what has happened till today, one can even wonder whether it is even worth investigating if the changes are for the good or otherwise. For it is undeniable that the changes that have happened are today permanent and immutable. Nevertheless for a student and an observer of music it is important to understand the tenets of 18th century music.

There are a number of these so called architectural and design constructs of ragas – axioms that one can deduce from these Triad or to be more precise, from the study of the structure of the ragas that have been compiled in these three texts. And thankfully we have the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini which one can see, offers the perfect illustration for many ragas found in the Triad.

In this blog post we shall look at three specific raga architecture/design constructs or axioms that was part of 18th century music amongst many others.

They are:

  1. Ragas almost as a rule had jumps, turns and twists. Never were they lineal in their melodic progression.
  2. The mela/parent of a raga and the arohana/avarohana alone did not determine a raga, as it does today. Ornamentation of particular svaras and/or leitmotifs was a distinct feature for many ragas, much beyond a mere arohana/avarohana krama .
  3. Ragas were not contained within a particular murcchana progression and they had multiple flows to provide the aesthetic/melodic form that they were supposed to project.

In this blog post we will look at in detail about these constructs or axioms and practically illustrating it with two ragas – Devamanohari and Purnachandrika. We will be first be taking up Devamanohari.

These two fairly popular ragas were different in the 18th century, in comparison to what they are today in their popular form. So much so, we are constrained to call the 18th century versions of these ragas as archaic version while what we sing today are the modern version. We will demonstrate in this blog post how these ragas conformed to the above constructs/axioms-of 18th century architecture/design of a raga- and how we have in modern musicology dispensed with these axioms with the result their melodic contours have now changed.

The question if this change is better or not is left to the discerning listener/connoisseur of music.


Before we embark on the illustrations with the ragas, let us seek to elaborate the axioms which we introduced in the previous section.


In the 18th century musicology, many ragas and even the rAgAngAs or the parents were non-linear or vakra in their so called complete arohana/avarohana or svaragati, to employ 18th century terminology. For example Kambhoji which was considered a mela (vide the schemata employed by Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, discussed in our earlier blog) had its svara progression like this :

S R2 M1 G3 P D2 S

S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Not only was Kambhoji supposed to have a vakra sancara MGP, it wasn’t required to sport all seven svaras in its arohana and avarohana considered separately and yet could be a rAgAngA. Today every musicological text book would give Kambhoji’s arohana/avarohana in a linearized fashion (watch the GMPD) only as:



And this is the legacy of the 19th century musicology. And neither can Kambhoji be a mela raga today as it is not krama sampurna in its arohana also. Jumps, bends, turns and twists were the ways in which a svaragati or the melodic progression of a raga – be it a parent or child- went. Aesthetics warranted this feature. A raga to be appreciated aurally with rakti needed to have vakra sancaras as its body without which no aesthetics or rasa could be imparted.

This axiom or rule/construct implies that vakra sancaras are the rule for almost all ragas and lineal progression is an exception.


Today a raga is simply defined by its parent mela and the svaras from the parent it is supposed to inherit from the parent for its arohana/avarohana. Sri K V Ramachandran, the much feared critic of the early 20th century likened this janaka-janya scheme and its obsession with mela numbering much like how convicts were given identifying numbers in a penitentiary! Beyond the pale of the mela and the arohana/avarohana, for 18th century musicians and musicologist ragas had embellishments such as gamakas and leitmotifs which were unique to the ragas and helped in identifying the ragas. This feature has been dispensed with in the case of many ragas.


Today the progression of a raga as indicated in its arohana and avarohana is the only way one can move from sadja to pancama to tara sadja, in any sthayi or octave. In the 18th century the melodic movement not only included linear but also vakra/alternate sancaras as well. In other words multiple courses of execution for a raga were available in a given sthAyi. So in a raga if there were alternate courses and if the progression/sancara cannot be brought within the ambit of its arohana/avarohana, in their modern form we can find that the alternate courses have been axed/dropped/deprecated in the raga.

Let’s move on to individually look at the ragas and see how these axioms which defined their melodic body in the 18th century, were deprecated/dropped sometime during the 19th century perhaps which resulted in their truncated modern forms.

While we are able to establish the existence of these axioms implicitly from the Triad, we are fortunate that practical exemplars are provided for these 18th century raga architecture/design principles through the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar with notation in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini of Subbarama Dikshitar. The rendering of the exemplar kritis, with fidelity to the notation in SSP thus provides us with the evidence as well as the opportunity to understand what the world of these ragas was in the 18th century.

Let’s take up Devamanohari, by first considering its form today.


Devamanohari is a beautiful and appealing raga, derived from Sriraga/Kharaharapriya rAgAnga/mela 22. The following are the noteworthy features of modern Devamanohari, on the authority of the Sangraha Cudamani which is relied upon by modern musicologists as the Bible for raga lakshana.

  1. Devamanohari falls under mela 22 and the notes we use in this raga are S, R2, M1, P, D2 and N2.
  2. It is an audava upanga janya of mela 22 lacking gandhara both in arohana and avarohana while dhaivatha is vakra in avarohana alone.

The defining arohana/avarohana krama for the raga under mela 22 is :



As one can see that almost all compositions that we hear today including those of Tyagaraja, Gopalakrishna Bharati, Ponnnayya, Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar, Papanasam Sivan, G N Balasubramaniam, and Mysore Vasudevacar are today notated and rendered only in the above form of Devamanohari. The notations of the Devamanohari compositions not rendered on the concert stage, but available in notation form such as those of Kotisvara Iyer or Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar are also in this form only.

The key attribute of this modern form of Devamanohari that I seek to draw particular attention is the usage of PDNS, the complete lineal ascent phrase in the uttaranga of its arohana.


Let us now move to renderings of (modern) Devamanohari to complete our understanding as to how it is actually presented in concert recitals. Tyagaraja’s classics including ‘kulabirudunu’, ‘evarikai avataramu’ and ‘ kannatandri napai’ along with Mysore Vasudevacar’s ‘palukavademira’ are often encountered in the concert circuit.

Presented first is the exposition of this raga and a kriti therein by Sangita Kalanidhi Smt M L Vasantakumari. She as well as her guru late Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian were known to render this raga with great felicity along with its close sibling Andolika.


Sangitakalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer renders ‘kannatandri nApai’ with rapid fire kalpana svaras.


Presented next is a consolidated & concise presentation of an alapana, elaboration – neraval and svaraprastara of modern Devamanohari by Vidvan Neyveli Santhanagopalan who takes the pallavi line ‘mahAdEva manohari’ of Ponnayya, for elaboration.


Other renderings which can be profitably listened to, from recordings in the public domain include the pallavi in Devamanohari by Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramanian and the rendering of Gopalakrishna Barathi’s ‘yArukkUdAn thEriyum’ by Centenarian Dr S Ramanathan, for which he was known for.

Presented next is a rare composition in Devamanohari. The late Sangita Kala Acharya Dr S Rajam a repository of many rare kritis renders Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar’s rarely ‘samayamidE yani dalaci’ in rupaka tala ( an excerpt from a commercially available album).

Attention is drawn to the pithy cittasvara which reiterates the PDNS in its body.

Tana varnams are the best repositories of raga lakshana. Arguably the older and most rendered varnam is ‘palumAru’ of Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer. Here is Sangita Kalanidhi R K Srikantan rendering it.

Apart from the aforesaid tana varna of Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer who was a disciple of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar, a disciple of Tyagaraja we have varnas in the raga chiefly from Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar ( cauka varnam- khanda ata – ‘ninnE entO vEdi’) & Muthaiah Bhagavathar ( tana – adi – ‘ninnu nEra nammi’).

The key point to highlight is that in all these compositions and also in alapana and neraval/svaraprastara we see PDNS plain and unambiguous in its usage, in line with the stated lakshana in Sangraha Cudamani.

In conclusion for this section, we can observe that the theoretical construct as per Sangraha Cudamani and the practical lakshana that we see through renderings points to an unambiguous structure of SRMPDNS/SNDNPMRS for Devamanohari as its modern day form.

Having taken stock of this, we now wind the clock back to discover what Devamanohari was once upon a time, in the 18th century.


Devamanohari is not a very old raga. It must have been born during the closing quarters of the 17th century, for Venkamakhin in his Caturdandi Prakashika (A D 1636) does not deal with this raga. The earliest/first reference to this raga is in Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu, dateable to circa 1710. Sahaji and his successor Tulaja (Sangita Saramrutha circa 1736) have in their works recorded Devamanohari as it was in the early quarters of the 18th century well prior to the times of the Trinity. Tulaja and Sahaji’s account are virtually the same. Their account of Devamanohari is as under:

  • The raga is shadhava
  • Dhaivata is skipped over both in the arohana and avarohana, implying it is vakra either ways.
  • PDNS does not occur. It is only PNNS which adorns the raga’s uttaranga.

The point as to Subbarama Dikshitar tabulating it as a ‘bhashanga’ janya of Sri raga mela ( # 22) has to be provided here. For all 18th century authorities the term bashanga connoted a meaning different from what was ascribe to it today. And Subbarama Dikshitar was merely reiterating/carrying it forward in the SSP, which he ought to have clarified. Suffice to say that older Devamanohari did not have any note foreign to the 22nd mela to which it belonged to, similar to modern Devamanohari.

In comparison to the modern lakshana of Devamanohari as practiced today and as evidenced by the Sangraha Cudamani, one can immediately note two divergences:

  • The arohana uttaranga prayoga is PNNS for Sahaji and Tulaja as found in the gita and thAya exemplars that they provide. Otherwise right from mela, to the notes, to the svaragati (otherwise) and the ubiquitous Devamanohari leitmotif namely SNDNP are all the same.
  • PDNS is not to be used. In other words dhaivatha is vakra in arohana also.

After Tulaja’s Saramrutha (dateable to 1736 or thereabouts) the only other lexicon of ragas/musical work dateable to that period of 1700-1750 is the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika, the authorship of which is attributed to Muddu Venkatamakhin. Subbarama Dikshitar’s SSP is a commentary on the same and we can examine the same to verify the lakshana of Devamanohari.

According to Subbarama Dikshitar, on the authority of the lakshana shloka found in the Anubandha, the melodic contours of Devamanohari is :



The raga lakshana narrative of Sahaji and Tulaja is maintained in the SSP/ Anubandha without any change. In other words:

  • The raga is shadhava, having 6 notes together in the arohana and avarohana.
  • Gandhara is varjya or totally excluded.
  • Dhaivata is vakra both in arohana and avarohana

Attention is invited to the longer arohana krama duly incorporating both the vakra dhaivatha and also the janta nishadha. In sum,  all 18th century musicologists record Devamanohari identically and Subbarama Dikshitar reiterates the same in the SSP. The sancara or svaragati of older Devamanohari in line with axiom 1 above, made dhaivatha vakra both in arohana and avarohana, with PDNS not being permitted.

Subbarama Dikshitar does not provide a very detailed commentary on the raga lakshana. Nevertheless the exemplars that he provides, namely the sole kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar ‘ bhArati maddisanA’ and his own sancari align completely to this lakshana in full.

The analysis of the notation of Dikshitar’s composition reveals us the following:

  • Gandhara is varjya.
  • Dhaivatha is vakra both in arohana as well as avarohana krama.
  • PDNS does not occur. PNNS and SNDNP are the recurring leitmotifs.
  • Nishadha is encountered in two forms. A plain one in say for example nSR & a dhirga janta variety with kampita gamaka which is always found in the leitmotif PNNS and adorned with kampita gamaka.

In the kriti the PNNS does not occur as is, in a plain vanilla form. It is always as a dIrgha nishadha adorned with the kampita gamaka. Examples are the sahitya portions of  ‘shAradE vAgadhIsvarI’ in the anupallavi and the carana line ‘ srIpura svapItAntarE’. Almost as a rule when we launch from pancama to tAra sadja the only prayoga to be used is PNNS with the nishadha svara being janta and the adornment for that being a well oscillated kampita gamaka, with PDNP thrown in as well.

Thus in the 18th century, PDNS or even PNDNS was not to be used in Devamanohari. Only PNNS was to be used as a rule whenever one had to reach the tara sadja from the pancama and the preferred route being PDNPNNS as pointed out by Subbarama Dikshitar as its murccana arohana/avarohana. And the descent was always through the motif SNDNP. That was the aesthetic make-up of Devamanohari for our ancestors. In fact while Sahaji and Tulaja talk about PNNS, they do not indicate how it was to be intoned. Clarity on this front comes to us from the composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar as notated by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. That is the core fact sought to be presented in this blog. In line with axiom 2 and 3 above, PNNS with the kampita gamaka was the unique leitmotif of the older Devamanohari apart from the NDNP & PDNP.

The notation system of SSP salvages this feature and presents it for us today in the 21st Century. The dhaivatha note tints the nishadha through the kampita/shake as an anusvara, when we render the PNNS motif. The janta nishadha occurring in PNNS should not be rendered unadorned. Neither should the dhaivatha be expressly intoned in full as PDNS either in the composition or manodharma such as alapana, neraval or svaraprastara.

We will revert to the PNNS/PDNS of Devamanohari in the next section and attempt get more clarity. In the meanwhile few other factors call our attention with reference to this composition.

  1. As is typical of Muthusvami Dikshitar, the raga mudra and his own colophon are embedded in the sahitya explicitly.
  2. It seems to be a generic composition on the Goddess of Learning and no other details are discernible from the composition.
  3. In his brief note following the arohana/avarohana, Subbarama Dikshitar calls out the nishadha as the jiva and nyasa svara of this raga, perhaps taking the cue from the note being repeated in janta form in the arohana krama as given in the anubandha. But Muthusvami Dikshitar seems to have thought otherwise and has not used that as his graha svara. He prefers M, R and P as his favored graha/nyasa svaras while employing Ni more as an amsa svara/indispensable life giving note.

Apart from the solitary kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar ‘bhArati maddishaNA’ found in the SSP, later day publications of Veena Sundaram Iyer attribute a few more to him namely ‘ mahAdEvEna’ and ‘tripurasundarI’. The notation as well as renderings of the same do not bear the melodic uniqueness of the archaic Devamanohari of ‘bhArati maddishanA’ outlined above. And hence they do make one suspect them for melodic authenticity and hence they are not presented in this blog post.

In a similar vein, we need to dissect the raga lakshana of Devamanohari as found in the kriti ‘mahAdEva manOharI’ composed by Ponnayya, the senior most of the Tanjore Quartet and the disciple of Muthusvami Dikshitar. The notation of the said composition in the authoritative ‘ tanjai peruvudaiyAn pErisai’, compiled/edited and published by his descendants, sports only PDNS in its melodic body. We are unable to assess the musical authenticity of the mettu and arrive at a judgement.


The motif, PNNS of Devamanohari must have in all probability been an inherent feature of the Devamanohari of all composers and not just Muthusvami Dikshitar. It must have been the part of the Devamanohari of Tyagaraja as well as all the three works dating to the 18th century (Sahaji, Tulaja and the Anubandha to the CDP with SSP as its commentary) provide the same melodic definition for Devamanohari. Tyagaraja or Dikshitar would not have deigned to deviate from the lakshana for a raga which was by then 100 years old when they started composing.

Today the raga’s lakshana has been morphed with PNNS being banished and PDNS taking its place in all compositions including Tyagaraja and Dikshita. The dhaivatha of PDNS is today expressly intoned and is part of the svara vocabulary of Devamanohari. Musicological texts created after 1850’s ( except the SSP) have now made PDNS an intrinsic feature of the raga violating two cardinal tenets which was enshrined as part of Devamanohari’s older 18th century definition:

  1. Dhaivata was supposed to vakra both for arohana and avarohana. Though this could mean that PNDNS could be used, yet it wasn’t par for the course to use that as well.
  2. And PNNS with dhirgha kampita janta nishadha was a defining feature/leitmotif of the raga for 18th century composers/musicians.

To summarize, for the 18th century music practitioners the dhaivatha note can occur only as PDNP, NDNP or was allowed to be intoned as an anusvara of the nishadha ( kampita gamaka) through the PNNS phrase. Which was why Tulaja says that PDNS was disallowed in Devamanohari. Neither does one see PDP for instance. The dhaivatha note was never used as-is and was used only through these three motifs namely PDNP, NDNP or PNNS. It’s a very subtle aesthetic ornamentation or rule. Dhaivatha cannot be dealt with as an independent note and is at best an amsa svara usable through these three phrases. And it cannot be a graha or nyasa. If thus one were to permit usage of PDNS this aesthetic rule, embodied as axiom 2 above is broken. This is the explanation one can give for the PNNS/PDNP/NDNP usage encountered in older Devamanohari. Modern 20th century musicology treats svara as a unit (atom) rather than the phrase/murccana/motif/leitmotif (molecule) as a building block. And for those of us schooled in the modern musicology, this entire feature turns confusing. And betraying our ignorance of the older 18th century architectural precept, we have introduced PDNS in Devamanohari, thus effectively killing PDNPNNS progression of the raga. Thus axiom 3 stands broken for Devamanohari. 

It is obvious that modern Devamanohari has now been permanently divested of this motif PNNS. It would be worth the effort to look at and see if any 20th or 21st century musicological works or commentaries have any inputs to provide on this.


It would not be far from truth if one were to conclude that despite the well documented evidence from the works of Sahaji, Tulaja and Subbarama Dikshitar we have no proper explanation for the change that has been wrought on Devamanohari. None of the available tomes on musicology talk about this archaic version of Devamanohari save for the SSP. Neither has there been any discussion by the Experts Committee of the Music Academy in this regard. If we were for instance to look at the tomes in the references section below numbered 2, 3 and 4 none of them record the PNNS of the older Devamanohari, ornamented with the kampita gamaka.

The learned Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on the raga lakshana of Devamanohari states that both SRMPDNS and SRMPNDNS are the permissible arohana krama for the raga. Nowhere does he even mention the usage of PNNS with the kampita gamaka in Dikshitar’s composition which would have afforded us an opportunity to know the truth. Prof S R J points out that Tyagaraja commences ‘Evarikai Avatharamu’ as NDNS, as a possible authority for PNDNS usage. If all known authorities of the 18th century agree that PDNS is not to be used, one is left wondering why at all should Tyagaraja purposefully break the rule? It has been shown time and again that the Bard’s compositions have been morphed, mutilated and short changed by later day publishers and performers. It is my considered opinion that ‘evarikai avatharamu’ perhaps started as NNNS with a prolonged kampita gamaka on the nishadha.

The point here is not to criticise the authors or question their credentials in any way but to lament the fact that the weight of historical authorities of the likes of Sahaji, Tulaja and that of Anubandha (Triad) backed by Subbarama Dikshitar and exemplified by the compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar has been totally ignored in assessing the correct musical history of the lakshana of raga Devamanohari. It is fervently hoped that musical history is correctly stated ascribing the right weight-age to credible authorities in a scientific manner driven by logic and proper research.


When delineating Devamanohari the PNNS articulation will sound closer to PDNS except that dhaivatha is heard through the oscillated nishadha. It is thus a very subtle feature and becomes obvious only in a kriti rendering and in svara kalpana. An expert musician can also effectively present the PNNS while eschewing the PDNS in alapana which can be identified by a discerning listener of music.

Therefore one could perhaps contend/argue that from an aural standpoint, PNNS with kampita gamaka wouldn’t sound much different from PDNS. And therefore the change shouldn’t matter.

This point can be answered from a couple of perspectives:

  1. It was a defined convention/grammar driven by aesthetics that dhaivata was supposed to be vakra in the arohana also. This rule is now broken in modern Devamanohari. In olden times, ragas almost as a rule had jumps, turns and twists and were never lineal. Devamanohari was no exception and the PDNS usage is a blatant attempt to linearize the scale thus breaking the first axiom that we highlighted earlier.
  2. The kampita gamaka on the janta nishadha in the phrase PNNS was part and parcel of the raga’s lakshana. Now in the modern context where the raga is solely defined by its mela and arohana/avarohana, aesthetic features like these such as native gamakas fore example cannot be accommodated. As pointed out earlier this feature, given as the second axiom, was lost and it was conveniently morphed to PDNS.
  3. In the older lakshana, dhaivatha was always vakra and was invoked not in isolation but only through the two murcchanas/leitmotifs NDNP or PDNP. The anointment of the dhaivatha as a formal svara via the PDNS usage may prompt modernists to use the dhaivata itself as a graha svara, which was not the original intent. Similarly there can be no place for PDP in this raga.

In any case there can be no justification for leaving out phrases or morphing a raga by disrupting its core features passed on to us. The question also arises as to maintaining fidelity to the intent of the composer and to the tradition handed over to us. It goes without saying that the kritis of the older composers should be dealt with only using the older raga lakshanas in which they were composed and complete fidelity to their original intent should be maintained.

In olden times ragas were defined with a much wider melodic body. The arohana/avarohana krama brought in to define lakshana, as a ready reckoner/shorthand has now become the sole arbiter to define lakshana with the result multiple features of a raga and also its svaragati has become constrained.


Given that Devamanohari has acquired a modern hue, the older Devamanohari with vakra dhaivatha in arohana and PNNS with kampita gamaka archived in the SSP with Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘bhAratI maddishanA’ can now be called as the archaic Devamanohari.

In this section let us look at available recordings of Dikshitar’s composition (with fidelity to the notation as found in the SSP), which is the sole composition available to us today which enables us to crystallize our understanding of this older Devamanohari.

Vidushi Sumitra Vasudev a disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli, interprets the composition from the SSP emphasizing the PNNS with the kampita gamaka, at the appropriate places in this AIR Concert. (Courtesy Sangeethapriya)

She begins her AIR concert with a sloka and follows up with the kriti. Attention is invited to the places where she invokes the kampita gamaka and also the places where a plain vanilla nishadha has to be intoned.

Presented next is a rendering of the Dikshitar composition by Vidvan G Ravikiran, with svarakalpana on the pallavi line duly incorporating PNNS and eschewing PDNS. The clip begins at the madhyama kala sahitya rendering.

There are also other renderings of ‘bhArati maddishanA’ which are not in complete conformance to the older raga lakshana of Devamanohari as notated in the SSP and I have not provided them therefore in this section.

As mentioned before it may be a trifle difficult to consciously articulate the PNNS in the alapana, especially after having been used to elaborating modern Devamanohari with PDNS. Presented finally is the raga vinyasa by Vidusi Amrutha Murali, a disciple of Vidvan Sri R K Sriramkumar, as a prelude to the Dikshitar kriti, ‘bhArati maddishanA’. The same is an excerpt from the commercial album ‘Sarveshvari”, in which the Dikshitar kriti is rendered in full.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader of this blog to hear out this alapana, determine its fidelity to the definition of the older Devamanohari and discover the PNNS.



As narrated, the older Devamanohari adhered to the three stated axioms. Perhaps during the second half of the 19th century as the Sangraha Cudmani began to gain traction as the holy grail of modern musicology, it impacted Devamanohari also, by embedding the PDNS as its arohana uttaranga and dropping the PNNS with its kampita gamaka. We have no clue or explanation save for this, to account for the change that we see in the raga lakshana of Devamanohari.

In parting I leave the readers of this blog post with the notation of a composition by Koteesvara Iyer (1870-1936) which is an ode in praise of Muthusvami Dikshitar, in Tamil. The twist here is that Koteesvara Iyer has composed his oeuvre in Devamanohari, apparently of the modern variety, eschewing the PNNS! Was the original notation different and it was perhaps interpreted/represented by later day performers/printers in this form, one does know. Nevertheless it leaves us wondering if the composition in the modern version would meet the approval of the Itinerant Composer!

Here is the rendering of the same by Sangita Kalacharya Sri S Rajam:

(Added on 24-11-2019)

We will consider the case of Purnachandrika in the next blog post to conclude this two part series.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 368-371
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai
  4. Prof S R Janakiraman (2009) – Raga Lakshanangal (Tamil) Vol II , Pages 69-70- Published by the Madras Music Academy


Thanks are due to Sri Lakshman Ragde for providing the notations for the kriti of Koteesvara Iyer and the varnam of Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar, both in Devamanohari.


Samanta – The Raga lost in the wilderness of time



Ragas sporting the vivadi combination of svaras has not been seen much in the world of our Music, prior to the advent of the Trinity.  There have been a couple of exceptions as always and most notable one has been the raga sAmantA, which has the vivadi svara combination D3N3. Nattai is another exception which we saw in a previous blog post. Samanta is found in many old musicological treatises and thus has a hoary past. In modern day musicology it goes under mela 30. Curiously for a raga sporting vivadi note combination, it is both sampurna – having all the notes in its arohana and avarohana together and also krama -sampurna for purposes of modern musicology.

A perusal of musicological history reveals that the raga lost out roughly 200 years ago and was resurrected by Dikshitar and Tyagaraja circa 1800. This blog post is all about Samanta and its allied ragas that we today have in our musical firmament.


Samanta is an old hoary raga with a rich textual history, which sported the vivadi combination D3N3. The earliest reference to Samanta is found in Vidyaranya’s SangitaSara (1320-1380), referenced by Govinda Dikshitar in his later work Sangita Sudha. It also figures in Ramamatya’s Svaramelakalanidhi (Circa 1550) and then in Somanatha’s Ragavibodha (Circa 1609). Somanatha mentions Samanta as one of his 23 melas in this seminal work. Apart from being found profusely in musicological works, it’s very obvious that Samanta was prolifically utilized by vaggeyakaras as well. In his Music Academy Lecture Demonstration of the raga – Prof S R Janakiraman avers that every third or fourth kriti of Annamacharya (circa 1400-1500), found in the copper plates of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, has been composed originally in Samanta. However the original notation of Annamacharya’s kritis have been lost forever and the extant versions that we hear are the tunes as set by musicians/musicologists of recent/current times, like Sangita Kalanidhi Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma & others. Next, in the middle of the 17th century Samanta was one amongst the so called 19 purva prasiddha melas of Venkatamakhi and was listed out by him in his Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP). The popularity of Samanta during its heydays becomes obvious when Subbarama Dikshitar mentions in his notes in the SSP that there are plenty of tanams available in this raga, composed by purvacharyas.

From a melodic standpoint, the raga has been made part of what we today number as melas 28, 29, 34 ,36 and finally mela 30. The first musicologist to formally make Samanta as the representative of Mela 30 of the mela prastara was Venkatamakhin, formally acknowledging the notes of Samanta as catusruti rishabha, antara gandhara, suddha madhyama, pancama, shatsruti dhaivata and kakali nishada. Given its melodic closeness to Sankarabharanam (excepting D3), Venkatamakhin even says that it has the chaya/shade of Sankarabharanam. Ramamatya in his Svaramelakalanidhi even calls Samanta an uttama/superior raga while stating that Sankarabharanam is an adhama/inferior raga and that Sankarabharanam has shades of Samanta! So much for musicological history in that, two elements are seen in the narrative of all of them:

  1. The two ragas which differ only on the dhaivatha( Sankarabharanam sports D2 while Samanta sports D3) were dealt with very closely like how Venkatamakhin and Ramamatya narrate as above. In fact post 1800, both Shahaji and Tulaja in their respective works class Samanta under Sankarabharanam mela.
  2. Both Sankarabharanam and Samanta were categorised as evening ragas.

Given the musical history, though Samanta gained independent existence as the head of mela 30, post 1800, in terms of melodic popularity it was eclipsed by Sankarabharanam. Also Samanta or Samantam as it is referred was the 30th entry in the so called earlier Kanakambari list and then it became a janya under Nagabharanam in the later Kanakambari scheme (approx 1700-1750).  In the run up to the Trinity perhaps Samanta was perhaps in hibernation. None of the great pre-trinity composers seem to have taken notice of the raga as evidenced by the lack of compositions available to us from the first half of the 18th century. Later it lost its complete scalar structure & identity to the new kid-off-the-block, Naganandini, the heptatonic 30th Mela raga under the Kanakangi-Ratnangi scheme (19th century) as documented in the Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda which is the lexicon in which the lakshana of much of the ragas in which Tyagaraja composed, can be found.

Today Samanta is nowhere to be seen on our musical horizon and is very rarely encountered in performances as well.


The analysis of the raga’s lakshana can be studied under the following buckets, based on vintage:

  1. Somanatha’s take on the raga, circa 1300, as an example
  2. The Anubandha and the SSP commentary ( circa 1750)
  3. The lakshana of the raga as per the notation of the Dikshitar composition published by Veenai Sundaram Iyer.

Somanatha gives the following as the notes for Samanta:

S(Shadja), R3 ( or as per Somanatha’s nomenclature tivratama rishabha),G3 ( Antara gandhara),M1 (Suddha Madhyama),P ( pancama),D3 ( Shatsruti dhaivata or as per his nomenclature tivratama dhaivata), N3 ( Kakali nishada). It is to be noted that Somanatha’s musical canvas was based on 17 pitches.

Turning next to the SSP, the raga is classified by Subbarama Dikshitar under the asampurna 30th mela Nagabharanam with the following murccana arohana/avaohana on the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP.

S R2 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S / S N3 D3 P M1 G3 R2 S

The Samanta lakshana shloka which Subbarama Dikshitar attributes to Venkatamakhi says “Samanta raga sampurnah, arohe vakra dhaivata…” And in line with the shloka, the tanam as given, also has D3 in vakra in all aroha passages. Curiously in his notes, Subbarama Dikshitar observes that the raga is sampurna without any varja or vakra. He gives just 2 exemplars there under- The gitam attributed to Venkatamakhi and his own sancari.

The lakshya gitam attributed to Venkatamkhin in the SSP offers us interesting insights as to the raga lakshana. Here is the summary of the same.

  1. Prayogas seen in the gitam includes:
    • sNDNs
    • sNDPM
    • MGMPNNs
    • SMGRG
    • PNNs ( no PDNs)
  2. Sancara span : Uttaranga and tara sthayi sancaras( reaching as far up to the tara dhaivata) in seen profusion.
  3. The notes M1 and N3 are seen in numerous janta prayogas.

In his notes, Subbarama Dikshitar wonders how the purvacaryas had given SN3D3P a direct descent instead of SN3D3N3P as vakra, given the semitones involved as it would give rise to vivadhi dosha. Nevertheless he tows Venkatamakhi’s line and uses SNDP once. PDNS is also noticed in his sancari. Subbarama Dikshitar also opines that rendering the D3 in the avaroha as SN3D3P, would be difficult to execute vocally but not so in the vina. See foot note 3.

Incidentally it is rather curious that Muddu Venkatamakhin created a new raga Nagabharanam with arohana PNDNS, a vakra sanchara to get around the vivadhi notes, as the representative of the 30th mela. And he proceeds to make the sampurna Samanta as a member/janya thereunder. Given that Samanta is a purva prasiddha raga dealt with by all musicologists of yore including Ramamatya, Govinda Dikshitar and Venkatamakhin prior to 1700 AD, Muddu Venkatamakhin could have simply made Samanta itself as the clan head of mela 30, prefixing it suitably to yield the number 30 according to the katapayAdi samkhyA scheme. That was not to be the case surprisingly. As an example in contrast for an other pUrva prasiddha raga Desakshi, the prefix ‘shaila’ was prefixed & it was made the clan head for the 35th mela.

In so far as Samanta goes post 1750, notwithstanding Subbarama Dikshitar’s assertion, it’s undeniable that the raga continued to be sampurna and the krama prayoga SN3D3P was treated as permissible. Unfortunately we do not have any kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar noted in the SSP or the anubandha. Veena Sundaram Iyer (a disciple of Ambi Dikshitar) was the first to publish two Dikshitar kritis in Samanta, one of them in the Music Academy Journal and subsequently both in the Dikshitar Kritimalai series.

We need to remember that when we deal with purva prasiddha ragas, that is ragas which ante-date the Kanakangi-Ratnangi scalar model, we need to assess them in the light of the earlier native prayogas as passed on to us traditionally/textually that were codified for them and practised. In the instant case, it is futile to talk about Naganandini scale & seek/attempt to justify how Samanta is or could be different from it. It is a reality that Naganandini is an ante dated and a ‘derived’ heptatonic scale and is at best an equivalent melody as compared to the purva prasiddha Samanta. Or its yet another name of Samanta under the Sangraha Cudamani.

The Muthusvami Dikshitar composition ‘pranatArthiharAya’ is notated by Vidvan Veena Sundaram Iyer in SRGM notation and the following is the summary of it.

  • He gives the ragas arohana/avarohana only as SRGMPDNS/SNDPMGRS
  • The kriti starts off as P N s s N D P M G S
  • Dhaivata & rishabha are varja in the aroha phrases
  • PNs, Ps, sP, smgr,sNPMGM, sNDP , sDNP , PsND are found
  • In one or two places the sancara goes far up to tara pancama
  • D3 is encountered in 5 places in the composition

We can observe that by-and-large the raga lakshana as per the Venkatamakhi gitam and Sundaram Iyer’s notation is fairly aligned. The profusion of janta prayogas on the Nishada and Madhayama notes, seen in the gitam is however not to be seen in ‘Pranatarthiharaya’. See foot note 1.

The raga Samanta is found documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani as a janya of Naganandini despite the fact that no known compositions of Tyagaraja are assigned to the raga. The arohana/avarohana krama is given as SRSMGMPDNS/SNDNPMGRS. As one can see later, the setting of Samantha for Annamacharya kritis by Rallapalli Sri Anantakrishna Sarma, tracks to this melodic contour.

With this theoretical background let us move on to the discography section.


We first take up the Dikshitar kriti ‘pranatArthiharAya’ notated by Veena Sundaram Iyer. Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli who had her tutelage under Vidvan Kallidaikurici Mahadeva Bhagavathar of the sisya parampara of Ambi Dikshitar, renders this composition. This audio clip is from the Dikshitar Day Concert of hers held in Madurai in 2007.

As one can notice, her version is much closer to the Sundaram Iyer notation. I invite the attention to two aspects of her rendition. The D3 is muted and is heard clearly only at”Pranataarthi haaraya”. In her rendering the avaroha seems more PMGS than PMGRS. And the kalapramana is slightly faster than one can expect to be in a normal Dikshitar krithi.

We move over to the rendering of the same kriti by Prof S R Janakiraman (SRJ). Before that we present his lecture on the raga’s lakshana with Annamacharya’s ‘sahaja vaishnavAcAra vartanula’ given as Samanta in the olden copper plates and set to the raga by Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma, as illustration. See foot note 4.

Next is his rendering Annamacharya’s “Sahaja Vaishnavacara” set to Samanta by Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sharma. Mark the opening bars starting SMGMP in the kriti, a point emphasized in the raga’s lakshana as documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani.

As always his emphasis on D3 is pronounced & strong in his conception of Samanta. The first nishadha occurring on the janta phrase PNNS seems to give the effect of D3 as an anusvara, given only a semi-tonal interval.

We next move on to the veteran musician/musicologist rendering ( edited), the Dikshitar kriti in a class session.

In the audio clip of his demonstration of this kriti, Prof SRJ keeps in line with Sundaram Iyer’s notation, overall. However we do see that the Professor invokes D3 in his rendering of Samanta. Watch out for the intonation of D3 at “Pranataarthihaaraya”, “KshtetrapalaSevitaya” and “Ghrini-sasi-vahni-nayana”. So based on the evidence available Prof S R Janakiraman assesses that Samanta’s melodic contour is SMGMPNNS/SNDPMGRS.

The third & final exemplar is the rendering of Pranatharthiharaya by Vidvan Balaji Shankar. This is from his album of Dikshitar kritis released by Sangeetha Music which is already made available by them in the public domain. Vidvan Balaji Shankar’s rendering is punctuated more by PNS and SN3D3P from the kriti point of view. It is worth noting here that he is a sishya of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman, another vidvan tracing is repertoire to the Dikshitar sishya parampara.

In contrast to all other versions of Samanta/Naganandhini featured in this section, one can perceive that Vidvan Balaji Shankar’s rendering is light and not heavy in its tonal texture, bereft of the so called Carnatic “charge”. It is perhaps due to the fact that it has been rendered with plainer notes to give a lighter feel rather than being embellished with our native gamakas.

We now move on to the rendition of Samanta by “Dikshitarini” Kalpagam Svaminathan. In a private concert from the year 2007, she plays ‘Vishvanathena Samrakshitoham” the other kriti of Dikshitar, available to us, composed on the presiding deity at Kuzhikkarai a very small village near Tiruvarur. She prefaces her rendition of “Vishvanathena” with a raga vinyasa, bringing out the salient features of her conception of Samanta. As one can see the contours of her Samanta is SGMPN3S/SD3PMGRS. Given the svarastanas of the notes, is one to take it so and imply that Samanta is a bhashanga with two nishadhas, each type occurring in the arohana and avarohana respectively then? But that’s how it is played by the veteran Vaineeka who was the storehouse of Dikshitar kritis. See Foot note 2 & 5.

We move over to a vocal rendering of the composition, pretty rare today. Vidushi K Gayatri, a disciple of the late Sangita Kala Acharya Suguna Purushothaman, presents her pAtham of ‘visvanAthEna’ complete with rAgam, kriti and svara prastara for our benefit. For her, this raga is sampurna both in arohana and avarohana and as she comments at the end of her raga vinyasa, it is treated synonymously with Naganandhini.

Thus in sum we find multiple versions of Samanta with same notes under mela 30, through the renderings of the two Dikshitar compositions. We do see lineal as well as vakra/varjya sancaras around D3 and N3 notes.

 And with that we move on to Tyagaraja’s creation ‘sattalEni’.

As pointed out earlier we have it on record that Tyagaraja did not provide names to the ragas of his compositions. Experts opine that raga names were assigned to his compositions, much later based on the melody found therein by correlating it with the definition found in the Sangraha Cudamani. Given that the sampurna krama arohana/avarohana of Naganandini found in the Sangraha Cudamani aligns with the definition of Samanta in the Anubandha to the CDP and the SSP, we can conclude perhaps both the ragas where one and the same. Better still Samanta can be thought of as the forerunner of modern day Naganandhini.

Tyagaraja’s kriti ‘sattalEni dinamU’ is a beautiful creation. See foot note 6.Here is Vidvan S Kalyanaraman rendering this composition. He prefaces the kriti with his alapana followed by that of the violinist Vidvan V V Subramanian Watch out how Vidvan S Kalyanaraman revels in this raga both in the alapana and his svara kalpana on the pallavi line with chaste accompaniment by the violinist.

Attention in invited to the svara vinyasa in the clipping at around 7:44 when the veteran embarks on his svara kalpana anchoring around N3. The vivid portrayal of the vividhi notes D3N3 in the uttaranga is a veritable lesson on how to aesthetically render them. It goes to the credit of the likes of Vidvan Kalyanaraman and Vidvan S Rajam for beautifully rendering vivadi ragas during their lifetimes in an age when singing them were not considered kosher by the so called traditional, more mainstream vidvans.

We next move to an allied raga which is given in modern day lexicons as Gambhiravani which is nothing but Naganandini with vakra sancaras. Tyagaraja’s ‘sadAmathim’ is assigned this raga. Also the raga Gambhiravani with the stated lakshana is not found documented in the Sangraha Cudamani, the authoritative lexicon of the ragas of compositions of Tyagaraja. The provenance of the raga name and its lakshana is highly questionable and seems to be of 20th century vintage, for the raga is found documented only in 20th century publications. Also this kriti came to be known only through the publication of Rangaramanuja Iyengar post 1950 and was not known to be part of the famous lineages of Tyagaraja ( vide the Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions – JMA Vol XXXIX pages 124-167). We do have that composition rendered by Flute Mali, Vidvan Lalgudi Jayaraman and Madurai Somu available in the public domain. See foot note 7.


It indeed inexplicable why this raga, which was popular in the centuries bygone, is today all but forgotten. Musical history tells us that it had always fought a war for space, first with Sankarabharanam prior to 1700 and then later with Naganandhini post 1800, before it finally lost out. Tyagaraja’s kritis have been labelled off under Naganandini/Gambhiravani and so we are left only with the two Muthusvami Dikshitar compositions. The construct of the raga and its beautiful D3N3 makes one wonder why it is still very rarely encountered on the concert circuit. As always one does hope that performing musicians would at least take notice of this purva prasiddha raga and render it more in the days to come.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol IV– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions – pages 1197-1212
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai-pages 128-133
  4. A Sundaram Iyer(1995) -Sri Dikshita Kirtanamala- Part IV-Reprint, published by Music Book Publishers,Mylapore -pages 42-43

Foot Notes:

  1. The kriti ‘pranatArthiharAya’ is composed on the Lord of Tiruvaiyyaru – Panchanadeesvara or Pranatarthihara. Justice T L Venkatrama Iyer in his biography of Muthusvami Dikshitar says that amongst others, Dikshitar composed ‘Pranatarthiharam” in Nayaki on the Lord, “Sri Vatukanatha” in Devakriya on the Kshetrapala here and “Dharmasamvardhani” in Madhyamavathi on the deities of this holy kshetra. The kshetrapala or Bhairava, whom Dikshitar extols in his Devakriya composition, finds mention in this short Samanta kriti, which is structured with just the anupallavi alone. The kriti is bereft of the raga mudra but has the standard Dikshitar colophon, guruguha.
  2. The kriti ‘visvanAthEna rakshitOham’ is a composition on Lord Vishvanatha at Kuzhikkarai a couple of kilometers away from Tiruvarur. As recorded in his life history, Dikshitar visited this place on the invitation of this temple’s patron one Vaidyalinga Mudaliar to grace the consecration of this temple. Dikshitar composed the following compositions on the Lord (as available to us):
    1. Kashi Vishveshvara – Kambhoji – Ata tala – Found in the SSP, this kriti is a magnum opus of Dikshitar in this raga.
    2. Sri Visvanatham – Caturdasa Ragamalika – Adi – Found in the anubandha, again this ragamalika composition is a marvel in itself.
    3. Visvanathena Samrakshitoham – Samanta
    4. Annapurne Visalakshi – Sama

    These kritis are sometimes mistakenly attributed to have been composed on the deity at Kasi itself by some. But the internal evidence within the compositions themselves clearly shows that these were composed on the Lord at Kuzhikkarai. The reference “gartatIra prabhavEna” found in the Samanta composition refers to Kuzhikkarai. Additionally Dr V Raghavan mentions that ‘ehI annapUrnE” in Punnagavarali has been composed on the Goddess at Kuzhikkarai. I am not sure on what basis Dr Raghavan assigns this kriti to Kuzhikkarai. Suffice to say that there no direct or indirect references to this kshetra in the Punnagavarali composition. Coming back to Vishvanathena, Dikshitar brings out his colophon as well as the raga mudra, explicitly in the anupallavi line as:

    “sAshvatah-gUruguha-sampUjitEna || sAmantapushpamAlAdharEna”

    Similar to the mention in the Tyagaraja Vibakti kriti in the raga Rudrapriya ( ‘Sri Tyagarajasya baktho bhavami’) Dikshitar makes a mention of the Lord delighting in the dance of the rudra ganikas (the dasis attached to the temple).

  3. It is indeed a matter for deep deliberation for us as to why for certain ragas Subbarama Dikshitar did not provide any Dikshitar kriti as exemplars when we do have kritis, which made its way to the public domain long after his death, from the very same collection that he bequeathed to his son Ambi Dikshitar. Samanta and Camaram are stark examples wherein in the SSP we do have Subbarama Dikshitar giving his commentary for the raga and yet he does not provide the compositions ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisham’ or the two sAmantA compositions ‘pranatArthi harAya’ and ‘visvanAthEna rakshitOham’ as exemplars. It is likely that Subbarama Dikshitar ‘curated’ the available Dikshitar compositions with him and their notations and those which passed his ‘test’ were alone published in the SSP. We do not know Subbarama Dikshitar’s logic/test for selection till date. Yet this is what we are today left grappling with along with the unfortunate circumstance of being left with kritis of questionable sahitya and/or musical setting attributed to Dikshitar. In the case of Samanta, we have another factor to consider, which is that the SSP has a composition in Nagabharanam the nominal head of the clan of mela 30 as per the scheme of Muddu Venkatamakhin. Except for the vakra sancara around D3N3, there is no great melodic difference between the two ragas (Samanta and Nagabharanam).
  4. Prof SRJ’s way of rendering ragas reminds one of what Srini Pichumani had to say years ago on the Usenet news group.“….For lack of a better word or phrase, let me say that (Prof) SRJ’s  alapanas are for the major part composed of “constantly swirling” melodic phrasings. The rapids or eddies of a river come to mind instantly. Maybe this is how the great Tiger ( Varadacariar, his guru )sang.” I invite attention to the way Prof SRJ sings Samanta with great verve and passion in the lec dem ahead of ‘sahaja vaisnavAcAra vartula’ with the so called swirls, which Srini Pichumani alludes to.
  5. As we have seen in earlier posts, if a vivadhi raga is employed by Dikshitar he ornaments the same in his kritis, with appropriate gamakas. In this case we have no way of knowing the same as the compositions are not found documented in the SSP style notation.
  6. The lyrics of kriti of the Bard of Tiruvaiyaru, is a throwback in time, signifying perhaps his agony about the degradation of the society and its moral fabric. Perhaps those times weren’t different at all, one wonders. Here is the text and meaning of the kriti.
  7. It’s my personal opinion that mere usage of vakra sancaras in a melodic implementation doesn’t create a new raga. The vakra sancaras must cause a separate and distinctive melodic identity to be built and only then can it be deemed to be a new raga worthy of a separate existence from the parent. In the instant case one can notice that there is no melodic distinctiveness for Gambhiravani/Nagabharanam in comparison to Samanta/Naganandini. Even in Naganandhini’s case just because Samanta “also” uses SMGMP or SNPM, doesn’t in anyway confer melodic distinctiveness. Thus for all practical purposes, the melodies going by the names of Naganandhini, Samanta and Gambiravani are all one and the same. The melodic distinctiveness of all these ragas hinge on the usage of D3N3 combination as otherwise they can be subsumed by the ragas under Sankarabharanam mela.