Composers, Raga

The Melodic setting of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ of Muthusvami Dikshitar



It is one of the settled principles of music or for that matter any art form, that utmost fidelity to the intent of the composer/creator should be maintained. The original structure of a composition as intended by the composer must be reproduced at all costs/as much as possible, by all those who perform the same. In fact modern intellectual property law acknowledges this as a formal right of a composer, calling it the Right of Integrity of the composer creator or “droit de respect de l’oeuvre”. It effectively forbids all performers from mutilating, distorting or modifying his creative work. In our Music one instead witnesses the fact that we have taken much liberties with the compositions of very many composers particularly the Trinity. A comparison of the versions of the compositions that we hear today, say for example of Muthusvami Dikshitar with that of an authentic reproduction of the original setting as recorded in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini would show how much we have deviated considerably from the original setting. We have seen this as a regular theme in almost all cases which we have analyzed in this blog series.

In this blog post we will take up the case of a very well-known composition in a ubiquitous raga. And as we analyse it in the context of its original notation, it can be demonstrated how we have:

  1. Modified the very lakshana of a raga
  2. Changed the musical setting or mettu/mAthu of the composition

The composition is ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ in raga Nattai in adi tala. The core idea of this short blog post is not to censure ourselves, though we might deserve one, but is to demonstrate how Muthusvami Dikshitar has presented the grammatically correct laid down form of the raga for us.  And at the same time imprinted his own style in the musical setting of the composition.

The goal for a student or listener of music is to appreciate the original beauty of this composition and ruminate on the takeaways it provides us.

Overview of composition and modern lakshana of Nattai:

Let us first look at the sahitya or the lyrical setting of the composition in question.

  1. ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ is a composition ostensibly composed on the Lord at Svamimalai by Muthusvami Dikshitar, though its sahitya does not bear any details as to situs such as puranic or stala references etc.
  2. It is the pallavi-anupallavi-madhyamakala sahitya format, lacking the carana. Neither do we see a cittasvara section for this composition.
  3. It carries both the colophon (as in ‘vallIsa guruguha dEvasEnEsa’ in the pallavi) and raga mudra (‘kAvya nAtakAlankArabharana’ in the madhyama kala sahitya) in its sahitya body.
  4. It is found documented/notated in both Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar and in the Dikshitar Keertanai Prakashikai (DKP) of Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, the two most authentic textual authorities for Dikshitar’s compositions.

It is composed in Nattai, a raga which almost every text book on music would provide the modern day lakshana , under the 36th mela as under:

Arohana : S R3 G3 M1 P N3 S ( some give it as  SRGMPDNS)

Avarohana: S N3 P M1 R3 S

While prescribed theory is so, a perusal of available renderings of compositions in this raga feature the following svaragati/progression :

Arohana : S R3 G3 M1 P N3 S

Avarohana: S N3 P M1 G3 M1 R3 S

In modern musicological parlance it is almost always presented as a derivative of the heptatonic calanAta mela , excluding the shatsruti dhaivata D3in both arohana & avarohana, with both PMRS and GMRS in its descent.

Modern Nattai is encapsulated in this concise edited presentation below by Vidvan Neyveli Santhanagopalan, who provides his delineation of the raga for us through a short adi tala pallavi ‘nAttai kApadu nam kadamai, nallor vazhum bhAratha’, the raga name being embedded therein. He prefaces it with an alapana, tops it up with a few rounds of neraval and kalpana svaras as well.

There are very many compositions in this raga and for us the subject matter for this blog post is ‘Svaminatha Paripalaya’ kriti, which we take up concentrating on the extant version/rendering of the composition. Arguably one of the earliest popular vocalist to frequently render this composition was Sangita Kalanidhi G N Balasubramaniam. And his version/presentation of the composition is what almost all modern day performers have adopted. Let us first hear that out.


I would like to invite specific attention to the following factors in this rendering.

  1. The rhythmic setting – Many the eduppus/take off in the kriti lines are after 1/2 akshara (edam) after the first beat including the pallavi itself.
  2. The pace of the composition is medium & fast tempo. There is no slow or cauka kala exposition.
  3. The ragalakshana as is obvious from the svarakalpana is very clear. The above given arohana and avarohana, devoid of D3 and using both PMRS and GMRS is observed to the tee.

Now that we have looked at the raga and the popular exposition of this Muthusvami Dikshitar composition, let’s evaluate the form as notated in the SSP and DKP, which we alluded to before. But before that let’s evaluate the raga lakshana as summarized by Subbarama Dikshitar.

‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ in the SSP :

  1. The raga’s correct/complete name is cAlanAta, the same which has been assigned to the sampurna/heptatonic scale in Sangraha Cudamani.
  2. The arohana/avarohana murrcana is SRGMPDNS/SNPMRS
  3. Dhaivata and gandhara are varja in the avarohana. The reasoning is fairly obvious as in the Muddu Venkatamakhin scheme. D3N3 and R3G3 the vivadhi combinations are facile in their arohana krama. However in the avarohana krama they are worked around either as vakra or varja as SN3D3N3P or M1R3S.

In contrast to the modern lakshana, two features that we need to note at the outset are the prescribed usage of PD3N3S and PM1R3S. As we saw in the modern expositions in the discography above, PNS and GMRS seems to dominate the scheme of Nattai today. Nattai of today is totally bereft of D3 making it an shadava raga. See Foot Note 1.

Moving over to the notation of the kriti in the SSP, one is surprised to note the amount of deviation that we see in modern expositions compared to the notation provided in the SSP.

  1. PDNS occurs expressly in the composition in two places (‘guruguha’ and ‘vitarana’), the portions being in madhyama kAla. Along with PDNS we also see PS and Pr as well.
  2. GMRS does not occur, atleast in this composition. Everywhere it is only PMRS. Though GMRS is permissible or is not forbidden, it was perhaps a convention that in Nattai PMRS was to dominate ( i.e gandhara would not be vakra in avarohana passages) and which is why Subbarama Dikshitar gives the avarohana murccana as SNPMRS. And Dikshitar does not use that in ‘svAminAtha paripAlayA’.

Brief History of Nattai:

The above two features are not just found in the Natta of the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin which was supposed to have been followed by Muthusvami Dikshitar and which Subbarama Dikshitar uses as authority for his SSP. It was also the intrinsic component of the Natta of the 18thcentury for we see the same as documented by Tulaja in his Saramrutha (circa A D 1835). In fact Sangita Kalanidhi B Subba Rao and Prof S R Janakiraman in their commentary to Tulaja’s Saramrutha emphatically state that the raga’s lakshana had remained the same over centuries till today. In fact they add that in contrast to the older Nattai, modern Nattai had narrowed down by dropping the shatsruti dhaivatha completely from its melodic body.

Tulaja records the name of this melody as ‘Suddha Natti’ anointing it as a mela. He states:

  1. The raga lacks dhaivatha and gandhara in the avaroha
  2. And the svaragati/progression is straight both in arohana and avarohana, meaning it was SRGMPDNS and SNPMRS. Thus dhaivatha and gandhara were not again appearing vakra in the avarohana such as SNDNP or PMGMRS. He effectively rules out GMRS.

Needless to add, Nattai has a history tracing back centuries prior and is seen recorded in the works of Somanatha, Pandarika Vitthala, Venkamakhin and others. Even the Sangraha Cudamani which ploughs a lone furrow on many ragas gives the same svara progression for Nattai. In short Nattai is a purva prasiddha raga sporting the two vivadi combinations R3G3 and D1N1 in full in its melodic body. See Foot Note 2.

Thus we can safely conclude that Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘svAminAtha paripAlaya’ as notated in the SSP completely embodies the older, complete Nattai that was prevalent in the 18th century.

As stated, the two contrasting features between the Nattai of yore and the one today is that present day renderings of this composition and modern day delineation of the raga are devoid of PDNS. And they include GMRS as well, which prayoga is not found in the old Nattai.

Muthusvami Dikshitar’s Conception:

Even as he faithfully went about adhering to the older definition of Nattai, Muthusvami Dikshitar in his ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsu mAm’ chiseled out his own features, which are today not visible or conspicuous in modern day renderings.

  1. We have been repeatedly seeing in these blog analysis that jumps,bends,turns and twists were how the melodic progression of svaragati of ragas was in the 18th century. Taking that as a cue, Dikshitar implements the same through the repeated use of the prayoga/motif M/N and N\MP with the nishadha being ornamented with the kampita gamaka. Examples are the sahitya portions ‘nAradAdi bhAvita’ & ‘sammOhitAkAra’.
  2. Dikshitar has also kept the gandhara (G3) usage to the absolute minimum in this composition which spans 8 complete tala avartas, as a signature construct for the Nattai of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm. The 3 usages, namely two dIrgha and one hrsva usage is seen at :
    1. ‘svAminAtha’
    2.  ‘vAmadEva’
    3. ‘nipunacarana’

He works around the gandhara note by jumping over as SM or SP in his progression. But he does give G3 its pride of place elegantly/tellingly at ‘vAmadEva’ and this dIrgha gandhara placement right at the middle of the composition at the beginning of the 5th avarta, half way in this 8 tala avarta composition is poignant. See Foot Note 3.

  1. He has further clustered the sahitya and the underlying notes into a pattern almost – alternating hrsva and dIrgha syllables in the body. This point is brought out for the simple reason that this original setting has been completely lost due to the modern rendition style of this composition or what we can call as normalization.

A Comparison:

A compare of this notation with the modern day rendering provides us a number of insights:

  1. Sahitya for many tala avartas are started off (eduppu) at 1/2 edam/ after the first beat, by performers. One can see from the SSP notation of this composition that the sahitya for every one of the tala avartas ( 8 in total) start only at samam/on the beat.
  2. The sahitya syllables are equally spread out over the rest of the tala cycle, in contrast to the original notation.
  3. In the original scheme we see that there are either two hrasva svaras or one dIrgha svara per akshara in the sama kAla and double that in the madhyama kala. This is tampered with in modern renderings with the result that the actual svara notation deviates considerably from the SSP notation in very many places. One can even see that it is perhaps even 4 svaras per aksharas in sama kala sometimes, giving us the speeded up impression and also melodically denser, which was not the original construct.

For example the sahitya lines starting ‘svAminAtha’, ‘kArtikEya’ and ‘vAmadEva’ are all rendered not starting at samam but 1/2 after the beat. The word ‘kArtikEya’ which is notated for the first 4 aksharas of the adi tala cycle are sung as,SRGM rather than SRSMR. Similar is the fate of the line ‘vAmadEva’ which is again not rendered at samam/beat start and is rendered as GMPNSNP whereas the actual notation is GGMMP. As pointed out earlier, from the anupallavi start till the madhyama kala start, spanning 4 adi tala avartas, Muthusvami Dikshitar uses the gandhara note only one at the place vAmadEva. Whereas in all modern renderings we see that these 4 tala avartas are rendered with gandhara being indiscriminately used. The madhyama kala sahitya mettu too has been tampered with as one can see.

4. In a number of places the unique kampita gamakas as well as the jArus that are embedded in the composition is hardly ever heard in the modern day renderings of this composition. Simply put, the melodic artwork innate in the composition has been sacrificed at the altar of speed. See Foot Note 4.

These changes are a consequence of our poor understanding of the legacy bequeathed to us. Sadly the tempo of the rendering is speeded up and the composition is rendered as if it were a kriti of Tyagaraja. While we bear no ill will to that format, it is reiterated that this was not the style/format in which Dikshitar composed ‘svAminAtha paripAlaya’. And it does no justice to us to wrongly render a magnificent construction carelessly with scant respect for raga lakshana as well, by needlessly singing the unwarranted GMRS or eliding the PDNS.

We can aurally sense the normalization that we have done to the melodic body and gait of the composition in the discography section.


Vidvan T M Krishna sings ‘svAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm’ as per notation found in the SSP. He first prefaces the composition with his take on the construct of the composition.

And then he renders the composition.

Attention is invited amongst others to:

  • Leisurely progression or tempo of the composition
  • N\MP and M/N usages,
  • The sama eduppu for all the tala avartas
  • The unique/poignant dIrgha gandhara take off at ‘vAmadEva’
  • The original musical setting of the madhyamakala sahitya in particular the mandhara stayi sancara which is not correctly rendered in modern versions.

In his presentation, the ‘PDNS’ usage atleast at the pallavi (‘guruguha’) isn’t very aurally perceivable and personally I wish it were articulated a little more.  Barring the same, this edition more or less reflects a very practical/faithful presentation of the intent of the notation in the SSP for me. In fact the PDNS is also incorporated in Vidvan Krishna’s kalpana svara section and the violinist response captures the D3N3 very well. Its worth noting that Vidvan Krishna only once ( inadvertently perhaps?) in his svarakalpana does use the prayoga GMRS in the tAra stAyi.

For many of us, this version interpreted from the notation from the SSP, may be a revelation. The contrast and the takeaways provided by this version in comparison with the modern version, presented earlier in this post, is something that is now left to the rumination and judgement of a discerning listener/connoisseur of our music.


Many of the modern day presentations of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s compositions are found normalized both for melody and for rhythm/structure, deviating significantly from their original construct. Thankfully we have an authentic repository of notations of his compositions preserved by Subbarama Dikshitar in the form of the magnum opus, SSP as a benchmark/gold-copy for us. This blog post was to precisely demonstrate how we have significantly deviated from the original setting of Dikshitar’s creations. It is earnestly & sincerely hoped that students and performers of music would at least now, relearn & recalibrate their repertoire of Dikshitar compositions to be in alignment to the original intent of the composer. And finally rendering them on concert platforms in true fidelity to that would be the only greatest homage to composer nonpareil.

  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 980-998
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai – pages 41-43

I am indebted to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for permitting me to share the recording of his rendering of ‘svAminAtha paripAlayasumAm’ for this blog post. This is from his concert for Guruguhamrutha, held on 13th Nov 2016 @ Raga Sudha Hall, Chennai. Accompanying him in this recital were Vidvans Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sri Manoj Siva on the mrudangam and Sri B S Purushotham on the kanjira.


  1. The PD3N3S usage has always been problematic to many schools of music especially between the 1850 to 1950 time period. The vivadi combination was attributed with dosha so much so purists wouldn’t render them at all, fearing ill health upon doing so. Many ragas sporting this vivadi svara combination too were mutilated. In the case of Nattai, Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer went one step further when he stripped R3G3 vivadhi combination too in his rendering of ‘mahA ganapatim’, a famous kriti attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar and not found in the SSP. Here, in this clipping from the Music Academy Concert of the year 1964, dubbed the Ghana Raga concert , the Carnatic veteran opens the concert at the Academy presenting his version of ‘mAhAganapatim’ and Nattai sans R3 and D3, a raga which we can call as Gambhira Nattai, prefacing it with a brief tanam !

Attention is invited both to the kriti and the kalpana svara section. One wonders what the rasikas and the cognoscenti of those times had to say upon hearing the veteran render the composition so! For a sharp ear a very muted R3 is discernible tinting the sadja as an anusvara in quite a few places, for example when he ends ‘mahAganapatim’ before commencing the svarakalpana.

  1. Tulaja’s commentary in the Sangita Saramrutha to the effect that Suddha Natti or Nattai of today is a Ghana raga and is to be sung in evenings is echoed verbatim by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. We have seen in an earlier blogpost what ‘ghanam’ means and in that context Nattai rightfully is a Ghana raga, being the first amongst equals in the Ghana raga pancakam. The attribute of a raga pegging its rendering to the time of a day seems to have lost its relevance except for a few ragas. One is unable to divine today, the reason why Nattai should be sung in the evenings only.
  2. Antara gandhara- G3 in the case of Nattai is found in the arohana alone. Normally as a rule a note found only in the arohana is very likely to be a weak note in the raga. If the note finds place in the avarohana as well, atleast as a vakra note then it is likely to emerge as a powerful pivot note. With PMRS alone being used, or in other words PMGMRS being excluded, it is likely that Dikshitar given the implicit deduction that G3 became weak, perhaps made its occurrence rare in this composition. It could also be hypothesized that the older or vintage form/definition of Nattai warranted this. It could also be that by his times Nattai had perhaps acquired in the meanwhile, GMRS or a vakra gandhara formally in its avarohana. And in this, then nouveau form of Nattai, Dikshitar perhaps composed the other composition ‘pavanAtmaja’, which has GMRS usage in its final madhyama kala sahitya section. An interesting line of thought one can say.
  1. The almost same notation of this composition that one sees both in the SSP and DKP is amazing to say the least. Barring a few extra kampita gamaka ornamentations that is seen in DKP, the two notations reinforce our belief in the original creation as the same comes through to us through two independent sishya paramparas of Muthusvami Dikshitar. One is humbled by the fact that the sishya paramparas to that point, namely Tambaippan Pillai –> Sattanur Pancanada Iyer –> Natarajasundaram Pillai for DKP on one hand and Balasvami Dikshitar –> Subbarama Dikshitar for the SSP on the other, have maintained the greatest of fidelity in transmitting the tradition without polluting/morphing it in anyway.
Raga, Repertoire

Kannada Bangala & Malahari – The Conjoined Twins


Popular commentary as well as accounts of musicologists always has it that Muthusvami Dikshitar was a staunch follower of the Venkatamakhin sampradaya and to that end he followed the Anubandha to the CaturdandiPrakashika faithfully. There are quite a number of exceptions, caveats or issues with this statement. As we saw in a number of previous blog posts, in the case of quite a few ragas such as Tarangini, Khamboji, Gopikavasanta etc, there is a dichotomy between the lakshana as per the sloka found for the raga in the Anubandha and the corresponding Dikshitar kriti in that raga. Besides we find that Subbarama Dikshitar on his own authority has classified ragas which are not in the rAganga lakshana gitams and/or the Anubandha itself. While we find the Anubandha and the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) together to be a great source of information, we do have instances where we are unable to reconcile satisfactorily the lakshanas of quite a few ragas. In those cases the commentary of Subbarama Dikshitar while helpful is not much instructive as one would like it to be. So much so we are just left with the notation of the very kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar to divine the ragalakshana unambiguously. Which also shows us that Muthusvami Dikshitar innovated, breaking himself from the shackles of the laid down tradition. It is this point that we would seek to explore through this blog post as we look at the raga lakshana of two ragas – Kannada Bangala and Malahari both under Mela 15, Malavagaula.

In so far as the raga lakshanas of these two ragas, Malahari and Kannada Bangala we see that the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika as well as the prior 18th century texts are not so helpful for us to distinguish unambiguously the raga lakshanas of these two conjoined twins – twins that are intertwined both in terms of the scale and also history. This is so because they share the same melodic scale or arohana/avarohana under Mela 15, Malavagaula and they grew together perhaps each intruding into the other’s melodic territory. If we were to look for clues from our oral tradition available today, with reference to these two ragas, sadly they offer no assistance whatsoever to help us melodically distinguish them. The oral tradition by and large treats these two ragas as practically synonymous so much so that Kannada Bangala is today all but extinct and the sole/solitary Dikshitar kriti therein is practically rendered in Malahari.

In this blog post we will see the history, lakshana of the two ragas and also to see how Muthusvami Dikshitar went about chiselling the attributes of these two ragas so as to make them as much as possible melodically distinct for us.



Kannada Bangala is a very old raga with a long musical history to boot. It was known in olden times as Karnata Bangala or Karnataka Bangala as well signifying its hoary ancestry. In this blog post we will use Kannada Bangala to refer to this raga, uniformly.

A galaxy of musicological writers right from Ramamatya (1550 AD Svaramelakalanidhi), Pandarikavitthala (1576 AD), Govinda Dikshitar ( 1615 AD Sangitasudha) and Venkatamakhin (1626 Caturdandi Prakashika), all refer to Kannada Bangala as having the svaras which today fall under mela 15 Malavagaula.  The parent raga for them was different for them at that point in time and one would see Gurjari, Gaula etc being mentioned as the clan leader which is typically referred to as melaprastara, mela, melakartha, meladhikara or raganga.

From a lakshana perspective, since its recorded inception the raga lacked nishadha both in the arohana and avarohana. Gandhara svara was the graha and almost all of them say that the raga is to be rendered in the early morning. Into the 18th century both Sahaji in his Ragalakshanamu ( circa AD 1710) as well Tulaja in his Saramruta ( AD 1736) document the raga as existing during their times with the very same melodic contour. The very distinctive point to note is that all the way from 1500 to 1750, the raga’s lakshana has remained unchanged, over centuries and has comes to us with almost the same form and melodic content.

Circa 1750 the raga’s lakshana is found documented in the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. And after this reference in the Anubandha, the raga’s trail goes cold. Save for the solitary kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar we have no other kriti by any composer till date. So much so it has always been articulated that Muthusvami Dikshitar revived or resurrected this raga which had all but become extinct by 1775.

Now the last musicological reference to Kannada Bangala is documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP and he documents the lakshana sloka for Kannada Bangala thus:

rAgaH karnAtabangAlAH sAdavO ga grahAnvitAH

nI varja prAtaruth gEyO arOhE ga cyutah kvAchit  ||

 This raga lakshana sloka from the Anubandha to the CDP (circa1750) attributed to Muddu Venkatamakhin the paternal grandson of Venkatamakhin makes it clear that:

  1. The raga is shadava, i.e, in in total it has only 6 svaras with nishadha absent both in arohana and avarohana
  2. Gandhara is the graha and in certain arohana/ascent phrases gandhara is dropped- cyuta.
  3. It is an early morning raga.

More than century prior to this, circa 1636 his great ancestor Venkatamakhin in his Caturdandi Prakashika gives the lakshana of Kannada Bangala thus :

ragaH karnAtabangalO bhashAnghAm gaula mElaja

prataHkAlEshu gAtavyaH shAdhvOyam nivarjitAH

sarvadApyEsha gAthabyO gItagnIH shubharakthidaH

In other words here is what Venkatamakhin says as the raga’s lakshana under Gaula mela (his equivalent of Malavagaula – Mela 15 which is the placeholder parent for us):

  1. Venkatamakhin’s reference to the raga being bhashanga has no modern day relevance for us and hence can be safely ignored.
  2. The raga is shadava, that in in toto it has only 6 svaras with nishadha absent both in arohana and avarohana
  3. Gandhara is the graha.
  4. It is an early morning raga.
  5. It grants welfare/goodness and delight and can be sung at all times by practitioners of music.


Subbarama Dikshitar on the strength of the Anubandha lakshana shloka provides the murccana arohana/avrohana thus :

S R1 M1 P D1 S

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

Apart from the gitam attributed to Venkatamakhin and his own sancari, Subbarama Dikshitar provides the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar, ‘rEnukAdEvi samrakshitOham’ in misra jhampa tala. He also says that:

  1. In ancient texts it is given that MGM should be added and it is similar to Saveri
  2. On the authority of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s kriti, RM.P with a kampita gamaka on madhyama which is dhirgha, RMMP, PDMP, PDMGR, RM.GR and RMGR are salient phrases as documented in the kriti provided as illustration.
  3. These prayogas along with the appropriate gamakas should be carefully used.

The perusal of the notation of the kriti reveals the following from a content perspective:

  1. The kriti is on Goddess Renukadevi enshrined at Vijayapuram in Tiruvarur. See foot note 1.
  2. The raga mudra as well as Dikshitar’s colophon ‘guruguha’ are embedded in the composition.

From a musical perspective one is able to decipher the following:

  1. The kriti opens on the dhirgha dhaivata note. Though gandhara is given as graha, it is the dhaivata and madhyama of the dirgha varieties that are mostly utilized by Dikshitar as take-off notes.
  2. D\MP, PMGRS, MGM/D, SRMDP, MDMPGRS, RMGMDS, RMGR, DMPGRS & PDS are seen copiously used. In the cittasvara section we also see DPMGRS as well along with MGM as well.
  3. D\MP is the most recurring leitmotif even though MGM is stated to be so by Subbarama Dikshitar
  4. The cittasvara section sports the graha svara passage. We will look at this in detail in the discography section.
  5. Though a lineal progression of SRMPDS/SDPMGRS is given, given the murccanas as above an unambiguous purvanga/uttaranga arohana and avarohana cannot be defined. Vakra sancaras abound.
  6. Though the commentary by Subbarama Dikshitar says that in some places gandhara is not found there in some places in the arohana, except SRMGM, gandhara phrases in ascent is not at all seen. Perhaps what is sought to be conveyed is that both SRM as well as SRMGM is part of purvanga of Kannada Bangala. A strict interpretation of the lakshana sloka would imply a sparing usage of SRGM put the exemplar clearly shows that SRGM should be eschewed.

The raga lakshana of Kannada Bangala is also found documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani (SC), which is for all practical purposes the compendia of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions. And curiously we find that the arohana/avarohana of the raga documented therein is:

S R1 M1 G3 M1 D1 P D1 S

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

It encompasses the two salient murcchanas highlighted by Subbarama Dikshitar and found in Renukadevi, which is MGM and MDP, though not DMP. Sangaraha Cudamani talks of sadja as the graha, which is the case for all the ragas that it documents. We find that given the lakshana of the raga per the notation of Renukadevi , the arohana/avarohana krama provided by Sangraha Cudamani is a better fit.

  1. The peculiar phrases found in rEnukAdEvi which can be taken to be unique to Kannada Bangala as distinct from Malahari are not found so as lakshana for the raga in any prior treatises including that of Sahaji and Tulaja. Even the older tanams which are pointed out by Subbarama Dikshitar, make MGM the letitmotif which is not used that much by Dikshitar. In fact on his own authority perhaps Muthusvami Dikshitar seems to have provided a fresh and unique svarupa to Kannada Bangala with vakra phrases like DMP or MDP or PGRS apart from MGM.
  2. It is a little curious conceptually to note that despite gandhara is a graha svara, it is not a graha for the raga in its modern sense. A melodic phrase in Kannada Bangala is not seen to begin with gandhara. It always appears as MGM or MGR and functions more like an amsa svara which cannot be a graha or a nyasa by any stretch of imagination. But the presence of the gandhara is required to add beauty and melodic individuality much like the gandhara of Sahana, where the note occupies a similar role, making itself an exception to the standard rule propounded by Sarangadeva in the Sangitaratnakara as to a svara being one automatically becomes the other in the case of graha, amsa, nyasa.
  3. Given the fact that Muthusvami Dikshitar begins the kriti rEnukadEvi on dhaivatha of the dirgha type and also the graha svara section, it appears that dhaivatha is the real graha svara ( in modern parlance) or the note on which phrases can be unambiguously commenced for Kannada Bangala.


As pointed out in the introduction, Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘rEnukA dEvi samrakshitOham’ is the solitary composition in this raga. And there are two key popular editions of this song, by Sangita Kalanidhis D K Jayaraman and T M Thyagarajan. In comparison to the notation of the kriti found in the SSP, two key aspects with the edition of this composition by both these stalwarts are:

  1. The tala of the composition has been changed from misra jhampa to khanda capu. According to the SSP, the tala of the composition is very clearly Jhampa tala, while many modern music compilations of Muthusvami Dikshitar give the tala as khanda capu, for example Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao’s edition of Dikshitar Compositions. See foot note 2.
  2. The melodic body also stood normalized in most parts with the result that some of the key phrases such D\MP got deprecated. The consequence of this ‘melodic cleansing’ was that Kannada Bangala of this composition resembled Malahari.

Firstly we present the extant popular version of the composition ‘rEnukA dEvi’. In fact renderings of almost all artistes except that of Vidvan T M Krishna, is traceable to this version. Here is the video recording of the rendering by Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman which is the popular version to which this composition has become unfortunately synonymous with.

Youtube – Rendering of Sri D K Jayaraman

We move on the next version, interpreted from the notation found in the SSP. Vidvan T M Krishna presents the composition as he interprets from the SSP. In the recording below he first presents his commentary to the raga describing his view of how the raga can be practically delineated in contradistinction to Malahari. He also dwells on the feature of graha svara as found in the cittasvara section of the composition. It is worth mentioning here that the first detailed theoretical account of the graha svaras in the compositions of Muttusvami Dikshitar was done by Dr N Ramanathan – see reference 4 given below. Lets take a look now as to what this feature means, before we listen to Vidvan T M Krishna who provides an overview of the raga, the composition and the graha svara feature.

Graha Svara

What does it mean? In modern times, the term graha refers to the starting note or base note/tonic. Today all ragas have sadja as the base tonic. And in such a scenario, graha has now come to imply the note of the raga with which the melodic phrases of that raga typically start. While sadja as a note serves as the default graha, some of the so called jiva svaras of the raga also become its graha svara. A melodic phrase of a raga is supposed to start on a graha svara and end with its nyasa svara and almost as a rule consists of its jiva and amsa svaras in between. Or in other words the life giving as well as key notes with which the raga comes to life forms a murccana or phrase of a raga. While this is the modern context, we do see in all older musicological texts barring the Sangraha Cudamani (where sadja is given as the graha svara of every raga described) certain ragas have notes other than sadja defined as the graha svara. For example on the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP, the SSP lists a number of ragas which have notes other than sadja as the graha svara. The SSP documents a total of 192 ragas out of which 23 feature a non sadja note as a graha svara.

Out of these 23 ragas, Muthusvami Dikshitar has composed the so called graha svara passage for the following ragas/kritis.

  1. Geyahejjuji – rAmacandra BhaktaM
  2. Revagupti – sadAvinata sAdarE
  3. Kannadabangala – rEnukA dEvi
  4. Gurjari – GunijanAdinuta

The perusal of these kritis would show that the cittasvara passage has a svara line which is the first line followed by sahitya made up of svaras syllables itself, as the second line. According to Subbarama Dikshitar the authority for this feature is one Govindamatya author of the text Ragatalacintamani. Readers may refer to Prof Ramanathan’s article for a detailed analysis including the history thereof. For this blog post I am confining myself to the point as to how a graham passage if given for a kriti has to be sung.

  1. The graha note for a raga has to be sung in the position of sadja. Subsequent svaras have to be shifted accordingly as per the scale of the raga. Thus if gandhara is a graha svara, then it takes the position of Sa. In the case of Kannada Bangala barring Ni all other svaras occur. So if Ga takes Sa or the so called tonic, then the syllables to the intoned for the others are as under. Attention is invited to the fact in the list of svara syllable to intoned, ni comes though from a svara is not found in the raga.

Svara as per raga scale:  S             R             G             M            P             D

Syllable to be intoned:    G            M            P             D             N             S

  1. Thus in the cittasvara section, the svaras found like sahitya in the second line has to be sung to the tune of the svaras in the first line. So if the cittasvara is DMPmddmgg then the so called sahitya/syllables to be sung would be SDNdssdnpp, for example. Obviously this is for vocal music while in the case of instrumental music this makes no difference, as there is no vocalization of the text involved.

Now let us now listen to Vidvan T M Krishna . In his nearly 18 mins long exposition, he discusses the features/leitmotifs of the ragas and also about the graha svara feature.

There are neither any extant compositions nor unique renderings for presentation and so we move on to the melodic twin, Malahari.


Again much like Kannada Bangala, Malahari has a long history and has fairly remained the same over centuries. Here is the gist of its history:

  1. In Svaramelakalanidhi, Ramamatya (AD 1550) says that the raga is audava, devoid of ga and ni, has dhaivatha as its graha and is sung early in the morning the wise.
  2. Both Govinda Dikshitar and Venkatamkhin record Malahari in their works echo Ramamatya but say that gandhara is sometimes found in the descent and so with nishadha being absent it is shadhava.
  3. Sahaji in 1710 records that it is shadhava with gandhara dropped in the ascent. Tulaja follws suit in the year 1736.

Thus we see while initially Malahari lacked both nishadha and gandhara totally, by A D 1600 it seems to have added gandhara to the descent, perhaps sparingly but by 1700 it became to be a permanent svara in the descent. See foot note 3.

During circa 1750, what Malahari was, is documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP is on the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP, the sloka for which goes as under:

Bhavenmalahari rAgO nIcyutO dhaivataHgraHaH |

shadhvO gIyatE prathararohE tu gA varjitaH ||

According to Subbarama Dikshitar, the raga is upanga, shadhava, nishadha varjya, has dhaivatha as graha, while gandhara is varjya in the arohana and is suitable for singing in the mornings.

We are left to understand Malahari from the body of Dikshitar’s composition, which can be summarized as under: (See foot note 4)

  1. The kriti uses MDP and PDM copiously and SRGMR and SDPM as well.
  2. Though for this raga dhaivatha is graha svara, Dikshitar has not composed the cittasvara with the graha svara passage for this composition.
  3. The composition has both anupallavi and caranam to boot.
  4. The composition is usually assigned to the Shodasha kritis on Ganapathy. Dikshitar provides a number of iconographic details of the Ganapathy in this kriti which makes it the ‘hEramba ganapathI’ form. See foot note 5.


The similarity between Malahari with Kannada Bangala cannot be missed at all. The only feature on which they probably differ from a definition point of view is that for Kannada Bangala gandhara was graha whereas for Malahari it was dhaivatha. From a modern day perspective, sadja is the defacto graha for all ragas. The feature of gandhara/dhaivatha being the graha svaras and the construction of the graha svara passage for the citta svara in Kannada Bangala are relics of an older practice that has since long been deprecated and has no practical relevance today. On a related note, from the CDP (AD 1736) perspective, Kannada Bangala is recorded as a bashanga raga while Malahari is not. We know that the concept of bashanga as prevalent during those times is not applicable today and hence can be ignored. Yet that was a point of difference between the ragas, then.

From a historical evolutionary perspective, we can now reconstruct the probable course of events based on what we have seen till now.

  • Circa 1550, Malahari lacked gandhara totally as evidenced by Ramamatya. It must have looked like SR1M1PD1S/SD1PM1R1S. This is also the scale of Suddha Saveri as documented by Govinda Dikshitar and later by Sahaji and Tulaja. It is likely that problem was brewing on this front, because of the shared melodic affinity between the ragas Malahari and Suddha Saveri. However at this point in time Kannada Bangala sported gandhara in its scale and so it stood distinguished beyond reasonable doubt from Malahari.
  • Circa 1580 or thereabouts trouble started with Malahari sometimes taking gandhara in its avarohana passages to perhaps distinguish itself from Suddha Saveri. Now this started to encroach on Kannada Bangala’s space.
  • Circa 1700- Malahari continued to cohabit with Kannada Bangala occupying the same melodic space and this continued on till 1738 as well and well up to 1750 AD, as is obvious from the works of Sahaji, Tulaja and Muddu Venkatamakhin. Perhaps the difference in the graha svaras between the ragas afforded some form of space to both of them. But by AD 1750 the graha concept must have totally died out with sadja taking over as the defacto graha svara for all ragas.
  • Circa 1775- It is likely that due to demise of the graha svara concept and the lack of melodic differentiation between Malahari and Kannada Bangala, given the preponderance of popularity, Malahari won the right of survivorship and Kannada Bangala probably became archaic/extinct, with its melodic body and identity completely usurped by Malahari and its only proof of existence being the references in the texts. We do see that Ramasvami Dikshitar has used Malahari in his ragamalikas (for example the ragamalika Sivamohana sakti in adi tala where the Malahari raga section is vimalaharina nayana yanatagu vara vasantAdiyOtsava sEva”. 
  • Circa 1800- Which is when Muthusvami Dikshitar likely decided to give a fresh breathe of life for Kannada Bangala but was hampered by the same musical material it shared with the popular Malahari. This is how the differences looked like for him at that point in time:


Kannada Bangala


Mela Malavagaula Malavagaula
Svara varjya/vakra Ni is absent ; in Arohana gandhara is langhana & figures only in vakra prayogas; Avarohana is sampurna Ni is absent
Graha svara Ga Dha
Other Bashanga raga as per CDP Not applicable
Time of rendering Morning Morning
Motifs as utilized by Dikshitar to distinguish the ragas D\MP.G.. & MGMPGRS SRMGR; M/DP; PDMPMGRS

As we can see all along while the two ragas shared the same musical material, Muthusvami Dikshitar thought it fit to impart uniqueness to the two ragas without impacting their individual melodic worth. Thus he made D\MP along with MGM as the motif for Kannada Bangala. Thus at a murccana level SRM.GRSRGRS is Malahari, SRMGMDP is a Kannada Bangala phrase. If the phrase is an avarohana mode, in Kannada Bangala PGRS can be used, while PMGRS is to be used in Malahari. Janta dhaivatha is perhaps a property of Malahari while the dhirgha variety belongs to Kannada Bangala. In the context of Malahari the intonation of the phrase GRS is probably little unique. Prof S R Janakiraman in his lecture demonstration of the raga Saranganatta in the Music Academy says that the ragas Gauri, pAdi, Malahari et al share a unique GRS usage and he likens it to ‘grease’, a play on the murccana GRS !

  • Today Kannada Bangala is all but extinct, it still lives through the SSP and the Dikshitar kriti notated therein namely ‘rEnukA dEvi samraksitOham’.


Amongst the Trinitarians we only have DIkshitar who has composed in Malahari. The introductory gitas of Purandaradasa are the other well know compositions available in this raga. Presented first is the rendering of Pancamatanga by Dikshitarini Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan.

The composition seems to have been a favourite of the Kancipuram Naina Pillai school, so much so very many from that lineage have rendered this. Presented is a rendering by Vidvan Tadepalligudem Lokanatha Sarma.

See foot note 6.


The two key post 1700 A D musicological works namely Ragalakshanamu of Sahaji (circa 1710) and Saramrutha of Tulaja (circa 1735) records two sets of ragas under Mela 15 and Mela 28 with the same set of svaras of albite different varieties. They are Sama and Natanarayani under Mela 28 and Malahari and Kannada Bangala under mela 15, whose arohana and avarohana murccana are given under:




Malahari/Kannada Bangala S R1 M1 P D1 S S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S
Sama / Natanarayani S R2 M1 P D2 S S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

The rishabha and dhaivatha alone are of different varieties. Curiously all these four nishada varja ragas are documented with the same scalar structure by Sahaji and Tulaja and they have been carried forward to the Anubandha to the CDP faithfully documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. The following facts stand out as observations for us:

  1. The scales are musical isomers as pointed out in the previous blog post about Natanarayani, with the same scalar structures under the said melas but with a different and distinct melodic identity.
  2. They have survived together as individual melodic entities with their own uniqueness and have been recorded so as existing in the musical world by Tulaja and Sahaji. They never subsumed one another and existed independently till 1750, with Dikshitar composing a kriti in each of these four ragas. In other words the 18th century raga architecture supported and ensured their independent existence. We do not have a name for this model, but we can see that model in flesh and blood as documented in the works of Sahaji and Tulaja.
  3. However in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century the ragas all got consolidated, with Kannada Bangala being subsumed by Malahari and Natanarayani yielding place to Sama and going extinct in the process.
  4. The ragas have been documented even in the Sangraha Cudamani ( the text which reigns supreme in modern musicology) and the corresponding comparison of the scales of these ragas are tabulated hereunder.
Sangraha Cudamani


S R1 M1 P D1 SS D1 P M1 G3 R1 S S R1 M1 P D1 SS D1 S D1 P M1 G R1 S

Kannada Bangala

S R1 M1 P D1 S 

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

S R1 M1 G3 M1 D1 P D1 S

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S


S R2 M1 P D1 S 

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

S R2 M1 M1 P D2 S

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S R1 S


S R2 M1 P D1 S

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

S R2 G3 M1 D2 N2 D2 S

S N2 D2 P M1 G3 M1 R2 S

Pratapavarali Not documented in theAnubandha to the CDP

S R2 M1 P S

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S


One is not sure as to the factors which led to the extinction of these two ragas- Kannada Bangala and Natanarayani. Despite the fact that the ragas got documented under the Sangraha Cudamani which emerged as the defacto musical standard for the 20th century, did not help their survival in anyway. It is worth noting that we do not have compositions handed down to us for Malahari and Kannada Bangala as composed by Tyagaraja. Malahari survives through the kriti of Dikshitar and that the couple of abhyasa gana pieces of Purandaradasa. Except Sama and to an extent Malahari, Natanarayani, Pratapavarali and Kannada Bangala are eka kriti ragas. The lack of rakthi’ness on the part of these ragas barring Sama could perhaps be an obvious reason for their going practically extinct as today these ragas are rendered or known only through the exemplar kritis only.

Kannada Bangala suffered an even worser fate when the melodic as well as the rhythmic structure of ‘rEnukA dEvi’ was changed or standardized for probable ease of performance as evidenced by the renderings of the composition in the 20th century. It is however possible, as demonstrated by the exemplar renderings that a very short meaningful alapana and svara kalpana rendering along with a high fidelity rendering of the exemplar compositions namely ‘Pancamatanga’, ‘Renukadevi’, ‘Mahaganapate palayasumam’ and ‘vinanAsakoni’ sans frills is certainly possible. And that is the only possible way to keep the ragas and the exemplars alive and well in our music.


As we examine musical history and the contributions of the Trinity it becomes very obvious that they played a great role in harnessing the past as well as present. Muthusvami Dikshitar particularly gave emphasis to reviving some of the extinct melodies and his solitaire ‘rEnukA dEvi’ stands testimony to his great service to musical history by archiving the raga lakshana through his composition. Needless to add his kritis and their musical construction provides us a window to the world of 18th Century raga architecture.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai
  4. Dr N Ramanathan (1998) – ‘Graha Svara passages in Dikshitar Kritis’ – Proceedings of the 71st Music Conference – Pages 15-58 – JMA LXIX

Thanks are due to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for providing me with a copy of his rendering of ‘rEnukAdevi samrakshitOham’ and for permitting me to use the same for this blog post. This is from his recent concert for Guruguhamrutha, held on 13th Nov 2016 @ Raga Sudha Hall, Chennai. Accompanist in this recording are Vidvans Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sri Manoj Siva on the mrudangam and Sri B S Purushotham on the kanjira.


Renukadevi appears as a character, finding mention in the epic Mahabharatha. She was the wife of Sage Jamadagni and she sired 5 sons for him, one of whom was Parasurama (also known as Bharghava Rama). Suspecting her infidelity as she harboured thoughts about a Gandharva she had seen, the Sage Jamadagni went into a rage and he ordered his sons to kill her. As they refused he burnt them down to ashes leaving out Parasurama who was away. When he returned he was ordered by his father to find his mother and kill her, which he promptly did. Legend has it that it pleased the Sage who then asked Parasurama what he wanted in return . Parasurama is supposed to have asked for his mother and his brothers to be revived. In that process the sage also seems to have realized his mistake in suspecting his wife and thus Renukadevi gets elevated to a iconic village goddess who stood for virtuousness and chastity. She is revered in the rural hinterlands of Southern India along with Yellama, Mariyamman and other village dieties. The story also has a number of local variants for very many Amman temples especially in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. There are quite a few temples dedicated to Renukadevi. One such temple is located in Vijayapuram at the outskirts of Tiruvarur, Tamilnadu and the kriti ‘rEnukA dEvI samrakshitOham’ in Kannada Bangala is an ode to the presiding deity of this temple. The video clipping of the consecration of this temple can be seen here.


The construction of the kriti ‘rEnukA devi samrakshitOham’ in jhampa tala and the fact that it is rendered in practice in a faster tempo with khanda capu tala offers an opportunity for us to discuss an interesting aspect with reference to what is called as mAtu laya or the rhythmic flow of the composition. Prof N Ramanathan in the Journal of the Music Academy 1998- Vol LXIX pages 59-98 and Prof S R Janakiraman in his essay on this aspect in his book ‘Essentials of Musicology’ (2008) pages 239-261, deal with this and I am relying on these two texts for this section.

Matu laya refers to the arrangement of the syllables of the text/sahitya over the tala aksharas and consequently the flow of the sahitya over the tala cycle. The theory behind this can be stated thus.

Sahitya aksharas can be hrasvA/short or dhIrgha/long. In an ideal composition the durations of the hrasva syllables of the text and the dhirga syllables should be proportionate. For example if the hrasva syllable is one unit, the dhirgha syllable should be two units. Sahitya is so composed and set for a tala in such a way that the sahitya – hrsva and dhirgha syllables are distributed such that the number of syllables in one unit of tala is never exceeded. This concept can be illustrated with the sahitya of renukAdevi which is set in jhampa tala as seen notated in the SSP.


2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


rE , nu kA , dE , vi sam ,
ra , ksi tO , ha ma ni sam ,
vE , nu vA , dhyA , dhi yu ta
vi ja ya na ga ra , sti tE ,

The following points are worth observing:

  1. Here the hrasva syllables are allocated 1 unit/mAtrA and dhIrgha one are twice i.e, two units/matras of tala.
  2. The entire sahitya is thus distributed in this proportion over the 10 matras of one tala cycle of jhampa tala. There is no spill over of syllables or so within the tala cycle. In the pallavi for example the syllables rE, kA, dE and sam are dhirgha taking 2 units each, totalling 8 matras and the remaining two hrasva syllables nu and vi taken one each, totalling 2 matras. Thus a total of 10 matras which constitutes a tala cycle of misra jhampa is taken by the 4 dhirgha syllables (4X2) and the 2 hrsva syllables (2X1), correctly without any surplus or deficit.
  3. The above is the case for the so called sama kala or the base layam of the composition. Now if the kriti has a section which is called madhyamakala sahityam as is usual in Dikshitar kritis then it has to exactly double this ratio.


2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


Ko, Na, traya Va, sini guru guha Vi, svA sini
Kan, nada Ban, gA, La, gA, ndhar Va, bhan jani

In the instant case let us consider the first line commencing ‘kOnatraya vAsini’. We see that the 20 equivalent aksharas of sahitya (5 dhirgha syllables and 10 hrasva syllables) the same is fitted into the 10 tala matras and thus qualifies as a true madhyama kala sahitya. Thus in the madhyama kala section, we see that every beat has one dheergha or two hrasva syllables, whereas the sama kAla pallavi has one hrasva or half a dheerga syllable for every beat.

  1. In sum Dikshitar in a text book fashion, exactly fits in the svaras as well as the matching syllables within the 10 matra cycle of jhampa tala. This mode of rhythmic construction of a composition fitting sahitya into a tala, with one akshara/beat per hrsva syllable (in the so called sama kAla or first/prathama kAla) is called Ati citra tama mArga. Marga is the second of the tAla dasha prAnAs or the 10 constituent elements of tala. Ati citra tama marga is the usual for gitas. And that is the way Subbarama Dikshitar notates most of the Dikshitar compositions in the SSP. But this doesn’t itself mean that the tempo/laya of the song is slow. Even in ati citra tama marga the composition can be dhruta/fast, madhya/medium or vilamba/slow. Laya is yet another different aspect of tala and of kriti rendering. Suffice to say that we have a whole body of evidence to state that Dikshitar kritis are usually rendered in cauka or vilamba laya or tempo.
  2. This kriti ‘rEnukA dEvi’ has currently been retro-fitted to khanda capu tala which has resulted in two cognizable effects on the composition:
    1. The kriti per se because of these shorter beats has gotten accelerated.
    2. Newer stress points have been created in the sahitya coinciding with the beats with the result that the composition gains a different rhythmic feel quite different from the original texture. The hrasva and dhirgha syllables as also the svaras/notes are artificially contained within the capu beats in the process.

It is likely that a 10 tala matra cycle was considered too long and hence the composition got abridged into a shorter tala cycle. Quite a few other compositions of Dikshitar composed in misra eka tala or tisra triputa has morphed into misra capu tala for instance. In a few cases the natural distribution of the hrsva and dhirgha syllables in the composition may naturally coincide with the capu tala stress points and thus making it amenable for being sung in misra capu. But in the case of Renuka Devi no such melodic or sahitya specific case exists to warrant rendering it in a truncated manner in khanda capu tala. We do have a couple of other kritis from the SSP namely “Abhyambam anyam na janeham” in Kedaragaula and “Mangalambayai Namaste” in Malavasri whose tala has been reset.


In the lakshana sloka definitions of both Kannada Bangala and Malahari, we notice that the word ‘cyuta’ is used. For Kannada Bangala the sloka says ‘gA cyutO’ while for Malahari the sloka says that ‘nI cyutO’. The usage in the slokas implies that the word cyutaH is synonymous with ‘varjya’. In a sense the usage of the word ‘cyuta’ with such a meaning is disconcerting since today it is used in a formal musicological context to yield the meaning of ‘fallen’, for example cyuta pancama- which means a pancama whose frequency/tonal value is lesser than what it is supposed be or which has fallen from its regular value. An example which could be cited here is that of raga lakshana sloka for Vasanta:

vasanta rAga sampUrna cyutapancamaH samyutAH

Similar is the case with the Mangalakaisiki lakshana sloka where the sloka says ‘cyutapancamasamyuktA’. The contextual usage of the word as in this case deserves our attention.

In the case of Ragalakshanamu of Sahaji and Saramruta of Tulaja, the term varjya and langhana are used synonymously to imply the absence of a note either in the arohana or avarohana or both. Whereas in the Anubandha to the CDP, the raga lakshana slokas use to terms varjya and cyuta while the term langhana is not at all used.

Another aspect is the usage of the term jAti to refer to what we know as a leitmotif. The word jAti has been used in the SSP with this contextual meaning by Subbarama Dikshitar for example in the following instances:

  • Under mela 1 Kanakambari, a couple of prayogas including m\Grs is called as Asaveri jAtI
  • And Mangalakaisiki under mela 15 where he refers to the prayoga ddrr as a jAtI

In the instant case for Kannada Bangala, Subbarama Dikshitar does not label the MGM as a jati for example.


In the context of the notation of the composition ‘pancamAtanga mukha’ as found in the SSP, the analysis of the sahitya of the madhyamakala section of the composition is warranted. The SSP Telugu original goes with the sahitya as :

karunAnga gauratarEna kalimalaharana tarEna

According to Prof N Ramanathan, given the need to maintain proper meaning and to have sahitya syllables match to the beat/tala aksharas the composition’s sahitya needs to be edited as under:

karunArdra gauratarEna kalimalaharana caturEna

According to him the above sahitya is seen both in the Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai of Natarajasundaram Pillai (Sathanur Pancanda Iyer patham) and also the notation of Sri Mahadeva Bagavathar who learnt form Ambi Dikshitar, the son of Subbarama Dikshitar. Based on consensus of views and triangulation of the facts as available, Prof Ramanathan advances the view that the lyric “karunArdra gauratrEna kalimalaharana caturEna’ seems more appropriate and correct and the SSP text could be a possible printing error. One can refer to Prof N Ramanathan’s article, ‘Problems in the editing of the kirtanas of Muddusvami Dikshita’ in the Journal of the Music Academy 1998- Vol LXIX pages 59-98. Thus if one were to revisit the entire line holistically looking at both the lyrics/meaning and also the mathu laya we can determine that the second line as seen in Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakasikai would be the most appropriate.


One can see from the following sloka on hErambha ganapatI from the Mudgala Purana, that Dikshitar visualizes the same iconography in his kriti, ‘pancamAtanga mukha’.

abhaya varada hastah pAsha dantAkshamAlA

srni parashu dhAdhanO mudgaram mOdakam ca

phalamAdhi gatasimhah pancamAtanga vaktrah

ganapati rati gaurah pAtu hErambanAmAH

The Heramba Ganapathy’s key iconographic features mentioned both in the sloka and the kriti includes:

  • the abhaya varada hastha- the hand gesture for both protection and as a giver of boons
  • pAsa – noose
  • dantA – broken tusk
  • akshamAlA – rosary of beads
  • parashU- battle axe
  • mudgara – mallet or a hammer like weapon
  • sRNI – elephant goad
  • modaka – sweet

The mention of ‘kapAla’ as a part of iconography by Muthusvami Dikshitar for Heramba Ganapathi needs a little more investigation, as it is not mentioned as a part of the Mudgala purana sloka or is it found in the portrayal of the the Ganapathy icon in paintings such as those found in the Kannada work ‘Srittatvanidhi’. There are a couple of points for consideration in this context:

  1. The Heramba form (apart from the Uchhista ganapathy form) is associated with the Tantric worship of Ganesha and in certain iconic implementations thereof perhaps kapala or skull is part of the iconography.
  2.  Pritvish Neogy in his work ‘An Ivory Ganesa’ talks of a Heramba form with 5 faces and ten arms, where in one of the heads there is a kapala or a skull chalice, which is perhaps part of the iconography referred to by Dikshitar.

We have post trinity compositions in Malahari including the following. Sri Mahaganapte – a kriti by Muthiah Bagavathar, Vara siddhi Vinayaka – tana varnam by Pinakapani. Sangita Kalanidhi T N Seshagopalan has rendered frequently the Muthiah Bagavathar kriti as well as an RTP which are available in the public domain.

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Sahana – The bejewelled tiara of our music


The raga Sahana is one of our crown jewels, a rakti raga par excellence. Almost every composer in our genre of music must have composed one in this raga. Surprisingly this raga is not a melody of great antiquity either in terms of it name or melodic contours. In fact when it was born or at the time it was conceptualized in our music, it was not what it is today. It had a different form and over a period of time much like how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, Sahana underwent a metamorphosis to be what she is today.

Being a very popular and ubiquitous raga, the idea of this blog post is not to look at the basics of this raga, but to evaluate its musical history and find how it likely evolved to what it is today.

Read on!


Sahaji’s Ragalakshanam dateable to circa 1700 or his descendant Tulaja I’s Saramruta collated circa 1736 do not speak about Sahana or any equivalent raga sharing its same melodic structure. In Northern music the raga name is associated with the Kanada family of ragas – Shahana Kanada, Nayaki Kanada et al and thus one is tempted to consider the possibility of the raga being imported into our Southern Music system by the travelling music itinerants. We can look at the possibility of the northern variant’s similarity to our Sahana but that would form no evidence for that having influenced the formation and features of the Southern Sahana unless we have a reliable evidence. From a musicological perspective only the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika dateable to circa 1750 and the probably subsequent Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda are the earliest musical compendia listing Sahana as a raga. Thus the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini ( SSP) of Subbarama Dikshitar (1905) becomes the first treatise to provide us with a ring side view of what Sahana was as it is completely based on the Anubandha text. The exemplars in the SSP and the commentary of Subbarama Dikshitar are solid evidence for us in determining the origins and svarupa of Sahana. See foot note 1.

We do have a few collateral evidences dating back to the 18th century which provides an outside-of-SSP view as to what Sahana was or is today. Let us have a look at the material available to us.


On the authority of the Anubandha which Subbarama DIkshitar relies on to provide the raga schemata, Sahana is placed under by him under Sriraga, which is the raganga/mela #22. Thedescription given in SSP can be summarised as under:

  1. It is under mela 22 and so apart from sadja and pancama it sports R2, G2, M1, D2 and N2 in its arohana/avarohana.
  2. Sahana is grouped as a bhashanga janya of Sriraga. But if one were to look at the raganga lakshya gita for Sriraga in the SSP, which is ‘Sridhara rE Inkita’ in matya tala, under the enumerated bhashanga ragas therein, Sahana is not be found at all. This lakshya gita though attributed to Venkatamakhin( circa 1636)  himself by Subbarama Dikshitar, in all probability is a later day creation attributable to Muddu Venkatamkhin the presumed author of the Anubandha. Sahana is not of the 17th century vintage at all and never does Venkatamakhin talk about Sahana in his Caturdandi Prakashika. That said, we will leave this point as is, with the observation that this data point will be a key for us to determine Sahana’s evolution.
  3. As described in the lakshana sloka, in the arohana pancama is vakra appearing as MPMD.
  4. Muddu Venkatamakhin, the probable author of the anubandha makes as telling statement in the lakshana shloka as – ‘gIyatE lakshyavEdibhihi’ – meaning much beyond the lakshana, lakshya or practice is the key determinant or sound practical knowledge is required to understand/render the raga.
  5. With the practical implementation in mind, Subbarama Dikshitar provides the murrcchana arohana/avarohana karma as is his wont, duly highlighting the graha/jiva svaras of Sahana.

Arohana : S R G M P M D N S

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

  1. Attention is invited to emphasis given as janta for Nishadha and gandhara and the elongated rishabha note ( in bold italics) in Subbarama Dikshitar’s notes.
  2. In his fairly elaborate commentary Subbarama Dikshitar states that the raga is known as sAnA, sahana and shahana as well and is a desi raga.
  3. From a veena perspective, Subbarama Dikshitar provides instructions as to how the the dirgha nishadha, dirgha and janta gandhara has to be played.
  4. In so far as the gandhara goes, both in arohana and avarohana while the default type is G2 or sadharana gandhara, the G3 or antara gandhara also shows up in few places.
  5. GMRS is a musical motif and the gandhara alos comes with its unique kampita gamaka. Other prayogas include RGMP and PMDNS.
  6. He makes another telling comment that for the nishadha and gandharas, the notes must always be ornamented with the orikkai gamaka. We will elaborate on this as well in the next section.
  7. He concludes that given that the edict for this raga is ‘gIyatE lakshyavEdibhih’, the gandhara and nishadha svaras must be sung/intoned as how it is being done in practice or sampradaya.
  8. Normally for old ragas, as a standard practice one can see that Subbarama Dikshitar provides gitam and tanam as exemplars for the raga, in the SSP. For Sahana we see that apart from this lakshana shloka( from the Anubandha) , Subbarama Dikshitar provides 2 kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar, a kriti of Ramasvami Dikshitar, a varna of his and his own sancari as exemplars.


Subbarama Dikshitar is the first recorded musicologist to provide a commentary on this raga and hence his views are core and invaluable for us. To understand the raga and its history/evolution we need to:

  1. Distil our observations from Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary
  2. Evaluate the notation of the provided compositions in the SSP to understand the raga’s implementation
  3. Triangulate the inferences/data points with the external sources including other sources and also commentaries of modern day musicological experts.
  4. Hear out the compositions as rendered in practice.
  5. Determine the consensus theory and observed practice
  6. Attempt to reconcile theory and practice and finalize our understanding as to the evolution of the raga and its present or true melodic svarupa or contour


A perusal of modern musicological works and also by hearing present day version of Sahana at the outset would show that the gandhara of Sahana is definitely G3 or the sharper variety is what is profusely used and that the books provide Sahana as a janya of Harikambhoji mela. Now we do see that Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary departs from the above. Parking that aside let us consolidate the inferences first.

  1. The raga is a desi raga meaning it made its way to theory, from practice. It was evolved in the public domain, enjoyed the airtime with listeners and musicians and then it became important enough to be inducted into the portals of our music as a formal raga , distinct in its svarupa, appeal and capable of being moulded into compositions.
  2. Based on its svara collection as it was practiced Sahana was tagged to Sriraga mela. And the collateral inference is that the dominant svara for Sahana is G2 or sadharana gandhara as that is the gandhara for the mela 22. And he does say that G3 occurs sparingly or not that profusely.
  3. Sahana is not to be found in the Sriraga lakshya gitam nor does it have gitams and tanams of the purvacaryas or Muddu Venkatamakhin. Also from the language Subbarama Dikshitar employs it is evident that he is looking to practice- current and past as the authority for the lakshana rather than extant older compositions- gitas and tanas which were anyways unavailable. This gives us a clue that the raga is most probably of post 1750-1770 vintage only. Had it been prior to 1750 or so, Sahana would have been formally mentioned in the Sriraga lakshya gita and also one could have seen a gita or tana of Muddu Venkatamakhin.
  4. Gandhara and nishadha are jiva svaras and are to be rendered with sampradaya in mind. Practical delineation trumps theory in so far as the gandhara of Sahana goes.
  5. The key to presenting/intoning the Sahana gandhara is that the
    1. Dominant variety of gandhara to be used is G2 and G3 is marginal in use.
    2. Orikkai gamaka type has to be used
  6. The GMRS though not expressly made part of the murccana avarohana, Subbarama DIkshitar in his commentary says that the GGRS  which is encountered  is ĜĜmRS
  7. One can infer that Subbarama Dikshitar has presumably only gone on to document the raga Sahana as practiced by the Dikshitar family. Apart from the Dikshitar family compositions he does not deign to provide any more as exemplars. In contradistinction to Devagandhari of mela 29, Subbarama Dikshitar does not volunteer to give kritis outside of the DIkshitar fold. Its highly likely that he must have considered other compositions but they did not conform to the Sriraga mela implementation of the Dikshitar/Venkatamakhin sampradaya or to be precise the implementation of the Dikshitar family.
  8. One other point to note is that apart from the lakshya gitams of the Venkatamakhin lineage- specifically that of Venkatamakhin, Muddu Venkatamakhin, presumably the ones of Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitar and that of Ramasvami Dikshitar, Subbarama Dikshitar does not provide those of others in the SSP. While in the Pratamabyasa Pustakamu he does provide the gitams composed by others for example Paidala Gurumurti Sastrigal. This is generic point with reference to the SSP which we will quote subsequently.


Let us move on to the evaluation of the exemplar compositions presented in the SSP. As pointed out earlier only those from the Dikshitar family are presented. They are:

      1. Vasi vasi – Adi tala – Ramasvami Dikshitar
      2. Sri Kamalambikayam – Triputa tala – Muthusvami Dikshitar
      3. IsAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE – tisra eka – Muthusvami Dikshitar
      4. vArijAkshi – Ata tala – tAna varna – Subbarama Dikshitar
      5. sancari – matya tala – Subbarama Dikshitar

The notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar for all these indicates that they are aligned in full to his stated lakshana and commentary. They can be summarized as under:

  1. Sadharana gandhara dominates and antara gandhara as seen notated is minimal including the varnam. Barring this factor, the lakshana of the raga as we hear today and what we see in these compositions is virtually the same.
  2. Tellingly Muthusvami Dikshitar for his two kritis starts with rishabha as the graha svara/take off note. Ramasvami Dikshitar kriti as well as the varnam use sadja and pancama as the take-off notes.
  3. Subbarama Dikshitar’s varna has some unique prayogas such as those centred on the madhyama which one does not see in modern Sahana. In fact his varna is in the older form with an anubandha along with 5 carana ettugada svaras. Subbarama Dikshitar’s varnam on Lord Kartikeya is for all practical purposes an exemplar of the form of Sahana found documented in the SSP.


Here they are:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar with the apparent authority of the lakshana sloka of Sahana from the Anubandha , places it under the Sriraga mela # 22 with dominating sadharana gandhara and a sparingly used antara gandhara.
  2. Subbarama Dikshitar emphasizes the importance of intoning uniquely the gandhara and nishadha, based on sampradaya or practice.

The implementation of the Sahana as found in the SSP is unique for the above stated reasons and we will evaluate the point as we progress.


If one were to search outside the realm of the SSP for determining the lakshana of Sahana prior to 1850, we end up with the lakshana gita of Paidala Gurumurti Sastri (PGS), which is found documented in the Sangitananda Ratnakaramu (1917). PGS was a disciple of Sonti Venkatasubbayya, the Dean of the Palace Musicians during the reign of King Tulaja II (1765-1788). Subbarama Dikshitar also says he was a junior contemporary of Ramasvami Dikshitar and was a resident of Madras, perhaps during the second half of his life. He most probably lived beteen 1750-1810 or thereabouts. Gurumurti Sastri was a prolific composer having to his credit a 1000 gitas. So much so that he was held in high esteem as an authority on all matters musical. Subbarama Dikshitar profiles him with awe and greatest of respect. He provides the Natta raga gitam ‘gAna kalA dhurandhara ‘ in his Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu, which we saw in the Gamakakriya post. Now Sahana’s lakshana is laid out threadbare by this illustrious musicologist PGS. Here is the text of the lakshana gita which is set in Sahana itself and in matya tala.

kamsAsurakhandana rE murArE

gopikAjAra navanItacOra yadavAbdhicandra

krupAsAndhra narakAntaka rukminIsatyabhAmAvilasita

vEnunAdapriya rE surasEvya pAhimAm ||

sAnArAgam kAmbhojijanyam

kampitagAndhAram dIrghamadhyamam

dhaivatAvakra nishAdhakampitalasitam vakrasampUrnam

gurumUrtE cidrUpArjuna sArathE bhAshAnga rAgam srunu jaya krupAlO ||

We will see the rendering of this gitam as per notation and the lakshana provided therein, shortly. But in the meanwhile when we look into the lakshana a few points strike us immediately.

  1. The gitam is paean to Lord Krishna and the first part of the composition bears it out.
  2. In the second part of the gita which is dedicated to defining the raga lakshana/grammar, at the outset PGS says that the raga is sAnA, which perhaps was the preferred or default name.
  3. According to PGS, Sahana is an offspring of Kambhoji, born out of it. In modern day parlance it is a derivative/janya of Harikamboji or mela 28, making the default gandhara G3 or antara gandhara.
  4. PGS follows up by saying that the gandhara is kampita. In other words it is a well oscillated gandharam. We need to determine if the oscillation needs to be wide enough to sometimes make it G2. Or is it likely that the gandhara is trishanku in nature, i.e somewhere between G2 and G3?
  5. Next he says the madhyama note is dirgha
  6. PGS now throws the spanner in the works saying dhaivata is vakra
  7. Then he says the nishada is again kampita or well oscillated.
  8. And lastly he says sAnA is vakra sampurnam that is it has all the 7 notes but one of them is vakra, in this case dhaivatha according to PGS.
  9. One shouldn’t be confused with his statement that Sahana is bhashanga. In the 18th century bhashanga meant that a raga was a ‘bhasha’ of a grama raga. It did not imply usage of a note foreign to the parent mela, which definition took root only during the second half of the 19th century.

Given that this is a lakshana gitam, below is a rendering of the gitam by Vidvan K Hariprasad ( see foot note 2 ) to help us understand the same better. See foot note 3.

Now that we have the lakshana as per Gurumurti Sastri and also by Subbarama Dikshitar let us evaluate and compare them as a table:

Attribute Subbarama Dikshitar Paidala Gurumurti Sastri
Mela/Name Mela 22/  Sri Raga Mela 28 / Kambhoji
Gandhara Sadharana G2 Antara G3
Gamaka for gandhara Kampita kampita
Gamaka for nishadha Kampita kampita
Vakra svara for arohana Pancama dhaivatha
Krama Vakra sampurna Vakra sampurna
Madhyama Dirgha dirgha

There are two key points of discordance which needs reconciliation:

  1. The gandhara – should it be an oscillated G2 or an oscillated G3
  2. Vakra svara – Is it pancama or dhaivata?

On the second point if we run through the notation/matu of the PGS gitam to see if the svara dhaivata in vakra, we see prayogas such as RGMP, PMDNS , GMPDNDP, etc all of which are par for the course in modern Sahana. We do not see PNDNS for example which should make dhaivatha vakra. Given that we see PMDNS, it almost makes one suspect that the text is probably corrupt and that instead of pancama vakra, the scribal error made it dhaivata vakra. Other than that we see no reason for stating dhaivata as vakra.

We see that Subbarama Dikshitar and PGS agree almost on all the other points. The dIrgha madhyama is noticed specifically in the Subbarama Dikshitar varna. The other SSP exemplar compositions do not show a dhirgha madhyama at all.

Which makes us come to the first point which is a classic conundrum for any student of music, which can be stated thus:

What is the nature of the gandhara of Sahana that one sees in practice? Is it an oscillated G2 which sometimes shows up as G3 or is it an oscillated G3 which occasionally shows up as G2?

The answer to this question would provide us the parent/raganga for Sahana. If it is G2 then it becomes a janya of Sriraga and if the dominant note is G3 it comes under the Kedaragaula/Harikhamboji family.  See foot note 6.


To clear these questions for us it is time we requisition the expertise of the learned Professor S R Janakiraman. In his essay on the raga Sahana, this what he has to say:

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP normally determines a raga as bashanga if for just a svara its svarastana shifts above or below even slightly. In the case of Sahana he says in the prayoga RiiiGRS ( the first R being dirgha and is so indicated), the gandhara speaks at mrudhu kampita levels. And is likely that since that RiiGRS occurs in profusion in Sahana, the default mela should be Sriraga, perhaps according to Subbarama Dikshitar. While Paidala Gurumurti Sastri rightly on the basis of the dominating svara being G3 in other prayogas, takes Kambhoji or mela 28 as the parent for Sahana. See foot note 4.
  2. The arohana/avarohana of Sahana is as under, with one svara vakra in the arohana ( pancama) and madhyama and gandhara being (nominally) vakra in the avarohana:
    • S R G M P M D N S
    • S N D P M G M R G R S
  3. Dirgha dhaivata of the arohana and dhirgha nishadha, gandhara and rishabha of the avarohana are the defining notes of this raga.
  4. One curious prayoga which is krama sampurna in its aroha which is encountered in compositions in this raga is ‘RGMPDNSR’ belying the grammar according to which pancama is supposed to be vakra.
  5. Further in the context of the raga’s lakshana Prof S R Janakiraman’s states that the notes of the raga defy conventional grammar.
    • According to him despite the lack of clarity around the true nature of gandhara, whether it is G2 or G3, the gandhara note is an acknowledged amsa svara, implying that it adds beauty to the phrase to which it is added, much like how a diamond adds beauty to a woman’s face. Contrastingly for Sahana, rishabha is a key note and is the graha, nyasa and amsa svara. He says that in so far as Sahana and its gandhara is concerned, it is perhaps an exception to the rule stated by Sarngadeva that only if a svara is an amsa svara it automatically becomes jiva/nyasa as well. But in Sahana’s case the gandhara though is an amsa can never be a nyasa. Thus a phrase in Sahana can never ever be ended as PMGMG….. Gandhara will always be a beautiful buffer svara sandwiched between rishabha and madhyama. No phrase in Sahana can end with a gandhara note.
    • Now the dhaivata of Sahana can also act as a graha svara as evidenced by Patnam Subramanya Iyer’s varnam ‘evvarEmi bhOdhana’ wherein one can experience hearing notes which are not at all intoned.

It still leaves us with some open questions but given the inadequacy of our musicological history one has to make assumptions as to certain facts based on present practice and get a closure on those questions.


As we saw earlier, Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha groups Sahana under 22 mela Sriraga with the exemplar compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar too being notated with G2/sadharana gandhara dominating and G2/antara gandhara occurring sparsely.

We also saw that Paidala Gurumurti Sastri a junior contemporary of Ramasvami Dikshitar and a disciple of Sonti Venkatasubbayya, groups it under Kambhoji mela 28 so that the raga’s gandhara is G3 or Antara gandhara.  And Gurumurti Sastri is no ordinary authority. He was beholden as a sastraic authority of music of his days and addressed with the honored epithet of ‘veyi gita’ or a composer of a 1000 gitas, several of them being lakshana gitams and prabhandams. And he in his lakshana gitam for Sahana states that with Khamboji as a mela, Sahana is a janya thereunder. Prof S R Janakiraman speculates that Paidala Gurumurti Sastri was following the earlier Kanakambari Nomenclature scheme, wherein Kambhoji must have been the 28th mela and not Kedaragaula, which is the 28th mela in the later Kanakambari nomenclature scheme documented in the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha to the CDP which is illustrated in the SSP.

It may not be out of place to mention here that for Tulaja too Kambhoji was a Mela and not Kedaragaula, as he says unequivocally in his Sangita Saramruta. Given the authority of both Tulaja and of Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, one is forced to draw a conclusion that for mainstream musicians of the 18th century, Kambhoji was a mela for the svara combination of R2, G3, M1, P, D2 and N2. And Gurumurti Sastri places Sahana under it based on practice, though we do not know clearly which ‘system’ or taxonomy, the mainstream musicians were following then, if there was one. Khamboji had always sported the said notes and if Sahana was unequivocally under Khamboji, by logical deduction the gandhara can only be G3. See foot note 5.

While this is so, we see evidence come from unexpected quarters to the effect that the mela of Sahana is indeed Mela 28. And surprisingly that comes from the documented sishya parampara of Muthusvami Dikshitar himself. One of the prime Dikshitar sishya parampara personage is Sathanur Pancanada Iyer. He was a disciple of Tambiappan Pillai of Tiruvarur, for whose benefit Dikshitar composed the Atana vAra kriti, Brihaspate. Veena Dhanammal and Thiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai were two of Pancanada Iyer’s disciples. Thiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai (father of Flute Svaminatha Pillai) learnt around 200 kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar from Sathanur Pancanada Iyer and he published the first set of 50 kritis complete with notation as vetted by Sathanur Pancanada Iyer himself, in the year 1936. This publication called Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai (DKP) in Tamil was one of the first Tamil editions to publish Dikshitar composition in notation and in it the kriti ‘isAnAdi sivAkAra mancE’ in tisra eka is found notated. At the very top of the notation while giving the raga name of the composition the mela is given as mela 28/Kedaragaula (it is to be noted that as per Anubandha and the mela system documented in the SSP said to have been followed by Muthusvami Dikshitar, Kedaragaula is the raganga of mela 28 and Kambhoji is a janya thereunder). But one observation needs to be made here. In the DKP, the compositions are sequenced as per ascending order of the mela to which they pertains. And curiously the kriti ‘isAnAdi sivAkAra mance’ in Sahana, is not found notated serially under Mela 28, as published. Instead it appears next to Nayaki bunched along with the Sriraga janya ragas(mela 22) and one entry ahead of Kedaragaula which is the next as per the listing!

Be that as it may, we have the weight of multiple authorities to the effect that Sahana ought to belong only under Mela 28 and should have antara gandhara. With this we move to the discography section.


When we move to practice we do have two sets of renderings of Sahana, as we see in theory.

  • One is a theoretical or strict implementation of the notation of the SSP which has prodigious G2 in its musical form and sparingly used G3, encountered here and there. Given that the notation in SSP is on these lines, one is tempted to call this as archaic or older Sahana, the form perhaps in which it was prior to 1800 which was utilized by Dikshitar. This is the Sahana of the SSP if one were to interpret the notation literally. We need to point out here that those vidvans who had learnt it from Ambi Dikshitar or from Vidvans through him, render Dikshitar’s compositions only in the modern form and not the form with dominating G2. Examples include the versions of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman or that of Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan. Given that there is no oral tradition for this flavour of Sahana, all renderings of this type are ‘interpreted’ ones from the SSP.
  • The second is the standard or the normal form with G3 to the hilt. As we will see in some of these versions the gandhara figuring in G2 in phrases such as SRGRS, particularly in the tAra stAyI falls completely to the sadharana value.

We shall see both these versions in the discography section.


This ‘interpreted’ version is a rarity today and is not at all encountered in concerts. It has never been part of the orally transmitted version.  In the recent past, this form of Sahana with dominating G2 and less of G3 has been encountered very rarely and we will present two of them.

First is the rendering of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘isAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’ found in the SSP. Presented is the rendering of Vidvan T M Krishna which was broadcast over AIR. In connection with this it needs to be mentioned that in collaboration with Vidvan R K Sriram Kumar, Vidushi Dr. R S Jayalakshmi and Dr N Ramanathan, Vidvan Krishna has been involved in a project to resurrect the ragas of SSP, interpreting the notation therein literally & document the same.

Here in this rendering he first prefaces the rendering with his comments on the nature of the Sahana he is about to present. He follows up with an alapana of the raga , which is singularly instructive for  a student of music. The kriti rendering follows along with an equally illustrative svara kalpana.

Attention is invited especially to the RGRS and RGMP where the gandhara is G2 in nature and a sparing G3 appears here and there giving a very different appeal/flavour to the raga. In modern parlance Sahana of the Sriraga mela is bhashanga because it sports the two varities of gandhara.

Presented next is the rendering of the Subbarama Dikshitar tana varnam ‘vArijAkshi’ – an excerpt by Vidusi Sumitra Vasudev. The same is from an exclusive concert of Subbarama Dikshitar compositions done in the year 2014.

While the above two are pure interpretations of the notation in the SSP, we take up next the curious case of the so called trishanku gandhara, which we alluded to before, through the rendering of Sangita Kalanidhi B Rajam Iyer. Here he renders the Dikshitar navAvarana kriti ‘srI kamalAbikAyAM’. Attention is invited to the opening pallavi line itself where the Vidvan intones the gandhara as G2. The same may be compared with standard versions of the navAvarana kriti and the difference becomes obvious.

It is not known if Sri Rajam Iyer learnt it so from Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer (TLV). Because the others who learnt from Justice T L V or through him sing the composition is the modern form. It may not be out of place to point out that Sri Rajam Iyer along with Dr S Ramanathan, under the supervision of Sangita Kalanidhis T L Venkatarama Iyer and Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer did the Tamil translation of the SSP for the Madras Music Academy. Inspired perhaps by the finding of the true original lakshana of Sahana that he got in the process of the translation work, one wonders if Sri Rajam Iyer then attempted to modify his version and bring it closer to the theoretical Sahana of the SSP with the dominating sadharana gandhara and thus rendered it so. One would never know.


In this section we will see the exemplar compositions of the SSP, presented not in an interpreted way, but by rendering it as per modern lakshana under Mela 28, Harikambhoji with pronounced use of antara gandhara.

vAsi vAsi – Adi tAla – Ramasvami Dikshitar


The kriti to be presented is that of Ramasvami Dikshitar’s. The kriti ‘vasivasiva’ is a concise edition of Sahana composed on Lord Kalahasteesvara of the Vayu Ksetra Sri Kalahasti. One of the very few people to render is the late Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Suguna Purushottaman. She once rendered it in the Music Academy and a rendering is available as a commercial release. Given below is an excerpt of that rendering. See foot note 7. As noted earlier all compositions in the SSP are notated with G2 and G3 and this kriti is no exception. However the rendering by the Vidushi is the standard version of Sahana. She is accompanied by Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sr Neyveli R Narayanan on the mrudangam and Udipi Sri Sridhar on the ghatam.

Sri Kamalabikayam – Triputa Tala – Muthusvami Dikshitar

We did see a rendering of this composition by Sri B Rajam Iyer earlier, wherein the Sahana’s gandhara is rendered differently by him. There are very many mainstream renderings of this composition which one can say are normalized to standard Sahana.

As a refreshingly different take on the composition, presented next is what one can call as a gold standard rendering. It is by Sangita Kalanidhi T Visvanathan. For me, this rendering is straight out of the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, completely aligned to the letter and spirit of the notation one finds in the SSP. Barring fact that the gandhara is always interpreted as antara gandhara, Sri T Visvanathan’s rendering seems to be the best high fidelity rendering of this navAvarana piece. As the clock strikes 11 PM, the surroundings growing silent in the dead of the night, one has to listen to this rendering on a moonlit night in spring, with the faint fragrance of jasmine and other night blossoms wafting in the air. The rendering would be heavenly and the strains of the ethereal Sahana that the flute and the voice conjure up is fit for the celestials, one might say!

T. Viswanathan (flute) and T. Ranganathan (mridangam) with American students; Image Courtesy: Prof.Bruno Nettl, University of Maryland Baltimore

For students of music this is the Sahana of Muthusvami Dikshitar, to be learnt from, with the notation of the SSP in hand. The gentle giant from the past, a scion of an illustrious musical family offers us a text book lesson in Sahana with his tour de force rendering. As he himself prefaces in the comments, the Sahana of ‘Sri Kamalambikayam’ is the most contemplative one to be ever created. Hark at the beautiful pattern he weaves around ‘hrimkAra vipina harinyam’ and how he plumbs the depth of Sahana in the mandhra stAyi at ‘virinci harisAna’ and surfaces back to the madhya stayi at ‘harihaya veditha rahasya yoginyam’, like a sleek whale gracefully surfacing from beneath the ocean languorously after plumbing its depths! And Sri Visvanathan does lend his voice in the interludes tantalizing while the violinist is all subdued following him in that forest formed by the notes of Sahana. And one can notice how the tAra gandhara drops in value to almost sadharana gandhara levels at the madhyama kala sahitya beginning of the anupallavi at ‘hrIm kAra vipinaharinyAM’, (RGM RGR SnGR) For a student of music and a connoisseur alike, it is as if the ‘teacher’ within the Sangita Kalanidhi T Visvanathan, telling us that the gandhara of Sahana is not true G2 or G3. It is something in between or perhaps beyond, a gandhara unique to Sahana. Which makes it an aesthetic delight for the discerning listener of our music. Prof SRJ’s categorical statement that the gandhara note is an amsa svara without which there can be no true Sahana dawns on us as we listen to this rendering.

So much so perhaps, Subbarama Dikshitar must have struggled to categorize the gandhara and probably took shelter under a fig leaf provided by Muddu Venkatamakhin who had cryptically/pithily postulated- ‘gIyaTe lakshya vEdibhiHI’ in the lakshana shloka! And it almost makes one imagine that if Subbarama Dikshitar were around to listen to this rendering, he would approvingly nod his head without an iota of doubt and call this out as the very exemplar of what he had in  mind when the purvacaryas had said ‘gIyatE lakshya vEdiBhiHI’ – this is the lakshya of Sahana!

To Dikshitar too it must have been a special choice of a raga for a navAvarana- the sarva rOga hara cakra. He had always planned to choose ragas which were old and hoary, for his magnum opus offering to the Mother. Right from Anandabhairavi, Kalyani, Sankarabharanam, Kambhoji, Bhairavi, Punnagavarali, Ghanta and Ahiri. Amongst this set of ragas, Sahana is probably the youngest in terms of musical history. As we saw earlier its inception must have only been post 1750 A D and it gathered momentum perhaps only post 1800 when it metamorphosed to what it is today. In fact by choosing Sahana, Dikshitar had anointed that it would go one to become one of the greatest rakti ragas to adorn our musical pantheon.

One is not sure from where Sri Visvanathan learnt the composition. The Navavaranas were never part of Veena Dhanammal’s heirlooms, given their content. Was it part of the repertoire that Sathanur Pancanada Iyer passed on the Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, the grand guru of Sri T Visvanathan (who was a disciple of Flute Svaminatha Pillai, son of Natarajasundaram Pillai)? Though Sri Natarajasundaram Pillai by his own admission had learnt more than 200 Dikshitar compositions from Pancanada Iyer, he published only 50 out of them as first and only instalment in which none of the Navavarana compositions figure. Neither do we know if the remaining compositions had the Navavaranas counted in. Be that as it may. Sri T Visvanathan’s rendering is a high fidelity reproduction of the Sahana as envisaged by the notation found in the SSP.

The other Dikshitar composition, which is attributed by some as the first kriti of the Kamalamba Navavarana kriti set- the kriti in obeisance to Mahaganapathi,  Sri Mahaganapatiravatumam in Gaula which though set in Tisra triputa is usually rendered normalized to kanda capu tAla. In this context one has to be thankful that Sri Kamalambikayam which too is set in tisra triputa has not been similarly normalized and it continues to be rendered in its original tala. According to the notation it has to be rendered in 1 kalai tisra triputa tala.  

isAnAdi sivAkAra mancE – tisra ekA

 We move on next to the other Dikshitar kriti ‘isAnAdi sivAkAra mance’. We saw this earlier rendered with the sadharana gandhara by Vidvan T M Krishna in the first part. Presented now is the same composition in the modern Sahana, by his disciple Vidvan G Ravi Kiran.


Some years ago I was vacationing in a hill station in Southern India, staying in a British era bungalow in the midst of tea gardens. In the bungalow’s puja room I chanced upon a Tanjore style painting, which I had never seen before in that style. It was a painting of Goddess SivaKamesvari with brilliant details etched in gold and silver therein. And as I stared at it, it was getting clear. It must have been a similar form perhaps that Dikshitar must have had in mind which he musically captured in his lyrics of ‘IsAnAdi sivAkAra mancE’. Here is the snap of the picture I saw.

 As one goes over the lyrics with its prAsA concordance in place, it can be seen how the vista of the picture/painting maps in toto to the lyrics of the composer nonpareil.


ISAnAdiSivAkAramancE  | SivakAmESvaravAmAnkasthE

namastE namastE gau(rISAnAdi)


SrISAradAsaMsEvitapArSvayugaLE | SRngArakaLE vinataSyAmaLAbhagaLE du- ||

rASApahadhurINatara-sarasijapadayugaLE | murAriguruguhAdipUjitapUrNakaLE sakaLE

(madhyama kAla sAhityam)

pASAnkuSEkshukArmuka-pancasumabANahastE |

dESakAlavasturUpa divyacakramadhyasthE||

 Every sahitya line and reference has a place in this picture, if one were to watch it intently. A plainer and more frequently seen version of this photo which is also available has been given below, along with the Tanjore painting which I saw.


But the Tanjore painting of Sivakameshvari is something so original and beautiful much like this composition.

vArijAkshi – ata tAla tAna varna:

We do not have any rendering of Subbarama Dikshitar’s ata tala tana varnam in the standard Sahana. However as an exemplar I seek to present my rendering of this varnam ‘vArijAkshi nI’, interpreted to the best of my abilities from the notation found in the SSP.

A couple of observations from a practical perspective in rendering Sahana is required in the context of this varna.

  1. Phrases like N..GRS and R..GRS where the starting note nishadha and rishabha are dhIrgha, the following gandhara is always diminished in its svarastana, dipping to the sadharana gandhara levels. However if one were to consciously render, the phrase could sport G3 itself.
  2. Similar is the case of tAra sadja forays where the gandhara diminishes  as aforesaid.
  3. Phrases like RGMP or RG.MP or PMG.R where the gandhara is dhIrgha, the gandhara gets to the full blown antara gandhara levels.
  4. The varna has quite a few odd prayogas including the NN.D.NDP which is the start of the carana line, where the first nishadha is plainer and the second nishadha is closer to the tAra sadja. We also see dheergha madhyama usage and also more than GMR, we the GGR where the second gandhara is tinted with the madhyama note, occurring extensively.

To simply state, if the gandhara note is to be followed by the madhayama, the tone moves to near G3 and if it is followed by rishabha the note ‘tends’ closer to G2. We did see a similar case with Narayanagaula as well in a previous blog post where the gandhara though is supposed to be G3, but diminishes to G2 in the tara sadja prayogas. It is likely that given this harmonic issue in vocal rendering Sahana was rather considered to be under Sri raga mela with G3 occurring sparingly.


Tana varnas are the best repositories of raga lakshana and as pointed out earlier this varna of Subbarama Dikshitar is the sole varna exemplar of the version of Sahana documented in the SSP.  While the Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar composed ‘karunimpa’ – adi tala tana varnam is a standard staple in the concert circuit, the ata tala tana varnam, ‘evvarEmi bodhana’ of Patnam Subramanya Iyer is hardly ever encountered.

Again this composition evokes awe for our learned Prof S R Janakiraman and presented next is his commentary of Sahana followed by the rendering of the varnam . He first gives a demonstration of how Sahana has to be sung in his own inimitable way, ahead of the ata tala varna rendering.

The repository of a great tradition, Prof SRJ in this recording holds a veritable lesson for us outlining how the rishabha is a jiva svara ; how it has to be sung with so called ghana nayam ; how Smt T Brinda would bring Sahana before us at the very outset itself for ‘giripai’  with RRS and not nSRS as it is rendered today & so on. The passion and verve with which he teaches the students, is an experience in itself.

Next is a concert edition of his rendering of the ata tala varnam.

There are many other memorable renderings and also beautiful compositions including those of Tyagaraja and also of Subbaraya Sastri/Annasvami Sastri. Given the scope of this blog post we are not covering them.


It must have been a moment in time sometime during the run up to the Trinity, probably Pratapasimha’s reign (1749-1762) at Tanjore, that this raga Sahana must have heralded its entry. Though we see no mention of this raga either in Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s works, covering the period of 1700-1736, it is very likely that there could be some Northern melody which could have potentially been a forerunner or precursor. See foot note 8.

In the bashanga raga listing under the Sriraga lakshya gita documented in the SSP, attributed to Venkatamakhin and perhaps authored by Muddu Venkatamkhin, out of the quintet, only Kapi is found. None of the others are mentioned. While these ragas are illustrated in the SSP on the authority of the lakshana sloka found in the Anubandha to the CDP, no mention is found of them in the Sri raga raganga gita in the SSP. It is likely that all of them were popular in the public domain and made it to the portals of accredited and acknowledged melodies in the raga pantheon, sometime 1750-1770 perhaps. This is obvious, as all of them are tagged as desi ragas. Dikshitar for his part composed in every one of these quintet circa 1800 or thereafter. And we even see Ramasvami Dikshitar using every one of these ragas in his ragamalikas which he must have composed between the years 1750-1800. See foot note 9.

But one factor for us to still reckon with when dating the inception of raga Sahana is fact that we have  a pada of Ksetrajna ‘ moretopu’ which has been part of the repertoire of the Dhanammal family. Ksetrajna is a 17th century composer and that really sets the clock backwards for us. In the same breath we should also note that we see a pada ‘vedukato’ of his as well in the desi raga Devagandhari under mela Sankarabharanam mela 29. Devagandhari as we know again similar to Sahana is another desi raga and all other evidences point to only a 18th century induction of the raga into the musicological texts. So question is did Sahana and Devagandhari spend more than a century as a desi raga or the raga of the masses before the cognoscenti took to note of them and inducted them into the musical hall of fame by ordaining them as upanga/bashanga janyas of Sankarabharanam and Harikhambhoji sometime circa 1750? On the other hand will we be right if we were to advance the hypothesis that the said padas of Ksetrajna were tuned subsequently in Sahana or Devagandhari? One does not know for sure.

However the melismatic or rakti nature of the raga Sahana is brought to the fore by the musical contours of the famous Ksetrajna pada in this rendition by the doyenne Sangita Kalanidhi Smt.T Brinda, the quintessential musician of musicians. Here she is, showcasing one of her precious family heirlooms, demonstrating the fluid nature of rakti ragas like Sahana.

And we conclude with the memory of yet another illustrious musician of the past for whom Smt T Brinda represented all of music. And Sahana was always obligatory for him in any concert – alapana, kriti, viruttam, pallavi etc. The Vidvan is none other than the Late Ramnad Krishnan, whose virtuosity and musical acumen came to be discovered and revered much later after his premature death. This year 2016 marks the beginning of his 100th birth anniversary year and we conclude this blog post with a brilliant viruttam of his in which he encapsulates all that Sahana has to offer, in the true tradition of his illustrious mentor Smt T Brinda.

Text of the sloka ‘ jAnati rAmam’
Ramnad Krishnan with T Visvanathan in Concert at Wesleyan University, United States ( Photo courtesy : Sri R K Ramanathan

Here is in this clipping which is an excerpt from a commercially available concert, Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan is accompanied by Vidvans V Tyagarajan on the violin, T Visvanathan on the flute, T Ranganathan on the mrudangam and V Nagarajan on the Kanjira and together they conjure up a Sahana, decking the up the sloka ‘jAnAti rAmam’ exquisitely for us.


Given the controversy around the nature of the gandhara one is unable to speculate if the original Sahana indeed sported G2 predominantly. Be that as it may the raga must have surely stood out for its sheer beauty with the result Dikshitar chose it for his Navavarana composition despite being a nouveau raga of sorts.

Given the weight of textual evidence one is unable to express a view on the points whether Sahana only needs to be rendered with G2 and that the fidelity to the composer’s intent is lost otherwise. However if one were to answer this question, with aesthetics as the sole criterion, the version of Sahana with Kambhoji/Harikambhoji/Kedaragaula as parent under mela 28, resonates as the better one.


  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 1163-1164
  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) – III Edition, Pages 135-137- Published by the Madras Music Academy
  5. Sruti (Dated June 2016) – Interview with Prof S R Janakiraman by Sri Navaneet Krishnan & Sri V Ramnarayan

The other notable musicological text which documents Sahana is the Sangraha Cudamani, which does it under mela 28 which is very clearly Harikhamboji in its scheme. Doubts exist as to date of the Sangraha Cudamani and it is most likely a second half of the 19th century vintage at the best. Hence the same is kept out of our purview in this blog post. In fact according to another text, The Mahabharata Cudamani’ Sahana is assigned to the 29th mela Sankarabharanam ! Dr Hema Ramanathan assigns a date of 18th- 19th century for this text which is a raga lexicon with lakshana slokas in Tamil. This version of Sahana sporting a kAkali nishadha is never encountered in practice.


Vidushi Savitri Rajan, a disciple of Tiger Varadacariar and Veena Dhanammal, grew intensely passionate about the musical teaching techniques and the introductory pieces that need to be taught to students of music ( abhyAsa gAnam), as documented in older texts such as Sangita Sarvarta Sara Sangrahamu and Sangitananda Ratnakaramu. Along with her students she even presented some pieces from these texts during the Experts Committee Meeting/Lec Dem Sessions in the Music Academy. An audio album of some of the pieces from these treatises too was created as a part of her initiative called ‘Sobhillu Saptasvara”. I am greatly indebted to Ludwig Pesch a student of Smt Savitri Rajan for sharing the audio of the Sahana lakshana gitam, from that initiative. Again this Vidushi and her initiative requires a separate blog post.


Apart from the other questions, the gitam of Paidala Gurumurti Sastri (PGS) and its provenance raises a couple of more questions for us:

  1. If for PGS, Kambhoji was the mela which system of raga categorization was he following? We know as per Anubandha to the CDP, Kedaragaula was mela/raganga 28 and Kambhoji is a janya thereunder. On the other hand the Sangraha Cudamani which is the raga lexicon supposed to have been followed by Tyagaraja, Harikhamboji was the mela 28 with Kambhoji being a janya thereunder.
  2. On the authority of Subbarama Dikshitar, we do know that PGS’s guru was Sonti Venkatasubbayya who he says was a follower for the Venkatamakhin system. Now if PGS were to be saying Kambhoji as a mela then does it mean that PGS was following a different system of raga categorization?

Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on the raga Sahana has an interesting take on the first question. According to him , if for Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, Kambhoji was a mela he must have been following the earlier or the first Kanakambari nomenclature system. And conversely by implication that for the first Kanakambari system, Kambhoji was the mela.  Whereas for Subbarama Dikshitar, the later Kanakambari nomenclature system which is laid out in the Anubandha to the CDP becomes the standard. And Prof SRJ’s hypothesis probably answers the second question as well.


For example, similar to Sahana, the desi raga Devagandhari (mela 29) does not have lakshana shloka, lakshya gita and gitams. So apart from providing the composition of Dikshitar “kshitijamanam’ as exemplar, Subbarama Dikshitar also provides ‘spUratutE’ of Paidala Gurumurti Sastrigal, additionally. However in a similar such situation, in the case of Sahana, Subbarama Dikshitar does not provide any external exemplars from outside of the Dikshitar family. Neither does Subbarama Dikshitar deign to refer to Gurumurti Sastri’s lakshana gitas in his raga lakshana commentary despite the fact that Gurumurti Sastri was a disciple of Sonti Venkatasubbayya an avowed votary of the Venkatamakhin Sampradaya, even as per Subbarama Dikshitar’s own account. The Venkatamakhin Sampradaya as practiced by the Dikshitar family could perhaps have been considered by the family themselves as very unique and a class apart from the rest. Or atleast that was perhaps the impression that Subbarama Dikshitar had and that played a role in his interpreting the CDP, the anubandha, the lakshana gitas and tanams when he published them through the SSP. In the absence of collateral evidence and inadequate research of the available material, one is unable to even make an informed guess.


Assuming that the Raganga gitas were written by Muddu Venkatamakhin during the first half of the 18th century, the absence of the ragas Sahana, Nayaki and Durbar from the Dvijavanthi from the bashanga khanda of the Sri raga lakshana gitam raises several questions for us. Are the Ragalakshanam/Anubandha to the CDP and the raganga lakshya slokas which enumerate the upanga and bashanga ragas under the raganga, coeval? If the Anubandha talks of ragas not found in the raganga lakshya gitas and they themselves do not have lakshya gitas and tanas, are we to conclude that the Anubandha was a document of a much later date or it was kept updated with newer ragas whereas the raganga lakshya gitas weren’t kept updated? Now all these are valid questions in the case of Sahana. It is with this circumstantial evidence and that of Gurumurti Sastri’s gitam we are able to place a date for the raga’s inception and formal induction into the modern musicological raga pantheon.


In so far as the SSP is concerned as the context of the entire treatise us the Anubandha to the CDP, the Ragalakshanam, the reference to a raga as a bashanga is always meant to be what it was meant in 18th century. That is, a raga under a raganga will be a bashanga if it were a basha of a grama raga. That was what the meaning was for the term bashanga to all older authors, including Venkamakhin, Sahaji, Tulaja and also the presumed author of the Anubandha, namely Muddu Venkatamakhin. This definition is redundant for us today.  Subbarama Dikshitar is actually confused by the term bashanga as it appears in olden texts , because during the late 19th  and the early 20th century, the term bashanga had come to mean a raga which took one or more notes which were not found in its parent mela. Thus for example the Mela 20 Ritigaula raganga gitam calls the raga Gopikavasanta as a bashanga and in the raga’s commentary Subbarama Dikshitar  plainly makes his confusion obvious in his commentary stating that the (his) presumed author of the gitam Venkatamakhin for some reason calls the raga bashanga, when in fact the raga Gopikavasanta has no foreign notes.

Thus in the case of Sahana, if we go by Subbarama Dikshitar’s assignment under Sri raga mela, with both G2 and G3 occurring, the Sahana of the SSP becomes a bashanga in modern parlance. However if we go with the standard Sahana that we see in practice which is tagged to the 28th mela Harikhamboji, occurrence of G2 is not reckoned at all the raga is plainly only an upanga janya under mela 28.


Apart from the kritis of Muthusvami DIkshitar found in the SSP, we do have a couple of more compositions published by Veen Sundaram Iyer in his “Dikshitar Kirtana Mala Series”, where we find compositions attributed to him but which are not found in the SSP itself. In fact during the 1950’s, even under the stewardship and watch of Dr V Raghavan and Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer, many of these compositions were edited and published by Ananthakrishna Iyer in the Music Academy Journal. Much later these compositions also made their way to the Dikshitar Kritis collection as published by Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar and by Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao.

It has to go on record that there always been a divergence of musical setting and lakshana between the kritis published by Sundaram Iyer and others on one hand and the SSP on the other, despite the root being the same. Normalization, editorial errors, mis-attribution and lack of fidelity are marked in very many compositions published much later after the SSP. It has to be noted with sadness that kritis of doubtful authenticity and questionable musical setting were passed off as authentic original ones and published using the musical grammar of Tyagaraja’s kritis as baseline to define the melodic contours/lakshana. In fact in hindsight it could be concluded that Subbarama Dikshitar had spent lot of effort in ‘curating’ the compositions for publication in the SSP, reconciling them with gitams/tanams/compositions and such other compositions/versions before presenting them cogently in the SSP. Suffice to say that a similar effort was never even attempted during the 1940’s-1960’s when the missed-out compositions were sought to be published. Unfortunately very many musicians who learnt those questionable pieces either from those sources or from the literal text, have propagated the same so much so that today we have no clue as to which is the authentic kriti/tune and which is the spurious one.

 The only compendium of Dikshitar compositions which stands scrutiny and which has unimpeachable authority and authenticity is the Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai (DKP) edited and published by Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai in the year 1936. One can find almost complete synchronization in all aspects between this publication and the SSP, barring a couple of explainable deviations. In the case of Sahana, the DKP has notated only ‘isAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’. Outside of the SSP one composition of merit could potentially be the Abhyamabha Vibakti series kriti, ‘aBhayAbAyAm baktim karOmI’ again is tisra triputa tala. The rendering of the same by Sangita Kala Acharya late Kalpakam Svaminathan can be listened to as an exemplar.


Sahana, Nayaki, Durbar and Dvijavanthi along with Karnataka Kapi form a quintet of ragas which probably shared a common history or evolutionary cycle. In the Northern music they were/are part of the Kanada family sharing the GMRS as a motif. As they co-evolved each of these ragas underwent changes whereby they gave up their motifs or changed them. Sahana morphed the Kanada ang as a G3M1R2S, Durbar modified it GG.RS, Nayaki gave it up or used it as G.RS and Kapi still retained it as G2M1R2S, giving it away to Kanada while it took other svaras to metamorphose into what we today call as Hindustani Kapi. This by itself warrants a separate blog post.

From the Northern regions as mentioned earlier we have so called Shahana Kanada sharing a similar name to our Sahana. Deepak Raja dwells on that raga here. The Shahana Kanada as he points out shares no resemblance at all to our Sahana. And I doubt if there is a strict melodic equivalent of our Sahana with its beautiful rishabha, gandhara and nishadha.


The quintet of ragas that we see in this blog post are seen in Ramasvami Dikshitar’s compositions – ragamalikas as under, except Dvijavanthi, as documented in the Anubandha to the SSP:

  1. sAmaja gamana – Sahana, Kapi, Durbar
  2. sivamOhana saktI – Sahana, Nayaki,
  3. nAtakAdi vidyalaya – Sahana, Nayaki, Durbar and Kapi


  1. Thanks are due to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for permitting me to share his rendering of ‘IsAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’.
  2. The rendering of ‘IsAnAdhi sivAkAra mancE’ by Vidvan Sri G Ravikiran was sourced from his website, where it was uploaded.
  3. The rendering of ‘moretopu’ by Smt T Brinda is already in the public domain and much shared. Same is the case of the recording of the Kamalamba Navavarana kriti by Sri B Rajam Iyer.
  4.  The sloka rendering of Vidvan Sri Ramnad Krishnan and the kriti rendering by Vidusi Suguna Purushottaman are commercial records and therefore only an excerpt has been shared.
  5. The rendering of ‘srI kamalAmbikAyAM’ by Sri T Visvanathan was sourced from the music collection of Sri Vagheesh Narasimhan.
  6. The gif of the sloka ‘jAnAti rAmam’ has been sourced from the web, from the blog of Sri Sachi.
  7. Thanks are due to Sri R K Ramanathan for providing me with the Concert photo of Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan and Sri T Visvanathan, taken during the concert in USA which has been commercially released by Swathi Soft Solutions as a part of their Sanskruthi Series.

Safe Harbor Statement: The clipping and media material used in this blog post have been exclusively utilized for educational / understanding /research  purpose and cannot be commercially exploited or dealt with. The intellectual property rights of the performers and copyright owners/creators are fully acknowledged and recognized.

History, Raga

Natanarayani – A melody lost in the forest of time



Very many ragas which predate the formal classification schemes, that of Venkatamakhin, Muddu Venkatamakhin, Sahaji, Tulaja & Govindacharya have been sacrificed or mutilated in the process of retro-fitting them to the schemes in question. These so called purva prasiddha ragas defy the formal grammar of today- which demand a lineal ascent and descent & also need a formal parent in the so called raganga or melakartha scheme. Ancient music was guided only by two melodic principles- that of harmonics and aesthetics. Individual svaras were never the building block of ragas. Only murccanas or svara aggregations were the building blocks of ragas and they determined the melodic contour of a raga. Within a murccana or a motif, svaras assumed melodic relationship to one another and created a stable melodic unit. Bends, turns, twists and jumps were the rule. There were no foreign notes or need for a raga to be a parent or be a child raga under a parent to justify melodic existence. Ragas were even given a persona, color, sex, time of the day, season etc for rendering so that the aural effect they create could be part of the overall artistic or aesthetic experience.

Today much of the ragas exist for the sake of grammar & on the basis of individual svaras rather than murrcanas/motifs. Older ragas have been force fitted to the new models/schemes and in that process few have survived , quite many have become practically extinct (Samantha, Velavali & Desakshi) and quite some have been mutilated. Music today is subservient to grammar rather than to aesthetics or harmonics. Ragas derived today, evolve as mere scalar structures and do not have a melodic existence beyond the single kriti that hosts them. As a silver lining, few of the ancient ragas which survived this onslaught, were given life to by Muthusvami Dikshitar. Those compositions and the related documentation of the same by Subbarama Dikshitar in his priceless and invaluable work the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP, hereafter) offers us a peek into those times when melody and aesthetics ruled supreme.

One such raga which has survived and reached us today is Natanarayani, which is the subject matter of this blog post. His solitaire in this raga serves as the only beacon light for us in understanding this melody.

Read on!

A Brief History – textual

Natanarayani or Natanarayana/Nattanarayana, as it has been referred to in older musical texts, always took the notes which today form part of Mela # 28 (Kedaragaula/Harikambhoji) or Mela 29(Sankarabharanam). It has been documented by both Northern as well as Southern musicological texts. The earliest text which refers to Natanaraya(ni)/(na) is Narada’s ‘Sangita Makaranda’. Many compositions of Talapakka Annamacharya seem to have been set in Natanarayani, according to copper plates. It is seen documented in works such as Sadraga Chandrodaya, Rasa Kaumudi etc well into the 16th CE.- see Footnote 2.

And then the raga seem to have gone extinct/out of vogue during the times of Govinda Dikshitar (1614 AD) & Venkatamakhi (circa 1620 AD), for it is not recorded in their treatises namely Sangita Sudha & Caturdandi Prakashika. There is also no other raga which closely resembles it in terms of melody, except for the raga Sama which can be considered as an allied melody from a scalar perspective.

Natanarayani makes an appearance again in the treatises of the Mahratta Kings Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu (end of 17th CE & early 18th CE) and King Tulaja I’s Saramruta (circa 1730). From the textual evidence the raga thus seems to have gained currency but in a truncated form. While prior to 1700’s it was sampurna with kakali nishada, in its post 1700’s form it dropped the nishada totally & moved fully under the then Kambhoji mela (which is akin to the modern day raganga/mela # 28). In line with this Muddu Venkatamakhin too documented this raga under Kedaragaula as an upanga, in his Raga Lakshanam compendium (first quarter of the 18th century) available to us as Anubandha to the original Caturdandi Prakashika.  See Foot note 1 & 7

Subbarama Dikshitar faithfully follows the footsteps of Muddu Venkatamakhin & documents the raga under raganga # 28 in his SSP with a set of illustrative compositions.

Melodic structure of Natanarayani

Before we embark on assessing the contours of this raga, a couple of caveats are in order:

  1. There is a divergence between the musicological texts/treatises & the compositions. In other words the raga form as per theory & the structure one seen is practice or the implementation in the exemplar compositions, are different. See foot note 4.
  2. The scalar structure which is the modern assessment of a raga’s body through the lens of the melakartha scheme doesn’t fully help us appreciate the melodic worth of this purva prasiddha raga.

The structure of this raga post 1700 as illustrated by Sahaji, Tulaja and Muddu Venkatamakhin in their works is what is relevant for us today, because the exemplar compositions, available to us today, pertain to that Natanarayani only.

Sahaji & Tulaja’s Textual Evidence

Sahaji and Tulaja’s version of this raga are virtually one and the same. The salient features of Natanarayani according to them,are:

  1. The raga is grouped under Kambhoji and is shadava as nishada is varja
  2. It is a ghana raga
  3. Gandhara never occurs in the aroha
  4. Melodic phrases are Ppmgr, mgrgrr/pddrrsr/mmpdssdsS/pdssrr/mgr/grr/mmppddss/ dsdd pm /pmmgrgrr

We need to partake the definition as above in the context of what the terms meant during Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s times. The term ‘ghana’ has not been defined and we do not know what it meant (see foot note 5). And Sahaji makes no mention of the Caturdandi Prakashika of Venkatamakhin as well.  However from the the foregoing the arohana murccana karma seems to be SRGSRMPDS. Since gandhara is varja in arohana, RGM and GMG phrases are forbidden by implication. However we do have RGRR occurring in the outlined melodic phrases.

Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga definition

As we move over to Muddu Venkatamakhin’s assessment of this raga, we are faced with a confusing situation- we have two versions of Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana shloka – one in Raga Lakshanam (Appendix to the Caturdandi Prakashika as published by the Music Academy) and one published by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. The key difference to be reconciled being, if the gandhara in the ascent is varjita(devoid) or vakrita(deviant). Thus according to Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar as in the shloka below, gandhara is said to be vakritah.

natanArayanI ragastvArOhE tu gavakritAh |

nivarjyashAdavastu syAt gIyatE satatam budhaih ||

Subbarama Dikshitar interprets Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana shloka and provides his commentary of the raga as under:

  1. Natanarayani’s arohana/avarohana murccanas/movements are SRGSRMPDS/SDPMGRS under Harikedaragaula mela #28. Also point to note is that the lakshana shloka does not talk of a vakra dhaivata in the arohana and it is Subbarama Dikshitar’s interpretation probably on the basis of what was practiced. See footnote 5.
  2. It is shadava (having 6 notes in whole- considering both arohana and avarohana); Nishada is varja or totally absent in the scale.
  3. Sadja is the graha svara
  4. Gandhara is vakra in the arohana
  5. Jumps in the raga’s movements such as: RdSR\pdSR- Madhya rishabha to mandhara dhaivata and pancama ; S\pdpmgr and SSmpdpmgr – tara sadja to Madhya pancama or madhyama- make the raga beautiful.
  6. ‘giyate satatam budhaih’ seems to indicate that despite the proposed scalar structure, rendering is not for novices, seemingly to indicate the amount of experience & expertise one has to have to render the raga.

Exemplar Compositions & the musical contour of the raga therein

The SSP & its Anubandha are the sole repository of this raga’s compositions & it lists about 5 of them which are in different genres:

  • ‘nandanamdana’- Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana gitam – eka tAla
  • ‘mahA ganapatE pAlayasUmAm’ – kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar – Adi tAla
  • ‘sarasAgre sarasa’ – a daru of Subbarama Dikshitar – tisra eka tAla( see footnote 2)
  • Sancari of Subbarama Dikshitar – matya tAla
  • Portion of the rAga tAla mAlikA “nAtakAdi vidyAlaya” of Ramasvami Dikshitar-(section # 30) commencing “ nagu natanarAyani yanu nAmamu” set to raga Natanarayani & caturmukhi tAla
  • Portion of the ragamalika of Ramasvami Dikshitar – ‘sivamOhana sakti’ where the raga is found in the 5th caranam in the company of Brindavana Saranga, Ritigaula, Purnacandrika, Devakriya, Megharanji, Hamvira and Bhupalam and set in adi tala. The composition is on Goddess Meenakshi at Madurai.

Leaving aside Muddu Venkatamakhin’s gitam, we see that all the other compositions broadly conform to the melodic contours outlined by the shloka definition of Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar but with some additional features.

  1. Almost apparently as a rule none of the compositions have PDS or SDP usage in the Madhya sthayi, though not forbidden by the definition. See foot note 4.
  2. There is no sancara beyond tara sadja at all, which again is not forbidden by the lakshana shloka.
  3. Though Subbarama Dikshitar gives the arohana murccana as SRGSRMP- we see no evidence of SRGS at all. The GS prayoga is seen in the daru though but with rishabha marked as an anusvara GrS. It would have been clarifying had he given it as SRGRS instead.
  4. We also see RGMG and RGRG prayogas which would be forbidden if we were to go by the Subbarama Dikshitar murccana definition. Even Subbarama Dikshitar’s own sancari and daru have those prayogas.
  5. Rishabha svara seems to be a jiva and nyasa (ending note) as it occurs in profusion, while madhyama seems to be the preferred take off note. Janta svaras have been used in profusion in all the compositions.
  6. The Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti, the daru as well as the rAgatAla mAlikA have been invested with the cittasvara/muktayi svara section which clearly encapsulates the melodic identity of Natanarayani in a nutshell.
  7. The raga & the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti seem much amenable to a madhyamakala exposition. Was it on this strength that Shahaji categorize this as a ghana raga?
  8. The raga spans effectively only between mandhara pancama to the madhya daivatha with occasional touches of tara sadja, thus resembling more a dhaivatantya raga which can be comfortably rendered in madhyama sruti. We will address this question in a while.
  9. Given the usage of gandhara in phrases such RGMG and RGR, the shloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar seems to be the original one.


In the public domain we only have recordings of the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti in Natanarayani which is ‘mahA ganapatE pAlayAsumAm’. This composition is a generic kriti on Mahaganapathi and does not have any reference to a particular kshetra. The raga mudra is given very clearly in the lyric as ‘natanArAyani nandana’ & the kriti also bears the standard Dikshitar colophon. We have commercial recordings of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman & his disciple Vidvan Vijay Siva, rendering this composition along with the cittasvaras as per SSP.

Interestingly this composition used to be frequently rendered by Chittoor Subramanya Pillai a rendering of which is already in the public domain. The version can probably be traced back to Kancipuram Naina Pillai and perhaps on to Ettayapuram Ramachandra Bagavathar who was one of Subbarama Dikshitar’s prime disciples. These artistes have not sung the cittasvara portion of the kriti.

As an example of rendering from this school, featured here first is a rendering by a protégé of this school, Vidvan Sri. Tadeppalligudem Lokanadha Sarma from this AIR concert ( courtesy Sangeethapriya)

Vidvan Lokanadha Sarma in Concert at Musiri Chambers in 2016 where he commenced his recital with ‘mahAganapatE pAlayAsumam’

Attention is specifically invited to the svara kalpana on the opening pallavi line. One can notice that the MGS phrase along with PDSDP (“…mAyAmaya…” in the Pallavi) though not found in the composition, but in conformance with the SSP text book definition, are rendered in profusion. The first kAla svaras are almost Sama like.

Presented next is a rendering by the venerable Prof S R Janakiraman who concludes his rendering with his pungently humorous remark on the raga’s melodic association with Sama.

Presented next is the rendering of Vidvan T M Krishna from a concert recording in the public domain. He sticks to the SSP. One can see the ‘middukku’ or tautness with which he renders the composition and also the kalpana svaras on the pallavi line. He pointedly does not use a mrudhu madhyama which could potentially reflect Sama.

The composition begins on a svarakshara with Ma(‘ma’) and then the the sahitya syllable’hA’ is at Gandhara which as one can see is strong and pronounced/prolonged, not the weak gandhara of Sankarabharanam. It is a strong gandhara native to (Hari)Kedaragaula, very pronounced and part of the MGGR which appears in this composition as a leitmotif. Along with the madhyama, this gandhara operates to distinguish Natanarayani with Sama, as we will see later. The midukku/tautness as alluded earlier, the intonation of the gandhara and its dense and janta usage in Sri T M Krishna’s svarakalpana provide us illustration of the so called ‘ghana’ feature as a marker for this raga.

A few more points merit our attention though. In the madhyama kala sahitya section he sings as “…..manikka vadanendrathi vandana” or something to that effect whereas the SSP text is ‘mAtamga vadanEndrAdi vandana”. Also to note is that he doesn’t render the cittavara section given in the SSP. In the svara kalpana section he sticks to the script of the raga as found in the SSP for most except in the two rounds of svaras where he brings on PDs, sDP and tara sancaras. To his credit he does highlight DPs, sPDPM etc to bring jump from pancama to tara sadja jump and back in his svara kalpana.

Presented now is the clip of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman rendering the cittasvara section of the composition ‘mahAganapatE’ for our understanding, from this concert available in the public domain.

Presented next is the Natanarayani portion of the raga-tala-malika composition of Ramasvami Dikshitar, rendered by Sangita Kala Acharya Vidusi Dr.R S Jayalakshmi, who gave a lecture demonstration of the magnum opus composition in 2014 at Chennai under the auspices of Nada Inbam. Dr Jayalakshmi’s interpretation is strictly in line with the notation found in the Anubandha to the SSP. One can note as well how identical it is from a scale/melodic point of view with the Dikshitar composition.

Presented finally is the blog author’s personal rendering/interpretation of the Subbarama Dikshitar daru. According to the explanatory note provided to this composition in the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar composed this as an ode on Sri Nagayasvami Pandiyan, the Zamindar of Periyur. There are a couple of historical references to this Zamindar which points to the probably date of this piece being composed around 1889 CE. Please see footnote 2 & 3 below.

Did Tyagaraja compose in Natanarayani ?

Today none of the compilations of Tyagaraja’s kritis show Natanarayani as one of the ragas in which the Bard of Tiruvaiyaru composed. Even the earliest listing, such as the one by Chinnasvami Mudaliar does not show any kriti in Natanarayani. In fact it is known with certainty that Tyagaraja never communicated the ragas names for his creations. Experts such as K V Ramachandran have always with forceful authority proposed that raga names available today for Tyagaraja’s compositions were assigned by the authors/printers who started publishing the text of Tyagaraja’s compositions during the late 19th CE and early 20th CE, the first of them being the Taccur Brothers. And this is attested by the Walajapet manuscripts and also the accounts of Tyagaraja’s lineage by his disciples. Thus given this set of facts, we may have to find out the piece available to us today, which could have been set by Tyagaraja to Natanarayani.

We do not have to search afar. The kriti is right there – “vinanAsa koniyunnAnurA” in desAdhi tala masquerading under the raga name of Pratapavarali, a raga which has no textual history at all prior to the Sangraha Cudamani and grouped under Harikambodhi mela. Unsurprisingly this raga is an ekakriti raga & there exists no other composition. It goes with the same scale of Natanarayani with a little twist – SRMPDPS/SDPMGRS. This is the flavor of Natanarayani that Tyagaraja implemented with sancaras up to tAra madhyama, a liberty he perhaps took which Dikshitar didn’t deign to take. In fact both of them use PDPS in the aroha krama phrasings. In the absence of nishada both ways, PDPS or PDS are not significantly different from a melodic stand point. But that doesn’t make the melody of ‘vinanAsakoni’ any different from that of Natanarayani. In fact one can even speculate if the tara sthayi phrases and additions of SDP were latter day additions by musicians when they added sangatis, but that would be stretching the argument too far, in the absence of a shred of evidence.

Now to the renderings. Presented below is the rendering of this composition by the legendary, Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda, the doyenne of the Dhanammal musical lineage, who must have most probably learnt it from Kancipuram Naina Pillai, under whom she learnt music initially.

Presented also is the rendering of the same composition by her disciple Vidushi Aruna Sairam from the year 1984. Attention is drawn to the kalpana svaras she sings on the pallavi line, well in line with the melodic contours of the composition itself.

Question for us is, do we require this plethora of unnecessary multiple raga names for the same melodic material/scale & shouldn’t we dispense the newer ones in favor of those which have a long textual documented history, more so for those one which have one such as Natanarayani? This is definitely a point of view worth ruminating.

Thus we do have strong evidence that both Dikshitar and Tyagaraja composed using the same melodic material of what we have been calling as Natanarayani for centuries. Renaming it as Pratapavarali with no melodic or historical basis, needs to be set aside without much ado. But is that it? The point remains whether Natanarayani can be safely and securely be ring fenced from its popular sibling Sama, so that its independent melodic existence can be secured.

Natanarayani & Sama – a study in contrast

If we have to understand the melodic structure of Natanarayani deeply, we may need to reset and revisit some of the assumptions we make as a part of modern musicology. Modernists may say that this raga is a minor one and is incapable of being sung elaborately. But so is the case with very many ragas including those created by Tyagaraja. Natanarayani existed as one amongst the 109 ragas that Tulaja documented as very popular & in currency during the first half of the 18th CE, in the run up to the times of the Trinity. It existed along with its close melodic sibling Sama with a unique melodic identity with which it shared the same set of svaras. How do we assess & quantify the musical individuality of this raga as distinct from Sama? With the same set of svaras we already have examples of ragas which have evolved and thrived to this date, Arabhi and Devagandhari & Surati and Kedaragaula, for instance. And they have become the crown jewels of our music. So can’t we draw up a matrix to distinguish the melodic contours of Sama and Natanarayani?

Before we embark on that, its worth noting here that the Music Academy at Madras did deliberate on the question of the raga lakshana of all the three ragas – Natanarayani, Sama and Pratapavarali the year 1932, the year when Sangita Kalanidhi Sabesa Iyer was the President. Sadly the Experts Committee was virtually split between the votaries of the so called Tyagaraja & Dikshitar schools and they arrived at no meaningful consensus. They only ended up reiterating the status quo and establishing no connection between them and thus frittered away the opportunity to make a contribution towards clarity.

Let us turn our attention to what some musicologists have to say on this. When discussing this point, the revered Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on Tulaja’s Saramruta, forcefully advances the view that since both the ragas – Natanarayani & Sama have the same scale, Natanarayani may safely be made a dhaivatantya madhyama sruti raga, omitting the fleeting touches of the tara sadja found in the Dikshitar kriti. By rendering it so, the learned Professor says, the melodic independent existence of Natanarayani can be justified distinctively from Sama.  It is respectfully submitted, that this would provoke more questions than answers. Thus the counterpoint would be, are we to amputate/mutilate the raga, deprive it of its tAra sadja just to bring melodic conformance to the standard? We need to bear in mind that Shahaji & Tulaja merely captured ragas which were popular and in currency during their times, some 109 of them and classified them under melas. And they were not dealing also with technically generated scalar ragas using mathematical permutation/combination (like the raga compendiums of Govindacarya, Nadamuni Panditar et al which fall in this category).

So by logical deduction one can surmise that in so far as the ragas captured in the works of Shahaji and Tulaja are concerned, the musical cognoscenti and composers of the first half of the 18th century were able to acknowledge the independent & individual musical worth/identity of all of those ragas including Sama and Natanarayani. Also we know that Dikshitar and Tyagaraja (second half of 18th CE) composed in both Sama and Natanarayani/Pratapavarali and if so they would have definitely found them to be musically distinctive to start with or if not, at the least they would have endeavored to bring about or magnify the point of distinction between these two ragas in their compositions.

And thus it follows that even today we must be able to find what these distinguishing attributes between the two ragas are, a subject worthy of a full research paper in itself. As Muddu Venkatamakhin’s classification scheme was the basis for Muthusvami Dikshitar, the analysis of these two ragas under this scheme is a useful starting point.

  1. In Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme, Sama is classified under Sankarabharanam while Natanarayani is under Harikedaragaula, despite both of them lacking nishada (varjya). The melodic reason if any is not formally given. It is quite possible for ragas to be grouped under Sankarabharanam if they have a weak gandharam. For example Mohanam can come under multiple melas. Still it is normally assigned to Kalyani because of the gandhara being strong & so unlike the gandhara of Sankarabharanam. Gandhara will be weaker still if it appears only in the avarohana as well. Au contraire, Prof S R Janakiraman holds the view that given the weaker dhaivata in Sama which is only at trisruti level it should be categorized under Harikambhoji rather than Sankarabharanam. Again he passionately argues that even Mohanam should be under Harikambhoji as well given the usage of both the gandhara and dhaivata at trisruti levels. And so this is the generic problem encountered in assigning preexisting ragas to the janaka/janya system on an unscientific or no standard basis.
  2. For Sama, gandhara is totally absent in the ascent/arohana while in Natanarayani the gandhara is vakrita in the arohana and we see SRGR profusely in Natanarayani. This is a key differentiator.
  3. The gandhara is prolonged and strong in Sama in comparison to Natanarayani where the janta phrasing MGGR and the vakra phrasing SRGR is used profusely. It can quite likely be argued that dhaivata too is slightly stronger in Natanarayani in comparison to Sama.
  4. In Sama the madhyama seems to be a more powerful note occurring in profusion and also being the key to the raga being a shanta rasa pradhana raga. From the kritis, the rishabha seems to be a favored phrase ending note in Natanarayani.
  5. In madhya sthayi, for Sama, PDS and SDP are used phrases while in Natanarayani, PDPS and SP or SM phrases alone are used. PDS and SDP though not forbidden by lakshana, the kritis are devoid of those prayogas. Also in practice Sama has some characteristic vakra phrases such PMD & MDP which is not seen in Natanarayani, while on the other side Natanarayani sports MGMG and RGRG which is not seen in Sama.
  6. In sum, the play of the notes/phrases & the emphasis given to them leading them to be vilambakala/shanta rasa as the color of Sama and the madhyamakala /vira or playfulness as the rasa in the case of Natanarayani, makes for their contrasting nature.
  7. Much like Ritigaula, Natanarayani sports different sets of prayogas for mandhara sthayi and madhya sthayi for the same svaras. We see no such constraint in Sama.
  8. The identical scalar structure but different melodic structure is akin to the phenomenon of Isomerism one encounters in physical Chemistry. Much like how isomers have same molecular formula but different structural formula, Sama and Natanarayani exhibit musical isomerism. Other examples are Kedaragula and Surati, Malahari and Kannadabangala & Kannada and Suddha Vasanta.

A more in-depth research on the lakshanas found documented in the two works, namely Shahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’ and Tulaja’s ‘Saramruta’ along with the constructive interpretation of the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar & Tyagaraja should help us get some more clarity on this point. Also see Note 6.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006 – pages 666-671
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 1005-1013
  3. Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
  4. Dr S. Sita (1983) – “The Ragalakshana Manuscript of Sahaji Maharaja’ – Pages 140-182- JMA Vol LIV
  5. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, pages 201-205 & 207-210




To understand some of the medieval raga nomenclatures and it’s connect with aesthetics, the musical work ‘Sangita Siromani’ written around 1428 AD offers interesting insights. For instance this text defines the raga Natanarayana as: Having born from raga Kakubha with Dha is its dominant final note,Ga in the upper octave is the predominant note, Pa in the lower octave is its lower limit; it is heptatonic preferably performed during raining season and is capable of evoking pathos.


Daru – According tomethe Lakshana Sangraha – the preamble to the SSP, daru as a composition is akin to a padam with sringara as the rasa/theme. A daru has normally one carana and can be sung in a slightly accelerated tempo. Darus with more than one carana is not uncommon though. According to Dr Gowri Kuppuswamy & Dr Hariharan (“Darus in Carnatic Music” – Sanmukha-Vol XII No 4 Oct 1986 Pages 1-10) daru is a musical piece written for a drama – yakshagAna, geyanAtaka or opera. In a drama, a dialogue if not spoken but is sought to be conveyed musically, then it is done through a daru. This article gives a historical perspective of daru and its evolution, types & examples & can be referred to, to know more about this compositional genre. The SSP itself documents a number of darus including Ramasvami Dikshitar’s in Gangatarangini, Muthusvami Dikshitar’s in Sriranjani raga, Balusvami Dikshitar’s in Rudrapriya, a tillana daru of Krishnasvami Ayya in Surati apart from the aforesaid daru in Natanarayani & one in Yadukulakambhoji of Subbarama Dikshitar. Curiously except Muthusvami Dikshitar’s one which is composed on Lord Valmikesvara of Tiruvarur, all other have been composed as an ode on patrons/mortals – Manali Cinnaya Mudaliar, Venkatesvara Ettappa of Ettayapuram, Nagayasvami Pandian of Periyur and Varaguna Rama Pandian the Zamindar of Sivagiri. Probably these darus were retrofitted into the existing panegyric plays depicting the life of the patrons & their clan. They were then staged/performed on occasions by the artistes, in the presence of the patrons, obviously to their delight. The case could have been same in the case of the Dikshitar Sriranjani daru as well. Plays were done in the Tiruvarur Tyagaraja temple eulogizing the deity, recounting the stala purana etc and enacted by the dasis and the musicians attached to the temple. Arguably Muthusvami Dikshitar must have perhaps composed this daru on Lord Valmikesvara, for one such play and not as a standalone music composition and which is why it is bereft of his standard colophon, ‘guruguha’.


The Zamindar of Peraiyur (not Periyur as given in the SSP, a village near the town of Tirumangalam) is one of the large zamindaris or pAlayams amongst the 72 ones in Madurai district in Tamilnadu. Periayur was the second largest zamindari the taluk with about 30 villages spread over 21 square miles. According to the “Madura Gazetteer’ of W.Frances (page 329), there was a Zamindar in 1889  who went by the name of Nagayasvami Tumbichi Nayakkan , the last two parts of the name being titular appellations. We know no more than that. Probably this Zamindar was the one on whom Subbarama Dikshitar composed this daru. Curiously there was another Nagayasvami Kamayya Nayakkar II, of the neighboring Saptur Zamindari who is documented in the “Aristocracy of Southern India- Vol II” by A Vadivelu (Page 315- 321). This Zamindar who was the last in his line, lived during 1845-1889. He has been documented as a very intelligent & independent person, a Tamil scholar and a patron of music. Given this information, the fact that the Zamindaris of Saptur and Peraiyur were intertwined in history and relationship and also the fact that Sri Jagannatham Chetty (who was associated with the Ettayapuram Royals & on whose authority the SSP was published) assisted the minor son of the Zamindar Sri Nagayasvami after his death, makes one to speculate whether the daru was on the Zamindar of Saptur instead.


In the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar gives the lakshana of raga Abheri as SMGMPPS as the aroha karma even though the Muddu Venkatamakhin lakshana shloka only says ‘abherI sagrahA pUrna; syAdArohE nivarjitA’. The shloka does not say that rishabha, gandhara and dhaivata are varjya. Yet Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of the purvacharyas and their tAnams in this raga, says that SMGMPPS is the arohana krama to be used in compositions.


According to Subbarama Dikshitar the notes of a ghana raga need to emanate from the nAbhi/navel. The discussion on the nature of raga and its classification under the ghana, naya and desi categories from a historical perspective is done in the work “Ghana, Naya and Desi Ragas” by Smt Premalatha Nagarajan which is available here. Here is what she has to say on ‘ghana’ ragas in the modern context.

From the description of ghana raga as being suitable for t¡na or madhyamakala, it couldbe inferred that such raga-s were based more on svara-s with moderate oscillations and which were devoid of extreme kampitam or vali. It is also possible that the form of a svara in these raga-s, was more or less static or rigid and not fluid. On the other hand, the raktiraga-s must have been characterised by some svaras which had more fluid form than a static one. If we consider the raga-s referred to as ghana today namely, nata, gaula, arabhi and varali (leaving out varali), the forms of the svara-s in these raga-s appear to be centred around their svarasthana-s. None of the svara-s seem to have excessive kampita gamaka. It is these raga-s that seem to be used for singing or playing tanam.

The classification of ragas under ghana, naya and desya by Shahaji is perhaps on the basis of melodic movement, according to performing musician Vidvan T M Krishna (Southern Music – Karnatak Story- Page 405). A raga classified as ghana probably meant (as in Tamil – heavy or dense) its rendering ought to be rigid & dense. In fact Vidvan Sri T M Krishna opines that this classification or the attribute of a raga to be a ghana/naya/desi, was then a component of the aesthetics of that raga. The word ghana has been used not only in the context of ragas as above but also in the context as one of the modes of singing (ghana mArga). And then there is this connection to tanam and madhyamakala rendering as well. In the context of a raga and its melodic personality (as distinct from the way or mArga in which a musician renders ragas in general), we are left only with the meaning that a raga to be ghana has to be phrased in a dense & rigid manner. Did it imply employment of janta svaras for example to give that feel? One doesn’t know for sure if that logic was what was used in Shahaji’s times to classify a raga as ghana.


In the Hindustani idiom there doesn’t seem to any raga close to the melodic svarupa of Natanarayani, though there is a name sake, Nata Narayan. It’s said to belong to the Bilaval thaat (Sankarabharanam) with N3 or tivra/sharp nishada. Off course our Natanarayani lacks nishada totally. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi apparently on the strength of the Carnatic Natanarayani seems to have implemented his version of Nata Narayana under the Khamaj thaat with a komal nishad (N2) to boot.


For the purpose of this article/blog post, Govindacharya’s Sangraha Cudamani (as well as other works which are allied in their content such as ‘Sangita Sara Sangrahamu’ of Akalanka and also recent raga compendiums such as those of Nadamuni Panditar or K V Srinivasa Iyengar) has not been considered, due to lack of clarity around the date of some of them & given that all these texts were much later to the times of the Trinity & hence are not relevant to assess the music of the compositions of Ramasvami Dikshitar, Muthusvami Dikshitar & Subbarama Dikshitar.

Personalities, Raga

Gamakakriya – The contribution of a Guru Sreshta


Carnatic music owes much of its corpus of compositions & musical heritage, to the Guru-Sishya tradition. Music was passed on generation after generation through this chain with one illustrious Guru, enriching it himself passing on the legacy to the even more illustrious disciples in their lineage. One such preceptor was Sonti Venkatasubbayya. He in turn sired even worthier disciples such as Paidala Gurumurti Sastrigal and his own son Sonti Venkataramanayya. As history shows, Venkataramanayya in turn went on to be the Guru of the Trinitarian Saint Tyagaraja. Much of the information on Sonti Venkatasubbayya is made available by Subbarama Dikshitar and a few collateral details are gleaned from the academic research done by Prof Seetha and documented in her published doctoral dissertation ‘Tanjore as a Seat of Music”. In this blog post we shall see a brief profile of this Guru Sreshta Sonti Venkatasubbayya and his varnam in the raga Gamakakriya and how it laid the foundation for the raga in our musical firmament.

Muthusvami Dikshitar’s life history as documented by Subbarama Dikshitar, has it that Gamakakriya was the last raga to be rendered by the composer nonpareil Muthusvami Dikshitar. A 181 years ago on 21st Oct 1835, a Deepavali day, Muthusvami Dikshitar gave up his mortal coil even as he along with his disciples were singing the magnum opus ‘mInAkshI mEmudham dEhI’ created by him in Gamakakriya. On the occasion of his anniversary, this blog post is presented to celebrate his memory, the raga that perhaps he last rendered and the varna therein, composed by a parama Guru of sorts to him. It is highly probable that this varna itself was taught to Dikshitar and it perhaps so enthralled him that he went on to build his grand offering to the Goddess at Madurai.

Read on !


According to Subbarama Dikshitar, Sonti Venkatasubbayya was an acknowledged exponent of the Venkatamakhin School, well versed in the grammar of music. He was a junior contemporary of Adiyappayya, the composer of the immortal Bhairavi varna “Viribhoni”. While Adiyappayya lived during the reign of Pratapasimha (1740-1765), Venkatasubbayya reached his zenith during the reign of Tulaja II (1765-1788) who was Pratapasimha’s son and successor. Sonti being his family name, came to become the Dean of the Palace musicians during Tulaja II’s regnal years. Prof Seetha records in her work that Tulaja II gifted 5 velis of land to Venkatasubbaya.

Tulaja II’s rule was marred by the wars with Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan during 1780’s which is when the British provided cover as well as loans for the Tanjore King. Manali Muddukrishna Mudaliar the Dubash of Governor Pigot who was liaising with King Tulaja II with respect to the loans, became a patron of Sonti Venkatsubbayya who must have migrated to Madras, during the tumultuous decade of 1780’s. In Sarva Deva Vilasa, the anonymous Sanskrit work which documents the great patrons of Madras dating to 1800 or thereabouts, portrays Sonti Venkatamanayya, his son as being patronized by Venkatadri, yet another plutocrat of those times. Subbarama Dikshitar is his profile of Muthusvami DIkshitar’s younger brother & his own adopted father Balasvami DIkshitar narrates an episode involving Sonti Venkatasubbayya. In the Court of  Manali Cinnaya Mudaliyar once Sonti Venkatasubbaya rendered a gita and a tana in the raga Takka ( under Mela 15 Malavagaula) and stated that raga Takka was known only to members of his family and so as such it was their property.. Balasvami Dikshitar promptly got up sought the Mudaliyar’s permission and then rendered the gita ‘aramajju aparadha’ which is published in the SSP by Subbarama DIkshitar as an exemplar/lakshana of the pancama varja version of Takka.  Balasvami DIkshitar was felicitated by the Mudaliyar for his knowledge and erudition. The said gita found in the SSP is attributed as usual to Venkatamakhin by Subbarama Dikshitar but most likely it is of Muddu Venkatamakhin perhaps. Be that as it may, we can infer that Venkatasubbayya and his son must have migrated to Madras circa 1780-90 as evidenced by both Subbarama Dikshitar and Sarvadeva Vilasa. Given the absence of references post 1800, one may infer that Sonti Venkatasubbayya must have lived somewhere between the years 1740-1800 approximately, reaching the pinnacle of his career in the Court of Tulaja II. We see no mention of Sonti Venkatasubbaya in the subsequent rule of Amarasimha ( by which time he was in the patronage of Manali Muddu Krishna Mudaliyar and Chinnayya Mudaliyar) or of Sarabhoji II.

Subbarama Dikshitar credits Sonti Venkatasubbayya as a great votary of the Sampradaya or the musical lineage of Venkatamakhin. See foot note 1. In his SSP apart from profiling him briefly, he credits two compositions, both being tana varnas in the SSP referring to him as the foremost amongst composers.  In fact the SSP records just a couple of more varnas which predate these two compositions, namely that of Karvetinagar Govindasamayya. These two varnas are reproduced by Subbarama Dikshitar faithfully as authority for the raga lakshanas of the respective ragas. For this blog post as a mark of honor to the memory of that great composer, the varna in the raga Gamakakriya, the raganga raga of the mela 53 is taken as the exemplar. Of course the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar ‘Meenakshi Memudham Dehi’ too is available in the SSP.

The other varna of Venkatasubbayya is in the raga Bilahari and his carries the patron/poshaka mudra that of Tulaja II.

Paidala Gurumurti Sastri, the great composer and his disciple, records for posterity the greatness of his Guru Sonti Venkatasubbaya in his magum opus gitam in raga Natta, ‘gAna vidyA durandhara’ , notated by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Pratamabhyasa Pustakamu.

Prof Seetha, translates this for our benefit thus :

My Revered Preceptor VenkatasubhArya !

Foremost amongst the masters of gAna vidya !

Born into CinakOTi vamsA, may I have

Bhakti at your lotus feet ;

Wonderful is thy control over nAdA and its intricacies !

Thy amazing skills in rAgA and its varieties,

Thou hath the fortune of training a lineage of Disciples !

Proficient in gItA and prabandhA,

Victory to Thee, O My Guru VenkatasubbArya !

Further Dr Seetha adds that this Natta gitA which is set in dhruva tAla has an excellent rhythmic structure with 30 AvartAs or 420 kAla aksharas, which is in turn a multiple of 42, 70, 42, 60, 30 and 105 and so can also be rendered in matya, rupaka, jhampa, triputa, ata and eka tala. So in a trice one can render the same gita in the sUlAdi sapta tAlAs. The phrases employed in this composition bring out the Nattai of yore for us.


This rAgAnga raga first makes its appearance only in the Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium which is illustrated in the SSP. This  varna of Sonti Venkatsubbayya is perhaps the first authoritative version of this raga, as available to us. There seems to be no melodic nexus between Gamakakriya and another raga called Purvi which is more a janya raga of Malavagaula. None of the previous works such as Shahaji’s Ragalakshanamu or Tulaja’s Saramruta , all dateable between 1700 to 1736, talk about Gamakakriya. This could potentially mean that the raga was definitely a post 1740 development or atleast should have blossomed forth during the decades of 1750-1770.

Subbarama Dikshitar both in the SSP and in his PratamAbhyAsa Pustakamu provides a gitam in this raga composed most probably by Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to the period circa 1750. According to the SSP, the following are the salient features of the raga Gamakakriya:

  1. It has an operative/nominal arohana & avarohana murcchana as SRGMPDS/SNDPMGRS, as the raganga raga of mela 53, with nishadha being varjya in the arohana.
  2. It is a desi and a rakti raga. See foot note 2.
  3. Sadja is the graha and in the commentary Subbarama Dikshitar indicates that Gandhara is the preferred jiva svara which almost as a rule appears as dirgha/elongated/stressed and adorned with the oscillated kampita gamaka.
  4. He also provides a few illustrative murcchanas which we will cover in the analysis of the varna.

The gitam provided (brndAraka sanGha in Dhruva tala) in the SSP ( see foot note 3 )together with the varna of Sonti Venkatsubbayya gives us the complete gamut of this raga. We also see that Ramasvami Dikshitar made this raga a part of his ragamalikas, dateable to the pre trinity times. It is also a raga which sports the suffix kriya in its name ( see foot note 4)

In his SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar states categorically that this raga is also called as Purvikalyani today (early years of the 20th century), meaning the two ragas are synonymous. However we can see that Gamakakriya was the forerunner of what we call as Purvikalyani today. A few of the melodic murcchanas which were part of Gamakakriya were dropped and or modified and it became the body of the latter day Purvikalyani. In other words the murccanaas of Gamakakriya are a super set and that of Purvikalyani are a larger sub set thereunder, in the strict sense.


Let’s move to the rendering of the varna and analyse the same with the notation found in the SSP. As always we fall back on the learned Professor S R Janakiraman, who is a repository of many a rare varna & other compositions to provide us with the authoritative version of the varna. Here is a recording of the veteran, opening his recital at the residence of his guru, Late Sangita Kalanidhi Musiri Subramanya Iyer, in the year 2005, accompanied by S Varadarajan on the violin and Mannargudi Esvaran on the mrudangam.

 A few points command our attention at the outset.

  1. This varna is cast in the modern ata tala varna format and is bereft of the anubandha section. In contrast, Venkatasubbayya’s Bilahari varna has an anubandha section. This is, given the notation/text provided in the SSP.
  2. The anupallavi muktayi svara as well as the carana ettugada svaras have sahitya tagged to them. The extant renderings of the varna do not include the sahitya section.
  3. As against the normal 5 ettugada sections seen in older varnas dateable to this period, this varna has only 4 sections.
  4. The varnam appears to be in praise of Lord Krishna.

The rendering of the varna and the notation in the SSP provides us with the following observations regarding the phrases and the key notes which have been repeatedly used in the raga. Prof SRJ also provides his commentary on this raga in his published work which we can rely upon to help us get clarity on the raga’s architecture.

  1. The anupallavi muktayi svara section is extremely instructive about the salient features of the raga, encompassing the very essence of the raga.
  2. Gandhara is the favoured jiva svara and it appears almost always ornamented with the kampita gamaka. The ranjaktva of the raga and the raga’ness and rakti’ness can be entirely attributed to the gandhara svara when it occurs in profusion with other notes.
  3. Ri, Ga, Dha and Pa occur as janta prayogas in profusion
  4. Both PDDPS and PDS have been used in equal measure. SDS and SDP too is seen.
  5. Similarly SDP and SNDP are both used.
  6. sNRs, DNPD, grNRnD, PDDNPDP and SNDNPDP are also encountered in profusion centering the nishadha note. However nishada is never a strong note nor is it a graha or a nyasa svara.
  7. Apart from Sa and Pa , Ri and Ga are the only graha/take off notes. Ga is also a nyasa svara.
  8. Skipping madhyama or pancama in the svara progression seems to be pattern – GRPMG or DMGRS.
  9. In sum only the PDNS prayoga is not found. Almost all other svara combinations are utilized in this varna.

Presented finally is another edition of the same varna by Vidushi Gayathri Girish rendered by her in a lecdem concert on Pre Trinity compositions @ Nada Inbam under the aegis of Parivadhini in Dec 2015. While she follows Prof SRJ in the varna rendering, having learnt form him she additionally renders the sahitya of the anupallavi muktayi svara, which is found in the SSP.


We next move on to discuss the melodic construct of Dikshitar’s master piece ‘mInAkshi mEmudham dEhI’  in Gamakakriya along with a few allied aspects.

  1. Given that Muddu Venkatamakhin has used the raga name as Gamakakriya, Ramasvami Dikshitar as well as Muthusvami Dikshitar have followed suit in going with the same name in their compositions.
  2. Ramasvami Dikshitar’s 108 raga tala malika uses Gamakakriya – 55th section of his ‘nAtakAdi vidyAlaya’ – using the permitted murcchanas is found in the SSP Anubandha.
  3. Dikshitar’s “mInAkshi mEmudham dEhi’ features very many Gamakakriya prayogas – usage of both PDS and PDPS or SDS for example is seen. But we do not see nishadha centric prayogas such as SNrS or DNPD or PMDM in the kriti. It could be that Dikshitar chose to compose with a subset of murcchanas given that a composition need not have the set of all permissible murcchanas for the raga. The raga mudra is plainly embedded in the phrase “dasa gamakakriyE” leaving us in no doubt as to the raga of the composition.
  4. Renderings of the raga and ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ in the modern context have taken a fully Purvikalyani flavor. PDS has completely given way to PDPS fully. Also while the carana section of the composition commences only at madhya sadja ( mathurA puri nilayE, SdS is how it begins) as per SSP notation, all renderings start only at pancama.
  5. We do have a few other compositions in Gamakakriya attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar mainly from Veena Sundaram Iyer’s publications and others as well.  Three of them are :
        • ekAmranAtham bhajEham
        • navaratna malinIM
        • Kasi VisalakshIm
  6. One composition of merit from this set of compositions outside of the SSP is ‘ ekAmranAtham bhajEham’. Curiously enough Subbarama Dikshitar in his biography on Muthusvami Dikshitar ( covered in Vaggeyakara Caritamu) records a few compositions which he says Dikshitar composed while he visited the holy places of Kanci, Mayuram/Vallalar Kovil and Madurai, which are not notated by him in the SSP. And he mentions ‘eKamranAtham’ as Dikshitar’s creation on the Lord at Kanci, though he does not provide the notation of the same under the raga in his SSP, for some reason. According to Dr Rita Rajan the musical setting of , ‘ekAmranAtham’ in which it is sung today, was a contribution of her Guru, Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan. Apparently the original musical setting as was rendered then, was presumably of a poor finish and hence the Vidvan proceeded to tunesmith/embellish the same. An examination of the said version reveals that the melodic setting is entirely on the lines of modern day Purvikalyani only. We do not know, which oral tradition’s version Ramnad Krishnan utilized, to build his edition of ‘ekAmranAtham’. It is indeed sad that we have forever lost the original setting of the composition which is a paean to the Lord of Kanci, eKamranAthA.

It would not be out of place to mention with some qualification of course, that compositions provided to us from an authentic source or notation should be rendered with the highest fidelity to the source/notation and the intent of the composer. Thus it would not be appropriate to morph the PDS in the Gamakakriya compositions into PDPS to normalize the lakshana of Gamakakriya.


Given the melodic definition of Gamakakriya/Purvikalyani and what one encounters in practice, we can conclude thus:

  1. Gamakakriya is a raga slightly wider in scope having PDS, sNRs, GrNrnD and such other phrases which are not seen in modern Purvikalyani.
  2. It could be that Gamakakriya simply cast off these phrases and evolved as modern day Purvikalyani, making these phrases as arsha prayogas. One does notice a similar pattern in the case of Bilahari for example. We have phrases which were prevalent in Bilahari as found in the varna of Veena Kuppayar, which have now gone out of vogue. However in the case of Bilahari, the name did not change however.
  3. To state simply, Gamakakriya is an older raga with a slightly broader canvas with the simple edict that except for PDNS all other prayogas can occur. This was how ragas were once a time defined, especially in the 18th century. In contrast Purvikalyani is a modern offshoot with a comparatively narrower melodic basis.
  4. One can see that from a pure melodic standpoint there is practically no difference between the ragas. The phrases native only to Gamakakriya being a very small sub set, was not deemed to ‘significantly’ impact the overall melodic body and hence as Subbarama Dikshitar himself says, Gamakakriya and Purvikalyani are indeed synonymous for all practical purposes.


The Teacher and the Taught - Prof SRJ with Smt Kalpakam Svaminathan
The Teacher and the Taught – Prof SRJ with Smt Kalpakam Svaminathan ( Photo courtesy: Ashwin & Rohin – Toronto)

We commence this section with the renderings of the two Dikshitar compositions , ‘mInAkshi memudham’ and ‘ekAmranAtham’. There are very many renderings of ‘mInAkshi memudham’ in the public domain, being one of the few well known Dikshitar kritis, which is part of the repertoire of musicians of all hues.

Presented here is the rendering by Prof S R Janakiraman first, available as a video on Youtube.

Prof SRJ renders ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’

Presented next is the rendering by ‘Dikshitarini’ Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan.  She learnt very many DIkshitar compositions from Sangita Kalanidhi T L Venkatarama Iyer and Calcutta Ananthakrishna Iyer of the Dikshitar sishya parampara and so one is tempted therefore to say she learnt this piece as well from them. However  per her own account she learnt it from Musiri Subramanya Iyer. Here is her rendering with alapana, tanam and svarakalpana.

Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan renders ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’

The composition was also part of the repertoire of the Dhanammal family. The rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda is available in the public domain. Interestingly she renders a cittasvara following the anupallavi , which is found neither in the SSP nor in the Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai (DKP) of Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, wherein this composition is found notated. A clipping of that section alone, from an AIR Concert of hers is presented below.

Natarajasundaram Pillai and Dhanammal learnt together, Dikshitar kritis from Sathanur Pancanada Iyer a scion of the Dikshitar sishya parampara. Since the cittasvara is not found in the DKP, it looks to be a certain later day addition to the kriti, by the Dhanammal family, perhaps.  However attention needs to be drawn to the PDNPDP…S usage in the cittasvara section the Smt Brinda renders. Dr Ritha Rajan has an interesting set of observations on the question of PDNDPS found in the cittasvara and how the PDPS or PDS could have become native to the uttaranga of Gamakakriya.

  • PDPS must have been a very casual phrase earlier and later became  prominent and included in the murchana. In the old renderings of the kirtanas like paripurnakama, ninnuvinaga, ekkalatilum and parama pavana rama, pdps occurs  or it is not there at all.
  • Members of the Dhanammal family musicians sing the raga with the least use of panchama.
  • Gamakakriya/Purvikalyani has some characteristic jarus and phrases with d and p endings  which are immediately followed with phrases starting with s or r. This has led to the fixing of the arohana as srgmpds or srgmpdps. Thus in the cittasvara section there is a pause after pdp and then s occurs.

srsd- srgr -pmmg- grgm- pdn pdp-Srndmgrsd-srgrnd-rndnmd-rs nd srgmgr-dgrndMgr  (mInAkshI)

  • In so far the phrase pdnp, it is perhaps part of the overall phrase pdn pdp and not a phrase by itself. This is akin to phrases in Begada where we sing mpd mpm, gmp gmr and so on.
  • Perhaps the most interesting part of Smt Brinda’s rendering is the phrase ” G…..(p) m R…s”, the notation for the word ‘dehi’ in  the pallavi line “mInAkshI mEmudham dEhI”. We will not find it any other version of this composition.

Presented next is the rendering of ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ by Vidvan Sri T M Krishna, as an interpretation of the notation of the notation found in the SSP. He first provides a commentary of the distinctness of the raga as found in the kriti and also demonstrates how the musical setting has been standardized, for example the start of the caranam, ‘madurApuri nilayE’ and the madhyamakala sahitya, ‘madhumatha mOdita’.

We next present ‘ekAmranAtham’ being sung by Vidvan Ramnad Krishnan, given that we have an account, that he had a hand in musically resetting the composition.


Even as the composition ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ has held the attention of our music world with its highly contemplative melodic appeal, it is no surprise that it has gone on to enrapture composers and listeners of the music of other genre as well. Perhaps much like how Tyagaraja’s Kharaharapriya and Dhanammal’s rendering of ‘ rama nI samAnamEvaru’ inspired Abdul Karim Khan to render the same, Rabindranath Tagore was inspired by the Gamakakriya and ‘mInakshi mEmudham’ of Muthusvami Dikshitar. Now part of the repertoire of Rabindra Sangeeth,  a modern day exponent of that music,  Smt Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta in a style inimitable of the genre, gives life to ‘mInakshi mEmudham’ in her beautiful cultivated voice.

Hear her render Dikshitar’s chef-d’oeuvre ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ with the unique vocalization:


Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta's ' Dakshin Hawa' The Album 'Breeze of South' with 'mInAkshi mEmudham' Inspired by Muthusvami Dikshitar
Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta’s ‘ Dakshin Hawa’
The Album ‘Breeze of South’ with ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’
Inspired by Muthusvami Dikshitar

Attention is invited to her raga vinyasa ahead of the kriti. One can also discern the PD1P prayoga, elegantly used for ranjakatva ( not jarring) involving a sparing use of the suddha dhaivata ( a foreign note for the raga)  invoking the pathos of Puriya of the Hindustani Music, providing a clue as to how some of these misra ragas come about by usage through  motifs with the anya svara sandwiched in between the native svaras.

Presented next is her rendering of Tagore’s verses inspired by the lyrics as well the melody of Dikshitar. Gamakakriya becomes the melodic canvas for the Bengali composition ‘basanti he bubhanamohini’, of Tagore propitiating the Mother Goddess much like how Dikshitar does in ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’! ( See foot note 5). You can hear it on Youtube here.

Smt Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta renders ‘basanti he bhubhanamohini’ 

And here is how the composition is choreographed and presented on stage.

Dance – basanti hE bhubhanamohini


Circa 1730 or thereabouts, it must have been that Gamakakriya was an upcoming raga on the horizon, capturing the popular imagination and gaining popularity amongst the masses. It was thus a desi raga. Muddu Venkatamakhin circa 1750 or so, when he formally compiled the table of the 72 ragangas together with their offsprings namely the upangas and bashangas, thought it fit to elevate Gamakakriya as a raganga and thus anointing it as a head of mela 57. As the years rolled by, the raga thence must have gained traction with the cognoscenti and students of classical music. So much so a decade or two later, circa 1765 the great Guru and the Dean of the Palace Musicians Sonti Venkatasubbayya thought it fit to invest this raga with a tana varna, in the process laying out systematically the melodic contours of Gamakakriya, etching forever his name in the annals of our music. With this masterpiece, he had laid the foundation for a nouveau rakti raga, a rarity from the prati madhyama stable which would rival Kalyani and Ramakriya/Pantuvarali in terms of melodic popularity and charm.

Into the 19th and 20th century the raga became a mainstay through its melodic sibling/offshoot Purvikalyani, being invested with kritis by the Trinitarians. And as we saw it even went on to inspire musicians of another genre.However the root and seed of it all, Sonti Venkatasubbayya’s varna ‘ninnu kori’ is all but forgotten and remains archived in the SSP as a mere musical notation. He was, who Subbarama DIkshitar in awe referred as a guru shreshtha – the foremost amongst musicians/musicologist! His varna and Dikshitar’s ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ makes an awe inspiring visage for us and on this day of remembrance , we must pay obeisance to this great lineage of  acharyas, all paragons of music.

No greater homage is possible to the  guru shreshta Venkatasubbaya, by students and performers of music other than by sincerely learning this tana varna in total fidelity to the notation provided by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP, without in anyway normalizing it to Purvikalyani and rendering it frequently on the concert platforms.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) -Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini with its Tamil translation published by the Madras Music Academy
  2. Dr S Seetha (2001) – ‘ Tanjore as a Seat of Music’
  3. Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
  4. Dr N Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Sargam & Musical Conception in Karnataka System’ – paper presented on 11-09-2004 at the Seminar on ‘Sargam as a Musical Material’

Thanks are due to Vidvan Sri T M Krishna for providing me with a copy of his rendering of ‘mInAkshi mEmUdham dEhI’ and permitting me to use the same for this blog post. This is from his recent concert for Guruguhamrutha, held on 13th Nov 2016 @ Raga Sudha Hall, Chennai. Accompanist in this recording are Vidvans Sri H N Bhaskar on the violin, Sri Manoj Siva on the mrudangam and Sri B S Purushotham on the kanjira.


We do not know from whom Venkatasubbaya learnt. Much as one would like to tag Muddu Venkatamakhin or Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitar, who was Ramasvami Dikshitar’s preceptor as Venkatasubbayya’s guru, but that would be stretching facts too far without a shred of evidence. In fact Subbarama Dikshitar advances his argument that given Sonti Venkataramanayya (Sonti Venkatasubbayya’s son) was Tyagaraja’s guru, Tyagaraja therefore was yet another disciple of the hoary lineage/sishya parampara of Venkatamakhin.


The term ‘rakti’ in the context of a raga seems to signify a certain set of subjective attributes. If a raga could be elaborated or sung with “feeling” or “emotion” or ‘charm’ then the raga was said to be a rakti raga. Here the subjectivity is not with reference to the performer but entirely a property of a raga and its attributes. In other words if a raga is ideal for a highly aesthetic presentation, appealing to the sensory perception of listeners, the raga can be said to be a rakti raga or a raga which can be elaborated with ‘rakti’. Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli (“Rakthi in Raga and Laya” – Vedavalli Speaks- Sruti June 2011-pp 65-66) argues that rakti as an aesthetic concept has two different connotations- one from a raga or melody perspective (rakti raga) and another from a laya or a rhythm perspective (rakti melam). She proceeds to suggest that rakti ragas are more gamaka oriented and are mellismatic in contradistinction to svara oriented ragas. Thus ragas which create rakti are Nattakurinji, Saveri, Sahana, Dhanyasi, Begada, Mukhari, Surati, Devagandhari etc whereas ragas like Dharmavati or Charukesi are more svara based and hence not rakti ragas. Some of the musicological works represent aesthetics as a triad of raga, bhava and rasa. Readers are referred to the literature on these aspects such as “Semiosis in Hindustani Music” by Jose Luiz Martinez.

From a rhythm perspective, rakti is a composition with jatis as sahitya and is set to a tala much like a Pallavi and is played on the nagasvara with the chosen raga as the vehicle. Not surprisingly ragas which qualify for being rakti ragas are chosen for rakti melam exposition. From amongst the pratimadhyama ragas Gamakakriya or Purvikalyani is a chosen one apart from Kalyani or Pantuvarali/Ramakriya.

Foot Note 3:

Attention is invited to the fact that, Subbarama Dikshitar for the Gamakakriya gitam in the Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu gives two sets of sahitya for the same svara notation. He says  in his footnote that one is the sahitya as per his copy of the manuscript and the second/concurrent sahitya line is from the manuscripts provided by the then Sankaracharya of the Kanci Kamakoti Peetam His Holiness Mahadevendra Sarasvati the 65th Pontiff whom he met circa 1864 CE at Kumbakonam. Apparently Muddu Venkatamakhin for some reason composed two sets of raganga gitams, one which revealed the suddha & vikruta svara , the melam and the raganga raga name while the other had other substituted sahitya or words in those places. Why it was so done would remain a mystery, except that the original manuscripts which had the gitams with the raga details was with the Pontiff in complete secrecy. We do know that this Sankaracharya hailed from Tiruvidaimarudur was a descendant of Venkatamakhin himself. The indefatigable Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps after having exhausted his attempts to source the original manuscripts, reached out for the benign Grace of this Pontiff who shared them, which became Subbarama Dikshitar’s corpus of documents which enabled him to create the SSP. Subbarama Dikshitar composed a tana varna in Ramakriya and the Sankarabharanam kriti ‘ Sankaracharyam” on this Pontiff perhaps in eternal gratitude to His Holiness.

Foot Note 4:

This raga given its name, is a member of a kriyanga family of ragas which included ragas like Devakriya, Nadaramakriya, Sindhuramakriya, Gundakriya and Ramakriya, sharing the word ‘kriya’ as a suffix ( additionally krti or kri is seen in older musicological texts). This is part of the older raga classification scheme where ragas were grouped as upanga, kriyanga, raganga and bhashanga, normally referred to as the angA quartet. The older definitions & classification thereof have since become redundant/irrelevant in modern musicology. These terms today connote a very different definition as in – raganga being the raga implemented with all the seven notes considering both the arohana and avarohana krama, upanga means a raga thereunder which takes in notes only from the raganga/mela and bashanga meant a raga under a mela/raganga which also took notes which were foreign/not found in the raganga/mela. In the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika, while the terms of raganga, upanga and bashanga are seen but not defined, the term kriyanga is not at all seen. Using the same as his authority, Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps dispensed with the terminology in the SSP. Even in the raga naming done for the derived melodies in the 72 melas/ragangas, we see one melody ‘Ravikriya’ the 42nd raganga, apart from Gamakakriya being suffixed with kriya. Perhaps the author of the Anubandha did so without any nexus whatsoever with the older kriyanga concept.

Much older texts imply that kriyAnga ragas were melodies employed as a part (angA) of a kriyA (activity), perhaps involving prayer or praise of God or employed to connote the emotions of sorrow, joy, valour etc. In other words these ragas were perhaps used to depict specific rasas or aesthetically embellish verses/compositions for these emotions/activities. According the commentary of Emmie Te Nijenhuis for the ‘Sangitasiromani’ Sarangadeva and Kumbha refer to three kriyanga ragas, Ramakrti  or Ramakriya being a hymn to Lord Rama, Gaudakrti a hymn to Goddess Sarasvati and Devakrti or Devakriya a hymn to Lord Vishnu. Suffice to say the kriyAngA concept has long gone out of vogue.


The lyrics of the Tagore’s verses in Bengali goes like this ( courtesy the Web).  They show how Tagore was inspired by the lyrics of Dikshitar’s ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’ – he uses ‘madhu maatha modhita hrudaye’ and ‘veena gana’ tellingly in his verse and off course the melody of Gamakakriya to embellish those verses with almost the same setting.

Hey bhuvana-mohini (Oh charmer / enchanter / soother of the earth); dika-prantey (in all directions),

Van-vanantey (in the woods and wildernesses), Shyama-prantarey (in the green fields),

amra-chhaye (in the shadow of the mango trees), sarovara-teerey (by the lakes),

nadi-neerey (in the river waters), neel akashey (in the azure sky),

malaya batasey (in the scented breeze), byapilo ananta taba madhuri (your endless sweetness spreads).

Nagarey, graamey, kaananey (across towns – villages and gardens), diney-nishithey (day and night),

pika-sangeetey (in the songs of the cuckoo), nritya-geeta kalaney (through music and dance), vishva anandita (the world rejoices).

Bhavaney bhavaney beena taan rana rana jhankrita (from the houses emanate the reverberations of the veena)

Madhu-mada-modita hridaye hridaye re nava-praana uchchhwasilo aaji (from the drunkenly euphoric hearts – new life springs forth today)

Bichalita chito ucchali re (The restless mind leaps) ;  Bichalita chito ucchali unmaadana (the feverish mind dances – ecstatic)

Jhono jhono jhonilo monjirey monjirey (resonates – throbs – like the clashing cymbals).


Safe Harbor Statement: The clipping and media material used in this blog post have been exclusively utilized for educational / understanding /research  purpose and cannot be commercially exploited or dealt with. The intellectual property rights of the performers and copyright owners are fully acknowledged and recognized.

Nov 25 2016 –  Updated with Vidvan Sri T M Krishna’s exemplar rendering of ‘mInAkshi mEmudam dEhI’

History, Raga

The true identity of the raga of Tyagaraja’s ‘nannu kanna talli’



There are two raga names assigned to this composition ‘nannu kanna talli’ of Tyagaraja, by the authors of the different compendia of Tyagaraja kritis. One is a raga called Sindhu Kannada and another is Kesari. The kriti is found documented in almost all of the collections of Tyagaraja’s kritis with the ragas as above and the melody being assigned to the 28th Mela Harikambhoji.

The idea of this short blog post is to determine what is the true and original contours of this raga or in other words what indeed in the original raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’.  The standard text of this composition goes as under. There may be minor variants with some of the words though.


nannu kanna talli nA bhAgyamA nArAyaNi dharmAmbikE


kanakAngi ramApati sOdari kAvavE nanu kAtyAyani


kAvu kAvumani nE morabeTTagA kamala lOcani karagu cuNDaga nIvu brOvakuNTE nevaru brOturu sadA varambosagu tyAgarAjanutE

Read on!


For a change let us first hear how this kriti of Tyagaraja is rendered in practice, understand the melody with our ear and then proceed to the theory of the raga.

There are very many popular editions of this composition in the public domain. All of them are fairly similar and the melody is only a derivative/Janya of Harikambhoji, the 28th mela. Exemplar renderings include those by Sangita Kalanidhis M S Subbulakshmi, Dr M Balamuralikrishna, T M Thyagarajan and a whole galaxy of other artistes.

A sample rendering is presented which is by a Vidvan of an age bygone, late Srivanchiyam Ramachandra Iyer, a disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer.  ( courtesy Sangeethapriya)


  1. The raga’s svarupa is fairly obvious for a student of music. It is unambiguously taking the notes of the 28th Mela Harikambhoji
  2. The operative arohana/avarohana is easily discernible from the rendering as under:

  Arohanam:    S M1 G3 M1 R2 G3 M1 P D2 P S or S M1 G3 M1 P D2 S

 Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 N2 P M1 G3 R2 S

  1. The standard notation for this kriti is available here, along with the text, meaning and notation. http://www.shivkumar.org/music/Nannukannathalli.pdf
  2. Almost all musical texts provide the raga name – the melody as embodied in this extant rendering of this composition as Kesari or Sindhukannada under Mela 28.
  3. There may be minor changes to the way in which the composition is rendered by different vidvans but the soul of the melody / raga is always the arohana/avarohana krama as above under mela 28.


One of the earliest authentic texts notating this composition is the work of Chinnasvami Mudaliar. Towards the closing quarters of the 19th century and the first few years of the 20th century, he went about meticulously collecting the kritis of Tyagaraja in their authentic form, sourcing them particularly from the Walajapet sishya parampara of the bard, which was considered authentic for very many reasons. The manuscripts of the notation and text of many compositions were zealously maintained by this sishya parampara in true fidelity to the original melody of the compositions.

While a few other texts gave the raga of this composition as Sindhukannada a raga name which first appears in a raga compendium ‘ragalakshanam’ (RL hereafter – see foot note 1) under Mela 28, the Chinnasvami Mudaliar’s compilation assigns the raga name of Kesari to this composition. Sindhukannada is not found in the Sangraha Chudamani the musical text which is thought to have been utilized by Tyagaraja or which is also considered a lexicon of all ragas that Tyagaraja is said to have composed in.

In contrast the raga name Kesari appears in the Sangraha Cudamani and hence most likely the raga of ‘Nanu kanna talli’ can only be the melody which goes with the name of Kesari.


Now while the raga of the composition as seen in practice is under Mela 28, the raga name now being known with clarity as Kesari, the next step is to evaluate to find whether the mathu is right. The raga Kesari according to the Sangraha Cudamani is under Mela 25, Mararanjani ! And as per the lakshana shloka of Sangraha Cudamani the raga should be having the following arohana avarohana.

 Arohanam:    S M1 G3 M1 R2 G3 M1 P D1 P S

 Avarohanam:  S N1 D1 N2 P M1 G3 R2 S

As one can see it is exactly same in structure to the Sindhu Kannada lakshana of RL except that Kesari is under mela 25 with D1 and N1 while Sindhukannada has D2 and N2, that is under Mela 28. Structurally they are akin, while melodically they are different.

Thus one can safely conclude at this juncture that the extant version of the composition ‘nannu kanna talli’ is rendered with D2 (catusruti dhaivata) and N2 ( kaishiki nishadha) while the theory backed up by Sangraha Cudamani ( a perfect lexicon of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions) says that the raga for this composition should instead use only D1 ( suddha dhaivata) and N1 ( suddha nishadha).

So somewhere somebody threw a spanner in the works by which all renderings of ‘ nannu kanna talli” by prominent sishya paramparas of Tyagaraja got normalized to a version with D2 and N2 ( mela 28) with the result that the probably original raga of the composition was simply morphed by shifting the notes especially the dhaivata and nishadha from D1 and N1 to D2 and N2 ! This version with D2 and N2 became prolific and mainstream completely eclipsing the original version.


As one can see the change that took place was that the raga of the Tyagaraja’s composition ‘nannu kanna talli’ was simply amended by replacing the notes D1 and N1 with D2 and N2 . The notation and lakshana by Cinnasvami Mudaliar and the Sangraha Cudamani, respectively – two unimpeachable witnesses in so far as Tyagaraja’s composition goes are the mute witnesses to this disfigurement done to ‘nannu kanna talli’ . The raga Kesari under mela 25 was done away with by replacing the D1 and N1 notes with D2 and N2 and a new raga Sindhukannada was created to replace it. And this morphing of the raga of this composition was most likely done during the first half of the 20th century.

And what was the need to deprive the composition of its original tune? The motive is perhaps not too complicated. The raga sported D1 and N1, a vivadi combination. In very many schools, especially at that time it was considered ‘traditional’ not to render vivadhi combinations as it was thought of as a ‘dosha’ so much so in private it was believed that the dosha brought misfortune. Musicians with such a belief system eschewed rendering such ragas/compositions which sported vivadhi combinations. Its quite likely that instead of avoiding rendering ‘nannu kanna talli’ with D1N1, one/ some or many considered that the composition being so beautiful should be brought to ‘mainstream’ by flipping its raga, by replacing the D1N1 combo with D2N2 and thus working around the problem!

So much so, notwithstanding the evidence of the Sangraha Cudamani which the musicians of that era adored, the notes D1 and N1 for the raga of ‘nannu kanna talli ‘were set aside without much ado as they suffered vivadi dosha, perhaps on the strength of the text RL and also perhaps of Nadamuni Panditar. It must have been as well considered that the D1N1 rendering was not harmonically facile , notwithstanding the fact that the sampradaya of Venkatamakhin provided for the workaround – PD1N1D1Ps and SN1D1P respectively for the arohana and avarohana. See foot note 2.  Such a change could not have been so easily propagated unless musicians/practitioners of those days had acted ‘in concert’.

Au contraire, the acclaimed music critic of those times, a titan who was feared both for his formidable knowledge and an acerbic tongue, Sri K V Ramachandran argued from the portals of the Music Academy that the new melody of nannu kanna talli was not authentic. And neither was the the raga Sindukannada of mela 28 found in the hoary musical tradition of Dikshitar or Tyagaraja. He records that he had heard the original version of ‘nannu kanna talli’ being rendered with D1. But apart from being recorded in the JMA for posterity, his sole voice of truth and reason was and has long been ignored and forgotten.

And post 1950, for certainty there is no version of Kesari/’nannu kanna talli’ with D1 and N1. Kesari was long dead and all musicians therefter and well now in to the second decade of the 21st century, unaware of this raga change, have proceeded to sing ‘nannu kanna talli’ with D2 and N2.


Well the answer is yes. The raga of ‘nannu kanna thalli ‘ is not Sindukannada under Mela 28 but it is Kesari under mela 25. The problem is it is still not yet the  complete truth! So isn’t Kesari which sport D1 and N1, the raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’ the original tune of the composition?

On the authority of ‘Sangraha Cudamani’, Kesari is indeed the raga of the composition and indeed it sports the vivadhi notes D1 and N1. But Kesari is not its original name. It is the name given by Sangraha Cudamani whose date is debatable. Kesari is a name without a textual history. And this melody masquerading under the name of Kesari is older than many of us think. It is older than the Trinity. It was not discovered by Tyagaraja. The melody of Kesari which goes by the arohana/avarohana murcchana as given by the Sangraha Cudamani, is found documented in the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika dateable to the first half of the 18th century, prior to the days of the Trinity.

On the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP, this raga sporting D1/N1can be found documented in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini as a raganga, head of the clan of Mela 25. Subbarama Dikshitar provides the arohana/avarohana krama as under:

Arohana :      S M1 G3 M1 P D1 N1 D1 P S

Avarohana:   S N1 D1 P M1 G3 R2 S

The raga is Sharavati, a pre trinity raga which was derived by Muddu Venkatamakhin to be the head of the clan 25. Subbarama Dikshitar provides the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti ‘ Sharavati tata vasini’ as the exemplar. As we can see the implementation of Sharavati both by Tyagaraja and Dikshitar goes by the text book definition afforded by Muddu Venkatamakhin as documented and commented upon by Subbarama Dikshitar. While the heptatonic Mararanjani is the melakartha and Kesari a janya thereunder ( in sangraha Cudamani), Sharavati which shares the same structure as that of Kesari, is the raganga under Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme.

The comparison of the raga lakshana given for Kesari in Sangraha Cudamani under Mela 25 and that of Sharavathi as a raganga for mela 25 by Muddu Venkatamkhin will completely tally. Sharavati and Kesari are one and the same !

So if we were to know the original setting of the Tyagaraja composition, we can see the exemplar provided by the Dikshitar composition for Sharavati and use that to reconstruct the original melody/mathu of ‘nannu kanna talli’. Here is the rendering of ‘sharavati tata vasini’ by Vidushi Gayathri Girish learnt by her from the Late  V V Srivatsa and rendered by her for one of his Guruguhanjali Programs.


From the notation of the Tyagaraja composition it is very clear that the same device used by Dikshitar for dealing with D1 and N1 svaras has been used as the arohana/avarohana murcchana given by Subbarama Dikshitar would show.

  1. PD1PS or PDN1DPS is the arohana krama
  2. SN1D1P is the avarohana krama.

In the existing patham of ‘nannu kanna talli’ by simply intoning D1 instead of D2 and N1 instead of N2 and by respecting the arohana and avarohana krama as above the possible original melodic svarupa of ‘nannu kanna talli’ can be obtained. Also the feature to note is both Tyagaraja and Dikshitar invoke the same arohana purvanga krama SM1G3M1P though SRGM suffers no dosha/dis-harmony. Yet the motif of the older Sharavati is only SM1G3M1 which both of them faithfully enshrine in their compositions, which is additional proof that Sharavati is the raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’.

Muthusvami Dikshitar has also appended a cittasvara section to pithily provide the raga lakshana of Sharavati.  Here is the rendering of the kriti together with the cittasvara section by the disciples of Vidushi Ambujam Vedantham. Though the kriti rendering has been augmented with embellishments for some of the lines, the spirit of the sharavati of Dikshitar is kept overall. Attention is invited to the ragas motifs in the cittasvara section. See foot note 4.

Based on the above here is my reconstruction of the beautiful Tyagaraja composition with D1 and N1, in Kesari, originally known as Sharavati.

NOTE: A note has to be placed here, which is the point which was reiterated in the earlier post on the raga Kalavati which too sported the PD1N1S in its uttaranga. The svara N1 can never be a nyasa, meaning one should not park on that note, when delineating the raga or singing the composition. The suddha nishadha has to be shown while executing a glide PD1/N1\D1, as a shade when intoning the suddha dhaivatha. While in the descent it should fleetingly appear when moving from the tAra sadja to the suddha dhaivata svara as S\N1\D1P. In all the renditions above presented, one would find that this mode of rendering is not strictly adhered to. While rendering, vidvans and students alike should take care to stick to the true spirit of this mode of rendering and not violate the same. In the same breath it is to be noted that in a few places the suddha nishadha appears as dheergha as well which has to be treated accordingly – For example mOdhinI in the madhyamakala sahitya which is a svarakshara is a dhirgha nishadha. Also we see Dikshitar using P/N1D1P as well in the composition.


The likes of Sri K V Ramachandran and Vidvan Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer have always voiced their  opinion that the original ragas of very many compositions of Tyagaraja’s has been lost or mutilated. The raga of ‘nannu kanna talli’ is one such instance. Much water has flown under the bridge. Much of the evidence if any for such statements are now no longer available due to efflux of time. But with the texts and the so called internal evidence of the compositions themselves, we can attempt to divine the true melodic contours of some of these classics so that an attempt can be made to restore the pristine original beauty of these works of art.

While Tyagaraja apparently kept the ragas of his compositions secret, Muthusvami Dikshitar made it obvious, embedding them in the very sahitya/text itself. And with his composition “sharavati tata vasini’ as an exemplar, this blog post has been an attempt to re-examine and determine the melody of his illustrious contemporary, Tyagaraja. The raga Sharavati, a raganga enthroned by Muddu Venkatamakhin as the head of the clan/mela 25 has been the vehicle for both DIkshitar and Tyagaraja and on this day one can celebrate their memory and their shared/common heritage with ‘nannu kanna talli’!


  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
  3. Ramachandran K.V. (1950) – “Carnatic Ragas and the Textual Tradition” – The Journal of the Music Academy XXI, pp. 99-106, Madras, India.
  4. Ramachandran K.V. (1950) – “Apurva ragas of Tyagaraja’s Songs” – The Journal of the Music Academy XXI, pp. 107-109, Madras, India.
  5. C Ramanujachari (2008) -The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja – Reprint- Published by Sri Ramakrishna Mission – page 67- Text & Translation of song


  1. A suspicious entry or rather an insertion is found in a musicological text confusingly named ‘Ragalakshanam’ ( Andhra text) of unknown authenticity, provenance and date. Dr Hema Ramanathan in her work ( page 1312) states that without any preamble, the raga name Sindukannada with the aroha/avaroha krama is inserted as just a line with no other information under another raga Isamanohari under mela 28. It is certainly grist for the mill and fodder for conspiracy theorists. The raga listing of Nadamuni Panditar (1906) gives Sindhukannada under mela 28. Similarly Ragakosam of RR Kesavamuthi too lists this raga Sindukannada under mela 28.
  2. In humor it also makes one wonder, if the entire episode of the raga of ‘Nannu Kanna talli’ getting flipped was a freak incident. Perhaps it was a work of a musician with a poor sense of svara gnana who ignorant of the actual raga and its svarupa began to mistakenly render or went on to teach the raga/composition with the facile notes D2/N2 so much so a mistake became the standard !
  3. We do have similar such changes that were introduced during the first half of the 20th century. Example is the raga of another Tyagaraja’s well known composition ‘nagumOmU ganalEnI’. The account of old timers as well historical/musical records would show that the raga sported only D1/suddha dhaivatha. But for some reason a particular school of Tyagaraja or a particular musician started rendering the raga with D2/catusruti dhaivata with the result that the spurious edition became popular/mainstream. It has lead to a comedy of errors, with the result today one treats the original tune of ‘nagumOmU’ with suspicion. The same has been the case with quite a few other vivadhi raga compositions of Tyagaraja.
  4. The permission granted by Smt Gayathri Girish to use the recording of her rendering of ‘sharavati tata vAsini’ in this blog post is gratefully acknowledged. The recording of the kriti by the disciples of Smt Ambujam Vedantham is already available in the public domain.

Safe Harbor Statement: The clipping and media material used in this blog post have been exclusively utilized for educational / understanding /research  purpose and cannot be commercially exploited or dealt with. The intellectual property rights of the performers and copyright owners are fully acknowledged and recognized.

Raga, Repertoire

A Puzzle about the Raga Gopikavasanta



Historical accounts of Muthusvami Dikshitar would have it that he was a traditionalist and a staunch follower of Venkatamakhin and the raga system as tabulated under what is today known as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. As we have seen in earlier blog posts, this Anubandha is today believed to be a work of Muddu Venkatamakin a descendant of Venkatamakhin. However we do notice that in quite a few ragas Muthusvami Dikshitar, in his exemplar compositions as documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP), departs from the so- called raga lakshana definitions laid down in the aforesaid Anubandha. We are unable to reconcile this for very many reasons. One such example is the case of raga Gopikavasanta under mela 20 Narireetigaula, which is the subject matter of this blog post. In fairness to Subbarama Dikshitar, we can notice that he doesn’t gloss over these inconsistencies. In fact he puts the facts as he obtained without any trace of doctoring them or explaining away the inconsistency. He himself avers that he is puzzled by some of these inconsistencies.

The raga Gopikavasanta or Gopikavasantam as referred in this blog post and its illustration, commentary and treatment in the SSP raises a number of questions for us. One may simply ignore all these, just render the exemplar composition of Dikshitar provided therein namely “ Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ and just move on. But for an observer, researcher or student of any discipline such as music these historical inconsistencies need to be looked into, for an inquisitive mind always seeks to reconcile these and get a proper perspective., if not a definitive answer. If possible a logical conclusion should also be derived therefrom based on available facts, which must be revisited should new evidence or information come available at a later date.

With this in mind let’s do a deep dive into this raga which sadly no longer occupies center stage but had one upon a time been a raga of great antiquity.


Much like some of the ragas, like raga Kalavati dealt with in an earlier blog post, Gopikavasanta too is a raga which can be considered exclusive to the SSP as it is the first treatise to document the raga and the exemplar compositions based on the authority of the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to the first half of the 18th century.

For now we can say that the raga as named is not found mentioned in any treatises prior to the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. We do not see the raga being mentioned ‘as is’ in Shahaji or Tulaja’s works. Sangraha Cudamani a work which was supposedly followed by Tyagaraja too documents this raga but the melody therein though under the same mela, is described very differently and we do not have any composition of Tyagaraja conforming to that. Thus we are left to understanding the melody with the SSP as the sole reference.

As always Subbarama Dikshitar quotes the lakshana shloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin to start with.

syAt gOpikAvasantAkhya purnah sadjagrahAnvitah |

ArOhE ca dha vakrah ca avarOhE ri vakritah ||

A cursory reading of this sloka coupled with the lakshya gita for the 20th raganga nArirItigaula would reveal the following:

  1. Under mela 20 the raga Gopikavasanta has been grouped as a bhashanga along with Bhairavi, Ahiri and Mukhari
  2. The raga is sampurna, meaning it has all the seven notes, taking both the arohana and avarohana, together. The notes are R2, G2, M1, P, D1 and N2.
  3. Dha is vakra in the arohana while Ri is vakra in the avarohana.

Lets look at the murcchana arohana and avarohana provided by Subbarama Dikshitar along with his commentary before we consolidate our understanding of the theoretical sketch of this raga.

  1. RSRGMPDPNNS and SNDPMGRMGS are the murcchana arohana and avarohana
  2. It can be sung at all time and has sadja as graha
  3. Ri, Ga, Ma and Pa are all jiva and nyasa svaras
  4. Some salient murcchanas are R.MGRG. , R.MRG. , R.GGS, P.DPM., RGMP, NDM, GRMGS, RMRGS, PS, PPS, MGRMRGS, PSNDPM, G.RMGS, PNNS, PSNS, PMGMGS, ppSS
  5. He says the above sancaras are seen in the tanams in this raga
  6. Subbarama Dikshitar concedes that the kriti exemplar does not sport PNS and SNS.
  7. He wonders why (Muddu) Venkatamakhin has classified this raga as a bhashanga in the Ritigaula gitam.
  8. He does not provide any gitam or tanam for this raga.
  9. The only two exemplars he provides are Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayami’ in adi tala and his own sancari in catusra eka tala.

The proceedings so far itself throws open a lot of questions:

  1. Even as Subbarama Dikshitar says that the sancaras he quotes are seen in tanams, he does not provide an exemplar tanam, which he does for many ragas especially older ones. Why?
  2. He is puzzled why the raga is bhashanga. Perhaps he was wondering on this as the raga did not sport any foreign/anya svara. This atleast has an explanation as bhashanga in older times connoted a different meaning. Subbarama Dikshitar mistakenly evaluates the term in the modern context. We can safely conclude here that as per modern definition, Gopikavasanta is a upanga raga only under mela 20.
  3. Subbarama Dikshitar voluntarily points out the lack of PNNS and SNS prayogas in the Muthusvami DIkshitar exemplar composition with out in anyway way providing an explanation. Why?
  4. The arohana murcchana is given by Subbarama Dikshitar beginning with Ri. Extrapolating with similar such definitions, Subbarama Dikshitar should have added that Ri was the preferred jiva and graha svara. He makes no specific mention of it except in passing, clubbing it with couple of other svaras.


With the above referred open questions lets move to the kriti proper to investigate the same. The notation of the composition as given in the SSP would yield the following observations, about this beautiful composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

  1. The kriti is in the standard Pallavi, anupallavi and carana format without a cittasvara section set to adi tala.
  2. The raga mudra is conspicuously included in the text as ‘kapaTagOpikAvasantam’ in the caranam.
  3. His standard colophon guruguha is found in the madhyamakalasahitya section as ‘mamata-rahitam guruguha-viditam’.
  4. The kriti is on Lord Krishna, complete with prasa concordance. No internal reference is found as to the particular kshetra to which the composition can be ascribed to. And it is therefore a generic composition.

From a musicological perspective the following can be deduced :

  1. The kriti is rich in svaraksharas.
  2. The graha svara for Pallavi and anupallavi is pancama while the carana starts on the gandhara.
  3. The murcchana arohana avarohana which is obvious from the notation is as under:

Arohana :   S R G M P D P S

Avarohana: S N D M G R M G S

  1. The only prayoga found in the mandara sthayi is SpS. And tara sancara extends till madhyama.
  2. Prolific sancaras used are SSP, pS, GRMGS, NDM, PDP, PDM, SRGM, PDNDM etc.
  3. GRMGS is a leitmotif appearing repeatedly in the composition.
  4. There is no PDNS or SNDP or obviously MGRS.

Thus we notice a number of deviations which the composition has with reference to the laid won lakshana :

Attribute Laid down Lakshana of Muddu Venkatamakhin Lakshana of the raga as found in  Dikshitar’s kriti
Arohana vakra/varja svaras Dha is vakra Dha vakra and Ni is varja
Avarohana – vakra/varja svaras Rishabha is vakra Pancama is varja and rishabha is vakra
Standard/permitted purvanga movement ( Sa to Pa and Pa to Sa) RSRGMP   ;   MGRMGS SRGM   ;  MGRMGS
Standard/permitted uttaranga ( Pa to upper Sa and back to Pa) PNNS   ;   SNDP PS   ;  SNDM  ;  PDP  ;  PDM
Exclusions PDS  ;  PDNS  ;  MGRS PDS  ;  PNS  ;  PDNS  ; SNDP  ;  MGRS
Sancaras Tristhayi In mandara sthayi only SpS used
Strong/weak notes Ri and Ni are strong notes Ni is not a strong note/ svara and is never a graha or a nyasa.

While we see these departures, in stark contrast Subbarama Dikshitar in his own sancari, follows (Muddu)Venkatamakhin faithfully rather than follow Muthusvami Dikshitar. His sancari completely conforms to the laid down lakshana and as if to emphasise, he begins his sancari purposefully as NNSS, a sancara eschewed by Dikshitar in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’.

We are left pondering with a few more questions for which there can be no clear conclusions or answers. See Foot Note 1.

  1. Given the above information, did Muthusvami Dikshitar depart from tradition on purpose? In eschewing PNNS and other standard phrases, Dikshitar could have simply created another raga and named it to his convenience much like Amrutavarshini. Why did he still call his creation as Gopikavasanta despite the fact that melodically his version of the raga in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ is very different from the theoretical Gopikavasanta. The raga mudra has been embedded beyond doubt and Subbarama DIkshitar provides that as an exemplar. What better evidence could be there? So is it therefore acceptable to make deviations and implement ragas which are not in conformance to standard definitions, while retaining the same name?
  2. Can this deviation be judged as an innovation on the part of Dikshitar and thus account for the same? Do we perhaps conclude that Dikshitar was a trail blazer who considered that if need be we can depart from tradition and for him the marga of the ancients were mere road signs and were stepping stones ion the journey to  elevate music  though innovation? (or)
  3. Did he find that the then (during his lifetime) versions of the raga had already departed from this laid down version ( of Muddu Venkatamakhin) and he proceeded to compose using the then extant raga lakshana?

We will never know fully perhaps. We can perhaps look outside of the SSP and attempt to find answers to some of these questions.

  1. The Sangraha Cudamani documents one Gopikavasanta under mela 20 with a definition of  SMPNDNDS/SNDPMGS for this raga. Needless to add it takes us no further as it is a different svarupa altogether, totally lacking rishabha in its scheme.
  2. There are no extant kritis of either Tyagaraja or Syama Sastri given under Gopikavasanta.
  3. Sri K V Ramachandran noted critic of the past century in his Music academy lecture demonstration averred that the raga of the composition ‘Mokshamu Galadha’ was Gopikavasanta, not Saramathi which was an invented melody without a textual tradition. We have no way of uncovering the true matu/musical setting if so of ‘mokshamu galada’ and finding out the Gopikavasantha as implemented by Tyagaraja.
  4. There is one kriti of Svati Tirunal ‘ Dhanyoyam eva khalu’ recorded as being in Gopikavasanta. The notation of the composition as given by Sangita Kalanidhi Govinda Rao in his compilation mostly tracks the version of the raga as per Muthusvami Dikshitar. A few points merit our attention, which are given below:
    • A couple of sangatis for a few lines of the composition includes the phrase NDP which is not at all found in “Balakrishnam Bhavayami”, and for the same line we have NDM instead of NDP as a sangati.
    • Similarly in the mandara sthayi SNDM is found while in Dikshitar’s kriti only SPS is found. No tara sancaras beyond tara sadja are found in Dhanyoyam. All said, the phrase NDP sounds different and adds a different twist to the composition.
    • Curiously the kriti is architect’ed with very many avarohana phrases. SP is seen purvanga and SRGM is not seen at all.

One can say its quite a different implementation of Gopikavasanta. Would this make it Gopikavasanta or is it a very different raga. Modern musicology dictates that that Jayamanohari is created when Nishadha is dropped from Sriranjani. Do we use the same yardstick? One is not sure ! Also one cannot say with certainty as to the provenance of the mathu of this composition, whether it was sourced authentically from the Mullamoodu Bhagavathars or if it was an exercise in tunesmithing by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar or Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Curiously Sri Govinda Rao provides only the Muddu Venkatamakhin provided arohana/avarohana krama at the outset of the composition’s notation. Also see foot note 2 and 3 below.




 We have no other references or material to look into other than these and the trail runs cold. We may not have answers for these but the objective in asking these questions is to understand for ourselves some of these contradictions with the fullest respect, care and caution for history, personages and the greatness of the compositions which we have inherited.

Even while one ruminates on these questions, it goes without saying that Dikshitar’s creation is a beauty in itself. We move on next to the discography section and aurally enjoy this magical creation, before coming back to the analysis on hand.


We should be much indebted to Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer for having sung ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayAmi”in his concert performances in the last century of which we have recordings. We do not have a record of any other contemporaneous performer of the days bygone doing so. It is likely the titan learnt this on his own from the SSP.

Here he is rendering it in one of his concerts. As one can see the leitmotif GRMGS is repeated again and again in the composition. The veteran’s rendering especially of the SpS motif is not very obvious or prominent but has the ideal kalapramana one can expect of a Dikshitar composition.

Vidvan Sri T M Krishna renders the Dikshitar masterpiece in his concerts following the notation in the SSP for which he is known for. His version below available in the public domain, is albeit faster in tempo in comparison to other versions.

Next is the rendering of Vidushi Dr. T S Satyavati ( courtesy Sangeethapriya). She presents a very stylized version accenting the gaps and pauses with the musical motifs of Gopikavasanta, sticking to the script of the raga’s lakshana as laid down by Dikshitar. In the madhyama kala sahitya she sings “guruguha vinutam’ instead of ‘guruguha vidhitam” which is the SSP text.

Unfortunately we do not have any recorded versions of raga alapana, neraval or svara kalpana in this raga to present.

The rendering of the Svati Tirunal’s “Dhanyoyam eva khalu” is very rare and is hardly ever encountered in the concert circuit. Below is an excerpt from the 2016 Navaratri Mantapam Concert of Prof Venkataraman ( courtesy Sangeethapriya).

Given that there are no tara sthayi sancaras in ‘dhanyOyam’, Vidvan Prof Venkataraman renders it in madhyama sruti. The composition stretches from mandara sthayi madhyama to tara sadja. It has all the Dikshitar motifs for Gopikavasanta including repeated use of GRMGS, SNDM and PS and SP. as pointed out earlier its bereft of SRGM.


Given the wealth of material and the discography we have seen so far, we can and should persevere to assimilate the material in front of us, connect the dots and attempt to draw a plausible theory or hypothesis to the best of abilities to explain some of the questions we encounter above.

First is around the antiquity of the raga. How old is Gopikavasanta? We do have commentaries from Sangita Kalanidhi Subba Rao & Prof. S R Janakiraman and of Dr Seetha both on Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu as well as Tulaja’s Saramrutha. The analysis of Dr Hema Ramanathan vide her PhD dissertation ” Raga Lakshana Sangraha’ which is the 21st century compendium of musical history of practically all ragas is yet another source of great value along with Dr Satyanarayana’s commentary on Muddu Venkatamakhin’s work Ragalakshanam. All of them point only to the Anubandha or to the Sangraha Cudamani as the earliest works documenting Gopikavasanta.

With all humility and sincerity at my command it is my considered view that the musical material before us has been completely overlooked. Sahaji in his Ragalakshanamu documents one raga under Bhairavi mela, which Dr Sita in her work translates as under and I quote her verbatim:

” sampurna, ghana and naya yogyam, in aroha dha is langhana, ri is langhana in avaroha, phrases like PDNS and MGRS do not occur, SNDPM, NDS, NSRSRGMGS, RGMPDP, MPNS, NSNDPM, MGRMG, SNDPMP, NSRRS are prayogas found in the tayas”

To paraphrase the above, the raga is sampurna – meaning it takes all the seven notes of the parent mela, considering both the ascent and descent ; dha is varja in the arohana and rishabha is varjya in the avarohana. According to Sahaji, this raga is called “Indu Ghantarava” and is documented almost on similar terms by Tulaja as well.

Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on Tulaja’s Saramrutha opines that this raga is resembling Margahindolam of modern times. In my considered opinion, Indu Ghantarava is Gopikavasanta, plain and unalloyed, conforming to the definition of Muddu Venkatamakhin as given by him in the Anubandha. Sahaji’s murcchanas tally with those of Gopikavasanta as given by Subbarama Dikshitar. Actually all the three works, the Triad as I refer to – namely Sahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’,  Tulaja’s ‘Saramrutha’ and the Anubandha are all dateable to the first 3 decades of the 18th century. In the SSP we do have the Nattakurinji gitam with the proper ankita of Muddu Venkatamakhin with Sahaji’s poshaka mudra/patron’s colophon documented which go to prove the point that Muddu Venkatamakhin was patronized by Sahaji. Sahaji and Tulaja in their works have only documented ragas in currency/practice. And given that Muddu Venkatamakhin has added the scale to the anubandha meant that the raga was part both of theory and practice. Even assuming the date of the Anubandha to be subsequent, the above argument holds true.

With this input we can draw the first conclusion:

The raga which was once called Indu Ghantarava by Sahaji and Tulaja in their works is what was referred to as Gopikavasanta by Muddu Venkatamakhin ( all between 1690-1740). The same scale carried a different name as well which is Gopikavasanta.

Thus in all probability, the Gopikavasanta of Muddu Venkatamakhin and the Indu Ghantarava of Sahaji and Tulaja are one and the same.It had already taken root in our musical firmament during the early decades of the 18th century.

It is on the authority of this Gopikavasanta of Muddu Venkatamakhin does Subbarama Dikshitar create his sancari which today is the sole exemplar of that form of the raga, as Muthusvami Dikshitar had modified the raga in the interregnum. It is perhaps plausible that Subbarama Dikshitar considered himself bound and beholden to the written edict of his purvacaryas. This is not surprising as we see him do the same with Yamuna, which we saw in  an earlier blog post. In fact Subbarama Dikshitar when composing his jatisvaram in Yamuna, took the earlier works as his authority and not the ‘Jambupate’ of Dikshitar. We are in no position to judge the course of action Subbarama Dikshitar took. Neither did he deign to reconcile the different form to which Dikshitar had adapted the raga. and perhaps which is why to avoid further discordance he decided to leave out the tanams and lakshya gitam for Gopikavasanta in his SSP.  One must pause here to appreciate the diligence with which Subbarama Dikshitar went about in his quest to understand the theory of our music and his conscientious effort to distill that in the SSP. To that end Subbarama Dikshitar did not simply go by Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana slokas. He also viewed it in conjunction with tanams and gitams as well to determine the tradition. As an example lets consider Subbarama Dikshitar’s treatment of raga Abheri in the SSP. He gives the aroha lakshana krama of the raga as SMGMPPS even though the Muddu Venkatamakhin lakshana shloka only says ‘abherI sagrahA pUrna; syAdArohE nivarjitA’. The shloka does not say that rishabha, gandhara and dhaivatha are varja. Yet Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of the purvacharyas and their tAnams in this raga, says that SMGMPPS is the arohana krama to be used in compositions. He emphatically makes that statement in his commentary for that raga and provides the Dikshitar kriti as exemplar with authority. That was not to be the case with Gopikavasanta!

At this juncture, we must now pause once more and take a couple of minutes to appreciate Subbarama Dikshitar’s predicament or was it his plight. We can imagine one dark winter evening in the closing years of the 19th century, the great musical visionary of those times, the last of the titans of the great Venkatamakhi tradition sitting in the pyol of his house in remote Ettayapuram hunched over in silence, pondering what to do with this problem. There he was all alone, at the cross roads of history, while preparing the draft of the to-be-published SSP, with two melodic versions of a raga in the same tradition and he couldn’t explain it away himself. And so he  decides to leave things as is, never thinking a minute to fudge facts or obfuscate the corpus is front of him. He simply leaves it at that by deciding not to publish the tanams and the gitams of Gopikavasanta, lest it should confuse the future generations . What remained on the final proof read version of his SSP was just the lakshana sloka and the Dikshitar composition. One problem was solved but then another bigger one loomed menacingly for him. What about the sancari? He couldn’t avoid composing one for a hoary raga, because doing one for every raga in the SSP has always been his plan. If he does compose one for Gopikavasanta, which version of the raga should he compose in ? Should he simply move with times as his great ancestor Muthusvami Dikshitar had done before him and use the melodic body of the modern Gopikavasanta of ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayAmI’. Or should he do it in the older/archaic Gopikavasanta and and stay loyal to his beloved purvacaryas and Venkatamakin, whose lakshana sloka, lakshya gita and tanas lay in front of him, all composed in the archaic version of Gopikavasanta?

It must have been a very long night for the “sage like looking” Subbarama Dikshitar, which is how Pandit Bhatkande felt when he saw  him in Ettayapuram . And then the karma yogi he was,  when he wakes up the next morning, he decides to cast his lot with his most exalted preceptor Venkatamakhin. He had to keep the flag of his preceptor flying high and that he believed was his dharma! And so he goes on to create his sancari in the older/archaic form of Gopikavasanta. And as if to reinforce his conviction emphatically, he begins that sancari with the phrase NNSS, the very murcchana in the raga that Muthusvami Dikshitar had dispensed with!

I couldn’t wait for the Government of India to issue a stamp. Instead I did a digital one now to honor his memory on the occasion of his 100th death anniversary !

With that master stroke Subbarama Dikshitar solved the problem for himself by reinforcing what he felt was tradition. But what about those of us now, 120 years or so later, who want to reconcile the versions ? Subbarama Dikshitar took the well-trodden path of following the edict of the purvacaryas to the T. He considered it perhaps a sin to be seen in discordance to the written edict. My personal suspicion/view is, he tagged all the musical material back to Venkatamakhin himself and never for once did he even suspect that somebody down the line – like Muddu Venkatamakhin for example had only created the Anubandha very much later in time. Which is why time and again he laments that the current practice & lakshana is way-off the sampradaya propounded by Venkatamakhin. With the utmost tenaciousness and single minded determination much like Dr.U.Ve. Svaminatha Iyer, he went about with great zeal to procure the original manuscripts which he believed to be Venkatamakhin’s himself and finally getting it from the Pontiff of the Kanci Mutt at Kumbakonam circa 1870. For him perhaps Venkatamakhin was God himself and therefore any deviation from his stated word would be blasphemy. And so he considered it fit to follow his hero and guru Venkatamakhin rather than even his immediate ancestor Muthusvami Dikshitar. Actually and unknowingly the ‘the preceptor’’ he was following was Muddu Venkatamakhin or the author of the Anubandha, whoever it was! Evidence of this mindset can be seen in Subbarama Dikshitar’s treatment of ragas in contradistinction to Muthusvami Dikshitar.

Turning over to Muthusvami Dikshitar himself, one can surmise that he could have chosen to name his version as he visualized in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ as a new raga, carving it out of the older Gopikavasantha (as documented by Muddu Venkatamakhin in his Anubandha), by dropping additionally Ni in the ascent and pancama in the descent and modifying the octaval scope of the raga, delimiting it in the mandara sthayi. He didn’t do so. It is conceivable that even in Dikshitar’s lifetime circa 1800, the actual theoretical construct of Gopikavasantha had died out or had become extinct, leading DIkshitar to resurrect a ‘version’ of Gopikavasanta.

It must have been that the older Gopikavasanta or Indu Ghantarava held a larger set of murcchanas and composers like Tyagaraja and Muthusvami Dikshitar thought it fit to use a sub set of those svara murcchanas to create baby or subsidiary ragas. Thus ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions such as Jingala, Saramati Amrutavahini etc did not have a textual history. Tyagaraja merrily carved these solitary composition ragas ( eka kriti ragas) from out of the body of perhaps Indu Ghantarava/Gopikavasanta and proceeded to give them form and life. The older Gopikavasanta/ Indu Ghantarava simply became archaic or deprecated being overridden by these newbie ragas or on its own through disuse.

It has been Muthusvami Dikshitar’s cause to revive some of the older and dead ragas, burnish them and invest them with his compositions. Examples include Purvi, Padi, Salanganata, Gurjari, Navaratnavilasa and their ilk. So when Dikshitar took up some of these archaic ragas circa 1800, he either implemented them ‘as-is’ or he made melodic modifications to ensure that the musical identity of the creation was preserved in the process distinguishing it from the other extant ones . Thus one can plausibly imagine, when he took up the case of Gopikavasanta ( which had by then passed into oblivion through disuse or otherwise) and started crafting/redesigning perhaps its architecure, he retained elements of the original construction. So he continued to give the pride of place to the leitmotif GRMGS and retained the SRGM. To melodically enhance, distinguish and make Gopikavasanta aesthetically appealing, the architectural/design pattern, much like the ones in the software programming he used was to create turns, jumps, bends and twists in the raga’s melodic movement. So he gave a go by to PDNS and PNS and plumped for PDPS. He employed the same device again in the avarohana by jumping over Pa, making it langhana/varja. And  topped it with a octaval constraint in the mandara sthayi with SpS. See Note 4 below. His creation was complete and here was his chiselled and burnished version of Gopikavasanta. The older/archaic Gopikavasanta was all but forgotten, Dikshitar’s kriti exemplar must have taken its place and all was fine.

More than half a century later when the Pontiff of the Kanci Mutt handed over Subbarama Dikshitar the “original” manuscripts, which perhaps proverbially put the clock back for Subbarama Dikshitar, did all hell break loose for him. The older version of Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Gopikavasanta which he sincerely believed to be of Venkatamakhin’s found in the manuscripts he got and the patham of Gopikavasanta as found in ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayAmI’ learnt perhaps from his father Balasvami Dikshitar or one of Dikshitar’s disciples like Thirukkadaiyur Bharati or Thevur Subramanya Iyer, and their contradiction posed a great problem as above more so when he wanted to publish the SSP, for consumption by the rest of the world.

This course of history is the one which can only possibly/plausibly explain the apparent contradiction or dichotomy one notices between the text book definition of Gopikavasanta and Muthusvami Dikshitar’s implementation as documented in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’.

In sum, the natural life cycle of ragas by which they die out or spawn newer offsprings with truncated scalar material together with the arrival of margadarshis like Tyagaraja or Dikshitar who modify or resurrect ragas to continue the innovative/evolutionary cycle, is what can logically explain the contradiction such as the one we see in Gopikavasanta. In parting/concluding this section I cannot but help recalling what the renowned Jurist Justice P V Rajamannar pithily put, in his foreword to the Tamil version of the SSP and I quote him.

“It is a futile controversy to embark on the determination of the inconsistency between lakshana and sampradaya. The crystallized sampradaya of one age becomes the lakshana of the succeeding age.”


Muthusvami DIkshitar’s creations always instil a very deep sense of awe and respect and I endeavor to research them, sing them and enjoy them to the fullest possible means from different perspectives. That said the available renderings of ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ seemed a little wanting in terms of some stylistic aspects such as the rendering of the mandara pancama SpS. Also I felt that given this raga lakshana deviation Dikshitar has made, a cittasvara section briefly summarizing the new svarupa he has cast, can be a great addition to the composition and for my personal understanding. To the best of my abilities, I have endeavored to create the following simple cittasvara section and I have taken the courage to render the same at the end of the madhyamakala section of the caranam, in the clipping below.

P, MGRMGS,p,S     GRMGSSP,    NNDMPPs,    P,PSsr,rmgrmgs,    sNDMG,GRM    GS,RGM ( Balakrishnam)

As already pointed out, some of the sangathis of a couple of lines in the Svati Tirunal composition “Dhanyoyam eva khalu” , sport NDP. Another sangathi of the same line also has NDM, the default Dikshitar phrase. By eliminating NDP sporting sangatis alone which provides a much homogenous version of the kriti, I have attempted to render it with fidelity to the notation (otherwise) as provided by Sangita Kalanidhi Govinda Rao. Below is my rendition.

Leaving aside the PNDP prayogas found in a few sangatis we see that the version conforms ‘broadly’ to Dikshitar’s Gopikavasanta with a couple of caveats. We see SNDM in the mandara sthayi. Absence of SRGM phrase and usage of SP instead is also seen. But the construct of “Dhanyoyam” is so done that it doesn’t in anyway dilute the overall melodic identity of Dikshitar’s Gopikavasanta. This Svati Tirunal composition in misra capu tala is classified as a jnana vairagya composition and is again on Lord Krishna, the text of which is below:

Dhanyoyameva khalu bhavati bhUtale ( Dhanyoyam) anyasamadaivatAganya mahimAnam vinyasyAti hrdIyo visadmiha mukundam ( Dhanyoyam) kAmakrodhalobhAdi khalavairi samudAyam BhImamatibhaktyA sambhidya nirayamUlam dAmodara hare MAdhava padmanAbheti nAmAni japati yo nata kaivalyakArinI ( Dhanyoyam)


And so this is the riddle about the correct lakshana of the raga Gopikavasanta which is hidden from plain view by the hauntingly beautiful ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayami’ . The SSP tantalizingly makes it mysterious for those of us who try to prise it open. But for performers and students, what they need to do is very clear. The implementation of the raga by the nonpareil Muthusvami Dikshitar has now become the lakshana for us. One has to just render the composition with/without an alapana, neraval svara kalpana in Gopikavasanta in perfect alignment and fidelity to the intent of the great composer, in this instant case being Muthusvami Dikshitar who apparently in his infinite wisdom decided to give a go by to the text book definition and went ahead to chisel out another facet of the raga. And in that process he thus reset the very aesthetic form of the melody for us centuries down the line.



  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006 – pages 314-315 & 426-429
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 485-486 & 565-567
  3. Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
  4. Dr S. Sita (1983) – “The Ragalakshana Manuscript of Sahaji Maharaja’ – Pages 140-182- JMA Vol LIV
  5. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, pages 241-245
  6. T K Govinda Rao(2002) – Compositions of Maharaja Svati Tirunal – Ganamandir Publications – pages 126-127



  1.  The Experts Committee of  Madras Music Academy seems to have discussed the lakshana of Gopikavasanta in its 10th Annual Conference Year 1937-38. However the pages of the said Journal of the Music Acadamy is electronically unavailable.  Hence I am unable to include that in this narrative.
  2. Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s ‘Kritimanimaalai’ list a composition of Krishnasvami Ayya starting with the pallavi refrain “govindarAjam bhaje” and tags its raga as Gopikavasanta. This is not found documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP. We do have evidence to believe that Subbarama Dikshitar had a hand in setting the music for Krishnasvami Ayya’s compositions. The analysis of the notation of this composition however reveals a confusing picture. Murcchanas like PDPS as well SNS, SPND and such other prayogas show up in profusion giving a different hue to the raga.
  3. There is a Northern variant or namesake of our Gopikavasanta and its named Gopika Basant. Some commentaries on this Hindustani raga place it as a melodic equivalent of our Hindolavasanta, dealt with in an earlier blog post. A brief commentary and a clipping of the rendering of the raga can be heard here, scrolling down to the bottom of the page. As an aside, In passing one wonders why composers haven’t taken note of this raga to sew in a Vasantha ‘mAlA’ ragamalika composition, much on the lines of a Ranjani mala or a Gaula/Priya series of ragas. Vasanta, Hindolavasanta, Gopikavasanta, Suddha Vasanta and Viravasanta could be an exotic combination!
  4. We do have quite a few ragas with implicit octaval constraints in our music much like Gopikavasanta as below.
    • Nilambari, Anandabhairavi and Surati almost as a rule do not have sancara below mandara nishadha.
    • Ritigaula has a different svara murrcana/progression for mandara sancaras. NPNNS its leitmotif is rendered only in the mandara sthayi. It is not to be done in Madhya sthayi, where it morphs as MNDMNNS which should not be used correspondingly in the mandara sthayi- vide the pithy cittasvara section of Subbaraya Sastri’s ‘Janani Ninnuvina’ and of Dikshitar’s “Sri Neelotpala nayike’ documented in the SSP.
    • As we will see in an upcoming blog post, Natanarayani another raga from the SSP stable, too has an octaval constraint, with no sancara in the tara sthayi. Also while PDS is permitted in the mandara sthayi, only PS is used in the madhya sthayi.
    • Old timers would aver that musicians of the era bygone, would not perform sancaras below mandara nishadha or above tara gandhara, in Pantuvarali/Ramakriya
Raga, Repertoire

Ghanta – A raga from an other era



Ghanta or Ghantarava as it has been known all through musical history has been a raga with a recorded history of more than 500 years. Though the notes forming the raga has apparently undergone change, the form of the raga today can be gauged completely only from the authoritative commentary of the raga provided by Subbarama Dikshitar in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini and the two examplar kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar therein. Curiously we do have a couple of compositions of Svati Tirunal too which depict the raga as found in the kritis of Dikshitar. The raga being purva prasiddha and takes multiple types of the some notes, it defies a categorization under any raganga/mela and its alignment under Todi (mela 9) or under Natabhairavi (mela 20) is a mere formality as these rAgAngAs do not contribute to Ghanta’s melodic individuality in any way.

Simply put, Ghanta is usually labeled as a misra raga – a raga which is an admixture of two or more ragas. In fact practitioners usually opine that the hues of a number of ragas including Dhanyasi, Bhairavi, Todi, Asaveri and Punnagavarali show up in this raga.

However the commentary provided by Subbarama Dikshitar and the two compositions of Dikshitar provides us with an ample view of this raga which is hardly ever performed on the concert stage today. Its musical definition also gives us a perception that it is a ‘designer’ raga – in other words it is a raga which can be interpreted or presented in different hues and colors and thus provides the performer or the composer as the case may be the leeway to present it as they imagine.

Ghanta is sought to presented in this blog post as a musical offering to the Mother Goddess on the auspicious occasion of Navaratri. Two prime exemplars presented in this post have been composed on the Devis from two kshetras namely Goddess Kamalamba of Tiruvarur and Goddess Mangalambika at Kumbakonam.

Over to the raga and the compositions!

The History:

Starting from Svaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya ( circa 1550 ) to the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904) Ghanta has been part of the southern musicological literature. Barring Somanatha (circa 1609) almost all Southern musicological texts talk of Ghanta or Ghantarava. The parent mEla/ragAngA and therefore the notes seem to have changed over a period of time, oscillating between Kannadagaula or Sriraga or Bhairavi mela. Meaning the rishabha or the dhaivatha svara or both has been changing. The gandhara, madhyama and nishadha svaras have been unchanged and have been only sadharana (G2), suddha( M1) and kaishiki (N2) respectively.

To assess the musical worth & history of a raga in currency today, one needs to look at the compositions of the Trinity and the musicological literature which were authored in the run up to the times of the Trinity & it is the triad of:

  1. The Ragalakshanamu of King Sahaji (circa 1700)
  2. The Sangita Saramruta of  King Tulaja (circa 1730)
  3. The Ragalakshanam or the raga compendium of Muddu Venkatamakhin (circa 1750)/Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika which is documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP hereafter)

In the context of Ghanta as a melody, with reference to the above three musicological texts the following is the summary for our understanding:

  1. All the three texts in unison place the raga under Bhairavi/Narireetigaula – modern mela 20. The original Caturdandi Prakashika (circa 1620) also places Ghanta under Bhairavi.
  2. The note dhaivata (suddha) or D1 is prescribed as the graha, amsa and nyasa according to Tulaja and Muddu Venkatamakhin. Even in Chaturdandi prakashika, Venkatamakhin marks dhaivatha as the graha, amsa and nyasa svara.
  3. Ghanta is described as both a ghana and naya raga by Shahaji
  4. While according to Venkatamakhin and Tulaja, the raga can be sung at all times, Muddu Venkatamakhin deviates and prescribes that the raga is to be rendered in the evenings.
  5. Sahaji has not only documented the raga in his work but has also used it in his Pallaki Seva Prabandha. This opera was resurrected by the Late Prof Sambamoorthi who notated & published it after hearing it being rendered by an aged performer in Tiruvarur. Bottom-line is that this melody had been extremely popular and had been used well by composers in the 1700’s in the run up to the Trinity.
  6. Barring a cauka varna, a pada and a handful of kritis, the raga has not been invested with any tAna varnAs or tillanas or such other compositional forms.
  7. Tulaja and Sahaji also refer to another raga named Indughantarava which has no relation to Ghanta. It is melodically equivalent to Margahindola of modern times.
  8. In the run up to the Trinity, Ramasvami Dikshitar, father of the Trinitarian has utilized Ghanta in his ragamalikas – for example ‘sAmajagamana’, corresponding to the same lakshana adopted by Dikshitar which has been covered in an earlier blog post.

From a musical angle the following points merit our attention:

  1. From the fact that the raga had been placed under the Bhairavi, it follows that the dominating notes/svaras are catusruti rishabha R2, sadharana gandhara G2, suddha madhyama M1, pancama P, suddha dhaivata D1 and kaisiki nishada N2. The usage of suddha rishabha R1 and catusruti dhaivatha D2 notes and the combinations in which they occur is pointed only by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP. In fact none of the older treatises including the Sangraha Cudamani as a rule, talk about the anya svara/foreign notes of the so called bhashanga ragas.
  2. So one has to fall back on the commentary provided by Subbarama Dikshitar for assessing the so called foreign notes in this raga. Curiously in his notation for the two compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar and his own sancari that he gives under the raga, Subbarama Dikshitar does not mark the types of rishabha and dhaivata in the notation of the compositions.
  3. Only in his raga commentary does Subbarama Dikshitar elucidate the svara type to be used for rishabha and dhaivata. Also he alludes to the usages as prevalent in practice and we need to resort to that when we interpret the notations.
  4. The usage of the dhaivata note as graha svara is evidenced by the fact that the graha svara passage for the raga is present in the lakshya gita printed by Subbarama Dikshitar, which he attributes to Venkatamakhin, but it could have been actually composed only by Muddu Venkatamakhin. In the modern context the graha svara does not have any melodic or practical significance. In a related context there has also been a view that this raga is a dhaivatantya raga, but the notation or the raga lakshana documented in major treatises do not support this view.
  5. We do have some ragas in the firmament of our Southern music, which have designated times for rendering. In the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini we do have a small set of ragas which have time designated as a part of the lakshana shloka ( of Muddu Venkatamakhin), some of which are under:
    1. Gaurivelavali, Dhanyasi, Bhupala, Sailadesakshi – Early morning – ‘prAtah kAlE pragIyatE’
    2. Revagupti & Bhauli – last or fourth quarter of the night – ‘tUrIyayAmE gEya’ or caramE yAmE pragIyatE
    3. Gauri, Sri, Bhairavi, Ghanta, Madhyamavathi – evening – ‘sAyamkAlE pragIyatE’
    4. Ahiri – First quarter of the night – ‘bAnayAmE pragIyatE’

The time of rendering of a raga in the context of Carnatic ragas seems to have gone out of vogue completely. The type of notes constituting the raga and the time of rendering also doesn’t seem to have a plausible correlation, making this entire feature an archaic one. Irrespective of that, Ghanta has been marked for rendering in the evenings in the company of Bhairavi, with which it shares a common body of murccanas/notes.


From a raga lakshana perspective according to Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of Muddu Venkatamakhin, the murccana arohana & avarohana for Ghanta are as under:

Arohana murccana :    S G R G M P D P N D N S  (or) S G R G M P D P N S

Avarohana murccana :S N D P M G R S

Before we embark on dissecting the raga lakshana in the SSP, a few clarifications are in order:

  1. The raga is classed as a ‘upAnga’ raga under nArirItigaula ( rAgAngA 20) by Muddu Venkatamakhin and by Subbarama Dikshitar. The word upAnga/bhAshAnga had a different connotation then in 1750’s in contrast to what is prevalent today. Suffice to say that in today’s parlance, Ghanta is a bhAshanga rAga irrespective of whichever mElA we put it under as it employs both varieties of rishabha and dhaivatha. Point is one shouldn’t be confused with Subbarama Dikshitar’s grouping of this rAga as an upAngA in the SSP.
  2. In his commentary for Ghanta, Subbarama Dikshitar alludes to the terms pancasruti dhaivata and trisruti rishabha. In the modern context they refer respectively to catusruti dhaivatha (D2) and suddha rishabha (R1) only.

That said, a reading of Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary in the SSP together with the notation of the two Dikshitar compositions provides us with the following inputs:

  1. Permitted murccanas  in the arohana & avarohana krama are as under:
    • SND1P, MGR2S
  2. According to Subbarama Dikshitar, the repeated usage of the phrases SGR2GM and PND2NS makes the raga beautiful. In other words they are the leitmotifs of the raga. The compositions also make use of another leitmotif D1ND1P as well.
  3. The notes G, M, D and N are heavily ornamented with the kampita gamakas.
  4. Catusruti dhaivatha ( D2) occurs only in the phase ND2NS. All other usages are only of suddha dhaivatha (D1)
  5. Suddha rishabha occurs in SRS , nRS and SGRS
  6. Subbarama Dikshitar makes no mention of Ghanta being a misra or a chAyAlaga rAga, just as how he makes a mention as a footnote for raga Jujavanti.

While Subbarama Dikshitar has indicated these in the commentary, he has put some qualifiers on the usages of the suddha rishabha and catusruti dhaivata. Interpreting them provides us with insights as to how the raga evolved.

  1. Subbarama Dikshitar opines that the singing of both types of rishabhas and dhaivatas seem to have been a post Venkatamakhi development.

Implication: So what it implies for us is that the original Ghanta/Ghantarava was a very Bhairavi’sh one and it must have been like this SGR2GMPD1NS/SND1PMGR2S. It has to be pointed out that Venkatamakhi has classed Ghantarava under Bhairavi mela in his Caturdandi Prakashika.

  1. The gita provided in the SSP for the raga which can be attributed to Muddu Venkatamkhin is dominated with downward/avarohana phrases. The few aroha purvAnga phrases found therein use only SGRGM. There is no SRGM or SGM found anywhere.

Implication: So SRGM and SGM were not utilized in practice in Ghanta even though there is no express disqualification. For example the lakshana sloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin does not talk about rishabha being vakra in the arohana. Thus it seems to be more a convention to use only SGRGM in Ghanta. Therefore the only route to reach madhyama from sadja is through the phrase SGRGM. In olden days it was SGR2GM only & it continues. SGR1GM is not permitted as Subbarama Dikshitar says very clearly that the suddha rishabha usage is confined only to SRS and SGRS. The leitmotif of Ghanta is therefore SGR2GM.

  1. Suddha rishabha occurs explicitly in SGR1S, NR1S and SR1S and nowhere else. Should we strictly interpret that these murccanas alone with R1 should be used as is, as one unit? This leaves a question whether MGRS or PMGRS should use R1 or R2. Since Ghanta is classed under Narireetigaula/Bhairavi, the default rishabha is R2 and that is what should feature in PMGRS. Interpreting or extending Subbarama Dikshitar’s commentary one can argue/surmise that if SRS or SGRS or in essence if a downward move to sadja is involved it should always feature R1 and this implies that PMGRS should feature only R1. Since Subbarama Dikshitar has not expressly called out PMGRS  to be used with R1 or R2, it makes it look that either of the rishabhas can be used in PMGRS. In fact Subbarama Dikshitar says that even though it has become a practice that in other prayogas depending on circumstance both rishabhas are being used, some people sing only suddha rishabha R1. So what it means is that Subbarama Dikshitar, an avowed votary of the Venkatamakhin tradition, implicitly believed that in line with the raga’s classing under Bhairavi, only R2 should dominate but he reluctantly concedes that R1 is being used. This verbiage provides the basis for the usage of MGR1S.
  2. Given that the types rishabha and dhaivata has not been notated in the two exemplar compositions, based on Subbarama Dikshitar’ commentary one can derive the following rule-set to define when to use R1/R2 or D1/D2

If the murrchana is an arohana phrase- that is going to end at madhyama, the rishabha note to touch would be catusruti(R2) and the murccana will only be SGR2GM. If the murrcana is tending to the madhya sadja/avarohana phrase the preceding rishabha will be suddha(R1) and the phrase will be MGR1S. And D2 is used only in ND2NS. All other phrases would involve D1 only.

  1. From the commentary one can construe that by using PMGR2S one can impart the Bhairavi flavor to Ghanta and with PMG1RS an overall Todi/Asaveri feel can be given to the raga.
  2. The compositions in the SSP do not have phrases which avoid rishabha such as SGMP. It is always vakra as SGRGM. The usage of the phrase SGMP and the SND1PMGR1S and its prolific use imparts the Dhanyasi charge/color to Ghanta. In fact there is a documented cauka varna of Svati Tirunal ‘sA paramavivAsa’ in which the caranA refrain is only SGMP.


The Experts Committee of the Madras Music Academy debated the lakshana of this raga in the year 1933 ( 25th Dec) wherein it was concluded that the raga took the svaras of Todi and additionally catusruti dhaivatha (D2NS) and catusruti rishabha ( R2GM). The proceedings do not provide us with any more material evidence beyond whatever we see in the SSP.


  1. Ghanta had dominant notes coming from Bhairavi. Most possibly as it evolved, it picked up R1 and D2 to impart itself a different color/hue, to differentiate itself from Bhairavi.
  2.  The phrase SGR2GM and PND3NS is to be used to impart ranjakatva/beauty to the raga.
  3. With R1 usage becoming more pronounced R2 usage got restricted to GR2GM.
  4. With R2 being so restricted and D2 being used only through ND2NS, the raga acquired a Todi flavor. Added to this was perhaps the fact that in certain versions even the SGR2GM too was dropped /deprecated and SGM coming to be used, the raga acquired a definitive Dhanyasi flavor.
  5. It is also likely that upper/tAra sthAyi phrases were also eschewed with the compositions using more purvanga phrases with denser R1 usage & thus giving Ghanta a more Punnagavarali feel.
  6. Given the usage of the two types of rishabha and dhaivata and considering its antiquity like Bhairavi, Ahiri etc it would be a futile exercise to group it under a particular mela/rAgAngA.
  7. From an interpretation perspective, instead of individual notes Ghanta can at best be understood in terms of murcchanas/phrases which would be the building blocks. The choice phrases are SR1S, SGR1S, SGR2MGR1S, SGR2GMGR2GM, GMPMGR2GM, MGMPD1P, D1PND1P, D1ND1P, PND2NS, PNS, SND1P, ND2ND1P, PD1MPGMP, PMGR2GMGR1S etc
  8. Rishabha is never a graha/nyasa note – in other words it is never a starting or an ending note.
  9. PMGR1S and PMGR2S may both be permissible. However if we have to have a consistent way for usage of R1 it may be better to avoid PMGR2S. That way the application of the R1 note would be explainable and orderly.
  10. SGM or SMGM or SRGM usage is not permitted or atleast is not a permitted usage in the tradition of Venkatamakhi as evidenced by the compositions of Dikshitar
  11. If one were to render the two compositions of Dikshitar given in the SSP, one can use the above rules to interpret the notation without doubt and derive a clear version of the raga.
  12. In sum Ghanta is a designer raga with the liberty to a composer or a performer to choose amongst those melodic blocks to build a particular version/flavor of raga. In fact with this conclusion in mind one can even hypothesize that Dikshitar in fact chose to impart a unique melodic feel to this raga by emphasizing GR2GM, ND2NS etc which is pointed out by Subbarama Dikshitar as imparting beauty to the raga.

As one can see from the above by adjusting the usage of R1/R2 and to a lesser extent D1/D2, Ghanta of a type or flavor can be created for a composition or a portion of the composition. This can be as under:

  1. Dominant usage of R1/D1 along with SGMP usage – Dhanyasi flavor- portions of Svati Tirunal’s cauka  varna is an example
  2. Dominant usage of R1/D1 eschewing tara stayi phrases and having denser purvanga phrases with more Todi/Punnagavarali flavor – portions of Neyyamuna- Kshetrayya padam can be cited as an example
  3. Dominant use of R2 and the phrase ND2NS/SND1P to get a Bhairavi flavor including the usage of the MGR2S phrase which Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps believed was the version in the true Venkatamakhi tradition.
  4. Equal usage of R1 and R2 through the appropriate phrases and embellishing it with the GR2GM and ND2NS and generating the flavor of Ghanta , with MGR1S. Most of the available versions of the relatively better known Dikshitar Navavarana composition ‘Sri Kamalambike’ fall in this category. Other examples are the kritis of Svati Tirunal notated by Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao- for instance the kriti ‘pAlaya pankajanAbha’.



  1. Presented first is the Dikshitar Navavarna kriti as found in the SSP rendered to tanpura sruti by the late Vidvan Pattamadai Sundaram Iyer, from a home recording. This is an example of Category 4 above. Apart from the standard phrases, Sundaram Iyer unambiguously uses only PMGR1S only and the catusruti rishabha usage is restricted to SGR2GM & such other madhyama/pancama ending phrases.

Two curious points in his rendering merit our attention. One is the way he intones the dhaivatha occurring in the carana portion santApahara trikona gEhE. He also renders the madhyamakala carana line as “pancadasa tanmAtra visikA”. The SSP as well as Sri Sundaram Iyers’ guru Sangita Kalanidhi Kallidaikurici Vedanta Bhagavathar’s ‘Guruguhaganamruta varshini’ carry the text of this composition only as ‘pancatanmAtra visikA’. The incorporation of the words “dasa” seems inexplicable.

2. Sangita Kalanidhi T Visvanathan, who comes in the lineage of Sathanur Pancanada Iyer, a disciple of Tambiappan in the sishya parampara of Dikshitar renders this navAvarnA composition. This version is perhaps traceable to Sri T Visvanathan’s guru Sangita Kalanidhi Tiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai. Though Sri T Visvanathan was a grandson of Veena Dhanammal and learnt a number of Dikshitar compositions from his mother, mother’s sister and off course from his sisters Sangita Kalanidhis T Balasarasvati and T Brinda, this composition and the other navAvaranA ( except the dhyAna and the mangala kritis) krithis were never part of their repertoire, since it was not taught to them. This version of the Ghanta navAvaranA must have been possibly learnt though Flute Svaminatha Pillai tracing back to Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram & to Sathanur Pancanada Iyer who in fact was the guru of Veena Dhanammal as well.

The recording below is an excerpt from Sri T Visvanathan’s lecture demonstration in the Music Academy on 27th Dec 1986 . He is accompanied by Vidvan Sri Tyagarajan on the violin and Vidvan Sri Raja Rao on the mrudangam. And rightly so at the outset Sri Visvanathan provides his commentary on Ghanta ahead of the rendering.

Attention is invited to the kAlapramAna of his rendering, the gAyaki style in which he plays so much so that one can decipher the sahitya & its intonation and the delightful way in which he sings in the interludes which enhances the overall appeal of his presentation.  As in the case of Sri Sundaram Iyer’s rendering, attention is invited to the carana sahitya  “santApahara trikona gEhE” wherein the dhaivata being intoned by Sri T Visvanathan is very much closer to D1.

Overall while Sri T Vishvanathan sticks to the standard version of Ghanta in his presentation,   attention is specifically invited to the madhayama kala section of the carana beginning ‘amtah karanE’. In this section, in the sahitya line ‘dyamta-rAga-pAsadvEsAm-kusadharakarE(a)tirahasya-yOginiparE’  he completely eschews R1 both in the madhya stAyI and in the tAra sthAyi segments and gives a completely Bhairavi’sh touch to Ghanta. The svara notation for that portion as he renders is “N..S G R2 R2 S N N S D1 N S R1 S N D1P M G R2 S || P D1”. In the concurrent versions, this entire segment is always rendered with R1 only and R2 is not invoked at all. It needs to be pointed out that this interpretation is well within the ambit of Ghanta and has been pointed out for we do have a reliable authority for such an interpretation. One can reasonably surmise that for ranjakatva, usage of R2 had been sanctioned as needed! Thus while for most of the kriti, the rendering falls in category 4 above, the rendering of the carana madhyamakala sahitya portion qualifies for categorization under 3 above.

  1. Presented next is the rendering of the very rare Dikshitar composition ‘Sri Mangalambikam”, composed by him on Goddess Mangalambika, the consort of Lord Kumbesvara at Kumbakonam. She is said to be residing on a Sri Vidya mantrapeetha. Govinda Dikshitar the grand patriarch of the Venkatamakhin school after illustriously serving the Nayak King Raghunatha , sometime circa 1600 retired to Kumbakonam to spend his last years worshipping this Devi. Even today right outside the prahAra of this Devi’s temple one can see the vigrahas/statuettes of Govinda Dikshitar and his wife Nagamamba (parents of Venkatamakhin) facing Goddess Mangalambika. A towering and beautiful idol/mUla vigraha in the sanctum sanctorum is an awe inspiring sight for the devout. The Goddess has also been eulogized by Mahavidvan Meenakshisundaram Pillai ( the preceptor of Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer) through his Mangalambikai Pillai Tamizh. ( See Foot note 1) The rendering is by this blog author, inspired by the notation in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini and validated by a senior performing musician.

The rendering is as per the standard interpretation of Ghanta under category 4 above. The composition is extremely heavy and of the highest stylistic order. It resembles in its construction, the rarely heard Bhairavi kriti “AryAm abhayAmbAm”, in terms of both musical and lyrical worth. The composition bears the raga mudra as always along with the composer’s guruguha mudra.

There are a bunch of compositions which are available from other composers in Ghanta & the recordings of which are available in the public domain. The following are some of them which may be listened to enhance our understanding.

  1. The rendering of “Neyyamuna” , pada of Kshetrayya by Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda  – Labeled as Ghanta, this version does not have R2 and D2 at all.
  2. Tyagaraja’s mangalam in Ghanta – Renderings of this mangalam has more of Punnagavarali as its flavor.
  3. The rendering by Sangita Kalanidhi Mani Krishnasvami of Tyagaraja’s ‘ gAravimpa rAdA’ – The contour of the melody which is being sung is nowhere near the classic melodic identity of Ghanta. I believe it is a case of mis-labeling this composition’s raga. Tyagaraja apparently never disclosed the raga of his songs and it was finally left to his disciples and latter day editors of his compositions notably the Taccur brothers to tag the compositions with raga names they though fit. In fact Sri K V Ramachandran and a host of others with authority/evidence, in their lecture demonstrations in the Music Academy have forcefully argued that a number of the Bard’s compositions have been a victim of this mis-labelling. I strongly feel that this composition is yet another victim. The raga of this song is not Ghanta and is something different which I leave it to the discerning listener to discover.


A raga of great antiquity which has been classified as a rakthi raga and yet hadn’t had much of airtime, languishes in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini. More specifically the magnum opus ‘Sri Mangalambikam” composed on the Goddess enshrined at Kumbakonam, has never at all been encountered in the concert circuit. Given the grand edifice of the composition, once can reasobaly surmise that Muthusvami Dikshitar could not have perfunctorily composed this masterpiece. Similarly he must have given considerable thought to assign Ghanta to his navAvarana composition as well. The navAvaranAs are all composed in ragas of great antiquity, with each of which of them being crown jewels of our music system. It would be in the fitness of things that concert performers resurrect and present the raga and the two exemplar Dikshitar compositions.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006 – pages 666-671
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 1005-1013
  3. Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
  4. Dr S. Sita (1983) – “The Ragalakshana Manuscript of Sahaji Maharaja’ – Pages 140-182- JMA Vol LIV
  5. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, pages 201-205 & 207-210
  6. T V Subba Rao (1934) – Journal of the Music Academy Vol V, page 111
  7. T S Parthasarathy (1987) – Journal of the Music Academy Vol LV11 Page 55-56

Mahavidvan Meenakshisundaram Pillai’s “Mangalambikai Pillai Tamizh” can be found in tamil script here. Amongst many of his other works, he has also composed a Pillai Tamizh on Goddess Kanthimathi the presiding deity of the temple at Tirunelveli. The legendary Sangita Kalanidhi K V Narayanasvami used to frequently render a verse as a viruttam in rAgamAlika from this work, starting with the words “vArAdhirundhAl un vadivEl vizhikku mai ezhuthEn”. Below is a clipping of one such rendering in Valaji, Varali, Nattakurinji, Begada, Saveri, Sanmukhapriya and finally Behag.

Every time I hear this rendering I get goose bumps, for I consider this veteran one of the finest in rendering ragas with the greatest rakthi and this rendering is testimony to that. One wishes if only somebody were to as soulfully like Sri K V Narayanasvami, render say the verse starting “thanE thanakku sariyAya” from the “Mangalambigai Pillai Tamizh” -Part 6 ( vArAnai paruvam), Verse 10 in a garland of rakti ragas like Begada, Sahana and Surati finally tailing into Ghanta as a prelude to “Sri Mangalambikam”. And wont it be be grand?


Raga, Repertoire

A Musical Obeisance to the Goddess of Learning



Very many ragas were mere theoretical constructs of Muddu Venkatamakhin when he tabulated his rAgAnga scheme available us today as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. It is undeniable that they were given life, flesh and blood only by the composer nonpareil Muthusvami Dikshitar. One such raga is kalAvatI, the 31st rAgAngam or the head of the 31st mela/clan in the raga scheme. Many of these derived ragas were anointed as the clan heads/rAgAngAs such as Tarangini, Ragacudamani and whole bunch of prati madhyama ragas. To provide a formal musical expression for these still born rAgAngas , Dikshitar almost as a rule created short compositions with just a pallavi, anupallavi and a cittasvara/muktayi svara section for these rAgAngAs. Perhaps he feared that since they were neither ghana or rakti ragas, a huge monolithic kriti construct for these so called svara based ragas would be burdensome and repetitive. However for a select few of these rAgangAs, for reasons known to himself, Dikshitar created a full-suite kriti with pallavi, anupallavi and lengthy multiple tala avarta caranam with or without the cittasvara section,  for example Vamsavathi,  Phendyuti, Viravasanta, Tarangini and off course Kalavati- the subject matter raga for this blog post.

kalAvatI as a raga according to Prof S R Janakiraman is exclusive to the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, as the raga is documented and illustrated for the first time in musical history, only in that treatise. The raga has no connection with the raga of Tyagaraja’s two compositions – ‘ennadu juthano’ and ‘okapari’ – both being composed in a melody being a janya under 16th mela Cakravaka. The said compositions have been given the same raga name of Kalavati on the authority of Govinda’s Sangraha Cudamani. This blog post has nothing to do with this raga Kalavati under the 16th mela, (which has an entirely different svarupa) and is only about the raganga representing mela 31, Kalavati as handled by Dikshitar. It needs to be noted here that Tyagaraja has no composition under mela 31 raganga Kalavati or its heptatonic equivalent Yagapriya or any derivative raga therefrom. Neither do we have any recorded composition by any other composer of repute.

Thus for all practical purposes this melody is a eka kriti raga with Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘ kalAvatI kamalAsanayuvatI’ extolling Goddess Sarasvati, being the sole kriti exemplar ( barring a couple of other ones found in the SSP namely the gitam, tanam, sancari and a couple of ragamalikas where the raga finds a place).

On the occasion of Sarasvathi Pooja today being celebrated as a part of Navaratri, this raga and DIkshitar’s composition on the Goddess of Learning is presented through this blog post as obeisance to Her.

Over to the raga and the composition!


As pointed out earlier, Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga compendium, Raga Lakshanam/Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika, dateable to 1750 or thereabouts is the first musical text mentioning this melody. On that strength the SSP documents this raga as the implementation of the 31st mela or as the rAgAnga therefrom. The raga sports two vivadi note combinations (R3G3 and D1N1) both in the purvanga and uttaranga sections. As we have seen in an earlier blog post the raga architecture in the case of vivadhi notes has two important components :

  1. Taking into account the vocal renditional felicity & harmonics the vivadhi notes are made devious in the arohana/avarohana. Thus we see the R3G3 (shatsruti rishabha and antara gandhara) combinaton can be lineal in the ascent but has to be devious/vakra in the descent – that is they are implemented as PMG3MR3S or simple PM1R3S. Similarly for the D1N1 combination we do not see a lineal PD1N1S in the ascent – the suddha nishada is avoided or made vakra in the ascent as PD1N1DPS or PDPS or PDS or PDDS while in the descent it can be lineal as SN1D1P as the transition from N1 to D1 can be facile in the descent.
  2. The dissonant notes are necessarily ornamented with a gamaka for example by the the jaaru/glide in S\N1D1P or D1/N1D1P while R3 is usually given emphasis through the kampita gamaka.

Kalavati is no exception to this rule. And so predictably Subbarama Dikshitar in perfect accordance to Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana sloka provides the nominal arohana/avarohana murcchana as under:

 Arohana :           S R3 G3 M1 P D1 N1 D 1 P S

Avarohana:         S N1 D1 P M1 R3 G3 M1 R3 S

Subbarama Dikshitar adds that the two prayogas which makes this raga shine are PDNDP and SNDP with emphasis on sadja and nishadha in the later prayoga. The SSP provides us with the following exemplar compositions.

  1. Lakshya gitam of Muddu venkatamkhin in Jhampa tala
  2. Two sets of tanam of Muddu Venkatamakhin
  3. Muthusvami Dikshitar’s adi tala kriti ‘kalAvatI kamalAsanayuvatI’
  4. Subbarama Dikshitar’s sancari in matya tAla

In the anubandha the following two ragamalikas are found both being composed by Subbarama Dikshitar which sport this raga as one of it anga.

  1. 72 ragAnga rAgamAlika- I Kanakambari in which the 31st section is in kalavati beginning ‘ gAnalola’
  2. ‘kAmincina kalAvatI’ in the ragas kalAvatI, srI, todI, Manohari, Kannada, Sankarabharanam, purnacandrika, varali, sama, kedaragaula, khamas, maruva , kapi, Sahana, mohanam, vasanta as anuloma svara sahitya ( 16 ragas) sections and saveri kuranji, saranga, Kalyani, kambhoji, pantuvarali, arabhi, ahiri, gaula, nata, Yamuna, padi, nayaki, Lalitha, paras and Gauri( 16 ragas)  as the viloma svara sahitya sections. Here Kalavati raga section is the pallavi refrain which is rendered once at the beginning and one at the end. This mammoth composition in tisra eka tala is on the Maharaja of Vijayanagaram .


The kriti has been constructed in true Dikshitar style and the key points are summarized below.

  1. The kriti has the pallavi, anupallavi and the carana together with the final madhyamakalasahitya section.
  2. The standard colophon of Dikshitar ‘ guruguha’ is found as in ‘purAri-guruguha-hrudaya-ranjanIm’. The raga names is conspicuously embedded right at the very beginning glorifying Goddess Sarasvati as perhaps the moon or embodiment of arts.
  3. Given that the raga is svara oriented/scalar raga (and is certainly not a ghana or rakti raga type) , we do not find too much of gamaka embellishments in Subbarama Dikshitar’s notation of this composition.
  4. While the composition is in praise of the Goddess of learning one is unable to specifically place the location or shrine to which can be attributed, like how very many of Dikshitar’s kritis could be. There is one reference though which could be a potential pointer. In the beginning of the carana he says ‘kAsmIravihArA’. Dikshitar was an itinerant musician and one therefore could conjecture his visit to Kashmir. We do not have any more evidence beyond that. See Foot Note 1.
  5. The kriti conforms to prAsA concordance as one can expect and it extolls the Goddess of Learning in such terms including ‘ murAri snushAkA’




We will conclude this blog post with the analysis of the recordings of this composition. The earliest recorded performance of this raga and the exemplar composition is arguably by Veena Vidvan S Balachandar. Given that we have a recorded version also by his brother Sangita Kala Acharya S Rajam also of this composition, it is likely that the version was sourced from Ambi Dikshitar, from whom Sri S Rajam had learnt quite a few Dikshitar compositions during the brief stay of Ambi Dikshitar in Madras circa 1930.

Here is the recording of Vidvan’s Balachandar’s rendering. See Foot note 2.

And not unsurprisingly the printed sleeves & cover for this gramophone record, represents the raga of this composition wrongly as ‘Yagapriya’, the heptatonic equivalent of Kalavati. Sri Balachandar’s raga exposition as well as his svara kalpana follows the Yagapriya – complete lineal heptatonic route.


This kriti rendering tracks to Sri S Rajam’ rendering, which can be heard on Youtube here.

S Rajam renders Kalavati

In comparison to the SSP notation, one can notice that these renderings deviate in quite a few places. And its indeed an element of puzzle as this oral version traceable back to Subbarama Dikshitar through Ambi Dikshitar, his son does not compare well with the written notation as provided by Subbarama Dikshitar himself in the SSP, making us wonder as to who effected the change in the pAtham. In passing we can notice that the rendering of many contemporaneous vidvans would show that they learnt it either directly from S Rajam or from this recording.

Presented next is the lecture demonstration of Prof S R Janakiraman,(Prof SRJ) which is much like a lodestar for understanding the raga. This is an excerpt from a Music Academy lecture demonstration from the year 2005

Prof SRJ with great verve and passion, in this gem of an exposition, takes us on a tour, elaborating the raison d’etre for this raga being the subject matter of his demonstration, how it differs from Yagapriya, the logic of the vivadi notes being vakra, the need to sing the composition with absolute fidelity to the notation and lastly if not the least an exposition of the contours of the raga and his interpretation of the Dikshitar composition.

Laced with pungent humor Prof S R Janakiraman laments how this composition has been recast as if it was a Tyagaraja composition, speeded up and dealt with in a casual manner. It goes without saying that this kriti too has to be rendered in the majestic cauka kala pace, typical of Dikshitar’s compositions without accelerating the tempo.

Presented next is a brief excerpt of the rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalandhi Vedavalli from her commercial release “Sarada Stuti Manjari”. See Footnote 3.

Presented next is a brief excerpt of the rendering of the composition by Vidushi Amrutha Murali from her commercial release “Sarvashree” released by Charsur. See Foot note 4.

Besides the above, we do have commercial recordings of Dikshitar’s composition by Vidusis Sowmya, and Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam in the public domain. It would not be out of place to point out very many of these renderings have the madhyama kala section “purAri guruguha hrudaya ranjanI” rendered in tara stayi whereas the section is expressly notated by Subbarama Dikshitar in mandhara sthAyi which Prof S R Janakiraman pointedly renders with fidelity to the SSP.

Also available is a privately recorded ragam-tanam-pallavi in three ragas, all of which bear the name of Kalavati under their respective sampradayas/genre – Dikshitar’s Kalavati, Tyagaraja’s Kalavati and Hindustani Kalavati akin to our Valaji. This is by Vidvan Sherthalai Ranganatha Sarma.

There are no extant recordings of both the Subbarama Dikshitar’s ragamalikas in the public domain as they are practically extinct on the concert circuit.

I present another interpretation of this composition with  straighter notes, providing food for thought:


Given the notation as seen in the SSP and the available renderings I had always felt that the articulation of the PD1N1D and SN1D1P should be aurally even more nuanced and particularly the transition from D1N1D1 should be articulated even better. Given this, I have ventured to render it myself, the recording of which is below. One very good, close to the SSP notation, rendering which I have heard is of Vidvan T M Krishna’s, when he sang it soulfully in his Narada Gana Sabha 2014 Season concert.

In the context of interpreting the SSP notation, a personal view point needs articulation. Subbarama Dikshitar has notated the songs in the SSP based on his tutelage under Balasvami Dikshitar and perhaps other prime disciples of Muthusvami Dikshitar himself. Transcribing them into the SRGM notation along with his invented notation for the gamakas, Subbarama Dikshitar was attempting to distil the musical structure as much as he could. I don’t think it is humanly possible to “absolutely” transcribe with 100% fidelity, a rendering of a Carnatic composition into notation. And equally remote is a 100% high fidelity reproduction of the same by rendering the composition back from notation. This process cannot be loss-less by any stretch of imagination.

The task of converting a musical idea/notes into a 100% hi-fidelity lossless notation in written form is a semiotic impossibility. The un-notatables, the micro tones, grace notes and subtle nuancing of harmonics of the individual notes of our music are all too complex to be reduced to notation using a dozen signs. It is my earnest view that such a recreation, by reading the notation ‘verbatim’ would defeat the very purpose of the exercise as the output is more possibly a dull copy of the original. A more purposive or what I term as a creative interpretation or approach would be to ‘constructively’ interpret the notation taking the notation of Subbarama Dikshitar as road signs or as the means rather than the end in itself. Additionally versions from oral traditions and other inputs such as the mode of rendering the raga in authentic practice etc can be used to triangulate and optimize the interpretation.

With this view, I have as much as possible tried to keep to the spirit of the notation, attempting to interpret the notation in the Carnatic idiom to derive for myself the pen picture of this composition, as close as possible to how perhaps Dikshitar might have created in the original. In only the final avarta of the pallavi do I use PDSNDP. Otherwise I stick to PDNDP or SNDP as applicable.

Personally this composition for me represents a creation of the highest aesthetic order. The turns and bends, the almost lavish baroque use of the vivadhi combinations and the almost perfect blending of the sahitya with the notes makes this a perfect example of what the French would call the chef-d’-oeuvre !


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) -Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini with its Tamil translation published by the Madras Music Academy
  2. Prof. S R Janakiraman(1996) – Raga Lakshanangal(Tamil)
  3.  JMA (2005)- LXXVI- Page 160- Proceedings of 3rd Jan 2005 published by the Madras Music Academy
  4. Vidya Shankar(2005) – JMA 2005 LXXVI – Gamaka Notation in Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – pp 191-206


  1. The Sarasvathi Devi or Sharada of Kashmir has very many interesting mythologies and legends associated with it. It could be that Dikshitar was perhaps alluding to Sharadha Devi at the temple in Kishenganj which is today in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. We have a similar point to ponder in the case of another Goddess Sarasvati related kriti namely the Sharavati raga kriti ‘Sharavathi tata vasini’. One cannot confirm the exact temple or place so signified in the composition which is the banks of the river Sharavathi. In so far as this Kalavati raga kriti is concerned, tagging a temple/location in KAshmir and also the visit of Muthusvami Dikshitar to that location if any detailed in popular Dikshitar literature is bereft of authority or evidence. Inside and outside of the SSP we do have Dikshitar kritis to which the holy places of the North such as Kedarnath, Pashupatinath and Badrinath have been tagged to. We do not know beyond reasonable doubt if he ever visited those faraway places. One can hypothesise that given the legends and association of deities to such places in our religious scriptures, Dikshitar could have simple alluded to the place on the strength of that reference, in the relevant compositions.Also from a historical perspective we have the works of scholars like Kalhana, Hemachandra and others which cast Goddess Sarasvati or Sharadha as having Her abode in Kashmir and thus one can only safely conclude that Dikshitar was merely following tradition and alluding to that in this composition. It will therefore only be an exercise in futility to determine the particular temple, deity he was alluding to or if he in fact visited Kashmir and composed it there given the poor internal evidence available in this instant case.
  2. Vidvan Balachandar’s rendering has been in the public domain for many years now and from a copyright perspective please see disclaimer below.
  3. Thanks are due to Sri Prashanth Prasad for sharing the rendering of the composition by Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli.
  4. Vidushi Amrutha Murali’s rendering had been uploaded in the public domain and in the light of copyrights involved only an excerpt has been shared.

Safe Harbor Statement: The clipping and media material used in this blog post have been exclusively utilised for only for educational / understanding /research  purpose and cannot be commercially exploited or dealt with. The intellectual property rights of the performers and copyright owners are fully acknowledged and recognised.

Raga, Repertoire

Narayanagaula– A hoary raga from a distant past



Very few ragas in our system have remained unchanged in terms of their melodic structure, since their time of conception/birth. Narayanagaula is one of them. Today it is a peripheral raga with a couple of varnams and a handful of kritis having yielded ground to its melodic siblings such as Kedaragaula and Surati, despite the fact that it can have an independent melodic existence.

This blog post is all about this beauty of a raga. There are two sterling compositions in this raga, one being ‘maguvA ninnE’,the ata tala tana varnam composed by Veenai Kuppayyar and the other being ‘Sri Ramam ravikulabdhi somam’ by Muthusvami Dikshitar. And equally there are two gold standard renditions of each of these compositions of the highest aesthetic order, which are classics for the sheer virtuosity with which they have been rendered. An in depth assimilation of these two compositions and the renderings can enable one to digest the entire form of the raga.


Narayanagaula has been dealt with in almost all Southern musical texts. Govinda Dikshitar, Venkatamakhin, Sahaji, Tulaja and the rest have provided the lakshana of the raga as it existed during their times. It has always been bunched under the Kambhoji/Kedaragaula mela with Nishada as a graha svara. As a raga it has been part of two nominal groupings in musical literature:

  1. In the company of Ritigaula, Malavagaula, Kedaragaula, Gaula, Kannadagaula, Chayagaula and Purvagaula, it has been grouped as a ‘Gaula’nta raga. See footnote 2.
  2. It has been made part of a second set /dviteeya Ghana raga panchakam. The first set consist of universally agreed ragas namely Natta,Gaula, Arabhi, Varali and Sri. According to one school, the second set consists of Narayanagaula, Reetigaula, Bouli, Saranganata and Kedaram. Contrastingly in the Pallavi svarakalpavalli of Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar in his gitam listing he makes the dviteeya pancakam as Ritigaula, Bhauli, Saranganata, Malavasri and Narayanagaula

In the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Subbarama Dikshitar presents the following shloka of Muddu venkatamakhin as the authoritative and unambiguous definition of the raga.

syAn nArAyanagaulastU sampurnO nighrahAnvitah |

arohE gadhA varjasca vinyAsAt vidyatE kvacit ||

He illustrates the ragas lakshana with a set of exemplar compositions:

  1. The Dhruva tala gitam of Muddu Venkatamakhin
  2. The matya tala kaivara prabandha of Venkatamakhin himself composed on Lord Sarangapani at Kumbakonam with its alapa khanda section being oddly notated completely with gamaka signs
  3. ‘Sri Ramam ravikulabdhi somam’ of Muthusvami Dikshitar in adi tala
  4. His own sancari in matya tala

In his commentary he concisely provides the arohana/avarohana murccana as RMPNDNS/ NDPMGRGRS It’s important and worth observing that he begins the murcchanas on Ri and Ni, indicating pointedly that they are the jiva and nyasa svaras. He highlights three important melodic phrases which must be emphasized:

–          MGRGRS

–          MP\DMPMGR and

–          PNS

The definition having not stated expressly that dhaivatha is vakra in the arohana gives room for interpreting that PNS is the default prayoga and PNDNS is an ancillary prayoga. Nevertheless Subbarama Dikshitar clarifies that the converse is true for the raga’s lakshana. As one can see later, while the exemplar compositions have both PNS and PNDNS, modern day performers sing only PNDNS almost as a rule completely eschewing PNS or PNNS.

Also one can notice that again though the prescribed avarohana krama is MGRS and MGRGRS, we also see MG\S with a glide from gandhara to sadja being used in the raga. Both the exemplar compositions sport this motif.


It is best left to the learned Prof S R Janakiraman to provide us an expert commentary on the raga based on the available corpus of compositions. Here is the summary of his take on this raga:

  1. It is a ubhaya vakra shadava sampurna raga devoid of gandhara in the ascent under the 28th begins in mela
  2. The notes ri, ma and ni are unique dheerga svaras which function as graha svara as well. Thus Tyagaraja’s ‘Kadalevadu’ and Dikshitar’s ‘Sri Ramam’ begin on Rishaba while the ata tala tana varna begins on Ma. And most importantly the carana refrain of the varna begins on Ni. Additionally Dikshitar gives both Ga and Dha a unique placement and treatment in his composition.
  3. All these three exemplar compositions sport MPDM in the Madhya sthAyi and SNNDDP in the mandara sthAyi copiously.
  4. Apart from the above referred murcchanas, M.GRGRGS, R.MPN.DD, MGRGRSR, M.M.MNDNS, NSNGRGSR are seen as characteristic sancaras. ( svara followed by a dot indicates it is prolonged/dhIrgha)
  5. The sancara NSNgrS is especially likely to sport a lowered gandhara especially in the tAra sthAyI.
  6. NSRMGRPMG.. is a beautiful and distinct prayoga for this raga.

Further according to Prof S R Janakiraman, this raga’s lakshana has remained more or less the same as it was during Govinda Dikshitar’s times. The discography section below, has the video wherein the Professor dissects the raga with the exemplar composition.



Musicologists have always reiterated that a raga is best understood very clearly from varnams as they encompass the complete melodic canvas of the raga. Common & jIva prayogas, arsha prayogas or murcchanas/svara combinations which are rarely rendered or gone out of vogue, beginning & ending svaras, weak and strong notes (graha, amsa, nyasa) indicating which are to be dwelt upon or elided/passed over, nature of the sancaras in tristhAyi, Ghana or rakti nature of the raga etc can all be inferred from a varnam of an expert composer.  A musical personage of such an illustrious pedigree is Veenai Kuppier, a disciple of Tyagaraja who has bequeathed us a number of varnas which are literally the encyclopedia for those respective ragas. His Adi tala varnas in Surati, Bilahari, Begada and Sankarabharanam and the Ata tala tAna varnas in Anandabhairavi, rItigaula & Narayanagaula are exemplars for the ragas in question, capturing for us the pen picture as it existed at that point in time.

In the case of Narayanagaula, Kuppayyar’s ata tala tana varnam which has ‘maguvA ninnE’ as its Pallavi is the very aigrette of this raga, much like how ‘Vanajakshi’ is for Kalyani and ‘Viribhoni’ for Bhairavi. See foot note 1. Furthermore, historical records have it that Kuppayyar excelled in rendering this raga as a performer. Prof. Sambamoorthi in his essay, ‘Madras a Seat of Musical Learning’ makes a telling statement that he was called ‘Narayanagaula’ Kuppayyar for the mastery he had over the raga and his ‘maguva nine’ is the best exemplar/lakshya for this raga. Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on Tulaja’s Saramruta, echoes Prof Sambamoorthy by saying that the tana varna is the lakshya prabandha for the raga.

Apart from Kuppayyar’s tour-de-force, in the varna category we have two more. One is the adi tala tana varnam ‘ calamEla jEsEvurA’ of Muthiah Bhagavathar. Another is the varna by Kalahasti Venkatasvami Raja who has composed a Nava raga Ghana ragamalika in adi tala, in which Narayangaula figures in one of the sections. This composition which is seen notated by Prof Sambamoorthi in his works has two odd features:

  1. Sahitya is seen for all the svara sections including the anupallavi muktayi svaras and the four carana ettugada svaras.
  2. While the prathama Ghana raga set as universally agreed is adopted in this varna, the composer Venkatasvami Raja in this case has made only 4 ragas as the dviteeya Ghana raga set, eliminating Bhauli and Saranganata and bringing Nattakurinji instead.

The varna is structured with its pallavi in Natta, anupallavi in Gaula and the anupallavi muktayi  svaras in Arabhi and Varali. The carana sahitya next is in Sri followed by four ettugada svara sections each in Narayanagaula, Reetigaula, Nattakurinji and Kedaram. Again this composition is rarely encountered in the concert platform.


Tyagaraja to his credit has a number of compositions, the prominent ones being “kadalE vAdu”, ‘darshanamu sEya” and “Innalu”. In fact there is a version of ‘darshanamu seya’ in Kedaragaula the melodic sibling of Narayanagaula, raising the doubt as to the actual raga of the composition.

We do have compositions of Muthiah Bhagavathar & other modern composers as well. We do not have any kriti of Syama Sastri or his descendants in this raga. Apart from his ata tala varna mentioned above, Veena Kuppayyar has also composed a kriti in this raga, ‘nannu brocEvA’, which has been never at all heard of, let alone being heard! It’s indeed curious that we notice no compositions in this raga in the case of Svati Tirunal, despite the hand that both Gayakashikamani Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer had, both in terms of resurrection and re-tuning of the melodies.

As an exemplar for the kriti format, we would be seeing the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti notated in the SSP, “Sri Ramam ravikulabdhi somam” in the discography section in detail. We have one more kriti attributed to Dikshitar which is found in the collection published by Ananthakrishna Iyer much later. It is the Nilotpalamba Vibakti kriti ‘’nIlotpalAmbA jAyatI” in misra capu tala. Suffice to say that the melodic and lyrical value of ‘Sri Ramam’ is of the highest order and is a worthy exemplar for enhancing our understanding of this raga.


Narayanagaula has also been utilized in Ragamalikas. Ramasvami Dikshitar for example has made use of the raga in his mammoth 108 raga tala malika. We do notice that this raga has been incorporated in a couple of other anonymous Ragamalikas found documented in the ‘Sangeeta Sarvartha sara Sangrahamu’ of Veena Ramanujayya. Another notable composition is a gitam in Narayanagaula published in the Pallavi Svara Kalpavalli of Thiruvottiyur Tyagayyar which concisely provides the raga’s lakshana. Needless to add, it reiterates the form of the raga as found in the Kuppayyar varna and the compositions of Dikshitar and Tyagaraja.

We do not have other compositional types in this raga ( padam, javali, tillana etc). Curiously enough if one can experience the raga in-depth and then ruminate it can be intuitively discovered in hindsight that:

  1. From a compositional form perspective, It is perhaps suitable only for Varna and kriti templates
  2. From a performance music perspective it is amenable to alapana and neraval but is best suited for tanam and svarakalpana.

Again from the discography one can infer that while the raga is ideal for madhyamakala/tAna exposition as exemplified by the ata tala varna and the kritis of Tyagaraja, the sedate pace of Sri Ramam of Dikshitar brings out another face of raga.


Addressed first in this section is the ata tala tana varna of Kuppayyar. Many renderings of this varna are available in the public domain. Among contemporary Vidvans, Sangita Kalanidhi T N Krishnan has rendered it time and again as a concert opener. His version is perhaps attributtable to Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer from whom quite a few seem to have learnt. Tiger Varadachariar and the Kalakshetra school seem to have been another great repository of this varnam. Vidvan M D Ramanathan (MDR) from this school has soulfully presented this and many other varnams in his own inimitable style. It takes a while to absorb his sonorous style of presentation, but once we come to grips his presentation gets addictive.

Here is his rendering in the company of Sri T N Krishnan and Sri Umayalpuram Sivaraman which is a gold-standard for this composition if one may say so.

A number of features call for attention:

  1. Sri MDR’s version tracks to the notation given in the anubandha of the SSP, almost to a T.
  2. The raga sports both PNDNS as well as PNNS as per definition. Sri MDR demonstrates easily that the intonation of the PNS or PNNS in Narayanagaula is so distinct and no way can one confuse this with Surati. The intonation is all that matters as well as the fluid ease with which you move to the next note. There are very many modern day musicians who have changed the PNNS to PNDNS as if to normalize the Narayanagaula to have only PNDNS. So much so, in some days to come PNS will be an arsha prayoga for sure in this raga. Subbarama Dikshitar almost as a cautionary note says that PNS is also part of the raga DNA.
  3. The Pallavi begins with Ma, the anupallavi with Sadja & the anupallavi muktayi svara with Ma. The carana begins with a lilting Nishada janta prayoga ,all jiva svaras for the raga.
  4. The fourth ettugada svara section rendered by Sri MDR, beginning with M1 is unique in its structuring. This svara section is not found in any published versions of this varna. Neither is it found in any other renderings. Be that as it may, the ettugada svara section (as given below) and rendered by Sri MDR is so nuanced and delicate right from the way he intones the madhyama note. Contrast this with the madhyama note he invokes at the takeoff of the first ettugada svara line. Here is the svara notation for the fourth ettugada svara section which is not found in the SSP notation of the ata tala varna:

m,gr                    snsr                     m,pd                    pmgr                   m,pn                     |
nddp                   m,pS                    ndpd                   m,pd                    m,gr                      |
m,gr                    snsr          |           m,pm                   pmgr                                               ||
m,gr                    srmp                    Chi…                    iiii                         na,,,                    |

And as if for our benefit when he renders it the second time he shifts the focus and intones the madhyama alone leaving out the other notes with pauses. The result is electric as one can see for its produces a different aural effect. See foot note 3.

  1. True to harmonic positioning and the gap between svarasthanas nishadha and the G3 gandhara, the gandhara value is lowered to sadharana levels almost in some phrases for example nG2RS.
  2. The way Sri MDR renders it brings to our mind the mellismatic way a raga can be expounded. Fluidity marks the flow of the raga. There are no well-marked svarastanas, no sharp tones or abrupt jumps/turns/twists. The flow is liquid melody driven by janta notes and brisk progression in terms of pace. Is this what was referred to by the ancients as ‘ghana’ marga or the attributes of a ‘ghana’ raga? Sri MDR’s voice seem to have been tailor made for this way of rendering the raga and this varna is a telling example of exposition of a Ghana raga. Words – sahitya or the svara intonation seem a mere auxiliary/appendage to the entire musical rendering. The concept of ghana in our music and its link to scalar and mellismatic ragas in contradistinction is a topic worthy of a separate in depth blog post.
  3. Attention is invited to the usage of the nishada svara especially in the janta form. The janta usage takes the form – PNNS and N.NDDPP the first N being extremely dheergha. The phrases PNDP or PNNDP takes the raga closer to Surati, which can and should be avoided. The said phrases can be replaced instead by PN.NDDP or PNDNPDMP giving unambiguously the unique flavour of Narayanagaula. Similar is his treatment of the madhyama note, as in M.MGRGRS.

Presented next is the version of Prof SR Janakiraman which can be tracked back to his days he spent in the Carnatic Music College @ Madras where he underwent tutelage under the legendary masters of those times. Worth its weight in gold, his telling illustration of the raga, its features and how it is distinguishable from Kedaragaula and Surati is presented in the following video in his very inimitable style, taking Kuppayyar’s magnum opus as exemplar.

Prof SRJ – Illustration

We move on next to the rendering of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘Sri Ramam ravikulabdhi somam’. Again this composition has been rendered by many contemporaneous vidvans and vidusis. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer used to soulfully render this in the past quite frequently and he is supposed to have learnt this from Tiruvisainallur Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer, a giant from another era. See foot note 4.

Before his presentation however, we have to hear out the gold standard rendering of this composition which can only be that on the Veena by Sangita Kalanidhi Mysore Doresvami Iyengar in true Mysore style. See footnote 5.

Accompanied by his son D Balakrishna, here is the maestro rendering the composition.

The version is sought to be presented in this section as a primus inter pares from amongst the rendering of giants, for a number of reasons detailed below.

  1. With a short sketch of the raga to begin with, the veteran embarks immediately on the tAnam of the raga, showing how madhyama kala pradhana the raga is. The mellismatic nature of the raga is brought to the fore by the vidvan coaxing those notes with his longer meetus from the strings on this hoary instrument of the South.
  2. Following the tAnam, he presents a very stylized interpretation of the composition. Students of music should listen to this with the SSP notation in hand to understand how remarkably the titan follows the notation given by Subbarama Dikshitar, with great fidelity. For instance one sees no trace of sadharana gandharam in his rendering of “nAradAdi sannuta”
  3. There no unnecessary sangatis, kaarvais and other embellishments, for the maestro in true Mysore style keeps gamakas to the minimum.
  4. And as the final icing on the cake he plays a concise set of kalpana svaras, with nobility of imagination, in the first/mudhal kAlam adding a meditative touch to his rendering. And at the same time as if on cue from Subbarama Dikshitar, he repeats again and again by embedding the raga’s leitmotif ‘MPMG RGRS’ in his loop back to the pallavi line. In his svara essay he plays both PNNS and PNDNS equally, without deprecating the former prayoga. After first playing the svara kalpana in the first kAlam he then moves to the second kAlam giving the right contrast in terms of pace of delivery in true vaineeka style.

The Vidvans of the Kancipuram school of Naina Pillai have reveled in singing the raga. We have recordings of both the Tyagaraja and Dikshitar compositions by the vidvans of this school (Vidvans Chitoor Subramanya Pillai, Madurai Somasundaram & others) complete with alapana and svarakalpana Dr. S Ramanathan too used to render the Tyagaraja composition ‘kadalevAdu’ very frequently which is in the public domain. We have renderings of the Dikshitar composition by contemporaneous vidvans including Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanian, Vidvan T M Krishna and Neyveli Santhanagopalan.

We next move on to an exemplar rendering of the raga as a part of a ragamalika. Sangita Kala Acharya Dr R S Jayalakshmi presents that portion of Ramasvami Dikshitar ‘s 108 raga tala malika, “Natakadi Vidyala”, set in Narayanagaula excerpted from a 2015 Nada Inbam Lecture Demonstration.


We move on to the manodharma section encompassing neraval and svarakalpana renderings in the raga. See foot note 6. Presented first is the svara kalpana rendering for the Kuppayyar Ata tala varnam on the carana line ‘cinna nATAdigA nItO’, by Vidvan Neyveli Santhanagopalan. In this AIR Sangeeth Sammelan Concert concert excerpt, we pick up action as the vidvan starts the final ettugada svara section and seamlessly moves on to the kalpanasvaras.


With Sri S Varadarajan on the violin and Umayalpuram Mali on the mrudangam providing competent support , the vidvan takes in the same melodic foot tapping tempo in singing svara kalpana, rolling out janta svaras dwelling on the jIva svaras as the eduppu svara for his sequences. The Vidvan again tellingly uses the leitmotif GRGRMP as his concluding svara refrain/makuta svara as he loops back to the carana line.

We should be eternally grateful to Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer for consistently keeping ‘Sri Ramam’ alive on the concert platform through his renderings right through the latter half of the last century. His renderings include the one in his “Kalki Gardens Ramanavami Concert 1967” in the company of Sangita Kalandhi Smt M S Subbulakshmi, which had once been recorded but shared and heard innumerable number of times by die-hard rasikas of his brand of music.

We bring this blog post to a close with his rendering of the song together with svara kalpana for the pallavi line of ‘Sri Ramam”, as a musical homage to that titan, from a concert recording of his.


And again like Sri Doresvami Iyengar, Srinivasa Iyer repeats MGRGRS in his svarakalpana, which the great Subbarama Dikshitar calls as the core building block of this raga of great antiquity.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar(1904) -Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini with its Tamil translation published by the Madras Music Academy
  2. Prof. P. Sambamoorthy (1970) – A Practical Course in Karnatic Music ( Tamil)- Book III published by The Indian Music Publishing House
  3. T K Govinda Rao (2006) – Varnasagaram – Ganamandir Publications
  4. Prof. P. Sambamoorthy ( 1939)- The Madras Tercentenary Commemoration Volume- Republished by Asian Educational Services
  5. Prof. S R Janakiraman(1996) – Raga Lakshanangal(Tamil)- Second Part
  6. Prof. S R Janakiraman (1993)- Ragas of Saramrutha – Published by the Madras Music Academy


  1. It’s indeed unfortunate that in older as well as modern publications ‘maguva ninne’ is attributed mistakenly to Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar. This includes the Anubandha to the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini as well. Since we have a reliable authority, that of Thiruvottiyur Tyagayyar himself in his publication “Pallavi Svarakalpavalli” stating that the aforesaid varna is one of his father, namely Veena Kuppayyar, we need to infer/reconcile that it was perhaps a case of misconception / mis-attribution /printing issue on the part of the older publishers rather than simply carrying forward the error and perpetuate the same on unsubstantiated authority.
  2. Shahaji, the Maharatta King of Tanjore has composed a ‘Saptasagara suladi prabandha lila daru” utilizing the 7 gaulanta rAgas( excluding Gaula itself) and the 7 talas on Lord Tyagaraja of Tiruvarur. The svara Ni is supposed to be one of the jiva svaras for all the gaulanta ragas. The sections in that composition are: Narayanagaula ( Dhruva), Kannadagaula(matya), Malavagaula(rupaka), Ritigaula (Jhampa), Purvagaula(Triputa), Chayagaula ( Ata) and Kedaragaula ( Eka) . We do have a set of compositions grouped as Vibhakti kritis on Goddess Neelotpalamba at Tiruvarur, attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar. Apart from the Neelotpalamba Vibhakti set, we have from the SSP, compositions by Muthusvami Dikshitar individually in every one of these gaulanta ragas except Kannadagaula & Purvagaula.
    1. ‘Sri Ramam’ – Narayanagaula
    2. ‘Sri Nathadi’ – Malavagaula
    3. ‘Sri Nilotpala nayike’ – Ritigaula
    4. ‘Sarasvatya’ – Chayagaula
    5. ‘Nilakantham’- Kedaragaula
  3. Unique as it may be, one has to wonder whose handiwork it was, for it is such a brilliant first rate piece of svara setting. Was it Sri MDR’s personal creation or a Kalakshetra/Tiger Varadachariar’ imaginative contribution to this varna? The Kalakshetra as an institution is famous for its imaginative melodic extensions to famous compositions. For example the Bhairavi magnum opus “Viribhoni” has a sahitya composed for all its ettugada svaras, which seamlessly segues with the svara setting and also the ata tala rhythmic setting. Whoever was the composer must be a genius to have retrofitted meaningful telugu words to a complex melodic and rhythmic setting and segueing seamlessly with the lyrical content of the pre-existing sahitya. Similar is the case of the Todi cauka varna ‘rUpamU jUcI’ as well, were sahitya has been incorporated for the ettugada svaras. All these have been more or less anonymous till date.
  4. Newly anointed Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanyam has acknowledged having learnt the Dikshitar Narayanagaula masterpiece from Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. According to him his guru Calcutta K S Krishnamurthi used to go into raptures recalling a brilliant rendering of that piece by the Carnatic veteran in a Bangalore Concert.
  5. Equally so in his erstwhile Sangeetham.com musical musings Sri.Sanjay Subramanian wrote once about the Narayanagaula tanam and the rendering of “Sri Ramam” by Sangita Kalanidhi Doresvami Iyengar in a concert sometime circa 1980 at the Sastri Hall, Mylapore.
  6. Another point to ponder is can the exposition of the raga be done through a viruttam. It’s not known for sure if there are any recordings of Ragam, tanam & Pallavi done exclusively in Narayanagaula, in the public domain. Performances have been made in the past such as the one by Vidvan T M Krishna in the 2009 Chennai Music Season at the Indian Fine Arts where he rendered 2 RTP’s back to back, the first one in Narayanagaula and the second in Rishabapriya. One other exhaustive rendering (40 mins+) of Dikshitar’s Sri Ramam is available in the public domain, probably a bootlegged recording of a Music Academy Concert from the year 2011 with alapana, neraval and svarakalpana.