Raga, Repertoire

Some reflections on Raga Narayanagaula and its allied ragas




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

Read on!


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

  1. Kedaragaula
  2. Surati
  3. Kapinarayani

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raga, Repertoire

Obeisance to Lord Krishna – A Brief Blogpost



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

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

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

Bird’s eye view of the 12th Mela:


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

Arohana krama : S R1 G2 M1 P D3 N3 S

Avarohana krama: S N3 D3 P M1 G2 R1 S

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

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

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

Melodic canvas of the Rupavati:

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

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

Arohana : S R1 M1 P S

Avarohana: S N3 D3 N3 P M1 G2 S

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

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


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

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

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

Kriti – “Sri Krishnam Bhajare”:

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

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


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

rE rE mAnasa                 – O mind!

bhaja                                – Worship

SrIkRshNaM                  – Sri Krishna,

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Rupavati – A controversy regarding Sangraha Cudmani

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


Foot Notes:


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


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


  1. One such articulation can be read here :
Personalities, Repertoire, Sahitya

O Goddess mInAkshI ! Princess of Kerala!


The blog’s heading may be a bit of a surprise. While, Goddess Meenakshi, the presiding deity of Madurai was a legendary Pandyan Princess and has been so eulogized by very many poets and composers, yet hidden in the heap of history and long forgotten is a Goddess Meenakshi, a look alike of her who made Kerala her home and thus veritably became a Queen of the Land of Parasurama and a tutelary deity enshrined in the precincts of the Palace of the Kerala Royals. And eventually while we shall look at a musical composition on this Meenakshi of Kerala in the process, we would also evaluate collateral historical information and remember a Royal who set up the Imperial House of Travancore (to which the musical composer Svati Tirunal belonged to) and who had a hand in this history.

At the outset I should confess that the inspiration for this blog post came from another avid blogger Sri Sharat Sundar Rajeev, a professional conservation architect and a history buff and an original one at that!  Again, my interest in the Royal family of Travancore got kindled last year since reading the classic work “Ivory Throne- Chronicles of the House of Travancore” of Manu Pillai which went on to get him the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Purasakar. It’s indeed sad that very many historical personages and events not to say of temples and other historical monuments lie forgotten. In these blog posts I have attempted to provide that insight as well even while we get to know and relish a raga or a composition. In other words, the idea is to know and enjoy the historical context as well when we get to hear, know or learn a composition.

Over to the Goddess!

FLASH BACK CIRCA A D 1635 – Tirumalai Nayak invades nanjil nadu/southern Kerala

Map of Kerala

Tirumalai Nayak the founding father of the Royal lineage of the Madurai Nayakas ruled from Madurai, his regnal years being 1623-1659 AD. A vassal earlier to the Emperors of Vijayanagar, the Nayaks of Madura, after the collapse of the Vijayanagar Empire, in the epic Battle of Talikota had broken free and become rulers in their own right. Tirumalai Nayak was one of the greatest in that line. And when he ascended the throne, he ruthlessly went about expanding his empire and, in his conquests, laid siege to many of the small principalities of south western coastal regions of peninsular India. He was the Nayak King who moved the Capital from Trichirapalli to Madurai and thus his tutelary deity was Goddess Meenakshi enshrined at Madurai. Tirumalai Nayak thus adopted the ancient signage of the erstwhile Pandyan sovereigns, imparting both political as well as religious legitimacy to their power by anointing Her as his kuladevata. Royals of those days, to derive power and authority always aligned themselves and their lineage to a well known and fiercely venerated Temple and/or godhead. Lord Tyagaraja at Tiruvarur, Lord Brihadeeswara of Tanjore, Lord Rajagopala at Mannargudi are classic examples where the reigning Kings and Chieftains took those deities to be their mascots and shortly we will see that the Royal House of Travancore took it a step further. (See Note 1)

Tirumalai Nayak circa 1635 forayed into nAnjil nAdu (vide Satyanatha Iyer ‘s ‘Nayaks of Madura” page 121) being modern day southern Kerala, which shared its borders with his kingdom. Kerala at that point in time, was an aggregation of small principalities and for the powerful Nayak King they were no match. History has it that perhaps as a mark of his conquest and victory, Tirumalai Nayak perhaps renovated and consecrated the 13th century temple at Padmanabhapuram, the imperial seat of the Royals of Travancore, modelled on the Dravidian architecture, rather than the typical Kerala style, and installed the icon of his tutelary deity, Goddess Meenakshi therein. And legend has it that he ensured that the mUla vigrahA or idol in the sanctum sanctorum too was stylistically made on the lines of the one at Madurai, complete with a parrot on her hand! Unsurprisingly he named this deity too as Goddess Meenakshi, in the process transplanting the hoary history of the Pandya Princess into the Land of Parasurama.

And thus, while history has left us with this piece of information, if one were to embark on a search today at Padmanabhapuram, for this Nayak enshrined deity, it will yield no Goddess named Meenakshi!

CIRCA 1720 – The House of Kulashekaras or Kupakas, the Travancore Royal Family, assume sovereignty

Sri Padmanabha Dasa Vanchi Pala Anusham Thirunal Marthanda Varma”

Venad, the strip of land which stretches from Attingal to Kanyakumari in modern day Kerala was the small principality nominally ruled by the Royals of the House of Travancore or the Kulashekaras or the Kupaka dynasty as they were held, with their seat at Padmanabhapuram.  Emasculated of their power they were nominal figureheads while, the real power lay with two entities. One being the Ettuveetil Pillamar (Lords of the Eight Houses) an aggregation of powerful Nair nobles, on one hand and the powerful Ettara Yogam which was an entity which managed and controlled the Temple of Lord Padmanabhaswami at Travancore. And it was at this point in time that in this Royal House of Kulashekaras/Kupakas was born Prince Marthanda Varma, known later as Anizham (Anusham- the star) Tirunal Marthanda Varma (born 1706 AD) whose regnal years was AD 1729-1758. When he ascended the Ivory throne, he quietly went about consolidating power by annexing the principalities of Quilon, Kayamkulam, Kottarakara, Ambalapuzha & Changanaserry. Marthanda Varma extended his dominions further by taking control of the holdings of the Kings of Cochin and the Zamorin of Calicut. In the famous Battle of Colachel (circa 1741) he defeated the Dutch who had interceded on behalf of the Kottarakara Royals and in the process, he became one of the handful of sovereigns of the sub-continent who had defeated a European colonial power. And finally, years later the Dutch completely succumbed to his suzerainty when they signed the Treaty of Mavelikkara which for all practical purposes anointed him Marthanda Varma as the Lord of Keralaputras. Assisted ably by his trusted Prime Minister (“Dalavai”) Ramayyan , he consolidated the Kingdom of Travancore, ushered in reforms and cut to size the entities including the Ranis of Attingal, the Ettuveetil Pillamar and the Ettara Yogam being the Devaswom Board known as Yogakkaras. (See Foot Note 2). Also realizing that all battles cannot be won militarily, Marthanda Varma calculated that he had to sue for peace with external powers as necessary including the British who were on the anvil of getting a toehold in Southern India. And so, he entered into friendship treaties including the one with the Nayaks of Madurai, who anyway by that time were a spent force. And thus, within a century after Tirumalai Nayaka had seized Padmanabhapuram, the Kulashekaras of Travancore had regained the place back, making the Royal Estate and the Palace there as their imperial seat of power. And in fact, it was his edicts and the policy that he set, which was followed to the T by his descendants all the way till 1950 when Travancore was subsumed by the Indian Union.

But Marthanda Varma wasn’t done yet. Even as he consolidated his hold over the entire Venad, he was about to perform an act that no other sovereign before him had done, which would endure all the way up to the 21st Century.

17th January 1750 – Truppadidanam

Surrender of the Dutch before his Highness Marthanda Varma after the Battle of Colachel

Whether it was a political master stroke to enable his suzerainty and establish and completely legitimise the rule of his Royal House of Kulashekaras into perpetuity or whether it was his unbridled devotion to Lord Padmanabha, we do not know. (See Note 5). On this date January 1750 AD, when the then 44-year-old Marthanda Varma who was at his very pinnacle of glory, made his coup de maître.

History tells us that this great King went in all pomp and splendour to the Temple of Lord Padmanabhaswami and in a ceremony called ‘thruppadi dAnam’ he laid down all his Royal regalia including his ceremonial sword before the Lord and dedicated all that he had including the kingdom to Lord Padmanabha. Travancore as a whole, thus became the property of Sri Padmanabhaswamy, the deity of the Travancore Royal family or in other words it became “God’s Own Country” as Kerala is called today!

In essence Marthanda Varma firmly ensconced himself as a mere vice regent or nominee of Lord Padmanabha/a mere dAsA who would rule for and on his behalf! Adversaries and foes would dare not wage a war again against his Kingdom for its Ruler was Lord Padmanabha himself.

And then on Anusham Tirunal Marthanda Verma went on to assume the complete Royal title “Sri Padmanabha Dasa Vanchi Pala Anusham Thirunal Marthanda Varma”. After this date all sovereigns of the Kulashekara/Kupaka House ruled in the name of Lord Padmanabha, with this title. In fact, Marthanda Varma went on to lay down the protocol that all Royal children in the matriarchal line as was the line of inheritance in the Royal families of Kerala, upon attaining the age of one would be laid before the Lord as a symbol of this dedication. Even female rulers adopted a corresponding title, for example Rani Gauri Lakshmi Bayi who was a Regent was titled as “Sri Padmanabha Sevini Vanchi Rajeshwari Maharani Ayilyam Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, Attingal Mootha Thampuran, Rani of Travancore”.

Goddess mInAkshi, the giver of eternal bliss becomes Goddess Anandavalli

mInAkshI – A painting

Having made this lasting contribution to the history of his Kingdom, this sovereign Marthanda Varma perhaps one fine day sometime circa 1755 turned his attention to the quaint temple of Lord Neelakantaswami near the precincts of his Padmanabhapuram palace which was his imperial seat. It was his successor Karthika Tirunal who in 1795 AD shifted the imperial seat from Padmanabhapuram to Travancore.

And Marthanda Varma must have mulled the fact that it was his Nayak ally, the sovereign of Madurai then back in 1635 AD nearly 100 years ago, who had consecrated this Temple and named the consort of Lord Neelakanteswara as Meenakshi, after the great guardian deity of Madurai, building it completely in the Dravidian style. And he perhaps thought that without in anyway erasing the legacy of the Temple or remodelling or rebuilding the temple in the Kerala style, wanted to just make a symbolic change perhaps by anointing the Goddess anew with a different name. Was it that perhaps in gratitude of this Goddess having gotten him what he wanted in life, did he deign to change the name of the Deity? One does not now, but we do know for sure that this padmanabha dasa during his reign went on to change the name of Goddess Meenakshi to Goddess Anandavalli, the giver of eternal bliss!

And thus, ends our search for that old Goddess Meenakshi of yore consecrated by Tirumalai Nayak. History tells us this for sure and whence one gets a chance to visit the Temple of Lord Neelakanteswara and Goddess Anandavalli nee Meenakshi, today at Padmanabhapuram one can witness the fact that the temple bears the heritage of both its patron royale, Tirumalai Nayaka as well as Marthanda Varma whose figurines still adorn the temple. And the Goddess in the sanctum sanctorum will be holding a parrot just as the celestial Pandya Princess does in Madurai, with that suppressed smile, manda hAsa !

And before we move to matters musical, it is over to Sharat Sundar Rajeev to provide his narrative of this Temple at Padmanabhapuram along with the photos– read his blog post here which actually appeared in print in The Hindu.

Sharat Sundar Rajeev – The Hindu & his blog post – Tales from Travancore

And the personality of Marthanda Varma pervades even today (see Foot Note 3). And as to his master stroke in performing the Truppadidanam, his dying instructions to his successor may prove his credentials to one and all and would show why perhaps he was and is so revered even today. (See Foot Note 4)

Circa 1840 – the Musical Chapter of Goddess Anandavalli nee Meenakshi

The successors of Anusham Tirunal Marthanda Verma who ruled till modern India came into being, were:

  1. Anusham Tirunal Marthanda Varma 1729–1758
  2. Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja) 1758–1798
  3. Avittam Tirunal Balarama Varma 1798–1810
  4. Maharani Ayilyam Tirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi 1810–1815 (Queen from 1810–1813 and Regent Queen from 1813–1815)
  5. Maharani Uthirattadi Tirunal Gowri Parvati Bayi (Regent) 1815–1829
  6. Swathi Tirunal Rama Varma 1829–1846
  7. Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma 1846–1860
  8. Ayilyam Tirunal Rama Varma 1860–1880
  9. Visakham Thirunal Rama Varma 1880–1885
  10. Sree Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma 1885–1924
  11. Maharani Pooradam Tirunal Sethu Lakshmi Bayi (Regent) 1924–1931
  12. Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma 1931–1991
  13. Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma 1991– 2013

The 6th in the lineage above who came to occupy the Ivory Throne of Travancore was the musical composer Svati Tirunal who needs no introduction. And it was left him to the immortalize this Goddess by etching her on the fabric of our music by composing the beautiful composition ‘Anandavalli’ in the haunting melody of Neelambari.  Legend had already associated this sovereign known as ‘gharbha srImAn’ with the raga Neelambari, when Irayimaan Tampi the Royal Courtier composed ‘Oomana thingal kidavo’ as the lullaby for the baby King Svati Tirunal. ‘Anandavalli’ ranks on par with the other beautiful compositions in this raga and it is trifle unfortunate that it has not been rendered very frequently. Besides quite a few publishers/editors of Svati Tirunal’s compositions classify this composition as a padam. Given the lyrics of the composition, attempting to class it as padam for the simple reason it is rendered slowly in cauka kAlam does not seem logical and for all practical purposes this composition is only a kriti.

We do not have any further information as to the background of this composition and one may perhaps just conjecture that this Maharaja perhaps on one of his frequent sojourns to the Padmanabhapuram Palace must have composed it in a trice. Be that as it may this bewitching composition in chaste Sanskrit, is replete with similes and other linguistic adornments.

The text and meaning of this composition runs thus.

 Anandavalli kuru mudam 

पल्लवि :

आनन्दवल्लि कुरु मुदमविरतम्



धृत-शुक-पोत-विलासिनि जय परम




गिरि-राज-सुते (अम्ब)



सारसाक्षि हृदि विहर दिवानिशं

  rAgam: nIlAmbari                                                                       tALam: Adi

shrI  svAti tirunAL viracita 


Anandavalli kuru mudamaviratam


dIna-jana-santapa-timirAmrtakiraNAyita suhasE

dh.rtashukapOtavilAsini jaya param (Anandavalli)


jambhavimatamukha sevita padayugaLe girirAjasutE ghanasAralasita

vidhukhaNDasad.rshaniTileshambhuvadanasarasIruha madhupEsArasAkShi h.rdi vihara divAnisham  || 1 ||

keshapAshajita sajalajaladanikare padapa”nkajasevaka-khedajAlashamanaika

paramacaturEnAshitAghacarite bhuvanatraya-nayike vitara me shubhamanupamam || 2 ||

shAradendurucima~njuLatamavadanEmunih.rdaya nivAsini cArukundamukuLopavara

radanE pArijAtatarupallava caranE padmanAbhasahajE hara mE shucam || 3 ||

Pallavi :

Oh Anandavalli! Grant me happiness without fail!


Your smile is like a ray of nectar which can wipe off the darkness of grief. O the one holding a young parrot! Hail!

Caranam 1:

One whose feet are worshipped by Indra, foe of Jambha; daughter of the king of mountains. One who is adorned with camphor on the crescent like forehead. You are like the bee to the lotus face of Shiva. O the one with lotus-like eyes. Always dwell in my heart.

Caranam 2:

Your long tresses surpass the water bearing collection of clouds. You are the only skilful one in dispelling the misfortunes of those who worship your lotus feet. One who has the glory of removing the afflictions of the three worlds. Please grant me insurmountable prosperity.

Caranam 3:

One whose face is beautiful like the charming autumnal moon; resides in the hearts of ascetics. One who has charming teeth like the beautiful jasmine buds and feet like the tender leaf of Parijata. O The sister of Lord Padmanabha! Dispel my grief!

 And one should for a moment savour the lyrics at ‘dhruta shuka pota vilAsini’ in the anupallavi for that marks the fact that the icon of Goddess Anandavalli sports a parrot, the only reference in this kriti which links the past of this Goddess, when once she was Meenakshi a full hundred years ago even prior to the times of Svati Tirunal. ( See Foot Note 5)

And it wasn’t Svati Tirunal alone who had sung on this Goddess. The quite well own composer Nilakantha Sivan too had composed verses on this Goddess of Padmanabhapuram.

aiyndhu mOraaRu mIraindhu mIraaRu

mOraindhu mOrpatthumaana

ay mUnRu mOronRum aTcharamaga

manthram aruL vaDivamaana thaayE

ayndhu karanODu IraaRukaranaiyumInRa

ambikE inbha nidhiyE,   akhilaaNDa kODi pugazh magaraasiyaana

paramaanandha valli umaiyE

ஐந்து மோராறும் மீரைந்து மீராறும்
மோரைந்து மோர்பத்துமான
ஐமூன்று மோரொன்றும் அட்சரமாக
மந்திரம் அருள் வடிவமான தாயே
ஐந்து கரனொடு ஈராறுகரனையுமீன்ற
அம்பிகே இன்ப நிதியே அகிலாண்ட கோடி புகழ் மகராசியான
பரமானந்த வல்லி உமையே

 (Nilakanta Sivan from his “Anandavalli Dasakam”- See Foot Note 6)

Two clarifications are in order :

  1. Older publications of Maharaja Svati Tirunal’s kritis such as the one by Sri Sambasiva Sastri( see Bibliography) provide the tala of the composition as ‘cempata’ which in Kathakali too is a 8 beat cycle tala ( some give it as 16 beats as well, a multiple) with probably a difference in the kriya or the way the beat is struck/visually demonstrated.
  2. To the best of my knowledge none of the publications including the very latest being Sri T K Govinda Rao’s, provide the stala of this composition as Padmanabhapuram. There is a actually another ksetra known as Anandavallishwaram in Kollam, Kerala where too the Devi is named as Anandavally. Nevertheless given the facts such as the holding of the parrot by the deity and also the association of the dramatis personae to the shrine at Padmanabhapuram, this kriti can only be assigned to the Devi in that ksetra.


Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanian, Vidvan Rama Verma and his disciple Vidusi Amruta Venkatesh have presented this composition in the public space. But for this blog I seek to present the version by Vidvan Dileep Kumar who sings two of the three caranas of this composition in this rendering of his:

And here is a brief excerpt of Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanian singing the cittasvara section of the composition. The cittasvara section is not found notated in T K Govinda Rao’s publication.

Audio & Visuals – See Foot Note 7


The Kerala Royals are all but gone with the passing away of the last of them Utharadom Tirunal (see Foot Note 8) in 2013 and whoever survives from the very many branches are already commoners. Yet today the Royal composer’s kriti and the emotions that it evokes convinces one that a visit at least once to that hallowed shrine in the backdrop of the verdant vELI Hills at Padmanabhapuram has to be made. And one can’t but wonder what an ethereal experience it would be to sit, one autumn evening, perhaps during Navaratri on the banks of that emerald green water filled temple tank’s stone steps with the dark sky lit with the autumnal moon, the grand pavilion at the centre resplendent with the oil lit lamps even while the soft fragrance of jasmine pervades the air suffused by a soft tanpura drone and one soulfully sings or listens to an enchanting rendering of this Neelambari composition! And I am sure as one dissolves oneself in the melody, the reverie would take us all the way starting from the 13th century when the Temple was perhaps built and on to the 17th century when Tirumalai Nayak consecrated his iconic Goddess Meenakshi therein and then to Marthanda Varma who thus in the mid-18th century changed Her name to Goddess Anandavalli and on to Svati Tirunal of 19th century who composed this beautiful piece and to that moment is time in the present to feel the ambrosial experience of extolling Her as “paramAnandavallI”.



  1. Manu Pillai (2015) – Harper Collins – ‘The Ivory Throne’ – Introductory Chapter- pp 1-20
  2. Satyanathier (1924) – Oxford University Press- ‘History of the Nayaks of Madura’ – Chapter VIII pp 110148
  3. Shungoony Menon (1878) – Higginbotham & Co – ‘A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times’ – Vol 1- Chapter II pp -112- 175
  4. K Sambasiva Sastri (Editor)(1932)-Trivandrum Sanskrit Series No CXIII – “The Sangita Kritis of Swati Sri Rama Varma Maharaja” pp 101-102
  5. T K Govinda Rao (2002) – Ganamandir Publications- ‘Compositions of Maharaja Swati Tirunal’- Music Series VI pp 370-371


  1. Sovereigns of yore have always invoked divinity to add legitimacy to their rule in one form or the other. Royal lineages, clans and dynasties have always invoked godhead and history is replete with examples. Rajeswari Ghose’s – ‘The Tyagaraja Cult’ especially Chapter 9 titled ‘Tyagaraja as Cult Typology and Legitimization of Power’ is an illustrative text on this subject.
  2. Ettuveetil Pillamar or the Lord of Eight Houses of Kerala and Madempimar were the Nair nobles who held sway at that point in time in the run up to the ascendancy of Marthanda Varma. Curiously they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Chieftains/feudatories of the Chola Kingdom of the 9th and 10th century AD pictured so beautifully by Kalki in his “Ponniyin Selvan”, who held considerable sway and control over their overlord the Chola Kings. The Mazhavarayars of Ariyalur/Tirumalapadi, Sambuvarayar of Kadambur, Pazhuvettarayars of Pazhuvur, Malayamans of Tirukkoilur & others are the illustrated feudatories of the Colas.
  3. Marthanda Varma was an iconic personality so much so novels and movies came to produced eulogizing him. C V Raman Pillai brought out a novel on him in 1891 adding a romantic angle as well to his history. A critical appraisal of the novel can be read here:

And just as how later in the 20th century ‘Ponniyin Selvan” (of Kalki K Krishnamurthi) a historical novel with Arulmozhi Varman (later Raja Raja Chola I) as the protagonist went on to capture the imagination of the Tamil readers, Raman Pillai’s Malayalam work too became a best seller. Raman Pillai’s novel has been published by the Sahitya Akademi in Malayalam and along with the English and Tamil translations ( by Padmanabhan Tampy) as well which makes an interesting read.

A movie too was produced based on the novel which was released after a court battle over copyright, in 1933. One can read about it here:

And Marthanda Varma and his exploits is poised to hit the screens once again as filming gets underway for the movie starring actor Rana Daggubatti, complete with visual special effects:

And again much like how “Ponniyin Selvan” has been staged Raman Pillai’s novel too has spawned stage versions:

  1. According to Shungoony Menon (page 175 of his work), when Marthanda Varma in 1758 AD was on his death bed, he ushered in his successor, being his nephew, the next King designate Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma and gave him his instructions which provide a glimpse of this great founder of the modern Kupaka Dynasty & his innermost thoughts for his land and his subjects. His dying instructions to his successor were :
    1. There shall be no deviation whatever made to the dedication of the Kingdom to Sri Padmanabha Swamy and all further territorial acquisitions if done shall be made over to the Devaswom
    2. Not a hair’s breadth alteration or deviation shall be done to the established charities and institutions connected to the Devaswom
    3. There shall be no dissension or quarrel in the Royal House
    4. Expenses of the State should not be allowed to exceed the income at any cost
    5. The Palace expenditure should be defrayed only from the profits of the commercial Department
    6. And above all the friendship existing between the Kingdom of Travancore and the English East India Company shall be maintained at all costs and that full confidence should always be placed in the support and aid of that honourable association.

These six commands would show his great foresight, statesmanship and conviction without doubt.

  1. For me ‘Anandavalli’ makes me reminisce on the similarly structured Neelambari composition ‘karunAnda catura’ of Kumara Ettendra which we featured in a blog post some time ago. The subject matter being Goddess Parvati and usage of words such as ‘nitilE’, kunda mukula radanE, padmanAbha sahajE or sAranga varada sahajE’ seems to prompt the same, while few others might see a musical correspondence with ‘shringAra lahari’ of Lingaraja Urs.


  1. Nilakanta Sivan has to his credit a number of Tamil compositions which were a rage once upon a time. Sivanai ninaindhu (Hamirkalyani), Enraikku Siva krupai (Mukhari), Navsiddhi Petrallum (Kharaharapriya), Sambo Mahadeva ( Bhauli), Ananda natanamaduvar ( Purvikalyani) and Teruvadeppo nenje (Khamas) are some of the kritis which were sung frequently and immortalized by the likes of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, M S Subbulakshmi and D K Pattammal by their gramophone records. Sivan’s original name was Subramanian and he changed his name due to his great devotion to this Lord Neelakantaswami of Padmanabhapuram. A play list of his compositions on YouTube can be heard/viewed here: .



  1. The clippings have been sourced from Sangeethapriya and thanks are due to Sr TVG for his painstaking effort to record and collate recordings on the website. And some spectacular visuals of the Padmanabhapuram Palace, I would recommend the Flickr account of Manfred Sommer which you can access here:

and off course the Official web site :

  1. The last royal died in 2013 and in its wake the treasures which lie in the vaults of the Lord Padmanabhaswami Temple is yet to be fully uncovered and settled.

History, Repertoire

The Quest for the true melodic contours of Tyagaraja’s “varadarAja ninnEkOri”



The raga names and their associated melodic contour for Tyagaraja’s compositions, from a theoretical framework can be assessed by referring to the Sangraha Cudamani attributed to Govinda and to the Andhra edition of a manuscript called Ragalakshanam. The date of Sangraha Cudamani is not without controversy though. Votaries of the Sangraha Cudamani advance the argument that the work is antecedent to Tyagaraja and he composed and assigned ragas only using this treatise.  There are those who cogently put forth reasoned arguments that the Sangraha Cudamani is neither authoritative nor is it dateable atleast to the times of Tyagaraja. There are others who advocate the theory that Tyagaraja had a set of inherited ‘scale dictionaries’ through Vina Kalahasti Ayya and others (‘Katakamus’) which he then breathed life into as ragas. We have seen much of these in previous blog posts in this series. Leaving aside the question as to the authenticity and whether Sangraha Cudamani is ex post or ex ante to Tyagaraja’s life time, for us at the least it serves a useful reference or a lexicon for us to determine the true melody of Tyagaraja’s compositions.

 While assessing the correct melody of a Tyagaraja composition, though we can rely on the oral traditions – such as the primary sishya paramparas- we still have two important problems.

  1. It is very much discernible from history that Tyagaraja did not assign or disclose the name of the raga of a composition, when he taught it to his students. Therefore, in quite a few instances the different sishya paramparas held different raga names and/or different melodic contour for the same composition.
  2. The second issue is that outside of the sishya paramparas, early publishers of Tyagaraja’s compositions (1870-1920) gave the raga name/description simply as ‘apuroopam’ meaning rare for melodies which were uncommon or not discernible with certainty by them/at that point in time for quite a few of his compositions.

Doubts have been expressed about the correct raga and or /raga lakshana of many Tyagaraja compositions which have remained unresolved and unsettled for many different reasons till date. Examples include the popular as well the rare ones such as ‘nAdatanumanisam’, ‘sItamma mAyamma’& ‘nEnendhu vEdakudhurA’ on one hand and ‘nannu kanna talli’ and ‘prAnanAtha’ on the other to name a few. Our quest to identify the correct raga /melodic contour of compositions becomes severe in the case of compositions which are:

  1. Not much in currency
  2. In uncommon ragas
  3. In ragas not found described in the Sangraha Cudamani and also if many of the late 19th century and early 20th century publications do not offer much clue.

Paucity of systematic musicological research, proper tabulation/classification and scientific analysis of data/information have ensured that we have never gotten to certainty or truth on these questions. In this series of blog posts, we have looked at some of these compositions and with available data attempted to piece together a credible case for a particular raga as being the one in which Tyagaraja might have possibly composed a particular piece.

The composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’ set apparently to a raga called SvarabhUshani is a case in point and we will look at it in this blog post.


Let’s first look at the history and other aspects of the composition ‘varadarAja ninnukOrI’. Though Tyagaraja was apparently not an itinerant composer in the mould of Muthusvami Dikshitar, he reportedly did undertake a few journeys/pilgrimages to places away from Tiruvaiyyaru during his life time. His biographers including Prof Sambamoorthi and others based on his compositions/internal evidence, accounts of his disciples and such other collateral information, aver that he visited places like Srirangam, Nagapattinam, Tiruvottiyur, Kovur, Tirupati & Kancipuram. In fact, musical historians based on the kritis also advance the view that the following four deities, have been sung upon by every member of our Trinity

  1. Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram
  2. Goddess Kamakshi at Kancipuram
  3. Goddess Nilayathaksi at Nagapattinam
  4. Goddess Dharmasamvardhini at Tiruvaiyyaru

Taking the case of Lord Varadaraja at Kancipuram, while Dikshitar composed ‘varadarAja avAva’ in Gangatarangini and Syama Sastri is said to have composed the Anandabhairavi varnam ‘sami nI rammanavE’ on Lord Vardaraja, Tyagaraja is said to have composed two compositions on Him:

  1. ‘varadarAja nine kOri’ in raga SvarabhUshani – rupaka tAlA
  2. ‘varada navanItAsha’ in raga rAgapanjaram- misra cApu tAlA

Standard texts of Tyagaraja’s compositions such as T S Parthasarathy’s give the text of ‘varadaraja ninnukori’, our subject matter composition as under:


varadarAja ninnu kOri vacciti mrokkErA


surulu munulu bhUsurulu cuTTi cuTTi sEvince


varagiri vaikuNTha maTa varNimpa daramugAdaTa nirjarulanu
tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa vara tyAgarAjanuta garuDasEva jUDa


Dr. V Raghavan’s Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions has an entry for this piece based on its availability in the records of Chinnasvami Mudaliar/Walajapet manuscripts and that of Rangaramanuja Ayyangar. The raga name is given as Svarabhushanl. As pointed out earlier none of the lexicons of Tyagaraja’s songs namely Sangraha Cudamani or the Andhra text of the Ragalakshanam or the Tamil text Mahabharata Cudamani makes a mention of a raga by this name or the scale under the 22 mela. Again only 20th century listings of ragas make a mention of Svarabhushani with the varying arohana/avarohana kramas under mela 22. They do not have any prior authority whatsoever other than their very own which makes the raga a suspect for being tagged to a composition of Tyagaraja. This name is first documented in Nadamuni Panditar’s Svaraprastara Sagaram, circa 1914. And modern publications assign this raga name to the composition as Svarabhushani/Svarabhushini under mela 22 with SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS as the nominal arohana/avarohana.

It needs to be pointed out that mere mention of raga names in older manuscripts by itself does not confer legitimacy for ascribing a particular melody in the case of assigning that to Tyagaraja’s compositions. The learned critic of the last century Sri K V Ramachandran, records that Walajapet Ramasvami Bhagavathar Bhagavathar the scion of the authentic Walajapet line of sishyas confided to him that the raga names assigned in manuscripts were sourced from questionable sources without scrutiny ( “Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’s Songs”. – 1950 JMA XXI pp109)

With not much inputs available to us from a textual history standpoint beyond this, we move over to the oral tradition to determine the true melodic svarupa/contours of this raga and that of the composition.


Vidvan S Rajam's depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition
Vidvan S Rajam’s depiction of the garudaseva which Tyagaraja refers in this composition

Unfortunately, even here we do not have renderings of this composition from stalwarts of the previous century and hence the composition falls into the rare category. We have an account of Dr S Rajam narrating that Kancipuram Naina Pillai used to beautifully render this composition. But we do not have a recording of Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda, who learnt from him, rendering this composition. Similarly though it is known that Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao had been heard singing this composition, the composition has not been known to be sung popularly.

However, we do have a record of Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram who had his tutelage under Chittoor Subramanya Pillai, rendering this composition. Let’s first hear out his version of ‘varadarAja ninnukOri’.

Watch the video of the garuda seva of Lord Varadaraja with Vidvan Somu’s rendering as the sound track.

Vidvan Somu’s rendering ( Video with footage of Lord Varadaraja’s Garuda seva)

Its fortuitous that he renders svaras for this composition @ vara tyAgarAja, providing additional insights for us. But first if we were look at the opening bars of the composition that he renders and then the reminder of the composition, it’s very obvious that:


  1. The raga is sampurna having all svaras of the mela 22 having SNDP, PMGRS and SRS, SGRS and SGMPDNS
  2. He does not render the carana line “nirjarulanu tArakamulalO candruDai merayaduvaTa”.
  3. His articulation of the mettu/music of the sahitya ‘vacciti’ of the Pallavi line or the ‘daramugAdata’ is not clear at all, which could have thrown light on the purvanga prayoga, whether it is SRGMP or SGMP.
  4. While he rounds up the pallavi rendering between 0.47 to 0.52, he lends a touch of Anandabhairavi suggesting SGRGM.
  5. Similarly, in the tAra stayi uttaranga sancharas at ‘cutti cutti’ or ‘garuda sEva’ is clearly suggestive only of SRS or SGRS.   And in the svarakalpana he renders SGMP (an oscillated gandhara much like in Anandabhairavi) in the madhya sthayi and again SGRS in the tAra sthayi.

Leaving aside other factors, his rendering enables us to place the contours of this raga as per his pAtham as under:

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

                                         Avarohana krama: S N D P M G R S

In other words, the melody he paints is a raga of mela 22 with a vakra gandhara in the arohana and a krama sampurna avarohana, without any anya svaras.

Now with this first version of the composition let us move to the next one presented by Sangita Kalanidhi M S Gopalakrishnan. The source of his pAtham of the composition is unknown.

The following points emerge from his presentation.

  1. His version stands out for the use of the oscillated sadharana gandhara through the “GMR” prayoga, a staple of the Kapi/Kanada family. SGMP also occurs which impart the Devagandharam flavour to the alapana.
  2. In the kriti rendering as well he uses the GMRS. Attention is invited to the pallavi closing ahead of the anupallavi commencement and the tAra sthAyi at the anupallavi sahitya section ‘cutti cutti’.
  3. SNDP is the way the pallavi begins. GMPDNS and such other prayogas native to the 22 mela occur otherwise. MRS or GMRS is the way the avarohana krama progresses as is obvious from the svara kalpana as well.

 In sum, this version of the raga and the kriti as painted by the violin virtuoso, provides us the melodic contours as:

            Arohana krama :     S G M P D N S

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

The gandhara intoned in this version is of two types – one which occurs as GMPDNS and the other which occurs in the GMRS reminiscent of the kAnadA ang/motif native to the Kapi family. In contrast to Vidvan Madurai Somasundaram’s version, Sri MSG’s version though adopting apparently the same svara sets, imparts a different hue and color, due to the GMRS that occurs in his conception. Again, to reiterate we have no clue as to the source of Sri MSG’s pAtam and whether it has nexus to any of the main schools of Tyagaraja’s sishya parampara namely Walajapet, Umayalpuram or Tillaistanam.

We now move to the version of this composition by vocalist Vidushi Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian.

 Video recording from her Kshetra series concert is here.

  1. She begins with SNDP and uses SGMP for ‘vacciti’ in the pallavi. The gandhara occurring in the madhya stayi sounds like the one in Karnataka devagandharam and the tara stayi usage of GMRS at cutti cutti is the kAnada motif.
  2. Her rendering is more disjointed making the purvanga, uttaranga on one hand and the mandhara, Madhya and tara stayis on the other hand sound like different raga sets giving the impression of a misra raga rather than a cohesive/singular melody
  3. In the kalpana svara section the MRS sounds more like MGS. Her version is proximate to Sri MSG’s edition using the same svara sets. However, Sri MSG’s conception is apparently more homogenous for the ears.


In the first cut of the analysis, one can clearly say that Vidvan Somasundaram’s edition is one bucket while the editions of Sri MSG and Dr Vijayalakshmi Subramanian is clearly of the second bucket. The versions of Sri MSG as well as Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian suggests that present day available editions that we hear are most possibly interpretations of available notations by the individual musicians. In other words, they learnt it from text and their reproduction is constrained by the initial conditions – the fidelity and correctness of the raga, it lakshana and the notation, from the book they learnt.

There are a few initial conditions/caveats that hold true for our discussion:

  1. The raga name Svarabhushani or its melodic contours suggested by prevailing musical texts beginning with Nadamuni Panditar are of recent 20th century vintage only.
  2. This raga name does not figure in the Sangraha Cudamani. Given that Tyagaraja did not assign raga names to his compositions, the absence of the lakshana of ‘svarabUshani’ in Sangraha Cudamani makes it clear that in this case the assignment of the raga name was clearly a very late 19th century or early 20th century development at best.
  3. Using the rendering available in the public domain of a composition, it is likely that the notional mela and arohana/avarohana krama that was implicit in the melodic fabric of this Tyagaraja composition under question was perhaps determined at that point in time.
  4. A perusal of historical records particularly musical books published during late 19th century and early 20th century validates the fact that ragas which were not as popular/well known/common as Sankarabharanam, Todi, Bhairavi, Sriranjani etc couldn’t be identified by them. The publishers of these printed musical books simply left it unspecified by giving the raga name ‘apurUpam’ or ‘rare’. Such was the state of our knowledge and capability from a musical publishing standpoint. Critics of the past century like Sri K V Ramachandran in their presentations before the Music Academy highlighted the need to research and catalogue the compositions and the correct ragas thereof of Tyagaraja. (See foot note 1)
  5. Given the situation the true melodic contours of a raga of Tyagaraja’s composition can be gauged only by triangulating/reconciling the three inputs namely:
    1. available notations from authentic sources & lakshana commentary of any from Sangraha Cudamani/Andhra edition of a document called Ragalakshanam
    2. renderings of vidvans/vidushis who learnt it through the oral tradition route
    3. the internal evidence if any within the composition with minimum but plausible assumptions.
  6. There seem to be no dependable research material or proper research done on this subject, for us to rely upon. See foot note 2.


This section and the next completely reflects my view point of this entire problem. Additional facts or authentic versions if any unknown till date, if made available can potentially help in resetting our findings/conclusions. With the available data so far, the following conclusions could be drawn based on the musical material on hand.

  1. The point that the raga name ‘Svarabhushani’ is missing from the listing in Sangara Cudamani makes it clear that the raga of the composition is suspect at the very outset. Most possibly the melody of this composition is already one which is found in the Sangraha Cudamani and is not Svarabhushani.
  2. The analysis of the available recordings as that of Vidvan Somu, Sri M S Gopalakrishnan (MSG) or Smt Vijayalakshmi Subramanian(VS) do not reconcile against each other for many different reasons:
  3. The contours of the raga itself differ considerably as between Vidvan Somu and the rest.
  4. The versions of Sri MSG and Smt VS employ SGMP and PMRS which do not provide a homogenous color to the raga nor does it appear facile. The artistes seem to have learnt it from notation intoning the notes as is and thus constrained by the nature of the source and its fidelity. The contours that they paint also lack musical authority from any known musicological text.
  5. Available notations too seem to have reconciled the composition to the prescribed scale. Who assigned this composition to this scale and/or who prescribed the arohana avarohana of SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS remains cloaked in mystery. We do have texts which give SNPMGMRS as avarohana krama.
  6. Even notations appear suspect and seem to have been written down from oral tradition without having clarity of the source. For example, the available notations do not seem to prescribe gandhara in the Madhya sthayi sancaras whereas the gandhara makes it appearance in the tAra sthAyi through the GMRS phrase (e.g the sahitya.  “cutti cutti” in the anupallavi). The notation seems to have been written from a source who perhaps did not properly render the tAra stayi phrases. The kriti even with the GMRS does not seem to belong to Kapi clan ragas as well such as Karnataka Kapi or Kanada, Durbar and their ilk. The aural effect, one can feel is that the gandhara appears to have been “thrust” into this composition. Vidvan Somu’ version sadly seems to be no better on this count as well. For the moment, we may treat this point as a hypothesis and we will revisit this point in a little while, as it will prove a clincher for us in determining the “possible true raga” of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’.


tyagayya-1946-VNagayyaArmed with this provisional finding I embarked on getting hold of an older rendering possibly of the composition which could provide a clue as to the true raga of this composition. And help came from not from our world of classical music but from unexpected quarters.  The composition was part of the Telugu musical cinema ‘tyAgayya’ starring V Nagayya of 1945 vintage. This movie being a bio-pic of Saint Tyagaraja, featured more than 20 of the his compositions.

The entire movie can be viewed here: Movie

The musical tracks featuring Tyagaraja’s compositions are marked in the progress bar of the movie.

While serious researchers can embark on determining the pAtham of the compositions in detail along with the sahitya and attempt it match it to a specific school of Tyagaraja’s, but for the purposes of the analysis on hand, a quick & dirty summary/high level assessment tells us a number of facts:

  1. All the compositions featured in the movie are of impeccable authenticity. None can be doubted as not being of Tyagaraja’s/spurious.
  2. One can reasonably surmise that given the attention the movie could have garnered, the choices of the compositions and their version must have been of the highest order. If not, they can potentially attract adverse criticism and or reviews.
  3. The melodic constructs of the commonly heard compositions, tracks to the classical versions and no dilution could potentially be imputed to the renderings.
  4. As a caveat, it must be acknowledged that the renderings in the movie do have, what I prefer to call as ‘desi’ quality. They are not pure concert-editions and are more ‘bhajana-sampradaya’ version. And thus, here and there they sport melodic extensions or a few sangathis which may not be completely aligned to the classical lakshana of the raga. In other words, given the source (cinema), one could & should anticipate a few phrases here and there which may not be kosher from the point of view of the classical definition of the raga.

Subject to these disclaimer(s) the musical idea, skeleton or musical construct of a composition sung in this film/available in the musical track of this movie, can (in my opinion) be used as evidence/input to determine the raga contour of that composition.

Here is the Youtube track of the video of the particular song: varadarAja

The audio track of the song is given below:

The analysis of the rendering of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’ from the film Tyagayya reveals the following:

  1. The core melody is unquestionably the raga Devamanohari as one can hear. The elements of the raga are all there.
  2. It conforms to the 22 mela, without any gandhara. The usage of the leitmotif DNP which for example appears at “ninnEkOri’ and other places makes it obvious. We do not see any SGM or GMRS anywhere in the melodic body.
  3. The gamut of the raga in the Madhya sthayi captured by the initial sangatis of the pallavi line and the anupallavi line ‘varnimpa  taramu gAdhada’ is plain unadulterated Devamanohari.
  4. The suspect tAra sancara movements at ‘chUti chUti’ does not paint an outright R..MRS which is what I referred to as ‘dEsI’ in its presentation/intonation. I suspect that these so called prayogas could have found its way to popular/mass version of the song and thus becoming a “corrupted” version of the composition.
  5. These suspect musical expressions together with certain prayogas such as SNDP in certain sangathis can be safely isolated as ‘’subsequently injected aberrations”, for Tyagaraja could not have created his composition with questionable phrases (SNDNP and SNDP in the same breath) that too in a raga of hoary antiquity.
  6. One can safely conclude that the core musical material of the song is Devamanohari and that must have been original raga of the song.
  7. The raga of the version presented by Sri MSG and Smt VS seems very contrived and artificial and no wonder the theoretical progression of that melody SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS did not at all gain traction as the resulting melody was not homogenous. Neither do we have any other compositions in this scale today. This is an aesthetic/harmonic aspect which can only be sensed & concluded aurally.
  8. Moreover, the foregoing makes one to logically conclude that the available notation too may have been derived from a corrupted version of the composition. The film version that we saw perhaps represents a least corrupted version of the composition as available to us.
  9. Devamanohari is an old raga recorded by Tulaja and Sahaji during the early 18th century. However it is sad, but true that during the late 19th and early 20th century, the raga Devamanohari was not known to a good proportion of the public. So much so many of the publications during that period simply labelled compositions in Devamanohari as ‘apuroopam’ or rare. The available copies of these publications are mute witness today to this blissful ignorance. The famous music critic Sr K V Ramachandran laments on the very same point in his seminal lecture/research paper titled ‘Apurva Ragas of Tyagaraja’ & “Carnatic angles from a new angle’- presented in the portals of the Music Academy decades ago. He mourns that the Bard’s compositions were normalized/mutilated by teachers of music and publishers as well, to standard versions based on their own knowledge with scant respect for textual tradition.

And in this instant case, based on the available evidence and the logic that we have employed, we can conclude the possible sequence of events that came about as under:

  • The melodic construct of this composition got corrupted due to abuse or disuse making the composition rare.
  • It came to be assigned a brand-new raga name ‘Svarabushani’ by editors/teachers who perhaps were impervious of Devamanohari and/or were they never knew the true & original melody of the composition, sometime during the latter half of the 19th century/early 20th century.
  • While the mainstream 20th century musicians totally forgot the raga & the composition, it possibly survived in a corrupted form in the oral tradition such as the one captured in the movie made in 1946.
  • Later day publishers probably got only these corrupted versions to notate which meant that they retrofitted a raga name for the corrupted version, for example accommodate only the tara gandhara phrases and hence normalized the body of the melody to create a brand-new raga SGMPDNS and SNDPMRS, without rhyme or reason. This line of reasoning is not novel and has been documented/seen in compositions such as ‘nagumOmU ganalEnI”, “sOgasu jUda taramA”, “nannu kanna talli’ et al.
  • The original score of the composition being lost, the composition today appears in a famished melody which lacks textual tradition, did not gain traction or public appeal.
On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)
On the left is the cover and on the right is the relevant page of the publication ‘sangIta nunmanimAlai’ featuring the compositions of TyAgaraja, published in 1908.The right page features the text of the composition ‘evarikai avatAramEtithivO’ for which the rAga name is given as ‘apurUpam’ or rare in Tamil)

In the light of the reasoning as above and unless we have further credible facts to rebut, the raga of the composition can only be presumed to be in Devamanohari. And the lyrics of the composition below as available from the music track seem to be most appropriate.

వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA             (varadarAja)

సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE    (varadarAja)

varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

nirjarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI             (varadarAja)

And much after I done this deduction I stumbled upon this presentation of the Tyagaraja composition by the scion of the Lalgudi sishya parampara of Tyagaraja, Sri G J R Krishnan.

Sri Krishnan renders the composition here in the company of Vidushi Vijayalakshmi which I have split into two parts.

Apparently in deference to tradition which assigns the raga name of Svarabhushani, at the outset the Vidvan announces the raga name as is, perhaps. But in his raga outline, the composition proper and the ensuing svarakalpana there is no doubt that the raga is Devamanohari. There is no gandhara “heard”at all, not even a trace of it anywhere in his rendering. SNDP occurs prominently both at the start of the pallavi and the anupallavi. Contrastingly the V Nagayya film edition started with PDNS. According to the pAtham of Sri G J R Krishnan, the raga’s kramA is SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS. If one were to reconcile the intonation of the gandhara and account for it, the explanation is perhaps it is so oscillated & close to rishabha.

It can also be argued that for all practical purposes the Swarabhushani in this edition is practically SRMPDNS/SNDPMRS, a gandhara varjya janya under Mela 22 with SNDNP occurring here and there. But that would beg the question ‘Does that make this raga any different from Devamanohari?’ Is there any textual authority for such a scale in our history so far?

One other version that can be considered is by Vidvan Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana given below.

The kriti rendering as well as the svaras can be dissected on the above lines and conclusions can be drawn. Again the authority for the SGMPDNS/SNDPMRS, the raga lakshana, the presence or absence of the gandhara, its intonation etc lack authority, textual or otherwise.

‘vAradarAja ninnEkOri’ is thus a classic case where in the absence of a supposed authority like Sangraha Cudamani or an authentic pAtham with considerable authority, we have struggled & are struggling to determine the contours of the raga. The presence or absence of the gandhara is the real clue but eludes a determination.

Actually, the solution to this question/struggle is rather straightforward . The raga is Devamanohari and we have to edit the available closest version of the song to the lakshana of this hoary raga, eschewing all ‘non-Devamanohari’ phrases/sangatis (particularly SNDP) and attempt to recreate a close to possibly original version.

This is the complication we have had with our tradition/past and I think we would continue with that without any resolution. In so far as this composition goes, it is my humble opinion that it was once a upon a time Devamanohari. An improperly sung Devamanohari down the line much later from the times of Tyagaraja has been legitimized over time by providing a name to it (as Svarabhushani) without any authority whatsoever with poor manuscript copying and careless publication and/or propagation causing all these dissimilar copies/versions. Some versions/pAthams included the gandhara. Some excluded it. And thus, today it speaks of the poor fidelity with which the compositions of the Saint have been transmitted over the centuries.

We also saw the similar cases of Natanarayani/Pratapavarali (how the p/S and S\p of Natanarayani morphed to PDS and SDP) and Sindhu Kannada/ Kesari/Sharavathi (how the D1/N1 morphed) in our previous blogs. The pattern keeps repeating and now these confusions are part and parcel of our tradition. We also touched upon this in the context of the previous blog on 18th century raga architecture when we dealt with Devamanohari itself.

I am atleast fortified in this aspect that this modern-day version of Vidvan G J R Krishnan stands as a solid proof that the melodic fabric of this raga is Devamanohari and not a scalar melody theoretically derived by Nadamuni Panditar decades after Tyagaraja had passed away.

I now leave this for the rumination of a discerning rasika of our music.


The story for me did not end here. Whence investigating this there were at least a couple of more problems which were potential loose ends which had to be ironed out.

  1. The prAsA concordance of the carana lyric – line starting “nIrjarulanu” was an irritant. Potentially the ‘nIr’ had to figure as the ending sahitya for the previous line/previous rupaka tala avarta. But it cannot be accommodated within the tala akshara as the previous line sahitya itself was dense enough.
  2. Coincidentally the Walajapet manuscripts had an extra line added in its running notation as marudu siggu cE mandarara Athadu”which did not make meaningful sense. See foot note 3.

What these two points meant was potentially, the original composition had 4 rupaka tAla avartas worth of sahitya which were probably left out when the manuscript was copied. And the melodic flow of the composition had to be reorganized to accommodate these lines which can be done using the running notation found in the manuscripts themselves. This sahitya as available from the Walajapet manuscripts had to be edited to mean correctly in the context of the composition as well. See foot note 4.

The revised (edited) sahitya/lyrics for the entire composition and the meaning are given below: (See foot note 5)


 వరదరాజనిన్నేకోరి వచ్చితిరామ్రొక్కేరా
varadarAja ninnE kOri vaccitira mrokkErA                  (varadarAja)

Meaning: O Varadaraja! I have come seeking you. I salute you!


సురులుమునులుభూసురులు చుట్టిచుట్టిసేవించే
surulu munulu bhUsurulU chUti chUti sEvincE            (varadarAja)

Meaning: O the one whom the Devas, rishis & denizens of the earth surround and worship.


varagiri vaikunta matA varnimpa taramuga dhadA

Hasthigiri (Kanchipuram, referred to here as the sacred giri) is considered equal to Vaikuntham and beyond all description.

మరుడుసిగ్గుచే     ముందురాడట

marudu siggucE mundhu rAdata (nir)

Manmatha abashed by your beauty hesitates to come forward.


-jarulanu tArakalalO candrudai nErayulu vata

Amidst the stellar assemblage of the Devas you shine like the moon.

vara tyAgarAja nuta garuda sEva jUda srI                    (varadarAja)

O the one worshipped by Tyagaraja,I have come to have darshan of the Garuda Seva.


As we saw both the textual tradition as evidenced by the notations on one hand and the oral traditions on the other provided discordant views to us as to the correct raga and mettu/musical contours of ‘varadarAja ninnEkOri’. The analysis based on available evidence indicates a balance of convenience in favour of Devamanohari.

What has been attempted is an amateur/armchair effort to uncover the truth from diverging musical material and history. It is fervently hoped that issues like these are taken up by professional/qualified researchers and the same goes to add to our body of knowledge so that students and serious listeners of music get the correct perspectives as to the versions of the compositions of the Trinity.


  1. There are very many articles and also lecture-demonstrations done on the subject of ragas of the compositions of Tyagaraja as given in pre-1930 publications and the dichotomy it has with the ragas that are actually sung in practice. Many of the items listed, would leave us agitated. While it is true that quite a few compositions suffered a change in the raga, ragas of well know compositions are printed differently in these texts. During the Dec 2016 Music Season Festival of the Madras Music academy atleast a couple of lecture demonstrations were done on this subject including one by Dr Hemalatha. The to be released JMA of 2017 would have that recorded. From the past one such example of a tabulation of the list of compositions whose actual currently rendered ragas is different from what appears in pre-1930 publications is by Smt.Radha Sarangapani in the Shanmukha (Vol XXXIII No 3& 4, July-Sep & Oct-Dec 2007). Suffice to say that the ragas of compositions listed in the publications and the actual ragas as per the authentic sishya paramparas in practice, manuscripts of the Walajapet Sishya parampara or of Chinnasvami Mudaliar or Subbarama Dikshitar as available should be compared before drawing a conclusion as to the actual raga of those compositions.
  2. The current state of musicological research more so in the context of this raga and composition can be rated by the Ph.D thesis ‘Rare and New ragas handled by Tyagaraja- A critical Study’, submitted at the Department of Music, Kannur University available here. In Chapter 3 of this thesis on pages 117-118, this raga ‘Swarabhushani’ and the composition ‘varadaraja ninnukori’ is dealt with by the Researcher.

   At the outset, the Researcher provides the arohana/avarohana of the raga as under, on the authority of Nadamuni Panditar.

Arohana        – s g m p d n s 

Avarohana   – s n p m g m r s

Attention is invited to the lack of dhaivatha in the avarohana krama as provided. Providing the narrative of the exemplar kriti, the Researcher goes on to say  that Tyagaraja brings in the phrase ‘s n d p, m’ even at the beginning. Mark the dhaivatha that makes its appearance now. What is the researcher trying to convey? Is there a dhaivatha in the descent or not. So much for the Researcher, the Guide and the Thesis. Such is the pitiable state of our research, academia and institutions. Not that I am nit-picking selectively from this so-called thesis. One can also find innumerable such faux pas. The raga Vegavauhini dealt with in page 141-142 suffers a similar fate. A reading of the passage thereunder will convey that Muthusvami Dikshitar composed in Vegavauhini with an arohana krama of SRGMPDNDS!

  1. I am thankful to Sri Aravindh Ranganathan for providing me with his copy of the extract of the notation of this composition as seen in the Walajapet manuscripts.
  2. A perusal of the Walajapet notation taking into account the defective sahitya, perhaps makes one surmise that the kriti was perhaps not part of the core set of compositions which was learnt/notated originally by Venkataraman Bagavathar. It is most likely that somebody subsequent to Walajapet Venkataraman Bagavathar in his sisya parampara must have heard this being sung from some others and must have then notated it as a part of their digest/record of Tyagaraja compositions. Walajapet Venkataramana Bagavathar himself was proficient in Telugu and also a composer of merit. And it would be rather unfair to tag the kriti with a defective sahitya line to his repository. If he had learnt it originally from the Bard himself, he for sure would have notated it correctly to make a proper meaning of the sahitya.
  3. I am indebted to Spencer Sri R Venugopal for helping me to understand the lyrical aspect of the composition and editing the Telugu lyrics suitably to make it meaningful, particularly the missing carana line of the composition.
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.

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 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.      
History, Personalities, Repertoire

Royal Patron –Bhaskara Setupathi, the Raja of Ramanathapuram


Patrons have played a very great part in our past in fostering Carnatic Music. Composers and musicians have been sustained, patronized & honored by both the Royals as well as the aristocratic/business magnates of the last few centuries. They were one of the essential components of the musical ecosystem of India. Given the social milieu it would be uncharitable to just say that they did this as a quid pro quo/in return for the singers/composers creating compositions in their praise. Some of these patrons themselves were musicians/composers themselves, such as King Shahaji or Maharaja Svati Tirunal. Then there were those who were lovers of music and so sustained the art and the artistes themselves such as the Rajas/Zamindars and nobles who also came to be recorded as the nayakas in the compositions such as the padas, cauka varnas etc. Well-known amongst them are the Raja of Karvetinagar, the Zamindars of Udayarpalayam and the Rulers of Ettayapuram. The Rajas, nobles and chieftains who have been sung upon include the known & the unknown. And the list of such patrons is quite a lengthy one.

And one amongst them is Rajah Bhaskara Sethupati of Ramanathapuram(1868-1903) of the Royal House of Ramnad. The contribution of the Sethupathis to art & culture and to Tamil has now been almost forgotten. As Bhaskara Sethupathi’s brief life time would show us, he was a sort of a confluence of the orient and the occident. Given his education and background, he should have risen to be one of the “model” Zamindars of the British era, but it was never to be as he indulged in philanthropy so much that the coffers of his Zamin ran dry. And finally the pressure telling on him perhaps, Bhaskara Sethupathi died prematurely when he was just 35 years old.

In this post, I intend to cover this great patron and analyse two compositions – a varna and a ragamalika composed in his honor by Subbarama Dikshitar. And this post is being made this month, which marks the death anniversary of this patron who died in December 1903, when he was just 35 years young.

Stamp released by the Government of India in Dec 2004 on his death centenary


The erstwhile Southern coastal Indian Kingdom of Ramanathapuram or Ramnad had been ruled by the Sethupathis – translated to mean the ‘Overlords of the Causeway’. Tradition has it when Lord Rama, crossed over to Ceylon over the bridge built by his vAnara army, he built the temple for Lord Ramanatha as a thanksgiving upon his victory. He also appointed the first Sethupathi to protect the piligrims who would be using the causeway. Since then, they were traditionally been referred so and ruled over the “marava” country, which is the land mass between Madurai and the sea, in Southern India. They have always been till date the administrators of the Ramanathasvami temple with all hereditary rights. Famous kings of this lineage include Raghunatha Tevar or Kilavan Sethupathi (1673-1708) and Muthuramalinga Sethupathi I (1760-1794) and during the latter’s reign the Sethupatis lost their sovereignty completely to the British and ended up being a mere Zamindari, paying rent(kist/peshcush) to the British as their vassal.

Bhaskara Sethupati was born on 3rd November 1868 as the first son of Raja Muthuramalinga Sethupathi II (regnal years 1862-1872) and his wife Muthathaal Nacciyar. In 1830, when Raja Ramasvami Sethupathi died without leaving behind a heir, his wife Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar ruled the Zamindari. She was assisted by her brother Kottasami Thevar. At the end her life time, Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar took in adoption the second son of her sister, by name Muthuramalingam who was then a minor to succeed as the Zamindar. Till his majority, his elder brother Ponnusvami Thevar ruled as his Regent. There were several legal wrangles which were witnessed during this period, challenging the adoption.  Ponnusvami Tevar acting as Manager played a major political role in ensuing that his younger sibling duly became the Sethupati. And even after Muthuramalinga had attained majority, Ponnusvami Thevar (who died in 1870) continued to guide the young Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II in running the affairs of Ramanathapuram. Both the brothers were great lovers of Tamil and Music. Ponnusvami Thevar’s son was the famous Panditurai Thevar (Zamindar of Pazhavanattam, 1867-1911) who founded the 4th Tamil Sangam at Madurai. Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II was adept in the arts & in Tamil. Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II passed away suddenly in 1872 when his son Bhaskara Sethupathy was barely 4 years old. As per the then existing British administered system, the minor heir was placed under the custody of the Court of Wards till such time he attained majority.

Bhaskara Sethupathy in the traditional regalia as a Maharaja (Photo Courtesy: Pamela G Price)

The “Court of Wards” was an instrument of control used by the British government purportedly to ensure that minor Zamindars, who were “deemed” incapable of running the Zamindari were ‘tutored’ and trained up to become model Zamindars to subserve their interest . By the late 19th century, as a policy and as a practice, the British resorted to this instrument of control very frequently when a minor became a Zamindar. The Court of Wards as an institution which functioned under the control of the Board of Revenue in Calcutta operated in every district and was headed by the district collector, an Englishman. The classic situation of when the Court of Wards would step in to administer a Zamindari was when the proprietor of the estate namely the Zamindar died leaving behind minor sons. Even in cases where a Zamindar was found unfit to run the affairs of the estate, upon the report of the District Collector, the Board of Revenue was empowered to step in to manage the estate. The Court of Wards apart from taking the responsibility of managing the estate also took charge of educating the heir apparent, the minor Zamindar. While the district collector was the nominal head, the tasks were run by a motley group of Englishmen and local learned Indians or the “natives” to put in the then English parlance.

Bhaskara Sethupathi was taken to Madras to be educated both in English and in Western manners and etiquette. He had an English tutor who put him through the learning of the English classics and music as well and apparently Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivan Hoe” was one of his favorites. Bhaskara Sethupathi learned to play piano as well. To make him worldly wise, the Court of Wards made him travel to different parts of India and Ceylon as well, accompanied by his tutor. Well trained in the Western ways, Bhaskara Sethupathi did make his tutor proud as is obvious from his certification to the Court of Wards upon attainment of majority. Bhaskara Sethupathi was formally anointed by the then British Government as “Maharaja” & took over the Zamindari on 3rd April 1889. Earlier in 1888 he married Sivabhagyam Nacciar, daughter of one of his kinsmen.

Bhaskara Sethupathi though western educated had his moorings in Indian culture and arts. There is a kriti in the raga Suratti which this Raja has apparently composed on Goddess Padmasini Thayar at the temple at neighboring Tiruppullani kshetra. He was devoted as a true Sethupathi, to Lord Ramanatha of Ramesvaram and to Goddess Rajarajesvari, the tutelary deity of the Sethupathis. He was so greatly enamored of Svami Vivekananda & his teachings. He funded the Svami’s historic trip to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. Though Sethupathi was the original invitee to the Conference, he chose  instead to send Svami Vivekananda and the rest is history. Svami Vivekananda too held Sethupathi in high esteem and called him a ‘Rajarishi’. And when the Svami returned back from Chicago and set foot at Pamban in Ramesvaram on Jan 26th, 1897, he was given a tumultuous welcome and to commomerate the same Bhaskara Sethupati constructed a 40ft high monument inscribed with the words ‘Satyameva Jayate’, which went on to become the motif of the Indian State some 50 years later!

Bhaskara Sethupathy funded many charitable/philanthropic activities and events. S Tiruvenkatachari in his book, “Setupatis of Ramnad”, wrote that Bhaskara Setupati became a “byword for benevolence, charity and phenomenal generosity”. His giveaways were truly phenomenal in the literal sense of the word. Rs 10,000 to the Indian National Congress,  Rs 40,000 to the Madras Christian College, an endowment for educating less privileged students in his alma mater etc. A thorough and meticulous person, he maintained a personal dairy, the contents of which, provides a great insight into his character. Even during his minority he maintained this habit and in 1890, publishers G W Taylor of Madras brought it out as a book, “My Trip to India’s Utmost Isle”. ¹

His unbridled philanthropy together with the practice of supporting/employing individuals with dubious credentials as a part of the paraphernalia of the Zamindari, which he failed to dispense with, put an enormous drain on the Zamin’s finances. He also inherited a debt of more than Rs 350,000, a legacy of his stepmother, the Senior Rani who had borrowed heavily. Expenses to fund the cost of litigation that was launched against him by his younger brother too had to be covered. The inevitable result was that the finances of the Zamindari fell into complete disarray. He had started borrowing from the wealthy Nattukottai Chettiars and the temple endowments to fund his spree of philanthropy, by mortgaging the property and other assets³. And ironically so, the great man who was well learned otherwise but had failed in the maths subject in high school, didn’t get his numbers right and so went literally bankrupt. Barely 26 years old and with creditors knocking at his doors, Sethupathy was forced to put the Zamin Estate under trust for his minor son. ¹

Neither did the people who were beneficiaries of his munificence help him in any way. In fact a few of them petitioned to the Collector at Madurai about the impudent extravagance of the Sethupathy, which finally spelt the death knell, literally so. He is said to have remarked during his last days thus, “I have within the last four years spent forty lakhs and though I have thus been foolishly extravagant, the leeches that drunk my blood are not a whit more grateful to me.” ¹

The congratulatory letter that Bhaskara Sethupathi wired to his illustrious contemporary Sri Jagadveera Rama Venkateshvara Ettappa ( see his profile as captured by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu) on his coronation as the Maharaja of Ettayapuram Zamindari at the end of his minority, in December 1899, is eye opening on more than one count. This Rajah of Ettayapuram too was a product of the Court of Wards and is well known in musical history as the benefactor who funded the printing & publication of Subbarama Dikshitar’s “Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini” on the earnest appeal of Chinnasvami Mudaliar. And that appeal was made to the Ettayapuram King during that coronation in December 1899, which Subbarama Dikshitar refers to in his Introduction to the SSP.

Below is the text, verbatim of the congratulatory letter that Bhaskara Sethupathi wrote⁴:

“My heartfelt congratulations to you, on your assumption of charge of your ancient and historical estate. My fervent prayers to Sree Ramanatha and to Kalugachala Shanmuga Moorthi to grant you long life and continued prosperity and to make you and your truth flourish. I have little in the way of advice except to beg you most earnestly as the son of one who was most devoted to me as a brother, to take my complete failure as a Zamindar as sufficient warning to you in your future career and to remind you of the words of Lord Ripon to the Nizam, “Look to your finances”, an advice which I disregarded but which I must beg you bear in mind to avoid the consequences. I suffer by disregarding it. You know what great affection and regard I have for you personally and it is that that prompts me, even presses me to wire to you thus opening my heart to you. Your manager, Mr.Sivarama Iyer is in a way my guardian and I have fatherly regard for him. I regret his leaving you. I am performing Abhishekam and Archanai in your name this day grandly to my Lord Sri Ramanatha and to our Divine Mother and will send you prasadam. Be ever loyal to our Sovereign and Her Government and use your wealth, power, and influence to benefit others, and to injure none and above all, be devoted to the feet of Him who from Kalugachalam protects you all, and thus you will be happy now and ever.”

Some clarifications/additional information here would not be out of place.

  • While Lord Ramanathasvami at Ramesvaram is the family deity of the Ramnad Sethupatis, Lord Subramanya at Kazhugumalai or Kazhugachalam or Kankagiri (about 22 kms from Kovilpatti in Southern Tamilnadu) is the presiding deity of the Ettayapuram Royals. The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini records a number of compositions created by the Ettayapuram Rajas as well by Balusvami Dikshitar and Subbarama Dikshitar on this Lord Kartikeya. We do have one kriti ‘Subramanyena Rakshitoham’ published by Kallidaikurici Sundaram Iyer, in the raga Suddha Dhanyasi attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar, composed on this deity.
  • An examination of Bhaskara Sethupathi and his persona would show that he in fact played two parts & with finesse – one as a loyal vassal of His Majesty’s Government and secondly as a nationalist who sympathized with the Indian National Congress. Two contradictory roles/approaches ,yet apolitical and it probably reflected his desire to remain relevant in the politics of the then Provincial Madras.

The text of the letter above gives a wholesome perspective of Bhaskara Sethupati. His erudite knowledge and use of English language, his moorings in Hindu beliefs and above all his open admission as to his misjudgment in running the affairs of the Ramnad Estate & his goodwill toward Venkatesvara Ettappa stand out in his letter.

Early in the year 1900, when the estate was in dire financial straits, the Pontiff of  the Sringeri Mutt is said to have played a key role in ensuring that the Estate was bailed out and Bhaskara’s son Rajesvara Sethupathi was safely put in charge of whatever was remaining. All these events perhaps took its toll on Bhaskara Sethupati’s health and quickly led to his untimely death on 27th December 1903. When he died, the great Tamil scholar the revered Mahavidvan R Raghava Iyengar (1878-1960) wrote a eulogy in Tamil thus:

SengaiyyAl vAri aLitthAyE SetupatI !

EngayyA engatkku inimEl idam?

Translation: Oh Setupati, the one who gave away all, with your noble hands! Where do we now go?

And the other great titan U Ve Svaminatha Iyer during his visit to the Ramnad Court composed this couplet on this benevolent patron, in Tamil:

vinniR siranthidu pARkkarar pOl virumbum indha

manniR sirundUyar pARkkara bUpathi vAzhiyavE !


A number of musicians/composers have been patronized by the Ramnad Royal House. Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer (1816-1889), Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893), Patnam Subramanya Iyer (1845-1902), Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar(1860-1919) and Subbarama Dikshitar are the notable ones.  In fact for Bhaskara Sethupati’s ascension to the Ramnad throne, the triumvirate of Krishna Iyer, Patnam and Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer performed together.

We have quite a few compositions composed on some of the Ramnad Royals as below:

  1. “sAmi nI vEga”, a tana varna in Ata tala in the raga Nattakurinji with the ankita “kottasAmi bhUpala”, composed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer in praise of Kottaisami Thevar the brother of Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar who ruled Ramanathapuram.⁶
  2. “sAmi nInnE” in Atana with the ankita “ugrapAndia bhUpAla” on Panditurai Tevar(1867-1911), the Zamindar of Pazhavanattham and the paternal cousin of Bhaskara Setupati, also composed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer.⁶
  3. “Nadhru dhru deem”, tillana in Sindhubhairavi composed by Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar again on Panditurai Thevar.
  4. ‘kamalAkshi ninnE koriyunnadi’ , a tana varna in Kambhoji set to jhampa tala composed by Kundrakudi Krishna Iyer on Bhaskara Sethupati’s father Muthuramalinga Sethupathi. This apart he has composed a few pada varnas as well on both Muthuramalinga Sethupati and Bhaskara Sethupati.
  5. “srI rAjadhirAja” -Ata tala tana varna composed by Subbarama Dikshitar in the raga Balahamsa, in praise of Bhaskara Sethupati himself.( See Foot Note 1)
  6. “gAravamu ganna dUraiyani” – Ragamalika in 9 ragas set in rupaka tala, composed by Subbarama Dikshitar again on Bhaskara Sethupati
  7. ‘edO pArAmukam’ a Tamil svarajati in the raga Khamas composed on Bhaskara Setupati and ascribed to the Tanjore quartet descendant Sangita Kalanidhi Ponnayya Pillai.

Some interesting points need attention here:

  • Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer were a trio belonging to the same (performing) generation roughly who indulged in ‘vyavahara’ laden music, in other words indulging in complex svara and rhythmic pyrotechnics as a part of their pallavi renditions.  All the three of them were recipients of honours from the Ramanathapuram Court. We do have accounts that they constantly competed actively on & off the concert stage. Interestingly we have a a unique varna from each of them in raga Kambhoji. Krishna Iyer’s aforesaid varna is in jhampa tala, a rare one. Similarly Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s Kambhoji creation “Pankajakshi Neepai” is littered profusely with beautiful svaraksharas. One can indeed wonder if they produced them in (friendly ?) rivalry!
  • All the above three performed together, setting aside their professional rivalry at the request of Bhaskara Sethupathi on the occasion of his ascension as King. The three of them sang together the famous Todi pallavi ‘Ganalola Karunalavala’, which incidentally was derived from the pallavi line of the kriti in the same raga, composed by Chinnasvami Dikshitar, brother of Muthusvami Dikshitar and is found notated in the SSP. Sulamangalam Bagavathar in his memoirs recalls that the rendition of the pallavi by the three titans in unison was a veritable treat, fit for celestials ! (See Foot Note 2)
  • The reference of both Patnam Subramanya Iyer & Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar to the great Panditurai Tevar as “UgrapAndya” is hardly surprising. King Ugrapandya was the last of the Madurai/Pandyan sovereigns who had presided over the last (Third) Tamil Sangam (College of Poets). Panditurai Tevar was the key force behind the 4th Tamil Sangam which set helped set up with the participation of U Ve Svaminatha Iyer, R Raghava Iyengar, Paridhimarkalignar, Shanmugham Pillai & others. Also Panditurai Tevar’s father was a close associate of Tamil Mahavidvan Meenakshisundaram Pillai, the preceptor of U Ve Svaminatha Iyer.
  • It was Panditurai Tevar/Ponnusvami Tevar who had apparently recommended and also sponsored Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar to learn under Patnam Subramanya Iyer. Apart from Patnam and Pooci Iyengar, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and his brother Ramasvami Sivan were closely associated with the Ramanathapuram Royals.
  • We have a varna in Mohana by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bagavathar “Manamohana” in ata tala with the raja mudra of “Mudduramalinga” which Dr B M Sundaram, says as alluding to Muthuramalinga Sethupati, Bhaskara’s father. Muthuramalinga Sethupathi passed away in 1872 while Muthiah Bagavathar was born only in 1877.  I am unsure how this varna can be ascribed as having been composed so.
  • The Royal House of Ramnad also patronized a descendant of the Tanjore Quartet,  Vadivelu Pillai-  a grandson of the Quartet Sivanandam. by making him an AstAna vidvan. We have a beautiful Svarajati in the raga Khamas ‘ edO pArAmukam’ composed probably by this Vadivelu Pillai or by his brother’s (Kannusvami Pillai) son Sangita Kalanidhi Ponnayya Pillai (1889-1945) . This composition in which Bhaskara Setupati is portrayed as a nAyakA is again a  very rare one. The svarajathi made its way out of oblivion from the private manuscripts of  the famous dance guru K P Kittappa Pillai and was subsequently published by the Music Academy.

The Balahamsa varna and the navaratna ragamalika are the ones that Subbarama Dikshitar composed on Bhaskara Setupati, which find place respectively in the SSP and its Anubandha. Interestingly both have an oral tradition as well and for the present blog post I will take up these two compositions of Subbarama Dikshitar, both of them being beautiful in themselves.


The Balahamsa varna of Subbarama Dikshitar is a veritable encyclopedia of the raga Balahamsa. Its sahitya runs as under:


srI rAjadhiraja sannuta mahAraja sevita

srI rAmanAtha padAmbhoja


srI rAjarAjeshvari krUpa pAtra sudhIndra

srI bhAskara setUpatI sArvabhauma bOgha dEvEndra


kAmini nInnE koriyunnadirA


kAmUni kEli dhani nElu kOra

This apart the, composition has sahitya for the muktayisvara and the ettugada svaras apart from having an anubandha.  In the text of the varna, Subbarama Dikshitar invokes the name of Lord Ramanatha of Ramesvaram, given that the Sethupathis are the considered the guardians of the mythological bridge Ramasethu that was built and are also the traditional patrons of the Ramanathasvami Temple. Subbarama Dikshitar also refers to Bhaskara Sethupathi as a recipient of the benign Grace of Goddess Rajarajesvari . One may think that its a casual mention of a Goddess from the Hindu pantheon & nothing more. A little more study of the history of the Ramnad Royals would show that She is the tutelary diety of the Sethupatis. And so it would be appropriate to digress here a bit to know more about this Goddess worshipped by the Sethupathis.


Goddess Rajarajeshvari, was the tutelary deity of the Royals of Ramanathapuram. She had a temple within the precincts of ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’ the royal residence of the Sethupathis, which can be visited even today. In fact the Goddess with similar names/form has been the family deity of the Royals of the neighboring Sivaganga and also of the Tanjore Kings, reminding us of Goddess Camundesvari and how she is the family deity of the Wodeyar Kings of Mysore. Goddess Rajarajeshvari of the Ramanathapuram Palace used to be worshipped daily by the ruling Sethupathy and also grand pujas for her were held on occasions such as the Navaratri celebrations. The Sri Rajarajeshvari icon that was worshipped by the Setupathis of Ramnad is in the form of Mahishasuramardhini or Durga with eight hands and is mounted on an emerald/maragatha peetam. Legend has it that the golden figurine was gifted to the Sethupatis by the Nayaks of Madura. The green emerald base was got from the Kings of Mysore, during a conquest and it itself was originally supposed to have been sourced by the Sankaracharya from Himalayas. The worship of this Rajarajeshvari icon during the Navaratri celebrations of the year 1892 is recorded in detail in Chapter V of the book “Kingship and Colonial Practice in Colonial India” by Pamela Price, published by Cambridge University Press. This Royal icon never leaves the precincts of the Palace, ‘Ramalinga Vilasam” and was only worshipped by the Sethupathy & members of his royal family and on rare occasions a few esteemed guests of the Royals were invited to witness the puja. The Goddess & King Sethupathis shared a common external identity, that as together, they preserved dharma and ensured peace and prosperity in the Kingdom. Even today akin to the Dussehra Festival done royally in Mysore, the Navaratri celebrations in Ramnad are celebrated grandly, see news report here

U Ve Svaminatha Iyer in his chronicles records his participation in one such Navaratri celebrations on the invitation of Raja Bhaskara Sethupati. He records the gala event during which a special 1008 shankhabhisheka was performed to the Godesses.


Muthu Vijaya Raghunatha Sethupathi (1710-1725) offering obeisance to Goddess Rajarajesvari – A Mural Painting in “Ramalinga Vilasam” the Royal Palace of the Ramanathapuram Rulers (Photo Courtesy: “The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India” – by Jennifer Howes)

Bhaskara Sethupathy was deeply devoted to Goddess Rajarajeshvari. In his personal dairy, in an entry dating to January 1893, Bhaskara Sethupathy recorded that one of his life ambition was to completely renovate her temple. And in that year he offered a bejeweled cup and a sari weaved in gold, which he had purchased in Madras ! ¹ Apparently till then animal sacrifices were made to this deity, which was stopped by Bhaskara Sethupathi with the guidance and benign blessings of the Sankaracharya of Sringeri.

As referred earlier, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) was patronized by the Rajas of Ramanathapuram, particularly by Bhaskara Sethupathi’s father Muthuramalinga Sethupathi II (1862-1873). It is worth noting here that Vaidyanatha Iyer is never known to have a sung on a mortal. One can surmise that probably one evening, during a visit to the ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’, Vaidyanatha Iyer must have been probably invited to witness the puja of this Rajarajeshvari and he went on to compose his Janaranjani composition “pAhimAm srI rAjarAjeshvarI” in praise of the deity!

Though this kriti does not have any reference in its sahitya to Ramanathapuram or its Royals, still the nexus seems worth imagining at least! And another interesting reference in this connection is the pallavi rendered by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer during the coronation celebrations of Bhaskara Sethupati. As before mentioned, after Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer along with Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Kundrakudi Krishna Iyer finished rendering the Todi pallavi, ‘Ganalola karunalavala’, Bhaskara Sethupati requested Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer to render one more pallavi in the Simhananda tala, egged on by the assembled vidvans. The veteran composer/singer composed one in praise of  Goddess Rajarajesvari, in a trice , in the 108 akshara tala and rendered it splendidly.

This also leads one to another interesting trail of thought as to the circumstance in which Subbarama Dikshitar might have composed the varna on Bhaskara Sethupati. As a matter of fact apart from these compositions given in text/notation in the SSP we do not have any record of the time and place in which Subbarama Dikshitar must have met Bhaskara Sethupati. The piece could have been composed by Subbarama Dikshitar in April 1889 to commemorate the coronation of Bhaskara Sethupati when he formally became the Raja of Ramnad at the end of his minority.

Also there is one other piece of information with which we can surmise/imagine another probable scenario! Bhaskara Sethupati as is obvious from his personal dairies ,was a Devi upAsakA. In the entry made in January 1893 he had indicated that he wanted to learn and practice Sakti Tantra. Indeed so in that same year the Sethupathi conducted the kumbhabishekam of the Rajarajesvari temple. And Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps met Bhaskara Sethupati on the occasion of that consecration. We well know that Subbarama Dikshitar was a practitioner of Sri Vidya cult and was initiated into it very early in life. This could have made the young & hardly 25 year old Sethupathi to look upon the sage-like looking Subbarama Dikshitar as his guru/preceptor to guide him in the worship of Devi.

Let us first hear the rendering of this very rare varna by Prof S R Janakiraman and his disciple Sriram Kannan in this video clipping below recorded a few weeks ago.

The Professor’s enviable repertoire traces back to two illustrious lineages as exemplified by Sangita Kalanidhi Flute Svaminatha Pillai and Tiger Varadacariar. While SSP additionally gives the sahitya for the muktayisvara and for the ettugada svaras, the same is not rendered by Prof SRJ. Attention is invited to the rendering of the concluding portions of the varna, i.e the sequential rendering of the last avarta of ettugada svara followed by the anubandha sahitya, the anupallavi, the muktayi svara and finally ending with the pallavi sahitya, which marks the logical conclusion to the rendering. This varna is a classic example of the older form of which the Bhairavi ata tala varna ‘Viribhoni’ is a prime example. Though the extant renderings of the Bhairavi varna is a truncated one, the SSP has the text & notation of the complete varna together with the anubandha.


The varna contains older/archaic phrases not in vogue and presents a picture of what Balahamsa was, once upon a time. In the SSP itself, we have the following compositions given from this raga.⁴

  • (Muddu)Venkatamakhi’s gitam in matya tAla
  • Muthusvami Dikshitar’s Guruguha Vibakthi kriti, “guruguhAd anyam na janEham” set in jhampa tAla
  • Subbarama Dikshitar’s aforesaid Tana varna in ata tAla
  • His sancari in matya tAla

While we do have good number compositions of Tyagaraja and that of the post trinity composer Mysore Sadasiva Rao, Subbarama Dikshitar’s creation is the lexicon for this raga & contains a number of phrases which have since gone out of vogue. From a historical perspective Balahamsa finds first mention in King Shahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’ followed by Tulaja’s ‘Sangita Saramruta’. Subbarama Dikshitar’s interpretation is completely aligned to the older version as given by Shahaji, with vakra murccanas. Barring a sequential SRGM and PDNs, other prayogas abound, to put it simply.

In the SSP, Balahamsa is defined by Subbarama Dikshitar thus:

  1. Upanga and sampurna with nishada being varjya in the arohana, under the Kedaragaula raaganga.
  2. Rishabha is the jiva and nyasa svara and sadja is graha svara.
  3. Salient murccanas include SRPMR,  SRGMPMR, dSRMGR, SRMGRGS, RSndpdSR and GMPMR (tara sadja svara is denoted in lower case, madhya stayi in upper case and mandhara stayi svaras in lower case italics. Those in bold font are svaras to be emphasized)

It needs to be noted that the contemporaneous version of Balahamsa as evidenced by the kritis of Tyagaraja and Sadasiva Rao has its roots in Govindacarya’s definition of Balahamsa with the arohana/avarohana being S R M P D s/s N D P M R M G S as an upanga janya under Harikambhoji mela. And also instead of rishabha, madhyama and dhaivatha are seen in profusion. The melodic difference between the Balahamsa  as documented by Subbarama Dikshitar on one hand and that found in the version propounded by Govindacarya is best exemplified by the Mysuru Sadasiva Rao’s kriti.

Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Seetha Rajan renders Sadasiva Rao’s “Evarunnaru” in this concert excerpt here: Evarunnaru – Balahamsa

Attention is invited to the marked difference in the treatment of the raga in this composition. And it does make us wonder when this change to raga lakshana of this raga took place. Suffice to state that this raga is another member of that list which represent a difference in treatment as evidenced by the compositions of Tyagaraja on one hand & Dikshitar on the other.

Prof.S.R.Janakiraman follows up & touches upon some of the musical aspects and an anecdote around this raga :


  • It’s interesting to note that the final avarta of the not-sung citta svara of the Guruguha vibhakti krithi ‘Guruguhad anyam’,starting with the phrase SRMPDPs is reproduced almost verbatim by Subbarama Dikshitar in his varna in the muktayi svara section. The conception of  Subbarama Dikshitar of this raga is closely aligned to Muthusvami Dikshitar’s.
  • The ragas Natanarayani and Mahuri have melodic overlap with Balahamsa.  While Natanarayani goes as SRGSRMPDs/sDPMGRS and Mahuri goes as SRMGRMPDs/sNDPMGRS, despite the presence/absence of nishada, they would sound identical as they are all purvanga pradhana raga. They differ on the jiva svara – Rishabha is the jiva svara for Balahamsa and Madhyama for Mahuri.
  • Muthusvami Dikshitar also employs additional motifs in Balahamsa such as the the drop from the madhya sadja to the mandhara pancama and a similar jump from the madhya pancama to the tara sadja. Similar such approach is seen in Natanarayani as well, such as dropping from madhya rishabha to mandhara dhaivatha, vide the Dikshitar composition ‘mahAganapate pAlayasumAm’ as notated in the SSP.

NAVARAGAMALIKA -‘gAravamuganna doraiyani’

We move over next to the ragamalika composed by Subbarama Dikshitar. This navaragamalika or a garland of 9 ragas is set in Kalyani, Todi, Saveri , Atana , Neelambari , Manirangu, Kambhoji, Mukhari and Mohana. The setting of this composition is similar, in that it is conceived as an expression of the unifocal love of a damsel named Kalyani, whose longing for the nAyaka (Bhaskara Sethupathi) is conveyed to him through her friend. Subbarama Dikshitar has skillfully woven in the raga names in the telugu sahitya appropriately. In this composition Kalyani’s friend while addressing the nAyaka, first invokes the benign grace of Lord Subrahmanya, then proceeds to describe Kalyani and her yearning for him and finally ends by appealing to him to accept her. Similar to the Balahamsa varna, here too Dikshitar refers to the Sethupathi as the recipient of Goddess Rajarajesvari’s grace, thus:

vIra dAsa mukhari sEtu vibhU bhAskara mahipAla

sakala sUrAsura sEvita shrI rajarajEsvari karunA katAksha labdha

nikhila bhAgya dhurandharudagu srI bhAskara

The translation of the telugu lyrics of this rAgamAlikA can be read here.

Vidushi Rama Ravi who traces her repertoire to her mother as well as to the scion of the Dhanammal family, Prof T Vishvanathan has also rendered this composition. This is part of a commercial release by Carnatica.

And finally we have Prof S R Janakiraman rendering the rAgamalikA.

In the sahitya of this composition Subbarama Dikshitar gives the lyric as  “tirunElu srI kArtikEya divya mOhana shikivAhana”. It’s a puzzle as to which town/temple does ‘tirunElu’ imply! Does it refer to Tirunelveli? And if so which temple there, does it refer to and what is the nexus between that temple/kArtikEya and Bhaskara Setupati, to be so mentioned in this composition? Wish one knew the answers!


Today Bhaskara Sethupathi is all but a distant & fading memory. The memorial he constructed to commemorate Svami Vivekanda’s return from America and his philanthropy may soon be completely forgotten. But Subbarama Dikshitar has immortalized him by these two compositions  thus etching his memory forever on the fabric of our music.

Foot Note 1:

Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini contains many of his compositions in praise of royal patrons. Some of them are listed below:

  1. ‘sAmi entanI’ – Surati – Rupaka – Cauka Varna in praise of King/Prince Muddusvami Ettendra of Ettayapuram one of the several pieces that have been composed by Subbarama Dikshitar, quite naturally so as he was the Asthana Vidvan of the Ettayapuram Samasthanam.
  2. ‘enduku rA rA’ – Ragamalika – Rupaka -In praise of King/Prince Muddusvami Ettendra of Ettayapuram
  3. ‘nI sarilErani’ – Ragamalika – Tisra Eka – In praise of King Rama Varma of Travancore
  4. ‘kAmincina kalAvati’ – Ragamalika -Tisra Eka – In praise of Sri Ananda Gajapati Raju, the Maharaja of Vijayanagaram
  5. ‘sArasAgrE sarasa’ – Daru – Natanarayani – Tisra eka – In praise of Zamindar Nagayasvami Pandiyan of Periyur

Foot Note 2:

According to Prof Sambamoorthy ( ‘Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer’ – An article in “The Hindu” dated 25-10-1970), the trio of musicians rendered the pallavi “Setupati Jaya Jaya Ravikula Raja Vijaya Raghunatha Sri Bhaskara Sami” in raga Bhairavi, Jhampa tala with atitagraha, at ¾ count with Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer as the senior performer.


  1. Pamela G Price(2002) – “Kingship and Colonial Practice in Colonial India” published by Cambridge University Press
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  9. Dr B M Sundaram (1984/85 ) – Mudras in Tana Varnas – Lecture demonstration at the Krishna Gana Sabha
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