Shishya Parampara

Composers, Manuscripts, Notation, Personalities, Raga, Shishya Parampara

Sri Guruguha Navaratnamalika

Our dharma extols and worship a Guru to an extent that he is always treated synonymously with the ever pervading Almighty. Svetashvatara Upanishad, one among the celebrated 108 Upanishads says an aspirant must have unbiased worship towards his Guru and he is to be considered as a God incarnate itself. This is the only way through which he can attain the eternal bliss, prescribes this Upanishad. Advayataraka Upanishad, comparatively a lesser-known among the 108 Upanishads gives a meaning for the sabda “Guru”. The syllables ‘gu’ and ‘ru’ denotes darkness and dispeller respectively. Hence ‘Guru’ denotes a person who dispels darkness.

This truth as certified by Upanishads was sincerely followed by the disciples belonging to all the branches of Vedic dharma and we do find this idea percolating into the practitioners of Gandarva Veda also. Guru keertana-s and ashtaka-s composed by Valajapettai Venkataramana Bhagavathar on his guru Tyagaraja Svamigal is quite famous. We also see a mangalam on Svamigal composed by two of his disciples – Venkataramana Bhagavathar and Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaier.

There exist a lesser-known set of Guru kritis composed by Tanjavur Quartette on their teacher Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar and they can be collectively called as Sri Guruguha Navaratnamalika.

Tanjavur Quartette and Sri Muthuswamy Diksitar

Unlike Svamigal, Diksitar was peripatetic and this ambulant nature made him to spread his music at various places. Whereas disciples from distant places swarmed at Tiruvayyaru and learnt from Svamigal, Diksitar planted his seed at various places which later blossomed to give flowers of various colour and shapes. One such set of disciples, who has learnt from Diksitar during his stay as a court musician in Tanjavur is Chinniah, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, commonly called as Tanjavur Quartette.  They hail from a musical family and further honed their skills by learning from Diksitar for a period of approximately 8 years. As a tribute, they have composed and submitted this kritis into the lotus feet of their Guru.

The uniqueness of Sri Guruguha Navaratnamalika

A close introspection into the Guru kritis reveals they are strategically different from the works composed by the disciples of Svamigal.

  1. All these kritis are composed in Telugu and are on either Lord Brhadiswara or Devi Brhadiswari.
  2. Excluding a few phrases, these kritis do not deify their teacher. But it can be well perceived that their mental image about their Guru is exactly the same as mentioned in the Upanishad.
  3. Extra-ordinary parallelism is seen between these nine kritis and the kritis of Diksitar. In other words, these nine kritis stand out significantly from the rest of their creations! Perhaps, they could have felt, composing in the style followed by Guru would be a better tribute to show that He has bequeathed his wisdom to them.

As the name indicates, this set comprises of nine compositions set to nine different ragas:

Sri guruguha murthiki – Dhunibinnasadjam – Rupakam – Raganga raga 9

Mayatheetha svarupini – Mayamalavagowla – Rupakam – Raganga raga 15

Sri karambu – Kambhoji – Kantachapu

Sarasakshi – Sailadesakshi – Adhi – Raganga raga 35

Paramapavani – Varali – Rupakam – Raganga raga 39

Needu padame – Pantuvarali – Rupakam – Raganga ragam 45

Sri rajarajeswari – Ramamanohari – Adhi – Raganga ragam 52

Saatileni guruguhamurthini – Purvikalyani – Misrachapu – Raganga ragam 53

Sarekuni padamule – Chamaram – Rupakam – Raganga ragam 56

The kriti Mayateetha svarupini, as interpreted from Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini can be viewed here.

It is surprising to see that all of them are raganga ragas (another term used to refer melakarta) except the kriti in Kambhoji. To approach it more academically, even Kambhoji can be considered as a raganga raga as it was considered as a mela by few composers in the past. A gitam by Paidala Gurumurthy Sastri, who was an elder contemporary of Quartette can be cited as an example.

A close observation reveals another interesting finding; four of the nine ragas take the svaras suddha dhaivatam and kakali nishadham (raganga ragas 9,15,39 and 45). Is this merely a coincidence?

The parallelism between Navaratnamalika and the kritis of Dikshitar

As mentioned above, the compositional style unexceptionally resembles that of Dikshitar. This gets more visible by the following discussion.

Raga mudra is seen in all except the kritis in Kambhoji and Purvikalyani.

Five out of these nine compositions are set in pallavi-anupallavi format, a common feature seen in the kritis of Diksitar (these are now called as samasti charana kritis).

Madhyamakala sahityam is seen in all the kritis excluding the kritis in Sailadesakshi and Purvikalyani.

A chittasvaram is affixed to many kritis in this set.

Has a graha svaram segment (only in the Dhunibinnasadjam kriti).

The raga structure portrayed in these kritis correspond exactly with the lakshana seen in the kritis of Diksitar as notated by Subbarama Diksitar.

All these kritis bear the mudra ‘guruguha’.

Guruguha mudra

Though this mudra has become synonymous with Diksitar, we do see this mudra being used by other composers. This mudra can be seen in some compositions of Subbarama Diksitar and Ambi Diksitar, other than the Quartette. In these nine kritis, this mudra is suffixed with phrases like ‘daasudaithi’, bhaktudani and sadhbhaktudani.

Only two kritis use a different form of this mudra and they give an internal reference regarding their relationship with Diksitar. The kriti in Binnasadjam begins as ‘sri guruguhamurtiki ne sishyudai yunnanura’, wherein the composer declares he was a disciple of Diksitar. Another personal reference is seen in the kriti ‘saatileni guruguhamurti’ wherein he says he is acquainted with his Guru for a considerable period of time (aa naatanundi).


We have three sources to study and analyse these kritis. The primary one is the text “Tanjai Peruvudaiyan Perisai” published by the descendants of Quartette. To the limited knowledge of this author, this is the first text to give these kritis in notation and name them as Navaratnamalika. Second is “Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini” of Subbarama Diksitar and the third is the manuscripts believed to have been written by Quartette and now in the possession of Sri Sivakumar, a descendant of Quartette who graciously shared to do this analysis.

The notated version of all these nine kritis can be seen in the first source and only four kritis are notated in the text by Subbarama Diksitar. Subbarama Diksitar, in his treatise, has explained 72 raganga ragas and their janyas, practically by illustrating with the kritis of Muthuswamy Diksitar. Strangely for 4 raganga ragas (Dhunibinnasadjam, Siva Pantuvarali, Ramamanohari and Chamaram), no kriti of Diksitar was affixed. Instead, he has given the kritis of Ponniah as an authority to understand the ragas Dhunibinnasadjam, Ramamanohari and Chamaram (though Quartette in general were given the credit as the composer of these nine kritis, Subbarama Diksitar specifically mention the three kritis given by him as the creations of Ponniah).  Siva pantuvarali is devoid of any kriti.

At the outset, no significant differences can be seen between these two texts with respect to the raga lakshana excluding the kriti in Ramamanohari. The raga lakshana seen in the kriti ‘sri raja rajeswari’, in the version given by Subbarama Diksitar is more in line with the Ramamanohari gitam seen in Samparadaya Pradarshini. Also, only Subbarama Diksitar has given a chittasvaram for Ramamanohari and Chamaram kritis. The graha svaram segment seen in the Dhunibinnasadajam kriti too is given only by Subbarama Diksitar.

Two inferences can be drawn from these findings – the descendants of Quartette have taken diligent efforts to preserve the compositions of their ancestors and Subbarama Diksitar, though belong to a different lineage has given the versions learnt and / or known to him earnestly.


Versions seen in the manuscripts too correspond extraordinarily well with the other sources. Few striking differences are seen:

  1. Pantuvarali is mentioned as the raga taking sadharana gandhara corresponding to the raganga raga 45 (this is given as the raga taking antara gandhara corresponding to melam 51 in the text ‘Tanjai Peruvudaiyan Perisai’).
  2. The kriti ‘sri raja rajeswari’ has few special phrases that are seen in the gitam given in Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini.
  3. The manuscript gives different versions for two kritis – sri karambu and saatileni guruguha murti. ‘Sri karambu’ is mentioned as the raga taking the svaras of Kanakambari, raganga raga 1 and the raga for ‘saatileni guruguhamurti’ is given as Nata, which also serves as a raga mudra. Sivakumar opines that this is a common pattern observed with the Quartette; to tune a single sahityam to two different ragas and to fix two different sahityam into a single tune.


Rather than praising their Guru, Quartette has followed a different technique of paying tribute to their Guru. They have incorporated the special elements (like raga mudra, graha svaram segment and madhyamakala sahityam) of Diksitar kritis in these nine compositions to show His influence on them.

These nine kritis are an important source to understand the raga laskshana prevailed in the Diksitar family and their disciples. Having kritis in nine raganga ragas might be an indication that Quartette might have composed in other raganga ragas too and are to be identified.


I profusely thank Sri Sivakumar for allowing me to peruse the manuscripts said to be written by Tanjavur Quartette.  

This article appeared in Sruti, April 2020 issue.

Composers, CompositionAppreciation, Manuscripts, Personalities, Sahitya, Shishya Parampara

Sri Tyagarajaya mangalam

The term mangalam indicates auspiciousness amongst its many other denotation that it conveys. Mangalam is usually heard at the end of a Nama samkeertanam, Sita kalyanam or at the end of a concert to be propitious to both the listener and reciter.  Mangalam can be compared with the ‘phalastuthi’ recited at the end of any sloka and usually eulogizes a deity. Though presently very few mangalam-s are in vogue, each family inherited their own repertoire of mangalam-s in the past. The deity extolled here will a family deity or a deity enshrined in a town to which the family belongs to. This author has listened to his grandmother singing a mangalam addressing the Lord Devanatha of Tiruvahindrapuram in the ragam Kamavardhani. Also, age old mangalam-s runs in the family through the generations. ‘Sri ramachandranukku’, a common mangalam appended to Rama nataka kirtanam of Arunachala Kavi and often sung in Madhyamavathi is sung in Asaveri in this author’s family. Interestingly, the oldest book which mentions this kriti too gives Asaveri as the raga for this kriti.  

Occasionally, mangalam-s were also composed on Saints and mortals. Though the sahityam of these compositions might superficially appear inconsequential, they provide a lot of biographical details, especially when they are composed by individuals who are closely associated with the nayaka of the mangalam.

Disciples of Tyagaraja Svamigal

Svamigal could have been one of the very few composers to have a lot of disciples. Many of them were also composers and two of them who are of interest to us are Valajapettai Venkataraman Bhagavathar and Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaier.  Both of them have composed mangalam-s furnishing a lot of details about their Guru.

Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaier

Venkatasubbaier was related to Svamigal and he had trained a lot of disciples like his preceptor. He was a composer and sadly, only a few of his compositions survive through few isolated recordings like ‘avarakuta’ in the ragam Kuthuhalam and a kriti ‘samiki sari’ in the ragam Devagandhari resounding the glory of his Guru. His unknown compositions include a ragamalika ‘sivabhupathe’ and a mangalam ‘giriraja pautraya’ on his teacher among others.

Giriraja pautraya

Many of us are benighted about this mangalam in the ragam Surati set to khanda chapu. Only the sahityam will be analyzed to know more about Svamigal, as provided by his direct disciple.Sahityam of this mangalam is provided first followed by a discussion on some of the salient details seen in this kriti (The sahityam provided here is taken from a thesis by Nityasri on the disciples of Manabuchavadi venkatasubbaier).


giri raaja pautraaya kaarunya sindhave  

gaana rasa purnaaya  sri  tyaagaraajaya  mangaḷam  subha mangalam


raama brahmaankita  bhuvara suputraaya

naadabrahmaananda sri  tyaagaraajaya  mangaḷam  subha mangalam

Caranam – 1

sitamma kruta punya baagyaaya

vimalaaya gitaya nitaya sri  tyaagaraajaya  mangaḷam  subha mangalam

Caranam – 2

panca nada tiraavataaraaya  naadaaya bandha  sihaaraaya

sri  tyaagaraajaaya buloga ava tirṇa vaalmikaamsine  

venkataanugraha  sri  tyaagaraajaya  mangaḷam  subha mangalam

This is a mangalam composed in simple Sanskrit. This gives the geneology of svamigal starting from his grandfather. Mangalam start as ‘giritaja pautraya’ meaning the grandson of Giriraja. This indicates Giriraja was his paternal grandfather (dauhitra is the term to be used to denote maternal lineage), resolving the confusions surrounding the relationship between Svamigal and Giriraja. In the anupallavi, Venkatasubbaier says Svamigal was the blessed son of a brahmana by name Ramabrahma. Interestingly, the next line gives the sanyaasa diksha name of Svamigal, ‘naadabrahmaananda’ (this is a prevalent information given by various accounts covering the biography of Svamigal). Though, the occasion which saw the birth of this mangalam is not known, it could be speculated that this could have been composed after his beatitude. It is in this context, the line ‘panca nada tiraavataaraaya’ occurring in the caranam is to be studied.   

There are controversies regarding the birth place of Svamigal. Whereas the predominant view is in support of Tiruvarur, few hold a view that Tiruvayyaru should get this privilege. Though outwardly seeing, this line might refer Tiruvayyaru as the avatara sthalam of Svamigal, when combined with the previously disclosed significance of the word ‘naadabrahmaananda’, it can be well presumed that ‘panca nada tiraavataaraaya’ might refer to the second birth place of Tyagaraja ; him taking the order of Sanyaasa and taking a new birth altogether as Naadabrahmaananda. This kriti also mentions Sitamma, his mother, and considers him as an amsa of Valmiki.

Valajapettai Venkataramana Bhagavathar

Guru kritis and Guru ashtakam of Venkataramana Bhagavathar are quite famous and require no introduction. What is less known is his mangalam on Svamigal. This mangalam with notation, tuned to Madhyamavathi and set to adi talam can be seen in the book by S Parthasaradhi, a disciple of Srinivasaraghavan. This kriti, with some additional carana-s  feature in Valajapettai transcripts, preserved at Government Oriental Manuscript Library, Chennai. This mangalam is seen interspersed with the transcript dealing with ‘Nauka Caritramu’ of Svamigal. Whether this mangalam was composed along with the said natakam (of Svamigal) by Bhagavathar or it was written just alongside the natakam by the scribe cannot be ascertained. Only the text of the mangalam is provided; no notations or raga – tala marking is seen.  This make us to doubt whether this was rendered as a kriti or recited only as a padyam. The text seen in the transcripts verbatim are provided first followed by analysis.

  1. Sri mad kaakarla vamsaadhi Candra yaamala tejase – raama rasagyaaya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam
  2. Raamabrahma suputraaya sitamma garbhajaaya cha – raamachandra svarupaaya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam
  3. Paarvati kamalaamba sad bhaarya samyathaaya cha – sarva sadguna purnaaya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam
  4. Naaradaacharya karunaa paatraayadbutha kirtaye – dhiraaya nirvikaaraya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam
  5. Sri karunaa samudraaya lokaanugraha kaarine – saakedhaadhipa bhaktaaya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam
  6. Yogi pungava mitraaya yogaananda svarupine – raaga lobha vimukthaaya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam
  7. Gaana saastra pravinaaya kali kalmasha naashine – naanaa sishya samuhaaya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam
  8. Kaaveri tira vaasaaya karunaamruta varshine – paavana sucharitraaya tyaagaraajaaya mangalam  

Sanskrit was the language used similar to the first mangalam. No distinction of the text into pallavi and carana-s can be noted.

This mangalam gives more insight into the biographical details of Svamigal. He starts with a mention about the ‘vamsa’ of Svamigal – Kakarla. He then proceeds to say he was the divine son of Ramabrahmam and Sitamma. He is the amsa of the Lord Sri Ramachandra itself and he had two wives – Parvati and Kamalaamba. This mangalam depose the incident wherein Svamigal had a vision of Sage Narada and blessed by him – ‘naaradaacharya karuna paatraaya’. He extols his Guru by using the phrases like the ‘one who is devoid of desire and greed’ (raaga lobha vimukthaaya), ‘well versed in sangita’(gaana saastra pravinaaya), ‘always surrounded by various disciples’ (naanaa sishya samuhaaya) etc., This mangalam does not mention about his diksha name or his place of birth. But, a biography written by Valajapettai father-duo affirms he was indeed born in Tiruvarur.

Apart from slight differences in the sahityam, the third kandika cannot be seen in the version given by S Parthasaradhi. Instead, we have a new sahityam starting with ‘dhina maanava poshaaya’.


Svamigal was revered and extolled by more than one disciple, even during his lifetime. These two mangalam could have been composed at different occasions, though the exact event or incident that kindled them to compose is not known. Nevertheless, these mangalam-s stand as a testimony to know the personal details about Svamigal with an authority.

The article appeared in Sruti, January 2020 issue.

Composers, Manuscripts, Notation, Pathantara, Raga, Shishya Parampara

Intriguing raga-s – Balahamsa


Changes occurred to a rāga can be of various types ranging from trivial to drastic. There are some rāga-s wherein some phrases have disappeared over the period of years, there are a few wherein a rāga was made to sport a svara which is not present in its derivative scale and lastly there are some which were given a new form altogether. The last change is most dangerous as we are deprived to understand its old and original form. One such ‘extinct’ rāga is Balahamsa, a rāga that was much popular during the period of Tyāgarāja Svāmigaḷ and his contemporaries. The Balahamsa visualized by these composers was indeed a grand ‘rāga’ with lot of fluid phrases traversing the scale.

Though we do hear Balahamsa now and then with the same svara sthāna as that of Balahamsa of yore, the kṛti-s heard are mostly modern considering the lakṣaṇa of this rāga. The contemporary Balahamsa is much scalar which is essentially to be contrasted against the Balahamsa used by the composers mentioned above.  


The present form of Balahamsa, in texts is seen only from the period of Śahaji. But the lakṣaṇa seen here has not changed; Tulaja too records the same, though he was late by around a century (See Footnote 1). This rāga, essentially in the same form was utilized by Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar in his kṛti ‘guruguhādanyam’, belonging to the set of guruguha vibhakti kṛti-s. This kṛti as notated by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar in his Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarśini follows the same lakṣaṇa as given by Śahaji and Tulaja. Unfortunately, the later versions of this kṛti resemble this Balahamsa remotely and were structured to be in confirmation with the commonly heard Scalar Balahamsa. This scalar version subdued the Scale-transcending Balahamsa in the Post – Trinity era and live through many compositions.

We have mentioned in our earlier articles that many of the Scale-transcending rāga-s have a Scalar counterpart and Balahamsa can be best fitted into this. It is a rarity to hear Balahamsa in the present day concert milieu and when it is heard, it is invariably the Scalar Balahamsa that bemuse us.

Scalar Balahamsa

Balahamsa takes the svara that are assigned to the mēla 28 (present system), namely catuśruti ṛṣabham, antara gāndhāram, suddha madhyamaṃ, catuśruti dhaivatam and kaiśiki niṣādham. It is an upāṅga rāgaṃ and svara-s alien to mēla 28 are never seen here. All the advocatory texts of the Scalar school like Saṅgraha Cūḍāmaṇi, Saṅgīta Sarvārtha Sāram etc., identify this rāga and assign the scale SRMPDS SNDPMRMGS to it (See Footnote 2). The phrase RMGS has been given an undue importance (in the Post-Trinity era) and this phrase has almost become synonymous with this rāga which we feel, is mainly due to the influence of Saṅgraha Cūḍāmaṇi and the lakṣaṇa gīta given there in. The lakṣaṇa gīta notated there does not have gāndhāra in ārōhaṇa phrases, strictly confirming with the scale and RMGS is found aplenty. Glide towards the ṣaḍja in avarōhaṇa phrases is always RMGS, excluding a single place wherein MGRS is seen.

Scale-transcending Balahamsa

This grand rāga, as noted by Śahaji and Tulaja cannot be reined in by a mere scale. Though the svara stanāna-s it takes are exactly the same as that of scalar one, it has many unique phrases which was well projected by the composers like Muddusvāmy Dīkśitar and Subbarāma Dīkṣitar. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar explains its entire firmament in a single śloka, attributed to Vēṅkaṭamakhi:

      balahamsākhyarāgōyam ārōhē ca nivarjitaḥ I
sagrahassarvakālēṣu gīyatē gāyakōttamaihi II

The first part of this śloka says ‘the svara niṣādha is varjya (absent) in the ārōhaṇa of the rāga balahamsa’.  Though the śloka appears to be concise and at times non-explanatory, the very essence of Balahamsa is communicated here assiduously. This Balahamsa has ārohaṇa phrases, with the six svara-s used in various permutations, excluding the niṣādha. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar gives various illustrious phrases like SRGR, SRGM, SRMP, MPDP etc., and when they are studied with the śloka mentioned above, gives an idea that these grantakāra-s are willing to convey. Niṣādha is seen in the phrases like SNDP and DNDP. Beside these standard phrases, this rāga has many unusual phrases like SRGMPMR, SRPMR, PR and PDPS. There are two striking features in the above mentioned discussion – the phrase RMGS is not mentioned anywhere (See Footnote 3) and the phrase SRGMPMR, though mentioned by Dīkṣitar as very important, is seen nowhere in any of the compositions notated by him. The point we wish to reiterate by this discussion is that RMGS was an ignored phrase in this rāga (in the past), this rāga can be placed in par with the rāga-s like Kāmbhōji or Rītigaula which has very many special phrases outside the fixed scale and Subbarāma Dīkṣitar wishes to educate us about a rāga by giving important phrases of a rāga, irrespective of them being used in the compositions notated by him. It is thus imperative for us to read each and every discussion or note that he gives to contemplate a rāga.  

Compositions of Tyāgaraja Svāmigaḷ in the rāga Balahamsa

An astute reader will be with a query on the svarūpa of Balahamsa seen in the compositions of Svāmigaḷ. In the commonly heard versions, we hear only Scalar Balahamsa and the phrase RMGS ornate each and every single composition. Also they also do not confirm with the lakṣaṇa of the Scale-transcending Balahamsa as portrayed in the composition of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar or elsewhere. Does it mean both of them followed two different schools? This puzzle can be resolved only by looking into the older versions of the kṛti-s of Tyāgaraja Svāmigaḷ.

Older versions – a repository of lost tradition

We have insisted several times in our previous posts regarding the importance of collecting and analyzing the manuscripts preserved at various repositories. Analysis of various versions prevalent during the early part of the last century and prior reveal, the older form of Tyāgarāja kṛti-s too were in Scale-transcending Balahamsa and the possibilities of them being the ‘original’ intent of the composer is extremely high.

We have around eight compositions of Svāmigaḷ in this rāga and we were able to identify the older version for few of these compositions. A comparison across the versions will be done for the kṛti-s which were able to get an old version, to draw a conclusion.

Ninnu bāsietla

This is the rarest of the entire lot of the kṛti-s of Svāmigaḷ in Balahamsa. Surprisingly this could have been a popular kṛti in the past, getting mentioned by many musicians who had the habit of notating the kṛti-s that they have learnt. It can also be seen in published texts. Vālājāpēṭṭai version of this kṛti can be heard here. Though a small kṛti, it epitomize the Scale-transcending Balahamsa. The phrase SRGMPMR is heard in the caraṇam of this kṛti.

T M Vēṅkaṭa Śāstri was the first one to publish this kṛti in notation as early as in 1892. Though the version much resembles the Vālājāpeṭṭai version, there exist few minor differences. A prominent difference being observed is the absence of the phrase SRGMPMR and SNDNP. Instead this reads as SRMPPMR and SNDNDP respectively! (See Footnote 4)This trend gets continued in the Gāyaka Siddhānjanamu of Taccur brothers. P V Ponnammāl, a musician who lived around 1917 also recorded a similar version, but without the phrase SRGMPMR. Same is the case with Kumbakōṇam Visvanātha Ayyar, an Umayālpuram musician. There are two versions other than the Vālājāpeṭṭai version to have this phrase; one by Srinivāsa Rāghavan, a nephew of Tillaisthānam Rāma Ayyaṅgār and another one in a book published by Kākināda C S Kṛṣṇasvāmy Ayyar. Srinivāsa Rāghavan has learnt from various sources including S A Rāmasvāmy Ayyar, a disciple of Vālājāpeṭṭai Kṛṣṇasvāmy Bhāgavatar and Umayālpuram Kṛṣṇa and Sundara Bhāgavatar and he could have learnt this from S A Rāmasvāmy Ayyar. The version published by Kākināda C S Kṛṣṇasvāmy Ayyar  is extraordinarily similar to Vālājāpeṭṭai version, but for the absence of the phrase SNDNP. Though few minor differences exist across the versions, the basic structure of this kṛti is almost similar. Strikingly, none of these versions use the phrase RMGS. The presently rendered concert version can be heard here.

Taḷḷi tandrulu

Another common kṛti seen in almost all the manuscripts written during the early part of the last century. The lakṣaṇa of Balahamsa is similar to the other kṛti-s mentioned in the Vālājāpeṭṭai manuscripts (‘ninnu basi’, ‘daṇdamu bettēnura’ and ‘ika gāvalasina’). We do not find the phrase SRGMPMR here, though we find PMR and PR in plenty. Similar lakṣaṇa is seen in the text Gānēnduśekaram of Taccur brothers. A similar version with the complete absence of RMGS and plenty of DSR, SRGR,PMR,PDND etc., were seen in the versions of Bālasubraḥmaṇya Ayyar, supposedly an Umayālpuram musician, PV Ponnammāl and Srinivāsa Rāghavan. This again shows the older versions of the kṛti-s of svāmigaḷ is much different from the presently heard versions.

Ika gāvalasinadēmi

This is perhaps one of the common kṛti heard in this rāga. The version that is commonly heard must have been probably sourced from Umayālpuram tradition as this version much resembles the version notated by B Kṛṣṇamūrti, as learnt from Umayālpuram Rājagōpāla Iyer, a descendant of Umayālpuram Svāminātha Iyer. This version has plenty of the phrase RMGS. This kṛti could have not been known to all (musicians of the past) is gleaned from the fact that this kṛti is very rarely encountered in the manuscripts examined by us. Fortunately, a Vālājāpēṭṭai version is available, but only in part; pallavi and the first line of anupallavi alone is notated in the transcripts available. This version is devoid of the phrase RMGS.

It can be seen the arterial phrase SRGMPMR occurs and this version is not even remotely identical with the common Umayālpuram version of this kṛti!

Daṇdamu beṭṭēnura

This is perhaps the most popular kṛti in this rāga. Including the Vālājāpēṭṭai versions, none of the older versions deviate from the structure of Scale-transcending Balahamsa explained earlier. This is also applicable to the Umayālpuram version notated by B Kṛṣṇamūrti.

Rāma ēva daivatam

This is another rare kṛti in this rāga. Whereas the commonly heard version is replete with the phrase RMGS and predominantly scalar, the version by Srinivāsa Rāghavan is in line with the Scale-transcending Balahamsa. Like ‘ninnu bāsietla’, it can be conjectured that this could have also been learnt from S A Rāmasvāmy Ayyar.

It can be seen the kṛti-s ‘daṇdamu beṭṭēnura’, ‘taḷḷi tandrulu’ and ‘ninnu bāsietla’ were much known to the musicians in the past and all the kṛti-s were structured only in the Scale-transcending form. Of these versions, Vālājāpēṭṭai versions tend to harbor more archaic, yet arterial phrase like SRGMPMR and SNDNP which has been dropped off in the later versions. The emergence of Janarañjani with this phrase (SRGMPMR) might be a reason that can be speculated.

Post-Trinity composers

This rāga was handled by almost all the prominent Post-Trinity composers from Mysore Sadāśiva Rao to Harikēśanallur Muttiah Bhāgavatar. Whereas the lakśaṇa of the rāga resembles the Scale Balahamsa to a greater extent with a profuse use of the phrase RMGS, few have also used some phrases outside the scale. SRGMPMR in the kṛti ‘dēvi dākśāyani’ of Muttiah Bhāgavatar, DM and MD in the kṛti ‘evarunnaru brōva’ of Sadāśiva Rao can be cited as examples. This shows their acquaintance with Scale-transcending Balahamsa and perhaps due to changes in the trend during their period, they have composed in Scalar Balahamsa with few special phrases outside the scale to give us an inkling about the past tradition.

Unique Post-Trinity composers

As mentioned earlier, Scalar Balahamsa rose to prominence in the Post-Trinity era mainly due to the works of prominent composers who lived in the last century. Amongst this, we have two composers who have made a mark by composing in the Scale-transcending Balahamsa. Subbarāma Dīkṣitar has composed a grand aṭa tāḷa varṇa ‘śri raja rāja’ demonstrating all the vital phrases of this rāga following the lines of Tyāgarāja Svāmy and Muddusvāmi Dīkṣitar. Tiruvottriyūr Tyāgayyar has composed a kriti ‘paluka vādēla’ in this rāga belonging to the set ‘ Śri Vēṇugōpāla Aṣṭōttara Śata Kṛtis’. Though he has not used the phrase RMGS, he has neither used the phrases like SRGMPMR, SNP or PDPS, the definitive features of Scale-transcending Balahamsa. So it is neither scalar nor having all the phrases of Scale-transcending Balahamsa.

Scalar Vs Scale-transcending Balahamsa

Having discussed the two types of Balahamsa and the compositions therein, we wish to give a reckoner to identify and understand these two types. The Scalar Balahamsa follows the scale exactly with no outliers. The avarōhaṇa phrases leads to ṣaḍja only through RMGS or a phrase having the motif ‘GS’ like SRGS. But, none of the compositions exist to serve as an example for this Scalar Balahamsa that is following only the scale. The compositions by the Post-Trinity composers predominantly are scalar with few phrases not confirming with the scale.

Scale-transcending Balahamsa has the phrase MGRS in addition with the avarōhaṇa phrases mentioned above. Phrases like SRGMPMR, PDPS and SDNP are inherently present. The compositions of Tyāgaraja Svāmigaḷ, Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar and Subbarāma Dīkṣitar come under this category. Though we do not find the phrase SRGMPMR in the compositions of Muddusvāmy Dīkṣitar and Subbarāma Dīkṣitar, we do find a phrase MRGMPMR in the mentioned varṇam by Subbarāma Dīkṣitar.

Hindustāni equivalent of Balahamsa

There is no equivalent rāga for Balahamsa in Hindustāni music. Subbā Rao gives four types of Baḍahamsa in his book and none of them resemble our Balahamsa.


Analysis of older versions reveal, Balahamsa was handled only in a Scale-transcending form earlier, at least till the period of Tyāgarāja and Muddusvāmi Dīkṣitar. Though we do not have any recordings, this is clear form all the manuscripts and the early texts examined. Since every other evidence points towards the same direction, it can be very well concluded that the kṛti-s of Tyāgarāja Svāmy in the rāga Balahamsa has been changed from Scale-transcending to Scalar form. The Balahamsa that is heard today is definitely a Post-Trinity development.

The Vālājāpēṭṭai version of the kṛti ‘ninnu bāsi etla’ represents an original authentic version, as every other old version, representing various other schools confirm this.

Though it is not technically wrong in having the phrase RMGS, for some unknown reasons, composers like Tyāgarāja Svāmy and Muddusvāmi Dīkṣitar has avoided that phrase. 

There are many pockets within the broader Umayālpuram school, with total disagreement in their versions and they are to be studied separately.

Vālājāpēṭṭai notations, being the oldest of all maintain many archaic, yet arterial phrases which are must to understand this rāga. Any efforts to analyze the rāga-s handled by Tyāgarāja Svāmy will be futile without examining them.

This analysis shows there are no two different thoughts in approaching a rāga between Tyāgarāja and Muddusvāmi Dīkṣitar and it is the change that has happened over the time has created this illusion.

This analysis also highlights the importance of analyzing manuscripts to understand the truth. We request the readers to share information about any unpublished manuscripts that they are aware of.


The library in The Music Academy is a repository of many valuable manuscripts written in the early part of the last century, like that of P V Ponnammal. I thank Sri V Sriram, Secretary, The Music Academy for permitting me to access those valuable manuscripts.

I sincerely thank Sri B Krishnamurti, Smt Nandhini Venkataraman, descendant of Kumbakonam Sri Visvanatha Iyer and Dr Chandran, descendant of Dr Srinivasa Raghavan for parting me with the manuscripts that they possess.


Subbarāma Dīkṣitulu. Prathamābhyāsa Pustakamu, Vidyā Vilāsini Press, Eṭṭayapuraṃ Subbarāma Samasthānaṃ, 1905. 

Subraḥmaṇya Śāstri. Sangraha Chudamani of Govinda, 1934.

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

T M Vēṅkateśa Śāstri. Saṅgīta Svayam Bodhini, 1892.

Kākināḍa C S Kṛṣṇasvāmy Ayyar, Śrī Tyāgarāja Śata Kīrtana Svarāvali, 1911.

Taccur Śingarācāryulu, Cinna Śankarācāryulu. Gāyaka Siddhānjanamu. Kalā Ratnākara, Mudrākśara Śālā, Cennapuri, 1905.

Taccur Śingarācāryulu, Cinna Śankarācāryulu. Gānēnduśekaram. Kalā Ratnākara, Mudrākśara Śālā, Cennapuri, 1912. 

B Subbā Rao. Rāganidhi – A comparative study of Hindustāni and Karnatik rāga-s, Volume 1, The Music Academy, 1980. 


Footnote 1 – Balahamsa can also be seen in the treatises like Saṅgīta Pārijāta and Hṛdaya Kautuka. But the rāga lakṣaṇa is different and Balahamsa with the present svara sthāna-s can be seen only from the text by Śahaji.

Footnote 2 – Saṅgraha Cuḍāmaṇi gives the scale asSRMPD SNDPMRMGSRS. Rāga lakṣaṇa, a similar text of unknown authorship gives us the scale SRMPDS  SNDPDMGRS.

Footnote 3 – The phrase RMGS occur as RMGGS only once in the rāgamālika ‘śivamōhana’ of Rāmasvāmy Dīkṣitar.

Footnote 4 – Since this article predominantly deals with the rāga Balahamsa, the various versions were not discussed in detail.

Shishya Parampara, Uncategorized

T.Viswa – A Tribute

T.Viswa – Tribute

A tribute to Shri.T.Viswanathan – Hari Arthanari

On Sept. 10, 2002, the entire music community around the world mourned the loss of one of the beacons of South Indian Classical music (Karnatik music).Tanjore Viswanathan, fondly known as ‘Viswa’ died early Tuesday, Sep 10,last year. Viswa was a faculty of the Music Department at the University. It is almost a year now but we still miss the greatness of the man and the music. There is a vacuum that can never be filled.

About Viswa:

Viswa was an institution. He was born in an illustrious music family on Aug. 13 1926. His grandmother was the legendary Veenai Dhannamal. His mother Jayammal, sister Balasaraswati, brother Ranganathan and cousins Brinda and Mukta were stalwarts in their own respect. After initial training from his mother he studied flute with Tiruppambaram Swaminatha Pillai. Viswa took the best of both worlds. He learned the flute techniques and compositions from Swaminatha Pillai and rendered them in the inimitable Dhannamal style. He used to accompany his guru Swaminatha Pillai in concerts at age 11. He gave his first solo concert at age 14. He later went to Annamalai University to continue his studies with Swaminatha Pillai. He learned some of the rare compositions of Muthuthandavar during his stay there. He also graduated with an M.A in Economics from the prestigious Madras University.

In the late 1950s Viswa went to teach music at the University of California Berkeley, where he learned other forms of music. He returned to Madras (India) and was the Head of the Music Department at Madras. Viswa joined the University in 1966 and taught here since then. He was also the Director of the Navaratri program, an age-old tradition at the University since 1976.

The music:

Viswa’s music is a unique concept in itself. To quote a critic ?Viswa has evolved a technique of flute playing that brings out the depth and grandeur of the Dhannamal style, at the same time preserving the vAdya dharmA, i.e., without sacrificing the essentials of the instrumental technique. Tonally rich and deep, technically correct, musically evocative and sublime ? these are the essential characteristics of Viswa?s music. Coupled with an immense repertoire of the choicest masterpieces of the Trinity and other great composers, and padams and javalis, the property of their family, we have here a master-musician who is as much creative as he remains rooted to tradition.?

Viswa’s innovative genius is often seen in his handling of ragas and the mind-boggling calculations in his swara kalpana.In rendering of the compositions and viruttams he varies the tone and the gamakas to suit the meaning. This is a hallmark of his music. Yet another unique aspect of his music is his ability to alternate between flute and singing. A switch so natural, this gives listeners the chance to get the words of the composition.

Viswa is the recipient of numerous awards including the Sangita Kalanidhi in 1988 and the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment of Arts in the United States in 1992. His performances, which epitomize technical perfection, rich imagination, signature of gamakas, slow tempo and rendition of rare masterpieces, have set new standards among the connoisseurs of Karnatik music. He was a musician?s musician. Some his favorite pieces include Vidiillarku (Kharaharapriya), Dakshinamoorthe (Shankarabaranam), Paiyada(Nadanamakriya), Ambaparadevate (Rudhrapriya), Kamalamba (Ghanta), Mayamma (Ahiri), Naninadyana (Kanada) etc. Of course Krishna Nee beganee is synonymous with his name.

The teacher:

Viswa was teacher par excellence. Unheard of in the industry, Viswa invented his own style of notating Karnatik Music. This is extremely difficult and complicated because of the gamakas in Karnatik music. Viswa?s in-depth knowledge of theory allowed him to notate every detail of the gamakas. This in turn made it easy for Westerners to learn South Indian music. It also helped to conserve the richness of the Dhannamal tradition.

Here is an example of a section. Trust me this is a simple one..

Viswa is one of the few performing musicians who is an expert in theory. He received his PhD in ethnomusicology. Further, his thesis on raga alapana is considered a totem pole in the field. Patience, imagination, sincerity, humor and energy were some of the hallmarks of his teaching career. He has created one of the largest archives of Karnatik music at the University comprising of concerts, classes, rare masterpieces etc. This would prove to be the hub of knowledge and data for generations to come. The person:
On a personal note, when I came to Wesleyan I had no formal training in Karnatak music and I was always hungry, as I had no clue how to cook. Someone told me that I can get some Indian food at the Navaratri festival. I went to Viswa sir?s concert and was floored by the music. After the concert I went to the him and said ?Can I learn music from you”. Just those words? no introduction.. nothing). He looked me, put his hands on my shoulder and said ?Saptiya? (did you eat). I looked at him (confused) and he continued ?poi sapidu and come for class Monday at 11am?. He doesn?t know my name yet. That is the simplicity of this great man. He has cooked food for me on several occasions and driven me home after a class. We can listen to his music to get back to those masterpieces of imagination and perfection , we can look at his notations to get back to his thoughts on the compositions, but we cannot get back Viswa the person. Always with a smile and enthusiasm, meeting him in the hallway for a minute can brighten your worst winter day. Not the mightiest of king?s men can bring back Viswa the person, and he will be deeply missed.

Photo Credit (Center for Arts, Wesleyan University) Acknowledgements:

Shishya Parampara, Uncategorized

Vedanta Bhagavatar

  1. Kallidaikurichi Vedanta Bhagavatar:

Vedanta Bhagavatar

Vedanta Bhagavatar was born in 1878 in Kallidaikurichi. He came of a family of Sanskrit scholars who were attached as teachers of Sanskrit and shastras to the Tiruvadudurai math.His father was Muthu Shastrigal who was holding this respected position in the math.Observing the talent of the young Vedantam the head of the Tiruvadudurai adinam consulted Muthu Shastrigal and placed vedantam and the celebrated nagaswaram artiste Tirumarugal Natesa pillai under Vidwan Melattur Ramaswami Iyer for being brought up as a musician.  Vedantam qualified himself not only as a vocalist but also as an early performer of Harikatha.This, he learnt from Tanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar and Tiruppayanam Pancapakesa shastrigal.He gave his first performance at the age of 17 in the Melatheru bhajanai matam in Kallidaikurichi.His family were also traditional shrividya upasakas.

He learnt Dikshitar kritis from Subbarama Dikshitar and also Ambi Dikshitar.With Ambi Dikshitar he had come and stayed for some years in Madras to propagate Dikshitar’s kritis by both teaching and publication.He published an edition of the Kamalamba navavarana kritis in the year 1936 with texts,translation and notation. He did the kathakalakshepam the Lalitopakhayna in Tiruvarur.He also came into contact with other famous figures of that time in the musical field, Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer and Sarabha Sastrigal with the latter accompanying him on the flute in several Harikatha performances.

He specialised in Ragam,Tanam and Pallavi and it is worth noting that at that he prepared and published a book entitled ‘Sangeetha Tatva Pradarshini’ otherwise called ‘Pallavi Parijatam’.His brother Kallidaikurichi Ramalinga Bhagavatar accompanied him in the concerts.


He was also a composer and has composed one hundred compositions including a varna in poorvikalyani. It is interesting to see the title ‘sangIta sahitya vidvan’ as printed in his letter head.The media of the songs are sanskrit,telugu and Tamil and the deities are mostly Devi,Subrahamanya and Shiva.

Vedanta Bhagavatar (1940)

Vedanta Bhagavatar (1940)

He was given the Sangita kalanidhi by the Music Academy in the year 1940.When he presided over the Academy’s conference in 1940, the lakshanas of ragas like saurashtra,arabhi,sama and varali and ahiri were discussed and defined.In his presidential address he emphasised the importance of sahitya and the need for singing the texts of the songs correctly and with the knowledge of the meaning.  He took sanyasa in the same year and passed away.

Part II – Kallidaikurichi Ramalinga Bhagavatar

Kallidaikurichi Ramalinga Bhagavatar was the brother of Vedanta Bhagavatar. A few recordings of his can be found below:

Kambhoji Ragam


Part III – Students of Kallidaikurichi Vedanta Bhagvatar –

Ramalinga Bhagavatar

Ramalinga Bhagavatar was a student of Kallidaikurichi Vedanta Bhagavatar. He taught music but did not perform.

Navagraha kRtis rendered by Ramalinga Bhagavatar, Student of Vedanta Bhagavatar.

Angarakam Asrayami- Surati

Budham Asrayami – Nattakuranji

Mahadeva Bhagavatar:

Mahadeva Bhagavatar was a student of Vedanta Bhagavatar. Please click on the link above to read an interview with him.


Commemorative Booklet on Vedanta Bhagavatar released by Kallidaikurichi Mahadeva Bhagavatar

Pictures courtesy of Suresh Ramasubramanian and family, Chennai.



Shishya Parampara, Uncategorized

Tiruppamburam Swaminatha Pillai

Tiruppamburam Swaminatha Pillai – Ravi & Sridhar

The Isai Vellala community has been responsible for nurturing music and dance in the Tamil country for many centuries. Every male member of that community was required to learn the Nagaswaram and every female member, chinna mELam or sadir — Bharatanatyam as it is called now. They were attached to the temples and received grants from kings for furthering their art. Music and dance were part of the daily services in temples and the Isai Vellala community fulfilled their obligations towards the Lord admirably. In the process there sprang many artistes who were not just satisfied with doing their duty by the Lord but who pursued aesthetic beauty in art and raised not only themselves above the mundane but rasikas and the art itself

Broadmindedness and catholicity are at a premium even in these times when the world has become really small. In the art world, jealousy and secretiveness were quite common in those days. The caste system forbade the purists from sharing their art with the so-called lesser born. In such a milieu Muthuswami Dikshitar’s liberality was a fresh approach that played no small role in the renaissance of music. The great composer’s all-embracing nature was matched only by his own great stature as a composer. His catholicity was such that most of his disciples belonged to the Isai Vellala community and some even from the Parasaiva community. Shuddha Maddhalam Tambiyappan, the artist attached to the Tiruvarur Thyagaraja temple was a senior disciple of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Devadasis like Kamalam, Natyacharyas like the Tanjore Quartette and Nagaswara vidwans attached to various temples in Tanjavur district were all beneficiaries of Dikshitar’s munificence. Amidst these then great artists, there were a couple of disciples who belonged to the brahmin community too. One of them was Sathanur Panchanada Iyer. He was the junior most disciple of Muthuswami Dikshitar and started learning from the great composer during his last years. After Dikshitar’s vidEha mukti, Panchanada Iyer continued his music education under Shuddha Maddhalam Tambiyappan. Many junior disciples kept the Dikshitar flame alive by honing their skills and perfecting their Dikshitar repertoire through tutelage under senior disciples like Tambiyappan.

Panchanada Iyer has been referred to by the Tamil scholar U.V. Swaminatha Iyer as being one of the important musicians of the Tanjavur area during the 19th century. Panchanada Iyer is now remembered by the music world for his unique contribution in siring two disciples who in turn, spawned a whole new world where Dikshitar kritis occupied the pride of place and were noted for their authentic versions. Veena Dhanammal and Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, the Nagaswaram maestro were the two prime disciples of Sattanur Ayya, as Veena Dhanammal fondly referred to him. The violin maestro Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer was another disciple of Panchanada Iyer. Dhanammal used to refer to Sattanur Panchanada Iyer’s rAga bhAvam and used to say that she had never heard such rAga bhAvam from anyone else. How could it not be so, when even at a very impressionable age, Sattanur Ayya had the opportunity of sitting at the Maha Purusha’s feet and imbibing his classics directly from him? No wonder that both Dhanammal and Natarajasundaram Pillai considered Sattanur Panju Iyer as their most important guru. Once, after many years Natarajasundaram Pillai came to visit Dhanammal and suggested that they should sing together a few Dikshitar kritis that they had learnt from their Ayya. Both sang and found, that after all those years there was not a whit of difference in their versions. Both had retained the music to the minutest sangati. The pristine purity of the strong, solid legacy that Dikshitar had left to Sattanur Ayya was maintained in letter and in spirit by these veterans and also passed on to the succeeding generations.

Natarajasundaram Pillai was born in 1869 to Swaminathan who was basically a vocalist, though his ancestors were Nagaswaram vidvans. This family originally belonged to Mayavaram but Swaminathan shifted to Tiruppamburam, also in Tanjavur district, because many of his patrons were based in that village and nearby areas. Natarajasundaram Pillai and his brother Subramania Pillai were the first Nagaswara vidwans to play as a duo. Natarajasundaram Pillai published a book of Dikshitar kritis called dikShita kIrtanai prakAshikai.

Natarajasundaram Pillai had three sons of whom Swaminatha Pillai, who was born in 1898, was the eldest. All three sons were trained by their father to be Nagaswara vidwans. Swaminatha Pillai, after a few years of training on the Nagaswaram switched over to vocal music. After his voice broke, Swaminatha Pillai switched to the flute. He taught himself the fingering and embouchure (mouthing techniques) of the flute. His aim was to make the flute play gamakAs like the voice and in this too he had none to teach him. He therefore learnt it himself and succeeded to a great extent.

Swaminatha Pillai did not strike a different path as far as the spirit of the music itself was concerned. Swaminatha Pillai inherited his love for Dikshitar kritis from his father and achieved excellence in them. In those days Palladam Sanjeeva Rao was the most popular flautist. Later Mali was the reigning monarch of the instrument. In spite of this Tiruppamburam Swaminatha Pillai was much respected and admired. Mali himself has spoken very highly of Swaminatha Pillai and his style. Swaminatha Pillai mainly followed the Dikshitar style of viLambakAlA and gamakAs and succeeded in approximating his flute artistry to singing, thus bringing about a wholesome and refreshing approach to music itself.

waminatha Pillai played a lot of Dikshitar kritis in his concerts. The chaturdasha rAgamAlikA, srI vishvanAtham was introduced to the concert stage and popularised by him. The navarOj kriti hastivadanAya namasthubyam was also popularised by him. He also patiently studied the 108 rAga-tALAmAlikA of Ramaswami Dikshitar and taught it to deserving students. Such was his passion for rare, challenging works.

Swaminatha Pillai taught at the Central College of Music, Madras. There, during his tenure, he taught a number of Dikshitar kritis to students as well as to other teachers, thus helping in wide dissemination of the composer’s soulful works. Swaminatha Pillai also taught for sometime at the Annamalai University’s music department. He also taught a few earnest students in the gurukulA method. T. Viswanathan, a grandson of Dhanammal learnt the flute from him. T.V. Namaivayam, S. Narasimhalu and Sirgazhi Govindarajan learnt vocal music from Swaminatha Pillai.

Swaminatha Paillai passed away in February 1961. He will be remembered for having nurtured the legacy of Muthuswami Dikshitar and for bringing to light rare compositions of the great composer.


Shishya Parampara, Uncategorized

Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai

Tiruppamburam Nataraja Sundaram Pillai
– Ravi & Sridhar

Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai hailed from a family of musicians who migrated from Kalyancolapuram near Mayavaram to Tiruppamburam. He was born on 15th December 1869 as the son of a nagasvaram vidvan Swaminatha Pillai.

He and his brother Sivasubrahmaniam were put under the tutelage of Injikkudi Kumarappillai. After learning the instrument, their father wanted them to increase their keertana repertoires and located Umayalpuram Duraswamy Ayyar and Sattanur Panchanadha Iyer who were then considered the repositories of Tyagaraja and Dikshitar’s compositions, respectively.Swaminatha Pillai brought these two musicians to his town and made his sons learn under them. Natarajasundaram Pillai and Sivasubrahmanya Pillai started the tradition of nadaswaram rendering as a duet. It was said that Ramanaathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar and Sarabha Sastri were fond of their music. Sarabha Sastry is also said to have shown his harikatha nirupanams to Natarajasundaram Pillai to seek his opinions on them. The tavil vidvans who accompanied them include Srivanchiyam Govinda Pillai, Mannargudi Pallupakkiri Pillai, Ammapettai Pakkiri Pillai Vazhuvur Muttuviru Pillai etc. Among nagasvara vidwans, it was the more popular approach to learn musical compositions as svaras and ignore the role of sahitya as it was not applicable to an instrument. However the composition will shine only if the sahitya elements are incorporated with the necessary blowing techniques such as akaram and tuttukaram at the appropriate places. Natarajasundaram and his brother were said to have achieved fame in playing compositions on the nagasvaram keeping in mind the sahitya bhava, as well.

Veena Dhanammal also learnt her repertoire of Dikshitar Krtis from Sattanur Panchanada Iyer and is said to have spoken highly of the raga bhava that she found in Panchanada Iyer’s renditions. Once, after many years Natarajasundaram Pillai came to visit Dhanammal and suggested that they should sing together a few Dikshitar kritis that they had learnt from their Ayya. It is said that both sang and found, that after all those years there was not a whit of difference in their versions. Both had retained the music to the minutest sangati.

Natarajasundaram Pillai published a collection of Dikshitar compositions as he learnt from Sattanur Panchanada Iyer (who inturn learnt from Tiruvarur Shuddha Maddalam Tambiyappa Pillai) titled Dikshita Kirtana Prakashika. This edition was in Tamil and contained 50 notated compositions of Muttuswami Dikshitar. It serves today as an authentic cross-reference of the compositions of Dikshitar outside of the Subbarama Dikshitar lineage.

The famous flautist Tiruppamburam Svaminatha Pillai was his son. His other sons include Somasundaram Pillai who served as the principal of the Pazhani temple Nagasvaram school and Sivasubrahmanya Pillai , the lecturer of Annamalai University. He passed away in the year 16.11.1938.

Translated from the Tamil biography of Dr.B.M.Sundaram’s Mangala Isai Mannargal

Shishya Parampara, Uncategorized

A.Anantarama Iyer – Profile

A.Anantaraman – Profile

A tribute to Kallidaikurichi A Anantaraman of the Guruguha gana vidyalaya, Kolkata – S.Bhashyam

Calcutta is the city that has been associated with great names like Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Amir Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banerjee, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Begum Akhtar, Timir Baran, Radhika Mohan Moitra

It was also home to a frail and unassuming person who out of a small two-room tenement located at 19 Bipin Pal Road, near Deshapriya Park, tirelessly strove to impart to students the intricacies of Carnatic music. This person was, A. Anantharaman- ‘Ambi Sir’ to the Carnatic fraternity in Calcutta.

In all professions, there are the practitioners of whom only the great reach the pinnacles of fame. And, there are the teachers who groom these practitioners who, by the very nature of their calling, seldom get the acknowledgement that some of their proteges do. Ambi Sir, whose musical lineage can be traced back to the legendary Muthuswami Dikshitar, belonged to the latter category. His father A. Ananthakrishna Iyer learnt music directly from Ambi Dikshitar, son of Subbarama Dikshitar.

Anantharaman was born on 2 December 1927 at Sattupattu village in Kallidaikurichi taluk in the erstwhile Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, as the eldest son of Ananthakrishna Iyer who took to the musical path. (Ananthakrishna Iyer was subsequently joined by his brother Sundaram Iyer who later in life compiled the magnum opus Dikshitar Kritimanimala). Anantharaman’s early life was spent in Madras where his father initiated him into Carnatic music with special emphasis on Dikshitar kriti-s. In 1937 Ananthakrishna Iyer moved to Calcutta at the behest of a close family friend. Here, he built up a veritable school around him. What started off as an informal arrangement blossomed into a full-fledged music school, namely, the Guruguha Gana Vidyalaya in 1943.

In this ambience Anantharaman’s musical abilities were honed to perfection. He became an accomplished veena player, as well as a singer with a voice of rare timbre. Later, when Ananthakrishna Iyer found that there was a dearth of violin players in Calcutta he taught his son to play the violin as well.

After a few false starts in life as a salesman in some commercial firms, Anantharaman found his true vocation- teaching music to the South Indian community in Calcutta. After his father’s death in 1959 he became the Principal of the Vidyalaya where, along with his sister A. Champakavalli, he taught students Carnatic music- vocal, veena and violin.

The effect of the Dikshitar parampara was so strong in the teaching style at Guruguha Gana Vidyalaya- both during Ananthakrishna Iyer’s time as well as later under Anantharaman- that it can be stated without exaggeration that the latter half of this century has witnessed a Calcutta movement for propagating many rare and little heard Dikshitar compositions by both father and son. In fact, one of the Vidyalaya students, writing in Kalki, the Tamil weekly, in the nineteen fifties averred that more Dikshitar kriti-s were known in Calcutta than even in Madras!

VishvanAthena in Samantha, SvAaminathena in Brindavani, PratyangirA Bhagavatim in Nadanamakriya, BhArati maddhishana in Devamanohari, BrihannAyaki in Andhali, MAtangi maragatangi in Dautapanchamam and Madhavo mam patu (ragamalika) on the Dasavatara theme, are a few of the rare Dikshitar compositions which he taught his students.

Though his repertoire of Dikshitar kriti-s was large, Ambi Sir had also mastered Tyagaraja and Syama Sastry’s compositions and rendered them on appropriate occasions. The cognoscenti in Calcutta still remember the Tyagaraja kriti-s he sang movingly during the Tyagaraja aradhana-s. Rama bana (Saveri), Kaligiyuntey (Keeravani), and Ramuni maragavey (Kedaragaula) are some of the Tyagaraja gems that Ambi Sir has rendered.

Ambi Sir, who believed in quality not quantity, had a unique teaching style. He laid stress on building a strong foundation based on a repertoire of at least a dozen varna-s and rigorous practise of the sarali and janta varisai-s and alankara-s in various raga-s for voice culture.

He was adept at teaching vocal, veena and violin and he groomed students to levels of excellence in all these disciplines.

His veena playing had the true gayaki stamp on it and involved a blend of the Tanjavur and Mysore styles. Being an accomplished vocalist helped him to coax the nuances of gamaka and anuswara out of the veena and being a vainika helped him to achieve precision and balance in his vocal music, the two skills thus complementing each other. I have not heard anybody combine the usage of gamaka and flat notes to perfection as he did in his raga renderings. Sankarabharanam is a case in point. Too flat a rendering would make the raga light. Too much of an emphasis on gamaka-s would result in giving the raga shades of other allied raga-s like Navroj and Neelambari. But Ambi Sir’s renderings had the various elements in the right mixture.

Another feature of his teaching style was the importance he gave to theory. Even beginners had to know the names of swara-s, the various anga-s of tala-s, the names of the eight tala-s and so on. From these beginnings he gradually exposed them to the Melakarta scheme and to the concept of raga-s. Swara gnana tests were a common feature of his classes, as were exercises in raga identification.

As the students progressed to kriti renditions, he would encourage them to sing small raga alapana-s and expose them to the mathematics of swara singing. Ambi Sir was a stickler for tala adherence and no student who didn’t get the tala right would be allowed to progress further. He had an almost intuitive grasp of each student’s strengths and weaknesses and he encouraged each student to build on his strengths. This resulted in his students blossoming into artists with differing styles. Ambi Sir’s school was no carbon-copy producing factory, but an institution which encouraged originality in its students.

The shishyas :

No wonder therefore that many students who learnt under him went on to win prizes at prestigious contests at the Madras Music Academy, the Indian Fine Arts Society, the Shanmukhananda Sabha and in All India Radio’s annual music competitions. Quite a few of them including his sons and daughters, are graded artists of All India Radio. Notable among his disciples are his own children- son Ananthakrishnan who was a much sought after violin accompanist in Madras before he migrated to the USA in the early eighties- he has started accompanying again during the current festival season; his second son Sadasivam whose repertoire of pallavi-s is truely mind-boggling and his daughter Girija Vaidyanathan who has a mellifluous voice and is an A-grade artist in AIR-Visakhapatnam.

Among others, mention must be made of the husband-wife pair of veena players, Jairaj Iyer and Jayashree, noteworthy for a rare combination of aesthetics and virtuosic skills.

Calcutta’s Hindustani music ambience did rub off on Ambi Sir; he enjoyed listening to Hindustani music concerts; although he could handle quite a few Hindustani raga-s with dexterity, he never allowed this to affect his rendering of Carnatic music. But, his knowledge of both music systems made him a very popular teacher of Carnatic music at the Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta.

Recognition by way of honours and titles came to Ambi Sir late in life. Chief among the honours he received were the felicitation given by the International Foundation of Carnatic Music (IFCM- an organisation started by N. Ravikiran) and the title of Isai Perangyar by the Tamil Manram and Bharati Tamil Sangam of Calcutta.

Ambi Sir was totally committed to his profession and did not believe in retirement. Even after he was laid low by a series of illnesses, he did not believe in calling it a day. He taught students with his usual intense involvement even on the evening before his sad demise.

Personal Reminiscences

My own personal reminiscence of Ambi Sir are about the early morning classes he used to conduct for veena students, when in the tranquil atmosphere he would present distilled versions of raga-s such as Yadukulakambhoji, Surati and Kedaragaula on the veena. His vocal classes were generally held in the evenings and being with him after a tension-filled day at the office gave a deep sense of tranquility. He had the uncanny ability to quickly get to the core of a raga.

– S.Bhashyam

Shishya Parampara, Uncategorized

A.Anantakrishna Iyer – Profile

A.Anantakrishna Iyer – A profile

Veena Vidwan Brahmasri A.Anantakrishna Iyer  – S.Bhashyam


Anantakrishna Iyer was born in a family of priests in the year 1899 in Tirunelveli district and was initiated into the profession of his forefathers at a very early age.Piqued at an insult meted out to him bya moneyed man whose he had gone to perform brahmanical rites he put down his stack of ceremonial grass(darbai kattu) and vowed never to return to the profession.He then chanced upon Ammalu ammal eldest daughter of Ambi Dikshitar.It was she who initiated him into carnatic music.This incident took place when AnantaKrishna Iyer was barely 16 years old.

Ammalu found that the lad showed promise and was a devoted and diligent student,She therefore took him to Ambi Dikshitar and beseeched him to take the boy as his disciple.This Ambi Dikshitar agreed to do on condition that he would stay with him till the last years of his life.Anantakrishna Iyer vowed to do so and thus was born a link which has been responsible for a virtual resurrection of Shri Muthuswami Dikshitar;s compositions in this century.

AnantakrishnaIyer lived with AmbiDikshitar in Ettayapuram and learnt various well-known and many other little known Dikshitar’s compositions at his feet.He also learnt to play on the veena from the great master and thus inherited the style of the school known for its strong gAyaki base and adherence to traditions, encompassing the subtle graces and glides which are required to present authentic and aesthetically satisfying versions of gamaka rich carnatic ragas.
AmbiDikshitar was the court musician at Ettayapuram Samasthanam.The desire to propagate his granduncle’s kritis must have been strong in him and he must have sensed that the opportune moment to do thishad arrived since AnantakrishnaIyer was shaping up  as a sincere and devout student.Together they felt that this cause would be better served by moving to Madras which had become the main centre for carnatic music.In early 1919 Anantakrishna Iyer came to Madras and after fixing up a suitable accomodation in Komaleswaran Pettai he arranged for resettling Ambi Dikshitar and his family there.Three years later all of them moved into a house in Big street, Triplicane and established a music school ‘Dikshitar SangIta kalAsAlai’ which was inaugurated on Vijayadasami day 1922 by Lady Mangammal Sadasiva Iyer.By then his brother A.Sundaram Iyer had also joined him.

Around 1927 , after establishing the school on an even keel, Ambi Dikshitar went to Ettayapuram at the behest of the Rajah and after a stay of 4 years returned to Anantakrishna Iyer’s home in Madras around 1931.It was during this revisit to the far South that Justice T L Venkatarama Iyer seems to have  heard Shri Ambi Dikshitar’s recitals of Dikshitar’s kritis at Koilpatty in 1931.

Returning to Madras he sought out the great man and started learning from him.He also rendered considerable financial assistance to the school to help them in their efforts at propagating Dikshitar’s kritis.

Ambi Dikshitar reached godhead on June3 1936 and the task of carrying on this work fell to Anantakrishna Iyer.Anantakrishna Iyer’s own words ” My guru was a shrividya upasaka; a man with self-respect; he cared little for fame and wealth” describes the quality and personality of Ambi Dikshitar.

Around 1934 Anantakrishna Iyer and his brother Sundaram Iyer established the ‘Karnataka vainika gana vidyalaya’ at No.10 Royappettah High Road Madras with branches in Mylapore and Mambalam.Here Anantakrishna Iyer taught veena and vocal music to many students till 1937 when on the strong persuasion of a close friend of his , shri G.V.Raman he went to Calcutta.

After a short sojourn in Kashi [ 1940 -1943 ] he returned to Calcutta and established the guruguha gana vidyalaya.
Anantakrishna Iyer also published several books containing Dikshitar kritis both while he was in Madras and also after moving to Calcutta.

1.Ganamanjusha – Madras 1934
2.Guruguha ganamrta varshini Part I – Dikshitar’s navavarana series and Part II navagraha series Madras 1936-1937 in collboration with Shri .Vedanta Bhagavatar [his brother-in-law] and with a foreword by Ambi Dikshitar.
3.Abhayamba navavaranam
4.shiva  navavaranam
5.Rama  navavaranam
6.Krishna  navavaranam
7.Bala bodhini – for beginners

The book on Abhayamba navavaranam carries a poem of 64 sanskrit verses composed by HH Sankaracharya swamiji of Govardhana mutt Puri.

Anantakrishna Iyer also composed  varnams and kirtanas with the mudra guruguha dasan.
1.Heh kali- kharaharapriya – rupakam
2.sitalambam – vasanta – chapu
3.pashupatishwaram- ragamalika – rupakam
4.valli deva senapathe – khamas – rupakam

Shri Anantakrishna Iyer attained the Lord’s feet on January 5 1959 and the mantle of responsibility fell on the shoulders of his son Shri.Anantarama Iyer and daughter Champakavalli..

Extracted from the article of Shri.S.Bhashyam with the permission of the author from  the souvenir of guruguha gana vidyalaya,Calcutta.

Shishya Parampara, Uncategorized


Interview – Dr.V.V.Srivatsa

1.You have achieved the magnum opus of recording all kritis of Dikshitar. What next?

Dr.V.V.Shrivatsa: Donate it to some organization which will preserve it for the public.

2.You had mentioned elsewhere that you go by the patantharam of your guru, What if there are differences from that and the sampradaya pradarshini itself?

Dr.V.V.Shrivatsa: I follow our guru’s pattern. About the chandram bhaja mAnasa ,I do not feel a rAshyAdhipathi line is a must to describe a graha.

3. There are no madhyamakala sangatis in some kritis.Why? Are they original ?? Ex: Gananayakam, Kshitijaramanam, Ekamranatham

Dr.V.V.Shrivatsa: It depends on the mood of the composers. There are krithis in fairly fast tempo on which day he might have been in a madhyamakala mood. All these do not have any hard and fast rules.

4.As for the krithis that were not in SSP, Were they in practise before they were found in manuscripts? I.e. did maha vaidhyanatha Iyer or anyone else sing them? Did they just exist in notation or were they ever in practise?


They were handed down vocally. The sangIta sampradAya pradarshini is just illustrative and not absolute.There are miniscule differences even in vAtApi gaNapatim(that is the one sung now) and our version.

5.The ragalakshanas and even the talas of the Dikshitar school are manipulated and mutilated by many artistes today.Have you or do you intend to take any step in that direction ( like Misrachapu instead of misra ekam, Khanda chapu in place of Jhampa)

One cannot correctly discern what would have happened. It is a distortion that has taken place over the years. I don’t intend to do anything about it. About raga change, we sing it correct in guruguhanjali. The public are aware that there is a correct version that exists so nothing needs to be done.

6. When you compare the grandeur of the sama of “GuruguhAya” to the sAma of “tripurasundari”. we can’t help feeling that something is amiss? Why this difference in levels?

There is no written rule that all compositions must be of the same standard. If you take parvathavardhini you can see that he has brought out sama beautifully..sings a (bit to illustrate)

7. When Dikshitar refers to VelAyudha as ShaktyAyudha in the krithi ShringAra shaktyAyudha, the use of Tamil word “Velayudha” in bAalasubramaNyam and Senapathe – Could you comment on the usage?


Shaktyayudha and velayudha are different weapons. Vel is a fully curved weapon as opposed to shaktyayudha There is no equivalent for vel in Sanskrit. I have verified the dictionaries. As for alamelu manga usage,he uses it as a proper noun.

8. There is a term nandiroopanjaneya in the kriti hAlAsyanAtham – darbAr .What does this signify?

Dr.V.V.Shrivatsa: There is an Anjaneya instead of nandi in one of the sannidhis at the madurai temple.

9. Why does Subbarama Dikshitar not give any Dikshitar kritis only the two melas Ramamanohari and Chamaram?
As I told you earlier the sampradAya pradarshini is only illustrative and not comprehensive. The RAhu kriti can be given the benefit of doubt but the Ketu kriti is clearly not Dikshitar’s original. There are a few phrases in the kriti which clearly indicate that they are not original.

10.What about the krithi in Aboghi, when caturdandiprakashika or the anubandham does not give lakshanam for that ragam?
There was a raga called Abhogi during his time as Thyagraja and Gopalakrishna Bharathi have composed in it. So Dikshitar has composed in that raga.