Personalities, Raga

Gamakakriya – The contribution of a Guru Sreshta


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

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

Read on !


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

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

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

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

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

Prof Seetha, translates this for our benefit thus :

My Revered Preceptor VenkatasubhArya !

Foremost amongst the masters of gAna vidya !

Born into CinakOTi vamsA, may I have

Bhakti at your lotus feet ;

Wonderful is thy control over nAdA and its intricacies !

Thy amazing skills in rAgA and its varieties,

Thou hath the fortune of training a lineage of Disciples !

Proficient in gItA and prabandhA,

Victory to Thee, O My Guru VenkatasubbArya !

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

 A few points command our attention at the outset.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Prof SRJ renders ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’

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

Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan renders ‘mInAkshi mEmudham’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Smt Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta renders ‘basanti he bhubhanamohini’ 

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

Dance – basanti hE bhubhanamohini


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

Foot Note 3:

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

Foot Note 4:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

One thought on “Gamakakriya – The contribution of a Guru Sreshta

  1. “that compositions provided to us from an authentic source or notation should be rendered with the highest fidelity to the source/notation and the intent of the composer. Thus it would not be appropriate to morph the PDS in the Gamakakriya compositions into PDPS to normalize the lakshana of Gamakakriya.”

    Well said.

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