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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.