Natanarayani – A melody lost in the forest of time
Very many ragas which predate the formal classification schemes, that of Venkatamakhin, Muddu Venkatamakhin, Sahaji, Tulaja & Govindacharya have been sacrificed or mutilated in the process of retro-fitting them to the schemes in question. These so called purva prasiddha ragas defy the formal grammar of today- which demand a lineal ascent and descent & also need a formal parent in the so called raganga or melakartha scheme. Ancient music was guided only by two melodic principles- that of harmonics and aesthetics. Individual svaras were never the building block of ragas. Only murccanas or svara aggregations were the building blocks of ragas and they determined the melodic contour of a raga. Within a murccana or a motif, svaras assumed melodic relationship to one another and created a stable melodic unit. Bends, turns, twists and jumps were the rule. There were no foreign notes or need for a raga to be a parent or be a child raga under a parent to justify melodic existence. Ragas were even given a persona, color, sex, time of the day, season etc for rendering so that the aural effect they create could be part of the overall artistic or aesthetic experience.
Today much of the ragas exist for the sake of grammar & on the basis of individual svaras rather than murrcanas/motifs. Older ragas have been force fitted to the new models/schemes and in that process few have survived , quite many have become practically extinct (Samantha, Velavali & Desakshi) and quite some have been mutilated. Music today is subservient to grammar rather than to aesthetics or harmonics. Ragas derived today, evolve as mere scalar structures and do not have a melodic existence beyond the single kriti that hosts them. As a silver lining, few of the ancient ragas which survived this onslaught, were given life to by Muthusvami Dikshitar. Those compositions and the related documentation of the same by Subbarama Dikshitar in his priceless and invaluable work the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP, hereafter) offers us a peek into those times when melody and aesthetics ruled supreme.
One such raga which has survived and reached us today is Natanarayani, which is the subject matter of this blog post. His solitaire in this raga serves as the only beacon light for us in understanding this melody.
A Brief History – textual
Natanarayani or Natanarayana/Nattanarayana, as it has been referred to in older musical texts, always took the notes which today form part of Mela # 28 (Kedaragaula/Harikambhoji) or Mela 29(Sankarabharanam). It has been documented by both Northern as well as Southern musicological texts. The earliest text which refers to Natanaraya(ni)/(na) is Narada’s ‘Sangita Makaranda’. Many compositions of Talapakka Annamacharya seem to have been set in Natanarayani, according to copper plates. It is seen documented in works such as Sadraga Chandrodaya, Rasa Kaumudi etc well into the 16th CE.- see Footnote 2.
And then the raga seem to have gone extinct/out of vogue during the times of Govinda Dikshitar (1614 AD) & Venkatamakhi (circa 1620 AD), for it is not recorded in their treatises namely Sangita Sudha & Caturdandi Prakashika. There is also no other raga which closely resembles it in terms of melody, except for the raga Sama which can be considered as an allied melody from a scalar perspective.
Natanarayani makes an appearance again in the treatises of the Mahratta Kings Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu (end of 17th CE & early 18th CE) and King Tulaja I’s Saramruta (circa 1730). From the textual evidence the raga thus seems to have gained currency but in a truncated form. While prior to 1700’s it was sampurna with kakali nishada, in its post 1700’s form it dropped the nishada totally & moved fully under the then Kambhoji mela (which is akin to the modern day raganga/mela # 28). In line with this Muddu Venkatamakhin too documented this raga under Kedaragaula as an upanga, in his Raga Lakshanam compendium (first quarter of the 18th century) available to us as Anubandha to the original Caturdandi Prakashika. See Foot note 1 & 7
Subbarama Dikshitar faithfully follows the footsteps of Muddu Venkatamakhin & documents the raga under raganga # 28 in his SSP with a set of illustrative compositions.
Melodic structure of Natanarayani
Before we embark on assessing the contours of this raga, a couple of caveats are in order:
- There is a divergence between the musicological texts/treatises & the compositions. In other words the raga form as per theory & the structure one seen is practice or the implementation in the exemplar compositions, are different. See foot note 4.
- The scalar structure which is the modern assessment of a raga’s body through the lens of the melakartha scheme doesn’t fully help us appreciate the melodic worth of this purva prasiddha raga.
The structure of this raga post 1700 as illustrated by Sahaji, Tulaja and Muddu Venkatamakhin in their works is what is relevant for us today, because the exemplar compositions, available to us today, pertain to that Natanarayani only.
Sahaji & Tulaja’s Textual Evidence
Sahaji and Tulaja’s version of this raga are virtually one and the same. The salient features of Natanarayani according to them,are:
- The raga is grouped under Kambhoji and is shadava as nishada is varja
- It is a ghana raga
- Gandhara never occurs in the aroha
- Melodic phrases are Ppmgr, mgrgrr/pddrrsr/mmpdssdsS/pdssrr/mgr/grr/mmppddss/ dsdd pm /pmmgrgrr
We need to partake the definition as above in the context of what the terms meant during Sahaji’s or Tulaja’s times. The term ‘ghana’ has not been defined and we do not know what it meant (see foot note 5). And Sahaji makes no mention of the Caturdandi Prakashika of Venkatamakhin as well. However from the the foregoing the arohana murccana karma seems to be SRGSRMPDS. Since gandhara is varja in arohana, RGM and GMG phrases are forbidden by implication. However we do have RGRR occurring in the outlined melodic phrases.
Muddu Venkatamakhin’s raga definition
As we move over to Muddu Venkatamakhin’s assessment of this raga, we are faced with a confusing situation- we have two versions of Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana shloka – one in Raga Lakshanam (Appendix to the Caturdandi Prakashika as published by the Music Academy) and one published by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. The key difference to be reconciled being, if the gandhara in the ascent is varjita(devoid) or vakrita(deviant). Thus according to Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar as in the shloka below, gandhara is said to be vakritah.
natanArayanI ragastvArOhE tu gavakritAh |
nivarjyashAdavastu syAt gIyatE satatam budhaih ||
Subbarama Dikshitar interprets Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana shloka and provides his commentary of the raga as under:
- Natanarayani’s arohana/avarohana murccanas/movements are SRGSRMPDS/SDPMGRS under Harikedaragaula mela #28. Also point to note is that the lakshana shloka does not talk of a vakra dhaivata in the arohana and it is Subbarama Dikshitar’s interpretation probably on the basis of what was practiced. See footnote 5.
- It is shadava (having 6 notes in whole- considering both arohana and avarohana); Nishada is varja or totally absent in the scale.
- Sadja is the graha svara
- Gandhara is vakra in the arohana
- Jumps in the raga’s movements such as: RdSR\pdSR- Madhya rishabha to mandhara dhaivata and pancama ; S\pdpmgr and SSmpdpmgr – tara sadja to Madhya pancama or madhyama- make the raga beautiful.
- ‘giyate satatam budhaih’ seems to indicate that despite the proposed scalar structure, rendering is not for novices, seemingly to indicate the amount of experience & expertise one has to have to render the raga.
Exemplar Compositions & the musical contour of the raga therein
The SSP & its Anubandha are the sole repository of this raga’s compositions & it lists about 5 of them which are in different genres:
- ‘nandanamdana’- Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana gitam – eka tAla
- ‘mahA ganapatE pAlayasUmAm’ – kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar – Adi tAla
- ‘sarasAgre sarasa’ – a daru of Subbarama Dikshitar – tisra eka tAla( see footnote 2)
- Sancari of Subbarama Dikshitar – matya tAla
- Portion of the rAga tAla mAlikA “nAtakAdi vidyAlaya” of Ramasvami Dikshitar-(section # 30) commencing “ nagu natanarAyani yanu nAmamu” set to raga Natanarayani & caturmukhi tAla
- Portion of the ragamalika of Ramasvami Dikshitar – ‘sivamOhana sakti’ where the raga is found in the 5th caranam in the company of Brindavana Saranga, Ritigaula, Purnacandrika, Devakriya, Megharanji, Hamvira and Bhupalam and set in adi tala. The composition is on Goddess Meenakshi at Madurai.
Leaving aside Muddu Venkatamakhin’s gitam, we see that all the other compositions broadly conform to the melodic contours outlined by the shloka definition of Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar but with some additional features.
- Almost apparently as a rule none of the compositions have PDS or SDP usage in the Madhya sthayi, though not forbidden by the definition. See foot note 4.
- There is no sancara beyond tara sadja at all, which again is not forbidden by the lakshana shloka.
- Though Subbarama Dikshitar gives the arohana murccana as SRGSRMP- we see no evidence of SRGS at all. The GS prayoga is seen in the daru though but with rishabha marked as an anusvara GrS. It would have been clarifying had he given it as SRGRS instead.
- We also see RGMG and RGRG prayogas which would be forbidden if we were to go by the Subbarama Dikshitar murccana definition. Even Subbarama Dikshitar’s own sancari and daru have those prayogas.
- Rishabha svara seems to be a jiva and nyasa (ending note) as it occurs in profusion, while madhyama seems to be the preferred take off note. Janta svaras have been used in profusion in all the compositions.
- The Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti, the daru as well as the rAgatAla mAlikA have been invested with the cittasvara/muktayi svara section which clearly encapsulates the melodic identity of Natanarayani in a nutshell.
- The raga & the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti seem much amenable to a madhyamakala exposition. Was it on this strength that Shahaji categorize this as a ghana raga?
- The raga spans effectively only between mandhara pancama to the madhya daivatha with occasional touches of tara sadja, thus resembling more a dhaivatantya raga which can be comfortably rendered in madhyama sruti. We will address this question in a while.
- Given the usage of gandhara in phrases such RGMG and RGR, the shloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin as quoted by Subbarama Dikshitar seems to be the original one.
In the public domain we only have recordings of the Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti in Natanarayani which is ‘mahA ganapatE pAlayAsumAm’. This composition is a generic kriti on Mahaganapathi and does not have any reference to a particular kshetra. The raga mudra is given very clearly in the lyric as ‘natanArAyani nandana’ & the kriti also bears the standard Dikshitar colophon. We have commercial recordings of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman & his disciple Vidvan Vijay Siva, rendering this composition along with the cittasvaras as per SSP.
Interestingly this composition used to be frequently rendered by Chittoor Subramanya Pillai a rendering of which is already in the public domain. The version can probably be traced back to Kancipuram Naina Pillai and perhaps on to Ettayapuram Ramachandra Bagavathar who was one of Subbarama Dikshitar’s prime disciples. These artistes have not sung the cittasvara portion of the kriti.
As an example of rendering from this school, featured here first is a rendering by a protégé of this school, Vidvan Sri. Tadeppalligudem Lokanadha Sarma from this AIR concert ( courtesy Sangeethapriya)
Attention is specifically invited to the svara kalpana on the opening pallavi line. One can notice that the MGS phrase along with PDSDP (“…mAyAmaya…” in the Pallavi) though not found in the composition, but in conformance with the SSP text book definition, are rendered in profusion. The first kAla svaras are almost Sama like.
Presented next is a rendering by the venerable Prof S R Janakiraman who concludes his rendering with his pungently humorous remark on the raga’s melodic association with Sama.
Presented next is the rendering of Vidvan T M Krishna from a concert recording in the public domain. He sticks to the SSP. One can see the ‘middukku’ or tautness with which he renders the composition and also the kalpana svaras on the pallavi line. He pointedly does not use a mrudhu madhyama which could potentially reflect Sama.
The composition begins on a svarakshara with Ma(‘ma’) and then the the sahitya syllable’hA’ is at Gandhara which as one can see is strong and pronounced/prolonged, not the weak gandhara of Sankarabharanam. It is a strong gandhara native to (Hari)Kedaragaula, very pronounced and part of the MGGR which appears in this composition as a leitmotif. Along with the madhyama, this gandhara operates to distinguish Natanarayani with Sama, as we will see later. The midukku/tautness as alluded earlier, the intonation of the gandhara and its dense and janta usage in Sri T M Krishna’s svarakalpana provide us illustration of the so called ‘ghana’ feature as a marker for this raga.
A few more points merit our attention though. In the madhyama kala sahitya section he sings as “…..manikka vadanendrathi vandana” or something to that effect whereas the SSP text is ‘mAtamga vadanEndrAdi vandana”. Also to note is that he doesn’t render the cittavara section given in the SSP. In the svara kalpana section he sticks to the script of the raga as found in the SSP for most except in the two rounds of svaras where he brings on PDs, sDP and tara sancaras. To his credit he does highlight DPs, sPDPM etc to bring jump from pancama to tara sadja jump and back in his svara kalpana.
Presented now is the clip of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman rendering the cittasvara section of the composition ‘mahAganapatE’ for our understanding, from this concert available in the public domain.
Presented next is the Natanarayani portion of the raga-tala-malika composition of Ramasvami Dikshitar, rendered by Sangita Kala Acharya Vidusi Dr.R S Jayalakshmi, who gave a lecture demonstration of the magnum opus composition in 2014 at Chennai under the auspices of Nada Inbam. Dr Jayalakshmi’s interpretation is strictly in line with the notation found in the Anubandha to the SSP. One can note as well how identical it is from a scale/melodic point of view with the Dikshitar composition.
Presented finally is the blog author’s personal rendering/interpretation of the Subbarama Dikshitar daru. According to the explanatory note provided to this composition in the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar composed this as an ode on Sri Nagayasvami Pandiyan, the Zamindar of Periyur. There are a couple of historical references to this Zamindar which points to the probably date of this piece being composed around 1889 CE. Please see footnote 2 & 3 below.
Did Tyagaraja compose in Natanarayani ?
Today none of the compilations of Tyagaraja’s kritis show Natanarayani as one of the ragas in which the Bard of Tiruvaiyaru composed. Even the earliest listing, such as the one by Chinnasvami Mudaliar does not show any kriti in Natanarayani. In fact it is known with certainty that Tyagaraja never communicated the ragas names for his creations. Experts such as K V Ramachandran have always with forceful authority proposed that raga names available today for Tyagaraja’s compositions were assigned by the authors/printers who started publishing the text of Tyagaraja’s compositions during the late 19th CE and early 20th CE, the first of them being the Taccur Brothers. And this is attested by the Walajapet manuscripts and also the accounts of Tyagaraja’s lineage by his disciples. Thus given this set of facts, we may have to find out the piece available to us today, which could have been set by Tyagaraja to Natanarayani.
We do not have to search afar. The kriti is right there – “vinanAsa koniyunnAnurA” in desAdhi tala masquerading under the raga name of Pratapavarali, a raga which has no textual history at all prior to the Sangraha Cudamani and grouped under Harikambodhi mela. Unsurprisingly this raga is an ekakriti raga & there exists no other composition. It goes with the same scale of Natanarayani with a little twist – SRMPDPS/SDPMGRS. This is the flavor of Natanarayani that Tyagaraja implemented with sancaras up to tAra madhyama, a liberty he perhaps took which Dikshitar didn’t deign to take. In fact both of them use PDPS in the aroha krama phrasings. In the absence of nishada both ways, PDPS or PDS are not significantly different from a melodic stand point. But that doesn’t make the melody of ‘vinanAsakoni’ any different from that of Natanarayani. In fact one can even speculate if the tara sthayi phrases and additions of SDP were latter day additions by musicians when they added sangatis, but that would be stretching the argument too far, in the absence of a shred of evidence.
Now to the renderings. Presented below is the rendering of this composition by the legendary, Sangita Kalanidhi Smt T Brinda, the doyenne of the Dhanammal musical lineage, who must have most probably learnt it from Kancipuram Naina Pillai, under whom she learnt music initially.
Presented also is the rendering of the same composition by her disciple Vidushi Aruna Sairam from the year 1984. Attention is drawn to the kalpana svaras she sings on the pallavi line, well in line with the melodic contours of the composition itself.
Question for us is, do we require this plethora of unnecessary multiple raga names for the same melodic material/scale & shouldn’t we dispense the newer ones in favor of those which have a long textual documented history, more so for those one which have one such as Natanarayani? This is definitely a point of view worth ruminating.
Thus we do have strong evidence that both Dikshitar and Tyagaraja composed using the same melodic material of what we have been calling as Natanarayani for centuries. Renaming it as Pratapavarali with no melodic or historical basis, needs to be set aside without much ado. But is that it? The point remains whether Natanarayani can be safely and securely be ring fenced from its popular sibling Sama, so that its independent melodic existence can be secured.
Natanarayani & Sama – a study in contrast
If we have to understand the melodic structure of Natanarayani deeply, we may need to reset and revisit some of the assumptions we make as a part of modern musicology. Modernists may say that this raga is a minor one and is incapable of being sung elaborately. But so is the case with very many ragas including those created by Tyagaraja. Natanarayani existed as one amongst the 109 ragas that Tulaja documented as very popular & in currency during the first half of the 18th CE, in the run up to the times of the Trinity. It existed along with its close melodic sibling Sama with a unique melodic identity with which it shared the same set of svaras. How do we assess & quantify the musical individuality of this raga as distinct from Sama? With the same set of svaras we already have examples of ragas which have evolved and thrived to this date, Arabhi and Devagandhari & Surati and Kedaragaula, for instance. And they have become the crown jewels of our music. So can’t we draw up a matrix to distinguish the melodic contours of Sama and Natanarayani?
Before we embark on that, its worth noting here that the Music Academy at Madras did deliberate on the question of the raga lakshana of all the three ragas – Natanarayani, Sama and Pratapavarali the year 1932, the year when Sangita Kalanidhi Sabesa Iyer was the President. Sadly the Experts Committee was virtually split between the votaries of the so called Tyagaraja & Dikshitar schools and they arrived at no meaningful consensus. They only ended up reiterating the status quo and establishing no connection between them and thus frittered away the opportunity to make a contribution towards clarity.
Let us turn our attention to what some musicologists have to say on this. When discussing this point, the revered Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on Tulaja’s Saramruta, forcefully advances the view that since both the ragas – Natanarayani & Sama have the same scale, Natanarayani may safely be made a dhaivatantya madhyama sruti raga, omitting the fleeting touches of the tara sadja found in the Dikshitar kriti. By rendering it so, the learned Professor says, the melodic independent existence of Natanarayani can be justified distinctively from Sama. It is respectfully submitted, that this would provoke more questions than answers. Thus the counterpoint would be, are we to amputate/mutilate the raga, deprive it of its tAra sadja just to bring melodic conformance to the standard? We need to bear in mind that Shahaji & Tulaja merely captured ragas which were popular and in currency during their times, some 109 of them and classified them under melas. And they were not dealing also with technically generated scalar ragas using mathematical permutation/combination (like the raga compendiums of Govindacarya, Nadamuni Panditar et al which fall in this category).
So by logical deduction one can surmise that in so far as the ragas captured in the works of Shahaji and Tulaja are concerned, the musical cognoscenti and composers of the first half of the 18th century were able to acknowledge the independent & individual musical worth/identity of all of those ragas including Sama and Natanarayani. Also we know that Dikshitar and Tyagaraja (second half of 18th CE) composed in both Sama and Natanarayani/Pratapavarali and if so they would have definitely found them to be musically distinctive to start with or if not, at the least they would have endeavored to bring about or magnify the point of distinction between these two ragas in their compositions.
And thus it follows that even today we must be able to find what these distinguishing attributes between the two ragas are, a subject worthy of a full research paper in itself. As Muddu Venkatamakhin’s classification scheme was the basis for Muthusvami Dikshitar, the analysis of these two ragas under this scheme is a useful starting point.
- In Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme, Sama is classified under Sankarabharanam while Natanarayani is under Harikedaragaula, despite both of them lacking nishada (varjya). The melodic reason if any is not formally given. It is quite possible for ragas to be grouped under Sankarabharanam if they have a weak gandharam. For example Mohanam can come under multiple melas. Still it is normally assigned to Kalyani because of the gandhara being strong & so unlike the gandhara of Sankarabharanam. Gandhara will be weaker still if it appears only in the avarohana as well. Au contraire, Prof S R Janakiraman holds the view that given the weaker dhaivata in Sama which is only at trisruti level it should be categorized under Harikambhoji rather than Sankarabharanam. Again he passionately argues that even Mohanam should be under Harikambhoji as well given the usage of both the gandhara and dhaivata at trisruti levels. And so this is the generic problem encountered in assigning preexisting ragas to the janaka/janya system on an unscientific or no standard basis.
- For Sama, gandhara is totally absent in the ascent/arohana while in Natanarayani the gandhara is vakrita in the arohana and we see SRGR profusely in Natanarayani. This is a key differentiator.
- The gandhara is prolonged and strong in Sama in comparison to Natanarayani where the janta phrasing MGGR and the vakra phrasing SRGR is used profusely. It can quite likely be argued that dhaivata too is slightly stronger in Natanarayani in comparison to Sama.
- In Sama the madhyama seems to be a more powerful note occurring in profusion and also being the key to the raga being a shanta rasa pradhana raga. From the kritis, the rishabha seems to be a favored phrase ending note in Natanarayani.
- In madhya sthayi, for Sama, PDS and SDP are used phrases while in Natanarayani, PDPS and SP or SM phrases alone are used. PDS and SDP though not forbidden by lakshana, the kritis are devoid of those prayogas. Also in practice Sama has some characteristic vakra phrases such PMD & MDP which is not seen in Natanarayani, while on the other side Natanarayani sports MGMG and RGRG which is not seen in Sama.
- In sum, the play of the notes/phrases & the emphasis given to them leading them to be vilambakala/shanta rasa as the color of Sama and the madhyamakala /vira or playfulness as the rasa in the case of Natanarayani, makes for their contrasting nature.
- Much like Ritigaula, Natanarayani sports different sets of prayogas for mandhara sthayi and madhya sthayi for the same svaras. We see no such constraint in Sama.
- The identical scalar structure but different melodic structure is akin to the phenomenon of Isomerism one encounters in physical Chemistry. Much like how isomers have same molecular formula but different structural formula, Sama and Natanarayani exhibit musical isomerism. Other examples are Kedaragula and Surati, Malahari and Kannadabangala & Kannada and Suddha Vasanta.
A more in-depth research on the lakshanas found documented in the two works, namely Shahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’ and Tulaja’s ‘Saramruta’ along with the constructive interpretation of the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar & Tyagaraja should help us get some more clarity on this point. Also see Note 6.
- Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006 – pages 666-671
- Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 1005-1013
- Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
- Dr S. Sita (1983) – “The Ragalakshana Manuscript of Sahaji Maharaja’ – Pages 140-182- JMA Vol LIV
- Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, pages 201-205 & 207-210
To understand some of the medieval raga nomenclatures and it’s connect with aesthetics, the musical work ‘Sangita Siromani’ written around 1428 AD offers interesting insights. For instance this text defines the raga Natanarayana as: Having born from raga Kakubha with Dha is its dominant final note,Ga in the upper octave is the predominant note, Pa in the lower octave is its lower limit; it is heptatonic preferably performed during raining season and is capable of evoking pathos.
Daru – According tomethe Lakshana Sangraha – the preamble to the SSP, daru as a composition is akin to a padam with sringara as the rasa/theme. A daru has normally one carana and can be sung in a slightly accelerated tempo. Darus with more than one carana is not uncommon though. According to Dr Gowri Kuppuswamy & Dr Hariharan (“Darus in Carnatic Music” – Sanmukha-Vol XII No 4 Oct 1986 Pages 1-10) daru is a musical piece written for a drama – yakshagAna, geyanAtaka or opera. In a drama, a dialogue if not spoken but is sought to be conveyed musically, then it is done through a daru. This article gives a historical perspective of daru and its evolution, types & examples & can be referred to, to know more about this compositional genre. The SSP itself documents a number of darus including Ramasvami Dikshitar’s in Gangatarangini, Muthusvami Dikshitar’s in Sriranjani raga, Balusvami Dikshitar’s in Rudrapriya, a tillana daru of Krishnasvami Ayya in Surati apart from the aforesaid daru in Natanarayani & one in Yadukulakambhoji of Subbarama Dikshitar. Curiously except Muthusvami Dikshitar’s one which is composed on Lord Valmikesvara of Tiruvarur, all other have been composed as an ode on patrons/mortals – Manali Cinnaya Mudaliar, Venkatesvara Ettappa of Ettayapuram, Nagayasvami Pandian of Periyur and Varaguna Rama Pandian the Zamindar of Sivagiri. Probably these darus were retrofitted into the existing panegyric plays depicting the life of the patrons & their clan. They were then staged/performed on occasions by the artistes, in the presence of the patrons, obviously to their delight. The case could have been same in the case of the Dikshitar Sriranjani daru as well. Plays were done in the Tiruvarur Tyagaraja temple eulogizing the deity, recounting the stala purana etc and enacted by the dasis and the musicians attached to the temple. Arguably Muthusvami Dikshitar must have perhaps composed this daru on Lord Valmikesvara, for one such play and not as a standalone music composition and which is why it is bereft of his standard colophon, ‘guruguha’.
The Zamindar of Peraiyur (not Periyur as given in the SSP, a village near the town of Tirumangalam) is one of the large zamindaris or pAlayams amongst the 72 ones in Madurai district in Tamilnadu. Periayur was the second largest zamindari the taluk with about 30 villages spread over 21 square miles. According to the “Madura Gazetteer’ of W.Frances (page 329), there was a Zamindar in 1889 who went by the name of Nagayasvami Tumbichi Nayakkan , the last two parts of the name being titular appellations. We know no more than that. Probably this Zamindar was the one on whom Subbarama Dikshitar composed this daru. Curiously there was another Nagayasvami Kamayya Nayakkar II, of the neighboring Saptur Zamindari who is documented in the “Aristocracy of Southern India- Vol II” by A Vadivelu (Page 315- 321). This Zamindar who was the last in his line, lived during 1845-1889. He has been documented as a very intelligent & independent person, a Tamil scholar and a patron of music. Given this information, the fact that the Zamindaris of Saptur and Peraiyur were intertwined in history and relationship and also the fact that Sri Jagannatham Chetty (who was associated with the Ettayapuram Royals & on whose authority the SSP was published) assisted the minor son of the Zamindar Sri Nagayasvami after his death, makes one to speculate whether the daru was on the Zamindar of Saptur instead.
In the SSP, Subbarama Dikshitar gives the lakshana of raga Abheri as SMGMPPS as the aroha karma even though the Muddu Venkatamakhin lakshana shloka only says ‘abherI sagrahA pUrna; syAdArohE nivarjitA’. The shloka does not say that rishabha, gandhara and dhaivata are varjya. Yet Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of the purvacharyas and their tAnams in this raga, says that SMGMPPS is the arohana krama to be used in compositions.
According to Subbarama Dikshitar the notes of a ghana raga need to emanate from the nAbhi/navel. The discussion on the nature of raga and its classification under the ghana, naya and desi categories from a historical perspective is done in the work “Ghana, Naya and Desi Ragas” by Smt Premalatha Nagarajan which is available here. Here is what she has to say on ‘ghana’ ragas in the modern context.
From the description of ghana raga as being suitable for t¡na or madhyamakala, it couldbe inferred that such raga-s were based more on svara-s with moderate oscillations and which were devoid of extreme kampitam or vali. It is also possible that the form of a svara in these raga-s, was more or less static or rigid and not fluid. On the other hand, the raktiraga-s must have been characterised by some svaras which had more fluid form than a static one. If we consider the raga-s referred to as ghana today namely, nata, gaula, arabhi and varali (leaving out varali), the forms of the svara-s in these raga-s appear to be centred around their svarasthana-s. None of the svara-s seem to have excessive kampita gamaka. It is these raga-s that seem to be used for singing or playing tanam.
The classification of ragas under ghana, naya and desya by Shahaji is perhaps on the basis of melodic movement, according to performing musician Vidvan T M Krishna (Southern Music – Karnatak Story- Page 405). A raga classified as ghana probably meant (as in Tamil – heavy or dense) its rendering ought to be rigid & dense. In fact Vidvan Sri T M Krishna opines that this classification or the attribute of a raga to be a ghana/naya/desi, was then a component of the aesthetics of that raga. The word ghana has been used not only in the context of ragas as above but also in the context as one of the modes of singing (ghana mArga). And then there is this connection to tanam and madhyamakala rendering as well. In the context of a raga and its melodic personality (as distinct from the way or mArga in which a musician renders ragas in general), we are left only with the meaning that a raga to be ghana has to be phrased in a dense & rigid manner. Did it imply employment of janta svaras for example to give that feel? One doesn’t know for sure if that logic was what was used in Shahaji’s times to classify a raga as ghana.
In the Hindustani idiom there doesn’t seem to any raga close to the melodic svarupa of Natanarayani, though there is a name sake, Nata Narayan. It’s said to belong to the Bilaval thaat (Sankarabharanam) with N3 or tivra/sharp nishada. Off course our Natanarayani lacks nishada totally. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi apparently on the strength of the Carnatic Natanarayani seems to have implemented his version of Nata Narayana under the Khamaj thaat with a komal nishad (N2) to boot.
For the purpose of this article/blog post, Govindacharya’s Sangraha Cudamani (as well as other works which are allied in their content such as ‘Sangita Sara Sangrahamu’ of Akalanka and also recent raga compendiums such as those of Nadamuni Panditar or K V Srinivasa Iyengar) has not been considered, due to lack of clarity around the date of some of them & given that all these texts were much later to the times of the Trinity & hence are not relevant to assess the music of the compositions of Ramasvami Dikshitar, Muthusvami Dikshitar & Subbarama Dikshitar.