Raga, Repertoire

A Puzzle about the Raga Gopikavasanta



Historical accounts of Muthusvami Dikshitar would have it that he was a traditionalist and a staunch follower of Venkatamakhin and the raga system as tabulated under what is today known as the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. As we have seen in earlier blog posts, this Anubandha is today believed to be a work of Muddu Venkatamakin a descendant of Venkatamakhin. However we do notice that in quite a few ragas Muthusvami Dikshitar, in his exemplar compositions as documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP), departs from the so- called raga lakshana definitions laid down in the aforesaid Anubandha. We are unable to reconcile this for very many reasons. One such example is the case of raga Gopikavasanta under mela 20 Narireetigaula, which is the subject matter of this blog post. In fairness to Subbarama Dikshitar, we can notice that he doesn’t gloss over these inconsistencies. In fact he puts the facts as he obtained without any trace of doctoring them or explaining away the inconsistency. He himself avers that he is puzzled by some of these inconsistencies.

The raga Gopikavasanta or Gopikavasantam as referred in this blog post and its illustration, commentary and treatment in the SSP raises a number of questions for us. One may simply ignore all these, just render the exemplar composition of Dikshitar provided therein namely “ Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ and just move on. But for an observer, researcher or student of any discipline such as music these historical inconsistencies need to be looked into, for an inquisitive mind always seeks to reconcile these and get a proper perspective., if not a definitive answer. If possible a logical conclusion should also be derived therefrom based on available facts, which must be revisited should new evidence or information come available at a later date.

With this in mind let’s do a deep dive into this raga which sadly no longer occupies center stage but had one upon a time been a raga of great antiquity.


Much like some of the ragas, like raga Kalavati dealt with in an earlier blog post, Gopikavasanta too is a raga which can be considered exclusive to the SSP as it is the first treatise to document the raga and the exemplar compositions based on the authority of the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to the first half of the 18th century.

For now we can say that the raga as named is not found mentioned in any treatises prior to the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. We do not see the raga being mentioned ‘as is’ in Shahaji or Tulaja’s works. Sangraha Cudamani a work which was supposedly followed by Tyagaraja too documents this raga but the melody therein though under the same mela, is described very differently and we do not have any composition of Tyagaraja conforming to that. Thus we are left to understanding the melody with the SSP as the sole reference.

As always Subbarama Dikshitar quotes the lakshana shloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin to start with.

syAt gOpikAvasantAkhya purnah sadjagrahAnvitah |

ArOhE ca dha vakrah ca avarOhE ri vakritah ||

A cursory reading of this sloka coupled with the lakshya gita for the 20th raganga nArirItigaula would reveal the following:

  1. Under mela 20 the raga Gopikavasanta has been grouped as a bhashanga along with Bhairavi, Ahiri and Mukhari
  2. The raga is sampurna, meaning it has all the seven notes, taking both the arohana and avarohana, together. The notes are R2, G2, M1, P, D1 and N2.
  3. Dha is vakra in the arohana while Ri is vakra in the avarohana.

Lets look at the murcchana arohana and avarohana provided by Subbarama Dikshitar along with his commentary before we consolidate our understanding of the theoretical sketch of this raga.

  1. RSRGMPDPNNS and SNDPMGRMGS are the murcchana arohana and avarohana
  2. It can be sung at all time and has sadja as graha
  3. Ri, Ga, Ma and Pa are all jiva and nyasa svaras
  4. Some salient murcchanas are R.MGRG. , R.MRG. , R.GGS, P.DPM., RGMP, NDM, GRMGS, RMRGS, PS, PPS, MGRMRGS, PSNDPM, G.RMGS, PNNS, PSNS, PMGMGS, ppSS
  5. He says the above sancaras are seen in the tanams in this raga
  6. Subbarama Dikshitar concedes that the kriti exemplar does not sport PNS and SNS.
  7. He wonders why (Muddu) Venkatamakhin has classified this raga as a bhashanga in the Ritigaula gitam.
  8. He does not provide any gitam or tanam for this raga.
  9. The only two exemplars he provides are Muthusvami Dikshitar kriti ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayami’ in adi tala and his own sancari in catusra eka tala.

The proceedings so far itself throws open a lot of questions:

  1. Even as Subbarama Dikshitar says that the sancaras he quotes are seen in tanams, he does not provide an exemplar tanam, which he does for many ragas especially older ones. Why?
  2. He is puzzled why the raga is bhashanga. Perhaps he was wondering on this as the raga did not sport any foreign/anya svara. This atleast has an explanation as bhashanga in older times connoted a different meaning. Subbarama Dikshitar mistakenly evaluates the term in the modern context. We can safely conclude here that as per modern definition, Gopikavasanta is a upanga raga only under mela 20.
  3. Subbarama Dikshitar voluntarily points out the lack of PNNS and SNS prayogas in the Muthusvami DIkshitar exemplar composition with out in anyway way providing an explanation. Why?
  4. The arohana murcchana is given by Subbarama Dikshitar beginning with Ri. Extrapolating with similar such definitions, Subbarama Dikshitar should have added that Ri was the preferred jiva and graha svara. He makes no specific mention of it except in passing, clubbing it with couple of other svaras.


With the above referred open questions lets move to the kriti proper to investigate the same. The notation of the composition as given in the SSP would yield the following observations, about this beautiful composition of Muthusvami Dikshitar.

  1. The kriti is in the standard Pallavi, anupallavi and carana format without a cittasvara section set to adi tala.
  2. The raga mudra is conspicuously included in the text as ‘kapaTagOpikAvasantam’ in the caranam.
  3. His standard colophon guruguha is found in the madhyamakalasahitya section as ‘mamata-rahitam guruguha-viditam’.
  4. The kriti is on Lord Krishna, complete with prasa concordance. No internal reference is found as to the particular kshetra to which the composition can be ascribed to. And it is therefore a generic composition.

From a musicological perspective the following can be deduced :

  1. The kriti is rich in svaraksharas.
  2. The graha svara for Pallavi and anupallavi is pancama while the carana starts on the gandhara.
  3. The murcchana arohana avarohana which is obvious from the notation is as under:

Arohana :   S R G M P D P S

Avarohana: S N D M G R M G S

  1. The only prayoga found in the mandara sthayi is SpS. And tara sancara extends till madhyama.
  2. Prolific sancaras used are SSP, pS, GRMGS, NDM, PDP, PDM, SRGM, PDNDM etc.
  3. GRMGS is a leitmotif appearing repeatedly in the composition.
  4. There is no PDNS or SNDP or obviously MGRS.

Thus we notice a number of deviations which the composition has with reference to the laid won lakshana :

Attribute Laid down Lakshana of Muddu Venkatamakhin Lakshana of the raga as found in  Dikshitar’s kriti
Arohana vakra/varja svaras Dha is vakra Dha vakra and Ni is varja
Avarohana – vakra/varja svaras Rishabha is vakra Pancama is varja and rishabha is vakra
Standard/permitted purvanga movement ( Sa to Pa and Pa to Sa) RSRGMP   ;   MGRMGS SRGM   ;  MGRMGS
Standard/permitted uttaranga ( Pa to upper Sa and back to Pa) PNNS   ;   SNDP PS   ;  SNDM  ;  PDP  ;  PDM
Exclusions PDS  ;  PDNS  ;  MGRS PDS  ;  PNS  ;  PDNS  ; SNDP  ;  MGRS
Sancaras Tristhayi In mandara sthayi only SpS used
Strong/weak notes Ri and Ni are strong notes Ni is not a strong note/ svara and is never a graha or a nyasa.

While we see these departures, in stark contrast Subbarama Dikshitar in his own sancari, follows (Muddu)Venkatamakhin faithfully rather than follow Muthusvami Dikshitar. His sancari completely conforms to the laid down lakshana and as if to emphasise, he begins his sancari purposefully as NNSS, a sancara eschewed by Dikshitar in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’.

We are left pondering with a few more questions for which there can be no clear conclusions or answers. See Foot Note 1.

  1. Given the above information, did Muthusvami Dikshitar depart from tradition on purpose? In eschewing PNNS and other standard phrases, Dikshitar could have simply created another raga and named it to his convenience much like Amrutavarshini. Why did he still call his creation as Gopikavasanta despite the fact that melodically his version of the raga in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ is very different from the theoretical Gopikavasanta. The raga mudra has been embedded beyond doubt and Subbarama DIkshitar provides that as an exemplar. What better evidence could be there? So is it therefore acceptable to make deviations and implement ragas which are not in conformance to standard definitions, while retaining the same name?
  2. Can this deviation be judged as an innovation on the part of Dikshitar and thus account for the same? Do we perhaps conclude that Dikshitar was a trail blazer who considered that if need be we can depart from tradition and for him the marga of the ancients were mere road signs and were stepping stones ion the journey to  elevate music  though innovation? (or)
  3. Did he find that the then (during his lifetime) versions of the raga had already departed from this laid down version ( of Muddu Venkatamakhin) and he proceeded to compose using the then extant raga lakshana?

We will never know fully perhaps. We can perhaps look outside of the SSP and attempt to find answers to some of these questions.

  1. The Sangraha Cudamani documents one Gopikavasanta under mela 20 with a definition of  SMPNDNDS/SNDPMGS for this raga. Needless to add it takes us no further as it is a different svarupa altogether, totally lacking rishabha in its scheme.
  2. There are no extant kritis of either Tyagaraja or Syama Sastri given under Gopikavasanta.
  3. Sri K V Ramachandran noted critic of the past century in his Music academy lecture demonstration averred that the raga of the composition ‘Mokshamu Galadha’ was Gopikavasanta, not Saramathi which was an invented melody without a textual tradition. We have no way of uncovering the true matu/musical setting if so of ‘mokshamu galada’ and finding out the Gopikavasantha as implemented by Tyagaraja.
  4. There is one kriti of Svati Tirunal ‘ Dhanyoyam eva khalu’ recorded as being in Gopikavasanta. The notation of the composition as given by Sangita Kalanidhi Govinda Rao in his compilation mostly tracks the version of the raga as per Muthusvami Dikshitar. A few points merit our attention, which are given below:
    • A couple of sangatis for a few lines of the composition includes the phrase NDP which is not at all found in “Balakrishnam Bhavayami”, and for the same line we have NDM instead of NDP as a sangati.
    • Similarly in the mandara sthayi SNDM is found while in Dikshitar’s kriti only SPS is found. No tara sancaras beyond tara sadja are found in Dhanyoyam. All said, the phrase NDP sounds different and adds a different twist to the composition.
    • Curiously the kriti is architect’ed with very many avarohana phrases. SP is seen purvanga and SRGM is not seen at all.

One can say its quite a different implementation of Gopikavasanta. Would this make it Gopikavasanta or is it a very different raga. Modern musicology dictates that that Jayamanohari is created when Nishadha is dropped from Sriranjani. Do we use the same yardstick? One is not sure ! Also one cannot say with certainty as to the provenance of the mathu of this composition, whether it was sourced authentically from the Mullamoodu Bhagavathars or if it was an exercise in tunesmithing by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar or Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Curiously Sri Govinda Rao provides only the Muddu Venkatamakhin provided arohana/avarohana krama at the outset of the composition’s notation. Also see foot note 2 and 3 below.




 We have no other references or material to look into other than these and the trail runs cold. We may not have answers for these but the objective in asking these questions is to understand for ourselves some of these contradictions with the fullest respect, care and caution for history, personages and the greatness of the compositions which we have inherited.

Even while one ruminates on these questions, it goes without saying that Dikshitar’s creation is a beauty in itself. We move on next to the discography section and aurally enjoy this magical creation, before coming back to the analysis on hand.


We should be much indebted to Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer for having sung ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayAmi”in his concert performances in the last century of which we have recordings. We do not have a record of any other contemporaneous performer of the days bygone doing so. It is likely the titan learnt this on his own from the SSP.

Here he is rendering it in one of his concerts. As one can see the leitmotif GRMGS is repeated again and again in the composition. The veteran’s rendering especially of the SpS motif is not very obvious or prominent but has the ideal kalapramana one can expect of a Dikshitar composition.

Vidvan Sri T M Krishna renders the Dikshitar masterpiece in his concerts following the notation in the SSP for which he is known for. His version below available in the public domain, is albeit faster in tempo in comparison to other versions.

Next is the rendering of Vidushi Dr. T S Satyavati ( courtesy Sangeethapriya). She presents a very stylized version accenting the gaps and pauses with the musical motifs of Gopikavasanta, sticking to the script of the raga’s lakshana as laid down by Dikshitar. In the madhyama kala sahitya she sings “guruguha vinutam’ instead of ‘guruguha vidhitam” which is the SSP text.

Unfortunately we do not have any recorded versions of raga alapana, neraval or svara kalpana in this raga to present.

The rendering of the Svati Tirunal’s “Dhanyoyam eva khalu” is very rare and is hardly ever encountered in the concert circuit. Below is an excerpt from the 2016 Navaratri Mantapam Concert of Prof Venkataraman ( courtesy Sangeethapriya).

Given that there are no tara sthayi sancaras in ‘dhanyOyam’, Vidvan Prof Venkataraman renders it in madhyama sruti. The composition stretches from mandara sthayi madhyama to tara sadja. It has all the Dikshitar motifs for Gopikavasanta including repeated use of GRMGS, SNDM and PS and SP. as pointed out earlier its bereft of SRGM.


Given the wealth of material and the discography we have seen so far, we can and should persevere to assimilate the material in front of us, connect the dots and attempt to draw a plausible theory or hypothesis to the best of abilities to explain some of the questions we encounter above.

First is around the antiquity of the raga. How old is Gopikavasanta? We do have commentaries from Sangita Kalanidhi Subba Rao & Prof. S R Janakiraman and of Dr Seetha both on Sahaji’s Ragalakshanamu as well as Tulaja’s Saramrutha. The analysis of Dr Hema Ramanathan vide her PhD dissertation ” Raga Lakshana Sangraha’ which is the 21st century compendium of musical history of practically all ragas is yet another source of great value along with Dr Satyanarayana’s commentary on Muddu Venkatamakhin’s work Ragalakshanam. All of them point only to the Anubandha or to the Sangraha Cudamani as the earliest works documenting Gopikavasanta.

With all humility and sincerity at my command it is my considered view that the musical material before us has been completely overlooked. Sahaji in his Ragalakshanamu documents one raga under Bhairavi mela, which Dr Sita in her work translates as under and I quote her verbatim:

” sampurna, ghana and naya yogyam, in aroha dha is langhana, ri is langhana in avaroha, phrases like PDNS and MGRS do not occur, SNDPM, NDS, NSRSRGMGS, RGMPDP, MPNS, NSNDPM, MGRMG, SNDPMP, NSRRS are prayogas found in the tayas”

To paraphrase the above, the raga is sampurna – meaning it takes all the seven notes of the parent mela, considering both the ascent and descent ; dha is varja in the arohana and rishabha is varjya in the avarohana. According to Sahaji, this raga is called “Indu Ghantarava” and is documented almost on similar terms by Tulaja as well.

Prof S R Janakiraman in his commentary on Tulaja’s Saramrutha opines that this raga is resembling Margahindolam of modern times. In my considered opinion, Indu Ghantarava is Gopikavasanta, plain and unalloyed, conforming to the definition of Muddu Venkatamakhin as given by him in the Anubandha. Sahaji’s murcchanas tally with those of Gopikavasanta as given by Subbarama Dikshitar. Actually all the three works, the Triad as I refer to – namely Sahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’,  Tulaja’s ‘Saramrutha’ and the Anubandha are all dateable to the first 3 decades of the 18th century. In the SSP we do have the Nattakurinji gitam with the proper ankita of Muddu Venkatamakhin with Sahaji’s poshaka mudra/patron’s colophon documented which go to prove the point that Muddu Venkatamakhin was patronized by Sahaji. Sahaji and Tulaja in their works have only documented ragas in currency/practice. And given that Muddu Venkatamakhin has added the scale to the anubandha meant that the raga was part both of theory and practice. Even assuming the date of the Anubandha to be subsequent, the above argument holds true.

With this input we can draw the first conclusion:

The raga which was once called Indu Ghantarava by Sahaji and Tulaja in their works is what was referred to as Gopikavasanta by Muddu Venkatamakhin ( all between 1690-1740). The same scale carried a different name as well which is Gopikavasanta.

Thus in all probability, the Gopikavasanta of Muddu Venkatamakhin and the Indu Ghantarava of Sahaji and Tulaja are one and the same.It had already taken root in our musical firmament during the early decades of the 18th century.

It is on the authority of this Gopikavasanta of Muddu Venkatamakhin does Subbarama Dikshitar create his sancari which today is the sole exemplar of that form of the raga, as Muthusvami Dikshitar had modified the raga in the interregnum. It is perhaps plausible that Subbarama Dikshitar considered himself bound and beholden to the written edict of his purvacaryas. This is not surprising as we see him do the same with Yamuna, which we saw in  an earlier blog post. In fact Subbarama Dikshitar when composing his jatisvaram in Yamuna, took the earlier works as his authority and not the ‘Jambupate’ of Dikshitar. We are in no position to judge the course of action Subbarama Dikshitar took. Neither did he deign to reconcile the different form to which Dikshitar had adapted the raga. and perhaps which is why to avoid further discordance he decided to leave out the tanams and lakshya gitam for Gopikavasanta in his SSP.  One must pause here to appreciate the diligence with which Subbarama Dikshitar went about in his quest to understand the theory of our music and his conscientious effort to distill that in the SSP. To that end Subbarama Dikshitar did not simply go by Muddu Venkatamakhin’s lakshana slokas. He also viewed it in conjunction with tanams and gitams as well to determine the tradition. As an example lets consider Subbarama Dikshitar’s treatment of raga Abheri in the SSP. He gives the aroha lakshana krama of the raga as SMGMPPS even though the Muddu Venkatamakhin lakshana shloka only says ‘abherI sagrahA pUrna; syAdArohE nivarjitA’. The shloka does not say that rishabha, gandhara and dhaivatha are varja. Yet Subbarama Dikshitar on the authority of the purvacharyas and their tAnams in this raga, says that SMGMPPS is the arohana krama to be used in compositions. He emphatically makes that statement in his commentary for that raga and provides the Dikshitar kriti as exemplar with authority. That was not to be the case with Gopikavasanta!

At this juncture, we must now pause once more and take a couple of minutes to appreciate Subbarama Dikshitar’s predicament or was it his plight. We can imagine one dark winter evening in the closing years of the 19th century, the great musical visionary of those times, the last of the titans of the great Venkatamakhi tradition sitting in the pyol of his house in remote Ettayapuram hunched over in silence, pondering what to do with this problem. There he was all alone, at the cross roads of history, while preparing the draft of the to-be-published SSP, with two melodic versions of a raga in the same tradition and he couldn’t explain it away himself. And so he  decides to leave things as is, never thinking a minute to fudge facts or obfuscate the corpus is front of him. He simply leaves it at that by deciding not to publish the tanams and the gitams of Gopikavasanta, lest it should confuse the future generations . What remained on the final proof read version of his SSP was just the lakshana sloka and the Dikshitar composition. One problem was solved but then another bigger one loomed menacingly for him. What about the sancari? He couldn’t avoid composing one for a hoary raga, because doing one for every raga in the SSP has always been his plan. If he does compose one for Gopikavasanta, which version of the raga should he compose in ? Should he simply move with times as his great ancestor Muthusvami Dikshitar had done before him and use the melodic body of the modern Gopikavasanta of ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayAmI’. Or should he do it in the older/archaic Gopikavasanta and and stay loyal to his beloved purvacaryas and Venkatamakin, whose lakshana sloka, lakshya gita and tanas lay in front of him, all composed in the archaic version of Gopikavasanta?

It must have been a very long night for the “sage like looking” Subbarama Dikshitar, which is how Pandit Bhatkande felt when he saw  him in Ettayapuram . And then the karma yogi he was,  when he wakes up the next morning, he decides to cast his lot with his most exalted preceptor Venkatamakhin. He had to keep the flag of his preceptor flying high and that he believed was his dharma! And so he goes on to create his sancari in the older/archaic form of Gopikavasanta. And as if to reinforce his conviction emphatically, he begins that sancari with the phrase NNSS, the very murcchana in the raga that Muthusvami Dikshitar had dispensed with!

I couldn’t wait for the Government of India to issue a stamp. Instead I did a digital one now to honor his memory on the occasion of his 100th death anniversary !

With that master stroke Subbarama Dikshitar solved the problem for himself by reinforcing what he felt was tradition. But what about those of us now, 120 years or so later, who want to reconcile the versions ? Subbarama Dikshitar took the well-trodden path of following the edict of the purvacaryas to the T. He considered it perhaps a sin to be seen in discordance to the written edict. My personal suspicion/view is, he tagged all the musical material back to Venkatamakhin himself and never for once did he even suspect that somebody down the line – like Muddu Venkatamakhin for example had only created the Anubandha very much later in time. Which is why time and again he laments that the current practice & lakshana is way-off the sampradaya propounded by Venkatamakhin. With the utmost tenaciousness and single minded determination much like Dr.U.Ve. Svaminatha Iyer, he went about with great zeal to procure the original manuscripts which he believed to be Venkatamakhin’s himself and finally getting it from the Pontiff of the Kanci Mutt at Kumbakonam circa 1870. For him perhaps Venkatamakhin was God himself and therefore any deviation from his stated word would be blasphemy. And so he considered it fit to follow his hero and guru Venkatamakhin rather than even his immediate ancestor Muthusvami Dikshitar. Actually and unknowingly the ‘the preceptor’’ he was following was Muddu Venkatamakhin or the author of the Anubandha, whoever it was! Evidence of this mindset can be seen in Subbarama Dikshitar’s treatment of ragas in contradistinction to Muthusvami Dikshitar.

Turning over to Muthusvami Dikshitar himself, one can surmise that he could have chosen to name his version as he visualized in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ as a new raga, carving it out of the older Gopikavasantha (as documented by Muddu Venkatamakhin in his Anubandha), by dropping additionally Ni in the ascent and pancama in the descent and modifying the octaval scope of the raga, delimiting it in the mandara sthayi. He didn’t do so. It is conceivable that even in Dikshitar’s lifetime circa 1800, the actual theoretical construct of Gopikavasantha had died out or had become extinct, leading DIkshitar to resurrect a ‘version’ of Gopikavasanta.

It must have been that the older Gopikavasanta or Indu Ghantarava held a larger set of murcchanas and composers like Tyagaraja and Muthusvami Dikshitar thought it fit to use a sub set of those svara murcchanas to create baby or subsidiary ragas. Thus ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions such as Jingala, Saramati Amrutavahini etc did not have a textual history. Tyagaraja merrily carved these solitary composition ragas ( eka kriti ragas) from out of the body of perhaps Indu Ghantarava/Gopikavasanta and proceeded to give them form and life. The older Gopikavasanta/ Indu Ghantarava simply became archaic or deprecated being overridden by these newbie ragas or on its own through disuse.

It has been Muthusvami Dikshitar’s cause to revive some of the older and dead ragas, burnish them and invest them with his compositions. Examples include Purvi, Padi, Salanganata, Gurjari, Navaratnavilasa and their ilk. So when Dikshitar took up some of these archaic ragas circa 1800, he either implemented them ‘as-is’ or he made melodic modifications to ensure that the musical identity of the creation was preserved in the process distinguishing it from the other extant ones . Thus one can plausibly imagine, when he took up the case of Gopikavasanta ( which had by then passed into oblivion through disuse or otherwise) and started crafting/redesigning perhaps its architecure, he retained elements of the original construction. So he continued to give the pride of place to the leitmotif GRMGS and retained the SRGM. To melodically enhance, distinguish and make Gopikavasanta aesthetically appealing, the architectural/design pattern, much like the ones in the software programming he used was to create turns, jumps, bends and twists in the raga’s melodic movement. So he gave a go by to PDNS and PNS and plumped for PDPS. He employed the same device again in the avarohana by jumping over Pa, making it langhana/varja. And  topped it with a octaval constraint in the mandara sthayi with SpS. See Note 4 below. His creation was complete and here was his chiselled and burnished version of Gopikavasanta. The older/archaic Gopikavasanta was all but forgotten, Dikshitar’s kriti exemplar must have taken its place and all was fine.

More than half a century later when the Pontiff of the Kanci Mutt handed over Subbarama Dikshitar the “original” manuscripts, which perhaps proverbially put the clock back for Subbarama Dikshitar, did all hell break loose for him. The older version of Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Gopikavasanta which he sincerely believed to be of Venkatamakhin’s found in the manuscripts he got and the patham of Gopikavasanta as found in ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayAmI’ learnt perhaps from his father Balasvami Dikshitar or one of Dikshitar’s disciples like Thirukkadaiyur Bharati or Thevur Subramanya Iyer, and their contradiction posed a great problem as above more so when he wanted to publish the SSP, for consumption by the rest of the world.

This course of history is the one which can only possibly/plausibly explain the apparent contradiction or dichotomy one notices between the text book definition of Gopikavasanta and Muthusvami Dikshitar’s implementation as documented in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’.

In sum, the natural life cycle of ragas by which they die out or spawn newer offsprings with truncated scalar material together with the arrival of margadarshis like Tyagaraja or Dikshitar who modify or resurrect ragas to continue the innovative/evolutionary cycle, is what can logically explain the contradiction such as the one we see in Gopikavasanta. In parting/concluding this section I cannot but help recalling what the renowned Jurist Justice P V Rajamannar pithily put, in his foreword to the Tamil version of the SSP and I quote him.

“It is a futile controversy to embark on the determination of the inconsistency between lakshana and sampradaya. The crystallized sampradaya of one age becomes the lakshana of the succeeding age.”


Muthusvami DIkshitar’s creations always instil a very deep sense of awe and respect and I endeavor to research them, sing them and enjoy them to the fullest possible means from different perspectives. That said the available renderings of ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ seemed a little wanting in terms of some stylistic aspects such as the rendering of the mandara pancama SpS. Also I felt that given this raga lakshana deviation Dikshitar has made, a cittasvara section briefly summarizing the new svarupa he has cast, can be a great addition to the composition and for my personal understanding. To the best of my abilities, I have endeavored to create the following simple cittasvara section and I have taken the courage to render the same at the end of the madhyamakala section of the caranam, in the clipping below.

P, MGRMGS,p,S     GRMGSSP,    NNDMPPs,    P,PSsr,rmgrmgs,    sNDMG,GRM    GS,RGM ( Balakrishnam)

As already pointed out, some of the sangathis of a couple of lines in the Svati Tirunal composition “Dhanyoyam eva khalu” , sport NDP. Another sangathi of the same line also has NDM, the default Dikshitar phrase. By eliminating NDP sporting sangatis alone which provides a much homogenous version of the kriti, I have attempted to render it with fidelity to the notation (otherwise) as provided by Sangita Kalanidhi Govinda Rao. Below is my rendition.

Leaving aside the PNDP prayogas found in a few sangatis we see that the version conforms ‘broadly’ to Dikshitar’s Gopikavasanta with a couple of caveats. We see SNDM in the mandara sthayi. Absence of SRGM phrase and usage of SP instead is also seen. But the construct of “Dhanyoyam” is so done that it doesn’t in anyway dilute the overall melodic identity of Dikshitar’s Gopikavasanta. This Svati Tirunal composition in misra capu tala is classified as a jnana vairagya composition and is again on Lord Krishna, the text of which is below:

Dhanyoyameva khalu bhavati bhUtale ( Dhanyoyam) anyasamadaivatAganya mahimAnam vinyasyAti hrdIyo visadmiha mukundam ( Dhanyoyam) kAmakrodhalobhAdi khalavairi samudAyam BhImamatibhaktyA sambhidya nirayamUlam dAmodara hare MAdhava padmanAbheti nAmAni japati yo nata kaivalyakArinI ( Dhanyoyam)


And so this is the riddle about the correct lakshana of the raga Gopikavasanta which is hidden from plain view by the hauntingly beautiful ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayami’ . The SSP tantalizingly makes it mysterious for those of us who try to prise it open. But for performers and students, what they need to do is very clear. The implementation of the raga by the nonpareil Muthusvami Dikshitar has now become the lakshana for us. One has to just render the composition with/without an alapana, neraval svara kalpana in Gopikavasanta in perfect alignment and fidelity to the intent of the great composer, in this instant case being Muthusvami Dikshitar who apparently in his infinite wisdom decided to give a go by to the text book definition and went ahead to chisel out another facet of the raga. And in that process he thus reset the very aesthetic form of the melody for us centuries down the line.



  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006 – pages 314-315 & 426-429
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions- pages 485-486 & 565-567
  3. Prof R. Satyanarayana(2010) – ‘Ragalakshanam’ – Kalamoola Shastra Series- Published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi
  4. Dr S. Sita (1983) – “The Ragalakshana Manuscript of Sahaji Maharaja’ – Pages 140-182- JMA Vol LIV
  5. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai, pages 241-245
  6. T K Govinda Rao(2002) – Compositions of Maharaja Svati Tirunal – Ganamandir Publications – pages 126-127



  1.  The Experts Committee of  Madras Music Academy seems to have discussed the lakshana of Gopikavasanta in its 10th Annual Conference Year 1937-38. However the pages of the said Journal of the Music Acadamy is electronically unavailable.  Hence I am unable to include that in this narrative.
  2. Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s ‘Kritimanimaalai’ list a composition of Krishnasvami Ayya starting with the pallavi refrain “govindarAjam bhaje” and tags its raga as Gopikavasanta. This is not found documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP. We do have evidence to believe that Subbarama Dikshitar had a hand in setting the music for Krishnasvami Ayya’s compositions. The analysis of the notation of this composition however reveals a confusing picture. Murcchanas like PDPS as well SNS, SPND and such other prayogas show up in profusion giving a different hue to the raga.
  3. There is a Northern variant or namesake of our Gopikavasanta and its named Gopika Basant. Some commentaries on this Hindustani raga place it as a melodic equivalent of our Hindolavasanta, dealt with in an earlier blog post. A brief commentary and a clipping of the rendering of the raga can be heard here, scrolling down to the bottom of the page. As an aside, In passing one wonders why composers haven’t taken note of this raga to sew in a Vasantha ‘mAlA’ ragamalika composition, much on the lines of a Ranjani mala or a Gaula/Priya series of ragas. Vasanta, Hindolavasanta, Gopikavasanta, Suddha Vasanta and Viravasanta could be an exotic combination!
  4. We do have quite a few ragas with implicit octaval constraints in our music much like Gopikavasanta as below.
    • Nilambari, Anandabhairavi and Surati almost as a rule do not have sancara below mandara nishadha.
    • Ritigaula has a different svara murrcana/progression for mandara sancaras. NPNNS its leitmotif is rendered only in the mandara sthayi. It is not to be done in Madhya sthayi, where it morphs as MNDMNNS which should not be used correspondingly in the mandara sthayi- vide the pithy cittasvara section of Subbaraya Sastri’s ‘Janani Ninnuvina’ and of Dikshitar’s “Sri Neelotpala nayike’ documented in the SSP.
    • As we will see in an upcoming blog post, Natanarayani another raga from the SSP stable, too has an octaval constraint, with no sancara in the tara sthayi. Also while PDS is permitted in the mandara sthayi, only PS is used in the madhya sthayi.
    • Old timers would aver that musicians of the era bygone, would not perform sancaras below mandara nishadha or above tara gandhara, in Pantuvarali/Ramakriya