Samanta – The Raga lost in the wilderness of time
Ragas sporting the vivadi combination of svaras has not been seen much in the world of our Music, prior to the advent of the Trinity. There have been a couple of exceptions as always and most notable one has been the raga sAmantA, which has the vivadi svara combination D3N3. Nattai is another exception which we saw in a previous blog post. Samanta is found in many old musicological treatises and thus has a hoary past. In modern day musicology it goes under mela 30. Curiously for a raga sporting vivadi note combination, it is both sampurna – having all the notes in its arohana and avarohana together and also krama -sampurna for purposes of modern musicology.
A perusal of musicological history reveals that the raga lost out roughly 200 years ago and was resurrected by Dikshitar and Tyagaraja circa 1800. This blog post is all about Samanta and its allied ragas that we today have in our musical firmament.
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
Samanta is an old hoary raga with a rich textual history, which sported the vivadi combination D3N3. The earliest reference to Samanta is found in Vidyaranya’s SangitaSara (1320-1380), referenced by Govinda Dikshitar in his later work Sangita Sudha. It also figures in Ramamatya’s Svaramelakalanidhi (Circa 1550) and then in Somanatha’s Ragavibodha (Circa 1609). Somanatha mentions Samanta as one of his 23 melas in this seminal work. Apart from being found profusely in musicological works, it’s very obvious that Samanta was prolifically utilized by vaggeyakaras as well. In his Music Academy Lecture Demonstration of the raga – Prof S R Janakiraman avers that every third or fourth kriti of Annamacharya (circa 1400-1500), found in the copper plates of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, has been composed originally in Samanta. However the original notation of Annamacharya’s kritis have been lost forever and the extant versions that we hear are the tunes as set by musicians/musicologists of recent/current times, like Sangita Kalanidhi Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma & others. Next, in the middle of the 17th century Samanta was one amongst the so called 19 purva prasiddha melas of Venkatamakhi and was listed out by him in his Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP). The popularity of Samanta during its heydays becomes obvious when Subbarama Dikshitar mentions in his notes in the SSP that there are plenty of tanams available in this raga, composed by purvacharyas.
From a melodic standpoint, the raga has been made part of what we today number as melas 28, 29, 34 ,36 and finally mela 30. The first musicologist to formally make Samanta as the representative of Mela 30 of the mela prastara was Venkatamakhin, formally acknowledging the notes of Samanta as catusruti rishabha, antara gandhara, suddha madhyama, pancama, shatsruti dhaivata and kakali nishada. Given its melodic closeness to Sankarabharanam (excepting D3), Venkatamakhin even says that it has the chaya/shade of Sankarabharanam. Ramamatya in his Svaramelakalanidhi even calls Samanta an uttama/superior raga while stating that Sankarabharanam is an adhama/inferior raga and that Sankarabharanam has shades of Samanta! So much for musicological history in that, two elements are seen in the narrative of all of them:
- The two ragas which differ only on the dhaivatha( Sankarabharanam sports D2 while Samanta sports D3) were dealt with very closely like how Venkatamakhin and Ramamatya narrate as above. In fact post 1800, both Shahaji and Tulaja in their respective works class Samanta under Sankarabharanam mela.
- Both Sankarabharanam and Samanta were categorised as evening ragas.
Given the musical history, though Samanta gained independent existence as the head of mela 30, post 1800, in terms of melodic popularity it was eclipsed by Sankarabharanam. Also Samanta or Samantam as it is referred was the 30th entry in the so called earlier Kanakambari list and then it became a janya under Nagabharanam in the later Kanakambari scheme (approx 1700-1750). In the run up to the Trinity perhaps Samanta was perhaps in hibernation. None of the great pre-trinity composers seem to have taken notice of the raga as evidenced by the lack of compositions available to us from the first half of the 18th century. Later it lost its complete scalar structure & identity to the new kid-off-the-block, Naganandini, the heptatonic 30th Mela raga under the Kanakangi-Ratnangi scheme (19th century) as documented in the Sangraha Cudamani of Govinda which is the lexicon in which the lakshana of much of the ragas in which Tyagaraja composed, can be found.
Today Samanta is nowhere to be seen on our musical horizon and is very rarely encountered in performances as well.
The analysis of the raga’s lakshana can be studied under the following buckets, based on vintage:
- Somanatha’s take on the raga, circa 1300, as an example
- The Anubandha and the SSP commentary ( circa 1750)
- The lakshana of the raga as per the notation of the Dikshitar composition published by Veenai Sundaram Iyer.
Somanatha gives the following as the notes for Samanta:
S(Shadja), R3 ( or as per Somanatha’s nomenclature tivratama rishabha),G3 ( Antara gandhara),M1 (Suddha Madhyama),P ( pancama),D3 ( Shatsruti dhaivata or as per his nomenclature tivratama dhaivata), N3 ( Kakali nishada). It is to be noted that Somanatha’s musical canvas was based on 17 pitches.
Turning next to the SSP, the raga is classified by Subbarama Dikshitar under the asampurna 30th mela Nagabharanam with the following murccana arohana/avaohana on the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP.
S R2 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S / S N3 D3 P M1 G3 R2 S
The Samanta lakshana shloka which Subbarama Dikshitar attributes to Venkatamakhi says “Samanta raga sampurnah, arohe vakra dhaivata…” And in line with the shloka, the tanam as given, also has D3 in vakra in all aroha passages. Curiously in his notes, Subbarama Dikshitar observes that the raga is sampurna without any varja or vakra. He gives just 2 exemplars there under- The gitam attributed to Venkatamakhi and his own sancari.
The lakshya gitam attributed to Venkatamkhin in the SSP offers us interesting insights as to the raga lakshana. Here is the summary of the same.
- Prayogas seen in the gitam includes:
- PNNs ( no PDNs)
- Sancara span : Uttaranga and tara sthayi sancaras( reaching as far up to the tara dhaivata) in seen profusion.
- The notes M1 and N3 are seen in numerous janta prayogas.
In his notes, Subbarama Dikshitar wonders how the purvacaryas had given SN3D3P a direct descent instead of SN3D3N3P as vakra, given the semitones involved as it would give rise to vivadhi dosha. Nevertheless he tows Venkatamakhi’s line and uses SNDP once. PDNS is also noticed in his sancari. Subbarama Dikshitar also opines that rendering the D3 in the avaroha as SN3D3P, would be difficult to execute vocally but not so in the vina. See foot note 3.
Incidentally it is rather curious that Muddu Venkatamakhin created a new raga Nagabharanam with arohana PNDNS, a vakra sanchara to get around the vivadhi notes, as the representative of the 30th mela. And he proceeds to make the sampurna Samanta as a member/janya thereunder. Given that Samanta is a purva prasiddha raga dealt with by all musicologists of yore including Ramamatya, Govinda Dikshitar and Venkatamakhin prior to 1700 AD, Muddu Venkatamakhin could have simply made Samanta itself as the clan head of mela 30, prefixing it suitably to yield the number 30 according to the katapayAdi samkhyA scheme. That was not to be the case surprisingly. As an example in contrast for an other pUrva prasiddha raga Desakshi, the prefix ‘shaila’ was prefixed & it was made the clan head for the 35th mela.
In so far as Samanta goes post 1750, notwithstanding Subbarama Dikshitar’s assertion, it’s undeniable that the raga continued to be sampurna and the krama prayoga SN3D3P was treated as permissible. Unfortunately we do not have any kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar noted in the SSP or the anubandha. Veena Sundaram Iyer (a disciple of Ambi Dikshitar) was the first to publish two Dikshitar kritis in Samanta, one of them in the Music Academy Journal and subsequently both in the Dikshitar Kritimalai series.
We need to remember that when we deal with purva prasiddha ragas, that is ragas which ante-date the Kanakangi-Ratnangi scalar model, we need to assess them in the light of the earlier native prayogas as passed on to us traditionally/textually that were codified for them and practised. In the instant case, it is futile to talk about Naganandini scale & seek/attempt to justify how Samanta is or could be different from it. It is a reality that Naganandini is an ante dated and a ‘derived’ heptatonic scale and is at best an equivalent melody as compared to the purva prasiddha Samanta. Or its yet another name of Samanta under the Sangraha Cudamani.
The Muthusvami Dikshitar composition ‘pranatArthiharAya’ is notated by Vidvan Veena Sundaram Iyer in SRGM notation and the following is the summary of it.
- He gives the ragas arohana/avarohana only as SRGMPDNS/SNDPMGRS
- The kriti starts off as P N s s N D P M G S
- Dhaivata & rishabha are varja in the aroha phrases
- PNs, Ps, sP, smgr,sNPMGM, sNDP , sDNP , PsND are found
- In one or two places the sancara goes far up to tara pancama
- D3 is encountered in 5 places in the composition
We can observe that by-and-large the raga lakshana as per the Venkatamakhi gitam and Sundaram Iyer’s notation is fairly aligned. The profusion of janta prayogas on the Nishada and Madhayama notes, seen in the gitam is however not to be seen in ‘Pranatarthiharaya’. See foot note 1.
The raga Samanta is found documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani as a janya of Naganandini despite the fact that no known compositions of Tyagaraja are assigned to the raga. The arohana/avarohana krama is given as SRSMGMPDNS/SNDNPMGRS. As one can see later, the setting of Samantha for Annamacharya kritis by Rallapalli Sri Anantakrishna Sarma, tracks to this melodic contour.
With this theoretical background let us move on to the discography section.
We first take up the Dikshitar kriti ‘pranatArthiharAya’ notated by Veena Sundaram Iyer. Sangita Kalanidhi Vedavalli who had her tutelage under Vidvan Kallidaikurici Mahadeva Bhagavathar of the sisya parampara of Ambi Dikshitar, renders this composition. This audio clip is from the Dikshitar Day Concert of hers held in Madurai in 2007.
As one can notice, her version is much closer to the Sundaram Iyer notation. I invite the attention to two aspects of her rendition. The D3 is muted and is heard clearly only at”Pranataarthi haaraya”. In her rendering the avaroha seems more PMGS than PMGRS. And the kalapramana is slightly faster than one can expect to be in a normal Dikshitar krithi.
We move over to the rendering of the same kriti by Prof S R Janakiraman (SRJ). Before that we present his lecture on the raga’s lakshana with Annamacharya’s ‘sahaja vaishnavAcAra vartanula’ given as Samanta in the olden copper plates and set to the raga by Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma, as illustration. See foot note 4.
Next is his rendering Annamacharya’s “Sahaja Vaishnavacara” set to Samanta by Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sharma. Mark the opening bars starting SMGMP in the kriti, a point emphasized in the raga’s lakshana as documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani.
As always his emphasis on D3 is pronounced & strong in his conception of Samanta. The first nishadha occurring on the janta phrase PNNS seems to give the effect of D3 as an anusvara, given only a semi-tonal interval.
We next move on to the veteran musician/musicologist rendering ( edited), the Dikshitar kriti in a class session.
In the audio clip of his demonstration of this kriti, Prof SRJ keeps in line with Sundaram Iyer’s notation, overall. However we do see that the Professor invokes D3 in his rendering of Samanta. Watch out for the intonation of D3 at “Pranataarthihaaraya”, “KshtetrapalaSevitaya” and “Ghrini-sasi-vahni-nayana”. So based on the evidence available Prof S R Janakiraman assesses that Samanta’s melodic contour is SMGMPNNS/SNDPMGRS.
The third & final exemplar is the rendering of Pranatharthiharaya by Vidvan Balaji Shankar. This is from his album of Dikshitar kritis released by Sangeetha Music which is already made available by them in the public domain. Vidvan Balaji Shankar’s rendering is punctuated more by PNS and SN3D3P from the kriti point of view. It is worth noting here that he is a sishya of Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman, another vidvan tracing is repertoire to the Dikshitar sishya parampara.
In contrast to all other versions of Samanta/Naganandhini featured in this section, one can perceive that Vidvan Balaji Shankar’s rendering is light and not heavy in its tonal texture, bereft of the so called Carnatic “charge”. It is perhaps due to the fact that it has been rendered with plainer notes to give a lighter feel rather than being embellished with our native gamakas.
We now move on to the rendition of Samanta by “Dikshitarini” Kalpagam Svaminathan. In a private concert from the year 2007, she plays ‘Vishvanathena Samrakshitoham” the other kriti of Dikshitar, available to us, composed on the presiding deity at Kuzhikkarai a very small village near Tiruvarur. She prefaces her rendition of “Vishvanathena” with a raga vinyasa, bringing out the salient features of her conception of Samanta. As one can see the contours of her Samanta is SGMPN3S/SD3PMGRS. Given the svarastanas of the notes, is one to take it so and imply that Samanta is a bhashanga with two nishadhas, each type occurring in the arohana and avarohana respectively then? But that’s how it is played by the veteran Vaineeka who was the storehouse of Dikshitar kritis. See Foot note 2 & 5.
We move over to a vocal rendering of the composition, pretty rare today. Vidushi K Gayatri, a disciple of the late Sangita Kala Acharya Suguna Purushothaman, presents her pAtham of ‘visvanAthEna’ complete with rAgam, kriti and svara prastara for our benefit. For her, this raga is sampurna both in arohana and avarohana and as she comments at the end of her raga vinyasa, it is treated synonymously with Naganandhini.
Thus in sum we find multiple versions of Samanta with same notes under mela 30, through the renderings of the two Dikshitar compositions. We do see lineal as well as vakra/varjya sancaras around D3 and N3 notes.
And with that we move on to Tyagaraja’s creation ‘sattalEni’.
As pointed out earlier we have it on record that Tyagaraja did not provide names to the ragas of his compositions. Experts opine that raga names were assigned to his compositions, much later based on the melody found therein by correlating it with the definition found in the Sangraha Cudamani. Given that the sampurna krama arohana/avarohana of Naganandini found in the Sangraha Cudamani aligns with the definition of Samanta in the Anubandha to the CDP and the SSP, we can conclude perhaps both the ragas where one and the same. Better still Samanta can be thought of as the forerunner of modern day Naganandhini.
Tyagaraja’s kriti ‘sattalEni dinamU’ is a beautiful creation. See foot note 6.Here is Vidvan S Kalyanaraman rendering this composition. He prefaces the kriti with his alapana followed by that of the violinist Vidvan V V Subramanian Watch out how Vidvan S Kalyanaraman revels in this raga both in the alapana and his svara kalpana on the pallavi line with chaste accompaniment by the violinist.
Attention in invited to the svara vinyasa in the clipping at around 7:44 when the veteran embarks on his svara kalpana anchoring around N3. The vivid portrayal of the vividhi notes D3N3 in the uttaranga is a veritable lesson on how to aesthetically render them. It goes to the credit of the likes of Vidvan Kalyanaraman and Vidvan S Rajam for beautifully rendering vivadi ragas during their lifetimes in an age when singing them were not considered kosher by the so called traditional, more mainstream vidvans.
We next move to an allied raga which is given in modern day lexicons as Gambhiravani which is nothing but Naganandini with vakra sancaras. Tyagaraja’s ‘sadAmathim’ is assigned this raga. Also the raga Gambhiravani with the stated lakshana is not found documented in the Sangraha Cudamani, the authoritative lexicon of the ragas of compositions of Tyagaraja. The provenance of the raga name and its lakshana is highly questionable and seems to be of 20th century vintage, for the raga is found documented only in 20th century publications. Also this kriti came to be known only through the publication of Rangaramanuja Iyengar post 1950 and was not known to be part of the famous lineages of Tyagaraja ( vide the Index of Tyagaraja’s compositions – JMA Vol XXXIX pages 124-167). We do have that composition rendered by Flute Mali, Vidvan Lalgudi Jayaraman and Madurai Somu available in the public domain. See foot note 7.
It indeed inexplicable why this raga, which was popular in the centuries bygone, is today all but forgotten. Musical history tells us that it had always fought a war for space, first with Sankarabharanam prior to 1700 and then later with Naganandhini post 1800, before it finally lost out. Tyagaraja’s kritis have been labelled off under Naganandini/Gambhiravani and so we are left only with the two Muthusvami Dikshitar compositions. The construct of the raga and its beautiful D3N3 makes one wonder why it is still very rarely encountered on the concert circuit. As always one does hope that performing musicians would at least take notice of this purva prasiddha raga and render it more in the days to come.
- Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol IV– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy in 1968/2006
- Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions – pages 1197-1212
- Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai-pages 128-133
- A Sundaram Iyer(1995) -Sri Dikshita Kirtanamala- Part IV-Reprint, published by Music Book Publishers,Mylapore -pages 42-43
- The kriti ‘pranatArthiharAya’ is composed on the Lord of Tiruvaiyyaru – Panchanadeesvara or Pranatarthihara. Justice T L Venkatrama Iyer in his biography of Muthusvami Dikshitar says that amongst others, Dikshitar composed ‘Pranatarthiharam” in Nayaki on the Lord, “Sri Vatukanatha” in Devakriya on the Kshetrapala here and “Dharmasamvardhani” in Madhyamavathi on the deities of this holy kshetra. The kshetrapala or Bhairava, whom Dikshitar extols in his Devakriya composition, finds mention in this short Samanta kriti, which is structured with just the anupallavi alone. The kriti is bereft of the raga mudra but has the standard Dikshitar colophon, guruguha.
- The kriti ‘visvanAthEna rakshitOham’ is a composition on Lord Vishvanatha at Kuzhikkarai a couple of kilometers away from Tiruvarur. As recorded in his life history, Dikshitar visited this place on the invitation of this temple’s patron one Vaidyalinga Mudaliar to grace the consecration of this temple. Dikshitar composed the following compositions on the Lord (as available to us):
- Kashi Vishveshvara – Kambhoji – Ata tala – Found in the SSP, this kriti is a magnum opus of Dikshitar in this raga.
- Sri Visvanatham – Caturdasa Ragamalika – Adi – Found in the anubandha, again this ragamalika composition is a marvel in itself.
- Visvanathena Samrakshitoham – Samanta
- Annapurne Visalakshi – Sama
These kritis are sometimes mistakenly attributed to have been composed on the deity at Kasi itself by some. But the internal evidence within the compositions themselves clearly shows that these were composed on the Lord at Kuzhikkarai. The reference “gartatIra prabhavEna” found in the Samanta composition refers to Kuzhikkarai. Additionally Dr V Raghavan mentions that ‘ehI annapUrnE” in Punnagavarali has been composed on the Goddess at Kuzhikkarai. I am not sure on what basis Dr Raghavan assigns this kriti to Kuzhikkarai. Suffice to say that there no direct or indirect references to this kshetra in the Punnagavarali composition. Coming back to Vishvanathena, Dikshitar brings out his colophon as well as the raga mudra, explicitly in the anupallavi line as:
“sAshvatah-gUruguha-sampUjitEna || sAmantapushpamAlAdharEna”
Similar to the mention in the Tyagaraja Vibakti kriti in the raga Rudrapriya ( ‘Sri Tyagarajasya baktho bhavami’) Dikshitar makes a mention of the Lord delighting in the dance of the rudra ganikas (the dasis attached to the temple).
- It is indeed a matter for deep deliberation for us as to why for certain ragas Subbarama Dikshitar did not provide any Dikshitar kriti as exemplars when we do have kritis, which made its way to the public domain long after his death, from the very same collection that he bequeathed to his son Ambi Dikshitar. Samanta and Camaram are stark examples wherein in the SSP we do have Subbarama Dikshitar giving his commentary for the raga and yet he does not provide the compositions ‘siddhi vinAyakam anisham’ or the two sAmantA compositions ‘pranatArthi harAya’ and ‘visvanAthEna rakshitOham’ as exemplars. It is likely that Subbarama Dikshitar ‘curated’ the available Dikshitar compositions with him and their notations and those which passed his ‘test’ were alone published in the SSP. We do not know Subbarama Dikshitar’s logic/test for selection till date. Yet this is what we are today left grappling with along with the unfortunate circumstance of being left with kritis of questionable sahitya and/or musical setting attributed to Dikshitar. In the case of Samanta, we have another factor to consider, which is that the SSP has a composition in Nagabharanam the nominal head of the clan of mela 30 as per the scheme of Muddu Venkatamakhin. Except for the vakra sancara around D3N3, there is no great melodic difference between the two ragas (Samanta and Nagabharanam).
- Prof SRJ’s way of rendering ragas reminds one of what Srini Pichumani had to say years ago on the Usenet news group.“….For lack of a better word or phrase, let me say that (Prof) SRJ’s alapanas are for the major part composed of “constantly swirling” melodic phrasings. The rapids or eddies of a river come to mind instantly. Maybe this is how the great Tiger ( Varadacariar, his guru )sang.” I invite attention to the way Prof SRJ sings Samanta with great verve and passion in the lec dem ahead of ‘sahaja vaisnavAcAra vartula’ with the so called swirls, which Srini Pichumani alludes to.
- As we have seen in earlier posts, if a vivadhi raga is employed by Dikshitar he ornaments the same in his kritis, with appropriate gamakas. In this case we have no way of knowing the same as the compositions are not found documented in the SSP style notation.
- The lyrics of kriti of the Bard of Tiruvaiyaru, is a throwback in time, signifying perhaps his agony about the degradation of the society and its moral fabric. Perhaps those times weren’t different at all, one wonders. Here is the text and meaning of the kriti.
- It’s my personal opinion that mere usage of vakra sancaras in a melodic implementation doesn’t create a new raga. The vakra sancaras must cause a separate and distinctive melodic identity to be built and only then can it be deemed to be a new raga worthy of a separate existence from the parent. In the instant case one can notice that there is no melodic distinctiveness for Gambhiravani/Nagabharanam in comparison to Samanta/Naganandini. Even in Naganandhini’s case just because Samanta “also” uses SMGMP or SNPM, doesn’t in anyway confer melodic distinctiveness. Thus for all practical purposes, the melodies going by the names of Naganandhini, Samanta and Gambiravani are all one and the same. The melodic distinctiveness of all these ragas hinge on the usage of D3N3 combination as otherwise they can be subsumed by the ragas under Sankarabharanam mela.