Raga, Repertoire

Kannada Bangala & Malahari – The Conjoined Twins


Popular commentary as well as accounts of musicologists always has it that Muthusvami Dikshitar was a staunch follower of the Venkatamakhin sampradaya and to that end he followed the Anubandha to the CaturdandiPrakashika faithfully. There are quite a number of exceptions, caveats or issues with this statement. As we saw in a number of previous blog posts, in the case of quite a few ragas such as Tarangini, Khamboji, Gopikavasanta etc, there is a dichotomy between the lakshana as per the sloka found for the raga in the Anubandha and the corresponding Dikshitar kriti in that raga. Besides we find that Subbarama Dikshitar on his own authority has classified ragas which are not in the rAganga lakshana gitams and/or the Anubandha itself. While we find the Anubandha and the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) together to be a great source of information, we do have instances where we are unable to reconcile satisfactorily the lakshanas of quite a few ragas. In those cases the commentary of Subbarama Dikshitar while helpful is not much instructive as one would like it to be. So much so we are just left with the notation of the very kritis of Muthusvami Dikshitar to divine the ragalakshana unambiguously. Which also shows us that Muthusvami Dikshitar innovated, breaking himself from the shackles of the laid down tradition. It is this point that we would seek to explore through this blog post as we look at the raga lakshana of two ragas – Kannada Bangala and Malahari both under Mela 15, Malavagaula.

In so far as the raga lakshanas of these two ragas, Malahari and Kannada Bangala we see that the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika as well as the prior 18th century texts are not so helpful for us to distinguish unambiguously the raga lakshanas of these two conjoined twins – twins that are intertwined both in terms of the scale and also history. This is so because they share the same melodic scale or arohana/avarohana under Mela 15, Malavagaula and they grew together perhaps each intruding into the other’s melodic territory. If we were to look for clues from our oral tradition available today, with reference to these two ragas, sadly they offer no assistance whatsoever to help us melodically distinguish them. The oral tradition by and large treats these two ragas as practically synonymous so much so that Kannada Bangala is today all but extinct and the sole/solitary Dikshitar kriti therein is practically rendered in Malahari.

In this blog post we will see the history, lakshana of the two ragas and also to see how Muthusvami Dikshitar went about chiselling the attributes of these two ragas so as to make them as much as possible melodically distinct for us.



Kannada Bangala is a very old raga with a long musical history to boot. It was known in olden times as Karnata Bangala or Karnataka Bangala as well signifying its hoary ancestry. In this blog post we will use Kannada Bangala to refer to this raga, uniformly.

A galaxy of musicological writers right from Ramamatya (1550 AD Svaramelakalanidhi), Pandarikavitthala (1576 AD), Govinda Dikshitar ( 1615 AD Sangitasudha) and Venkatamakhin (1626 Caturdandi Prakashika), all refer to Kannada Bangala as having the svaras which today fall under mela 15 Malavagaula.  The parent raga for them was different for them at that point in time and one would see Gurjari, Gaula etc being mentioned as the clan leader which is typically referred to as melaprastara, mela, melakartha, meladhikara or raganga.

From a lakshana perspective, since its recorded inception the raga lacked nishadha both in the arohana and avarohana. Gandhara svara was the graha and almost all of them say that the raga is to be rendered in the early morning. Into the 18th century both Sahaji in his Ragalakshanamu ( circa AD 1710) as well Tulaja in his Saramruta ( AD 1736) document the raga as existing during their times with the very same melodic contour. The very distinctive point to note is that all the way from 1500 to 1750, the raga’s lakshana has remained unchanged, over centuries and has comes to us with almost the same form and melodic content.

Circa 1750 the raga’s lakshana is found documented in the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. And after this reference in the Anubandha, the raga’s trail goes cold. Save for the solitary kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar we have no other kriti by any composer till date. So much so it has always been articulated that Muthusvami Dikshitar revived or resurrected this raga which had all but become extinct by 1775.

Now the last musicological reference to Kannada Bangala is documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP and he documents the lakshana sloka for Kannada Bangala thus:

rAgaH karnAtabangAlAH sAdavO ga grahAnvitAH

nI varja prAtaruth gEyO arOhE ga cyutah kvAchit  ||

 This raga lakshana sloka from the Anubandha to the CDP (circa1750) attributed to Muddu Venkatamakhin the paternal grandson of Venkatamakhin makes it clear that:

  1. The raga is shadava, i.e, in in total it has only 6 svaras with nishadha absent both in arohana and avarohana
  2. Gandhara is the graha and in certain arohana/ascent phrases gandhara is dropped- cyuta.
  3. It is an early morning raga.

More than century prior to this, circa 1636 his great ancestor Venkatamakhin in his Caturdandi Prakashika gives the lakshana of Kannada Bangala thus :

ragaH karnAtabangalO bhashAnghAm gaula mElaja

prataHkAlEshu gAtavyaH shAdhvOyam nivarjitAH

sarvadApyEsha gAthabyO gItagnIH shubharakthidaH

In other words here is what Venkatamakhin says as the raga’s lakshana under Gaula mela (his equivalent of Malavagaula – Mela 15 which is the placeholder parent for us):

  1. Venkatamakhin’s reference to the raga being bhashanga has no modern day relevance for us and hence can be safely ignored.
  2. The raga is shadava, that in in toto it has only 6 svaras with nishadha absent both in arohana and avarohana
  3. Gandhara is the graha.
  4. It is an early morning raga.
  5. It grants welfare/goodness and delight and can be sung at all times by practitioners of music.


Subbarama Dikshitar on the strength of the Anubandha lakshana shloka provides the murccana arohana/avrohana thus :

S R1 M1 P D1 S

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

Apart from the gitam attributed to Venkatamakhin and his own sancari, Subbarama Dikshitar provides the kriti of Muthusvami Dikshitar, ‘rEnukAdEvi samrakshitOham’ in misra jhampa tala. He also says that:

  1. In ancient texts it is given that MGM should be added and it is similar to Saveri
  2. On the authority of Muthusvami Dikshitar’s kriti, RM.P with a kampita gamaka on madhyama which is dhirgha, RMMP, PDMP, PDMGR, RM.GR and RMGR are salient phrases as documented in the kriti provided as illustration.
  3. These prayogas along with the appropriate gamakas should be carefully used.

The perusal of the notation of the kriti reveals the following from a content perspective:

  1. The kriti is on Goddess Renukadevi enshrined at Vijayapuram in Tiruvarur. See foot note 1.
  2. The raga mudra as well as Dikshitar’s colophon ‘guruguha’ are embedded in the composition.

From a musical perspective one is able to decipher the following:

  1. The kriti opens on the dhirgha dhaivata note. Though gandhara is given as graha, it is the dhaivata and madhyama of the dirgha varieties that are mostly utilized by Dikshitar as take-off notes.
  2. D\MP, PMGRS, MGM/D, SRMDP, MDMPGRS, RMGMDS, RMGR, DMPGRS & PDS are seen copiously used. In the cittasvara section we also see DPMGRS as well along with MGM as well.
  3. D\MP is the most recurring leitmotif even though MGM is stated to be so by Subbarama Dikshitar
  4. The cittasvara section sports the graha svara passage. We will look at this in detail in the discography section.
  5. Though a lineal progression of SRMPDS/SDPMGRS is given, given the murccanas as above an unambiguous purvanga/uttaranga arohana and avarohana cannot be defined. Vakra sancaras abound.
  6. Though the commentary by Subbarama Dikshitar says that in some places gandhara is not found there in some places in the arohana, except SRMGM, gandhara phrases in ascent is not at all seen. Perhaps what is sought to be conveyed is that both SRM as well as SRMGM is part of purvanga of Kannada Bangala. A strict interpretation of the lakshana sloka would imply a sparing usage of SRGM put the exemplar clearly shows that SRGM should be eschewed.

The raga lakshana of Kannada Bangala is also found documented in the Sangaraha Cudamani (SC), which is for all practical purposes the compendia of the ragas of Tyagaraja’s compositions. And curiously we find that the arohana/avarohana of the raga documented therein is:

S R1 M1 G3 M1 D1 P D1 S

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

It encompasses the two salient murcchanas highlighted by Subbarama Dikshitar and found in Renukadevi, which is MGM and MDP, though not DMP. Sangaraha Cudamani talks of sadja as the graha, which is the case for all the ragas that it documents. We find that given the lakshana of the raga per the notation of Renukadevi , the arohana/avarohana krama provided by Sangraha Cudamani is a better fit.

  1. The peculiar phrases found in rEnukAdEvi which can be taken to be unique to Kannada Bangala as distinct from Malahari are not found so as lakshana for the raga in any prior treatises including that of Sahaji and Tulaja. Even the older tanams which are pointed out by Subbarama Dikshitar, make MGM the letitmotif which is not used that much by Dikshitar. In fact on his own authority perhaps Muthusvami Dikshitar seems to have provided a fresh and unique svarupa to Kannada Bangala with vakra phrases like DMP or MDP or PGRS apart from MGM.
  2. It is a little curious conceptually to note that despite gandhara is a graha svara, it is not a graha for the raga in its modern sense. A melodic phrase in Kannada Bangala is not seen to begin with gandhara. It always appears as MGM or MGR and functions more like an amsa svara which cannot be a graha or a nyasa by any stretch of imagination. But the presence of the gandhara is required to add beauty and melodic individuality much like the gandhara of Sahana, where the note occupies a similar role, making itself an exception to the standard rule propounded by Sarangadeva in the Sangitaratnakara as to a svara being one automatically becomes the other in the case of graha, amsa, nyasa.
  3. Given the fact that Muthusvami Dikshitar begins the kriti rEnukadEvi on dhaivatha of the dirgha type and also the graha svara section, it appears that dhaivatha is the real graha svara ( in modern parlance) or the note on which phrases can be unambiguously commenced for Kannada Bangala.


As pointed out in the introduction, Muthusvami Dikshitar’s ‘rEnukA dEvi samrakshitOham’ is the solitary composition in this raga. And there are two key popular editions of this song, by Sangita Kalanidhis D K Jayaraman and T M Thyagarajan. In comparison to the notation of the kriti found in the SSP, two key aspects with the edition of this composition by both these stalwarts are:

  1. The tala of the composition has been changed from misra jhampa to khanda capu. According to the SSP, the tala of the composition is very clearly Jhampa tala, while many modern music compilations of Muthusvami Dikshitar give the tala as khanda capu, for example Sangita Kalanidhi T K Govinda Rao’s edition of Dikshitar Compositions. See foot note 2.
  2. The melodic body also stood normalized in most parts with the result that some of the key phrases such D\MP got deprecated. The consequence of this ‘melodic cleansing’ was that Kannada Bangala of this composition resembled Malahari.

Firstly we present the extant popular version of the composition ‘rEnukA dEvi’. In fact renderings of almost all artistes except that of Vidvan T M Krishna, is traceable to this version. Here is the video recording of the rendering by Sangita Kalanidhi D K Jayaraman which is the popular version to which this composition has become unfortunately synonymous with.

Youtube – Rendering of Sri D K Jayaraman

We move on the next version, interpreted from the notation found in the SSP. Vidvan T M Krishna presents the composition as he interprets from the SSP. In the recording below he first presents his commentary to the raga describing his view of how the raga can be practically delineated in contradistinction to Malahari. He also dwells on the feature of graha svara as found in the cittasvara section of the composition. It is worth mentioning here that the first detailed theoretical account of the graha svaras in the compositions of Muttusvami Dikshitar was done by Dr N Ramanathan – see reference 4 given below. Lets take a look now as to what this feature means, before we listen to Vidvan T M Krishna who provides an overview of the raga, the composition and the graha svara feature.

Graha Svara

What does it mean? In modern times, the term graha refers to the starting note or base note/tonic. Today all ragas have sadja as the base tonic. And in such a scenario, graha has now come to imply the note of the raga with which the melodic phrases of that raga typically start. While sadja as a note serves as the default graha, some of the so called jiva svaras of the raga also become its graha svara. A melodic phrase of a raga is supposed to start on a graha svara and end with its nyasa svara and almost as a rule consists of its jiva and amsa svaras in between. Or in other words the life giving as well as key notes with which the raga comes to life forms a murccana or phrase of a raga. While this is the modern context, we do see in all older musicological texts barring the Sangraha Cudamani (where sadja is given as the graha svara of every raga described) certain ragas have notes other than sadja defined as the graha svara. For example on the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP, the SSP lists a number of ragas which have notes other than sadja as the graha svara. The SSP documents a total of 192 ragas out of which 23 feature a non sadja note as a graha svara.

Out of these 23 ragas, Muthusvami Dikshitar has composed the so called graha svara passage for the following ragas/kritis.

  1. Geyahejjuji – rAmacandra BhaktaM
  2. Revagupti – sadAvinata sAdarE
  3. Kannadabangala – rEnukA dEvi
  4. Gurjari – GunijanAdinuta

The perusal of these kritis would show that the cittasvara passage has a svara line which is the first line followed by sahitya made up of svaras syllables itself, as the second line. According to Subbarama Dikshitar the authority for this feature is one Govindamatya author of the text Ragatalacintamani. Readers may refer to Prof Ramanathan’s article for a detailed analysis including the history thereof. For this blog post I am confining myself to the point as to how a graham passage if given for a kriti has to be sung.

  1. The graha note for a raga has to be sung in the position of sadja. Subsequent svaras have to be shifted accordingly as per the scale of the raga. Thus if gandhara is a graha svara, then it takes the position of Sa. In the case of Kannada Bangala barring Ni all other svaras occur. So if Ga takes Sa or the so called tonic, then the syllables to the intoned for the others are as under. Attention is invited to the fact in the list of svara syllable to intoned, ni comes though from a svara is not found in the raga.

Svara as per raga scale:  S             R             G             M            P             D

Syllable to be intoned:    G            M            P             D             N             S

  1. Thus in the cittasvara section, the svaras found like sahitya in the second line has to be sung to the tune of the svaras in the first line. So if the cittasvara is DMPmddmgg then the so called sahitya/syllables to be sung would be SDNdssdnpp, for example. Obviously this is for vocal music while in the case of instrumental music this makes no difference, as there is no vocalization of the text involved.

Now let us now listen to Vidvan T M Krishna . In his nearly 18 mins long exposition, he discusses the features/leitmotifs of the ragas and also about the graha svara feature.

There are neither any extant compositions nor unique renderings for presentation and so we move on to the melodic twin, Malahari.


Again much like Kannada Bangala, Malahari has a long history and has fairly remained the same over centuries. Here is the gist of its history:

  1. In Svaramelakalanidhi, Ramamatya (AD 1550) says that the raga is audava, devoid of ga and ni, has dhaivatha as its graha and is sung early in the morning the wise.
  2. Both Govinda Dikshitar and Venkatamkhin record Malahari in their works echo Ramamatya but say that gandhara is sometimes found in the descent and so with nishadha being absent it is shadhava.
  3. Sahaji in 1710 records that it is shadhava with gandhara dropped in the ascent. Tulaja follws suit in the year 1736.

Thus we see while initially Malahari lacked both nishadha and gandhara totally, by A D 1600 it seems to have added gandhara to the descent, perhaps sparingly but by 1700 it became to be a permanent svara in the descent. See foot note 3.

During circa 1750, what Malahari was, is documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP is on the authority of the Anubandha to the CDP, the sloka for which goes as under:

Bhavenmalahari rAgO nIcyutO dhaivataHgraHaH |

shadhvO gIyatE prathararohE tu gA varjitaH ||

According to Subbarama Dikshitar, the raga is upanga, shadhava, nishadha varjya, has dhaivatha as graha, while gandhara is varjya in the arohana and is suitable for singing in the mornings.

We are left to understand Malahari from the body of Dikshitar’s composition, which can be summarized as under: (See foot note 4)

  1. The kriti uses MDP and PDM copiously and SRGMR and SDPM as well.
  2. Though for this raga dhaivatha is graha svara, Dikshitar has not composed the cittasvara with the graha svara passage for this composition.
  3. The composition has both anupallavi and caranam to boot.
  4. The composition is usually assigned to the Shodasha kritis on Ganapathy. Dikshitar provides a number of iconographic details of the Ganapathy in this kriti which makes it the ‘hEramba ganapathI’ form. See foot note 5.


The similarity between Malahari with Kannada Bangala cannot be missed at all. The only feature on which they probably differ from a definition point of view is that for Kannada Bangala gandhara was graha whereas for Malahari it was dhaivatha. From a modern day perspective, sadja is the defacto graha for all ragas. The feature of gandhara/dhaivatha being the graha svaras and the construction of the graha svara passage for the citta svara in Kannada Bangala are relics of an older practice that has since long been deprecated and has no practical relevance today. On a related note, from the CDP (AD 1736) perspective, Kannada Bangala is recorded as a bashanga raga while Malahari is not. We know that the concept of bashanga as prevalent during those times is not applicable today and hence can be ignored. Yet that was a point of difference between the ragas, then.

From a historical evolutionary perspective, we can now reconstruct the probable course of events based on what we have seen till now.

  • Circa 1550, Malahari lacked gandhara totally as evidenced by Ramamatya. It must have looked like SR1M1PD1S/SD1PM1R1S. This is also the scale of Suddha Saveri as documented by Govinda Dikshitar and later by Sahaji and Tulaja. It is likely that problem was brewing on this front, because of the shared melodic affinity between the ragas Malahari and Suddha Saveri. However at this point in time Kannada Bangala sported gandhara in its scale and so it stood distinguished beyond reasonable doubt from Malahari.
  • Circa 1580 or thereabouts trouble started with Malahari sometimes taking gandhara in its avarohana passages to perhaps distinguish itself from Suddha Saveri. Now this started to encroach on Kannada Bangala’s space.
  • Circa 1700- Malahari continued to cohabit with Kannada Bangala occupying the same melodic space and this continued on till 1738 as well and well up to 1750 AD, as is obvious from the works of Sahaji, Tulaja and Muddu Venkatamakhin. Perhaps the difference in the graha svaras between the ragas afforded some form of space to both of them. But by AD 1750 the graha concept must have totally died out with sadja taking over as the defacto graha svara for all ragas.
  • Circa 1775- It is likely that due to demise of the graha svara concept and the lack of melodic differentiation between Malahari and Kannada Bangala, given the preponderance of popularity, Malahari won the right of survivorship and Kannada Bangala probably became archaic/extinct, with its melodic body and identity completely usurped by Malahari and its only proof of existence being the references in the texts. We do see that Ramasvami Dikshitar has used Malahari in his ragamalikas (for example the ragamalika Sivamohana sakti in adi tala where the Malahari raga section is vimalaharina nayana yanatagu vara vasantAdiyOtsava sEva”. 
  • Circa 1800- Which is when Muthusvami Dikshitar likely decided to give a fresh breathe of life for Kannada Bangala but was hampered by the same musical material it shared with the popular Malahari. This is how the differences looked like for him at that point in time:


Kannada Bangala


Mela Malavagaula Malavagaula
Svara varjya/vakra Ni is absent ; in Arohana gandhara is langhana & figures only in vakra prayogas; Avarohana is sampurna Ni is absent
Graha svara Ga Dha
Other Bashanga raga as per CDP Not applicable
Time of rendering Morning Morning
Motifs as utilized by Dikshitar to distinguish the ragas D\MP.G.. & MGMPGRS SRMGR; M/DP; PDMPMGRS

As we can see all along while the two ragas shared the same musical material, Muthusvami Dikshitar thought it fit to impart uniqueness to the two ragas without impacting their individual melodic worth. Thus he made D\MP along with MGM as the motif for Kannada Bangala. Thus at a murccana level SRM.GRSRGRS is Malahari, SRMGMDP is a Kannada Bangala phrase. If the phrase is an avarohana mode, in Kannada Bangala PGRS can be used, while PMGRS is to be used in Malahari. Janta dhaivatha is perhaps a property of Malahari while the dhirgha variety belongs to Kannada Bangala. In the context of Malahari the intonation of the phrase GRS is probably little unique. Prof S R Janakiraman in his lecture demonstration of the raga Saranganatta in the Music Academy says that the ragas Gauri, pAdi, Malahari et al share a unique GRS usage and he likens it to ‘grease’, a play on the murccana GRS !

  • Today Kannada Bangala is all but extinct, it still lives through the SSP and the Dikshitar kriti notated therein namely ‘rEnukA dEvi samraksitOham’.


Amongst the Trinitarians we only have DIkshitar who has composed in Malahari. The introductory gitas of Purandaradasa are the other well know compositions available in this raga. Presented first is the rendering of Pancamatanga by Dikshitarini Sangita Kala Acharya Kalpakam Svaminathan.

The composition seems to have been a favourite of the Kancipuram Naina Pillai school, so much so very many from that lineage have rendered this. Presented is a rendering by Vidvan Tadepalligudem Lokanatha Sarma.

See foot note 6.


The two key post 1700 A D musicological works namely Ragalakshanamu of Sahaji (circa 1710) and Saramrutha of Tulaja (circa 1735) records two sets of ragas under Mela 15 and Mela 28 with the same set of svaras of albite different varieties. They are Sama and Natanarayani under Mela 28 and Malahari and Kannada Bangala under mela 15, whose arohana and avarohana murccana are given under:




Malahari/Kannada Bangala S R1 M1 P D1 S S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S
Sama / Natanarayani S R2 M1 P D2 S S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

The rishabha and dhaivatha alone are of different varieties. Curiously all these four nishada varja ragas are documented with the same scalar structure by Sahaji and Tulaja and they have been carried forward to the Anubandha to the CDP faithfully documented by Subbarama Dikshitar in the SSP. The following facts stand out as observations for us:

  1. The scales are musical isomers as pointed out in the previous blog post about Natanarayani, with the same scalar structures under the said melas but with a different and distinct melodic identity.
  2. They have survived together as individual melodic entities with their own uniqueness and have been recorded so as existing in the musical world by Tulaja and Sahaji. They never subsumed one another and existed independently till 1750, with Dikshitar composing a kriti in each of these four ragas. In other words the 18th century raga architecture supported and ensured their independent existence. We do not have a name for this model, but we can see that model in flesh and blood as documented in the works of Sahaji and Tulaja.
  3. However in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century the ragas all got consolidated, with Kannada Bangala being subsumed by Malahari and Natanarayani yielding place to Sama and going extinct in the process.
  4. The ragas have been documented even in the Sangraha Cudamani ( the text which reigns supreme in modern musicology) and the corresponding comparison of the scales of these ragas are tabulated hereunder.
Sangraha Cudamani


S R1 M1 P D1 SS D1 P M1 G3 R1 S S R1 M1 P D1 SS D1 S D1 P M1 G R1 S

Kannada Bangala

S R1 M1 P D1 S 

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

S R1 M1 G3 M1 D1 P D1 S

S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S


S R2 M1 P D1 S 

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

S R2 M1 M1 P D2 S

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S R1 S


S R2 M1 P D1 S

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

S R2 G3 M1 D2 N2 D2 S

S N2 D2 P M1 G3 M1 R2 S

Pratapavarali Not documented in theAnubandha to the CDP

S R2 M1 P S

S D2 P M1 G3 R2 S


One is not sure as to the factors which led to the extinction of these two ragas- Kannada Bangala and Natanarayani. Despite the fact that the ragas got documented under the Sangraha Cudamani which emerged as the defacto musical standard for the 20th century, did not help their survival in anyway. It is worth noting that we do not have compositions handed down to us for Malahari and Kannada Bangala as composed by Tyagaraja. Malahari survives through the kriti of Dikshitar and that the couple of abhyasa gana pieces of Purandaradasa. Except Sama and to an extent Malahari, Natanarayani, Pratapavarali and Kannada Bangala are eka kriti ragas. The lack of rakthi’ness on the part of these ragas barring Sama could perhaps be an obvious reason for their going practically extinct as today these ragas are rendered or known only through the exemplar kritis only.

Kannada Bangala suffered an even worser fate when the melodic as well as the rhythmic structure of ‘rEnukA dEvi’ was changed or standardized for probable ease of performance as evidenced by the renderings of the composition in the 20th century. It is however possible, as demonstrated by the exemplar renderings that a very short meaningful alapana and svara kalpana rendering along with a high fidelity rendering of the exemplar compositions namely ‘Pancamatanga’, ‘Renukadevi’, ‘Mahaganapate palayasumam’ and ‘vinanAsakoni’ sans frills is certainly possible. And that is the only possible way to keep the ragas and the exemplars alive and well in our music.


As we examine musical history and the contributions of the Trinity it becomes very obvious that they played a great role in harnessing the past as well as present. Muthusvami Dikshitar particularly gave emphasis to reviving some of the extinct melodies and his solitaire ‘rEnukA dEvi’ stands testimony to his great service to musical history by archiving the raga lakshana through his composition. Needless to add his kritis and their musical construction provides us a window to the world of 18th Century raga architecture.


  1. Subbarama Dikshitar (1904)- Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini Vol III– Tamil Edition published by the Madras Music Academy
  2. Dr Hema Ramanathan(2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions
  3. Prof S. R. Janakiraman & T V Subba Rao (1993)- ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramrutha’ – Published by the Music Academy, Chennai
  4. Dr N Ramanathan (1998) – ‘Graha Svara passages in Dikshitar Kritis’ – Proceedings of the 71st Music Conference – Pages 15-58 – JMA LXIX

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


Renukadevi appears as a character, finding mention in the epic Mahabharatha. She was the wife of Sage Jamadagni and she sired 5 sons for him, one of whom was Parasurama (also known as Bharghava Rama). Suspecting her infidelity as she harboured thoughts about a Gandharva she had seen, the Sage Jamadagni went into a rage and he ordered his sons to kill her. As they refused he burnt them down to ashes leaving out Parasurama who was away. When he returned he was ordered by his father to find his mother and kill her, which he promptly did. Legend has it that it pleased the Sage who then asked Parasurama what he wanted in return . Parasurama is supposed to have asked for his mother and his brothers to be revived. In that process the sage also seems to have realized his mistake in suspecting his wife and thus Renukadevi gets elevated to a iconic village goddess who stood for virtuousness and chastity. She is revered in the rural hinterlands of Southern India along with Yellama, Mariyamman and other village dieties. The story also has a number of local variants for very many Amman temples especially in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. There are quite a few temples dedicated to Renukadevi. One such temple is located in Vijayapuram at the outskirts of Tiruvarur, Tamilnadu and the kriti ‘rEnukA dEvI samrakshitOham’ in Kannada Bangala is an ode to the presiding deity of this temple. The video clipping of the consecration of this temple can be seen here.


The construction of the kriti ‘rEnukA devi samrakshitOham’ in jhampa tala and the fact that it is rendered in practice in a faster tempo with khanda capu tala offers an opportunity for us to discuss an interesting aspect with reference to what is called as mAtu laya or the rhythmic flow of the composition. Prof N Ramanathan in the Journal of the Music Academy 1998- Vol LXIX pages 59-98 and Prof S R Janakiraman in his essay on this aspect in his book ‘Essentials of Musicology’ (2008) pages 239-261, deal with this and I am relying on these two texts for this section.

Matu laya refers to the arrangement of the syllables of the text/sahitya over the tala aksharas and consequently the flow of the sahitya over the tala cycle. The theory behind this can be stated thus.

Sahitya aksharas can be hrasvA/short or dhIrgha/long. In an ideal composition the durations of the hrasva syllables of the text and the dhirga syllables should be proportionate. For example if the hrasva syllable is one unit, the dhirgha syllable should be two units. Sahitya is so composed and set for a tala in such a way that the sahitya – hrsva and dhirgha syllables are distributed such that the number of syllables in one unit of tala is never exceeded. This concept can be illustrated with the sahitya of renukAdevi which is set in jhampa tala as seen notated in the SSP.


2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


rE , nu kA , dE , vi sam ,
ra , ksi tO , ha ma ni sam ,
vE , nu vA , dhyA , dhi yu ta
vi ja ya na ga ra , sti tE ,

The following points are worth observing:

  1. Here the hrasva syllables are allocated 1 unit/mAtrA and dhIrgha one are twice i.e, two units/matras of tala.
  2. The entire sahitya is thus distributed in this proportion over the 10 matras of one tala cycle of jhampa tala. There is no spill over of syllables or so within the tala cycle. In the pallavi for example the syllables rE, kA, dE and sam are dhirgha taking 2 units each, totalling 8 matras and the remaining two hrasva syllables nu and vi taken one each, totalling 2 matras. Thus a total of 10 matras which constitutes a tala cycle of misra jhampa is taken by the 4 dhirgha syllables (4X2) and the 2 hrsva syllables (2X1), correctly without any surplus or deficit.
  3. The above is the case for the so called sama kala or the base layam of the composition. Now if the kriti has a section which is called madhyamakala sahityam as is usual in Dikshitar kritis then it has to exactly double this ratio.


2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


Ko, Na, traya Va, sini guru guha Vi, svA sini
Kan, nada Ban, gA, La, gA, ndhar Va, bhan jani

In the instant case let us consider the first line commencing ‘kOnatraya vAsini’. We see that the 20 equivalent aksharas of sahitya (5 dhirgha syllables and 10 hrasva syllables) the same is fitted into the 10 tala matras and thus qualifies as a true madhyama kala sahitya. Thus in the madhyama kala section, we see that every beat has one dheergha or two hrasva syllables, whereas the sama kAla pallavi has one hrasva or half a dheerga syllable for every beat.

  1. In sum Dikshitar in a text book fashion, exactly fits in the svaras as well as the matching syllables within the 10 matra cycle of jhampa tala. This mode of rhythmic construction of a composition fitting sahitya into a tala, with one akshara/beat per hrsva syllable (in the so called sama kAla or first/prathama kAla) is called Ati citra tama mArga. Marga is the second of the tAla dasha prAnAs or the 10 constituent elements of tala. Ati citra tama marga is the usual for gitas. And that is the way Subbarama Dikshitar notates most of the Dikshitar compositions in the SSP. But this doesn’t itself mean that the tempo/laya of the song is slow. Even in ati citra tama marga the composition can be dhruta/fast, madhya/medium or vilamba/slow. Laya is yet another different aspect of tala and of kriti rendering. Suffice to say that we have a whole body of evidence to state that Dikshitar kritis are usually rendered in cauka or vilamba laya or tempo.
  2. This kriti ‘rEnukA dEvi’ has currently been retro-fitted to khanda capu tala which has resulted in two cognizable effects on the composition:
    1. The kriti per se because of these shorter beats has gotten accelerated.
    2. Newer stress points have been created in the sahitya coinciding with the beats with the result that the composition gains a different rhythmic feel quite different from the original texture. The hrasva and dhirgha syllables as also the svaras/notes are artificially contained within the capu beats in the process.

It is likely that a 10 tala matra cycle was considered too long and hence the composition got abridged into a shorter tala cycle. Quite a few other compositions of Dikshitar composed in misra eka tala or tisra triputa has morphed into misra capu tala for instance. In a few cases the natural distribution of the hrsva and dhirgha syllables in the composition may naturally coincide with the capu tala stress points and thus making it amenable for being sung in misra capu. But in the case of Renuka Devi no such melodic or sahitya specific case exists to warrant rendering it in a truncated manner in khanda capu tala. We do have a couple of other kritis from the SSP namely “Abhyambam anyam na janeham” in Kedaragaula and “Mangalambayai Namaste” in Malavasri whose tala has been reset.


In the lakshana sloka definitions of both Kannada Bangala and Malahari, we notice that the word ‘cyuta’ is used. For Kannada Bangala the sloka says ‘gA cyutO’ while for Malahari the sloka says that ‘nI cyutO’. The usage in the slokas implies that the word cyutaH is synonymous with ‘varjya’. In a sense the usage of the word ‘cyuta’ with such a meaning is disconcerting since today it is used in a formal musicological context to yield the meaning of ‘fallen’, for example cyuta pancama- which means a pancama whose frequency/tonal value is lesser than what it is supposed be or which has fallen from its regular value. An example which could be cited here is that of raga lakshana sloka for Vasanta:

vasanta rAga sampUrna cyutapancamaH samyutAH

Similar is the case with the Mangalakaisiki lakshana sloka where the sloka says ‘cyutapancamasamyuktA’. The contextual usage of the word as in this case deserves our attention.

In the case of Ragalakshanamu of Sahaji and Saramruta of Tulaja, the term varjya and langhana are used synonymously to imply the absence of a note either in the arohana or avarohana or both. Whereas in the Anubandha to the CDP, the raga lakshana slokas use to terms varjya and cyuta while the term langhana is not at all used.

Another aspect is the usage of the term jAti to refer to what we know as a leitmotif. The word jAti has been used in the SSP with this contextual meaning by Subbarama Dikshitar for example in the following instances:

  • Under mela 1 Kanakambari, a couple of prayogas including m\Grs is called as Asaveri jAtI
  • And Mangalakaisiki under mela 15 where he refers to the prayoga ddrr as a jAtI

In the instant case for Kannada Bangala, Subbarama Dikshitar does not label the MGM as a jati for example.


In the context of the notation of the composition ‘pancamAtanga mukha’ as found in the SSP, the analysis of the sahitya of the madhyamakala section of the composition is warranted. The SSP Telugu original goes with the sahitya as :

karunAnga gauratarEna kalimalaharana tarEna

According to Prof N Ramanathan, given the need to maintain proper meaning and to have sahitya syllables match to the beat/tala aksharas the composition’s sahitya needs to be edited as under:

karunArdra gauratarEna kalimalaharana caturEna

According to him the above sahitya is seen both in the Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakashikai of Natarajasundaram Pillai (Sathanur Pancanda Iyer patham) and also the notation of Sri Mahadeva Bagavathar who learnt form Ambi Dikshitar, the son of Subbarama Dikshitar. Based on consensus of views and triangulation of the facts as available, Prof Ramanathan advances the view that the lyric “karunArdra gauratrEna kalimalaharana caturEna’ seems more appropriate and correct and the SSP text could be a possible printing error. One can refer to Prof N Ramanathan’s article, ‘Problems in the editing of the kirtanas of Muddusvami Dikshita’ in the Journal of the Music Academy 1998- Vol LXIX pages 59-98. Thus if one were to revisit the entire line holistically looking at both the lyrics/meaning and also the mathu laya we can determine that the second line as seen in Dikshitar Kirtanai Prakasikai would be the most appropriate.


One can see from the following sloka on hErambha ganapatI from the Mudgala Purana, that Dikshitar visualizes the same iconography in his kriti, ‘pancamAtanga mukha’.

abhaya varada hastah pAsha dantAkshamAlA

srni parashu dhAdhanO mudgaram mOdakam ca

phalamAdhi gatasimhah pancamAtanga vaktrah

ganapati rati gaurah pAtu hErambanAmAH

The Heramba Ganapathy’s key iconographic features mentioned both in the sloka and the kriti includes:

  • the abhaya varada hastha- the hand gesture for both protection and as a giver of boons
  • pAsa – noose
  • dantA – broken tusk
  • akshamAlA – rosary of beads
  • parashU- battle axe
  • mudgara – mallet or a hammer like weapon
  • sRNI – elephant goad
  • modaka – sweet

The mention of ‘kapAla’ as a part of iconography by Muthusvami Dikshitar for Heramba Ganapathi needs a little more investigation, as it is not mentioned as a part of the Mudgala purana sloka or is it found in the portrayal of the the Ganapathy icon in paintings such as those found in the Kannada work ‘Srittatvanidhi’. There are a couple of points for consideration in this context:

  1. The Heramba form (apart from the Uchhista ganapathy form) is associated with the Tantric worship of Ganesha and in certain iconic implementations thereof perhaps kapala or skull is part of the iconography.
  2.  Pritvish Neogy in his work ‘An Ivory Ganesa’ talks of a Heramba form with 5 faces and ten arms, where in one of the heads there is a kapala or a skull chalice, which is perhaps part of the iconography referred to by Dikshitar.

We have post trinity compositions in Malahari including the following. Sri Mahaganapte – a kriti by Muthiah Bagavathar, Vara siddhi Vinayaka – tana varnam by Pinakapani. Sangita Kalanidhi T N Seshagopalan has rendered frequently the Muthiah Bagavathar kriti as well as an RTP which are available in the public domain.

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