The Kurinji of the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini
The raga Kurinji under Mela 29- Sankarabharana is a well-known dhaivatantya raga and popularly rendered in a lineal fashion in madhyama sruti. Along with its siblings Neelambari and Navaroz with which Kurinji shares the melodic fabric, it can be seen that these three melodies are used in compositions such as lullabies, lAlis, Oonjal and songs of similar genre. Being an old and hoary raga, without engendering a much broader discussion, this blog post just focusses on the raga dealt with in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradashini (SSP) of Subbarama Dikshita.
Kurinji’s Raga Lakshana:
Kurinji is a melodic scale under Mela 29 Sankarabharanam, taking only the notes from this scale, with the nominal arohana/avarohana krama as under:
n3 S R2 G3 M1 P D2 and D2 P M1 G3 R2 S n3
Given the lack of movement below N3 in the mandhara stayi and D2 in the madhya stayi, the raga for felicity of rendition is rendered in madhyama sruti, whereby the madhyama note of the octave becomes the tonic. There are no sancaras below mandhara nishadha or above the madhya dhaivatha.
From an antiquity perspective it may be noted that the composition “Jaya Jaya Gokula Bala” a tarangam of Narayana Teertha which was famous once upon a time, was originally set fully to Kurinji. It was later fully reset to Bhairavi (published by K V Srinivasa Iyengar) and much later the modern extant version came into being, with the lyrics being set as a ragamalika to Bhairavi, Atana, Kalyani, Kambhoji and Surati, with the retuning being ascribed to Tiruvotriyur Tyagier.
The raga lakshana of Kurinji heavily overlaps with that of Navaroz and is compounded by the fact that both the ragas have octaval constraint imposed by grammar and both of them are rendered in madhyama sruti. Navaroz runs as pdnSRGMP-PMGRSndp, traversing the madhya stayi pancama to the mandhara pancama alone. DIkshita has also composed both in Kurinji – “Sri Venugopala” and Navaroz- “hastivadanaya namstubhyam” which again is a magnum opus in itself.
According to the SSP, Kurinji once upon a time possessed a different contour (while being under the same Mela 29 – Sankarabharanam). This archaic Kurinji is recorded by Subbarama Dikshita on the authority of the eka tala lakshya gita of Muddu Venkatamakhin “Srimad Gopi nathure” as the refrain or udgraha. According to Subbarama Dikshita archaic Kurinji had the following features:
- It had tristayi sancaras, progressions spanning all three octaves
- It lacked dhaivatha (varjya) in its ascent and dhaivatha being vakra in the descent.
- The nominal arohana/avarohana went as SRGMGMPMPNNS – SNPNDDPMGGRS, which is provided by Subbarama Dikshita on the authority of the raga lakshana sloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin (circa 1750 AD)
- Nishadha was its jiva svara
It has to be pointed out here that this archaic Kurinji does not exists today.
Subbarama Dikshitar proceeds to record that post Muddu Venkatamakhin’s times the raga got truncated and had the following features, which we can call as the modern or the extant Kurinji in contrast to the archaic version as delineated above.
- It became a madhyama sruti raga.
- The raga’s melodic progression was nSRGMPD, traversing mandhara nishadha to madhya dhaivatha only.
- It had an exceptional n\pSS prayoga commencing on mandhara nishadha to the mandhara pancama and back to the madhya sadja.
- The raga cannot be lightly dismissed as a minor madhyama sruti raga, for the ancients had accorded it the highest importance by placing it as the first upanga raga janya under Mela 29 Sankarabharanam as seen in the Sankarabharana lakshana gitam “ripupala khandanure”.
Additionally, Prof S R Janakiraman points out that the dhaivatha note (of the madhya stayi) is seen to occur very sparingly in this raga, more as a foray from the pancama note and back.
Thus, what survives today is the modern Kurinji that we hear today and as authority for the same Subbarama Dikshita provides two compositions, apart from his sancari.
- “Sri Venugopala” – Muthusvami Dikshita – Jhampa tala
- “Siva deeksha paru” – Ghanam Seenayya – Adi
We shall look into both these compositions in this blog post. But before that we will evaluate the Kurinji as was recorded atleast a little prior to 1750 AD.
Kurinji according to Sahaji & Tulaja:
The raga Kurinji is found recorded in both Sahaji’s “Ragalakshanam” (circa 1700 AD) and Tulaja’s “Saramruta” (circa 1732 AD) and the commentary of these two author Kings of Tanjore on this raga Kurinji in their respective works resonate with the definition of the archaic Kurinji of the SSP and of Muddu Venkatamakhin. However, one assertion made by Sahaji and Tulaja in their respective treatises which is relevant to us, as we will see shortly, is that “SRGM and PDNS should not occur in the raga.”
As we saw in previous blog posts this is a key architectural construct of the 18th century. The raga definitions were provided (apart from being categorized under a particular mela or raganga) in the following ways:
- A particular note is to be repeatedly emphasized being the raga’s jiva svara
- Certain notes being the choice notes to begin or end a musical phrase – graha, nyasa svaras
- Certain notes which cannot be used as the take-off or ending note, but which should only be used as a transit note – amsa svara
- A particular note being varjya (dropped)
- A particular note being vakra (devious)
- A specified murrcana (motif) was to occur or was to be emphasized repeatedly (leitmotif) in the raga in its progression.
- A specified murrcana (motif) was not supposed to occur.
This “composite” way of specifying the lakshana of a raga is completely lost to us today where we simply proceed lineally based on a single arohana or avarohana krama under a given mela. This ancient, archaic and now extinct practice of the 18th century is expressly found recorded in the works of Sahaji and Tulaja.
In so far as Kurinji is considered in terms of the aforesaid rules, Rule 7 above, specified that SRGM shall not occur in the melodic body of the raga according to Sahaji and Tulaja. With this in mind let us take up the first exemplar composition from the SSP, which is “Sri Venugopala” of Muthusvami Dikshita.
“Sri Venugopala” of Muthusvami Dikshita:
The lyrics and the meaning of the composition is as under:
SrI vENu gOpAla – O Lord the Cowherd bearing the flute!
SrI rukmiNI lOla – O one who frolics in the company of Goddess Rukmini!
dEva nAyaka – O lord of all the gods!
SriyaM dEhi dEhi – Give, give (me) wealth and auspiciousness!
madhu mura hara – O vanquisher of the demons Madhu and Mura!
dEvakI su-kumAra – O illustrious son of Devaki!
dIna jana mandAra – O wish-fulfilling celestial tree of the downtrodden!
gOvardhana-uddhAra – O the one who lifted the Govardhana mountain!
gOpa yuvatI jAra – O beloved of the young Gopi maidens!
gOkula-ambudhi sOma – O moon to the ocean of Gokula!
gOvinda – O friend of the cows!
nata bhauma – O one saluted by Angaraka – son of Bhumi (Earth Goddess)!
SrI-ku-ranjita kAma – O one who delights Lakshmi (Sri) and Bhumi (Ku) with your love!
Srita satya bhAma – O one who has embraced Satyabhama!
kOka nada pada – O one with feet hued like red lotus!
sOma guru guha hita – O one congenial to Shiva (in the company of Uma) and Guruguha
SyAma – O dark one!
SrI kara tapa hOma SrI jayantI nAma – O one well-known for the Sri Jayanti (birthday festivities) in which penance and sacrifices cause welfare and prosperity!
prAkaTya raNa bhIma – O one who is formidable in battle!
pAlita-arjuna bhIma – O protector of Arjuna and Bhima!
pAka ripu nuta nAma – O one whose name is glorified by Indra (the slayer of the demon Paka)!
bhakta yOga kshEma – O one who bestows welfare to the devotees!
It appears to be a generic composition without any reference to any ksetra or its presiding deity. Based on the lyrics which occur which is “sri jayanthi nama” there are those who opine that much like “Sri Varalakshmi namastubhyam” and “Siddhi Vinayakam” which were purportedly created to propitiate Goddess Lakshmi on Varalakshmi Pooja day and Lord Ganesa on Vinayaka Caturthi day respectively , Dikshita composed this kriti for “Sri Jayanthi”/”Krishna Jayanthi” – Lord Krishna’s birth day. The raga mudra is seamlessly interwoven as:
“SrI-ku-ranjita kAma” meaning “O the one who delights Lakshmi (Sri) and Bhumi (Ku) with your love!
The colophon of Dikshita “guru-guha” as always occurs in the composition.
The Melodic structuring of the composition:
From a melodic standpoint it is noticed that the composition is in line with the “extant” or modern version of the Kurinji. From the notation provided therein, Dikshita’s raga conception in the composition conforms to the modern Kurinji:
- The melody traverses between mandhara nishadha and madhya dhaivatha only
- Uses the occasional nn\pSS prayoga- seen at the first occurrence of the lyric ‘dEhi’ in the pallavi itself
It was pointed out earlier that according to Sahaji and Tulaja, in the case of Kurinji “SRGM and PDNS should not occur in the raga”. This is however not seen expressly commented upon or recorded in the SSP.
In this context the occurrence of SRGM or PDNS phrase in “Sri Venugopala” can be evaluated thus:
- It is seen that the SRGM prayoga is avoided in the melodic setting after duly taking into account the caesura (s)which occur in the composition.
- Though superfluous, it has to be formally noted that PDNS has no occasion to arise as the raga’s truncated progression provides no room for the same.
- The following portions/lyrics of the composition would reveal that:
- The composition begins as RGMR (“sri vEnugOpAla”) and thus SRGM is avoided. Though SRGM is forbidden, RGM or RGMP is a permitted prayoga
- Caesura occurs at “lOla” which ends on rishabha note and when “dEvanAyaka” begins with the phrase being GMP. Thus, the SRGM phrase has been avoided.
- Pointedly the anupallavi lyric “Devaki sukumara” begins as SRSMGM RGMP, avoiding a direct SRGM phrase.
- Both “govardhanO” and “gOpayuvati” use SM and SP phrases to the exclusion of SRGM phrase.
- The lyrics “sri kurinjita” and “kokhanatha pada” are again SMGMP and not SRGMP
- The madhyama kala sahitya lyrics “pAlita-arjuna bhIma” is notated as SMGRGM to the exclusion of SRGMP
- Though the ending of the pallavi, anupallavi and the madhyama kala sahitya portions is on the sadja and the pallavi take off being rishabha, on account of the intervening caesura/conclusion of tala marking the logical ending of the musical phrase, the rule of avoidance of SRGM can be deemed as kept.
- Thus, it can be seen, that subject to the one exception below, Dikshita has eschewed the use of SRGM and has instead used SMGMP in the composition, as the default ascent phrase.
From the SSP notation of this composition one outlier that is noticed, without in anyway being disrespectful, is that the lyric “srikara tapO hOma” is notated as SnSRGMP.. It is likely that this phrase too ought to have been “SnSMGMP” in line with the rest of the composition, as nowhere else where an ascent phrase is warranted, is the phrase SRGMP used. It can be very well deuced that Dikshita being completely aware of this ancient practice having avoided the use of SRGM everywhere would not have deigned to use that just in one place and most likely the notation seen in the SSP is an aberration.
It is very likely that the notation SnSRGMP is a typographical error/printer’s devil at play in the SSP or an error in the pAtham itself as was transmitted, which begs for a correction. Therefore, it is most respectfully submitted that this phrase ought to be rendered as SnSMGMP and NOT as SnSRGMP as given, keeping in view of the fact that SRGM has been consciously avoided everywhere else and it was perhaps how it was composed.
Thus, subject to the above exception we can safely conclude that the Kurinji of Dikshita and which evolved post 1700 was actually an improvisation of the old archaic Kurinji with SRGM being eschewed as well. In the modern version of the Kurinji we have completely forgotten this aspect of SRGM to be avoided.
The prayogas dealt with in the Kurinji as found in “Sri venugopala” are:
- nSRGR -RGMP- GMPD
- n\pSS being the outlier prayoga at “dEhi”
- The use of a dainty phrase MRG\S at “madhu murahara”, skipping the rishabha- in the pallavi.
If SRGM is to be eschewed, SRGR and SMGMRGM can take its place and cannot be generically stated that rishabha and/or gandhara should be vakra. This rule can only be stated negatively as “SRGM cannot occur” and cannot be stated otherwise.
The madhyama kala sahitya perfectly, pithily and unambiguously captures Dikshita’s conception of Kurinji and is the perfect & complete authority for the Kurinji that had evolved post 1700’s, the version truly documented in the SSP, albeit implicitly.
S,S,n – SRS,n – S,MGMG, – RGM,M ||
prAktaya – raNabhIma – pAlitA – rjunabhIma ||
P,DPM – GMP,P – M,GR – GMGGRS ||
pAkaripu – nutarAma – bhakta-yO – ga..ksEma ||
It can be seen that Dikshita has skilfully avoided the SRGM phrase by resorting to SMGMRGMM-PDPM at the juncture of the two jhampa tala avartas.
Discography – “srI vEnugOpAlA”:
There are very many versions of this oft-rendered composition. The version that best tallies with the notation found in the SSP is the one by Vidushi Sumitra Vasudev and I present the same (courtesy Sangeethapriya):
And off-course if one were to learn from this rendering, care should be taken to correctly render “srikara tapO hOma”rendering as SnSMGMP to ensure the consistency ( avoid the inconsistency) that I pointed out earlier.
With this I move on to the next exemplar found in the SSP.
“Siva deeksha paru” – The forgotten oeuvre
The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (SSP) records a few pre-trinity compositions in its main work (excluding the Anubandha) and one such is “Sivadeekshaparu” in Kurinji composed by Ghanam Seenayya. This classic composition, a padam, was very popular a hundred years ago and today barring a few instances of it being performed in dance recitals, the composition is nowhere found rendered on concert platforms.
The composition is recorded in the SSP by Subbarama Dikshita as the second exemplar of Raga Kurinji. From a historical perspective this composition comes from era (early 18th Century AD) when the Saivite and Vaishnavite doctrines of Hindu worship vied with each other to be in royal favour and patronage and the song is reflective of this politico-religious undercurrent. We will evaluate the song in that context as well.
Before we address the composition proper, lets first look at the composer and his times.
Composer of “Sivadeeksha paru” – Ghanam Seenayya:
Subbarama Diksita in his “Vaggeyakara Caritamu” records that Ghanam Seenayya, the composer of this Kurinji composition, was a Vaishnavite and the Chief Minister in the Court of the Nayak King Vijayaranga Cokkanatha (1706-1732 AD). We did refer to this Nayak King of Madurai in the context of the Yamuna Kalyani blog post
Ghanam Seenayya was learned man, very proficient in Sanskrit, Telugu and in music and this is found recorded in Sasanka Vijayam (of Seshamu Venkatapati Kavi). In fact, Subbarama Dikshita quotes a couplet from the said work as authority to state that Ghanam Seenayya composed with the ankita/colophon “mannaru ranga”. According to C R Srinivasa Iyengar (in his book “Indian Dance”- Natya and Nritya) Ghanam Seenayya composed the following padas with the ankita being “mannaru ranga”.
- “Magavaadani” in Durbar
- “Magavadu Valaci” – Neelambari
- “Siva Deeksha paru” – Kurinji
- “Vadevvaro” – Sankarabharanam –https://karnatik.com/c18080.shtml
The same is also echoed in toto by Vidvan Vinjamuri Varaha Narasimha-chari in his article titled “Contribution to the Telugu region to the Dance Art” – JMA (Vol XLV – 1974) pp 200.
The prefix “Ghanam” especially appended to the name of a vocalist/ musician may perhaps be linked to the expertise the person had in the “ghanam” mode of vocalization/singing. In the recent past Ghanam Krishna Iyer is recorded by Dr U Ve Svaminatha Iyer as an exponent and past master in the art of “ghanam” singing though not much detail is know as to what it really meant. Be that as it may given that Subbarama Dikshita has recorded the musical capability of Seenayya, it may well be perhaps that he was adept in this quaint musical art form.
The ankita “mannaruranga” refers to Lord Rajagopala of Mannargudi who was the titular deity of some of the Royal Houses of the medieval Tamil history. During circa 1600-1700 time period, it is seen that the Saivite and Vaishnavite cults had been vying for exclusive royal patronage at the expense of the other. For instance, Venkatamakhin (1620 AD) is said to have composed the Reetigaula gitam “sanka chakkrAnka nAtya ca rE rE” appealing to Lord Mahalingasvami at Madhyarjunam as the King a Vaishnavite acolyte was persecuting followers of Saivism. Apparently, the King Vijayaraghava Nayak of Tanjore, Venkatamakhin’s Royal patron was a staunch Vaishnavite so much so that he exhorted all his subjects to wear the sanka-chakra and other Vaishnavite emblems. Later the King took to bed and suffered stomach pains. Legend has it that he soon thereafter realized his folly and made amends and which is attributed to Venkatamakin’s prayers to Lord Mahalingasvami.
Returning to the subject matter on hand, the times of Nayak King Vijayaranga Chokkanatha of Madurai is captured by Sathianatha Iyer in his classic work “Nayaks of Madura” and according to him during this Nayak’s reign the kingdom seem to have gone into terminal decline. Sathianatha Iyer records that the King was very religious and barring a grant to the temple of Lord Shiva at Tiruvanaikka (Lord Jambukesvara) he seems to have made grants munificently to Vaishnavite temples underlining the fact that he was very favourably disposed towards the Vaishnavite cult.
The setting of the padam “Siva Deeksha” runs thus. The nAyika/heroine is ordained to the worship of Lord Shiva and she happenstance encounters the nayaka/hero who is irresistible and leaves her smitten. The padam attempts to capture her predicament as she is caught between the obligations cast on her because of the ochre she has donned and the craving from her very heart and soul tugging her to the nayaka/hero being none other than “mannaru ranga” or Lord Rajagopala, a vaishnavite God. Should she continue with the rites & duties to be done by her as per the holy order of Shiva worship to which she has been initiated by her Gurus or should she succumb to the call of her heart and allow the nayaka to take her body and soul?
The piece has been a traditional composition much amenable to abhinaya and depiction of a variant of the khandita type of nayika.
From a raga lakshana perspective, the following aspects can be noted:
- The padam composed in the first quarter of the 16th century/early 1700’s is in the modern version of the raga, spanning from mandhara nishada to madhya dhaivatha only. We do not know if it was composed so in circa 1700 AD, for Sahaji (circa 1700 AD) and Tulaja (1732 AD) record Kurinji as being archaic as documented in the SSP.
- Leaving this point as to the originality of the melodic setting of the composition, the notation as provided by Subbarama Dikshita of this composition in the SSP reiterates the point made in “Sri Venugopala” above. The same is bereft of SRGM and only SMGMP or RGMP or SMGMRGMP occurs as the uttaranga ascent phrases.
Thus, given that “Siva Deeksha” too uses only SMGM and not SRGM, can be cited as proof and in support of the assertion that Dikshita too would have followed the same rule and could not have used SRGM at all. Therefore, the SRGM notated in the SSP in one place in the composition “Sri Venugopala” is perhaps an aberration that we need to correct and render as SMGM.
Discography – “siva deeksha”:
I present two renderings of this composition, which are not strictly in line with the SSP but are nevertheless within the confines of the notation provided in SSP and making only reasonable departures from the same.
- Vidushi Nirmala Sundararajan, a disciple of Smt T Brinda and T Mukta presents the same in an AIR Concert (courtesy Sangeethapriya):
- I present the vocal rendering of the song by Vidushi Preethy Mahesh being the audio track of the accompaniment to the dance performance of this song by Smt Priyadarshini Govind, an excerpt of which is available in the public domain. Clip 1 and Clip 2
The second rendering above, made for a dance performance is much richer, slower and improvised reflecting the true content and spirit of the song.
Kurinji in Ramasvami Dikshita’s 108 Raga Tala Malika:
The Anubandha to the SSP also provides the said composition in notation and the 40th khandika or portion of the said composition commencing with the lyric “Sri Parthasarati” set in Kurinji, too does not bear SRGM in its melodic construct. This provides additional evidence that SRGM phrase was to be eschewed in toto in Kurinji.
Vidushi R S Jayalakshmi presented a lecture demonstration of this mammoth composition of Ramsvami Dikshita in the Dec 2014. Here is the Youtube link to the same. The Kurunji portion is demonstrated starting from 1:48:05 onwards.
Kurinji in Subbarama Dikshita’s compositions:
Subbarama Dikshita’s own sancari and his raga malika too feature Kurinji. However his sancari is modelled on the archaic Kurinji and it seems that he has stuck to the old version on the supposed authority of Muddu Venkatamakhin, whom he always mistook for Venkatamakhin himself. It has to be pointed out that Venkatamakhin’s Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP) does not talk about Kurinji and it is only the Anubandha or the compendium / appendix to the CDP authored by Muddu Venkatamakhin circa 1750 AD which talks about Kurinji.
While compositions can be rendered ad nauseum as taught, it is important that we correctly assimilate and imbibe the true spirit, grammar and confines of the raga and the composition. The raga Kurinji is an example in this regard. If one were to go with the public material and not-properly appraised pAthams, the raga’s definition would be wrongly learnt/taught with the raga progression of Kurinji as nSRGMPD/DPMGRSn, whereas as the two exemplar compositions demonstrate that the raga’s progression is nSMGMRGMPD/DPMGRSn, duly disallowing the SRGM as the ancients did in this melody. And hopefully students/learners would take notice of this and properly render these compositions in this raga. And given this rich history of more than 300 plus years Kurinji like its illustrious parent Sankarabharana has stood athwart for centuries!
And in parting I leave readers with a thought. Was and is this raga Kurinji synonymous with Lord Venugopala/Rajagopala/Krishna, for the “nayaka” or the subject/object of all the three compositions found in the SSP (“srimad gOpi nAturE” of Muddu Venkatamakhin, “Sri Venugopala” of Dikshita and “Siva Deeksha” of Ghanam Seenayya) are all coincidentally Lord Krishna?
- Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) – Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini – Republished in Tamil by Madras Music Academy (1977) -Vol IV- Mela 29 Pages 837-842
- Dr Hema Ramanathan (2004) – ‘Ragalakshana Sangraha’- Collection of Raga Descriptions pp 742-746
- Sangita Kalanidhi T V Subba Rao & Dr S R Janakiraman (1993)- “ Ragas of the Sangita Saramruta” – Published by the Madras Music Academy – pp 134-139
- Dr R Sathyanarayana (2010)- “Ragalakshanam” of Sri Muddu Venkatamakhin- Published by IGNCA
- R. Sathianatha Iyer (1924) – “History of the Nayaks of Madura” -pages 223-231
Safe Harbour Statement:
- The renderings used or linked as above in the body of this blog has been made strictly for purposes of education and knowledge under fair use category. The intellectual property belongs to the respective artistes and the same cannot be shared or exploited without their consent.
- I place on record my gratitude to Smt Preethy Mahesh for permitting me to share the vocal rendering of the padam “siva deeksha” as was available in the public domain from where it was sourced.