The Mystery about Kambhoji -Part 1
Kambhoji is a purva prasiddha raga of yore which has ornamented Carnatic music for ages. There are many beautiful compositions adorning this raga. Sometime ago I happened to study some of musicological books to understand Kambhoji’s raga lakshana and its evolution, in the context of the earlier blog post on Pallavi Gopala Iyer.,which is when I was struck by a mention in the Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini ¹, under Kambhoji (Pages 671 & 672 – Vol III of the 2006 Tamil edition as published by the Music Academy) that according to Venkatamakhi, madhyama & nishada are varjya in the arohana ! Confounded, I did a deep dive and so one thing led to another. Thus this blog post is about 2 points:
- Kambhoji’s is not a linear scale to be given just as SRGMPDS/SNDPMGRS. Rather it is/was SRMGPDS/SNDPMGRS. The madhyama and gandhara svaras are vakra and the lineal progression SRGMP is very very rare or was even totally eschewed in olden times.
- The kakali nishada(N3) is very alpa/rare in usage and is probably a post 1800 development. N3 appears more as an anusvara of the tara sadja during a direct descent to the pancama. In other words, in modern parlance, Kambhoji was upanga & not bashanga. Even today a complete Kambhoji can be presented without using N3.
Another related aspect is the way purva prasiddha ragas like Kambhoji, must be understood and sung. It is my understanding that these ragas ( other examples are Sankarabharanam, Bhairavi, Samantha etc) are not bound by the conventions and strictures that abound in today’s modern musicology. For example they cannot be delineated and understood by just an arohana/avarohana or by mere linear progressions of notes as demanded by the Melakarta scheme.
Kambhoji – A Quick Primer:
As on date, there is a complete consensus on the melodic structure of Kambhoji amongst all musicologists and musicians. Its attributes in the conventional current day parlance can be summarized as:
- It is a shadava sampurna raga. S R G M P D S/ S N D P M G R S is the arohana and avarohana under the Kedaragaula/Harikambodhi raganga/mela, with kakali nishada (N3) as anya/bashanga svara which appears in sancaras such as SN3PDS, N3PDS where ” is the downward glide or jaaru gamaka.
- A rakthi raga par excellence, Kambhoji has been found in the Tamil pann system as well, known as “Takkesi”.
- Kambhoji is famous in musicology for an altogether different reason. Venkatamakhi went hammer and tongs at Ramamatya for his having said in the Svaramelakalanidhi that Kambhoji sported only the kakali nishada.
An analysis of the raga & its compositions can be found in the following link:
Vidushi Seetha Narayanan provides a performer’s perspective of this magnificent raga:
A historical perspective of Kambhoji can be glimpsed here:
For this blog post let’s first look at what Kambhoji was till circa 1750 the notional cut-off year by which perhaps the asampurna mela scheme must have been formulated by Muddu Venkatamakhi/Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitar.
LAKSHANA OF KAMBHOJI – PRE 1750:
The following musical texts can be examined in this regard:
- Govinda Dikshitar’s Sangita Sudha (SS) – Circa 1600
- Venkatamakhi’s Caturdandi Prakashika (CDP)- Circa 1650
- Shahaji’s Ragalakshanamu (RL)- Circa 1700
- Tulaja’s Saramrutha (SM)- Circa 1735
The analysis of the above musical texts in relation to Kambhoji can be summarized as :
Govinda Dikshitar in the SS says Kambhoji sports the Kaishiki nishada.²
In his seminal work CDP, Venkatamakhi the son of Govinda Dikshitar has this to say as Kambhoji’s raga lakshana:²
“Kambhoji ragah sampurnopyarohe ma ni vakritah”
(Vide Shloka 70 & 71, Raga Chapter, Caturdandi Prakashika (Sanskrit) – Edited by Pandit Subramanya Shastri and published by Music Academy)
The key operative words thus are ‘ma ni vakritah’, meaning madhyama and nishada are vakra in the arohana.
Shahaji in his “Ragalakshanamu” has this to say about Kambhoji:
Ma and Ni are varja in the arohana. It is a basha (raga) of Kakubha with shadja as graha/amsa/nyasa and to be rendered in the evenings. For the sake of rakti however Ma appears in some arohana phrases.³
King Tulaja mentions Kambhoji as one of his 21 melas and says that Kambhoji is described as “Ma Ni varjarohaniyam”- i.e Ma and Ni are varja in the aroha phrases and his illustrative murcchanas for Kambhoji are devoid of a linear RGMP, echoing Venkatamakhi’s stated position in the CDP. Also he does not mention usage of kakali nishada- alpa or otherwise.²
In the context of the above discussion, a few points need to be clarified:
- The Anubandha to the CDP as well as the lakshana shloka that Subbarama Dikshitar gives as Venkatamakhi’s in his SSP are considered as post 1750 works attributable to Venkatamakhi’s great grandson Muddu Venkatamakhi/Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitar. What has been considered above is the shloka found in the CDP as edited by Pandit Subramanya Sastrigal & published in Sanskrit. As we will see latter, the CDP’s Anubandha as well the shloka found in the SSP varies from what was actually said by Venkatamakhi in the original CDP.
- The usage of the term “Sampurna” in older texts signifies a meaning slightly different from what it connotes today. In older times, a raga was considered sampurna if the seven svaras occurred in the raga’s murcchanas or in other words either in the arohana or avarohana. ³
- Similar to the usage and connotation of the term ‘sampurna’ as above, terminologies like raganga, bashanga, kriyanga & upanga meant something else in older days. Thus if Shahaji says Kambhoji was a bhasha of Kakubha, it meant that Kambhoji resembled or had the cchaya of that bhasha. In turn the bhasha raga is a melodic extension or elaboration of a grama raga.³
Now the pre 1750 position of Kambhoji can be summarized as:
- Madhyama was vakra or varja in aroha phrases and Ni was varja. Or in other words the purvanga portions of the raga’s murcchanas didn’t have the lineal SRGMPDS at all.
- The nishada of Kambhoji was undoubtedly kaishiki only and kakali nishada was not used at all.
As pointed out earlier, Venkatamakhi in his CDP had castigated Ramamatya in severe terms for his having documented in the Svaramelakalanidhi that Kambhoji sported the kakali nishada.² We have no means of going into that controversy as it may truly have been so & in that period between Ramamatya and Venkatamakhi ( ~100 years), Kambhoji’s nishada might have morphed. Or it could also be the case of printer’s devil or rather copyist devil.
LAKSHANA OF KAMBHOJI – POST 1750:
For this time period namely 1750-1900 the following music texts can be considered:
- The Anubandha to the CDP as edited & published by the Music Academy
- Sangraha Cudamani of Govindacarya again as edited & published by the Music Academy
- Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini
ANUBANDHA TO CDP (CIRCA 1750):
The lakshana shloka for Kambhoji found in the Anubandha to the CDP (attributable to Muddu Venkatamakhi) defines Kambhoji thus: ²
“Kambhoji ragascharohe gani varjitah”
While the recital in the original CDP goes as “Ma Ni Vakritah”, the anubandha shloka talks of Kambhoji being “Ga Ni varjitah”! Was it by chance “Ma Ni varjitah” & probably some copyist erred in reproducing it? Again we will never know for sure. And so this confusion is there, etched in history for ever! Also there is no mention of usage of kakali nishada in this shloka.
We need to consider this shloka in the light of the lakshana gitam for Kambhoji composed by Muddu Venkatamakhi which is given by Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP. In this gitam we can notice that in line with the lakshana shloka found, the gitam does not have SRGM phrase at all. It is SRMG only. In fact the gitam starts off with the murcchana ndSRMGR.¹
Interestingly Subbarama Dikshitar provides us a shloka in SSP attributing it to Venkatamakhi which is aligned to the Anubandha, but gives an extra line of verse to the effect that kakali nishada can be “appropriately” used in Kambhoji.¹
Kambhoji ragah sampurnah carohe gani vakritah |
Nishadah kakaliyuktah kvacit sthane prayujyathe ||
So according to Muddu Venkatamakhi (the author of the CDP Anubandha ) Ga and Ni are vakra in aroha phrases. And now per the SSP version of the shloka kakali nishada also appears appropriately in Kambhoji !
Subbarama Dikshitar in his SSP commentary skirts the issue. He says that the murcchana arohana/avarohana is SRGMPDNDS/SNDPMGRS. His representation gives the workaround for the nishada varja definition but none for M1 which appear as a straightforward sequential svara in the arohana as SRGMP. Also in all fairness, Subbarama Dikshitar to keep the record straight makes the reference to Venkatamakhi’s definition (in the CDP) of madhyama being varja in the arohana, but he does not develop/dwell on it further much to our disappointment.
So for us the other interesting aspect is the second added line (not found in the CDP Anubandha) which talks of Kambhoji also sporting kakali nishada and thus becoming bhashanga in modern day terms. We have no clue as to Subbarama Dikshitar’s source for this ‘modified’ shloka with the extra line pertaining to usage of kakali nishada. But nevertheless, it provides documented authority for us, for the first time in Kambhoji’s musical history, that kakali nishada is used in its sancaras, laying the foundation for modern day Kambhoji.
SANGRAHA CUDAMANI- CIRCA -18th/19th CE :
Moving over to Govinda’s Sangraha Cudamani , this is what he has to say of Kambhoji’s raga lakshana:²
Catushruti rishaba antara gandhara catushruthi dhaivatha svara kaishiki nishada |
Itara suddha aroha ni varjitha avaroha sampurna sa grahanyasamsa truputa yukta |
Harikambhoji mela janita Kambhoji ragah ||
Govinda’s enunciation of Kambhoji’s raga lakshana is clear as to nishada alone being vakra and again there is no mention of kakali nishada being used. Given the facts we have today, it wouldn’t be far from truth if we were to state that the modern day Kambhoji has its roots in the lakshana as propounded by Subbarama Dikshitar.
(To be continued)