Well, this post is going to be musical. And a little technical. And a little more historical too. But I hope this confession does not drive you away from reading the rest of the post and listening to some great tracks!
The origin of names of raagas used in Indian music are quite interesting. While some names of the raagas have existed for centuries, the melodies have changed from what they were centuries ago. On the other hand, some melodies have retained their structure for several centuries, while the name with which they are known has changed over time.
The 18th century was a time of rapid influx of raagas in Karnataka sangeetha. Thanks to Tyagaraja’s compositions, a great many new ragas were added to the grammar of karnataka sangeetha. Around the same time, Muttuswamy Dikshita, another great composer tried to resurrect some raagas that were gone out of practice, and confined to only textual description. Some of the confusions in raaga names today can be traced back to the different approach used by the two composers, and the way how their work was preserved by their lineage.
Before going into the details, let’s listen to a beautiful composition by Tyagaraja, played on the Veena by Sri Ramavarma – Appa! Ramabhaktiyento:
If you noticed that I did not mention the raga of the composition as it is customarily done, there is a good reason for that. The raga of this composition goes by the name of Pantuvaraali in some geographical parts of south India, and by the name Kamavardhini in others. I try to address the duality of this raaga name in this post. By the way, none of this is my original research! I am trying to summarize stuff that I have come to know over the years of listening to music, and reading about it, with some of my thoughts added to it.
At least from the 16th century, three prati madhyama raagas have been described in musical treatises – Varali, Ramakriya and Pantuvarali, which differed from each other in one swara (gAndhAra) only. Varali had the lowest gAndhAra (so called ‘Shuddha gAndhAra), Pantuvarali had the next higher variation of the note (so called ‘sAdhAraNa gAndhAra) and Ramakriya had the highest of the gAndhAras (the variation that goes by the name of ‘antara’ gAndhAra now).
Ramamatya (1550 AD) , in his SwaramELakalAnidhi, he defines “Shuddha Ramakriya” mELa as follows.
शुद्धाः सरिपधाश्चैव च्युत पंचम मध्यमः ।
च्युत मध्यम गानधारश्च्युत षड्जनिषादकः ॥
Translation: (Shuddha rAmakriya mELa has the following notes) – The Shuddha variety of Sa, Ri, Pa and Da; The madhyama that has fallen from Panchama (This was how the current prati-madhyama was referred to then); The gAndhAra that has fallen from Madhyama (Again, this was how the note that we call as “antara” gAndhAra was known at that time), and nishAda that has fallen from Shadja (Same explanation as the earlier two!)
He defines the mELa Shuddha varALi as below:
शुद्धाः सरिपधा यत्र शुद्ध गानधार सन्ञ्जितः ।
च्युत षड्ज निषादोपि च्युत पञ्चम मध्यमः ॥
Translation: (Shuddha varALi mELa has) the shuddha variety of Sa, Ri, Pa, Da; And also the Gandhara of Shuddha varaiety, along with the Nishada fallen from Shadja and the Madhyama that has fallen from Panchama.
Ramamatya does not refer to either a Raga or mELa named Pantu-varALi though.
A century later, Venkatamakhi (~1650AD) defines all the three mELas in his ChaturdanDi prakashikA.
He defines Shuddha VarAli with the following notes, and specifies that it is the 39th mELa in his scheme of 72 mELas.
वरालीमध्यमश्चाथ काकल्यख्यनिषादकः ।
शषा शुद्धस्वराः शुद्धराली मेलसञ्जकः ।।
Translation: The mELa called Shuddha varALi has varALI madhyama (this is how Venkatamakhi terms the ‘prati’ madhyama), kAkali nishAda and the rest all are shuddha swaras.
He defines pantuvarALi as the 45th mELa of his scheme, with the following description:
षड्जः शुद्धर्षभः साधारण गान्धार सङ्ञकः वराली मध्यमश्चैव शुद्धो पञ्चम धैवतौ ।
काकल्याख्य निषादश्चेत्येतावत्स्वर संभवः मेलः पन्तुवराल्याख्यो रागश्च परिकीर्तितः ॥
Translation: The mEla of the Raga PantuvaAli, takes Shadja, Shuddha Rishabha, the gAndhAra of sAdhAraNa variety, varALI madhyama, Shuddha panchama, Shuddha dhaivata ,kAkali nishAda and antara gAndhAra.
And, finally he defines Shuddha Ramakriya mELa as below:
षश्जः शुद्धर्षभ्श्चैव गान्धारोन्तर नामकः वराळीमध्यमश्चथ शुदधो पञ्चम धैवतौ ।
काकल्याख्य निषादश्चेत्येतत्सप्तस्वरोदितः शुदधरामक्रियानाम रागमेलोस्यमुच्यते ॥
Translation: The mELa of Raga Shudda Ramakriya has the following seven notes - ShaDaja, Shudda Rishabha, gAndhAra of the type antara, Shuddha panchama, Shuddha Dhaivata, and the kAkali variety of Nishada.
From these descriptions, it pretty clear that the distinction between the notes taken by the rAgas of the triad is in the gAndhAra. Going from the lowest to highest. Varali (sometimes also called Shuddha varAli) takes the lowest gAndhara. Pantuvarali takes the sAdhAraNa gAndhAra and Ramakriya (also called Shuddha Ramakriya) takes the highest, antara gAndhAra variety.
A number of popular compositions of Tyagaraja are in the rAga that is called “Pantuvarali” in Tamizh Nadu, and Kamavardhani in Kanrataka & Andhra traditions – For example, I can cite the excellent “Appa Ramabhakti” (which you see a clip in this post) and other kritis such as ninnE neranammi nAnurA, vadamadyuti shObhAne , raghuvara nannu, vAdera daivamu manasa, Siva Siva Siva enarada, Shambho mahAdEva etc which are also very well known. Note that all these are compositions are sung with antara gAndhAra swara, and not with sAdhAraNa gAndhAra. But according to the definitions in Venkatamakhi or Ramamatya, this rAga should have been Ramakriya (or Shuddha Ramakriya, if you care) and not Pantuvarali!
For the Andhra and Karnataka traditions of calling it Kamavardhini, there is a good reason. In the Kanakangi-Ratnangi system of nomenclature of mELa rAgas, the 51st spot (once occupied by Ramakriya) is occupied by the name Kamavardhini. Since Tyagaraja used the names from this scheme for his compositions, it is quite rationale to call the rAga of these compositions as Kamavardhiani.
But there is are couple of complications. The manuscripts of Tyagaraja’s compositions list mostly the names from the Kanakangi- Ratnagi scheme when it comes to mEla rAga kritis. But these so called “Kamavardhini” kritis are actually listed in most manuscripts as Pantuvarali! If Tyagaraja went by his general scheme, they should have been listed as Kamavardhini. If for some reason, the old scheme of naming was used by the scribe, they should have been listed as in “Ramakriya” or Shuddha Ramakriya.
Also, if I recall correctly, one of the compositions, ennALLu yUrake, that is listed as in Pantuvarali, is now sung in Shubha Pantuvarali:
What does this imply? Now let’s take a step back. For most mELa rAgas that existed before the Kanakangi-Ratnangi nomenclature came to existence, it is a common practice to drop the kaTapayAdi prefix when referring to the rAga names. The Raga Kalyani is normally never referred to as “mEcha” kalyANi, or ShankarAbharaNa is not referred to as “dhIra” shankarAbharaNa or varALi is not commonly called as “jhAla” varALi. That is to say, the KatapayAdi prefixes that were added to give the number are generally dropped. It is a different situation for rAgas that came in later – such as Chakravaka or Kharaharapriya or Charukeshi. In those cases, the kaTapa prefix is part of the rAga name.
So, if mEcha kalyANi (or Shanta Kalyani) is Kalyani and Hanuma Todi (or Jana Todi), then what is Pantuvarali? It has to be Shubha Pantuvarali (or Siva Pantuvarali, if you prefer).
It is argued by several scholars that the compositions that are listed under “pantuvarALi” in manuscripts were originally composed in the rAga Shubhapantuvarali by Tyagaraja. Then somewhere down the line, some musicians of his lineage started singing many of these compositions with Antara Gandhara, instead of Sadharana Gandhara note (that is part of Pantuvarali). By doing that the rAga was changed to Ramakriya or Kamavardhini. However, the practice of calling the rAga of these compositions as Pantuvarali continued in the Tamizh region.
Probably by the time these compositions spread to Andhra and Karnataka regions, the Kanakangi – Ratnangi naming system had become quite well known. Therefore, musicians there must have mapped the rAga of these compositions with Antara gAndhara as belonging to the 51st mELa, i.e Kamavardhini.
So now, if you are referring to these compositions as Kritis in Pantuvarali Raga, are you wrong? Well, mostly. Raagas have changed names over time, and/or changed their structure as well. In today’s context, these compositions of Tyagaraja in the 51st mELa would be better if termed as being in Kamavardhini, rather than in Pantuvarali. We have seen that happen in other instances of compositions of Tyagaraja. For example, compositions in the rAga what he called “Lalita” (eTla dorakitivo, seetamma mAyamma), are now mostly referred to as kritis in rAga “Vasanta”, as per today’s lakshaNa of the rAga.
Muttuswamy Dikshita, on the other hand used the Kanakambari – Phenadyuti system of naming the mELa rAgas proposed by Muddu Venkatamakhi. Thankfully he has also woven the rAga names into the compositions – So we have the rAgas varALi ( mANikya vallarI pANi madhura vANi varALi vENi, in mAmava mInAkshi), Ramakriya ( nArI yOnimukhAsvAdanE nagna RamakriyA mOdanE, in ucchishTagaNapatou), and (Shiva) PantuvarAli, (Shiva pantuvrALi rAga priyam ati chaturam, in Pashuapteeshwaram pranoumi satatam ) ragas well documented. However, the name Ramakriya has almost totally gone out of vogue and is either replaced by Kamavardhini (somewhat correct) or by Pantuvarali ( very wrong, IMO).
I’ll end this post with a short but beautiful rendering of (Shubha) Pantuvarali by Vidushi Nagavalli Nagaraj. The track begins around 1:45 minute mark:
Final titbit: Venkatamakhi in the 17th century wrote the Raga Pantuvaraali was liked be common folk, but not fit for musical compositions!