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October 8th, 2010 is the first day of Navaratri of this year. Navaratri signifies the conquest of the evil by the good. In the old Mysore region of Karnataka, Navaratri has been celebrated as a state festival for several centuries. Things such as the doll displays at homes, and music concerts at temples make this festival make it more of a celebration than a mere ritual.
Thiruvananthapuram is another city known for it’s special celebration of Navaratri. The music festival at the Navartri Mandapam, next to the Padmanabhaswamy temple is unique, for its adherence to some traditional practices such as lighting up the place only with traditional oil lamps. During this festival, each night one composition from the Navaratri Kriti series of Maharaja Swathi Tirunal is rendered as the main item in the concert here at Navaratri Mandapam.
The kriti sung during the concert on first day of Navaratri at Navaratri Mandapam is “dEvi jagajjanani” in Shankarabharana rAga. Listen to this composition here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCqZN8p4kFg
Since various forms of dEvi are worshipped during Navaratri, listening to a composition or two that praise some form of dEvi each day, and writing a few lines about it during this Navaratri would not be a bad idea. So, here I go!
For the first day, my choice is Tyagaraja’s composition in Kalyani, “Sundari nee divya roopamunu”. Tyagaraja lived in Tiruvayyaru, near Tanjavoor in central part of today’s Tamizh Nadu. He visited Chennapattanam (today’s Chennai) on his desciple Veena Kuppaiyars invitation. During his stay at Chennapattinam, he visited the shrine of Tripurasundari at Tiruvottriyur (now in the northern part of Chennai). Tyagaraja composed five compositions on Goddess Tripurasundari at this shrine, which go by the name ‘Tiruvottriyur Pancharatna’. This Kalyani composition is one of this set.
Kalyani raga came into Karnataka sangeetha sometime during early 15th century, but somehow it did not make it’s deep mark felt for quite sometime. Haridasas of Karnataka (~1400 - ~1600 AD) have mentioned Kalyani raga by name in their compositions. However lakshanakAra Venkatamakhi (~1650 AD) says Kalyani is not fit for composing geeta or thaaya and says the rAga is liked by “Turushka”s indicating it’s relation with uttaraadi and Persian music.
However Kalyani took firm roots in Karnataka sangeetha and became the darling of many composers of later days. Tyagaraja has composed more than 30 kritis in Kalyani, of which Sundari nee is a very fine specimen. The composition is set to Adi tAla, and the sAhitya is in Telugu. Tyagaraja compares his opportunity to see Goddess Tripurasundari to a poor and distraught man begetting a fortune.
Now for a fabulous rendition of this composition, by none other than the mastero Balamuralikrishna:
Tomorrow, hopefully I’ll be back with some ramble about another composition!
Although raagas are said to be infinite (ananta), the fact is that at any point in history of music, only a few scores of raagas are popular. Although composers like Tyagaraja and Muttuswami Dikshita composed in well known and less known raagas of their times, it is a fact that all compositions are not created equal, and all raagas are not inherently equal in their scope of treatment.
If you have visited some of the internet fora on Karnataka sangeetha, you might be familiar with the term “Big Five”. I don’t know the origin of this terminology but looks like it is in vogue at least for the last couple of decades when folks on Internet discussion boards starred discussing south Indian music.
“Big Five” refers to five important raagas of Karnataka Sangeeta: tODi, bhairavi, kAmbhOji, Shankarabharana and Kalyani. Although not a rule, almost every good concert has at least one (if not more) of these five raagasa treated in detail. The first of the “Big Five” is tODi – when we go along the order of their position in the 72 mELakartha scheme that is in vogue today.
Todi of Karnataka sangeetha is a very specialized melody which has no parallels either in hindustani music or in other melodic music systems of the world. The elongated oscillations (kampita) on gAndhara, and nishAda in this rAga are the key signatures of this raaga. Now it is considered a sampoorna raaga, taking all seven notes both in ascent and descent – but several special phrases skip shadja and/or panchama.
Interestingly enough, a century or two before, panchama was almost always skipped, and gandhara and nishada were rendered somewhat plain compared to their treatment today. Sometimes, this version of the raaga now goes by the name “shuddha tOdi”.
Now, here is a wonderful example of Todi – a geete that tells the story of Ramayana – sung by Sri Neyveli Santana Gopalan (Courtesy Sangeethapriya.org). Images and artwork – various Internet sources.
A geete is generally a beginner lesson, that is taught to students when they are being introduced to different raagas. Todi, being what it is, the geete is also sufficiently involved :), but a very good introduction to “the first of the Big Five” I’d say!
The first name that comes to mind when I hear the phrase ‘Vivaadi Raga’ it is that of Sri S Rajam who passed away last week. He was best known for very aesthetic renditions of ‘vivaadi ragas’ (so-called dissonant melodies) which need a very balanced and delicate handling- making him no doubt the ‘King of Vivaadi’.
Sri S Rajam will be remembered for his mastery over paintings. In fact, we can surely say he was the one who ‘brought to life’ composers like Tyagaraja by his paintings!
Here is a slide show I put together – with some of his paintings (all taken from the internet) and in the background, listen to a rendering Muttuswami Dikshita‘s composition ‘kalAvati kamalAsana yuvati’ in rAga kalAvati, (One of the vivAdi-est of vivAdi ragas, so to say!) by, who else, Sri S Rajam.
Thanks to the good folks of http://www.guruguha.org from where I got this beautiful rendition several years ago.
Click here for the sAhitya of the song. Notice how Muttuswamy Dikshita refers Saraswathi as ‘murAri snushA’ – daughter-in-law of Vishnu. Reminds me of Purandara Dasa’s composition on Saraswathi- SharaNembe vANi poreye kalyANi where he refers to Saraswati in a similar way. Now, these comparisons could be the topic for another post, and I’ll stop right here!
Whoever named raaga Hamsadhwani probably did not pay attention to the facts that Swans do not have an attractive voice! Take a look at the following videos to hear how exactly swans sound! Not very melodious!
But one good thing about raga Hamsadhwani is that unlike many ragas, its history can be traced quite accurately.
Ramaswamy Dikshita (1735AD-1817AD), father of Muttuswamy Dikshita is credited with the creation of this pentatonic raaga. However, this may be partly true. The Ragalakshana appendix to Chaturdandi Prakashike mentions Hamsadwani. Although the main text of Chaturdandi was composed by Venkatamakhi (~1650 AD), the Ragalakshana appendix was added by is grand-nephew Muddu Venkatamuchi couple of generations after Venkatamakhi. He describes Hamsadwhani as a pentatonic raga, born of Shankarabharana mEla omitting ma and da. (S R G P N S – S N P G R S). The current form of Hamsadwani is exactly the same.
This brings the time when Hamsadhwani first appeared around the beginning of 18th century. It is likely that Ramaswamy Dikshita was one of the early composers who popularized it, and hence the credit that goes in his name.I wonder why it took as late as 18th century to come up with this very attractive pentatonic scale. However, once it became popular, there was no going back!
18th century composers Tyagaraja and Muttuswamy Dikshita, each comosed two compositions in this raga. It can be safely said that the composition Vatapi Ganapatim Bhajesham of Muttuswamy Dikshita is the most famous composition in this raga. Listen to Dr M.Balamuralikrishna singing this compositon.
With this composition, Hamsadhwani raga became a natural associate of Ganapati, and there are a number of nice compositions in this raga with Ganapati as the theme. Vandenishamaham of Mysore Vasudevacharya, Gam Ganapate of Muttaiyya Bhagavatar, Vara Vallabha Ramana of GNB, Gajavadana Beduve of Purandara Dasa – all these come to mind. Listen here to – Gam Ganapate of Muttaiah Bhagavatar – This is from a concert here in the bay area (Veena-Jyothi Chetan; Mridanga- Ramesh Srinivasan)
During the 20th century saw many raagas from Karnataka sangeetha were adapted to Hindustani. How could they leave out a very appealing raaga like Hamsadhwani? Not only did they adapt the melody, but also the popular composition Vatapi Ganapatim Bhajeham!
Listen here to Rashid Khan, who sings a beautiful Alap followed by “laagi lagan”. You can’t miss the similarity to Vatapi Ganapatim Bhajeham.
For whatever reason, Hamsadhwani does not seem to have inspired kannada film music composers as much as some other raagas have. I can just think of a few Kannada film songs – ಇನ್ನು ಗ್ಯಾರಂಟಿ from ನಂಜುಂಡಿ ಕಲ್ಯಾಣ and ಮೀನಾಕ್ಿ ನಿನ್ನ from ರಣಧೀರ. If you are aware of any other songs, post a comment.