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(This is the text of a speech I made this weekend at an event celebrating the composers from Karnataka. Throughout the article, the honorifics for all the composers and musicians are not mentioned. This is not to be treated as any mark of disrespect. A link to the speech is also provided at the end. I had to cut some parts while speaking because I was going over time! So the thought of sharing the complete script I made in preparation to the speech is posted here. Also, I have only mentioned a partial list of composers, due to the limitations on time, as well as my awareness)

Good afternoon rasikas.

It’s great feeling to be with the artists and the rasikas, celebrating the vaggeyakaras from Karnataka, here at the Livermore temple. I am sure you have all enjoyed the dance performances and are looking forward for the vocal and Veena performances. I am very pleased to share some of my observations with you all.

The term ‘vaggeyakara’ refers to someone who creates both the mAtu and dhatu, i.e. both the lyrical and musical content of a composition. It encompasses a larger meaning than the English word composer, which normally refers to the creation of the music part only. However, today I may use the word Vaggeyakara and composer somewhat interchangeably.

We can see indications of Indian classical music splitting into two streams by the 13th century.

The split probably started right after the time of Sharngadeva, who wrote his text Sangita Ratnakara. By the time of Pandarika Vithala, around 1600 CE, we can sense the split having been completed, making the two streams quite distinct and distinguishable from each other. The name Karnataka Sangeeta is a more recent entry though. One of the reasons that this stream was called Karnataka sangeeta seems to be the contribution of musicians,scholars and vaggeyakaras hailing from the Karnata samrajya or the Vijayanagara empire.

Throughout India’s history, there have been been different centers of music and culture. The contribution of musicians who hailed from current day Karnataka region is immense. The Vijayanagara kingdom, centered in current day Karnataka was a hub for arts and culture. Performing artists from various places made their way to Vijayanagara to get the royal support.

Sage Vidyaranya, who was instrumental in the establishment of the kingdom, was a musician himself and musicologist of merit. The first indications of classifications of Ragas in to melas (or groups) can be attributed to him. The latter day scholars and performers from Vijayanagara enhanced the textual framework of Vidyaranya. The Kalanidhi vyakhyana to Sangita Ratnakara by Kallinatha, the Swaramela Kalanidhi by his grandson Ramamatya give a good indication about the musical practices during the Vijayanagara times (14th to 16th century).

Music is a performance oriented art where shastra (i.e. theory) follows prayoga (or performance). New experiments happen all the time, and once they are accepted by rasikas, they get codified into texts and treatises. All these shastrakaras (i.e musicologists) could not have existed in vacuum. Those works became necessary to document what was going around them. While Indian classical music is manodharma or improvisation oriented, it is also true they need good compositions to anchor these improvisational ideas.

I wanted to clarify one thing — If the texts seem to come from royal patronage, it does not mean music was limited to royalty , but it only means that their patronage was necessary to write and preserve such works documenting the active music scene in the society of those times. The corpus of musical texts from the 15th/16th century Vijayanagara only confirms us that there was no dearth of performers or composers during this time, and it could not have been a limited royal engagement only.

Back in the 12th century, even before Vidyaranya, we have some indication that at least some vachans of shivasharanas of Karnatala were sung, from the internal evidence from vachanas of Akkamahadevi and Basavanna. But we absolutely have no idea about how they might have been sung. One or two centuries later, almost contemporary to Vidyaranya and Kallinatha, there were a host of Haridasas who revolutionized music as we know it. Unfortunately the original melodic structure of most Haridasa compositions is only known in their skeletal form, and the contemporary renditions of devaranamas are more modeled after much later compositions.

Haridasas introduced a lot of new types of compositions, including the Ugabhoga and Suladi.Starting off with Narahari tirtha, we later had Sripadaraya , Vyasaraya, Purandara dasa, Kanakadasa, Vijayadasa and a host of other haridasas who composed thousands of compositions from the 13th to the 19th century. Although we can’t say for sure, Sripadaraja was probably the first vaggeyakara who thought concepts like Ragamudre (raga signature), and sing a pada as a ragamalika. In a devarnama laali govinda laali, he has 3 charanas that indicate the rajamudra as devagandhara, ananda bhairavi and Kalyani.

The center of Karnataka sangeeta moved from Vijayananagara to Thanjavur after the fall of the empire. The beginning of the Thanjavur tradition can be traced back to Vijayanagara too. Thanjavur was given as a principality to Cevvappa Nayaka by Achyutaraya,the king of Vijayanagara. Ministers of The nayaks of Tanjavur such as Govinda dikshita and his son, the well known Venkatamakhi not only were able administrators but they were also expert musicians and musicologists.

We can easily say Venkatamakhi,who was also a Kannadiga, with his work Chaturdandi prakashika written around 1650 CE, sort of paved the way for new thinking in terms of the creation of new ragas in Karnataka sangeeta. In the 18th century, we know that haridasa compositions were very popular in Thanjavur. It’s well documented that Tyagaraja was very influenced by Purandara dasa’s devaranamas. Knowing that how the Karnataka Sangeeta trimurtis, Tyagaraja, Mudduswami Dikshita and Syama Shastry have influenced our music post 18th century, and the fact that the work of Venkatamakhi was instrumental in setting up them to do what they did with our music, tells a lot about the influence Venkatamakhi on Karnataka Sangeeta as we know it today.

With the taking over of Thanjavur by the British, the cultural hub again shifted to Mysuru. Now the Odeyars of Mysuru, similar to the Nayakas and Bhosales of Thanjavur, were not only patrons of music and arts, they were practitioners themselves. Mummadi Krishnaraja Odeyar himself was a compose of merit. Nalvadi Krishnaraja odeyar was trained in music too. And the last maharaja of mysore, Sri Jayachamaraja Odeyar could be called as the real jewel in the crown of this family. He has composed about a hundred kritis. Taking a cue from the style of Muthuswami Dikshitar in the usage of Samskrta as the medium for lyrics,use of madhyama kala sahitya etc, and on the other side following Tyagaraja in the choice of ragas, and also innovation in trying out unheard melodies, his compositions have become quite popular over the decades.

Of course the courts of Krishnaraja Odeyar and Jayachamaraja odeyar in the first half of 20th century encouraged and hosted a great many composers such as Mysore Vasudevacharya, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, Mysore Sadashivarayar & Veene sheshanna whose compositions are very well known and popular today.The influence of trinity is invariably seen in the compositions during Mysore court.

Even the composition type Javali, apparently came into vogue in the Mysore court post Tippu times. And,  although we normally associate Tyagaraja with the ‘invention’ of the new form of composition we call as kriti these days, almost 120 years before Tyagaraja, a poet called Govinda Vaidya, in one of his Kannada works talks about musicians singing kritis!

Veene Sheshanna (Image taken from Wikipedia)

Apart from them there were other composers like Veena Venkatagiriyappa,Veena Venkatasubbaiah , Veena Shamanna, Veena Subbanna, Bidaram Krishnappa , T Chowdayya, Veena Raja Rao, Belakavadi Srinivasa Iyengar and Veena Shivaramaiah. The last two are notable for having to have composed in all 72 raganga ragas.

By this time, it was the end of Royal Mysore but thankfully the vaggeyakara tradition has continued. N Channakeshvaiah and C Rangaiah, both disciples of Mysore Vasudevacharya composed many varnas, krtis, ragamalikas and tillanas. Sri D Subbaramaiah — and his disciples Smt Vasantha Madhavi and Sri Ramaratnam are both composers of their own merit. Ballari Sheshachar among the Ballari brothers also has many compositions to his credit.

Many current day performing artists hailing from Karnataka such as Nagamani Srinath, RN.Sreelatha and Padmacharan have composed many compositions. Other performers such as Tirumale Srinivas,R K Padmanabha and Nagavalli Nagaraj have set to music many haridasa and others songs. And Sri T K Govindarao, who has composed may of his own compositions as well as has set many haridasa compositions.

At this point we should also remember the Poet Pu Ti Na who was not a performing artist in the conventional sense but has composed many wonderful compositions in his musical plays such as Gokuka Nirgamana. Poet D V Gundappa also has suggested ragas to the poems in his work Antahpura geete, written about the various madanika sculptures in the Beluru temple. However, I am not sure if the complete melodic structure for the songs were suggested by him.

Thankfully, the trend is still continuing. Ashok Madhav, originally from Karnataka, and a long time Pittsburgh resident has composed several hundred compositions. Srikanth Murthy, from Karnataka, currently in UK has to his credit many compositions in Kannada, Tamizh, Samskrta and Sanketi languages. I am also very happy to say that with the encouragement of the artist community in the Bay Area, I have also had the fortune of composing about 40+ compositions, which include Varna, Swarajathi, Tillana, javali and ragamalikas.

When there are such great compositions of past masters, one may ask what’s the need for new compositions. In fact Sangeeta Kalanidhi Sri R K Srikanthan opined when there are hundreds of great compositions of the composers like Tyagaraja, which are not being sung, there was no need of new compositions as such. I am pretty sure many others would share that opinion too. However, I would like to counter that with this samskrta verse of Jagannath pathak.

कियद्वारं क्रौञ्चा इह न निहता व्याधविशिखैः

परं काव्यं रामायणमिदम् इहैक समुदितम् ।

स कर्ता कालोsसौ स च हृदयवान् सा च कविता

समेत्य द्द्योतन्ते यदि वलति वाणीविलसितम् ॥

Since the beginning of time

How many Krauncha birds have been felled by arrows?
But the Ramayana arose only once.

The concoction of time, a soulful poet and his words

With a touch of Vani’s grace

To brew the broth of heady poetry
(English translation by Suhas Mahesh)

What this verse tells about poetry is also true about a music compositions. We just don’t know when the right situations arise, along with the grace of Goddess Saraswathi. Just for a moment, consider what would have happened if Tyagaraja thought there were plenty of good compositions of Purandara Dasa, Ramadasa and Annamayya, and did not make any of his own! Think what would have happened if Balamuralikrishna and Lalgudi Jayaraman thought there were plenty of excellent compositions of the trinity and did not compose any of theirs! So it is all the more desirable to continue the quest for more and music.

I will conclude with a Kannada translation of the very Samskrta verse. I just replace the word KavitA with rachanA, to make it more generic.

ಕೊಂಚೆವಕ್ಕಿಗಳೆನಿತೊ ಸಿಲುಕಿವೆ ಬೇಡ ಹೊಡೆದಿಹ ಬಾಣಕೆ

ಮುಂಚೆ ರಾಮಾಯಣವು ಮಾತ್ರವು ಹುಟ್ಟಿತೊಂದೇ ಬಾರಿಗೆ

ಕೊಂಚ ಕಾಲವು ಒಳ್ಳೆ ಮನಸಿನ ಕವಿಯ ಪದಗಳ ಜೊತೆಯಲಿ

ಸಂಚುಮಾಡಲುಬೇಕು ಸರಸತಿಯೊಡನೆ ಸೊಬಗಿನ ರಚನೆಗೆ

I would like to thank the organizers for giving an opportunity to share a few things with you all. ಎಂದರೋ ಮಹಾನುಭಾವುಲು ಅಂದರಿಕಿ ವಂದನಮುಲು. ನಮಸ್ಕಾರ

You can also listen to the speech ( with a few sections missing from the text) if you prefer to do so:

Audio recording of the speech


Halebeedu is a little town in South Karnataka, famous for it’s twin temple- popularly known by the name Hoysaleshwara temple that enshrines two Shivalingas, called as Hoysaleshwara and Shantaleshwara. The town was the capital of the Hoysala dynasty that ruled parts of Southern Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu from 10th to early 14th century AD.

The old name of the town was Dorasamudra (ದೋರಸಮುದ್ರ / दोरसमुद्र). Although popular legend says the name came because of the enormous man made lake (tank) at the entry of the town (ದ್ವಾರ,dwAra), inscription evidence seems to point in another direction. The lake is actually from pre-Hoysala times, and was erected during the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva‘s reign. Dhruva is referred to as Dora (ದೋರ) in many inscriptions. The lake erected by King Dora was naturally called Dorasamudra. The name seems to gone out of vogue, and this place is known as Halebeedu (Old Place, literally). Right now it is not on the UNESCO list of places of world heritage, but  may be nominated to the list soon.  I consider this to be one of the Seven Wonders of India, nothing less!  The temples are maintained rather nicely by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).


However, we don’t see any relics of Rashtrakuta times in Halebeedu today. Inscriptions have long gone into some museums! But luckily we are left with several temples of the Hoysala times of which Hoysaleshwara is the largest and grandest. It is quite natural being the capital of the Hoysala country that this site was selected for this magnificent temple.  The temple is said to have been damaged during Malik Kafur’s invasion in the year 1313AD.  In spite of the damage, it is still the best Hoysala temple, and probably one of the best temple in terms of architecture.

Oh well, today I’m not writing much about the temple architecture – but would focus on the musicians of Halebeedu.  The town being close to my hometown, I have visited this place several times and when I was looking at one of the pictures taken during a visit few years earlier, I was surprised to see a specific type of musical instrument in there and was rather intrigued by the looks of it.  I wasn’t sure if the picture I had was one of the mutilated sculpture, and hence I could not come to any conclusion  based on the picture. So when I revisited the temple few months ago, I made it a point to look at all those instruments and musicians from Halebeedu carefully.

Many of the sculptures that we find on the temple walls are of various Gods and Goddesses – and there are many that depict earthly, regular performing musicians. Hence we can make many inferences about the types of musical instruments being played in South India during those times.  Of course, we have descriptions of various musical instruments in different texts of those times, but a visual representation is much better than a text describing anything , Right?

Here you can see a sculpture of Saraswathi – the Goddess of learning. She is normally depicted in a sitting posture, playing a Veena. Veena is a generic term for string instruments and there are different types of Veenas depending on their structure. In this sculpture,  you can clearly see how Saraswathi is using the middle and the ring fingers on her right hand to pluck the strings and the fingers of the left hand to play on the fingerboard – which are true to this day on several Veenas in vogue.  Due to the angle, we can’t see whether the fingerboard has frets or not. All this very well matches with how a Sitar or Saraswathi Veena is played today ( discounting the fact that these days Saraswathi Veena is played more laying flat rather than being at an angle), but for one important difference. I’ll come to that point when I comment about another sculpture down below. Oh, I forgot to mention that Saraswathi Veena is one of the types of Veenas played today. Other Veenas include instruments such as Sitar, Rudra Veena, Chitra Veena (also called Vichitra Veena) and Mohan Veena ( actually a modified sliding guitar).


I’m not sure if the following picture depicts an earthly musician or a celestial one, but you can seem him playing a Dhakka  or a Muraja (a  Damaru-like drum instrument). Anyone who has heard any of DVG’s songs on the beauties at the Belur temple ( another Hoysala marvel, I should say) would definitely recall the song ‘naTanavADidaL taruNi’ (ನಟನವಾಡಿದಳ್ ತರುಣಿ ) about the sculpture called murajAmOde (ಮುರಜಾಮೋದೆ ) refers to a danseuse playing this drum in one of the charaNas.   This instrument is used even now with Kathakali music, in Kerala  and it is called by the name Idakka . (I got this reference from my good friend Sankaranarayanan, Thanks Sankara!)   The way the instrument is held by the player in the sculpture almost matches with how the Idakka  is played these days. The sculpture is so life-like that you fail to notice that it is made of stone, can easliy take the  twisted ropes to be real!


Now the following brings a few important points – Most Hoysala  temples are built on a multiple-point star patterned basement.  This type of structure provides a very large surface area for a given size of the temple.  Apparently individual sculptures were made elsewhere, probably at the sculptor’s workshops and were set in place at the right places in temple walls.  Here is one such corner where you see a musician ensemble.  The lady on the left is playing a Veena , this time held in a different positon. It is now in a vertical position and you can see the frets clearly. This matches with the position how the Veena was played even as late as early 18th century.  Indeed the construction of  RudraVeena  and the way it is held while playing today, almost matches with what is depicted in here, although the resonator in the sculpture seems to be much smaller than what’s used in these days. The lady on the right is playing a Dhakka – So together they form an ensemble, may be supporting a dancer.  Incidentally, on the left side you can see part of another sculpture, which I take it to be a form of Shiva, or a gaNa of Shiva – which also holds a real Damaru, which you can notice is much smaller than the Dhakka,  in it’s hand.


Here is another Veena player.  The fret-board is depicted very clearly.  The way she holds her instrument is very similar to how a Sitar player holds the instrument. Click here to see a picture of maestro Pandit Ravishankar playing his Sitar.  Are you surprised?

Another thing I noticed in the Veena in this sculpture and Saraswathi’s sculpture earlier in this post is that the resonator is not seen at all. Now, how such an instrument would sound? I have no clue, but may be I’m missing something.


Here is another interesting instrument. This is called the Naga Veena. Notice the snake like end of the instrument that gives its name. But notice the right hand of the player.  He seems to be using a bow of some sort, effectively making it somewhat like a violin. We know that the violin as used in Indian music today was due to Western influence during the early 18th century at Fort St George. But this instrument tells us although the form of Violin may have been new for Indian music, the structure and concept were not.


The following group of sculptures may represent performing musicians of Hoysala times, accompanying a dance.   One of them is playing a bell, essential for providing the dance syllables, one is playing a damaru providing the rhythm and one is seen playing the flute, which might have been the oldest musical instrument, not only in India, but for the whole mankind.


With that, let me stop my rant and let you take a good look at these beautiful sculptures once again –  Don’t you agree temples such as these are indeed time-capsules of history that help us recreate and appreciate history?


Time moves very fast.

Really? Not true, since we know that the earth is revolving around the Sun at a steady rate (for all practical purposes, that is!). So it is all in our perception of time.

Whatever the facts are, one more year has passed really fast for ‘ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ’. Today, ’ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ’ is stepping into the third year after finishing two years. I can still recall me writing the very first post on this weblog, and the post when the blog turned one year, as if it happened yesterday!

It’s been a good year for ’ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ’ so far. The very first image at the top of this blog was from the navaranga, inside the temple in Halebeedu, I thought it would be apt to change the image to another view of the Hoysaleshwara temple on it’s second birthday too.

Thanks for coming by ’ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ’!



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ಅವಧಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹೀಗಂದರು:

"ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ…ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಬಂದೆ ಸುಮ್ಮನೆ… ಎಂಬ ಘೋಷ ವಾಕ್ಯದೊಂದಿಗೆ ಬ್ಲಾಗ್ ಮಂಡಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಣಿಸಿಕೊಂಡವರು ನೀಲಾಂಜನ. ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ ಕನ್ನಡದ ಪರಿಮಳವನ್ನು ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಷ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಹರಡುತ್ತಾ ಇದೆ. ಕನ್ನಡದ ವಚನಗಳು, ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತ ಸುಭಾಷಿತಗಳು ಜೊತೆಯಲ್ಲೇ ಸಂಗೀತ ಹೀಗೆ ಹಲವು ಲೋಕವನ್ನು ಈ ಬ್ಲಾಗ್ ಪರಿಚಯಿಸಿದೆ." ಅವಧಿ, ಮೇ ೧೫, ೨೦೦೮

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