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Around this time every year, I have made a post about Tyagaraja. He was born in the town of Tiruvaroor on May 4th, 1767 and after a very musical life, he passed away on January 6th 1847.

Tyagaraja is known for his more than 800 compositions, many of which are in ragas he created. It is sufficient to state that there are very few composers who can match him in the variety and scope. Therefore you can say there is a composition of Tyagaraja for any level of musical maturity – they range from very simple to very complex.

As a homage to this composer, I composed  Varna, set in 9 ragas that Tyagaraja brought to life. A Ragamalika (ರಾಗಮಾಲಿಕಾ, ರಾಗಮಾಲಿಕೆ) – is a type of composition that is quite popular in South Indian classical music. As the name suggests, such a composition is composed in multiple ragas, and so the name Ragamalika, i.e. “garland of ragas”.

As a composition type, they seem to gained popularity from the early 18th century. Muttuswami Dikshita’s father Ramaswamy Dikshita, and his guru Veerabhadrayya are some of the earliest Ragamalika composers.

Then a question may arise about various Purandara Dasa compositions that are sung as Ragamalikas – Unfortunately we have lost most of original structure of haridasa compositions from the 15-18th centuries. And their ragamalika form is more than likely to be of recent origin. But there is some food for thought. Why didn’t Haridasa’s who composed suLAdis , which are compositions in multiple tALas (tALamAlike), think of composing in multiple ragas? They my indeed have, but we can’t prove that beyond doubt/

There are several ragamalika varnas that are very popular on the concert circuit. Valaci Vachci ( in 9 ragas, and hence mostly called ‘the’ Navaraga Malika varna) , and the Ghanaraga Malika Varna are very well known. There have been other ragamalika Varnas as well. And I hope this composition of mine will be a good addition to those.

The sahitya of this AditALa varNa is as follows:

Pallavi : namastE shAraDE dEvI kAShmIra puravAsinI (rAga vAgadhIshwari)
Anupallavi : tvAmahaM prArthayE nityam vidyA budhim cha dEhimE ( rAga bindumAlini)

The Chitte swara is in : rAgas Andolika and Rasaali

Charana: saraswatI sahitE tyAgarAjApte ( rAga saraswati)

The ettugade swaras are set in rAgas jayantashrI , saraswatI manohari , chandra jyOti and ranjani.

As you may see, the pUrvanga of the varna takes from a traditional stuti of Goddess Sarawathi. The Charana describes her as one who is dear to Tyagaraja.

Here is a renditions of the varna, by Benagluru based artist Uma Kumar:

Another rendition by New Hampshire based artist Ragini Sanath:

Your feedback on the composition is welcome!


Today is January 6th  – The day Tyagaraja passed away in 1847 AD.

Here is a recording of a Tyagaraja composition that I had translated into Kannada, a while ago. The recording is from a thematic concert held in the bay area to celebrate Kannada Rajyotsava in 2010, here in San Francisco bay area.


Vocal: Ragavan Manian

Violin: Lakshmi Balasubramanya

Mrdanga: Kartik Gopalaratnam


Today is 9/30/2014, the seventh day of Navaratri. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a composition of a 20th century composer. Today also,  I am thinking of sharing a composition from another 20th century musician.

It’s often said that the ragas are infinite – “ananta”. Practically speaking, there are only a few hundred ragas that are in currency at any point in time. But due to many reasons, some well known ragas go out from circulation and some ragas considered rare become very famous at some other point of time. This cycle has repeated in the past millennium, and I guess the trend will continue to the next as well.

Right from the 14th century there were attempts at classifying ragas into different groups, based on the notes used in those melodies. This is very similar to how elements (and their compounds) are organized in the Periodic table. This method helps to understand similarities, differences etc, There were many such systems of classification, the last of which came in around 1650 AD. In this classification, Venkatamakhi not only did classify the ragas that existed at his time, but also built a framework for classifying such ragas that were yet to be invented at that time. This framework is known as the 72 mELa scheme. A mELa is a collection of notes, and does not become a raga by itself; but it is possible to create a raga by building around these notes.

This scheme paved the way for later day composers to experiment with notes and come up with newer melodies. For example, Muttuswamy Dikshita composed in all the 72 mELa rAgas postulated as possible by Venkatamakhi. Tyagaraja composed in most of these 72, and he also came up with some more with some permutation and combination of notes used, by dropping notes. This method was a bit different from earlier times, when a raga was defined by the form and phrases used rather than just from the notes and the order of the notes that occur in.

In general, when a raga is solely defined by the notes it uses and skips and the order of those notes, it offers less scope for elaboration. However, over time, such ragas also can develop their own character, and thereby become more expansive and can fire the imagination of more composers to come up with compositions. We can see examples this happening to many of the new ragas that were brought to life by Tyagaraja.

Ranjani is one of the ragas that were “created” by Tyagaraja. He composed only one composition in this raga. This raga is quite popular today, and many later day composers have also contributed to it’s popularity. One such composer is GNB.


G N Balasubramaniyan, better known as GNB was a star in the musical world of the 20th century. He was also a star on the silver screen, at a time when actors had to be good singers as well, and acted in several movies in the early 1940s. He has composed about 50 compositions and “Ranjani Niranjani”, praising the Goddess Parvati is one of his very popular compositions.

Now listen to this kriti played by Mandolin U Srinivas:

The composition ends at around time 28:00, but you you can’t stop there, you are not to blame! One can go on listening to the Mandolin magic no end!

Happy listening!


Today is the fifth day of the day dark half of the lunar month of Pushya. This is the day Tyagaraja passed away in the year 1847. Since I started blogging, I have been making a post on this day. Not to break this tradition here I am with two chaupadis (four-liners) in Kannada, that I wrote today:

ಐದುಹೊಳೆಯೂರಿನಲಿ ಇದ್ದನವ ಮಹನೀಯ
ಹೆಸರವನದಾಗಿತ್ತು ತ್ಯಾಗರಾಜ;
ಬಗೆಬಗೆಯ ರಾಗದಲಿ ನೂರಾರು ರಚನೆಗಳ
ಮಾಡಿ ಇತ್ತಿಹನೆಮಗೆ ಯೋಗಿ ರಾಜ!

ತ್ಯಾಗರಾಜ ವಿರಾಗಿಯೇಕಾದೆ ಹೇಳು ನೀ
ನಾಗಿರಲು ರಸಿಕ ಮನವಾಳ್ವ ರಾಜ;
ಭೋಗಗಳ ಬೇಡೆನುತ ನಿಲೆನಿಂತೆ ಹಾಡುತ್ತ
ರಾಗಗಳ ನೀ ನಿಜದಿ ರಾಗ ರಾಜ!

(ಐದುಹೊಳೆಯೂರು = Literally, “the town of five rivers” – Tiruvaiyyaru, where Tyagaraja lived)

Here are links to posts I wrote in previous years around this time:

Tyagaraja Aradhane 2011

Tyagaraja Aradhane 2010

Tyagaraja Aradhane 2009

Tyagaraja Aradhane 2008


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!



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Ramaprasad K V

Ramaprasad K V

ಕನ್ನಡಿಗ. Musicphile. Bibliophile. Astrophile. Blogophile. Twitterphile.



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