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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine – Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

Part Ten (of 22) – Anibaddha, Nibaddha and Prabandha

Anibaddha and Nibaddha

1.1. In the early Indian systems of music, there were two broad categories of musical rendering: Anibaddha Gita and Nibaddha Gita. The terms Anibaddha and Nibaddha could roughly be translated as un-structured (un-bound) and structured (bound).

Nibaddha and Anibaddha are two related terms which have a long history. In the Natyashastra, while describing the three aspects of Pada (verbal syllabic structure) it is said: one that is governed by Chhandas and Taala signifies Nibaddha. And similarly, the absence of these is Anibaddha (NS. 32.28-29).

Sarangadeva defines Anibaddha as Aalapi which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva)

Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

1.2. Thus, Anibaddha Gita  is free flowing music that is not  restricted  by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables) ;  and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with  meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya) . In fact, not one of these – neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita.

The Nibaddha Gita, in comparison, is rendering of a pre-composed structured musical composition that is governed by Chhandas and Taala; and has words (meaningful or otherwise); as also has a definite beginning and an end. In short; it is a composition (like Prabandha, Giti, and Kriti etc)

[ Bharata mentioned Pathya in the Natyasastra (17. 102); and, said: “pathyam prayunjitam sad-alamkara-samyuktam” – the Sahitya of a song is called the Pathya, when it is embellished by six Alamkaras. Abhinavagupta in his Abhinava- bharati explains that when any composition (sahitya) possesses six Alamkaras and sweet tones, it is known as a Pathya. These six Alamkaras are: Svara, Sthana, Varna, Kaku, Alamkara and Anga.  (Note: kakus are the variations of the vocal sound for expressing different ideas). Bharata considered Pathya under two heads:  Samskrita and Prakrita. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata in this respect.]

1.3. There is a mention of another way of classifying Nibaddha. It is said; there are two classes of Nibadda: Niryukta and Aniryukta. The Niryukta Prabandha was to be sung only to certain specified Taala, Chhandas, and Rasa etc. And, Aniryukta was free from such restrictions. Parshvadeva mentions a third variety called Ubhayatmaka Prabhanda in which some aspects of the song are fixed while others are optional.

[By about end of the 19th century, the terms Anibaddha Gita and Nibaddha Gita went out of use; and, were promptly replaced by the terms Manodharma Samgita and Kalpita Samgita. The revised names are very much in circulation today. Though the nomenclatures underwent a change, the principles behind the terms remained almost the same but with little variations.

Manodharma Samgita (just as the Anibaddha Gita) is improvised music that is not pre-composed. And, Kalpita Samgita is rendering a composition, which has already been constructed, with much practice and discipline. ]

Classical singer

1.4. In any case, whether be it Anibaddha/ Manodharma or Nibaddha/ Kalpita, the music that is created must be permeated with the fragrance of artistic beauty; and, at the same time, it must respect the norms and disciplines of the tradition in which the music that is played or sung is rooted. Improvisation could be understood as a means of self-expression, where the virtuoso artist brings in her/his own unique genius to adorn and to enhance the beauty and virtuosity of her/his presentation.  In other words, Improvisation is a means to upgrade the quality of presentation and give it a stamp of individuality; and yet, it will have to work within the bounds of the system, honouring its norms, disciplines and traditions.

2.1. The most well-known form of the Anibaddha type is the Aalapa (Raga Alapti)The Aalapa rendering is free from set words and Taala too. It is elaborate but delicate and precise presentation of a Raga.  It demands from the musician maturity, skill; complete understanding of the Raga and its nature; as also creative imagination.  It calls for patience and sensitivity in performing, if it has to evoke the listeners’ admiration and enjoyment. It is the Aalapa that, often, is regarded as a benchmark of a performer’s excellence.

2.2. The absence of Taala in Aalapa does not mean absence of Tempo. Aalapa generally follows a pattern of presentation.  It is said to be spread over in four stages. It usually has a rather slow introspective beginning (vilamba) in lower octaves (Mandra), followed by elaborations of the basic theme of the Raga in medium tempo, Madhyama-kaala, building into faster Tempo (Druta) leading to a crescendo (Ati-Druta). Indeed, Aalapa is one of the deeply moving, sublime experiences of the Indian music.

2.3. Apart from Aalapa, there are also other forms of Anibaddha type of music that are not pre-composed; that are not based in words; that are not played to a Taala; but yet , are the expansive elements of music. The most notable of that genre of singing/playing is Taana.

Taana or Taanam in Karnataka Samgita (comparable to Jor –Jhala in Hindustani Dhrupad and instrumental music) is played after the Aalapana, but before the commencement of the structured Kriti.  In Karnataka Samgita, Taana is performed both in vocal and instrumental music (but, particularly in Veena playing). These are unique in the sense that with the rise in tempo, the performer improvises and builds into the melody various patterns of rhythms, without, however, the element of Taala.

[Ugabhoga of the Haridasa-s, Shlokas and Ragamalikas, perhaps, fall in between Nibaddha and Anibaddha forms of music.  Here the Sahitya and the Bhava are important. But, these pieces are not set to Taala. And, the singer is also free to choose any Raga/Ragas to bring out the literary and musical values of the composition. The absence of Taala, somehow, seems to aid in enhancing the import of its Sahitya.]

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Manodharma Samgita

3.1. In this context, we may also talk about Sangathi, Neraval, Kalpana Svaras and such other elaborations in Karnataka Samgita. At the outset, I reckon these improvisations cannot strictly be considered as Anibaddha.

3.2. Sangathi is a way of weaving patterns elaborating certain lines of a Kriti. The Sangathi technique was, it is said, introduced by Sri Tyagaraja by adopting it from the Dance. In some of Sri Tyagaraja’s compositions, the Sangathi-s appear in the earlier segment (Pallavi) of the text (Sahitya).  But, it has since become a regular part of rendering of Kritis of other composers as well. The Sangathi is, usually, pre-conditioned variations of a phrase or a line of a song. And, the composer would already have envisaged briefer and finer variations of Sangathi-s into his work. The performer brings in her/his own improvisations to elongate the Sangathi-s.

3.3. Neraval, unlike Sangathi, is a small and flickering variation of a melody-filled line of a Kriti or a Pallavi. In Neraval, the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways; and yet, keeping intact the original structure. The Neraval could also be expansive improvisation of the Raga-bhava. Creativity and spontaneous outpouring characterize an enjoyable Neraval.

The Neraval is comparable to the ancient Rupaka Alapti (as compared to Raga Alapti) where one line or the whole of the composition was taken up for melodic elaboration without , however, changing the text.

The Neraval of the present-day Karnataka Samgita is an aspect of the improvised Manodharma Samgita. And, in a concert, it precedes the Svara Kalpana.

3.4. Kalpana-Svara or Svara prastara is the expansion on the rhythmic patterns of the Svara (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma etc). It is a free-rendering. And, is a highly improvised presentation, often playful, that appears in the latter part of the song-rendering.  An entertaining Kalpana-Svara rendering calls for enterprising variations, often involving the accompaniments (Violin and the percussion instruments) in a good-humoured interplay (saval-javab). It, therefore, has great popular appeal.

3.5. As can be seen, Sangathi, Neraval or elaborations of the rhythmic patterns (Svara –prastara) are all based in Taala and are tied to the words in the text (Sahitya) of the composition. Though these provide immense artistic freedom to elaborate and to improvise in varied imaginative patterns, I reckon these are not strictly of the Anibaddha type.


Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka

4.1. Sarangadeva (13th century) in the fourth Canto of his Sangita-ratnakara says: the Gayana (singing) is twofold – Nibaddha and Anibadda. That which is composed of Anga-s (limbs or parts) and Dhatu-s (elements or sections) is Nibaddha Samgita. And Alapita which is free from such structures is known as Anibaddha Samgita.

Then he goes on to say that Nibaddha has three names: Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka. (But, he does not go into details of their internal differences.)

4.2. Parshvadeva a Jain musicologist (9-10th century) in his Sangita-samaya-sara (Ca.10-11th century) described Prabandha as a Giti (song) formed of four or six musical elements (Dhatu-s) –

(Chaturbhir-dhatubhih shadbhishcha-angairyah syat prarbandhate tasmat prabandhah).

He also recognized the classifications of Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka.   In the fourth Chapter of his Sangita-samaya-sara, he explained the Prabandhas like Dhenki, Lambaka, Rasaka, Ekatali, etc. together with eleven kinds of Dhruva, and the process of singing (ganakrama), the Giti.

4.3. Sangita–shiromani (said to be a compilation by a group of scholars in the 15th century) says: One should know that Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka are the three names of composed music based on Pada and other elements (Anga and Dhatu). Their internal structure is slightly different (13.6)

5.1. When the main sections of the composition contains all the Anga-s and Dhatu-s, either separately or in combinations, it is considered to be a Prabandha composition (13.7) .

5.2. As compared to Prabandha which has all the Angas, something which is exclusively composed of regular words (Pada) and musical metre (Taala) is said to be Vastu (lit substance or thing). It has the freedom to omit some of the Anga-s.

Kumbha (15th century) in his Sangita-raja (2.4-6) explains Vastu as one in which there is (vasanti) always (nityam) some Dhatu and some Angas (Dhatavo Angani kinchit); and its good sound is important (sad-vastu-dhvani-mukhyena). It is also said; that which ends in Apanyasa, Amsa and Nyasa (or else samnyasa), is Vastu.


Amsa the dominant note is the note in which the Raga resides (ragas ca yasmin vaasati) and manifests (raga-abhivyaktir bhavathi); and from which the movement of the low (mandra) and high (Tara) registers of five Svaras starts. Amsa is a Vivadi Svara.

Nyasa is the final note which occurs at the end of a section of the composition (Anga) – Nyaso hy Anga-samaptau. It is the note on which the song is fixed and ended. The final note is also described as the ‘name-giver’ as it gives the Jaati its name – Nyasas tu Svra-jaatishu namakrt.

As compared to Nyasa, Apanyasa is the penultimate note. It occurs before the final note (Nyasa), in the midst, which is to say in the Anga (section) – Anga-madhye.

Samnyasa is the final note of the first part of the song (Vidari); and, it is not a Vivadi Svara (dissonant)

Vidari is the section of a song. It is twofold: Mahathi and Avantara. That which fills up the Vastu is Mahathi. The others which are completed at the end of the episodes (Varna) are Avantara. Of both the kinds of Vidari, the final note is in the Vastu, the dominant. ]

5.3. Rupaka, derived from ‘Rupa’ (form), later was used as a general term for all dramatic compositions. In fact, Rupaka is the proper name for Sanskrit Drama; and, not Nataka.

[And, Nataka is one of the ten recognized forms of Rupaka.]

The Dramatic compositions based in music (Geya-prabandha) also termed as Drshya Kavya ( a poem that is to be seen as also heard) were arranged as Rupaka  and Upa-Rupaka (minor forms of Rupaka). It is said; there were ten types of Rupaka-s and eighteen types of Upa-Rupakas (depicting a short theme or a self-contained section taken from a larger theme).

In Music, when there is scope for developing the melodic form (Raga) and other elements (ragadya-aropa) in a dramatic form, such composed music is called Rupaka (lit from) (13-8). It is explained by the later scholars that in Rupaka Alapti, either one line or the whole Prabandha is taken up and melodic variations are sung with the lyrics of the Prabandha.

[And, this perhaps resembled the Neraval of the present-day music].


6.1. Sangita–shiromani (15th century) says the song (gana) which has been written by composers (Vaggeyakara), which has special musical character (lakshana), which is based in Desi Ragas and which pleases people is Nibaddha (13.3)

Such composed music (Nibaddha) which is formed with Anga (phrasal elements) like: Pada (passage of meaningful words), Svara (tone syllables or passage of sol-fa syllables),Birudu (words of praise, extolling the subject of the song and also including the name of the singer or the patron), Taala (musical meter or time-units ),  Paata (vocalized drum syllables) and Tenaka (vocal syllables , meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions) are known as Prabandha (13.5) ; and that which has in its main sections Dhatu-s (elements) : Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha.

6.2. Thus, the best and the most well established form of Nibaddha Samgita is Prabandha. During the 5-7th centuries they were described as a form of Desi composition of varied nature and forms (Desikara- Prabandho yam), such as : kanda, vritta, gadya, dandaka, varnaka, karshita-gatha, dvipathaka, vardhati, kaivata, dvipadi, vardhani, dhenki, ekatali, etc

However, in the context of Music, Prabandha is a comprehensive term which refers to a well-knit composition. And, within in the gamut of Music itself, the Prabandha stands for a particular, specified form of songs constructed according to a prescribed format.

6.3. As said earlier, the Prabandha is conceptualized as Prabandha Purusha, a living organism , consisting six limbs , which function harmoniously as do the limbs of a healthy human body. Thus,  Prabandha could be understood as  a type of harmonious musical composition set to words, Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vrtta; and governed by six Anga-s (Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata and, Taala) and four sections-Dhatu-s (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva  and  Abhoga).

6.4. Prabandha is basically a variety of Khandakavya (not particularly associated with Drama); and, at the same time it is also a song. And, therefore, the Chhandas and Taala rather than the musical element were central to the composition (perhaps with the exception of Geya prabandha s).

7.1. Prabandha-s do not figure in the earlier texts like Nāţyashastra and Dattilam.  They are dealt with in the texts  written after the 5th -6th century  , such as : Brihaddeshi (Ca, 5th century); Sangita-Samayasara ( Ca. 11th century); Manasollasa (Ca,12th century); Sangita-ratnakara (Ca,12-13th century) Sangita –samayasara (12-13th century) ; Sangitadamodara (Ca.14th century)  ; Sangita–shiromani (15th century);  Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) and  others. These texts describe the nature and the varieties of Prabandha, the salient features of their variations and the elements that are involved in the construction of Prabandha songs.

7.2. Prabandha as a class of Music was, perhaps, first mentioned in the final Canto of Matanga’s Brihad-deshi (Ca.5th century). Here, he described Prabandha simply as Prabhadyate iti Prabandhah (that which is composed is a Prabandha); and, classified it under Desi Samgita (a collection of many song types then popular in various regions). Matanga explains Desi Samgita with the aid of about forty-eight Prabandha songs. However, Matanga remarks that the Prabandhas are indeed countless; and ‘their complexities are beyond the understanding of weaker minds’.

Some of the Prabandha- types mentioned in this text are: Kanda, Vŗtta, Gadya, Catushpadī, Jayavardhana, Ela and Dhenaki. (He pays particular attention to Ela) And, while describing the nature of Prabandha-s, Matanga did not employ terms such as Dhatu and Anga, as was done in the texts of the later periods.

7.3. Prabandha received a detailed treatment in the fourth Chapter Prabandha-adhyaya of Sarangadeva’s Samgita-Ratnakara which appeared about five centuries after Matanga. By the time of Samgita-Ratnakara, Prabandhas had grown into thousands. Sarangadeva explained Prabandha as that which is pleasant; and that which is governed by rules regarding Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vritta (Sanskrit verses) and Anga. In his work, Sarangadeva described about 260 types of Prabandha-s with their variations.

7.4. Sangītasiromai (15th century) in its Chapter Eight presents a wealth of details on the Prabandha-s. It describes the four classes or cycles (Shuddha Suda, Ali karma, Salaga Suda and Viprakirna) of the Prabandha songs; the criteria of six elements (Anga-s – Taala, Svara, Pata Birudu, Tena and Pada) and four substances or Dhatu-s (Chhandas, Raga, Varna, and Gamaka).

7.5. Later, in his monumental work Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) Venkatamakhin gathered various music-forms under a fourfold system (Chaturdandi) comprising Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Aalapa. Here also, Prabandha was described as ‘prabandhayeti Prabandha’ – that which is well structured (Nibaddha) is Prabandha.

However, the definition of Prabandha was narrowed down to include only those compositions which are made up of Six Angas (shadbhirangaisca) and Four Dhatus (chaturbhidhaturbhischayah). He also names the six Anga-s or elements of the musical Prabandha-s are Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tenaka, Paata and Taala. The four Dhatus are Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga.

“Ucyate shadbhirangaisca chaturbhidhaturbhischayah I Nibaddah swarasandarbhastasminneva hibhūriśa I Prabanda iti lokānām vyavahāro nirīkśyate” II “śadangāniitichedbrumaha swaraschabirudam padam I Tenakah pātatālau cetyetānyangāniśatpunah II

 [Strangely, by the time Chaturdandi Prakasika appeared, the Prabandha, as a class of Music, was already on its way out.]


8.1. The Prabandha, generally, appeared to be highly ornate, varied compositions formed out of many sections (Dhatu) . They were ornate both in their elaborate poetical diction (Alamkara) and abundance of rich language (Sabdalankara) adorned with meaning (Arthalankara).  They were varied in the sense that many songs featured a mixture of different languages (Bhasha), Taala-s, Ragas; and frequent alteration between meaningful text and meaningless syllables. They were sectional in that Prabandhas were divided into distinct formal divisions and components with many changes of tempo, Raga and Taala. The word-play (pada-jala) was also prominent in the repertoire with clever use of alliteration of letters (anuprasa); alliteration of words (pada prasa), ambiguous use of a word where it conveys different meanings depending upon the context (latanu-prasa), play of pun (slesha or sabda slesha), change of voice (kaku) , and  poetic subversion  or deviant expression (vakrokthi) etc. The word (pada), meter (Chhandas) and Music (gana) were well structured and coordinated.

Prabandha was the dominant song-form for about thousand years or a little more till about the 17-18th century, which is until the advent of the Trinity of Karnataka Samgita.

[In the later stages, Prabandha merely came to be understood as the fourth component of the fourfold system (Chatur-dandi) of: Raga, Thaya, Gita and Prabandha.]

Types of Prabandhas

9.1. As   Matanga   remarked, the Prabandhas are indeed countless; and, ‘their complexities are beyond the understanding of weaker minds’.   Yes; it is a virtual jungle.

9.2. Parshvadeva (Ca.10-11th century), a Jain musicologist, in his Sangita-samaya-sara divided the Prabandha-s into three classes: Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna. And, later in the 13th century, Sarangdeva split the Suda into Shuddha Suda and Chayalaga (the Apabhramsa or colloquial form of Chayalaga is Salaga Suda).-

[The Chayalaga or  Salaga Suda – as a class of Prabandha – was not mentioned either  in Matanga’s Brihaddeshi, or in Someshwara’s Manasollasa (1131).]

With that, the major types of Prabandha were counted as four: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna.

: – The Shuddha Suda was again divided into eight parts: Ela, Karana, Dhenki Vartani, Jhombada, lambaka, Rasaka and Ekatali.

: – And Salaga Suda was divided into seven parts: Dhruva, Mantha, Pratimantha, Nisaruka, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali.

: – Several unclassified types were grouped under Alikrama Prabhanda; and it was divided into 24 parts: Varna, Varnasvara, Gadya, Kaivada, Angacharini, Dandaka, Turangalila, Gajalila, Dvipadi and so on

: – The Viprakirna was divided into Sriranga, Tripadi, Chatuspadi, Shatpadi, Vastu, Vijaya etc.

9.3. There is also mention of several other types of Prabandhas such as:

: Virashringara, Chaturanga, Sharabalita, Suryaprakasha, Chandraprakasha, Ranaranga, Nandana and Navaratna. (There are no clear descriptions of these types Prabandhas)

: Divya Prabandha, Naga Loka Geya Prabandha and Bharati Prabandha etc

: Gita Prabandha, Vadya Prabandha, Nrtya Prabandha, Taala-Prabandha, Geya Prabandha , Rupaka Prabandha, and Lakshana Prabandha etc

: Kanda, Varana, Vichitra, Vastu, Chachari, Chakravala, Bhanjani, Pratigrahnika, and   Tribangi,


There are also countless other forms

10.1. It is virtually not possible here to discuss all or even the most of the Prabhanda varieties. For the limited purpose of this post let’s, therefore, confine to the main or the better known types of Prabandhas.

Let’s take a look at the major types of Prabandha, their structure, elements and their other components in the next Part.


Continued in Part 11


Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Music edited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music edited by Emmie te Nijenhuis

The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance edited by Jonathan Katz

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part One


Part One (of 22)



1.1. It is said; Music and musical thoughts are the expressions of a range of diverse emotions that co-exist within the hearts or in the inner worlds of a community. It has its roots in its total cultural context, in its traditions, in its philosophy of life and in its aspirations. A  Music can truly be understood and appreciated only when it is viewed as part of the integral experience of that community.

1.2. That is particularly true with regard to India where Music had been woven into the fabric of its various philosophical, religious, cultural and literary traditions for over long ages, stretching back to the forgotten periods of its un-recorded History. Apart from this, a special branch of study devoted to the theory and practice of Music (Samgita-shastra) was developed and enlarged, in stages.  Samgita-shastra, right from the ancient times, is deemed as an integral part of the broad framework of ideas that systematically explain the philosophical basis of sound (Nada); the Grammar and language of Music; and, the aesthetics of Music,

Thus, Music and its study have flourished in all the intellectual traditions of India. Here, Music was valued not only as a delightful sensory experience but also as a vision (Darshana) providing a glimpse of the reality that is beyond the reach of the senses. It is, therefore, held in high esteem and invested with an aura of spiritual pursuit (Sadhana) leading to liberation from earthly-attachments. It is said; for both the performer and the good-hearted listener (sah-hrudaya), pure-music (Samgita) can be a fulfilling blessed experience. Some traditions even elevate Music to the level of sacred lore, the Vedas; calling it as the fifth Veda (Panchama-veda).

1.3. Sage Yajnavalkya (Yajnavalkyasmrti-III-4-115) describes Samgita as the most sublime of all the fine-arts that pleases and has the potential to convey all shades of emotions .  It is a Vidya that, if practiced diligently, can lead the aspirant towards liberation- mokṣamārgaṃ niyacchati

vīṇāvādanatattvajñaḥ śrutijātiviśāradaḥ / tālajñaś cāprayāsena mokṣamārgaṃ niyacchati // Yj_3.115 //

gītajño yadi yogena nāpnoti paramaṃ padam /rudrasyānucaro bhūtvā tenaiva saha modate // Yj_3.116 //

As regards the virtues of the Samgita : Abhinavagupta quotes verses (26,27 and 28 of Chapter 36) of the Naytashastra :

The recital of poetry, performance of dance (drama) along with songs and instrumental music are equal in merit to the recitation of Vedic hymns.

pāṭhyaṃ nāṭyaṃ tathā geyaṃ citravā aditrameva ca । veda-mantrārtha-va-canaiḥ samaṃ hyatad bhaviṣyati ॥ 26॥

I have heard from the god of gods (Indra) and even from Shankara (Shiva) that music (vocal and instrumental) is indeed purer and superior to taking a ceremonial dip in a river and repeating a mantra (Japa) a thousand times.

śrutaṃ mayā devadevāt tattvataḥ śaṅkarāb-ddhitam । snāna japya saha srebhyaḥ pavitraṃ gīta vāditam ॥ 27॥

Whichever places that reverberate with the auspicious sounds of songs and music of Natya will forever be free from inauspicious happenings.

yasmin nātodya nāṭyasya gīta pāṭhya dhvaniḥ śubhaḥ । bhaviṣyatya śubhaṃ deśe naiva tasmin kadācana ॥ 28॥

Later, the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD ) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta-Chintamani)  describes chaste Music as that which educates (Shikshartham), entertains (Vinodartham), delights (Moda-Sadanam) and liberates (MokshaSadahanam)

– ShiksharthamVinodartham Cha, Moda-Sadanam, MokshaSadhaanam Cha.

1.4. Rabindranath Tagore speaking of the Music of India said: “To me it seems that Indian Music concerns itself more with human experience in its relation to God and nature, than with the day-to-day world of common living. The mystic world of Indian Music, like the starry night, has certain serenity, pure, deep and tenderness about it. The Indian Ragas stir our imagination and move us away from mundane towards the ideal. For us, Music has a transcendental significance. ”



2.1. The Music of India, over the centuries, has evolved in several stages. Samgita in the ancient context was a composite art comprising Gita (singing), Vadya (instruments) and Nrtya (limb movements) – Gita, Vadya , Nrtyam trayam Natyam Tauratrikam ca tat Samgitam (Hemachandra) .

It was only much later that Nrtya began to develop independently. And, in Music, Gita (singing) had importance over Vadya (instrumental music); and, instrumental music generally follows the vocal styles and nuances. 

Ahobala Pandita   in his Samgita Parijata pravashika (17th century) says it is because of that reason the singing itself came to be known as Samgita

  • Samgita, Gita-vadhittra nrityanama trayam samgitam uccyate; Ganasytra pradhanatvat samgita mitiriyam

[Even the instrumental styles were defined with reference to their relation with singing .

It was said; when one plays on the Veena (following the vocal style) but without singing it was then known as Suska or A-gita . And, when one plays on the Veena; and, sings the song as he plays ,  it is known as Giti

Abhinavagupta explains: every type of Giti can be played on Veena. And, there are three types of Giti: Tatva,Anugata and Ogha.

When the Gana (singing)  is prominent and the Veena follows  Gana completely, it is Tatva; when the Veena follows Gana in some part and then shows its own craftsmanship, it becomes Anugata.

And, when the playing techniques become A-nibaddha; the Karanas become more prominent; and,when the Gana becomes secondary, then the Giti becomes Ogha .

Thus , in the rendering of the Giti, Veena performs an important role.]

The earliest form of singing  that we know about is the Sama-gana or the Saman, the musical way of rendering Sama Veda. That was followed by Gandharva or Marga, an ancient type of sacred music making a pleasant appeal to the gods. Gandharva or Marga or Margi, tended to be rather intellectual; leaving little room for flexibility and imagination.

These limitations had to necessarily bring in several changes. Gandharva, therefore, underwent considerable transformation. And, more importantly, it gave place to Gana, a form of art-music (laukika) that aimed to entertain the spectators at the theater.

2.2. Gana was the Music of the songs – Dhruva Gana – sung during the course of play by the actors on the stage as also by the musicians behind the curtain to the accompaniment of instrumental music. Natyashastra deals elaborately with the theoretical and practical aspects of the Dhruva Gana – its various types, structures, grammar, as also the type of songs to be sung in various contexts in a play.

2.3. Desi  category of music that flourished from around 5th century onwards , in contrast to Margi, was essentially a music springing out of inspiration derived  from various regional musical forms and tones , each having a unique flavour of the sub-culture in which it was rooted. Desi, which is enjoyed by all, is said to be the music of the people, as it is, relatively, free from strict adherence to rules. Desi Music flowered in various ways; it initiated or refined the concept of Raga; developed it further; classified Ragas according to the system of Mela or Melakarta (basic Raga) and its derivatives; and, it introduced new sets of instruments into musical performances.

2.4. For about a thousand years thereafter, which is till about the 17th century, the musical scene of India as also the dance-drama (geya-nataka) was dominated by a class of regulated (Nibaddha) Music called Prabandha, in its various forms. Prabandha is a variety of Khandakavya bound by certain specified elements (Dhatu and Anga). It is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) song format having specific characteristics that are governed by a set of rules. At times, the faithfulness to a prescribed format was carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid; and, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music, such as Kriti and Dhruvapada (Drupad).

2.5. In the Music of South India, the churning of the Prabandhas and the Padas gave rise to a music format called Kriti (sometimes also called Kirtana, though there is a subtle difference between the two). Though several composers of repute prior to 17th century experimented with the Kriti format, it was the celebrated Trinity of Karnataka Samgita that, later, perfected it during the 18th century.  A Kriti which is explained as that which is constructed (yat-krtam tat-kritih) is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha Samgita), comprising pallavi, anu-pallavi and charanas, set to Taala.  And, it is the most advanced form of musical composition in Karnataka-samgita.

A Kriti is also the ultimate test of a composer. The Raga of Kriti should be in harmony with its structure, its lyrics and its musical content. Generally, a Kriti should strikes a good   balance between its words, its structure and its music (Mathu and Dhathu). A good Kriti should succeed in not only capturing the essence of its Raga, but also in aptly bringing out the inner meaning, the Bhava, of its lyrics (Sahitya).

Such a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to delineate the true nature of a Raga in all its vibrant colours and also to draw out his creative (Mano- dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. The Musical performances of the present day are dominated by Kriti-rendering along with expanding on Raga-Alapa and Laya vinyasa (Taala or rhythmic patterns).

Along with the Kriti several other song formats with special reference to dance (Varna, Svarajit, and Javali etc) have come into being.



3.1. A landmark step towards the evolution of the Raga was taken when the concept of Raga was introduced into Music of India by Matanga and others. The music-treatises of the second half of the 17th century were concerned primarily with the iconography of the Raga and were eager to connect the Raga with a deity or a season or a mood or even an environment.

3.2. The Music of Ragas, as we know it today, is the culmination of a long process of development in musical thinking that aimed to meaningfully organise melodic and tonal material. During the earlier times, Sama-gana gave way to Gandharva – gana as the mainstream of the sacred music. And, by the second half of the 17th century the ancient Gandharva Music that figured in Natyashastra was no longer in practice. The system of 17th century was closer to the one we have in the present day.

A familiarity with the traditions within the larger canvas of musical changes over centuries will help us to gain a better understanding of our Music.

musical instruments


4.1. As said before, the evolution of Music of India in all its forms, including the sacred music, art music, dance music, opera, instrumental music and other recognized forms (Gita-prabandha, Vadya- prabandha, Nritya-prabandha and Lakshana-prabandha) is a long process spread over many centuries. It took a long time for music to come to its present-day form. What we have today is the result of a long unbroken tradition and the fruit of accumulated heritage of centuries, stretching from the notes (Svara) of Sama-gana to the Mela-kartas of Govindacarya.

4.2. What is remarkable about the Music of India is its systematic way of developing musical thinking that aimed to organize and arrive at a golden mean between melody (Raga) and the structure of the compositions (Sahitya). This has lent our music an inner-strength and an identity of its own.

4.3. There followed a very long period stretching over a thousand years – from Natyashatra to Chaturdandi-prashika – which produced most wonderful texts providing substance , structure and a sense of identity to what we now call as Classical Music. These texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), classified as Lakshana-granthas, brought together the various strands of the past Music traditions; established a sound theoretical basis for the structural framework Music, its related issues and practice.  Each genre of these texts also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

4.4. The authors of ancient Indian musical texts seemed to be concerned with precise ways to describe Music as it should be; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

5.1. The most notable among the texts of ancient and medieval India that deal with Music, briefly , are:

: – Bharatha’s Natya-shastra (Ca.200 BC) – though it treats Music as ancillary to theatre production;

: – Dattilam (around first century), which follows Bharatha closely, ascribed to Dattila marks the transition from Sama-gana to Gandharva, describing musical elements of Svara (scales), Sthana (base notes) and Grama (tonal framework) in terms of Sruti (micro-tonal intervals);

:- Brihadesi ascribed to Matanga (around 5th century) , a landmark text, that established the concept of Raga , dealt with Raga as a special subject,  spoke of Nada as (sound) in metaphysical terms , recognized Desi Music and established it in place of Margi , and became the source-text for the musicologists of the later periods for developing Mela-karta (parent scale) system of classifying Music;

: – Sangeeta Makaranda by Narada (11th century), is virtually a compendium which enumerates 93 Ragas and classifies them into  Raga (masculine) and Ragini ( feminine)  species;

: – Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta-Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (12th century) covers a wide range of subjects related to Music (e.g. the desired qualities of a singer, voice culture, ways of elaborating a song etc) besides clearly stating the structure and the components of a class of Music called Prabandha which dominated Indian Music till about the end of 17th century;

: – Sangita-Cudamani of Jagadekamalla (1138 to 1150 AD ) –   son of king Someshwara ,  author of Manasollasa –  covers many topics related to music , such as  : Alapana  and Gamaka;   the desired qualities of a singer, of a composer; the voice culture; design of  the auditorium, and so on .

:- Sangita-Samarasya of Prasavadeva, a Jain (monk?) of 12-13th century, which discusses various topics relating to Nada (sound), Dhvani (pitch), Shaarira  ( resonating musical voice) , Gita (song), Alapti ( free flowing elaboration of Raga), Sthaya (phrases), Varna ( lines) , Taala (rhythm) and Alamkara (ornamentation)  . It is said; Prasavadeva explained Gamaka as: “When a note produces the colour of Sruthis other than those which are its own, it is known as Gamaka.”

:- the 13th century monumental text Samgita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva ( perhaps the last of the integral Music texts of India before the distinctions of North and South appeared) , which brought together various strands of the past music traditions, defined almost 264 Ragas, established a sound theoretical basis for music and provided a model for the later musicology (Samgita Shastra);

:- Swaramela-Kalanidhi  by Ramamatya (Ca.1550) a poet-scholar in the court of Vijayanagar , which laid the foundation for the theoretical framework for classifying Ragas according to 19  Mela (parent scale) and 166 Janya (derived ) Ragas – this is said to be an improvement over Sage Vidyaranya’s  (1320 – 1380)  initiative  , in his Sangita-sara , to group (Mela ) about 50 Ragas according to their parent scale;

:- Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1609 A.D) pays special attention to Alamkara (ornamentation) or Vadana-bedha – the techniques of plying on stringed musical instruments (Veena) – such as deflections, slides and others. His exposition of Vadana-bedha (finger-techniques), emphasizing the subtleties of the instrument, is said be based mainly on the vocal techniques of Gamaka-s and Sthaya-s (components of a raga) as described in Sangita-Ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century). He is also said to have brought into vogue the practice of writing notations (Raga-sanchara).

:- the fundamental treatise of present Music, Chaturdandi-Prakasika  by Venkatamakhin (ca. 1635) corrected Ramamatya’s Mela system from 19 to 17  and  , more importantly , in its appendix (anubandha) introduced the  possibility of classifying Ragas (Kanakangi to Rasikapriya) under a  72 Mela-karta scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama)  ;

:- Sangraha-Chudamani  by Govindacharya (late 17th – early 18th century),  which  expanding on Venkatamakhi’s  Chaturdandi-Prakasika introduced the  Sampoorna-Melakarta scheme as well as delineating  Lakshanas for 294 janya  ragas, many of which were till then unknown, with their Arohana and  Avarohana , and also refined the Katyapadi prefixes  by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables;

:- and, the voluminous  Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini by Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) , the grandson of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar , running into about 1700 pages is a source-book on Music of India , tracing the history of Music from Sarangadeva to the 20th century through a series of biographies of noteworthy musicians and music-scholars ; and also providing exhaustive details on 72 Melas  as also tables of Ragas, Ragangas, Upanga-s, Bhashangas with their Murcchanas, Gamakas, in addition to details of the  Taalas.

In addition, there were numbers other Lakshana-granthas of great merit that were written by musician-scholars spread over long periods.

5.2. These works, with the exception of Sangita-parijata, follow the Mela system of classifying the Ragas. For this reason, these texts are closer to the present day than those that were rooted in Murchanas, the important Amsa and the final note Nyasa (which is followed in Sangita-ratnakara).

{We will briefly talk about each of these texts, separately, later in the series]

6.1. As can be seen; the 16th and 17th centuries were of great importance for Music-texts of India. Several important texts touching upon the Music of North India were also written during this period. Of these, the Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi (?); Sad-raga-chandrodaya and other works of Pundarika Vittala; Hrdaya-kautaka and Hrdaya-prakasha of Hrdaya–Narayana (Ca.1660) and Sangita-parijata of Ahobala (Ca.1665) are considered important for their bearing on the present day music.

Continued in Part Two

–  Overview (2) continued


Sources and References


Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Rowell

The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance-  Edited by Jonathan Katz

Early Indian musical speculation and the theory of melody by Lewis Rowell

Abhinavagupta’s theory of musical transcendence

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan



Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Sangita


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SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART III – Music

 (For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar)

Continued from  Part II –  Life


Many- splendored genius

19.1. Sri Tyagaraja was a many-splendored genius. He was a musician, poet, philosopher and Saint combined in one. In him music, poetry and spirituality reside in sublime harmony; and, find spontaneous expression in every note of his music (Samgita) and every phrase of his poetry (Sahitya).

There are some who regard him as a divinity , a saint; and venerate his kritis as sacred literature. There are also those who are in awe of the inspiring music, the lucid poetic expressions and philosophical insights that abound in his Kritis. The ardent devotees of Sri Rama revere his poetry as an outpouring of Rama-Bhakthi. For them, Sri Thyagaraja’s music is a means to attain God’s Grace, Moksha – Sadhana.  And, to most other music lovers, Tyagaraja and Karnataka Samgita are the two names of the same entity that is pure and enjoyable.

19.2. For successive generations of musicians and music lovers in South India, Sri Tyagaraja’s Kritis-kirtanas have been the treasure house of education, enlightenment and enjoyment. Here, they get to admire the sparkling expressions that shine forth in a simple language they can relate to; the effortless ease with which words (Matu) and Music (Dhatua) blend into each other; and, the graceful   movements of his smooth flowing music that makes singing a great pleasure (gana-anukula), a tranquil delight (sukhanubhava).

19.3. It is said; music bestows bliss instantaneously; but, poetry on contemplation. But, for Tyagaraja composing the song and singing (Samgita and Sahitya) followed each other and flowed out at once.



20.1. The farther in time we go from him, it is his saintliness that seems to sparkle and take over. But, what is lost sight is the human aspect of Tyagaraja. Perhaps, not many, now, look at him as a person; an individual who lived amidst his fellow beings enduring the pains of a common householder.

He did suffer from poverty; frustrations; sense of insecurity; pain caused by cruel jibes mocking at his indifference towards things that matter in life; his Uncha-Vritti seeking alms while singing along the streets, which normally would dent ones’ self-esteem. He was utterly helplessness against envy and hatred of neighbors and relatives.

But, at the same time; he also did enjoy moments of bliss, joy and fulfillment, derived through his Rama-bhakthi in which he was firmly rooted.

That indeed was the essence of his life encased in a tough shell.  All such varied phases of his life-experiences gained explicit form in his poetry and music.

20.2. Perhaps one cannot truly appreciate the intrinsic merit of his songs without taking into account Tyagaraja the person; the persons who moulded his  life; the events that influenced his outlook and also the ways of his living and feeling; the values in life that he held very high ; and, his intense devotion  (Bhakthi) and dedication towards his Supreme Ideal (paramartha-Sadhana).

21.1. He gave vent to his sorrows, disappointments, frustrations, agony, disgust or mock-anger, hurt and pain, and above all his joy in adoring Sri Rama, by sublimating those emotions into soulful songs that gushed forth spontaneously.

For instance; in his Nadupai balikeru (Madhyamavati) he complains of the local gossip blaming him for the partition of his family home; his Vararagalayajnulu (Chenchu Kambhoji) speaks of his disappointment with his fellow musicians; in his Nayeda vanchana and Etula gadapudavo he refers to confrontation with his cousins (daayadi).

And, there are many other songs through which he pours out bitterness and sorrow. He preferred to compose his pains and pleasures into songs, addressing them to his Sri Rama instead of complaining to mortals. He even points out, in mild sarcasm, the deception that the Lord indulges in (Sadhinchane).

There are of course, countless songs that gushed out in pure ecstasy and delight calling out to Sri Rama.

22.2. Perhaps, he did not wait to search for words or for a Raga to suit the mood or the song. Each followed the other naturally. He improvised his songs and music on the spot to express his emotions with ease. Sri Tyagaraja is, thus, truly matchless for his creative genius.

Shishya parampara

23.1. Sri Tyagaraja, today, is recognized more by his music than by his life-events or by his poetry. He himself was aware of the high quality of his music and songs that made him famous even in distant lands (Dura Deshana). [In his song Dasharathi, he says: How can I ever forget you O Rama / you have made me known in far-off lands..!]. And, after his departure, his fame multiplied and spread far and wide beyond the shores of India.

23.2. In that regard, Sri Tyagaraja   was fortunate to have had around him a line of devoted disciples (Shishya parampara) who were eager to learn. It is said; Sri Tyagaraja, as a teacher, was a strict disciplinarian. He ensured that his students learnt and practiced the right and authentic style of singing his Kritis, without flawing its text (Patantara) or the grammar and diction of the Raga. He would not tolerate deviations from the poetry and music that he created with great earnestness.

24.1. His disciples, even as they left Tanjavuru in search of patronage, elsewhere, carried with them the Kritis, the music and the tradition of their Master, at the heart of which was Rama Bhakthi, with reverence and gratitude. They, in turn, were followed by their descendents and pupils (Shishya parampara) who made their life-mission to preserve and carry forward their precious inheritance. That has helped in maintaining the continuity of Sri Tyagaraja-musical –tradition (Sampradaya) over the generations in its pristine form, in keeping it alive and in spreading it far and wide.

 Tyagaraja linage

24.2. The music of Sri Tyagaraja has come down to us in three main Schools (Sampradayas); the Tillaisthalam (Rama Iyengar); the Umayalpuram (brothers Krishna and Sundara Bhagavathar-s); and, the Walajapet (Venkataramana Bhagavathar and his son Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar) Sampradaya-s.

Among the other important disciples of Sri Thyagaraja  were:  Tiruvottiyur Veena Kuppayyar who wrote down many songs of his teacher (he was also a composer of varnams and kritis); Tanjavuru Rama Rao who served as the manager of Tyagaraja’s household and kept notes of his life-events; and, Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaiyer (composer of Kritis and Ragamalikas).

We have to be grateful to all these and other savants who served their teacher and his music; and, also enriched our lives.

 [ Before we proceed further lets for a while dwell on Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar:

walajpet Venkataramana Bhagavathar

Sri Venkataramana Bhagavathar (1781-1874) was the principal disciple of Sri Tyagaraja. He served his Guru for almost twenty-six years with great devotion; learning music, assisting the Guru in his daily worship, and rendering services needed for the day to day life of his Guru.  Venkataramana, in his, beautiful, clear, print-like handwriting, noted down and preserved the Sahitya of the Kriti-s composed by his Guru. But for his ceaseless effort, the precious works of Sri Tyagaraja would not have come down to us in their purity. We all owe him a debt of deep gratitude.

Venkataramana was born on 18 Feb 1781, at Ariyaloor in Thirucirapalli District, as the son of Nannuswamy and the grandson of Kuppaiah Bhagavatar. They came from a family of hereditary priests and scholars, belonging to the immigrant Saurastra Brahmin community of Dadhichi Gotra. Later, when the family moved to Ayyampet (Ramachandrapura), just about seven miles from Thiruvaiyaru, where Sri Tyagaraja lived, the boy Venkataramana who had developed abiding interest in Music, came under the influence of Sri Tyagaraja; and, eventually became his disciple.

After staying with his Guru for about twenty-six years, Venkataramana, at the behest of his father and the Guru, got married, at the age of 41.  Even thereafter, Venkataramana and his wife Muthulakshmi continued to stay at Ayyampettai. They had three children – two sons and a daughter. The elder son was named Krishnaswamy (after the Ista-devata of Venkataramana); the second son was named Ramaswamy (after the Ista-devata of his Guru Sri Tyagaraja); and, the daughter was named as Tulasamma.

When he was of fifty-three years of age, in the year 1834, Venkataramana with his family moved to Walajapet (or Balajipeta) , at the invitation of Raja of Karveti Nagar. Venkataramana renowned for his Guru-bhakthi carried with him the Padukas and the Tambura that were gifted to him by his Guru Sri Tyagaraja. There at Walajapet, he led his life as a cloth merchant.

Venkataramana Bhagavatar lived in Walajapet for as many as forty years (1834-1874). And, because of his long association with that town, he gained renown as Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar.

At Walajapet, Venkataramana Bhagavatar caused to build a temple for Sri Rama and Sita, worshipped by Sri Tyagaraja; as also for his own Ista-devata Sri Prasanna Rajagopalaswami. He also built a Bhajana Mandir for the benefit of the town’s devotees.

Walajahpet bhajana mandiram

Thanks to Sri V Sriram 

Venkataramana Bhagavatar devoted the rest of his life to pious activities such as Pujas, Bhajans, teaching Music and composing Kritis, in the tradition of his Guru assuming the Mudra’ ‘Ramachandrapura vara Venkataramana’. He also composed, in verse, a brief biography of Sri Tyagaraja.

After living a highly praiseworthy and blemish-less life, Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar, an icon of Guru-bhakthi, merged with his Ista-daiva, at the grand old age of 93, on 15 Dec 1874. His Jayanti is celebrated at Ayyampettai, every year (Suddha Saptami; Margasira masa), by the linage of his disciples, admirers and lovers of Music.

venkataramana b hagavatar firsrday cover

Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar was a reputed musician and a composer in his own right. His output, in Sanskrit and Telugu, was not only prolific but was also varied. Besides the well known Ragas, he was adept in handling rare Ragas like: Saraswathi, Kamala-manohari, Nama-narayani, Jyothi-svarupini and Suvarnangi. Please Check the article here.

It is said; more than about 150 of his compositions have been traced. Apart from Kritis, his works include Tana Varnams, Pada Varnams, Svarajatis, and Tillanas,   cast in different moulds. Most of his compositions are in praise of Krishna, his chosen deity, and on his Guru Sri Tyagaraja. In one of his Svarajatis, composed in Sanskrit, – Mama Guru Rupa – (Kedaragoula), he describes Lord Rama as a form of his Guru Sri Tyagaraja. And, in another Kriti – Vada rasane Guru prabhavam ( Purvi Kalyani) , he calls upon his tongue to keep singing the glory his Guru who is filled with the Amrita of Rama Nama and Nada. (For more on his Music – please click here)

And, Here is a Sloka composed by Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar on his Guru:

vyāso naigama carcayā mrdugirā valmīka janmā muni
vairāgye śuka eva bhaktivisaye prahlāda eva svayam |
brahmā nārada eva cāpratimayos sāhitya sa!gītayo
yo rāmāmrta pāna nirjita śivas ta” tyāgarājam bhaje ||

A Vyasa in Vedic learning, a Valmiki in his poetic language, Suka in his detachment, a Prahlada in his devotion, a Brahma and a Narada in his lyrics and his music, he rivals Siva in drinking in the nectar of Rama’s name; I salute that Tyagaraja.

One can experience the fragrance of Bhakthi, Rama-nama and Vedanta, as in the Kritis of Sri Thyagaraja. For instance; the environment of Bhakti-marga, Bhajana-sampradaya, and Nama-siddantha form the theme of his Kritis _ ‘Sri Rama Bramhudu’ (Begada) and ‘Rama bhakthi (Begada). And, in his Kritis, Anandamaya manave (Jothisvarupini); and, ‘Tattvamu teliya’ (Kambhoji), he sings of the Vedanta ideals of Jnana, Kaivalya and the supreme bliss of Svanubhava.


And, from the point of view of the history of Karnataka –sangita and the details of Sri Thyagaraja’s life, the contribution of Sri Venkataramana Bhagavathar is priceless. He not only preserved in writing and handed down the largest number of Tyagaraja-kritis, but also carried forward his Guru’s tradition. His palm-leaf manuscripts, artefacts, and other items ; and,   his  notes on many of the incidents concerning Sri Thyagaraja’s life, work, art  etc., form a large collection , which is named ‘Walajapet Manuscripts’ . It is said; the collection holds many unpublished songs of Sri Tyagaraja.  These  collections have been of immense value, serving as source material, for the later scholars in their study of the life and works of Sri Tyagaraja. For more on this, please click here ( see pages 30-47).

It was from the Walajapet collections – preserved at Sourashtra Sabha Museum- that the existence of three Geya-natakas (operas) – Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam; Nauka Charitram; and, Sitarama Vijayam – came to light  . While the texts of the first two operas have been published, the text of Sita Rama Vijayam is yet to be traced fully.

Among the disciples of Venkataramana Bhagavathar, the more prominent were Tiruvottiyur Ramaswami Iyer and Mysore Sadashiva Rao, a Vidwan in the court of the Maharaja of Mysore..

It is said; when Sri Tyagaraja visited Walajapet, on his way to Tirupathi, he stayed with his disciple Venkataramana Bhagavathar for about 12 days. While he was taken in, procession, Venkataramana Bhagavathar’s disciple, Mysore Sadashiva Rao composed the kriti ‘‘Tyagaraja-swami vedalina” in Todi Raga; and, ‘sang it in the immediate presence of the great saint and earned his blessings’.

The linage (Shishya Parampara) of Sri Tyagaraja was famously carried forward through -Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar – Mysore Sadasiva Rao- Veena Subbanna R.K. Venkatarama Sastry- R.K. Srikantan; Tiruvottiyur S.A.Ramaswami Iyer . It is alive and vibrant.]



As Sri Tyagaraja, today, is recognized by many, more as a musician let’s talk of his music before coming to other aspects of his works.

Music culture

25.1. The period of Sri Tyagaraja that stretched from the late 18th to mid 19th century, was perhaps the brightest epoch in the history of Karnataka Music. It is hailed as the golden age which witnessed a virtual explosion of new formats of musical forms and compositions of sparkling beauty and charm; as the invigorating phase that ushered in innovation and elaboration of fresh Ragas following the 72 melakarta scheme that was beginning to take root; and as the turning point (parva kala) that gave a new sense of direction, vigour and identity to the music of South India. And above all, it was the period that was adorned by extraordinarily brilliant music composers, musicologists and singers. The wealth of the musical genius of Karnataka music flowered and flourished during this period when every branch of music and music related art-forms got enriched.


25.2. Until the time of Sri Tyagaraja, the music- scene of South India was dominated by a song-format known as Prabandha which played an important role in the development of music as also of dance-drama. Prabandha, essentially, is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) musical composition that is governed by a set of rules. Venkatamakhin (son of Govindacharya a Kannada speaking scholar and musicologist who migrated from Mysore to Thanjavur) in his landmark work Chaturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1635) made a systematic classification of Mela or Melakarta Ragas (parent scales) based on combination of varying Swaras (notes).

Chaturdandi Prakasika, as the name denotes, gathered various music-forms under a fourfold system (Chaturdandi) comprising Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Alapa. Here, Prabandha denotes a composition having specific characteristics; and, that which is well composed – ‘prabandhayeti Prabandha’. However, the definition was narrowed down to include only those compositions which are made up of Six Angas (birudu, pada, tenaka, pāta and tāla) and Four Dhatus (Udgrāha, Melāpaka, Dhruva and Abhoga).

The structure of a Prabandha, by its very nature, had to adhere to a prescribed format. In general, the emphasis appeared to be more on the text than on the musical content. The faithfulness to the form was, at times, carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid.

And, Prabandha, naturally, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music having distinctive features of their own. Yet; it is the basic elements of Prabandha that provide guidelines even to the modern composers of classical music.

prabandha (1)

[Most of the medieval Prabandha-s eventually disappeared because of the stiffness of their musical construction. Yet; it should also be mentioned that Prabandha helped the Karnataka music, enormously, in ensuring continuity of its ancient tradition.]

Nama Siddhanta


25.3. By about the same time, there arose in the Thanjavur Cauvery delta the doctrine of Nama Siddhanta founded on immense faith in the power of  chanting Lord’s name.  Nama Siddhanta averred that Nama-kirtana is the most effective and the easiest path leading to liberation, in the present age.  This movement ushered in   a tradition of singing devotional hymns and songs in chorus. The Bhajana Sampradaya popularised by Sri Bodhendra, Ayyaval , Sadguru Swami and others gave birth to series of free-flowing, sweet sounding soulful songs of devotion and melody that could be sung by all in a group with ease and delight. This new form of unstructured innovative songs gushed out in the form of hundreds of BhajansDivyanama Kirtanas, Utsava sampradaya kirtanas and Namavalis. The Groups also enacted dance dramas adorned with splendid poetry and tuneful songs of various forms. All these were regarded as a mellow and sweet worship form of the Lord, Madhura-Bhakthi.


Sri Tyagaraja and Nama Siddhanta


26.1. Sri Tyagaraja in his younger days was surrounded by an environment that was charged with the fervour of Nama Siddhanta. He, naturally, was nurtured on the Bhajana Sampradaya, which was at its height in the Cauvery delta at that time.  He took part in the Bhajana-s conducted by groups at homes or in special halls (Bhajana mandira) , where they celebrated with great enthusiasm the festivals such as the wedding of Sri Rama and Seetha (Seetha Kalyanam); as also of Rukmini (Rukmini Kalyanam).

26.2. Sri Tyagaraja was a follower of the Nama Siddhanta tradition and of the larger path of devotion (Bhakti-marga). A significant number of his songs are about the greatness of the Lord’s name and the doctrine relating to its recitation. They seem to have been composed, especially, for singing during the Bhajana and Kirtana sessions. Among these, a set of about twenty-four songs, based on Shodasa Upachara (sixteen modes of worship offered to the deity), grouped under Utsava-sampradaya–kirtanas are simpler in structure but rich in melody and literary quality. In addition, he composed about seventy-eight songs (Divya-nama-sankeerthanam) for congregational singing as also for his daily worship of Sri Rama, his Ista-daiva.

Utsava Sampradaya Kirtanas have three or more charanas and are mostly set to slow tempo. These types of kritis are ideal for devotional congregation and chorus singing on account of the multiple charanas having identical dhatus. Some examples are ‘Rama Rama Rama Sri lali Sri Rama’ (Sahana) with as many as sixteen charanas; ‘Dina janavana’ (Bhupalam); ‘Karuna jalade’ (Nadanamakriya); ‘Bhaja Ramam’ (Huseni); ‘Ramabhirama’ (Darbar).  The other well-known Utsava Sampradaya kritis include ‘Hecharikaga rara’ (Yadukula Kamboji) and ‘Nagumomu’ (Madhyamavati).

sri rama durbar

Geya Nataka

27.1. He is also said to have composed three musical dramas (Geya Nataka). Of these, only two namely: Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitam are available. But, the third – Sita Rama Vijayam – is sadly lost.

27.2. The main theme of his Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is not the mere story of Prahlada; but, it is about several aspects of Bhakthi. The unwavering devotion of Prahlada towards his God Sri Hari made a deep imprint in the heart of Sri Tyagaraja. And, he sought to immortalize his admiration of the boy’s Bhakthi through his songs and music.  Here, the treatment of Prahlada’s Bhakti is again characterized by Sri Thyagaraja’s own attitude. In the play, Prahlada addresses his songs to Sri Rama pleading for help, kindness and Love.  Here, Rama is none other than Para Brahman, the Supreme Reality. Sri Tyagaraja’s mentor, Sri Upanishad Brahmendra Yogin had earlier taught him that RA-MA* is indeed the essence of both the Ashtakshari Narayana–mantra and the Panchakshari Shiva–mantra.  Musically, Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is richly filled with Kirtanas, many of which in rare (Apoorva) Ragas such as ‘Parasu’ and ‘Naga-gandhari’ are popular even to this day.

[*That was by taking RA from Om namo naRAyanaya and MA from Om naMAh shivaya.]

Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam

Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is richly filled with soulful prayers of Prahlada to Lord Hari. There are also songs sung by the sage Narada and devas in praise of Narayana as he appears  with Lakshmi. Narada also described the conversation between Sri  Hari and Sri Mahalakshmi (lakshmi-hari samvadam) . The opera has forty five kirtanas set in twenty eight ragas, one hundred twenty nine verses, a churnika, a dandaka and one hundred thirty two prose narrations, in Telugu and eleven shlokas in Sanskrit. There are  also mangala– songs at the end of three chapters or scenes. Songs from this opera are set in all tempos – Vilamba, Madhya and Druta kala-s. Many songs from Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam are regularly sung in concerts; for instance: Vasudevayani ‘(Kalyani); ‘Eti janma’ (Varali) ;‘Rara-mayintidaka’ (Asaveri);  ‘Naradamuni’ (Pantuvarali);Sri Ganapathy ni’ (Saurashtram); and the Mangalam – ‘Ni nama rupa mulaku’ (Saurashtram).

27.3. And, the story of Nauka Charitam, spun around the Gopis beseeching Krishna for help, is mostly a product of Sri Thyagaraja’s imagination, improvising on an incident briefly mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam. Its theme extols the virtue of selfless absolute surrender to the Lord with Love and devotion. Interestingly, many of the songs in the play are composed to folk tunes.


The ‘Nauka Charitram comprises twenty one Darus (songs with a pallavi, followed by an optional Anu-pallavi and several charanas) set in thirteen ragas and forty seven padyas (poetic verses set to different meters) , besides fifty- one vachanas (prose passages that set the sequence and provide narration). The songs are mostly set in Madhyama kala; only some are in Druta, while Vilamba kala was not used at all. Some songs from ‘Nauka Charitram’ are often sung in the concerts; e.g.  ‘Sringarichukani’ (Surati) and   ‘Odanu Jaripe’ (Saranga)

Thyagaraja sadguru


28.1. One of Sri Thyagaraja’s significant contribution to Karnataka music is the perfection of a composition-form called Kriti (sometimes  called Kirtana though there are subtle differences between the two), which was, at that time, evolving out of the older Prabandha and its immediate predecessor Pada. Amazingly, Sri Tyagaraja as also Sri Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, independent of each other, all contributed to the development of Kriti form, although they do not seem to have met or corresponded.

Ramamatya (Svara-mela-kalanidhi,1550 CE) mentions the Chaturdandi  components of Gita,Thaya, Alapa and Prabandha as the best and the most accomplished format of rendering a musical composition set to a superior variety ((uttamottama) of Raga. And, Venkatamakhin (1660) , in his Raga-prakarana 107-108 , while illustrating  the standard composition-forms, states that the Gita, Thaya and Prabandha of Thanappa and other eminent musicians are available for most of the Ragas , though some of the Desi Ragas like Kalyani and Pantuvarali were not suitable for rendering in that format.  Further,  even up to the time of Raghunatha Nayaka of Tanjavur , such four-fold exposition of a Raga, in that sequence, appears to have been the main stay of the musical performances. The tradition of performing these compositions with a view to illustrate the structure of the Raga continued till the time Shahaji and Tulaja Maharajah

But, within about a century after Venkatamakhin, such forms of rendering a song became obsolete; and, was replaced by the Kriti format, set to a Raga (modal scale) and Tala ( beat cycle of a fixed number of counts organized in a specific pattern), having three segments (Anga)  – Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam – each being proportionally longer than the previous one (e.g. Pallavi = 2 Taala cycles; Anu-pallavi = 3 or 4 Taala cycles etc.,) The Pallavi is the refrain of the composition (Kriti).

The Kriti and its adoption as the song-form par excellence came into prominence; and, was accepted as the heart of the concert repertoire . This was primarily due to the prolific and innovative creations by the Trinity of Karnataka samgita

[Prior to the time of Sri Tyagaraja (say, 17th century) composers of great reputation such as Muthu Thandavar and Margadarsi Sesha Ayyangar had experimented with the Kriti format. And, it was the celebrated Trinity of Karnataka Samgita that, later, perfected it. ]

28.2. A Kriti is explained as that which is constructed (yat krtam tat kritih). It is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha Samgita), which aims to delineate the true nature of a Raga in all its vibrant colours.  The performer is not expected to deviate from the structure laid down by the composer. And yet; a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to draw out her/his creative (Mano-dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. A Kriti can also be sung with or without Niraval. Because, it is said, a Kriti should essentially be beautiful by itself; and, should sound sweet even without elaborations.

28.3. In Karnataka Samgita, a Kriti comprising pallavi; anu-pallavi; and, charanams, set to appropriate Taala is the most advanced form of musical composition.

Sri Tyagaraja kritis use very well the three Angas:  Pallavi to introduce and briefly outlines theme of the song; the charanam to elaborate upon on it in detail; and, the anupallavi, a little more expansive than Pallavi, to bridge the Pallavi with the charanam. Thus, developing the theme of the Kriti, progressively – in stages.  Some scholars, employing the textual analogy, have described Sri Tyagaraja’s Pallavi as Sutra; Anu-pallavi as Vritti; and Charanas as Bhashya. 

[In the traditional texts , the term Sutra denotes a collection  highly condensed pellets of references ; Vritti attempts to slightly expand on the Sutra to bring some clarity; and Bhashya is a detailed , commentary  on the subjects dealt with by  the Sutra and the Vritti. ; and it  is primarily based on the Sutra.]

28.4. Sri Tyagaraja also tried out variations in their arrangement of the Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanam. Some of his Kritis commence with Anu-pallavi; for instance:  ‘Soumitri bhagyame’ (Kharaharapriya) starts with the anupallavi ‘Chitra ratna maya’’; ‘Ela nee daya raadu‘ (Atana) starts with ‘Balakanakamaya chela’; and, ‘Mokshamu galada’ (Saramati) starts with ‘Saakshat karanee’.

 Some of Sri Tyagaraja kritis have a Pallavi and Anupallavi of equal rhythmic length ; and  a Charana that has the combined length of the Pallavi and Anupallavi ; for e.g. ‘Enta nerchina’ (Suddha Dhanyasi); ‘Chakkani raja margamulu’ (Kharaharapriya).

 The other variation on the standard format is where the Pallavi is half the length  of the Anu-pallavi;  for e.g. ‘Marugelara’ (Jayanthasri); ‘Raju vedala’ (Todi).

There are also kritis where the Charana is four times the size of the Anupallavi;  for e.g. ‘Raga Ratna malikache’ (Ritigaula); ‘Tulasidalamula’ (Mayamalavagaula).

An additional variation is introduced in some Kritis where the  tempo of the charanam is faster than that of the rest of the Kriti ; for e.g. ‘Enduko nee manasu’ (Kalyani; ‘Emi dova’ (Saranga) ; and,  ‘Enduko baga teliyadu’ (Mohanam).  

There are Kritis with single Charana,  as also many with multiple Charanas, starting with Anu-pallavi; and some  with  swara sahitya  built into Charanas,  as in the case of his  Pancharatnas.

28.5 . Sri Tyagaraja in his song Sogasuga mridanga talamu (in Raga Sriranjani) provides an outline of how a Kriti should be, in its form and in its content. In this song, he says that a  Kriti should be couched in words ( nija vākkulatō ) conveying the pure spirit of the Upanishads (nigama siro-arthamu) ; should have correctness of musical notes (swara śhuddhamutō)  of the ragas in which they are set; should have pleasant (sokkajeya) rhythm that is enjoyable (Sogasuga mridanga talamu); should be marked by beauties of alliterations and successive increases and decreases of notes and syllables , as also pauses (Yati Visrama) ; it’s  literary expressions should nurture  cultivation of true devotion (Sadbhakti) and dispassion (virati ); and, it  should be adorned with  grace and simplicity embodying  all the nine (nava) Rasas or aesthetic moods.

Pallavi  :  sogasuga mrdanga talamu
jata kurchi ninu sokka jeyu dhIrudevvado

Anupallavi :  nigama shirorthamu galgina
nija vakkulato swara shuddhamuto

Charanam :  yati vishrama sad-bhakti virati draksha rasa nava rasa-
yuta krtiche bhajiyinchu yukti Tyagarajuni tarama shrI Rama

28.6. In number of his other songs; he explains how Music is indeed the expression of the primordial Nada; how music originates in mind and body; and, how music should be presented. According to him, enjoying music is Sukhanubhava – a tranquil delight.

Some of the well known Kritis of that genre are : 

  • Nadaloludai (Kalyana Vasantham);
  • Nadopasana (Begada);
  • Nada Tanum (Chittaranjani);
  • Nada Sudha Rasam (Arabhi)
  • Swara Raga Sudha (Sankarabharanam);
  • Vidulaku Mrokkeda (Mayamalavagowla);
  • Ragasudharasa (Andolika);
  • Samajavaragamana (Hindolam);
  • Mokshamu Galada (Saramati) ; and ,
  • Vara Raga Laya (Chenchu Kambhoji).


Continued in Part IV- Music continued

Sources and references

Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Joseph Jackson

The Power of the Sacred Name: Indian Spirituality Inspired by Mantras by V. Raghavan

Spiritual Heritage of Sri Tyagaraja by Dr. V Raghavan and C. Ramanujachariar

History of Indian Music by Prof. P. Sambamoorthy

A Tribute to Tyagaraja by V.N. Muthukumar and M.V. Ramana

The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu Prabhakar

I acknowledge with thanks the images and other information from his site

All images are by courtesy of Internet


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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