Tag Archives: Raga

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Thirteen

Continued from Part Twelve – Desi Samgita  

Part thirteen (of 22 ) – Forms of Karnataka Sangita


The Journey

1.1. As you have seen from the articles posted so far that, over the centuries, the Music of India has passed through many significant milestones on the way to its full development. Though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do in fact represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals.

1.2. The journey of this rich and varied Musical tradition could symbolically said to have commenced from the Riks of the Sama Veda associated with conduct of Yajnas , which then was improved upon by the Shiksha branch of the Vedas (Vedanga). That was followed the pure and chaste form of Music Marga or Gandharva with its gentle appeal to the gods. Then came the Gana of the Natyashastra with its several song-forms to suit various sequences that occur during the course of a Drama.

2.1. Thereafter the somber and rather inflexible Marga gave place to a comparatively relaxed art-music – Desi – derived from different regions of the country, aiming to delight the hearts of men and women. The Desi in its wake established the concept of Raga which in due time revolutionized the theories and practices of Indian Music. And, Raga became the central and predominant melodic concept in Indian music.  Over a period and with the proliferation of the Raga,  the systems of classifying the various Ragas into groups (Mela)  based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras) came into vogue.

2.2. There arose various theories of characterizing the Ragas according to the mood or the season they seemed to represent,  and the  ideal time (  day , evening or night) to sing  the Ragas. And, the Ragas even came to be personified, treating them as male or female,  each endowed with its own individual traits and appearance. A large number of music-treatises 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.

2.3. Emmie Te Nijenhuis observes : For a full understanding of the development of musical forms in India one has to consider not only the technical elements of a composition, such as: its phrasal elements (Taala, Pada, Svara, Pata, Virudu and Tena), its main musical section (Dhatu) or its poetical metre, but also its general character, its subject matter and social environment . Unfortunately the Sanskrit texts do not contain information on some these aspects.

One has to therefore go behind the texts and try to understand their cultural and social background , fathom their inspirations   as also motivations

3.1. Much before the theories and concepts of Raga were fully developed, one of the major forms of Desi Sangita that came to fore was the Prabandha, which in its myriad forms dominated the Music scene of India for more than about thousand years till the end of the seventeenth century. In between, the Persian influence remodeled the forms and the ways of singing classical Music in North India. The ancient Dhruva-pada (Dhrupad) a Desi form of Prabandha gave place to improvised lyrical Khyal and other popular modes of singing.

3.2.  In the South India, the Prabandha which was getting rather rigid gave place, by about the end of seventeen century, to varieties of musical forms that were free flowing and not unduly constrained by rules of Grammar and meter. Though the form and the presentation of the songs took new shapes, they still retained, in one way or the other, the basic elements of the ancient Prabandha. This has helped to keep alive the ancient traditions.

4.1. By the second half of the 17th century the ancient Music that figured in Natyashastra was no longer in practice. The system of 17th century was closer to the one in present day. The texts of this period usually began with the traditional description of the scales (Svara) in terms of the 22 Srutis   and associated Ragas.

4.2. The eighteenth century could be said the golden age of Karnataka Sangita. The period not merely gave birth to significant texts that re-defined Music theories (Lakshana) and practices (Lakshya) but also witnessed the flowering of various Music forms such as : Kirtana, Kriti, Daru, Varna , Padam , Javali, Thillana, Naamavali  and so on. The most fortuitous occurrence or the heavenly blessing of this period was the sublime Music created by the Trinity of Karnataka Sangita who flourished around the same time.  It is, fundamentally, their Music that has given form substance and identity to the Karnataka Sangita and all other related art-forms that are practiced today. We all owe those Great Masters a deep debt of gratitude.

Let’s try to gain brief familiarity with some of the art-music that branched out of the Prabandha. Among those forms, I reckon, Daru seems to be older. Let’s begin with Daru.



Dance Drama

5.1. It is said; the Daru songs were derived from the ancient Dhruva songs (stage-songs) described in the thirty-second chapter of Bharatha’s Natyashastra.

During the times of the Nayaks of Tanjavuru the Yakshagana, Bhagavatamela Nataka and such other dance dramas were popular. And, Daru songs were widely employed in all these forms of dance dramas (geya-nataka). Some of the earliest Daru songs that have come down to us are from Vijayaraghava Nayaka’s Yakshagana Vipranarayana Charita (1633 – 1673).

Daru that is commonly used in Dance Dramas, is basically a story-song (Akhyana or a ballad) narrating an event. Therefore, lyrics (Sahitya) are an essential part of Daru song.

5.2. As regards their format, some Darus may have Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas; while some others may just have only the Pallavi and Charanas (i.e. without Anu-pallavi). All the Charanas may have the same Dhatu, the musical element. The Tempo (Laya) of a Daru is usually the Madhyama-kaala; but, some are also sung in Vilamba-kala to suit the dramatic event. As regards the Taala, the Chapu Taala is most favored in Geya Natakas (say, as in Nauka Charitram of Sri Tyagaraja).  The other Taalas used were Adi and Jampa.

5.3. The music of Daru songs is usually simple with no elaborate improvisations such as Raga Sancharas or Sangathis.  The Rakthi Ragas are mostly used to bring out the mood and emotion of the scene. The Saurastra Raga seems to have a favorite of the composers.

Classification of Darus

6.1. Darus have been classified into various types depending on their functions. For instance; Svagatha Daru is for a character musing aloud (sotto voce) or a soliloquy speaking to herself/himself softly, aside, rather in a private manner.  Pralapa Daru is for sorrowing or wailing situations. Heccarika Daru is for heralding the entry of the King, alerting the assembled courtiers. Paada-vandana Daru is for respectfully approaching the deity in a temple, as also for retreating, step by step. And, Samvada Daru is for conversations in musical form between two main characters.

6.2. Jakkini Daru has an interesting format. It commenced with Jaati-Svaras (series of notes, sol-fa); and, the words (lyrics) were in the second section of the song. Jakkini was a popular form of Daru during the time of Nayaks. And, in due time, Jakkini Daru gave raise to Tillanas.

6.3. Some Darus (like Tendral Daru, Vennila Daru and Manmatha Daru) were love-songs portraying erotic moods (Sringara Rasa).   Such Darus in lighter moods were the forerunners of the later Javali dance songs.

6.4. Sri Melatturu Venkatarama Shastry who was a senior contemporary of Sri Tyagaraja  is said to have composed as many as twelve  Dance Dramas (Bhagavatha Mela Nataka) employing the Daru-songs. And, the Kuchhipudi dance dramas also employ Daru-songs in their narratives.

6.5. Among the Trinity of Karnataka Music, Sri Tyagaraja in his Dance Drama ‘Nauka Charitram’ used Daru-songs. For instance; one of its Daru –song ‘Indu kemi’ set to Varali Raga in Chapa Taala is of Samvada Daru type. Here, two characters speak alternatively (Uttara – pratyuttara) through songs.

[Independent of the dance dramas, Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed a Daru (Nee saathi) in Raga Sriranjani. But, its authorship is questioned.]

[And, none of Sri Tyagaraja’s disciples seem to have attempted a Daru.]

Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar has also composed a Daru in Sriranjani Raga ‘Na sari sati’ set to Rupaka Taala; and, it is in Telugu. It is one of Dikshitar’s rare compositions in Telugu. The Anuprasa (rhyming) is delightfully phrased in the terms valabu, solabu and kolabu etc. There is an allusion to an anecdote related to churning of the sea that gave forth Amrita (divine nectar)   in the phrase: ’vasavadi amarulella Vamri svarupametti Vasudeva garvamanji’.

Among the later composers, Sri Harikesanallur Muthayya Bhagavatar who was musician in the court of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore, has composed four Daru Varnas, Two of which are in Telugu; and, the other two are in Kannada. They contain Jaatis, Svaras as well as Sahitya. Here, the first passage in Svaras is followed by Jaati, which then are followed by Sahitya. Of these, the Daru-Varna in Kannada set to Khamas Raga and Chapu Taala (Mathe Malayadwaja pandya samjate matanga vadana guha) is very popular.

[The name of the Raga Khamas when sung repeatedly in succession sounds ‘Sukhama’].

[For more; Please see: Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)]



7.1. Until about the beginning of the eighteenth century, Prabandha was the dominant form of Music. It also played an important role in the development of dance and dance-drama. Prabandha, essentially, is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) musical composition that is governed by a set of rules. Venkatamakhin in his landmark work Chaturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1635) describes Prabandha as 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 or elements (birudu, pada, tenaka, pāta and tāla) and Four Dhatus or sections (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.

[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.]

7.2. With the steady decline of Prabandha and rise of regional languages, a range of musical compositions and rhythmic variations began to take place. Those with lighter and attractive musical content set in simpler words easy to understand gained popularity as Kirtana-s or Padas. And, those Prabandha-s composed in high literary style and loaded with religious themes passed into realm of religion.

7.3. As said; the Kirtana form of Music that began to flourish towards the end of fourteenth century was basically devotional Music aiming to invoke Bhakthi in the hearts of common folk. Its Sahitya (lyrics) clothed in simple music abounds in Bhakthi-bhava. It usually is a prayer or a Namavali (stringing together various names and epithets of the deity) or is a song ideally suited for group singing (Samuha-gana or Bhajana).

7.4. The Kirtanas do have musical sections such as Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and usually more than two Charanas. The entire Kirtana is usually set to one traditional and melodious Raga in simple Taala; and is rendered in Madhyama-kaala.   In a Kirtana, Music per se is neither explored nor interpreted. Music, here, is but a charming, delightful vehicle to convey the devotional content of the song.

7.5. Among the Saint-poets and composers (Vak-geya-kara) who composed Kirtanas in soul-stirring music preaching devotion and submission to the Lord, the prominent were: Sri Sripadaraya (1403-1502), Tallapakkam Sri Annamacharya  (1408 to 1503), Sri Vyasaraya (1447-1539), Sri Vadiraja (1480-1600) , Sri Purandaradasa (1484-1564) , Kshetrayya (or Kshetragna) (1600–1680), Bhadrachalam Ramadasu (1620-1688)   and  Sri Raghavendra Tirtha (1623- 1671) . However, the original tunes of many of their songs are lost to us.



8.1. As said, Kirtana was the popular form of Music during 15-17th centuries. It was followed by the Kriti format which eventually stabilized and attained perfection by about the middle of the 18th century.

Kirtana and Kriti are often used as alternate or interchangeable terms. But, they are not the same; and, there are differences between the two. But, these two together form the major corpus of the main stream of Karnataka Sangita.

8.2. 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.  In Karnataka Samgita, a Kriti comprising Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas, honouring the disciplines of Grammar and Chhandas, and set to appropriate Taala is the most advanced form of musical composition.

8.3. If Kirtana evokes Bhakthi Rasa, Kriti aims at perfection of Gana-Rasa. Kriti depicts shades of various emotions and Rasa-s including Bhakthi. Kriti can express even sorrow-Karuna (e.g. Evari mata–kambhoji); wonder–Adbhuta (Enta muddo– Bindumalini); frustration or disgust – Jigupsa (Chedi buddhi – Adana); resignation or despairBibhatsa (Eti Janma – Varali). And, the expansion of such emotions is more complex, subtle and technically almost perfect.

8.4. The elaboration of a Kriti is complex for other reasons too. It might involve many Kaala-pramanas (tempos). And, quite often, a Kriti may be composed in rare or untested Ragas perhaps because the composer either strives to demonstrate his technical virtuosity or to match the subject and the text of the Kriti with a Raga of an equally aesthetic quality. Many times, a Kriti assigns the Raga greater importance than to its words. It might be trying to employ the Raga with its Gamakas to express the intent (bhava) of its Sahitya more effectively. Further, Kritis are also often structured in complex Taala patterns.

And, it is up to the genius of the performer to bring out the various facets of the Kriti as well as she/he could achieve.  Therefore, a Kriti can effectively be rendered as a solo rather than as group-song (in contrast to the Kirtana).

9.1. Kriti is conceived as a well chiselled work of art; an ideal harmony of Mathu (words) and Dhatu (music-element).  In an excellently well composed Kriti, the bhava of the words has to fuse with the bhava of the Raga, and the two have to become one.  Therefore, the performer is not expected to meddle with it or 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 gifted performer transforms a Kriti into his own inspired self-expression, investing it with his creative skill, well crafted Gamakas and Alamkaras.

9.2. Having said that let me also add there are varieties of Kritis. There is no prescribed number of sections or prescribed the length to define a Kriti. Some are short as in the case of some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis where the Anu-pallavi and Charanam are fused into one Samasti-charanam. Sri Tyagaraja, on the other hand, at times, adds extra Charanams. At the same time, in some of his Kritis the last two lines of the Charanam are rendered just like the Anu-pallavi.


9.3. Kritis are set in different speeds, Ragas, Taalas, lengths and levels of proficiency. Some Kritis allow scope for elaboration while others are crisp. Some are scholarly, while some others just project sweet melody with simple words of devotion (Madhura Bhakthi).

9.4. While the Kritis in Karnataka Sangita are generally rendered in Madhyama Kaala, some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis commence in Vilamba Kaala, but, brisk and enlivening passages are built into the Kriti towards the end. Similarly in the case of Kritis of Shyama Shastry a performer can do justice only if she/he grasps the delicacy of Gamakas of his Ragas and renders in slow, contemplative tempo.

9.5. It is also said; A Kriti can also be sung with or without Sangathi or Niraval or Svara Kalpana. Because, it is said, a Kriti should essentially be beautiful by itself; and, should sound sweet even without elaborations and ornamentation (nirabharana saundarya).

10.1. One of Sri Tyagaraja’s significant contributions to Karnataka music is the perfection of Kriti format, which was, at that time, evolving out of the shadows of the older Prabandha and its immediate predecessor Kirtana or Pada. Amazingly, Sri Tyagaraja as also Sri Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, independent of each other, all contributed to the development of Kriti form, although they did not seem to have met or corresponded.

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

10.2. Sri Tyagaraja in his song Sogasuga mridanga talamu (in Raga Sri Ranjani) 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.

10.3. 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.


11.1. One of the innovations of Sri Tyagaraja to improve the aesthetic beauty of Kriti –rendering was the Sangathi.  A Sangathi (lit. putting together) is essentially a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Svaras. Some say that Sri Tyagaraja adopted Sangathi-rendering from dance-music where variations are done for Abhinaya and for bringing out the different shades and interpretations of the basic emotion (Bhava).

11.2. In any case, this was an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the Kriti format in particular and to the musical performances in general. Sangathi elaboration in Madhyama Kala, in the opening of a Pallavi, has enormously enriched the aesthetic beauty of Raga-bhava during Kriti-presentation in a concert.  With that, a Kriti is no longer static; but, it is a vibrant, living entity like language that is wielded with skill and dexterity. Sangathi passages also mark the virtuosity of the performer. Some of Sri Tyagaraja masterpieces open with a cascade of Sangathis (E.g.  Chakkani raja margamu; Rama ni samana; O Rangashayi; and Naa Jivadhara.)

11.3. Though the Sangathi was fundamentally a feature of Tyagaraja-Kritis, its practice (Sarasa-sangathi sandharbhamu, as Tyagaraja calls it)   has now spread to the presentation of Kritis of Dikshitar, Shyama Shastry and other composers, though they belong to a different style.  Similarly, Madhyama kaala that goes with the Sangathi has come to be the principal tempo of Karnataka Samgita [though some of Dikshitar-kritis, in Vainika style, are in slow tempo (Vilamba Kala)].

11.4. Sangathi and  Neraval (sahitya vinyasa) – where the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways while keeping intact the original structure of the Pallavi or Charanam – together with Kalpana Svaras, provide depth and expansiveness to Karnataka Samgita. And, Tyagaraja-kritis, in particular, provide ample scope not only for elaboration on various phases and aspects of Raga (manodharma-samgita), but also for improvising fascinating sequences of Sangathi-s, Neraval and Kalpana –Svaras.

Raga Taana and Pallavi


12.1. Raga Taana Pallavi is regarded the most mature form of presentation in Karnataka Sangita. Raga here stands for Alapana or elaboration, the Anibaddha Sangita. It is the Music that is not fettered by words, meters or Taala.  Its excellence is limited only by performer’s virtuosity.  The performer after a slow contemplative phases delves into the depths of the Raga explores its various dimensions through his creative endower; and, ends on a high note.

12.2. After the Alapana the performer takes up Taana (comparable to Jor –Jhala in Hindustani Dhrupad and instrumental music). This involves boundless play on meaning-less syllables such as ta, na, nom, tum or tanam, etc. Taana is 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. The Veena players invariably perform Taana; and, it is most delightful.

12.3. The third part is Pallavi, which is Nibaddha, structured by words, sections and Taala. Here the percussion player join in and do enjoy a greater role. The Pallavi ends in a series of kalpanaswaras.


[The Varna or Varnam that we are about to discuss is different from the technical term Varna (special note sequences that indicate different kinds of Svara- movements) we talked about earlier. The Varna or Varnam in the following paragraphs refers to a class of musical composition in Karnataka Sangita.]

13.1. Varnam is a short, crisp and tightly knit music-piece that aims to encapsulate the main features and requirements of a Raga. These are finely crafted exquisite works of art. The creation of a Varna calls for delicate craftsmanship, thorough knowledge of the Raga, its sanchara (movements) in various Kaala (tempos) , grasp over Taala and an overall sense of beauty and balance.

13.2. Varnams have been composed, since about eighteenth century, in all the major Ragas and most of the minor Ragas, in all the principal Taalas. Many Masters of Karnataka Sangita have composed Varnas. The prominent among them are: Pachchimiriyam Adiyappayya, Sonti Venkatsubbayya, Shyama Shastri, Swati Tirunal Maharaja, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar and Mysore Vasudevacharya.

[Varna is unique to Karnataka Sangita. The Hindustani Music does not seem to have its counterpart.]

13.3. Varna lays out the Grammar of a Raga. That is to say, it specifies the features and rules regarding the movement of the Raga (raga-sanchara), its scale, how each note of the Raga should be stressed and so on. A Varnam is therefore a fundamental form in Karnataka Sangita. It needs to be practiced well both by the learner and the experienced performer.

14.1. A Varnam is structured in two Angas (sections) : The Purvanga ( first section) comprises  Pallavi, Anu-pallavi, Mukhayi Svara; and The Uttaranga ( the latter section)  comprises a Charana that acts as a refrain for the latter part of the Varnam and Charana-svaras (Chittasvara) that are alternated with the Charanam.  Each section of a Varnam elaborates an aspect of the Raga (raga-svarupa).

14.2. A Varna does include Sahitya (lyrics); but, its role is secondary, merely supporting the music-content of the Varnam. The focus of a Varnam is on the Raga, its individual Svaras and Svara phases of various lengths and speeds. It is said; Varnam does not need the distraction of Sahitya.

14.3. The movement of a Varnam is strictly controlled; and, it’s rendering demands discipline.  Its focus is on the Graha Svara (initial note of the Raga), the Gamakas, the Sanchara (movement) of the Raga according to the prescribed format.

14.4. The Pallavi of a Varna starts on the lower end of the scale stressing on the most important Svara (Jiva Svara) in the opening phase of the Pallavi. The Anu-pallavi deals with the higher end of the scale . And, the Mukhayi Svara and Chittasvara – consist of meandering (Sanchari) chains of Svaras that explore both the upper and lower reaches of the Raga.

14.5. The rendering of a Varna employs all the three tempos. The first Charana Svara is rendered in Vilamba kaala (slow tempo) and each Jiva Svara must be highlighted. After which, the rest is sung in Madhyama kaala (half-time). Some musicians insert their own kalpanaswara passages. In the third Charana Svara, the Svaras are short and made into groups (avartanam) of four. Thus, in Charana, there are two or three Svaras of one avartanam, one Svara of two avartanam-s and finally one Svara of four avartanam-s.


15.1. As said earlier, practicing Varna is much required for the student as also for the experienced performer. For students, the Varnams that are taught at the intermediary level are useful for learning the Svaras of various Ragas, singing in multiple speeds rapidly; as well as learning the appropriate Gamakas.  Advanced students are taught Varnas in multiple Ragas or Taalas. They introduce the student to the proper combinations of Svaras for each Raga and inculcate discipline that is needed for singing.

Varna- rendering also helps to develop voice culture and in learning to maintain proper pitch and control over rhythm. The instrumentalists too can gain control over playing -techniques.

Among the early Adi Taala Varnams a student usually learns are: Ninnukori in Raga Mohana by Ramnad Sreenivasa Iyengar; Samininne in Shankarabharanam by Veenai Kuppaiyer; Evvari Bodhana in Abhogi by Patnam Subramania Iyer; and many others. In the later stages all student do learn to sing the celebrated Viriboni, in Bhairavi, set to Ata Taala by Pacchimirium Sri Adiyappayya.

15.2. In the concerts, a Varnam is most often the first or the second piece to be rendered. Though some consider it as a warm-up exercise, the correct rendering of Varna requires complete knowledge of the Raga.

16.1. Varnams are of three sorts: Daru Varnam, Pada Varnam and Taana Varnam. . The theme of these Varnams is usually Bhakthi (devotion) or Sringara (love).

We just spoke about Daru Varnam in the previous paragraphs of this article. Daru Varnams are special type of Varnams in whose Mukthayi Svaras; there are first the Svara passages, followed by the jatis which are then followed by the Sahitya.

16.2. Pada Varnam: As its name indicates there it has a greater element of Sahitya (Pada or words). Pada Varnams with elaborate Sahitya are difficult to grasp especially when set to difficult Ragas and Taala. But, Pada Varnams are in greater use in Bharatanatyam. Because, it’s Sahitya, expressions and Svaras in moderately slow pace is said to be suitable for choreography.

16.3. Taana Varnam: This does not have Sahitya for Svaras. It usually is of fast tempo (Druta and Tisra Gati). It is the sort of Varna that is meant as pure music, without the intervention of words. It therefore has fewer words than the Pada Varna. The difficult Taana Varnams are commonly chosen for rending in the concerts. The artists enjoy greater elaborations of Taana Varnams studded with Kalpana-svaras to enhance to beauty of the Raga.

Gitam, Svarajati and Jatisvaram

17.1. Just as the Varnam, the Gita and Svarajati have rhythm matching each syllable of the Sahitya to one Svara.

17.2. Gitam is the simplest type of composition. Taught to beginners of music, the Gitam is very simple in structure with an easy and melodious flow of music set in simple Taala.

17.3. Svarajatiis are learnt after a course in Gitams. More complicated than the Gitams, the Svarajati prepares the student for the Varnams. . It consists of three sections, called Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanam. Svarajati does not offer much scope for elaboration of neraval etc since it is in a tight knit form. It bound by rules. Its Svara patterns are aligned with Sahitya in a graded manner. It was the genius of Shyama Shastry that endowed Svarajati with Raga bhava.

17.4. Jatisvaras are similar to the Svarajati in musical structure. However, – Jatisvaram-has no sahitya or meaningful words. The piece is sung with sol-fa syllables. its rhythmical excellence and the jati pattern used in it are its strength.  . This is a musical form belonging to the realm of dance music. In some Jatisvarams, the Pallavi and Anu-pallavi are sung to Jatis and the Charanas are sung to a mixture of Svaras and jatis. There are also Ragamalika Jatisvarams.]

Pada or Padam


[Pada hereunder does not merely refer to ’word’; but, it also refers to a type of song that was prevalent during 17th-18th century.]

18.1. Pada or Padam were sung during Dance as they offered scope for subtle expressions through face and gestures (Abhinaya). During the times of Nayaks of Tanjavuru, Dance and Dance related music were popular because of their sweet music and aesthetic appeal. Most of the poets, musicians and Natyacharyas attached to the King’s Court were engaged in scripting songs and composing music for dance related music-forms such as Pada, Jakkini, Javali, Chintamani, Perani etc than with the art-music. Almost all forms of dance related compositions that are in vogue today are derived from this period. Its form has remained almost unchanged.

18.2. Most of the Padams were composed in regional languages, majority of them in Telugu and some in Tamil. The theme of a Padam would usually be Madhura Bhakthi devotion colored with tender love or suggestive romance. Theoretically, this sort of Bhakthi tinged with Sringara was projected in its two aspects: Antar Sringara, the unseen sublime relation between the Universal Soul (Paramatma) and the Individual Soul (Jivatma) that is guided by the Guru, the spiritual mentor; and, the Bahir Sringara was the explicit romantic relation between the Hero (Nayaka) and the Leading Lady (Nayika) that is aided and abetted by the Lady’s maid (Sakhi). Though all the nine Rasas (Nava Rasa) were portrayed in a Padam, the Srinagar (erotic or romantic love) was the dominant Rasa and the theme.

[The terms Pada and Kirtana seem to be used synonymously in this period .And, later the compositions with Sringara content came to be known as Pada; and, those with element of Bhakthi as Kirtana.]

19.1. The music   of the Padam is generally slow-moving, arousing with an appeal to ones delicate sensibilities. The natural flow of music goes along with tender and evocative words of the song. The Padam aims to blend the music, the words and Abhinaya the dance expressions into a harmonious and very enjoyable art-experience.

19.2. The Padam, when sung, presents an epitome of the raga in which it is composed. Ragas specially noted for evoking typical rasa bhava are commonly employed in Padam. They usually are the mellow and serene Ragas such as: Anandabhairavi, Sahana, Nilambari, Ahiri, Ghanta, Mukhari, Huseni, Surati, Sourashtram and Punnagavarali.

19.3. The Taala of a Padam is rather subdued, not intruding into the mood or the bhava of the song. The Sangathi too are gentle and elaborate; and, not vigorous or energetic.

A Padam also has the sections: Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charana.

20.1. Among the Pada composers, Kshetrajana is renowned for his Sringara Pada-s. Some of the poets in the Maratha Court at Tanjavuru like Giriraja Kavi were also noted Padam composers. He is said to have composed many Sringara Padas employing Desi Ragas like Brindavani.  He was followed by Vasudeva Kavi, Soma Kavi and Rama Bharathi.

Kshetrajna- Indian Music composer

20.2. The Maratha kings themselves (Thulaja I, Ekoji II, Sarabhoji II and Shahaji) are said to have composed several Padas, musical operas, Kuravanji’s, Daru, Yakshagana Natakas etc.


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21.1. Javali in its nature is similar to Padam. The Javali too involves the characters of Nayaka, Nayaki and Sakhi; but, unlike in Padam, there are no symbolisms here. The Sringara portrayed in Javali is overt. It is meant to titillate the patron.


21.2. They are basically dance-songs set in Madhyama kaala with attractive tunes and crisp Taala. Lighter Desi Ragas like Paraz, Kapi, Khamas, Behag, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, etc that   are simple and melodious are used in Javalis. They are not burdened with technical complexities as alapanaineraval or kalpanaswaras; and, in a concert they are sung towards the end as a way of relaxation.



22.1. Tillana, again, is a dance oriented song format. It makes use of Mrudanga Jathis in Pallavi and Anu-pallavi. The emphasis is on brisk rhythm, lively movement and not on Sahitya or Manodharma. Percussions have greater role to play in Tillana. It is said; the life of a Tillana is in its rhythm (Laya). The composers played around music-sounds such as tha, thai, theem, thakadhimi, or kitathakatharikitathom, quite generously.

22.2. The Jathis are articulated throughout the piece. The Charanam has usually epithets (Birudu) saluting the deity or the patron. It is tight knit composition that is rendered in just the way it is composed. Tillana exude with joy, celebration or exuberance; and, it is not meant for other Rasa such as sorrow etc.

22.3. The Tillana corresponds to Tarana of Hindustani music. It is a favorite of Veena players.   In a concert Tillanas are sung towards the end, before the Mangalam (benediction), just to make up the variety.



23.1. The forms of song-formats in Indian Music, right from Sama-gaana to the present-day, are truly countless, as we have seen from this and the earlier posts in the Series. As Dr. Ramanathan observes; form is actually a codification of various musical aspects that has been abstracted from Musical structures and prescriptions as given in the texts.

23.2. To repeat; though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do in fact represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals

23.3. That is to say the Forms in Karnataka Sangita are the representations or the expressions of theoretical principles that governed each stage of its evolution over the centuries. The Forms and formats change to suit their adopted environment; but, the principles behind them remain true and lasting.

In the next two parts, lets briefly take a look at the various Lakshana Granthas (from Dattilam to Chaturdandi prakashika) that have defined, guided and protected Karnataka Sangita.



Lakshana Granthas-1

Sources and References

  1. 1. Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)
  2. The charisma of composers BY T.M. Krishna
  1. Form in Music by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan
  2. 4. Carnatic Classical Music – Centre for Cultural Resources
  3. Carnatic music
  4. All pictures are taken from the Internet. I gratefully acknowledge the sources.

Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twelve

Continued from Part Eleven –Prabandha

Part Twelve (of 22 ) – Desi Samgita  

Marga – Desi

1.1. The term Desi, very often, is used along with or in contrast to another term Marga. Both these terms -Marga and Desi- refer to traditional systems of Music of India.

Marga or Margi or Gandharva is the ancient class of Music that precedes the time of Natyashastra (say, before second century BCE). Marga (the path or the tradition) signifies something that which is chaste and classical. And, Shiva himself is said to have taught this Marga Music, on his Veena, in his Sri Dakshinamurthy form, to the sages sitting around him.

The early Marga songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). And, during the times of Natyashastra, Marga songs were traditionally sung for offering worship to gods, in the preliminaries (purvanga), that is, before the commencement of the play proper. Bharatha explains Marga or Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

(atyartham iṣṭa devānā tathā prīti-kara puna | gandharvāā ca yasmād dhi tasmād gāndharvam ucyate || (NS Ch. 28, 9).

Marga Music was both sacred and well regulated (Niyata).And, by its very nature; Marga was rather somber and not quite flexible.

1.2. While Marga was the sacred Music devoted to please the gods by submitting gentle appeals, Desi was the art-Music that set out to hold a charming appeal to human beings. It was said; Desi is that which delights the hearts of humans (hrudaya-ranjaka), enchants common folks, cowherds, women, children and nobility alike; and, reflects the range of emotions and tunes springing from different regions. In other words, it was meant for ‘pleasing the hearts of the people’; its nature varied from Desha to Desha – region to region. It was basically the Music of the regions (Desha = region).

Deshe-Deshe jananam yadruchya hrudaya-ranjakam I Gitam ca vadanam nruttam tad Desi  ethyabiyate  II

Abala-bala-gopalaihi kshitipali nirjecchaya I Giyate sanuragena svadeshe Desir ucchate  II

[Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva ;  Chapter One  about Svara  ; Verses 23 and 24 ;  pages 14/ 15 – edited by Pandit Subrahmanya Sastri]

[ The verse Abala bala – appears at: Brihaddeshi – First Chapter) (Desha-utpatti prakaranam) – Verse 13]

Desi the music of the land was rooted in the music of the regions, capturing the unique flavors of the regions and sub-regions; and, giving expression to the moods, joys and sorrows of common people. The term Desi encompassed all forms of created songs (Gita); and even the art forms of instruments (vadya) and dance (Nŗtta).

As compared to Margi, Desi was relatively free, less rigid and improvised music of the countryside.

1.3. But, it would not be correct to equate Desi with folk (jaana-pada) and tribal songs.

Desi music was in strict conformity with the lakshana-s (theoretical principles) and the lakshya (practices in vogue) of the then established classical or well regulated (Niyata) Music of its times.  Desi Music was perhaps more relaxed in its approach; and its form opted for a lesser regimen of the Grammar.

Chatura Kallinatha (15th century) in his Kalanidhi, a commentary on Sangita-ratnakara, states that of the ten older types of Grama-Ragas, the Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga were regarded as Desi Ragas. He remarks that in these Desi Ragas though some liberty was taken, the rules of the Marga-Ragas were not totally disregarded.

1.4. Matanga also says that Desi is modeled after the Marga; and both allow scope for structured (Nibaddha) and un-structured (Anibaddha – like Aalapi) Music. He says, Ragas are classified according to the number of notes composing them; such  as odava (pentatonic) using five notes; shadava  (hextatonic) using six notes; and,  sampurna (heptatonic) using all the seven notes.No classical melody (marga) can be composed from less than five notes.

According to Matanga, no  Marga or Desi Raga can be composed of four Svaras (notes) or less. He remarks: those with less than five Svaras are used by tribes such as Savara, Pulinda, Kambhoja, Vanga, Kirata, Valheeka, Andhra, Dravida and forest dwellers. 

The exception being a class of stage songs called dhruvas, which though regarded as classical melodies, are found to be composed of four notes.

Catuh-svarat prabhrti na margah svara-pulinda-kamboja-vanga-kirata-vahlika-andhra-dravtda-vanadisu prayu;yatel /Tathacaha Bharatah:-‘shat-svarasya prayogo’sti tatha panca-svarasyaca  catuh-svara-proyage’pi hyavakrista-dhruvasvapi” //

[Thus, Raga is technically penta-tonic. And, usually there is an upper limit of seven notes. But in Hindustani Music, Ragas with nine Svaras are common; and a few mixed Ragas have even twelve Svaras (say, Basant Bahar).]

Obviously, Desi was conceived as a chaste classical music, well regulated but not too rigidly. It was the art-music of the land. It was different from the tribal or folk music of the rural mass. Sarangadeva did not also equate Desi with folk music or Loka or Jaanapada sangeet.

Similarities and differences

2.1. Just as there are similarities between Marga and Desi, there are also differences. To put these in a summary form:

2.2. Marga was the classical phase of the ancient Indian music. It was basically a sacred class of music; and in theatre it was sung to offer prayers to gods during the purvanga the preliminaries before the commencement of the play per se. It was somber and also not flexible. Marga was the icon of the Higher tradition. Its songs were composed in chaste Sanskrit following the rules of Chhandas (metre) Vyakarana (Grammar).  Its music was based in the Jaati-s (melodies) and in Shadja and Madhyama Grama-s (groups of melodies).

2.3. Desi was the art-music of the regions. It represented the flowering of the Prakrit (other than Sanskrit) phase that began to flourish by around 4th century. Songs of Desi Sangita were in Sanskrit as also in Prakrit and other vernacular languages.  They were modeled upon incidental music of the early theatre. Desi music was free flowing, vigorous and attractive; appealing to ones heart (hrdaya-ranjaka); as also providing scope for improvisation.  Its melodic portfolio could be expanded to include all other types of melodies and Ragas.

2.4. One could say that the distinction of the two – Marga and Desi- is largely historical. The transmission from Marga to Desi was a progression from a regimented few towards a spectrum of wide choices. With the growth in art and art forms many styles of music sprang up in diverse regional traditions. The ways of musical expressions also diversified and grew in abundance. For instance; eighteen Jaati-s, two Grama-s and seven Grama Ragas expanded into more than 250 Ragas by the medieval times. Alongside, the varieties of rhythmic patterns, time-units and the entire system of Taala also grew very appreciably. Thus, the advent of Desi and its rapid development greatly enlarged the boundaries of ancient musical structure; opened up new horizons; and, altered and brightened the future course of Indian Music.

2.5. The classification of the Music of India into two strata – Marga Samgita and Desi Sangita – dates back to at least to the eighth or to the ninth century, mainly through the treatise Brhad-Desi by Matanga.

[I wonder whether Marga and Desi are shifting or dynamic concepts. They are not fixed. What was Desi of ancient times could as well be called Margi of the present day. Let me explain. The Karnataka Sangita as it is practiced and performed today honors the theoretical principles, rules, disciplines and the hoary traditions. It is contemplative and devotional in its nature. The chaste and pure classical music of today has taken the place of Marga. The other popular form of music – sugam-sangget, loka-sangeet and film-sangeet etc – that quickly attracts with its catchy tunes and beats is the Desi of today. This is just a muse. ]


[Classical and folk music

3.1. Before we get back to Matanga, let’s digress for a short while, and talk about classical and folk music.

(i). In all literal art forms, two conventions (dharmi) or two streams of expressions are recognized; one is the Loka-dharmi and the other is the Kavya-dharmi.  Similar conventions or forms exist in, music, dance or art. Loka-dharmi in poetry stands for a localized or an individual’s expressions of her/his experience or emotions. Kavya–dharmi is when an individual’s emotions are turned into a song or into a poem; and it is enjoyed by all as a beautiful piece of poetry. Here, an individual’s intimate emotions are shared by all as a work of art, independent of the poet’s localized circumstances that caused the poem. The poem that is enjoyed by its listeners/readers is far removed from its original Desha (location), Kaala (circumstances) and Karana (the cause that triggered the emotion). The emotional content (let’s say, love)  in the poem is no longer limited to poet’s or to one particular person’s experience , but is  generalized and shared by all as the idiom of expression of the entire gamut of  that emotion (love).

In the present context, perhaps, one could (roughly) equate the folk music with Loka-dharmi and the Classical music with Kavya–dharmi.

(ii). The folk music is essentially the outpouring of the elementary, subjective human emotions. It generally is about purely personal emotions limited to an individual. It is spontaneous; and its purpose is to fulfill an immediate need to give forth to an emotional experience that is tied to a specific incident in one’s life or to an occasion, time, and place. In other words, folk music is immediately relevant for the emotions of only a small group, a community with a shared background and emotional state.

Folk music is spontaneous and does not require training in a developed musical system.

Folk music is certainly significant and pleasing; and is a powerful emotive language of a people. It is the medium through which shared feelings are communicated and experienced by the community.  But, it is the innocent expression of basic, natural feelings, limited to the context of a particular time and situation. And, it is rather undeveloped or underdeveloped; is without structure, grammar or classifications; and does not require training in creating a song-form.

In comparison; Classical music is not the simple expression and an instant gratification of a basic human emotion. It is a highly developed and complex art form ; and its creation is involved not merely with musical genius of the composer , but also with the intellectual processes and sensitivities that determine the quality of the creation in terms of musical contents of melody , rhythm;  the structure and the Grammar  of the composition;  and its appeal.

Here, the personal impressions or feeling of the composer are sublimated into a classical form that goes beyond subjective self. The composer’s or the performer’s individual identity is left behind. The created music is universal and is for all, instead of being limited to a specific individual’s personal feelings or to an occasion.

Thus, both the folk and the classical are genuinely powerful and qualitatively rich in aesthetic value. They both aim to interact with human minds and hearts, each in its own way. One is elementary, subjective and localized; and, the other is developed, objective with its own sensitivities and is almost universal. The difference appears to be in the purpose of their creation, which defines their context and relation with the rest of mankind.

For a detailed discussion, please check:  ]





4.1. Matanga or Matanga Muni or Matanga-Bharatha (as he is regarded one among the five-Pancha Bharathas: Nandikesvara, Kohla, Dattila, Bharatha and Matanga) takes a very important position between Bharatha (Ca.2nd century BCE) and Sarangadeva (Ca.13th century). It is surmised that he perhaps lived during sixth or the seventh century.

4.2. Matanga’s fame rests mainly on his outstanding treatise Brhaddeshi. It carries forward the tradition of Natyashastra and Dattilam; and at the same time it establishes the Desi Sangita on a firm pedestal. Brhaddeshi bridges the Marga and the Desi class of Music; and also provides the basis for the emergence of the Mela system of classifying the Ragas.   One could say, Brhaddeshi gave a new birth to Indian Music; and, revitalized its creative genius by bringing the concept of Raga into the very heart of the Music traditions and their sensibilities.

Brhaddeshi also serves as a reference to many earlier authors whose works are now lost, such as: Kashyapa, Kohala, Durgasakti, Maheshwara, Yastika, Vallabha, Vishvavasu   and Shardula.

4.3. The edition of Brhaddeshi, as it has come down to us, is an incomplete text. Only about five hundred of its verses are available. Those available verses and chapters deal only with Music; and conclude with the remark that the next Chapter will deal with Musical instruments (Vadya).  Sadly, that and subsequent Chapters, if any, are not available. However, some commentators of the later periods cite from Brhaddeshi the references pertaining to instruments, taala and dance.

5.1. In the available chapters, the first portion starts with the definition of Desi.  The term Desi, here, refers to all forms created of songs; and, it comprehends the three arts of Gita (song), Vadya (instruments) and Nŗtta (dance). One of Matanga’s major contributions is his scholarly focus on the regional element in music. Brhaddeshi (Brihat + Desi) is thus a masterly compilation of the music traditions of the various regions (Desha).

5.2. Next, the concept of Nada is described as the most subtle vibration which is the basis for speech, music, dance and all other forms of activities. Then, the text goes on to discuss two Grama-s: Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama. From these, Grama-s the music elements Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga are derived.

5.3. Matanga deals with Grama, Murchana and Jaati, rather briefly. According to Matanga, twenty-one Murchana-s evolved from the three main Grama-s: Shadja, Madhyma and Gandharva. Murchana were of two kinds: one, having seven Svaras and the other having twelve Svaras (sa-Murcchana dvi-vidha; sapta-svara-Murchanat dvadasha-svara-Murchana cheti).

The Murchana with Seven Svaras  was divided into four parts: Purna, Shadava, Audava, and Sadharana, The Purna contained  seven Svaras (hexatone ) ; Shadava , six Svaras (heptatone ) ; Audava , five  Svaras (pentatonic ) ; and the Sadharana , two displaced (vikrita} Svaras :  antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.

And, the Murchana with Twelve Svaras manifest in three registers (Sthana): low, medium and high (Mandra, Madhya and Tara).

5.4. The text then discusses Sruti (silent intervals between Svaras), Svara intervals in the two Grama-s and other terms and concepts such as, Tana, Varna, Alamkara, Jaati, Gita and Raga. Various other aspects including the popular melodies of his time are given in the other chapters.  As the name suggests, it is a huge work and is highly informative.

5.5.  He says that the Aroha (ascending) and the Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras form the Murcchana of a Raga. Murcchana, in effect, describes the string of notes that, with further embellishments (Alamkaras) of thirty-three varieties, constitutes the core of a Raga. These Alamkaras are indeed the musical excellences that adorn the songs.

5.6. After allotting a chapter to the Jaati-s, Matanga devotes a special chapter to the Ragas.  Here, he deals with Grama-raga; and the Desi-ragas: Bhasa, Vibhasa and Antarabhasa. These Desi-ragas are again classified into four categories, Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga.

5.7. Indeed, it is in this chapter of the Brhaddeshi we first come across the definition of Raga as given by Matanga, and as understood by all later literature on Classical Music. In the history of the Ragas, Brhaddeshi is, therefore, a landmark text.



8.1. The term Raga conveys many shades of meanings ranging from color, hue, tint, dye, love, desire, passion, emotional attachment  ( as opposed to it is Viraga– detachment)  , beauty, melody and so on .

But, in the context of music it had a special connotation; and, it had been in use many centuries, even prior to Matanga. Bharatha in his Natyashastra used the term Raga in compound terms in association with Jaati raga, Grama raga. And, he perhaps meant ‘Raga’ in the general sense to suggest color or aesthetic appeal or enjoyment or pleasure. He employed the term Jaati to indicate melodies, but also used the term Grama Raga. But, somehow, he did not explain the terms Jaati and Grama-raga and their mutual relationship.

8.2. There was also the Murchana which was described in Natyashastra as the string of seven Svaras used in an order (krama) in their fixed positions. Later, in the Gandharva, Murchana came to be understood as an arrangement having a gradual Aroha (ascent) and Avaroha (descent) of the seven Svaras (notes). Different musical expressions were derived from the Murchanas by permuting the seven Svaras in any number of ways.

8.3. Further, the term and the concept of Grama-raga was in common use, as evidenced by the seventh century rock inscription at kudumiyamalai in South India. The inscription which basically was meant as lessons for the pupils mentions seven verities of melodies or Grama-ragas : (1) Madahyama-grama (2) Shadja-grama (3) Sadava (4) Sadharita (5) Paricama (6) Kaisikamadhyama-grama (7) Kaisika. These seven seem to correspond to the Grama-ragas in the Naradiya-shiksa the text said to belong first or second century BCE.

8.4. The term Raga seemed to have been in use even prior to 7th century. For instance; Poet Kalidasa (5th century) had suggested Raga Saranga (Madhyamadi) for rendering the introductory song to the first Act of his play Abhijnana Shakuntalam. And, in a fable appearing in the fifth volume of Panchatantra (5th century or earlier), a donkey poses as a musician and explains Gramas, Ragas etc.

8.5. Following the steps of Bharatha, Matanga also recognized Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama as two basic Grama-s (groups or clusters). From these Grama-s he derived Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga. The Aroha (ascending) and Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras, according to Matanga, formed Murchana of a Raga.

[It needs to be mentioned here that Bharatha’s concepts of Jaati, Murchana and Giti continued to be in use even during the time of Matanga. He uses these terms and offers his explanations with illustrations from Natyashastra.

Matanga regards Ragas as one of the seven classes of songs (gitis, melodies) current in his time: (1) Shuddha; (2) Bhinnaka; (3) Gaudika; (4) Raga-giti; (5) Sadharani; (6) Bhasha-giti; and, (7) Vibhasha—gitis.  Of the seven classes of gitis, it is said; the Shuddha and the Bhinnaka have each five varieties; Gauda has three varieties; Ragas are of eight varieties; Sadharani is of seven varieties; Bhasha is of sixteen kinds; and, Vibhasha as of twelve kinds.

The Raga-gitis are the fourth in Matanga’s enumeration (Raga-gitis-caturthika). He defines the various classes of gitis, and describes Raga -gitis as: “Attractive note compositions, with beautiful and illuminating graces.”

He also mentions that the eight varieties of riigas went by the name of (1) Takka, or Taku; (2) Sauvira; (3) Malava-panchama; (4) Shadava or Khadava ;(5) Votta·raga; (6) Hindolaka; (7) Takka-Kaisika; and,  (8) Malava-Kaisika

Taku-ragasca; Souviras-tatha; Malava—pancamah/ Khadavo; Votta-ragasca; tatha Hindolakah parah// Taka-kasika ityuktas tatha Malava-Kaiskah I Ete ragah samakhyata namato muni-pungavaih// 314-15//

Here then we have the first enumeration of eight of the earliest ragas known by name. Some of them may have been derived from the 18 jatis described by Bharata.

And, then he recommends the Raga-giti for singing in dramatic sequences. He quotes Bharatha and says: Madhyama-grama (Ma Grama) melodies be used in the Mukha (opening of the drama); the Shadja-grama (Sa Grama) melodies in Prati-Mukha (progression of the play); the Sadharana (mixed scales) in the Grabha (development stages); and, Panchama-Jaati melodies for the Vimarsha (pauses)- (NS: 28.41-45)

Further, even among the music-related terms of the older (Marga) Sangita that he explained, the term Raga was used]


[In the meantime:

There is a remarkable text which the scholars have neither been able to date nor understand it fully. It is titled Gitalamkara; and, is said to have been written by an author who, for some reason, called himself Bharatha. The book aimed at controlling or disseminating the arguments of the rivals (Vadi-mattagaja-ankusha) . In its Chapter 14, the book cites thirty-six ‘Ragas’ (which are named here as Varna or colors).They are classified into three groups: Purusha (male); Stri (female) and Apatya (descendents). This, by a long stretch of time, foreshadows the Raga-Ragini-Purta concept that came about in later times. The scholars suggest that Varna might have been the older name of Raga (which also suggests color).

The Gitalamkara treats the three ancient Gramas (Nandyavarta, Jimuta and Subhadra) in an un-usual manner. Instead of treating them as basic scales, as others did, it merely lists characteristic series of four Svaras (tetrachord) for each of them. This perhaps goes back to the period before the three Gramas: Shadja, Madhyama and Gandhara Gramas came to be recognized.

It is bit confusing to say the least. For more, please see:  Le Gitalamkara by Alan Danielou; and, Musical Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis.]

9.1. Yes; it seems the word Raga with its multiple meanings was in use even from early times. But, it was not used in Music or in Music-theories in the way we know it and use it now.  It is, therefore, difficult to say Raga as it is understood today, had fully evolved and was recognized as such at the time of Natyashastra.

9.2. Which is to say; the notion of melodies that are created by artistic and ingenious arrangement of ascending and descending Svaras had been there for a very long time. It was a rather amorphous concept; its structure had not been determined; and, was waiting to be defined in a clear language.

That is, precisely, what Matanga did.



10.1. The chapter titled Raga-lakshanam (characteristics of Raga) in the Brhaddeshi commences with two questions and a request: ‘What is meant by the word Raga? And, what are the lakshana-s of a Raga? You must please explain the origin and nature   of Raga clearly ’.

Kim ucchyate raga-shabdena ? kim va ragasya lakshanama  ? I  Utpatthi lakshanam-tasya yathavad vaktum arhasi     II (278)

Matanga replies:

The nature of the Raga system (Raga-margasya- lit. path) has not been explained by Bharatha and others (Bharathadi); and, it is going to be explained (Nirupayate) by us, according to theory (lakshana) and also practice (lakshya) – (279).

Raga-margasya vad rupam yannoktam Bharathadibhih I Nirupayate tasmad abhir lakshya –lakshana –samyuktam II

10.2. Then he goes on to explain: A Raga is called by the learned, as that kind of sound composition (dhwani-bhedaya), which is adorned with musical notes (Svara) , in some peculiarly (visesena) , stationary (sthayi) , or ascending (aroha), or descending, (avaroha) or moving values (varna), which  are capable of affecting the mind with peculiar feelings or of colouring ( Ranjyate ) the hearts of men. A Raga is that which delights: Ranjana-jjayate ragau..

Svara-varna visheshena dhwani-bhedaya va punah I  Ranjyate yena yan kashichit sa ragah samsthatham   II 280

10.3. Or (Athava), it is that particular sound (dhwani vishesa) which is adorned by Svara and Varna (svara varna vibhushitaham); and that which delights the minds of the people (Ranjako jana-chittanam) is called Raga by the wise.

Athava – Yo asya dhwani vishesathu svara varna vibhushitaham I Ranjako jana-chittanam sah ragah kathitho vidhuv II 281

[Following Matanga, Sarangadeva in his Sangeeta-ratnakara described Raga as: ranjayati itihi rāga- that which delights the mind is Raga.]

10.4. After defining Raga, in two way:  as that particular  arrangement or ornamentation   of Svara and movement of Varna (Svara-Varna vishesha ; vibhushitam ); and as the distinction of melodic sounds (Dhwani-bhedana)  which delight the minds of people (Ranjako jana-chittanam) , Matanga takes up  the etymological  explanation  of the term Raga and its origin (Utpatthi).

Matanga says: this is how the word Raga is derived (Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate). He explains that the word Asvakarna when it is derived from its root might literally mean the ears of a horse. But, in practice (rudi), Asvakarna is generally understood as the tree whose leaves resemble in shape the ears of a horse. Similarly, the word Pankaja literally means one that is born (ja) out of mud (panka). But, Pankaja in convention and common usage refers only to the lotus-flower.

In a like manner, he says, the word Raga has etymological as well as special conventional meaning like the word Pankaja. He explains: whatever might be its other meanings, the word Raga (derived from the root ranj = to please), effectively suggests, here, as that which generates delight: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate I  Ranjana-jjayate  ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II 283

Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah I  Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284

[ Among the many  tools (Nyaya) employed in the olden days to extract and to explain the meaning of the words and terms ,the  Samabhirudha Nyaya derived the meaning of a word from its root;  and , Vyavaharika Nyaya  interpreted the word through conventions (rudi)  and its common usage (paddathi)  in day-to-day life (Vyavahara).

The words Asvakarna and Pankaja are common illustrations of these Nyayas. And, Matanga’s argument is based on similar lines.

There are many other similar words, such as:  Mantapa which normally is understood as an open-hall; but, its etymological meaning could be ‘one who drinks scum of boiled rice (Ganji)’. And, the term Kushala is generally used to denote an expert or a highly skilled person (pravina); but, its etymology analysis would lead to one who is ‘good at cutting grass (kush). And, similarly, Ashva-gandha is literally ‘smell of the horse; but in common usage it refers to a medicinal herb.

 Bhartrhari, in his Vakyapadiya emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in the determination of the meaning of expressions. Etymology is without doubt important in its own context; but, in the day-to-day conversations the conventional meaning (Vyvaharica artha) takes precedence over the etymologically derived sense. Panini the Grammarian also recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it in their daily  lives were better judges in deriving, meaning of  the words

Therefore, the generally accepted rule in the Indian poetics is that the conventional meaning overrides the etymological derivation.  It is said; the conventional (rudi) meaning is grasped immediately and directly while its etymological sense has to derived indirectly through analysis. And, the essential nature of the word lies in its power (Skakthi) to signify directly. ]

10.5. Thus, the term Raga, in its etymological and technical sense, means a particular combination or sequence of Svaras and Varnas which delights, charms or colors  (in broader sense ) the mind. Therefore, every Raga, while it delights also creates an emotional mood which colors or influences the mind in its own unique manner. It colors different minds in different ways. That is why a single Raga can yield divergent expressions, associations and experiences.

General and Special characteristics

11.1. Along with defining Raga and explaining its concept, Matanga takes up the question of its identity. He says that the identity of Raga is conceived in two ways (dvivida matham):  through its general (Samanya) classification and through its special characteristics (vishesha lakshana). He mentions the general categories as four (Chatur vidha tu samanya); and, that the Raga’s special identity lies in Amsa and other features (vishesha cha Amshakadhikam).

Samanya cha visheshacha lakshana dvivida matham I  Chatur vidha tu samanya vishesha cha Amshakadhikam II 282

11.2. General (Samanya) classification

As regards the four broad categories (Chatur vidha tu samanya) that Matanga mentioned, some say, he, perhaps, was referring to Desi ragas that are classified into four categories, Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga. These ragas are the basis for all musical forms presented in the later Samgita traditions and forms. [But, during the later times the connotation and interpretation of these terms underwent thorough revision. The Ragas came to be classified into Janaka and Janya. And, Janya ragas were further classified into: Sampurna — Varja; Krama- Vakra; Upanga — Bhashanga: Nishadantya, Dhaiva- tantya and Panchamantya. ]

[There is another interpretation which says that the four general categories mentioned by Matanga might refer to : Purna, Shadava, Audava, and Sadharana, The Purna contained  Svaras (hexatone ) ; Shadava , six Svaras(heptatone ) ;  Audava , five  Svaras (pentatonic ) ; and the Sadharana , two displaced (vikrita} Svaras :  antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.]

Amsa and other characteristics

11.3. Amsa was said, during the time of Matanga, to be the prominent or predominant Svara through which the Raga manifested (raga-janakatvad vyapakatvaccha Amsasya pradhanyam).  During his time, the term Amsa and Vadi were used alternatively. Kallinatha in his commentary has said that both Amsa and Vadi used to convey the idea of creating the pleasing sensations of the Ragas (Sa vadi tyogyatavashdt amsha syat rakti-vyanjakatvat).

Along with Amsa, nine other characteristics (Dasha-lakshanam) of Jaati (melodies) were listed in Natyashastra (28.74) as also in Dattilam (55) as Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa.

These are briefly:

: – Graha – It is the initial note –Adi-Svara– used at the beginning of a song;

: – Amsa – It is the prominent note (key note) in the song. The melodic expression of the song depends on it;

: – Tara – It is the high register; the upper limit of the notes to be used. It is the fourth note from Amsa which belongs to middle sthana;

: – Mandra –It is the low register; the lower limit of the note to be used;

: – Sadavita –Six notes are used omitting one;

: – Audavita -Five note are used dropping two.

: – Alpatva – It is the use of a note or notes in small measure. It is twofold: by skipping over the particular note or notes; and by non-repetition;

:- Bahutva – It is of two kinds: by using the notes fully or by repeating it often

: – Apa-nyasa– It is before the final note (penultimate) . It is note with which a section of the song ends –Vidari;

: – and, Nyasa – It is the note with which the song ends.

[ In the introduction to his work Ragas and Raginis, Prof. O C Ganguli writes:

The starting note (graha) and the terminating note (nyasa) have now almost lost their significance. But the Amsa (predominant note) is of great importance. It is also called the Vadi (lit. the speaker, or announcer) i.e. the note which indicates, manifests, or expresses the peculiar character of the raga; and, receives the greatest emphasis in the structure of the raga. It is also called the jiva, or the soul of the raga. Just as the Vadi note determines the general character of a raga, the Vivadi or the dissonant note, distinguishes and differentiates it from other forms of ragas, by avoidance of the Vivadi note. For, this dissonant note destroys the character of the melody. The Vivadi note gives the negative element, and, the other three, the positive determining elements of a raga. Every raga has its special types of a serial of notes for ascent (aroha) and descent (avaroha) which determines its structure. The degree of insistence or importance of particular notes lends flesh, blood, color, and life to the scale and creates a Raga (Ranjayati iti ragah- ‘that which colors, is a raga).]


Svara, Varna and Alamkara

12.1. In the explanations offered by Matanga, he mentions Svara, Varna and Alamkara etc.


12.2. The Svara, here, indicates the arrangement of five or more ascending and descending notes. According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered.

Depending on their level of importance in a Raga, Svaras are classified under the four categories Vadi, Anuvadi, Samvadi and Vivadi (sonant, assonant , consonant  and dissonant). Bharatha defines these in his Natyashastra. here , the Vadi is the most important Svara to a Raga. It is repeated often and used as a fundamental note  upon which the raga sculpture is erected. Sa, shuddha ri, antara ga or pa are examples of Vadi Svaras. When sung with the Vadi Svaras, only certain Svaras have a pleasant or concordant effect. These are Samvadi Svaras, and they generally have nine or thirteen shruti intervals between them and their corresponding Vadi Svara . The Anuvadi Svaras help in adding substance to a Raga, and they are not emphasized. Vivadi Svaras are those which are discordant and create a displeasing effect when rendered with the Vadi Svara. The space between these two is usually one Svara, though it is often more than two Sruthi differences.

[ Sruthi is derived from Sru (to listen) Srunyanta iti srutayah –that which is heard is Sruti. Matanga , quoting Khohala , says – Srutis are infinite varieties of sounds in the Universe, comparable to the ceaseless waves produced when the ocean is struck by great winds.]


12.3. And, Varna refers to special note sequences that indicate different kinds of movement. The function of Varna in a Raga is to manifest a song; and, it is, therefore, known as gana-kriya. The Varna-s are said to be of four kinds, depending on the movement of Svara. They indicate the general direction of the melodic line.   When a note remains more or less at the same level it is called Sthayi-varna (stable); when the notes are ascending or descending these are known as Arohi and Avarohi. And, a mixture of the three is sanchari-varna, wandering, back-and-forth.


12.4. Alamkara (adornment or ornamentation) refers to graces and flourishes in the music. Alamkara contributes to enhancing the artistic beauty in the presentation of Music.  It has been a vital aspect of the creative process even from very early times. Bharatha, in a famous verse, remarks that “A song without Alamkara will be like a night without moon; a river without water; a creeper without a flower; and, a woman without any ornament.”

Shashina rahiteva nisha, Vijaleva nadee lata, Vipushpeva avibhooshitheva cha kantha, geethir-alamkara-viheena syath.

The Alamkaras are associated with Varna (appearance, color, word, and syllable). It is said; if Varna is the architecture or the structure, then the Alamkara is its decoration bringing out and enhancing its natural beauty. In Music,the term Alamkara represents the combinations of progressions and ornamentation. The harmonious blending of structure and decoration is basic to all forms of Indian art.  And, in early Music, probably, no precise distinction was  made between Varna and Alamkara.

Alamkaras, as recurring patterns of variations formed out of Svaras, were associated with each of the four Varnas. They were classified according to the Varna underlying them. Accordingly, there were four broad categories of Alamkaras:

Sthayi -Varna –Alamkara; Arohi-Varna-Alamkara; Avarohi-Varna-Alamkara; and, Sanchari-Varna –Alamkara.

 12.5. Under these categories, Natyashastra had earlier listed thirty-three types of Alamkaras. But, Dattila later abridged the list to thirteen. Matanga who followed Natyashastra reckoned thirty-three Alamkaras.  However, in later times the list grew up to eighty-eight types of Alamkaras.

Dattila’s list of thirteen Alamkaras , which is  regarded as the basic contained : 1. Prasanna-adi, begins with low note; 2. Prasanna-anta, ends with low note; 3. Prasanna-madhya, low note in the middle; 4. Prasanna-adyanta, begins and ends with low note; 5. Bindu, higher note touched like lightning; 6. Nivrtta-pravrtta, lower note touched quickly; 7. Prenkholita, even swing between two notes;  8. Tara-mandra-prasanna, gradual rise followed by sudden drop; 9. Mandra-tara-prasanna, sudden rise followed by gradual descent; 10. Sama, even ascent and/or descent; 11. Kampita, quiver in low register; 12. Harita, quiver in middle register; and, 13. Recita, quiver in high register

[Source: As listed in Early Indian musical speculation and the theory of melody by Lewis Rowel]


13.1. Karnataka Samgita has developed an intricate system of Alamkara with subtle variations.  It is celebrated as Gamaka. And, Gamaka, as such, was not mentioned in Natyashastra. But, the text does talk about different types of Alamkaras as that which add beauty and aesthetic value to Music.

13.2. Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, however, does mention Gamaka. For in instance; while discussing about Raga-giti , one of the seven charming song-forms, he mentions that Raga-giti should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and should be adorned with Svara pronunciations, lucid, powerful and even (300); and the Vibhasha–giti should be sung blending in the Gamakas that are pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithairasthu) and are also delicate , according to the will of the singer (yadrucchaya samyojya)   to the delight of the people (lokan-ranjathe)- (308).

13.3. Sarangadeva in Chapter three: Prakīrņaka-adhyāya of his Sangita-ratnakara treats Gamaka in greater detail. He lists fifteen types of Gamakas (Panchadasha Gamaka): the kinds of shake or oscillations that Svaras can be endowed with.

Tripa; Spurita; Kampita; Lina; Andolita; Vali; Tribhinna; Kurula; Ahata; Ullasita; Plavita;  Gumpita; Mudrita; Namita; and, Misrita.

स्वरस्य कम्पो गमकः श्रोतृचित्तसुखावहः | तस्य भेदास्तु तिरिपः स्फ़ुरितः कम्पितस्तथः ||लीन आन्दोलित वलि त्रिभिन्न कुरुलाहताः | उल्लासितः प्लावितस्च गुम्फ़ितो मुद्रितस्तथा || नामितो मिश्रितः पञ्चदशेति परिकीर्तिताः |

Sarangadeva’s descriptions are closer to our understanding of Gamaka.

Tripa: Playing one of the notes of a phrase with some stress.

Spurita: wherein the lower note is faintly heard and the second note is stressed.

Kampita: A slight tremble oscillating between two Svaras.

Lina: Merging of a note softly into another note.

Andolita: A free swinging. Holding on a note for some time and then pulling the string or gliding on it so as to reveal a higher note.

Vali: deflecting the string in a circling manner for producing the chhaya of two or three notes from the same Svara-sthāna.

Tribhinna: Produced by placing the left-hand fingers on a Svara-sthāna so that the fingers are in contact with three strings, and then by plucking the three strings with the right hand fingers either simultaneously or successively (only in fretted instruments).

Kurula: production of a note of another sthāna with force

Ahata: Sounding a note and then producing another note without a separate stroke (only in Veena).

Ullasita: Glide. Starting on a note and reaching a different (higher or lower) note by gliding over the intermediate notes.

Plavita: This is a variety of Kampita.

Gumpita: The tone is slender at the start and goes on increasing in both volume and pitch- in vocal music.

Mudrita: Produced by closing the mouth and singing – in vocal Music.

Namita: Singing in a slender tone –vocal Music.

Misrita: Mixture of two or three of the other varieties.

[For more: please check ]

[Various commentators on Indian music have mentioned different numbers of Gamakas. For example, Narada in Sangeeta Makaranda describes nineteen Gamakas; and, Haripala in Sangeeta Sudhakar describes seven Gamakas. There is also a mention of Dasha-vida Gamaka, which is slightly different from that of Sarangadeva. Please check: ]

14.1. In today’s Karnataka Samgita, Gamakas are essential aspects of Manodharma Sangita. Gamaka is much more than an ornament to Karnataka Sangita. It is a very essential constituent of its musical element and its elaboration.

4.2. Gamaka is any graceful turn, curve or cornering touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which adds emphasis to each Raga’s unique character.  Gamaka, in short, is the movement of Svaras which bounce, slide, glide, shivers, rapidly oscillates or skips. It provides movement and animates Svaras to bring out the melodic character and expression (bhava) of a Raga. Each Raga has specific rules on the types of Gamakas that might be applied to specific notes, and the types that may not. Every Raga has, therefore, to be necessarily rendered with the appropriate Gamakas. They depend on the manner of quivering, oscillations or shaking that the Svaras can be endowed with.

14.3. Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Not merely that the Gamakas are designed specifically for vocal music and for instrumental music, but also that each performer would, in due course, develop her/his own Gamaka-improvisations. And therefore, two ragas with identical ascending (Aroha) and descending (Avaroha) Svaras and born out of the same parent (Janaka) Raga might sound totally different in character and expression , mainly because of the Gamakas that are employed. One could say that Karnataka Sangita is Gamaka oriented. And, it is, perhaps, because of such extensive use of Gamakas, it has not been easy to commit Karnataka Sangita to notation system.  Gamakas can be taught and practiced only by oral method, through Guru-Shishya interactions.

[In Hindustani Music, Meend and Andolan are similar to Gamakas.]

15.1. Other Angas of Karnataka Sangita

Apart for the above mentioned,  there are certain other Angas (limbs) that are essential to the song formats in Karnataka Sangita. These are:  Pallavi, Anu-pallavi, Chjttaswaram, Mukthayiswaram and Charanam .

The Pallavi is a sort of introduction to the piece; and, it must establish the RagaTaala and bhava of the entire song. The Pallavi is rendered usually, in the middle octave (madhyama sthayi), though Sangathis take it to the higher and lower octaves at times. Pallavi is the counterpart of Udgraha of the Prabandha compositions.

The Anu-pallavi links the Pallavi to the Charanam.  It is analogous to Melapaka of the Prabandha. The Anu-pallavi is usually sung in the higher octave. The Charanam provides the climax of the Sahitya aspect of the song. Neraval and Kalpanaswara often resolve in the Charanam, though this is not a rule. The Charanam has a range from the lower to the middle to the higher octaves, thus having the widest range of the angas of a song.


16.1. For Indian Music, Sruthi and Laya are said to be the parents of music: ‘Shruthi Matha Laya Pitha ’ . The term  Laya  (‘to be one with ) denotes Taala (rhythm).  Sarangadeva remaked that music, vocal , instrumental, and dance  are based on units of time-measure, or Taala: ‘gitam vaadyam thathaa nrtyam yatasthale pratishthitham.’ Bharatha said that without a sense of Taala, one could neither be called a singer or a drummer. Earler to that , Bharatha  had further elaborated on Taala in the 29th chapter of the Natyashastra, saying that it is a definite measure of time upon which Gana, or song, rests: ‘ganam talena dharyathe’.

16.2. While Raga dictates the appearance and characteristics of a melody, it is the Taala that sets the rhythm and beat of any piece in Indian music. All Taalas of Karnataka Sangita are cyclical in nature, i.e. a single unit is taken and repeated to form the Taala pattern or rhythm. There are different units of Taala. An important unit, one of the smallest, is the akshara (lit. Alphabet) . The akshara is not defined in terms of absolute duration ; but it is conceived as  a variable that changes according to the mood of the composer, the piece and the performer involved.

The akshara is further divided into Svaras. And, the Svaras are of five different measures – Tisra (3), Chatusra (4), Misra (7),Khanda (5) and Sankeerna (9). The smallest measure of Svaras is Tisra. Strangely enough, two is not taken as the smallest number, perhaps because two is too small a number to stand on its own as a beat. The number divisible by 2 that is used instead is four, in Chatusra.

These Svara divisions are made easier to remember with the help of the meaningless syllables used primarily in dance or percussion training. For Tisra, the syllables ‘Tha Kita’ are used. Chatusra is denoted by the syllables ‘Thakadhimi’; Khanda – ‘Thaka Thakita’; Misra -‘Thakita Thakadhimi’;and , Sankeerna – ‘Thakadhimi Thaka Thakita’.

16.3. The means and materials of Taala according to Bharatha in his Natyashastra are ‘laya, yati and pani’. The Laya, or tempo, is divided into fast, medium and slow speeds, i.e. Druta, Madhya and Vilambita.  And, Yati is a kind of method of application of laya. It is of many kinds; the three of which are sama, srotogata and gopuccha. The sama-yati possesses three units of tempo: one in the beginning, one in the middle and one in the end. The srotogata contains three units of tempo, as well: the first is slow (vilambita), the second is medium (Madhya) and the third is fast (druta). The gopuccha-yati consists of three units of tempo, where in the beginning of the song the tempo is fast, then it becomes medium and in the end it becomes slow.

16.4. The present day Karnataka Sangita has a Taala System based on the scheme of Sapta Taala (seven Taala). In order to facilitate easy and accurate methods of reckoning these Taalas, the shadangas (six parts) are used. There are symbols to denote these angas. Except for the anga known as ‘laghu,’ the others have fixed time measures.

[For more, please check A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music]




17.1. It is very essential to understand that Raga is not merely a scale or a mode. To limit a Raga to the confines of a scale might not be quite correct. A Raga has dimensions that go beyond its scales, such as swaroopalakshana and bhava. One might ordinarily,   even, say, a Raga is not a tune, nor is it a ’modal’ scale, but rather a continuum with scale and tune as its extremes. But, Ragas are actually more complex than this limited definition. How the musical sounds are conjured up and configured in such a way as to produce that tender or powerful but indescribable feeling in the listener is truly a very complex process.  The artistic transformation of a scale into Raga is a phenomenon that is unique to the Music of India,

17.2. Indeed, Raga is basically a feeling, an emotional experience shared by the performer and the listener. The expression of the Raga is essentially  through the combination of certain notes and twists of melody. But, Raga is more than its structure. Raga is an icon. It is  indeed a living, fluid, organic entity.

The raga bhava is visualization of the Raga in a seemingly tangible form that draws the listener into the music.

In the introduction to his work Ragas and Raginis, Prof. O C Ganguli writes:

According to Matanga, an ancient authority, : A Raga is called by the learned, as that kind of sound composition (dhwani-bhedaya), which is adorned with musical notes (Svara) , in some peculiarly (visesena) , stationary (sthayi) , or ascending (aroha), or descending, (avaroha) or moving values (varna), which  are capable of affecting the mind with peculiar feelings or of colouring ( Ranjyate ) the hearts of men. A Raga is that which delights: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

If the combinations, growing out of the component members or elements (svaras) of a raga-composition, have any significant qualities, or functions, the ensemble of the raga-form must spell and express some particular states of feelings and emotions.  Indeed, they are believed to represent particular moods, association, or atmosphere of the human mind, or of nature, and to be able to call up and invoke a distinctive kind of feeling answering to the state of the mind, or its physical environment, for the time being.

 Ragas have, therefore, the power of producing certain mental effects and each is supposed to have an emotional value, or signification which may be called the ethos of the raga. Ragas may be said to stand for the language of the soul, expressing itself variously, under the stress of sorrow, or the inspiration of joy, under the storm of passion, or the thrills of the expectation, under the throes of love-longing, the pangs of separation, or the joys of union.

17.3. Ragas keep changing shape; their rendering vary from time to time ; and, new ones are born while others are forgotten. They gain full status when they are  repeatedly played and heard. Their main features have to be established and tested by experienced performers whose knowledge and interpretation contributes to the very  understanding  of the raga-bhava. In this context, Indian musicians often speak of a ‘raga grammar’, sets of rules and patterns that determine the selection of intervals and characteristic melodic movements. This practical knowledge is orally transmitted ; it  guides the melodic development of every performance; and,  it also forms the  essential framework for the manifestation of each raga’s personality as developed by the performer.

While Raga lakshana is the Grammar of a Raga, the theoretical that define the characteristics of a Raga, Raga Prayoga is movement of the Raga through Aroha (upward sequence of Svaras) and Avaroha (downward sequence of Svaras) that give its identity along with the application of Gamakas

17.4. Each raga has its own definite personality; and can easily be recognized.  A musician may compose in the same Raga many number of times; and, yet it is possible that new tunes can be composed using that Raga. That is to say, though a given Raga has certain melodic phrases, their forms and expressions are truly unlimited. And yet, a Raga can be recognized in the first few notes, because the feelings produced by the musician’s execution of these notes are intensely strong. The effect of Indian music is cumulative rather than dramatic. As the musician develops his discourse in his Raga, it eventually colors the thoughts, elevates and delights the listeners.

18.1. Raga is the central and predominant melodic concept in Indian music. Raison d’être of a classical music performance is projecting the entity of a Raga in its fullest splendor, so as to offer to the listeners an aesthetic experience which only that Raga can generate ( that is, Raga–specific) .

18.2. Raga-bhava-rasa is a continuum. The Raga ambience creates a mood that binds together the performer and the listener. The elaboration of the idyllic tender passages manifests or becomes (Bhava) the emotive world; and, it creates is an experience shared by the creator and the enjoyer (rasika). In that we, somehow, touch the very core of our being. And, that out-of –the world (alaukika) subjective ultimate aesthetic experience (ananda) is not a logical construct. As Abhinavagupta says, it is a wondrous flower; and, its mystery cannot really be unraveled.


19.1. The advent of Raga changed the whole phase of Indian Music.  With its coming, the ancient music-terms and concepts such as Jaati, Grama, and Murchana etc no longer are relevant in the Music that is practiced since say, fourteenth century. Since then Raga has taken the centre stage; and, it is the most important concept in music composition, music performances and even in music-listening.

19.2. The proliferation of Ragas led, in the South, to systematic ways of classifying or grouping (Mela) them based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras). In North India, Ragas are classified according to such characteristics as mood, season, and time of the day or night. Classification of Ragas plays a major role in Indian Music theories.

Though the present-day system is evolved from the structure suggested by Venkatamakhin, it has many differences. For example, Venkatamakhin did not believe parent melakarthas must contain sampoorna (complete) Aroha and Avaroha as long as they contained the seven notes in some form or the other. The idea that they should have these seven notes in their complete form in the ascending and descending sequences of Svaras is attributed to Govindacharya, who, in the late 18th century, re-organized the melakartas making them all sampoorna so that a certain mathematical elegance could be maintained

[We shall talk about Mela-system later in the series]

In the next segment of this series let’s take a look at the various forms of Karnataka Sangita.



Forms of Karnataka Sangita


Sources and References

  1. Third Quarterly Report – SIPA Textbook Committee

  1. Rāga-s in Bṛhaddēśī: English translation of the verses and the prose passages describing the Rāga-s, in the Bṛhaddēśī of Mataṅga by Dr. Hema Ramanathan
  2. Brhaddasehi of Matanga by Dr. N . Ramanathan
  3. History of Indian Music by Swami Prajnananda
  4. Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowell
  5. Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music: Essays on the History of … By Bruno Nettl, Philip V. Bohlman
  6. Essays on Indian Music by Raj Kumar
  7. Emergence of the Desi tradition by T.M. Krishna
  8. Raga:
  11. A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART IV – Music continued

(For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar)

Continued from Part III – Music


In the previous Part (Part III) while discussing about the music of Sri Tyagaraja , we familiarised ourselves with the music- scene that was prevailing in the Cauvery delta just prior to his time, as also with the developments that were taking place during his own time. In that context, we briefly touched upon Prabandha-s, Bhajanavali-s, Divyanama Samkitrana-s and Gita-Geyas inspired by the Nama Siddantha doctrine. And then, we came upon Kriti, the most advanced form of Karnataka Samgita which was perfected by Sri Tyagaraja and his contemporaries – Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry. Let’s now move on to Sangathi-s which is said to be Sri Tyagaraja’s own contribution to music rendering in South India


29.1. The practice of singing Sangathi (lit. putting together) – a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Swaras – is said to have been introduced by Sri Tyagaraja. Some say that Sri Tyagaraja adopted Sangathi-rendering from dance-music where variations are done for Abhinaya and for bringing out the different shades and interpretations of the basic emotion (Bhava). In any case, this was an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the Kriti format in particular and to the musical performances in general. Sangathi elaboration in Madhyama Kala, in the opening of a Pallavi, has enormously enriched the aesthetic beauty of Raga-bhava during Kriti-presentation in a concert.  With that, a Kriti is no longer static; but, it is a vibrant, living entity like language that is wielded with skill and dexterity. Sangathi passages also mark the virtuosity of the performer. Some of Sri Tyagaraja masterpieces open with a cascade of Sangathis (E.g.  Chakkani raja margamu; Rama ni samana; O Rangashayi; and Naa Jivadhara.)

29.2. Though Sangathi was fundamentally a feature of Tyagaraja-Kritis, its practice (Sarasa sangathi sandharbhamu, as Tyagaraja calls it)   has now spread to the presentation of Kritis of Dikshitar, Shyama Shastry and other composers, though they belong to a different style. Similarly, Madhyama kala that goes with the Sangathi has come to be the principal tempo of Karnataka Samgita [though some of Dikshitar-kritis, in Vainika style, are in slow tempo (Vilamba Kala)].

29.3. Sangathi and  Neraval (sahitya vinyasa) – where the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways while keeping intact the original structure of the Pallavi or Charanam – together with Kalpana Swaras, provide depth and expansiveness to Karnataka Samgita. And, Tyagaraja-kritis, in particular, provide ample scope not only for elaboration on various phases and aspects of Raga (manodharma-samgita), but also for improvising fascinating sequences of Sangathi-s, Neraval and Kalpana –Swaras.

Svara- sahitya

30.1. Another endearing feature of Sri Tyagaraja’s music is the Svara- sahitya he built into his major compositions, that is the Ghanaraga Pancharatna kritis which have long sentences, piled one upon another. Here, the Swaras (Notes) flow briskly, as if riding a wave, at even pace, in Madhyama Kala, weaving melody (Raga), rhythm (Taala) and words (Mathu) into grand patterns of beauty and delight. The Kritis are ideally suited for group singing (samuha –gana). Sri Tyagaraja’s poetic gifts in Sanskrit and Telugu too come to fore in these Kritis. The genius of Sri Tyagaraja was to insert Bhava even in a format where Swara and Taala are dominant. One cannot but admire the originality and daring of the Composer.


31.1. Sri Tyagaraja, as most of the other musicians of his time, followed Venkatamakhi’s scheme of 72 Mela-karta classifications of Ragas (from Kanakangi to Rasikapriya). Expanding on Venkatamakhi’s Chaturdandi-Prakasika (ca. 1635),  Govindacharya, in his Sangraha Chudamani (late 17th – early 18th century), introduced the Sampoorna Melakarta scheme as well as delineating  Lakshanas for 294 janya ragas, many of which were till then unknown . Thus, unlike the musicians of their past generations, Sri Tyagaraja and others had the benefit of a vast store of Ragas.

Musicologists who have analyzed Sri Tyagaraja’s  collected works say that his  700 odd known kritis  feature 212-5 ragas (including about 47 Mela-karta Ragas); and of these , as many as 121 ragas have only one composition each.

31.2. It is also said; Sri Tyagaraja seemed to favour Ragas with Shuddha-madhyama (Ma1). More than a hundred of his Kritis are in groups of Ragas under Kharaharapriya, Harikambhoji and Dhira-Shankarabharana. Then, under Prathi-madhyama (Ma2), there are kritis in: Varali (14); Kalyani (21) and Pantavarali (13).

31.3. The Raga he chose, in each case, is eminently suited to the Kriti. Sri Tyagaraja could express sorrow, turmoil and joy with great musical beauty. His kriti, generally, strikes a good   balance between form and structure. It not only captures the essence of the Raga, but also aptly conveys the Bhava, the inner meaning of the kriti.   The music of Sri Tyagaraja is, thus, complete in all respects.

31.4. Although Sri Tyagaraja has composed some songs in slow tempo (Vilamba kala), the medium one (Madhyama kala) is said to be his characteristic tempo. The Madhyama Kala goes well with the Sangathi– rendering of his Kritis. That style of singing his Kritis has provided a stable format for musical concerts; and, has come to prevail in the Karnataka music. As a result, even Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis eminently suited to Veena-play (Veena–vadana) in slow tempo, with Gamaka-s (tonal flourishes) as its main adornment, is also, at times, spurred up to the Madhyama or even to Dhruta tempo.

Some of Sri Tyagaraja ‘s  Madhyama-kala Kritis commence with Durita-kala (quick tempo) with a very lively, arresting impact on any audience; for instance: ‘Darini Telusukonti’ (Suddha Saveri) and; ‘Dorakuna’ (Bilahari).

 There are also Madhyama-kala Kritis with Madhyama or Druta – kala sahitya, as in Emi dova’ (Saranga); ‘Vallagadanaka’ (Harikambhoji); ‘Brochevarevare’ (Sriranjani); and, ‘Koluvaiyunnade’ (Devagandhari

31.5. Sri Tyagaraja is credited with composing Kritis in rare and uncommon Ragas, in each of which there is only one Kriti. Such Kritis are termed as: Eka-raga kritis.  And, these are the main source to ascertain the sanchara-s of such Ragas. Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed about forty such Eka-raga kritis. Some instances of his Eka-raga Kritis are:  Ni Chittamu (Vijayavasantam); Varashiki Vahana (in Supradipam); Lilaganu Juche (in Dundubhi); Daya Jucutakidivela (in Ganavaridhi); Vachamagocharame ( in Kaikavasi ); and others.

31.6. There are also a few minor Ragas with limited scope for elaboration; but, have become popular mainly because of his compositions. By composing excellent kritis, Sri Tyagaraja breathed life to these ragas. [E.g. Jayantasena (vinata sutavahana); Kapinarayani (sarasa samadana); and Vijayasri (varanarada)].His initiative paved way for later generation of musicians to elaborate and present substantial pictures of such ‘minor’ Ragas.

[Among the songs of his early period, Giriraja Suta and Ravinchuvarevarura are set to European band tunes, which perhaps he heard at Tanjavuru court. These are similar to Nottu-swara songs of Sri Dikshitar.]

31.7. Sri Tyagaraja is also said to have introduced new (Vinta) Ragas (or the Ragas that were adopted into Kritis for the first time): Vagadeeswari (paramatmudu); Ganavaridhi (daya juchutakidi velara) and Manohari (paritapamu ganiyadina); as also Ragas with only four Notes in Arohana (Vivardhani and Navarasa Kanada). In his Kriiti Muccata brahmadulaku (Madhyamavathi), he refers to Vinta-Ragas (Vinta  ragamulna aalapamu seyaga)

In all these cases (including rare and vakra ragas), Sri Tyagaraja in his characteristic manner indicates the scale structure at the very opening lines of the song (Pallavi) and maintains the scale structure further in the Kriti.

[For more, please check the analysis made by Prabhakar Chitrapu in his The Musical Works of Thyagaraja at ]

32.1.  Sri Tyagaraja was not only a poet, a composer but was also a performer par excellence. This is another testimony to Sri Tyagaraja’s multitalented musical genius. His creative contribution in enriching Karnataka Samgita, in scope, content and excellence in its presentation , is truly immense.

Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) is an encyclopedic work, written in Sanskrit, covering a wide range of subjects.  Its Chapter Three: Prakirnaka: deals with topics such as: Guna–Dosha (merits and de-merits) of Vak-geya-kara (composers who set  songs to music). The text grades the composers (Vak-geya-kara) into three classes. According to its classification,  the lowest is the lyricist; the second is one who sets to tune the songs written by  others; and, the highest is one who is the  Dhatu Mathu Kriyakari – who writes the lyrics (Mathu), sets them to music (Dhatu) and ably presents (Kriyakari)  his compositions.

 The sublime trinity of Karnataka Sangita : Sri Tyagaraja; Sri Dikshitar  and Sri Shyama Shastry were  indeed  Vak-geya-karas  of the highest order.]

33.1. As regards the Taala (rhythmic counterpoints), nearly half his compositions are set in symmetric Di-Taala of eight counts (matra). There are nearly a hundred each in Chapu, Desati and Rupaka Taalas.


: – Sanskrit

34.1. Telugu is mainly the language of Tyagaraja-kritis. However, out of his 700 and odd Kritis that are known, about 50 are in Sanskrit [E.g. Jagadānanda kārakā (Naata); Śhambhō mahādēva (Pantuvarali); Īśā pāhimā jagadīśha (Kalyani); Lalitē śrī pravr̥ddhē śrīmati lāvaya nidhimati (Bhairavi); Vara-līla gāna-lōla sura-pāla (Shankarabharanam) and many others]. It is said; for the purpose of his daily worship, Sri Tyagaraja wrote Divya-nama-sankirtanas as also Namavalis in Sanskrit.  Besides, in two of his plays –Naukacharitram and Prahlada Bhakt Vijayam – some slokas are in Sanskrit.  All his Telugu songs are replete with Sanskrit words and phrases.

34.2. His early education was in Sanskrit. He seemed to have learnt it well; and he used his learning with flair. His first (!) composition Namo Namo Raghavaya (Desikatodi – a Janya raga of the 8 Melakarta Hanumatodi with Aroha – S G2 M1 P D1 N2 S/  and, Avaroha– S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S ), which is inscribed on the walls of his house, is in Sanskrit. The song celebrates the glory of the Lord in brisk series of His sacred–names (Divya-nama); and also pays tributes to the Valmiki who composed the most wonderful Ramayana epic (Satatha paalita adbhuta kavye).

34.3. His Sanskrit compositions enriched with skill and grace are spread over a wide range. There are some sweet-sounding songs that are meant for beginners. There are also elaborate and Grand (Pancha-ratna) Kritis with long winding sentences flowing out in brisk sequence.

34.4. And in his Sanskrit compositions, Sri Tyagaraja shows his literary skill and command over the language.  The songs are adorned with alliteration or word-play (pada-jala), rhymes (prasa), expressions that could be understood in two different ways (shlesha) and other literary devices. (For instance: Pada jala – gruha-anugruha-vigraha-navagraha –nigraha; Vidulaku-Koviduluku; and, Dehi tava paada Vaidehi. Shlesha: Janakaja-matha/Janka-jamatha; Palaya/Krupalaya; Taradhisha vadana/Taradhisha-damana)

He also plays with usage of rare words, some having obscure meaning; and compounds words coined by him by bringing together classical and colloquial words prevalent at that time.

Certain words that are rare in Sanskrit poetic usage have gained currency mainly because of his compositions. For instance: Samaja (elephant); Vivaha (one riding a bird, here Vi stands for bird. Vivaha, otherwise, commonly means ‘marriage’); Rakabja-mukha (One who is moon faced, here Abja stands for moon while it’s common usage is for lotus); Vanidhi (sea, here Va stands for water while Vana generally means forest)

Telugu: –

35.1. The Telugu of Sri Tyagaraja-kritis, simple and graceful, is nearer to spoken language. It is the sort of Telugu that is commonly spoken by emigrant Mulakanadu community. There is a certain felicity and homeliness to his lines.  And, it is not the high-pitched classic Telugu of court poetry. Yet, it is elegant and ornamented with terms and expressions derived from Sanskrit.

35.2. There is a touch of realism in the similes, proverbs and expressions which he picks up from day-to-day life. That vouches for his keen observation of the life around him. The humour, mock-anger, sarcasm and nuggets of worldly-wisdom enliven his Kritis.

35.3. In a large number of songs , Sri Tyagaraja outlines the character of  true devotion and of a true devotee; the futility of mere observing rites and rituals (Vratas); the meaninglessness of sacred baths and Puja without having either the moral qualities, or the purity of mind or devotion in ones heart (Manasu nilpa saktilekapote..). His kritis were as much a pleadings to the Lord as to the fellow beings asking them to delight in Bhakthi and to  give up attachment to lesser things.  The ways in which he conveys his message are rather fascinating.

Sri Tyagaraja very often employs conversation style lyrics (samvada-gati) in his Kritis as though he is carrying on dialogues with Sri Rama in different moods. Sri Tyagaraja was perhaps influenced by the Kirtana of Bhadrachala Ramadasa. He questions Rama about his unjust attitude, treating him like a stranger – ‘Anyayamu seyakura rama, nannu anyuniga judakura’ (Kapi); taunts Rama : ‘have you no sense of shame’-Manamuleda’ (Hamirkalyani).

There are some interesting expressions of mocking: naivety of a vessel trying to know the taste of milk it holds (Dutta palu ruchi dehyu samyame enta muddo); or foolishness of one holding a lump of butter in his hand and yet worrying about ghee (Vennaiyunda netikevvarama vyasana padura); or the futility of dressing up and decorating a corpse (Pranamulenidaniki bangaru baga chutti).

There are also expressions of humour: laughing at a woman rocking the baby with one hand and pinching it with another (Totla narbhakula nutuvu, tochinattu gilliduvu); or like trusting on fidelity of a ‘purchased wife’ (Rukalosagi konna sati— gara vimpa rada); or the restlessness of one going after money like the grams bouncing up and down on a frying pan .

There are some wisecracks that suggest saying that one’s merits and miseries in life are ones own making. There is not much sense in blaming others for your plight. He points out: “if the gold is not entirely pure why blame the goldsmith? If your daughter cannot bear the labour pains why blame the son-in-law? If you did no good in your past birth why blame the gods for your miserable lot? O Rama, my troubles are my own; I surely do hot blame you for that. (Mi valla guna dosha memi Sri Rama? Na valla ne gani Nalina-dala-nayan…).

There are many un-characteristic sharp jibes taking a dig at hypocrisy and fake – rituals: as that of a Somayaji performing havan while his wife is busy eloping with her lover; as that of a scholar who employs his learning to earn some money, like the one prostituting his mother; or to those who slave their devotion to a mortal just as a sex worker does.

Another type of   Kriti which was not tried out by Sri Dikshitar and Sri Shyama Sastry was the Ninda –stuti, taking the Lord to task in mock anger. These again are the shades of Ramadasa.  Sri Tyagaraja taunts Sri Rama: what is the point in calling you savior  of the world and remover of difficulties (Pranatartihara) if you do not come to my rescue despite  countless appeals I made to you:  Ilalo pranatartiharudanu’ (Atana); you became a famous king merely because Sita married you , and a hero because Sita did not burn Ravana into ashes by her angry looks : Ma Janaki chabattaga Maharaju vaithivayya  (Kambhoji); and , he then takes Sita to task for marrying a good looking but a heartless person : ‘Sari evvare’ (Sriranjani).

35.4. But, essentially Sri Tyagaraja was a Rama-bhaktha who was also a gifted poet and musician. He might have drawn comparisons from ordinary life, collective memory and common wisdom, perhaps to be accessible to the people of the world. But, inwardly he was a mystic yearning for liberation.  Sri Tyagaraja sang not merely for himself but for the liberation of all his fellow beings.


36.1. The varieties of forms, vast spread of contents and sheer volume of his creative works is truly amazing.

We have in Sri Tyagaraja an extraordinary collection of verities of musical forms and compositions, ranging from Divya-nama-samkirtanam and Utsava-sampradaya songs suited for group singing;  musical dance-dramas such as Nauka-Charitam and Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam; Kirtanas beseeching the Lord for help , kindness and love; and above all liberation; songs bursting out in sheer joy and ecstasy ; songs in playful mood , mocking Rama in jest and half-anger; and , there are , of course , the Grand Compositions grouped as Pancha-rathna-kritis representing the highest form of art music performed in formal classical concerts.

It is the spread in the variety of his creations that   marks Sri Tyagaraja among his illustrious contemporaries. The range of his music stretching from simple well set songs of melody, ease and grace that children love to sing , to edifying flood of Grand music is a testimony to Sri Tyagaraja’s manifold musical genius.

36.2. As regards the numbers, the exact number of Kritis/Kirtanas that Sri Tyagaraja created is still a matter of debate among the scholars. Some claim that he wrote as many as 22,400 songs, which number matches with the number of Slokas in Valmiki- Ramayana. That might be an overstatement.  According to the researcher Prabhakar Chitrapu, the known and authentic kritis/kirtanas of Sri Tyagaraja is 729 ( ).

His Utsava-sampradaya-kirtanas, a group of songs rich in melody and lyrics, number about 27. And, the Divya-Nama-samkirtanam– that celebrate the glory of the Lord and his name are about 72.

In addition, Sri Tyagaraja composed three musical plays in Telugu, of which two are available:  Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitam. The Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu.  The Nauka Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas and 43 verses. The latter is more popular.

37.1. Chronology is yet another issue with Sri Tyagaraja’s works. The dates or the sequence of his various compositions are much debated. There is no definite information in that regard. His disciples Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar and Tanjavuru Rama Rao who served their Master for long years, did make efforts to preserve the texts of his songs. We all have to be grateful to them for the service they rendered.  They wrote down the songs on loose sheets of paper or on palm leaves, without however mentioning the date or the year of their composition.

All that is surmised is:  either his Sanskrit song in praise of Sri Rama Namo Namo Raghavaya ( Desikatodi) or his Telugu song on Ganesha , Giriraja suta tanaya (Bangala)  is his first composition. Some explain it away by saying that while the former is his first Kriti in Sanskrit, the latter is his first Kriti in Telugu.

37.2. As regards his end-years, his wife Kamalamba passed away in the year 1845. A year after her death, on the night of Prabhava – Pushya shukla –Ekadashi (Dec 1846), Sri Tyagaraja had a dream. Immediately on waking up, Sri Tyagaraja burst into, the now famous, Kriti  Giripai nelakonna (in Sahana Raga) wherein  he declares with great joy that  in his dream he did see  Sri Rama, residing on hilltop ; and, he  did   promise  him Moksha within ten days (putlu). [Here, putlu could mean either a day or part of a day]

37.3. On 5 Jan 1847, Sri Tyagaraja, at the age of eighty, renounced the world and entered into Sanyasa assuming the name Nadabrahmananda. On the next day, that is on 6 Jan 1847, – Pushya Bahula Panchami (the fifth day after the full moon in the dark-half of the month of Pushya) of Prabhava-nama-samvathsara in the Kali-year 4948 – after offering his daily worship to his Ista-devata  Sri Rama installed in his house , he called on his disciples attending him to chant Rama-nama. Then, it is said, he burst into his last song Paritapamu ganiyadina (in Manohari Raga). Thereafter, Saint Sri Tyagaraja entered into Samadhi merging with the Para Brahman.

Thus, Giripai nelakonna and Paritapamu ganiyadina seem to be his last two Kritis.

Nadopasana and Rama Bhakthi

38.1. In many of his songs Sri Tyagaraja describes Nadopasana the practice of music (Samgita Sadhana) as an aid to cultivate devotion and contemplation. He says, neither mere talk nor modesty will help. Sadhana, ceaseless practice, with dedication will alone save you. For Tyagaraja, music was the means to salvation; and, he practised it with great sincerity.

38.2. He explains the seven notes (sapta-svara) that are the foundations of music as having emanated from the Pranava Nada (Aum). Here, he visualizes Nada the subtle and sacred vibration as the manifestation of Para Brahman, the Supreme Reality. He narrates his experience of deep absorption in the joy (Ananda) of Nada. He declares: ‘the joy of music  (Nada ) is itself the bliss of Brahman (Brahmananda) that the Vedanta speaks of’; and says ‘he who delights in Nada attains the bliss of Brahman’.  He, thus, upholds the highest spiritual ideal of music that is permeated with Bhakthi.

[For example: Sangita-jnanamu; Nadatanuma; Gitarthamu; Nadopasanace; Nadaloluni; Mokshamugalada and Svara-raga-sudha etc]

39.1. Ramayana was a huge influence in the life and outlook of Sri Tyagaraja. He not only revered the text deeply but also imbibed several of its episodes into his Kritis. In hundreds of his songs he celebrates the powers, the glory and the virtues of  Sri Rama. He calls out to Sri Rama in countless ways. And, some of the epithets he employs are related to music, addressing Sri Rama as: ‘Samagana-lola’; ‘Raga-rasika’; ’Sapta-swara-sanchari’; ‘Samgitasampradayakudu’ and such others. It is the Rama bhakthi permeating his Kritis that elevates his music to spiritual heights.

39.2. For Tyagaraja, Sri Rama his Ista-devata whose glory he celebrates in most of his songs is none other than Para Brahman, the Supreme Being. He repeatedly declares that Sri Rama is his favourite deity (Ista daivamu neve); Rama alone is his God (Vadera daivamu; Rama eva daivatam); there is none equal to Rama (Rama nee samanam evaru); he takes refuge in Rama (Ninne nera nammi nanu )  and so on.

For him, Rama is beyond the Trinity, Tri-murthy (Sri Rama Rama Jagadatma Rama; Manasa Sri Ramachandruni); Rama is Para Brahman. Rama is another name for Brahman- Raamaayani brahmamunaku peru (Its Sanskrit equivalent is: Rama padena asau param Brahma abhidhiyate). Therefore, he counsels, submit to Rama with Love (prematho) and true devotion (nija bhakthi); surrender to Rama in absolute faith; and, be immersed in Rama-bhakthi. And, he avers that such real Bhakthi alone is the right royal way to salvation (Chakkani raja margamu).

39.3. Thus, Music (Samgita Sadhana), absorption in the joy of melody graced with bhakthi, was for Sri Tyagaraja the Nadopasana the worship of Nada which is the very embodiment of Brahman.




Continued in Part V- Visit to Kanchipuram

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

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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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