What is in a raga’s identity — label or the notes??
Concert Review by P.Swaminathan
SRUTI’s fall music season started with a grand music concert by none other than Vijay Siva on October 1, 2016. This is not the first time he performed for Sruti and I am sure, given his pandithyam and repertoire we will hear many more of his concerts in the future. That day happened to be during the navarathri celebrations we were all expecting a rendering of Dikshitar’s navavarna krithi. After invoking the blessing of Lord Ganesa through Sankaracharya’s Ganesa Pancharatnam, Siva started his concert with a brisk rendering of Janaki Ramana in shuddha simanthini raga composed by Saint Thyagaraja.
Following this he rendered a detailed rendering of Mysore Vasudeva Rao’s ‘saketha nagara natha …’ in harikambhoji. This raga is among the oldest known raga since the ancient Tamil Sangam period. Many of the Tamil devotional songs (tevaram, tiruvembavai etc.) were composed and rendered in this raga (under a different name) even though the name harikambhoji seem to be recent following Venkatamaki’s classification. However, this raga was called harikedaragaula following Dikshitar’s school. Harikambhoji is a sampoorna raga with all the seven notes in the arohana and avarohana. It is 28th melakartha raga under Venkatamaki’s nomenclature with all the notes equally spaced. All the notes in harikambhoji are jeeva swaras. This musical scale seems to have existed in other musical genre from ancient times.
Surprisingly harikambhoji went into oblivion until the later part of 19th century when Carnatic music underwent a revolution with the advent of Saint Thyagaraja. He made harikambhoji popular by his master pieces like ‘dhinamani vamsa…’ undedi Ramudu…’ enduku nirddaya …’ Rama nannu brovara ..’ And the list goes on. Following his footsteps quite few other composers composed great krithis in this raga of which the composition Saketha nagara natha by Mysore Vasudeva Rao is noteworthy.
Following this Siva rendered another classical composition (kshetra krithi) of Sri. Muthuswami Dikshitar “Ramanatham Bhajeham …” in kashiramakriya (kamavardhani). Dikshitar, a composer par excellence, had the remarkable ability of weaving the name of the raga into his lyrics without sacrificing the beauty of the lyrics (popularly called raga mudra) in most of his krithis. However, this krithis seems to be an exception where he has not indicated the name of the raga, other than the phrase ‘sadā parvata vardhanī’ in the caranam. Many of the performing artists have labeled the raga of this krithi as “pantuvarali”, “kashiramakriya”, “ramakriya” or “kamavardhani”. The current day pantuvarali we know is really kamavardhani which is 51st melakarta. This name came into existence after the publication of the kanakangi scheme of classification in 19th century. Before that it was labelled as Ramakriya (or kashiramakriya according asampurna paddadhi). This raises the question what was pantuvarali? According to Venkatamaki’s scheme it belongs to 45th Mela which is shubapantuvarali as we know today. So the current situation is ramakriya has disappeared and its identity is assumed by kamavardhani and pantuvarali as aliases. Shubapantuvarali assumed the identity of pantuvarali. So what if a raga steals the identity of the other ragas? Interesting discussions on this have been published by various scholars as recently as by Sangita Kalanidi Sanjay Subramanyam.
Following this Siva rendered another master piece of Syama Sastry, the swara jati in Todi (Rave himagiri kumari). He preceded the swara jati with a sloka in Todi setting up the mood for what turned to be a flawless rendering of the flawless swara jati of Syama Sastry in flawless todi which is a delightful melody in melakartha-8. It is called Hanumatodi (following sampurna paddahti) or janatodi (Dikshitar School). This raga has symmetrical arohanam and avarohanam characterized by majestic movement laden with appealing bhava. Siva gave a full justice to this gahana raga with his scintillating voice rich with melodic harmony.
After this Vijay Siva rendered the beautiful krithi ‘adigi sukhamu… .’ by Saint Thyagaraja in madyamavathi. In this krti Saint Thyagaraja makes a ‘ninda stuti’ of the Lord about His compassion. This is the first time this is performed for Sruti audience. This krithi has four caranams and Siva rendered only the fourth caranam containing Thyagaraja’s mudra. It is worth mentioning that Saint Thyagaraja took the musical world by storm by introducing the pallavi/anupallavi/carnam structure for all his krithis. In many popular krithis he purposely composed several caranams including the master piece ‘adigi sukhamu’. However, almost all of the performers I have listened to, choose to render only one of the caranams and ignore the rest with the excuse that the similarity of musical content of the other caranams does not warrant separate rendering. This in my opinion a partial rendering of the krithi.
After a brisk rendering of banturithi in hamsanadam, Vijay Siva performed the piece-de-resistance of the concert in the raga kambodhi. He chose a composition by Papanasam Sivan ‘Kadir Kama Kandan …’ which was one of the krithis popularized by Smt. M.S. Subbalakshmi. (This piece was specifically composed for MS Amma for her concert tour of Sri Lanka). For this krithi Siva gave opportunity to his senior disciples who also shared the stage with him during alapana and then the kalpana swaras.
Siva rendered an RTP in kapi followed by several short pieces. He concluded the concert with a rendering of all the ragas of Kamalamba Navavarna krithi as raga malika followed with the lyrical rendering of the krithi in Sri raga. That day being the seventh day of Navaratri, I was anxiously hoping that Siva would render at least one of Dikshitar’s navavarna krithis. Till the last minute I did not see it happening. At the end he pleasantly surprised all the eagerly awaiting listeners with his masterful short and sweet rendering of all the ragas and the Sri Raga krithi.
Both Sri R.K. Sriramkumar and Sri. J. Vaidyanathan provided excellent support to Siva’s excellent concert. Without their able accompaniment the concert wouldn’t have been such great performance. Kudos to Sriramkumar and Vaidyanathan. The disciples of Siva proved their skills ably well. Thanks to Mallika for providing uninterrupted support on tambura. In essence, this was an excellent concert.
Dr. P. Swaminathan is connoisseur of carnatic music and a long time supporter of Sruti. He is a past president of Sruti and frequently contributes to Sruti Ranjani and other Sruti publications.