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A Tribute To Tyagaraja

Though the annual Tyagaraja aradhana at Tiruvayyaru takes place typically in late January, scholars generally agree that he was born on 4 May 17672. The eighteenth century was an interesting period in Carnatic music. Starting in the 16th century, composers like Muthu Tandavar and Margadarsi Sesha Ayyangar had experimented with the kriti format and the characteristic pallavi-anupallavi-charanam structure, one that was followed in Kshetragna's padas. These set the stage for Tyagaraja, as well as Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry, to perfect this format with the result that it dominates Carnatic music today.

Tyagaraja's outstanding contribution to the advancement of the kriti format was the introduction of the sangati (lit. coming together) - a set of variations on a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic potential of the musical phrase. Largely set in the madhyamakala (middle tempo), Tyagaraja's kritis were more appropriate for the modern concert paddhati. As vidwan G. N. Balasubramaniam observed during his presidential address at the 32nd conference of the Music Academy in 1958, nearly 60% of Tyagaraja's kritis are composed in this kala and this speed "seems to be the best for both the lay and the learned listeners."

The 18th century was also witness to the virtual explosion of new ragas in the aftermath of Venkatamakhi' celebrated Chaturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1660) and his 72 melakarta scheme of classification3. Following and furthering the work of Venkatamakhi, Govinda (Govindacharya), in his Sangraha Chudamani (late 17th - early 18th century) introduced the sampoorna melakarta scheme as well as lakshanas for 294 janya ragas, many of which were unknown4. Thus, unlike Purandaradasa and musicians of his generation, who had perhaps a couple of dozen ragas to work with, Tyagaraja could experiment with hundreds.

Indeed Tyagaraja seems to have adopted composing in new ragas as one of the aims of his musical career. The 700 odd known kritis of Tyagaraja feature 212 ragas; 121 of these ragas have only one composition in them5. He was the first to compose kritis in "about 66 ragas"6. His enthusiasm for such ragas can be seen from the fact that even among the last few kritis that he is believed to have composed, three are in new ragas: Vagadeeswari (paramatmudu), Ganavaridhi (daya juchutakidi velara) and Manohari (paritapamu ganiyadina). Dr. S. Ramanathan, in one of his popular and insightful lecture demonstrations on "A Day With Tyagaraja", describes briefly how Tyagaraja followed the path laid out by Venkatamakhi. He then proceeds to illustrate this by singing the aforementioned kriti in Ganavaridhi (daya juchutakidi velara).

By composing excellent kritis, Tyagaraja gave life to these ragas. From being mere descriptions in a book (with at best a lakshana gita), these scales became full-fledged ragas capable of being sung elaborately in concerts. Tyagaraja, it must be remembered, was not only a composer but also a musician par excellence. Prof. P. Sambamoorthy narrates a story that sheds some light about Tyagaraja's prowess as a performer. When Tyagaraja visited Madras on his way to Tirupati, he stayed at the house of Kovur Sundara Mudaliar, a musical patron. Madras, at that time, was on its way to becoming a musical center. For six evenings in succession, Tyagaraja sang the raga Devagandhari elaborately following it up with one of his compositions in the raga7. This incident testifies to the creative ability or manodharma of Tyagaraja, the musician8.

A composer's manodharma is evident in his or her compositions. The performer's manodharma, on the other hand, is displayed during expositions of raga alapana, neraval or swara kalpana. One important musical resource that performers dip into for these expositions is the huge repertoire of kritis that have been built up since the 18th century and the period of the trinity. It is in this context that we wish to highlight Tyagaraja's contribution in furthering the creative aspects of Carnatic music. We attempt to do this by exploring how relatively "minor" ragas that were pioneered by Tyagaraja have developed over the years, offering scope for elaborate and substantial renditions.

In some of these minor ragas, Tyagaraja's composition(s) remain(s) the only one(s) that are heard publicly with any reasonable frequency. This is not to say that there are no other compositions in these ragas, but that these have not become popular. An example of this is the recording presented at the beginning of this feature, janaki ramana in the raga Shuddha Seemantini performed by Nagaswara Chakravarthy T. N. Rajaratnam Pillai. Examples of such ragas are Jayantasena (vinata sutavahana), Kapinarayani (sarasa samadana), and Vijayasri (varanarada). Though this particular rendition of janaki ramana includes only a short alapana, several artistes have sung this composition elaborately, usually with neraval and swarams. In this feature, however, we focus on ragas that were pioneered by Tyagaraja, but handled by subsequent composers.

We begin with the raga Nalinakanti. The nominal arohana/avarohana is s G3 R2 M1 P N3 s" s" N3 P M1 G3 R2 s. The contours of this raga, as we know them today are undoubtedly shaped by Tyagaraja's manaviyala where he defines the raga in the very first phrase,

M1 G3 R2 s G3 - R2 M1 - M1 P - (P N3 P) M1 G3 R2 s G3

Phrases such as s G3 - R2 M1 - R2 P - M1 P N3 P M1 G3 , and in the uttaranga, N3 R2" N3 P M1, N3 G3" R2" N3 R2" N3 P M1 etc., add color to the raga. Such phrases occur frequently in swaraprastara (for which this raga is ideally suited). In recent decades, Nalinakanti has been a favorite of two vocalists, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy and Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan.

Nedunuri Krishnamurthy -- >

In the following clip, we hear Nedunuri Krishnamurthy's rendition of manaviyala Lalgudi Jayaraman accompanies him on the violin, and Palghat Raghu on the mridangam.

Following Tyagaraja, several composers such as Mysore Vasudevacharya, G. N. Balasubramaniam, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Calcutta Krishnamurthy, Tanjavur Sankara Iyer, and Spencer Venugopal have composed in Nalinakanti. We offer two of these below. The first is the kriti nee padame composed by G. N. Balasubramaniam (GNB). GNB follows Tyagaraja's footsteps in defining the raga in the very first phrase of the song. However, he does it slightly differently, reversing the order: N3 P M1 G3 R2 s s G3 R2 M1 P N3 s " with an intelligent use of swarakshara ( N3 P in nee pa..) and the introduction of the raga mudra. Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan presents this song in the following clip. Lalgudi Jayaraman accompanies him on the violin and Trichy Sankaran on the mridangam.

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