Vocal : T S Sathyavathi
Vocal Support : Archana Bhoj
Violin : Nalina Mohan
Mrudangam : Tumkur Ravishankar
Ghatam : N Gurumurthy
Theme : Lecture Demonstration + Concert on the compositions of Harikeshanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar
Vidushi T S Sathyavathi’s lectures are always a class apart from the rest. It’s her ability to communicate, the knowledge and capability, the presence and preparation, the on stage demeanor and the her persona makes it very memorable every time I had a chance to listen to her. Yesterday’s concert was no difference.
I have attended many special programs on Muthaiah Bhagavathar, either as a thematic concert ( The one TNS did at Gayana Samaja years ago, is still fresh in my mind) and lecture Demonstration (Prof K Venkataramanan at Essae Music is one such) in the past. A few days ago, Vid Shyamala Venkatesan was singing at FM Amrutavarshini , an exclusive Muthaiah Bhagavathar concert. What am I coming to say is that it is not uncommon that a thematic presentation on the legendary composer/musician is planned and presented at many parts of the country.
Prof Sathyavathi’s talks are always unique. Instead of dwelling on the ‘Life&Times’ of the Composers and addressing the chronological importance of his events, she takes us to the music of the vaggeyakara, its lyrical beauty and structural and aesthetic brilliance.
01 On tat puruSAya (shLokam)
She started her talk by saying every time she think of a composer and dig deep into his compositions, she gets disappointed as she cant reach the “unfathomable bottom” of the vast reserves. Every time one think of the composer, it opens up in manifold layers. One will always be ‘wonder stuck’ on how could they be blessed and chosen by the GOD to contribute to the musical tradition and cultural values.
She said, she is not going through the biographical details, and her concern is primarily to unearth the beauty of his compositions , to analyse and appreciate. She said analyse is not in critical way, ‘no vimarshana, but darshana’.
As his background, she mentioned him spending two years in Chennai and 7 years in Trivandrum, before moving to Mysore under Nalwadi’s patronage. She also mentioned about the book on musical theory by him ‘Sangeetha Kalpadruma’. He had an outstanding voice , he had voice training for nearly three years. He was equally adept in all the three octaves, but was a master in tArasthayi singing. This is evident in his musical works. His practice as a Harikatha exponent , which he started at the age of sixteen -thus the ‘Bhagavathar’ name , must have helped and mandated ( to reach the masses in pre-amplification days) singing in tara sthayi. He was also an authority on languages and words. They were replete with meaning and spontaneous expression. Sanskrit and Telugu were the natural language of music and he was proficient in both, apart from his mother tongue Tamil. He learnt Sanskrit from his uncle ( she used the word sOdara mAma) Lakshman Suri. He was a very impressive personality and was well respected and honoured wherever he went. He traveled far and wide within India and outside ( Burma and Ceylon). He was a multifaceted personality in the musical field. A Bhagavathar, Singer, Vaggeyakara and writer. In the post trinity composers he is the one with pre-eminence. She said, it is not appropriate to compare different vaggeyakaras, but Sadashiva Rao, despite being a composer of equal if not better merit, did not receive as much popularity as Muthaiah Bhagavathar, for the latter was appealing to all ( aligned to all tastes). She also said, Thyagaraja is more popular than Shyama Shasthry through the vast spread of disciples. Muthaiah Bhagavathar, who was a Harikatha singer had his popularity with the masses. He also used this medium to popularise some of his compositions, as they were composed to suit the occasion.’ Valli Parinaya’ was one of the stories being told and many compositions like valli nayakane in shanmukhapriya ( and other Subramanya kritis) are sung during his harikatha kalakshepam.
Vaggeyakara, she said has to be an expert in 3 aspects. One should not forget the last ‘kara’ sound. He should be able to write,compose and sing. The lyrics and music has to blend. Each vaggeyakara will have his uniqueness, a stamp of individuality. If one has an ear and eye for identifying this, the vaggeyakaras approach to the rAga, tALa and lyrics can be seen as unique to him.
She quickly mentioned the compositions of Muthaiah Bhagavathar. He had composed around 400 kritis, 108 chmundamba ashtothara, 108 shivAshtothara, 7 vAra kritis ( each day of the week and not navagraha kritis), 10 thillanas, 10 varnams ( 5 in Adi and 5 in aTa, 5 pada varnam, 4 daru varnam and 1 tAna varnam). Datu swaras, dvita , zig zag pattern, fleeting movements(flights to upper octave) and tara sthayi sancharas are some of the specialties of Muthaiah Bhagavathar.
01 mahiSAsura mardini ( varNam) – AndOlika – Adi
She illustrated the flight and dvita prayogas through the Andolika varnam. She said, HMB was very particular about each of his composition and would work until he was satisfied with it. She cited and example of him meeting Vasudevachar and requesting him to sing Shankarabharanam. He continued this for around 6 months and during these meetings composed the Shankarabharanam kriti.
In his compositions, the ‘rAga bhAva’ shows up in the first sangati. She emphasized , it is not rAga but rAga bhAva, which comes with specific gamaka use. Raga is more than the scale, but not the soul. Muthaiah Bhagavathar also had an inclination towards holding on to a single note. She exampled with the hamir kalyani thillAna
02 thillAna ( uDanata tana ) – hamIr kalyAni ( ta na na na na na na na na – 8 mAtra at Shadjam)
03 thillAna ( dhIm tana na na na dhiraNA) – vasanta – khaNDa Eka
tAra sthAyi sanchAra
All his compositions have tAra sthayi sancharas. He usually reached the tAra sthAyi madhyama/panchama in the anupallavi itself. This was largely influenced by Thyagaraja. She said, initially he was highly influenced by Thyagaraja. The Pallavi,anupallavi & Charanam in all compositions, mostly in madhyamakala prayogas, use of Adi and Roopakam for Tala etc. However, during the compositions of ShivAshtOthara kritis, the Dikshitar’s influence was evident. Mostly written in Sanskrit and in Vilamba kAla.
She sang parts from 3 compositions to illustrate the point.
04 kALarAthri svarUpiNi – Urmika
anupallavi line ‘kALi karALi kapAlini shUlini’.
She said, the HArikatha vidvAn is singing here, whose voice is trained to sing at higher octaves and voluminous to reach the masses.
05 jAlandhara supIThasthE – valaji
anupallavi line ‘bAlArka kOTi prabhE’
06 ratna kancuka dhAriNi – kAmbOji
She said, rAga bhAva is replete in his compositions, and they offer many places for neraval.
‘mandagamanOllAsini, dEvEndranuta mrudubhASiNi’ from ratna kancuka dhAriNi
Who teaches neraval ? It’s the composer. The composer should allow the artist to elaborate, without disturbing the composition.
07 bhairavi paramEshvari – bhairavi
The singer should also have the ‘sAhitya jnAna’,to know where to sing neraval and where not to.
‘bhavarOga nivAriNi bhakta jana paripAlini from jAlandhara
She said, some people stop at bhavarOga in during neraval. Neraval should not be forced on the composition. As example she said some of the Dikkshitar’s composition. It is better not to sing neraval for certain kritis, else the vision of the composer is damaged.
Going back on the rAgabhAva in the first sangati or the pallavi line, she sang few examples to clarify the point :
08 madhurApura nAyikE – chakravAkam
09 chakra rAja rathruDE – dharmavati
10 charAcharE jagad rUpE – nAyaki
11 shrI shivE jaya vaibhavE – AbhOgi
The composer has used the raga very judiciously , sangatis are apt. It is we, artists, choose to do gimmick. One has to go closer to the composer, he will guide you and lead you. He will also tell you how much you can improvise, and whether the composition can take your innovation.
Muthaiah Bhagavathar has composed in many rare ragas, discovering them and giving them an identity. He has also brought some of the forgotten ragas to the forefront. Mohanakalyani is one prime exammple with popular compositions like bhuvaneshwariya and siddhi vinAyakam. Inspired by hindustani raga sOhini, he gave new dimension to hamsAnandi. There are as many as 30-40 compositions in rare ragas and she wanted to highlight a few of them.
12 tappu mannisO tAyE mahAmAyE – mAyapradIpam
Janya of kharaharapriya, but does not sound similar to the parent raga.
13 dEvi shrI mahAlakSmi dInapAlE rakSisO – harinArAyaNi (S )
Again a janya of Kharaharapriya. All his new ragas have scope for singing kalpana swaras
14 sArasamukhi sakalabhAgyatE – gauDamalhAr
He has written in Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada. However, he was not very comfortable in Kannada. It was not considered as a language for compositions. Nalvadi was persistent in asking them to compose in Kannada language ( including Vasudevachar) and they were very reluctant. Vasudevachar finally relented and composed Karuniso tAyE. Muthaiah Bhagavathar, used words like ‘paripAlisO’ , mAtE, tAye etc in otherwise full of sanskrit adjectives. There could also be a possibility that some court poet has written some of them and he merely set them to tune ( if the name Devottama Jois, whom he praised in the mangala kriti is taken as a clue).
In the 108 Chamundi Ashtothara kritis, the opening line itself is the name of the dEvi on whom the composition is based ( I think she mentioned the devi stothram)
15 vijayAmbikE – vijayanAgari
She said, the version ( pAThAntharam) she learnt had the words kripashAlini, but it is sung as ‘gauri pAlisO‘ these days.
16 mAtE malayadhwaja ( daru varNam) – khamAs
ettugaDe swara patterns ni ma ga ma..dha ni sa ma ni ga ma.
‘Prasa’ usage was very common in his kritis. DvitiyakSra, Adi prAsa, anthyAkSra prAsa are used in various composition. Again we can see the inspiration from Thyagaraja with his own uniqueness. She used the word , ‘anusmaraNa and not ‘anukaraNa’, or we can call it ‘prabhAvita’ .
17 siddhivinAyakam – mOhanakalyAni – anuswram ‘m’ comes through out the composition.
Niroshtaka ( she used the name as NirOshtaka instead of the familiar nirOShta) is another interesting ragam he composed. As the word indicates there are no ma or pa in the raga as well as in the composition,where the lips do not touch each other. It is also said to be an ‘ashAsthrIya’ rAga. According to the shAsthra, rAga should have either ma or pa as ‘ma’ is the prakriti svara ( mostly influenced by the vEdic music). She also mentioned Balamuralikrishna’s lavAngi as another raga without ma or pa. She also made reference to the ‘dashakumara charitam’ of Dandi where one of the prince, whose lips were bitten by ‘love’ and thus could not speak those syllables where lips have to close, narrated his experience without using any words which force him to close the lip. She said, this probably the first ‘nirOStaka’ chapter in literature. As an aside, let me add the book of French Writer Georges Perec, ‘A Void’ is written without using the letter ‘e’ in its entire 270 odd pages.
18 rAja rAjArAdhitE – nirOSTha
She corrected the common error of singing ‘rAja rAja rAditE’. It is rAja ArAdhitE’ . I am corrected of my wrong understanding.
JayamAlika prabandha, originally written in 8th century and has it commentary in rAjamAnasOllAsa where the’jaya lakSaNa is in the beginning of every sentence. Swathi thirunal has composed one such kriti in maNirang ( jaya jaya padmanAbha)
19 jaya mahiSAsuramardini – hamsadhwani
She said, one has to take breath after the complete line and not stop at ‘jaya mahiSAsura’, which created ‘apArtha or anartha’.
With this she decided to skip the rest of her commentary and present a short concert for 45-50 mins.
01 sudhAmayi – amrtavarSiNi – rUpakam – HMB ( O,S )
02 vAnca tOnu nA – karNaranjani – Adi tishra gati – HMB ( A )
03 Adityam dEvAdi dEvam – mAyAmALavagauLa – Adi x 2 – HMB ( A,N,S,T )
neraval & swara @ ‘sakala charAchara karma sAkSinam’
04 shrI AnjanEya jagadEka vIrA – jhunjutti – Adi – HMB
05 shLOkam ( mangaLam kOsalEndrAya) – madhyamAvati
I was expecting some rare gems in the concert as well and I was not disappointed. After a brisk amrutavarshini, where she sang nice rounds of swaras, she sang a short karnaranjani alapana. Very nice and full of familiar passages of the raga. A detailed Mayamalavagaula alapana between both the singers before the ‘vAra’ kriti ( being the Sunday) was presented. Impressive neraval and good kalpana swaras before the percussion duo played a short tani. Both played simultaneously, as in the case of a Radio Concert. Another little gem of jhunjutti kriti on Anjaneya was sung before closing the day with a madhyamavati shlokam.
The supporting artists did a commendable job.On such a day of lecture one will be called on at random and have to stop/start as the main artist decide to stop and explain and take off from the same point.
Such programs , especially conducted by such eminent vidvans and vidushis are instrumental in improving our appreciation of carnatic music. Vidushi Sathyavathi is one of the best in this department with her knowledge and music. Wonderful Sunday morning spent at Nadasurabhi.
PS : These are my observations from her lecture. I am sure, with my limited knowledge, I would have missed some of the points she mentioned or misunderstood a few here and there. These are my errors and not from the artist. Corrections/ additions/suggestions are welcome.