Song of Surrender

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Todi and Tyagaraja (part II)

A study in two parts

By R Vedavalli

(Continued from blogpost dated 22 August 2012) 

 (Edited excerpts from a lecture-demonstration for the Saraswati Vaggeyakara Trust)

Now we return to Todi and look at the unsurpassed beauty of some of its aspects. It is more pertinent to look at the growth of this raga in the past two centuries into a major raga in Carnatic music rather than go into proving its antiquity. To repeat the obvious, Todi is a vast raga with such infinite scope that all the aspects of raga vistara can be achieved comfortably in it. How is this achieved? There are many ragas based on phrases or prayogas and improvising a raga alapana means elaborating and expanding these phrases. But Todi is very unique in that every swara is a jiva swara or life note and nyasa swara or ending note. It allows for elaboration of every gamaka and every note. The gandhara, for instance, has innumerable hues and myriad shades. It can be moved in so many different ways and it yields to different types of gamakas.

It is said that the great musician Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, while elaborating on Todi, could move the gandhara in a particular way and fashion an entire gamut of sangatis around that one movement. Then he would move on to another variation of the gandhara and again build an entirely new set of sangatis to complement that gamaka. It was no wonder that his concerts lasted many hours. Todi Sitaramayya, a predecessor of Konerirajapuram, gained the title ‘Todi’ because of the intense and creative Todi experience he consistently crafted.

The many hues of the Todi Ga have been well documented in Balaswami Dikshitar’s chittaswaram in the kriti Gajavadana of Kumara Ettendra. This unparalleled chittaswaram is a veritable archive of not merely the different gamakas of the Todi Ga, but also minute variations in such aspects as frequency and length possible in the same gamaka thus producing subtly diverse effects.

A special feature of Todi is the varja prayoga or phrases where notes are skipped. This, in Todi in particular, enhances the beauty and rakti of the raga. In the fourth charana chittaswaram of the Todi varnam Eranapai, we see the aspect of varja prayoga brought out beautifully where the whole chittaswaram is panchama varja. Almost all composers including the Trinity, pre-Trinity and post-Trinity composers down to Papanasam Sivan and later composers, have been captivated by this ocean of aesthetic possibilities called Todi. Todi lends itself to many compositional forms such as chauka and tana varnams, padams, gitams, kritis and kirtanams. Among these, two of the most unique are the swarajati by Syama Sastri and the swarasthana varna of Ramaswami Dikshitar. This swarasthana varnam is entirely in swarakshara, each syllable of the lyric being the same as its corresponding note. Only Todi yields itself to such creativity.

Among the composers Tyagaraja perhaps has the most prolific collection of compositions in Todi. His compositions illustrate most of the aspects of the raga.

As though to illustrate the point that every note in Todi is significant and hence compositions may commence in ‘any note in any register, Tyagaraja has composed kritis beginning in swaras ranging from the mandra sthayi dhaivata to the tara sthayi shadja.
  1. Dasarathi - mandra dhaivata
  2. Varidhi Niku - mandra dhaivata
  3. Gatinivani - madhya shadja
  4. Rajuvedala - madhya shadja
  5. Ninnuvina - madhya shadja
  6. Endu daginado - madhya shadja
  7. Aragimpave - madhya shadja
  8. Karunajudavamma - madhya gandhara
  9. Hariyanuvari - madhya gandhara
  10. Kaddanuvariki - madhya madhyama
  11. Chesinadella - madhya panchama
  12. Brindavanalola - madhya panchama
  13. Dacukovalana - madhya dhaivata
  14. Koti nadulu - madhya dhaivata
  15. Emi jesitenemi - madhya dhaivata
  16. Munnu ravana - madhya dhaivata
  17. Enduku dayaradu - madhya dhaivata
  18. Ni daya ravale - madhya nishada
  19. Koluvamaregada - tara shadja
  20. Emani matladitivo - tara shadja
  21. Tappi bratiki - tara shadja
  22. Kada terarada - madhya shadja
  23. Poddu poyyeni - madhya shadja
  24. Re manasa - madhya gandhara
The kritis also capture precisely the raga vistara possibilities in all the registers, thus laying out a map of the raga vistara paddhati, complete with sangatis and intensive gamaka prayogas. Also illustrated in these kritis is the fact that in Todi every swara can be considered a graha swara (an important note in the raga from which the alapana is begun).

The special appeal of mandra dhaivata in Todi is brought home by all three of the Trinity in their compositions Varidhi niku (Tyagaraja), Dakshayani (Muttusvami Dikshitar) and Rave Himagiri (Syama Sastri), all of which begin from that note.

Tyagaraja’s compositions in Todi vary as widely in their talas as in their kalapramana. His compositions have numerous sangatis that beautifully encapsulate the raga vistara paddhati. Many concepts like the development of the raga, kalapramana and use of sthayi are well delineated in Tyagaraja’s compositions especially through the layers of sangatis, apt examples of which are Endu daginado and Varidhi, The sangatis in these kritis also serve as lessons in effectively combining speeds while Singing raga phrases.

Todi cannot be said to represent any particular rasa or bhava. Although it is normally assigned the label of karuna rasa, I believe that Todi is too prolific to be restricted to a particular rasa or bhava. Tyagaraja’s kritis themselves clarify this point. The range of sentiments he has expressed in his Todi kritis is so wide as to cover several if not all the rasas and bhava, For instance in Emani matladitivo he is struck by wonder (adbhuta) at hew adept Rama is in talking to such a wide variety of people from kings to commoners. While Cesina della and Varidhi are steeped in karuna rasa, Emi jesitenemi and Kaddanuvariki are in the mode of upadesa where the composer views the world with a sense of equanimity.

Tyagaraja has proved to be a pioneer in popularising Todi. He has certainly made a significant contribution to giving Todi a certain form as well as a certain stature because of the sheer volume and quality of compositions he has composed in it. One could go a bit further and claim for Tyagaraja the credit for endowing Todi with a special pearl-like lustre by delving into its ocean-like depths.

(The lec-dem was held at the Narada Gana Sabha on 21 December 2003)

(Concluded)

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