Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Analysis of the Kharaharapriya pada varnam of vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna


A pada varnam composed by vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna in the 22nd melakartha raga, Kharaharapriya has great richness in the Telugu literature and this composition  narrates the the events that happened according to the Ganesa Purana. The beauty of this particular composition is the rhyming word sequences that occur in the stanzas, and also a single word being used at multiple places for conveying different meanings. The varnam was not composed entirely at once. First Balamuralikrishna composed the pallavi, anupallavi and ettugada, later, he added chittaswara sahityam and then kept adding the charanams to it, and he rendered this during a concert in Chennai in the year 1999.

To listen to this varnam please click


The six-stanza varnam starts with the pallavi, Ninnu nera nammithi Gananayaka, nata jana vighna vinaashana. The composer says that he has a great faith on the Lord Ganesa who is always engaged in eliminating the obstacles of his devotees. The composer has inscribed his signature/mudhra in the anupallavi, and it rhymes at end of the each phrase perfectly; Muni gana pranuta, mangala charita, Murali Krishna sahodari sutha.  The composer describes Lord Ganesa as being praised by the holy sages, with an auspicious history and the son of the sister of Murali Krishna;  Goddess Parvathi,  sister of Lord Vishnu. In order to inscribe his signature, the composer describes the incarnation of Vishnu in the form of Krishna who holds flute (Murali) in his hand.

The chittaswara sahityam describes an important incident in the Ganesa Purana. The moon, which adorns the head of Lord Siva laughs at Ganesha on the sacred Chaturthi day, when Ganesa with his stomach full is unable to bow and offer his prayers to his parents Siva and Parvathi. In order to suppress his ego, Ganesa curses the moon that whoever person sees the moon will face unnecessary blames and undeserved defames. Having realised his mistake, Chandra (moon) surrenders to the feet of Ganesa. The Lord retracts the curse, but says that a person who will see the moon on the Ganesa Chaturthi without worshipping him will have to face the undeserved blames!

The ettugada pallavi continues at end of each stanza. The composer describes Lord Ganesa as Sumukhaa paavana, sritha sumukha, meaning, the lord is holy and handsome and is agreeable to his devotees. The first Sumukha refers to describe the handsomeness of the Lord and in Telugu, the word Sumukha means accept, agree or to make a nod.

In the first stanza, the composer says that he trusts the feet of the Lord. In the second stanza the composer says that Naraadi vinuta pada vaarana mukha, bhaya vaarana vara guna daana vitarana.  Lord Ganesa, with an elephant face, whose feet is worshipped by the humans, is the remover of fear, and has the noble character as he showers his blessings liberally. Once can see rhyming word at end of each phrase, and also the word Varana is being used at two places. It is used as a synonym for an elephant in the first place, and in the second place it is used as a synonym for removing/eliminating. In the third stanza, the composer feels grateful to the Lord and says that he feels blissful by reading the glorious history of Ganesa and asks him to forgive the sins committed knowingly or unknowingly and to transform him into a noble/kind hearted person.

The first three stanzas describe the qualities of Lord Ganesa and the wishes made by the composer on behalf of the devotees. The last three stanzas describe the incidents that happened according to the Ganesa Purana. In the fourth stanza, the composer says that Ganesa took the form of a bird and killed three demons that were in the form of a tree, a net and a human, thereby bringing peace and prosperity to earth. In the fifth stanza, he describes how Lord Ganesa suppressed the demon Durasara. Durasara was a greedy demon, who attempted to invade and conquer the holy city of Varanasi. At first, Ganesa took the form of a dwarf, and then expanded himself to full strength, killed the demon by crushing his head with one foot, and spread the second foot as an umbrella over the entire city of Varanasi and hence established peace. Finally, the composer says that Ninu pogada mementha – we humans are meagre people to sing in praise of you. There are continuous rhyming words that come one after the other in this stanza such as Varanasi nakraminchina durasaruni durasa nirasa gavimpa. Here, duraasa means greed, and niraasa means sorrow. There is an underlying message being conveyed that too much of greed will always lead to sorrow.

The sixth and final stanza, and the largest of all, describes how Lord Ganesa acquired the leadership of the ganas. There is a story where the ganas, the servants of Lord Siva ask him to appoint a leader for them. Then, Lord Siva calls upon his two sons Ganesa and Muruga (Karthikeya) and conducts a test that whoever goes around the entire universe and takes a dip in all the holy water bodies and returns first, will be assigned the leadership. Muruga heads out on his peacock. Ganesa, unable to move fast, recognises that the entire universe is dependent on his parents, and hence goes around them, and thus wins the test.

This composition is unique since no other varnam describes the glory of Lord Ganesa in such an elaborative manner.






Thursday, 11 February 2021


 C. Ramakrishnan

Last season, I attended more than 100 concerts live. This year, I viewed all the online concerts hosted by the Madras Music Academy, Mudhra and sporadically by other sabhas.

SRGS Mohandas


The Academy’s eight-day festival was inaugurated on 24 December 2020, by Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson HCL Technologies. There were 27 slots in total—15 senior slots of 90 minutes duration and 12 junior and sub senior slots of 60 minutes duration. The packaging of the concert for the contrived duration was challenging for the musicians, but over all, everyone strived to give a complete concert experience in the abridged slot.

Inaugural concert

The inaugural nagaswaram concert at the Academy was by Semponnarkoil SRGS Mohandas, supported by Mylai K. Selvam. Rameswaram T.B. Radhakrishnan and Swamimalai Gurunathan ably accompanied them on the tavil. Their Kharaharapiya (Rama nee samanamevaru) and Bahudari (Sadananda tandavam), with a series of ragamalika swaras were refreshing and the percussion artists added colour and gusto to the concert. Sree Ganapatini in Saurashtram and Annapoorne Visalakshi in Sama were rendered in the first half of the concert. While there had been criticism in earlier years that the nagaswaram artists were seated on the stage floor, this was rectified this season and the artists were seated on the erected dais.


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Saturday, 30 January 2021


Every year, on the eve of Republic Day, the Padma Awards—among the highest civilian awards of the nation, are announced by the Government of India in three categories— Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Shri. Given to eminent personalities who have made a mark in their respective disciplines, we eagerly await the list of artists selected to receive the awards in the field of performing arts. Last year we bemoaned the fact that the awards were conferred on very few classical musicians and dancers. This year it’s no better; the number has shrunk further! Out of the 119 Padma awardees, the selected artists can be counted on your fingers. There is no dearth of highly distinguished top performing artists in the country—one wonders why they are not being considered for these prestigious awards? Classical dancers don’t figure in this year’s list. Moreover, there are several veteran artists like Vyjayantimala Bali, Kalamandala  Gopi, Sudharani Raghupathy, Chitra Visweswaran—to name only a few (there are many more in different genres) who were conferred the Padma Shri decades ago and have continued to enrich the art form, but have not been bestowed the higher awards! All this talk about promoting our rich cultural heritage seems like lip service if the government does not recognize deserving art practitioners in time.

This year, the famous singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam has been selected to receive the coveted Padma Vibhushan. He certainly deserves it, but it is a pity that he is being honoured posthumously. In this month’s issue, musician Anil Srinivasan pays tribute to this singer whose hallmark was ‘versatility with humility’.

It is a matter of some consolation that the Padma Shri is being conferred on a few artists. Two veterans—Carnatic violinist Annavarapu Ramaswamy and Subbu Arumugam who helped revitalise villupaattu, are also being conferred the Padma Shri; they deserve a higher award. Senior mridangist Nidumolu Sumathi and star vocalist Bombay Jayashri are also among the awardees. It is heartening that several folk artists in different parts of the country are also being honoured. British theatre director Peter Brook and musicologist Sanjida Khatun from Bangladesh are among the foreigners chosen for the award. Sruti congratulates all the awardees and hopes the Padma awards list will be more inclusive and extensive next year.

The Sruti cover stories in February focus on three famous exponents who have courageously pursued their passion for the arts. K.J. Yesudas, the man with the “golden voice”, has entered his eighties. Famous in the music field film, devotional and classical music—he has drawn countless music enthusiasts to Carnatic music. Lata Pada’s life is a lesson for many—she immersed herself in dance to overcome shattering personal loss to become an acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and teacher in Toronto. Art has been her solace and healer. She and her Sampradaya Dance Creations are ‘sector leaders’ for Indian dance in Canada. In the passing away of Astad Deboo, India has lost a pioneer in the field of contemporary dance. He ploughed a lone furrow, as his personal dance style defied categorisation; thereby denying him due recognition. Unfazed, he plodded on his adventurous pursuit of his art, using it also to help the less fortunate in society.

We also bring to you the first part of the Chennai season coverage. Concerts were webstreamed from mid-December every day. Of course, this time our reviewers had the luxury of watching them virtually from home. Like the ‘live’ season, this too posed the problem of plenty. Happy reading!


Friday, 29 January 2021

A brief view of the compositions on Tyagaraja


Tyagaraja’s compositions are prevalent thanks to the three distinct schools of music which took forward his legacy to the vast number of students world over. One cannot imagine a concert without a Tyagaraja kriti. Every year, his remembrance day is observed and celebrated across the globe and musicians do perform his compositions with great devotion towards him. There are also few composers who are either his students or belonging to his musical lineage and wrote compositions in praise of him.

Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatharar, composer who was the direct disciple of Tyagaraja. The Walajapet School of music is famous for keeping the original notations of Tyagaraja’s compositions. Venkataramana Bhagavatharar penned a sloka on Tyagaraja, in his Vyaso naigama charchaya sloka, he attributed several great qualities of the great devotees and sages in this world to his master. He also wrote a Guru mangalasthakam in praise of Tyagaraja.  The former sloka is often rendered by musicians, before they begin a Tyagaraja kriti.

Ramanathapuram (Poochi) Srinivasa Iyengar and Mysore Vasudevachar are both disciples of Patnam Subramaniam Iyer - belonging to the musical lineage of Tyagaraja - have composed two great gems on the saint composer. Srinivasa Iyengar praised him as a great devotee who attained salvation by always meditating to Lord Rama and is credited for spreading the hidden truths of the Bhagavad Gita through his compositions; like in the Reetigowla compostion, Sadguru Swamiki. On the other hand, Vasudevachar described him as an entire essence of the music, also as an icon of great fame and great knowledge in his Sanskrit composition, Srimadadi Tyagaraja Guruvaram in Kalyani.

Vidwan M.D. Ramanathan, a versatile vocalist and a composer, who also belongs to the musical lineage of Tyagaraja, described him as the basis for a musical composition and praised him as a garland, in which the gems are ragas, Tyagraja Gurum ashraye (Kedaram).

Vidwan M Balamuralikrishna, another well-known composer and a multifaceted personality, also belongs to the musical lineage of Tyagaraja, composed two kritis in praise of the saint composer. In his Todi composition, Tyagaraja gurum bhajeham, he describes Tyagaraja as a person who provides the righteous path through his compositions and also someone having supreme qualities. He also describes Tyagaraja as a source of livelihood and salvation, and as a reformer of Indian music in his Nattai composition, Gaana Sudharasa paana niratam. Almost all the compositions have stressed a common point regarding the saint composer; and they all praise him as an incarnation of sage Narada.


Sree Tyagarajaya mangalam                                                                  T.R. Aravind

The term ‘mangalam’ indicates auspiciousness amongst the many other denotations that it conveys. Mangalam is usually rendered at the end of a nama sankeertanam, Seeta kalyanam, or at the end of a concert to be propitious to both the listener and the reciter. Mangalam can be compared with the ‘phalasruti’ recited at the end of any sloka and usually eulogises a deity. Though not many mangalams are now in vogue, in the past, many families inherited their own repertoire of mangalams. The family deity or a deity enshrined in a town to which the family belongs would be extolled in the mangalam. I have had the good fortune of listening to my grandmother singing a mangalam in Kamavardhani raga, addressing Lord Devanatha of Tiruvahindrapuram. Age-old mangalams too run in the family through generations. Sree Ramachandranukku, a common mangalam appended to Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Natakam and often sung in Madhyamavati, is sung in Asaveri in our family. Interestingly, the oldest book which mentions the raga for this kriti mentions it as Asaveri.

Occasionally, mangalams were also composed on saints and mortals. Though their sahitya might superficially appear inconsequential, they provide a lot of biographical details, especially if composed by individuals closely associated with the nayaka of the mangalam.

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