Thyagaraja & His Vinta Ragas

This was the title given to Dr. Prameela Gurumurthy’s music and discourse session held at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai on 3rd May 2008. Dr. Prameela was accompanied by Vid Anuthama Subramaniam on the violin and Vid Neyveli Narayanan on the mrudangam.

The following songs were sung:

1) nAda tanumanisham – cittaranjani – Adi – thyAgarAja

2) vara nArada nArAyaNa – vijayashrI – Adi – thyAgarAja

3) jAnakI ramaNa – shuddhasImantini – Adi – thyAgarAja (OS)

4) entamuddO -bindumAlini – Adi – thyAgarAja

5) mAkElarA vicAramu – ravicandrikA – Adi – thyAgarAja

6) durmArga carAdhamulanu – ranjani – rUpakam – thyAgarAja (A)

7) shObillu saptaswara – jaganmOhini – rUpakam – thyAgarAja

8 ) Ananda sAgara – garuDadhvani – Adi – thyAgarAja

9) baNTu rIti – hamsanAdam – Adi – thyAgarAja

10) mOkSamu galadA – sAramati – Adi – thyAgarAja

11) nI nAma rUpa mulaku (mangaLam) – saurAshTram – Adi – thyAgarAja

(Key: O=raga outline, A=raga alapana, N=neraval, S=kalpana swaram, T=taniavartanam)

Here are some excerpts from the discourse:

About Sri Thyagaraja:

Sri Thyagaraja was born on 4th May 1767. He belonged to Bharadwaja gotra and Kakarla Vamsha. His great grandfather Panchanadabrahmam had 5 sons, one of whom was Girirajabrahmam. Girirajabrahmam also had five sons. The fifth one was Ramabrahmam, who had three sons. The eldest was Panchapakesan, named after the presiding deity at Tiruvaiyyaru. Second son was Ramanthan. He died very young. Thyagaraja was the third son and was born in Tiruvarur. It is said that before his birth, both his parents had an identical dream about a son being born who would be an amsha of Narada, Valmiki and Sharada and who would go on to become an expert in sangItam and sAhitya. They also were told in the dream that they should name him after the deity of Tiruvarur i.e., Thyagaraja. It is said that a serious ailment struck Thyagaraja when he was five. At that time a sanyasi visited them and assured his parents of his recovery and of his becoming as famous as Purandaradasa and Jayadeva.

Thyagaraja is said to have studied Telugu and Sanskrit from his father and Purandaradasa and Vijayagopala songs from his mother. His maternal grandfather was Veena Kalahasti Iyer, a samasthana vidwan at Tanjore court. Sri Thyagaraja learnt classical music and veena from Sonti Venkataramana Das. Tulaja II invited Ramabrahmam to give exposition on Valmiki Ramayanam during the Ramanavami festival. Young Thyagaraja used to read the shlokas from Valmiki Ramayanam while his father used to give the exposition. Thus Thyagaraja imbibed all that was being narrated by his father about Valmiki Ramayanam at a very young age itself.

Sri Ramakrishnananda, a friend of Thyagaraja’s father, gave him updaesha on the shaDAkshari mantra. (Dr. Prameela said that after wondering what could be the shaDAkshari mantra, it dawned on her that it should have been “namO rAghavAya“. Sri Thyagaraja had composed his first song “namO namO rAghavAya” in dEsya tODi using this shaDAkshari mantra). Thyagaraja received the tAraka mantra upadEsha from his father. He also got an idol of Lord Rama from his father, which he worshipped daily.

Sri Thyagaraja never had Shiva-Vaishnava bheda. He coined the name rAmA by taking rA from Om namO nArAyaNA and mA from oM nama shivAya (in the kriti evarani in dEvAmrutavarshani). Though his ishTa dEvatA was Lord Rama, he has mentioned Lord Shiva in many of his kritis.

If one has to know Thyagaraja, one has to go deep into his compositions. One can understand his personality and his mind by reading the text of the songs and understanding their meaning.

Sri Thyagaraja was a trend setter in the use of simple words for his compositions, which is probably why we compare his compositions to “drAkSa rasa” – we can immediately feel the taste, the moment we put a drAkSa (grape) in our mouth.

The Svararnava

Thyaaraja is believed to have had access to many works on music very early in his life, such as Sangita Ratnakara, Naradiyam, a work dealing with 72 mELAs and Svararnava. It is said that one day when Sri Thyagaraja was doing some puja in his house, a saint came by. Thyagaraja wanted to give him a sumptuous lunch. The saint said he will leave his belongings at Thyagaraja’s house and go to the Cauvery to have a bath. The saint never returned in person but came that night in Thyagaraja’s dream as the sage Narada, instructing Thyagaraja to open the belongings left behind and use the rare manuscripts present inside. This was how Sri Thyagaraja came to possess important works like the Svararnava.

Thyagaraja refers to the Svararnava saying Shiva, the Lord of Kailash, narrated the secrets of Svararnava to Devi Parvati and that these were revealed to Thyagaraja. In one of the caraNams in svara rAga sudhA (shankarAbharaNam), he says “rajata girIshuDu nagajaku delpu svarArNava marmamulu vijayamu gala tyAgarAjuDErugE vishvAsinci delusukO O manasA“. The Svararnava is said to have vanished after Thyagaraja attained siddhi.

Svararnava is said to have been a broad palm leaf manuscript written in grantha characters. It is said that Thyagaraja got Svararnava through divine association. Thyagaraja preserved it in his puja room and only he had access to it. Occasionally, he read certain portions from it to some of his close disciples, who memorized some shlokAs of the Svararnava. It is said that one of his students named Singaracharyulu published some of these shlOkAs in his book Gayakalochana, without disclosing the source. A section of Svararnava was titled Svara Raga Sudha Grantha. May be Thyagaraja got inspired by this and composed the shankarAbharaNam kriti “svara rAga sudhA“.

Svararnava also contained concepts like the production of Ahata (sound produced by human effort) and anAhata (sound emanating from within; can be heard only by those who have attained a high state of the mind through sAdhanA) nAdams. In many of his compositions, Thyagaraja gives references to the 7 notes and to how different sounds are produced in different parts of the body. In a section called rAga vivEkA, one finds ragas like jayantashrI, kuntalavarALi, sArangakApi, mAlini makarandam etc. In addition to arOhaNa and avarOhaNa, brief sancArAs were given for many ragas. These ragas were presented in the order of the mELAs.

Vinta Ragas

Vinta ragas (or vichitra ragas) are ragas Sri Thyagaraja has given us. There is no evidence of existence of these before Sri Thyagaraja’s times. Either he created them or he got a clue about them from Svararnava or raga lexicons like Vyasakatakam or Hanumathkatakam. There are about 82-83 such ragas:

  1. shrImaNi (EmandunE vicitramunu)
  2. rasALi (aparAdhamula nOrva)
  3. shuddhasImantini (jAnakI ramaNa)
  4. vardhani (manasa mana)
  5. kalakaNThi (shrI janaka tanayE)
  6. sindhurAmakriyA (dEvAdi dEva & sudhA mAdhUrya)
  7. jaganmOhini (shObillu saptasvara & mAmava satatam, which is in Sanskrit)
  8. malayamArutam (manasA eTulOrtunE)
  9. bindumAlini (entamuddO)
  10. bhairavam (mariyAda gAdaiyya)
  11. supradIpam (varashikhi vAhana)
  12. cittaranjani (nAda tanumanisham)
  13. pUrNalalitA (kalugunA pada)
  14. kokilavarALi (samukhana nilva)
  15. hindOLavasantA (rAra sItA ramaNI manOhara)
  16. amritavAhini (shrI rAma pAdamA)
  17. AbhEri (nagumOmu ganalEni)
  18. jayantashrI (marugElarA)
  19. jingaLA (anAthuDanu gAnu)
  20. sAramati (mOkSamu galadA)
  21. kalAnidhi (cinna nADE nA)
  22. kalyANavasantam (nAdalOluDai)
  23. jayanArAyAni (manavini vinumA)
  24. AbhOgi (manasu nilpa, nannu brOva etc)
  25. mArgahindOLam (calamElarA sAkEtarAmA)
  26. jayantasEnA (vinatA suta vAhana)
  27. phalamanjari (sanAtanA parama pAvana)
  28. dEvakriyA (nATi mATa)
  29. jayamanOhari (yajnAdulu sukhamanu)
  30. pUrNashaDjam (lAvaNya rAmA)
  31. dilIpakam (rAmA nIyeDa)
  32. nAdatarangiNi (kripAlavAla)
  33. manOhari (paritApamu gani)
  34. AndOlikA (rAga sudhArasa)
  35. manjari (paTTi viDuva)
  36. dEvAmrutavarshini (evarani)
  37. suddhabangALa (rAma bhakti sAmrAjyam)
  38. svarabhUshani (varadarAja ninnu)
  39. siddhasEnA (evaraina lErA)
  40. naLinakAnti (manavi nAlaginca rAdaTE)
  41. simhavAhini (nenaruncarA)
  42. rAgapanjaram (sArvabhauma sAkEta rAma)
  43. AndALi (abhimAnamu lEdEmi)
  44. phalaranjani (shrI narasimha)
  45. nArAyaNi (bhajana sEyu mArgamunu)
  46. umAbharaNam (nija marmamulanu)
  47. kApinArAyaNi (sarasa sAma dAna)
  48. kuntalavarALi (centanE sadA yuncukOvayyA, shara shara samaraika)
  49. kOkiladhwani (koniyADEDu)
  50. cencukAmbOji (vara rAga)
  51. chAyAtarangiNi (krupa jUcuTaku)
  52. navarasakannaDA (paluku kaNDa, ninnu vinA nAmadi)
  53. pratApavarALi (vina nAshakoni)
  54. bahudAri (brOva bhAramA)
  55. kEsari (nannukanna talli)
  56. ravicandrikA (niravadhi sukhada)
  57. saraswatImanOhari (enta vEDukondu)
  58. nAgasvarAvaLi (shrIpatE nIpada)
  59. svarAvaLi (prArabdha miTTuNDaga)
  60. karnATakabehAg (nEnendu)
  61. supOshini (ramincu vArevarurA)
  62. jUjAhULi (parAku jEsina)
  63. janaranjani (viDajAladurA, smaraNE sukhamu)
  64. kOlAhalam (madilOna yOcana)
  65. garuDadhwani (tatvameruga taramA)
  66. vivardhani (vinavE O manasA)
  67. bangALA (girirAja sutA)
  68. gambhIravANi (sadAmadin dalatu)
  69. chhAyAnATa (idi samayamurA)
  70. gAnavAridhi (daya jUcuTa)
  71. candrajyOti (shashi vadana, bAgAyanayya)
  72. vijayashrI (vara nArada)
  73. dundubhi (lIlagAnu jUcu)
  74. dIpakam (kaLala nErcina)
  75. tIvravAhini (sarijEsi vEDuka)
  76. jIvantini (nI cittamu)
  77. ranjani (durmArga carAdhamulanu)
  78. shrutiranjani (EdAri sancarinturA)
  79. kaikavasi (vAcAmagOcaramE)
  80. hamsanAdham (baNTu rIti)
  81. bhUshAvaLi (tanamIda nE)
  82. saraswati (anurAgamu lEni)

Even if we have the scale of a raga, it is not easy to compose songs that will stay on for generations. Sri Thyagaraja’s greatness lies in composing songs in all these ragas and making them immortal. He gives the special sancAram of a raga in the opening lines of many of the songs. Names like kuntalavarATi, pratApavarATi, cakravAki exist in earlier works but we do not have any evidence of their being similar to the corresponding ragas we know today. His compositions in vinta ragas created a stir in his days. Many of them are popular even today.

Vinta ragas are janya ragas. There are also mElakartA rAgAs in which Thyagaraja was arguably the first to compose, to show the melodic richness and possibilities and to give the raga itself an identity. Some examples are dhEnukA, vakuLAbharaNam, cakravAkam, sUryakAntam, jhankAradhvani, kIravANi, kharaharapriyA, gaurimanOhari, sarasAngi, vAgadIshwari etc.

Musicians of his time used to go to Thyagaraja’s place to listen to these songs. Thyagaraja’s disciples would sing these songs during practice sessions in the afternoon or in the morning unchavritti bhajans or the ekAdashi bhajans. His disciples need to be thanked for preserving these songs for posterity. They wrote the notations for the songs. Special mention must be made of Walajahpet Venkataramana Bhagavathar who used to rush home after learning a song and write it down.

Sri Thyagaraja himself gives the name “vinta rAgAs” to these rAgAs in his songs “mitri bhAgyamE” in kharaharapriyA and “muccaTa brahmAdulaku” in madhyamAvati. He says “vinta rAgamulanAlApamu sEyaga mEnu pulakarincaga” and “bhAgavatulu hari nAma kIrtanamu bAguga susvaramulatO vinta rAgamulanu AlApamu cEyu“. He doesn’t even ask us to sing his songs in vinta rAgAs but to just do Alapana in these.

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6 thoughts on “Thyagaraja & His Vinta Ragas

  1. R.Saravanan says:

    Dear Ram,

    Thanks once more for the effort you have put in.

    I also take this oppurtunity to thank Dr Prameela Gurumurthy to have presented such a lec-dem and again you for sharing it with us.

    Yeah… Thyagaraja’s Parents as well as the world is blessed to have had such a great composer alive.Infact Lord Rama would himself have felt fortunate to have such a Bhaktar who did nothing else but praised him with such fantastic compositions.

    Yes we must thank all his diciples and teachers around the world as well as our parents who thought it important for us to learn music whether it was vocal, violin or mridangam.

    Last but not the least thanks to all bloggers who feel it important to post it like you all.Infact yesterday I got to know a new raga thanks to Sathej’s blog.

    Thanks for mentioning the list of Vinta ragas.Did she tell why these are termed as Vinta??What does Vinta mean??
    Would be interested to know that.

    Regards

  2. Sathej says:

    Well, great list put together. But, it would have been nicer if some of the rarer of the Vinta Raga Krithis had been rendered by the artiste.
    Sathej

  3. satyask says:

    Hello Ram,

    I noticed your note regarding making a copy of your work.
    I am going to quote a part of the above article on my web-site and give you credit, plus link back to this page. It is too good – to ‘not’ collect.

    Thank you for your excellent work and sharing spirit
    Satyask

  4. psprabhakararao says:

    What happened to that Manuscript left by Saint Narada at Thaygayyas house.Is it still there and if so where?

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