The Pancharathna Kritis of Thyagaraja
By T. S. Parthasarathi
Thyagaraja was the greatest among the music composers of South India and one of the
musical prodigies of all time. His works are of delicate spirituality, full of melodic beauty and in
the highest sense, artistic. He exerted the greatest influence upon musical art in South India
during the 18th and 19th centuries and revolutionized the very nature of Carnatic music. His
songs are accepted today as the only adequate interpretation of classical Carnatic music from
both the music and the sahitya points of view.
The group of five kritis, known as the “Pancha Rathna” or five gems, in Nata, Gaula, Arabhi,
Varali, and Sri Raga, is the most representative of Thyagaraja’s art as a composer. He
appears to have, in these kritis, consciously summed up his musical genius in a quintessential
form. They are not stray pieces composed at random but constitute a deliberate scheme of
melody, rhythms and words into which he has painstakingly fitted in every aspect of the
classical forms in Carnatic music. The swaras come in waves with an originality and daring
that are breathtaking. All the five are in the Adi tala but the “sarvalaghu” dances merrily both in
the brisk and the sedate pieces. Thyagaraja’s poetic gifts in Sanskrit and Telugu are also in
full play and the kritis are literally poems set to music.
THE GHANA RAGAS
Various reasons have been advanced as to why these five ragas have been called “Ghana
ragas.” They were known as “Ghana raga panchakam” in the Vina sampradaya and it has
been the practice for Vainikas to acquire expertise in playing tanam in them. One reason is
that of the subtle sruti and prayogas of Carnatic music figure in them. Nata contains the
Shatsruthi Rishbha and Shatsruti Dhaivata; Gaula has the Ekasruti Rishaba, which is lower
then Suddha Rishabha; Arabhi contains the alpa prayogas of Gandhara and Nishada, and
Varali has a particularly sharp prati madhyama known as the Varali Madhyama. Sriraga is
considered to be an auspicious raga. From the ettugada swara development in the five kritis, it
is clear that Thyagaraja was fully familiar with the Vina sampradaya and was perhaps a good
Vainika himself. Venkatamukhi mentions eight ragas as Ghana ragas with the addition of
Bauli, Malavasri, and Ritigowla. There is also a second series of Ghana Ragas comprising of
Kedaram, Narayanagaula, and Salanganata.
THE ORDER OF PANCHARATHANA KRITIS
There is a rationale behind the order in which Thyagaraja has arranged the sahita of the
Pancha rathna. “Jagadanandakaraka” follows the Thodyamangalam pattern in which the first
song starts with “Jaya” and in wholly Sanksrit. Instead of “Janaki Ramana”, we have “Janaki
prana nayaka.” The opening line stresses the Upanishadic truth that the Lord is the source of
all joy, “Ananda” and the rest of the kriti is a beautiful namavali. The mudra of Thyagaraja is
found in three places.
The remaining four kritis are in Sanskritized Telugu. In “Duduku gala” in Gaula, the composer
passes into a mood of introspection and self-reproach. After the manner of the earlier saints,
Thyagaraja exclaims, “Which Lord will save an incorrigible sinner like me?” Couched in chaste
Telugu, the kriti proceeds to catalogue sins of commission and omission like the teaching of
music to undeserving dancers, gallants, and women, wasting one’s life in useless arguments
and for acquiring wealth.
“Sadinchane” is a bold “ninde stuti” in which Thyagaraja accuses the Lord as being a cunning
God who belied his own teachings and achieved his own ends. A unique feature of this kriti is
that Thyagaraja alternates between Rama and Krishna, praising Rama for his virtues and
reserving his sarcasm for Krishna. The charanam summarizes the Lord’s advice to
Thyagaraja, “do not grieve; but take the rough with the smooth.”
In “Kana Kana Ruchira” in Varali, the composer proceeds to describe the divine beauty of the
Lord which grows “more and more as one look at him.” Thyagaraja cites a long list of
witnesses who has feasted their eyes upon that divine splendor.
“Endaro Mahanubhavulu” in Sri raga comprises Thyagaraja’s salutations to a galaxy of
preceptors and purvacharyas of yore, who include nada yogis, mystics, bhagavatas and those
who had mastered the mysteries of scriptures. This grand piece rounds off the Pancha ratna
group on a soothing note and with a benediction. A continuous rendering of the group in
chorus ushers in an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and devotional rapture.
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