Thyagaraja Swami’s Contributions to Raga Lakshana and Musicology
Thyagaraja Swami had made significant contributions to raga lakshana, raga lakshya, and raga swaroopa, or in general, to the development of musicology. Support for this claim is provided to us by Sri A. Vasudeva Sastry of the Saraswathi Mahal Library, in a book titled “Ragas”. The Ragas study examines the manuscripts of Sahaji, who died in 1710, about sixty years before Swami was born.
After analyzing the work of Sahaji and all the materials available on raga lakshanas, Sri Vasudeva Sastri concludes that thirty of the 72 melakarta ragas were given a raga swarupa and acquired their ranking solely from Saint Thyagaraja Swami giving them these qualities. Quoting from Madikeswara Samhita, a work on srutis of which only extracts are now available, Sastry points out that 12 swara moorchanas were in existence and Swami used it to give Karaharapriya great charm in his composition, Rama Nee Samana mevaru. Quoting the sangatis of this composition in great detail, Sri Vasudeva Sastry points out that the “closed curve” melodic effect can be achieved by the vadi-samvadi usage.
As it is believed, Swami created many new ragas. Many scholars however
believe that he activated or unearthed many ragas that have been labeled and were lying dormant because their lakshanas or characteristics were not defined in clear terms. However, the fact that only one composition exists in certain ragas and these compositions have been composed in these ragas only Sri Thyagaraja Swami lends credence to the claim that ragas like Pratapa Varali, Nabhomani, Jaya Narayani and many others, were Swami’s creations.
Similarly, sangatis or usages that enrich the musical context of a kriti,
are mostly found in Swami’s compositions. Although some scholars point out that sangatis are as old as music itself and were known under the name prayaogas. However, since they became widely used only through the kritis of Swami, it will not be wrong to assume that sangatis were Swami’s innovations. He used sangatis to bring out the raga bhava or their fundamental characteristics.
Mrs. Vidya, in an excellent paper presented to the centenary session of the Madras Music Academy (Swami’s death centenary), has used several examples to illustrate how Swami used sangatis to highlight the use of right srutis. He used these also in kritis intended for children so that they can learn the Sruti values early and by understanding the proper imitation of the instrument or voice teaching them. Let me point out one example provided by Mrs. Vidya. In the kriti, Mariadagadura (Sankarabharanam), she points to the numerous sangatis used in the pallavi and shows how the tri-sruti gandhara of Sankarabharanam is
deftly handled by Swami. Both Sankarabharana and Kalyani have the same gandharas in their structure but Kalyani uses the Chatursruthi and the note clings to the Madhyama. She also points out how the sahitya splits perfectly into the right tisra syllables and how the visesha prayoga, Sa Da, Pa in the sangatis just preceding the complete avaroha brings out the bhava.
Mrs. Vidya also says that by using a deerga daivata, Swami has skillfully
managed to bring out the raga bhava of Kambhjoji in Evari Mata, although he uses only the swaras common to Sankarabharanam and Khamboji. The commencement of the charana of this song also brings out the value of Khamboji’s deerga daivata prayogam.
Often, when using a new raga, Swami employs the arohana and avarohana in the opening phrase itself. For example, in Binna Shadjam, raga derived from the ninth mela, Dhenuka, the opening words Sari Varilona, fit in with Sa Ri Ga Ri Pa Ma Pa Da Sa Da Pa Ma Ri Ga Ri Sa. The opening phrase in Evaraina lera peddalu (Raga: Siddha Sena), the notes are Sa Ga Ri Ga Ma. Take Bahudari, is there a more appropriate characteristic phrase than Pa Da Ni Pa Ma Ga?
When employing vivadi swaras, Swamiji makes sure that the vivadis occur in the opening phrase itself, e.g., Paramatmudu in Vagadheeswari; Evare Ramayya inGangeya Bhushani. Even for an ancient and well-known raga-like Bhairavi, he uses common swaras to great effect. For example, in the short rupaka tala kriti, Upacharama Jese Varu, he opens with Ri Ma Ga without the slightest trace of Karaharapriya. The chatsruthi rishabha of Karaharapriya is aligned to the Madhyama, a fact so well demonstrated. Karaharapriya and Hari Kambhoji are Swami’s gifts to Carnatic music. The Tana Sampradaya Kirtanas and indeed even
the simple rhythmic ones teach the ease with which all or most of Swami’s songs fall into the sarva laghu, in addition to demonstrating the scope of the raga alapana, swara singing paddathi and neraval. Koluvayyunnade in Bhairavi and Kori Sevimparare in Karaharapriya are examples.
Other examples of where Swami had used sangatis to bring out the raga bhava ‘include: Najeevadhara, Chetulara Srungaramu, Thappi Brathiki Brova Tharama; in these compositions, the sangatis are in the passage containing the message of the kriti. In the Pratapa Varali song, Vinanasa Koniyannanu, the phrase Da Pa Sa is used for Aa Aa in words to emphasize that Swami wants to not only have sweet words but to also as he says “Madhuramaina Palukulu,” the sweet words that Vathathmaju (Anjayaney) and Bharatha heard.
The compositions of Sri Thyagaraja Swami make the largest contribution to our knowledge of Carnatic music today. In volume and variety, no other composer has given us so much material covering so wide a range of ragas, their lakshanas, that allows singing even by those with limited voice range and limited music knowledge. Examples are Jaya Jaya Sri Raghu Rama, in Mangala Kaisiki, which anyone can sing (even little children), Naa Jeevadhara, Endhu Daakinado, and Mari Mari Ninne, that demand excellent voice qualities and sangita gnana or musical knowledge.
Dr. R. Krishnaswamy
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