Janaranjani, Purnachandrika & Kedaram - A clarification

Dear Rasikas,

I presented a concert at The Music Academy, Madras at 4.15 pm on December 24th 2007 accompanied by Dr. M. Narmada, Neyveli Narayanan and Bhagyalakshmi Krishna. This concert was reviewed in The Hindu, by Shri. V. Subrahmaniam, a senior vidwan and disciple of the late Shri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. The review is reproduced below:


Could do with better planning


Thoughtful choice of ragas would have enhanced the recitals of Sowmya and Hyderabad Brothers.

Photos: V. Ganesan

Styles in contrast: S. Sowmya

But for the mridangam (Neyveli R. Narayanan) it was an all-woman ensemble as Sowmya took the stage on Christmas Eve! Narmada was on the violin and Bhagayalakshmi Krishna on the morsing. Sowmya’s opening for the concert was th Saveri Adi tala varnam Sarasuda of Kothavasal Venkataramayya. The pallavi, anupallavi, and mukthayi swaram were presented in two speeds and the charanam onwards in a fast single speed as commonly done.

‘Nadadina,’ (Janaranjani, Misra Chapu) of Tyagaraja came with a brief alapana of the ragam. The phrasing ‘ri ga ma ri sa’ is indicative of Poornachandrika, a very close ragam. In Janaranjani this should be eschewed and instead ‘ga ma pa ma ree’ be used to avoid any identity crisis. The opening words of the charanam were taken up for niraval and kalpanaswaras. Being Somavara (Monday), the day’s vara kriti of Muthuswami Dikshitar, ‘Chandrambhaja Manasa,’ (Asaveri, Matthya talam was sung.

A Kalyani ragam, Adi talam kriti of Ghanam Krishniyer, ‘Paarengum Parthalum’ was rendered next. The texture of the piece was suggestive of a padam/javali and was rather a misfit in the earlier part of the concert. Sowmya could have it pushed to the post-pallavi part.

After an alapana of Kedaram, a Misra Chapu kriti, Ananda Natana Prakasam, the Akasalinga kriti of Muthuswami Dikshitar was presented with kalpanaswaras at Kedareswaram. Again the ‘sa sa ri ri ga’ jhanta prayogam seemed out of place.

Up to this point, the concert ambled at a sedate gait. Sowmya brought in tempo by presenting a pacy ‘Manasuloni Marmamu’ (Tyagaraja, Varamu, Adi). It did achieve the effect of making the audience sit up. The mood being achieved Sowmya took up Madhyamavati for alapana with ‘Palinsu Kamakshi’ of Syama Sastri in Adi talam. Thani avarthanam by Narayanan and Bhagyalaksmi was creditably done.

Sarasangi was the Ragam Tanam Pallavi choice of Sowmya. The words of the pallavi — ‘Sarasangikadhyutha Pathe Natana Pathe Sivakama Valli Pathe Sada Namasthe’ set in Khanda Jathi Ata talam. Rendered with all the due features, the pallavi had a ragamalika kalpanaswara embellishment. The ragams were Kanakangi, Latangi, Swarnangi, Rathnangi, and Shyamalangi. As a forerunner of ‘Krishna Nee Begane’ in Yamuna Kalyani, Misra Chapu talam a Kannada couplet was rendered in Sindu Bhairavi and Yamuna Kalyani.

The closing piece of the concert was ‘Chidambaram Pogamal Iruppeno’ in Chenchurutti. Narmada’s violin support in solo versions was well presented, enhancing the concert. The percussion support was neat.

In the review, Shri. Subrahmaniam makes certain observations regarding my rendition of the ragas Janaranjani and Kedaram. He suggests that certain phrases that I used in these ragas should be eschewed. In response to this review, I wrote the following letter to The Hindu. It was published on Jan. 11th 2008 in the Friday Review:

Standard Phrases

This has reference to the review of my concert at the Music Academy (Music Season, January 1). While I do not dispute the reviewer's right to make the subjective opinions about my music, there are certain factual errors and inconsistencies that I'd like to repudiate in the interest of rasikas and music students who peruse these columns.

The reviewer says "the phrasing 'ri ga ma ri sa' is indicative of Poorna Chandrika, a very close ragam. In Janaranjani this should be eschewed and instead 'ga ma pa ma ree' be used to avoid any identity crisis". This is plainly incorrect.

There are a number of examples both in Janaranjani and Poornachandrika that admit these phrases, eg: the phrase 'edabaya' in the Anupallavi of the kriti 'Nadadina Mata' (Janaranjani-Tyagaraj) would be noted as 'ri ga ma ree saa' (in the upper octave). Also the second line of the Cittaswaram of Pahimam Sri Rajarajeswari ends as 'ri ga ma ri saa, sa da pa maa ree, sa ri gam ma' An excellent example of the same is Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer's rendition. Similarly for Poorna Chandrika, in the anupallavi of the krithi 'Telisi Rama' , the phrase 'Talapulanni Nilipi Nimisha' is noted as 'paa pama ree-pama ga ma ree-ree ga ma ree- ga ma pa ma ree'.

The anupallavi of the krithi 'Palukavemina' o f Tyagaraja, 'Aluga Kaaranamermira' is notated as 'pa paa ma paa pa ma ga maa ree- ga ma pa ma ree'. These examples are from standard krithis and have been sung time and again by great stalwarts of yesteryears and also by contemporary veterans and vidwans.

To summarize, the main distinction between Poornachandrika and Janaranjani would reside in the pa-to-sa regions, both in ascent and descent. The reviewer has pointed out that the Jhanta phrase 'sa sa ri ri ga' is out of place in Kedaram. This is again incorrect.

The phrase "prakasam" in 'Ananda natana' of Muthuswamy Dikshitar is noted as 'sa sa ri ri ga sa.' Also in the Swati tirunal kriti 'Paramanananda natana' as notated by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, the phrase 'natana' is represented as 'sa sa ri ri ga sa'. This is a very common phrase in Kedaram and many musicians have rendered this in krithis, alapna and while singing kalpana swaram. I have several examples in my audio archives of past masters to back up this assertion

S. Sowmya.

Rasikas would note that I have specifically mentioned that the subjective aspects of the review do not bother me. I responded only to the technical points related to the Raga Lakshana of Janaranjani, Purnachandrika and Kedaram. I have cited specific examples to back my claims. Yet, Shri. Subrahmaniam responded in the following manner in The Hindu's Friday Review pages of Jan. 18th 2008:

Raga intricacies

I refer to the letter of S. Sowmya (Friday Review, January 11) with regard to my observations on certain phrasings of the ragams Janaranjani and Kedaram while reviewing her concert at the Music Academy.

My views only reflect those of my guru Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. While teaching the intricacies of the ragalakshana of Janaranjani and Poornachandrika, the doyen pointed out that these specific phrasings which have now come under debate. He explained that these phrasings which are found in certain kritis should be left alone, as the composers have included them under exceptions. But as they nearly tread on an allied ragam, they should be avoided when handling aspects of manodharma such as alapana, swaraprasthara, etc.

Similarly, Kedaram as handled by Muthuswamy Dikshitar in ‘Anandanatana Prakasam’ contains certain sancharams which do not bring out the full flavour of the ragam. Perhaps Kedaram had those sancharams at the time when the composition was created. Or, in the process of the kriti coming down generations, certain deviations took place. Swati Tirunal’s composition in Kedaram had an original structure and this as such was notated under Semmangudi’s supervision.

His view was that the composition should not be tampered with and liberties should not be taken with Manodharma. I have had the privilege of being with my guru for 47 long years and he has imparted to me the intricacies of many ragams the details of which cannot be explained through these columns. A senior authority on Raga lakshanams totally corroborated with my view. I can also assure the rasikas that my comments on the ragams are not off the cuff remarks to be called ‘factual errors’ but on the other hand are fully supported by authorities in the field.

More than anything else, remarks and observations are made with a view to enhancing the quality of the concerts of the artists in the future and not aimed at decrying them. The reviews, therefore, should be taken in the right spirit.

V. Subrahmaniam

The print medium has inherent limitations in discussing music. It does not allow me to back up my case with audio clips. So I'm responding to Shri. Subrahmaniam using the World Wide Web, with audio samples to support my case:

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Editor,

The Hindu, Chennai


This has reference to Shri. V. Subrahmaniam’s letter published in the Friday Review on Jan. 18th in response to my comments published a week earlier.

I admit to being perplexed by some of the comments made by Shri. Subrahmaniam. Referring to Janaranjani and the phrase “ri ga ma ri sa”, he invokes the late, respected doyen Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer to state: “…as they nearly tread on an allied ragam, they should be avoided when handling aspects of manodharma such as alapana, swaraprasthara…” Before composing this response, I have listened once again to recordings of the doyen himself singing “Pahimam Shri Rajarajeswari” & “Smarane Sukhamu”, where he has rendered an elaborate round of kalpanaswaras in two speeds, which includes the “ri ga ma ri sa” sequence that is presently the bone of contention! Not only Semmangudi mama, legends such as Musiri Subramania Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer and M. D. Ramanathan have also employed this phrase in their manodharma expositions of Janaranjani. I have recordings to back up this assertion.

As for the statement “phrasings which are found in certain kritis should be left alone, as the composers have included them under exceptions”, may I submit that it would be contrary to what my guru and many other elders have counseled me. It is commonly accepted that one’s knowledge of raga swarupa is shaped by acquiring a sizeable repertoire in the raga and repeated listening to the masterpieces of the Trinity and other composers – a point made by Shri. Subrahmaniam himself in his Raga Lakshana CD. In his Raganubhava lectures he repeatedly stresses the importance of internalizing the kritis, the prayogas therein and their swara patterns in order to hone one’s manodharma.

Why would Dikshitar’s “Ananda Natana Prakasam”, one of the most important compositions in Kedaram alone be an exception to this conventional wisdom? For Kedaram, my revered guru Dr. S. Ramanathan, Shri. K. V. Narayanaswamy and other elders have sung the phrase ‘sa sa ri ri ga sa’, not only as part of the kriti, but also for manodharma.

I have also run my thoughts on these technical points past several senior artistes and experts and they have concurred with me. Shri. Subrahmaniam rightly points to the futility of debating these musical points in print. So I have posted this response, accompanied by relevant audio clips of my Academy concert and renditions by the veterans that I have referred above, on my website (See Below). Rasikas are welcome to listen and make their own judgement!

I have no problem in “taking concert reviews in the right spirit” and I respect Shri. Subrahmaniam’s vidwat and his musical lineage. However, since some of the observation was based on technical points and also because it was made in public in the print media, I felt it was my duty to respond, both as a responsible artiste and as a student of music.

S. Sowmya

Yours Musically,

Audio Samples

Please note that all the tracks posted above are only brief extracts from full recordings. These are for academic / illustrative purposes only.