Dr. P. P. Narayanaswami


When one thinks of Maharaja Swati Tirunal, one is invariably reminded of Lord Padmanabhaswami of the mammoth temple of Syanandurapuram (presently known as Tiruvananthapuram). The Maharaja used the various paryayam-s  (equivalent phrases) of the proper noun "Padmanabha" as the mudra  (author's signature) in most of his musical compositions. While a bulk of his kritis is the outpouring of his devotion to Lord Padmanabha, he has also composed kritis on various other deities in and around the courtyard of the temple. Among these, the nine kritis he composed, for singing the praise of Goddess during the Navaratri festival stand out as a distinct and precious collection.

The series of nine Devi kritis, to be sung on each day of the Navaratri season is as follows:

Day Kriti Raga Tala
1 Devi jagat janani Sankarabharanam Adi
2 Pahimam Sri Vageeswari Kalyani Adi
3 Devi pavane Saveri Adi
4 Bharati mamava Todi Adi
5 Janani mamavameye Bhairavi Misra Chapu
6 Saroruhasana jaye Pantuvarali Adi
7 Janani pahi Shuddhasaveri Misra Chapu
8 Pahijanani santatam Nattakkurinji Misra Chapu
9 Pahi Parvatanandini Arabhi Adi
The concerts are usually preceded by the rendition of Todaya mangalam, and a song in praise of Lord Ganesha, "Paripahi ganadhipa"  in raga Saveri, composed by Swati Tirunal himself.
The story goes thus. The famous Tamil poet Kambar, the author of Kamba Ramayanam, used to offer worship to Goddess Saraswati in a temple situated in Padmanabhapuram. As his health deteriorated, he approached the ruling Chera King, and extracted a promise from him that the Navaratri festival for the temple would be conducted every year without any interruption. To this day, the Royal family of Travancore has honored this promise. During the regime of Swati Tirunal, the capital was shifted from Padmanabhapuram (now in Tamilnadu) to Tiruvananthapuram. To keep up the promise given to Kambar, it was arranged that every year, the idol of Goddess Saraswati would be brought in a grand procession to the new capital, Tiruvananthapuram, and the festival conducted there in an equally grand manner. Since the idol was not an "utsava vigraham", when it was taken to the capital, a lamp was lit in its place and regular puja was offered there.

Earlier, the Navaratri festival used to feature devotional music, dance, Vedic chanting, Grantha puja, Ayudha puja, scholarly discussions, and debates on the puranas. But these days, except for the puja and music, most of the activities have vanished. Maharaja Swati Tirunal himself codified the music for the Navaratri concerts and composed these nine gems in weighty ragas so that they could be sung as the main piece on each day. These kritis were rendered in a group earlier, with the raga-alapana and tanam alone rendered by the chief musician. But, nowadays, one musician renders the entire song. Also, in those days, all the Charanam lines were sung, whereas, these days any one of the Charanams is sung. The venue is the Navaratri Mantapam in the Fort Palace of the Maharaja of Travancore. 

During the first three days, Devi is worshipped as Saraswati, the next three days as Lakshmi, and as Durga on the last three days. The concerts are offerings to Devi. Till early 1900s, the "Mullamudu" Bhagavatars gave the concerts, where one musician would lead the chorus, and each one took turns to do the raga-alapana, neraval, kalpanaswaras etc. These Bhagavatars' ancestry and musical tradition dates back to the time of Maharaja Swati Tirunal himself. In fact, we are deeply indebted to these musicians for handing over to the present generation, numerous compositions of Swati Tirunal, in their original authentic forms.  

Slowly however, the system changed. Competent musicians from outside were invited to sing the main concert, and Mullamudu Bhagavatars were restricted to singing just the Todaya Mangalam

The scene of the Navaratri Mantapam is equally superb. Oil lamps are lit, and the atmosphere is filled with the subtle fragrance of fresh flowers, sandalwood, incense, and camphor fumes. The concerts start exactly at 6 pm and ends precisely at 8.30 pm. Besides, there is no applause at the end of each song and thus the atmosphere is very serene and devotional. 


Unlike Muthuswami Dikshitar, who has used all the eight vibhaktis (declinations) of the Sanskrit language in his Navavarana, Swati Tirunal chose to use only the Sambodhana vibhakti (vocative case) and prathama vibhakti  (nominative case) in the Navaratri kritis. All the nine kritis are of the "Pahi mam" type, calling out to the Goddess to protect him, and the bulk of the words employed in each kriti are just the description of the Goddess and her virtues at great length, using poetic language. 

These compositions belong to the "Kriti" pattern, with a short pallavi and anupallavi followed by one or more Charanams. The first song has four Charanams, and the the remaining six only three. While the first six songs indulge in very long Charanams using very lengthy phrases, the last three, devoted to Parvati, are shorter and simpler. It is worth observing that the first three songs do not feature his mudra (signature) "Padmanabha" or any of the synonyms. The third Charanam of the Saveri composition features a phrase "Padmanabha Vilasini". But, according to some experts, this is an incorrect version, since it means  "the consort of Padmanabha", which is certainly not a correct description for Saraswati. Perhaps the correct phrase should be "Padmabhava vilasini", since "Padmabhava" is certainly Lord Brahma! 

All the songs use majestic ragas. The first six are chowka-kala (slow tempo) kritis, whereas the last three use madhyamakala (medium tempo). But madhyamakala passages are found at the very end of the Charanams from the second song onwards (and in some cases, at the close of the anupallavi). To add to the complexity, the middle three songs have "solkattu" (rhythmic syllables) in the anupallavi. 

Other noteworthy features are:

  • The absence of mandara sthayi sanchara (lower octave phrases) in Kalyani and Pantuvarali pieces; and

  • Liberal usage of Panchama in the Natakuranji piece.

The Arabhi song, perhaps due to the presence of rapid flow of phrases, has attained popularity among musicians. However, the Kalyani and Bhairavi songs stand out as superb work. The former has dhatu which is unique, and shows a blending of the salient features of Sopana music, an indigenous form of classical music, special to Kerala. The pallavi has two avartanams (tala-cycles), the anupallavi six, and the Charanam nine. The Charanam falls into two parts - the first with four avartanams, and the second, five. It is in the first part that the features of Sopana music is exhibited, the syllables moving slowly in the beginning, and then attaining rapidity and uniformity.  

Speaking of Sopana sangeetam (music), it is a style of singing, with the accompaniment of the Edakka (a kind of drum) and usually takes place in the temples and in the traditional singing of Kathakali padams. It does contain the basic musical factors such as sruti, swara, raga and tala. But the style displays the general aspects of the melody without alapana, swaraprastara, gamaka, sangati, etc. It is usually rendered in slow tempo, emphasizing the sahitya, the lyrics. The word "sopanam" means the flight of steps at the door of the main temple sanctorum, and it is here that the musicians stand and render these songs at specified time during the temple rituals. Hence the singing was called "Sopana paattu", and in due course, it also denoted the style of singing.

Related links: Prosodic beauty of the Navaratri kritis
                      Navavarana & Navaratri kritis


Please visit our Composition Bank for the lyrics of the Navaratri kritis

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