Expert's Corner, Ragas

Ragas of Sri Krishna

2 Comments 15 June 2012

Ragas of Sri Krishna


This article is a guest post / re-post by Sri K V Ramprasad, popularly known in the blog world as hamsanandi and neelanjana. In his own words, he is a ಕನ್ನಡಿಗ. Musicphile. Bibliophile. Astrophile. Blogophile. Twitterphile, Thyagarajaphile, Dr. M Balamuralikrishna) BMKphile. He has written a book Hamsanada, and blogs here at Neelanjana.

The Ragas to which the Gopis Danced….

Whenever I listen to certain Indian flautists (like Hariprasad Chaurasia or S Shashank),  I hear a thur-thur-thur sound in the way they blow.  This normally happens at the drut – or fast phrases. I have no better way of  describing it!  Listen to this short recording of Hariprasad Chaurasia on youtube. You can distinctly hear the sound I am indicating by the phrase thur-thur-thur at several places. As just couple of examples, I would mark around the the  2 min 25 second, and 5 min 6 second  mark, just to tell you what I am talking about.

I was thinking this was a  novelty of some flautists (because I don’t think every flautist uses such a technique).  That was only till I came across a song  that was written more than five centuries ago! Oh boy, How wrong our inferences could be!

This is a song written by Purandara Dasa, acknowledged as a pioneer in Karnataka Sangeetha. The title of this blog happens to be the opening line (pallavi) of one of his songs. It goes like

tutturu toorendu battisa raagagaLannu chittaja janaka tanna koLalallUdidanu

“Krishna, the father of Manmatha,  played 32 raagas on his flute with a sound of ‘thur-thur-thur’ “

Now do you see why I said this technique could not be all that new? Krishna is described by Purandara as playing his flue this way. Nobody has seen Krishna playing his flute. But Purandara must have see other flautists around his time ( 1480 AD – 1564 AD) producing such sounds on their flutes, and this of course, he has attributed to Krishna. So far so good.

But this song is also significant in other ways. Purandara dasa is said to have composed hundreds of thousands of compositions. Now, we have just over a thousand of his compositions available. Although Purandara Dasa is called as the “pitAmaha of Karnataka sangIta”, most of his original tunes are lost.  There is pretty little information available on how many of his compositions were sung. However, being the musician he was, some of his compositions talk about various musical aspects, although indirectly.  And this song, tutturu toorendu, is one of them.

For a long time, Indian music was supposed to have 32 major rAgas. This has showed up even prior to Purandara dAsa. Basavanna, a social reformer from Karnataka (1134-1196 AD) has this in one of his vachanas (saying):

ಎನ್ನ ಕಾಯವ ದಂಡಿಗೆಯ ಮಾಡಯ್ಯ
ಎನ್ನ ಶಿರವ ಸೋರೆಯ ಮಾಡಯ್ಯ
ಎನ್ನ ನರಗಳ ತಂತಿಯ ಮಾಡಯ್ಯ
ಬತ್ತೀಸ ರಾಗವ ಹಾಡಯ್ಯ
ಉರದಲೊತ್ತಿ ಬಾರಿಸು ಕೂಡಲಸಂಗಮದೇವ!

Here is the text transliterated:

enna kAyava daMDigeya mADayya
enna shirava sOreya mADayya
enna naragaLa tantiya mADayya
battIsa rAgava hADayya
uradalotti bArisu kUDalasangama dEva

And here it is translated:

Make my body the fretboard,
Make my head resonator
Make my nerves into the strings
Sing thirtytwo rAgas
Play intensely, Oh koodalasangama dEva*!

* : Koodala sangama – A place at the confluence of Krishna and Malaprabha rivers in Karnataka.

It is the same 32 raagas which Purandara dasa refers to in this song “tutturu toorendu’ too. – “Krishna played 32 rAgas”. (battIs = 32).  However, he does not list out all the 32 raagas in this song. How unfortunate for us?

First lets see what he says in one of the stanzas of tutturu toorendu:

ಗೌಳ ನಾಟಿ ಆಹೇರಿ ಗುರ್ಜರಿ ಮಾಳವಿ ಸಾರಂಗ ರಾಗ ಕೇಳಿ ರಮಣಿಯರತಿ ದೂರದಿಂದ

ಫಲಮಂಜರಿ ಗೌಳಿ ದೇಶಾಕ್ಷಿ ರಾಗಗಳನು ನಳಿನನಾಭನು ತನ್ನ ಕೊಳಲಲೂದಿದನು

gouLa nATi AhEri gurjari mALavi sAranga  rAga kELi ramaNiyarati dUradinda
phalamanjari gauLi dEshAkSi rAgangaLanu naLinanAbhanu tanna koLalalUdidanu

“When the maidens from listening from afar, the one with a lotus in his navel, played raagas like gouLa, nATi, AhEri, gurjari, mALavi, sAranga, phalamanjari, gouLi and dEshAkShi”

So, we have the following  9 distinct rAgas listed in this song. However, it falls  short of the required 32!

1. gouLa
2. nATi
3. AhEri
4. gurjari
5. mALavi
6. sAranga
7. phalamanjari
8. gouLi
9. dEshakshi

Luckily for us,  there are at least two other songs (that I know of) in which he lists out some of the raagas (melodies) that were vouge in his time.

Here is a stanza from another song that starts as ನಳಿನಜಾಂಡ ತಲೆಯ ತೂಗಿ – “naLinajANDa taleya toogi”:

ಮಾರವಿ ದೇಶಿ ಗುರ್ಜರಿ ಭೈರವಿ ಗೌಳಿ ನಾಟಿ ಸಾವೇರಿ ಆಹೇರಿ ಪೂರ್ವಿ
ಕಾಂಭೋಜಿ ಪಾಡಿ ದೇಶಾಕ್ಷೀ ಶಂಕರಾಭರಣ ಮಾಳವ
ವರಾಳಿ ಕಲ್ಯಾಣಿ ತೋಡಿ ಮುಖಾರಿಯರಳಿ ವಸಂತ ಬೌಳಿ ಧನ್ಯಾಸಿ
ಸೌರಾಷ್ಟ್ರ ಗುಂಡಕ್ರಿಯ ರಾಮಕ್ರಿಯ ಮೇಘ ಕುರಂಜಿಯು ಪಾಡಲು ನೋಡಿ!

mAravi dEshi gurjari bhairavi gauLi nATi sAvEri AhEri pUrvi
kAmbhOji pADi dEshAkSi shankarAbharaNa mALava
varALi kalyANi tODi mukhAriyaraLi vasanta bauLi dhanyAsi
saurASTra guMDakriya rAmakriya mEgha kuranjiyu pADalu nODi

Now, let me list out the rAgas from here, discounting the ones that have been listed before:

10. mAravi
11. dEshi
12. bhairavi
13. sAvEri
14. pUrvi
15. kAmbhOji
16. pADi
17. shankarAbharaNa
18. mALava
19. varALi
20. kalyANi
21. tODi
22. mukhAri
23. vasanta
24. bouLi
25. dhanyAsi
26. sourAShTra
27. guMDakriya
28. rAmakriya
29. mEgha
30. kuranji

Whew! We are so close to the magical number 32!

Now, to conclude, here is a stanza from the last song – which starts as ಅಂಗನೆಯರೆಲ್ಲರು ನೆರೆದು – ’anganeyarellaru neredu’

ಪಾಡಿ ಮಲಹರಿ ಭೈರವಿ ಸಾರಂಗ ದೇಶಿ ಗುಂಡಕ್ರಿಯ ಗುರ್ಜರಿ ಕಲ್ಯಾಣಿ ರಾಗದಿ ತಂಡ
ತಂಡದಲಿ ನೆರೆದು ರಂಗನ ಉಡಿಯ ಘಂಟೆ ಘಣ್ ಘಣ್ ಘಣ್ ಘಣಿರೆಂದು ಹಿಡಿದು ಕುಣಿಸುವರು

pADi malhAri bhairavi sAranga dEsi guMDakriya gurjari kalyANi rAgadi taMDa
taMadali neredu rangana uDiya ghaNTe ghaN ghaN ghaN ghNirendu hiDidu kuNisuvaru

If you look carefully, you’ll notice there is only one name that has not appeared before.

31. Malahari

So, the internal evidence from these compositions is giving a list of 31 rAgas (probably out of the legendary 32 – this is but my speculation) that were in vogue in the 15th-16th centuries. The set of 32 rAgas was not a static list, and over the centuries, new rAgas gained popularity, and some went outdated. The evidence from these three compositions also shows that the rAga kalyANi, was adopted by composers like Purandara Dasa , although the text writers continued to shoo it away because of its foreign origins, and kept saying that the rAga is not fit for compositions for another two centuries!

But the golden rule in Music is “If it is melodious, it stays“. Kalyani has passed the test of time. Composers who came in the 18th-19th centuries explored all facets of this rAga, and today it has became one of the major rAgas of Karnataka Sangeetha .


PS: When I was looking through Purandara dAsa’s compositions, I found another pada – ರಂಗ ಕೊಳಲಲೂದಲಾಗಿ (ranga koLalalUdalAgi) which also describes Krishna playing flute, and mentions two rAgas, namely: rAmakriya and mEgharanjani. mEgharanjani is not listed in the other 3 compositions I wrote about earlier ! So this is making it to 32 now :)

The sAhitya of this song is as follows:

ranga koLalanUdalAgi mangaLamayavAytu dhare
jagangaLu chaitanya maretu anga paravasahavAduvu

tIDida mAruta mandamatigaiye bADida baralu phalagonchalu biDe
pADalollavu aLikulangaLu bADida mAmara chiguroDeya

hEDigonDavu jANakki giLi mAtADade kAlegundidavu kOgile
ODATa vairava biTTu khagamR^iga gADha nidrAvashavAduvu

nALina champaka nAga punnAga pATila shAvantige kunda bakuLavu
mAlati jAji parimaLagonDitu nIlAngananghrige eragidavu

dAma vanamAli shIvatsa kaustubha svAmi purandara viThThala rAyanau
nAma kriyE mEgha ranjini pADe sama vEdanamu namu ennE

Some more rAgas may show up in compositions if I look through.. May be some other time!


This post was originally published at Neelanjana.

Your Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Srinath says:

    I just stumbled on this posting and I loved it. I promptly shared it with a bunch of people. Initial reports suggest that they loved it too. Hopefully, you’re still active and still posting.

    Thank you.


  2. shivansh says:

    Thanks a lot 4 dis information.. 🙂

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