Compositions with Rama as muse

A panel depicting Ramapattabhishekam at Bhadrachalam temple   | Photo Credit: S. Azad

In our country, god has been visualised in a multitude of forms. And the form of Rama, who inspired the great epic Ramayana, has always been associated with creativity in artistes and with a wide representation in all the arts. The Ramayana has been a source of not just spiritual inspiration but has also produced great literature, poetry and music. The Bhakti movement in particular saw a flowering of talent from the great saint-poets, who composed songs in praise of Rama that soon became an intrinsic part of the repertoire of the performing arts.

While the creations of Tyagaraja are well known, a number of other composers have written equally exquisite songs dedicated to Rama in the Carnatic tradition, rich in lyrics and ragas.

The song ‘Vadavarayai matthaki’, from the Aycciyar kuravai of the Tamil classic Silappadikaram, mentions the lord as Rama. This song was set to music by S.V. Venkataraman and made popular by M.S. Subbulakshmi, and featured in her historic concert at the United Nations.

The Nalayira Divyaprabandham of the Azhwars contains several pasurams dedicated to Rama. One such pasuram, ‘Mannu pugazh kosalai,’ is a tender lullaby to the scion of the Raghu clan. A lilting composition of Kulasekhara Azhwar, this was set to music and made popular by the brothers, B.V. Raman and B.V. Lakshmanan.


Purandaradasa   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Then we have had the Haridasas from Karnataka, whose seminal contributions to Carnatic music include compositional forms such as the pada or the devaranama, ugabhoga and the suladis. Many such compositions sing the praise of Rama. Purandaradasa, the Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha, has dedicated many a Devaranama to Rama, the most popular of which is ‘Jaya Jaya Jaya Janakikanta’ in Nattai ragam. He stresses upon the greatness of Rama nama in songs such as ‘Rama embo eradaksharada mahimayanu’ and ‘Rama mantrava japiso’. The song ‘Rama nama ratna hara’ visualises Rama as the ten avataras of Vishnu. Many of these Devaranamas have been set to music and made popular by Madras Lalitangi, M.L. Vasanthakumari, R.K. Srikantan, T.K. Govinda Rao and others.

Drawing of Annamacharya by Keshav

Drawing of Annamacharya by Keshav   | Photo Credit: KESHAV

The compositions of Talapakka Annamacharya were recently discovered from copper plates preserved in the Tirumala temple. Of his many songs dedicated to Rama, ‘Vandeham Jagatvallabham’ set in the ragam Hamsadhwani by Sripada Pinakapani and ‘Deva devam bhaje’ (versions in ragas Hindolam and Dhanyasi), are well known.

‘Rama Rama prana sakhi’ in Bhairavi, immortalised by the family of Veena Dhanammal, has an interesting depiction of shringara rasa. The nayaka, separated from his beloved, wonders how Rama could endure the separation from Sita. It is said that Kshetrayya wrote this when he missed the company of his devadasi friend while visiting Bhadrachalam.

Veena Dhanammal

Veena Dhanammal   | Photo Credit: The HIndu Archives

The Thiruppugazh verses composed by Arunagirinathar dedicated to Muruga are intricate Tamil songs set to complex rhythmic patterns. Though every song culminates in a prayer to Muruga, instances from the Ramayana, right from the birth of Rama to his coronation and later the anecdotes about Lava and Kusha have been woven into the text of several Thiruppugazh verses. These have been popularised by the Alathur Brothers, D.K. Pattammal, D.K. Jayaraman, Guruji Raghavan and many others.

The picturesque temple of Bhadrachalam, on the banks of the sprawling Godavari, is testimony to the devotion of Kancherla Gopanna, popularly known as Bhadrachala Ramadasa. His intense devotion is articulated in many emotional Telugu compositions. Ramadasa describes the myriad relationships the devotee shares with the divine. Many of his songs such as ‘Paluke bangara mayena’, ‘Idigo bhadradri’, ‘Takkuvemi manaku’, ‘Ikshvaku tilaka’ and ‘Etirugananu’ have been popularised by many musicians such as M. Balamuralikrishna and Nedunuri Krishnamurthy. Inspired by the song ‘Etirugananu’ and its musical arrangement in the ragam Nadanamakriya, the seer of Sringeri Sharada Peetam, Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamigal, composed ‘Kausalyasuta,’ a Sanskrit composition to the same musical setting.

Upanishad Brahman, a great Advaita sanyasi, composed several Divyanama kirtanas. Tyagaraja was inspired by these kirtanas. Upanishad Brahman's ‘Ramashtapadi’ was set to music by Muthuswami Dikshitar. Unfortunately, the tunes are not available now.

Others such as Bodhendra Saraswati spearheaded the Namasankirtana tradition along with Sridhara Ayyaval, Bhashyam Gopalakrishna Sastri and Sadguru Swamigal. Narayana Tirtha, the author of the Krishna Leela Tarangini, hails Rama, Krishna and Govinda as the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.

Many a composition of saint-composer Sadasiva Brahmendra are dedicated to Rama. In Sadasiva Brahmendra, one realises the oneness of jnana and bhakti. The songs of Brahmendra were set to music and rendered by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. The evergreen ‘Pibare Rama rasam’ in raga Yamuna Kalyani extols the glory of Rama. ‘Khelati mama hrdaye’, ‘Bhajare re Raghuviram’, ‘Prativaram’, ‘Chetasri Ramam’ are other songs of Brahmendra dedicated to Rama.

Mysore Vasudevachar with Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

Mysore Vasudevachar with Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Inspired by the Kamba Ramayanam, acclaimed Tamil composer Arunachala Kavirayar composed his immortal opera, the Ramanatakam. Several kirtanas from Ramanatakam were set to music and made extremely popular by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and later by K.V. Narayanaswamy, S. Ramanathan and R. Vedavalli. ‘En pallikondir ayya’, ‘Yaro ivar yaro’, ‘Ramanukku mannan mudi’, ‘Eppadi manam’, ‘Arivar yar unnai’, ‘Sharanam sharanam’, ‘Avataram seididuvire’, ‘Kanden kanden’ and ‘Ramanai taruvai’ are a handful of pearls from this amazing opera. The famous ‘Enakkun irupadam’, set in ragamalika, covers the whole of the Ramayana in multiple charanams.

In the trinity of Carnatic music, Tyagaraja’s name is, of course, synonymous with Rama bhakti, with numerous exquisite creations written to his favourite god. From the monumental Pancharatnams and the magnificent kritis to the gentle Divyanama kirtanas and the emotive Utsava Sampradaya kritis to the delightful operas, his entire repertoire is dedicated to Rama. Written like intimate conversations with his beloved god, they encompass a wide spectrum of sentiments and are expressed through beautiful music.

Muthuswami Dikshitar dedicated kritis at each kshetra that he visited. His kritis are creative marvels that contain historical references to the kshetra, details about the temple, the deity and the paraphernalia associated with it, the traditions and festivities, esoteric references and more. Everything finds a perfect setting in the sahitya and the sangita of Muthuswami Dikshitar. His compositions dedicated to Rama showcase sheer grandeur. ‘Shri Ramam’ in raga Narayanagaula, ‘Ramachandram bhavayami’ in raga Vasanta and ‘Mamava Pattabhirama’ in raga Manirangu are classics. Among the other Dikshitar kritis on Rama, a few are in rare ragas such as Kokilaravam (‘Kodandaramam’), Mahuri (‘Mamava Raghuvira’) and Manji (‘Ramachandrena samrakshitoham’), Hindolavasantam (‘Santana Ramaswaminam’) and Ramakali (‘Rama Rama kali kalusha virama’). He also composed a few nottuswara sahityas such as ‘Rama Janardana’.

The term ‘Rama’ is an integral part of the appellation of the rulers of erstwhile Tiruvitankur, more popular as Travancore. In the legacy of the Travancore royalty, Maharaja Swati Tirunal is renowned. A multi-faceted personality, the Maharaja has dedicated several compositions to Rama, the song ‘Bhavayami Raghuramam’ being one of the most famous. Originally set in Saveri, this composition, that covers all the kandas of the Ramayana, was reset to be a garland of seven ragas — Saveri, Natakurunji, Dhanyasi, Mohanam, Mukhari, Purvikalyani and Madhyamavati by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and made immortal by M.S. Subbulakshmi.

Among the other kritis of Swati Tirunal on Rama, the kriti ‘Rama Rama Gunasima’ in raga Simhendramadhyamam that was popularised by Musiri Subramania Iyer, ‘Kalayami Raghuramam’ in ragam Begada that was popularised by G.N. Balasubramanian, ‘Jaya Jaya Raghurama’ in Sahana and ‘Rama Rama pahi’ in Devagandhari are known for their compositional and lyrical grandeur. The bhajan ‘Ramachandra prabhu’ is a beautiful piece in Sindhubhairavi.

A varnam by Tenmadam Narasimhachari, ‘Rama nive’, in Karaharapriya, incorporates the entire Ramayana in a nutshell. This varnam was made popular by vidushis T. Brinda and T. Mukta.

The post-trinity period abounded in wonderful compositions on Rama by a plethora of gifted composers. The most popular ones include Mysore Sadashiva Rao’s ‘Saketa nagaranatha’ (Harikamboji); Patnam Subramania Iyer’s ‘Abhimanennadu’ (Begada), ‘Dhanyudevvado’ (Malayamarutam), ‘Intakante’ (Kannada), ‘Raghuvamsa sudha’ (Kadanakuthuhalam); Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar's ‘Parama Pavana Rama’ (Purvikalyani ), ‘Nijamuga Rama’ (Kiravani), ‘Nikela nayeda’ (Devamanohari); Mysore Vasudevachar’s ‘Brochevarevarura’ (Khamas), ‘Ra ra Rajivalochana Rama’ (Mohanam), ‘Bhajare re manasa’ (Karnataka Devagandhari); Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar’s ‘Sharanagatavatsala’ (Karaharapriya ), ‘Nidu mahima’ (Hamsanandi), Vanamamalai Jeer’s ‘Dasharatha suta’ (Jhonpuri); Tiruppayanam Panchapakesa Sastri’s ‘Sapashyat kausalya’ (Jhonpuri); Koteeswara Iyer’s ‘Rama ravikulasoma’ (Bhairavi ); Papanasam Sivan's ‘Janakipate’ (Karaharapriya), ‘Swami sharanam (Ananda Bhairavi), ‘Sri raman ravikulasoman’ (Narayanagaula), ‘Ramanai bhajittal’ (Mand); Ambujam Krishna’s ‘Aravinda padamalar’ (Kapi), ‘Gati niye enru’ (Thodi) and Spencer Venugopal’s ‘Nivanti daivamu’ (Varali), ‘Ni dayaledani’(Dhanyasi) and more in a list that seems endless.

The Carnatic tradition has innumerable compositions with Rama as muse. As Ramadasa says in his song, ‘Ramajogi mandu konare,’ it is the “ultimate panacea” . Or, to borrow Tyagaraja’s words, ‘Atyanta Brahmanandame’.

The writer is a well-known Carnatic violinist.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 6:27:16 AM |

Next Story