Sowmya gives a glimpse of a long-forgotten raga

S. Sowmya performing at The Music Academy’s December Festival 2019

S. Sowmya performing at The Music Academy’s December Festival 2019   | Photo Credit: S. Thanthoni

S. Sowmya presented Ghanta, which has shades of five ragas

“Heard melodies are sweet; those unheard are sweeter” — S. Sowmya, a post-graduate in science from IIT Madras, gave a glimpse of a long-forgotten raga in her concert at The Music Academy. The timing was perfect, the audience was receptive, and the cognoscenti were there to take note. Sowmya informed the audience that she was going to present a raga, more than 500 years old, which is not frequently heard in concert circuits. This was Ghanta. She presented a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi in the raga. The Pallavi was her own composition — “Iswaram Sarveswaram Ghanteswaram.”

What is special about Ghanta? It is a Mishra Raga, within which we can hear shades of Dhanyasi, Bhairavi, Thodi, Asaveri and Punnagavarali. It is a Rainbow-Raga, and what we hear is only a reflection of the raga and not the raga itself.

Subbarama Dikshitar, in his Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini, refers to the Raga compendium of Muddu Venkatamakhi and places Ghanta under Bhairavi, modern Melakarta 20. According to Venkatamakhi, Ghanta is to be rendered only in the evenings. Prof. Sambamoorthy published Pallaki Seva Prabhanda, highlighting the melody of Ghanta handled by composers three centuries ago.

Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini classifies certain ragas, such as Dhanyasi and Bhoopalam as morning ragas, Reva Gupti and Bowli as ragas for late nights, Ahiri for the first quarter of the night and Gowri, Sri, Bhairavi, Madhyamavati and Ghanta as evening ragas.

The notes of Ghanta are ornamented with Kampita Gamakas. It was Venkatamakhi, who classified Ghanta under Bhairavi Mela in his Chaturdandi Prakashikha.

The Experts Committee of The Madras Music Academy debated the Raga Lakshana of Ghanta in December 1933 and concluded that:

- The dominant notes came from Bhairavi and in order to differentiate itself from Bhairavi, a Shuddha Rhishabha and Chatusruti Dhaivata were employed.

- In certain other versions, the raga acquired a definitive Dhanyasi flavour, and later on, the colour of Punnagavarali. It is as old as Bhairavi and Ahiri and cannot be grouped under a particular Mela. It can be best understood in terms of Murcchanas/Phrases, which would be the building blocks.

- Depending on the particular Prayoga of PMGRS, we can impart to Ghanta a flavour of Bhairavi, Thodi or Asaveri.

- Ghanta is a designer Raga which allows the composer and performer freedom to choose amongst those melodic blocks to build a particular flavour of Raga.

Swati Tirunal gave a Dhanyasi flavour to Ghanta in his Chauka Varna composition. The Kshetrayya Padams are examples of the Thodi/Punnagavarali flavour.

What about the Trinity? Tyagaraja rendered a Mangalam in Ghanta with Punnagavarali flavour. He never disclosed the raga of his songs. It was left to his disciples to tag the ragas with names. The authenticity of the raga attributed to Tyagaraja’s Mangalam is still being debated. Muthuswami Dikshitar selected Ghanta as one of the ragas for his Navavarana Kriti, ‘Kamalambikam.’ Eminent flautist T. Vishwanathan rendered Dikshitar’s kriti in Ghanta as he learnt it from another Sangeetha Kalanidhi, Brinda.

Vidwan Pattamadai Sundaram Iyer has left for us a home recording of this Navavarana Kriti. In recent times, Sanjay Subrahmanyan has rendered this particular Navavarana Kriti with great elegance. Dikshitar’s other composition, ‘Sri Mangalambikam,’ has not been heard at all in the concert halls. Dikshitar has rendered yet another composition in Ghanta — ‘Sri Mangalambikam,’ on the Goddess of Kumbakonam, who is seated on the Sri Vidya Mantra Pita.

As Sowmya was exploring the prism like structure of the many hued ghanta, she found able support from the Bangalore based Charulatha Ramanujam of the Kumbakonam Rajamanickam school lending the much needed old world charm through her classical violin accompaniment. Neyveli Narayanan, a disciple of Umayalpuram Sivaraman was exuberant in his enthusiastic classical accompaniment on the mridangam.

A decade ago, T.V. Sankaranarayanan thrilled the audience at The Music Academy by his eloquent presentation of raga Surya. Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna would surprise the audience with new interpretations of familiar ragas. Vidwans owe it to themselves, and to the expert audience, to bring back to life and currency melodies long-forgotten. But such presentations have become few and far-between. The Music Academy is the ideal forum for such bold ventures.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 6:27:35 PM |

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