The story behind the Pancharatnam

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (centre) with other veteran musicians  at the Tiruvaiyaru aradhana in 1984

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (centre) with other veteran musicians at the Tiruvaiyaru aradhana in 1984

In 1949, on the day of the aradhana, Bangalore Nagarathnamma, who spent her life’s savings to build the Tyagaraja Samadhi at Tiruvaiyaru, led a group of musicians in singing the 108 names that she had composed in praise of the saint-poet. After the musicians rendered a few more pieces, the gathering began to sing the Pancharatna kritis: ‘Jagadanandakaraka’ (Nattai), ‘Dudukugala’ (Gowla), ‘Sadinchene’ (Arabhi), ‘Kanakanaruchira’ (Varali) and ‘Endaro Mahanubhavulu’ (Sri).

It was first time the congregational singing was held in Tiruvaiyaru. Since then many past masters such as Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Palladam Sanjeeva Rao have participated in the group singing. Over the years, it gained immense popularity and soon began to be organised around the country and the world.

On the concluding day of the ‘Anubhav Festival: Sri Tyagaraja Vaibhavam,’ hosted online by Paalam TV, vocalist and musicologist Radha Bhaskar explained the significance of the Pancharatna kritis in her lec-dem.

The group rendering did away with the differences in the versions of the Pancharatnam, referred to as keertanas/kritis earlier, with the help of books by stalwarts such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, which had notations for these five songs.

“The songs create a feeling of divinity that adds to the Ghana raga Pancharatnam — so called because they are in the five Ghana ragas — Nattai, Gowla, Arabhi, Varali and Sri — that are often played as tanam on the veena,” said Radha.

Radha gave insights into the variations in the pancharatnam’s melodic structure, its swara and sahitya, and the special sangatis in the pallavi and anupavalli (of ‘Jagadanadakara,’ for instance) that have evolved over time.

“Tyagaraja handles the vivaditvam (discordant notes in close proximity), beautifully through his thoughtful prayogas in the kritis, for instance in ‘Jagadanandakaraka’ (Nattai) or ‘Kanakanaruchira’ (Varali),” said Radha.

Talking about Varali raga and the superstition that it causes a strained relationship between the guru and the sishya, she said, “If that had been true, Tyagaraja would have never chosen it.”

Different ideas crystallise

The past masters, who enhanced these kritis with their distinct style of rendition, suggested that ‘Endaro Mahanubhavulu’ be sung during the Aradhana. So by the 1950s, all the five kritis were set up for group singing.

 Musicians rendering Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna kritis at the Tiruvaiyaru Aradhana in 1985

Musicians rendering Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna kritis at the Tiruvaiyaru Aradhana in 1985

Before the tradition of singing the pancharatnam began, the line-up of songs included ‘Sri Ganapatini’ as suggested by veteran musician Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma and later, a guru kriti, ‘Gurulekha,’ was also added. In fact, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar suggested ‘Evarani,’ but since others were not familiar with it, their instant choice was ‘Endaro Mahanubhavulu,’ a favourite of most contemporary musicians too. ‘Chetulara,’ played by the great flautist, Palladam Sanjeeva Rao, is a tradition that continues till today.

This composition in which Tyagaraja bows to all great devotees portrays the saint-poet’s humility. This is also refered to by the late T.S. Parthasarathy, a renowned musicologist, in his 1967 magnum opus, the Tamil translation of the complete works of Tyagaraja.

Even suits jazz

Vainika/vocalist P. Ganesh, founder of Gayatri Fine Arts, compares the melodic beauty of Tyagaraja Pancharatnam to Draksha rasa, meaning it can be instantly savoured by the listener. “Each piece is unique, for example, ‘Jagadanandakaraka’ apparently has 108 names of Rama,” he says.

“‘Sadinchene’ has every avataram of Krishna,” he observes, recalling how at Cleveland Aradhana a few years ago, jazz artistes played the notes of the Pancharatnam, while he and others sang the sahitya. “If jazz artistes can play it, I wish Hindustani music festivals would take on the Pancharatnam too,” he says.

Speaking from Tiruvaiyaru on Bahula Panchami day this year, ghatam artiste Madipakkam Murali, organiser of Nanganallur Tyagaraja Aradhana, said that Tyagaraja incorporated laya patterns in the swara-sahityam passages and this is the reason behind the percussionists’ exuberant playing during the group rendition.

Bengaluru-based musician Uma Ramakrishnan, founder of Amritavarshini, recalls how when she in Belgium initiated the Pancharatnam singing at Tyagaraja Aradhana there. “The Indian community in Belgium was excited to join the group singing as they were able to experience the ‘Tiruvaiyaru’ effect,” she says.

The writer is a trained classical musician.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2022 2:52:02 am |