The book traces and tries to reacapture the greatness of our music system, how our ancestors developed it step by step, and how these traditions were almost
forgotten after the Thyagaraja–Dikshitar–Syama Sastry period. Restoring the greatness of the system is not impossible and can be achieved with some sincere
effort. For a start, students of music can start singing the initial lessons in the traditional way of starting from the lower nishadha to shadja to sing the shadja,
from shadja to rishabha to sing the rishabha and so on. This is on the basis that a swara cannot be born unless it is started from the previous swara. This,
Venkatamakhi says in his Chaturdandi Prakaasikha, is a great sangeetha rahasyam (music secret). This had been traditionally taught to students but had never been
written down and had always been kept a secret. Venkatamakhi for the first time has written it down in black and white. This and two or three other such
traditions will become clear on a study of this book.
Gomatam Dwarakanath, the author, is a science and law graduate of Mysore University. Born in Bangalore, he belongs to an orthodox family of srivaishnavas,
followers of Ramanuja. His ancestors hailed from Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu and had migrated to Maloor in Channapatna district of Karnataka around the
year 1780 during the Carnatic wars and consequent unsettled conditions in Kancheepuram. By tradition, the family members had always studied Telugu, perhaps
due to the influence of the Vijayanagar empire under which Telugu was the state language almost in the entire South India. In 1946, at the age of 12, the author
had started learning music under an able vidwan and subsequently had some advanced training in this field in the Ayyanar College of music started by the late T.
Chowdiah. He joined The Hindu newspaper in Chennai in the editorial department in 1957 and retired in 2001 as Associate Editor. In Chennai he came into
contact with many eminent musicians, chiefly Thanjavur Sankara Iyer, an eminent composer who taught him not only many rare krithis of Thyagaraja from the
original Umayalpuram notebooks but also such ideas as a raga not being limited to the arohana and avarohana, and a janaka raga having some nuances of a janya
raga also and so on. Having Tamil as the mother tongue, a native of Telugu country studying Telugu in school and college and growing up in Bangalore in the
Kannada country helped him in being familiar with these languages, besides Sanskrit which he learnt. It is with this advantage that the classics were studied.
The Academy has been training students at a senior grade and encouraging them to import the simple yet powerful and effective path of ‘bhakti’ as enunciated by
saint composers like Purandaradasa and Tyagaraja, while singing during the Aradhana celebrations. The Academy has in the past published reprints of ‘Purandara
Kriti shataka ‘(1964; Kannada) in four volumes as Purandara kirtanas covering 68 songs out of the total 100. Text was added in Tamil, Devanaagari with
meaning in English for wider usage. Audio CDs and cassettes for the 68 songs were also brought out.
We are presently bringing out two books on Tyagaraaja kritis in English. The first book “Forgotten Chapters in Music” deals with the nature of the components
of music viz. sruti, swara, raga etc. in the former half and the meanings of Tyagaraajaa’s songs’ on music in the latter half. The second book is on the highest
quality gems among Tyaagaraaja Kritis viz. “Ghanaraaga Pancharatna Kritis”.
The author of these two books, Shri. G. Dwarakanath, retd. Associate Editor, The Hindu, Chennai, has a wide read knowledge on music. He also has long years
of association with eminent scholars and musicians at Chennai. His commentary in English, is based on some traditional books which are in regional languages
like Talugu, Tamil, Kannada, hence not easily accessible to the younger generation. Both the books, cover word by word meanings of songs, followed by a brief
We hope that these books will be of use to students as well as all lovers of carnatic music. Thanks to the staff of Elegant Printing Press, Bengalooru, for their
These are painful times for lovers of classical Carnatic music and more so for Carnatic music itself. This music has to a large extent lost its popularity among the
masses and connoisseurs. Forty or fifty years ago one could see concert halls overflowing with eager audiences and at temple festivals most of the people
listening and intently enjoying nadaswaram playing. All these now seem to be distant past dreams. Barring a few, most concerts nowadays attract meagre
audiences in Chennai. The position in other cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Tiruchi is still not that bad but there too things are at best at a standstill.
This situation is not peculiar to Carnatic music–the outlook for classical music is equally bad in the western countries also where concert hall authorities are
making Herculean efforts to attract audiences back to the halls but with little success and sales of classical music albums have been continually falling, with
many well known companies producing such albums having already closed shop. Some critics have called modern classical music a 'torture', and the U.S. Army
is actually using classical music to torture prisoners.
Whatever the situation in the west, in South India the general complaint from lovers of classical music is that barring a few very senior vidwans, what can be
called great or haunting music is largely missing in present day concerts of others. There has been no concerted effort to study what is 'great music'.
The reason, an elderly musician points out, for this state of affairs is that the quality of musical training which learners today get is poor and when they later
attempt to sing in concerts they are unable to attract attention. It is not the fault of the newer musicians or that of their teachers. Young people learning music
today are as intelligent and talented as the great musicians of yesteryears but they are not getting the right kind of lessons.
It also needs to be noted that classical music has practically ceased to be a fulltime profession and most present-day musicians do love the art but cannot make it
their profession because of poor earnings and have to toil in some other profession to earn a decent income. This may be one reason for the disappearing appeal
of classical music, but there are more valid reasons.
This writer, while trying to write the meanings of some of Thyagaraja's songs on music, practically came to a halt at the song, Vara raga laya, where there is the
saint's remark in the anupallavi that 'those who do not have a deep knowledge of the nuances of swara, jati and moorchana differences, are bragging they are
experts in swara, raga and laya'. An effort to find out what this means by studying the Brihad Desi of Matanga, the Sangeetha Ratnakara of Sarnga Deva and the
Chaturdandi Prakasika of Venkatamakhi led to the only conclusion possible - that Carnatic music has lost its moorings and is now a rootless system which is
unable to produce great music and attract listeners. The situation is so bad that most musicians do not even know the difference between a sruti and a swara and
are using these terms as synonyms.
The ancient traditions which were adhered to till the life time of the Great Trinity (Dikshitar, Syama Sastry and Thyagaraja) started losing ground thereafter and
has now been practically forgotten. After Venkatamakhi finalised the 72-melakartha scheme, to a large extent he and more fully his followers thought that the old
ideas about swaras and ragas, swara and raga rasas and the like were all outdated and anachronistic, and could be forgotten. And the overenthusiastic fans of
Venkatamakhi's ideas even started talking indecently about people who did not agree with them. And it is to these people that Thyagaraja has given his spirited
Is it necessay at all to revive the old ideas? Is it not possible to encourage musicians to devise new forms of music to restore the popularity of classical music?
To answer the second question first, attempts have indeed been made in this direction but they have been largely failures. New ragas were formulated like
Kadanakuthoohalam and some ragas mentioned in the older lists like Mohana Kalyani were sought to be popularised through new compositions. But these ragas
have not developed to the same extent as older ragas like Kalyani or Kharaharapriya had done and have remained just peripheral ragas. Newer forms of
compositions like javalis have also been attempted but after a few years of listener interest they too are losing ground rapidly. What have stood the ground are the
new compositions that faithfully adhere to the standards and patterns set by the Trinity.
It is also interesting to note that some western musical instruments like the violin, with adjustments to fit into our system, have made a grand entry. Repeated
experiments and adoption of a particular fingering technique have resulted in that instrument now being used to produce the finest shades of our classical system.
Such attempts have however not succeeded in the case of the harmonium, piano and such other westrn instruments.
Nothing in life remains static and major changes do take place which often alter the very way we live and think. Carnatic music, as it exists today, is the result of
at least three waves of changes, reforms and innovations brought about by great musicologists at various points of time.
The first major reforms were in the 16th century when Purandara Dasa rescued the system from imminent disintegration by formulating basic reforms including
a new system of teaching music to students. He also started a new era in the contents of the songs composed. He was the first to compose songs on the daily life
of the people and even making fun of many of their doings. This revolutionised the whole system. The keerthana structure attained its full form due to his efforts.
Next in importance is the formulation of the 72 melakartha scheme by Venkatamakhi in the 17th century, which also revolutionised the way the ragas and swaras
were grouped. It was like the periodic table in science. The new system also enabled the evolution of a notation system to preserve the original tunes.
Venkatamakhi himself did little to popularise the use of his melakartha system because he thought that more than half of his 72 melakarthas were useless. It was
left to his descendant Muddu Venkatamakhi and later a famous scholar, Govindacharya even to give proper names to these 72 ragas which Venkatamakhi had not
It was not until the appearance of the three great composers Syama Sastri, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Thyagaraja in the 18th–19th century that the system saw
the next wave of reform. Dikshitar even composed short songs in the English music style. Thyagaraja also composed a few songs in English tunes but his major
reform was the system of sangathis in the krithis which elaborated the ragas and also, like Purandara Dasa, songs on more mudane themes like the daily life of
Through all these reforms, it is useful to note that some things remained unaffected. These are the identification of the 22 srutis, formation of swaras from srutis
and of ragas from swaras. The concept of swaras and ragas as living beings is also one such development that has remained unaffected.
To return to the first question again, it seems there is no alternative to reviving the music system to the levels that the great trinity of Dikshitar, Syama Sastri and
Thyagaraja had taken it. And to do that it seems unavoidable that the basic formulations are well understood. This is the aim in a small way of this book which
can also be useful as a basic textbook.
The book is broadly in two parts: the first part consists of ten chapters explaining how music was developed by our ancestors, and the second part a group of
twenty-two krithis of Thyagaraja exclusively devoted to the now almost forgotten aspects and details of the science, art and beauty of our music system.
North Indian Music (291)
Original Texts (60)
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