With the 171st Thyagaraja Aradhana coming up at Thiruvaiyyaru, and many other musicians gearing up to conduct Aradhanas at the same time in different cities, I tried to understand more about this tradition and its link to the Pancharatna Keerthanas composed by the Saint.
The Five Pancharatnams
Pancharatnam literally means “five gems”, in this case, precious gem of a composition. When we talk about Pancharatnams, most with Carnatic Music awareness attribute it to the archetype, Ghana Raga Pancharatnam, but in fact there are five such groups of compositions. The first four pancharatnams have Pallavi-Anupallavi-Charanam or Pallavi-Anupallavi- upto 3 Charanams structure, akin to a typical keerthana format.
Thiruvottiyur Pancharatnam: Composed on Goddess Tripurasundari of Thyagaraja Temple, Thiruvottiyur at the request of Veenai Kuppaiyer. The krithis are:
Kanna Thalli – Saveri
Sundari Ninnu – Aarabhi
Sundari Nannindharilo – Begada
Sundari Ni Dhivya – Kalyani
Dharini Thelusukonti – Sudha Saveri
Kovur Pancharatnam: Composed on Lord Sundareswarar of Kovur when Thyagaraja was visiting Kovur Sundara Mudaliyar. Four of the five have only one charanam. The krithis are:
Ee Vasudha – Sahana
Kori Sevimpa – Karaharapriya
Sambo Mahadeva – Pantuvarali
Nammi Vachchina – Kalyani
Sundareswaruni – Sankarabharanam
Lalgudi Pancharatnam: Composed on Saptharisheesar / Pravutha Srimathi, deities enshrined in Lalgudi at the request of his disciples. The krithis are:
Gathineevani – Thodi
Lalithe Sri – Bhairavi
Deva Sri – Madhyamavathi
Mahitha Pravutha – Kamboji
Eesa Pahimam – Kalyani
Srirangam Pancharatnam: Composed on Srirangam Ranganathar. Four of the five have only one charanam. The krithis are:
Joothamurare – Aarabhi
O…o rangasayee – Kamboji
Karuna Joodumayya – Saranga
Raju Vedala – Thodi
Vinaradhana – Devagandhari
Ghana Raga Pancharatnam: Composed on Ghana Ragas such as Nattai, Gowlai, Aarabhi, Varali and Sri. More details in the ensuing sections.
When there are the other group of compositions (Utsava Sampradaya, Prahladha Bhaktha Vijayam, etc) and other Krithis on various Kshetras (Thirupathi, Nagapattinam, etc) by Thyagaraja, there is not much clarity on why and how these krithi sets got the title pancharatnam. Is it only because of the number?
Before understanding the Ghana Raga Pancharatnam, let us first look into what a Ghana raga is – it is not just a heavy (gamaka filled) raga as the name implies. Among types of ragas (such as Ghana – Naya – Desi), Ghana raga is characterised by its grandeur and majesty; it is used at the beginning of concerts. The ten Ghana ragas are: Nattai, Gowlai, Aarabhi, Varali, Sri, Kedaram, Reetigowla, Narayanagowla, Saranganattai and Bowli.
Ghanam singing is said to be a type of improvisation, done by the nasal articulation of the humpita gamaka, with the mouth closed and the sound emanating from the naabhi. Ghanam is also said to be the dhuritha kala (fast paced) Thanam singing. I tried to find recordings to help differentiate the two improvisation techniques, but nothing much exists online. But we know that musicians were titled based on their expertise in this technique, like Ghanam Krishna Iyer. Ghana Ragas lend themselves well to Thanam and Ghanam singing, and hence the name.
Ghana Raga Pancharatnam
The other four pancharatnams were composed during specific visits to specific Kshetras – they have at least that much in common. However, I don’t think Thyagaraja composed the ghana raga compositions with the categorizing in mind.
Below is a list of what I presume are the characteristics of each Ghana Raga Pancharatna Krithi for having been grouped together (assuming the grouping happened in the later years).
- Being composed in a Ghana Raga (refer above section)
- Rich in Laya and well structured having no or few stretched (vilamba) sangathis – thus making it easy for coordinating while singing in groups (similar to a varnam).
- More than 5 charanams (Sadhinchane is an exception, it has sub-charanams instead). Here is a graph of # of Thyagaraja Krithis composed vs # of charanams in each.
- Swara Sahithya in the charanams (as mentioned in a Sruthi magazine) – however I have my own qualms if Thyagaraja wrote plain charanams and it was notated and sung with swaras much later.
- Not composed on a specific Kshetra or its residing deity. When all the other Pancharatnams are attributed to a specific deity in a specific location (kshetra), only the Ghana Raga Pancharatnam are on generic Gods like Rama, Krishna, Vishnu and not on a specific temple location (though they were all composed when Thyagaraja was in Thiruvaiyyaru).
That be the case, it is a wonder who would have compiled them into a category? Even more a wonder as to how Ghana Raga Pancharatnam became the classic category to be performed in chorus on each Aradhana.
It is safe to assume that the grandson and various disciples of Thyagaraja would have been performing the Aradhana as a simple musical tribute on his death anniversary since his demise on 6th Jan 1847, as this year is the 171st Aradhana. Then the disciples seem to have split and continued doing separate tributes to the guru.
There is one story that says the Thyagaraja Aradhana (as it happens today) is said to have been started by Bangalore Nagarathnammal of the Thyagaraja disciple lineage in the early 1900s, who also built his shrine at the place he attained samadhi. She was also the one who put the said krithis together.
There is another source which says Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar selected the five krithis (Nattai to Sri) as being best suited for group rendering, so that a common homage by all musicians became possible. This idea was adopted and the choral rendition of the five songs was made an integral feature of the Aradhana.
One thing can be concluded for sure – it was the Thyagaraja Aradhana that brought the Ghana Raga Pancharatnam into existence, and the two have been tied down to each other ever since.
Endaro mahanubhavulu, andariku vandanamu _/_
- Lecture Demonstration on Ghana Ragas by Prameela Gurumurthy
- Sri Thyagaraja Swamy Keerthanaigal by T.S.Parthasarathy