7 Thyagaraja compositions that I miss

What do we have here?

One of the ways in which listening to Carnatic music is rewarding is its constant ability to surprise, no matter how long you’ve been at it. For instance, discovering a song while listening to a recording that is at least 50 years old. This is precisely what happened to me some months ago.

The song in question is not the creation of an obscure composer, rather, it is that of the least obscure of Carnatic music personalities — Thyagaraja. And it was not a piece in one of the myriad ‘minor’ scale-based ragas created by him, but in the old, enveloping and majestic Devagandhari.

Here it is — Maravakara, rendered by Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, with vocal support from his son Santhanam. Headphones highly recommended, as Iyer’s voice is weak by the time of this recording and sometimes overpowered by Santhanam’s. The piece starts at 6.57.

Maravakara (Devagandhari) — Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer with Maharajapuram Santhanam (vocal); V Govindawami Naiker (violin); CS Murugabhoopathi (mridangam)

There are 700+ known compositions of Thyagaraja. Perhaps it is not so surprising then that I have not come across one or the other of them, even if in a popular raga like Devagandhari. But this got me thinking of a few of his compositions with which I am familiar and dearly wish were more widespread. Or more accurately, pieces that I wish I came across more often in my listening. Pieces that I miss. Here are seven of them.

  1. Na Moralanu Vini (Arabhi)
  2. Urake Galguna (Sahana)
  3. Undedi Ramudu (Harikambhoji)
  4. Evaricchiri Ra (Madhyamavati)
  5. Chelimi Jalajakshu (Yadukulakambhoji)
  6. Enati Nomu Phalamo (Bhairavi)
  7. Mari Mari Ninne (Kambhoji)

Na Moralanu Vini (Arabhi)

When asked by the First Edition Arts to curate a list of five songs that I would take with me to a desert island, I included an extensive rendition of Pahi Parvatha Nandini in Arabhi, by Balamuralikrishna. As I noted then, his careful leisurely treatment of the raga imbues it with a majesty. Many artists tend to get a bit carried away with the raga’s natural effervescence.

His renditions of Thyagaraja’s Na Moralanu Vini are great exemplars of this restrained, engaged approach. In contrast to most other compositions in the raga, the cadence and fall of notes is so relaxed and free flowing, it sometimes evokes the same mood as Devagandhari (which has the same scale as but is very different from Arabhi). This song also happens to be a favourite of my dad’s.

Na Moralanu Vini (Arabhi) by Balamuralikrishna (vocal). Accompanists unlisted.

I also found an extensive rendition by Pantula Rama:

Na Moralanu Vini (Arabhi) by Pantula Rama (vocal). Accompanists unlisted.

Four renditions by Maharajapuram Santhanam

As I create this list of Thyagaraja compositions that I miss listening to, I realise that I associate many of them with Maharajapuram Santhanam — a happy coincidence given the genesis of this post. [Or maybe a subliminal consequence]. My Carnatic awakening roughly coincided with the launch of Music Today albums in the mid-late 1990s. I took an instant liking to two of their featured artistes — Doreswamy Iyengar (veena) and Maharajapuram Santhanam. Each had an album of “Thyagaraja Masterpieces”. I listened to both again and again. Santhanam ended his album with Urake Galguna in Sahana. After high octane pieces like Jutamu Rare (Arabhi) and the emotionally wrought Ilalo Pranatharthi (Atana), Urake Galguna came like a balm, the recollection of which has always soothed and enveloped me like a safety blanket. It was also thrilling as at about the same time, I had heard Doreswami Iyengar’s rendition of Ee Vasudha, and MD Ramanathan’s Giripai (HMV Marga release), both in Sahana, both by Thyagaraja. And yet each distinct. This not only made Sahana the first raga I would consciously track, but irrevocably drew me, one waded step at a time, into the Carnatic pool.

Urake Galguna (Sahana); Maharajapuram Santhanam (vocal); Vellore Ramabhadran (mridangam); Cannot recall who the violinist was, and cannot find the information online

On TV Sankarayanarayanan’s passing, TM Krishna paid him moving tribute recalling that it was TVS’s voice, and the innate joy of his aural exuberance that brought him into the fold of Carnatic music. It only occurs to me now that Maharajapuram Santhanam played this critical role of invitation and warm welcome in my own Carnatic journey.

Sometime between five and ten years ago I discovered this website that had archived chamber concerts held over several decades at the ‘Parvati House’ in Mysore. The era of mega archives uploaded on YouTube was only just emerging, and this site was a real treasure trove. I noticed that several artistes performing at the venue had sung Undedi Ramudu in Harikambhoji, a song I hadn’t heard before. Of all the renditions, the one from a Maharajapuram Santhanam concert of 1972 stayed with me, for its seeming simplicity, glides and lilt (especially at ‘Chanda Martanda’…)and enveloping tenderness. Unfortunately, most of the Parvati House recordings are no longer available on SoundCloud. Here is a rendition from an undated concert, with extensive neraval and swara passages. The piece begins at 15:25.

Undedi Ramudu (Harikambhoji); Maharajapuram Santhanam (vocal); MS Gopalakrishnan (violin); Umayalpuram Sivaraman (mridangam)

Here’s a much crisper version by the Malladi Brothers:

Undedi Ramudu (HarikambhojI); Malladi Brother (vocal); accompanying artistes unidentified

I discovered Evarichchiri Ra in Madhyamavati relatively recently, when writing a blogpost on the raga. And I am glad I discovered this absolutely magnificent rendition by Santhanam, which I have described in the blog. Here it is again:

Evaricchiri Ra (Madhyamavati); Maharajapuram Santhanam (vocal); Accompanists unidentified

A version by Sriranjani Santhanagopalan:

Evarichchiri Ra (Madhyamavati); Sriranjani Santhanagopalan (vocal); L Ramakrishnan (violin); Patri Satish Kumar (mridangam); Chandrasekhara Sharma (ghatam)

For the last year or so, a very familiar snatch of Yadukulakambhoji has been invading my mind at random moments, but with out lyrics, only as a ‘tha-da-ra-na Na-na-na’. And then out of the blue, from some deep recess, it came to me in the voice of Maharajapuram Santhanam — ‘Che-li-mi-ni Ja-la-ja…’. Chelimini Jalajakshu is from Thyagaraja’s ‘opera’ Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam.

Chelimini Jalajakshu (Yadukulakambhoji); Maharajapuram Santhanam (vocal); Accompanying artistes unidentified

Enati Nomu Phalamu (Bhairavi)

Arguably, Vasudevayani Vedalanu in the raga Kalyani, popularized on the concert stage by GN Balasubramaniam, is the most well known kriti from the Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam. And arguably, at some point in the 80s and 90s, the most popular was Enati Nomu Phalamo in Bhairavi, after the release of an HMV concert recording of MS Subbulakshmi with this song. I listened to that cassette many times, and without realising it, this was likely the first song in a ‘major raga’, and the first ‘main piece’ (with relatively extensive alapana, neraval and swara treatment) that I actually enjoyed. I somehow have not heard of the song lately, though a YouTube search indicates that quite a few artistes have sung it.

Here is a link to the piece. Listening to it again, it is remarkable that its length is only 23 minutes — so much packed in there, with such precision and proportion.

Subbulakshmi MS Concert Vol 3 — MS. Subbulakshmi — Listen to Subbulakshmi MS Concert Vol 3 songs/music online — MusicIndiaOnline (mio.to)

Here’s Vijay Siva’s rendition from 2016:

Enati Nomu Phalamo (Bhairavi); Vijay Siva (vocal); Dr. R Hemalatha (violin); NC Bharadwaj (mridangam)

Mari Mari Ninne

The Kambhoji performance scape is dominated by three songs — O Rangasayi (Thyagaraja), Thiruvadi Charanam (Gopalakrishna Bharati), and Sri Subramanyaya Namaste (Muthuswami Dikshitar). Evari Mata and Ma Janaki by Thyagaraja and an occassional Marakata Vallim by Dikshitar seem to occupy the second tier.

This leaves us with a trio of Thyagaraja songs, striking in their cadences. The pallavi (opening passage) of each song seems to be packed with cascading sangathis (melodic variations), with the use of a single word as a lyrical backstop to these careening explorations. In Elara Sri Krishna, the backstop is Elara; in Sri Raghuvara Aprameya, the backstop is Raghuvara for the most part and perhaps the most striking example- the word manasuna in Mari Mari Ninne.

Here is a lovely rendition of Mari Mari Ninne by TM Krishna. In the backdrop is a portrait of the Alathur Brothers — presumably this was a tribute concert. He comments on the beauty of the neraval that the brothers rendered for this song. Here is their rendition, but unfortunately sans neraval.

Mari Mari Ninne (Kambhoji); TM Krishna (vocal); RK Shriramkumar (violin); Manoj Siva (mridangam); Anirudh Athreya (kanjira)
Mari Mari Ninne (Kambhoji); Alathur Brothers (vocal); Papa Venkataramiah (violin); Vellore Ramabhadran (mridangam); other accompanists unidentified

As an aside, in researching this blog I came across two other Thyagaraja pieces in Kambhoji that I had never heard of before — Maragamunu Telpave and Mahira Pravruddha Srimate (the latter considered one of five ‘Lalgudi Pancharatna’).

Circling back to Devagandhari

At about the same time I discovered Maravakara, I watched a lecture-demonstration by RK Shriramkumar titled “An Experience of Sangita and Sahitya of the Trinity”. In it, at about 1hr 10min mark he begins a discussion of Devagandhari, to illustrate that the idea of aarohana and avarohana (or the scale) makes no sense for many ragas. You cannot find the raga through the scale, he says, just like you do not find Mylapore using milestones on the road, rather you find Mylapore by looking for the Kapaleeshwarar temple (the most famous landmark of Mylapore). He goes on to illustrate the range of compositions in Devagandhari by Thyagaraja — starting at different parts of the octave, and in various kalapramanas or gaits, and using myriad opening phrases. There is a lovely moment in this passage when he starts singing a rare composition — Evaru Manaku Samana — neither of his accompanying disciples, Amrita Murali and Ramakrishnan Murthy, top artistes themselves, are able to join in as they do not know it and don’t seem to have heard of it. They first exchange sheepish glances and then full blown embarrassed smiles!

Here is the lec-dem (largely in Tamil) and a recording of T. Brinda singing Evaru Manaku Samana.

Thank you.



I write mainly about my experience as a listener of Carnatic music.

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Vishnu Vasudev

I write mainly about my experience as a listener of Carnatic music.