I don’t know which way to go — there is so much to say about Nattai, and so little. I feel like I am writing about a grandparent who has always been there to be counted on. Someone you can say a lot about because of their richly layered individuality. But that is not the reason you went to them or remember them. You went to them first and last for the familiar and unconditional nature of the time you spent together. You remember the smells, tastes, sounds and feels in brilliant detail because in those moments both of you were masters of mindfulness before you knew of the term. And that is the way it is with Nattai — there is so much to know of it, but all of that is almost besides the point once it draws you in. Nevertheless.

Any discussion of Nattai has to begin with one of two songs — Thyagaraja’s Jagadanandakaraka or Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Mahaganapathim. Growing up, Jagadanandakaraka was a song I would occasionally listen to, but often fast forward over to get to the delightful Sadinchane in Arabhi, when listening to Balamuralikrishna’s Pancharatna Krithis album. I have over the years come to appreciate it as much as, and perhaps even more so than Sadinchane. It reminds me of a rapidly moving stream navigating sudden changes in topography, with utter surety. Here are three versions. The first is by Vignesh Ishwar, singing at a Musiri Chamber concert that I was lucky to attend last year. He began with this piece. The entire concert was fantastic and well worth listening to, especially the Kambhoji main piece.

Jagadanandakaraka, Thyagaraja; Vignesh Ishwar (vocal), Arun Prakash (mridangam), RK Shriramkumar (violin)

The second is a delightful rendering by Vignesh Ishwar’s guru T.M. Krishna. This is from his debut concert at the age 12, in 1988. The accompanying artistes are the same. I was struck by the remarkable poise of all three.

Jagadanandakaraka, Thyagaraja; TM Krishna (vocal), Arun Prakash (mridangam), RK Shriramkumar (violin)

And the third is a languid by powerful rendition by M.D. Ramanathan, who made this song his own, extracting as much raga-juice as conceivable from every phrase.

Jagadanandakaraka, Thyagaraja; MD Ramanathan (vocal), accompanists unidentified

Jagadanandakaraka is literally one long relentless magnificent list of descriptors of Rama. Unlike other Thyagaraja songs, this is 100% Rama and 0% about Thyagaraja’s relationship with him or his personal woes. There is no “save me” or “why do you treat me this way” pathos. Perhaps this is why he chose to compose it in Sanskrit rather than Telugu. From start to finish, the lyrics consist of 80 ways in which he describes Rama. Here is the list, slightly edited, sourced from He in turn has attributed detailed meanings to “Mrs. Jayasri Akella, Ramesh and parents of Dr. Srikanth Vedantam”.

Lyrics of Jagadanandakaraka — Descriptors 1–20
Lyrics of Jagadanandakaraka — Descriptors 21–40
Lyrics of Jagadanandakaraka — Descriptors 41–60
Lyrics of Jagadanandakaraka — Descriptors 61–80

If Thyagaraja composed the Pancharathna krithis, the earlier Oothukadu Venkatasubbaiyar composed a set of Saptharathna krithis. It too included a Sanskrit song in Nattai — Bhajanamrutha. And it too has the air of a continuous cascade of descriptors. Though the lists in this song have a variety of subjects. For instance, in the 4th charanam lists some of those who have benefited from the grace of Krishna / Vishnu: Dasa Mukha sodara guha , sabari , Sugreeva , Angadha sucharitha maha bhagya (translating to Vibheeshana, Sabari, Sugriva and Angadha were very lucky). The 9th charanam, are various names/descriptors for Krishna/ Vishnu: Rama, Raghava, Krishna, Raghu kula nandana , Maithili Ramana, Krishna Gokula vaibhava nanda nandaana Kaliya phana Natana. And the 8th charanam begins with a list of acts of a devotee that are likely reach the ears of Krishna / get his attention: Krishna gata karnanvitha japa , thapa stotra ghanithi archana yoga.

Here’s a rendition by the one-time group Vintage Virtuosos.

Bhajanamrutha, Oothukadu Venkatasubbaiyar; Vintage Virtuosos

Packed Syllables

Both Jagadanandakaraka and Bhajanamrutha exemplify two impressions I have formed about compositions in Nattai. The first is that they tend to be in Sanskrit — even when composers have composed in other languages, or primarily in other languages, the song of theirs in Nattai that we’re most familiar with tends to be in Sanskrit. For instance, Thyagaraja composed largely in Telugu, with some Sanskrit compositions. He has composed a Telugu kriti in Nattai — Ninne Bhajana, but Jagadanandakaraka is far more well known. Also of the five Pancharatna krithis, the Jagadanandakaraka is the only one ins Sanskrit. The second is that many of them have structures that pack syllables densely into a given time period. A lot of them tend to be alliterative tongue twisters, almost recitative. Here are four such examples.

The first is Rakshamam Sharanagatham, a composition by mid-20th century composer Nagaraja Iyer who used the pen name Meenakshi-Sutha. This composition was made popular by Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagvathar. Here is a rendition by one of my favourite vocalists T.V. Ramprasadh, who belongs to the Chembai parampara via his discipleship under T.V. Gopalakrishnan.

The second is Saraseeruhasana Priye, a composition by Puliyur Duraiswami, on the Goddess Saraswathi. I love this song, but always get the feeling that there are a just a few too many words squeezed in together! Here is Sherthalai Renganatha Sarma’s rendition:

Sarasiruhasana Priye, Puliyur Doraiswami Iyer; Renganatha Sharma (vocal)

And an instrumental version by the vainika Chittibabu. The plucks on the veena highlight the syllabic density of the composition. In brief passages it almost sounds like a tanam.

Third, Purandaradasa’s composition Jaya Jaya Jaya Janakikantha. Again, Purandaradasa wrote largely in Kannada, but the Nattai composition that comes most quickly to mind is this composition in Sanskrit. (Though his Vandi Suve, a Kannada composition in Nattai is also popular). Here is M.L. Vasanthakumari’s rendition.

Jaya Jaya Jaya Janakikantha, Purandaradasa; M.L. Vasanthakumari (vocal)

And finally, Namo Namo Raghukula Nayaka by Annamacharya. Again, we associate Annamacharya most strongly with Telugu compositions, but his most well known Nattai composition is this Sanskrit composition (though I am not sure if he himself set it to music in Nattai). Here is a rendition my M.S. Subbulakshmi,

Namo Namo Raghukula Nayaka, Annamacharya; MS Subbulakshmi (vocal)

Muthuswami Dikshitar’s not-quite-Nattai quartet + 1

True or false — Muthuswami Dikshitar has composed four songs in Nattai — Mahaganapathim, Swaminatha Paripalaya, Parameshwara Jagadeeshwara and Pavanaatmaja?


These four songs are in fact composed in the raga Chalanattai. This Chalanattai, of the Raganga system of raga classification followed by Dikshitar, is slightly different from Nattai. First, it includes dha in the ascent. Second it elides the MGMR ‘vakra’ phrase that is characteristic of Nattai’s descent. These differences are illustrated in the second and third panels below.

Because Dikshitar’s Chalanattai is so close to Nattai, it too is referred to as such. Another reason to do so is that there is a Chalanattai in the ‘standard’ / Melakartha system with the same seven notes. It is a ‘main’ ragas in the Melakartha system, and therefore has all seven notes in both ascent and descent, linearly arranged. (See the left panel above).

As with so many other ragas, there are therefore two conceptions of the raga Nattai. And as is often the case with other ragas, the ‘standard’ / Melakartha / Thyagaraja conception has come to dominate and even subsume the conception of the raga in the Raganga / Dikshitar school. In the case of Nattai, this blurring of lines is somewhat more egregious as even the original name of the raga (Chalanattai) is ignored.

Here are the four songs composed in Chalanattai by Dikshitar. We begin with M.D. Ramanathan’s rendition of Mahaganapathim.

Mahaganapathim, Muthuswami Dikshitar; M.D. Ramanathan (vocal)

You will notice that in the kalpanaswara at the end, he occasionally uses D, as is appropriate for a Dikshitar Nattai piece. [Even though D is part of the ascent in Dikshitar’s Chalanattai, it was likely added to ensure that all seven notes are in the raga, qualifying it as a ‘main’ classifying raga in the Raganga system, rather than for aesthetic reasons. In such cases, Dikshitar uses the added note sparingly. For a more detailed discussion on Raganga vs. Melakartha systems, please see here.]

Swaminatha Paripalaya is another exceedingly popular composition of Dikshitar. Here are two versions — the first is the iconic, much mimicked version by the great G.N. Balasubraniam.

Swaminatha Paripalaya, Muthuswami Dikshitar; GN Balasubramaniam (vocal)

In the midst of that scintillating kalpanaswara passaage centred on P, he slips in one D, but you barely notice because the whole passage is so fast! Also in the upper octave, as he wraps up his kalpanaswaras, there is a MGMR.

The second is by T.M. Krishna, who is careful to stick to the original conception of the song (in Chalanattai, not ‘Nattai’).

You will immediately notice that this rendition has a very different feel from the iconic GNB version. The differences are clearest (at least to me, but i don’t have a very strong ear) in a couple of phrases. In the first line, sumam goes straight down — MRS, not MGMRS. Similarly, Kamajanaka is far more jagged in this version — PMPMRS — rather than the GNB version which again incorporates a MGMRS. Also if you pay attention to the word guruguha in the line Vallisha guruguha, you will notice a subtlely beautiful incorporation of D. Over all, the sense is that the composition has been ‘flattened’ and smoothed out in the GNB version, whereas the TMK (and Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini) version is more starkly dynamic. Finally, notice that TMK incorporates D occasionally in his kalpanaswara.

Next, a rare Carnatic song dedicated to Hanumantha — Pavanatmaja Agacha, sung by Maharajapuram Santhanam.

Pavanatmaja Agacha, Muthuswami Dikshitar; Maharajapuram Santhanam (vocal)

And a final Dikshitar composition — a rarely rendered song — Parameshwara Jagadeeshwara, by youthful Malladi Brothers.

Parameshwara Jagadeeshwara, Muthuswami Dikshitar; Malladi Brothers (vocal), K. Yogesh (mridangam), P Nageswar Rao (violin), SM Haribabu (Ghatam)

There is a beautiful varnam by Parameshwara Bhagavathar that is faithful to the Raganga / Dikshitar conception of Chalanattai / ‘Nattai’. In a case of perhaps being more loyal than the king, he includes the dha note in several parts of the composition — in the anupallavi, mukhtayi swaras, charanam, and two of four chittaswaram passages. I quite like it. He also avoids the MGMR passage on descent. Here is Amrutha Venkatesh’s rendition:

Nattai varnam, Parameshwara Bhagvathar; Amrutha Venkatesh (vocal), Avaneeswaram Sri S.R.Vinu (violin), Nanjil Sri Arul (mridangam) Adichanoolr Sri Anilkumar (ghatam) Tirunakkara Sri Retish (morsing)

Post Script: Gambhira Nattai and Jog

There are two ragas that are similar to Nattai and share the same notes. The first is Gambhira Nattai. This is a pentatonic raga with the notes SGMPNS-SNPMGS. The raga has a forceful, borderline stern feel to it, but in an reinforcing rather than chastising manner. Combined with sanskrit lyrics, it can sound almost like a mantra. My first exposure to it (though I did not know this at the time) was through one of my favourite Rishi Valley School assembly songs, Kamalam, an ode to the Goddess Lakshmi. Listen to this rendition from Rishi Valley School students (with Seshadri Sir on violin and Srinivasan Sir on mridangam, presumably).

A popular song in the raga is Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar’s Shri Jalandhara, rendered here by D.K. Pattammal.

A popular pair of ragas in Carnatic-Hindustani music jugalbandis is Nattai-Jog. Jog is best experienced as a Hindustani raga, but if one insists on finding equivalences, then it’s a cross between Gambhira Nattai and Nattai, with important differences with both. Conceptually, it is more akin to Gambhira Nattai, as it is considered a pentatonic raga, but with both Gs. The R3 in Nattai is rendered as G2 in Jog.

Gambhira Nattai, Nattai and Jog

From my reading of different discussions, I gather there are three main differences between Jog and Nattai. First, Jog uses the lower N2, whereas Nattai uses the higher N3. Apparently older versions of the raga had N3 on the ascent, but now it is N2 both ways. Second, The treatment of R3 in Nattai and G2 in Jog are quite different. R3 is an important note in Nattai and is always given “weight” with a slow, pregnant ascent from Sa. G2 is not given as much weight in Jog, and the actual pitches of the notes within the swarasthana are also slightly different. Third, in descent, you can get to R3 only from M in Nattai, never from G3. However, in Jog, going from G3 to G2 is quite a common phrase.

I will leave you with a rendition of a Ragam Tanam Pallavi by Sanjay Subrahmanyan, at a First Edition Arts concert in Bandra, Mumbai. The RTP is in the raga Kalyanavasantham. For ragamalika swaras, he chose three Hindustani ragas which have Carnatic ‘equivalents’ — Durga (Suddha Saveri), Jog (Nattai) and Bhairavi (Sindhubhairavi). As I sat in the audience, it was thrilling to realize that he was going ‘north’ rather than ‘south’ in this very specific way. The ragamalika passage begins at about 34.00.

RTP in Kalyanavasantham with ragamalika swaras; Sanja Subrahmanyan (vocal), S Varadarajan (violin), Neyveli Venkatesh (mridangam), Alathur Rajaganesh (kanjira)

Thank you for listening!



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.