Natakurinji – Paucity of Kritis
Though Natakurinji is a very popular raga with instantaneous appeal, yet it isn’t characterized by a corpus of well-known kritis. If a musician renders or plays a Chakkani Raja or an Endukupeddala or an O Rangasaayi or a Meenakshi Memudam, a reasonably knowledgeable rasika of Carnatic music would immediately identify these compositions with their respective ragas.
Natakurinji unfortunately doesn’t enjoy this luxury, so to speak. Hence it can be said that it is a raga that has survived on its own intrinsic charm and attractiveness. From a concert standpoint, it is more or less accepted that the more number of compositions that a musician knows in a particular raga, the better is the musician able to handle the raga in terms of raga-alapana elaboration in particular. Examples of such ragas are all the major heavy-weights like Todi, Kalyani, Kambhoji and so on.
Paradox – relatively fewer kritis yet enormously popular!
Natakurinji is a raga that doesn’t fall into this category and paradoxically, it is also regarded as a major raga with enormous scope for expansive and elaborate alapanas. I can cite two other immensely popular ragas that could perhaps be “classified” into this “category”. One is Shanmukhapriya and the other is Charukesi. Both Shanmukhapriya and Charukesi, like Natakurinji suffer from a shortage of heavy, chowka kala kritis although both these ragas have the in-built capacity to take on all types of tempo – be it madhyama kala, mel kala (fast tempo) or vilamba kala (slow tempo). Practical renditions available of vidwans and vidushis stand clear testimony to this point.
Charukesi does have Swati Tirunal’s Krupaya Paalaya in Misra Chapu which often finds itself as the main item in a concert. Tyagaraja’s Aadamodigalade is in Adi Tala – 1 Kalai which automatically precludes itself from being a main item unless it’s a concert of a short duration. Even modern composers like Mysore Vasudevachar and Muthiah Bhagavathar seem to have given Charukesi the short shrift.
Shanmukhapriya fares relatively better with kritis like Muthuswami Dikshitar’s well-known Siddhi Vinayakam and the other relatively less popular compositions like Sadaashraye and Ekambresha. However the last two kritis are rarely rendered.
Inserted Note: Violinist V. Sanjeev told me recently that popular vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan rendered Ekambresha in 2-kalai and the patantharam was very good. Need to listen to that.
Tyagaraja’s only known composition in Shanmukhapriya is Vaddane Vaaruleru. While it is a beautiful composition with its unusually themed pallavi, it’s not a chowka kala kriti and hence suffers from the fate similar to the bard’s Adamodigalade in Charukesi. The other fairly popular kriti in Shanmukhapriya is again Swati Tirunal’s Maamavakarunaya, and this is one kriti similar to Krupayapaalaya, that is often rendered as a main item in concerts. There is one more kriti that has the potential to showcase Shanmukhapriya’s depth and rakti and that is Mysore Vasudevacharya’s Maanamuto in Adi tala 2 – kalai. Mysore Vasudevacharya’s contributions are truly phenomenal and Maanamuto is a classic example of a wonderful chowka kaala kriti in Shanmukhapriya. Strangely this kriti hasn’t really taken off in concerts and I wonder why.
Natakurinji – a slightly different status!
Coming to Natakurinji, this raga’s status is slightly different as compared to Charukesi and Shanmukhapriya. We shall see how!
Only two compositions of Tyagaraja are extant, Manasu Vishaya and the divyanama kirtana Kuvalayadala Nayana. Muthuswami Dikshitar has composed five kritis out of which three have samashti charanam and these cannot be considered major pieces. The navagraha kriti Budhamaashrayaami in Jhampa tala is the one which is rendered frequently in concerts. While a major composition, Budhamaasrayaami however suffers from the practical constraint of being rendered only on Wednesdays!
Enter Syama Sastri
This is where Shyama Sastri has stepped in with his genius. Perhaps he divined that his two illustrious contemporaries probably did not devote the required attention to Natakurinji and hence resolved to fill that void, thus complementing the other two’s corpus most effectively.
Maayamma Nannu Brovavamma
Shyama Shastri’s Maayamma is a very rare composition and is not generally heard in concerts, but thankfully this is changing with musicians finally realizing this kriti’s enormous potential and one is now getting to hear this being rendered every now and then.
The Bangaaru Kamaakshi upasaka’s Maayamma is a true classic and one could rank it as perhaps the best in Natakurinji amongst all the other compositions extant. With astonishing usage of brevity, Shyama Sastri has created a composition of deep and rich melody coupled with intense fervour and transcendental sublimity.
The reason I use the word ‘brevity’ is because of the fact that the anupallavi has just four words (satyaananda saananda, nityaananda aananda). Yet Shyama Sastri has expanded the music for these four words into two whole AvartAs of Adi tALa 2 kaLai and the cascading effect is nothing short of magnificent. The wholesomeness of the kriti is brought out in vilamba kala. The chittaswara-sahitya, replete with the ‘Ma’ swaraksharas contains beautiful combinations and is an absolute delight. In fact this brilliant composition’s beginning note itself the wonderful ‘Ma’ swaraaksharam – bringing out the beauty and the absolute indisputable importance of the Madhyama, the note which is truly the soul of Natakurinji.
Syama Sastri as one of the Trinity – one more reason
Why is Shyama Sastri included as a Trinity when his compositions are much fewer compared to Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar?? This is a question that comes up often. Here it is worthwhile to quote from Dr. V. Raghavan’s outstanding write-up on Shyama Sastri:
“Sometimes, critics are familiar, genius is measured also by quantity, which includes variety; but these are not so much a gross test by number as such, as a test of genius in so far as they are indexes of the fecundity and infiniteness of the creative capacity of the artist. Going by that underlying principle, we may not find difficulty in recognizing what is also not uncommon in the artistic field, namely an outstanding contribution, which is choice and not extensive. With one Bhairavi Ata tala varnam, Pacchimiriyam Adiappayya stands immortal. Shyama Sastri’s Bhairavi swarajati is one of the three epics of its class; his Manji will outlive all attempts on its life by vandalised renderings in Bhairavi; and his Anandabhairavi will continue to sway and rock us on the billows of ineffable bliss as that of few others can.”
I would emphatically state here that this logic of Syama Sastri’s phenomenal contributions in terms of his swarajatis, his Manji and Anandabhairavi can most definitely be extended to Natakurinji. What Dr. Raghavan says of Pacchimiriyam Adiappayya having attained immortality with one Viribhoni, can be easily applied to Syama Sastri’s Maayamma in Natakurinji!
It is pertinent therefore to conclude here – Shyama Sastri attains the rank of the Trinity also due to his bequeathing Maayamma in Natakurinji to the Carnatic music world.