Shyama Sastri & Natakurinji

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.

About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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17 Responses to Shyama Sastri & Natakurinji

  1. G Swaminathan says:

    Hi Mohan, A very well written article. I feel this should be read by all practicing musicians because as the views expressed by you on the ragas mentioned are quite analytical, factual and unbiased. I always used to wonder about these ragas range but at the same time why they have not received their due like other heavy weights. I happened to hear in one of the recent lec-dems by a senior and erudite musicologist that Charukesi has only limited scope and that was the reason why Tyagaraja had not composed many kritis in it. Can it be true?
    Another beautiful part of this article is Syama Sastri’s contributions and his place in the Musical Trinity notwithstanding with his very limited compositions. Dr V Raghavan’s observations are excellent and substantiates the musical quality of Syama Sastri.
    I write this because I always nurture a special place for Natakuranji, Shanmukhapriya, Charukesi and also Syama Sastri.
    Nice article! Keep writing!

    • Hi Swaminathan,
      I’m catching up with the responses only now. First of all, I COMPLETELY disagree with whoever said that Charukesi has very limited scope. No sir, Charukesi, can hold its own VERY well. Interestingly, in a concert for Madhuradwani a few weeks ago, Chitravina Ravikiran played an impromptu RTP in Charukesi. As is his wont, just before the main item, Ravikiran had asked the audience to suggest the main raga and the response was a request for Charukesi. The Chitravina exponent proceeded to play an elaborate ragam and tanam and then sang the pallavi line which was slightly offbeat. While I don’t remember the exact words now, the import of the pallavi line went something like – Charukesi is NOT half Shankarabharanam and half Todi like its purported to be, but it has an identity of its own!! And this line was told by Semmangudi to Ravikiran himself as related by the latter just before launching into the Pallavi that day! I will find out the exact line of the pallavi and post it here when I get the chance! 🙂

  2. ravi mahadevan says:

    Mohan, I would say that Swathi Thirunal’s Navaratri kriti ‘Pahi janani Santhatham’ is one of the most beautiful kritis in nattaikurnji. The charanam is so moving that evokes a tear or two.

    • Dear Ravi Mahadevan sir, definitely Paahi janani santatam is one of the best kritis in Natakurinji and happily, is also very widely sung thanks to it being a Navaratri kriti. Swati Tirunal as also bequeathed to us the wonderful Jagadeesa Sadaa Maamava. The heavy weight with its madhyama kala lines in the Charanam is a beautiful Natakurinji representation! 🙂

  3. pP.Vijayambika says:

    Dear Mohan, Swathi Thirunal’s ‘mamava sada Janani’ is an excellent example of the prayoga of ‘MA’ as the starting note in the pallavi as swarakshara, showcasing the significance of ‘ Madhyama with apt gamaka in the raga.

    • Yes Vijayambika ji, absolutely. In fact, my guru Shri TRS went a step further – he would start the first ‘Maa’ syllable of Maamava Sadaa Varade on the gandhara note and then proceed to sing it from the Madhyamam, enhancing the overall effect!

  4. Mohan I just loved reading this blog and for more than one reasons. One that nataikurinji is one of my favourite ragas and secondly it bought to me memories of my Guru Sri. A Sundaresan and his intensity at portraying Sri Shyama sastri in general and Maayamma in particular.
    Your observations on Shanmugapriya and Charukesi are so true in fact I have long wondered why our great composers did not use them enough.Ofcousre these three ragas have been extensively handled for RTP’s by maestros and our generation alike.

    Ma in the Maayamma krithi is very predominant and it has various varieties of Ma that is to say, how the swara sounds when it lands from different notes and also the myriad shades the swara devata takes with each kind of anuswaram or gamakam.. . Also I feel that the composer used this ma to reflect the fact that, to him Maayamma ,Amma ,Ma is supreme.

    Also as Sr. Ravi says the Navaratri krithi of Swathi Tirunal is also very evocative in fact there the Maharaja says dehi sakala Shubade Himachala kanye.. Shyama Satri also uses this adage Himachala sute… in similar vein.. Is she the young daughter of Himavan beautiful and full of compassion who then becomes Janani… mayamma…Ma..

    Nice to think about this on women’s day!!

    • Maayamma, Amma, Ma…Wow! That’s a wonderful way of looking at it and I know among most of the musicans, you are one of the rare ones who has rendered this both in concerts as well as commercially!

      My take on the Himchalasute would be that the “Kanya Kubja Vaasini” realizes her calling, does tapas by being Aparna and finally reaches Him and attaining the status of Janani and becoming our Maayamma…

  5. Dr.S.BHAGYALEKSHMY.M.A, Ph.d 9Music) M.A.(Astrology) says:

    Nice article very informative there is a krithi Palvadiyum mukham in Nattakurinji by Oottukkadau venakatasubbayyar. There is an Ata tala varna Sami nee , chalamela a pada varna. Sivakami pathim is another small krithi by Muthuswami Dikshithar.

    • Bhagyalekshmy madam, yes, the Ata tala varnam Sami nee is by Patnam Subramanya Iyer and incidentally its also a pada varnam with the Telugu being of a very high order as I was once told!

  6. Somasundaram Venkateswaran says:

    Mohan: Very well written article. Just one point of observation: In as much as the krithi Mayamma of Shyama Sastri brings out the essence of the raga Natakurinji, the oft-performed varnam in Natakurinji (Chalamela) does take credit as a wonderful composition that explores the wide range of this raga, all the more so in the charanam portion where the swaras and sahityas complement one another. This situation also dwells well with the Bhairavi Varnam (Viriboni) in Ata Tala composed by Pachamiriyam Adiyappaya that you have referred to.

    As regards Thyagaraja’s Adamodi Galade in Raga Charukesi, although it is generally perceived to be a krithi which can at best be a sub-main item in a full concert, I have heard the great Violin Maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman play this krithi (as well as Manasuloni Marmamu in Hindolam) and give them full treatment as main items. Though they are set to single tempo (oru kaLai) Adi Tala, Lalgudiji brings out the grandeur of these ragas, and the krithis, so very well that the listeners may sometimes not even notice the fact that the maestro is actually playing a single-tempo (oru kaLai) krithi but according it the grandeur of a double or slow-tempo (iru kaLai) krithi.

    Prof. S. Venkateswaran
    Kuala Lumpur

    Maris Music Mela

    • Venkateswaran sir, yes I would agree. Lalgudi *has* played Aadamodi elaborately and in one of the cassettes, he has played it as the main item. But my question is, would he have done it in a 3-hour concert? There are recordings of his live performances in Krishna Gana Sabha where a wonderful Charukesi alapana has preceded Aadamodi but the main item there is Palinchukamakshi!

      The point I’m trying to make is that while a Maa Jaanaki will definitely find itself as the main item, the same cannot be said of Aadamodi – at least for concerts of more than a duration of two+ hours.

  7. dear sir thanks for the valuable information

  8. Kamini says:

    I really enjoyed reading this and how you invested Nattaikurinji with such personality and character and brought her to life. I have not heard Maayamma and now it is my mission to do so! Do you recommend any particular recording? There are two varnames in this ragam that I love singing, both of which are popular in the dance world: Chalamela Jesevaiya and Swami Naan Undan – one can go into a wonderful trance singing them, in large part thanks to the mesmerizing quality of Nattaikurinji

    Would love to read many more such pieces from you!


    • And that’s definitely a COMPLIMENT, coming from *you* Kamini! While I have sung Maayamma quite a few times, there are recordings available of Gayathri Venkataraghavan who has made it a point to sing it often as well. Charsur has also released her recording singing this wonderful kriti.

      I just loved your interpretation of me personifying Natakurinji and the fact that Natakurinji is a “she”. Would I have categorized her as “she”? Yes, probably, now that I come to think of it – considering how Natakurinji has grown on me slowly over the years. She started off with her introduction to me as a child in a delectable charanam in Bhaavayaami immortalized by MSS and then moved to familiarize herself further through a full-fledged kriti (Maamava Sadaa Varade), sung by my Guru Shri TRS in a radio program and then literally SWEPT me away as a teenager with Lalgudi’s main item in his AIR National Program in 1988. The acme was getting my hands on a recording of Nedunuri Krishna Murthy. The RTP rendered by him in Natakurinji with Lalgudi in tandem is truly blissful. I have lost count of the number of times I would have heard this recording, particularly the raga alapana.

      The tidal wave of Natakurinji – she continues to rock me, and my love and respect for her only grows steadily with the years as I increase in my own maturity!

  9. Reblogged this on Mohan Santhanam and commented:

    Facebook prompted me to post this as a memory. The actual fact is that Natakurinji and Syama Sastri’s Maayamma are so much part of me that I thought instead of merely posting this as a memory, why not reblog it! 🙂

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