Bhavapriya – An Indelible Identity Carved by Tyagaraja

To begin with, Bhavapriya is:

  • A raga relatively lesser known
  • A raga not having many compositions.  Consequently:
  • A raga relatively rare in concerts

But, but, BUT

  • A raga that has *enormous* potential!

The potential of a raga isn’t defined by the capacity for the ability to stretch the raga in terms of pure alapana alone.  Is the raga capable of evoking multiple moods?  Does the raga sound its best at all times of the day?  For example, it cannot be denied that Poorvikalyani sounds best when rendered at night.  However this does not by any means imply that Poorvikalyani can be rendered ONLY at night – Carnatic music perhaps being the most all-encompassing and catholic streams of classical music thankfully hasn’t fettered itself with dictums about when to sing a particular raga and when not to.  However Nilambari, when sung at night and Bauli or Revagupti when sung early morning do give one the impression of being in a state of bliss – at least till the rendition is in progress!

Hence, a raga’s potential is much more than mere raga alapana expansion.

Some of Bhavapriya’s characteristics are:

  1. It is a mirror image of a very popular raga.  Bhavapriya is the prati-madhyama equivalent of one of the Chakravarti Ragas, Todi. 

(Note: the name Chakravarti Raga is an epithet used by maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman in a lecture-demonstration titled Manodharma Sangeetham.  The other Chakravarti Ragas are Shankarabharanam, Kalyani, Kambhoji and Bhairavi).

  1. Despite the apparent association with Todi, Bhavapriya did not really catch composers’ imagination, particularly the Trinity (Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri) when compared to corresponding output in other ragas.
  2. Bhavapriya can be said to possess an intrinsic pathos.  This could be possible due to its close proximity to a much better known raga – Shubhapantuvarali.  Shubhapantuvarali as we all know, seems to have been constructed for pathos alone especially on the death of prominent people where the media, particularly Doordarshan goes all out to portray this raga in various shades through the Shehenai, the Saarangi and other instruments.


Though Bhavapriya is the prati-madhyama counterpart of the formidable emperor Todi, even a cursory listening will tell us that it really does not have anything to do with Todi at all!  This is probably due to the presence of Shubhapantuvarali as the next raga in the 72-melakarta raga scheme.  Except the kaisiki nishaadam in Bhavapriya, all the other notes are the same as Shubhapantuvarali.  So does that make it similar to Shubhapantuvarali and in the process sort of entail Bhavapriya to lose its identity?

The author can say emphatically here that that is most definitely NOT so.  Bhavapriya despite its similarities with Shubhapantuvarali,  does VERY CLEARLY have its own identity.

While the plain saadhaarana gandhara note in Shubhapantuvarali is clearly a jeeva swara, Bhavapriya also is rendered with a plain gandhara note.  However during raga alapanas, it is better and actually “safer” to land on to the rishabham and give THAT note equal, if not better, prominence.  A phrase like P P P M D P M G—- G R R—– with the rishabham oscillated sufficiently almost like a kampita gamaka (or even like the rishabham in Saveri or Gaula) removes doubt about any ambiguity between Bhavapriya and Shubhapantuvarali.  The rishabha is most definitely NOT oscillated in Shubhapantuvarali.  And when the rishabham is oscillated in Bhavapriya, it paves the way and sets the stage for the descent into the madhara sthaayi dhaivatam, through the nishaadam.  This clearly establishes Bhavapriya beyond all doubt.

The nishadam in Bhavapriya is interesting – it can be rendered plain and also oscillated – something similar to what happens in Todi.  However in Bhavapriya, it is the plain nishaada that adds to the overall effect and differentiates is effectively from Shubhapantuvarali.  The oscillated nishaada can be used slightly in lesser proportions.

There are some musicians who render the gandhaaram of Bhavapriya like the Varali gandhaaram.  This almost sounds as if Bhavapriya is an amalgamation of Varali and Shanmukhapriya.  But going by much empirical evidence, while Bhavapriya certainly shouldn’t sound like Shubhapantuvarali as we have seen, on no account it should sound even *remotely* like Varali!  Hence this author is of the VERY strong opinion that Bhavapriya’s gandharam is best when rendered as a plain saadhaarana gandhaaram.

Tyagaraja! Tyagaraja! Tyagaraja!

Seriously, what would be Carnatic music without Tyagaraja?!  The bard from Tiruvaiyyaru seems to have left no stone unturned and nothing left unexplored.

Despite Bhavapriya being relatively a rarer raga, paradoxically, Tyagaraja’s sole kriti Srikanta Neeyada is fairly popular in concerts.  Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer sang Srikanta Neeyada often in his concerts though this author isn’t quite sure if he sang extensive alapanas in Bhavapriya during his long career.  Semmangudi usually sang the kriti as a ‘filler-item’ with a few rapid-fire swaras.  Lalgudi Jayaraman on the other hand, has dealt with Srikanta Neeyada in a mellow tempo and like everything by Lalgudi, his version of the kriti is contemplative, unique and truly exquisite.

With Ramanavami around the corner, it is pertinent to go into the sahitya of this kriti where Tyagaraja refers to mantras – bala and atibala and also in the process, questions Rama about the prevailing situation then!  (Oh Lord Vishnu, why can’t you understand our worry, especially who despite being brahmins, are ignorant of the right path for salvation?)



SrI kAnta nIyeDa balAtibala
celaganga lEdA vAdA

pAkAri nuta nIvAri
balAbalamunu teliyaga lEdA (SrI)

kAka daityunEka SaramunanEya
kanjajAstramai paraga lEdA
SrI kara dvijulai dArineruga lEni
cinta nIku tOcadEmi tyAgarAja nuta (SrI)

The gist of the kriti (from The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja):

Oh Srikanta!  Were you not equipped with the famous astra mantras, Bala and Atibala?  Was not their glory demonstrated by you on several occasions?  Further, did you not convert a blade of grass into Brahmastra to kill Kakasura?  With all this prowess, how is it that you are not worried about the plight of the Dvijas (i.e. Brahmins) who do not know the right path?

The second kriti that is worth mentioning is Swati Tirunal’s Maamavaasruta set to Adi tala 2-kalai.  It is possible that the Maharaja of Travancore realized the potential of Bhavapriya and bequeathed this heavy weight.   Maamavaasruta begins emphatically on a madhyama swaraaksharam and is a wonderful example of creativity being literally soaked in an offbeat raga like Bhavapriya. 

The result is a slow chowka kala kriti that explores Bhavapriya in its full glory in all the octaves.


mAmavAshrta nirjara bhUruha mArakOTi madApaha dEha


kAmadAyaka parimuditEbha kEvala mOda nivAsa ghanAbha

Charanam 1:
danta shUka shayAmbuja nEtra dIna janAvana pUtacaraNa 
vandakALi hrdayAmbuja mitra vAsavAdi krta stutipAtra

Charanam 2:

pAdanatAdi samsta nirAsa bhrUvallI nirjita mArasarAsa 
dEva gaNAdrta mrdutara hAsa vairi niSUdana sadguNa vAsa

Charanam 3:

shArada vidhu mukha mauktikahAra shAnta phaNIshvara nagara vihAra 
parilasa mE hrdi jaladhi gabhIra pankajanAbha bhavArNava pAra 

Three other kritis extant – Neekemi Nirdaya by Mysore Vasudevachar, Yagnya Mayam Shankaram by Muthiah Bhagavathar and Senthil Velanpadam by Kotiswara Iyer are very rare and this author is yet to hear any of these in concerts.


From a concert standpoint, Bhavapriya has been a Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi favourite with adventurous musicians who reveled in long alapanas pushing their creativity to the maximum with wonderful results.  The musician that immediately comes to mind is the legendary and the one and only M.L.Vasanthakumari.  Among the many instances, this author can recall a one hour All India Radio broadcast where after a quick Maarakoti Sundari Maanini (Bahudari, Adi, G.N.Balasubramanian), MLV launches into an expansive Bhavapriya that held this author spellbound for the next fifty minutes or so.  Truly MLV was synonymous for pure creativity, with an unquenchable thirst to constantly explore more and delve deeper and deeper into Raga per se and in the process giving reign to her fertile imagination. 

The one other instance that the author is literally compelled to describe here is once again a Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi, this time by the mandolin wizard U. Srinivas.  Srinivas, recognizing the potential of Bhavapriya, starts off the raga alapana slowly and meditatively and builds it stage by stage – like a carefully constructed edifice.  It is pure melody and there is no trace of any Shubhapantuvarali or Todi or Varali anywhere – Srinivas is confident that Bhavapriya can hold its own and in his hands, it does so in absolutely unequivocal terms.  Srinivas traverses to the upper octave, explores, exhibits several nuances and finally returns to the base before proceeding the concluding round of the alapana.  Technically, this portion of the raga alapana is called ‘makarini’.

It is this portion of the alapana of Srinivas that deserves special mention.   He proceeds to give fast phrases and extensive sancharas with wonderful sweeps and jaarus, skillfully alternates the tempo here and there and proceeds to give another succinct picture of the raga with all the dexterity possible gradually, building up the speed all the time.  He traverses to the upper octaves and then returns as quick as lighting, building up a crescendo, that makes the listeners truly hold their breath.

And finishes with a flourish.

Small wonder that there is thunderous applause!

The reader is requested to remember that we are talking about Bhavapriya – a relatively rare raga and not a Todi/Kalyani/Kambhoji.  If this is the enthusiastic response that a beautifully executed Bhavapriya can receive, then there can really be no debate about the usual complaint of thinning audiences due to unfamiliar items in a concert.  Any item, if prepared and polished well and aesthetically presented, can always win the audiences over.  Srinivas’ Bhavapriya alapana is ample testimony to that point.

In conclusion, Bhavapriya is one of the lesser known ragas that was given an identity of its own by Tyagaraja and expanded by Swati Tirunal and other composers.  It is a raga that is worth exploring further.


Note: This article was published by Naadhabrahmam Music Journal ( a few issues ago.


About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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8 Responses to Bhavapriya – An Indelible Identity Carved by Tyagaraja

  1. Sathyavrathan says:

    There is another krithi “unnai vendinen umApathe” probably by Dandapani desikar which is a nice and small song

    1. Sathyavrathan, thank you for the information and your comment! Can you point a link to this song? I would love to hear this.
  2. Sathyavrathan says:

    I have heard from Sikkil gurucharan and dandapani desikar.. Here is the link…

    Nice song!!

  3. says:

    Thanks a lot Sri Mohan Santanam.Srikanta Niyeda used to be popularised by Brahmasri Balakrishna Sastrigal .BTW is there one being rendered by Prof S Ramanathan .? How this Raga dealt with( may be treated differently) by Dikshidhar.Again kudos to your lucid style enthusing the readers to accord & understand the appropriate status this Raga seems to deserve.

  4. Dr M V Narasimha Chari says:

    Speaking of Shubhapantuvarali ( the pratimadhyama of Thodi’s neighbour Dhenuka), the mela’s counterpart in Hindustani music is the thaat named Thodi, no relation to the Carnatic thodi. I have come across people speculating / stating that the Carnatic Thodi has its origin in Hindustani music. Your comments, pl. 🙂

  5. Dr M V Narasimha Chari says:

    Bhavapriya is called Bhavani in Muthusamy Dikshithar’s asampoorna mela paddhati.

    Another raga by the same name Bhavani is Bhavapriya with the pancama varja. You might have heard Dr S Ramanathan’s rendering of his own composition ‘Bhavapriye Bhavani’?

  6. Chandra says:

    Hello Mohan,
    Have you heard Bhava Priya – Bhavani – Dhandapani Desikar and JAYATHI SIVA BHAVANI by Dikshithar?

  7. Shankar says:

    For a layman like me, you could not have explained any better. The technical jargons are not that difficult once I re-read. Thanks for explaining the subtle variations in the raga that the experts can make out but not the appreciating audience!

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