Nigamavedavedyam – TRS & An Unusual Hamsadhwani

It’s been a little more than two years since my revered Guru Shri TRS shed his mortal coil. Having had the privilege of being his student for multiple decades, there is hardly a day when I don’t reflect on his unique pedagogy, his spirit of enquiry and sheer intellectual approach. His inimitable sense of humour was his crowning glory – the capstone of all his musical acumen and talent.

During the course of his career, TRS composed quite a few varnams; and a few kritis and thillanas. The Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi was his forte of course, as it is well known – his brilliant mathematical mind combined with his sense of logical reasoning enabled him to delight in this creative and scholarly area of the Pallavi and hence he had scores of pallavis to his credit that he composed.

His varnams and the thillanas unmistakably bear his stamp in terms of structure and aesthetic mathematical combinations. What about the few kritis that he composed? TRS has, to his credit kritis in the ragas Suryakantam, Suddha Dhanyasi and in Hamsadhwani.

It is his kriti in Hamsadhvani that I wish to highlight in this article – and it is a humble attempt to portray how a truly gifted maestro can bring freshness, cerebral and yet a sense of the artistic, in a raga like Hamsadhwani that boasts of so many varnams and kritis.

But before that, a brief glimpse into the wonderful raga Hamsadhwani!

Hamsadhwani – a few words

Hamsadhwani is a raga that clearly has a pan-Indian appeal. This extremely popular audava raga (i.e. a raga with a pentatonic scale – with five notes in both the Aarohana and in the Avarohana), seems to have firmly established itself in all parts of our country across languages and cultures.

Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Vatapi Ganapathim is perhaps an all-time favourite whose charm and appeal never seems to fade in the Carnatic music world. Even after hearing this kriti countless times in concerts or otherwise, the charm doesn’t seem to fade – nothing hackneyed about this kriti and even the first usual kalpana swara – ‘p g r s r’ vatapi ganapatim has also perhaps come to be acknowledged as a concert mainstay – the audience very often almost expects it!

Hamsadhwani is supposed to have been created by Ramaswami Dikshitar, the father of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Along with the other supremely popular and major pentatonic raga Mohanam, every child learning Carnatic music is introduced to Hamsadhwani. Be it the mandatory varnam Jalajaksha in Adi talam, or the popular Tyagaraja favourite Raghunayaka, there are numerous compositions in Hamsadhwani, most of which are extremely popular on the concert platform.

Hamsadhwani typically finds itself in the beginning of a concert – it’s a bright and cheerful raga and hence useful for an effective beginning to a concert. Particularly a few sancharas if rendered without the shadja, add extra appeal to the already extant charm of the raga.
Consequently or otherwise it is a raga that composers have favoured to produce compositions on Ganesha. Maybe it was due to the everlasting appeal and popularity of Vatapi Ganpathim, that probably inspired the post-trinity composers to produce compositions in Hamsadhwani based on the elephant-faced god. Many of these kritis have attained great popularity among the musicians and the general rasikas. Some of these are:

1. Gam ganapathe – Adi, tisra gati – Muthiah Bhagavatar
2. Vaarana mukhavaa – Rupaka – Kotiswara Iyer
3. Vandenisamaham – Adi – Mysore Vasudevachar
4. Moolaadhaaramurti – Adi – Papanasam Sivan
5. Varavallabha ramana – Adi – G.N.Balasubramanian
6. Pahi pahi bala ganapathe – Rupaka – Mazhavai Chidambara Bharati
7. Namami vighna vinayaka – Adi, tisra gati – Krishnaswami Ayya
8. Vinayaka ninnuvina brochutaku – Adi – E.V.Ramakrishna Bhagavathar
9. An Adi tala tana varnam on Ganesha by Tanjavur S. Kalyanaraman
10. Piraiyaniyum perumaan – Adi – M.Balamuralikrishna
11. Kaa vaa gajamukhaa – Adi – Chidambaram V.V.Swarna Venkatesa Dikshitar
12. Nigamavedavedyam – Adi – T.R.Subramanyam

Nigamavedavedyam!

This article will now highlight the composition Nigamavedavedyam of TRS on Vinayaka.

The text of the kriti in Sanskrit is:

Pallavi:

nigamavEda vEdyam bhajEham
nirupama karuNAnidhim nirantaram nirvighnadam (nigama)

Anupallavi:

agajAnanAmbhOja savitAram
yugapad bhOgamOkshadhAtAram (nigama)

Charanam:

srIkAnta mAtulam srIkaram
srutabhakta jananikaramandAram
EkAgramanolayavaSamkaram
Ekadantam ISam IDEnisham

Examining the pallavi we see that TRS uses the words nigama and veda as synonyms. The vedas are our primordial scriptures and the nigama is any work auxiliary to and explanatory of the veda. TRS avers that Ganesha is the lord who can be understood through the vedas and the nigamas.

The second line of the pallavi states that Ganesha is the incomparable lord who is the ocean of mercy (nirupama karunanidhim) and he the one who gives the state of being of having no obstacles whatsoever (nirantaram nirvighnadam). The syllable ‘da’ means ‘to give’ and hence the epithet of nirantaram nirvighnadam (an everlasting state of no obstacles).

In our frenetic daily life with all the million distractions galore (and we may add – distractions available at the mere click of a mouse!), this line and invoking Ganesha is especially apt!

The anupallavi has the reference to a popular sloka on Ganesha:

Agajaanana Padmaarkam Gajaananam Aharnisham
Aneka Dam Tam Bhaktaanam Eka Dantam Upasmahe

The first line of the above sloka states that Parvati (agaja – daughter of the mountain which is contextually represented by the word aga)’s face lights up (aanana – face) on seeing her son Ganesha, just like how a lotus blossoms on seeing the sun.

TRS similarly uses the word ‘agajaanambhoja’ – which is a compound of the words:

aga + ja + aanana + ambhoja

He says Ganesha is savita (savitaaram – ending in the 2nd vibhakti i.e. declension); Ganesha makes everything grow. The word savita means the lord of the sun and it is also the vedic name for the sun. Since there are many Gayatri mantras for different deities, the original Gayatri mantra of which the presiding rishi is Viswamitra is known as Savitri.
The second line of the anupallavi says that Ganesha is the deity who bestows (daataaram) both material and spiritual benefits (bhoga moksha) simultaneously (yugapad).

In the charanam Ganesha is describes as one whose uncle is Vishnu (srikanta maatulam). The reference to this is the famous sloka:

shrIkAnto mAtulo yasya jananI sarva mangalA

Ganesha is one who is the giver of wealth and prosperity – srikaram.
He is the kalpavruksha to his group of devotees and those who seek refuge in him. the break-up of the compound words of this line is:
srutabhaktajana – devotes who have sought refuge (sruta + bhakti + jana)
nikara – group
mandaaram – one of the five tyes of the kalpa vruksham – wish-fulfilling tree

He can be reached with a single focused concentration (EkAgramanolayavaSamkaram)

Laya is the word that denotes the act of subsiding, dying or calming. The analogy is that the mind does not just die but it eventually submerges in the Supreme Being which is Ganesha here. This line can also alternatively mean Ganesha make the submerging of the mind achievable (vasamkaram).

Finally the kriti concludes that this lord with the emblem of ekadanta (single tusk) is the supreme ruler (Isam) and I as the singer of this kriti always sing His praises (IDEnisam which is IDE + anisam).

Some highlights of this kriti:

The kriti is unusual in more ways than one. The first is the way it begins. The syllables ‘ni’, ‘ga’, ‘ma’ and ‘ve’ take the notes N G P R,,, which is a very offbeat beginning for a kriti. This is reminiscent of the way the Kalyani kriti of Patnam Subramanya Iyer (Nijadasa varada) which also begins in a slightly similar fashion, although my guru Shri TRS has employed even more of a dhatu prayogam!

The second most striking feature is the use of ‘poruttam’ i.e. the meeting point, in the pallavi line. The words in the second line of the pallavi, ‘nirantaram’ and ‘nirvighnadam’ are set as poruttam phrases for the final meeting point of the first word of the pallavi ‘nigamaveda’.

The respective swaras are:

nirantaram – G S R S
nirvighnadam – P R G R
nigama – N G P G

While poruttams have become very popular and common now in the renditions of kalpanaswarams in concert, I personally haven’t come across the usage of poruttams in many kritis and this is a brilliant example of TRS’ genius for employing and using poruttams with such felicity and élan.
While the first sangati of the Pallavi’s second line has the poruttam constructed in the middle octave, the second sangati of the Pallavi’s second line has the poruttam descending from the upper octave, which blends beautifully into the pallavi line. TRS has also liberally used shadja varja phrases in many portions that lend an extra appeal to this kriti.

TRS has proved that ragas like Hamsadhwani are verily oceans. Despite the presence of so many compositions in this raga, my guru, typically as his wont, always ahead of his times (this kriti was I think composed sometime in the late 1970s), has used his brilliant intellect and analytical mind to come up with such an offbeat yet very charming creation belying all stereotypes. This scholarly and imaginative kriti on Vinayaka set in this popular raga is verily a shining crystal in the world of Hamsadhwani.

Victory to Lord Ganesha! May He bless us all!

Footnote: A description of a kriti like this wouldn’t have the necessary impact without an accompanying audio. Though I have rendered Nigamavedavedyam several times in concerts, most unfortunately I realized that I don’t have a concert recording of the kriti. Hence the audio is just a recording of mine with the sruti. This is just to portray to the readers how this kriti sounds.

My apologies in advance for the amateurishness of the recording!

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About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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5 Responses to Nigamavedavedyam – TRS & An Unusual Hamsadhwani

  1. Great Article.. Pranaams to the great Guru..Hamsadwani from a different perspective..Thank you very much Mohan Santhanam for the music and the great article..Best Regards

  2. K.N.Natarajan says:

    I read your nice article on T>R>S> Sir’s unique Hamsadhwani.

  3. Narayanan says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks for shining the light on this wonderful krithi, and the genius that was TRS. I sincerely hope that you will have more posts of this nature. I am a TRS fanatic.

  4. Thank you Natarajan mama! Narayanan Ji, very nice to see your comment, thank you! Do we know each other? Where are you based?

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