Composers Of Kerala
Before we consider the development of Carnatic music in Kerala, it is worthwhile to note as a background to it the nature of the music prevalent there before its advent. There are some specialities noticeable in it.
Even the Vedic chant, the original source of our music, is, in the Namboodiri recitation in Kerala, in a way, different from what we are familiar with in the rest of South India. Its distinctive feature is the stress accent in contrast with the pitch accent we find elsewhere. Koodiyattam, which preserves in a large measure the ancient tradition of acting the Sanskrit drama, has for its music certain so-called raga-s (as well as tala-s), but these do not answer to the requirements of the modern raga. It is significant that the players themselves call them only swara-s. They are mostly confined to four notes and the rendering is very much akin to the Vedic chant. The Koodiyattam music seems to represent an intermediate stage in the transition from Vedic to classical music.
The original classical music (sastreeya sangeeta) of Kerala, in contrast to the folk music (samanya or grameena sangeeta) which is considered indigenous to that region, is what we generally refer to as Sopana sangeeta. This is best represented in the singing of Jayadeva's ashtapadi-s and similar other items, to the accompaniment of the drum called edakka, in the temples and in the traditional method of singing the songs in the dancedrama called Kathakali. But a close examination shows that in regard to basic factors like swara, sruti, raga and tala, this music has very little difference from the system in vogue in the rest of South India, and the difference is only in the style of rendering. It is marked by simplicity in presentation displaying the general aspects of the melody, practically without alapana, swaraprastara, gamaka-s or sangati-s, generally not exceeding in range one sthayi, in the slow tempo and laying stress on the sahitya. Sopana is the flight of steps at the door of the sanctum sanctorum in the temple, and it is standing near it that the musician in the temple sings at specified times during the ritual. Hence the name sopanattilpaattu (singing at the sopana), later on condensed as sopanapaattu. In due course, the term came to denote this very way of singing. True that this music preserves some ancient Indian raga-s and some raga-s of ancient Tamil music, but that alone is not adequate to consider it as a separate system of music as some people do. We may, however, note that some rare tala-s like Munam talam, Ancham talam, Sambhu talam and Sakatu talam are laid down to be played on the drum for the propitiation of particular deities on particular occasions as part of the temple ritual.
There are some noteworthy figures among the pre-Swati Tirunal composers of classical music The original classical music (sastreeya sangeeta) of Kerala, in contrast to the folk music (samanya or grameena sangeeta) which is considered indigenous to that region, is what we generally refer to as Sopana sangeeta. This is best represented in the singing of Jayadeva's ashtapadi-s and similar other items, to the accompaniment of the drum called edakka, in the temples and in the traditional method of singing the songs in the dancedrama called Kathakali. But a close examination shows that in regard to basic factors like swara, sruti, raga and tala, this music has very little difference from the system in vogue in the rest of South India, and the difference is only in the style of rendering. It is marked by simplicity in presentation displaying the general aspects of the melody, practically without alapana, swaraprastara, gamaka-s or sangati-s, generally not exceeding in range one sthayi, in the slow tempo and laying stress on the sahitya. Sopana is the flight of steps at the door of the sanctum sanctorum in the temple, and it is standing near it that the musician in the temple sings at specified times during the ritual. Hence the name sopanattilpaattu (singing at the sopana), later on condensed as sopanapaattu. In due course, the term came to denote this very way of singing. True that this music preserves some ancient Indian raga-s and some raga-s of ancient Tamil music, but that alone is not adequate to consider it as a separate system of music as some people do. We may, however, note that some rare tala-s like Munam talam, Ancham talam, Sambhu talam and Sakatu talam are laid down to be played on the drum for the propitiation of particular deities on particular occasions as part of the temple ritual. T here are some noteworthy figures among the pre-Swati Tirunal composers of classical music.
But classical music in its modern form, what is popularly known as Carnatic music, was introduced into Kerala only during the time of Swati Tirunal (1813-1847), and he himself was mainly responsible for it. Many were the reasons for this.
The famous musician Shatkala Govinda Marar brought with him a collection of the songs of Margadarsi Sesha Iyengar and sang many of them before the king. Impressed by their novelty, Swati Tirunal adopted them as models for his own compositions and also wrote a tract on the verbal embellishments like assonance, alliteration and rhyme to be adopted in musical compositions. Tanjavur Subba Rao, his tutor and later Dewan, was a lover of music and an adept in playing the swarabat, and he introduced the Maharaja to the Carnatic music current in Tanjavur. Through his efforts, the Maharaja brought many outstanding musicians to Tiruvanantapuram from Tanjavur and other places. One was a Maharashtrian saint-singer, Meruswami by name, who was an expert in both Carnatic and North Indian music. The Maharaja took him as his guru to learn higher music, gave him several royal honours including a house, a palanquin and the title Kokilakantha, meaning cuckoovoiced for his high-pitched sweet voice. Another was Veena Subbukutti Ayya, grandson of Pachimiriyam Adiyappayya, brought from Pudukotai. The third was Kannayya Bhagavatar, a disciple of Tyagaraja, from whom he could hear many songs of his master. Vadivelu and his brothers— the Tanjavur Quartet— who were disciples of Muthuswami Dikshitar, came to his court and from them he could get fine specimens of the magnificent kriti-s of that distinguished composer. The brothers were also adept at dance compositions and had the credit of popularising, if not actually introducing, the variety and sequence of items we find in the modern Bharatanatyam recital. These inspired the Maharaja and Vadivelu, in particular, was his close collaborator in devising compositions for dance performances. He also learnt Hindustani music from two experts in that system of music. All this, togetherwith his inborn gift for music 32 and admirable talent for musical composition, made his genius in that direction effloresce in agreeable patterns with wonderful variety.
Swati Tirunal's contribution to Carnatic music comprises all its important song-forms, namely varnam, swarajati, kriti, padam, ragamalika and tillana. He was a multi-lingual composer who chose as his media of expression Sanskrit, Malayalam, Manipravalam (Sanskritised form of Malayalam), Telugu, Kannada and Dekkini Hindustani, though strangely no composition of his is so far known in Tamil, the language that is geographically and linguistically nearest to his mother-tongue. We may also incidentally note that he contributed to Hindustani music also in its major song-forms like dhrupad, khayal, tappa and bhajan and has the distinction of being the only South Indian composer who has done so.
Swati Tirunal's kriti-s, with their triple charana-s, for the most part ollow the model of Margadarsi Sesha Iyengar. But some of them have madhyamakala sahitya following Dikshitar. Many kriti-s have for the latter part of the charana, dhatu same as the anupallavi's, a feature which reminds us of Tyagaraja. A few have longpallavi-s like Pallavi Gopalayyar's. Still they all show a distinct individuality. Many of them are prayers to and praises of Lord Padmanabha, his tutelary deity, but there is also a good number on avatara-s like Rama, Krishna and Narasimha, as also on Siva, Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi and others. There are also group kriti-s or keertanamala-s, like the Navaratri kriti-s, one each for the nine days of the Navaratri festival; Navaratnamalika, a string of nine songs on the nine forms of bhakti; and the Ghanaragamala, illustrating the ghana raga-s which are eight to him with the addition of Kedara, Reetigaula and Saranganata to the conventional five. There are beautiful descriptions of Krishnavatara, Venugana, Rasakreeda and Natarajanritta. There is a song each in summary of the Ramayana, the Bhagavata and the legendary history of the Padmanabhaswami temple. There is also a group of kriti-s called Vairagya kriti-s which are philosophical in tone, pointing out the vanity of worldly life and the efficacy of bhakti as a means for liberation, and these remind us of the songs of Sadasiva Brahmendra. There is also Sree Padmanabha, a kriti in Madhyamavati, unfortunately not very popular, in which the irresistible attraction of the devotee for the deity is described in a series of telling similies.
Swati Tirunal was a distinguished composer of varna-s, with more than a score of them to his credit. In addition to the Ata tala and Adi tala compositions, we find two set to Roopaka tala which is not common in varna-s. His output includes tana varna-s as well as pada varna-s. The latter, though of a spiritual nature, are classed as sringara varna-s in view of the erotic element in them, and also, in contrast to them, a new class devised by him called stava varna, with sahitya in praise of the deity. This is an innovation indicating that a particular form of song need not be confined to a particular theme. Among those in the latter category, we get the varnam Sadhu vibatam in Bhoopalam used for waking up the deity early morning in the Padmanabhaswami temple. Another feature we notice in many of these varna-s is the presence of the anga called anubandha following an earlier tradition represented by the Viriboni varnam of Adiyappayya. This occurs at the close of the last ettukada swara and leads on to the latter part of the varnam, which would otherwise be two isolated sections practically independent of each other. Swati Tirunal has laid emphasis on this appendage by incorporating the name of the raga in some of these and by bringing the emotional mood depicted to a climax in quite a few.
Swati Tirunal's pada-s number about 70 depicting different types of nayika-s in diverse moods. About 50 of these are in Malayalam and they are primarily meant for Mohini Attam, the dance-form fostered by him.
Among his other compositions, two ragamalika-s Pannagendrasayana, which is a pada in content, and Kamalajasya, the Dasavatara ragamalika which is a kriti, are well-known. Bhavayami Raghuramam, which was originally a kriti, has now assumed the form of a popular ragamalika composition. There are two works specially written for Harikatha kalakshepa, namely, Kuchelopakhyana and Ajamilopakhyana; these are in the form of sloka-s and gana-s of the Maharashtra pattern. The Utsavaprabandha, also in the form of stanzas and songs, is a description of the 10-day festival in the Padmanabhaswami temple. Seven of his swarajati-s are known,- of these, the Pancharagaswarajati, to which a sahitya has been added later on, is the most popular.
Swati Tirunal has used some old and rare raga-s like Ghanta, Desakshi, Gopikavasantam, Lahtapanchamam and Suddhabhairavi in his compositions. He has devised a new raga called Mohanakalyani by combining the arohana of Mohanam and the avarohana of Kalyani, thereby indicating a novel method of evolving new raga-s if such combination is pleasing enough. Even with regard to current raga-s, there are certain specialities such as tarasthayi sanchara in Nadanamakriya, absence of Lakshmana Pillai was a sensitive poet and a serious moralist. His compositions amply reflect both these aspects and stand high in lyrical beauty. He has devised a new raga by name Amarasenapriya in honour of the English author Emerson. He had the meaningful titles of Isaikaviarasu and Tamil-isai-selvar conferred on him.
Among more recent composers are:
• Ennapadam Venkataramana Bhagavatar who is the author of a group of 108 songs, one on each name of Lord Krishna besides several others, some of them in rare raga-s like Sumukhi, Prakasini, Sridhari and Priyadarsini; and
• Mahakavi Kuttamathu Kunjikrishna Kurup, the author of several musical dramas likeBalagopalan and Nachiketas and a Malayalam refill Tarunatayezhum for Janaganamana, India's national anthem.
Lesser luminaries include Palakkad Parameswara Bhagavatar, Rajaraja Varmakoil Tampuran, Kotungallur Kunjikuttan Tampuran, Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran, Mukkolakkal Marar, Pazhedathu Sankaran Namputiri, Rani Rukmani Bai, Yoganandadasa and Manavikrama Ettan Tampuran, of whom the last-named is the author of Krishnaashtapadi and Kiraataashtapadi which are modelled on Jayadeva's Geeta Govindam.
An interesting fact that may be noted here is that the Christian community in Kerala has been attracted by Carnatic music. There is a collection of songs cast in the Carnatic classical mould bearing the title Christian Lyrics; the songs are meant to serve as general prayers and for use on particular occasions in Church service and domestic ceremonies. The songs are mostly in the dhatu-s of the kriti-s of Tyagaraja, Swati Tirunal and Irayimman Tampi. This publication has run into many editions of many thousand copies, though, of late, their currency has become much diminished. In this connection, we may also note that Kandathil Varghese Mappilla, the famous journalist who founded the daily Malayala Manorama, has composed many songs as general prayers to god.
Another fact also deserves attention. The Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi, in its eagerness to promote modern compositions in Malayalam on diverse themes and with literary beauty, brought together some famous poets like G. Sankara Kurup, Vennikulam Gopala Kurup, P. Kunjuraman Nair and N.V. Krishna Warrier to write lyrics, and musicians like C.S. Krishna Iyer, Puducode Krishnamurthy and V. Dakshinamurthy to set them to appropriate music in classical Carnatic form. This resulted in the production of the work named Sangeetamapi Sahityam, containing some 50 songs, some on nature and its beauty, some on ethical themes and a few on great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. But these songs have not evoked much response. The reason is not far to seek. The best of compositions is what is inspired and spontaneous, where theme agrees with form and feeling with melody and not a product of artificial synthesis. We should remember that the real composer is one who is able to devise the lyric and its music himself and out of a genuine urge. As the saying goes, Vacham geyam cha kuruteyyassaha vaggeyakarakah. (One who composes both the lyrics and the music is a vaggeyakara).
In the field of sangeeta sastra or musical theory, there are several works like Swarataladi Lakshanam, Sangeeta Vidhikal, Sangeeta Choodamani andTalavidhikal, which are all based on standard earlier works like Sangeeta Ratnakara, Ragavibodha and Sangeeta Samayasara. There is the Talaprastara on the ramification of tala-s by Ramapaanivaada. In Talavidhikal, in addition to a general account of the tala-s, we also find the details of playing the drum in
panchama in some Todi pieces and gandhara in some Surati compositions. We encounter rare prayoga-s also in some. This aspect is dealt with in some detail in my book titled Swati Tirunal and His Music.
Next to Swati Tirunal comes Irayimman Tampi, his courtpoet and composer. He is well known as the author of the lullaby Omana tinkal kidavo and three attakatha-s (story scripts) for Kathakali. He has composed five varna-s and a good number of kriti-s and pada-s in Sanskrit and Malayalam, besides a navaratri prabandha describing the royal navaratri festival in Tiruvanantapuram in four sections, each containing a viruttam followed by a long song, an innovation of his in Kerala music. One of his most popular kriti-s isKarunacheyyan entu tamasam in Sree raga in praise of Lord Krishna of Guruvayur. A few are in the dhatu-s devised by Swati Tirunal. The Kalyani kriti Sevey Syananduresvara, wrongly attributed to Swati Tirunal by some, is one such. It is in the same dhatu as that of the Navaratri kriti Pahi maam Sreevageeswari.
Kuttikunju Tankachi, Irayimman Tampi's daughter, is the foremost woman composer of Kerala. Besides some attakatha-s and musical narratives like Tiruvatirappattu and Kurattipattu for folk dances, she temples and the tala-s associated with different deities.
But by far the most important theoretical work is Sangeeta Chandrika by Atoor Krishna Pisharody (1867-1964), which gives an exposition of musical theory on a historical basis. It is in the form of sootra-s in Sanskrit, with elaborate commentary in Malayalam. Its 12 chapters deal with nada, sruti, swara, veena, grama moorcchana, mela, tala, varnaalankara, gamakasthayadi, prabandha, raga and geeta. The last chapter contains about 450 geeta-s, one for each raga, with their sahitya forming a continuous narrative on the Ramayana story. A strikingly novel contribution in this work is the formulation of a new scheme of mela-s consisting of 84 parent-scales with a new order, new mnemonics and new nomenclature. It severely criticises Somanatha, Ramamatya and Venkatamakhi, though its own formulation is not fully acceptable in that it allows in some mela-s both the suddha and teevra varieties of madhyama, which goes against the basic concept that only one variety of a swara should be taken in a mela. The lakshana-s of some raga-s also differ from what we find in current practice. In the geeta-s occur many rare raga-s like Sarasiruham, Vanadipam, Saudamini, Kauberi, Kesari and Yagapriya.
Apart from the very brief accounts of the essentials of musical theory given in the publications of collections of songs, we find the matter in some detail in works like Mekkunnathu's Sangeeta Pravesika and A.K. Raveendranath's Dakshinatya Sangeetam. My own Sangeeta Sastra Pravesika, written with a view to serving the needs of music students and laypersons interested in the art, deals with swara, raga, tala, gana, vadya and charitra in six sections, with appendices on Sopana music, ancient Tamil music, modern Hindustani music, etc. Madhavan Nair'sKerala Sangeetam is a general historical survey of the music of Kerala.