Madura Country Manuel By J.H Nelson composed the Original Warrior and Kings of South India and Tamil nadu Especially Ramnad,Sivagangai,Madurai,TirunelVeli etc.
Aristocracy of Maravars with the big evidences.
THE MARAVANS or inhabitants of the two Zamindaries, perhaps the oldest eastern the country”, are nowadays only about half as numerous as the Vellallans where as two thousand
years ago they must have been by far the numerous, were undoubtedly the most powerful of all the castes in the Pandya country HiStory shows, clearly that the Kings of Pandya
seventeenth century held a veiy good position among potential state of the south, and a letter of a Jesuit Missonary will be referred to in the proper place, shows that at that timr the King of
ramanathapuram could assemble an army of as many as 40,000 Maravar army
within one or two days and more than 80,000 .
The Maravans,” es,13 “are found chiefly in Madura and Tinnevelly, where they occupy the tracts bordering on the coast from Cape Comorin to the northern limits of the Ramnad zemindari. The proprietors of that estate, and of the great Sivaganga zemindari, are both of this caste. The Maravars must have been one of the first of the Dravidian tribes that penetrated to the south of the peninsula. There exists among them a picturesque tradition to the effect that, in consequence of their assisting Rama in his war against the demon Ravana, that deity gratefully exclaimed in good Tamil Maraven, or I will never forget, and that they have ever since been called Maravans. But, with more probability, the name may be connected with the word maram, which means killing, ferocity, bravery and the like, as pointing clearly to their unpleasant profession, and slaying their neighbours.
In former days they were a fierce and turbulent race, famous for their military prowess. At one time they temporarily held possession of the Pandya kingdom, and, at a later date, their armies gave valuable assistance to Tirumala Nayakkan. They gave the British much trouble at the end of last (eighteenth) century and the beginning of this (nineteenth) century, but they are now much the same as other ryots (cultivators), though perhaps somewhat more bold and lawless. History shows that in old times they were a fierce and turbulent race, and the terror of their neighbours ,
and they gave the British much trouble at the end of the last century
and the beginning of this But their habits have much changed in
the last sixty years and they are now much like other ryots, though
perhaps somewhat more bold and lawless
They live almost entirely
by cultivation, and are considered to be one of the lowest of the
respectable castes, although the Sethupathis of Ramnad and the RAjas
of Sivagangei have always been men of the Marava caste The
Jesuits at one time made many converts amongst them, and appear
to have regarded them as a very promising race but they seem to
have found out that their opinion .The head of the Maravans is the Setupati (lord of the bridge), or Raja of Ramnad. “The Sethupati line, or Marava dynasty of Ramnad,” the Rev. J. E. Tracy writes,17 “claims great antiquity. According to popular legendary accounts, it had its rise in the time of the great Rama himself, who is said to have appointed, on his victorious return from Lanka (Ceylon), seven guardians of the passage or bridge connecting Ceylon with the mainland…. Another supposition places the rise of the family in the second or third century B.C.
It rests its case principally upon a statement in the Mahawanso, according to which the last of the three Tamil invasions of Ceylon, which took place in the second or third century B.C., was under the leadership of seven chieftains, who are supposed, owing to the silence of the Pandyan records on the subject of South Indian dealings with Ceylon, to have been neither Cheras, Cholas, or Pandyans, but mere local adventurers, whose territorial proximity and marauding ambition had tempted them to the undertaking…. Another supposition places the rise of the family in the eleventh or twelfth century A.D. There are two statements of this case, differing according to the source from which they come. According to the one, which has its source in South India, the rise of the family took place in or about 1059 A.D., when Raja Raja, the Chola king, upon his invasion of Ceylon, appointed princes whom he knew to be loyal to himself, and who, according to some, had aided him in his conquest of all Pandya, to act as guardians of the passage by which his armies must cross to and fro, and supplies be received from the mainland. According to the other statement, which has its source in Sinhalese records, the family took its rise from the appointment of Parakrama Bahu’s General Lankapura, who, according to a very trustworthy Sinhalese epitome of the Mahawanso, after conquering Pandya, remained some time at Ramespuram, building a temple there, and, while on the island, struck kahapanas (coins similar to those of the Sinhalese series). Whichever of those statements we may accept, the facts seem to point to the rise of the family in the eleventh or twelfth century A.D., and inscriptions quoted from Dr. Burgess by Mr. Robert Sewell18 show that grants were made by Sethupati princes in 1414, again in 1489, still again in 1500, and finally as late as 1540. These bring the line down to within two generations of the time when Muttu Krishnappa Nayakka is said, in 1604, to have found affairs sadly disordered in the Marava country, and to have re-established the old family in the person of Sadaiyaka Tevar Udaiyar Sethupati. The coins of the Sethupatis divide themselves into an earlier and later series. The earlier series present specimens which are usually larger and better executed, and correspond in weight and appearance very nearly to the well-known coins of the Sinhalese series, together with which they are often found, ‘These coins’ Rhys Davids writes,19 ‘are probably, the very ones referred to as having been struck by Parakrama’s General Lankapura.’ The coins of the later series are very rude in device and execution. The one face shows only the Tamil legend of the word Sethupati, while the other side is taken up with various devices.” 
A poet, in days of old, refers to “the wrathful and furious Maravar, whose curled beards resemble the twisted horns of the stag, the loud twang of whose powerful bowstrings, and the stirring sound of whose double-headed drums, compel even kings at the head of large armies to turn their back and fly.”20 The Maravans are further described as follows. “Of strong limbs and hardy frames, and fierce looking as tigers, wearing long and curled locks of hair, the blood-thirsty Maravans, armed with the bow bound with leather, ever ready to injure others, shoot their arrows at poor and defenceless travellers, from whom they can steal nothing, only to feast their eyes on the quivering limbs of their victims.”21 In a note on the Maravans of the Tinnevelly district, it is recorded22 that “to this class belonged most of the Poligars, or feudal chieftains, who disputed with the English the possession of Tinnevelly during the last, and first years of the present (nineteenth) century. As feudal chiefs and heads of a numerous class of the population, and one whose characteristics were eminently adapted for the roll of followers of a turbulent chieftain, bold, active, enterprising, cunning and capricious, this class constituted themselves, or were constituted by the peaceful cultivators, their protectors in time of bloodshed and rapine, when no central authority, capable of keeping the peace, existed. Hence arose the systems of Desha and Stalum Kaval, or the guard of a tract of country comprising a number of villages against open marauders in armed bands, and the guard of separate villages, their houses and crops, against secret theft. The feudal chief received a contribution from the area around his fort in consideration of protection afforded against armed invasion.
The most full description extant of the Maravans appears to be*
that contained in the Marava- Jathi Vernanam (sic) translated by the
indefatigable Mr Taylor at page S54 of the 4th Volume of the
Madras Journal , and it will be well to give here a few particulars
gathered principally therefrom
It seems that there are seven well-marked subdivisions of the
caste, viz —
1 The Sembu-nattu Maravans.
2.The Kondayan kottai do
3 The Apanur-nattu do.
4 The Agat do.
5 The uriayur nattu do.
6.The Uppu kottai do.-
7 The Kurichi-kattu do-
And amongst these subdivisions the first Sembunattu is the principal. There
are also other and minor subdivisions,
In the manuscript already quoted,29 it is noted that “should it so happen, either in the case of wealthy rulers of districts or of poorer common people, that any impediment arises to prevent the complete celebration of the marriage with all attendant ceremonies according to the sacred books and customs of the tribe, then the tali only is sent, and the female is brought to the house of her husband. At a subsequent period, even after two or three children have been born, the husband sends the usual summons to a marriage of areca nut and betel leaf; and, when the relatives are assembled, the bride and bridegroom are publicly seated in state under the marriage pandal; the want of completeness in the former contract is made up; and, all needful ceremonies being gone through, they perform the public procession through the streets of the town, when they break the cocoanut in the presence of Vignesvara (Ganesa), and, according to the means possessed by the parties, the celebration of the marriage is concluded in one day, or prolonged to two, three or four days. The tali, being tied on, has the name of katu tali, and the name of the last ceremony is called the removal of the former deficiency. If it so happen that, after the first ceremony, the second be not performed, then the children of such an alliance are lightly regarded among the Maravas. Should the husband die during the continuance of the first relation, and before the second ceremony be performed, then the body of the man, and also the woman are placed upon the same seat, and the ceremonies of the second marriage, according to the customs of the tribe, being gone through, the tali is taken off; the woman is considered to be a widow, and can marry with some other man.” It is further recorded30 of the Orunattu Maravans that “the elder or younger sister of the bridegroom goes to the house of the bride, and, to the sound of the conch-shell, ties on the tali; and, early on the following morning, brings her to the house of the bridegroom. After some time, occasionally three or four years, when there are indications of offspring, in the fourth or fifth month, the relatives of the pair assemble, and perform the ceremony of removing the deficiency; placing the man and his wife on a seat in public, and having the sacrifice by fire and other matters conducted by the Prohitan (or Brahman); after which the relatives sprinkle seshai rice (or rice beaten out without any application of water) over the heads of the pair. The relatives are feasted and otherwise hospitably entertained; and these in return bestow donations on the pair, from one fanam to one pagoda. The marriage is then finished. Sometimes, when money for expenses is wanting, this wedding ceremony is postponed till after the birth of two or three children. If the first husband dies, another marriage is customary. Should it so happen that the husband, after the tying on of the tali in the first instance, dislikes the object of his former choice, then the people of their tribe are assembled; she is conducted back to her mother’s house; sheep, oxen, eating-plate, with brass cup, jewels, ornaments, and whatever else she may have brought with her from her mother’s house, are returned; and the tali, which was put on, is broken off and taken away. If the wife dislikes the husband, then the money he paid, the expenses which he incurred in the wedding, the tali which he caused to be bound on her, are restored to him, and the woman, taking whatsoever she brought with her, returns to her mother’s house, and marries again at her pleasure.”
It is recorded, in the Madras Census Report, 1891, that “a special custom obtaining among the Marava zemindars of Tinnevelly is mentioned by the Registrar of that district. It is the celebration of marriage by means of a proxy for the bridegroom in the shape of a stick, which is sent by the bridegroom, and is set up in the marriage booth in his place. The tali is tied by some one representative of the bridegroom, and the marriage ceremony then becomes complete…. Widow re-marriage is freely allowed and practiced, except in the Sembunattu sub-division.
All Maravans bear the title of Theavar(God), which I suppose corresponds
with the Deva and Devar of more northern countries
The relative position of the Sethupati, or head of the Maravans
and hereditary ruler of Ramnad, as respects caste and births appears
from the followmg rules of court of Ramnad. The Raja Tondiman
of Puthukottai, the Raja of Sivagangei, and the eighteen chiefs of
the Tanjore country must stand before him with the palms of their
hands joined together and stretched out towards the presence. The
chiefs of Tirunevelly, such as KatabomaNayakkan of Panjalakurichchi
Serumali Nayakkan of Kadal-kudi, and the Tokkala Tottiyans,
being all of inferior caste, should prostrate themselves full length
before the Sthupati , and after rising must stand and not be seated.
But the Sillavas and others of EttiyApuram , arid the Marava chiefs
of Vadagarei, Shokkampatti, Uttumalei, Setthru, Sarandei and other
tracts , and the Vanniya chiefs of Sivagiri of seven thousand fields,
and of Dalavan-kottei 5 all these make no obeisance of any kind to
the ruler of RAmnad.
The dress of the Maravans is peculiar in some rcspects. They wear
the hair very long With the exception of the chiefs, both men and
women lengthen the lobes of their ears tp the extent of several inches,
by hanging weights m them , and wear attached to them wonderfully
large and heavy metal ornaments The men generally wear hand-
kerchiefs round the head, and never tie turbands The rulers of the
tribes on special occasions wear turbands, handsome silk robes, and
gorgeous jewels, according to the ordinary customs of Hindu saiva .
Properly speaking every Maravan should be a warrior, and should
hold lands on a Military tenure At the time when the MS. from
which the above description is taken was written, the followmg was
the scale upon which lands wre granted by the Sethupati and other
chiefs to their dependants An ordinary foot soldier carrying a sword
and pear was granted a piece of land capable of yielding him .
Of the Maravans who are not soldiers by profession, a portion ought
properly to serve in the Palace and Public Offices, enjoying a remis-
sion of tribute as renumeration for their services ; the remainder
should live by cultivng lands, paying the tax.
Many other interesting ;
Sriman Hiranyagarbha Ravikula Raja Muthu Vijaya Raghunatha Raja Raghunatha Deva Kilavan Setupati (r. 1671–1710) was first Raja of Ramnad.He ruled from 1673 to 1708 and oversaw the growth of the feudal chieftainship of Ramnad into a powerful kingdom. He rescued the Nayak of Madurai from the tyranny of Rustam Khan and also successfully campaigned against the King of Thanjavur, who later ceded all his territories.
He was helpful to Chokkanatha Nayak, a Nayak king who conferred him the title of Para Rajakesari (“lion to alien kings”). He annexed some territories of Madurai Kingdom. Aranthangi, Thirumayam, Piranmalai. He opposed the spread of Christian missionary activities. Kilavan Sethupathi liberated the Marava country from the control of Madurai Nayak. After defeating Rani Mangammal’s army, he declared independent Marava country in 1707. He shifted his headquarters from Pughalur to Ramnad. Kilavan Sethupathi established the Nalcottal palayam (later Sivaganga) and appointed Udaya Thevar as governor. He endowed villages to a temple at Thiruvadanai and Kalaiyar Koil. He constructed a fort around the Ramanathapuram, the capital city. He constructed a dam across the Vaigai.
It was during his reign, that the capital was moved from Pogalur to Ramnad. He was succeeded by his adopted son Vijaya Raghunatha.He fell in love with Kathali, a girl from the Kallar caste, later married her and then appointed his brother-in-law as the chief of Pudukottai and neighboring districts. He christened him Ragunatha Tondaman in lieu of his former chief Pallavaraya Tondaman whom he had replaced. Ragunatha Tondaman would later go on to spawn the Thondaman Dynasty of Pudukottai. Also, history states that he has many wives(more than 45), and given equal love to all of them. It is one of a rare instance in history that when Kilavan Sethupathi expired, all of them committed sathi “Udankattai.”
Marava War of Succession is used to refer to the war of succession between, Vijayaraghunatha Sethupathi the heir apparent and eldest son ofRaghunatha Kilavan and Tanda Thevar for the throne of Ramnad kingdom, also known as the Maravar Kingdom. The war of succession and the ensuing civil war lasted from 1720 to 1729 and resulted in the partitioning of the Ramnad kingdom reducing its power and influence.Raghunatha Kilavan, the founder of the Kingdom of Ramnad, died in 1710. He was an excellent soldier and his death left behind a huge void. Prior to his death, Kilavan had first nominated his illegitimate son, Bhavani Shankar and later, due to protests from the people, chose his younger son,Vijayaraghunatha Sethupathi to succeed him. Bhavani Shankar abided by the king’s decision but an uneasy calm prevailed throughout Ramnad..Bhavani Shankar eventually revolted in 1720 and securing the help of theThanjavur Maratha king Serfoji I and the Raja of Pudukkottai, invaded Vijayaraghunatha Sethupathi’s seat at Aranthangi. While defending the city, Vijayaraghunatha Sethupathi fell victim to plague and died. Just before his death, Vijayaraghunatha Sethupathi nominated Tanda Deva, a great-grandson of Raghunatha Kilavan’s father to succeed him but before he could acceded to the throne, Bhavani Shankar overthrew him with the support and influence of one of Kilavan’s concubines.
Tanda Deva secured the support of the Madurai Nayak king and the Raja of Pudukkottai who had switched sides and invaded Aranthani forcing Bhavani Shankar to flee to Thanjavur. But, Bhavani Shankar won over the Thanjavur Maratha ruler promising him Aranthangi in return and defeated the combined armies of Ramnad, Madurai and Pudukkottai within two or three months. Tanda Deva was eventually captured and killed.
Bhavani Shankar ascended the throne for a second time but did not rule for long, his reign was highly unpopular and most of his trusted generals deserted him. Meanwhile, Bhavani Shankar had earned the ire of the Thanjavur Maratha ruler Tukkoji as he had failed to keep up his promise of delivering Aranthangi to the Thanjavur Marathas, the discontented elements in the kingdom, therefore, approached the Tukkoji and sought his help in overthrowing Bhavani Shankar. Tukkoji invaded Ramnad. Bhavani Shankar was defeated in 1729 in the Battle of Uraiyur and taken prisoner to Thanjavur.
The victorious Thanjavur Maratha forces partitioned the Kingdom of Ramnad into three – all the territories to the north of Pambar River were annexed to the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom, the rest of the kingdom was more or less equally split between Kattaya Deva, a nobleman in the Ramnad court and the maternal uncle of Tanda Deva, who ascended the throne of Ramnad as Kumara Muthu Vijayaraghunatha Sethupathi and one of the Ramnad feudatories who became the first Raja of Sivaganga. The Ramnad kingdom lost most of its power and influence due to this war..
In n fact even today, though the famous Rameshwaram temple (which technically belonged to the Sethupatis) is administered by the Government of Tamil Nadu, the head of the Sethupati dynasty, at present Rajeshwari Nachiar, is the hereditary head of the temple’s board of trustees.
Detailed information about the Sethupathis is available in the ‘Ramnad Manual’ maintained by Tamil Nadu archives. It states that, “The Sethupatis built several chattrams (dharmsalas) along the main roads of the pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. Roads were opened through the forests. Immense sums were spent on the restoration of the Rameshwaram temples, which were falling into ruins, and the splendid Chockattan Mantapam or the cloistered precincts of the temple at Rameshwaram being finally completed by the Sethupati representatives..” Although the dynasty claims that they are mentioned in the 2000-year-old sagas of Tamil literature, as the brave Marava community guarding the Sethu since the times of Rama, the first historical reference comes only in the 11th century AD, when Chola king Rajaraja made the head of Marava community as Sethupati to protect the pilgrims to Rameshwaram temple and the Rama Sethu.
The temple complex itself was built by Sethupati rulers in the 12th century, with Sethupathy Maravar beginning the construction of the grand Ramanathaswamy temple. Then again reference is made in A D1434 to the repair of the temple walls by the head of the Sethupati clan, known as Udayan Sethupati. Geologists state that till AD1480, when a tsunami damaged the present Rama Sethu, one could walk from India to Sri Lanka on the Sethu!
But only from AD 1605, we find detailed history of these chiefs, who are described as masters of Sethu and their kingdom described as Sethu Nadu (Land of Sethu). After the destruction of the Vijayanagar empire in 1565, their viceroy in South India, the the Nayak ruler of Madurai, re-appointed head of the same Marava community as the Sethupatis.
The most important of these monarchs was the Raghunatha Sethupati II alias Kilavan Sethupati (1671 AD to 1710 AD), who ensured that Sethupatis with their fiefdom over the area known as Ramnad, remained all powerful. It was during his time, that the magnificent still existing palace of Ramlingavilasam was created as the residence of the Sethupatis. No other palace in Tamil Nadu has such extensive mural paintings. As soon as you enter the Mahamandapam, you are surrounded by murals that glint like gem-encrusted jewels on the walls. Some are dull and faded, while others flash forth their brilliance, even 300 years after they were executed. In 1978, the Sethupati family, unable to maintain the palace handed it over to the Government of Tamil Nadu.
But in the18th century, the British entered the politics of South India and as a measure to reduce the importance of the Sethupatis, they were demoted as mere zamindars under the British in1803. Of all the services, this royal family has done to India, the most important was that of financing the visit of Swami Vivekananda in 1893 to Chicago, to address the World Religions Conference. Swami Vivekananda reached Ramnathapuram in 1892 and met the then scion, Bhaskara Sethupati at his palace, and stayed there as the official guest for eight days.
Initially, it was Bhaskara Setupati as the Raja of Ramnad, who had earlier decided to go to US to attend the Parliament of Religions as the representative of Hinduism. But after conversing with Swami Vivekananda, he decided that Swamiji was the right person to attend the conference.
Vivekananda decided to accept the Raja’s offer. When Vivekananda returned from USA after his grand success, as he was about to land at Rameshwaram, the overjoyed Raja was waiting with his entourage to give him a royal welcome. Because of the achievement of Swamiji and as well as the regard, the Raja had for him, he bowed his head and offered it as step for Vivekananda to get down from the boat. But, Swamiji tactfully avoided this offer, by jumping from the boat to the land. Then the Raja unyoked the bullocks from Vivekananda’s ceremonial chariot and pulled the conveyance manually with his entourage, till it reached his palace. Later he erected a victory pillar of 25 feet height with the Upanishad expression Satyameva Jayate to commemorate the success of Swami Vivekananda at Chicago.
After Indian Independence, the Sethupatis still retained their importance in the politics of Tamil Nadu. In fact Shanmuga Raja Sethupati won the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly and held the seat thrice from 1951 to 1967, besides being a minister in the Rajagopalachari Ministry of 1952. He was well-known in horse racing circles and had a stable of over 50 horses in Calcutta and a huge garage of cars in Madras, including Rolls Royces and a Bentley. But the abolition of zamindaries by the Government of India, removed all sources of their wealth and today, the former Sethupatis are just well-known prominent magnates of Tamil Nadu.
atrons have played a very great part in our past in fostering Carnatic Music. Composers and musicians have been sustained, patronized & honored by both the Royals as well as the aristocratic/business magnates of the last few centuries. They were one of the essential components of the musical ecosystem of India. Given the social milieu it would be uncharitable to just say that they did this as a quid pro quo/in return for the singers/composers creating compositions in their praise. Some of these patrons themselves were musicians/composers themselves, such as King Shahaji or Maharaja Svati Tirunal. Then there were those who were lovers of music and so sustained the art and the artistes themselves such as the Rajas/Zamindars and nobles who also came to be recorded as the nayakas in the compositions such as the padas, cauka varnas etc. Well-known amongst them are the Raja of Karvetinagar, the Zamindars of Udayarpalayam and the Rulers of Ettayapuram. The Rajas, nobles and chieftains who have been sung upon include the known & the unknown. And the list of such patrons is quite a lengthy one.
And one amongst them is Rajah Bhaskara Sethupati of Ramanathapuram(1868-1903) of the Royal House of Ramnad. The contribution of the Sethupathis to art & culture and to Tamil has now been almost forgotten. As Bhaskara Sethupathi’s brief life time would show us, he was a sort of a confluence of the orient and the occident. Given his education and background, he should have risen to be one of the “model” Zamindars of the British era, but it was never to be as he indulged in philanthropy so much that the coffers of his Zamin ran dry. And finally the pressure telling on him perhaps, Bhaskara Sethupathi died prematurely when he was just 35 years old.
In this post, I intend to cover this great patron and analyse two compositions – a varna and a ragamalika composed in his honor by Subbarama Dikshitar. And this post is being made this month, which marks the death anniversary of this patron who died in December 1903, when he was just 35 years young.
Stamp released by the Government of India in Dec 2004 on his death centenary
PROFILE OF BHASKARA SETUPATI:¹
The erstwhile Southern coastal Indian Kingdom of Ramanathapuram or Ramnad had been ruled by the Sethupathis – translated to mean the ‘Overlords of the Causeway’. Tradition has it when Lord Rama, crossed over to Ceylon over the bridge built by his vAnara army, he built the temple for Lord Ramanatha as a thanksgiving upon his victory. He also appointed the first Sethupathi to protect the piligrims who would be using the causeway. Since then, they were traditionally been referred so and ruled over the “marava” country, which is the land mass between Madurai and the sea, in Southern India. They have always been till date the administrators of the Ramanathasvami temple with all hereditary rights. Famous kings of this lineage include Raghunatha Tevar or Kilavan Sethupathi (1673-1708) and Muthuramalinga Sethupathi I (1760-1794) and during the latter’s reign the Sethupatis lost their sovereignty completely to the British and ended up being a mere Zamindari, paying rent(kist/peshcush) to the British as their vassal.
Bhaskara Sethupati was born on 3rd November 1868 as the first son of Raja Muthuramalinga Sethupathi II (regnal years 1862-1872) and his wife Muthathaal Nacciyar. In 1830, when Raja Ramasvami Sethupathi died without leaving behind a heir, his wife Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar ruled the Zamindari. She was assisted by her brother Kottasami Thevar. At the end her life time, Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar took in adoption the second son of her sister, by name Muthuramalingam who was then a minor to succeed as the Zamindar. Till his majority, his elder brother Ponnusvami Thevar ruled as his Regent. There were several legal wrangles which were witnessed during this period, challenging the adoption. Ponnusvami Tevar acting as Manager played a major political role in ensuing that his younger sibling duly became the Sethupati. And even after Muthuramalinga had attained majority, Ponnusvami Thevar (who died in 1870) continued to guide the young Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II in running the affairs of Ramanathapuram. Both the brothers were great lovers of Tamil and Music. Ponnusvami Thevar’s son was the famous Panditurai Thevar (Zamindar of Pazhavanattam, 1867-1911) who founded the 4th Tamil Sangam at Madurai. Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II was adept in the arts & in Tamil. Muthuramalinga Sethupathy II passed away suddenly in 1872 when his son Bhaskara Sethupathy was barely 4 years old. As per the then existing British administered system, the minor heir was placed under the custody of the Court of Wards till such time he attained majority.
Bhaskara Sethupathy in the traditional regalia as a Maharaja (Photo Courtesy: Pamela G Price)
The “Court of Wards” was an instrument of control used by the British government purportedly to ensure that minor Zamindars, who were “deemed” incapable of running the Zamindari were ‘tutored’ and trained up to become model Zamindars to subserve their interest . By the late 19th century, as a policy and as a practice, the British resorted to this instrument of control very frequently when a minor became a Zamindar. The Court of Wards as an institution which functioned under the control of the Board of Revenue in Calcutta operated in every district and was headed by the district collector, an Englishman. The classic situation of when the Court of Wards would step in to administer a Zamindari was when the proprietor of the estate namely the Zamindar died leaving behind minor sons. Even in cases where a Zamindar was found unfit to run the affairs of the estate, upon the report of the District Collector, the Board of Revenue was empowered to step in to manage the estate. The Court of Wards apart from taking the responsibility of managing the estate also took charge of educating the heir apparent, the minor Zamindar. While the district collector was the nominal head, the tasks were run by a motley group of Englishmen and local learned Indians or the “natives” to put in the then English parlance.
Bhaskara Sethupathi was taken to Madras to be educated both in English and in Western manners and etiquette. He had an English tutor who put him through the learning of the English classics and music as well and apparently Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivan Hoe” was one of his favorites. Bhaskara Sethupathi learned to play piano as well. To make him worldly wise, the Court of Wards made him travel to different parts of India and Ceylon as well, accompanied by his tutor. Well trained in the Western ways, Bhaskara Sethupathi did make his tutor proud as is obvious from his certification to the Court of Wards upon attainment of majority. Bhaskara Sethupathi was formally anointed by the then British Government as “Maharaja” & took over the Zamindari on 3rd April 1889. Earlier in 1888 he married Sivabhagyam Nacciar, daughter of one of his kinsmen.
Bhaskara Sethupathi though western educated had his moorings in Indian culture and arts. There is a kriti in the raga Suratti which this Raja has apparently composed on Goddess Padmasini Thayar at the temple at neighboring Tiruppullani kshetra. He was devoted as a true Sethupathi, to Lord Ramanatha of Ramesvaram and to Goddess Rajarajesvari, the tutelary deity of the Sethupathis. He was so greatly enamored of Svami Vivekananda & his teachings. He funded the Svami’s historic trip to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. Though Sethupathi was the original invitee to the Conference, he chose instead to send Svami Vivekananda and the rest is history. Svami Vivekananda too held Sethupathi in high esteem and called him a ‘Rajarishi’. And when the Svami returned back from Chicago and set foot at Pamban in Ramesvaram on Jan 26th, 1897, he was given a tumultuous welcome and to commomerate the same Bhaskara Sethupati constructed a 40ft high monument inscribed with the words ‘Satyameva Jayate’, which went on to become the motif of the Indian State some 50 years later!
Bhaskara Sethupathy funded many charitable/philanthropic activities and events. S Tiruvenkatachari in his book, “Setupatis of Ramnad”, wrote that Bhaskara Setupati became a “byword for benevolence, charity and phenomenal generosity”. His giveaways were truly phenomenal in the literal sense of the word. Rs 10,000 to the Indian National Congress, Rs 40,000 to the Madras Christian College, an endowment for educating less privileged students in his alma mater etc. A thorough and meticulous person, he maintained a personal dairy, the contents of which, provides a great insight into his character. Even during his minority he maintained this habit and in 1890, publishers G W Taylor of Madras brought it out as a book, “My Trip to India’s Utmost Isle”. ¹
His unbridled philanthropy together with the practice of supporting/employing individuals with dubious credentials as a part of the paraphernalia of the Zamindari, which he failed to dispense with, put an enormous drain on the Zamin’s finances. He also inherited a debt of more than Rs 350,000, a legacy of his stepmother, the Senior Rani who had borrowed heavily. Expenses to fund the cost of litigation that was launched against him by his younger brother too had to be covered. The inevitable result was that the finances of the Zamindari fell into complete disarray. He had started borrowing from the wealthy Nattukottai Chettiars and the temple endowments to fund his spree of philanthropy, by mortgaging the property and other assets³. And ironically so, the great man who was well learned otherwise but had failed in the maths subject in high school, didn’t get his numbers right and so went literally bankrupt. Barely 26 years old and with creditors knocking at his doors, Sethupathy was forced to put the Zamin Estate under trust for his minor son. ¹
Neither did the people who were beneficiaries of his munificence help him in any way. In fact a few of them petitioned to the Collector at Madurai about the impudent extravagance of the Sethupathy, which finally spelt the death knell, literally so. He is said to have remarked during his last days thus, “I have within the last four years spent forty lakhs and though I have thus been foolishly extravagant, the leeches that drunk my blood are not a whit more grateful to me.” ¹
The congratulatory letter that Bhaskara Sethupathi wired to his illustrious contemporary Sri Jagadveera Rama Venkateshvara Ettappa ( see his profile as captured by Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritamu) on his coronation as the Maharaja of Ettayapuram Zamindari at the end of his minority, in December 1899, is eye opening on more than one count. This Rajah of Ettayapuram too was a product of the Court of Wards and is well known in musical history as the benefactor who funded the printing & publication of Subbarama Dikshitar’s “Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini” on the earnest appeal of Chinnasvami Mudaliar. And that appeal was made to the Ettayapuram King during that coronation in December 1899, which Subbarama Dikshitar refers to in his Introduction to the SSP.
Below is the text, verbatim of the congratulatory letter that Bhaskara Sethupathi wrote⁴:
“My heartfelt congratulations to you, on your assumption of charge of your ancient and historical estate. My fervent prayers to Sree Ramanatha and to Kalugachala Shanmuga Moorthi to grant you long life and continued prosperity and to make you and your truth flourish. I have little in the way of advice except to beg you most earnestly as the son of one who was most devoted to me as a brother, to take my complete failure as a Zamindar as sufficient warning to you in your future career and to remind you of the words of Lord Ripon to the Nizam, “Look to your finances”, an advice which I disregarded but which I must beg you bear in mind to avoid the consequences. I suffer by disregarding it. You know what great affection and regard I have for you personally and it is that that prompts me, even presses me to wire to you thus opening my heart to you. Your manager, Mr.Sivarama Iyer is in a way my guardian and I have fatherly regard for him. I regret his leaving you. I am performing Abhishekam and Archanai in your name this day grandly to my Lord Sri Ramanatha and to our Divine Mother and will send you prasadam. Be ever loyal to our Sovereign and Her Government and use your wealth, power, and influence to benefit others, and to injure none and above all, be devoted to the feet of Him who from Kalugachalam protects you all, and thus you will be happy now and ever.”
Some clarifications/additional information here would not be out of place.
While Lord Ramanathasvami at Ramesvaram is the family deity of the Ramnad Sethupatis, Lord Subramanya at Kazhugumalai or Kazhugachalam or Kankagiri (about 22 kms from Kovilpatti in Southern Tamilnadu) is the presiding deity of the Ettayapuram Royals. The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini records a number of compositions created by the Ettayapuram Rajas as well by Balusvami Dikshitar and Subbarama Dikshitar on this Lord Kartikeya. We do have one kriti ‘Subramanyena Rakshitoham’ published by Kallidaikurici Sundaram Iyer, in the raga Suddha Dhanyasi attributed to Muthusvami Dikshitar, composed on this deity.
An examination of Bhaskara Sethupathi and his persona would show that he in fact played two parts & with finesse – one as a loyal vassal of His Majesty’s Government and secondly as a nationalist who sympathized with the Indian National Congress. Two contradictory roles/approaches ,yet apolitical and it probably reflected his desire to remain relevant in the politics of the then Provincial Madras.
The text of the letter above gives a wholesome perspective of Bhaskara Sethupati. His erudite knowledge and use of English language, his moorings in Hindu beliefs and above all his open admission as to his misjudgment in running the affairs of the Ramnad Estate & his goodwill toward Venkatesvara Ettappa stand out in his letter.
Early in the year 1900, when the estate was in dire financial straits, the Pontiff of the Sringeri Mutt is said to have played a key role in ensuring that the Estate was bailed out and Bhaskara’s son Rajesvara Sethupathi was safely put in charge of whatever was remaining. All these events perhaps took its toll on Bhaskara Sethupati’s health and quickly led to his untimely death on 27th December 1903. When he died, the great Tamil scholar the revered Mahavidvan R Raghava Iyengar (1878-1960) wrote a eulogy in Tamil thus:
SengaiyyAl vAri aLitthAyE SetupatI !
EngayyA engatkku inimEl idam?
Translation: Oh Setupati, the one who gave away all, with your noble hands! Where do we now go?
And the other great titan U Ve Svaminatha Iyer during his visit to the Ramnad Court composed this couplet on this benevolent patron, in Tamil:
vinniR siranthidu pARkkarar pOl virumbum indha
manniR sirundUyar pARkkara bUpathi vAzhiyavE !
MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS HAVING A NEXUS TO RAMNAD:
A number of musicians/composers have been patronized by the Ramnad Royal House. Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer (1816-1889), Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893), Patnam Subramanya Iyer (1845-1902), Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar(1860-1919) and Subbarama Dikshitar are the notable ones. In fact for Bhaskara Sethupati’s ascension to the Ramnad throne, the triumvirate of Krishna Iyer, Patnam and Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer performed together.
We have quite a few compositions composed on some of the Ramnad Royals as below:
“sAmi nI vEga”, a tana varna in Ata tala in the raga Nattakurinji with the ankita “kottasAmi bhUpala”, composed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer in praise of Kottaisami Thevar the brother of Rani Parvathavardhini Nacciar who ruled Ramanathapuram.⁶
“sAmi nInnE” in Atana with the ankita “ugrapAndia bhUpAla” on Panditurai Tevar(1867-1911), the Zamindar of Pazhavanattham and the paternal cousin of Bhaskara Setupati, also composed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer.⁶
“Nadhru dhru deem”, tillana in Sindhubhairavi composed by Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar again on Panditurai Thevar.
‘kamalAkshi ninnE koriyunnadi’ , a tana varna in Kambhoji set to jhampa tala composed by Kundrakudi Krishna Iyer on Bhaskara Sethupati’s father Muthuramalinga Sethupathi. This apart he has composed a few pada varnas as well on both Muthuramalinga Sethupati and Bhaskara Sethupati.
“srI rAjadhirAja” -Ata tala tana varna composed by Subbarama Dikshitar in the raga Balahamsa, in praise of Bhaskara Sethupati himself.( See Foot Note 1)
“gAravamu ganna dUraiyani” – Ragamalika in 9 ragas set in rupaka tala, composed by Subbarama Dikshitar again on Bhaskara Sethupati
‘edO pArAmukam’ a Tamil svarajati in the raga Khamas composed on Bhaskara Setupati and ascribed to the Tanjore quartet descendant Sangita Kalanidhi Ponnayya Pillai.
Some interesting points need attention here:
Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer were a trio belonging to the same (performing) generation roughly who indulged in ‘vyavahara’ laden music, in other words indulging in complex svara and rhythmic pyrotechnics as a part of their pallavi renditions. All the three of them were recipients of honours from the Ramanathapuram Court. We do have accounts that they constantly competed actively on & off the concert stage. Interestingly we have a a unique varna from each of them in raga Kambhoji. Krishna Iyer’s aforesaid varna is in jhampa tala, a rare one. Similarly Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s Kambhoji creation “Pankajakshi Neepai” is littered profusely with beautiful svaraksharas. One can indeed wonder if they produced them in (friendly ?) rivalry!
All the above three performed together, setting aside their professional rivalry at the request of Bhaskara Sethupathi on the occasion of his ascension as King. The three of them sang together the famous Todi pallavi ‘Ganalola Karunalavala’, which incidentally was derived from the pallavi line of the kriti in the same raga, composed by Chinnasvami Dikshitar, brother of Muthusvami Dikshitar and is found notated in the SSP. Sulamangalam Bagavathar in his memoirs recalls that the rendition of the pallavi by the three titans in unison was a veritable treat, fit for celestials ! (See Foot Note 2)
The reference of both Patnam Subramanya Iyer & Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar to the great Panditurai Tevar as “UgrapAndya” is hardly surprising. King Ugrapandya was the last of the Madurai/Pandyan sovereigns who had presided over the last (Third) Tamil Sangam (College of Poets). Panditurai Tevar was the key force behind the 4th Tamil Sangam which set helped set up with the participation of U Ve Svaminatha Iyer, R Raghava Iyengar, Paridhimarkalignar, Shanmugham Pillai & others. Also Panditurai Tevar’s father was a close associate of Tamil Mahavidvan Meenakshisundaram Pillai, the preceptor of U Ve Svaminatha Iyer.
It was Panditurai Tevar/Ponnusvami Tevar who had apparently recommended and also sponsored Pooci Srinivasa Iyengar to learn under Patnam Subramanya Iyer. Apart from Patnam and Pooci Iyengar, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and his brother Ramasvami Sivan were closely associated with the Ramanathapuram Royals.
We have a varna in Mohana by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bagavathar “Manamohana” in ata tala with the raja mudra of “Mudduramalinga” which Dr B M Sundaram, says as alluding to Muthuramalinga Sethupati, Bhaskara’s father. Muthuramalinga Sethupathi passed away in 1872 while Muthiah Bagavathar was born only in 1877. I am unsure how this varna can be ascribed as having been composed so.
The Royal House of Ramnad also patronized a descendant of the Tanjore Quartet, Vadivelu Pillai- a grandson of the Quartet Sivanandam. by making him an AstAna vidvan. We have a beautiful Svarajati in the raga Khamas ‘ edO pArAmukam’ composed probably by this Vadivelu Pillai or by his brother’s (Kannusvami Pillai) son Sangita Kalanidhi Ponnayya Pillai (1889-1945) . This composition in which Bhaskara Setupati is portrayed as a nAyakA is again a very rare one. The svarajathi made its way out of oblivion from the private manuscripts of the famous dance guru K P Kittappa Pillai and was subsequently published by the Music Academy.
The Balahamsa varna and the navaratna ragamalika are the ones that Subbarama Dikshitar composed on Bhaskara Setupati, which find place respectively in the SSP and its Anubandha. Interestingly both have an oral tradition as well and for the present blog post I will take up these two compositions of Subbarama Dikshitar, both of them being beautiful in themselves.
The Balahamsa varna of Subbarama Dikshitar is a veritable encyclopedia of the raga Balahamsa. Its sahitya runs as under:
srI rAjadhiraja sannuta mahAraja sevita
srI rAmanAtha padAmbhoja
srI rAjarAjeshvari krUpa pAtra sudhIndra
srI bhAskara setUpatI sArvabhauma bOgha dEvEndra
kAmini nInnE koriyunnadirA
kAmUni kEli dhani nElu kOra
This apart the, composition has sahitya for the muktayisvara and the ettugada svaras apart from having an anubandha. In the text of the varna, Subbarama Dikshitar invokes the name of Lord Ramanatha of Ramesvaram, given that the Sethupathis are the considered the guardians of the mythological bridge Ramasethu that was built and are also the traditional patrons of the Ramanathasvami Temple. Subbarama Dikshitar also refers to Bhaskara Sethupathi as a recipient of the benign Grace of Goddess Rajarajesvari . One may think that its a casual mention of a Goddess from the Hindu pantheon & nothing more. A little more study of the history of the Ramnad Royals would show that She is the tutelary diety of the Sethupatis. And so it would be appropriate to digress here a bit to know more about this Goddess worshipped by the Sethupathis.
SRI RAJARAJESHVARI AT ‘RAMALINGA VILASAM’ :
Goddess Rajarajeshvari, was the tutelary deity of the Royals of Ramanathapuram. She had a temple within the precincts of ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’ the royal residence of the Sethupathis, which can be visited even today. In fact the Goddess with similar names/form has been the family deity of the Royals of the neighboring Sivaganga and also of the Tanjore Kings, reminding us of Goddess Camundesvari and how she is the family deity of the Wodeyar Kings of Mysore. Goddess Rajarajeshvari of the Ramanathapuram Palace used to be worshipped daily by the ruling Sethupathy and also grand pujas for her were held on occasions such as the Navaratri celebrations. The Sri Rajarajeshvari icon that was worshipped by the Setupathis of Ramnad is in the form of Mahishasuramardhini or Durga with eight hands and is mounted on an emerald/maragatha peetam. Legend has it that the golden figurine was gifted to the Sethupatis by the Nayaks of Madura. The green emerald base was got from the Kings of Mysore, during a conquest and it itself was originally supposed to have been sourced by the Sankaracharya from Himalayas. The worship of this Rajarajeshvari icon during the Navaratri celebrations of the year 1892 is recorded in detail in Chapter V of the book “Kingship and Colonial Practice in Colonial India” by Pamela Price, published by Cambridge University Press. This Royal icon never leaves the precincts of the Palace, ‘Ramalinga Vilasam” and was only worshipped by the Sethupathy & members of his royal family and on rare occasions a few esteemed guests of the Royals were invited to witness the puja. The Goddess & King Sethupathis shared a common external identity, that as together, they preserved dharma and ensured peace and prosperity in the Kingdom. Even today akin to the Dussehra Festival done royally in Mysore, the Navaratri celebrations in Ramnad are celebrated grandly, see news report here.²
U Ve Svaminatha Iyer in his chronicles records his participation in one such Navaratri celebrations on the invitation of Raja Bhaskara Sethupati. He records the gala event during which a special 1008 shankhabhisheka was performed to the Godesses.
Muthu Vijaya Raghunatha Sethupathi (1710-1725) offering obeisance to Goddess Rajarajesvari – A Mural Painting in “Ramalinga Vilasam” the Royal Palace of the Ramanathapuram Rulers (Photo Courtesy: “The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India” – by Jennifer Howes)
Bhaskara Sethupathy was deeply devoted to Goddess Rajarajeshvari. In his personal dairy, in an entry dating to January 1893, Bhaskara Sethupathy recorded that one of his life ambition was to completely renovate her temple. And in that year he offered a bejeweled cup and a sari weaved in gold, which he had purchased in Madras ! ¹ Apparently till then animal sacrifices were made to this deity, which was stopped by Bhaskara Sethupathi with the guidance and benign blessings of the Sankaracharya of Sringeri.
As referred earlier, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) was patronized by the Rajas of Ramanathapuram, particularly by Bhaskara Sethupathi’s father Muthuramalinga Sethupathi II (1862-1873). It is worth noting here that Vaidyanatha Iyer is never known to have a sung on a mortal. One can surmise that probably one evening, during a visit to the ‘Ramalinga Vilasam’, Vaidyanatha Iyer must have been probably invited to witness the puja of this Rajarajeshvari and he went on to compose his Janaranjani composition “pAhimAm srI rAjarAjeshvarI” in praise of the deity!
Though this kriti does not have any reference in its sahitya to Ramanathapuram or its Royals, still the nexus seems worth imagining at least! And another interesting reference in this connection is the pallavi rendered by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer during the coronation celebrations of Bhaskara Sethupati. As before mentioned, after Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer along with Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Kundrakudi Krishna Iyer finished rendering the Todi pallavi, ‘Ganalola karunalavala’, Bhaskara Sethupati requested Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer to render one more pallavi in the Simhananda tala, egged on by the assembled vidvans. The veteran composer/singer composed one in praise of Goddess Rajarajesvari, in a trice , in the 108 akshara tala and rendered it splendidly.
This also leads one to another interesting trail of thought as to the circumstance in which Subbarama Dikshitar might have composed the varna on Bhaskara Sethupati. As a matter of fact apart from these compositions given in text/notation in the SSP we do not have any record of the time and place in which Subbarama Dikshitar must have met Bhaskara Sethupati. The piece could have been composed by Subbarama Dikshitar in April 1889 to commemorate the coronation of Bhaskara Sethupati when he formally became the Raja of Ramnad at the end of his minority.
Also there is one other piece of information with which we can surmise/imagine another probable scenario! Bhaskara Sethupati as is obvious from his personal dairies ,was a Devi upAsakA. In the entry made in January 1893 he had indicated that he wanted to learn and practice Sakti Tantra. Indeed so in that same year the Sethupathi conducted the kumbhabishekam of the Rajarajesvari temple. And Subbarama Dikshitar perhaps met Bhaskara Sethupati on the occasion of that consecration. We well know that Subbarama Dikshitar was a practitioner of Sri Vidya cult and was initiated into it very early in life. This could have made the young & hardly 25 year old Sethupathi to look upon the sage-like looking Subbarama Dikshitar as his guru/preceptor to guide him in the worship of Devi.
Let us first hear the rendering of this very rare varna by Prof S R Janakiraman and his disciple Sriram Kannan in this video clipping below recorded a few weeks ago.
The Professor’s enviable repertoire traces back to two illustrious lineages as exemplified by Sangita Kalanidhi Flute Svaminatha Pillai and Tiger Varadacariar. While SSP additionally gives the sahitya for the muktayisvara and for the ettugada svaras, the same is not rendered by Prof SRJ. Attention is invited to the rendering of the concluding portions of the varna, i.e the sequential rendering of the last avarta of ettugada svara followed by the anubandha sahitya, the anupallavi, the muktayi svara and finally ending with the pallavi sahitya, which marks the logical conclusion to the rendering. This varna is a classic example of the older form of which the Bhairavi ata tala varna ‘Viribhoni’ is a prime example. Though the extant renderings of the Bhairavi varna is a truncated one, the SSP has the text & notation of the complete varna together with the anubandha.
ANALYSIS OF BALAHAMSA⁷
The varna contains older/archaic phrases not in vogue and presents a picture of what Balahamsa was, once upon a time. In the SSP itself, we have the following compositions given from this raga.⁴
(Muddu)Venkatamakhi’s gitam in matya tAla
Muthusvami Dikshitar’s Guruguha Vibakthi kriti, “guruguhAd anyam na janEham” set in jhampa tAla
Subbarama Dikshitar’s aforesaid Tana varna in ata tAla
His sancari in matya tAla
While we do have good number compositions of Tyagaraja and that of the post trinity composer Mysore Sadasiva Rao, Subbarama Dikshitar’s creation is the lexicon for this raga & contains a number of phrases which have since gone out of vogue. From a historical perspective Balahamsa finds first mention in King Shahaji’s ‘Ragalakshanamu’ followed by Tulaja’s ‘Sangita Saramruta’. Subbarama Dikshitar’s interpretation is completely aligned to the older version as given by Shahaji, with vakra murccanas. Barring a sequential SRGM and PDNs, other prayogas abound, to put it simply.
In the SSP, Balahamsa is defined by Subbarama Dikshitar thus:
Upanga and sampurna with nishada being varjya in the arohana, under the Kedaragaula raaganga.
Rishabha is the jiva and nyasa svara and sadja is graha svara.
Salient murccanas include SRPMR, SRGMPMR, dSRMGR, SRMGRGS, RSndpdSR and GMPMR (tara sadja svara is denoted in lower case, madhya stayi in upper case and mandhara stayi svaras in lower case italics. Those in bold font are svaras to be emphasized)
It needs to be noted that the contemporaneous version of Balahamsa as evidenced by the kritis of Tyagaraja and Sadasiva Rao has its roots in Govindacarya’s definition of Balahamsa with the arohana/avarohana being S R M P D s/s N D P M R M G S as an upanga janya under Harikambhoji mela. And also instead of rishabha, madhyama and dhaivatha are seen in profusion. The melodic difference between the Balahamsa as documented by Subbarama Dikshitar on one hand and that found in the version propounded by Govindacarya is best exemplified by the Mysuru Sadasiva Rao’s kriti.
Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Seetha Rajan renders Sadasiva Rao’s “Evarunnaru” in this concert excerpt here:Evarunnaru – Balahamsa
Attention is invited to the marked difference in the treatment of the raga in this composition. And it does make us wonder when this change to raga lakshana of this raga took place. Suffice to state that this raga is another member of that list which represent a difference in treatment as evidenced by the compositions of Tyagaraja on one hand & Dikshitar on the other.
Prof.S.R.Janakiraman follows up & touches upon some of the musical aspects and an anecdote around this raga :
SOME POINTS ON BALAHAMSA:
It’s interesting to note that the final avarta of the not-sung citta svara of the Guruguha vibhakti krithi ‘Guruguhad anyam’,starting with the phrase SRMPDPs is reproduced almost verbatim by Subbarama Dikshitar in his varna in the muktayi svara section. The conception of Subbarama Dikshitar of this raga is closely aligned to Muthusvami Dikshitar’s.
The ragas Natanarayani and Mahuri have melodic overlap with Balahamsa. While Natanarayani goes as SRGSRMPDs/sDPMGRS and Mahuri goes as SRMGRMPDs/sNDPMGRS, despite the presence/absence of nishada, they would sound identical as they are all purvanga pradhana raga. They differ on the jiva svara – Rishabha is the jiva svara for Balahamsa and Madhyama for Mahuri.
Muthusvami Dikshitar also employs additional motifs in Balahamsa such as the the drop from the madhya sadja to the mandhara pancama and a similar jump from the madhya pancama to the tara sadja. Similar such approach is seen in Natanarayani as well, such as dropping from madhya rishabha to mandhara dhaivatha, vide the Dikshitar composition ‘mahAganapate pAlayasumAm’ as notated in the SSP.
NAVARAGAMALIKA -’gAravamuganna doraiyani’⁸
We move over next to the ragamalika composed by Subbarama Dikshitar. This navaragamalika or a garland of 9 ragas is set in Kalyani, Todi, Saveri , Atana , Neelambari , Manirangu, Kambhoji, Mukhari and Mohana. The setting of this composition is similar, in that it is conceived as an expression of the unifocal love of a damsel named Kalyani, whose longing for the nAyaka (Bhaskara Sethupathi) is conveyed to him through her friend. Subbarama Dikshitar has skillfully woven in the raga names in the telugu sahitya appropriately. In this composition Kalyani’s friend while addressing the nAyaka, first invokes the benign grace of Lord Subrahmanya, then proceeds to describe Kalyani and her yearning for him and finally ends by appealing to him to accept her. Similar to the Balahamsa varna, here too Dikshitar refers to the Sethupathi as the recipient of Goddess Rajarajesvari’s grace, thus:
vIra dAsa mukhari sEtu vibhU bhAskara mahipAla
sakala sUrAsura sEvita shrI rajarajEsvari karunA katAksha labdha
nikhila bhAgya dhurandharudagu srI bhAskara
The translation of the telugu lyrics of this rAgamAlikA can be read here.
Vidushi Rama Ravi who traces her repertoire to her mother as well as to the scion of the Dhanammal family, Prof T Vishvanathan has also rendered this composition. This is part of a commercial release by Carnatica.
And finally we have Prof S R Janakiraman rendering the rAgamalikA.
In the sahitya of this composition Subbarama Dikshitar gives the lyric as “tirunElu srI kArtikEya divya mOhana shikivAhana”. It’s a puzzle as to which town/temple does ‘tirunElu’ imply! Does it refer to Tirunelveli? And if so which temple there, does it refer to and what is the nexus between that temple/kArtikEya and Bhaskara Setupati, to be so mentioned in this composition? Wish one knew the answers!
Today Bhaskara Sethupathi is all but a distant & fading memory. The memorial he constructed to commemorate Svami Vivekanda’s return from America and his philanthropy may soon be completely forgotten. But Subbarama Dikshitar has immortalized him by these two compositions thus etching his memory forever on the fabric of our music.
Foot Note 1:
Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini contains many of his compositions in praise of royal patrons. Some of them are listed below:
‘sAmi entanI’ – Surati – Rupaka – Cauka Varna in praise of King/Prince Muddusvami Ettendra of Ettayapuram one of the several pieces that have been composed by Subbarama Dikshitar, quite naturally so as he was the Asthana Vidvan of the Ettayapuram Samasthanam.
‘enduku rA rA’ – Ragamalika – Rupaka -In praise of King/Prince Muddusvami Ettendra of Ettayapuram
‘nI sarilErani’ – Ragamalika – Tisra Eka – In praise of King Rama Varma of Travancore
‘kAmincina kalAvati’ – Ragamalika -Tisra Eka – In praise of Sri Ananda Gajapati Raju, the Maharaja of Vijayanagaram
‘sArasAgrE sarasa’ – Daru – Natanarayani – Tisra eka – In praise of Zamindar Nagayasvami Pandiyan of Periyur
Foot Note 2:
According to Prof Sambamoorthy ( ‘Kundrakkudi Krishna Iyer’ – An article in “The Hindu” dated 25-10-1970), the trio of musicians rendered the pallavi “Setupati Jaya Jaya Ravikula Raja Vijaya Raghunatha Sri Bhaskara Sami” in raga Bhairavi, Jhampa tala with atitagraha, at ¾ count with Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer as the senior performer.
Pamela G Price(2002) – “Kingship and Colonial Practice in Colonial India” published by Cambridge University Press
Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar (2005)-”Cameos – Memoirs of Sulamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar” – Published by Sunadham, Chennai
David West Rudner (1994) – ‘Caste & Capitalism in Colonial India -The Nattukottai Chettiars’ -University of California Press
A Vadivelu (1903) -”Aristocracy Of Southern India” Vol I -Published by Vest & Co, Madras
Subbarama Dikshitar (1904) – Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini – Reprinted in Tamil by the Madras Music Academy, India
Dr B M Sundaram (2002) – “Varna Svarajathi” – Published by Sarasvathi Mahal Library, Tanjore
T V Subba Rao & S R Janakiraman(1993) – ‘Ragas of the Sangita Saramruta of King Tulaja’ – Published by the Madras Music Academy
K C Kamaliah(1977) -’Subbarama Dikshitar’s Navaragamalika’ – Journal of Music Academy Vol XLVIII, pages 186-191
Dr B M Sundaram (1984/85 ) – Mudras in Tana Varnas – Lecture demonstration at the Krishna Gana Sabha
Jennifer Howes (2002) -”The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India”-Royal Asiatic Society Books Series, published by Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7007-1585-5