The various paThAntaras of the Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini

The second lecture today (16th December 2010) was by Bhairavi, one of the singing duo Malavi-Bhairavi. She focused on the varying styles of rendition of the tarangiNi in the bhajana samprAdaya that is prevalent in the Tamil and Telugu speaking regions of South India. She made it clear at the outset that she was not presenting the songs as they are sung in concerts.

Rather refreshingly, Bhairavi chose to omit giving all the well-known details of the life of Narayana Teertha. She prefaced her paper with the song pAhimAm pAhimAm (malayamArutam).

The Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini is an opera set in the yaksha gAna style. It portrays incidents in the life of Krishna from his birth till his marriage to his eight queens (quiz question- what were their names? Send me an email). There are 120 kirtanas. There are pAtra pravEsa darus, gadyas (also known as cUrnikas) and shlOkas. Each of the individual chapters is called a taranga though the term has now come to also mean the songs themselves. This is a wrong practice and the manuscripts refer to the songs as darus or kIrtanas only. Rather like Jayadeva’s aShTapadis, the tarangiNi influenced other composers such as Upanishad Brahmam, a contemporary of Tyagaraja. But the similarities end here for the structure of the latter’s work is not the same.

The songs were originally composed in the dhruvapada/pada format- that is they have a refrain (dhruvapada) to be sung after each pada (verse). These were later changed to conform to the pallavi/anupallavi/caraNam format. It is clear that Narayana Teertha was a vAggEyakAra for he says as much in his song advayam akhaNDam. But no manuscript has his music. In the Tanjavur belt, the songs were set to music for uncavrtti by Marudanallur Sadguru Swamin (one of the bhajan trinity). In the Addanki area of Andhra there were 60 families that claimed to have been taught the songs by Narayana Teertha himself. Around 10 of these have retained the tradition. The songs are used in Kuchipudi and the plate number almost invariably is performed to a song from the tarangiNi. The Melattur Bhagavata Mela is heavily inspired by the tarangiNi.

Bhairavi showed an XL file in which she had collected details of the various ragas in which the songs were to sung according to several manuscripts. These had been collected from the India Office Library, London, Asiatic Society, Calcutta and from Benares.

Bhairavi then demonstrated the differences between the pAThAntaras of Ghorakavi Sampathkumar of Andhra and Ramakrishna Bhagavatar of Tanjavur, leaders of the bhajan tradition today in their respective areas. 35 songs are rendered in the same raga and tala and lyrics of 117 songs are common to both traditions.

She demonstrated the following songs:

jaya jaya svAmin – shuddha dhanyAsi in Ghoarakavi tradition and mOhanam in Ramakrishna Bhagavatar style. The same tune is followed across all caraNas to facilitate congregational singing. The latter style sings some of the caraNas in madhyama kAla to present variety.

maNgaLAlaya mAmava – the song depicting the birth of Krishna is sung in kEdAra gauLa in both styles. But the Tanjavur tradition sings it in misra cApu with an atIta EDuppu while the Andhra style sets it to Adi tALa.

Agatam AkalayE- Sung in kAmbOji at both places. The Tanjavur style sets it to misra cApu (viLamba kAla) while the Andhra style sings it in Adi. This song depicts the celebration of the Gopis at the birth of Krishna. There are small sahitya variations introduced at various places to give variety in the bhajan rendition.

gOvinda ghaTaya (Yasoda’s songs after Krishna eats mud) – Sung in bhairavi in Tanjavur and kAmbOji in Andhra. Both use khaNDa cApu tALa. The latter introduces various naDais such as tisram and catusram to lend variety. Jati patterns are also sung in between in the Andhra style (a recording of this was played).

Both styles also sing kritanas set to the thongal kind of format used in the Tiruppugazh. There is a suladi tradition sung at the end of each taranga but it is not clear as to how this was set by the composer.

The mangaLam –madana gOpAla tE, sung in Tanjavur is considered to be an extrapolation as it does not carry the composer’s mudra. Similarly, the song shrI vAsudEva prabhO in shankarAbharaNam is sung only in Andhra.

Bhairavi ended her presentation with the song jaya mangaLam.

Her style of singing is full-throated and her voice is powerful and can traverse the higher octave with ease. Though initially out of breath, probably due to nervousness (we dragons were in full attendance) she perked up in a short while. Her music was most enjoyable and the content was also very good. This is a scholar to watch out for.

Sangita Kalanidhi C Lalitha said it all when she said the speaker had presented hitherto unknown facts to the audience. To those of us who have heard the tarangiNi songs only in kuctheris, it was an eye-opener. Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao said that the families singing these pieces in Andhra can be found in Godavari/Bommaraju/Mynampati areas. So Andhra- here I come.