Noted Carnatic singer Gayatri Girish made a presentation yesterday (23rd December 2010) on the above subject. Seshayyangar was a composer of the mid 17th century. He was an uttama vaggeyakkara meaning he composed the tunes for his lyrics. He used the mudra Kosala by which it is inferred that he was from Ayodhya. He was a Sri Vaishnava Brahmin who lived in Srirangam and composed largely on Sriranganatha. There are some songs with subjects as Anjaneya, Sita, Nammazhwar and others. Though he was from the North, he appears to have been familiar with Tamil traditions. He mentions in his rE mAnasa (kalyANi) that Ramanuja wrote a commentary on the Brahmasutra. In his kriti on Nammazhwar (vandE vakuLAbharaNam) he gives biographic details of the saint. There is a mention of Vipranarayana (Tondaradipodi Azhwar) in another song.

It is interesting to see that three pioneering composers lived at the same time. Virabhadrayya left his mark on swarajatis, Govindasamayya on tana varnams and Seshayyangar on kritis. All three can be referred to as Margadarsis.

Seshayyangar compositions have come to us through various sources. The Sangita Sarvartha Sara Sangrahamu of Veena Ramanujayya has the lyrics of 18 songs. The Gayaka Lochanam of Tacchur Brothers has 9. The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini has 1 song with notation. The Prathamabhayasa Pustakamu of Subbarama Dikshitar has 1 with notation. AM Chinnasami Mudaliar’s Oriental Music in European Notation has 2. Sangita Rasarnavam of KV Srinivasa Iyengar has 1 with notation and Kritimanimalai of R Rangaramanuja Iyengar has 3. The Saraswati Mahal library has a number of songs in its manuscripts, with just the lyrics.

The Muhanaprasa Antyaprasa Vyavastha (MAV) of Swati Tirunal is an important source. It refers to 13 of Seshayyangar’s kritis by way of examples of prosody and alliteration.

In all 40 kritis are available as on date. 13 others are unpublished and exist in manuscripts. These were unearthed by Dr CN Premlatha of the Sri Venkateswara Oriental Research Institute recently.

Among the sources, there are variations in ragas to which the songs are set. It is worthwhile pointing out that the changes have occurred across ragas that have minute differences among them or those that can be grouped within the same family.

Most songs are of the pallavi/anupallavi/charanam type though some also have a pallavi followed by multiple charanams. There are some songs which return to the anupallavi after the charanam and some have the anupallavi in madhyamakala. An example of the last kind is sArasadaLa nayana in suruTTi. Seshayyangar appears to have been an expert in Sanskrit for his songs indicate a vast vocabulary.

Swati Tirunal praises the composer’s undeviating fidelity to alliteration and perhaps this can be a reason why he is a margadarsi, for after him, this became the norm. His compositions follow rules of

– dvitIyAksharaprAsa – similarity of second syllable consonants
– antyaprAasa – rhyming end consonants
– shrutyAnuprAsa – usage of consonants in proximity that have same place of articulation
– chEkAnuprAsa- similarity of consonants placed at unequal intervals
– paryAyOkti – examples where cause is given without stating effect or vice versa.
– rUpaka alankAra – stating that something is what it should be compared with (indu vadana and not indu samAna vadana)
– muhana – same letter at beginning of each Avarta

Seshayyangar appears to have been an influence on the Trinity and Swati Tirunal. From what was listed by Gayatri, there were some pallavi lines of Tyagaraja and Dikshitar that appear to have similarities. There is also the adherence to alliteration and the three-tier kriti format. Swati Tirunal was greatly influenced. He uses the same kind of Sanskrit and his bhOgIndra sAyinam has many similarities to Seshayyangar’s sriranga sAyinam. Seshayyangar’s unpublished shrI rAma jayarAma has the Ramayanam in 30 charanams and could have been the inspiration for bhAvayAmi raghurAmam.