Carnatic Compositions – The Essence and Embodiment

-Aparna Munukutla Gunupudi

Our intent for this essay is to highlight the great features of the language, emotion and melody (rAgam) of a krithi (song/composition) and also to provide the song for your listening pleasure.  Most of you may know these krithis, but when you discover the distinct features of a krithi, you may enjoy a new beauty or an attribute in the krithi.

Note: Krithi is defined as a song containing pallavi, anupallavi and charanam that have high musical value and can be sung elaborately with improvisations.  Whereas Keerthana also has a pallavi, anupallavi and charanam but is sung in a single form or simpler pattern.


Krithi: nArada guruswAmi

rAgam: DarbAr

tAlam: Adi

Composer: ThyAgarAja

Singer:  T. Chandra Bhanu


nArada gurusvAmi ikanaina nannAdarimpavEmi I karavEmi


sAreku sangIta yoga naigama pArangatuDaina parama pAvana


itihAsa purANAgama caritamu levarivalla galige

patini dAnamivva buddhi satyabhAma ketula galige

dyutijita saradabhra ninu vinA muni yatula kevaru galige

kshitini tyAgarAja vinuta nammiti cinta dIrci prahlAduni brOcina

In this song, ThyAgarAja praises nArada and begs to take him as his disciple.  He pleads to nArada why he is not showering his grace or why he is not accessible?  In anupallavi, he praises nArada as one who is well versed in the knowledge of yOga, nigama, sangeeta sastras.  Interestingly in the charanam, he states that the nArada, who shines like a spring cloud, is the origin of ItihAsas, puraNAs and Agama sastras. He guided satyabhAma to give away Sri KrishNa and mentored PrahlAda. ThAygarAja believes nArada as a brilliant scholar, trusts him and requests him to be his guru/mentor.

ThyAgarAja believed Lord rAma as his ultimate god in his mind, words and actions, just as quoted in KrishNa Satakam “oh KrishNa! You are my mother, father, friend, teacher, confidant, trailblazer and my sole god”.  Yet he prays nArada to take him under his tutelage which makes it interesting.  Anjaneya, when he finds Seetha, assures her that rAma will come and rescue her and describes rAma as follows.

“rakshithA jeevalokasya svajanasyacha rakshithA

 rakshithAnva svavruttasya dharmasyacha paramtapaha

rAma is determined to protect the dharma, the people and his own duties.  Next, he was the incarnation of Lord VishNu in the human form and is known to be just, righteous and always kept his word by speaking only the truth. What ThyAgarAja needs now is a good guru.  In addition, ThyAgarAja’s guru Sri rAmakrishnAnanda had asked him to pray to sage nArada for more in depth knowledge on music.  PurandaradAsa mentions in one of his songs that without guru upadesa (instructions), there is no jnAnamu, snAnamu, pAnamu, japamu, tapamu, mantramu, tantramu and so on. In other words, everybody needs a guru for general and spiritual learning. 

The guru (mentor) and sishya (student) relationship is always a unique one. The mentor always looks for a good student and a student is always looking for a good mentor.  What makes nArada an eligible guru for ThyAgarAja?  nArada is the son of Brahma and Saraswati, therefore, there is no shortage for education.  Though he enjoys creating differences and petty fights among people, he travels around the world constantly chanting nArAyana mantra.    

He is known as TrikAlavedi, trilOkasanchAri and he was sent to earth to teach the Agama Vedas.  He has advised Dhruva, MArkandeya, PrahlAda, VyAsa and many others.  In addition, devi bhAgavatham describes nArada as the only one who is equal to lord siva in the science of music.  So who can be a more appropriate guru than nArada and no wonder ThyAgarAja chose him and requests him to take him under his guidance, and he significantly names satyabhAma and PrahlAda as examples.

satyabhAma, the most beautiful and wealthy wife of Sri KrishNa, arrogantly claims that KrishNa loves none other than her and she acts as if she owns him solely.  nArada enters into the scene, after customary exchange of greetings, satyabhAma insists the same again.  As KrishNa looks at nArada, nArada immediately recognizes his intent.  nArada disagrees with satyabhAma and states that KrishNa belongs to everybody and he loves RukmiNi and other wifes just as much.  After a brief argument, nArada advises satyabhAma to take up a ritual where she needs to give away her husband first and later can buy him back with her wealth that measures equal to his weight.  At which point, she can own KrishNa all to herself.  satyabhAma likes the idea and takes up the ritual.  As part of the procedure, she gives away KrishNa to nArada and offers to buy him back.  They put KrishNa on one side of the balance and she brings all her jewelry and precious items to place on the other side.  They will not outweigh him.  A bit puzzled, she requests KrishNa’s other wifes for their valuables. And they bring them too, yet KrishNa outweighs them.  nArada mocks satyabhAma a bit and orders KrishNa to get up and go along with him.  Truly worried satyabhAma, holds her arrogance down and begs RukmiNi to rescue her from this awkward situation.  RukmiNi agrees to come and plucks a tulasi leaf (holy basil) on her way, and arrives at the balancing contest. She first bows to KrishNa and places the leaf on the other side of the balance.  To everybody’s surprise, KrishNa’s side slowly lifts up and the balance reaches perfect alignment.  satyabhAma accepts her foolish arrogance and realizes that devotion alone can win KrishNa’s heart and not material objects.

Next in PrahlAda charitra, PrahlAda was taught devotion to lord Sri Hari even while he was in his mother’s womb.  For reasons not known to anybody, a seed of Hari devotion was planted in PrahlAda’s mind, it grew into a tall tree and made him strong to be one of the ardent Sri Hari’s devotees (parama bhAvatottama) in history.

Considering the above stories, we learn that one was taught to realize arrogance is not a way to win god’s heart and the other was taught philosophy at a very tender age.  ThyAgarAja, a naturally virtuous man, demonstrates that he is devoted to nArada and begs him to guide him out of both arrogance and ignorance.  That shows his humility and humbleness.  The story says that nArada, in the form of a yogi appeared in front of ThyAgarAja and handed him the “swarArnavam” the book on the science of  music.  This beautiful song on nArada is aptly set in darbAr, very regal yet melodious ragam.  If you sing or listen to this song on guru purNima day, you will be blessed with good guroopadesam (teachings) and prosperity.

The power of music is profound

The joy of music is sweet and sound

The awe of music is abound

Music makes the world go round


Tanikella Chandra Bhanu is an accomplished Carnatic musician and graded artist in All India Radio.  She teaches music at Sri Durgabai Deshmukh Music College.  She has performed extensively in India and abroad and currently lives in Bangalore.

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