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.


Aswayuja masam begins in this month and brings the festivities of Dasara navarathri, where Trisakthi – Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped.  I was afraid that if I pick just one song in praise of one of three, then the other two may get angry.  Therefore, I picked three songs, one for each. Also, Dasara is a festival of three powerful women in Indian mythology, celebrated by women and girls with doll arrangements.  The American breast cancer society selected October as “breast cancer awareness month” and Navrathri also falls in October.  I feel it is no coincidence but the goddess’ blessing.  On that note, I encourage every woman to conduct regular self breast exams, make time to schedule mammograms,  and make efforts to detect breast cancer as early as possible.   

Krithi: dEvi nI pada sArasamule

rAgam: Kambhoji

tAlam: Adi talam

Composer: Syama Sastry

Singer:  Sreelakshmi Kolavennu


dEvI nI pada sArasamulE dikku vErE gati evarammA


shrI velayu madhura nelakonna cidrUpiNI shrI mInAkSammA


umA ramA syAmakrSNanutA giri kumArI kaumAri

nI samAnamevaru brOva bhAramA jagat sAkSi mInAkSi

tAmasamu jEsitEnika nIkidi nyAyamA inta jAgElanE

vEmAru nI pada darsanamulanichchi nI mATalu vinaga vaccitinammA

SrI Syama Sastry is an ardent devotee of dEvi and regularly worships srIvidya.  His ancestors were appointed to worship the golden kAmAkshi (Kanchivaram) by srI Adi SankarAchArya.  It is said that Syama Sastry felt the presence of goddess dEvi regularly during his worships and he was conversing with her.  Many of his compositions were done during his immense worship of goddess dEvi.  We can attribute to that as many of his compositions are on dEvi.  He wrote nine krthis on goddess mInAkshi titled them as navaratna malika (garland of nine gems).  This krithi is one among the nine.  Like many other krithis, this also is in praise of goddess mInAkshi. In pallavi he pleads to her as her lotus feet are the only solace for him and there is no other way.  In anupallavi, he describes her with charming and smiling mInakshi, situated in Madhura.  In charanam, he literally converses with goddess mInAkshi as follows, he refers to her as the daughter of the king of mountain and no one is equal to her powers.  Then he asks “is protecting me a big task for you?” Why are you waiting? Is it fair to  delay it further? Please grant me to witness your lotus feet which are worshipped by umA, ramA and Syamakrishna, and I have come to listen to your sweet words.

As this krithi is relatively simple and easy to understand the meaning, let us talk about Syama Sastri’s commanding skill  and his compositions.  Though he was proficient in Sanskrit and Telugu, most of his songs are in Telugu that are simple and easy to understand and appreciate their beauty.  Once he went to Madhura to sing the navaratna malika krithis, and as he was singing ‘mAyammA” in ahiri, goddess mInAkshi was pleased with him and invoked herself on a temple priest and told everybody that the singer is Syama Sastri and to duly recognize and honor him.  Immediately the temple priest honored with the temple customary tradition.  Even today, whoever visits the temple from his family, they will be honored in the same manner.  Of the nine krithis, there are only seven available.  The other six songs are sarOja daLa nEtri – Sankarabharanam, dEvi mIna nEtri – Sankarabharanam, mari vErE gati – Anadabhairavi, nannu brOvu lalitA – Lalita, mAyammA – Ahiri and mIna lOchani – Dhanyasi.  Similarly, he composed three swarajatis on kAnchi kAmAkshi are superb in music as well as the language.  They are kAmAkshi – Bhairavi, kAmAkshi – Yadukula kambhoji and rAvE himagiri kumAri – Thodi.  Even though they are meant for dances, these krithis are noted for singing in major concerts.  That is why they are named as “ratna trayam”, the three gems.  Syama Sastry is not only talented in music but he was proficient in the rhythm (tALam).  If a krithi is fixed to a single taLam, it is called “stApita tALam” which means the fixed rhythm.  He composed a krithi “sankari sankuru chandra mukhi” in sAveri in two different tALams – rUpaka and Adi.  In such cases, rUpaka tALam is stAapita tALam and Adi tALam is “soochita tALam” which means suggested rhythm.  So this krithi could be sung in either tALams without corrupting the meaning of the song.  Similarly, he wrote a krithi in three languages (Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil) and such krithis are called “mani pravALa sAhityam”.  Syama Sastri is noted for such puzzling exercises in his compositions.  In addition, he composed some rare rAgams such as dEvi brova in chintAmaNI and pArvati ninu in KalgaDa.  The language, emotion and devotion in his krithis are unparalleled.  Not just in navaratna malika, ratna trayam but each and every krithi is a gem and with lilting melody, they touch every listener’s heart.  Whenever you get a chance, I encourage you to listen to all of his compositions and it is not an exaggeration that this krithi is simply a blessing from goddess mInAkshi.

Sreelakshmi Kolavennu is an accomplished musician, composer and music director.  She has given a number of concerts in India as well as in the San Francisco bay area.  She has provided score and set many dance ballets to music.  She also set many AnnamAchArya compositions to music.  She lives in the San Francisco bay area.  

Krithi: dEvi ramE

rAgam: Vasanta

tAlam: Adi talam

Composer: Mysore Vasudevacharya

Singer:  T. Chandra Bhanu


dEvi ramE mAmavAbdhi tanayE dEva dEva vAsudEva jAyE


pAvana kanakAdri vara nilayE dEvAdi vinuta mahimAtisayE


rAkAdIsha sannibha vadanE rAjIva lOchanE gaja gamanE

lOkAnanda vidhAyinE lOkavidita kIrtisAlinE akArAdi varna

svarUpinE tava karunApUrna bhaktAnAm anupama saubhAgya

dAyinE amandAnanda sandOha dAyine

No one is ever satisfied enough in praising goddess Lakshmi.  Sri Vasudevacharya composed this krithi in praise of Lakshmi.  He describes her as ramA devi, the daughter of the Ocean king and who won the heart of god Sri VAsudEva.  In anupallavi, he describes her as the one who lives on the mEru mountain (Mount Meru is referred to as golden mountain), attained a lot of powers and is praised by the celestial bodies (devAs).  Then comes the charanam, where he describes her with many adjectives, such as having the beautiful face like the moon, wide eyes, delicate gait pattern, who is a provider of happiness, the origin of the alphabet and who showers countless blessings on the devotees who worship her.  A very interesting aspect in this charanam is that he refers to happiness as amanda Ananda which means “actively happy” (manda means slow and amanda is not slow).  Similarly, he uses “sanDoha dAyine”.  A very commonly used expression is “santosha dAyine” which means bestower of happiness.  sandOha means being happy as a group or festivity like celebrations.  It shows the author’s intention that he is praising Lakshmi not only for his well being but for the happiness of the entire community.

Goddess Lakshmi is naturally a beautiful and a wealthy person.  In addition, she is a kind and unassuming person to bestow her blessings to everyone without any prejudice.  The story of her birth is beautifully described in Bhagavatam by Sri. Pothana.  As dEvAs and dAnaVas were churning the milky ocean for amrutham, many objects like Sankham (conch), Chakram (discus) Kalpavruksham (ever giving tree), animals such as Kamadhenuvu (sacred cow), Uchchaisrawam (horse), Iravatam (elephant), Apsarasas, the Moon and then Maha Lakshmi emerged from it.  That is why she is known as the sister of the moon.  As she emerges very effulgent with beautiful eyes and a smiling face, all the celestial women tend her and deck her up.  Her father, the king of the ocean presents her silk clothes, Varuna gives her the Vyjayanthimala, Viswakarma presents her with jewelry and goddess Saraswati presents her a pearl necklace.  We can see that even back then exchange of gifts was a common practice.

In this context, it is only apt to discuss the qualities of goddess Lakshmi.  One may find it very amusing that people offer gifts and jewelry to the goddess of wealth and she gladly accepts them.  In my opinion, it shows that she is proving that no matter how rich the children are, they should not discount or belittle the gifts from the parents.  She shows extreme humbleness and accepts gifts from others.  Scriptures say “uchitAnuchita vichAraNam na kurutE”, which means you should not distinguish the appropriateness by the class, when it comes to showing your love, affection, kindness and friendship.  The beauty here is that even though Lakshmi has all the wealth in the world, they did not feel uncomfortable giving her small gifts and Lakshmi on the other hand accepted the gifts without being arrogant.  Even more noble characteristic of goddess Lakshmi is that she simply shares her wealth with everybody, it could be wealth, grains, education, valor, children and so forth.  By doing that she attained the title of “Ashtalakshmi”, the one with 8 different kinds of wealths, who is a great example for all of us.  I believe that, whenever we worship goddess Lakshmi, if we could learn and practice her attribute of sharing, then we need to look no further for goddess Lakshmi, but she dwells in each of us and we each can become a Lakshmi incarnation (avataram).

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

Krithi: amba vAni

rAgam: KeeravANi

tAlam: Adi talam

Composer: Harikesanallur Muttayya Bhagavathar

Singer:  E. Vasavamba


amba vANi nannAdarincavE


shambarAri vairi sahOdari kambu gaLEsita kamalEshvari


paradEvi ninnu bhajiyinpa nija bhaktulanu brOcE pankajAkshivi

vara vINApANi vAgvilAsini harikEshapura alankAri rANi

This krithi is a short and sweet krithi on goddess Saraswati by Sri Muttayya Bhagavathar.  It fits vANi well that he composed it in KeeravAni.  In pallavi, he pleads to vANi to protect him.  Anupallavi refers her as a beautiful woman with a nicely shaped neck (conch-like), who loves the lotus flowers and sister of lord Siva.  In charanam he describes her as lotus petal shaped eyed goddess, who helps true devotees, one who enjoys playing veena and lives and adorns Harikesapuram.

The keystone for this krithi is the samAsam (compound word) “sambarArivairi sahOdari”.  It is split as sambara (sambarAsura), ari (enemy), vairi (enemy) and sahOdari (sister).  Sambarasura’s enemy is Pradyumna,  Pradyumna’s enemy is Siva and therefore  Siva’s sister.  The animosity between asuras and devas is very ancient and understandable. But what is the animosity between Pradyuman and Siva?  The answer to this takes us to Srimad Bhagavatam, 10th canto.

Manmadha, who angered Siva and was burnt to ashes by Siva’s 3rd eye, is born to Krihsna and Rukmini’s son and was named a Pradyumna.  SambarAsura comes to know that Pradyumna is a threat to his life, therefore he kidnaps Pradyumna and throws him in the ocean.  Naturally, a fish swallows Pradyumna and later a fisherman catches that fish.  Seeing the gigantic size of the fish, the fisherman takes it to the SambarAsura, to please the king.  SambarAsura rewards the fisherman and sends the fish to the kitchen.  When they cut the fish the baby emerges from it.  A woman named mAyAvati is working in the courts of SambarAsura, she is none other than Rati, the wife of Manmadha.  After his death she takes the form of MAyAvati and spends time in Sambara’s court.  She comes to know of the news and immediately comes to rescue the child and requests the king that she be allowed to care for him and raise him and Sambara allows.  He grows up to be a handsome boy and attains youth.  mAyAvati, gets attracted to his charm and expresses her love towards him.  Pradyumna gets shocked and questions and condemns her atrocious request.  mAyAvati, then narrates the story of Rati and Manmadha and reveals that she is Rati and he is Manmadha.  She states that SambarAsura has a lot of magical powers and is bent upon killing Pardyumna. She also states that in order to defeat him, Pradyumna needs to learn magic and trickery and teaches him the same.  Pradyumna after learning the magic warfare, fights with Sambara and defeats him.  All the gods are happy on the occasion and bless him.  Later, Pradyumna along with mAyAvati goes to Dwaraka.  The citizens are all amused to see a handsome man with the features of Krishna walking by the city streets.  nArada shows up just in time and explains the story to Rukmini. Rukmini, recognizing Pradyumna as her son, hugs him and welcomes mAyAvati as her daughter in law.  Krishna, of course, being the mastermind behind this entire act, watches quietly.  As soon as we learn of this story, the animosity between Siva and Pradyuman becomes clear.  It is incredible that such a short samAsam can narrate a powerful story as above and no wonder vAsudevAcharya has become the noted composer of the 20th century.

“sangItamapi sAhityam saraswatye sthanadwayam

EkamApAta madhuram anyadAlOchanAmrutham”

The above poem describes music and literature as goddess Saraswati’s two breasts and one gives melodious music and the other gives thoughtful nectar.  I find this as a very interesting analogy, while many other parts of the body are in pairs, a pair of breasts were used here.  My theory is as other parts of the body are used to function and protect the body, breasts feed and nourish a child/another life.  Then, it becomes no surprise that goddess Saraswati is feeding all of our thirst and hunger for music and literature.

We are approaching the Dasara navaratri in this month denoting nine days of festivities in praise of Trisakthi – Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.  As you listen to these three songs, I wish you all the blessings of the Trisakthi.

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

Emani Vasavamba is a higher grade certified Carnatic musician and has performed many concerts in Andhra Pradesh.  She currently lives in Hyderabad.

Acknowledgement:  I wanted to have three women sing the songs on the Trisakthi and I am blessed that Sreelkashmi Kolavennu, Tanikella Chandra Bhanu and Emani Vasavamba have agreed to sing the above songs.  My father is the late Sri. Munukutla Venkata Kamoji Row and he is an ardent devotee of goddess Lalita Parameswari and he was born in October.  Therefore, I wanted to select a song in rAgam Kambhoji and on goddess Parameswari.  I found Syama Sastri’s “dEvi NI pada sArasamulE” which is a rare krithi.  I requested my dear friend Sreelakshmi to sing it.  I am grateful that she immediately accepted, learnt it and sang melodiously.  Similarly, I asked my eighty year old sister Emani Vasavamba to sing a song on Saraswati.  Even though she hasn’t practiced music in several decades, I am humbled that she made time to practice and sing the song. It gives me immense pleasure that the eldest and youngest of my father’s children got an opportunity to remember him through his favorite interests  – music and literature.  Last but not least, thanks to my dear sister in law, Tanikella Chandra Bhanu for effortlessly providing lovely renditions of any krithi, immediately upon my request.  I am incredibly grateful that I am associated with these three women, whom I consider as Trisakthi.


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One thought on “Carnatic Compositions – The Essence and Embodiment-5”

  1. Wonderful writing Aparna! Your diligence and passion for Carnatic music is a gift that all of us benefit from and enjoy! It was a particular delight to listen to your 80-yr sister Emani Vasavamba Ji!

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