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.

This month brings Ugadi (Telugu new year), Sri RAma Navami (SrI RAma’s birthday),  Vasanta (spring) navaratri festivals, Sitarama kalyanam and so forth.  The question is why do they perform SItarAma kalyanam on Rama’s birthday.  The legend says that SIta and RAma are known to be the ideal couple and role models for mutual love, understanding and respect.  There is no RAma without SIta and no SIta without RAma.  Therefore, I present a Tyagaraja krithi that portrays SIta as a strong and intelligent woman and a Deekshitar krithi that details RAma’s entire life.  Also, where there is RAma there sits Anjaneya.  So I am presenting a Tyagaraja krithi in praise of Anjaneya.    

Krithi: mA jAnaki

rAgam: Kambhoji

tAlam: Adi talam

Composer: Tyagaraju

Singer:  Ranjani Gunupudi


mA jAnaki ceTTa paTTaga maharAju vaitivi


rAja rAjavara rAjIvAksha vinu rAvaNAriyani rAjillu kIrtiyu


kAnakEgi yAjnA mIraka mAyAkara munichi sikhi chentane yunDi

dAnavuni ventanE cani yasoka taru mUlanunDi

vAni mATalaku kOpaginci kanTa vadhiyinchakanE yunDi

srI nAyaka yasamu nIkE kalga jEya lEdA tyAgarAja paripAla

Though this song is directed at Rama, it is in praise of Sita (Janaki). When  you think  of SIta, you  remember the words of her father Janaka at her wedding.

Iyam SIta mama sutA sahadharma charItava

pratIchcha chainAm bhadram te paNim gruhNishva pANinA

Pativrata mahAbhAgA chAyAnugatenassadA

Janaka  says, Oh RAma, this is my daughter SIta, waiting to be your companion.  Please take her hand, she will respect the words of her husband and always follow you like a shadow behind you.  She is a pure, enduring and kind woman and sure is known as the “pativrata” (the one who obeys her husband)..  But Tyagaraja presents a completely different angle of SIta in this krithi.  He portrays her as an intelligent, confident, courageous and strong woman.  In addition to that, he takes the side of SIta and implies that RAma became a king after he had  taken SIta’s hand.  He strongly puts forth his opinion in a very authoritative manner and says  “just listen, Oh beautiful eyed RAma, you got the laurels as the enemy of RAvaNa because of SIta”.  In the charanam, he elaborates as follows.  After SIta followed you to the forest, she strictly adhered to your orders and  kept her real body (soul) near the fire and took a false form and went with the demon RAvaNa to Asoka forest.  When RAvaNa approaches her with flattery, though she could have burned him to death with her anger, she holds it back and endures all that agony to allow you (RAma) to claim the credit of slaying RAvaNa.

What is this false form of SIta?  While SIta, RAma and LakshmaNa were in the forest, they camped in Panchavati by the banks of river Godavari.  Suddenly, SIta spots a beautiful deer wandering around their camp.  SIta, so amazed at the beauty of that animal, wishes to keep it as her pet, and requests RAma to catch that deer and bring it homeRAma agrees to fulfill her wish in spite of LakshmaNa’s caution call implying that such an animal is rare and sure to be some sly work of demons.  As RAma leaves to chase the deer, he orders LakshmaNa to guard the camp and protect SIta while he is gone.  Sure to LakshmaNa’s suspicion, the deer is a demon in disguise, so it runs far away and finally, unable to catch it alive, RAma shoots arrows at the animal.  The animal is none other than demon MarIcha and he shouts names of SIta and LakshmaNa as he dies.  Hearing those calls, SIta suspects that RAma is in danger and requests LakshmaNa to go help his brother.  LakshmaNa tries to calm her saying that RAma will never be in danger, this is the work of demons and RAma shall slay them and come back safe.  SIta insists and LakshmaNa succumbs to her plea and agrees to go in search of RAma.  Before he leaves, he draws a safety line around the camp and orders SIta not to cross the line.  As soon as he leaves, her troubles walk in.  RAvaNa arrives disguised as a saint.  Kind hearted SIta brings the alms to offer him but RAvaNa asks her to come closer, which means SIta would have to cross the line.  SIta with her excellent presence of mind, goes back into the camp/hut, leaves her real form (soul) by the agni sikha (fire), takes up a false form and comes out and crosses the line.  RAvaNa, of course, abducts her, then follows the search for SIta, the war between RAma & RAvaNa and finally SIta was asked to prove her chastity and she enters into fire/pyre.  The lord of fire brings her out safely and narrates to RAma what she did in the forest and states that she is pure as a fire.  Now, we need to briefly talk about this agni sikha (fire).  Agni sikha is the power or energy.  There is a process (kriya) practiced in Kundalini yoga to bring out that energy.  It is believed that there are seven chakras starting from the head through the spinal cord to the base of vertebrae.  The chakra at the base is called “mUlAdhAra” and the other six are SahasrAra, Ajna, Visuddha, AnAhata, MaNipura and SwadhishTana.  Agni sikha resides in mUlAdhAra chakra.  With practice, one can take the energy from mUlAdhAra chakra higher above up to sahasrAra chakra.  Once the energy reaches the sahasrara chakra, the person attains a status of non materialistic world.  In this context with SIta, we can attribute that when SIta went inside, she would have practiced the kriya to attain that status, then she will not be subject to materialistic desires and she can stay pure.  In any case, though SIta is known as a person who obeys her husband (pativrata), she also proved to be apt, very strong and having a great presence of mind.  We don’t know if SIta was real or fiction. However, our salutations to VAlmiki for creating such a character that encountered and overcame numerous unusual circumstances to become a role model for generations to come and to Tyagaraja for composing such a beautiful krithi with all her attributes.  Listening to this krithi in praise of SIta is very inspiring, yet soothing!

Ranjani Gunupudi works as a senior statistician and is a disciple of Sri Arvind Lakshmikanthan.  She resides in the San Francisco bay area.

Krithi: SrI rAmam

rAgam: Narayana Gowla

tAlam: Adi talam

Composer: Muttuswami Deekshitar

Singer:  Anupama Gunupudi


SrI rAmam ravi kulaabdhi sOmam

sritha kalpabhooruham bhajEham


dhIrAgragaNyam vareNyam

dIna janAdhAram raghuvIram

naradAdi sannutha rAmAyana

pArAyana muditha nArAyanam


dasarathAthmajam lakshmanAgrajam dAnava kula bhIkaram srIkaram

kusalava thAtham sIthopetam kuvalaya nayanam sudarbha sayanam

susera chApa pAnim sudhImaNim sUnruta bhAsham guruguha tosham

dasa vadana bhanjanam niranjanam dAna nidhim daya rasa jalanidhim

Among the thousands of songs in praise of RAma, this krithi takes a special stage because it narrates the entire story of Rama including his children Kusa & Lava.  Deekshitar sings the praises of RAma who shines like the moon in the solar dynasty (Surya vamsam), he provides solace to people like a banyan tree that provides shade and cool breeze.  In anupallavi, he describes him as a top seeded warrior, a kind person and none other than Narayana who enjoys listening to the RAmayana chanting by NArada and other sages.  He elaborates more in charaNam as the son of Dasaratha, elder brother of LakshmaNa, terror to the demons, the one who held the hand of Lakshmi (SIta), father of the twins Kusa and Lava, lotus petal eyed, who sleeps only on the mat made from reeds, who holds a strong bow (kOdandam), who is engaged in good talk, makes guruguha happy, slayer of ten faced RAvaNa, who shines bright like a gem, very generous and who is ocean of kindness. 

It is said that Deekshitar composed this krithi when he visited “darbha sayana RAma” in RAmeswaram.  The story behind this is that RAma during the search for his abducted wife SIta comes to know that she was a captive in RAvana’s island – Lanka.  He makes his way to Lanka along with his ape friends Sugreeva, Anjaneya and others and reaches the ocean (near RAmeswaram).  Unable to find a solution to cross the ocean, he adheres to strict penance for three days and sleeps only on a mat made with the reeds, hoping to find a path.  End of the third day, he still has no option.  RAma who is normally very calm, becomes angry and starts shooting arrows at the ocean to dry it up.  It causes chaos to the marine animals.  The lord of the ocean who is normally very deep and steady but he comes out of his slumber, greets RAma and says “that the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) need to be in perfect balance.  Otherwise, it will cause calamities.  It will not be appropriate to drain the water because the marine world will be destroyed” and stop him from further shooting.  Then RAma asks what he should do with the already targeted arrow.  Lord of the ocean asks RAma to shoot the nearby barren land called Drumakulya teertham where all the demons are roaming around.  SrI RAma shoots the arrow towards that which destroys the demons and creates a well that springs out water and the area becomes lush again.  Later lord of the ocean tells RAma that Nala in Sugreeva’s army is the son of Viswakarma, the architect and he is the only one who is capable of building the bridge to cross the ocean.  Upon orders from RAma, Nala along with his assistants built a bridge in five days and RAma, LakshmaNa, Anjaneya, Sugreeva and the entire army successfully crossed the bridge and entered into the island Lanka.  Deekshitar handed this beautiful krithi that narrates the entire story of RAma set to a very melodious tune, for all of us to enjoy.

Anupama Gunupudi works as a program manager, and is a disciple of Sri Arvind Lakshmikanthan.  She resides in Los Angeles, CA.

Krithi: pAhi rAma dUta

rAgam: ShadvidhamArgini

tAlam: Roopaka talam

Composer: Tyagaraju

Singer:  Chandrabhanu Tanikella


pAhi rAma dUta jagatprANa kumAra mAm


vAhinIsa taraNa dasa vadana sUnu tanu haraNa

caraNam 1

taruNAruNa vadanAbja tapanakOTi sankAsa

karadhrita raghuvara su-charaNa kalimalAbhra gandha vAha

caraNam 2

ghOrAsura varAnnidhi kumbha tanaya krita kArya

pArijAta taru nivAsa pAvana tulya vEga

caraNam 3

karuNArasa paripUrNa kAnchanAdri sama dEha

parama bhAgavata varENya varada tyAgarAjanuta

Tyagaraja says, I bow to the son of vAyu/life and the RAma’s devoted servant.   Anjaneya is known as RAma’s ordant servant and Tyagaraja describes his strength, dedication and devotion in this song.  We discussed in the past that vAyu is the life (prAna) of living beings.  Therefore, the analogy as prAna kumAra for son of vAyu is very eloquent.  It is said that if you obtain Anjaneya’s blessings, it is like getting Rama’s blessings.  Tyagaraja continues his narration in multiple charaNams describes Anjaneya as the one who leapt across the ocean,  who slayed RAvaNa’s son Akshaya kumara, the one with lotus face that shines like a bright sun, who holds RAma’s feet with his hands, who brings a gentle breeze to remove sins, who is a high terror to the army of demons, task master,  who lives under the pArijAta trees, who is as fast as wind, strong bodied, kind hearted, a supreme learned man and the one who showers boons .

Anjaneya is known as the foremost example of devotion through service (dAsya Bhakti) and the concept of his strength, faith and devotion is unparalleled.  JAmbavanta describes his strength in the following story.  During the war between RAma and RavaNa, RAvaNa’s son Indrajit releases a weapon of fainting spell (brahmastram) that subdues all the enemies.  VibhIshaNa who is not affected by the spell goes around whispering courageous words to RAma’s army and comes near JAmbavanta.  Immediately, Jambavanta asks if Anjaneya is safe?  VibhIshaNa in turn questions why he is inquiring only about Anjaneya, leaving all others like RAma, LakshmaNa, Sugreeva, Angada and others.  JAmbavanta then replies “if Anjaneya alone is alive, everybody will be safe.  He is intelligent, strong and as fast as wind.  He is the lifeline for all of us”.  In another instance during the war, LakshmaNa faints again. Anjaneya was the only one who could go at lightning speed to fetch sanjeevani medicine to bring him back to life.  Such is the strength and will power of Anjaneya.  I wish the blessings and protection of Anjaneya, Rama and SIta to everybody who listens to this song.  Also, wish you all a happy and prosperous Subhakrutu samvatsara UgAdi and a great year!

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 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.


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