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: amma raavamma
rAgam: Kalyani
tAlam: Adi talam
Composer: Tyagaraja


amma! rAvamma, tulasamma nanu pAlimpavamma!
satatamu padamulE namminAnamma ||


nemmadini nI viha parammulOsaguduvanuchu kamma viltuni tandri kalanaina bAyadaTa


nI mrudu tanuvunu gani nI parimalamulu gani nI mahatyamunu gani nIrajAkSi ||
tAmarasa daLa nEtru tyAgarAjuni mitru prEmatO siramunanu peTTu konnAdaTa ||


amma – Oh mother
rAvamma – come
tulasamma – holy Basil
nanu pAlimpavamma – please protect me
satatamu – constantly
padamulE – your feet
namminAnamma – I have trusted, oh mother

nemmadini – gently
nI viha parammu – material and spiritual
osaguduvu – giver
anuchu – is said
kamma viltuni – the one with floral arrows (Cupid)
tandri – father
kalanaina – even in dreams
bAyadaTa – will not forget

nI mrudu – your delicate
tanuvunu – body
gani – observing
nI parimalamunu – your fragrance
gani – observing
nI mahatyamunu – your powers
gani – observing
nIrajAkSi – one with eyes like lotus petals
tAmarasa daLa – lotus petals
nEtru – eyed
tyAgarAjuni mitru – friend of Tyagaraja
prEmatO – with love
siramunanu – on the head
peTTu konnAdaTa – adorned/decorated

          This is a rare krithi describing the attributes and the prominence of Tulasi (holy basil) and equating it to Sri Mahalakshmi.  In pallavi, Tyagaraja says he has always kept his full faith at her feet and pleads to her to protect him.  He claims that she is kind and gently grants the worldly as well as spiritual wishes so her lord, the father of cupid (Vishnu) does not forget her even in his dreams.  He then elaborates that after experiencing her delicateness (leaves), her fragrance and the powers, the lord Vishnu, the friend of Tyagaraja who has eyes like lotus petals, has affectionately adorned her on his head. 

          It is interesting that Tyagaraja referred to holy basil as something that Lord Vishnu has adorned dearly on his head, which shows its importance in the plant kingdom.  Holy basil is a very prominent and sacred plant/herb that has countless medicinal benefits.  It is also named as vrinda.  Lord Krishna is known to have played raasaleela with the gopikas in his favorite vrindavanam, which is nothing but a garden of holy basil.  Among all the garlands of gems, gold and silver, Lord Vishnu’s favorite garland is Tulasi mala (Garland of basil leaves). The famous story of Sri Krishna Tulabharam, where Satyabhama puts Krishna on the weighing scale to possess him with all her gold, he doesn’t yield until Rukmini brings a Tulasi leaf and places it on the scale, proving that a leaf of Tulasi is more valuable than gold and precious gems.  Tulasi holds a very prominent place in Hindu Mythology and Indian Ayurvedic medicine.  Tulasi is also known as queen of herbs and is widely cultivated in Southeast Asia and the leaves are used in many of their cuisines as well as a medicine to treat many ailments such as skin, respiratory and digestive systems. It is often referred as “paramoushadham” (super medicine) or “Sarva rOga NivariNi (preventer of all diseases)”.  As health is also considered as one of the wealths, it is indeed a form of Lakshmi.  It is no surprise that Tyagaraja pleads to Tulasi to protect him and every household grows a Tulasi plant in their backyard. 

          Karteeka suddha dwadasi (12th day during waxing half of Kaarteeka month) is a festival called Ksheerabdhi Dwadasi, which is the day Maha Vishnu married Lakshmi Devi, after she emerged out of the milky ocean during the saagara mathanam (churning of the ocean).  It is said that Lord Vishnu resides in an Indian gooseberry tree and Goddess Lakshmi resides in Tulasi plant.   Therefore, many people celebrate this day by worshiping the holy basil and performing Tulasi Kalyanam by bringing branches of Indian Gooseberry and Tulasi plants together and perform a ceremonious wedding and recite Tulasi Ashtottaram.  Wishing everyone a happy deepavali, ksheeraabdhi dwadasi and karteeka pournami!

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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