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Editor's note: Since there is an interesting discussion going on in the Rasika Forum on Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and his 72 - Mela Ragamalika , we felt it would be relevant to give some more details about both.  Dr. P P Narayanaswami, a Professor of Mathematics from Canada, has taken a keen interest in this subject, and sent us the article reproduced here and also the lyrics of the 72-mela ragamalika in text as well as pdf formats. Carnatica takes this opportunity to thank him.

Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844 - 1892 AD), popularly known as Sivan, was born in the village of Vaiyacheri, near Tanjavur. His father, Panchanada Iyer, who gave him initial training in music, was a music scholar and a devotee of Lord Siva. Of the four sons, Sivan was the third, and his elder brother, Ramaswami Sivan was also a proficient musician and composer. Later, the Sivan brothers learnt the subtle aspects of music from Anai and Ayya brothers and from Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar, who was a direct disciple of Tyagaraja. Even as a boy of ten, Vaidyanatha Sivan could sing in all the three sthayi-s (octaves) with remarkable skill and accuracy. He used to sing in the Gandhara sruti (third kattai of the Harmonium), and move between six kala-s (tempos) with great speed. At the age of 12, he gave his first public performance in Kallidaikurichi, in the distinguished presence of Subramanya Desikar and Ambalavana Desikar, the two chiefs (adhipati-s) of Tiruvaduturai Math. Among the audience were two reputed musicians of that time, Periya Vaidyanatha Iyer and Chinna Vaidyanatha Iyer. Impressed with his performance and the depth of his musical knowledge, Subramanya Desikar as well as the sadas (assembly of men), conferred upon him the title 'Maha'.

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Vaidyanatha Iyer's favorite musical aspect was manodharma (extempore creative rendition) and at a very young age, he became proficient in rendering alapana, tanam, Pallavi, neraval and kalpanaswara. He was also gifted with a magnificent voice. Once during a Pallavi competition, he thrilled the audience with an amazing exposition of Narayanagowla raga and defeated a famous Pallavi exponent, Venu, and won several laurels. Fiddle Venkoba Iyer was his accompanist on the violin. On another occasion, he stunned the Sabha with his famous Pallavi in raga Kalyani, set to Simhanandana tala (the longest of the 108 talas), consisting of 128 akshara or units. The sahitya of this lengthy and intricate Pallavi reads:

Gowri naayaka kanakasabhaanaayaka
Haalaahadhara gangaadharahara
Smarahara purahara Sivakaameswara
Chidambareswara Nataraaja maamava

Later, he recast this Pallavi into a Tillana, 'Dheemtara dirana' in Kalyani in the same Simhanandana tala. This Tillana is also sung in raga Kanada. Vaidyanatha Sivan was also a gifted performer of Harikatha Kalakshepa. Throughout his life, he enjoyed the healthy patronage of the rulers of Ramanathapuram.

The Kambhoji Pada varnam, Pankajakshipai and the Nagaswaravali kriti, Srisankara guruvaram are some of his well-known compositions, among various other kritis in Tamil and Sanskrit. In addition, many of the compositions which are attributed to his elder brother Ramaswami Sivan, undoubtedly enjoy co-authorship with Vaidyanatha Sivanr and contain the mudra 'Guhadasa'. Here is a partial list of such compositions by the Sivan brothers:

Song Raga
Pahimam Srirajarajeswari Janaranjani
Manavinivaru Kanakangi
Kadaikkan Begada
Ekkalattilum Natakurinji
Muttukumarayyane Sankarabharanam
Unadu padam tunaye Chakravakam
Natanam seyyum Kedaragowla
Malmaruganai Bilahari

72 - Mela Ragamalika:

In any case, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer's greatest contribution to Carnatic music is of course, his famous 72-mela ragamalika. But this was not the first, single composition covering all the 72 mela ragas. One Lavani Venkata Rao, a court poet in the Tanjavur kingdom, a scholar in Marathi, Tamil and Telugu, and a brilliant exponent of Lavani (a type of Marathi folk style) singing, composed a version of the 72 mela ragamalika, called Bahuttara Melakarta in Marathi. This composition begins with the phrases 'Sriman Jokari Rajya Vishnusama' and incorporates the Raga mudra (name of the raga) in each line of the Charanam. The theme is erotic and is in praise of Sakharam Saheb, the son-in-law of the ruler. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was entrusted with the task of setting this composition to music. He accomplished this with great ease in a short period of seven days and was awarded Rs. 2,000 (a huge sum in those days), besides other gifts. It is said that Lavani Venkata Rao played the mridangam for Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer his rendition of this composition. However, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer did not relish the erotic nature of the theme and the nara stuti (singing the praise of a human being) in this composition, and therefore wrote a suitable alternate sahitya (lyrics) in praise of Lord Pranatarthihara (Siva) of the mammoth temple at Tiruvarur. This is the version currently in vogue as the 72-mela ragamalika.

The entire ragamalika is set to Adi tala. The Pallavi is sung in Sriragam, followed by some beautiful jati phrases in Tillana style. There is no Anupallavi and the Charanam has 72 lines, one for each melakarta, with the raga mudra skillfully inscribed in each line. At the end of each mela raga, there is a Chittaswara, and further, to enhance the beauty of the composition, his brother Ramaswami Sivan added additional Chittaswaras at the end of each line, whose poorvanga (first half) is in the same raga, but the uttaranga (second half) is in the next raga. At the end of each Chakra (6 raga cycle), the Pallavi is repeated. At the commencement of the Prati madhyama series, the jati phrases are also sung.

This is not a piece we hear often in concert platforms. Occasionally in the past, one or two Chakras of this lengthy composition has been rendered by Musiri Subramanya Iyer and M S Subbulakshmi. Recently (June 1989), the Gramaphone Co. of India (HMV) released an album (LP No. ECSD 40552), and simultaneously a 60-minute casette (No. HTCS 03B 3346) under the title 'Mela Ragamalika Chakra', where M S Subbulakshmi has melodiously rendered this divine ragamalika, with all the above-mentioned features and Chittaswaras.

The theme of this Ragamalika is Advaitic and highly philosophical and luckily, a full-fledged commentary in Tamil, known as Sivapriya, written by Gurumurti Sastrigal of Varahur, is available.


Click here for the lyrics of the 72-mela ragamalika:

Sanskrit pdf English pdf

Transliteration for Sanskrit and English pdf files


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