Compositions of mArgadarshi shESayyangAr

Dr. P. P. Narayanaswami

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[Editor's Notes: 1) Click here for a PDF version of this article 2) Click here for the standard transliteration scheme 3) List of compositions (English PDF) 4) List of compositions (Sanskrit PDF)]

mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr is one of the lesser known composers of karNATik music, who lived during the pre-trinity days. Very little is known about this scholarly composer, and it is a pity that only very few of his compositions are currently available.

subbarAma DIkSitar, the author of the sangIta sampradAya pradarshini (Telugu edition) gives a brief biographical sketch of shESayya”ngAr, and states that he was known by the title “mArgadarshi”, since his works were a beacon light, or path finder for future composers. According to him, shESayya”ngAr was a vaiSNava brAhmin, a devotee of Lord ra”nganAtha, and a profound scholar of sanskrit language and music. He used the mudra “kOsala” in all him compositions, and the reason may be that he hailed from ayodhya. Most of his compositions are on Lord ra”nganAtha, but a few are also on Lord varadarAja of kA~ncIpuraM, Goddess lakSmi, rAma, sIta, and saint rAmAnuja. It is believed that he collected all his compositions in a palm leaf manuscript form, and one day, left it at the feet of Lord ra”nganAtha during the arddha yAma pUja. The next morning, when he went to the temple, he found, to his surprise, that only sixty songs were left in tact, and the remaining were obliterated. According to SubbarAma DIkSitar, these sixty songs, perhaps accepted by Lord ra”nganAtha, are supposed to be in vogue.

But, contrary to this observation, till recently, only three of these songs were either well known, or sung by musicians. These three are listed in the mammoth index to Indian songs, complied by Professors Gowri Kuppuswamy and Hariharan. Earlier, in 1902, nine kIrttanaMs of shESayya”ngAr were published in “gAyaka locana” by Singaracharyulu, but the book was not readily available. Two specimens of his compositions appear in the “Oriental Music in European Notation” by A.M.C. Cinnayya MudaliyAr. In the Palace Library at Trivandrum, there is a paper manuscript known as “shESayya”ngAru kIrttanaM”, containing 19 of his compositions. Also, there is a palm leaf manuscript in the Kerala University collections procured from the Cirakkal Palace, containing 13 of shESayya”ngAr kIrttanaMs. This manuscript has a remark in malayalam, stating clearly these are the compositions of shESayya”ngAr. All these kIrttanaMs bear the mudra, “kOsala”. But there is an overlap of 8 songs among these manuscripts. What happened to the remaining songs?

The Manuscript

By a turn of luck, things became a bit rosy. A saurAStra brAhimin, by name Ananthu Gopala Bhagavathar, who lived in Madurai, had in his possession, a manuscript of shESayya”ngAr compositions. This was passed on to him by his grandfather, who learnt them from his guru, Wallajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar, the famous disciple of Saint TyAgarAja. He prepared them in a manuscript form, and worshiped it in his daily pujas. This manuscript was later passed on to his grandson, Ananthu Gopala. Again, after keeping it in his puja for many years, in 1978, Anathu Gopala Bhagavathar handed over this manuscipt to one T. R. Damodaran, a Sanskrit scholar at the Tanjore Maharajah Serafoji Saraswati Mahal Library. Since the script was in telugu, he sought the help of Dr. Kothandaramiah, a telugu professor at Madurai Kamarajar University. He read the entire work, and presented the material in a paper at the Music Academy's Annual Conference.

The manuscript has 114 folios, each folio containing half a dozen lines, and contained many interesting, and rare material. The following were discovered in the manuscript:

  • A long list of sAhityaMs that were popular during his lifetime, along with the names of the various composers.
  • Text of 36 kIrttanaMs of Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar (these are in telugu, sanskrit, and his mother tongue saurAStra).
  • Commencing with a title “sEeSayya”ngAru kIrttanalu”, a collection of twenty six compositions, with the attestment, “shESayya”ngAr SahityaM” at the top, and concluding with the note “kOsalaM kIratanlu sampUrNaM”.
  • some of the Koyampurivaru sAhityaMs.
  • three kIrttanaMs in saurAStra bhASa of Kavi Venkatasuri.
  • seven of SadAshiva Brahmendra k.rtis in Sanskrit.

The kIrttanaMs of Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavathar were published in 1981 by the Ayyampettai Venkataramana Bhagavathar Jayanthi Committe, and again re-issued in 1983 with corrections. The 26 compositions of mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr that appear in this manuscript (along with an additional five songs by him) are also published in 1983 by the Tanjore Maharaja Serafoji's SarasvAti Mahal Library (series No. 197). The songs appear in both Sanskrit and Tamil.

From one of the folios, the date of the manuscript was deciphered as shukla year, AvaNi month, dashami, utrASAda star, Wednesday. The date roughly corresponds to 1869 AD. ShESayy”ngAr lived several years before the trinity. In Sa”ngIta SaMprAdaya Pradarshini, SubbarAma DIkSitar places his biography after Jayadeva, and before Giriraja Kavi and Shahaji. He lived before Ghanam Seenaiah, and was perhaps a contemporary of Shahaji. who ruled Tanjore during 1684-1710. His style resembles very much that of Shahaji in the usage of prAsaM (alliteration beauties), rhythm etc. His fluency in Sanskrit, and devotion to the Lord are both landmarks in all his compositions. Later on, perhaps, MuttusvAmi DIkSitar and TyAgarAja adopted his style, as is evident from many of their compositions.

shESayya”ngAr’s mudra

The mudra (signature) “kOsala” was used by shESayya”ngAr in all his compositions, with the variations “kOsalapurIshvara, kOsalapuranilaya, kOsalapurisadana”, and so forth. Regarding his mudra, “kOsalaM”, even though SubbarAma DIkSitar suggests that he hailed from ayodhya, there is no reference to this city in any of his compositions. He mentions VipranArAyaNa in one of his songs, and VipranArAyaNa definitely lived in South India. Further, he was a staunch follower of RAmAnuja, and mentions about NammAlvAr and other vaiSNava saints in his work. Some of his songs are on VaradarAja of KA~nci. So, one tends to believe that he may not have any association with ayodhya, and there may be other reasons to adopt the mudra “kOsalaM”.

svAti tirunAL and shESayya”ngAr

There is an interesting relationship between mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr and svAti tirunAL. Attracted by the style of the compositions of mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr, svAti tirunAL wrote a treatise in Malayalam, known as "muhana prAsanAntya prAsa vyavasta,” dealing with the principles of proper usage of shabdAlaNkAra, muhana, prAsa, antyaprAsa in musical compositions in Sanskrit. SvAti tirunAL points out at the commencement of this work that he gathered the material for this work from the compositions of shESa RAmAnuja and shESayya”ngAr. There are two manuscripts of this work, both in Malayalam, in the Palace library in Trivandrum. In the Kerala University manuscript collection, there is a Sanskrit version of the same work. Some of the quotations of this work can be traced in the manuscript, “shESayya”ngAr kIrttanaM”, mentioned earlier. While the Malayalam version of "muhana" clearly reveals that SvAti tirunAL was the author, there is some doubt as to whether the Sanskrit version was his work. There is no mention of him anywhere in this version. The fact that several musicians from Tanjore lived in his court might explain the existence of such a manuscript.

svAti tirunAL followed the compositions of mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr as a model for composing, and or introducing embelishments like muhana, prAsa, antyaprAsa and antarukti. Muhana is a shabdAlaNkAra by which the same letter in the beginning of an Avarta, (or any of its substitutes in according to some definite rules) occurs in the beginning of the next Avarta. PrAsa is the repetition of the second letter (or a group of letters) in the first Avarta in the same position in the subsequent Avartas. AntyaprAsa is a prAsa that occurs at the end of the Avartas. Antarokti is the usage of one or more syllables between two words which are in muhana or prAsa for the sake of tALa. SvAti tirunAL's compositions abound in these verbal embelishments (Most of DIkSitar compositions have these features). The similarity of the compositions of these two personalities is so striking that a few compositions of mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr have crept into some of the editions of svATi tirunAL. As examples of this, the kIrttanaM “jayasuguNAlaya” in bilahari appears in the “svAti tirunAL sa”ngIta kIrttanaikaL”, compiled by K. Chidambara Vadhyar (1916). But svAti tirunAL himself cites this as a work of mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr, in his muhana, Another example is the kalyANi k.rti “yojaya padanalinena” found in the same book. It does not bear the mudra of svAti tirunAL, but includes the phrase "kOsalam". The k.rti “kOslEndra mAmava” in madhyamAvati is found in the SarasvAti Mahal Library Publication. By a strange coincidence, the same k.rti appears in the collection of svAti tirunAL compositions, complied by Semmangudi Srinivasayyar. I am unable to decipher the correct authorship. It has the mudra “kOsalaM”, and not padmanAbha! (This k.rti is featured in the Malayalam Film, “SvAti tirunAL”, and was rendered by Neyyatinkara Vasudevan)

Perhaps, the mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr k.rti “shrIra”ngashAyinam sakalashubhadAyakam” was an inspiration for svAti tirunAL to compose his “bhOgendrashAyinam kuru kushalshAyinam” in kuntALavarALi. Again, shESayya”ngAr has a lengthy rAmAyaNa k.rti, “pAhi mAM shrIrAmacandra” in punnAgavarALi. May be svAti tirunAL followed this idea, and composed his famous rAmAyaNa k.rti, “bhAvayAmi raghurAmam in sAvEri.

The association of svAti tirunAL with the works of mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr was through SatkalA Govinda mArAR, a great name associated with the maharAja’s patronage of music. He was adept in such percussion instruments like ceNDa, maddalaM, eDakka, timila, but above all, he had the remarkable ability in singing a pallavi in six degrees of speed, which earned him the title SatkalA. It was MArAr who brought to the court, a vast number of Tanjore compositions, that also included mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr's kIrttanams. The structure, language and theme associated with these kIrttanaMs attracted svAti tirunAL, and he adopted them as models for his own compositions.

A list of available k.rtis

The following is a complete list of all the 31 kIrttanaMs that are featured (in both Sanskrit, and in Tamil) in this SarasvAti Mahal Library publication of 1983. Those kIrttanaMs that appeared in the 1902 edition of Singaracharyulu are identified with an asterik symbol (*). The list contains songs on A~njanEya, kA~nci varadarAja, gOvindarAja, shrIra”ngaM ra”nganAtha, sIta, rAma, viSNu, k.rSNa, and the saint rAmAnuja. The rAgaMs employed are time-honored majestic rakti rAgams. There is no mention of any tALa structure for many of these compositions. Each has a pallavi, followed by lengthy caraNams, numbering anywhere from 3 to 8. None has an anupallavi segment.

A~njaneya paripAlaya --- mOhanaM --- A~njanEya

kamalanayana yaduvara --- pUrvikalyANi --- k.rSNa

kalaye tAvakIna caraNaM --- sAveri --- ra”nganAtha

kalayAmi dasharatha* --- suraTi --- rAma

kOsalendra mAmava --- madhyamAvati --- rAma

gOpAla pAhi* --- dhanyAshi --- k.rSNa

jayajaya shrIra”ngEsha --- bhairavi --- ra”nganAtha

jAnakImanoharAya --- dhanyAshi --- rAma

devadevAnupamaprabhAva --- bhairavi --- k.rSNa

nAthavAnasmin --- tODi --- ra”nganAtha

pAhi gOpaveSa harE --- kalyANi --- k.rSNa

pAhimAm shri raghunAyaka* --- bEgaDa --- k.rSNa

pAhimAM shri rAmacandra --- punnAgavarALi --- rAma

pAhi shri raghuvara --- tODi --- rAma

pAhi shri ramAramaNa* --- athANa --- viSNu

bhajEhaM vIrarAghavaM* --- gaud lipantu --- rAma

mAmava raghuvIra --- asAveri --- rAma

ra”nganAyaka* --- kEdAragaud la --- ra”nganAtha

ra”ngapatE pAhimAM* --- darbAr --- ra”nganAtha

rAma pAlayamAM --- bhairavi --- rAma

re mAnasa cintaya --- kalyANi --- rAma

vande govindarAjaM* --- shaNkarAbharaNaM --- gOvindarAja

vande vakulAbharaNaM --- mukhAri --- rAmAnuja (?)

vandeham karishaila --- dvijAvanti --- varadarAja f kA~nci

shrinAyaka mAmava --- punnAgavarALi --- k.rSNa

shri raghukula varashubha* --- sAveri --- rAma

shri raghuvara suguNAlaya --- ghanta --- rAma

shrI ra”ngashAyI jaya --- kEdAragaud la --- ra”nganAtha

shri ra”ngashAyinaM* --- dhanyAshi --- ra”nganAtha

sArasadalanayana --- suraTi --- rAma

sItE vasumati sa~njAtE --- asAveri --- sIta hline

sAhityams of all the above k.rtis

Click here for a Sanskrit PDF document

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Illustrations --- three selected k.rtis

In order to appreciate mArgadarshi shESayya”ngAr's style, we append below three of his kIrttanaMs, one in bhairavi, and the remaining two in asAveri, all decorated with various shabdAla”nkArams. The first one is on Lord k.rSNna. Here one can observe the rhyming and alliteration beauties of the first four letters (two phrases) of each line. The second one on rAma, is studded with dvitIyAkSara prAsam on each line. The third one is a unique k.rti, praising sIta, and has plenty of anyAkSara prAsams. The simplicity of the expressions, lofty ideas and anecdotes, and the usage of various types of prAsams is a landmark in all his compositions. Sometimes these k.rtis remind us of UttukkAdu VeNkaTasubba Iyer's style. According to a paraMpara tradition, even today, during the EkAnta sEva for Lord ra”nganAtha in shrIra”ngam temple, we can hear a few selected songs on marg.

1. devadevAnupamaprabhAva, rAgaM : bhairavi




devadevakIpuNyanidhe k.rSNamAnavarUpa

pAvanaguNAmbudhe ||



sAlAsAlakaniTila shrI

lolAlolavanamAlikA rAsakrIDa

tALAtALavanavipAlaka || 1 ||



shurAshUrakulAgragaNya yashodAku-

mArAmArakoTilAvaNya || 2 ||


rAmArAmAnuja satya

bhAmAbhAmajagatkAraNa yAdavasarv

bhaumAbhaumaghanasamIraNa || 3 ||


dArAdArAyita vallavI-


pArApAra gamakavIkSaNa || 4 ||


lApAlApA iSTAnanda

gopAgopAla ArAdhana underlinekosalapura

bhUpAbhUpodravasUdana || 5 ||

2. sItE vasumati sa~njAtE, rAgaM: asAveri


sItE vasumati sa~njAtE

ramaNIya guNa jAte

rakSita sarva bhUte

paripAhimAM ||


shyAme lAvaNya vibhava samE

vadana nirjita sOmE

AsadAnugata raghurAmE

paripAhimAM || 1 ||

dhIre sanmuni hrdayAkArE

kara dhd rta kalhArE

Aghanopamita kacabhArE

paripAhimAM || 2 ||

dhanye vaidEhirAjakanyE

parihrta bhakta dainyE

Asannuta daiva mAnyE

paripAhimAM || 3 ||

shAntE kAruNyapUrNa shAntE

shrI nidAna lOcanAntE

underlinekosala purI ramaNa kAntE

paripAhimAM || 4 ||

3. mAmava raghuvIra, rAgaM: asAveri, tALaM tripuTa


mAmava raghuvIra mAnitamunivara

bhUmisutAnAyaka bhaktajana-

kAmitaphaladAyaka ||



n.rpatilalAma dasharatharAma samaroddhAma

dashamukhasAmajam.rgendra underlinekosalapurIndra || 1 ||

dinakarakuladIpa dh.rtadivyasharacApa

vanajasannibhagAtra yogivarya

sanakAdinutipAtra nabhomaNi || 2 ||

tanuja sharaNapavanaja mukhapari-


manujatanudharavanajadALanayana amitamunishamana || 3 ||

bhaNDanoddhatadoSa pAlitagautamayoSa

daNDitamArIca abdhigarva

khaNDakanArAca divyaratna || 4 ||


taNDakarabhuja daNDahimakara

khaNDadharakodaNDadALanayana agaNitaguNagaNa || 5 ||

ghaTitanAnAbhUSa kalitAshritapoSa

taTidhUpAmitavAsana shrIkosala

puTAbhedananivAsana - (indranIlAbha) || 6 ||

kuTilakacav.rta niTalataTamaNi



darahasitavadana || 7 ||

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