WHOM SRI SWATHI THIRUNAL FOLLOWED
[By T. S. Parthasarathy]
Iyengar who lived in the early 18th century is the only composer who was called
a 'Margadarsi' even by his own contemporaries. We are naturally obliged to
the savant, Subbarama Dikshitar (but for whose labours the biographical details
of many composers would have remained a sealed book to us), for a brief account
of Sesha Iyengar and his Kritis. But even the usually well - informed Dikshitar
could get only fragmentary information about Sesha Iyengar.
The following is a translation from the Telugu original of Dikshitar.
'He was a Vasihnava Brahmin. He was a scholar in Sanskrit and music and a
devote of Lord Ranganatha. He returned after a long stay at Ayodhya and lived
at Srirangam composing many devotional Kritis in Sanskrit on Ranganatha. As
he hailed from Ayodhya, his Mudra in his Kritis was 'Kosala'. He collected
all his songs in book-form and left them with the temple archakas asking them
to place them at the feet of the Lord during the Ardhajama Puja. When he went
to the temple the next morning and scrutinised the book, he found that only
sixty Kritis had been left and the others obliterated. These sixty compositions
accepted by the Lord Himself are now in vogue. The Pandits of those days praised
his Sanskrit style and called him 'Margadarsi'. It is believed that he lived
before Ghanam Sinayya.'
In all, about 40 Kritis of Sesha Iyengar can be traced and they are set in
22 or 23 ragas of Karnatic music. All the ragas employed are time-honoured
Rakti Ragas and it is obvious that the composer was not influenced by the
72 Melakarta scheme of Venkatamakhi even if he was aware of it. Karnata Saranga
is a rare Raga and even Ragas like Brindavana Saranga, Ghanta and Dvijavanti
may be described as uncommon ones. It is a pity that the tunes of only a handful
of this pathfinder's Kritis have survived. Apart from the notation of 'Rangapate'
(Kapi) furnished by Subbarama Dikshitar, Sri Rukminisa (Athana) and two or
three other Kritis are known to a few genuine music-lovers.
Maharaja Swathi Thirunal
How then are we to justify Sesha Iyengar's title 'Margadarsi', invariably
used in all editions? It is here that a rare but slender volume in Sanskrit
entitled Muhana prasantyaprasa vyavastha attributed to Swathi Tirunal
Rama Varma Maharaja of Travancore (1813-1847) comes to our help. Although
the Sanskrit version was published in Trivandrum in 1946, the manuscript was
procured from Tanjore in 1939 by Pandit R. A. Sastri. But no Tamil version
of the work exists and three are two manuscripts in Malayalam containing a
translation of the work. The work has been mentioned as one among the Maharaja's
works by both K. Chidambara Vadhyar and Mahakavi Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer
and the latter published the Malayalam version from Ernakulam. The fact that
the Kritis following the pattern set by the Margadarsi bears irrefutable testimony
to the theory that the above short treatise was written by the Maharaja himself.
The Muhana prasa antya prasa vyavastha deals with the principles of
using the Sabdalankaras-muhana, prasa and antyaprasa - in musical compositions
in Sanskrit, a subject not met in any work on the theory of music. All the
examples cited are from the Kritis of Margadarsi Sesha lyengar. Muhana (called
Monai in Tamil) is the Sabdalankara by which the same letter as in the beginning
of an avarta or any of its substitutes occurs in the beginning of the second
avarta. For example,
'Dinakara Kula dipa!
Dhrita divya sara chapa!'
Prasa, (called Edukai in Tamil) is the repetition of the second letter in
the first avarta in the same position in the subsequent avarta in the same
position in the subsequent avartas. This is concerned only with consonants,
not vowels. The example given in the book from Sesha lyengar's Kriti is:
‘Tanuja sarana pa-
Vanaja mukha pari-
jana ! jagadahita-
manuja tanu dhara!
vanaja dala nayana!’
Antyaprasa is the repetition of a letter or group of letters at the end of
the avartas. It differs from prasa. For instance, a word like netram can have
antyaprasa only with words like gatram, sutram, etc. For examples,
Tavakina Charana Kisalaye
The most interesting part of the book deals with a feature called Antarukti,
not mentioned at all in any other work on music. This is the use of one
or more syllables between two words which are in muhana or Prasa, for the
sake of tala. For example,
‘Hanumantam Chintayeham paVana
Here the word Pavana is split to provide 'vana' as prasa to 'Hanu' The syllable
'pa' is therefore the 'antarukti'
“The Muhana prasa antyaprasa vyavastha is thus a treasure-trove
to musicologists and to those who wish to compose Kritis in accordance with
time-honoured Saddalankaras. In the beginning the author says:
'The three Sabdalankaras used in composing Sahitya for music are muhana,
prasa and antyaprasa. Although the rules for such compositions in Telugu
and Tamil are well-recognized, there is no set of rules for compositions
in Sanskrit. We have therefore, to accept certain norms that are found in
the Kritis of the poet known as Sesha Ramanuja Kavi who has composed only
in Sanskrit.' The Sanskrit version has been published by the Madras Music
It is interesting to note that Sesha Iyengar is referred to here as Sesha
Ramanuja Kavi. There is no difficulty in identifying this poet as Margadarsi
Sesha Iyengar as there is a paper manuscript in the Trivandrum Palace Library
entitled Seshayyangaru Kirtanam which contains Kritis with the Kosala Mudra.
M. Krishnamachariar in his History of Sanskrit Literature says that
Sesha Iyengar mostly lived at Ayodhya and settled at Srirangam in the latter
part of his life. We have to presume that the Kritis of Sesha Iyengar were
collected in the Tamil Nadu area by Shatkala Govinda Marar who toured the
region as a cultural ambassador of Swati Tirunal and had meetings with Tyagaraja
and perhaps other prominent Vaggeyakaras. Or, one of the several musicians
from Tanjore, who were in the court of the Ruler, might have supplied him
with the compositions of Iyengar.
Having spelt out the principles of employing Sabdalankaras in musical compositions
in Sanskrit, following the patterns set by Sesha Iyengar, it is no wonder
that Swati Tirunal himself followed them in his Sanskrit compositions. The
Maharaja was a master of the language but he did not hesitate to borrow
phrases like 'palita bhuvana samudaya' from Iyengar. But the unique tribute
he has paid to his illustrious predecessor is the Kriti 'Bhogindra sayinam',
which is entirely modelled after Iyengar's beautiful Kriti 'Sriranga Sayinam'.
Let us compare the two Kritis :
Margadarsi Sesha Iyengar's Kriti:
Pallavi : “Sriranga Sayinam Sakala
Subha Dayinam Chintaye -
ham Sada Hridaye”
Anupallavi : “Karunya, Sausilya Saurya Vatsalyadi
Kalyana Guna Jalanidhim Deva Devam.”
Swati Tirunal's Kriti :
Pallavi : “Bhogindra Sayinam Purukusala Dayinam
Purusham Sasvatam Kalaye.
Anupallavi : Vagisa Gaurisa Vasava-dyamara Pariva-
rabhi Vandita Padam Padmanabham”.
Both the Kritis are in Dhanyasi.
Although most of the Kritis of Sesha Iyengar are in praise of Lord Ranganatha
of Srirangam, some are in praise of Lord Rama as a result of his long stay
at Ayodhya. The other songs are in praise of Narasimha, Anjaneya, Nammalvar,
Ramanuja, Sita, etc. and Iyengar mentions Vedanta Desika in one of his Kritis.
The Kriti ‘Sri Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama (which incidentally is
the thirteen-lettered mantra taught by Samartha Ramadas) has 30 Charanas
covering the entire Ramayana story and served as a model to similar Kritis
by Swati Tirunal and Tyagaraja. A comparative Study of the Margadarsi's
Kritis with those of other composer in Sanskrit may yield many more examples
of the former's influence on later composers.
Sesha Iyengar was thus a path finder (Margadarsi) in every sense of the
term and his Kritis deserve greater popularity even if they have to be set
to music afresh like those of Annamacharya and Swati Tirunal.