CAC Newsletter





Introduction (Dr. V V Srivatsa): The word Kurinji can be interpreted in Sanskrit as "land". In Tamil literature, there is reference to five types of lands, one of which is Kurinji, signifying mountainous regions. Was this raga one of the Kurinji region? A distinction has to be made between Kuranji and Kurinji. There is no musically equivalent raga in the Pann system. Hence, it cannot be the music of the mountains. This raga has not been extensively used in dance and cannot be said to be a tune adding aesthetic value to dance. 

There is no reference to this raga in ancient treatises like Sangeeta Makaranda or Sangeeta Ratnakara. References in Chaturdandi Prakasika are found only in the supplement, (anubandha), which is antedated to the original version. The first concrete reference is found in Sangeeta Saramrita of Tulaja, where it is referred to as a janya raga of the Kambhoji mela. Saramrita dates to 1735 AD. The presence of a kriti by Pallavi Gopala Iyer proves that it was in vogue in the pre-Trinity period.

Historical Background (Dr. N Ramanathan): Concurring with the introductory remarks made earlier, Dr. N Ramanathan opined that Natakurinji is a raga which established itself only in the pre-Trinity period. He referred to an isolated view expressed that the Pann Nattapadai referred to Natakurinji and not to Nata and felt that this view remained inadequately substantiated.

Pointing out the structural diversity expressed by musicologists, Dr. Ramanathan was critical of the usage of the Panchama swara and pointed out that this swara is freely used in the Dikshitar school, and that too, with emphasis. Dr. Ramanathan was critical of the Panchama usage and pointed out that Govindacharya clearly referred to the absence of Panchama in both the Arohana and the Avarohana. He also pointed out liberties taken by performing artistes in the rendition of alapana and played an audio extract to substantiate his view. He favoured the Shadava-Audava structure.

Manodharma (P S Narayanaswamy): Apparent differences on the structural format, lends ample scope for manodharma - this was the stance taken by P S Narayanaswamy. The essence was amelioration of aesthetic value, which was the ultimate objective. Citing the “ni-da-ni-pa-da-ni-sa” movement, he opined that there was melodic beauty in it. Similarly, the “sa-ma-ga-ma” was a special movement, quite welcome, which, however did not negate the value of “sa-ri-ga-ma”. He said that Natakurinji does offer adequate scope for exposition and improvisation and that it is a raga which shines mainly in the Madhya and Tara sthayis. Even the usage of “ri-ga-ma-ri-sa” in the Tara sthayi was sweet and so was the prayoga “ga-ma-ri-sa”. He further added that this raga affords plenty of scope for Tanam-rendition and was suited for both medium and slow tempos, although composers appear to have preferred the medium tempo. (P S Narayanaswamy rendered a few passages demonstrating the scope of manodharma in Natakurinji.)

Anuswaras, Gamakas and Allied ragas (Dr. Sriram Parasuram): Embellishment of a raga depends on two factors - the choice of the note to be emphasised and the duration of emphasis. The duration of emphasis conditioned the choice of the Anuswara and gamaka. Further, the pace of rendition also conditioned the extent of usage. If the objective is to give a musical-gliding effect, the choice gets limited further. Dr. Sriram Parasuram was of the view that composers generally favoured a racy-pace, as can be visualised from the preponderance of Roopaka tala in compositions. He said that in this raga, notes should not be over-extended as they mar the beauty. The Rishabha, Gandhara and Madhyama scenario shows pitch-proximate. There is occasional variance in the level of the madhyama, which is very marginal. The role of the anuswaras are finite and not faint. The lakshana of the raga is conducive to jaru and pratyahata Gamakas.

Speaking on allied ragas, he felt that the "sa-ma-ga-ma” movement reminds listeners of raga Khamas. He also agreed that raga Ravichandrika was a proximate raga. The Hindustani raga, Ragesri, did bear resemblance despite the pakkads being different, he said.

Compositions (Suguna Varadachari): Suguna Varadachari drew the attention of the audience to the fact that there were atleast eight Varnams in this raga, obliterating the mistaken impression of the public on the singularity of the Varnam “Chalamela”. One of the Varnams was totally devoid of Panchama, she said, (and rendered) which was in concurrence with the views expressed earlier by Dr. Ramanathan. She rendered excerpts from most of the Varnams. 

Among the kritis mentioned by her were Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s “Needumoorti”, Tyagaraja’s “Manasu Vishaya Nata” and “Kuvalayadala”; Dikshitar’s “Gajadeeshad” and “Budhamasayami”; Syama Sastri’s “Mayamma”, Vina Kuppayyar’s “Matalada” and one rescission of Gopalakrishna Bharati’s “Vazhi maraitirukkudu”. She also referred to Swati Tirunal’s composition “Mamava Sada”. She pointed out that the phrase “ga-ma-ri-sa” in the Tara sthayi, found in one of the Varnams, was also present in the kriti “Mayamma” by Syama Sastri.


The aesthetic appeal of raga Natakurinji is of a high order. The name remains an enigma. Note that in “Nata”, though generally written with one ‘a’ the pronunciation, in practice, is Deergha (elongated). This rules out any special links between dance and this raga. The second factor is whether it is “Kurinji” or “Kuranji”. The origin and historical background of this raga is clear enough to prove, sans doubt, that it did not exist in the period of Pann evolution. Hence, it could not have been the raga of the State, of one of the five forms of geographic types of land called “Kurinji”. There is no evidence to prove usage of this raga in Tevaram traditions; there is no equivalent Pann. If the name is styled as “Kuranji” it can be interpreted as something that promotes “ranjakatva” (aesthetic value), which is undeniable. The extent of usage of this raga in Bharatanatyam is limited. Even “Tamarum amarum”, a Tiruppugazh tuned in this raga, modified to serve as Alarippu (the opening piece in Bharatanatyam), is of very recent origin. As stated earlier, Nata is pronounced with an elongated “a” after “Na”. Thus, we can call this a raga with an enigmatic name.

The structure of this raga is non-standardised and divergent, but not enigmatic. This raga does not have an ancient historical background - in the absence of treatise from Sangeeta Makaranda onwards to Sangeeta Ratnakara. There is mention of this raga only in the supplementary compendium of the Chaturdandi Prakasika. The absence of reference in Ramamatya’s Swaramela Kalanidhi and Somanatha’s Raga Vibhodha prove that it was not in vogue in medieval times too. The reference in the Lakshana supplement of Chaturdandi Prakasika makes it a raga which at best, could have orginated in the 17th century AD. References to this raga, by Govindacharya, in  Sangraha Choodamani as “Arohe pa varjita, Avarohe ri pa varjita”, indicates that this raga was of pre-Trinity times and was a Shadava-audava raga. Tulaja’s reference, also as a Panchama-varja raga, dates it prior to 1735 AD. Pallavi Gopala Iyer's composition in this raga confirms the pre-Trinity genesis. So, this is a raga, is at best, about three hundred years old. It is a raga beyond an incipient stage, on the verge of the termination of development, yet remaining to date, non-standardised, in structural terms.

Govindacharya calls it a derivative of the Harikambhoji mela while Tulajaji calls it a derivative of Kambhoji mela. Tulaja hints at a Shadava-Shadava structure, Govindacharya gives a Shadava-Audava structure. Subbarama Dikshitar portrays a Sampoorna-Audava structure. Nadamuni Pandita deems it to be Sampoorna-Audava and K V Srinivasa Iyengar visualises it as Sampoorna-Shadava. Hence, there is apparently, a lack of uniformity, if not a lack of standardisation.

As a janya raga of Kambhoji mela, the constituent swaras are Chatusruti Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Chatusruti Daivata and Kaisika Nishada. Natakurinji does not have a background of folk music and is not a Desiya raga. It is wholly indigenous to Carnatic music. The semblance between raga Ragesri of the Hindustani system and raga Natakurinji is to say the least, distant. This raga affords ample scope for Tana rendition and is yet not recognised as a Ghana raga. Adequate explanation for this raga being branded as a Bhashanga raga is not given in musicological works. It is more a performance-oriented raga and does not restrict the creativity or manodharma of the performer. It certainly is swara-oriented and this results in the presence of many Varnams in this raga.

It is one of the select 28 ragas in which we have composition of each member of the Carnatic music Trinity. Tyagaraja’s “Manasu Vishaya” is reasonably well known but his “Kuvalayadala” is rarely rendered. Muthuswami Dikshitar’s “Budhamasrayami” is one of the Vara kritis, dedicated to the graha Budha and is perhaps, the best-known composition in this raga. Other compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar are “Gajadeesad anyam”, “Parvati Kumaram” and a medium-paced “Balambikayai”. Syama Sastri’s “Mayamma” is adorned with delectable swara and swarakshara passages.

We have to recall the fact that Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s “Needumoorti’ is of pre-Trinity vintage. In the post-Trinity period, we have compositions like Vina Kuppayyar’s “Matalada” and Subbarama Dikshitar’s “Tripurasundari”. There is a kriti, “Raghuraman” ascribed to Oothukadu Venkata Kavi, which is virtually unknown. Swati Tirunal’s popular composition “Mamava sada varade” is in addition to the less known “Pahi Janani” by him. Recent compositions are “Enta ninne” by Mysore Vasudevachar and “Kolam kana vareer” by Ambujam Krishna. The mention of Gopalakrishna Bharati’s “Vazhimaraitirukkudu” has to be cursory, as there are versions of that composition in  other ragas too. A song dedicated to Swami Vivekananda in this raga, is “Mahishanti moortim”. There are two compositions of anonymous authorship, “Kamalasana” (perhaps Subbaraya Sastri but his mudra, Kumara is not found) and “Ketumbhajeham”.

Needless to state, this raga is a favourite of performers for Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi.

Though not in sequential order, mention must be made of the unique Pada-Tana Varnam by the Karvetinagar brothers, which is unique by virtue of the presence of jatis for muktayai-swaras, in the Charana passage.

The repertoire of compositions in this raga is adequate but not massive. The limitation can be traced to the relatively recent origin. This raga has crossed the embryonic stage long back, but lacks a unified format, as the lakshya is still in a state of development. It is a dynamic raga with exponential potential and will continue to provide melodic satisfaction to rasikas, even in times to come.

The problem of Panchama:

Natakurinji is not just multi-faceted, but has multiple versions as well. The concepts of contemporary musicologists have been widely divergent. At the outset, we must state that the consensus view is that this is a lakshya-oriented raga. The structural prescription has to emerge from performance.

Tulaja was the first, in chronological sequence, to mention this raga. He stated:

Asya aarohasya avarohayoho panchamallanghanam
Raktilaabhaaya kwachit panchamam aagachhati

Normally, the ascending and descending scales are devoid of Panchama, but sometimes it is present to enhance the beauty of the raga. So there is no need to inculcate an aversion to the version with the Panchama swara. Such a phenomenon exists in respect of raga Bagesri too, where both versions are accepted without much ado. Unfortunately, there is unwarranted hullabaloo about the dual versions of raga Natakurinji. The Sloka found in the appendix of the Chaturdandi Prakasika says:

Pa ri varjya avarohetu raago Natakurinjikaa
Shadja graha samyuktaa, gaayate lakshyavedibhi

The reference to “gaayate lakshyavedibhi” assumes importance. Freedom is given to the performer, to render this raga as per his concept, which, per se, could include or exclude panchama. No crime is committed if it is included. Govindacharya was a staunch protagonist for the exclusion of panchama. As one swallow does not make a spring, Govindacharya’s view is not a hukumnama (order)!

The chittaswara passage of Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s “Needumoorti” has phrases like “ga-ma-pa-ga-ri-sa” and “sa-ni-da-pa-da-ni”, which shows that in the pre-Trinity period, there was no bar to the inclusion of Panchama. Tulaja also permits “pa-da” and "sa-da-pa-ma”. We find a sanchara in the Pada-Tana Varnam of Karvetinagar brothers, “da-sa-sa-ni-da-ni-pa”. What does this indicate? This is left to inference. Subbarama Dikshitar refers to “ni-da-ni-pa-ni-da-ni-sa” as archaic but admissible. As visesha prayoga-s (special usages), Subbarama Dikshitar cites “sa-sa-ni-da-ni-pa-da-sa” and “ma-pa-ga-sa”. So there are visesha prayogas with Panchama.

Nadamuni Pandita is in favour of “sa-ri-ga-ma-da-ni-pa-da-ni-sa” as the arohana but excludes Panchama in the avarohana. In “Gana Bhaskaram”, we find the arohana as “sa-ri-ga-ma-ni-da-ni-pa-da-ni-sa”, which includes Panchama.

Historigraphic analysis shows that the usage of Panchama by the Dikshitar school is limited. The lakshya-orientation of this raga allows them the liberty to stress, if so desired.

The conceptual blinker of considering a raga as a scale, combined with accent on one swara, is the cause for aberrated, yet unwarranted pontification on the admissibility or otherwise, of Panchama in raga Natakurinji. The majority view is in favour of incluing Panchama. If it were not there, there would be finite nuances of raga Sriranjani in this raga. Hence, the presence of Panchama is not only admissible but also desirable.


Composition Tala Composer
Chalamela (Varnam) Adi Rangaswami Nattuvanar
Saminivega (Varnam) Khanda Ata Patnam Subramanya Iye
Budhamasrayami Misra Jhampa Muthuswami Dikshitar
Sivakamipatim Adi Muthuswami Dikshitar
Parvati kumaram Roopaka Muthuswami Dikshitar
Balambikayai Roopaka Muthuswami Dikshitar
Gajadeesadanyam Misra Chapu Muthuswami Dikshitar
Tripurasundari Roopaka Subbarama Dikshitar
Mayimelara Tisra Triputa Vina Seshanna
Manasu vishaya Adi Tyagaraja
Kuvalayadala nayana Adi Tyagaraja
Mayamma Adi Syama Sastri
Mamavasada Roopaka Swati Tirunal
Jagadeesa sada Adi Swati Tirunal
Pahi janani santatam Misra Chapu Swati Tirunal
Sarasaninne Adi Patnam Subramanya Iyer
Palvadiyum mugam Adi Oothukadu Venkata Kavi
Matada rada Adi Vina Kuppayyar
Mayimelara Tisra Triputa Vina Seshanna
Ninnuminchina Adi Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar
Nakabhaya varamosagi Roopaka G N Balasubramanyam
Vazhimaraittu Misra Chapu Gopalakrishna Bharati
Paripahimam murare Misra Chapu Tulasivanam
Prananatha paliso Roopaka Purandaradasa
Ninnenammiti Adi Mysore Vasudevachar
Entaninne Tisra Triputa Mysore Vasudevachar
Nachai viduvakura Roopaka Mysore Vasudevachar
Parakela saraswati Roopaka Tirupati Narayanaswamy
Nityaklinne nishkalanke Adi Muthaiah Bhagavatar
Muruga muruga Adi Subramanya Bharati
Parimala kalavallabha Ata Arunagirinathar
Yetanunnarado Misra Chapu Bhadrachala Ramadas
Santamillamal Adi Periyasami Tooran
Inda ordavi Adi Periyasami Tooran
Natanasabhapatiye Adi Papanasam Sivan
Yen indatamadam Adi Neelakanta Sivan
Intaparakelana Khanda Ata Tiruvottriyur Tyagayyar
Muralidurai Roopaka Lakshmanan
Ekkalattilum Tisra Eka Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer

CAC Newsletter home

CAC photos


themehome.jpg (1315 bytes)