As I was writing the Punnagavarali post, I was very sure that I will have to immediately write about another similar raga, Ahiri. It is not that you cannot distinguish between Punnagavarali and Ahiri. Both have their unique identities but in many other facets, they are very similar to each other.
Both Punnagavarali and Ahiri are janya ragas of the mighty Todi. Both are ‘karuna rasa pradhanam’ ragas. Both are supposed to be ragas with limited scope. Both of them are vintage ragas having been with us for ages. Both are very carnatic in nature, in the sense you don’t find them outside of Carnatic music. (S R Janakiraman in one lec-dem says, “Ragas of the type of Ahiri are the pride and glory of Carnatic music”.) Both have been treated in a similar way by the trinity. Both have interesting associations linked to them.
If it was the linkage of snakes and magudi to Punnagavarali is interesting, the Ahiri linkage is even more interesting. It is said that if you sing Ahiri, you will get to have food for that time of day. So if you sing it in the afternoon, you lunch is gone and if you sing in the evening, you can forget your dinner. I am not sure how this association came about, but it seems to have a hoary tradition. (SRJ in the same lec-dem, after singing Ahiri, says that he need not worry about lunch since his brother will definitely get him lunch)
My mother once told me a story relating to this aspect. In olden days, a musician wanted to prove people wrong about not getting food after singing Ahiri. So he packed his food in a cloth bag, went outside the village, hung it from a tree and started singing Ahiri. As soon as he finished singing Ahiri, he looked up at his parcel only to see a snake entering the cloth bag. That was end of lunch for him.
Let’s get to the musical part now. As I said, the trinity have treated this raga in almost the same way they treated Punnagavarali. First, we take Dikshitar. As I said earlier, Dikshitar treats every raga with seriousness and he has chosen this raga for a mighty Navavarna krithi. He converts this raga into a grand one in this krithi. (I have seen another Ahiri krithi of Dikshitar listed but I have not heard that till now.) Here we have D K Jayaraman and his disciples rendering this masterpiece. What a melodious picture of the raga Dikshitar paints and due credit to DKJ for the rendition.
Syama Sastry composed one krithi in this raga and that has been a favorite of many musicians. The main rasa in Syama Sastry’s krithis is the karunya rasa and when he takes up a karunya rasa pradhana ragam like Ahiri, you must expect magic and you get in the form of ‘mayamma’. As with Dikshitar, Syama Sastry also proves that there is nothing ‘light’ about Ahiri and that it can take a lot of weight.
The first time I heard ‘mayamma’ was in concert of T.N.Seshagopalan (then at the peak of his powers.) Later I heard a lovely and a moving rendition by KVN. We have M S Subbulakshmi and many other singing this song. I couldn’t find any of their renditions on youtube. Here is T.M.Krishna singing the krithi.
Tyagaraja, as we saw in the Punnagavarali case, never went with the standard thinking. For him Ahiri was not necessarily a karuna rasa pradhana ragam but a ragam which had scope for other rasas as well. He composed the ‘tsallare ramchandruni paini poolu’ in Ahiri, which extorts people to shower Rama with flowers in abundant quantity. The song often starts from the anupallavi ‘sompaina manasutho’ and was made famous by M.S.
Here is M S singing the krithi:
After having showered Rama with flowers, Tyagaraja now asks Rama to sleep on a bed made with flowers in ‘poola panpu meedha’. Such a simple and charming krithi making you take to Ahiri immediately. I especially love the way the tunes moves at ‘neela gana syama hare’. Almost a folkish song with a playful gait. Sung here by Sowmya:
Tyagaraja has also composed another wonderful krithi ‘adaya sri’. I have a Brinda version of this but unfortunately couldn’t find it on the net. (I will try and load it to Soundcloud soon.) Here you have Sarojini Sundaresan rendering this krithi. I must confess I have not heard her till now and I found the rendition nice. A serious krithi rendered with the required seriousness:
Like Punnagavarali, Ahiri also has padams in it. There two famous padams in Ahiri. One of them is by Swati Tirunal. ‘panimathi mukhi bale’, is easily the most famous padam in all of Kerala. I think every Malayalee who knows music or has attended a Mohiniyattam performance would know this padam. The ragam perfectly echoes the feeling of viraha inherent in this padam. Wonderful words which mingle inseparably with the ragam make this an unforgettable padam.
Here is a dance performance of this padam:
Here is the playback singer Chitra’s melodious version of this padam. She starts with the, surprise, pallavi!! ‘manasi dussamayyo’ is the pallavi and ‘pani mathi mukhi’ is the anu pallavi. Most padams start from the anu pallavi.
There is K V Narayanaswamy version available in a Swathi Tirunal krithi CDs but I couldn’t find it online.
The other famous padam in Ahiri is ‘mosamaye’ of Kshterayya and unsurprisingly made famous by Brinda-Muktha. You can hear some similarities between the two padams. In this Musicindiaonline link, you can scroll down and hear T.Mukta singing this padam. (You also have KVN’s version of ‘pani mathi mukhi’, Tn.Seshagopalan’s and Voleti’s ‘mayamma’ and many more here.)
The link above should keep you busy for some time.