I don’t need to tell you that I am going to speak about Punnagavarali do I? Even young kids in South India associate this raga with snakes and snake charmers. I don’t know how this association happened or when it happened but it is now a well-entrenched association. Even if the person listening to this raga doesn’t know the name of the raga, he / she will immediately exclaim, “Isn’t this the same raga as played for magudi?” Punnagavarali is an easily identifiable raga.
Maybe it is this association with snakes and snake charmers that have pushed Punnagavarali to the later part of the concert and the raga is generally regarded to be a ‘minor’ raga, used more in ragamalikas. This is not a true reflection on the scope and depth of the raga. Our musical trinity demonstrated the depth, grandeur and the variety this raga provides through their krithis. Let me talk about that now.
Muthuswami Dikshitar is like a strict college professor, a great scholar, who has indepth knowledge of his subject, a well-respected man and for whom nothing is trivial. He is the professor of whom you are a bit scared to talk to because you need to be serious when you approach him. Dikshitar brings in great depth and seriousness to every raga that he handles and Punnagavarali is no exception. He has two superb krithis in this ragam. One is the famous ‘Ehi Annapoorne’ and the other one is the Kamalamba Navavarna krithi. In both these kirthis, we can clearly see the gravitas that Dikshitar imparts to this raga by adopting a slow gait. The raga is developed slowly and the singer can relish the raga at every turn. The way the raga loops in the pallavi itself is a joy to hear. Similar is the treatment of this raga in the Kamalamba Navavarna krithi. Listening to the anu pallavi in this krithi can easily be the definition of bliss.
Here is Aruna Sairam singing ‘Ehi Annapoorne’ (My personal preference is the Vijay Siva version):
D.K.Jayaraman singing the Kamalamba Navavarna krithi:
(The following link has Vijay Siva singing ‘ehi annapoorne’ and his guru D.K.Jayaraman singing the Kamalamba Navavarna krithi:
Syama Sastry is like the professor who is a master of his subject, takes his subject seriously but is easily approachable. There is a certain kindness inherent in him and that makes you take to him immediately. Only when you hear him carefully you realize the depth that he brings to the subject. Syama Sastry also has composed two krithis in this raga, the famous one being ‘Kanakasaila Viharini’. This krithi combines seriousness with piety. The grandeur of the raga is mixed with the inherent devotion of Syama Sastry towards the Devi to present a charming facet of the ragam. And when you have someone like M.S.Subbalakshmi, whose devotion to the Devi rivals that of Syama Sastry, sing this song, the effect is unforgettable.
Here is M.D.Ramanathan, exploring the ragam, using the same krithi, in his own inimitable style. His voice and pace add the required depth to the ragam.
The other Punnagavarali krithi of Syama Sastry is supposed to ‘enneramum’. I have heard a couple of artists sing this but somehow I never could feel the Syama Sastry stamp in the rendition.
Tyagaraja was that professor, who knew his subject as well as anyone else but was not averse to joke with his students. His method of teaching was such that even the dullest of the student did not want to miss his class. Everyone got an impression that any subject can be understood with some effort. Such were his teaching methods.
As his wont, Tyagaraja explores multiple facets of Punnagavarali. There is a sort of folk feel in ‘gandamu puyyaru gaa’. A raga which is generally used for bhakthi is used in a very playful manner here. The song asks people to smear sandalwood paste on Krishna. This is from the geya natakam called ‘Nauka Charitram’ and the song has the energy and fun appropriate to the situation. The words are so well chosen that the beauty of Krishna springs in front of eyes effortlessly. (‘kala kala mani muka kala gani sokkuchu, paluka amruthamunulolukedu swamiki’ Brilliant)
In this video Sowmya talks about Punnagavarali, the folk song nature of this song and sings it:
This krithi was a big hit when it appeared in K.Vishwanth’s movie, ‘Subhodayam’. P.Susheela and SPB sing this krithi:
To get the students interested in the subjects, Tyagaraja gave simple assignments. Divyanama Sankeerthanams that he created were aimed at making everyone take up singing. They had a simple tune, lovely words and every charanam was only two lines long. These are easy to take up for bhajanais and they evoke bhakti in the singer and the listener in equal quantity. ‘tava dasoham’ is one such krithi. Here Tyagaraja combines charanams in Sanskrit with charanams in Telugu. I first heard it when M.S.Subbulakshmi sung it in a Tyagaraja Aradhana and have been a fan of this song since then.
Here is M.S.Subbulakshmi’s rendition for you to fall in love with:
A Tyagaraja krithi for which I could not find a link is from the other geya natakam, ‘Prahaladha Bhakthi Vijayam’. This is diametrically opposite to ‘gandamu puyyaru gaa’. If ‘gandamu’ explored the fun aspect inherent in Punnaga Varali, the ‘Prahaladha Bhakthi Vijayam’ krithi ‘indhuka ee thanuvunu penchina’ explores the ‘soka rasam’. Here Prahaladha is sad because he is unable to a darsanam of his ‘ishta devata’. The krithi plays out almost like a dirge and Tyagaraja uses Punnagavarali effectively to convey the pathos. I have heard Sita Rajan sing this krithi in an album called ‘Prahaladha Bhaktha Vijayam’. She also sings a padyam before starting the song and that padyam shows the poetic genius of Tyagaraja. (If someone knows an online link to this krithi, kindly let me know.)
The Kshetrayya padam, ‘ninnu choosi naalugu aidu nelalaaye’ has the depth and grandeur that you would associate with a Dikshitar krithi. This padam brings out the viraha rasam. Here the lady is pining for her lover who she hasn’t seen for four / five months now. As can be expected, Brinda-Mukta sing this padam and I needn’t remark how they sing it!! There is a tape of Pinankapani singing this padam. In the video I am linking here, you can hear Malladi Suri Babu, father and guru of Malladi Brothers sing this padam. Since he belongs to Pinakapani’s lineage, I guess he must have learnt from him:
I will skip the Punnagavarali, which is used in many ragamalikas and come to the snake association now. The famous ‘magudi’ with its ‘aadhu pambe’ refrain is what the snake charmers are supposed to have played. (‘Magudi’ is the instrument which the snake charmers play.) This is a favorite of many wind instrumentalists. Here is Injikudi on nadaswaram playing the magudi:
Here is Kadri Gopalnath playing the ‘magudi’ on his saxophone:
Finally, the most famous and explicit snake reference of them all. From the movie, ‘Tiruvartselvar’, the voice of TMS to the music of K V Mahadevan, words of Kannadasan and not to forget Sivaji Ganesan, each of whom was in top form, the immortal, ‘nadarmudi mel irukkum nalla paambe’:
I am sure now you are convinced that when a ragam charms snakes, it is an easy task to charm people like us.