The charisma of composers

Most musical forms that are in practice in Carnatic music as part of the art music repertoire and the dance music repertoire can be traced to the rule of the Nayaks and Marathas in Thanjavur.

King Raghunatha Nayak (1600 – 1634) was a scholar, composer, vina player and a great patron of arts. During his period, it is quite clear that the form of art music presentation was the Chaturdandi form consisting of Alapa, Thaya, Gita and Prabandha. There is said to be a lot of notations of this form of presentation belonging to this period at the Saraswathi Mahal Library (Thanjavur). In the sphere of dance though we do find musical forms mentioned such as Perani, Jakkini, Korvai, Sabda Chintamani etc. We do know that, during the reign of Raghunatha and again during the reign of his successor Vijayaraghava Nayak (1633 – 1673), Kshetrayya the composer of Shringara Padas (Pallavi/Anupallavi/Charana form) from Muvva visited Thanjavur and even composed padas in praise of Vijayaraghava Nayak but it is clear that, in spite of his influence, the Nayak rulers still preferred the older Prabandha form of art music presentation. There are numerous Yakshaganas composed by the Nayak kings themselves. We do find one composer of this period Peda Dasari whose Keertana in raga Devagandhari is found in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini.

In the later Maratha period, we come across numerous composers and compositions but most of them seem in relation to dance presentations rather than art music. Almost all the forms of compositions that are in vogue today are connected to this period. Secondly, the Pada form was firmly established and all the compositional structures were variants of the same pallavi/anupallavi/charana form be it a Varna (colloquially ‘varnam’), Swarajathi, Ragamalika or Thillana.

Melattur Virabhadrayya is found to be probably the first composer who used the svarajathi form. This is not the Svarajathi as found in the compositions of Syama Sastri. The older Svarajathi form was similar to the Varna with the main difference being the existence of Jathis as an important part of the structure. Virabhadrayya was also probably the first composer of the Varna, Ragamalikas and Thillanas. Other than this, he also composed Keertanas. Therefore, Virabhadrayya’s contribution to compositional music is immense. He was also the guru of Ramasvami Dikshitar, the father of Muthusvami Dikshitar who himself was a composer, mainly the Varnas and Ragamalikas.

A name synonymous with the Varna is, of course, Pachimiriyam Adiyappayaa, composer of the famous Bhairavi Varna Viriboni. Today, the two types of Varnas namely Pada Varna and Tana Varna are differentiated on the basis of the existence of Sahitya for the svaras passages in the former and the lack of the same in the later.

Varna compositions

This is definitely a later development. Originally, both these forms had sahitya for the svara passages and the difference between them was in the far more fluid padam style structuring of the pallavi and anupallavi in the padavarna vis a vis a rigid structuring in the Tana Varna. It is also important to note that Varnas of that period concluded by connecting the Charana with the Pallavi.

The later Varna compositions have done away with this structure. One of the early composers of the Sringara Padas post-Kshetrayya seems to have been Giriraja Kavi who adorned the courts of the early Marathas rulers.

He composed numerous Sringara Padas and even employed Desiya ragas like Brindavani. Other composers immediately after him who used the Sringara Pada form were Vasudeva Kavi, Soma Kavi and Rama Bharathi.

There were many composers who followed suit and composed Shringara Pada, Varna, Svarajathi and Keertanas. This includes composers like Kavi Mathrubhutayya, Pallavi Gopalayya, Sonti Venkatasubbiah, Arunachala Kavirayar, Muthu Thandavar, Papavinasa Mudaliar, and Margadarshi Seshaiyengar. In many cases, the music of the composers mentioned above is lost or very few are available.

The Maratha kings themselves were prolific composers including Shahaji, Thulaja I, Ekoji II, Sarabhoji II who composed numerous padas, musical operas, Kuravanji’s, Daru, yakshagana etc.

The watershed moment, of course, is the advent of Tyagaraja, Muthusvami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. It is interesting that, in the period before these three, there were svarajatis, Tana Varnas and keertanas composed but we are not sure where they were exactly used. We know that most other compositional forms were probably used in dance and that there were musical operas composed and performed. Even accounts of musical contests that we hear about only relate to elaboration of Ragas or Pallavi contests. Therefore, what an art music performance consisted of is an unanswered question. In the period of the Nayak kings it is evident that the Chaturdandi form was presented both in a vocal and vina presentation. But in the period after this the musical forms are more operatic and dance related.

The Musical Trinity of Tyagaraja, Muthusvami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri were very different from one another. We do notice that Syama Sastri seems like the traditionalist among the three with most of his compositions being in ragas that are found in older treatises. The exceptions in his case are only Chintamani and Kalgada. Muthusvami Dikshitar, unlike his father, concentrated on the Keertana form and even improvised on it with the Pallavi/Anupallavi structure Keertana. He remained loyal to the Venkatamakhin tradition and gave form to most ragas mentioned in the Ragalakshana attributed to Muddu Venkatamakhin.

Tyagaraja was an innovator who created ragas and broke away from older ragas. In fact, the main reason the treatise Sangraha Choodamani has validity is because of the compositions of Tyagaraja in many of the ragas mentioned in the treatise that are not found earlier. We also need to mention Gopalakrishna Bharathi, a very important and significant composer who was a junior contemporary of the Trinity.

The post-Trinity period saw many composers, some disciples of the trinity who themselves became prolific composers of Keertanas, Varnas, Thillanas, Swarajathis, Jathiswarams, Shabdams and Javali (which is a post-Trinity form). This included composers like Subbaraya Sastri, the Tanjore Quartet, Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Veena Kuppaier and many others.

Even in the post-Trinity period, it does seem that very few compositions were sung in art music presentations but by the turn of the century (1900), it’s evident that Tyagaraja Keertanas had become popular due to the extensive use of the same in Harikatha expositions and entered concert music. Compositions of Muthusvami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri gained prominence only slowly but nevertheless by the early periods of the 20th century, the Keertana content in concerts had become as important as manodharma sangeetha including many other composers in the presentation.

The objective of the present series was only to give an introduction to the musical history in India from the angle of Carnatic music and therefore at times, I have been unable to go into the nuances or details. It is evident that music has obviously developed and changed at multiple layers due to multiple influences and is not a result of linear connection of dots. Today we view tradition either as what we learn from our teachers/schools of music or our sense of tradition, begins with the 20 {+t} {+h} century. Both these standpoints are incomplete. An understanding of tradition within the larger canvas of musical changes over centuries is needed to actually give us a far clearer picture of where we stand today and why we stand here. For those who believe that tradition is only a weak link, a deeper study into history only reveals that tradition is a strong but hidden link that needs to be unravelled. As musicians, we must look into the past; and understand its nature and influence on the present before we try creating the future.

I must finally thank the numerous scholars whose work I continue to study to improve my understanding of our history. I must specifically thank Dr. N. Ramanathan and Dr. R.S. Jayalakshmi for helping me put this series together.

Originally written for The Hindu

Centered upon centuries

From the 15th century many treatises have documented and explained various aspects of music that give us a perspective of changes and developments. Below are some of them. Svaramela Kalanidhi of Ramamatya (1550), Sadragachandrodaya of Pundarikavittala (1583 approx), Ragavibhoda of Somanatha (1609) and Sangita Sudha authored by Govinda Dikshita (1614). Govinda Dikshita was a musician, scholar and a very important minister in the court of the Nayaks of Thanjavur.

Even today we have many towns that are named after him like Ayyampettai and Govindapuram. Govinda Dikshita held Vidyaranya, a scholar of the 15th century (Vijayanagara region) in great esteem and through Govinda Dikshita we learn about the treatise Sangita Sara attributed to Vidyaranya. Govinda Dikshita’s son Venkatamakhin authored the Chaturdandi Prakashika, which is probably the most important treatise in the Mela era. Following Venkatamakhin, his descendant Muddu Venkatamakhin is attributed to have authored the Ragalakshana (early 18 {+t} {+h} century).The Nayak rulers were also major contributors to musicology including Shahaji who authored the Ragalakshanamu (1684 – 1711) and Thulaja who authored the Sangita Saramruta (1729 – 1735).

All the above texts deal with various developments in music including the nature of svaras, the features of each raga in practice, the various classifications of ragas, the Vina etc. Some treatises deal with presentation aspects like Alapa, Thaya, gita and Prabandha. Many authors refer to older aspects of music even though the music they were discussing was far removed. The differences in opinion between various authors also leads to very sharp critiques like Venkatamakhin’s very harsh criticism of Ramamatya. One constant fact remains that all the above texts do have a historical connection.

Finally we have the Sangraha Choodamani (approx 1800) attributed to Govinda. Interestingly we do not have any information about this author or the source of this treatise. In fact this treatise never refers to older works and seems totally devoid of historical references even though the author mentions all the older ragas that have a history.

Ragas are described through the ages based on various aspects, like Graha (starting note of the melody), Amsa (tonic), Nyasa (ending svara of melody). After a while the word Graha starts referring to the tonic. Ramamatya talks about Uttama raga (raga with a lot of scope), Madhyama (relatively less scope) and Adhama (limited). The Ragalakshanamu of Shahaji gives us a new classification called Ghana (ragas which were probably sung faster with tight movements), naya (which had more glides and slower), Desi (which were foreign). The most commonly used classification is Upanga and Bhashanga. Originally Upanga and Bhashanga refer to the sources from which they were derived but, for the first time in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904), Upanga raga is defined as one that does not have a foreign note (Anya svara) and Bhashanga raga is one that has an Anya svara. Even in this treatise some Bhashanga ragas don’t fulfil the definition.

Naming ragas

Treating ragas in terms of a Mela was possibly the most game changing approach in musical history and therefore it is important for us to understand its original intent and present state.

The idea of the Mela can be traced to the Svaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya. Mela refers to a collection of seven svarasthanas (svara postions). All ragas are Janya ragas, and janya ragas that have a common set of svarasthanas are placed in the same mela. The name of the Mela was given to the raga among the group that was most popular. At this stage the raga that held the title for the mela did not need to possess all the seven svaras and though the mela was referred by its name, it was still a janya raga. The Svaramela Kalanidhi mentions 20 melas. Through the references in the Sangita Sudha we find that the Sangitasara seems to be the first work that uses the Mela-janya nomenclature with 15 melas and 50 janya ragas. The intention of the Mela system was to organise existing ragas that were in practice.

Later scholars started computing the maximum number of seven svara combinations they could derive (melaprasthara) based on the number of svara positions. Here each author computed a different number of Melas based on the number of svarasthanas they had theorised. For example the Sadragachandrodaya mentions a possible 90 melas while in the Raga Vibhoda there are 960 possible melas. Even though they come up with this computation they find that only a limited number of these were actually used in the form of a raga therefore for eg., Somanatha feels that 23 melas will suffice to classify the 67 ragas then in practice.

In the Chaturdandi Prakashika, Venkatamakhin comes up with a possible 72 melas based on 12 svaras and 16 svara names (as sometimes the same svarasthana can take two svara names depending on the raga). But he only mentions 19 melas, which occupy respective positions in the possible 72 melas. Of the 19, 18 are older ragas and one (Simharava) was his creation. Therefore all the above scholars computed a possible number of melas but considered them non-functional, as there were no ragas that fit in. The ragas mentioned were only those that were functional and evolved through the natural process of practice with the exception of Simharava.

There is also a battle about whether the mela name must be taken from the raga that has all the seven svaras (sampurna) and this does get established. This only means that seven svaras must be present in the raga but does not refer to the order of the svaras or arohana/avarohana. In fact this idea of arohana-avarohana had not even entered the raga concept.

In the Ragalakshanamu of Shahaji, we come across the term Melakartha given to the janya raga that is given the name of the mela. Even if a raga is called the melakartha it is still considered one of the janya ragas of the mela. A raga is still being considered a janya of a mela and not of another raga.

Later in the Ragalakshana of Muddu Venkatamakhin a drastic shift in the concept of Mela takes place. Muddu Venkatamakhin synthetically creates janya ragas for the remaining 53 non-functional Melas (19 out of the 72 already existed). Here for the first time a raga is created purely on svarasthanas. It is also at this stage that we first come across the terms arohana and avarohana to describe the characteristic of a raga. This might have been the result of the very synthetic process of trying to create a raga from the arrangement of svaras.

Here two schools of thought emerge. The Muddu Venkatamakhin tradition, which uses the terms Raganga raga (equivalent term to melakartha) and janya raga, adopts the opinion that the Raganga raga needs to be Sampurna in either arohana or avarohana but non-linear. Muthusvami Dikshitar gave form to most of these ragas through his compositions.

The other school established by the Sangraha Choodamani adopts the view that all the meladhikara (equivalent term to melakartha) has to be Sampurana in arohana and avarohana and importantly the svaras have to be in linear order.

Here 66 ragas were synthetically created and made functional as only 6 were older ragas. Thyagaraja seems to have given form to many of these ragas. The subtle but important difference in both schools regarding the linearity and non-linearity of the svaras in arohana and avarohana is a very important distinction.

Finally the Mela–janyaraga classification is replaced with janakaraga-janya raga.

Therefore Mela started out as a way to organise existing ragas but moved to creating scales as ragas using the mela structure. Probably for the first time in musical history theory influenced practice. This is probably why many ragas in performance even today are only svara structures sans features that give a raga an organic form.

Originally written for The Hindu

Rhythms of time

A significant change that took place from the Sangita Ratnakara period was the move from shifting tonic and fixed svara interval system of music to that of a fixed tonic and variable svara interval system. The seeds of change were sown even in the Ratnakara but we cannot be sure when the complete transformation happened. We find, in many treatises, a sense of confusion about this change, but by the 15th century the basis of Indian classical music had changed forever.

From the early 1400s, the contribution of the Haridasas of the Kannada speaking region towards musical changes was invaluable and it’s important for us to understand their work. Like the Tamizh Saivite saints from the 7th or 8th century, the Haridasas used music as a vehicle to spread the message of dvaita philosophy in Kannada. The music of the Haridasa was born out of the Desi Tradition (discussed earlier) and we will see the connection and analyse the same.

What were the ragas used by the Haridasas? Most manuscripts available mention modern ragas, which did not exist at that time to the compositions. Therefore we need to look at the theoretical texts of the same period to get our answers.

At the time of the Haridasa movement, some important treatises included the Svaramela Kalanidhi by Ramamatya, Pundarika Vittala’s Sandragachandrodaya and other treatises. We also find a mention of a Sangitasara of Vidyaranya through the later work of Govinda Dikshita’s Sangita Sudha. Therefore an analysis of the ragas in these treatises gives us an idea of the ragas that were possibly used in the compositions. Many of these ragas are still used in Carnatic music.

Tala system

An important contribution of the Haridasas is the regularising of the tala system. From the numerous Desi talas, they reorganised the tala system into the seven major talas, each with fixed counts: suladi sapta tala i.e. jampa (10), matya (14), dhruva (10), triputa (7), atta (14), eka (4) and rupaka (6). Though these seem similar to those used in Carnatic music today, there are some aspects we need to understand. First, laghu and druta were only time units and independent of the actions that were used to show the tala. The laghu was one matra duration (a notional duration to utter four short syllables) and the dhruta was half that. There was also an extension to each of these called a viraama, which measured to quarter duration of a laghu; although according to some, the viraama augmented the value of the time-unit to which it was attached by half its value. The Viraama probably transformed into the anudhruta. Today, all these are angas to a tala, which are divisions with certain counts. Secondly we are not sure about how these were actually demonstrated in terms of actions or movements. Two other talas used by the Haridasas are jhompata (a desi tala) and Raganamatya.

The Suladi was a unique musical form composed only by the Haridasa saints, which evolved from the Salaga Suda (prabandha). The suladi has verses where each is in one of the seven suladi talas. Not all the talas need to be in every suladi but at least five are found in each suladi. Even Raganmatya tala is used occasionally. Starting from Sripadaraya, all the Haridasas composed in this form. Sometimes ragas and even talas are not prescribed to the rendition of Suladis. Interestingly the only available notated Suladis (composed by Purandara Dasa) are the three available in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904). From this notation we find that these compositions are more structured on the basis of the talas.

Another form that was used by the Haridasas was the vrittanama, which again seems to have evolved from the prabandhas of Desi music. This is the form that alternates between verses sung without tala and those sung with a tala structure.

Similarly ugabhogas, which were verses sung to ragas, are like vrithams. The difference being that they are not set to any metre and each line can be of variable length. Most ugabogas don’t have prescribed ragas.

Tamizh origins

Scholars believe that the Haridasas were the pioneers of the pada form. The pada form had a structure of a pallavi and multiple charanas or in the pallavi anupallavi charana structure. This nomenclature of Pallavi, Anupallavi, charana comes from the later use and is not given in any treatise or manuscript of the period under discussion. The pallavi is usually a two-line structure followed by verses of four lines, which we call charana. Sometimes there is an anupallavi. The only way to decipher the anupallavi from poetry is by the presence of dvitiakshara prasa, which is the sound concordance of the second syllable of the first line of the pallavi with the second syllable of the first line of the Anupallavi. While this seems a logical method we cannot be completely sure whether it was sung as an anupallavi or as multiple charanas. The very concept of dvitiakshara prasa is also related to Tamizh poetry, as this is not found in older Sanskrit/Kannada/Telugu literature. It does seem that the Haridasas also used the same pada form for shringara texts, which were called gopigitas.

The Haridasa Pada is sometimes linked to the salaga suda (prabandha) form. The pallavi, anupallavi and charana structure is associated with the parts of the prabandha namely udgraha, melapaka and dhruva structure and the last line associated with the Abhoga. Since there is no prasa structure in Prabandha or any other relationship between the pada and the prabandha this probably requires more serious research and analysis. It is possible that the pada form independently evolved.

Other musical forms of compositions used by the Haridasas were dandaka, koravanji, gadya etc. The main musical contributors among the Haridasas were Shripadaraya, Vyasaraya, Vadiraja, Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa.

At the same time, in the region of Tirupati, we find an enormous musical contribution from Annamacharya and later poets. Annamacharya is said to have composed 32,000 sankirtanas. His son Peda Tirumalacharya got them inscribed in copper plates in the Tirupati temple but some of the copper plates are said to have gone to Ahobila and to Thanjavur. Today, including the sankirtanas of Peda Tirumalacharya and his son Cina Tirumalacharya, we have a total of 14,523 sankirtanas by Tallapakam poets. Annamacharya has also composed the Venkatachalamahaatmya in Sanskrit and Ramayana in dvipada metre in Telugu. Ragas are mentioned for the sankirtanas in the copper plates in Tirupati.

The sankirtanas again were either in the pallavi/anupallavi/charana structure or a pallavi/charana structure to use today’s nomenclature. As mentioned earlier, the understanding of an anupallavi’s presence is only on the basis of dvitiakshara prasa. Some scholars believe Annamacharya was the pioneer in giving the pallavi a structured form of two lines of equal magnitude.

The terms pada and keertana seem to be used synonymously in this period and it’s only later that we have come to associate the shringara content with Padam and Bhakthi content with Keertana. Some also attribute the pada/keertana form to Narayana Theertha and Muthu Tandavar, but other sources link the Narayana Theertha tarangams to the prabandha tradition and we also cannot be sure about the period of Muthuthandavar. Irrespective of these differences in views we can conclude that there must have been lot of movement of musical and poetic forms in the land of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Originally written for The Hindu

Decoding the gramaraga

Kudimiyanmalai is a small hill situated in the Tamizh heartland near Pudukottai. On a rock face behind the Shikhanathaswamy temple, on the hill we find the earliest source of notation in Indian classical music history. These inscriptions, dated to the 7 {+t} {+h}/8 {+t} {+h} century AD during the reign of the Pallavas, are in Pallava grantha script. There is mention of a Rudracharya and historians believe that this refers to the Pallava king Mahendravarman I.


The music notated is related to the Desi tradition and it is believed that the notations were used to teach music. Seven gramaragas have been notated and these ragas represent the form that was in vogue before the classification of gramaragas into suddha, bhinna etc. had arrived. The colophon also mentions the parivardhini (a type of veena) and scholars associate this inscription to instrumental playing of these ragas.

The rock face has 38 horizontal lines of musical notation. Each line has 64 svaras split into four sets each with each set having four svaras. There does not seem to be any variation of duration in the svaras. We find that a svara never repeats itself immediately and the last svara in each set of four svaras is the same in each line. For the first time consonants S,R,G,M,P,D,N are used to denote the seven svaras. Secondly and more importantly we find that these svaras are followed by four vowels u,e,a,i. For e.g., we find that for svara G the use of a(Ga),i(Gi),u(Gu),e(Ge). We also find the presence of two vikrita svaras antara gandhara ( A) and kakali nishada ( K). Both these svaras are weak in nature, meaning not used very often and used only as leading svaras to M and S respectively. In the case of these two svaras the vowel ending i is never used. The functionality of these vowel endings have led to various explanations.

Explanations for the usage of the vowels given by scholars have varied from associating them to techniques of instrumental playing to trying to associate them to the 22 srutis but they are all found wanting for various reasons which I shall not elaborate here. Dr Richard Widdess gives an explanation that seems to be the most accurate when we analyse the notation and his interpretation. Without going into details, here are the observations. Vowel usage in the notation indicates the relative svarasthana level between two svaras. The vowels are ranked as u,e,a,i with u denoting the least relative interval and i the largest relative interval. We know for example that S – N is a larger rising seven note interval as compared to S – G which would be a three note rising one. This is exactly what these vowels seem to indicate. Therefore in the above example we could use Su – Ni to denote S – N and Su – Ge for S – G. Of course the vowels are also used in relation to all the four svaras in each set. We must understand that since there are only four vowels for seven notes their usage is spread sometimes arbitrarily .We need to understand the same in each context. Dr Widdess has corroborated his explanation with various other references from grantha script to the Sangita ratnakara.

These inscriptions are important and definite proof of Desi music in Tamizh land. When we also look at the treatises from the same period including the commentators of the Silapadhigaaram we find a lot of commonality with Sanskrit treatises. Therefore it is safe to assume that there was interplay between Desi music and local music of the Tamizh region without going into which came first.

The Tirumurai are about 11000 Saivaite Hymns by 27 authors, which constitute the works of all the great saivaite saints of the period 7 {+t} {+h} – 12 {+t} {+h} century in 12 parts. The first seven Thirumurai composed by the three saints Tirugnanasambandar (7 {+t} {+h} century AD), Thirunavukarasar (6 {+t} {+h} /7 {+t} {+h} century AD) and Sundarar (8 {+t} {+h} century AD) are generically known together as the Thevaram. The Thirumurai originally consisted only of the works of the three saints; later Sivaneeshachelvar added four more Tirumurais of other saints, which included the Thiruvachakam of Mannikavachakar.

Between the times of the three saints and the 12 {+t} {+h} century the singing tradition of these Thevarams seem to have disappeared and the manuscripts were locked in a vault in the Chidambaram Nataraja temple. In the 12 {+t} {+h} century the Chola king Raja Raja Chola found and revived the Thevarams, and with the help of Nambiandar Nambi. Nambiandar Nambi added the last Tirumurai namely, the Periya-puranam of Sekkizhaar, giving an account of the sixty-three Nayanmars.

Pann classifications

In Tamizh treatises we find the reference to 103 panns. Of these 103, only 23 are found in Thevarams. There is one more pann called Yazhmuri pann (with an interesting anecdote to it), which is not found in the 103 panns. The 23 panns are divided into three groups: Pagalpan (those that can be sung during the day), Iravu pann (for singing in the night) and podupann (those that can be sung at any time). The music of these Thevarams is attributed to a lady belonging to the Tirunilakantayazhpaanar family. She was approached by Nambiandar Nambi, as nobody knew how to sing the hymns when they were found.

The singing tradition of Thevarams belongs completely to the Odhuvars of Tamizh Nadu. They were officially appointed and paid to sing these hymns in the Saivaite temples by Raja Raja Chola in the 12 {+t} {+h} century, a tradition that still continues. Most of the Odhuvars learnt thevarams in oral tradition while some of them have learnt Carnatic classical music formally. Odhuvars perform Panniru Tirumurai inside the sanctum of the temple very strictly following the panns as handed down without liberties of improvisations etc, accompanied by cymbals but are allowed to sing the same Thevarams with far more flexibility and improvisation and even change panns while singing outside the sanctum in the temple. Outside the sanctum over the ages many instruments like Yazh, flute, mrudangam, sarangi, clarinet, violin, and harmonium have accompanied the renditions.

From 1949 the Tamizh Isai Sangam has been trying to find raga equivalents to the panns. This has been done on the basis of the singing of the Thevarams by traditional schools of Thevara Isai. The 23 panns have been equated to 15 ragas meaning that there are multiple panns for the same raga. The obvious question now arises: how can we be sure that the tunes have not changed in the last 1000 years of rendition? The explanations are that the Odhuvars even today do not include panns other than the 23 in their renditions and that they did not practice any other form of music. Both these reasons may not be airtight as we do find differences in panns being used in different temples and even in the conclusions made by the Tamizh Isai Sangam. For example the pann Indhalam is believed to be equivalent to Mayamalavagowla though the Odhuvars sing it as Nadanamakriya but some scholars believe it is Hindolam.

It’s also a fact that the temple was a hub of music and dance. It is very likely that the music of the Thevarams did change with the times, as the Odhuvars would have been exposed to Carnatic ragas. It is possible that the panns they were using were close to some raga melodies and later they completely merged into the raga identity. All that we can confidently conclude is that panns as they are sung in the 20 {+t} {+h} century are similar to certain ragas of the modern era and sometimes even the same pann is sung as two different ragas in different traditions.

Originally written for The Hindu