Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Welcome, What and How to use

Note: This introduction remains here only for what may glamorously be called archival reasons. It has been superseded by several introductory pages, which begin with this page.

Welcome! Tyagaraja sangeeta amrta is so much better enjoyed if we understand his lyrics well. This blog is our humble effort to aid such understanding by providing authentic lyrical translations of his kritis. Many good prose translations exist. But they can only deliver the meaning. A poetic translation can convey the beauty, intricacy and fervor of Tyagarja Swami's kritis much better. In the Carnatic tradition, as the composer is the librettist as well, a lyrical translation will highlight the beauty of the poetic aspect which may not often be fully enjoyed while listening to the music.

This is even truer, when we encounter extraordinarily beautiful poetry as kritis- such as the evergreen 'Manasa Sancharare'. It is such good music, that we often may not realize it is such good poetry too! A skillfully written lyrical translation can capture the beauty of the original Sanskrit verses in a way, no paraphrase or prose synopsis can. How else can we match the ebb and flow of the original? How else can we convey so fine an imagery like "mukhachandra chakore"? For me, personally, I have heard people sing even this short song, without a clue about its meaning, or just a rudimentary understanding, particularly in the years after it was featured in a famous movie. This to me was sad, because they just missed the joy of the original poetry! Nor could they fully communicate it to their listeners. For many years, I had wanted to translate this song into verse, and then one fine day, did do it. Then I sent it off to a friend. Eventually, this blog came into being. (As an aside, I have preferred the blog format as opposed to print, so that I may receive feedback, criticism and suggestions as the work is in progress and so can improve it; and if health issues and others do prevent me from completing this work, at least the portion I have completed, might still be available on the web.)

Another use of lyrical translations, is the cross-cultural context. Perhaps, someone from another culture interested in Carnatic music, may be able to "get" the kritis much better through lively poetry in a familiar language like English, than from a dry but faithful prose summary.

So, I will provide lyrical translations of Tyagaraja and other kritis in uncomplicated rhymed English verse here. I will also maintain sentence and line order, as in common printings and for the most part maintain even the word order, so that you don't need a separate word-for-word translation or other resources. I shall also include after each Kriti any pertinent cultural, literary and historical notes and gotchas. Once we have a sufficient number of kritis here, I shall try to provide notation and some manodharma improvisation examples, so that anyone trying to learn the kritis, can easily understand and sing. I will also experiment with metrically equivalent translations when possible and applicable. We will not restrict ourselves to Tyagaraja alone on this website, though he is the focus. Some other kritis will be included. The content here is being proofread. So, we can reasonably vouch for its authenticity. If you still find errors, let me know.

Poetry is a finer art than music, in the sense that, music being more fundamental, almost all people can appreciate it. Appreciating fine poetry is an acquired taste, needing some discernment. Even many well-educated people, read in music, do not have the turn of mind for poetry- and I have seen this personally, at the highest levels of science- PhDs who "get" music, but can't "get" poetry. But, if Tyagaraja's lyrics, i.e. his poetry had not been so powerful and evocative, would we even be speaking of him, two hundred years later? If one is not born with musical talent, there are so many academies and teachers, that may train one to be a musician. But there is no school, nor any training for becoming a poet. A poet must be born. We know that Sonti Venkatramana was Tyagaraja's main guru for music. But, whether it is Tyagaraja or your humble servant, there is no guru for writing poetry that we could speak of. Yet, over the centuries, we can name only one or two musicians like Tansen, but we can name many poets like Kalidasa, Dandin, Magha, Valmiki, Potana, Kambhar, Homer, Virgil etc. for each language. Ironically, more poets have gone down in history. Still, Poetry is an under-appreciated art; with Tyagaraja, an almost criminally neglected aspect. We hope the verses here fill some of that void. To sing Tyagaraja well by rote is one thing. To sing Tyagaraga with complete understanding and control, is completely another,- one that tells the Triton from the minnows.

Ultimately, Tyagaraja's music should not be listened to; Tyagaraja's music must be experienced as a whole!

About 600 of Tyagaraja Swami's kritis are now available. My estimate is that about 100-200 of his kritis lend themselves well to such lyrical translation. And strangely, some melodious and well liked kritis do not have much translatable lyrical content. An example is the popular "Sitamma maayamma"... where most of the kriti names the divinities and holy persons who, to him, make up Tyagaraja's circle. The sentiment is so nice, but still, we can't translate much beyond the literal. So, this blog will not contain kritis in any particular canonical order, but shall evolve on the basis of the transferable lyrical imprint in them. I hope to include as many of the 600 as possible.

I shall, I shall, I surely shall....
One of my foci for this attempt is this. Most often, writers on Carnatic music, because most of it is devotional, and the audience almost homogeneous culturally, presume an element of praxis in their intended readers, and may include praxis or devotional details, than only the musical, literary or critical. I shall try to respect the line between musical details and religion, so that the content here is still accessible and relevant to even those from cultures or beliefs. I shall not presume a kind of reader, and though rendering respectfully, I shall keep to one side of the line. For instance, for so many kritis, we may quote cross-references from Gita, Upanishads or puranas. That makes the work more re-interpretive commentation than a faithful presentation of musical, lyrical or literary detail. I shall provide such references only if they are absolutely necessary to convey the meaning of the original. I shall try to maintain a balance between the critical, academic and dispassionate, and the faithful and lively. I shall also claim some uniqueness in this regard, even for my small attempt, along with the few works in Carnatic music that are faithful, yet dispassionate.

A key feature of this site, is that I am presume no knowledge of Indian culture on the part of the reader. I would like to make Tyagaraja accessible to anyone, from anywhere, who is curious about Carnatic music. Therefore, the verse translations are intentionally uncomplicated and evoke familiar themes like "O come all ye faithful", "Joy to the world", "Ode to joy", "La belle dame sans merci", Shakespeare and "Scarborough Fair". The reader may well come from the opposite end of the world; I shall endeavor to gently introduce him to the culture of Tyagaraja's region, as we go along.

While we are looking mainly at the literary, philosophical and cultural aspects of Tyagraja here, I do plan to post musical details such as notation and improv examples from the past at some point. I am considering 100-150 kritis being posted here, as the threshold to cross before including musical detail, because by then, this blog would have met its purpose. Until then, you'll only find perfunctory musical details here.

It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to edit, translate, commentate, format and post a kriti. It may take up to 3 hours for a Pancharatna kriti. The actual time to translate and write the poetry is quite little. Much of the time goes towards cross-validation of the lyrics, in case that is required for a kriti. This depends on the number of known versions and any history of pitfalls. Depending on the subtlety of the kriti, it might take much time to commentate- the notes for the Pancharatna kriti are particularly copious. It takes so much time because we are trying to keep the content here as error-free and authentic as possible and to be the definitive source. In fact, I recall just the pronunciation guide on the left sidebar taking several hours although, the material in it, came from one of my books and I could just cut and paste from the manuscript. It still took several hours to wrestle with blogger and finally rewrite it from scratch in the pidgin-HTML that blogger will allow. The point is certainly not the time and effort we spend on the website, but the intent. Our intent is not to provide a compendium. but to provide a complete, reliable and enjoyable resource. Our aim, by casting new light on him, is to spread another dimension of the joy of Tyagaraja. Otherwise, when many books and websites already serve as compendia, there is no need for us to do this work afresh, that too, in the 21st century. But, besieged by endless professional and health trauma as I am, I can only spend an hour or two on this work each day. So, it will take some months before we finish this work.

We shall begin with 'Sri Ganapati ni' and end with 'Ni naama rupamulaku', as is appropriate. We will thus begin and end our journey in Sowraashtram. In some places, to give a better translation, we do take poetic licenses from the literal translation. So, always check the remarks after the kriti, where we will mention such cases. Once we have enough content in this blog, we shall move it to a dedicated website. If you would like any particular kriti posted, please email me.

When translating between two very different languages, it is not easy to maintain word order and still be readable. So, if you like our work, please let me know.

The format:
I shall post the sahityam (lyrics) for each kriti in Roman script, followed by the translation. If it is a Sanskrit kriti, I shall try to include Devanagari version also. Following this will be the notes. The Roman scripts used are IAST for Sanskrit and ISO 15919 for other languages. Tamil in particular, is given in the National Library of Calcutta standard, that is congruent with ISO 15919, but includes alphabets peculiar to Tamil. Follow the label on Tamil Transliteration in the left sidebar for the details. The reason to use IAST is that many readers of 'Sanskrit in Roman' are long familiar with this standard and we need not go to the ISO super-set unless needed. Also, many of my own scripts and programs to process and render Sanskrit are already fixed to IAST. A pronunciation guide for this script is always available on the left sidebar. For the Telugu and Tamil kritis here, I shall only provide the lyrics in Roman. I think this is enough because... you are reading this blog in English!! Duh! :)) When you want other scripts, it is always possible to use online tools to do the conversion, so that we can keep this website as uncluttered and usable as possible. Also, I shall use appropriate fonts and transliteration only in the lyrics. In the comments and elsewhere, I shall revert to more familiar phonetic transliterations using only the English alphabet, so that even the new reader can read quickly. So, intentionally, Siva shall be naṭēśa in the lyrics, but Natesha in the notes, so that it is not a taxing read. But, the actual pronunciation must always be kept in mind.

We may have grouped the lines differently for easier reading in the English version. So, the pallavi, anupallavi and charanam will be color coded in red, blue and green respectively, so that you can read them distinctly. To ensure the accuracy of our content, after preparing our material, we do check it with the main texts and popular sites as necessary. If we had any remarks to make on our findings, we shall include an "Extra Comments" section. Note that, to a reader, the "Comments" section is critical for understanding the kriti, and the content there, if the reader is not already privy to it, may only be missed at the cost of fully understanding the kriti. The "Extra Comments" section is used to provide more detailed information, our observations and notes on other books and websites. These may be useful to the more interested reader, but are not as critical as the "Comments" notes.

Definitions of key concepts: Many of the recurring themes and concepts in Tyagaraja's kritis, such as Nadopasana, or Utsava Sampradaya, are generally explained at the first or second occurrence. You may find any definition, by navigating this blog using the labels in the left sidebar. A glossary for those concepts commonly known in Indian culture, but not known in other cultures, such as the differences among Brahma of the Trinity, Brahman or the Supreme Self and Brahmans or the priests and scholars, is provided in the downloadable pdf versions.

PDF version: Each time we manage to complete a set of 20 kritis on this site, a new downloadable pdf version shall be provided. [PDF 'book' version of first 20 songs now available, as of Nov 1, 2009. Email us if you would like a copy]

Speed of delivery: At this point we are only going at the rate of 1 kriti a day; we hope to pick it up soon, and cover the whole in a few months.

Sources: The main, but by no means the only source of the original lyrics is the encyclopedic book by Prof. T. K. Govinda Rao. I have a handful of other print sources to cross-check lyrics. All other content, including the translations, be it verse or word-for-word, is original content written from scratch, just so you know who to blame.

Gotchas: There are some words in the lyrics of the kritis like "galade" which some would insist is more accurately "kalade" and "ganaleni" which is more accurately "kanaleni". There are also issues with the declensions of certain words. The more familiar versions are given here, often in agreement with the aforementioned book. The more fastidious reader may choose to prefer the latter versions. We shall provide a list of such aliters only in the pdfs, to keep the clutter in the blog low. Only obvious errors in common parlance may have been corrected in our lyrics. When our primary sources are contradictory and deadlocked, we may even resort to our skills in linguistics and philology. So, please note that we are aware of alternate versions and make a case-by-case decision on what to include in this site.

If you see boxes in the Roman lyrics instead of diacritics: This is a rare problem. We don't use special fonts. The original lyrics with the diacritics use only the Georgia or the Times font. The character encoding is set to the Unicode encoding, UTF-8. On most browsers this shouldn't pose a problem. They will probably be configured for UTF-8 encoding or to "auto detect" the encoding on the web page. Most probably your browser isn't taking Unicode and is reading the page as some other encoding. If you reconfigure it to read Unicode encoding, and/or to accept the encoding in the page, you should be fine. If this still doesn't work, you can email me your browser settings and other computer details like operating system etc, and I will look into it.

Lastly, blogger's formatting is terrible. I format content here for Firefox for a widescreen machine. If the formatting is bad on any other browser or screen setting, please let me know. The pdfs, if and when they come, may be better with formatting.

Contact: Requests and comments:email We love to hear from you!

I shall sign off each post with /\ [the sign for namaste, or folded hands]

संगीतम् सर्व सिद्धाञ्जनम्। Music clarifies all. Music cleanses all.

Last updated- Nov 1 2009.

UPDATE, April 20, 2010:

Changes to style:
Based on feedback from readers and a review of the new approach I use here, I am making two key changes. Previously, I used to write one song each day and planned to write up to five, so that I covered most of Tyagaraja's oeuvre quickly. Now, subject to health and other vagaries, I plan to write no more than 2-3 songs a week. But, the commentary on the songs will be much more elaborate and comprehensive. I think this will serve the purpose of this website more, as my intent is not to merely provide a compendium of the songs, but to impart, clarify and augment the songs and the wealth in their lyrics.

Final form of this website:
I receive many requests for the book form of this site (Volume 1) and also some questions. I used to send out what was mainly a download of this site, as a pdf document. I have been revising this book form into a much more readable actual book. I will start sending this revised 'Volume 1' out, once it is ready. I do concur with some readers that this is a sufficiently researched work of some academic merit, in a sadly neglected aspect of Indian music. So, once I am sure that I have covered most of thematic content in the songs, on this website, I do fully intend printing this new approach as a serious academic work, as a book set in two volumes.

Last updated and permanently superseded-May 30, 2010.



  2. Thank you for your uplifting comments. Publishing as a book is certainly high on on my mind, and we will certainly pursue that direction if and when we have crossed 150 songs on this site. That will be sizable number to make a good book. Also, 100-150 songs is my rough estimate of how many of the 700 Tyagaraja songs, can be nicely written in our fashion as English poems. So, 150 is the big number... we'll try to get our own website, start posting notations and/or manodharma/improv materials, and of course try to publish this work as a book.

    Thank you again for suggesting this.

  3. Certainly a very interesing site. Your comments give a lot of useful information. We look forward to meeting you when we visit Chennai in Jan. 2010.

  4. Thank you. I shall hope to meet you too. But, I am generally in the US, than Chennai. I might be in Chennai in Jan 2010, but don't know yet. And in the meantime, wherever you are, I always welcome correspondence.

  5. We are also in the US. Do you have an email id I could use??

  6. Sure. It is We respond to all correspondence alacritously and love hearing from people.

  7. I have been asked why I am not posting all comments that are sent. There is a lot of content on this site already- and it has only covered 5% of Tyagaraja's oeuvre! The final print version of this site, I estimate, will be over 3000 pages. So, there is a need to keep the number of comments and in general the number of pages, down. We do get some number of visitors and comments here, as it is. I have been posting only comments that are very different from previous comments, often those that need me to respond. Not being posted here is no reflection on the quality of those comments. My criteria are something else. But, if and when we migrate to our own servers and have reorganized this website, I will include a guest book or other dedicated facility so that all comments can be included in it. But, please do keep sending me your comments. They are most valuable.

  8. Friends, please note an important update on authenticity at the end of the intro page and email back any suggestions. Intro page URL:


  9. Like to place heartfelt appreciation for (a) having taken the effort to upload a blog (b) to translate and share the works. Thank you very much.