Tag Archives: Carnatic

Personalities: Chitti Babu


As a follow up to last week’s article on the Veena, it is only natural that we highlight one of Andhra’s greatest Veena players, and one of India’s greatest in the modern era. Like many of our artistes, he too did not receive much deserved national recognition, while he was still living. We intend to take a small step towards setting that cultural record straight and give this vainika par excellence his due.

Our next musical Andhra Personality is a man who may be all but unknown to the younger generation, but to people of a certain age, is not only famous but is fondly remembered for his talent. We are of course speaking of none other than the divinely gifted Chitti Babu.



Born on October 13, 1936, this Andhra gandharva was born to Challapally Ranga Rao and Sundaramma in Kakinada. His early childhood was spent in Pithapuram, and the family later moved to Chennai. Originally named Hanumanlu Challapally, his nickname became so popular his father legally changed it to Chitti Babu. Inarguably gifted in the truest sense of the word, he stunned his father, who was playing the Veena, when at the age of five, young Hanumanlu corrected his mistake. From that day on, Chitti Babu the child prodigy was dedicated to Sarasvati’s vaadya. He gave his freshman public performance at age 12. He learnt first from his father, and then took basic training from his first teachers Pandarala Upmakkaya, Singaralu, and Eyyuni Applacharyulu.

Nevertheless, Chitti Babu would forever remain associated with his  Veenacharya, Emani Sankara Sastry garu, a renowned Andhra vainika in his own right. Together, they would virtually define the guru-sishya tradition among Telugu musicians, with both teacher and student taking pride in their mutual association. Chitti Babu would honour Sastry garu throughout his later life, and even played at his guru’s final public performance.

Interestingly enough, his first big break was in acting. As a child artiste, Chitti Babu acted in Laila-Maju (starring Bhanumathi and Akkineni Nageswara Rao).He continued as a struggling instrumentalist with a long innings in playback (1948-1962). He even became a music director for films in Tamil and Telugu—Sri Raghavendra Vaibhava being one of his key productions. Nevertheless, he was determined to make his name as a classical veena artiste and finally achieved his dream after decades of hard work. Coming to notice of the carnatic elite, he soon peformed to packed public performances in music halls around the world.

He married Sudakshina Devi and had children during his playback phase. Regardless, he managed to balance work and family due to the strong and dedicated relationship he and his wife had. Here is a heart-felt family-run website that serves as a tribute to his memory and legacy.

Unafraid to break from tradition, Chitti Babu was that rare classical performer who respected tradition, and even honoured it, but nevertheless sought to innovate. He freely experimented with his vaadya of choice, progressively moving from the venerated Saastriya standards to Playback to Western to Fusion. He even composed original musical works, in many cases dedicating the piece to capturing a particular sentiment or emotion (bhava) rather than following the regimented strictures. Indeed, he evolved his own style on that specific basis.

Chitti Babu passed away in 1996, just short of his 60th birthday.

He had traveled extensively across India and also to USA, Europe, Australia, Middle East and Asia Pacific and had performed to jam packed auditoriums for nearly 5 decades, transcending many barriers and taking his music and along with it, a part of India’s rich cultural heritage across the world.[1]

Wedding Bells

Quite possibly one of the most easy to appreciate of his pieces is Wedding Bells. It is an original composition quite obviously composed in the Western style. It shows not only his adaptability as a composer, but the versatility of the veena itself. To listen to it is to experience a Spring day on strings.

Indeed, his life’s mission and life’s work was proof of this rooted cosmopolitanism. In contrast to our modern rootless cosmopolitans, he was able to preserve and pass on tradition, while adding onto it and even transcending the training itself to commune directly with nature. No composition better displayed this then when Chitti Babu captured the cuckoo bird’s very character on his beloved veena.

Kommalo Koyila


“No Critic is Greater than the Artiste; No Artiste is greater than the Art.” [1]

Chitti Babu was not only a musician, but a composer as well. Despite being classically trained and performing Saastriya Sangeeta standards, he had the creativity to musically experiment with different styles. He would even effortlessly play western classical standards, as well as make his mark in the world of playback. But while he first made his name with movie scores, he would also ascend to the notice of the royal cultural connoisseur of his time.

“HRH Maharajah of Mysore – Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar after hearing Chitti Babu play in 1967, in a spontaneous gesture,  removed the gold chain with a resplendent pendant that he was wearing on that day, and put it around Chitti Babu’s neck as a mark of appreciation and admiration. Chitti Babu considered this, one the greatest honours he had received because HRH Shri Wodeyar was considered to be a great connoiseur and was also known to be a “Musician among Princes and a Prince among Musicians”. Since that day, Chitti Babu proudly wore this gold chain and pendant for all his concerts, all his life”.[1]

Chitti Babu may never have been given his due by the arriviste “secular” elite of Delhi, but the traditional elite of Mysore recognised and honoured a cultural gem when it had the chance. Padma Sris may have devolved to popularity polls, but the cultural doyens and doyennes of aristocratic Mysuru, showed the nature of an elite with true taste—generosity to the deserving. Beyond this notable episode, Chitti Babu accumulated many accolades in his comparatively curtailed career. Here is a brief listing of them:

  • First called Vainika Sarvabhauma in 1968
  • Annointed Vainika Shikhamani by Maharajah of Mysore Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar
  • Asthana VIdvan Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams
  • Honoured as Telugu Velugu by Andhra Pradesh CM in 1981
  • Awarded Kalaima Mani by Tamil Nadu CM in 1972 & State artiste title by MGR
  • Honorary Doctorate by Andhra University (1984)
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 1990.

Above all, however, was his creation of a new style. Verily, this is what cemented not only Chitti Babu’s place in the Indic Veena Pantheon, but his musical legacy as well.

While continuing with the principles of his Guru’s pioneering school – the Emani “Bani” (tradition/style), Chitti Babu, created and evolved a distinctive style and identity, entirely his own. The exquisite tonal quality and versatility that have been his magical hallmarks of his style of playing the Veena, saw him produce sounds as varied as the majestic Vedic Hymns or as delicate as the Cuckoo’s voice or even play many western-music based compositions of his own.[1]


Chitti Babu

Buy his albums here!

“Veena is as Old as the Vedas and yet, as Modern as Tomorrow.” [1]

The life and times of those celestial souls who are veritably born with vaadya in hand, may appear all too brief, and be cause for disbelief, for those of us who appreciate their legacy. Nevertheless, like all comforting bromides, perhaps the good really do die young, and the talented shoot across the societal sky like a shooting star. Challapally Chitti Babu was inarguably one such star, and his contributions to the Divine Instrument (and the national instrument) demand not only documentation, but propagation. The younger generation, reared on Youtube, should be guided to get the most out of technology, by listening to music that feeds the soul (rather than that which spoils the appetite…).

He was known to reproduce the songs and compositions in an almost vocal like tonal quality on his Veena, and was also known to evoke deeply emotional and appreciative responses from his audiences.[1]

Where Chitti Babu truly stood out, however, was in the tonal quality of his veena playing. A difficult instrument, veena needs a fine balance between musical resonance and notal crispness. Rare among modern vainikas, this exponent of haute culture achieved the perfect balance. Perhaps no performance better demonstrates that than this one.

His live at Waldorf Astoria album for the New York-based Oriental label brought him to wide attention in the West [3]

It is an utter disgrace of the delhi set masquerading as national elite  that they failed to recognise this national and international musical star during his life. Instead, it elects to bestow padma sris on pop culture primadonnas coasting on name rather than genuine merit, and whose notable contribution to “culture” is “Hum Tum”. Let culturally degenerate south delhi debutantes have their hum tum; those of us with culture will hum the tunes of this renowned instrumentalist, instrumental in stamping the veena on the consciousness of a generation (or three). Celebrated throughout the South, Chitti Babu is without a doubt one of India’s great Veena players of the present era.

His legacy remains cherished to this day. Traditionalists may demur any deviation from tradition, but for Master Chitti Babu, the Master Vainika, love for the Veena came first, whether via tradition, folk, or fusion.

“Traditions must be respected – but conventions can be broken”.[1]

Sri. Rajhesh Vaidhya performing his Guru Sri. Chittibabu’s composition

Chitti Babu is remembered for many things veena-related. His venerable relationship with this revered guru Emani Sankara Sastry (complemented by that with his own sishya Dwibhashyam Nagesh Babu) is a singularly scintillating example of the guru-sishya parampara.He brought a rare delicacy to lute of the Devas, and an even rarer self-awareness in his performances.It was a swara sensibility that was refreshingly masculine, and yet, unabashedly sensitive. Like Brahma with Sarasvati, he cradled and caressed the veena, revealing the many layers of her being in their full vibrance.

He may have been born Hanumanlu Challapally, but he will remain Chitti Babu for all those who knew of him in his all-too-short life. Like yet another Andhra Gandharva, he left this world all too soon, but then, the lives of those vaadhyaadharas who are divinely talented do quickly return to the Deva who sent them.

“Veena is my Mission in Life”.[1]


  1. http://www.veenachittibabu.org/
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/Chittibabu-remembered/article15718373.ece
  3. Broughton, Simon and Mark Ellingham & Richard Trillo. World Music: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific. London: Penguin Books.2000

Carnatic Classical Instruments: Veena



From very early times Andhras had a special aptitude for music. They did much in times of yore to develop that art (gaanakalaa) and contributed a special raga called Andhree after their own name to the series of musical notes. This fact is known from a treatise on Music named Brhaddesi written by Matanga muni. The author states in his work that in the opinion of Saardula Maatava-pancama has six raagainis of which Andhri was one. [4, 418]

To date, Andhra Cultural Portal has focused primarily on the many brilliant Andhra Composers and singers. Specific names include Annamaya, Thyagaraja, Narayana Theertha, and of course, the recently deceased Dr. Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna (who will be sorely missed).

Nevertheless, another critical aspect of the Carnatic tradition is its instruments. Indeed, instrumentals are, today, more important than ever in reaching out to “modern/post-modern” youth who are alienated from their roots. Carnatic music may seem regimented and orthodox, but as Balamurali garu proved, it can certainly keep up with the times. Indeed, the greatness of it is that while not all who are trained in other traditions can do what Carnatic virtuosos can, even the average Carnatic performer can do what other traditions can. As such, understanding the role instrumentation plays is key.

Seven chapters (28-34) of the Natya Sastra deal with music. Bharata muni discusses both aatoodya (instrumental) and gaana (vocal) music. [2, 106] While the voice is the most personal of musical instruments, Classical Indic music hosts a panoply of percussion, strings, and woodwinds alike.

The Musical instrument (Aattodya or Vaadya) [2,110] in Carnatic music is of four kinds: Thatha vaadyam, Sushira vaadyam, Avanatta vaadyam, and Ghana vaadyam. “They are respectively called stringed instruments, thulai (hole) instruments, leather instruments and metal instruments.”[1, 97]

Thatha (stringed) instruments are generally made out of wooden pieces or chips and joined together with strings made of copper and similar materials. They are played by nail or other such devices. Instruments such as the Veena fall into this category. The Veena in particular can be played with three different techniques: tattva, anugatha, and oogha. “In tattva, the instrument is played mainly to denote the rhythm, the time-measure etc. of a particular song. In anugata, the instrument is played to follow the tempo of the song. In oogha, the instrument is played to embellish the song with no particular significance attached to it.” [2, ]


Sushira (thulai)instruments wind instruments and typically are made either out of wood or bamboo planks. They have holes, are blown from the mouth, and manipulated with the fingers. Instruments such as the flute (murali or vamsee) fall into this category. “Depending on the number of quartertones, the notes of this instrument are of three varieties—dvika or two, trike or three and catushka or four. The same are respectively known as ardhamukta or half open, kampamaana or pulsating, and vyakta mukta or fully open.”[2,110-111]

Avanatta (leather) instruments refers to percussion. “These are made out of wood and tied with leather. They can be played by the hand or small sticks.” [1, 97] These drums are usually hollow instruments with leather coverings on one or both sides.Silt and wheat/barley flour are used to fill in order to ensure consonance with the main note.

Ghana (metal) instruments are generally made out of bronze. These are commonly called cymbals and referred to as thaala (within the tradition). This is because they are used to measure time in a musical session.

The division for instruments are as follows:

Sruthi instruments: Tambura (Thatha)-Otthu (Sushira), Sruti box (Sushira)

Sangeetha Instruments: Veena (Thatha), Gottu (Thatha), Flute (Sushira), Nadaswaram (Sushira), Jalatarangam (“Water is poured in porcelain cups and then played by stick”). [1, 97]

Laya Instruments: Mridangam (Avanatta), Thavul (Avanatta), Keethu (Thatha), Moorsing (Ghana), Kanjira (Avanatta), Ghatam (Mud pot), Jalar (Gana-Bronze)” [1,97]

There are of course other instruments in use today, such as the violin and the harmonium. While their inclusion shows the versatility of Carnatic,  these are not traditional, and thus, are not considered for the purposes of this collection of articles.

We begin this Series with an instrument that has long been denied its due. Indeed, Classical Indic Taste has been pushed aside for parvenus. No more. It is time to restore the traditional place of one of Indian Music’s most magnificent contributions: The Veena.


Meenakshi Madurai Temple

The Veena is verily the classical of all classical Indian instruments.  It is one of three main vaadyaas first mentioned in Vedic literature, notably the Rig and Sama Vedas. The origin of all musical instruments is told by Bharata muni himself:

Sage svaati went to a lake to fetch water on a holiday when it rained heavily. The torrents of rain fast as wind, falling on the lotus leaves in the waters of the lake, excited the birds which produced inexplicable sweet sounds. Svaati was astonished at the rich melodious sounds made by the falling water drops and the low, the medium and the high notes produced by the birds. He went back to his hermitage and pondered over the possibility of producing musical instruments incorporating these sounds. He sough the assistance of viSvakarma, the celestial architect, and constructed various drums including mridanga, paNava and dardura.”[2, 111]

Maharishi Svaati then created the various instruments and crafted them with strings, wood, and iron. Percussion instruments in particular are mentioned. The famed divine drum dundubhi, along with others such as the tripushkara (mridanga, paNava and dardura) which are major instruments,  as well as the jhallari and paTahi (minor instruments) are mentioned.[2, 112]


One who plays the veena is known as a vainika/vainikaa. There have been many a talented Vainika in Purana and Charitra. The Veena, of course is most identified with two deities in the Hindu pantheon. The first and foremost, is the Goddess of Knowledge, Sarasvati Devi. Invoked throughout auspicious educational occasions, she is in many ways, the patron deity of music itself. It is not for nothing the most famous Veena is her namesake. After all, she is called Veena Pustaka Dharini.

Next of course is Mahadev himself. Lord Shiva is famed as a dancer and a destroyer and a wielder of the damaroo. Nevertheless, he is credited with the creation and mastery of another instrument, which fittingly bears his majestic name.

Narada muni-He is always seen with his veena, known as Mahathi, praising Lord Vishnu with his keerthanas.

Maharishi Agasthya-The great Saptarishi was an exponent of the veena and famously had a competition with Ravana (whose flag featured the veena). [9]

These of course, are sacred figures from our Puranas. But human history proper itself lists many talented veena players. Sculptures throughout India mark the centrality of the Veena, whose traditional role, ostensibly, has been usurped by the violin.

Siddhartha Gautama-“The Buddha reinforced his teachings with music from his Veena known as Parivadhini. It had twenty-one strings made of gold (Swarna Sutra).” [8]

Perhaps most celebrated of all, is the famed Emperor Samudra Gupta. He whose shadows cast their sway from Valhika to Varanasi and Kashmir to Kanyakumari was undoubtedly a most masculine of royals. And yet, he conquered Bharatavarsha with vaana (bow) in one hand and veena (lute) in the other.


Maharajadiraja Samudra Gupta with veena & vaana

Moving on into the medieval period, we find many accomplished performers and even rulers.

Purandara Dasa-The Pitamaha of Carnatic music was also a vainika in his own right. His successors in turn would follow in his footsteps as vainika-gayakas.

Raghavendra Swami-The patron Saint of Mantralayam was divinely inspired by Veena music, and used it in his own compositions.

Thyagaraja-Saint Tyagaraja brings out with all lyrical beauty and brilliance about the importance of this divine instrument in his song Mokshamu Galada!

vINA vAdana loludau Sivamano
vidha merugaru, thyAgarAja vinutha
 Is salvation obtainable to those who are not able to perceive the mind of Shiva who derives indescribable pleasure from listening to the divine music of Vina!” [3, 2]

Syama Sastri


Muthuswamy Deeksithaar

Veena Kupayya-A student of Thyagaraja. He composed many krithis featuring the veena.

Culture and Competence (in manhood or otherwise) go hand-in-hand and are not antipodal. The days of the popinjay oversophisticates and the rustic barbarian must be set aside.

It is possible to be both strategically serious and sophisticated in song and the other arts. The great King Bhoja was a sishya of Sarada and Skanda alike. We need not be alienated from our roots and artistic endeavours in order to tackle the modern world.

Indeed, there is a veena for every occasion. Here are some of its many types.


Govinda Dikshitar of the Tanjavur court first constructed a veena with 24 fixed frets, 12 for each octave. This was a key factor in the development of the system of 72 melakarta ragas.” [6] He is considered the originator of the Sarasvathi Veena in its current form. Nevertheless, the Veena obviously has a far greater antiquity (and variety). There were at one point as many as 25 different kinds of veenas. Kanakaveena or brahma veena may very well be the origin of them all.  In fact, Palkurki Somanatha, famed Telugu Poet of the Kakatiya era,  in his poem Panditharaadhya Charitramu gives us 41 [6]:











Here is a listing of the ones that are prevalent in the present time.


Rudra veena-Undoubtedly the most august and masculine of all the Indian lutes, the Rudra Veena commands respect even today.  Legend has it that Lord Shiva was inspired to construct it when he caught glimpse of Parvathi Devi taking rest. Struck by her beauty, the Rudra Veena was the result of the saundharya of this most Divine of muses.



Sarasvathi veena-The Sarasvathi veena is the most iconic of all the varieties. The very mention of the word Veena brings to mind this image. While the current form is traced to The Thanjavur Nayak court, it is in fact more ancient. Its measurements and structure are considered the standard.

Brahma Veena-The Veena of Lord Brahma, which helps facilitate his creation of the universe.


Vichitra Veena-Commonly used in the Hindustani style of music. A veena of seven strings (played with the fingernails). Does not have any frets.

Ghoshavathee Veena-Thought to be the predecessor to the comparatively recent Vichitra Veena.

Vipanchee-A  Veena of nine strings. Has 6 karanas (roopa, pratikrita, pratibheed, roopa sesha, oogha and pratisushka). It is played with a plectrum.

Tritantri Veena-It is often said that the Sitar is merely a renamed and re-tuned Tritantri. It is called so for the 3 strings that it has.

Saradiya Veena-This instrument is now called a Sarod, and has carved its own name in the Hindustani music world.


Mohana Veena-Considered to alternately be a modification of the Sarod and guitar. As such has two variations.


Yaal (Yazh)-Commonly used in Tamizh Nadu and considered an ancestor of the Veena.

Mahathi Veena-the Veena of choice of Narada Muni.

bobbiliveenaBobbili Veena-Today seen more as a toy than an august instrument of music, the Bobbili veena has nonetheless carved out its own name in the world of crafts. In fact, it historically had a golden age under the Rajas of Bobbili, and the instrument was a serious one for musical performances in the small kingdom. It was frequently given as a gift, and as most of the pre-modern varieties, was often gilded.


Although there are numerous variations of the veena, the structure is generally the same. Number of strings aside, the Veena typically has a head (called a kuppam), 24 frets, with 4 strings (representing Chaturveda and also Purushartha), and 3 on the side (called thaala strings). The latter are said to represent Iccha Shakti, Jnana Shakti, and Kriya Shakti. [3,4]

The 24 frets represent 12 swarasthanas in two octaves (24). Just like the 24 frets of the Veena, human back bone has 24 divisions. According to the human anatomy, the back bone has 7 cervicles (7 strings), 12 thorasic (representing the 12 swara sthanas) and 5 lumbar vertebrae (representing the 5 notes R, G, M, D,N –S and P are not included as they are prakrithi swaras or natural notes). The 24 frets get their importance by the nada produced from them. [3,4]
“Veena is of two kinds – Deiveeka Veena and Maanushi Veena (Man made Veena).
The human body created by God is the ‘deiveeka veena’.
The veena made out of wood by human beings is called as the ‘maanushi veena’.
Both these Veena are made and intended to produce the divine Nada or Music.”[3. 3]
Plucking of the strings is called meetu. There are  16 varieties of this.
Due to this divine nature, the Veena is said to facilitate vocal training as well. Singing along with veena is a form of Naada yoga (Yoga of Sound). If that is the case, manufacture of the veena is another type of yoga as well.

The best veenas are made from a single block of wood, typically jackwood. These are the instruments that stand the test of time and become veritable heirlooms in eminent families, as in the Royal Family of Mysuru. They may very depending on region and taste.


The veena is most often constructed in 3 parts. Though made from a single piece of jackfruit wood (called panasa), it consists of a head, a neck, and a resonator. A stabiliser (thumba) is made from hollow pumpkin. The wood itself is lacquered after carving and construction.

The fret board is hollow, and generally includes 24 brass frets. These are set on black honey wax and wooden tracks. A soft black coal powder is used to give it colour.


The strings themselves are usually brass.

The Thanjavur variety is typically 4 feet in length. Due to lack of patronage, there are less than 100 artisans in that craft today. In Bobbili it is around 30 families. These artisans, and the pandits preserving the traditional knowedge, require patronage, once given by feudal nayaks. The established business families of this era have a responsibility to fill this void.



Veena is the Divine Instrument. Verily, it represents the concept of Moksha through music.

From Lord Shiva and the Rudra Veena to APJ Abdul Kalam and the Sarasvathi Veena, this instrument has captured the imagination of ancient and modern India alike.

Veena is our national instrument. It is a treasure. [5]

Famous Players

A viiNaa player must be untiring and must be an expert in handling the citraa tupe of viiNaa. A flute player must be physically strong, steady and must have long breath” [2,115] And yet, despite these demands, Veena players (and vamsee players for that matter) have run the gamut. Some are of course established expert performers in Carnatic Classical or Hindustani. And others are perhaps better known in other areas (such as our own Yamini Purnatilaka garu), and yet, are accomplished artistes in this most divine of instruments, nonetheless.


Emani Sankara Sastry

Chitti Babu

Yamini Krishnamurti

Sundaram Balachander


Asad Ali Khan

Doraiswamy Iyengar

Brahm Sarup Singh

TN Seshagopalan

Jayanti Kumaresh

Punya Srinivas


The future of the veena is at a crossroads. Rootlessness among metro youth and adults alike have reduced interest in traditional heritage as it is. The violin’s usurpation of the veena’s traditional place as primary vocal accompaniment has exacerbated matters.

While there are veena virtuosos even today, it will require collaborative efforts with an eye on modern dynamics to restore this cultural treasure to its rightful place. It will require some effort from current connoisseurs and some adjustment from traditionalists. Not only should instrumentals be promoted but even fusion efforts given due credit.


To be fair, there have been general attempts outside of fusion to promote the veena. But these have been isolated. To restore Rudra’s vaadya to its proper place will require not only comprehensive and cooperative efforts across a state or many states, but also some tough decisions about current musical accompaniment.

More movies like this Chiranjeevi garu

The violin is a beautiful instrument, and credit to the European classical tradition for evolving it. Yet, it is possible to appreciate the foreign while preserving our own. Perhaps the best service stalwarts of Carnatic can do today is to encourage the reintroduction of the veena as the mainstay in katcheris, and even in less formal performances. The Rudra veena and the Sarasvathi veena (in its most popular measurement) may indeed be difficult to transport (as part of a troupe) for our peregrinatious performers of the post-modern period. Nevertheless, a suitable veena should be decided upon and encouraged to take the place of violin.

Violin invariably will continue in the forseeable future, and one does not wish to discourage those talented Carnatic performers who have devoted their lives to this delightful instrument. They should continue to perform with patronage & certainly  demand for “fusion” only continues to expand. But tradition is tradition. While the artistic spirit of musical experimentation should be encouraged, the integral core must be preserved.

Incipient steps must be taken to restore our National Instrument to its rightful place. Sarasvathi herself would expect nothing less for her namesake.

Saa Me Vasatu Jivhagre Veena Pusthaka Dharini
 -May Goddess Saraswathi, holding the Veena and the Vedas, always reside in my tongue. [3,8]


  1. Iyer, A.S. Panchapakesa.Karnataka Sangeeta Sastra: Theory of Carnatic Music.
  2. Appa Rao, P.S.R & P. Sri Rama Sastry. A Monography on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Hyderabad: Natyakala Press. 1967.P.110-112
  3. Mahesh, Anuradha. Shanmukhapriya School of Music. 2016 https://www.scribd.com/document/305207642/Veena-the-Divine-Instrument
  4. Somasekhara
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/chennai-margazhi-season/nirmala-rajasekars-mission-is-to-keep-the-veena-flag-flying-across-the-globe/article6735447.ece?widget-art=four-rel
  6. http://www.theveena.com/veena/
  7. http://www.forbesindia.com/article/recliner/the-last-notes-of-the-thanjavur-veena/32670/1
  8. http://www.jayanthikumaresh.com/about-the-veena/
  9. http://www.gklokam.com/2015/10/important-instrument-player-exams.html
  10. Divekar, Hindraj. Rudra Veena: An Ancient String Musical Instrument. New Delhi: DPH. 2001
  11. Dutta, Madhurima.Let’s Know Music and Musical Instruments of India. New Delhi: IBS books. 2008
  12. http://www.firstpost.com/living/thanjavur-veena-to-be-first-indian-instrument-to-get-made-in-thanjavur-tag-545793.html
  13. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/visakhapatnam/Melody-of-Bobbili-Veena-dying-out/articleshow/47451422.cms
  14. http://gaatha.com/bobbili-veena/

Saint Thyagaraja — The Immortal Bard

The following post was composed by Ashok Madhav garu, vaggeyakara.


Thyagaraja – the most admired of the musical trinity – as his name suggests sacrificed everything – all worldly pleasures and comforts of life.

He was an ardent bhakta of Lord Rama and he devoted his entire life composing immortal kritis dedicated mostly to Lord Rama. The Thanjavur kings who were connoisseurs of classical music and fine arts, invited him numerous times to come to their court as Asthana Vidwan, but he repeatedly refused patronage, honours and gifts from the kings as well as other wealthy zamindars and smaller princes. The only gift he willingly accepted was a portrait of Lord Rama presented to him by his disciple Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar. When Thyagaraja was offered this portrait he was so overcome with happy emotion that he composed the beautiful kriti in Mohana ragam “Nannu palimpa nadachi vacchitivo”-Did you come all the way to bless me , O Rama?

Thyagaraja’s voluminous output of kritis is remarkable for their musical and poetic excellence which exude with spiritual and philosophical aspects of life. The philosophical contents of his kritis are as great as the Upanishads and his kritis are often referred to as “Tyagarajopanishad”. The kritis have an universal appeal. In many of the kritis, Thyagaraja describes his aspirations of reaching the Supreme through his steadfast devotion to Lord Rama. He condemns flattery of mortals (narastuti)and does not hesitate to chide greed and jealousy.

Thyagaraja has been rightly compared to Sage Narada for his musical greatness, and to Valmiki for his poetic excellence in the following shloka:

Vyaso naigama charchaya mrudugira Valmika janmamunihi

Vyragye Shuka eva bhakti vishaye Prahalada eva swayam

Brahma Narada evacha apratimayoh sahitya sangitayoh.

Yo Ramabhakta pada nirjita shivastham Sri Tyagarajam bhaje

In the kriti Ramakatha sudha rasa panamu set in Madhyamavathi ragam, Thyagaraja describes the four aspects of dharma, artha, kama, moksha (Purusharthas) to rid oneself from the bondage of life, and unite with the Supreme God. Another kriti set in Purvikalyani, Para loka sadhana, echoes similar sentiments.

In the kriti Bhajana seyu margamunu joopave (Narayani Ragam), Thyagaraja pleads with Rama to show him the ways for “Ramabhajana” and later on he expresses that “Ramabhakti” is realized by one’s personal experience leading to Brahmanandam as put forth in his Shuddha bangala kriti – Ramabhakti Samrajyam.

His absolute devotion to Sri Rama is brought out in the kriti ( Entani ne varnintunu sabhari bhagya – Mukhari Raga) where he feels envious of Sabari’s good fortune and privilege in being able to reach Lord Rama with such ease. Finally, after many years of tireless devotion to Rama, Thyagaraja expresses his joy in the Saranga ragam kriti – Enta Bhagyamu – for having been fortunate to have his protection.

His disdain of material wealth is well documented in several of his kritis such as “ Innalu daya rakunda vainamemi ( ragam- Narayanagoula) and Nee japamulu navanidhulou and in his Varija Nayana (Kedaragoula ragam). He was vehemently opposed to kings giving hand-outs and gifts to their sycophants. His Goulipanthu kriti- Kasichedde goppayenura kalilo rajulagu reflects his feelings.

In Nidhi chala sukhama Ramuni sannidhi seva sukhama (kalyani ragam), Thyagaraja questions the need for flattery of mortals (as the Thanjavur king approaches him with gifts) and reiterates his constant devotion to his Lord Rama. Maharajah Swathi Thirunal sent a special emissary to invite Thyagaraja to his court in Thiruvanathapuram. The Wodeyar king of Mysore also attempted to request Thyagaraja to come to his Mysore court, invariably these invitations were declined.

It is interesting to note that in all of Thyagaraja’s kritis, he uses words like, Thyagarajanuta, Thyagaragachita, which probably identifies his mudra or his signature, but this actually refers to Lord Shiva- Thyagaraja being another name for Shiva- the presiding deity of Thiruvarur, the birth place of Thyagaraja.

Many of Thyagaraja’s disciples were so enthralled by his musical greatness that they have eulogised him as a visionary. Great vaggeyakaras like Veena Kuppaiyer, Mysore Sadashiva Rao, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Mysore Vasudevacharya and others have composed kritis in praise of Thyagaraja – the immortal bard of Thiruvaiyaru.

Thyagaraja’s influence on musicians and scholars of music has been so tremendous and pervasive that even after a century and a half after his demise, the legacy of his music continues to be enjoyed by Carnatic music enthusiasts all over the globe.

The author of this post, Ashok Madhav garu, is an accomplished Carnatic composer who has composed in all 72 Melakarta ragas. We thank him for his kind permission to print this piece.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Andhra Cultural Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Personalities: Syama Sastri


Continuing our Series on great Andhra Personalities, is one who is often not recognised as an Andhraite, and yet, remains one of the highly honoured Trinity of Carnatic Music. Sri Syama Sastri is one such figure, who, like Veerapandya Kattabomman is shared by Telugus and Tamils alike.

As we’ll discover in this story, the beauty of the ancient Andhra desa is not only in its own inherent greatness, but in the Samskruthi it shares with the rest of South India, and indeed, the rest of Bharatavarsha itself. Here is one such Ratna of Bharata and an immortal in the realm of music.



Syama Sastri was born in Thiruvarur on the second day of this month (April), in the year 1762 . His father was Visvanatha Iyer and grandfather was Venkatadri Iyer. They were of the Gautama gotra and attached to the Baudhayana Sutra. Despite no authentic biography existing, small accounts have been found here and there by Professor Sambamurthy in works such as the Gayaka Siddhanjanam, and others.

He hailed from the Vadamar community in Tamil Nadu, which traces its ancestry to Kambam in  Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh. Being Smartha Brahmanas, they are considered Andhras by heritage, the word Vadamar itself meaning “Northerner” [i.e. Telugu]. His vamsam specialised in scholarship and were in fact not originally archakas  by profession, but later followed that occupation through the annointment of Adi Sankaracharya himself.

The story of the family’s migration South is one that is part legend and part adventure. During the noontide of the Rayas, they were in Kanchi. The sack of Vijayanagari caused them to flee Kanchi, and they wandered the forests for 28 years. They reached Gingee in 1594. After 15 years, they shifted to Udayarpalayam. The Zamindar (Paleyagar?) of the place invited them to settle, and they did so for 70 years. However, they eventually felt slighted, as only one family of archakas was receiving patronage. From there, they went to Kanchipuram (Conjeevaram) for 15 years. With the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, however, Kanchi came under threat from the depradations of Golkonda and Bijapur sultanates. They then fled to Vijayapuram for another 5 years, before finally settling down in Thiruvarur. Here they resided for 45 years.

Thiruvarur was a famous and indeed blessed municipality in Tamil Nadu, as the other two jewels of the Carnatic Trinity also took birth there, and were, indeed, contemporaries. In fact, Syama Sastri was a good friend and frequent converser with Thyagaraja, and was even the guru of Muthuswami Dikshitar…such is the serendipitous, and indeed, transcendental connection amongst the Carnatic Trinity.

From the point of view of rasabhava Tyagaraja’s composition might be compared to the draksha (grapes), Muttuswamy Dikshitar’s to the nalikera (cocoanut), whose pulp can be eaten only after the shell is broken and Syama Sastri’s to the kadali (plantain fruit), to eat which we have only to peel off the thin skin. [1,25]

Sri Syama Sastri, third from Left

Nevertheless, the family would later migrate again, due the the politics, disorder, and depradations by foreign invaders of the time, and their descendants.

In the year 1781 when there was the fear of an impending invasion and devastation of the whole place by Hyder Ali and his men, our hero’s father Visvanatha …interviewed Raja Tulakaki (1765-1787), the then ruler of Tanjore and obtained his consent to come and stay with his family within the walls of the Tanjore fortress [1,10]

The Maratha Raja of Thanjavur (Tanjore) gave Syama Sastri’s father large estates, an agraharam and cultivable lands, along with a temple. This mandiram dedicated to Sri Kamakshi Amma is (as of 1934) served by an Archaka named Natesa Sastri, himself the great grandson of our Great Personality.

Syama Sastri was given a sound, traditional education in Sanskrit and Telugu, and learnt basic music from his uncle. Despite not coming from a family of musicians, Syama Sastri (called Syama Krishna by his loved ones, this later became his ankitam (signature))was a naturally gifted performer and composer of Sangeeta. At the age of 18, he (along with his family) shifted to Thanjavur. He had a sweet and melodious voice, but did not receive formal training until the myserious Sangeeta Swami initiated him. This was similar to the backstory of Thyagaraja Swami being presented with the work swararnava by Narada muni and Muthuswami Dikshitar being initiated by Chidambaranatha Yoga in Nija Sangeeta (true music). [1]

Sangeeta Swami was also an Andhra Brahmin, and he performed narthana (dance) for Sri Visveshwara in Varanasi. After coming to Tanjore, he noticed Syama Krishna’s talents, and informed his father of his wish to train him, predicting the son’s great destiny in music.

With his sound education in Sanskrit, Telugu, & traditional branches of knowledge, and complemented by his impressive intellect, Syama was an ideal student for Sangeeta.

His wife was known to be particularly virtuous, and devoted to her husband, rejoicing in his success and fame. Being a sumangali, she passed on before him. Such was Syama Sastri’s love for her that, rather than be sad, he smiled saying in Tamil : “Saga anjunal; setta arunal“. This meant he was happy that he only had to live 5 more days before joining her. This was particularly poignant, as Syama Sastri (like the other two members of the Trinity) was skilled at Jyotisha (astrology) and was said to be able to predict a person’s future merely by looking a his or her face. There were a number of anecdotes where his prophecies were literally proven to be true.

He passed away in the year 1827 C.E. His legacy passed on to his two sons Panju Sastri (a temple Archaka) and Subbaraya Sastri. The eldest son of Panju Sastri is (as of 1934) the archaka of the Tanjore Kamakshi Temple. Subbaraya Sastri is considered the inheritor of Syama Sastri’s musical legacy and trained not only under his father, but also under Thyagaraja. He later became a vaggeyakara (composer) of repute, with krithis such as “Nannu brochutaku” and “Sri Kamalambana” (in Todi and Desya Todi respectively).

Principle disciples of Syama Sastri, aside from his younger son, were Porambur Krishnayya, Alasur Krishnayya, Sangita Swami, and Dasari.


Syama Sastri’s achievements are numerous. He was an highly accomplished scholar and musician of the highest order. The Sangeeta Trimurtis (Carnatic Trinity) made their stamp on an already ancient tradition, and provided the shape we know it in today.

They were born musicians and were kings in their own realm. They had the composer’s technique in them. Their kritis are raga crystals and for the polished nature of their music and the beauty of their language, their compositions will forever remain unsurpassed. [1, 1-2]

Syama Sastri’s contribution to this cannot be minimised. Despite being the least documented of the three, he had many accomplishments to his name, even though he took on only a few disciples who could spread his work:

  • Wrote over 300 Compositions, primarily krithis and swarajathis, in his distinct style
  • These musical works are scholarly in nature and have highly intricate time-measures
  • Personally created valuable manuscripts detailing the various prastaras in the tala system
  • Composed 9 Krithis (Navaratna-malika)  in Praise of Goddess Meenakshi (Madurai)
  • Exemplar of Nija Sangeeta (“True Music”)
  • Humbled the hitherto undefeated musician Kesavayya of Bobbili in a contest
  • Defeated the nattuvan (hereditary dance teacher) of Negapattam in a music contest
  • Gave upadesam to Muthuswami Dikshitar
  • Never deigned to engage in Nara-stuthi (praise of men), reserving his talents only to offer praise to God.

Like Thyagayya, Syama Krishna is said to have disdained royal patronage, and famously refused to go to Mysore to receive a Kanakabhisheka by the Maharaja. While Thyagaraja’s popularity is credited to his elegant but simple works that are accessible to the appreciation of the common person, Syama Sastri is considered an uncompromising exemplar, with scholarly krithis of great musical sophistication. Strong understanding of Classical Indic Music is required to gain and appreciation for his genius.

His compositions in apurva ragas like Manji, Kalagada and Chintamani stand as monu-mental proofs of his rare genius and originality in discovering ne forms in fields which to others were barren [1,22]

He is considered the midpoint between Thyagaraja’s simplicity and Muthuswami’s complexity. Famous compositions include 8 of the Navaratna-mallika:

“Devi Minanetri” (Sankarabharanam), “Nannu Brovu Lalita” (Lalita), “Marivere Gati” (Ananda Bhairavi), “Mayamma” (Ahiri), “Minalochana” (Dhanyasi), “Rave Parvatarajakumari” (Kalyani), “Devi Ni Pada Sarasa” (Khambo[j]i) and “Sarojadalanetri” (Sankarabharanam). [3]

Other notables are “Himachala Tanaya”, the Swarajathi “Kamakshi ni” and the famous krithi “Devi Brova Samayam idhe“. He is said to have defeated the conceited Kesavayya with this.



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The musical trinity of Carnatic Music has certainly indicated that music is not a profession, but is an offering to god.[2]

We are all aware that the songs of Shyama Sastri are noted for their intricate thala subtleties, while compositions of Thyagaraja are rich in bhava and the songs of Dikshitar highlight Raga Swaroopas. It is certainly remarkable that the basic features reflect the three vital aspects of music. [2]

If Thyagaraja was a great Rama Bhakta, Syama Sastri was a dedicated devotee of Durga. The various forms of Shakti were the inti devatas of the family, most notably, Goddess Kamakshi. This was reflected in his brilliant krithis. He is known to have had a special love for raga Anandabhairavi.

His famous defeats of Appukutti (Nattuvan of Negapattam) and Kesavayya are a testament to his talents. In the first case, the singer Syama defeated the dancer Appukutti in his understanding of music. In the second, he defended the court of Thanjavur from humiliation by a musician from Bobbili. In the case of Kesavayya, it was a defeat of manava music by the adhyatmika music and nija sangeeta of Syama Krishna.

He is said to have a had a fondness for chewing betel leaves. For this reason, he is frequently portrayed with them.

Ultimately, though not as well known, Syama Sastri’s contributions to Carnatic Music and Andhra Culture cannot be minimised. He brought a rare balance between simplicity and complexity, and a wonderful appreciation for both scholarship and devotion that is all too rare today. Despite his impressive intellect, he was not consumed with the quest of proving his knowledge, but rather, viewed one’s talents with the humility one should: as a gift from and offering to God. His music is proof of it.

Syama Sastri’s descendants are amongst us today, and indeed, much like our High Culture, are in a state of penury. Those great businessmen and captains of Industry who are the modern Vanijyas and Nayakas of today have a responsibility to give patronage to such cultured families, and restore them and our culture to former greatness.


  1. Sambamurthy, P. (Professor of Musicology). Syama Sastri—And Other Famous Figures of South Indian Music. Sri Mahendhra Graphics: Chennai. 1999
  2. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/article574103.ece
  3. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article1253106.ece
  4. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/syama-sastry-did-travel/article5410501.ece
*A special acknowledgment should be made to the author of the above stated book. It is often difficult to assemble primary sources documenting the lives of our great personalities. The diligent and often selfless work of traditional pandits, modern historians, and self-driven biographers should be acknowledged. In this case, Professor P.Sambamurthy, Musicologist, deserves recognition for his work on Syama Sastri, bringing out many minute details for the benefit of posterity, making this Post possible. Dhanyavadam.

Personalities: Uppalapu Srinivas


Sometimes the life and music of a great talent is as brief and brilliant as the melodies they play. One such meteor in the music world, passed all too quickly and very recently.

Better known as Mandolin Srinivas, the feature of the next installment of our continuing Series on Andhra Personalities came to be identified with and by the very instrument itself.


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Srinivas Uppalapu was born in Palakol village, West Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh in the year 1969.  As a testament to the innate genius of this musician, he picked up the mandolin on his own, as a child. In fact, his first guru was his father, who did not know how to play.  While his father would sing, Srinivas would accompany him on his broken mandolin–truly a case of “embodied knowing” if there ever was one. At the age of five “the young boy started played Viribhoni varnam in three tempos without knowing the notation.” [1]

At that time, however, many musicians were skeptical about whether Carnatic music could be played on the mandolin because they believed that sustained and oscillatory notes (Gamakas), which are an integral part of Carnatic music, could not be produced on a mandolin.

Young Shrinivas was determined to prove them wrong, and he played pure ragas like Bhairavi, Khamboji, Varaali, Kalyani and Pantuvaraali entirely by ear and showed that it was possible to play these ragas on the mandolin. [1]

Nevertheless, young Srinivas would finally gain formal training courtesy Rudraraju Subbaraju, who was a disciple of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. At the age of 12,  Srinivas gave his first major performance at the Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai. Technically, though, his first ever Carnatic peformance was at the tender age of 9, during the Thyagaraja Aradhana, no less.

What is rare, and even unique, about Srinivas gaaru is that the Mandolin is not a traditional Carnatic instrument. Purists naturally balk at such a notion, but as the violin has been adapted to suit the Carnatic tradition and tastes, so too did the man who became most associated with the mandolin, manage to incorporate it as well. While the jury may still be out on the fashion to create fusion music with Carnatic, he managed to show that the tradition has the potential to adapt to the times and changing tastes. In an interview of him (along with his younger brother U.Rajesh, also a mandolin virtuoso), the Carnatic musician and composer said the following:

Now where does Carnatic music stand? “It’s the basis. It is like the Sanskrit language, from which springs so many other languages. Carnatic music is here to stay with us and all other music that we play is based on that” [6]

While his later life was characterised by a difficult marriage, he tragically passed away from liver problems irrespective of reputedly never drinking or smoking.  His legacy, nevertheless, lives on today in his son. A rare talent who, despite having the spark of a Gandharva attested to by all, remained soft-spoken and humble in the wake of musical genius. Tamil Nadu deserves full credit for giving him patronage, a failure of Andhra among a long line of other unsupported Telugu artistic talents gone unsung. It is one that we would do well to remember, as it had no small part in Sri Uppalapu Srinivas later being referred to as Mandolin “Srinivasan“.


All the greats of Tamil Nadu feted this fantastic embodiment of Gandharva Veda. From Smt. M.S.Subbulakshmi to the TN Chief Minister MGR, this Telugu boy was the toast of the Tamil country. As his repertoire and fame expended, so to did his retinue and professional relationships.

Apart from his Carnatic concerts, Srinivas also collaborated with western and Indian classical musicians for fusion music performances. He collaborated with Indian musicians such as Zakir Hussain, V Selvaganesh, and Shankar Mahadevan as well as international artistes like guitarist John McLaughlin. [2]

As a matter of fact, the latter had mentioned who all these greats were part of an aptly named Shakti music group. While they would all collaborate with him, Srinivas was a talent who could stand on his own accomplishments, of which there were many.

  • First public performance at age 9, in Kudivada, Andhra Pradesh
  • Experimented and built his own 4 string Mandolin (later 5) from traditional 8
  • Recorded over 40 Albums and composed original music along with his brother
  • Performed around the world at concerts featuringJazz & W. Classical Orchestras
  • Founded the Shrinivas Institute of World Music
  • Revived many forgotten Ragas in the Bharatiya Saastriya Sangeeta tradition [5]
  • Titled the Asthana Vidvan of Tamil Nadu by the State Govt. in 1984
  • Mysore T. Chowdiah Memorial National Award (1992)
  • Received the Padma Shri in 1998
  • Won the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 2010
  • Nominated for the Padma Bhushan

Mandolin U. Srinivas (Vol- 1)
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His greatest accomplishment, however, was demonstrating that Tradition could be adapted to the times, and technoloy married with taste. His own adaptation and utilisation of the electric mandolin would add a new and scintillating timbre to the traditional krithi repertoire.



Srinivas gaaru’s passing in 2014 was mourned the world over. The Hindu printed a full page collection of articles to remember him.

A “prodigy”, a “trailblazer”, a “rebel”, Uppalapu Srinivas was known by many names, but above all, the name of the instrument for which he was most famous.

Better known as Mandolin Srinivas, this week’s Andhra Personality was not only a virtuoso of music, but a teacher as well, giving lessons free of cost to many. Described as a musician born once in many centuries, inheritor of a divine musicality, and a true Gandharva in the tradition of Gandharva Veda, he left us all too soon.

In fact, for a while in Carnatic music circles, many were even referring to him as Mandolin SrinivasAN. This is once again testament to how poorly Telugus have given patronage to their own high culture Talent.  This realisation is not just one in sangeeta circles, but also sincerely being recognised by leaders in the business community . This is a failing of not just the elites, but the mamidi manishi as well, who has spent the better part of the last decade more interested in bolly-tolly trash that gives a tawdry beat than music that uplifts the spirit with melody.  Whether artistic or political or business or common man, it’s imperative to keep the culture alive by giving due recognition and support to the Telugu community’s own up-and-coming artistes and talented trailblazers. Mandolin Srinivas is one such star who blazed an all too brief, but brilliant trail.

So let us remember him for his contributions to music as well as for his advocacy of tradition in words best spoken by Mandolin Srinivas himself:

Karnatik music, in fact, I would say Indian classical music, is a system with tremendous potential, and an amazing training ground. Once a person is well-groomed in it, he/she are equipped to match any other music system in the world. I attribute the success of my jugalbandis with Hindustani music and collaborations with world-music performers  to the fact that I have a Karnatik music base.

It is the potency of our classical music which has qualified me to occupy the same stage as other world greats. [3]


  1. http://www.mandolinshrinivas.com/
  2. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Mandolin-U-Srinivas-a-rebel-who-silenced-his-critics-with-music/articleshow/42892114.cms
  3. http://www.deccanherald.com/content/116234/F
  4. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/all-that-matters/Shrinivas-was-the-spirit-of-Shakti-who-can-replace-him-John-McLaughlin/articleshow/43045691.cms?
  5. http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-u-srinivas-and-the-mandolin-falls-silent-2020025
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/mandolin-magic/article598029.ece
  7. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/arts/music/u-shrinivas-indian-mandolin-virtuoso-dies-at-45-.html?_r=1