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The English Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini Project: A testimonial to technology

  • March 16, 2010
  • Prabhakar Chitrapu, in collaboration with his sisters Vijayalakshmi Tummalapalli & Annapurna Sattiraju.
(From The Thyagraja Aradhana 2010 Souvenir- Complete Text)

December 21, 1901: This was the day, a sixty year old musician/composer in a remote corner of a tiny village in Tamil Nadu began his meticulous documentation of centuries of musical wisdom handed down to his family over the ages. Those were not the days of technology, tools and collaboration, and one could surmise that electricity was not available in places such as Ettayapuram. After three long, and hard years of work, with a meticulous mathematical approach, he generated the various gamaka symbols, and undertook the gargantuan task of transposing the treasury of musical knowledge into paper, and brought out this text, the “Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini” (hereon referred to simply as the SSP).

As a humble tribute to this work, we (the authors) decided to take up the translation of this monumental work into English, and present some of the history and the experiences, that culminated in the English SSP, now available on the internet.

The Author – Subbarama Dikshitar
The biography of Subbarama Dikshitar is available to us in his own words, which he has included in his book as a section in the Chapter dealing with the life of 77 Vaggeyakaras (composers) (i.e., Vaggeyakara Charitramu). Subbarama Dikshitar was the grandson (and adopted son) of Balaswami Dikshitar, Muthuswami Dikshitar’s younger brother. When Subbarama Dikshitar was seven years old, Balaswami Dikshitar took him to Ettayapuram and tutored him in Sanskrit, Telugu and the intricate lakshya, and lakshana of our musical system. He bloomed as a versatile composer, when he was barely seventeen, and his talent in composing was obviously spotted by the Raja of Ettayapuram.

The role of Chinnaswami Mudaliyar
Any mention of the SSP will not be complete without mentioning A. M. Chinnaswami Mudaliyar, a Roman Catholic and a Latin scholar, with a Master’s degree from Madras University. Amazed at the beauties of karnatik music, he not only wanted the Western world to understand the system and also preserve it for the posterity by putting it down in Staff notation. With the intention of making music a universal language, Chinnaswami Mudaliyar took great trouble to gather authentic versions of the compositions of Tyagaraja and Dikshitar, and transcribed them into western notation. He started a periodical Oriental Music in European Notation, and a press named Ava Maria Press in Pudupet, Madras. All this was at a time when printing was at its very infancy! His work was printed in the year 1893.  It was a collection of sheets, sold at 1 anna per sheet. Chinnaswami Mudaliyar has already heard about Subbarama Dikshitar, and in 1893, he wrote to the Ettayapuram Maharaja to send Subbarama Dikshitar to Madras to tutor him. The response was positive, and thus started the lasting collaboration between these two luminaries. From 1894, the two corresponded in detail through the columns of The Hindu, and Chinnaswami’s own Oriental Music publication. When they both finally  met at a later date, Dikshitar convinced him that it was impossible to sing the krtis without knowing the gamakas. After some initial reservation, Mudaliyar finally agreed and accepted Subbarama Dikshitar as his guru, and learned the raganga system from him. The two worked hard to create some complicated gamaka symbols and Mudaliyar made typesetting fonts of each of them. This was the time when Mudaliyar retired, and his eyesight was failing. Also, he was exhausted and his money drained out.

The genesis of the 1904 Telugu SSP
In 1899, he was invited to the coronation of Jagadvira Rama Venkateswara Ettappa, and Mudaliyar used this golden opportunity to request the Maharaja that he should order Subbarama Dikshitar to complete a treatise in Telugu. He wanted the work to include the symbols for the gamaka, tala and kalapramana, and have it printed in the music printing press Vidya Vilasini, belonging to the court. At first, Subbarama Dikshitar was not willing to share his knowledge, which was a treasured family property. But, later, persuaded by Mudaliyar, and patronized by the Ettayapuram rulers, he yielded. The rulers lavished almost 10,000 rupees on this project. So, this grand-nephew of Muttusvami Dikshitar, undertook “to put down in writing and notation, everything that he knew, without hiding anything”. As per the command of the Maharaja, Subbarama Dikshitar started the project on December 19, 1901, and by December 1903, he completed the sections on “Vaggeyakara Charitamu”, and “Sangita Lakshana Samgraham” that supports the symbols of gamakas and talas. Finally, the entire work was completed on February 15, 1904, and the book was printed at Vidya Vilasini Press, Ettayapuram. Unfortunately, Chinnaswami Mudaliyar did not live to see the completion of this great work which he so dearly initiated Dikshitar to pursue. He passed away in 1901.

The contents of the 1904 SSP
Commencing with the appropriate salutation “guruguhaya namah”, the work is in two thick volumes totaling 1715 pages. The entire work is in chaste Telugu, but occasionally, we find songs in Tamil. The title, of course is in Sanskrit. We see the usage of English in the titles of certain compositions (honoring certain luminaries or rulers). In the opening page, there is a dedication to H. H. The Maharaja of Ettayapuram “as a token of the Esteem and Regards” in English. There are three prefaces to the work (i) by C. Nagojee Rau in English, (ii) by R. Srinivasa Iyengar, a Tamil Pandit at Raja High School, Ettaypuram, in Tamil, and (iii) by Subbarama Dikshitar in Telugu. In addition to these, there is a write up called pada hrdaya, which traces the steps that led to the publication, and gives a brief content of the work. There are four verses, slaghya padyamu (poems of praise) in different metres composed by T. S. Murugesudu, a Telugu Pandit from Tirucirapalli. These verses are in praise of the rulers, the book, and the author. This is followed by an errata sheet running to 38 pages. The main body of the work starts here, and the Table of Contents is placed under 12 headings as follows:
1. A well prepared alphabetical Index of songs
2. Vaggeyakara Charitramu – The Biographies of 77 composers
3. Sangita Lakshana Prachina Paddhati – The science of traditional music)
4. Sangita Lakshana Samgrahamu – A concise treatment of the theory of music)
5. An exhaustive tabular representation of raganga, upanga, bhasanga ragas 6. Gamaka samjna niyama vidhana vivaranamu – Elaboration of the rules of gamakas
7. Tala kala pramana samjna niyama vidhana vivaranamu – Elaboration of the rules and signs of tala kalapramana)
8. Methods to identify mistakes – Notes on likely pitfalls while singing, or playing the vina;
9. Main contents: Raganga ragams 1 to 22 (till janyam 4) – Here ends Volume I
10. Raganga ragams 22 (continued from janyam 5) till raganga ragam 72 – Volume II begins
11. Anubandham
 A – 16 lengthy monumental ragamalikas
12. Anubandham B – A collection of 55 rare compositions by various composers.

A work of precision and accuracy:
The vertical swara-sahitya alignment is executed everywhere with utmost care. The format of presentation of the various raganga and the janya ragams follows a uniform pattern. One can say that Subbarama Dikshitar was a pioneer in his conception of what in modern parlance are called content templates, formatting standards, naming conventions, uniformity of section headers and footers in a work published over a hundred years ago. His use of footnotes at the appropriate places, acknowledgement and citation of sources where he obtained his biography, a clear attribution for vaggeyakara-s whenever there is a case of composers composing tunes for someone else’s words or vice-versa. These are but some of the things illustrative of his degree of professionalism, quality and ethics. The chakra, mela number, and the mnemonic phrases are listed at the commencement of each section. This is followed by the name of the particular raga with the specification of whether it is a raganga or a janya with the further classification as bhasanga or upanga. Immediately following this, a (lakshana) slokam by (Muddu) Venkatamakhi is provided. Then comes the arohana/avarohana scales of the raga, referred to as “murchana”, to indicate that they are not mere scales in the usual sense, but a way to understanding the melodic characteristics of the ragas. In the next paragraph, the lakshana details are provided by Subbarama Dikshitar. On the lakshya side, we first see a gitam by Venkatamakhi. This is followed by illustrative compositions in that raga, which invariably includes a one or two by his grand uncle Muttusvami Diksitar. While major ragas like Bhairavi and Shankarabharanam feature many important compositions, most others have just only one or two illustrative composition. Sometimes, there are chauka varnams, prabandhams, padams, and so on. Each section concludes with a well-knit sanchari (swara passages) composed by Subbarama Dikshitar himself in some specific tala structure. Due to limitations in printing, the various avartanas in each song are arranged in a continuous manner with the danda mark (| or ||) separating them (and not in separate vertical columns of equal length, that we are accustomed to in present day musical work).

Tamil/Kannada editions:
It was Musiri Subrahmanya Iyer who originally tossed the idea of bringing out a Tamil translation of Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini. On behalf of the Music Academy, Dr V. Raghavan, the then secretary, obtained a Grant-in-aid from the Sangita Nataka Akademi to pursue this venture. Justice T. L. Venkatarama Iyer, and Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer provided clarification and advice on Muttuswami Dikshitar’s compositions and musical aspects respectively. Dr S. Ramanathan wrote the lakshana segment, while B. Rajam Ayyar did the lakshya part. The first volume (covering mela 1 to parts of mela 15) came out in 1961. Subsequent volumes – second (remaining material in mela 15 till part of mela 22), third (mela 22 to part of mela 28), third (mela 28 to parts of mela 29), and fourth (mela 29 till mela 65) came out in 1963, 1966, and 1977. Unfortunately, Dr V. Raghavan passed away in 1979 before the completion of the project. Finally T. S. Parthasarathy completed the fifth and final volume (covering melas 66 till 72, and included both Appendix A and B) in 1983. Many topics in the introductory portions, as well as the section on Vaggeyakara Charitramu were left out in this project. The Andhra Pradesh Sangita Nataka Akademi brought out a reprint in four volumes of this great work in Telugu, but did not include the two Appendices. Also, we are told that the first volume of the book, and the work, Prathamabhyasa Pustakamu (another book by Subbarama Dikshitar) were translated recently into Kannada by S. K. Ramachandra Rao and Anandarama Udupa, and published in Bangalore by the cultural organization, Ananya.
A note on the English SSP by Kiranavali Vidyasankar

Year 2004 marked the hundred years of the publication of the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini. One great music enthusiast, Vidya Jayaraman (who is an IT professional in Delaware), emailed another proactive music enthusiast Dr. P. P. Narayanaswami  (a Math Professor in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada) after attempting a translation from the Tamil edition of the Music Academy. Dr. Narayanaswami, who had already done a considerable amount of work transliterating compositions for various websites like, came up with the idea of using tabular structures in LaTeX programming and various associated packages, to typeset this work with all the gamaka symbols properly incorporated. Over the course of the next two years, they overcame several technical hurdles on typesetting and gamaka symbols, and the material from Vol 1 of the Tamil SSP was released on the internet for rasikas and the general public. The immediate response was very encouraging. Technical and scholarly inputs were given by Dr. N. Ramanathan, (Retired Professor, Department of Music, University of Madras) and Dr. R. S. Jayalakshmi. It was at this juncture that the authors determined that in the interests of accuracy, the changes made to the Tamil edition had to be undone, and the entire Anubandam was typed entirely from Telugu SSP.

Several volunteer proofreaders across the world joined in enthusiastically. Using modern features such as file-sharing, transfers and scanning, the material for proof-reading was divided easily, and the rest of the mammoth task was completed. The English SSP, as it stands today, is an excellent resource for music lovers and students, and the first of its kind. No other composer indeed had someone of Subbarama Dikshitar’s caliber to notate his works, and the authors of the English SSP have shown the same reverence and dedication to Subbarama Dikshitar’s work, and thereby to Muttuswami Dikshitar himself. That they are constantly working on fine-tuning the online material only reflects their commitment to perfection. Also in progress is the incorporation of the errata section from the Telugu SSP, and the translation of the Introductory Musicological Sections. The renowned musicologist Prof. S. R. Janakiraman has kindly consented to provide his scholarly inputs and help with the translation of this section. These will be completed soon and made available online.

However, unlike Subbarama Dikshitar and Chinnaswami Mudaliar who corresponded through the pages of The Hindu and managed to meet each other, the translators of the English SSP have not yet met each other in person, and have corresponded only via email and telephone!

The contents of the English SSP can be downloaded from the website and are available free for non-commercial purposes. The authors can be contacted via email – Dr. P. P. Narayananswami  ( &  Vidya Jayaraman  (

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