Yamuna Kalyani - An endless melody

May 16, 2021

(Read Behag - Love, the previous article in The Raga Series)

To begin with, allow me to apologize to any learned person in the field of carnatic music who is reading this, for there are fallacies and inaccuracies that may be visible to the trained eye; this is my first and merely an honest attempt at something I’ve stayed away from for a long time. At the end of this, I will be glad to accept any corrections to what I’ve written or chosen to identify alongside this raga. As is the case, feel free to write to us regarding the same.

I’ll admit that my intent to actually write something for the Raga Series was quintessentially wild in nature and for good reason. I come from a family that adores every ounce of culture and music is no different; my grandmother taught carnatic music but somehow, I’ve always found myself on the other end of that spectrum. Naturally, the very thought of it brought about an element of doubt. Was I qualified enough to do this? Certainly not and I don’t think the three months (at the time of writing) that it has been since that day has made much of a difference. I do understand the vastness of the ocean that I am trying to navigate through.

When I told a dear friend of mine that I intended to do this, she came out in total support of the idea and I took her word for it. Hence began a journey that I wish would never end.

Yamuna Kalyani is a janya raga of the 65th melakartha raga in Carnatic music, Kalyani. It inherits the fundamental structure of the Kalyani raga but for a Shuddha Madhyama that differentiates it from Kalyani itself (for those that seek some clarity, think of this as the concept of inheritance in Object Oriented Programming in Computer Science, where Kalyani is the parent class and Yamuna Kalyani is a derived class with some attributes of its own). To understand this differentiation in detail is not something that I’m yet capable of, but the awareness of the difference has at the very least, sensitized me to make an effort to do so.

I stumbled upon Yamuna Kalyani as one of the ragas associated with the rendition of Maithreem Bhajata by Bharat Ratna Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi and Dr. Radha Viswanathan at the United Nations in 1966; I’ve been associated with MUNs for a large part of the last 8 years and I am no stranger to this unique Indian connection, though it was only much later that I realized that the benediction was set to Kapi as well; it was a Ragamalika. To be specific, one particular line has been with me from the time I first heard the benediction:

श्रेयो भूयात् सकलजनानाम् ॥

śreyo bhūyāt sakalajanānām ||

The rendition of this line, along with the rest of the benediction itself felt like the sheer personification of what the raga seemed to have lent to it. The raga seemed to give it the force of life which truly embodied a sense of tranquility and peace that complemented the teachings embodied in this composition by Jagadguru Sri. Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

I would like to cite a majestic composition, a part of Muthuswami Dhikshitar’s Pancha Bhuta Krithis, Jambupathe. The Jambukeswarar temple at Thiruvanaikaval near Trichy is one of the pancha bhoota stalams where Lord Shiva is said to have manifested himself as water and rightly so, for the temple is situated between two rivers, Kaveri to the south and Kollidam to the north and the lord himself is situated on top of a stream of fresh water.

jambupate mam pahi nijananda amritabodham dehi ||

In this krithi, Muthuswami Dhikshitar embellishes the greatness of the lord and by employing Yamuna Kalyani to this; he seems to portray the Shanta rasa that I associated earlier, apart from the sheer lucidity, free flowing nature and the unfathomable depth of the raga itself that truly left me, even only as an amateur listener, in a state of profound state of serenity and sheer bliss, thus also bringing out the Hasya rasa. By establishing this connection between the raga and the nature of the lord of the shrine, he also brings out what is apparently called a raga mudra, in this case, Yamuna, which lends its name to the raga itself. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the shrine, though at a time when much of this made very little in terms of sense to me.

Another example that has somehow been with me through my childhood thanks to the fact that much of my family brought up the reference with my name, almost to cheekily test my irritability and shyness surrounding it but with no apparent other connection, was Krishna Nee Begane, a composition by Vyasatirtha. There’s no doubt in my mind that this song brings out every ounce of Bhakti and Shringara that is embodied within the raga. I wouldn’t disagree when it is stated that the relationship between Radha and Krishna has to be understood as eternal love wherein Radha’s love for Krishna personifies the soul’s (jeevathma) sheer longing and willingness for the unification with Krishna (Paramathma) and that the nature of the Raga is complementing of the same.The amalgamation of the bhakti rasa with the touchingly simple composition shows off the splendor of the raga in a way that is comprehensible, although the depth of which, as I mentioned earlier, is beyond the likes of me. Sri Ramachandra kripalu Bhajaman composed by Tulsidas, is yet another Krithi that shows off the bhakti rasa in just as great depth, and I have hyperlinked the rendition of the same by MS Subbulakshmi, once again.

Other immortal krithis that stand out in this raga include Nandagopala by Muthuswami Dikshitar Bhavayami Gopalam by Annamacharya, Pibare Ramarasam by Sadashiva Brahmendra, Narayana Hari by Thyagaraja, Haridasulu also by Thyagaraja, Hari smarane by Purandaradasa and a world of other Ragamalikas, which I believe together accentuate the beauty of the Bhakti and Shringara that I believe is central to what Yamuna Kalyani is, not to mention the sheer wisdom that it endows, as is observed in the opening lines of Bhaja Govindam, a composition by Adi Shankaracharya, which is again a Ragamalika and best rendered in my opinion, again by MS Subbulakshmi. The opening lines, which are set in Yamuna Kalyani, best portrays the definition of bhakti in itself, which Sri. C.Rajagopalachari once stated as not different from the way of knowledge, though, as he adds, “the learned employ this distinction to emphasize a particular thesis, on which they discourse in different contexts.” Mature intelligence, lodged securely in the heart, becomes wisdom; wisdom integrated with life and issuing out in action becomes devotion, he explains.

Going by the normal template of the Raga Series up until this point, I’d have to also add references to Yamuna Kalyani’s implementation in the cinematic industry, but if I were to suggest that I could truly identify its influence on cinema music, I’d be lying. I have, however, added my personal preferences to a YouTube playlist. I’d really appreciate it if anyone reading this had some good suggestions in the raga when it came down to film music, and feel free to write back to us with anything that you may have in mind.

Up until this point, much of my interpretation of the raga has been aided by the guidance of the limited knowledge of Sanskrit and the rasas that I have indicated.

As is the case with most of my older pieces of work, I’d like to conclude with what I started. Coincidentally for me, the title Maithreem Bhajata literally means to “cultivate friendship”. I certainly believe that this isn’t a case of shallow praise and I am grateful to the almighty for having been blessed with a friend as such, for the inspiration to write this article as I mentioned earlier, to embark on this path in music that I’ve avoided for such a long time, to accept my fallacies and imperfections not just in my understanding of music but otherwise as well, and so much more that her friendship has afforded.

Check out the YouTube playlist on the raga here.

The Raga Series intends to elucidate on the Raga-Rasa relationship to make your listening experience more enjoyable. The author does not guarantee that the recommended songs are composed only based on the raga. The series is based on the author’s views and is purely subjective. Music tracks are shared for your quick reference and their rights belong to their respective owners.

N Krishna

You may know me as the guy who talks and writes like a sergeant, is an av-geek and works out obsessively, but not as one who laughs with a full heart and cooks like it’s an experiment.

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