Rasas, their interpretation and Navarasas in Carnatic music (Thyagaraja's compositions)

Article by Ms. Revathi S.

    Ms. Revathi S.Life is the true testing ground. Emotions are as large as life and twice as natural.As soon as a child is born, the awe that it feels while coming across every new act, every new incident is something that is felt for the first time and is a matter to wonder and ponder about. “Adbhutha rasa” is the curiosity of man, the astonishment caused by something not imagined earlier or felt. The emotional outpour of Saint Thyagaraja in his various compositions appeal even to the lay listeners.Thyagaraja, the king of Carnatic music has remarkably depicted Navarasas in his various compositions on Lord Rama.In his composition in raga “Kapi”-“Raama raghukula jalanidhi”, he says he is wonderstruck at Sri Rama's greatness that it isn't possible even for Brahma, the creator of the Universe to know the vastness and boundaries of Rama's great achievements.

    Love is an indispensable part of life. It encompasses every relationship and influences all actions.”Shringara rasa” represents love and beauty; any element of beauty evokes love. This emotion can be used to paint love between friends, love between a mother and her child, the love for god or the love between a Guru and his disciple. Thyagaraja has made so rich use of this emotion and expressed Love in all forms to Lord Rama, seeing Rama as his father, mother, friend, teacher and the most interesting being a beloved lover. In his composition “Chera raavadhemira” in raga reethigowla, Rama is addressed as his divine lover and Thyagaraja yearns to keep gazing at his lotus face.

    When love is not reciprocated, the definite feeling would be anger. This brings us to “Roudhra rasa”, anger, which could be out of concern for another or out of experience of injustice.Thyagaraja couldn't target the intensity of his anger at Sri Rama. However he used nindha stuthi to express his anguish against Rama for the indifference shown to him. One such composition is his “Chalamelara saaketharama” in raga Marga Hindolam, where Thyagaraja questions why Rama is so emotionless with him when he has shown so much of love and sung his praises all the way.

    Anger, most of the times is a result of fear. The subtle feel of helplessness, the anxiety of being dismissed can be expressed better in no form than through music. In the plaintive and melancholic notes of raga Chakravakam, in composition “Etulabrothuvo theliyaa”, Thyagaraja expresses the “Bhayanaka rasa”.He says he has a despicable record of sins and he is afraid how Rama is going to give him refuge and save him from his past deeds.

    The next essence is the feeling of compassion. The sympathy and fellow-feeling that sorrow generates is “Karuna rasa”.Thyagaraja is very tactful in praising Rama before he seeks compassion from him in most of his compositions. He chooses the somber tones of raga Amrithavahini in “Sriraama paadama” and says it is enough if he secures His grace.Rama has been so compassionate to Ahalya and redeemed her in the past and why not he show the same sympathy towards him.

    The sixth emotion is Disgust. This emotion is evoked by anything that is a symbol of repugnance, nausea .In his composition in raga Kalyani, “Nidhichaala sukhama”, Thyagaraja expresses his deep aversion and disgust to material wealth through “Bibhatsya rasa”, when the Maharaja of Tanjore attempts to buy him and his music through money.

    To fight disgust, one needs Valor. To be/become a hero doesn't need shining weapons. Heroism should be in body and soul. Any person who has courage to take a stand exhibits “Veera rasa”.Rama, the hero of Ramayana is the embodiment of Veera rasa.In the composition,”Rama bana thrana” in raga Saveri, Thyagaraja has beautifully described Rama's manliness and valiance, his arrows' valor, the arrow that killed the army of Ravana, the arrow that destroyed the evil on the Earth.

    The ability to express amusement or laughter is one thing that separates the human species from animals. Teasing and laughing with a friend is one face of “Hasya rasa”.Thyagaraja enjoys Hasya with his friend Sri Rama in the composition “Vararagalaya” in raga Kamboji expressing amusement at empty boasts of people who have scant knowledge of Music and brag themselves as scholars and experts.

    Beyond all these emotions lies the emotion of peace and serenity.”Shantha Rasa” represents complete harmony among mind, body and the universe. This is a state where the mind is in rest, a state of tranquility. In his composition, “Shanthamuleka” in Sama raga, Thyagaraja has pleasingly delivered the essence of Shantha rasa.

    An attempt to depict emotions has evolved more rasas than the above mentioned 9 flavors. “Bhakthi rasa” and “Gana rasa” could be considered as derivatives of the Navarasas. The beautiful compositions namely “Ragasudharasa (raga: andholika)”,”Shobillu saptha swara (raga: jaganmohini)”,”Sripapriya sangeethOpasana (raga: atana)” conveys the nectar of music brings pleasure that is equivalent to the beneficent results of all the Navarasas.Further moving on to Bhakthi rasa, we have a range of compositions, quoting a few, “Ramabhakthi saamrajya(raga:shuddha bangala)”,”Apparamabhakthi(raga:panthuvarali)”.How great and grand is the essence of devotion. It stops the wanderings of the mind and provides a protective shield as eyelids involuntarily serve to eyes.

    I have tried to provide my own interpretation to Navarasas to underscore two topics-their relevance to the mundane actions that characterize everyday life and their presence in Carnatic music through various examples from Thyagaraja's golden collections.Nothing in this paper is new, but the attempt is to combine the scientific, emotional and spiritual aspects of this vast ocean of music in one shell for easier consumption. “Through Music, we can experience emotions and add expression to our experience”

    Revathi S.

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