Speaks of sringara and devotion

(This is the third part of the music series that throws light on the Padam composed by Kshetrayya on Varadaraja Swami of Kanchipuram.)

Relegated to the tail-end and paired with tukkadas, if ever sung, the Padam continues to hold sway among dancers. Padams are longer songs with a pallavi, anupallavi and several charanams where the singer “speaks” of love and devotion to God. It could be in happiness of the love being fulfilled, sadness that it is delayed and or not reciprocated.

Concerts in the early 20th century still featured padams but they are rare today and that is a pity.

The sentiment of the heroine longing for the Hero who is a God or occasionally a human, is an old literary tradition. Nammazhwar and Tirumangai Azhwar use it in their hymns. Jayadeva, Chandidas and Vidyapati are great composers from Bengal and Bihar. Annamayya and Narayana Tirtha were other great exponents who prepared the ground for the greatest Padam composer Kshetrayya from Muvva. He lived in the 17th century and refined the structure and content of the Padam as we know it today.

True to his name, Kshetrayya visited many holy places, and out of them, Kanchi seems to have been where he stayed the most. Scholars dispute the actual authorship of Padams he is credited with but among all lists, the temple that he specifically mentions the most in 23 songs is the Varadaraja temple at Kanchi. Perhaps it was because his name was Varadayya as well! Other temples that are close by are Tiruvallur, Tiru Allikeni and Tiruttani.

Scholar Rajanikant Rao believes that the Padams on Varadaraja are dated 1625. The temple in those times must have had devadasis, who were highly respected, and would have been only happy to include this composer’s Padams on their deity. One of his Padams, ‘Maguva Tana…’ in Mohanam was composed when he, in trance, saw Perundevi Thayar coming out of the Lord’s bed chamber in the morning.

Sadly the loss of the Devadasi traditions has meant a loss of how the metaphor laden lyrics would have looked, for while a musician can revel in the lyrics and use the raga dexterously to bring out the emotion, the dancer has a broader canvas.

In addition to the many songs on the temple, is a small image of one of Kshetrayya’s important patrons, Tirumalai Nayaka. This king along with Raghunatha Nayaka and Abdullah Qutub Shah of Golkonda are mentioned in the ‘Vedukato’ (Devagandhari/Khambodi) Padam as his patrons.

Tirumalai Nayaka created the temple as we know it today, in fact much of Kanchipuram tourists visit today – the towering gopurams of the Varadaraja and Ekambranatha temples are from the wealth he got from his expedition to Odisha.

This important king and patron’s image is in the most unlikely of place, on the left side of the steps that lead to the shrine adjoining the sanctum of Perundevi Thayar. The entire shrine may well be his work for separate shrines for consorts appear only from the 16th centuries. Carved in miniature, the small deities remind us that even great kings like him were humble enough when they saw themselves in front of God, a lesson for musicians as they sing the devotion-rich verses, to sing them for God but not for audience applause and self-aggrandizement.

Rare inscriptions

The temple has a long history of music, it has two rare inscriptions one from the 13th century and the other from 1535 that specify for a share of the offerings to go to a section of women who sing the 4,000 Divya Prabhandham hymns in front of the deity.

Sadly this practice is long absent. Ladies were involved in many other tasks in the decoration and kitchen but this music connection is unique.

This tradition of music must have inspired Kshetrayya.

His ragas of songs on this temple are Dhanyasi, Kalyani, Pantuvarali, Ghanta, Bhairavi (where the nayika is angry with Varada), Mukhari and Thodi. His padams have varying themes, some are on reconciliation, others mediate between Varada and his lover, his Padam in Thodi, ‘Nelataa’ is inspired by a classic Tamil Sangam theme of a companion promising the nayika that she will arrange for Varada to return.

In terms of metaphors, ‘Na Manasuvantidi’ in kalyani is the finest. It must have been magic in the hands of an expert dancer and singer in the ambience of the temple.

The heroine speaks of her love and says, “when I doodle with my nail, I draw your image, when I wake up I see you in the haze, when I see a shadow behind me I think it is you and when I strum my tamboora, I only hear your voice.”

Padams, may be less popular in the concerts, music less frequent in the temple but the immortal, metaphor filled songs of Kshetrayya wait for more artists to bring them back to life!


With credits to


K.V. Raman, VAK Ranga Rao

(The writer may be contacted at pradeepandanusha @gmail.com)

The temple that Kshetrayya specifically mentions the most in 23 songs is the Varadaraja temple at Kanchi.

Padam: Maguva Tana

Ragam: Mohanam

Composer: Kshetrayya

On deity: Sri Varadaraja

Temple: Kanchipuram


Record not found!

Post Comments