Lec Dem on Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi by Chitravina N. Ravikiran – Part 2

Part 1 of this post can be accessed here


  • Anchor caraNams: The saptaratnAs have anchor caraNams or secondary refrains within them. The caraNams don’t go back to the pallavi every time they get over. Instead, they return back to one of the caraNam lines. Anchor caraNams have been used in gauLa, kalyANi, tODi, paras and madhyamAvati compositions. While gauLa, kalyANi and tODi compositions have caraNams anchored around the first caraNam line, paras and madhyamAvati have caraNams anchored around the third caraNam line. Venkata Kavi has thus brought variations even within the concept of anchor caraNams.
  • Usage of madhyama kAlams: The madhyama kAlams in Venkata Kavi’s songs are not just restricted to either the pallavi or the anupallavi or the caraNam alone or to just serve a climactic purpose at the end of one of these. He has placed madhyamakAlam intelligently between slow passages within a pallavi or anupallavi or caraNam. Ex. sarva jIva dayApari in suddha sAvEri and vAnchasi yadi kushalam in kalyANi . He uses such beautiful “musical movements” to give a very good feel. There are also several compositions with the entire song in madhyamakAlam. He has given prominence to madhyamakAlam in such places and not just used it as a punctuation mark. Ex in the nATTai composition chindittavar nenjil iruppadu shiva yOga gaNapatiyE
  • Compositions in chauka kAlam: Venkata Kavi has also composed songs in chauka kAlam (ex. enna dan inbam in dEvagAndhAri, padmini vallabha dEhi pradEhi in danyAsi). There is a misconception among people that he has composed only in madhyama kAlam. This has probably come into being because the limited number of his songs that are sung in concerts are in madhyama kAlam
  • Swaraksharam: Swaraksharams occur where the lyrics of the song and the solfa names of the corresponding notes match. Venkata Kavi has employed a lot of swarAksharams. Ex. In the second line of pallavi of sarasija bhava jAyE in kalyANi – “sarvadA sadA pAdAravindam bhajAmyaham” (Letters in bold correspond to the swarAksharams). In some compositions, the entire sAhityam will be in the form of solfa names. For example, the first caraNam of the bhUpALam composition kSaNamEva ganya manyE where he uses swarAkshara prayOgam to create the musical feeling of the flute playing
  • Raga mudra: Raga mudra refers to the use of the name of the raga the composition is based in within the lyrics of the composition. Ex. “navarasakannaDa stutigItE” in the navarasakannaDa kriti sundarEshwara jAyE. He has mentioned many ragas that are not in vogue these days in his composition innum mayangudu swAmi in kIravANi.
  • Usage of uncommon tALams: Ex. Kamakshi Avarnam song in bAlahamsa is in kanDa jAti dhruva tALam (17 beats/cycle in 1 kaLai; song set to 2 kaLai); the one in hindOLam is in sankIrNa jAti maTya tALam (20 beats/cycle)
  • Handling of tALams & partitioning: Ex. kanDa jAti dhruva tALam exists in the form 5 + 2 + 5 + 5. Usually composers may compose songs that keep seamlessly fitting into the tALam at the end of 1 or 2 cycles. Or they may divide the tALam into two and split it equally (ex. 17/2 here). This is the way Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar’s madhyama kAlams are mostly structured. Another way is to follow the structure of the tALam itself (ex. in Sri Tyagaraja’s tODi composition dAcukOvalEna set to misra jampa tALam where some lines are split as 7 + 3). Venkata Kavi has used the 5 + 2 + 5 + 5 split also for the structure of the song in kanDa jAti dhruva tALam !! He has split madhyama kAlams in the Anandabhairavi AvarNa kriti set to 9 beat kanDa tripuTa tAlam into 4 partitions of 2.25 beats each !!!! This and other examples highlight that he was not only a sAhityakartA but also a vAggEyakArA of the highest order
  • Usage of Yatis: Venkata Kavi has used different yatis in his compositions. Few examples are:
    • Sama Yati: In the anupallavi of the nATTai saptaratnA bhajanAmruta – “vrajasundarijana padapankajasama anukampitahrudi smarasambhavanija”, each word like vrajasundarijana comes with equal spacing/meter (tha ka thAm, tha ka dhi na)
    • Gopuchcha Yati: A descending pattern like the tail of a cow. Ex: in the tODi saptaratnA jaTAdhara shankara, the swara pattern used in the first caraNam is: mpdpmgrs, dpmgrs, pmgrs, mgrs,
    • Mrudanga Yati (Example not given)
  • Gati bhEdam: Refers to change of rhythmic gait within a composition. No other major composer in Venkata Kavi’s period has handled it the way he has. An example is the AvarNa kriti in madhyamAvatishankari shrI rAja rAjEshwari‘ where the part of the pallavi “shankari shrI rAja rAjEshwari jaya siva” is in catusra gati, the part “sarva siddhi pradAyaka chakrEshwari kAmEshwara vAmEshwari bhagamAlini” is in tisra gati and the rest of the pallavi “santatam tava rUpam antaha cintayAmi aham cintayAmi” is in catusra gati again. In the anupallavi, Venkata Kavi goes back to tisram and does it in two speeds. The first part “mangaLakara kumkuma dhara mandasmita mukha vilAsini ankusha dhanuhu pAsha danDa bhAskara chakra nivAsini” is in tisra gati in lower speed. The rest of the anupallavi “bhringi sanaka muni gaNa vara pUjita paramOllAsini bhUtajana hitakAriNi parapOshaNa vannivAsini vEnkaTa kavi hridi sarasija vivaraNa paTutara bhAsini vidhi hari hara sura sammata nityAntara prakAshini” is in tisra gati in madhyamakAlam. Another characteristic of this piece is the rare appearance of his signature “venkaTa kavi”. Most other compositions do not have this mudrA (signature). They only have reference to the “Dancing Krishna” like a secondary signature.


  • Word play: Ex. “kamalA mukha kamala shilImukha” in agaNitamahima, the gauLa saptaratnA. In the bhUpALam composition kSaNamEva ganya manyE – “mukhadhara smita rashmikara smaRaNa
  • Variations in the kind of language used: The Tamil used in one of the saptaratnAs ALavadennALO (paras) is different from the one used in alaippAyudE kaNNA. The latter depicts the language of the gOpIs who were supposedly not as scholarly as the people mentioned in the former
  • Reference to own compositions: His composition “ittanai pirivu yEnaDi” in suddha sAvEri mentions ” … viraindODi tAyE yashOdE enru …” with a reference to both the song tAyE yashOdE and the raga tODi in which it is based. It also contains “pAdipinnal suruTTi …. pArvai onrE ….” with a reference to both the song pArvai onrE and it’s raga suruTTi
  • Doubts regarding authorship: There were doubts on the authorship of some of Venkata Kavi’s compositions. But now it is clear beyond doubt that these are all his compositions only. This is because these are not one off compositions but are a part of operas he composed. He has composed operas starting from Devaki-Vasudeva wedding upto Rukmini Kalyanam. He has also composed operas on Ramayanam
  • Kshetra kritis: He has composed many kSEtra kritis in Triplicane, Chidambaram, Mylapore (on Lord Murugan in the Kapaleeshwarar Temple) etc
  • Ability to bring his scholarship into compositions without even trying to do so: Ex: In his compositions, he says how Krishna’s flute changed everything … sArangA became brindAvanasArangA, kalyANi became yamunAkalyANi, kAmbOji became yadukulakAmbOji !!!!! He weaves the names of the 7 basic taLas with ease into his aTANA composition alankAra gOpikai tALam pODa

Looking forward to the Kamakshi Navavarnam session planned for next year.

8 thoughts on “Lec Dem on Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi by Chitravina N. Ravikiran – Part 2

  1. Thanks a lot for the detailed posts about the OVK lecture. I was familiar with some of the points, having read some articles, heard Ravikiran talk about it at different occasions. Shri Ravikiran conducted an excellent two-day worshop in Bangalore in May. I had the privilege of attending this. He taught a few OVK compositions, which included 3 saptaratnas, in great detail explaining the meanings, ragams very clearly.

  2. Thanks Ram for the detailed write up of the workshop…especially for people who are enamoured by OVK …and are unable to take part in all these workshops..thanks once again..

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