Saptaratnas

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Like the Tyagaraja pancharatnas and Shyama Shastri's ratna trayam svarajatis, Venkata Kavi also composed the Saptaratnas (7 gems) which are similar in structure and have a pallavi, anupallavi and multiple madhyamakala charanams with svara-sahityams. They are one of the best among the group krtis in Carnatic music today.

The Saptaratnas are much more sophisticated than swarajatis both musically and lyrically. Five of these songs (the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th) have an anchor charanam (similar to what one sees in Samayaaniki in Saadhinchane), but Venkata Kavi has done this with a lot of variety. Sometimes, it is not the first line of the charanam but the 3rd line that is the anchor and Venkata Kavi has set the landing points in several complex ways. In a few pieces, there are madhyamakala endings to the anchor charanams. Besides, there are several areas where the composer's ability to provide interesting melo-rhythmic finishes with appropriate lyrics comes to the fore. Thus, the Saptaratna pieces bring out Venkata Kavi's natural felicity, elegance and originality in expression, irrepressible imagination, attention to detail and most of all, his wonderful attitude.

  1. Bhajanaamrta – Nattai: This is a lovely theme exactly like Tyagaraja's Endaro Mahanubhavulu. The composer mentions several great people right from Anjaneya, Prahlada, Azhwars, Nayanmars and so on. Interestingly, Purandaradasa and Tulasidasa are also mentioned. The reference to Tulasidasa is of special significance in several ways as it shows the saint's fame transcending regional borders and Venkata Kavi's awareness and regard for scholars of other regions. This piece also shows that Venkata Kavi lived after Tulasidasa.
  2. Aganitamahima – Gowla: A beautiful piece on Lord Vishnu that has 8 charanams in all, including an anchor charanam beginning with the words 'Namo namaste' with small variations in melody as well as lyrics in each of its sangatis. The final madhyamakala charanam has 6 cycles. It brings to fore his deep knowledge of several rare personalities from epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata through the mention of comparatively rare personalities such as Nahusha, Bhoorishena, Pippalada, Rantideva.
  3. Maadhava hrdi khelini – Kalyani: Venkata Kavi was one of the few or probably the only Carnatic composer to compose exclusive pieces on Radha. He has composed several pieces on Radha including a group of songs describing Radha's wedding with Krshna. This piece is very scholarly, yet charming.
  4. Baalasarasa murali – Keeravani: A lovely work about Krshna's music. Venkata Kavi exclaims: baalasarasa murali sudhaarasa bhaava madhura lahari vihaara (Oh, one who resides in the lovely waves of ambrosia that the music from the flute is…). In this piece, the composer's knowledge of musical subtleties comes to the fore in the 5th charanam where he has mentioned about graces and ornamentation like aahatam and pratyaahatam.
  5. Jataadhara Shankara Todi: This piece is on Lord Shiva and has 7 charanams including an anchor charanam. (Most publications by Needamangalam Krishnamurthy Bhagavatar's family only have the anchor plus 4 charanams but 2 more in the notations in the Bhagavatar's handwritten notebook were found recently). Venkata Kavi reveals his mastery over epics and mentions Shiva's casual play with Arjuna when he appeared as a hunter before bestowing him the Pashupatastra. Another lovely facet of the composer is his usage of familiar words in very rare but beautiful contexts. In this piece, there is a classic example, 'chandra panchamukha'. 'chandra' in this context means 'lovely' and not 'moon' and therefore the phrase means 5 beautiful faces, unlike what it appears to mean – moon for all 5 faces. There are several songs where Venkata Kavi teases the scholarship of those aiming to understand and assess him!
  6. Aalaavadennaalo – Paras: This is a remarkable piece for many reasons. It is again on Shiva but composed in lovely Tamil, making it the only Tamil song in the Saptaratna set. It mentions all the 63 Nayanmars in the madhyamakala charanams! These are set around the main charanam line - "innavaril oruvaraippole". The theme is - let me be free of births but if I am born, may it be like one of these 63... The pallavi is another illustration of his humility where he wonders when he can be at least Shiva's slaves' slaves' slave (adiyaark-adiyaark-adiyanaai)! The finishes in the anupallavi and 5th charanam bring out the composer's intelligence in wedding rhythm and lyrics.
  7. Sundara Nandakumaara – Madhyamavati: A superb theme where each of the 8 madhyamakala charanas offer the 8 main articles of worship like Arghyam, Deepam, Tamboolam etc. It is quite possible that this krti was part of his daily prayers. The madhyamakala charanams have been set around the 3rd line of the main charanam but the remarkable thing is that this starts a few units before the tala. Thus, the other charanams start on the beat but end before the beat, a clear demonstration of Venkata Kavi's rhythmic command.