Gopikavasantham is one of the rarest ragas, existing in carnatic music because of the Dikshthar krithi, “Balakrishnam Bhavayami”. But more than that there are many things to be seen and discussed about this raga. This raga is a janya of mela (20) ragam NaTabhairavi, usually shown in most of the sites with raga lakshana as:
S R2 G2 M1 P D1 P N2 // S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S
In Hindustani music, the raga Gopikavasanth of the Asaaveri that is sometimes referred as the nearest to this raga.
Gopikavasanta is a raga which can be considered exclusive to the SSP as it is the first treatise to document the raga and the exemplar compositions based on the authority of the Anubandha of Muddu Venkatamakhin dateable to the first half of the 18th century. For now we can say that the raga as named is not found mentioned in any treatises prior to the Anubandha to the Caturdandi Prakashika. Sangraha Cudamani a work which was supposedly followed by Tyagaraja too documents this raga but the melody therein though under the same mela, is described very differently and we do not have any composition of Thyagaraja conforming to that (though there is one Thyagaraja composition, ‘Shri rama rama rama’, we do not have any authentic rendition of this to confirm). Thus we are left to understanding the melody with the SSP as the sole reference. As always Subbarama Dikshitar quotes the lakshana shloka of Muddu Venkatamakhin to start with.
syAt gOpikAvasantAkhya purnah sadjagrahAnvitah |
ArOhE ca dha vakrah ca avarOhE ri vakritah ||
A cursory reading of this sloka coupled with the lakshya gita for the 20th raganga NarirItigaula (NaTabhairavi) would reveal the following. Under mela 20 the raga Gopikavasanta has been grouped as a bhashanga raga, Sampoorna with all the seven notes in arohanam and avarohanam; Dha is vakra in the arohana while Ri is vakra in the avarohana, so that it becomes RSRGMPDPNNS // SNDPMGRMGS. But the Dikshithar krithi on analysis, shows S R G M P D P S // S N D M G R M G S; the graha swara for pallavi and anupallavi is panchama while the charana starts on the gandhara. Also, Dha vakra and Ni is varja in arohanam and Pancama is varja and rishabha is vakra in the avarohanam. It is still an unsolved question, as to why Dikshithar deviated from the original raga swaroopa and created his own; still named it Gopika vasantham. Dikshithar confirms this by the raga-mudra as: 'kapaTa gOpikA vasantaM'.
The Sangraha Chudamani documents one Gopikavasantha under mela 20 with a definition of SMPNDNDS // SNDPMGS for this raga. Needless to add it takes us no further as it is a different svarupa altogether, totally lacking rishabha in its scheme. The same is seen in Ragapravaham by D.Pattammal also. Ragapravaham shows the following specs also:
S M P N D N D S // S N D P M G S
S G M P D N S // S N D P M G S
R S R G M P D P N S // S N D P M G R M G S
There is one kriti of Swathi Thirunal ‘ Dhanyoyam eva khalu’ recorded as being in Gopikavasanta. The notation of the composition as given by Sangita Kalanidhi Govinda Rao in his compilation mostly tracks the version of the raga as per Muthuswami Dikshitar. But the notation contains the usage of NDP instead of NDM, SNDM instead of SPS, SP is seen purvanga and SRGM is not seen at all; also no tara sancaras beyond tara sadja are found in Dhanyoyam (Curiously Sri Govinda Rao provides only the Muddu Venkatamakhin provided arohana/avarohana krama at the outset of the composition’s notation). Coming back to Muthuswami Dikshitar himself, one can surmise that he could have chosen to name his version as he visualized in ‘Balakrishnam Bhavayami’ as a new raga, carving it out of the older Gopikavasantha (as documented by Muddu Venkatamakhin in his Anubandha), by dropping additionally Ni in the ascent and panchama in the descent and modifying the octaval scope of the raga, delimiting it in the mandara sthayi. He didn’t do so. It is conceivable that even in Dikshitar’s lifetime circa 1800, the actual theoretical construct of Gopikavasantha had died out or had become extinct, leading DIkshitar to resurrect a ‘version’ of Gopikavasantam. His creation was complete and here was his chiselled and burnished version of Gopikavasanta. The older/archaic Gopikavasanta was all but forgotten, Dikshitar’s kriti exemplar must have taken its place and all was fine. Altogether, it can be summarized as: it is a futile controversy to embark on the determination of the inconsistency between lakshana and sampradaya. The crystallized sampradaya of one age becomes the lakshana of the succeeding age.
Now, we come to Kathakali music, the traditional art-form of Kerala. In Kathakali Music, this is treated as the derivative of the 28th Mela "Harikambhoji". But in certain prayogas in Kathakali music, Kakali Nishada is also used. So it can be treated as a Bhashanga raga in Kerala Music. In the Kathakali music of Kerala 'Gopikavasantham' is used to depict particular situations. To achieve a different situational ethos for the Kathakali actor, on the stage, the padams are sung in a relatively greater speed. That is an illustration of the fact that the same raga sung in different speeds gives different moods for 'Abhinaya' for the Kathakali actor. For example, in the Pada "Kantha Krupalo Kathukolkenne Kantharam than nil", from the portion "Dushtanayoru Keechaka neechante" the speed is increased to furnish the actor with necessary musical background to enervate him to vigorous action. This raga has a tinge of sadness about it which adds to its beauty, also the devotional appeal of this raga is prominent (unfortunately, audio /video clips of this padam seem not uploaded; the ones available are in ragas Dwijavanthi, Yamuna kalyani etc.).
Balakrishnam bhavayami - Muthuswami Dikshithar
Dhanyoyameva khalu - Swathi thirunal
Jagadguro deenanatha - Muthaiah bhagavathar
Shri rama rama rama - Thaygaraja
Kantha kripalo - Irayimman Thampi
Midhileswara - Attoor Krishna Pisharoty
We should be much indebted to Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer for having sung ‘bAlakrishnam bhAvayAmi” in his concert performances in the last century of which we have recordings. It is likely the titan learnt this on his own from the SSP.