Some historical snippets of BN – Part 8 – Javali

Group of Four Celestial Dancing Beauties (Apsaras), Cambodia, Angkor period, late 12th/early 13th century, bronze. Art Institute of Chicago, USA

A javali at the end of a bharatanatyam recital, these days as the penultimate performance, gives a lighter and humorous touch. In this post, I will touch upon two articles that were published in the Journal of Music Academy of Madras and a chapter from the book written by Prof. Davesh Soneji.

For new readers, here are the links to the previous posts (part1part2part3part4,part5, part6, and part7).

Prof. Ritha Rajan in the article titled “The Javali Form in Carnatic Music” published in 1985, says that the term possibly originated from Kannada word “Javadi”, which

is a musical composition of a light nature and with an erotic motif…they lack the grandeur and stately movement of the latter [Padam]

Javalis are bright, attractive and catchy, which explains their popularity. Like the padam, they also use the Nayika, Nayaka and the Sakhi, but there is an obvious lack of deep penetrating ideas that are characteristic of padams. They are usually in the madhyamakala, with some exceptions also sung in the fast tempo.

Ragas used:

  • Desya Ragas: Paras, Jhinjoti, Kapi, Behag, Hamirkalyani, Khamas (with the kakali Nishada is most commonly used since it is suited for love songs), Yamunakalyani
  • Rakti Ragas: Darbar, Kedaragowla, Kalyani, Mukhari, Kambhoji, Bhairavi, Bilahari, Surati, Atana, Saveri, Saindhavi and Todi

Javalis share the structure of Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam, however we know that there are exceptions to this rule. For example the Javali “Sariga Kongu” by Ghanam Krishna Iyer is of two lines, one pallavi and one charanam! In some javalis, one can find folk tunes incorporated, like in “Samiradayagade” in Behag and Tisra gati.

Javali composers:

  • Chinnayya of the Tanjore Quartet (1802-1856)
  • Maharaja Swati Tirunal (1813-1846)
  • Dharmapuri Subbarayar (1864-1927) *
  • Tiruppanandal Pattabhiramayya (1863-?)
  • Vidyala Tirupati Narayanaswami Naidu (1873-1912)
  • Patnam Subramanya Iyer (1847-1902)
  • Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar aka Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar (1867-1919) was the disciple of Patnam Subramanya Iyer

It is a well known fact that the Javali composers, Dharmapuri Subbarayar and Tiruppanandal Pattabhiramayya (composer of “Nee matale Mayanura” in Poorvikalyani) were not professional musicians but held clerical posts.

Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf of the lecture as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, although the website had no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.

In the second article is titled “Romance and Raga of Javalis“, published in 1999 by Lakshmi Viswanathan. In this, apart from discussing the scholarly aspects of Javali, she recounts her past experiences of listening to Javalis in concerts and by T. Brinda and T. Mukhta. Her experiences of learning Javalis from M. L. Vasantakumari, D. K. Pattammal, Semmangudi and other stalwarts of Carnatic music.

As with the Ritha Rajan’s article, here as well the Raga Khamas is stressed upon. The raga Khamas being the favorite raga (for depicting Sringara Rasa) by Javali composers can be seen by an (here incomplete) list of javalis in Khamas

  • Marulukonnadira – Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar
  • Chanaro – Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar
  • Marubari – Dharmapuri Subbaraya Iyer
  • Matadabaradeno by Naraharideva, popularized by Bangalore Nagaratnammal

In terms of the famous comparison of the “journey to the temple by the devotee metaphor” and the structure of Bharatanatyam by T. Balasaraswati, Javali does not find a place.  For those who are not familiar with the famous quote. It is reproduced below. This was part of the Presidential address by T. Balasaraswati at the 33rd Annual Conference of the Tamil Isai Sangam, Madras, 21st December, 1975.

The Bharata Natyam recital is structured like a great temple: we enter through the Gopuram (outer hall) of Alarippu, cross the Ardhamandapam (half-way hall) of Jatiswaram, then the Mandapa (great hall) of Shabdam and enter the holy precinct of the deity in the Varnam….In dancing to Padams, one experiences the containment, cool and quiet of entering the sanctum from its external precinct. Dancing to the padam is akin to the juncture when the cascading lights of worship are withdrawn and the drum beats die down to the simple and solemn chanting of sacred verses in the closeness of God. The Tillana breaks into movement like the final burning of camphor accompanied by a measure of din and bustle. In conclusion, the devotee takes to his heart the god he has so far glorified outside; and the dancer completes the traditional order by dancing to a simple devotional verse.

In this article, Lakshmi Viswanathan takes the liberty of placing the Javali as below:

…After the dancer has danced a Padam, which is akin to a devotee entering the sanctum in quietude, she shifts into a modd of relaxed fulfillment – a contact of lasting bonding is established between her favorite deity (ishta devata) as the flowers and sandalwood from the person of the deity are dropped into the hands of her devotee. This is the Javali, which metamorphoses the link between God and devotee, which is at once informal and yet private. Then the thillana breaks into movement like the final burning of camphor….

T. Balasaraswati conferring the Nritya Choodamani award (1975) to Lakshmi Viswanathan
Image Source:

The tempo of the Javali is aptly suited for the Khandita Nayika, in most cases. Given the fact that some of the composers were not professional musicians, it is most likely that they composed Javalis like an active hobby and it was for the of informal music and dance performances to private audiences. For instance the Javalis that mention the name of the king explicitly. In “Elaradayane” in Bhairavi directed towards King Chamarajendra of Mysore.

Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf of the lecture as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, although the website had no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.

In the final part of this post, we come to a chapter written by Davesh Soneji in his book titled “Bharatanatyam: A reader“. The chapter is titled “Salon to Cinema – The distinctly Modern Life of the Telugu Javali“. In my opinion, Davesh Soneji has discussed some key things about Javali that have a bigger impact to Bharatanatyam’s history, and I touch upon this below.

In her article, Lakshmi Viswanathan acknowledges the inconclusive findings to Javali’s origins, which is what comprises the beginning of the chapter by Davesh Soneji. Unlike the other musical genre, Javali’s origins are still inconclusive. It is safe to think of them as a modern genre that was not part of the temple ritualistic repertoire.

At the same time, unlike other musical genre’s literary sources, Javalis have been found from publications from the early part of the 1900’s onwards. And, there is documented evidence of Hindustani influence in composing Javalis, and thereby being called as “Parsi mettu” or “Hindustani mettu”.  It is quite evident from the available sources that Javalis were part of the non-temple performances of devadasis, i.e., salon type performances or performances at house functions.

At this time, one must recall that there were several technological advances happening. So, was the availability of gramaphone recordings. The reason, the patrons can enjoy the music without being personally in the presence of the devadasis, made the gramaphone recordings viewed as respectable in the social system. In due course, many devadasis were prominent  in the early Indian cinema’s history, like in early Telugu movies. Here again I think it is safe to assume that the javali has jumped from a live concert to the medium of the gramaphone, and to the medium of cinema. He mentions a Javali “Amtalone tellavare” supposedly composed by Dharmapuri Subbaraya Iyer, which is performed  by the actress Krishnajyoti in the movie Muddu Bidda, 1956. Krishnajyoti incidentally was from a Kalavanthulu family. One can read more about the movie and the song here.

In similar vein, I am sure you can think of many songs written in the early part of Tamil Cinema’s history, where the theme of heroine teasing the hero or complaining/praising to her friend about the hero is explored. On the basis of the lyrics, one can argue that they are the most modern version of the Javalis. We can see this in early Tamil movies. For example:

Can you think of “Khandita Nayika” themed fast to medium paced movie songs? 🙂

Here is an interesting tidbit about the Javali “Sakhi Prana” in Senjuruti (or Jenjhuti) by Dharmapuri Subbaraya Iyer. According to many sources, he shared an intimate relationship with Vina Dhanammal. Promising to return, he left for his home town, and subsequently Vina Dhanammal’s family went into poverty. Hearing her dire status and feeling remorse of  his unablility to help her at the right time, he gave her the javali “Sakhi Prana”. See the documentary on Vina Dhanammal that describes this incident at timestamp 17:29 onwards:

This incident inspired the movie director Rajiv Menon, to direct a short film titled “Sakhi Prana”, where he thought of a role reversal.

I was listening to this song called ‘Sakhi Prane’ written by Dharmapuri Subbarayar who was said to be in love with Veena Dhanammal. She was celebrated among the artistes’ community and it’s believed that she went into financial problems and died a destitute. Subbarayar wrote this song from her point of view. Of how she fell for the man who was not just her sakhi (soulmate) but her prana (life). I thought of reversing the roles and making the guy the one who is abandoned,

See video here: 

We will see more about Javalis in our next historical snippets post as well. Till then enjoy reading and viewing the videos.


* Updated information. Source: Unfinished Gestures By Davesh Soneji 2012

2 responses to “Some historical snippets of BN – Part 8 – Javali

  1. This is Awesome! This has turned out to be a fabulous Friday for me reading this series! Thank you!

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