08 September 2011

Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi Compositions

Ootthukkadu Venkata Kavi (Telugu: ఊత్తుక్కాడు వెంకట కవి,Tamil: ஊத்துக்காடு வேங்கட கவி, Sanskrit: वूत्तुकाडु वेंकट कवि) (c.1700 - 1765 CE) was a prominent composer of Carnatic music. He lived in South India in the present-day state of Tamil Nadu. Also known by the name Oothukkadu Venkatasubba Iyer, he is attributed to over 400 compositions. These were handed down from generation to generation by the descendants of the composer's brother's family. Venkata Kavi's compositions reveal that he was a complete master of the science and art of music in all senses of the term – melody, rhythm or lyrics and was eloquent in Sanskrit and Tamil. He was proficient in a variety of musical forms such as the kriti, tillana and kavadichindu. He used talas and themes that not many other Carnatic composers have preferred to handle. His compositions are a blend of a high degree of scholarship on a variety of subjects and inspired expression. Several pieces also reveal his humility, reverence for the great personalities before his times and the high state of bliss that he probably experienced almost ceaselessly. His works scarcely contain autobiographical notes and show that he had reached great spiritual and philosophical heights. His works also reveal the proximity he felt towards God and show his deep devotion.

Early life

Venkata Kavi, named as Venkata Subramanian, was born as the eldest of five children to the Tamil smarta couple of Subbu Kutti Iyer and Venkammam, according to the family records in the possession of his brother Kamalanarayani and Ramachandra Vathoola's descendants. Though his ancestors had resided in various villages in South Indian around the temple towns of Mannargudi (about 200 miles from Chennai), Venkata Kavi moved into the village of Oottukkadu (referred to as "Dhenushwasapuram" in Sanskrit ), near Kumbhakonam. One of his nephews, Kattu Krishna Iyer was a musician in the royal court of the Tanjore King in the latter part of the 18th century.
According to family sources, Venkata Kavi was passionate about music but could not find a guru of his choice in that area, which prompted him to appeal to the god Krishna himself, in the Kalinga Nartana Temple in Ootthukkadu. He is believed to have received initiation from the Lord himself, as asserted in one of his Tamil compositions, Guru paadaravindam komalamu - in the raga Abhogi, he declares: "I have never studied the scriptures or yoga nor pretended to have done so. I received the fortune of knowledge in the benevolent glance of my guru." Venkata Kavi composed at least 14 songs only on the greatness of his Guru Krishna. A few of them suggest that he may also have had another human guru, at least for spiritual purposes. According to several sources from that area, this guru was none other than Bhaskara Raya, the acclaimed authority of Devi worship of his times. This is further augmented by the immense scholarship seen in Venkata Kavi's Kamakshi Navavarana krtis dealing with the intricate details of avarana pooja (Srividya worship).


The greatest evidence of his musical pedigree is his compositions. There are several references to good musical approach, practices and even technical terms of ornamentation like aahatam and pratyaagatam. Venkata Kavi believed that music had to be blended with religious devotion (bhakti) in order to shine. His philosophy, bhakti yoga sangeeta margame paramapavana mahume ("Devotion though music is the path to salvation") is similar to the great composer Tyagaraja’s sangeeta gnanamu bhakti vina sanmargamu galade.
Venkata Kavi had a vast knowledge of music and musical nuances. He used a wide variety of ragas ranging from the well known such as Todi, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Sahana, through minor ones like Kannadagowla, Jayantashri, Malavi, Umabharanam and also a few that are seldom used today like Balahamsa and Rasamanjari. In some instances, his works are the first or only ones to be available in a given raga such as Sri Shivanayike in Lalitagandharvam and Padasevanam in Deeparam. His approach of even common ragas like Sahana, Paras, Nadanamakriya and Arabhi are distinctive and refreshing.
His vision of the raga and melody as a whole is considerable and can be seen in the number of different styles in which he composed various krtis in the same raga. For instance, his krtis in MadhyamavathiShankari Sri Rajarajeshwari, Sundara nandakumara and Aadadu ashangadu vaa Kanna - bring out different facets of this beautiful raga. He also employed attractive swaraksharas – a technique where the lyrics match the solfa notes of the tune. He has also incorporated raga mudra (mentioning the names of ragas of the composition) in several krtis. Examples: Shuddha Saveri, Navarasakannada. Several other compositions contain names of many other ragas mentioned in some other contexts.
Venkata Kavi also had great command over rhythm, as seen in his venture into scarcely attempted talas such as Khanda Dhruvam (17 units per cycle), Sankeerna Mathyam (20) and Mishra Atam (18). He made complex eduppus (starting or landing points of various sections of a composition) seem like child’s play and used them naturally, without ever affecting the flow of the music or the lyrics. Venkata Kavi had deep scholarship in Sanskrit and Tamil. His vocabulary and the use of words and phrases are unique in Carnatic literature.
Venkata Kavi's vivid imagination and picturisation can be seen in Taye yashoda in raga Todi, where the gopikas are complaining to Yashoda about her son Lord Krishna. This song has eight charanams (stanzas) and each one describes the pranks of Krishna very humorously. Not so well known is the reply by Krishna to every one of these charges in another piece, Illai illai in Mohanam, also with eight charanams. There are literally hundreds of similar examples in his operas based on the Bhagavatam, Ramayana, Pranavopadesham or similar epics and legends.



Sangatis are pre-composed variations in a composition and rendered in a disciplined manner (as opposed to variations born from free improvisation). Usually, variations are melodic in nature while the lyrics remain constant. Several of Venkata Kavi’s pieces have such sangatis but he has also shown the concept of lyrical variations. For instance, in the pallavi of his Abhogi piece, Mahashaya hrdaya, he has composed three variations in the madhyamakala passage as given below:
  1. madhukara champaka vana vihara manamohana Madhusoodana navabhooshana
  2. madhukara champaka vana vihara nava pallava padakara madana gambheera
  3. madhukara champaka vana vihara govardhana dhara bhujaga nartana charana
Venkata Kavi also used his innovative skills in the structures of his compositions. In some songs Venkata Kavi has varied the ratios or inserted madhyamakalams between slower passages within a given section as seen in the pallavi of Padmini vallabha in raga Dhanyasi.

Emphatic finales

Venkata Kavi was a master of finishes. In several songs, his endings are in interesting rhythmic patterns. For example, Bhuvanamoha in Dhanyasi, where he has capped off the charanam with a pattern of 6 repeated 11 times, which is a wonderful way to get to half a beat landing (which is the commencing point of the pallavi) from the beat after 2 cycles of Adi tala. The words are superbly woven in lilting Sanskrit:
atinootana kusumakara vrjamohana saraseeruha dalalochana mamamanasa patuchorasu- swarageetasu- muraleedhara suramodita bhavamochana
There are many other instances of similar endings in krtis like Alavadennalo in Paras (5th charanam) and Mummada vezhamugattu Vinayakan in Nattai.


Venkata Kavi has composed on a wide range of themes. The most popular of his songs are on Lord Krishna but he has composed on a number of other deities as well, such as Vinayaka, Tyagaraja of Tiruvarur, Kamakshi, Rama, Kartikeya, Narasimha, Anjaneya, Ranganatha, and also on Surya, Radha and other mythological characters. He has composed on great sages such as Shuka Brahma Rishi, Jayadeva and Valmiki. Besides, he has composed several songs on the greatness of Guru, and general philosophy and approach to God. His works contain references to Azhwars, Nayanmars, Ramanuja, Tulasidas and many other revealing his knowledge of their works and contributions and his reverence towards them.


That Venkata Kavi composed an entire opera narrating Krishna’s birth and childhood, beginning from Devaki-Vasudeva’s wedding and Kamsa’s curse. There are also group songs describing Krishna’s wedding with Rukmini and another group covering his marriage with Radha.
There is also a set of songs narrating the story on Lord Rama’s childhood starting from Dasharatha’s Putrakameshti yagna to Rama’s trip with Vishwamitra. It is not known whether this work was completed by the author but there is a lovely single ragamalika piece Sri Rama jayame jayam which covers the entire story of Ramayana.
Compositions on Daksha Yaga, Prahlada and Mahabharata have also been found.

Group compositions

Venkata Kavi has also composed several group krtis like Saptaratnas, Kamakshi Navavaranam and Anjaneya ratnas. He has also composed several shlokas like Madhava panchakam, Nrsimha panchakam, Ranganatha Panchakam and so on.
His Saptaratnas (seven gems = seven songs) are similar in style to Tyagaraja’s pancharatnas (five gems) in their musical structure consisting of the main refrain (pallavi), a contrasing section (anupallavi) and a series of other sections (charana) in medium tempo (madhyama kala) that can be rendered as swara and sahitya. The saptaratnas are:
  1. BhajanamrtaNattai
  2. Aganita mahimaGowla
  3. Madhava hrdi khelini' – Kalyani
  4. Balasarasa muraliKeeravani
  5. JatadaraTodi
  6. Alavadennalo – Paras
  7. Sundara nandakumara – Madhyamavathi
His Anjaneya ratna krtis, so far 5-6 have been found. These include:
Pavana kumara - Vasanta Veekshitoham - Kedaragowla Anjanaananda ambodhi chandra - Todi Shree raghavadhootam - Shuruti Bhaktabhagadheya - Madhyamavati


Venkata Kavi also composed Navavarnams (nine varnams) on the goddess Srividya to be sung during Dasara. Apart from the main nine songs for the nine nights, he has also composed Vinayaka stuti, Dhyana stuti and a Phala stuti. There are several similarities (and differences) between his Navavaranams and that of Muthuswami Dikshitar but both reveal the composers’ scholarship in the various aspects of Devi worship. These are:
  • Sri Ganeshwara – Shanmukhapriya – Adi – Vinayaka stuti
  • Vanchayati yadi kushalam – Kalyani – Adi – Dhyana stuti
  • Santatam aham seve – Deshakshi – Adi - (1st avaranam)
  • Bhajaswa shree – Nadanamakriya – Adi - (2nd avaranam)
  • Sarvajeeva dayapari – Shuddha Saveri – Mishra Chapu - (3rd avaranam)
  • Yoga yogeshwari – Anandabhairavi – Khanda Triputa (2 kalais) - (4th avaranam)
  • Neelalohita ramani – Balahamsa – Khanda Dhruvam (2 kalais) - (5th avaranam)
  • Sadanandamayi – Hindolam – Sankeerna Matyam - (6th avaranam)
  • Sakalaloka nayika – Arabhi – Adi - (7th avaranam)
  • Shankari Shri Rajarajeshwari – Madhyamavathi – Adi - (8th avaranam)
  • Natajana kalpavalli – Punnagavarali – Adi - (9th avaranam)
  • Haladharanujam praptum - Manirangu - Adi - Phala stuti
 Source: Wikipedia.

Click here to download 

Recommended links Audio :

 2. Venkatakavi.org maintained by Bhargavi Subramaniam

Suggested Books for Learning Oothukkadu Compositions:

Following Books can be purchased from Carnatic Book House, Chennai

4. Kamakshi Navavarana Kritis - Sankaranarayanan -This Book Covers Kamakshi Navavaranams of Uttukkadu . The Text Of Kritis is in  Devanagari Script,Transliteration in Roman Script with meaning. 


  1. thanks brother for you nice compilation & many useful links to OVK's music.. its difficult to find all his work in one place!

  2. Thank you very much for Visiting Carnatic music repository blog


  3. Thanks a lot for this enlightening post. There is a group in facebook oottukkadu venkatakavi where your blog was mentioned. Keep it up !

  4. Thank you very much Priya Ram for creating and maintaining wonderful Facebook group on Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi. I have hyper linked the Venkata Kavi facebook group at my blog post. This facegroup contains links to rare and marvellous divine treasures of divine composer Venkata Kavi..