Yesterday, I happened to listen to a rare thing in a carnatic concert – at least a rare occasion for me. A full blown rendition of one of my favorite ragams – Saranga. It was the first song in a Sanjay Subrahmanyam Concert that I don’t remember how I acquired. I think it was one of the concerts a friend of mine (who actually knows Sanjay very well) had given a while go. For some reason,Β it took me this long to get to it.

Anyway, as soon as heard the Saranga alapanai as the very first song – I thought “Well, he is going to do a brief sketch and then it is going to the varnam intamODi“. But I was wrong! It was the krithi aruNAcala nAtham by Muttuswamy Dikshitar. A composition I had not heard before! The whole rendition was fantastic – nice alapana, a nice neraval and of course the composition also was so exquisite, so dIkshitaresque! Sanjay has done a remarkable job!

I thought I will share my enthusiasm for Saranga here.

Love at first listen – and I didn’t know anything about her!

I have always loved Saranga. I think it is one raga which should appeal to even a person with no exposure to carnatic music. It was so for me, as my first exposure to it was before I got into carnatic music. It was in a sort of off-beat tamil film song mAppiLLai DOi sung by A.M Raja and P. Leela in the movie manampOl mAngalyam. The song itself is not in Saranga throughout but it is definitely a one of a kind song. It has very quirky and funny lyrics. For example, she calls him mAppiLLa Doi, and he calls her My Lady Doi :). And that is just the start! It is a fun song. But at the very end, the already catchy tune changes into something even better, starting with the lyrics pEyANDi tanaikkaNDu nIyENDi mayal koNDAi? When I first listened to it, that part was so catchy that I liked it even more than the quirky first part. I could also tell it was carnatic based even then, as it had that feel and of course it ends with a proper kalpanaswaram/ciTTaswaram section! But I had no idea what ragam nor was I interested at that time in finding out what it was. It was just one song, a very unique song, that I liked a lot.

Later when I became carnatic literarate, I was able to sense that it was Saranga. Much later on, I find that pEyANDi is actually a Gopalakrishna Bharathi composition. How many of you know that?

How I got to know her a little better – and she was more and more beautiful

My next exposure to Saranga was just the tiny part at the start of the ragamalika sArangan maruganE rendered most frequently by Maharajapuram Santhanam. I always liked that start of the song the best – particularly the flourishes Maharajapuram Santhanam does with the Saranga raga.

Other songs I heard were a TVS rendition of enta bhAgyamu, a Tyagaraja composition, and (thanks to my better half) ODanu jaripE also by Tyagaraja, as part of his nauka caritramu play. Loved those songs one too.

How I learned to know her fully (well, sort of – to my limited abilities)

That’s it. With these I was thirsting for more Saranga but it just is not featured as often in the concerts. Detailed ones are unfortunately quite rare indeed.

I was sort of thrilled when my teacher asked me if I wanted to learn inta mODi varnam. Cool – I thought! Now I can unravel the magic behind this beauty! I thoroughly enjoyed learning that piece. I love it, although it suffers through constant mutilation during my practice :). I am just at a beginner-intermediate level and I find that varnams are tough! Not much of a potential – eh :)? But doesn’t matter at my age!

Her vital statistics – judge her yourselves!

Now on to some technical stuff about Saranga.

My teacher gave me the Arohanam of Saranga as a straight S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S. The Avarohanam of course is S N3 D2 P M2 R2 G3 M1* R2 S. I see in many books, the Arohana is S R2 S P M2 P D2 N3 S. I can see that “S R2 S P M2” as being a characteric prayoga as that seems to give the instant Saranga feel, and maybe that is why the arohanam is so? However, intamODi definitely R2 G3 M2 P, and G3 M2 P D2 and M2 P D2 N3 type of phrases, which don’t seem reflected in the structure given in the books?

I guess like some rich ragas, Saranga just wont fit to a fixed scale? If so, I like that! I like it when ragas I love are hard to characterize – maybe I think that is why they are “magical” in their effect, and will ever remain an enigma!

It is also interesting that the prayoga that immediately appeals to us is the usage of suddha-madyama M1, as in “R2 G3 M1 R2”. So one may tend to think that phrase with M1 is the characteristic stamp of Saranga. But Professor S.R. Janakiraman in a lecture demonstration of varnams specifically uses intamODi varnam as an example of how the flavor of Saranga is effectively brought out with minimal use of M1, and I agree. He points out the charanam of the varnam where no M1 is present – yet it is indeed all Saranga. One of the cittaswaras also does not have it, and the final one which is the longest has it in only one place.

I dont know for sure but it seems that Ni is not that important. In fact it seems if Ni is emphasized, you start sounding like kalyANi. Also it seems to me that prathi-madyama M2 usage seems unique or is sort of like a life blood for the raga. I cannot explain why/how it is unique.

In conclusion

That’s all I have to say about Saranga. A great raga – one which brings me joy every time. I can safely say it would be hard to impossible for me not to like a song in Saranga.

I want to mention that an allied raga is Hamir Kalyani. In a Tanjore Sankara Iyer CD, he sounds (with a bit of humour) incredulous when he asks how people can compare the two, and says that the majesticity of Saranga is unmatched, and that the northern cousin Hamir Kalyani just cannot match the brilliance of our own southern Saranga (i am paraphrasing a bit here).

I would not take it that far – as I love Hamir Kalyani also! But it has a different mood, a different flavor – still very savory! But given a choice, I would pick Saranga.