No, this post is not an ode to the good natured northern neighbour of USA. It is actually an ode to another favorite raga of mine kAnaDa. Like sArangA, kAnaDa is another raga whose melodic nature is such that it instantly appeals to almost anybody, whether they are into carnatic music or not.

When I listen to kAnaDa, every time, it brings a sense of exhilaration. It is hard to explain – I just feel a bit more happy about my surroundings. Yes, this does sounds corny like a bad cliche, but it is true. Also, when I think of the “flavor of kAnaDA“, I can think of only one word – sweetness!

I will try to present my impressions of this sweet raga, with some audio samples explaining the technicalities to the best of my knowledge. I will present this via an approach, which I hope would be somewhat helpful even to people unfamiliar with technicalities of carnatic music, in that they can better understand what a raga is, and what does it mean for two songs to be in the same raga etc. I do not know how effective this approach is and so please feel free to leave comments as to whether this approached helped you or not, and also please offer any suggestions for improvement.

Also, please note that I am not an expert in carnatic music – so apologies for any unintended misrepresentations. This is also by no means a comprehensive presentation on kAnaDa, something which I am not qualified to do.

kAnaDa songs and renditions I love:
So how did I get hooked on to kAnaDa? On retrospective, like with sArangA, there were Tamil film songs I liked which are in kAnaDa but I did not know it was so then.

Act 1, Scene 1: alai pAyudE (what else?): Like most Tamilians even a tad familiar with carnatic music, my first recognized taste of kAnaDa was with the extremely popular composition alai pAyudE kaNNA! by OottukkADu venkaTa subbayyerr (OVK). I think every one in Tamil Nadu must know this song! It is popular in many households with some exposure to carnatic music to begin with. But on top of that, for crying out aloud, we had a successful Tamil Film with the song’s name as the title, and the song also does figure in that movie (albeit not as an “official number”)! Need we speculate on the the reach of the song among the Tamil populace after this?

Anyway, for me, the attraction (to the carnatic song of course), was specifically from a Maharajapuram Santanam’s rendition in a CD on OVK krithis. In fact, this song and other songs in that particular CD were one of the primary reasons that attracted me finally to the world of carnatic music. So you could say that this was one of the songs that “pulled me in”.

SrI nArada: Some years ago, as I was getting hooked into the carnatic world, I decided to check out all the music on musicindiaonline. One day, I ran across a rendition of tyAgarAja‘s SrI nArada by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. I was ecstatic! Here was a favorite raga of mine woven with so much grandeur that it seemed to dwarf the previous songs of kAnaDa I had heard until then! These are some of the little things which made me appreciate the genius and wizardry of tyAgarAja in a personal way as I was becoming a big fan of carnatic music.

Needless to say I love any rendition of SrI nArada. Recently, I heard a rendition of it in a recording of a K.S. Gopalakrishnan (Flute) concert – simply delicious!

MMI’s sukhi evvarO: The other rendition of kAnaDa that made a special impression of me is Madurai Mani Iyer’s sukhi evvarO, by tyAgaraja again, and one could say even grander than SrI nAradA! I loved the way MMI intonates sukhi ev…….varO….. I also especially loved his kalpanaswara section where he anchors on a jhanTa (double) prayoga of the gandharam i.e. ga ga (there is an audio sample of this below).

kAnaDa in Tamil films:
There are quite a few and almost all are big hits. The best example is pUmAlai vAngi vandAn, sung by K.J. Yesudoss in the move sindhubhairavi, with iLayarAja (who else šŸ™‚ ?) as the music director. Although there are a couple of instances where song deviates from the true classical kAnaDa, in general it is a very good portrayal of the classical form of the raga. This song is a huge hit.

Another good other example is mullai malar mElE, sung by TMS and P. Susheela in the movie uttamaputtiran with G. Ramanathan as the music director. This one in parts is classic kAnaDa (particularly when TMS does a raga flourish in the middle), but I think in general, it is a bit lighter kAnaDa atleast when compared to pUmAlai vAngi vandAn.

A.R. Rahman has employed kAnaDa in pudu veLLai mazhai in the movie Roja. Like typical ARR style, he takes more liberties with the raga framework and so except for the starting part, the flavor of kAnaDa in the classical sense appears subdued.

Under the hood
Now on to a “under the hook” look at the techicalities of the raga. As indicated earlier, I will try to avoid a dry presentation of the technical details and instead mix it with some context and audio samples.

kAnaDa and darbAri kAnaDa
kAnaDa does bear similarities to the hindustani raga darbAri kAnaDa, the latter of course holding a prime status in the Hindustani genre. Both ragas share palpable melodic similarities in places due to some similarities in the underlying scale structure. However, but there are key, fundamental differences.

I feel that the best way to get an idea about this is by listening to them side and side. I have chosen samples where the artists are saying the swaras themselves, as I think that would allow us to make the necessary comparisons easily. Listen to the samples and then I will point out the salient points as I see them (Heads up: Pay extra attention to ga and dha):

Carnatic kAnaDa sample – Madurai Mani Iyer (MMI):

Hindustani darbAri (kAnaDa) – Pandit Jasraj:

A few points to note:

  1. Similarity of scales: Note that descent for both ragas are similar in structure as in ni to pa to ga. This usage of ni pa ga, pa ga etc. are vital to both ragas thus contributing to the perceived melodic similarities.
  2. dhaivatam (da): Classic kAnaDa takes the higher catusruthi dhaivatam, whereas darbAri kAnaDa takes the lower Shuddha dhaivatam. This is a key differentiator between classic kAnaDa and darbAri kAnaDa. Now however that lighter versions of kAnaDa take some liberties and use Shudda dhaivatam albeit sparingly.
  3. gAndAram (ga): The (sAdAraNa) gAndhAram is the lifeblood swara of both ragas, but the typical/characteristic gamakas used for it varies between the two. Thus we find both similarities and differences between the two ragas in phrases containing ga.
    • In darbAri kAnaDa, the ga is approaced in a slow languid fasion with a slight slow oscillation. It is done so from ri when ascending, and from ma when descending. You see both usages in the Pandit Jasraj sample.
    • In kAnaDa, when ascending from ri, the ga is given a small stress. It is also rendered somewhat flat when going up to ma (e.g. ga m d usage in MMI sample above). The ga on descent is mostly from pa and not from ma, and that is where the more common and characteristic ga of kAnaDa occurs. Here it is typically (not always) given a fairly prounced shake. For example, check the p ga~, n p ga~, r p ga~ phrases in the MMI sample.
    • Note that kAnaDa employs employs various flavos of ga from pa. This includes slow approaches to ga from ma like darbAri kAnaDa and this I feel contributes most to the similarity between the two ragas. However it should be noted that this kind of ga is rarer compared to the other style of ga explained above. The usage of darbAri like ga is as shown in this sample where I have also mixed in audio cues in the form of a bell to mark the occurences of this type of ga:
  4. kAnaDa’s basic building blocks : The phrases/combinations p ga~, r p ga~, p g~, p ga~ m r s, m d are some of the basic building blocks that contribute to the melodic identity of the raga kAnaDa. So a song in kAnaDa is bound to have these or other phrases (prayOgas) built around these.

What does it mean for a song to be in kanaDa?
What does it mean for a song to be in kAnaDa? Basically the core prayogas i.e. basic building blocks mentioned above are employed in and/or built-upon in various combinations. Let me highlight a few and show how these are used in the sukhi evvarO, alai pAyudE and the film song pUmAlai vAngi vandAn. Even if you cannot intimately relate to the hard technicals, I hope you can still discern the melodic similarities of the occurences in these different songs. That is the basis for raga identification and most of us do it unconsciously.

Core prayOga of kAnaDa #1 – (p ga~):
Check out this sample which shows the usage of p ga~ in kalpanaswaras, and then the parts in alai pAyudE and sukhi evvarO where it occurs.

Core prayOga of kAnaDa #2 – (p ga~ m r s):
This sample shows the usage of prayoga p ga~ m r s, a standard descent from pa to sa, with a vakra (zig-zag) pattern. This vakra pattern is the more typical descent and is one of the key structural elements of the raga. The sample shows the usage in kalpanaswaras, in pUmAlai vAngi vandAn and alai pAyudE.
(note: I have done some adjustments to the sruthi of the samples to bring them close to each other for easier correlation)

Core prayOga of kAnaDa #3 – (g m d n s’):
This sample shows the usage of the prayoga g m d n s’, a typical ascent from ga to upper sa, with pa skipped as defined by the structure of kAnaDa. The sample shows the uage of in pUmAlai vAngi vandAn, alai pAyudE and in sukhi evvarO.
(note: Again, some minor adjustmens were done to match the sruthi)

pUmAlai: shades of darbAri, and shuddha dhaivatam flavors to da:
As mentioned earlier, while pUmAlai vAngi vandAn is a good representation of classic kAnaDa, there are a couple of deviations. The first one is the start of the song itself where it looks at me as really darbAri and not kAnaDa. The ga is approached from ri as well as from ma like in darbAri. Also the da employed here if not proper shuddha dhaivatam, has a strong flavor of it. Here is the sample showing this start where I have added audio cues in the form of a singe tone plus drum beat to mark the ocurrences of the ga from ma, and the shuddha dhaivatam flavored da:

Most of the song uses the higher, standard kAnaDa chatusra dhaivatam but there is one place in each para where the dhaivatam seems to have a lot of shuddha-dhaivatam to it. Below is a sample of those occurences where again, have added audio cues in the form of a single tone plus a drum beat to mark the occureces of ga and the shuddha dhaivatam flavored da. The dhaivatam occurs during the words bOdayinA..l and tan mugamE.., i.e. during the embolded syllables:

Structural underpinnings – some surprises
kAnaDa really does not have a structure that can be adequately represented by a ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa. Basically, it seems that only one particular combination is disallowed. However, among the rest, a few are very common and must be highlighted to bring the melodic nature (raga swaroopa). For example, on descent while ni pa ga i.e. without ma and da in between is very common and very typical of kAnaDa, in reality only s n d p is disallowed. The transitions s d p m, n d p m etc. are allowed. Also the vakra g m r s is more common and typical, just g r s seems to be allowed (“ga , r s” in tara stAyi occurs in the varnam). Similarly, on ascent while g m d without pa is very common and characteristic of the raga, it seems to also admit g m p as in s r g m p , and also m p d n (all seem to occur in the varnam). So one could claim that you can simply use a simple straight scalar structure. However, that would be misleading as the typical and characteristic prayOgas needed to bring the kAnaDa characteristic would then not be highlighted.

And finally – a small, sweet dessert!
Here is the kalpanaswara section part of the MMI rendition of sukhi evvarO I mentioned earlier where he anchors on the ga-ga. Such simple yet subtle, exquisite variations!