May 2008


After a long time, I am back to blogging about my favorite carnatic music ragas. This time, it is going to be a raga that was my earliest favorite, and one that will continue to be my all-time favorite raga: rItigauLa (Sanskrit: रीतिगौळ) or rItigauLai (Tami: ரீதிகௌளை).

Like nATakurinji earlier and kAnaDa before that, I tried to come with a title that incorporates a poor pun on the rAga name – maybe “sweety rItigauLa” (yikes!) – but I felt like throwing up even when I was contemplating on the possibility of using it. So I settled on a cliched one instead. The Magic of rItigauLa actually does not quite capture the picture I have of this raga. If I had to do that succinctly it in my native language Tamil, I would say mayakkum rItigauLai (மயக்கும் ரீதிகௌளை) – which translates to “rItigauLa that intoxicates” – as I really think that is what this raga does to one’s mind. But the translation just does not have the same feel – in fact it sounds highly contrived. But The Magic of rItigauLa will have to be. After all, what is in a title!

Before I begin, let us listen to an alapana in rItigauLa by Alathur Brothers:
(Download by clicking here)

rItigowLa in the Tamil Film world
My love affair with this raga started even before I knew about the raga itself, even before I was into carnatic music. It was initiated through a couple of film songs – classics by iLayarAja. First was cinnakkaNNan azhaikkiRAn from the move kavikkuyil (from 1977, and being one of the very early iLayarAja songs, and thus would have already been a firm indicator of the man’s potential!), and the second was talayai kuniyum tAmaRaiyE from a relatively unknown movie oru ODai nadiyAgiRadu. Many years later, as I started getting more into carnatic music, and was getting excited about being able to relate ragas to film songs I knew and adored, I found out that both songs are classic rItigauLa based songs. I knew then and there that this raga was and will be one of my favorite!

BTW, you can listen to cinnakkaNNan azhaikkiRAn here (listen to the Balamuralikrishna version), and you can listen/watch to talaiyai kuniyum tAmaRaiyE on YouTube here. I don’t know about you, but for me, the raga’s magic entraps me even before the words begin, right in the starting instrumental sections itself! Beautifully constructed by iLayarAja!

A.R. Rahman has also used rItigauLa effectively, in his own style, in the song azhagAna rAkshasiyE, in the movie mudalvan.

Carnatic Compositions/Renditions of rItigauLa
Well, this is probably one of those ragas, where no matter who sings what, I am hooked! There are many compositions, and all of them have that magic. But let me point out a few:

  • tyAgarAja’s compositions: Well – there is no question that tyAgarAja is the undisputed king of this raga. The raga rItigauLa‘s status today is probably almost entirely due to him. He has composed many majestic compositions in this raga. Of those, the compositions nannu viDaci, baDalika tIra, dvaitamu sukhama?, cera rAvadEmira, and rAgaratnamAlikacE are the very best of the best in my opinion. The first two are set to slow pace, and the latter two to a faster, sprightly pace.
    • The composition nannu viDaci, is probably the most popular composition in the concert circles. I love this composition, and pretty much like all artists’ rendition of it. I only came to know recently that this composition is part of tyAgarAja’s prahlAda bhakti vijayayam opera.The tone of the composition is said to be that of a pleading one, a devotee pleading that his Lord not to leave him. Here, tyAgarAja is using his bhakthi to Rama, to imagine how prahlAda would have pleaded with Vishnu not to leave him. I have heard interpretations that this plea is something offered to someone who has decided to leave, and thus has some anguish in it. However, based on the feelings rItigauLa invokes in me, I picture it as thus: Imagine your object of endearment (say your child) for some reason was upset with you and had indicated that he/she may leave you. But somehow that storm has passed, and you are now hugging the child, perhaps pampering him/her. Maybe he/she has gone to sleep in the comfort of your arms. You look at the child’s peaceful, beautiful face, and as you caress it you whisper “Please, never, ever leave me”. Your mind is full of joy and satisfaction (of the child being with you and not away) as you say it. That is the mood rItigauLa reflects to me in renditions of this song.
    • I love MDR’s rendition of baDalika tIra a lot – it is a bit different from other renditions and that makes it even more special. The meaning of the song is so charming – tyAgarAja asks Rama to lie down and take rest as he imagines Him to be fatigued (with all the action in the Ramayana) 🙂 !
    • In one of the books I have, cera rAvadEmirA’s pallavi part has 16 sangatis! I have not yet heard a rendition that showcases all of them.
    • dvaitamu sukhama? advaitamu sukhama? – in just one sentence, tyAgarAja has captured the deep core behind the Hindu religion and philosophy! What a genius!
  • janani ninnuvinA: This is truly a magnificent composition by subbarAya SaStri – the son of SyAma Sastry. This is set to a slow pace, in miSra cApu tALa and is one of the hallmark compositions of this composer. This is a very popular composition in the concert circles. Many rasikas feel that this is the best composition in rItigauLa – and it is indeed hard to not place it at the top.
  • tatvam aRiya taramA? An excellent composition by Papanasam Sivan. Madurai Mani Iyer, and his prime disciple T.V. Sankaranarayanan, revel in their renditions of this composition, with elaborate kalpanaswaras.
  • paripAlaya mAm: This is a charming composition of Swathi Thirunal.
  • guruvAyUrappanE: A very nice composition by Ambujam Krishna.
  • vanajAkshi (varnam): This is an impressive and sophisticated aTa tala varnam in rItigauLa, and is not very often heard in concerts (as I would like), but is a very attractive piece.

Note: Historically speaking, there is also a rItigauLa which employs only suddha-dhaivatam (D1) and thus is different from the rItigauLa featured above. This is part of the asampoorna mELa system that muttusvAmi dIkshitar followed. That raga eventually became absorbed into the current melakarta system as nArirItigauLa. But in dIkshitar system, both rItigauLa and nArirItigauLa were one and the same – like how SankarAbharaNam and dhIraSankarAbharaNam are the same. In this blog entry, I do not discuss this raga, but instead discuss the more popular rItigauLa that is featured in all the above compositions. I talk about the usage of dhaivatam in this raga later below. Also, one of the compositions of dIkshitar, nIlOtpalAmbAm is sung by some in this popular rItigauLa – some argue that this is not the original, and there is some controversy as to whether dIkshitar would have acknowledged “the other rItigauLa“.

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A quick one to express my frustration. For my upcoming post, I want to include a couple of videos. Now these are sort of unique videos, with a custom size – smaller than what you see on Google Video, YouTube, and are sort of hi-res (for that size). I mean, unless shown at that native size, they become grainy and it would be pointless to the purpose of including them.

Now WordPress.com, one of the most popular blog sites, allows you to link to YouTube, Google Video easily but offer not much control over the size of video. This irritates me to no end. It also opens the floodgates for other pet-peeves I have about WordPress.com. Apparently, their paranoid view of anything even remotely fancy (although some of which are well founded), is good reason to give highly restricted features. For example, you can upload images etc. but mp3s and audio? No. (unless you buy a space upgrade?) You can embed video, but cannot easily control size (unless you buy a space upgrade?). I think other blogs offer more by default. In short, with regards to these things, WordPress.com gets a D grade – euphemistically speaking!

Now after breaking my head over this, a lot of googling, and a lot of trial-and-error, I finally did figure out how to control the size:

  1. Upload to google video (after establishing an account) – in my case a flash video file (flv).
  2. Use the vodpod plugin to point to it as an external video i.e. do not use the “easy way” for Google Video (since that will not allow size control) .
  3. (Now this step is vodpod WordPress plugin’s part in this sorry game) Have vodpod create a draft blog entry, just so that you can edit that draft blog entry to the correct post,
  4. Adjust the width, height to what you want (actually cannot use the original video size, have to do some trial and error)
  5. Delete the draft. Seems silly doesn’t it? But all this because vodpod does not seem allow you to get Vodpod videos no longer available. link directly – it wants to create a post! Now, I hope I am wrong about this and I just did not know how it is done. Otherwise, now how boneheaded can you get to have this as the only work flow? How hard is to really to expose the vodpod link when you preview in vodpod?

The above works, but now my video would have to stored in Google video, and also there is also some sort of an entry in the vodpod system (the Vodpod videos no longer available. link has a unique id that vodpod knows points to my Google Video), so that I can get it on my blog. In essence, critical information is stored in 3 places – Google Video, vodpod, and of course my WordPress.com blog. Not exactly a good arrangement.

Now ideally, I want the information be in one place. My blog. I upload the video file like I do images, and I point to them from my blog. How hard is that? Sure space can be a premium, but that is my problem. Otherwise, the next best bet is to put it on a site of my choice, e.g. some place where I have complete control. Or at the least, allow control over the size of the !$#@$ Google Video and YouTube embedded control!

But all of this strangely beyond WordPress.com! Come on! This is not rocket science! I have done it myself, and apparently vodpod has figured it out. This should have done in the first version of WordPress that included embedded video support – i.e. many many months ago! I am puzzled as to how/why WordPress.com missed the boat then, and continues to do so! Extremely frustrating for me as a user!

PS: I know I can host my own WordPress.com site where I can have control. But that is not the point here.

PPS: In case I am wrong and there is an easy, I take back everything said above 😉 !