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“.

Under the hood

Now on to a “under the hood” look at the technicalities of the raga. Looking back at this blog after I was done, it does look like I may have delved in too deep. I apologize for that. Hopefully, I have avoided a dry a presentation of the technical details by mixing it with some context, audio samples and for the first time “educational” video samples!

I should again confess here that I am not an expert in carnatic music, and so all of these reflect my understanding and preferences only. So a pinch of salt with everything said here is recommended!

Okay – enough pre(r)amble. Let’s pop open the hood!

The raga rItigauLa is indeed a grand one, but on closer look, it seems to me that the essence of its beauty lies in a few prominent prayOgas/phrases (with some localized variations) that occur a lot in any composition/rendition of the raga. The standard structure of the raga as conveyed its ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa indeed includes most (but not all) these core phrases and hence when you hear someone sing the ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa of rItigauLa, you do indeed get the main essence of the raga right away. However, what may be surprising is that there is much of the raga that is not covered by this. One may be misled into thinking that the raga structure is more limited that in it actually is. I will touch on this at the end.

Standard Arohana/avarOhana:
The standard Arohana/avarohana of rItigauLa is as follows:

rItigauLa arohana/avarohana

There are a few core building blocks that are immediately conveyed by the above sample:

  • sa ga ri ga: This indicates that an approach from sa to ga, if done with ri, has a zig-zag (vakra) nature.
  • ni da ma – On descent, this is a key combination to get from higher half of the octave to lower half.
  • ni ni sa: The approach to sa from below with a double occurrence of nishadam. This is pretty much a must in this raga – and is perhaps the most identifiable characteristic of this raga. The occurence of the double ni also conveys the importance of the nishadam swara for this raga as we will see later.
  • ga ma pa ma ga ri sa: This is a way to include pa while descending down to sa. One can also go ni da ma ga ri sa thus skipping pa – but pa is critical for the overall melodic nature of ths raga. This combination is quite common, and in my opinion is another characteristic stamp of rItigauLa.

Below, I will deal mainly with ni ni sa (and its counterpart ga ga ma), and ga ma pa ga ri sa – the two prayogas that to me are uniquely rItigaula.

ni ni sa
This is a very important building block for the raga and as I mentioned above is the identifying characteristic of the raga. It provides for an ideal start for a composition. For example, janani ninnuvinA and paripAlayamAm start with it – with the ni being in the lower octave. The song paripAlaya paripAlaya (Thyagaraja) also begins with but with ni in middle octave. The following sample illustrates the start of compositions with ni ni sa in the lower octave:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In the above sample, you had Neyveli Santanagopalan singing janani ninnuvinA, and T.V. Sankaranarayanan singing paripAlaya mAm.

(General Note on audio samples: For some of the audio samples, the original pitch and the tempo may have been adjusted for illustrative purposes)

It is also common for this to occur in particular in the anupallavi part of krithis, as many anupallavis feature a elongated stop at upper octave sa (kArvai) – creating a sort of a “crescendo”. You see this in cerarAvadEmirA, tatvam aRiya taramA, guruvAyUrappanE, paripAlayamAm, the even the film song talayai kuniyum tAmarayE. This is demonstrated in the following sample:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The first excerpt in the above sample is from the film song cinnakkaNNan azhaikkiRAn, the second is from the “anupallavi” of the film song talayai kuniyum tAmaRaiyE, then an excerpts from the anupallavis of tatvam aRiya taramA? (T.V. Sankaranarayanan), paripAlaya mAm (T.V. Sankaranarayanan), janani ninnuvinA (Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer), and cera rAvadEmirA (Alathur Brothers).

ma ni ni sa & pa ni ni sa: One common way for ni ni sa to occur is as ma ni ni sa as indicated by the ArOhaNa itself. When going from lower part of the octave to sa, this is sort of natural outcome of the melodic structure of the raga. You also saw that in a couple of the songs in the above sample. You should also note that, pa ni ni sa is also allowed. However, I think here pa must be approached from higher swara i.e. ni. Hence. ni pa ni ni sa or sa ni pa ni ni sa etc. are very much allowed. This pa ni ni sa seems to be employed only in the lower octave (i.e. ni and pa in the lower octave). This phrase is also not conveyed by the ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa.

ni ni sa‘s friend – ga ga ma
The phrase ga ga ma is quite popular in rItigauLa obviously owing to ni ni sa to which it shares a complementary relationship (every swara in one pattern has a consonance relationship to the corresponding swara in the other pattern).

An ideal example for this in a krithi is in the svara-sahitya portion of the janani ninnuvina. This is illustrated in the following excerpt from a rendition by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer:
(Download by clicking here)

You can also see a good example of the ga ga ma and ni ni sa during the kalpanaswara portion of the same rendition:
(Download by clicking here)

Note that in the above, the word janani is musically ni ni sa, and thus it also plays a part in the magical dance between ga ga ma and ni ni sa.

ga ma pa ma ga ri sa and derivatives
This is an important phrase, and to me adds a certain nice twist to the overall melodic theme of the rItigauLa. I find this hard to explain, but it almost feels like it adds a softening touch to the melody character, complementing the main theme of the raga which revolves around ma and ni. I suspect that the presence of pa is the main reason for this The other prayogasni ni sa, ma ni ni sa, ga ga ma, ni da ma all highlight ni and ma (and sa), and exclude pa. This one includes pa, accentuates it a bit more than ma – and thus sort of has a “balancing” effect. I don’t know if that made any sense. I guess all I am trying to say – is this phrase gives an unique hue to the raga.

The importance of this phrase is also reflected by the fact that a quite a few compositions start with it: nannu viDaci, dvaitamu sukhamA, guruvAyUrappanE. This is illustrated in the following sample:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer on dvaitamu sukhamA, Maharajapuram Santanam on guruvAyUrappanE, and D.K. Jayaraman on nannu viDaci. The pitch of the samples were adjusted slightly to make them match with each other).

Here is an audio version of the above, with the swaras for the sahitya sung after each portion: (Download by clicking here)

(Note: The singer is a rank amateur, more known for his bathroom singing abilities. He and I apologize to readers for putting them through this. But you see – he thinks that this is his blog too 😉 ! ).

Now we take into just starting with slight variations of this prayoga, then we can also include the following:

  • cerarAvadEmira: ce ra rA va dE => p p ma ga (r)s
  • tatvam aRiya tarama: tat vam a Ri ya ta ra ma => pa m g r s n n sa
  • vanajAkshi (varnam): va na jA . kshi => p m g r sa

Constituent Swaras and their importance

ni, ni and ni! The main life blood swara of rItigaula is the (kaisiki) nishadam i.e ni. Any composition will have the usage of ni in abundance, and alapanas will involve a lot of hovering around in ni. It is also common to use the ni as an anchor, sometimes just keep on hitting it in succession – creating quite a magical effect!

Here is an audio sample where you can see how ni is repeated successively during kalpana swaras Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (for janani ninnuvinA) and M.D. Ramanathan (for baDalika tIra):

(Download by clicking here)

Here is another example of how ni is used as an anchor during kalpana swaras (T.V. Sankaranarayanan for tatvam aRiya tarama?):

(Download by clicking here)

ma: The (suddha) madhyamam ma is probably as important as ni, as it is the anchor in the lower half of the octave. It also has a nice consonant relationship with ni. We also saw how ga ga ma worked in tandem with ni ni sa.

ga: The (sadharana) gandaram is also an important swara and takes on either a stress gamaka (nokku) or a gentle kampita (shake) – and is quite lovely in this raga.

pa: One way if we look at the raga, we can be misled into thinking that with ma and ni playing powerful roles (along with sa of course), and ga also being prominent at times, the pa appearing only in avarOhaNa may be not so important. But we already saw the importance of the phrase ga ma pa ma ga ri sa – the # of compositions that employ it or its variations indeed is staggering. Like I mentioned above pa is indispensable to the melodic flavor of rItigauLa.

da: The da and ri are certainly minor swaras of the raga. The dhaivatam employed in the version of rItigauLa discussed here is almost entirely catuSruthi dhaivatam i.e. D2. However, even this version of rItigauLa also permits the rare usage of Suddha dhaivatam i.e. D1 as in pa da ma (although not all pa da ma use D1 – it is rare even for that).

You can hear this in the following example. The first da is D2, and the second da as in p d* m p g r is D1:

(Download by clicking here)

Beyond the ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa

As mentioned earlier, while the ArOHaNa/avarOhaNa of rItigauLa does do an effective job of capturing the essence of the melodic flavor of the raga, it also leaves out enough and one would be advised not to presume a more rigid structure for the raga than necessary. The following are combinations that are allowed but may not be apparent from the ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa.

Ascent from pa
pa occurs only in ArOhaNa as ga ma pa ma ga ri sa. However, an ascent from pa is not forbidden and is allowed in some select contexts:

  1. pa ni ni sa is allowed. I already mentioned that I think this is one only if arriving at pa from ni, and also may be done only in lower octave (?). A good example of this is the svara-sahitya portion of janani ninnuvina above. It starts as ni pa ni ni sa. The varnam also uses this in quite a few places.
  2. pa da ni da is allowed. You can hear this in Semmangudi’s kalpanaswara for janani ninnuvina above that highlights usage of ni (ni ni ni ni sa ni da ni pa da ni da ma). Actually MDR also uses in that same sample. So this is yet another context, where in an ascent from pa to da is ok (but see below)

Ascent from da
The dhaivatam does occur in ArohaNa but in a descent pattern as in ma ni da ma ni ni sa. One should not conclude that ascent from da is disallowed.

  1. From the above, we see that pa da ni da is allowed. As apparent from the above, we are also allowed to ascend from pa to da to ni. However, you cannot continue to sa as in pa da ni sa. In this case after the ni one must descend eventually to ma, before we can climb to sa (as in ni ni sa).
  2. The da ni combination is also allowed when approaching da from ni, as in sa ni da ni. You see this also in Semmangudi’s kalpanaswara example (sa ni da ni pa da ni da ma ni ni sa). Note again that the after ascending from da to ni, he descends. I am not 100% sure (?) but a continued ascent to sa – as in sa ni da ni ni sa I think is not kosher.

ma da
The arOhaNa uses ma ni da ma ni ni sa, and thus does not readily indicate a ma da combination. However, the varnam has quite a few instances of ma da pa ma. I am not sure if one can ascend from da after this (?). My guess is ma da ni da ma or say ma da ni ni sa etc. may tread too much into SrIranjani‘s domain (?)

pa da pa
This is also allowed but not readily apparent from the ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa. This occurs readily in the varnam.

Allied Ragas – rItigauLa and Anandabhairavi
One raga that is quoted as similar to rItigauLa is Anandabhairavi. I must admit that I myself do not find that much similarity usually mainly because any rItigauLa alapana, krithi etc. would be replete with ni ni sa (in tandem with ga ga ma) and ga ma pa ma ga ri sa – these delivered with their characteristic gamakas are just not part of Anandabhairavi.

However, I should note that both ragas do share more similar structure in the lower half:

  • Both start with sa ga ri ga
  • Both allow pa ma ga ri sa. The phrase ga ma pa ma ga ri sa would technically be fine in Anandabhairavi
  • Both allow pa da pa.
  • Both allow ni sa ga ri sa (quite common I think both?)
  • Older forms of Anandabhairavi (e.g. sAmi nIpai varnam) have occurrences of both ga ga ma and ni ni sa
  • Both have the pa da ni da. I also believe pa da ma pa with D1 also can occur in Anandabhairavi (but usage of D1 in Anandabhairavi is allowed more)

So given this it is possible to have a snippet of a rItigauLa which hovers between ni and pa (say at the initial stage of an alapana) and does not use the stock phrases like ga ga ma and ni ni sa, and be similar to a Anandabhairavi snippet. In fact I find rItigauLa varnam and Anandabhairavi varnam closer than say any two krithis in those ragas!

pa in Anandabhairavi vs. ma in rItigauLa: There are differences even in the common portion – but may be they do not scream out at us. I think pa is very important as an anchor swara in Anandabhairavi – whereas it is ma in rItigauLa. In fact, while pa can be a graha swara as in “beginning swara” for rItigauLa, I am not sure it can be a resting point or anchor. But in Anandabhairavi, pa is probably the most important swara besides sa. Take for example, the svara-sahitya for marivErE starts as pa d p m g- p m g m g r- ga~ m pa- g m pa…. Contrast this with the start of the muktayi of rItigauLa varnam: pa d p m g m ~- p m g r g ma~. You can listen to a sample of this below:

(Download by clicking here)

(Sanjay Subrahmanyan on the varnam, and K.V. Narayanaswamy on marivErE)

Do you find these somewhat similar except for the ni da ma part in the rItigauLa varnam? I think they are “somewhat similar”, but yet different due to the emphasis on ma in rItigauLa vs. emphasis on pa in Anandabhairavi. Yet phrases like these probably do sound similar in a selective context, perhaps more so in an alapana.

Of course the bigger differences elsewhere – i.e. in the upper part of the octave as well as different characteristic phrases between the two. So to me, any similarities between the two are fleeting – particularly in renditions of krithis.

rItigauLa and pUrNashadjam
If any, I would say that this raga is closer to rItigauLa than Anandabhairavi. Its ArOhaNa is S R2 G2 M1 N2 S. The “m n s” is an attractive combination and of course occurs in rItigauLa (albeit with the doubled ni). But I have heard some renditions of pUrNashadjam and I sense stronger whiffs of rItigauLa there than in any rendition of Anandabhairavi.

rItigauLa and SrIranjani
I think, if one strays in the rItigauLa part avoiding pa, and also does not emphasize ni-ni-sa, it can give whiffs of SrIranjani. But again, pros’ will probably never do this. Also note that in SrIranjani, free ascent and descent from da is allowed, and hence da plays a much more prominent role compared to in rItigauLa.

Hope you liked reading my impressions on this lovely raga. If there were any mistakes, misconceptions, please let me know.

Technical Credits:

  • The “video” presentations (notation and audio integrated) were constructed using (a prototype variant of) my Carnatic Music Typesetter web-application, available for free at The video was captured using CamStudio, converted to high quality flash video format using VisualHub, uploaded to (the only site which seems to allow me to retain original resolution, and show the video in a nice, compact format), and posted here via vodpod, particularly the “Post to WordPress” Firefox plugin. Whew!
  • The audio files and other audio related information were constructed/obtained using Audacity, QuickTime, and iTunes.

Update Section
Here are some additional points/facts suggested by folks commenting below and elsewhere:

  • There is an excellent (and detailed) lec-dem on this raga by R.K. Srikantan available at The lec-dem is in kannada – but even if you do not understand the language, you should be able to follow some of the sections (and of course listen to some truly wonderful music).
  • Both nIlOtpalAmbAm and SrI nIlOtpala nAyikE of muttusvAmi dIkshitar are sung in this rItigauLa by different musicians. Both are supposed to have been composed in the old rItigauLa/nArirItigauLa with D1 i.e. today’s nArirItigauLa – some musicians (e.g. Smt. Nityashree) sing both in that raga.
  • Syama Sastry’s ninnuvinA marigaladA is also sung in rItigauLa by many musicians, although it is supposed to be originally composed in AbhEri (the original one with Suddha-dhaivatam). Some musicians (e.g. Smt. Vedavalli) sing it in that AbhEri.