Raga identification i.e. identifying the raga of a piece is a boon as well as a bane when it comes to appreciating carnatic music. For me, it was the main reason behind my interest in carnatic music growing  exponentially in a short time – many many years ago.  Once I found out that I can indeed “match tunes” of the same raga I was thrilled and invigorated. Initially, this was between two songs I knew, and more commonly from a carnatic song to a Tamil film song. Every time, I was able to make a correct correlation, I was on cloud nine! This drove me to hear more and more songs, listen to more and more ragas – just to see if I can correlate it to something I had heard in Tamil film songs before. Or it was to see if I could find a match amongst the “new” (most of them where so) carnatic pieces I had heard a few days/weeks earlier. So my “knowledge base” was growing quickly due to this. All of this of course also made me love the music itself.

Must get the raga before my  friend(s) get it!
For any carnatic rasika, knowing the raga of a piece is very  important – perhaps way more important than it really need be. Again, like me, initially it is a knowledge seeking mission, but soon it morphs into a matter of pride. A carnatic music rasika frequently struts around claiming this music is on a intellectually higher plane (along with a spiritually highest plane), which has the frequent unwanted side effect of narrowing his/her perceptions in terms of acknowledging the depth and brilliance in other forms. But I digress.

Anyway, the most frustrating moments for a rasika is when he/she hears a piece, for which the tune (or raga) sounds  so familiar but it is just out of reach.  The rasika is then literally on pins and needles  – desperate to arrive at the answer. If the rasika is attending a concert with a few friends, then the urgency is even higher, since the ego kicks in. The rasika wants to get the answer before those darned friends – who may be in the same state of feverish mind race to the finish.

During all this time, the rasika is rarely able to enjoy the music  – all he/she can think off is “Darn. It sounds so familiar. What the hell is it. Its right there at the tip of my tongue!! Gosh! My head feels like it is about to EXPLODE. I hope I can get it before the jerk gets  it. AGAIN!!”. So until the rasika is able to identify the raga, he/she cannot enjoy the piece!

(Note: Been there.Done that 😉  )

No hollow/moral victories!
Many times, the rasika is able to correctly determine that the raga is the same as that of another song he/she knows, although he/she cannot name the raga itself.  But he/she is still unsatisfied. Note that at this point, the answer has pretty much been arrived at – the deduction part is over. The only step remaining is the “name of the raga”. What’s in a name anyway? Apparently everything – since the victory is totally hollow until that step is completed.

It never is my failing: At times, the rasika gets it wrong – guesses a raga that is either completely off, or maybe a close cousin of the actual raga being played/sung. Often times, this is due to someone being trigger happy, perhaps wanting to blurt out the answer as a pre-emptive measure before their friends blurt out their answers. And then just like some  software (very talented) programmers have a tendency to  blame the compiler for  the bugs in their code, some rasikas would simply blame the artist: Mukhari? Really? Seemed like Bhairavi at the start. He did not differentiate it enough.  I have heard better. He just seems off today. In those days, aiyangaar-vaal, musiri-vaal used to ….

Now, artists can be off on some days, and when it comes to close ragas there may be occasions where the differentiation is not shown strongly.  But the point here is that the more knowledgeable rasika usually presumes that his/her skills are flawless, and that presumption cannot be proven false.  The fault has to lie elsewhere. In any case, from a customer (i.e. rasika) point of view, it is perhaps most ideal if the raga is shown unambiguously at the start itself – the first phrase, or even the first notes of the first phrase. This allows for the rasika to get over his/her obsessive compulsive tendency w.r.t identifying raga, and really enjoy the music. It is hugely satisying for both parties – but the success factors for this is more dependent on the individual rasika’s cognitive abilities.

But then sometimes artists can play games too 🙂 !

What’s the raga?
As a parting gift, here is an audio sample.It is an interesting piece. I am not sure if it will have many of you on pins and needles but … (!) Please listen to it and identify the raga – please be aware of the time index as you listen as I would like you to tell me when (i.e. time index) you were able to get the raga – i.e. the time index when for the very first time you thought “it must be so-and-so raga”.  However,  please do not reveal the raga name itself in your comment.

The person who gets it quickest gets an award – what award I have not thought of yet 🙂

Also, for those of you who do know about this particular piece, please let the others have fun 😉 !!