Carnatic Ragas


This post was not originally aimed as  a “technical” post about a raga like the ones I used to blog about, but I guess it sort of turned out that way.  However, I must confess that this is used as a pretext  to “peddle” the results of my attempts at experimentation with Carnatic Music scales/ragas in a western context.

maṇiraṅgu (maNirangu) is a beautiful, little raga which is one of my favorites. It perhaps has an unenviable position of being “in the middle” of two heavy-weight ragas – madhyamāvati (madyamAvati) and śrīrāga (SrIrAga), and differs from them in a rather subtle way in terms of ārōhaṇa/avarōhaṇa.

madhyamāvati has an ārōhaṇa/avarōhaṇa that is  S R2 M1 P N2 S | S N2 P M1 R2 S. This actually does not tell the whole story because the swaras in madhyamāvati carry a lot of gamakās with them, but that is a different story.

The nominal ārōhaṇa/avarōhaṇa of śrīrāga  is S R2 M1 P N2 S | S N2 P D2 N2 P M1 R2 G2 R2 S. You can see that it has the same ārōhaṇa structure as madhyamāvati but has a more meandering avarōhaṇa. However, in the avarōhaṇa, the part “P D2 N2 P M1” (i.e. pdnpm) is a special but rare phrase, which is to be used quite sparingly like once of twice in a song (the popular endarō mahanubhāvulu actually eschews it completely). Hence, for most purposes, the melody of śrīrāga usually follows:  S R2 M1 P N2 S | S N2 P M1 R2 G2 R2 S, which brings it closer to madhyamāvati (from a structural perspective) but still with a vital difference in avarōhaṇa. Again in actual usage, gamakās vary between it and madhyamāvati (e.g. the ri in śrīrāga, and for that matter maṇiraṅgu is flat, never shaken, while it is not so in madhyamāvati).

Now maṇiraṅgu, again has the same ārōhaṇa as the other two i.e. S R2 M1 P N2 S. The avarōhaṇa is yet another variation of the same base swaras, and is the more straight forward S N2 P M1 G2 R2 S (again from a structural perspective only – not all swaras are to be rendered flat!)  Thus G2, the ga, is completely absent in madhyamāvati,  occurs in a vakra i.e twisted pattern in the avarōhaṇa of śrīrāga, and in a normal descent pattern  in the avarōhaṇa of maṇiraṅgu.

So you have three ragas with pretty much same ascending structure, and slight differences in the descent. In particular, when descending from ma to sa, you can have only m r s in madhyamāvati,  you could have m r s or m r g r s in śrīrāga, but  m g r s can come only in maṇiraṅgu, and it must be so in maṇiraṅgu!  Here is an example that illustrates this (can you guess which portion is which raga?):

Correction: I had originally noted that m r s can come in śrīrāga but as far as I can know, there is only one instance in the varnam where it comes (in one of the swara sections as n , s r p m r s, and so I would qualify it as too rare to include and confuse the issue here.

Anyway, coming back to the topic of discussion, maṇiraṅgu,  in spite of this seemingly slightest of differences with two other rāgās of more repute in the Carnatic wold, I find that maṇiraṅgu can hold its  own ground quite admirably when it comes to pure charm. May be it is me, but I have always loved this raga – perhaps even more than the other two – maybe I think it is an underdog, a David among Goliaths, and who doesn’t like to root for an underdog?

I guess it is due to my attraction to it that I always wanted to experiment with it in the “Carnatic In A Western World” project that I indulge myself with time to time. I had some hesitation because I had already done a tune in śrīrāga a while ago, and hence doubted seriously if I can come up with something that does not resemble that other tune. However, a few months ago, as I was playing with a guitar and humming maṇiraṅgu , and in particular the song jaya jaya padmanābhānujēśa by svāti tirunāḷ, the main melody line that you will hear in the first part of the song below came to me. It sounded so lilting and up-beat that I always felt I had to expand the idea. But then it only took  months to get back to it and finish it 🙂 !

(Note: That melody line in the first part is pretty much a western approximation/inspirarion of the pallavi and anupallavi of jaya jaya padmanābhānujēśa. So yes, it is a “lift” of sorts 😉 ).

The song also has a slower section with a guitar lead that is closer to actual maṇiraṅgu, and here, my inspiration is from the kalpanaswara section of a D.K. Pattammal rendition of ikō namma svāmi by purandaradāsa.  There is a particular gamaka with p m g r ... that the violinist uses , which I use in the song, since to me that alone is quintessential maṇiraṅgu! The phrase is loaded with anuswaras which is one of the million examples as to how Carnatic (or Hindustani) swaras differ from western notes as they appear in the Western world.

Anyway here it is, and I hope you like it. Headphones would work better as there are some stereophonic effects which will be enhanced by that:

(Note: In case it was not clear, this is not a Carnatic song. It is a fusion piece – I hope you can get more than a whiff of maṇiraṅgu from it!)

Now, perhaps to clear our heads, let us get back to the Carnatic world. Here is the kalpanaswara section of ikō namma svāmi by D.K. Pattammal that was an inspiration for the above song. That p m g r  occurs in many places, but the one by the violinist at time index 2:50-2:52 is clearest to me.

(Note: Sorry. I do not know the name of the supporting vocalist, and other accompanying artists).

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KrithiBook is bound to come to handy to many of us during a carnatic music concert to look up information about songs being rendered. However, even at other times, it is an invaluable knowledge-base on carnatic music for finding answers to many questions such as:

  • Which of the composers composed in a certain raga – say ābhōgi?
  • How many songs did tyāgarāja compose in a raga, e.g. pantuvarāḷi? What are they?
  • What is the ārohaṇa and avarōhaṇa of a raga – say andhāḷi?
  • Who composed the varnam in nārāyaṇagauḷa?
  • What songs are part of the nīlōtpalāmbā kṙtīs composed by dīkṣitar?
  • What songs are part of the nauka caritramu opera composed by tyāgarāja?

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After a long break, here is the 12th in the series (click here for the 11th one). It is an alapana in another rare, old and attractive raga. Can you also guess the artist?

Audio courtesy: Sangeethapriya

A hint: Your instincts may not be right 😉

Click here for the answer.

After a brief hiatus (job change, new schedule etc. ete.), here is the tenth one in the series (click here for the ninth one).

This is actually a well known, charming and beautiful raga – but this still is rare and special (at least to me!) It should be fairly easy to identify I think. If you are on the right track, there is only one answer. If you are in the right neighborhood, there are only two possible answers! If did get it right,  and before you read the ensuing analysis below, give some thought into why you were able to identify it and not be misdirected. I would be interesting in knowing your reasoning and intuition.

So here it goes.

Note: I have “masked out” the refrain line of the kalpanaswaras out with a tampura sound  to not give things away (although I think the krithi is rare). I  know it is odd – hopefully it does not affect your listening pleasure and interfere with your thought process too much!

(Audio Courtesy: Sangeethapriya)

So, can you guess the  raga and the artist?

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Here is the second one in this series (click here for the first one). It is an alapana for a well known song, fairly common in concerts, but perhaps one for which alapana is rarely rendered (at least to me). Thus it is is special to me.

The musician should be obvious to most of the listeners as he is very well known. I also suspect many of you will be able to guess the raga. In any case, just enjoy an alapana!

(Download here)

(Answer below)
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A lot of popular ragas and compositions which feature regularly in carnatic music concerts. It is not uncommon to run into elaborate renditions of ragas like tODi, bhairavi, SankarabharaNam, kalyANi, kAmbhOji, kharaharapriya (“the big six”), as well as pantuvarali, pUrvikalyANi, mOhanam, madhyamAvati and many many others of similar stature. Even though some complain about the seeming monotony or repetition of the ragas, most Carnatic music aficionados never tire listening to the ragas and the compositions they are intimately familiar with and love!

However, there is also a special charm when musicians present new concepts. Many musicians of the current as well as previous generations have sought to go against the usual theme, and present rare ragas. For example, you find musicians like T.S. Kalyanaraman handle rare vivAdhi mELas with ease (as well as invent new ragas). In the recent generations, handling of rare ragas are much more common.  Although, there are  certainly exceptions to this, a big majority of these fall into ragas which are usually completely new to us in the sense we may not have heard renditions of them at all.  It does make them special.

However, even more special to me  are the times when a musician does something unique/different/new in a raga that is not exactly of the “completely new and rare” kind. It is most special to me when the raga is something that I like, and I want to hear artists try something elaborative in it, a want that is usually not satisfied. I have a few examples of these in my collection, and I thought I would share them here.

Here is the first one.  Try to guess the raga and the artist. Let me know what you think of this piece.

(Download here)

(Answer below)
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All one needs to do is listen to a good kharaharapriya and one is in heaven right on earth.  I am in a trance now. Even thinking of words to describe it disturbs the mood, the serenity, the moment. Enough said.

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