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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