In moments of quietude, I wonder, “If a raga were to be given a form, what would it look like? A beautiful maiden or a handsome man?” This form that we conjure up in our mind's eye on listening to the melody of a raga defines its personality, and thereby the mood that it conveys. That's why certain ragas like Shubhapantuvarali are used to highlight sad scenes in movie background scores while ragas like Bilahari are used to bring out cheer and brightness (recall Omana Penne from Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya).

I am thinking Hindolam today. Hindolam in Karnatak music corresponds to Malkauns in the Hindustani system. The notes taken by this meditative raga are shadja, sadharana gandhara, suddha madhyama, suddha dhaivata and kaisiki nishada. The madhyama is the swara that lends charm to it and the dhaivata and nishada are the jiva swaras, those that impart soul. Dikshitar says “Gauri Hindola dyuti heera mani maya abharaney” in the kriti Neerajakshi Kamakshi. In concerts, the most often sung Hindolam kriti is certainly Samaja vara gamana of Thyagaraja. Mamavathu Sri Saraswati of Mysore Vasudevachar, Nambikettavar by Papanasam Sivan and Chintayami Jagadamba are other favourites in Hindolam.

TM Soundararajan sang the hugely popular devotional piece Karpanai endraalum in a private album in Hindolam. In Tamil film music, one of the first appearances of Hindolam was in the film Seva Sadanam – Papanasam Sivan's Ma Ramanam, rendered soulfully by M S Subbulakshmi. The beginning note ma and the first syllable Ma coincide interestingly. Then there was Azhaikkaade, one of the earlier songs of P Susheela from the movie Manalane Mangaiyin Bagyam. Kangalum kavi paaduthe from Adutha Veettu Penn is an awesome representation of this raga in the classical style, peppered with interesting swara passages.

'Jagam pugazhum' from Lava Kucha and 'Maname Muruganin mayilvaahanam' from Motor Sundaram Pillai (sung by the Radha-Jayalakshmi duo) are lilting pieces sung with devotional fervour. The swaras in Mayilvaahanam are intricately woven to showcase Hindolam. In the Telugu version of this song – Manase andaala Brindavanam, from the film Manchi Kutumbam – Kodandapani showcased a typical Hindolam style.

The raga mastery of the maestro Ilayaraja comes forth in the piece Om Namashivaya from Salangai Oli – the progression of notes and S Janaki's rendition are amazing. In the lines Gangaiyin manavalaa, the traversal of one full octave (dha to dha) of the raga is breathtaking. Naan thedum sevvandhi poovidhu is mainly based in Hindolam and is spiced with a folksy touch. AR Rahman in May Maadham composed Maargazhi poove, one of my personal favourites in this raga. The sangati in the lines un madi sernthaal kanavugal kollai has the inimitable Hindolam stamp. The flute interlude cradles the senses like a gentle breeze on a crisp, cool morning.

Man tadpat Hari darsan ko from Baiju Bawra, in Naushad's music and sung by Rafi, is a masterpiece in Malkauns. It is said that Mohammad Rafi did not accept any remuneration for this song; he was so happy to sing for Naushad. Tu chhupi hai kahan in the voices of Manna Dey and Asha Bhonsle from the film Navrang, in C Ramchandra's music, is yet another memorable Malkauns melody. The soulful Aye sur ke panchi aye sung by Rajan-Sajan Mishra in the film Sur Sangam bears the unmistakable Malkauns stamp.

It's a small world – the world of ragas. Open a window into that small world – a boundless sea of imagination reveals itself. From a singer's point of view, I love cruising in those waters.