Shankarabharanam is the 29th melakarta in the 72-melakarta scheme and is also known as Dhirashankarabharanam. A majestic and calming raga, the Shankarabharanam scale is the most important C Major scale in Western classical music, and is known as Bilawal Thaat in Hindustani music. The raga has a regal aura. The notes in Shankarabharanam are sadja, chatusruti rishaba, antara gandhara, suddha madhyama, pancama, chatusruti dhaivata, and kakali nishada. The gamakas in the rishaba are very important and so is the exaggerated gamaka in the sadja-nishada-dhaivata.
The pann pazhanpancuram is the Tamizh isai equivalent of this raga. The relaxed landing and staying on at the gandhara is a notable feature of this raga.
In Carnatic music, Thyagaraja has composed many pieces in this raga, including, ‘Ethuta Nilachite’, ‘Enduku Peddala’, ‘Manasu Swadina’ and ‘Buddhi radu’. Dikshitar's ‘Akshayalinga Vibo’ and ‘Dakshinamurte’ are monumental, as are Shyama Sastri’s ‘Saroja dala netri’ and ‘Devi Meena Netri’.
Shankarabharanam has been used in many film songs, though often not in its purest form.
In the film Kannagi, with music by S. V.Venkatraman, the song ‘Chandrodayam idile’ sung by P.U. Chinnappa is a brilliant Shankarabharanam. The varja phrase MDN is used cleverly in the phrase ‘Ananda...’. The sangatis in the charanam at the pancama are resplendent with the raga’s precious ‘pidis’.
The piece that brings out the flavour of the raga in its pure form would be ‘Omkara Nada’ from the film Shankarabharanam, with K.V. Mahadevan’s music. Sung brilliantly by S.P. Balasubrahmanyam and S. Janaki, this song is memorable. The phrase ‘Shankarabharanamu’ has the notes SRS, D,NS and S,SDP, GMPGRS, typical of the raga. In the film Karpagam the song ‘Athai Madi Methaiyadi’ in the music of Viswanathan-Ramamurthy is in this scale. The final phrase of the charanam PMGRSNDP covers the entire scale. Ilaiyaraaja has composed several pieces in this scale.
‘Poove Ilaiya Poove’ from Kozhi Koovuthu is a piece where the raga’s impact comes through, especially in the landing and the gamakas at the nishada, and the madhyama.
‘Pachamalai Poovu’ from Kizhakku Vaasal is a folksy approach to the raga.
‘Aalapol Velapol’ from Ejaman, using the phrase G,MPDNS, is sung fast in ‘Badhil Kooru’. This too is an example of how the scale is adapted to suit the film. In Singaravelan, the song ‘Puducheri Kutcheri’ uses this scale brilliantly. The raga’s innate quality in bringing out happiness is exploited in this piece.
In the film Aasai, Deva has composed the catchy ‘Pulveli Pulveli’ using the catchy interlude RGMP, MGRM, GRSSS.
A. R. Rahman’s ‘Chinna Chinna Asai’ is a simple, effective piece in this scale. R.D. Burman’s ‘Sare Ke Sa Re Ga Ma’ from Parichay in raag Alhiya Bilawal is another such song, perhaps our own version of ‘Doe a Deer’. Our national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ is also in raag Alhiya Bilawal.