A regal raga, majestic like a temple elephant adorned with precious finery — that is Kambhoji! One of the most prominent ragas in Carnatic music, Kambhoji is a gamaka-oriented heavy raga that is bedecked with attractive characteristic prayogas that make it most unique and unmatched. It is not symmetrical in ascent and descent, and its vakra prayogas (zig-zag patterns in scale) make it elusively charming and unfathomable. The notes assumed by this raga are Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, and Chatusruti Dhaivata in ascent, and Kaisiki Nishada in addition during descent. One of the special phrases in Kambhoji ‘SN P, D, S uses the Kakali Nishada as well. In ancient Tamizhisai, ‘Takkesi’ pann is Kambhoji raga. The emotions associated with Kambhoji are devotional fervour, courage and jubilation.

Classical pieces in Kambhoji include ‘Evarimata’, ‘O Rangasayee’ and ‘Ma Janaki’ of Thyagaraja, and ‘Kailasanathena’, ‘Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste’ and ‘Maragathavalli’ of Dikshitar. ‘Tiruvadi Charanam’ of Gopalakrishna Bharati and ‘Aadum Deivam’ of Papanasam Sivan are Tamizh delights in this raga. ‘Koniyadina’ of Veena Kuppier is a sterling piece in this raga.

In film music, songs in this raga are very well-known, respected and remembered.

In the film Ambikapathy starring Sivaji Ganesan, the song ‘Vadivelum Mayilum’ has the Charanam alone (‘Thamizh Maalai Thanai Sooduvaar’) in Kambhoji raga. The phrase opens brightly at the upper Rishabha and the characteristic phrase ‘PDSRGR’ clearly establishes the raga beyond doubt. Sung by T.M. Soundararajan and tuned impeccably by G. Ramanathan, this Kambhoji is unforgettable.

In Thiruvilaiyadal, K.B. Sundarambal (music K.V. Mahadevan) fervently appeals to Lord Muruga in Kambhoji in the viruttam ‘Gnana Pazhathai’, the very first raga in the multi-raga masterpiece being Kambhoji. The viruttam opening with full gusto at the upper octave Gandhara is a typical approach to chaste Kambhoji.

In the film Arivaali, actor Bhanumathi comes up with an endearing rendition of ‘Venkataramana Pankaja Charana’ in Kambhoji (music S.V. Venkataraman). The opening phrase ‘PDMG PDS’ establishes the raga indubitably.

‘Isaikalaiye Inidhaame’ sung melodiously by M.L. Vasantakumari is a noteworthy piece in this raga as is ‘Sentamizha Ezhundhu’ sung by her again from the film ‘Madurai Veeran (music G. Ramanathan).

‘Arupadai Veedu Konda’ from Kandan Karunai is a stunning piece in this raga (music K.V. Mahadevan). Sung by Seerkazhi Govindarajan, this song also takes off at the upper octave Gandhara, and dwells on the grandeur in that region.

In Sampoorna Ramayanam, C.S. Jayaraman sings the song ‘Sangeetha Sowbhagyame’ for Ravana, and as he strums the veena and belts out ‘G,G, GMGGR...’ in Kambhoji (one of the many ragas featured in this piece), we can feel the raga’s grandeur unfold in front of our eyes.

‘Kalviya Selvama Veerama’ from Saraswati Sabadam is a classy depiction of the raga, sung effectively by TMS, tuned by K.V. Mahadevan. This song too opens at the upper octave gandhara ‘G, RG R, SR, S, DS’, an ideal phrasing for Kambhoji.

K.B. Sundarambal sings ‘Iraiva Un Pugazh Paaduven’ in Karaikal Ammaiyar preceded by a melting viruttam ‘vedhane’ in total devotion. This bhakthi bhava is well communicated through the raga Kambhoji, a scintillating rendition.

‘Ambikai Nadagam’ from Sakthi Leelai set to music by T.K. Ramamoorthy is a melodious classical dance number in this raga sung by P. Suseela.

In the song ‘Ezhu Swarangalukkul’ from Apoorva Ragangal (music M.S. Viswanathan, voice Vani Jayaram), the paragraph starting ‘naalai pozhudu endrum…’ is tuned in Kambhoji. In the lines ‘velai pirakum endru...’, the gamaka in the rishabha that culminates with a flourish is charming.

There may have been several attempts at composing in Kambhoji by several music directors, but those featured here are my favourites.

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