A studied understanding of the rules is a must to portray the beauty of ragas.

The titles of lec-dem often have a propensity to hide more than they reveal! Dr. Sowmya’s endeavour in exploring the grammar of manodharma singing of rakthi ragas (focal melodic points in rakthi ragas) opened up a surprising fountain of rules, idioms, conventions, theorems and handed-down case laws.

With examples built around raga duos such as Sankarabharanam and Kalyani, Kedaragowlai, Narayanagowlai and Suruti, Shanmukhapriya and Natabhairavi, Sahana and Ravichandrika, Thodi and Kokilapriya, Khambodi and Harikhambodi and a few others that aligned themselves to these in partial swara structures, Sowmya drove home the point, with a lot of conviction, that a studied understanding of the myriad rules (mostly prevalent in the performance practice) is a must to portray the beauty of the ragas. She highlighted the distinction between singing to the scale grammar and to the grammar of aesthetics.

The demonstration examples included gamaka types, length / duration of gamakas, rules for filling the gaps between two swarams, jeeva swaras, nyasa swaras, dheerga kampitam, mrudu kampitam, still swaras vs. moveable (or shakeable) swaras, the extent of shake or move, swara approaches (in the upward or downward journeys) and recommended start notes, end notes and stay notes for the different ragas. Transitioning from one raga to another (in ragamalikas) needs an assured spot for ‘grip’ in the destination raga and Sowmya brought out a few specimen as guides. She also reinforced that the veil of raga identity has to be lifted early – practice grammar is handier than scale grammar to accomplish this.

The audience consisting of musicians, students and those seeking a higher understanding of our music may have wondered how to observe these rules when they are not even published!

Sowmya had the answer – these rules are learnt only two ways – from a seasoned guru and by listening to masters! Keen students need to acquire the capacity to dissect the ‘prayogams’ and derive the practical theorems that govern them. The normal kriti oriented learning is incomplete until such level of self-analysis is scaled. Sowmya’s extensive absorption of such nuances from her tutelage under stalwarts, a reasoning and research mind (the PhD. is the proof) and most importantly, willingness to devote energy and time to such a sharing session, amidst the concert deluge, deserve appreciation.