A raga that is mystical, dark, and appealing in a heart-wrenching sort of way, would be Revathi. The Hindustani raga that closely resembles Revathi would be Bairagi Bhairav. The karuna rasa that this raga evokes is beautiful, and it is to be noted that many of the Vedic verses and slokas are chanted in Revathi. The pentatonic scale accommodates the Sadja, Suddha Rishabha, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, and Kaisiki Nishada. The stand-alone oscillations at the Nishada add dramatic value and colour to this scale. The steep fall from the Madhyama to the Rishabha too adds to the poignancy.
There aren’t very many purely classical kritis in this rather new-age raga. ‘Bho Shambho’ of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and ‘Mahadeva Shiva Shambho’ of Tanjore Sankara Iyer are energetic pieces synergising melody with rhythm. ‘Nanate Bathuku’ is a philosophical lamentation of Annamacharya sung meltingly by M.S. Subbulakshmi in Revathi, while Lagudi Jayaraman’s thillana in Revathi is outstanding in its metrical and lyrical quality. In this thillana, the charanam brings forth sorrow and rejection in the phrase ‘Velano Ennai Yeno Marandhaan… Jaalamo En Kaalamo Ariyen!’
In film music, this raga has been used wisely and sparingly. The song ‘Mandira Punnagai’ from Manal Kayiru is an effective portrayal of this raga. The opening phrase wholly establishes the raga ‘S,RM / N,SR’ progressing in a triplet beat. Set to music by M.S. Viswanathan, this song has been sung by SPB. IlaIyaraaja has explored the length and breadth of this raga and given us a few interesting pieces in Revathi.
‘Kanavu Ondru Thondrudhe’ from Oru Odai Nadhiyaagrathu is a catchy number in which the maestro juggles with the swaras to create lovely patterns. The opening phrase ‘SRPM,P / R,M S’ sets the tone for Revathi and the Rishabha-Madhyama interval is well emphasised in ‘Yaarodu Solla — S,RMS/RMS’.
The piece-de-resistance of Ilaiyaraaja in Revathi is ‘Sangeeta Jaathi Mullai’ from Kaadhal Oviyam sung by SPB. Powerful and emotionally laden, this piece can be a challenge to deliver even for seasoned singers and orchestras. In the phrase that crowns the pallavi ‘Enn Naadhame Vaa’, the ascent from the Madhyama to the upper octave Rishabha ‘MPNR’, and the subsequent foray down to the Sadja is riveting. However, the raga changes in the finale (‘Raaga Deepame’), as the drama heightens in the movie. In the same movie Amma Azhage could be easily mistaken for a Revathi piece. It happens to have shades of raga Malahari, the presence of the Dhaivata (and absence of the Nishada) being the differentiating factor. Of course, in film songs, foreign notes do appear.
The piece ‘Adada Ahankaara’ from Pithamagan is a furious, fast-paced number set in Revathi, and in this piece, Ilaiyaraaja attempts a complex beat structure. The appearance of the Gandhara at certain phrases must, however, be noted. ‘Durga Durga’ from Priyanka sung by Chitra is a devotional piece composed by the maestro in this raga. Beginning at the top Sadja, this piece is bright and appealing. The usage of the veena, mridangam, flute and the strings lends a traditional flavour to this piece.
‘Vizhigal Medaiyaam’ from Kilinjalgal is a fusion of sounds, Western back-ups complementing a melodically charming scale. ‘PSNSRMS’ are the opening notes, and ‘Julie I Love You’ (N,SR,MS) is an interesting take on Revathi by T. Rajendar.
The song ‘Kaakka Kaakka’ from Naan Avan Illai, is based in Revathi, with music by Vijay Antony. The song opens with an alaap, ‘SN, P, M, R, SNPNRS’, fully establishing the raga, and as the song unfurls, heavy techno beats mingle with the raga’s signature notes. An ingenious composition, trendy, yet exuding the raga’s charm.