A raga that may be likened to an overflowing Akshayapatra is Kapi. What can one say about this endearing raga? Listening to it is an experience in itself! It’s lucid musical contours excite and intrigue. Kafi Thaat in Northern India resembles Hindustani Kapi.
Kapi uses the notes Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, and Kakali Nishada in ascent. Kaisiki Nishada, Chatusruti Dhaivata and Sadharana Gandhara also feature in the descent contributing to the elusive unfathomable quality that this raga radiates. In modern Kapi, bhashanga swaras, i.e. foreign notes are very prominent. The Suddha Dhaivata features and so does the Antara Gandhara, as a relief note, each adding more texture to the already rich backdrop. In Kapi’s case “more the merrier” is most apt. Raga Pilu is an allied raga to Kapi and in movie songs there is an overlap between these raga usages.
In classical music, Kapi kritis that are very popular include ‘Intha Sowkhya’, ‘Ramapahi’, and ‘Meevalla’ of Thyagaraja, ‘Janakiramana’ of Jeeyar, and ‘Enna Thavam’ and ‘Radha Mukha Kamala’ of Papanasam Sivan. ‘Parulanamata’, a javali of Dharmapuri Subburayar is a classical jewel in this raga. ‘Jagadhodharana’ of Purandaradasa is sung in a pretty Pilu by M.S. Subbulakshmi.
In film music, this raga is one of the most well-utilised. ‘Dhyaname’ from Ashok Kumar sung brilliantly by MKT, is raga Kapi at its best, the melody being similar to that of the classical piece ‘Janakiramana’. The Antara Gandhara beautifully peeps out in ‘Chandra Bimba Vadanam...’ sangati. The flowery phrases are like an interesting puzzle; while learning these songs it becomes a little game... the more complex, the more exciting!
‘Annaiyum Thandaiyum Thaane” (Haridas), once again sung by MKT, is a stunning Kapi depiction. The phrase ‘RMPDN,DP’ in Kann Kanda Deivam...’ clearly marks the raga bhava. In fact, is there a single phrase in this piece that does not exude with the raga bhava? One must listen to this piece to feel how liberating classical music can actually get, when rendered by vocally resplendent singers!
‘Nandabala’ from Meera film is a song where little Meera transforms into a young woman (M.S. Subbulakshmi), and this song uses Kapi raga scale quite effectively in portraying poignancy and the zeal of bhakthi.
K.B. Sundarambal’s Kapi is particularly enticing — ‘Bathavukketra’ from Avvaiyar is a viruttam that begins with Kapi. ‘MPNSRGR’ is a very apt start for Kapi.
In the film Manamagal, Bharathiyar’s ‘Chinnanchiru Kiliye’ ragamalika begins in Kapi and is sung by M.L. Vasanthakumari with tasteful sangatis (music C.R. Subburaman). The opening ‘NPGRSNS’ is very catchy, and very ‘Kapi’.
The film Malayitta Mangai had several super-hits, the crowning jewel being ‘Sentamizh Thenmozhiyal’ sung by T.R. Mahalingam. This piece has got some of the most intricately vocalised sangatis in Kapi. Try keeping pace with the colossal sweep in ‘Kaatrinil Pirandavalo...’, you will see what I mean. M.S. Viswanathan —Ramamoorthy have surpassed themselves in this piece.
K.V. Mahadevan has composed two attractive pieces in the Kapi-Pilu family in the film Tirumal Perumai — ‘Hari Hari Gokula’ and ‘Malargalile’, the former in Bhajan style, fast and upbeat, the latter, more subdued and melodic.
‘Kaadhal Siragai’ from Paalum Pazhamum is a touching song by M.S. Viswanathan —Ramamoorthy in this raga, sung by P. Suseela. They once again created a lilting piece in Paar Magale Paar in this raga — ‘Madura Nagaril Tamizh Sangam’ (PBS and P. Suseela). In Karnan, the duo came up with ‘Manjal Mugam’, a lighter piece in this raga.
‘Anda Sivakami Maganidam’ is one of the finest film songs in this raga and is composed by Govardhanam in the film Pattanathil Bhootam. In the lines ‘Velan Illamal Thogai…’, the phrase ‘NNP, M RMPMMGG…’ is riveting in P. Suseela’s voice.
One of the well-loved pieces in this raga would be ‘Thumbi Vaa’, the Malayalam super-hit from the film Olangal composed by Ilaiyaraaja and sung by S. Janaki. Scintillating permutations within the swaras ‘SRG,S,R,SN,P’ leave us in raptures.
Ilaiyaraaja has composed several pieces in the raga family — ‘Hey Paadal Ondru’ from Priya, and ‘Kanne Kalaimaane’ from Moondrampirai among others.
‘Kaadhal Rojave’ from Roja and ‘En Mel Vizhunda Mazhai Thuliye’ from May Maadham mark A.R. Rahman’s forays into Kapi.
Vidyasagar’s ‘Kadhal Vandadum Kanniyin Ullam’ from Poovellam Unvaaasam and ‘Alanguyil’ from Parthiban Kanavu are fine pieces in Kapi.
‘Urugdhe Marugudhe’ from Veyyil is a soothing melody in Kapi from G.V. Prakash.
Kafi is very popular in Hindustani music. ‘Balam Ab To Baso…’ by K.L. Saigal from the 1935 film Devdas (music Timir Baran) is a stunner and it is interesting to note that the song ‘Poonguil Koovum’ of Kalki (popularised by D.K. Pattamal) is sung on the kutcheri platform in the same tune as ‘Balam Ab To’. It is ironic that many Carnatic music sabhas and promoters who take pride in sneering at “filmy” music, are often blissfully ignorant of the filmy connections of some of the pieces (‘Chinnanchirukiliye’, ‘Ma Ramanan’, ‘Poonguil Koovum’ among several others) performed over the years in their halls!