A raga that is most suited for bringing out sringara and karuna rasas is Nattakurinji. A pleasant raga, its phrases are very graceful and when handled tastefully, this raga can be quite a treat. Mostly suited for singing in the evenings, Natakurinji is easily identifiable owing to its unique Aarohana-Avarohana pattern. A derivative of Harikambhoji scale (28th Melakarta), Natakurinji features the Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama (on rare occasions), Chatusruti Dhaivata, and Kaisiki Nishada. The order of notes in ascent is usually SRGM / NDN / PDNS, (sometimes SRGMDNS) the jagged pattern adding spice to the arrangement, and in descent SNDM / GMPGRS happens to be the natural flow, although SNDMGS also finds place. Natakurinji accommodates two types of Aarohana and Avarohana patterns. Natakurinji is best heard than written about, as is the case with music in general!

In Classical music, several special pieces, including ‘Manasu Vishaya’ by Tyagaraja, ‘Budhamasrayami’ by Dikshitar extolling the virtues of the planet Mercury, ‘Parvati Kumaram’, once again by Dikshitar, occupy places of pride. ‘Nachai Vidavakura’ of Mysore Vasudevachar, the varnam ‘Chalamela’, and the Tamil kriti of Oothukadu Venkatakavi ‘Paal Vadiyum Mugam’, are spirited and attractive.

In film music, Natakurinji songs are just a few, noteworthy and full of bhava. The convoluted patterns in the raga often scare off film composers from touching upon it. Those brave enough to handle it have done so admirably.

‘Kavalayai Theerpadhu’ from Sivakavi starring the phenomenal M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar is one of the finest pieces in Natakurinji. Papanasam Sivan scored the music and penned the lyrics. G. Ramanathan, took care of the orchestration. The opening phrase ‘NSNDM / GMDNS’ kickstarts the song brightly, and the frills in ‘Agandridum Valaiye’ — ‘MD / DN / NS / SRS / NDM’ are very much in character with the raga and delivered with gusto. In the charanam, the line ‘Ragathil Sirandhadhu Natakurinji’ is a clever way to embed the raga mudra in the song.

This writer was listening to ‘Pallaviye Charanam’ in the music of Ilaiyaraaja from Oruvar Vaazhum Aalayam hoping it would turn out to be entirely Natakurinji. But interestingly enough, it seemed more like Khamas. The first phrase gave a flicker of hope that was promptly extinguished as the song progressed.

A.R. Rahman's ‘Kannamoochi Yaenada’ from Kandukondein Kandukondein is a contemporary expression of Natakurinji that wins the hearts of the young and the old alike. The violin interludes caress the senses. The opening phrase is reason enough to believe that the song would delve deeper into the realms of Natakurinji “S,N,DM / GRGM / G,MPGRS’. Notwithstanding the digression into Sahana in the latter half of the charanam, the composer does stay within Natakurinji.

There is a raga called Kurinji as well. A calming, soothing raga, this scale is sung in Madhyama sruti, i.e. its full form is realised within a single octave. Kurinji pann is prevalent in ancient Tamizh music, and this raga’s roots lie in folk music. The swaras featuring in Kurinji include the Sadja, Chatusruti Tishabha, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, Chatusruti Dhaivata and ‘Tivra’ Kakali Nishada, the order of notes in ascent and descent being SNSRGMPD / DPMGRSN.

Kurinji is auspicious and many wedding songs are set in this raga, including ‘Thanthi Muganukkilaya Kandanukku Lali’ and ‘Gowri Kalyana’. Annamayya’s ‘Muddugare Yashoda’ and ‘Ksheerabdhi Kanyakaku’, and Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Kanne En Kanmaniye’ (a lullaby) are relaxing pieces in Kurinji.

In film music, ‘Sundari Soundari’ is a lilting piece in Kurinji from Thooku Thooki (music G. Ramanathan). In the phrase ‘Sooliyenum Umaye Kumariye’, the swaras ‘PMGRGS’ arrange themselves beautifully and the exaggerated slide from the gandhara to the sadja says it all.

The song ‘Emaatram Thaana’ from Chakravarthy Tirumagal sung in the robust voice of S. Varalakshmi, music by G. Ramanathan, is a sombre piece in Kurinji. The sangati ‘MP / GM / RG / S’ in ‘Emaatram Thaana’ is so typical of Kurinji, and aptly conveys the mood of the song too.

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