Some ragas are like twins, we cannot speak of one of them without mentioning the other. They are alike, yet have their own distinctive streaks. Dharmavati and Madhuvanti are two such enchanting ragas, divinely sensuous and intrinsically meditative. These ragas are known to convey ‘Sringara rasa’ at its best. Dharmavati is a Melakarta raga (it is complete with all seven notes in ascent and descent) and cousin Madhuvanti has its roots in North India. In Madhuvanti, Rishabha goes missing in the ascent, also, the notes follow a jagged pattern ‘SG, MPND, S’, for example. The notes occurring in these ragas include Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Sadharana Gandhara, Prati Madhyama, Pancama, Chatusruti Dhaivata and Kakali Nishada. In Dikshitar’s system of nomenclature, Dharmavati is called ‘Dhaamavati’.
The popular Classical pieces in Dharmavati are ‘Parandhaamavati’ of Dikshitar, ‘Bhajana Seya Rada’ of Mysore Vasudevachar, and ‘Ododi Vanden Kanna’ of Ambujam Krishna. Madhuvanti is usually used in bhajans and lighter pieces, ‘Kanda Naal Mudalai’ of N.S. Chidambaram being the most popular. The Madhuvanti raga tillana of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman is a delightful piece.
Infilm music, it is easier for us to classify the songs as those based on this duo of ragas, since most film pieces incorporate phrases from Dharmavati as well as Madhuvanti except for a few that are distinctive.
‘Hello My Dear Wrong Number’ from Manmadha Leelai was one of the earliest appearances of this raga in films. Composed by M.S. Viswanathan, this piece is naughty and melodious! Sung by Yesudas and L.R. Eswari, the words ‘Karpanai Orayiram…’ is the key to the raga — ‘S,GM,PD,NS’ — a pointer towards Madhuvanti.
‘Nandhaa En Nila’ from the movie of the same name is a brilliant composition in Madhuvanti by V. Dakshinamurthy. Sung by S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, the opening phrase itself clearly establishes the raga — ‘SS G, MP’. This song is created in ghazal style and is classically very rich.
‘Meendum Meendum’ from Vikram is an erotic song tuned cleverly by Ilaiyaraaja. The octave change at the outset of the song, starting with the lower octave Sadja and shifting immediately to the upper octave Sadja is striking. Sung by S. Janaki and SPB, this one was a super-hit.
‘En Ullil Engo’ from Rosappoo Ravikkai Kaari is a lilting piece, the highlight being the words ‘Aanaal Adhuvum Anandam…’ — ‘NSDN / MPGM / RGSRM’ — Ilaiyaraaja’s exploration of the harmonics is an aural treat.
‘Ilamcholai’ from Unakkagave Vazhgiren is a different take on the raga, the composer purposefully avoiding the Rishabha and Dhaivata.
‘Vaanaville’ from Ramana is yet another lovely melody from Ilaiyaraaja in Madhuvanti. The sangati in ‘Nee Paadu Aararo’ — ‘N,DP D,PM’ is sung with flourish by singers Sadhna Sargam and Hariharan.
One of the finest film numbers in Dharmavati is ‘Tha Thi Thom’ from Azhagan in the music of Maragathamani. The use of the keyboard with gamakas in the swara dialogues between voice and instrument is refreshing. Singer Chitra gives a stunning rendition and her crowning finale in the swaras ‘RMDR RMD’ jumping octaves is awe-inspiring.
‘Ottagatha Kattikko’ from Gentleman is the reference point for many young musically inclined souls as far as raga Madhuvanti goes. A.R. Rahman's rich orchestration, catchy beat loop and attractive phrasing all contribute immensely to the success of this song.
Yuvan Shankar Raja has given us an interesting Madhuvanti in ‘Kanaa Kaanum Kaalangal’ from 7G Rainbow Colony. The sangati in ‘Meduvai In Mazhai Varum Osai-aaa’ — ‘MPDNSG, RSNDPMGRS’ — clearly outlines the raga. The Sarangi usage (Ustad Sultan Khan) gives the desi touch as does the alaap in the finale. Recently this composer attempted ‘Vaada Bin Lada’ (Mankgatha) is this raga.
‘Rasm-e-ulfat’ is an evergreen melody in Madhuvanti raga from the film Dil Ki Rahen in the mesmerising voice of Lata Mangeshkar, a composition of Madan Mohan.