Some ragas are very unique, and the pieces composed in them are very few. Yet, due to their beauty and striking features, these ragas have a special place in the hearts of music lovers. Such ragas are intriguing, and two special and well-loved ragas are Nalinakanti and Karnaranjani.
Nalinakanti is a pleasant raga and ushers in happiness. It is derived from the major scale and its ascending and descending patterns are zig-zag and interesting. The notes in this raga are Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama and Kakali Nishada, the order being SGRMPNS (aarohana) and SNPMGRS (avarohanadescent). It is most suitable for singing in the first half of kutcheris to keep up the tempo and make the audience sit up and take notice. The delightful feature in Nalinakanti is the fact that singing creative swara-korvais becomes very challenging and interesting.
The most prominent classical piece in Nalinakanti is ‘Manavyala Kincharathate’ of Thyagaraja. This piece is extremely popular on the concert platform and not many artistes have left this jewel untouched. Yet another complex piece in this raga would be ‘Nee Padamegati Nalinakanti’ of G.N. Balasubramaniam. This piece has a crowning chitta-swara attachment that makes it even more charming.
In film music, an exemplary piece in Nalinakanti would be from the film Kalaignan in the music of Ilaiyaraaja. The song ‘Endan Nenjil Neengadha’ faithfully adheres to the classical grammar of the raga. This has to be lauded since such ragas have very strict boundaries, which, when crossed would take the composer to a different land, and it is Ilaiyaraaja’s assiduous effort that has made him create a faultless Nalinakanti-based film piece.
The opening phrase of the song ‘SGRM GSN / SGRMG’ itself tastefully establishes the raga. In the charanam lines ‘Unakkena Pirandaval Naana...’, the usage ‘PNSG RMGR...’ brings forth the very essence of the raga. The alaap in the interlude of the song is the favourite of many listeners. Sung by Yesudas and S. Janaki, the orchestration in this piece involving rich strings is noteworthy.
There have been a few more recent efforts in scales that sound very close to Nalinakanti and these songs include ‘Manam Virumbudhe Unnai’ (Nerukku Ner, music by Deva), ‘Sonnalum Ketpadillai’ and ‘Kandukondein Kandukondein’ (A.R. Rahman).
Karnaranjani is a rare flower in the garden of ragas. It is tough to master, tougher to deliver, but surprisingly easy for a clever music lover to identify, taking into account its very distinctive features. The notes in this raga are Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Sadharana Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, Chatusruti Dhaivata and Kaisiki Nishada, the order being SRGM / GPDS (aarohana) and SNDPMGRS (avarohana). While singing, the progression of swaras is zig-zag and mind-boggling combinations are possible, the aarohana-avarohana patterns being merely guidelines. A good artiste can dazzle audiences with this raga, and a poor one could bury oneself in deep trouble.
In Classical music, there are only a few pieces in this raga, ‘Vaancha Tonuna’ of Muthiah Bhagavathar being the most popular. This kriti is a masterpiece and has a well-crafted chitta-swara in complex rhythmic patterns. ‘Om Namo Narayana’ of Ambujam Krishna is sung in Karnaranjani as well.
In film music, a definitive approach to Karnaranjani is seen in ‘Pon Magal Vandhaal’ from Sorgam, with music by M.S. Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, especially in charanam. ‘Muthukkal Sirikkum Nilathil....’ begins like the canter of a horse and culminates with ‘PD SNDPMGRMG’ — a phrase exclusive to this raga. It is sheer genius of the composers to engineer the meeting of musical technicality and cinematic emotions in this song rendered by T.M. Soundararajan.
Yet another stunner in this raga is ‘Megame Megame’ from Palavana Cholai sung by Vani Jayaram in ghazal style (music Shankar-Ganesh). A heart-warming melody, the line ‘Enakkoru Malar Maalai...’ is the high point of the song, and the sangati that is woven into it — ‘SNDPDSRMGRS’ — is indescribably grand and bears the stamp of the rare Karnaranjani.