Arabhi is an ancient raga. It is an audava sampoorna raga, a janya of Shankarabharanam. An auspicious raga, Arabhi conveys veera and bhakti rasas. It infuses one with enthusiasm and positive energy. It is a sarvakalika raga and is best suited for faster pieces, preferably at the beginning of concerts. The notes that Arabhi features are Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, Chatusruti Dhaivata, Kakali Nishada (descent only), and Antara Gandhara (descent only), the Aarohana-Avarohana being SRMPDS / SNDPMGRS. Devagandhari is an allied raga, differing in the way in which these same notes are handled. In Devagandhari, the Gandhara is elongated and the raga in itself is sung with richer curves and in slow tempo. Also, in Devagandhari, the Kaisiki Nishada features as a bhashanga swara (foreign note) in phrases such as ‘DN,DP’.
Kritis in Arabhi include the famed Pancharatna ‘Sadinchene’ of Tyagaraja. Other Tyagaraja kritis include ‘Nada Sudha Rasa’, ‘O Rajeevaksha’, ‘Jutamurare’, and ‘Salakalla’. Dikshitar has composed ‘Sri Saraswati’ and ‘Ganarajena’ in Arabhi, and has placed the raga mudra cleverly in the ragamalika piece ‘Sri Viswanatham’. Other well-known kritis in Arabhi are ‘Narasimha Mamava’ of Swati Tirunal and ‘Maragathamanimaya’ of Oothukadu Venkatakavi.
Devagandhari is known for Tyagaraja’s kritis such as ‘Ksheera Sagara’, ‘Sitavara Sangita’, and ‘Koluvaiyunnade’, and Dikshitar’s rare gem ‘Kshithija Ramanam’.
In film music, the song ‘Erikaraiyin Mele’ from the film Mudhalali is a sterling piece in raga Arabhi in the ringing voice of TMS and music by K.V. Mahadevan. The opening phrase itself establishes the raga to the fullest measure — ‘D,SS,R,R/SRMGRSR’. One may recall a discussion regarding this piece in the film Sindhubhairavi.
In the film Metti (music by Ilaiyaraaja), there is a challenging song ‘Sandhakavigal’, largely based in Arabhi. The ‘RMGRSR’ prayoga in the charanam line ‘Malarmaalai Soodum’ brings forth the joy of the raga. However the Nishada being eschewed in the closing lines of the charanam makes the melody digress a wee bit.
‘Mannavane Mannavane’ from Thanthu Vitten Ennai in Ilaiyaraaja’s music, sung by SPB and S. Janaki, is a good example of raga Arabhi in film music. In the phrase ‘Manasukketha Chinnavane’ the notes ‘M,PD,P MGRSR’ are neatly outlined and establish the beauty of Arabhi.
‘Madurai Vazhum Meenakshiye’ is a full-fledged composition by Ilaiyaraaja in Arabhi. The nyasa at the rishabha in ‘Meenakshiye’, the lovely descent ‘S,NDPM,GRSR’ in ‘Kayilai Vasane’, the alapana at the opening, the swaras that crown the end of the charanams, the nadaswara-thavil accompaniment, all add a lovely flavour to this piece.
‘Asai Kiliye’ from Thambikku Entha Ooru is a fun song based in Arabhi sung by Malaysia Vasudevan, once again in Ilaiyaraaja’s music. In ‘Arai Kilo Puliye’, the notes ‘MPDP MGRSR’ are neatly etched. The Nishada is omitted in the descent in some phrases.
‘Vidiya Vidiya Pesi Konde’ from Samudram (music by Sabesh-Murali) is a breezy and happy song in Arabhi. The raga is well-established in the phrase ‘Pesikonde Irukkirom’ — ‘MPDPM,GRSR’ and the ascent ‘SNDRD’ in ‘Teriyaamale…’. The jazzy chords that play in the background include the Kaisiki Nishada.
Sama is a raga that is close to Arabhi, the difference being the absence of the Nishada in the descent too, and the manner in which the Gandhara note is dwelt upon. The Gandhara in Arabhi is not given importance, while in Sama, the Gandhara is a vital note. Well-known kritis in Sama include ‘Santamuleka’ of Tyagaraja, ‘Annapoorne Visalakshi’ of Dikshitar, and ‘Manasa Sancharare’ of Sadashiva Brahmendra. ‘Manasa Sancharare’ has been rendered beautifully by Vani Jayaram in the film ‘Sankarabharanam’ too.