A sampoorna melakarta raga is suitable for singing in the morning hours (6 am to 9 am preferably), Chakravaham conveys the emotions of pity and dejection, a hint of sadness and drenches one in bhakthi bhava. This raga is popular all over India, in the North as Ahir Bhairav and in Dikshitar’s compositions as Vegavahini. The notes that occur in this scale are Sadja, Suddha Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, Chatursruti Dhaivata and Kaisiki Nishada. The glide from the Madhyama to the Rishabha is often dramatic and contributes to the appeal of this raga. The famed Maha Vaidhyanatha Iyer is said to have got the title “Maha” by singing this raga prodigiously at the age of 12.
In classical music Thyagaraja’s “Etula brothuvo” is a passionate outpouring from the saint to Lord Rama in a regal, sangati-laden Chakravaham. Dikshitar, on the one hand, composed “Vinayaka Vigna Nashaka” and “Gajananayutham” showcasing this raga in a medium pace, while on the other hand he created the stunning, slow-paced composition “Veena Pustaka Dharini Vegavahini”. I recall Brinda-Mukta’s moving rendition of this piece. This raga is suited to bhajans and devotional pieces. Lalgudi Jayaraman’s “Sri Jagadeeswari” in Ahir Bhairav is noteworthy.
In film music this raga has been touched upon in noteworthy compositions, but its incidence has certainly not been frequent.
The most appealing piece in this raga according to me and many other music lovers is “Ullathil Nalla Ullam” from “Karnan”. Composed brilliantly by M. S. Viswanathan and Ramamurthy, this piece is evergreen in its musical and lyrical appeal. Seerkazhi Govindarajan’s singing melts our hearts, and in the phrase “Karna...varuvadai edikollada” the sangati in “Karna” is eagerly anticipated in stage concerts till today. In the line “Senchotru kadan theerka...”the phrase “S, S, R G,,MM” clearly establishes the identity of the raga as well as the pitiable state of Karna as he collapses finally in the battlefield.
Ilayaraja has composed the famed “Nee paadi naan paadi” from “Keladi Kanmani” in Chakravaham. The opening phrase begins in the Madhyama and establishes the raga without a doubt. The veena interludes and the voices of Uma Ramanan and Yesudas lend sheen to the piece.
Yet another noteworthy piece that is largely based on this raga is “Vidukathaiyaa...” from the film “Muthu” sung by Hariharan and composed by A R Rahman. In the lines “Pasuvai paambendru ....” one can see the importance given to the Madhyama, and the subsequent ascent to the Sadja interspersed with minute sangatis makes interesting listening.
In the film “Meri Surat Teri Aankhen” the song “Puccho na kaise maine rain bitai”, in the music of S. D. Burman and sung by Manna Dey, is an exemplary piece in Ahir Bhairav. The opening phrase “S D,,PM,,GR,,” is a different approach to the raag and the glide from Sadja to Dhaivata leaves one riveted onto the phrase hours after listening to the song.
“Albela Saajan Ayo Ri” from “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” is one of my personal favourites in this raag. Sung by Ustad Sultan Khan, Shankar Mahadevan and Kavita Subramaniam, this Ismail Darbar creation is classical yet contemporary. The opening phrase “MGPM R,,S” points directly to Ahir Bhairav and the high point in the song is the concluding crescendo when the voices meet the instruments and weave a magical spell in Ahir Bhairav.
ERRATA In Jonpuri, “Gnanakann ondru”, sung by MKT, is from the film “Chintamani” and not from “Ashok Kumar” as stated. In Kharaharapriya, the music director of “Shakuntalai” is Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma and not S. V. Venkataraman. The errors are regretted.