The quintessential feature of classical music is the underlying “bhakthi” bhava that propells the raga bhava and intertwines with the sahitya. When a raga magically evokes the bhakthi rasa, some feel elation, some cry, some feel their hair standing on end, while other less-fortunate ones feel nothing. Musical emotions are like an FM station, we have to tune into that “bhakthi” frequency to receive those transmissions. The raga that has that special power to evoke divinity is Shanmukhapriya.
A raga that Lord “Shanmukha” loves, or rather, a raga that loves Lord Shanmukha perhaps? Dikshitar, as usual, had his name for this raga - “Chamaram.” It is a scale that is complete in itself, the notes that are present being Shadja, Chatusruti Rishaba, Sadharana Gandara, Prati Madhyama, Pancama, Shuddha Dhaivata, and Kaisiki Nishada. The Prati Madhyama is its defining note, and the harmonies that are possible in this scale are mind-blowing.
While “Siddhi Vinayakam” of Dikshitar describes Ganesh Chaturti in detail in this raga, his “Sadasraye Abhayambike” is in praise of Goddess Abhayamba of Mayavaram. “Vadanevaru” is a rare composition of Thyagaraja in this raga and interestingly Shyama Sastri completely ingored it. The raga's beauty is fully revealed in the Tamizh compostions of Papanasam Sivan like “Saravanabhava ennum”, “Andavane”, and “Kannanai Pani Maname.” The heart-melting lyrics compliment the raga's pleading quality, resulting in a passionate outpouring of sheer musical beauty.
In film music, this raga has always been a hot favourite, a “cinematic” one in the true sense. K B Sundarambal was a phenomenon those days - a powerful voice that could traverse three full octaves complemented by a stunning stage prescence made her one of the highest-paid drama singers of that period. Even in those days it is said that she charged heavily per show of the drama. And the organisers made huge profits even after that. Her foray into films was a historical one studded with super hits. The one that tops that list is “Pazham nee appa” from “Thiruvilaiyadal.” A masterpiece composed by K V Mahadevan, it was rendered soulfully by KBS. When she croons “Neerunda megangal ninradum kayilaiyil,” Shanmukhapriya's signature is firmly etched in our mind.
T R Paapa is one of the lesser-known composers in cinema but his tune for the Thiruppugazh “Muthaitharu” is still everyone's favourite. T R Ramanna the director of “Arunagirinathar” was in the midst of making the film when the music director G Ramanathan fell ill. He then signed up his good friend and violinist T R Paapa who completed the score. TM Soundararajan's flawless rendition and the matchless tala meter and lyrics of Arunagirinathar have given this piece an evergreen quality.
“Nenjil kudiyirukkum” from “Irumbu Thirai” is another lilting melody in this raga composed by S V Venkataraman, sung by P Leela and TMS. In the lines “nilamai ennavendru theriyuma,” the memorable “rava jathi uruttal” sangati bears the unmistakable Shanmukhapriya stamp. P Leela was a classically trained singer and it is noteworthy that she not only sang in the south Indian languages but also in Bengali and Sinhalese. In an interview of hers she has recalled that while recording the songs of “Maya Bazaar” the composer took 28 takes of a song and retained the fifth! “Ninaindu ninaindu nenjam” from “Sadaram.” composed by G Ramanathan and sung by TMS is yet another Shanmukhapriya treat.
The song you've all been waiting for, “Maraindinrundhu” from “Thillana Mohanambal,” is also my personal favourite in this raga. K V Mahadevan's awesome creation, this song gave P Suseela's already successful career a great boost. The nadaswaram and thavil back-ups for this song and the jathi-s give it its typical classical flavour. “Thooyane mayavaa mayane velava ennai aalum Shanmuga vaa” - these lines represent the ideal confluence of raga bhava and lyric, a perfect foil to each other.
Ilaiyaraja's creations in Shanmukhapriya “Tham thana” from “Pudhiya Varpugal” and “Takita Tadimi” from "Salangai Oli" explore the raga from a unique perspective, classic yet contemporary. The jumping notes in “malar maalai varum subha velai varum” from “Tham Thana” song leave us gobsmacked. I must admit that I was floored on hearing his “Kadhal kasakkudayya” from “Aan Paavam” and “Ooru vittu ooru vandu” from “Karagattakaran” in this raga. Sprightly songs, with so many sangatis, in pure Shanmukhapriya too!
“Kannukkul nooru nilava” is an arresting number from“Vedham Puthithu.” It is a common misconception that the music director of this film is Ilaiyaraja. The music for this movie was in fact scored by Devendran. The string section in this song stands out and the twist imparted in the charanam's final line “saathiram thaandi thappi chelvadhedu” is sheer genius - “s, n p / n, d g/m,p/ r,g/ s,n”- just hum it and see.
In recent times, we find “Mudhar Kanave” from “Majnu” having some resemblance to this scale. A scale in itself is merely skeletal, it is when each note is cradled fondly with the appropriate oscillation that a raga is born. The songs we've talked about here are sterling examples of how music composers have assimilated the scale and crafted them into melodic masterpieces in the raga.