On listening to Sahana, the emotions that one experiences include compassion, pleading, fervent appeal, helpless surrender, and piety. A breathtakingly beautiful raga, Sahana gives peace to the inner self and soothes the artiste as well as the audience. This is a vakra raga and has notes in zig-zag patterns in the arohana and avarohana. The prayogas are given more importance than the mere scale itself, since ragas like Sahana live through their jiva prayogas (characteristic phrases).
The notes in this raga apart from Sadja and Pancama are Chatusruti Rishabha, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Chatusruti Dhaivata and Kaisiki Nishada. The oscillations in the Rishabha, the long pauses in the Gandhara and the majestic glides from the Sadja to Pancama and then the Rishabha, all these are the stamps of Sahana. It is one of the most easily identified ragas, even by a lay listener of music; such is it's power to permeate the hearts of people.
In classical music Sahana has been used widely by Thyagaraja and Dikshitar. The well-known “Sri Kamalambikayam” is a splendid navavarana by Dikshitar. Thyagaraja's “Vandanamu” has a simple charm as does his Kovur Pancaratna “E Vasudha”, while “Giripai” has a majestic grace. “Rama Ika Nannu” of Patnam Subramanya Iyer and “Chittam irangaada” of Papanasam Sivan are melting pieces.
In Tamil film music Sahana raga first made its appearance in the film “Kannagi” with P. U. Chinnappa soulfully singing “Pathiniye Unpol Itharaimeethinil”. The song, set to music by S. V. Venkataraman, is conservative in framework and its appeal lies in the plethora of sangatis that bear the signature of Sahana.
In “Sivakavi”, MK Thyagaraja Bhagavatar majestically sang “Thamiyen Painthamizh” in praise of Tamil language. Lovely lyrics by Papanasam Sivan made this piece popular in those days, as MKT himself was actively involved in propagating Thamizh Isai.
In “Meera”, M. S. Subbulakshmi sang the viruttam “Udal uruga” as a ragamalika in which Sahana features in the lines “kanavinile enai manarndha kanna”. In this piece, she wrenches the heart with emotion as she touches the top Pancama and seamlessly lands in the Rishabha with flourish in the phrase “uyir un pirivaal”.
In the film “Thirumanam”, S. M. Subbiah Naidu came up with a delightful piece “Ennamellam or” sung brightly by T. M. Soundararajan. This song too begins calmly in the lower octave and due importance is given to the gamaka in the rishabha.
One of the best songs in Sahana is “Parthen Sirithen” from the film “Veera Abhimanyu”. Composed by K. V. Mahadevan, written by Kannadasan, and sung by P. B. Srinivas and P. Susheela, this song is a connoisseur's delight. The Gamaka from Rishabha to Nishada is negotiated brilliantly in the phrases “unai then ena naan” (pallavi), and “ini then illatha padi kathai mudithen”(2nd charanam).
In the film “Bommai”, the song “Engo Pirandavaram” begins in a lovely Sahana. Veena Vidvan S. Balachander's classical knowledge comes to the fore in this piece and makes this song a classic till today.
The film “Avvai Shanmugi” featured the famous “Rukku Rukku” composed by Deva in Sahana. The fun element in this song comes through quite effectively with the serious sangati-s and frills, combined with deft picturisation.
In the film “Parthele Paravasam”, A. R. Rahman has come up with “Azhage Sugama” loosely based in Sahana. The solo violin piece that appears as an interlude is a striking Sahana depiction in this piece. The TV Serial of K. Balachander “Rayil Sneham” featured “Indha Veenaikku theriyadha”, a placid song composed by Ilayaraja in this raga. In Hindustani music too, “Shahana” is a well-loved raag, derived from the Kafi thaat.