A raga that evokes grief and sorrow in the hearts of listeners is Subhapantuvarali. One often hears this raga played on the shehnai for sad scenes in Tamil films. In reality, this raga is supposed to be auspicious. In weddings up-North, this raga is often played on the shehnai to usher in the festive spirit. The notes taken by this sampoorna raga are Shadja, Suddha Rishabha, Sadharana Gandhara, Prati Madhyama, Pancama, Suddha Dhaivata, and Kakali Nishada. The Tivra Madhyam in conjunction with the Sadharana Gandhara brings forth the feel of pathos in this scale.

The classical compositions in this raga are few but striking. Thyagaraja's ‘Ennalu Urake’ is a beautiful piece. The most popular kriti in this raga is of course ‘Sri Satyanarayanam’ of Dikshitar. This raga was known as ‘Shivapantuvarali’ in ancient times, and in ‘Pasupatiswaram’, composed by Dikshitar, about the deity at Kathmandu, he writes ‘Shivapantuvarali raaga priyam ati caturam’.

In film music, this raga has been used innovatively by composers. One of the finest representations of Subhapantuvarali in Tamil cinema is ‘Intha Nadagam’ in the silken voice of P. Susheela in “Paalum Pazhamum”, in the music direction of the Viswanathan-Ramamurthy duo. The heart-rending phrase ‘Kalyanam aanavalai kannipol akkivittaai’ acquires special appeal with the notes ‘MDNS SGRS SRSG’ — a dramatic start at the madhyama, finishing off the lament with flourish at the upper gandhara. Often, in film music, this raga may not have been used in its purest form. There may be deviations in certain notes in order to fulfil emotional and lyrical constraints.

‘Kaala Magal’ from “Ananda Jyothi” is a simple and catchy song sung by P. Susheela in this raga and MSV-Ramamurthy tap into the audience pulse with a medium tempo. ‘Unnai Naan Sandhithen’ from “Ayirathil Oruvan” is largely based on this scale, though a few foreign notes appear. An evergreen melody with a middle-Eastern flavour to it, thanks to the background music, this song is once again composed by the MSV-Ramamurthy duo and sung by P Susheela.

Ilaiyaraaja’s handling of this raga is deft and refreshing, covering a spectrum of emotions from sorrow to bubbly fun. ‘Azhaikkindran Madhavan’ from the film “Sri Raghavendrar” is a pristine depiction of this raga by the maestro. Sung by K.J. Yesudas, this piece depicts the final journey of Sri Raghavendra, a revered saint. The composer couldn’t have selected a better raga for this situation. The lines ‘Thaedinen deva devaa, thamarai paadame’ establish the raga beyond doubt, the key phrase being ‘S,RG, G,RSS / SRGR SSN’.

‘Vaigaraiyil...’ from “Payanangal Mudivadillai” is typical Subhapantuvarali, the melody beginning strikingly at the dhaivata and with a flourish of sangatis landing at the sadja after plunging soulfully into the dhaivata. SP Balasubrahmanyam sings it with a certain heaviness in his voice to suit the actor’s heavy heart. ‘Theertha Karai Orathile’ from “Theerthakaraiyinile”, sung by SPB once again, showcases Ilaiyaraaja at his best in this raga. In each one of these songs, the lyrics add great power to the melody. When a colossal raga meets powerful lyrics, the result is musical magic.

‘Vaa Veliye’ sung Mano and Chitra from the film “Paadu Nilave” begins with a flowery alapana and is structured like a classical piece, though the back-ups are Western. An attempt at fusion music, once again a novelty. Would anyone conceive a happy, bubbly melody in such a raga? Ilaiyaraaja has, and made it a super-hit. ‘Kandupidichen’ from “Guru Sishyan” is a fun song, a tad folksy too. The versatility of Ilaiyaraaja is reflected in this exceptional piece.

In Hindustani music, this scale resembles the Todi Thaat and is considered an important raga. ‘Har Nayi Kiran’ from the film “Sant Gyaneshwar” sung by Manna Dey (music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal) is a good example of the usage of this raga in Hindi film music.