A raga that evokes inexplicable emotions in our hearts and often melts it would be Charukesi. Eternally popular, extremely well-loved by rasikas of all ages and tastes, Charukesi (meaning: with beautiful hair!) best expresses longings and yearnings in love, piety, and pleading. It blends the Sringara and Bhakthi rasas seamlessly. The notes taken on by this Sampurna Melakarta raga include Sadja, Chatusruti Rishaba, Antara Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, Suddha Dhaivata, and Kaisiki Nishada. The Gandhara and Nishada are the swaras that define the character of this scale, and the phrase “M, GRS D” is a signature in itself — striking and typical.
In Classical music, this raga has not been used very extensively, I often wonder why. However, the recognition given to this raga by saint Thyagaraja is ample testimony to its appeal. The kriti ‘Adamodi Galade' of Thyagaraja is a lesson in Charukesi in itself, establishing its prayogas and phrases with simplicity and grace for generations to follow. Swati Tirunal's composition ‘Kripaya Palaya' is also often sung in the concert platform.
In film music, this raga occupies a prestigious position, thanks to several meritorious melodies.
The song that probably tops every playlist in Charukesi would be ‘Manmadha Leelaiyai' from the film “Haridas”. This song was one of the earliest appearances of Charukesi on the silver screen, and till today, remains one of the best. In the sonorous voice of M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar and the music and lyrics of Papanasam Sivan (orchestration of G Ramanathan), this song is a delight. In the lines “...En mel unakkeno paraamugam...” there is a plethora of sangatis, each one unfurling from the top Sadja and landing at various vital notes.
In the film “Madurai Veeran” G. Ramanathan's composition ‘Aadal Kaaneero' is an outstanding contribution to Charukesi. The song is sung brilliantly by M.L. Vasantakumari, and has rich orchestration and tight rhythmic patterns backing it up. In the lines ‘...Maduraiyil Raja Soundira...', the glide from the Nishada to the Pancama and then back to Sadja weaving a multitude of patterns all the way is a treat to the ear.
G. Ramanathan once again gives a silken finesse to ‘Vasantha Mullai' from “Sarangadhara” by composing it in chaste Charukesi. The engaging rendition of TMS still rings in our ears. The opening phrase “P S,S NSD, ..” accompanied by little anuswaras sets the tone for Charukesi unambiguously.
In the film “Namma Veettu Deivam” the song ‘Unakkum Enakkum Isainda Poruttam' is composed in Charukesi raga by Kunnakudi Vaidhyanathan. A lyrical handling of this raga, this song uses staccato phrasings to merge with the metrical and rhythmic flow.
M.S. Viswanthan has composed foot-tapping melodies such as ‘Azhagiya Tamizh Magal Ival' from “Rickshawkaaran” and ‘Muthuthaaragai' from “Oru Kai Osai” in this raga. Contrary to the popular belief that Charukesi is suited mainly for slower and sadder tunes, these songs provide us a welcome relief.
The song ‘Maappillai Ragasiyam Sollava' in the film “Arangetram” is a playful one tuned in a fascinating Charukesi by somposer V. Kumar. The starting note in most of the songs mentioned above happens to be the Pancama, and with good reason. The Pancama serves as an anchor to this ever-flowing raga.
Ilaiyaraaja's songs in this raga are many, and those which have created indelible impressions in the minds of music lovers include ‘Aadal Kalaiye' sung by Yesudas from the film “Sri Raghavendra”, ‘Amma Nee Sumanda Pillai' from “Annai Or Aalayam” and ‘Thoodu Selvadaaradi' from “Singaravelan” in the zesty vocals of S. Janaki. In the song ‘Aadal Kalaiye' the opening phrase itself “PDNSRG / RS” clearly encompasses the raga's notes and is sheer genius.
‘Engengey Engengey' sung by Asha Bhonsle in the film “Nerukku Ner” and composed by Deva is a stunning piece of work, as is ‘Thaiyya Tha' from Bharadwaj's “Thiruttu Payale”. Both these pieces are composed in a very contemporary style, yet the notes are completely that of Charukesi.
A.R. Rahman's ‘Udhaya Udhaya' sung with splendid free-wheeling sangatis by Hariharan and Sadhna Sargam is a hot favourite among the youth of today. In ‘Edho Edho Ondru' from “Enakku 20 Unakku 18”, ARR has mesmerised with the smooth start at the Gandhara almost slipping into the Rishabha and finally flowing into the depths of the lower octave Pancama.
In Hindi film music, the song ‘Ahista Ahista' from the movie “Swades” (A.R. Rahman) sung by Udit Narayan and Sadhna is a good example of Charukesi raga.
(Correction: In “The Passionate Appeal of Simhendramadhyamam”, the composer for the film “Ambigapathy” starring MKT (1937) was not G. Ramanathan, it was Papanasam Sivan. It was for the Sivaji-starrer “Ambigapathy” that for which G. Ramanathan composed the music. The error is regretted).