A raga that is soothing, like a lullaby that cradles one’s senses, is Neelambari. This is a raga that is associated with relaxation, peace, and slumber. A janya of Shankarabharanam, Neelambari has gamakas that flow seamlessly from one note to another, blending subtle notes, like a shading on a canvas, and finally it all merges into one phrase that make so much sense.
This raga brings forth piety, devotion, and maternal instincts in one’s heart. In the ancient Tamizh pann system, ‘Megaraga Kurinji’ is the equivalent of Neelambari. It is interesting to note that the Hindustani raga Neelambari has no semblance to the Carnatic Neelambari. The arohana – avarohana of this raga is SRGMPDNS / SNPMGRGS, this being theoretical, of course. In practice, this raga is defined by its characteristic phrases such as ‘SNDNSNP...’, and by the various ways the oscillation is imparted to the madhyama note. The notes in this raga apart from sadja and pancama are chatusruti rishabha, antara gandhara, suddha madhyama, chatusruti dhaivata, and kakali nishada. The kaisiki nishada occurs as a bhashanga swara (foreign note) and may be noticed in phrases such as ‘PDNDDPMG’.
Several lovely kritis are available in this raga. Tyagaraja’s ‘Ennaga Manasu’, ‘Uyyala Lugavayya’, and ‘Laliyugave’ are absolutely divine and calming. Tyagaraja, in these pieces, cradles Lord Rama in his mind’s eye — sitting him down on a swing, adorning him with fragrant petals, and so on. Dikshitar’s ‘Amba Neelayadakshi’ is a masterpiece on the Mother Goddess. ‘Brovavamma’ of Shyama Sastri is noteworthy, while ‘Thugidhale’ of Purandaradasa is also sung in Neelambari. Ponniah Pillai’s ‘Amba Neelambari’ is regal, while Narayana Theertha’s ‘Madhava Mamava’ is simplistic in appeal. Oothukadu Venkatakavi’s ‘Maninupura Dhari’ describes Lord Rajagopala’s dance with his anklets clinking like celestial bells — ‘kana kankana kinkini kana’.
Noted Malayalam composer Irayamman Thampi has composed a lovely lullaby in this raga — ‘Omana Thingal Kidavo’, a simple heartwarming tune. The Divyaprabandham ‘Manupugazh Kosalai’ is also sung in Neelambari.
In film music, ‘Vaasi Vaasi Endru’ from Thiruvilaiyadal is a pure and pristine depiction of the raga in the ringing voice of K.B. Sundarambal, in the music direction of K.V. Mahadevan. An engaging dialogue between Avvaiyar and Lord Shiva is followed by Lord Siva’s command ‘Sottramizhaal emmai paaduga’ (sing my praise in Tamil). KBS starts off at this point at the upper sadja, bright and bold. In the phrase ‘Siva Siva Ena... Avaavinaal’, the raga’s important phrases flow torrentially; the exaggerated glide from sadja to pancama, the intricate sangatis in the ‘NSR’ region, all find a place in quick succession.
In the song ‘Sangeetha Sowbhagyame’, C.S. Jayaraman sings a ragamalika of lovely ragas strung together with catchy swaras incorporating the raga names too. Neelambari finds place in this piece and the swara culminates with ‘RGMG / RPMG — Neelambari’ with a gamaka at the rishaba. Within 20 seconds, he establishes the raga in all its glory, a mark of impeccable musical acumen.
In the film Naan Sigappu Manithan, Ilaiyaraaja composed the piece ‘Venmegam Vinnil’ with a touch of Neelambari. This piece in 7/8 beat is very interesting, and the raga comes off in the phrase ‘Vaazhve Unnal Thaane’, the notes being typical of Neelambari — ‘MGRGMGS’.
The song ‘Harshabashpam Thooki’ from the Malayalam film Muthassi in the music of V. Dakshinamurthy, sung by Jayachandran, is an outstanding piece in this raga.
In the film Kilukkam, S.P. Venkatesh composed the simple lullaby ‘Kilukil Pambaram’ in Neelambari, sung soothingly by M.G. Sreekumar.
In En Swasa Kaatre, A.R. Rahman starts the song ‘Thirakkada Kattukulle’ with a Neelambari feel, particularly the phrase ‘SNDNS,NP’. But soon after, the chords change, and the raga disappears.
In the film Asai, Deva composed a song that may be said to start off with a Neelambari feel — the pleasing ‘Pulveli Pulveli’.