Musician Sukanya Vijay Kumar is never afraid to experiment

It was vocalist and vainika Sukanya Vijaya Kumar’s insightful study and research on the 72 melakarta ragas of the Carnatic genre that subsequently made her use them in Haridasa compositions, Shivasharanara vachanas, Hindi bhajans and Bhavageethe.

“This way I thought the ragas get a familiar tag with non-classical genres getting closer to the scales. It’s been my passion to understand these traditionally devised scales. My workshops through the year are aimed at music enthusiasts who can look forward to get conversant in the 72 melakarta raga system, meticulously and scientifically devised by Venkatamakhi, the court musician of Tanjore King Vijaya Raghava,” says Sukanya.

Pioneering genius

Venkatamakhi evolved a scheme of 72 mela ragas (mother ragas with seven notes in the ascending and descending scales) in the 16th Century which proved easier to understand. While the ‘Trinity saints’ dealt with nearly 20 of these ‘fundamental’ ragas in their work, it was M. Balamurali Krishna who, in his teens, released a recording of his Janakaraga Kriti Manjari with 72 kritis for the 72 ragas. Sukanya laments that most musicians even today compose, perform and teach just about 20 melakartha ragas. “My research has helped me bring out a CD, Gitanjali, rendered in non-classical format, with 20 songs by Rabindranath Tagore, Kabir and Surdas bhajans, Devaranamas, Kannada songs by B.M. Shri and Western compositions in mela ragas to explain the variety in our scales.”

East meets west

She has taken up several Kannada translations of B.M. Shri’s most famous work, English Geethegalu. John Henry Newman’s hymn, Lead, Kindly Light, is Karunaalu Baa Belake, which the vocalist takes up in the 58th mela Hemavathi raga. Sir Walter Scott’s Pride of Youth is the well-known Binkada Singaari, which flows across in raga Kanakaangi. Shakespeare’s Under the Greenwood Tree is nature’s beauty described in the 24th mela Varunapriya.

Sukanya went on to study the different pitches of each swara in the ascending and descending order of this melakarta raga system, classified them into flat, natural and sharp notes and has made it easy for Western classical enthusiasts to understand the notations that she has worked upon.

“If Western musicians follow this, they can understand the scales of Venkatamakhi and experiment.”

Yet another feat is her recent CD, Gamana Geethotsava, where the National Award-winning poet Gangadhara Nandi (known as Gamana) offered her a set of his poems and requested her to put them in melodic form. “The 21 tracks are set to devotional, light music and patriotic styles with rare ragas as Sarasaangi, Chitrambari, Mara-Ranjani, Natakapriya, Rasikapriya and so on.”

Masters in music

Sukanya, a student of Jayamma Parthasarathy (of the Muthiah Bhagavatar school gurukula lineage), went on to learn the veena and the guitar before graduating with a masters in music. Her ancestors were astrologers to Mysore royalty during the Krishna Raja Wadiyar’s rule who had earned the ‘Jehangir’ title. She is also the author of South Indian Classical Studies with Western Notations.

Call Kavyashri Music School (52, I Cross, Lakkasandra) at 9611525942 for more details.