‘Avoid ambiguity in raga singing’

S. Sivakumar
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Glimpses R.S. Jayalakshmi and Sumithra Vasudev discussed Sankarabharanam, Kalyani, Pantuvarali and Purvikalyani. S. Sivakumar

scholarly approach:Sumithra Vasudev (left) and R.S. Jayalakshmi.
scholarly approach:Sumithra Vasudev (left) and R.S. Jayalakshmi.

“Raga Parichaya,” organised by Nadasangamam (Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai) dwelt at length on the subtle yet notable differences between ragas such as Sankarabharanam and Kalyani, the experts involved being Dr. R.S. Jayalakshmi and Sumithra Vasudev.

Sankarabharanam's Mela is 29 and Kalyani (Mecha Kalyani), construed as its prathi madhyama counterpart, stands at 65. They are thus wide apart though apparently similar.

The learned vidhushis citing evidence from ancient texts said that Sankarabharanam was known as Dheera Sankarabharanam in the beginning and was treated as a Sampoorna raga.

Graha swaras (or jeeva swaram or amsa swaram) were underlined as tara Shadjam and Gaantharam. ‘Ni’ and ‘Da’ are sparingly used. “They can be used as passing notes but not pausing notes.”

The Madhyama swara gamakas are special in Sankarabharanam but one has to be aware of the limits of a gamaka and use them judiciously with a self-acquired sense of proportion.

The raga-swaroopam cannot be compromised. In fact ‘Sa Pa Sa’ sung in proper sequence and with adequate gaps could showcase the raga right away. The swara ‘ga’ is never oscillated in Sankarabharanam.

Structure of Kalyani

Taking up Kalyani, they said its original version was similar to the present day's Mohana Kalyani. Later editions viewed it as a Sampoorna raga.

Unlike Sankarabharanam, one could take the liberty of “swaying” all swaras in this raga. The ‘Sa’ ‘Pa’ varjya prayogas would still leave the raga intact. That is, however, anathema to Sankarabharanam.

Kalyani has a universal scale, but still reigns as a Carnatic raga. It is not the notes per se, but the handling of the notes, the resting points and the starting points - that give the raga its shape.

Kalyani’s ‘Ma’ was mentioned in the music lexicons as Varali ‘Ma.’ Janta prayogas fit smoothly in the very structure of Kalyani. They are beauteous ( sobikkum ) in Sankarabharanam, only when used as part of the tanam.

In the next session ragas such as Pantuvarali and Purvikalyani were handled. Both ragas have the same purvangam, i.e. the ascent., and can puzzle even a trained rasika.

Historically speaking the name assigned to Pantuvarali was Kasi Ramakriya whereas Dikshtar wished to call it Kamavardhini.

The two ragas probably belong to the 16th or the 17 century and have evolved with the passage of time.

“How Saint Tyagaraja landed on this raga and assigned the name Pantuvarali to it, will remain an unanswered question,” said Dr. R.S. Jayalakshmi.

Tyagaraja has composed at least twelve compositions in this raga. The original version, if heard today, will sound more like Bowli.

The graha swara has been termed and used mainly as tara sthayi shadjamam. Many examples from different composers, showed certain prayogas unique to this raga.

Scope of the raga

According to the 72 Melakartha Sampradayam, Purvikalyani is labelled under Gamanasarama.

Though at present the usage of ‘pa dha pa sa,’ sung in continuity, is more in vogue, this phrase was sparingly used during the days bygone.

The phrase more in use was the ‘pa da sa.’ Incidentally, there are no two kalai tala compositions in this raga and did that indicate its limited scope?

“Kallidaikurichi Vedantha Bhagavatar, who belonged to the Dikshitar parampara, has no place for the phrase in his varnam,” said Sumithra Vasudev and quoted this as a sort of internal evidence.

Mention was made about scholar T.S. Parthasarathi’s theory that the Tyagaraja kriti, ‘Gnanamosagaradha’ was originally sung in Shadvidhamargini and got changed to Purvikalyani only much later.

While singing Purvikalyani, care should be taken not to give it the Hamsanandhi colour, when attempting panchama varjya prayogas.

The absolute beauty and subtle handling contained in the chittaiswaram of ‘Parama Pavana’ (Purvikalyani, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar) even in panchama varjya methods that have been used, was sung and explained to fit the context.

Sometimes prayogas that do not appeal during raga alapanas tend to bring out the raga contours sumptuously, when sung at the niraval phase. Examples were sung to substantiate this point also.

The little word in the sahitya does the trick. Manodharma itself thus is many-splendoured. The point was thus made: Raga singing should dispel all ambiguity, and eschew suggestion of other ragas.


Tyagaraja has composed at least twelve compositions in Pantuvarali. The original version, if heard today, will sound more like Bowli.



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