A raga that is very easy to identify even for an uninitiated listener is most certainly Ritigowla. A ghana raga that is attractive and resplendent in all three octaves, commanding in the mandra sthayi, compelling in the upper registers, zig-zag in form and breathtaking in glides — these mere descriptions cannot capture the raptures that raga Ritigowla can throw us into; there is more to it. And, the treasure trove of Ritigowla has been explored by vidwans and musicologists for over many centuries now and how! Each composition in this raga portrays a fresh page in its charming history. This is the raga’s special feature, its unique charm.

This raga features the notes Sadja, Sadharana Gandhara, Chatusruti Rishabha, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, Chatusruti Dhaivata and Kaisiki Nishada, and certainly not in that order. There is a vakra (zig-zag) pattern to this raga. That is, the aarohana and the avarohana themselves — S G R G M N N S and S N D M G M P M G R S — are made up of typical phrases strung together to form a meaningful garland of notes.

This raga evokes karuna rasa, as well as bhakthi rasa. Carnatic Classical music can take pride in Ritigowla since it is a purely Carnatic raga, and does not lend itself to adulteration of any kind during enunciation. Thyagaraja has composed some of his best works in this raga, the highlights being ‘Dwaitamu Sukhama’, ‘Ragaratna’, ‘Nannu Vidachi’, ‘Cherarava’, ‘Badalikadhira’ and ‘Jo Jo Rama’. ‘Ninnuvina’ of Shyama Sastri and ‘Janani Ninuvina’ of Subbraya Sastri are masterpieces, while Dikshitar's ‘Nilotpalambam’ is a speciality kriti in this raga. ‘Tatvam Ariya’ of Papanasam Sivan, ‘Guruvayoorappane’ of Ambujam Krishna, and ‘Paripalayamam’ of Swati Tirunal are well-loved.

It is challenging for any film composer to compose in such a purely Classical raga that follows a traditional pattern. The film pieces that adhere to the grammar of the raga and portray its characteristic phrases to the fullest are hard to come by, but those that have been created have been done so with utmost diligence, and that attention to detail has been appreciated each time by the public. It is during Ilaiyaraaja’s golden period that many compositions in this raga started flowing in. ‘Chinnakannan Azhaikkiraan’ from “Kavikuyil” is one of the earlier compositions of the maestro in this raga, and features the stalwart of Carnatic music M. Balamuralikrishna at his best. The opening phrase of this song itself establishes beautifully the identity of this raga — SGRG (Chinnakannan) MNNS(Azhaikkiraan)...

In “Odai Nadhiyagiradhu,” the song ‘Thalaiyai Kuniyum Thamaraye’ is a memorable Ritigowla. The starting phrase draws inspiration from the traditional avarohana NNS (Thalayai) NDM (Kuniyum) PMGRS (Thamaraye), and is genius at work. The song was sung by the versatile SPB and S. Rajeswari, noted Carnatic singer.

The Kamal Hassan starrer “Sippikkul Muthu” features several raga-based songs by Ilaiyaraaja, and “Raman Kadhai Kelungal” is one such in Ritigowla. Sung by SPB and SP Shailaja, this song is structured like a Harikatha presentation. Truly riveting with minimal background instruments.

The song ‘Meetaadha Oru Veenai’ from “Poonthottam” is a lesser known but noteworthy composition of Ilaiyaraaja, and a classy presentation by Hariharan and Mahalakshmi Iyer. It may be noted that in each one of his Ritigowla creations, the maestro gives a whiff of freshness and leaves a stamp unique to him as well as to the raga.

One of the most riveting pieces in Ritigowla in cinema music happens to be ‘Azhagana Ratchasiye’ from “Mudhalvan” — music by AR Rahman. In the lines ‘adi manasa aruvaamanayil arukkuriye’, the gamakas and frills lift our hearts. The typical beauty of the raga remains uncompromised in this appealing number, and the highlight of this piece is the use of the ghatam by Karthik.

In “Thulluvatho Illamai”, Yuvan Shankar Raja gives a Ritigowla piece for an erotic sequence — ‘Theenda Theenda’ in the voices of Unnikrishnan and Bombay Jayashri. The madhyamakala phrases in this song ‘...pogum oorvalangal…’ reminds one of a Classically-structured piece.

In recent times, ‘Sudum Nilavu’ (“Thambi”, Vidyasagar) and ‘Kadhal Neruppin Nadanam’ (“Veyyil”, GV Prakash) are cleverly-crafted Ritigowla pieces.

“Kangal Irandal” from “Subramaniapuram” marked the revival of this glorious raga in commercial cinema, and this composition by James Vasanthan scorched the charts. In the charanam of the song ‘Madiyinil Saayndida…’, the phrase SGRGM,GRS explores the upper octave and charms the listener. The use of strings in the BGM and the simple, honest Ritigowla phrasings are added attractions in ‘Kangal Irandal’.

A typically South-Indian treat, Ritigowla will always leave you yearning for more. See you next fortnight with yet another raga.

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