Allied ragas of Carnatic music

The complexity of Carnatic music is like the unfathomable ocean. As such, it calls for a profound comprehension of the various sheaths: be it the arithmetic of the tala, the unfolding of the rhythmic structure, the nuances of syllabic tones and microtones which constitute the raga which in turn cloaks the composition / lyric and above all the vast expanse of creativity that forms the soul of south-Indian classical music.

Apart from the regular well-defined, structured system, there emerge certain complex characteristics in this genre which defy a normal rationale; but like everything else in the Hindu philosophic thought of which music is an integral part, it is bestowed with a logic and reason. This in fact is the core of Carnatic music.

You first have to get into the practical part (singing) in order to understand the theory and not vice-versa. Notwithstanding the structured parent or melakartha ragas and their janya /offshoots, there are very tricky ragas that sport a look-alike structure, tone and grammar, with a slight deviation to individualise them. They occur in pairs as twins in most cases and are termed ‘Chhayalaga ragas’ or allied ragas. A ‘Chhayalaga or Salanka or Salaga raga’ is one which combines in itself the features ( lakshana) of another raga by taking a foreign note or by displaying common sancharas. The term ‘chaya’ means shade and since one of the raga has shades/colour of another raga. Hence these raga pairs are highly proximate. We are going to deal with a few popular pairs in this column to facilitate a better understanding and appreciation.

According to musicologists and scholars, these pairs are to be distinguished not on the basis of swara but on swaroopa (accent). The microtones of these ragas are practically identical but their structuring, scaffolding and emphasis are defined as different. Take for instance the Arabhi and Devagandhari, two allied ragas, drawn from the same parent, ie Dheera Sankarabharanam (29th melakarta raga). The Arabhi has an ascent(aarohana) and descent (avarohana) of : ‘sa, ri2, ma1, pa, dha2, Sa’, while in the descent it is: ‘Sa, ni3, dha, pa, ma, ga3, ri, sa’. It has a pentatonic-heptatonic (audava-sampurna) scale structure and hence it comes under the Upanga raga (homogenous). In comparison, the Devagandhari is a bhashanga raga has an ascent of ‘sa, ri, ma, pa, dha, Sa’ and a descent which goes as ‘Sa, ni, dha, pa, ma, ga, ri, sa.’

There is a vakra (irregular) sanchara (twist) to the descent with an extra ‘ri, ga, ri, sa’ (anya swara) at the tail-end. And this makes Devagandhari a Bhashanga raga. But actually in rendition, the theory does not come to the fore. Then how would one distinguish these two ragas whose moorchana (aarohana-avarohana) on the surface is alike? Well, the prime factor is the Gandhara (ga) note. The Arabhi sports a weak ( alpa) Gandhara which is pronounced more or less in conjunction with the madhyama (ma1); the same is emphatic and elongated in the Devagandhari (the name itself is suggestive of ga). So too, is the nishadam (ni) is weightless and at times omitted in certain phrases (as in rendition of Thyagaraja’s Pancharatna kriti-‘Saadhinchane..’).

The Rishabha (ri) note is more important in both the ragas but its usage is different: it occurs as janta (double) phrase in Arabhi while in Devagandhari it is embellished in the descending sancharams.

Actually Arabhi shines with janta swaras while the twin raga does not. While Devagandhari is bhava-oriented (emotive), Arabhi is swara-laya-oriented. Arabhi, an ancient raga displays the mood (rasa) of valour, anger and disgust ( veera, roudra, bheebatsa) while Devagandhari is full of karuna, adbhuta and shanta (mercy, wonder and tranquility). Subtler nuances demarcate these ragas but suffice to say that such fine strokes are at the heart of our music.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 4:57:53 AM |

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