The tale of two varalis

A raga that is associated with karuna rasa and snakes is Punnagavarali. A serious raga, it is a janya of the eighth melakarta Hanumathodi. Punnagavarali is a nishadantya (starts and finishes in a single octave, nishada to nishada) raga, and is hence usually presented in the madhyama sruti. The notes include kaisiki nishada, sadja, suddha rishabha, sadharana gandhara, suddha madhyama, pancama and suddha dhaivata.

In the ascent the chatusruti rishabha also occurs, sometimes. The raga’s regal presence is best felt in slow phrases. Most of us would have heard snake charmers play it. In wedding ceremonies, a piece called the ‘Odam’ usually played at the muhurtam, is often in Punnagavarali. This is an ancient raga and traditional Tamil pieces such as ‘Nondichindu’ are also set in this.

Some memorable compositions

Classical pieces in this raga include ‘Thava Dasoham’ and ‘Gandhamu Puyyaruga’ of Thyagaraja. ‘Gandhamu’ features in the Telugu film Subhodayam, with lovely nadaswaram orchestrations. It is sung by P. Susheela and S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. Muthuswamy Dikshitar composed a Kamalamba navavarana, as well as ‘Yehi Annapoorne’ in this raga. Shyama Sastri's ‘Kanakasaila’ is a melting piece in Punnagavarali as is ‘Sivaganga Nagara’ of Papanasam Sivan. In Tamil film music, this raga has been used in some noteworthy songs. M.M. Dhandapani Desikar, who plays the title role in Nandanar, rendered Gopalakrishna Bharati’s moving piece, ‘Ayye Methakadinam’, in Punnagavarali. The gamaka in the gandhara in ‘Ayye’ and the nishada oscillation in ‘Methakadinam’ establish the identity of the raga. The song begins in Punnagavarali — the first of the ragas in the ragamalika piece. The music directors of this movie were M.D. Parthasarathy and S. Rajeswara Rao. ‘Ayye...’ was originally composed by Gopalakrishna Bharati in Punnagavarali. The director of this film, S.S. Vasan, made M.M. Dhandapani Desikar record and shoot some of the songs repeatedly till he achieved perfection, much to his annoyance.

‘Vanam Inge’ from Ambikapathy is a sterling piece in the music direction of G. Ramanathan. The prayogas “M,PDP/DPMG” and “S,RSNN” bring forth the bhava of the raga. The refrain at the conclusion of the piece ‘Ini Naanum Verillai’, in the voices of Bhanumathi and T.M. Soundararajan, is a fitting finale.

‘Nadarmudi’ from Thiruvarutchelvar sung by T.M. Soundararajan in the music direction of K.V. Mahadevan is magical.. The phrase ‘...Sollu Paambey’ features the notes “S,RSN,/ NSRSS”, an ideal prayoga in Punnagavarali. The song implores a snake to take back its poison and help a child recover, and achieves the desired impact.

‘Panjamum Noyum’ is the stanza tuned in Punnagavarali in the ragamalika Bharathiar song ‘Endru Thaniyum’ from Kappalottiya Tamizhan. The way the raga plays out in the graceful phrase, ‘Thaayum Than Kuzhandhaiyai Thallida Pomo’, is testimony to the musical talent of singer Trichy Loganathan and composer G. Ramanathan.


Kuntalavarali is a raga that includes five notes, a janya of the 28th melakarta Harikambhoji. The notes in this raga happen to be in a vakra pattern, and the aarohana-avarohana of this raga is SMPNDS/SNDPMS. The sadja-madhyama relationship in this raga is of vital importance and the notes in this raga include the sadja, suddha madhyama, panchama, kaisiki nishada, and chatusruti dhaivata.

The classical pieces in this raga include ‘Sara Sara Samarai’ of Thyagaraja, the Tamil kriti ‘Ennenna Vilaiyadal Amma’, ‘Thillana Nadridim’, a thillana of M. Balamuralikrishna, ‘Anjel Anjel’ of Mayuram Viswanatha Sastri, and ‘Bhogindra Shayinam’ of Swati Tirunal. ‘Maale Manivanna’ is a famous Thiruppavai set to this raga. Medium and fast-paced sangatis suit this raga. A vibrant and playful raga, Kuntalavarali came into prominence only in the 18th Century. It is minor raga, suited for small songs and folk numbers that enliven a concert.

In film music, a brilliant piece in Kuntalavarali would be ‘Maname Nee Easan’ from Ashok Kumar, starring M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. MKT’s rendition is replete with the raga’s essence. The very opening is riveting — the sadja followed by the madhyama.

‘Malligai Poongkodi Kuntalavarali’ is the line in the ragamalika piece ‘Vasantha Rithu Mana Mohaname’ from Sivakavi. The composer cleverly brings out the flavour of the raga.

A scintillating piece would be ‘Oru Murai Vandhu Parthaya’ from the Malayalam film, Manichitratazhu, which had music by M. G. Radhakrishnan. K.J. Yesudas’s thillana-style rendition in this song is interesting. Although this song digresses towards the finish, and has a dash of raga Andolika in the interludes, it contains some of the best phrases of Kuntalavarali on the silver screen. M.S. Viswanathan has composed a mesmerising song, ‘Raja Vaada Singa Kutti’, sung by S. Janaki and Jayachandran, for Dhisai Maariya Paravaigal . The line ‘Kaalam Thunai Aaga Vendum’ points to the raga’s sadja-madhyama combinatorial signature. In fact, this is one of the finest adaptations of the raga for light music.

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2021 3:18:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/the-tale-of-two-varalis/article4837318.ece

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