Understanding ragas: Mystical flights of ragas

Published - July 12, 2012 08:14 pm IST

The 51st melakarta (parent) of the Carnatic catalogue of ragams is the Kamavardhini which falls into the third slot in the Brahma chakra (the ninth wheel in the Katapayadi code). Its aarohana-avarohana (ascent-descent) structure modules are Sa, ri1 (shuddha rishabam), ga3 (antara gandharam), Ma2 (prathi madhyam), Dha1 (shuddha dhaivatam), ni3 (kakali nishadam) and S’. This ragam is the prati madhyama (one semitone higher) counterpart of Mayamalavagowla. But just this one sharp node bestows Kamavardhini with a mystical flavour.

In Western musical scale, Kamavardhini translates as: Root-minor 2nd-major 3rd-sharp 4th-fifth-minor 6th-major 7th-root. There is an interesting and complex history to this ragam. Kamavardhini is said to have come into existence only in the 19th century when the melakarta system was being codified. Prior to this, Kamavardhini was referred to as Ramakriya which in time to come assumed the name of Panthuvarali. The confusion just doesn’t end here. For instance, in Thyagaraja’s volume of kritis, some are titled Panthuvarali while others come under Ramakriya. As on today, we identify Panthuvarali with Kamavardhini in scale (though the nadai/pattern is slightly variant).

Puritans however, differ on this, in the context of ‘sadarana gandharam’ for Panthuvarali as against ‘antara gandharam’. Its janya (offshoot) ragams are Deepaka and Mandhari. The ragam is popular in the beginning of a concert. Bhadrachala Ramadas keertana Enna ganu rama bhajana and Swati Tirunal’s Saroruhaasana are popular classics based on this ragam . The ashtapadi Chandana charchitha ’ is sung to Panthuvarali. Kamavardhini is a meditative, intense, soul-stirring ragam that is highly emotive. South Indian film music director Ilayaraja made large use of this raga in both Tamil and Telugu like , Swaramulu yedaina raagalenno ’ ( Toorpu-Padamara/ Apoorvaragangal ).The Hindustani thaat (parent) raag Poorvi/Purvi coincides with Carnatic Kamavardhini/Panthuvarali. It is an ancient raag which traces its origin to the eastern India. As such, the raag makes no appearance prior to 16th century. Earlier, there was a precursor to Purvi called Purvagauda whose scale ran similar to the modern Bhairav. But then, the Poorvi thaat has all the seven notes intact as the ascent runs: Sa, ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, dha, Ni, S’ and the descent: S’, Ni, dha, Pa, Ma, Ga, ri, S.

The rishabh and dhaivath are komal/flat notes while the madhyam is is both shudh and teevr; the gandhar and nishadh are shudh (full). Its life force is the gandhar and hence the Vaadi swar is Ga while the Samvadi is Ni.

However, the shadj and pancham are usually skipped in the aaroh especially in fast taan with exceptions. The aesthetic imperative in the komal dhaivath present in the Poorvi renders the pancham indispensable. The movement of ‘Ni Sa Ri Ga’ distinguished it from its offshoot, Puriyadhanasri.

In Western terminology this structure can be classified as CD-flat, EF-sharp, GA-flatBc. Like other thaat, Poorvi comprises raganga, raag and thaat. Poorvi is a Sandhiprakash raag (sunset) and is rendered during twilight. It has a mysticism about it and is a deep and serene raag. The derivative of Poorvi thaat, the Puriyadhanasri has elbowed out Poorvi from concert centre stage. It has all the lakshana (genes) of Poorvi sans the shudh madhyam. More than Poorvi thaat, Pooriya Dhanashree has been an inspiration with many a film music director. Some of the old and new melodies are Karuna suno shyam tori ( Meera 1979), Hai Rama yeh khya hua ( Rangeela -AR Rehman), Labon se choom lo ( Aastha ) and Ruth aa gayi rey ( Earth 1947 ) to name a few.

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