A musical adventure

Veenapani’s unique effort of encapsulating the 72 Melakarta ragas in a single kirtana is being appreciated by music stalwarts, writes Gudipoodi Srihari

July 30, 2015 07:24 pm | Updated 07:24 pm IST



Padma Bhushan awardee, the late Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana had always asserted that entire world music was based on 72 melakarta ragas — be it Classical, Jazz, Pop, Rap or Country. He said he demonstrated this during his visits to the US and England. However, only a few of our younger generation musicians can comprehend these Melakartas and their ‘swara sthanas’, because of its complexity.

The Mela system was propounded by Ramamatya in 1550 in his work Swaramela Kalanidhi . Later Venkatamakhi of 17th century stabilised it in his new ‘Melakarta System’. Govindacharya standardised the system and gave names for ragas. A 100 years later Venkatamakhi applied ‘Katapayadi Sankhya’, a rule to systematise Melkarta ragas, weaving the notes in permutations and combinations. A ‘Melakartha Chart’ was also drawn denoting Janya raga and Janaka raga.

Veenapani, a young musician whose original name was Ramanamurthy, but changed to this new name when he was assigned new job of film music director, later tried to comprehend all the 72 melakartha ragas and put them in concise form of a song that runs just six and half minutes. He was originally a Carnatic musician who learned the art from his father the late Lakshmi Narasimha Sastry. He then focused on younger vocalists to instantly know what the structure of Melakartas, base for ‘Janya ragas’, in one sweep for these are complex in nature and formed by permutations and combinations of notes in different shrutis, in ascending and descending order.

These parent ragas were already charted into 12 groups of six ragas each divided into Suddha Madhyama and Prati Madhyama ragas. Veenapani, working on the Melakartha System, simplified the complexity of the system. In fact, many of the 72 Melakartas have become obsolete because of the difficulty in applying them. Veenapani began practicing rendition of all the Melakartas and landed at a stage when he could render alapana of each of these Melakartas for considerable time. While doing so, he realised that it would be difficult to sustain listeners’ interest. He finally shaped each ragaalapana into a single but graceful phrase. Thus born this idea of putting everything in a single kirtana, using the nomenclature of the 72 Melakartha ragas in the given order in Sahitya format, with Melakarta name embedded in its own place.

Veenapani says the choice of words for the composition reflecting for the 72 ragas came to him easily. The pallavi is Omkara Naada Roopini Sreemkara Chidvilasini with Kanakangi as first raga, followed by 71 other melakartas. He then composed one more piece of music using the nomenclature of the 72 Melakartha ragas in the given order as the sahityam itself. Even these kirtanas are of high literary value. Each name is embedded in its own places of swaras. He clubbed them under the name ‘Swaranidhi’ . When it was presented finally at Music Academy, Chennai he received standing ovation.

Complimenting Veenapani’s work Mangampalli Balamuralikrishna said that he laid down new path by encapsulating the 72 Melakartaha ragas in six and half minutes in song format that deserves place in Guinness Book of World records’.

Yesudas called this great achievement, a path laid for learners of music to remember the names of the Melakarta ragas and their scales. Noted violin wizard L. Subramanyam called it great work that gives inspiration to future generations. Grammy award recipient Viswamohan Bhatt said this was so crystal clear that it did not leave even a single note and it suits world music.

Accolades all over A. Kanyakumari called it amazing composition for all the 72 Melakarta ragas with swarasthanas aptly shortened, an impossible task. Sankar Mahadevan said the substance and essence of raga could easily be identified and should be dubbed in all world languages. T.V. Gopalakrishnan, Hariharan, Unnikrishnan and a score of other stalwarts in the field of music poured such compliments on Veenapani, who has since earned the name Swaraveenapani.

Being a fine harmonist Swaraveenapani demonstrates this Melakarta raga composition on that instrument. To bring his work to the notice of greatest of gurus and performers, he began touring places and played it. Topping it all the demonstration he gave in Music Academy, Chennai last year in the presence of stalwart musicians and earned great appreciation. Hyderabad Brothers lent vocal support and also explained the advantages of this mini-swaranidhi to pass on the knowledge of Melakarta ragas to younger generation with ease.

Swaraveenapani also travelled to the US and impressed the TANA members.

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