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Well, this post is going to be musical. And a little technical. And a little more historical too. But I hope this confession does not drive you away from reading the rest of the post and listening to some great tracks!

The origin of names of raagas used in Indian music are quite interesting. While some names of the raagas have existed for centuries, the melodies have changed from what they were centuries ago. On the other hand, some melodies have retained their structure for several centuries, while the name with which they are known has changed over time.

The 18th century was a time of rapid influx of raagas in Karnataka sangeetha. Thanks to Tyagaraja’s compositions, a  great many new ragas were added to the grammar of karnataka sangeetha. Around the same time, Muttuswamy Dikshita, another great composer tried to resurrect some raagas that were gone out of practice, and confined to only textual description.  Some of the confusions in raaga names today can be traced back to the different approach used by the two composers, and the way how their work was preserved by their lineage.

Before going into the details, let’s listen to a beautiful composition by Tyagaraja, played on the Veena by Sri Ramavarma – Appa! Ramabhaktiyento:

If you noticed that I did not mention the raga of the composition as it is customarily done, there is a good reason for that. The raga of this composition goes by the name of Pantuvaraali in some geographical parts of south India, and by the name Kamavardhini in others.  I try to address the duality of this raaga name in this post.  By the way, none of this is my original research! I am trying to summarize stuff that I have come to know over the years of listening to music, and reading about it, with some of my thoughts added to it.

At least from the 16th century, three prati madhyama raagas have been described in musical treatises – Varali, Ramakriya and Pantuvarali, which differed from each other in one swara (gAndhAra) only. Varali had  the lowest gAndhAra (so called ‘Shuddha gAndhAra),  Pantuvarali had the next higher variation of the note (so called ‘sAdhAraNa gAndhAra) and Ramakriya had the highest of the gAndhAras (the variation that goes by the name of ‘antara’ gAndhAra now).

Ramamatya (1550 AD) , in his SwaramELakalAnidhi, he defines “Shuddha Ramakriya” mELa as follows.

शुद्धाः सरिपधाश्चैव च्युत पंचम मध्यमः ।

च्युत मध्यम गानधारश्च्युत षड्जनिषादकः ॥

Translation: (Shuddha rAmakriya mELa has the following notes) – The Shuddha variety of Sa, Ri, Pa and Da;  The madhyama that has fallen from Panchama (This was how the current prati-madhyama was referred to then); The gAndhAra that has fallen from Madhyama (Again, this was how the note that we call as “antara” gAndhAra was known at that time), and nishAda that has fallen from Shadja (Same explanation as the earlier two!)

He defines the mELa Shuddha varALi as below:

शुद्धाः सरिपधा यत्र  शुद्ध गानधार सन्ञ्जितः ।

च्युत षड्ज निषादोपि च्युत पञ्चम मध्यमः ॥

Translation: (Shuddha varALi mELa has) the shuddha variety of Sa, Ri, Pa, Da; And also the Gandhara of Shuddha varaiety, along with the Nishada fallen from Shadja and the Madhyama that has fallen from Panchama.

Ramamatya does not refer to either a Raga or mELa named  Pantu-varALi though.

A century later, Venkatamakhi (~1650AD)  defines all the three mELas in his ChaturdanDi prakashikA.

He defines Shuddha VarAli with the following notes, and specifies that it is the 39th mELa in his scheme of 72 mELas.

वरालीमध्यमश्चाथ काकल्यख्यनिषादकः ।

शषा शुद्धस्वराः शुद्धराली मेलसञ्जकः ।।

Translation: The mELa called  Shuddha varALi has varALI madhyama (this is how Venkatamakhi terms the ‘prati’ madhyama), kAkali nishAda and the rest all are shuddha swaras.

He defines pantuvarALi as the 45th mELa of his scheme, with the following description:

षड्जः शुद्धर्षभः साधारण गान्धार सङ्ञकः वराली मध्यमश्चैव शुद्धो पञ्चम धैवतौ ।

काकल्याख्य निषादश्चेत्येतावत्स्वर संभवः मेलः पन्तुवराल्याख्यो रागश्च परिकीर्तितः ॥

Translation: The mEla of the Raga PantuvaAli, takes Shadja, Shuddha Rishabha, the gAndhAra of sAdhAraNa variety, varALI madhyama, Shuddha panchama, Shuddha dhaivata ,kAkali nishAda and antara gAndhAra.

And, finally he defines Shuddha Ramakriya mELa as below:

षश्जः शुद्धर्षभ्श्चैव गान्धारोन्तर नामकः वराळीमध्यमश्चथ शुदधो  पञ्चम धैवतौ ।

काकल्याख्य निषादश्चेत्येतत्सप्तस्वरोदितः शुदधरामक्रियानाम रागमेलोस्यमुच्यते ॥

Translation: The mELa of Raga Shudda Ramakriya has the following seven notes –  ShaDaja, Shudda Rishabha, gAndhAra of the type antara, Shuddha panchama, Shuddha Dhaivata, and the kAkali variety of Nishada.

From these descriptions, it pretty clear that the distinction between the notes taken by the rAgas of the triad is in the gAndhAra. Going from the lowest to highest.  Varali (sometimes also called Shuddha varAli) takes the lowest gAndhara. Pantuvarali takes the sAdhAraNa gAndhAra and Ramakriya (also called Shuddha Ramakriya) takes the highest, antara gAndhAra variety.

A number of popular compositions of Tyagaraja are in the rAga that is called “Pantuvarali” in Tamizh Nadu, and Kamavardhani in Kanrataka & Andhra traditions – For example, I can cite the excellent “Appa Ramabhakti” (which you see a clip  in this post) and other kritis such as ninnE neranammi nAnurA, vadamadyuti shObhAne ,  raghuvara nannu, vAdera daivamu manasa, Siva Siva Siva enarada, Shambho mahAdEva etc which are also very well known. Note that all these are compositions are sung with antara gAndhAra swara, and not with sAdhAraNa gAndhAra.  But according to the definitions in Venkatamakhi or Ramamatya,  this rAga should have been Ramakriya (or Shuddha Ramakriya, if you care) and not Pantuvarali!

For the Andhra and Karnataka traditions of calling it Kamavardhini, there is a good reason. In the Kanakangi-Ratnangi system of nomenclature of mELa rAgas, the 51st spot (once occupied by Ramakriya) is occupied by the name Kamavardhini.  Since Tyagaraja used the names from this scheme for his compositions, it is quite rationale to call the rAga of these compositions as Kamavardhiani.

But there is are couple of  complications. The manuscripts of Tyagaraja’s compositions list mostly the names from the Kanakangi- Ratnagi scheme when it comes to mEla rAga kritis. But these so called “Kamavardhini” kritis are actually listed in most manuscripts as Pantuvarali! If Tyagaraja went by his general scheme,  they should have been listed as Kamavardhini. If for some reason, the old scheme of naming was used by the scribe, they should have been listed as in “Ramakriya” or Shuddha Ramakriya.

Also, if I recall correctly, one of the compositions, ennALLu yUrake, that is listed as in Pantuvarali, is now sung in Shubha Pantuvarali:

What does this imply? Now let’s take a step back. For most mELa rAgas that existed before the Kanakangi-Ratnangi nomenclature came to existence, it is a common practice to drop the kaTapayAdi prefix when referring to the rAga names.  The Raga  Kalyani is normally never referred to as “mEcha” kalyANi, or ShankarAbharaNa is not referred to as “dhIra” shankarAbharaNa or varALi is not commonly called as “jhAla” varALi. That is to say, the KatapayAdi prefixes that were added to give the number are generally dropped. It is a different situation for rAgas that came in later – such as Chakravaka or Kharaharapriya or Charukeshi. In those cases, the kaTapa prefix is part of the rAga name.

So, if mEcha kalyANi (or Shanta Kalyani) is Kalyani and Hanuma Todi  (or Jana Todi), then what is Pantuvarali? It has to be  Shubha Pantuvarali (or Siva Pantuvarali, if you prefer).

It is argued by several scholars that the compositions that are listed under “pantuvarALi” in manuscripts were originally composed in the rAga Shubhapantuvarali by Tyagaraja. Then somewhere down the line, some musicians of his lineage started singing many of these compositions with Antara Gandhara, instead of Sadharana Gandhara note (that is part of Pantuvarali). By doing that the rAga was changed to Ramakriya or Kamavardhini. However, the practice of calling the rAga of these compositions as Pantuvarali continued in the Tamizh region.

Probably by the time these compositions spread to Andhra and Karnataka regions, the Kanakangi – Ratnangi naming system had become quite well known. Therefore, musicians there must have mapped the rAga of these compositions with Antara gAndhara as belonging to the 51st mELa, i.e Kamavardhini.

So now, if you are referring to these compositions as Kritis in Pantuvarali Raga, are you wrong? Well, mostly.  Raagas have changed names over time, and/or changed their structure as well. In today’s context, these compositions of Tyagaraja in the 51st mELa would be better if termed as being in Kamavardhini, rather than in Pantuvarali.  We have seen that happen in other instances of compositions of Tyagaraja. For example, compositions in the rAga what he called  “Lalita”  (eTla dorakitivo, seetamma mAyamma), are now mostly referred to as kritis in rAga  “Vasanta”, as per today’s lakshaNa of the rAga.

Muttuswamy Dikshita, on the other hand used the Kanakambari – Phenadyuti system of naming the mELa rAgas proposed by Muddu Venkatamakhi.  Thankfully he has also woven the rAga names into the compositions – So we have the rAgas varALi  ( mANikya vallarI pANi madhura vANi  varALi vENi, in mAmava mInAkshi), Ramakriya  ( nArI yOnimukhAsvAdanE nagna RamakriyA mOdanE, in ucchishTagaNapatou),  and (Shiva) PantuvarAli, (Shiva pantuvrALi rAga priyam ati chaturam, in Pashuapteeshwaram pranoumi satatam ) ragas well documented.  However, the name Ramakriya has almost totally gone out of vogue and is either replaced by Kamavardhini (somewhat correct) or by Pantuvarali ( very wrong, IMO).

I’ll end this post with a short but beautiful rendering of  (Shubha) Pantuvarali by Vidushi Nagavalli Nagaraj. The track begins around 1:45 minute mark:

Final titbit: Venkatamakhi in the 17th century wrote the Raga Pantuvaraali was liked be common folk, but not fit for musical compositions!


Today is the tenth, and the last day of Navaratri – Vijaya Dashami. We celebrate this festival to commemorate Rama defeating Ravana, and goddess hamundeshwari slaying demon Mahishasura.

Yesterday when I wrote about a composition of Mysore Vasudevachar, I also wrote about his illustrious deciple – Jayachamarajendra Odeyar, the last king of Mysore. Odeyar was another notable composer of the 20th century. Initially, he was trained in western classical music. He received the highest honors possible to be awarded for student at the Trinity college of Music in London. Later on, went on to learn the intricacies of Karnataka sangeetha from Vasudevachar for some years. Between 1945 to 1947, he composed 94 kritis (A few more have been unearthed recently, I heard). Apparently he played his compositions on the Piano first, and got feedback on them from Vasudevachar and other court musicians and shape his compositions. Click here to read some more about this “Gem among Kings”.

Another unique feature about his compositions is that he has composed only one kriti in one raga, thus using 94 ragas for the 94 kritis. He is probably the only composer who has done this. In this process, he has composed in very rare ragas resurrecting some ragas such as Poorna Lalita and Pratatpa Varali in which Tyagaraja had composed earlier.

Odeyar was a practitioner of Srividya worship, and he has used the signature as ‘Srividya’ in the compositions. He has also used his initiation name ‘chitprabhananda’ in some compositions. All his compositions are in Samskrta.

Chamundeshwari is the deity of Mysore from where Odeyars ruled. In a few hours, Goddess Chamundeshwari will be in a grand procession through the city. On this occasion, I think Jayachamarajendra Odeyar’s composition in Hindola raga – ‘Chintayami Jagadambam’ is the most appropriate composition to listen to, and to conclude this series “The Days of Navaratri”.

I consider myself fortunate to have written this series on this auspicious time of Devi Navaratri 2010 and to have been able to listen to some wonderful music in that process!

I wish this year’s Navaratri brings you the very best in your lives.


Today is the seventh day of Navaratri. The composition of Swathi Tirunal that would be sung at Navaratri Mandapam is  ‘Janani pAhi sada’ in raaga Shuddha Saveri. The first six of the Navaratri Kritis of Swathi Tirunal are in praise of Saraswati, while the last three are in praise of Parvati. Listen to this composition by clicking here – sung by Sankaran Namboodiri.

In yesterday’s post  where the composition of the day was a varna, I also wrote about different beginner lessons that a student of Karnataka sangeetha learns. Swarajatis part of such lessons.  Today before presenting the ‘composition of the day’ I’d like to present you a swarajati which happens be a composition of my own :). It is set in rAga ranjani and in Adi tALa.

A Swarajati in Ranjani

Right now I have posted only the notation and hope to post a recording shortly.

For a PDF version, click here:  A Swarajati in Ranjani.

Please note while the notation says “italics indicate mandra sthAyi” it should have read “lower case indicates mandra sthaAyi”.

Click here to listen to another swarajati I composed last year.

Since the swarajati is in Ranjani, I would like to choose another comspoition in Ranjani for listening on the seventh day of Navaratri. The sahitya is in Kannada, and written is by Kankadasa.

ವರವ ಕೊಡು ಎನಗೆ ವಾಗ್ದೇವಿ ನಿನ್ನ
ಚರಣ ಕಮಲಂಗಳ ದಯಮಾಡು ದೇವೀ || ಪಲ್ಲವಿ||

ಶಶಿಮುಖದ ನಸುನಗೆಯ ಬಾಲೇ!
ಎಸೆವ ಕರ್ಣದ ಮುತ್ತಿನ ಓಲೇ
ನಸುವ ಸುಪಲ್ಲ ಗುಣಶೀಲೇ ದೇವೀ
ಬಿಸಜಾಕ್ಷಿ ಎನ್ನ ಹೃದಯದಲಿ ನಿಂದು  ||ಚರಣ ೧||

ರವಿ ಕೋಟಿ ತೇಜ ಪ್ರಕಾಶೇ ಸದಾ
ಕವಿ ಜನ ಹೃತ್ಕಮಲ ವಾಸೇ
ಅವಿರಳಪುರಿ ಕಾಗಿನೆಲೆಯಾದಿ ಕೇ-
ಶವನ ಸುತನಿಗೆ ಸನ್ನುತ ರಾಣಿವಾಸೇ || ಚರಣ ೨||

Like many of the haridasa compositions, the music for this has been set by a later day musician. I am not sure who set this devarnama to Ranjani raga. Listen to ‘Varava koDu enage vAgdevi’ here, sung by Nagavalli & Ranjani.


Today is the sixth day of Navaatri. We are halfway through the ten day festival.  In many parts of Karnataka,  Saraswati pooja is performed on the day when the Moon is near moola nakshatra (Lambda Scorpii). This generally falls on the sixth or seventh day of Navaratri. There is also another tradition of performing Saraswati pooje on the 9th day on Maha Navami too.

The elaborated composition you’d listen to if you went to Navaratri Mandapam in Thiruvananthapuram is about Saraswati, starting with the words ‘Saroruhasana jAye’ in raaga kaamavardhini. This raaga is also known by the name Pantuvarali. The composition is in praise of Goddess Saraswati.  Listen to a rendition of this composition by Rama Varma who comes from the lineage of Swathi Tirunal who ruled Thiruvanathapuram, at his performance at the Navaratri Mandapam concert.

Students of Karnataka sangeetha typically start learning music with swara exercises in MayamalavagouLa raaga, and then go to learn simple songs called ‘geete’s. After that they learn  some jatiswaras/swarajatis. After that they start learning varNas.

The word varNa means color. It can also mean a letter of the alphabet. One could easily say varNas showcase the hues of a raga clearly, but very concisely. In a normal performance, you might see a varNa sung at the beginning, but not as a rule. But for music students, a varNa is avery important instrument in raaga learning. Just like a foundation in grammar is required to write a good essay, learning many varNas is recommended for any music student. Varnas generally have very less sahitya, and follow a very structured pattern.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I have chosen a varNa today  – composed by Dr Balamuralikrishna in Gambheera Nata raga. Balamuralikrishna is one of the most well known 20th century composers of Karnataka sangeetha. His varnas and tillanas have become very popular. He has also composed hundreds of compositions in Samskrta, Telugu and Tamizh. He has also translated a number of Purandara dasa compositions into Telugu too.

The sahitya of the varNa is in Telugu, and describes Parvati as the manifestation of Omkara.

Listen to ‘amma Ananda dAyini’ in gambhIra nATa, sung by Nagavalli Nagaraj & Ranjani Nagaraj.


Tomorrow, let us meet with another charming composition.



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Ramaprasad K V

Ramaprasad K V

ಕನ್ನಡಿಗ. Musicphile. Bibliophile. Astrophile. Blogophile. Twitterphile.



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