Melakarta raga application

12 positions are available in the South Indian 72 mela system
to learn more, read the following explanations

Source © Ludwig Pesch under the
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

A scale – mēla in Carnatic or thāt in Hindustani music – isn’t a raga yet: it is no more than an imaginary arrangement of notes for the formation of “parental scales”. From 72 Carnatic mēla scales and their 10 thāt counterparts in Hindustani music, a wide range of major and minor ragas are thought to have been “derived” over a period of several centuries.((Most ragas cannot be said to actually have been “derived” from any pre-existing scale but instead, they came to be associated with a particular “parent scale” much later on, as seen in ongoing debates among music scholars and performers.))

Listen to a recitation of melakarta names: Akshara Samskriti >>

Thinking of a particular scale enables musicians and learners to distinguish ragas from one another, which became increasingly useful as hundreds of other ragas came to performed on a regular basis.((There are many reasons for such an increase in the number of ragas since the late 19th century; this includes greater pride in India’s cultural heritage displayed by a growing middle class: men – and increasingly women – willing devote their leisure time to an art formerly seen as the domain of specialists patronized by temples, courts and merchants for rituals and festive occasions; and with the arrival of the printing press, music primers became a lucrative proposition for scholarly musicians besides being affordable and time saving for non-professional learners.)) Joep Bor aptly defines a raga “as a tonal framework for composition and improvisation; a dynamic musical entity with a unique form, embodying a unique musical idea.”((“As well as the fixed scale, there are features particular to each raga such as the order and hierarchy of its tones, their manner of intonation and ornamentation, their relative strength and duration, and specific approach. Where ragas have identical scales, they are differentiated by virtue of these musical characteristics. […] Most importantly, a raga must evoke a particular emotion or create a certain ‘mood’, which is hard to define, however. As the term raga itself implies, it should ‘colour’ the mind, bring delight, move the listeners and stimulate an emotional response. In other words, the concept of raga, which has evolved over a period of two millennia, eludes an adequate brief definition.” – Joep Bor, ‘What is a raga?’, p. 1 in The Raga Guide: A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas, Nimbus Records with Rotterdam Conservatory of Music first published in 1999))

For this purpose 7 notes occupy certain positions within an octave as seen in the above illustrations. These notes are framed by an 8th note (“octave”) which corresponds to the basic note, now placed in the higher range. Listening carefully to the middle strings of tambura will reveal this higher note (tāra sa).((Flow | Practice within a shared vocal range of one octave helps learners to explore different scale patterns on a daily basis with reference to well established methods.))

To understand their relative positions watch the above slideshow repeatedly. Nevertheless the basic idea underlying all of India’s “classical” Indian music traditions – the proverbial “seven notes” (saptasvara) as basis for melody – remains untouched.

Note: The above series of images illustrates 16 out of a total of 72 melas with the names of their corresponding melakarta ragas, including the first six melas (01. – 06.) and the last one (72.); and several others that have long played a prominent role concerts either as melakarta ragas (i.e. featuring all the seven notes) or derivatives known as janya raga (08., 15., 28., 29., 34., 36., 56. 57. and 65). The latter may feature less than seven notes, be characterized by “zigzag” patterns or notes not found in their parental scales.

So a total of 12 positions are available in the South Indian mela system whereby the basic note “sa” and its fifth “pa” are the starting points of two series of 4 notes:

sa-ri-ga-ma & pa dha ni (upper) sa

reversed and sung for the sake of memorization as follows:

(upper) sa-ni-dha-pa & ma-ga-ri-sa

Please note that – unlike in western “classical” music – the actual pitches are never given but chosen to suit one’s own vocal range or a particular instrument (e.g. flute and vina which come in different sizes and tonal ranges). This means: sa may correspond to “C” on your keyboard or for a male voice (just like “D”); but for a female voice, sa is more likely to correspond to “F” or “G” instead.

Last but not least, singing or playing a raga entails attention to subtle tonal shades just as embellishments (gamaka) as heard in a proper concert performance. So what you hear isn’t merely “a clever combination of notes” derived from some scale or other: raga based music is all about musical – even lyrical – expression, carefully regulated by certain rules and practiced in accordance with well established patterns.

In the meantime, an ever growing diversity accelerated the search for effective teaching methods suited to raga based music. In South Indian music this was achieved with the help of the melakarta scheme (72 scale abstract patterns).

Even today “tune smiths” continue to fill in the blanks left by their revered predecessors, including novelties inspired by Beethoven’s most beloved piano piece worldwide (you guessed it …)!

Interestingly the 72 mela system came to serve a dual purpose, one not found in other music traditions as regards scope: in addition to the intention proclaimed by its “inventor” Venkatamakhin in the late 17th century, namely to widen the scope for musical expression, it became a mnemonic system (aid to memory) for musicians and teachers alike.

A glance at any music textbook and most song collections of Carnatic music will show how this was achieved since music publishing began to flourish in the early 19th century.

A highly condensed demonstration of the above concept is rendered here: The 13-part Sanskrit composition of Chitravina N Ravikiran (duration: 7 min.) >>

For a more detailed application, listen to the 72-Melaragamalika rendition by Smt Kiranavali’s students at Cleveland Aradhana 2014_Part 1; click/bookmark part 1 of this recording here; and click here for Part 2 >>

More about the 72-Melaragamalika sung by Smt Kiranavali’s students

The entire ragamalika [by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844 – 1892 AD)] is set to Adi tala. The Pallavi is sung in Sriragam, followed by some beautiful jati phrases in Tillana style. There is no Anupallavi and the Charanam has 72 lines, one for each melakarta, with the raga mudra skillfully inscribed in each line. At the end of each mela raga, there is a Chittaswara, and further, to enhance the beauty of the composition, his brother Ramaswami Sivan added additional Chittaswaras at the end of each line, whose poorvanga (first half) is in the same raga, but the uttaranga (second half) is in the next raga. At the end of each Chakra (6 raga cycle), the Pallavi is repeated. At the commencement of the Prati madhyama series, the jati phrases are also sung.
This is not a piece we hear often in concert platforms. Occasionally in the past, one or two Chakras of this lengthy composition has been rendered by Musiri Subramanya Iyer and M S Subbulakshmi. Recently (June 1989), the Gramaphone Co. of India (HMV) released an album (LP No. ECSD 40552), and simultaneously a 60-minute casette (No. HTCS 03B 3346) under the title ‘Mela Ragamalika Chakra’, where M S Subbulakshmi has melodiously rendered this divine ragamalika, with all the above-mentioned features and Chittaswaras.

Source: MAHA VAIDYANATHA IYER AND HIS 72 – MELA RAGAMALIKA http://carnatica.net/special/mahavaidyanathaiyer.htm

Related: https://www.carnaticstudent.org/learn-to-distinguish-and-remember-the-72-melakarta-ragas-free-course >>

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Video | “There is more than one form of being a devadasi”: The complex world of India’s devadasis – Interview with filmmaker (Lady) Beeban Kidron

Interview with filmmaker Beeban Kidron, plus exclusive clips from her new film. Sex, Death and the Gods explores the complex world of India’s devadasi, girls devoted to a goddess and then sold for sex at puberty | Lindsay Poulton and Joanna Moorhead, theguardian.com, 21 January 2011 >>

Documentary maker Beeban Kidron (4:49): “They [the devadasis themselves] know what an education means. And what an education means is a possible way out. Not necessarily a way out but a possibility that you could earn your money some other way.  […]  This is about economics. This is about poverty. This is about not having alternatives.”  […]  

Girl taken out of school at a young age by her mother (5:30 onwards): “It’s been two years.  […] No money in our hands, so I don’t go [to school].”

Beeban Kidron (7:27): “One of the things that is fascinating but complicates the whole issue is that there is more than one form of being a devadasi. I think what is important is to know and to understand that the elite devadasi are actually the grandmothers of Indian national dance bharata natyam in the elite world of temple and court. These women were the lovers of princes and priests and other high caste men. [*] And it was a huge privilege and a sign of social mobility to be a devadasi. But there has obviously been a break in the tradition and it was made illegal in 1947 as the British left India. […] We have to be careful how we view things. And that was the journey for me.  […]  That system of dedicating young girls is abusive, is sex slavery, and so on. It’s paradoxical, you have to raise the age of consent, you have to work with the women, you have to help them educate their daughters, you have to help with the alternative.”

[*] Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/history-of-it/story/ambedkar-gandhi-caste-system-poona-pact-1932-reservation-2445208-2023-10-06

~ ~ ~

“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)
URL: https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/discipline-notion-particular-government-interview-romila-thapar 

~ ~ ~

Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)
URL: https://theprint.in/opinion/oprah-winfrey-wilkerson-caste-100-us-ceos-indians-wont-talk-about-it/487143/

~ ~ ~

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2
URL: https://www.academia.edu/49963457

~ ~ ~

“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)
URL: https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/2024/04/13/on-the-so-called-north-south-divide-in-india/

Read a recent interview with Beeban Kidron in The New York Times, on protecting children online

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/27/technology/baroness-kidron-children-tech.html?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

The Baroness Fighting to Protect Children Online
By Natasha Singer, August 27, 2019

Beeban Kidron has successfully pushed stricter limits on how tech companies can target children online in Britain. […]

A member of the House of Lords, she had just flown in from London to attend an international meeting hosted by the social network. And now, in a hotel thronging with tech executives, she was recounting her plan to overhaul how their companies treat children. […] Read the full interview here >>

More (documentary) films by Director, Producer and writer Beeban Kidron on imdb.com >>

Learn more about the devadasis throughout (known) history in Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction

http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/826453329

Chapters by Joep Bor (pp. 233), “On the dancers or Devadasis: Jacob Haafner’s Account of the Eighteenth-Century Indian Temple Dancers” and Tiziana Leucci (pp. 261), “Between Seduction and Redemption – The European Perception of India’s Temple Dancers in Travel Accounts and Stage Productions from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth Century”

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Learn & practice more

The mridangam makers of Mylapore

Jesudas Anthony makes holes in circular leather cutouts, which he fastens to one end of the mridangam using thin strips of reed. Right: A wooden stick and stone are used to regulate the instrument’s pitch 
https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/the-mridangam-makers-of-mylapore

Jesudas and his son Edwin are skilled craftsmen, known in the Carnatic music universe of Chennai and elsewhere for the mridangams they give life to, though they still face occasional communal biases | Read the full article with more images in full size here >>