Mela DIY

Give it a try and DIY (“do it yourself”) – become part of a larger “musical home”; one that welcomes and accommodates scales and tunes from all over India and beyond!

For music lovers aged 20+ (or even below), grasping and applying the principles underlying South India’s 72 melakarta scale system is more than an intellectual challenge: it is worth the effort in terms of greater appreciation of musical accomplishment irrespective of our own cultural roots, customs and listening habits.

Going by the longevity of many pioneering musicians in this field (just as the unwavering interest among the younger generation), there may be a wonderful side effect: kindling imagination no matter what our personal “station in life” may be.

So this is all about intercultural – even intergenerational – understanding rather than oversimplification: a shared quest that has sustained this course, still going strong with participants and contributors from all over the world for a quarter of a century.

Why 20+?

Recent findings on arithmetical and comprehension skills in “The science of ageing” (The Economist EU, 13 January 2024) 

Arithmetical and comprehension skills, as well as vocabulary, improve until 50, though they start to decline thereafter. However, for tasks involving short term memory (remembering things immediately after presentation) and working memory (remembering them half an hour later), it is downhill from the age of 20 or so. 

Not so for these pioneers in this field, both embodying the joy of music and determined to spread knowledge throughout their long lives:

More about these two musical pioneers: Vidya Shankar & S. Rajam >>

A good moment to reflect on one’s own age, practice our Arithmetical and comprehension skills: to start with, by finding out whether our birthday leads to a number within the scope of the 72 melakarta scheme; then start practicing the corresponding one.

For those aged 72+ and for combining the commemoration of a birth anniversary, simply add the digits because in Carnatic music, not even the sky is “the limit!”
(e.g. for 87, it’s 8+7 = mela 15 to explore, and to celebrate the 106th birth anniversary of revered teacher or dear rasika, consider listening a fine rendition of 7th melakarta raga “Senavati“)

Why “beyond”?

Already in the 17th century Venkatamakhi – a visionary musicologist in Tanjavur – provided the system contributing to a more global vision in South Indian music, a dream that is in the process of coming true in our own times (partly thanks to the internet); realizing “that countries are many with people having variety of tastes and it is to please them ragas have been invented by musicians. Some are already known while some are in the process of being brought to life, while some may be invented in future, while those surviving only in treatises and the ragas not known at all during their time may be brought to life in future, for the benefit of the people.” (Tanjore as a Seat of Music During the 17th, 18th and the 19th Centuries, p. 433-4)

How to find ragas derived from a particular mela on YouTube?

Further refinement

Include a favourite musician or instrument for other results to suit your interest, for instance a legendary artist’s rendition or an instrumental one associated with a particular style (bānī):

How to apply this lesson (with or without personal teacher)

One of the short “Flow”-exercises offered in this course may suit your personal situation: to rekindle your joy and creativity anywhere, any time (silently or otherwise); ready to modify for group activities (even where time may be as short in supply as musical instruments and digital equipment).

How to find ragas derived from a particular mela on YouTube?

Further refinement

Include a favourite musician or instrument for other results to suit your interest, for instance:

Are there any conditions attached?

No, participation is entirely free (which also means “ad-free”) without need for registration.

Tips, interactive music samples and more >>

Visualising ragas from many places and even future ones “for the benefit of the people”

Venkatamakhi while justifying the derivation of 72 melakartas by permutation and combination interestingly remarks that countries are many with people having variety of tastes and it is to please them ragas have been invented by musicians. Some are already known while some are in the process of being brought to life, while some may be invented in future, while those surviving only in treatises and the ragas not known at all during their time may be brought to life in future, for the benefit of the people.

Therefore his mela arrangement “is intended to visualise all the desi (regional) ragas which differ from place to place, from people to people and which according to the suitability of the voices, must be utilised for practical purposes.”

Table © Ludwig Pesch for
The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music >>

As a result, “the melakarta assumes a real scientific meaning during Govindacarya’s time […] and help in the preservation of the identify of many a janya [derived raga]. […]  The ragas assume different colours and shades of expression in their attempt to satisfy the musical needs and tastes of the people. But the 72 melakartas are perhaps ever the same in structure and remain as the material forever out of which the thing of beauty – the raga – is made. […]  Whether the janya is the one derived from the melakarta or vice versa, the existing janaka-janya system of raga classification enhances the paramount importance of the 72 melas as technical facts defining the janyas under them”.

Govindacarya and the present Kanakāngi-Ratnāngi nomenclature

Since Venkatamakhi proposed his original mela arrangement, “varali ma” became known as “prati ma” since the late 18th c. when a scholar known as Govindacarya wrote his treatise, the Sangrahacūdamani

Govindacarya also had good reasons for giving the 72 melas individual names within the famous list, the Kanakāngi-Ratnāngi nomenclature: it helps musicians and listeners “ascertaining the mela and the kinds of notes taken both in the purvānga [Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma] and uttarānga [Pa-Dha-Ni-’Sa]”. 

Learn more and download a free mela-pocket guide here: Boggle Your Mind with Mela (BYMM) method – free mini course >>

As a result, “the melakarta assumes a real scientific meaning during Govindacarya’s time […] and help in the preservation of the identify of many a janya [derived raga]. […] 

The ragas assume different colours and shades of expression in their attempt to satisfy the musical needs and tastes of the people. But the 72 melakartas are perhaps ever the same in structure and remain as the material forever out of which the thing of beauty – the raga – is made. […] 

Whether the janya is the one derived from the melakarta or vice versa, the existing janaka-janya system of raga classification enhances the paramount importance of the 72 melas as technical facts defining the janyas under them”.

More about the above person(s) and topics

Periodicals and sites included | More resources | Disclaimer >>

For details, also refer to the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

  • Glossary-cum-index
  • In the following section(s)

Flow | The right tempo or “kalapramanam”

Listen to Intakannaanandam emi sung by Balamurali Krishna | Lyrics >>
Image © Kutcherbuzz.com

If there is a single feature of Carnatic music to account for its mesmerizing effect on listeners it may well be a feature known as kalapramanam: practicing rhythm (laya) and performing in the the “right tempo” (kālapramānam) which, once chosen, remains even or standardized.

Adopting it as part of regular practice enables musicians to perform in perfect alignment. Of equal importance are a number of benefits, including

The last point may be seen as test of the assertion made by the most beloved composer of South India: Sri Tyagaraja posing the rhetorical question: “Can there be any higher bliss than transcending all thoughts of body and the world, dancing with abandon?” – Intakannaanandam (learn more on karnATik.com), Bilahari raga, Rupaka tala

For details, also refer to the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

  • Glossary-cum-index
  • In the following section(s)

Upholding “Freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association” (22 August) – United Nations

We must understand India today in the light of its rich, long argumentative tradition [while] appreciating not only the richness of India’s diversity but its need for toleration. – Nobel Awardee Amartya Sen >>

Freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing. They are enshrined in articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Upholding these rights plays an important role in the fight against all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief.

The open, constructive and respectful debate of ideas, as well as interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue, at the local, national, regional and international levels, can play a positive role in combating religious hatred, incitement and violence.

Furthermore, the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and full respect for the freedom to seek, receive and impart information can play a positive role in strengthening democracy and combating religious intolerance.

Source: “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief”
URL: https://www.un.org/en/observances/religious-based-violence-victims-day
Date Visited: 15 August 2023

Even the brilliant Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who was himself deeply religious, clarified that bhakti is essential for a Carnatic music, but this bhakti is for music, not for any personal deity.

Lakshmi Sreeram in “Carnatic Music Ruminating the Landscape”, Indian Horizons published by The Indian Council for Cultural Relations

Flow | Janya practice 5 & 6 notes – raga Vasanta

sa = middle octave (madhya sthayi), ‘sa = higher octave (tara sthayi)
An exercise inspired by exercises found in the standard syllabus
(abhyasa ganam) attributed to 16th c. composer Purandara Dasa >>
Concept & images © Ludwig Pesch | Feel free to share in accordance with the
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license >>

Explore renditions of raga Vasanta on YouTube >>
Find song lyrics (composers) & translations for these and other ragas >>
Practice with basic “Sa” = G#
Download this audio file (2 MB, 2 min. mono)
Credit: eSWAR / FS-3C Sruthi petti + Tanjore Tambura

Become fluent with the help of svara syllables (solmisation): practice a series of exercises, each based on a set of melodic figures that lend themselves to frequent repetition (“getting into flow”) | Practice goal, choosing your vocal range & more tips >>

South Indian conventions (raga names & svara notation): karnATik.com | Guide >>

raagam: vasantA 17 sUryakAntam janya
Aa: S M1 G3 M1 D2 N3 S | Av: S N3 D2 M1 G3 R1 S

Listen to Uma Ramasubramaniam demonstrating the svaras (notes) for the present raga(s) on Raga Surabhi >>

Practice with basic “Sa” = G#
Note: this recording has no fifth note “Pa”
(as advised for those janya ragas wherein “Pa” will not be sung or played)
Download this audio file (2 MB, 2 min. mono)
Credit: eSWAR / FS-3C Sruthi petti + Tanjore Tambura

Having but 6 notes (instead of 7), this type of raga pattern is traditionally classified as being “derived” (janya) from a melakarta raga. Text books refer to any raga limited to 6 notes as shadava raga. More specifically, raga Vasanta is an audava-shadava raga which means it has 5 notes in ascending, and 6 in descending melody patterns.

The most characteristic feature in the above svara pattern is the absence of the fifth note (pa) – the very note that conveys a sense of balance in most other ragas.

More about the above person(s) and topics

Periodicals and sites included | More resources | Disclaimer >>

Please note that the above figures lend themselves to several “Carnatic sister ragas”.

Learn more and download a free mela-pocket guide here: Boggle Your Mind with Mela (BYMM) method – free mini course >>