Flow | Mela practice

sa = middle octave (madhya sthayi), ‘sa = higher octave (tara sthayi)

Explore renditions of raga Mayamalavagaula, raga (Dhira)Sankarabharanam and raga (Meca)Kalyani on YouTube >>
Listen to two kritis in ragas
Simhendramadhyamam and Sankarabharanam (6th and 7th items)
sung by Bhushany Kalyanaraman >>
Find song lyrics (composers) & translations for these and other ragas >>
“Flow” exercises

A series of “Flow” exercises invites learners to practice all the 72 musical scales of Carnatic music (“mela” or mēlakarta rāga). It is meant to supplement the comprehensive standard syllabus (abhyāsa gānam) attributed to 16th c. composer Purandara Dasa.

Repeated practice need not be tedious; instead it instantly turns joyful whenever we remind ourselves that Indian music “is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.” – Mahatma Gandhi on his love for music >>

As regards “time beat” in Carnatic music, the key concept is known as kāla pramānam: the right tempo which, once chosen, remains even (until the piece is concluded). | Learn more >>

Music teachers will find it easy to create their own versions: exercises that make such practice more enjoyable. | Janta variations >>

Concept & images © Ludwig Pesch | Feel free to share in accordance with the 
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license >>

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: mAyAmALavagauLa
Aa: S R1 G3 M1 P D1 N3 S | Av: S N3 D1 P M1 G3 R1 S

raagam: shankaraabharaNam 
Aa: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N3 S | Av: S N3 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

raagam: kalyANi
Aa: S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S | Av: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 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

The above svara pattern may be sung, hummed or practiced silently with any svara variants: those you are already familiar with (e.g. raga Mayamalavagaula, mela 15, raga Dhirasankarabharanam, mela 29, raga Mecakalyani, mela 65) or any other you want to practice.

Once internalized you may want to contemplate and remember the same exercise with the help of the “8 x 8 beads” pattern shared here >>

Enjoy practicing by way of gradually getting into a state of flow: deep concentration while feeling completely absorbed by an activity.

And with a rich store at our fingertips in the digital age, let’s remind ourselves that there really is no such thing as a ‘learner’ raga’; a fact that sets us free to explore any raga with a sense of wonder: through joyful – active – involvement, whatever level or age group we happen to occupy!

The long-term goal is to become fluent in all the 72 melakarta ragas (including those rarely heard). In this manner it becomes easier to recognize both, melakarta and janya ragas, by distinguishing their characteristic notes even when modulated or “embellished” in accordance with classical conventions (gamaka). Their application is demonstrated in an elegant, highly instructive video (duration: 7 min.): The 13-part Sanskrit composition of Chitravina N Ravikiran. For a more detailed application, listen to Smt Kiranavali’s students at Cleveland Aradhana (Part 1) | Part 2 >>

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

For learners interested in staff notation for the above ragas and more, also check this course author’s reference work:

Find a copy of the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

Flow | Mela practice – svara pairs

“Flow” exercises

A series of “Flow” exercises invites learners to practice all the 72 musical scales of Carnatic music (“mela” or mēlakarta rāga). It is meant to supplement the comprehensive standard syllabus (abhyāsa gānam) attributed to 16th c. composer Purandara Dasa.

Repeated practice need not be tedious; instead it instantly turns joyful whenever we remind ourselves that Indian music “is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.” – Mahatma Gandhi on his love for music >>

As regards “time beat” in Carnatic music, the key concept is known as kāla pramānam: the right tempo which, once chosen, remains even (until the piece is concluded). | Learn more >>

Music teachers will find it easy to create their own versions: exercises that make such practice more enjoyable. | Janta variations >>

Concept & images © Ludwig Pesch | Feel free to share in accordance with the 
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license >>

More about this exercise

Vocalists and instrumentalists practice pairs of notes (janta svara) with the aim of increasing fluency and precision.

Janta phrases are embedded in many compositions heard in today’s concerts (notably varnam, kriti and tillana) and as part of improvised interludes (manodharma sangīta): kalpana svara and tanam as clearly heard in the following examples:

Intacalamu (varnam) – Begada – Adi

Tanam – Ghanaraga panchakam (order: Nata, Gaula, Arabhi, Sri, Varali)

Once familiar with the pattern consider practicing the first and the last melakarta ragas (mela 01 & mela 72).

Then proceed to others that are better known as “parental ragas” for their popular “offspring” (janya “derived ragas”) – notably those associated with melas 02 (Revati & Srimani), 17 (Saurashtram), 36 (Gambhiranata), 39 (Varali), 44 (Bhavani), 53 (Hamsanandi & Purvikalyani), 59 (Ranjani), 61 (Srutiranjani), or 66 (Amritavarshini).

Note: some of these mela-janya associations have been submitted to an expert commission appointed by the Music Academy Madras in view of some ambiguity or other. On similar lines, the “omission” of one or more notes from a raga’s “parental scale” may be confusing to learners as in the case of pentatonic (audava raga) Gambhiranata – today listed under mela 36 – which might as well be listed under mela 29.

“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.” – S. Seetha in Tanjore as a Seat of Music >>

a = middle octave (madhya sthayi)
‘sa = higher octave (tara sthayi)

Practice with basic “Sa” = G#
Download this audio file (2 MB, 2 min. mono)
Credit: eSWAR / FS-3C Sruthi petti + Tanjore Tambura
Version with “zigzag” (vakra) pattern for greater variety
Audio | Listen to janta phrases as taught by Savithri Rajan
Savithri Rajan teaching phrases in raga Bauli (gitam)
K. Hariprasad singing the full gitam in raga Bauli
Savithri Rajan teaching phrases in raga Navaroj (gitam)
K. Hariprasad singing the full gitam in raga Navaroj

The full series is available here:
Shobhillu Saptasvara: Abhyasa gana guided by Savithri Rajan >>

Find song lyrics and information about Carnatic ragas >>

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

The above svara pattern may be sung, hummed or practiced silently with any svara variants: those you are already familiar with (e.g. raga Mayamalavagaula, mela 15, raga Dhirasankarabharanam, mela 29, raga Mecakalyani, mela 65) or any other you want to practice.

Enjoy practicing by way of gradually getting into a state of flow: deep concentration while feeling completely absorbed by an activity.

A music that connects amidst multiple crises: “Joyful subtle insights”

The most rewarding task for teachers and performers may well be to convey Tyagaraja’s last message to his disciples and the world, one that may liberate us by letting go of artificially separatist views of culture, creed and nature as well (given the multiple crises humankind is faced with on a daily basis):

Paramātma is brightly shining / may this dawn upon you / in all its beauty / Named as Vishnu, named as Shiva / Said to be in people / and heavenly beings / throughout the entire universe / That Supreme Being pervades like light! / Have a joyful subtle insight into that / in all its beauty.

Learn more (Introduction) >>

“Children should grow with joy, courage and freedom and a discipline born out of these attributes. The fundamental principle is joy, suggestion must be the method, the emphasis should be on the imaginative and creative experience of music and teaching should follow a “flow-form-flow” spiral.
VV Sadagopan was clearly in favour of lakshya (aesthetic perception) over lakshana (intellectual abstraction) at school, college or university.” – T.K. Venkatasubramanian in “VV Sadagopan – An educator with a mission”, Sruti Magazine >>

Research this topic by typing your own keywords here

More resources | Disclaimer >>

Audio | Shobhillu Saptasvara: Abhyasa gana guided by Savithri Rajan

Savithri Rajan

This production is based on the book Shobhillu Saptasvara: svarāvali, gītam, prabandham, sūlādi | Find a library copy on Worldcat.org >>

Savithri Rajan provides a spoken “Introduction to Shobhillu Saptasvara” on the first track.

View or download two excerpts from the book: (1) a gitam in standard notation (raga Hamsadhvani) and (2) an excerpt on the historical context and current value of the didactic repertoire covered: Gitam_Explanations_Notation_Hamsadhvani_Shobhillu.pdf

Also listen to her veena recording: Dedication to her guru, Veena Dhanammal >>

Tips: (1) to automatically play all the tracks, click the play button; (2) scroll down to access the remaining tracks; (3) download the audio files, item lists and images here: https://archive.org/details/shobhillu-Saptasvara-savithri-rajan
(4) Please be patient if the page takes a little longer to load (depending on available bandwidth)

Audio | “Dedication to her guru, Veena Dhanammal” by Savithri Rajan

“The greatest, most beautiful thing is compassion expressed through music” – Savithri Rajan

Excerpt from: Tyagaraja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Jackson (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1994), pp. 174-175
https://search.worldcat.org/en/title/878687716

How does Savithri Rajan perceive Tyagaraja? She characterizes Tyagaraja as an heroic soul who was able to reach out through shared feelings and colloquial idiom to ordinary people; he was willing to serve selflessly like a mother risking her own life to jump into a pool and save a drowning child. Yet she feels that Tyagaraja simultaneously holds to the tradition of communicating the greatest message of the Upanisads. To her, this is an important point, “Because to Hindus the Upanisads together form the core of the Hindu religion; the ultimate, the last word in philosophy, the Upanisads lead one to a transcendental silence,” which is found in the lives of the Buddha, Sankara, and Ramana Maharshi. Savithri Rajan believes that Tyagaraja, like these other great men, was always meditating, but his medium of expression was nādam, “sound” – he was an aspirant who followed nādopāsana, the approach or worship by way of sound. She points out that Tyagaraja composed a song beginning with the word nādopāsana saying there is nothing higher than worship via sound, music is the best vehicle because Brahman is nādam – divine sound – which is the omnipresent, omniscient power, “call it Power with a capital ‘P’, call it God, call it Christ, call it Krsna, call it Rāma.”

What was it that Tyagaraja was expressing in his songs? Savithri Rajan believes that everything Tyagaraja felt in his search to understand and have compassion was experienced and expressed through the medium and vehicle of music. In her view, “the greatest, most beautiful thing is compassion, karuna, the ability to feel for others.” And every song of Tyagaraja has “karunā sāgara” – an ocean of compassion in it.

“The music of Tyagaraja’s compositions can be so poignant I have seen people with eyes wet when listening to a great piece rendered by a great vidvān [a very learned performer]. To one who does not understand Telugu and does not know the rāga, but is nevertheless moved by the piece and feels the sentiment and emotion in it, the communication is through the nādam – and there are many such people.”

The reason there are many is that the communication of realizations occurs at a deep level utilizing notes and rhythms best able emotionally to move South Indians of various backgrounds: the unsophisticated, the temple-anchored faithful, the festival-goers who express inner spiritual urges through participation in music and pageantry. These various South Indians feel a serious lack if a Tyagaraja song is not part of any musical or religious program. […] 

Savithri Rajan feels that today’s performing musician “owes everything” to Tyagaraja. “What is his concert worth if he cannot render an Ayyarval kirtanai [song by Tyagaraja] well? His merit and reputation are judged by this touchstone.” Further, she recalls, that her mother, who had “unerring bhakti” held that the music-charged words of Tyagaraja in honour of Rama constitute a talisman with special power.

As Savithri Rajan sees it, the listener, the performer, the housewife, the spiritual seeker, and various kinds of students, – each in a different way approaches Tagaraja and his multifaceted personality, which he pases on to others, his simplicity, renunciation and sensitivity to the onslaughts of materialism and human frailty, all made this “emaciated, fragile man, a mendicant by choice, a seer, a sage, and a saint by the grace of Rama,” and thus he stands out as an inspiration to all.

She believes that in the fast pace of the modern world Tyagaraja’s bhakti message of music and love of God and man is of great value, and that it influences many who have the ear to hear and leisure to meditate. She recalls that her teacher, Tiger Varadachariar used to say that Tyagaraja brought Valmiki’s Rama closer, “adorably closer,” and in a moment of great appreciative experience he would even declare that Tyagaraja’s Rama was greater than Valmiki’s Rama. “Tyagaraja talks to his Rama, praises, cajoles, and even quarrels with Rama.” She feels that the aesthetic experience is heightened by this intimaciy. She feels that the depictions of Tyagaraja’s yearning have elevated and ennobled her thoughts and helped her to keep equanimity in various situations in her life, and she believes many others born in her culture have had similar experiences. […]

In her private LP recording titled “Dedication to her guru, Veena Dhanammal”, Savithri Rajan (1908-91) pays tribute Veena Dhanammal (1867-1937). As a child she was tutored by the legendary singer and composer known as “Tiger” Varadachariar (1876-1950, a disciple of Pattanam Subrahmanya Ayyar).

Veena Dhanammal is a legend

Veena Dhanammal is a legend; she was one in her own lifetime. Was she for real? There’s so little of her music which has survived and even loss which is heard, and yet her music has been praised in such superlative terms by those privileged to have listened to her. – Sruti Magazine >>

Item list with composers and research link

Intacalamu (varnam) – Begada – Adi – Tiruvotriyur Tyagaiyer

Ninuvinagati gana – Kalyani (alapana) – Adi – Subbaraya Sastri

Sri Raghuvara sugunalaya – Bhairavi – Adi – Tyagaraja

Nicittamu na bagya – Vijayavasanta – Adi – Tyagaraja

Tanam – Ghanaraga panchakam (order: Nata, Gaula, Arabhi, Sri, Varali)

Maname bhushanamu – Sankarabharanam – Misra capu – Govindaswami Ayya

Mariyada teliyakane (javali) – Surati – Rupaka – Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer

Find song lyrics and information about Carnatic ragas including those by the above composers >>
(e.g. type “Tyagaraja rare ragas” or “javali by Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer”)

Obituary by V.R. Devika 1991 © Courtesy Sruti Magazine >>

Tips: (1) to automatically play both the sides of the LP-recording, click the play button; (2) scroll down to access the remaining tracks; (3) download the audio files, liner notes and images here: https://archive.org/details/savithri-rajan-LP-record-dedication-guru-veena-dhanammal
(4) Please be patient if the page takes a little longer to load (depending on available bandwidth)

Tips: in the above search field, type a combination of names and subjects of special interest: to find more audio and video contents sung or played by a favourite musician or musical instrument; along with preferred raga or tala, on the occasion of a festival or lecture demonstration item (e.g. varnam, kriti, tillana), institution (e.g. Music Academy Madras, Narada Gana Sabha), place (e.g. Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala), or current issues (e.g. titles and awards like Sangita Kalanidhi, women performers, caste) | How “Safe search” is used on this website >>