CHENNAI: We are aware that the ultimate aim of every composer and musician is to achieve the coalescence, the essential factors of classical music namely bhava, raga and tala. We know bhava literally means, expression, the expression of existence. In a composition, bhava encompasses the aspects rasa, raga and laya and for a musical composition to be meaningful and beautiful, it should be rich in bhava. In short, bhava is that which enables the transmission of experience of thoughts and emotions from the composer to the musician and from the musician to the listeners. We understand that bhava has to be experienced by every individual, in a personal and subjective manner and devotion is the pre-dominating aspect depicted in a musical composition. I am sure it would be of immense value to study the aspects of bhava, expressed by the musical trinity Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, who were contemporaries in the 18th century. […]
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 – or their 10 Hindustani thāt-counterparts – a wide range of major and minor ragas have been “derived” in the course of several centuries. (In most instances, however, ragas weren’t “derived” from an existing scale but came to be associated with a particular scale much later on, as seen in ongoing debates among music scholars and performers.)
Thinking of a particular scale helps musicians and learners to distinguish one raga from another, and this amidst hundreds of other ragas that are being performed today (for a useful definition by Joep Bor, see below).*
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).
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.
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.
* 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.” – The Raga Guide: A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas (Nimbus Records with Rotterdam Conservatory of Music first published in 1999) Quoted from p. 1, ‘What is a raga?
Category: Sources of Research
Brief: The following is a database uploaded by the scholar Katherine Butler Schofield to the website www.academia.edu, which gives many sources useful for research in Music and Dance in South Asia.
Category: Sources of Research
Brief: Sahapedia is an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India. At Sahapedia, one can read articles, watch videos, listen to interviews, and browse image galleries.
Merger of websites: The two sites www.musicresearch.in and www.musicresearchlibrary.net have now merged! We have closed www.musicresearch.in and moved its contents to www.musicresearchlibrary.net. In the ‘musicresearchlibrary.net’ site, a menu ‘musicresearch.in‘ has been created which will house some of the earlier contributions of senior scholars. Please like and follow our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Musicresearchlibraryadmin/ for latest news and updates.
M.S. Subbulakshmi Born 16 September 1916. Died 11 December 2004
Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (Tamil: மதுரை சண்முகவடிவு சுப்புலட்சுமி, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi ? 16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004), also known as M.S., was a Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, in 1974 with the citation reading “Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the carnatic tradition of South India.”
Sunil Khilnani explores the life of south Indian singer MS Subbulakshmi
Subbulakshmi’s singing voice, striking from the start, would ultimately range three octaves. A perfectionist, she had the capacity to range across genres but narrowed over the years to what another connoisseur of her music has called a ‘provokingly small’ repertoire. In time, the ambitions of those who loved and profited from her combined with her gift to take her from the concert stage to film to the All-India Radio to near-official status as an icon of independent India.
But, as Professor Khilnani says, “what was required of Subbulakshmi, in moving from South Indian musical celebrity to national cultural symbol, is deeply uncomfortable when considered through the prism of contemporary feminism.”
Source: BBC Radio 4 – Incarnations: India in 50 Lives, Subbulakshmi: Opening Rosebuds
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:12:31 GMT+0200 (CEST)
Aparna Karthikeyan, The Hindu, April 11, 2015 | To read the full story and view more photographs, click here >>
It takes many days to make a block of wood sing. And it takes exceptionally talented craftsmen to do it. The four families who still make the nadaswaram by hand in Narasingapettai (a village near Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu) are so skilled that they almost make it look simple. […]
Selvaraj tells me about his village’s long association with the wind instrument, without which no Tamilian wedding or temple procession is ever complete.
“Nadaswaram is a ‘mangala vaadhiyam’ (auspicious instrument). It originated in this area, in a village near Mayavaram. My great-grandfather, Govindasamy Achari, went there and learnt the craft. “ […]
Traditionally, nadaswarams are made with aacha maram (Hardwickia binate, Indian Blackwood). “But you can’t use fresh wood; it has to be at least 75-100 years old. Young wood will bend and bow. All this wood was once lintels and pillars of old houses.” He points to the pile in his backyard. “But we face trouble transporting the wood. We’re stopped at check-posts and asked for a bill; but which seller will give me a bill for old wood?” Even worse, they’re accused of smuggling sandalwood.
Their worries don’t end with procuring the wood. “You need three persons to make each piece. After deducting all the costs — wood, labour — we are left with Rs.1000-1500 per nadaswaram,” rues Selvaraj. […]
But every morning, they wake up with worries: will they find some acha maram, will their sons sit down and learn from them, will the government recognise their contribution to music…
This article is part of the series ‘Vanishing Livelihoods of Rural Tamil Nadu’ and is supported under NFI National Media Award 2015.