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)

Audio | Live concert by Bhushany Kalyanaraman

Bhushany Kalyanaraman

Complete live recording of a classical South Indian (Carnatic) vocal recital with announcements for each item

Items

1. Mangalavara Ganapate (Varnam) 05:14
Raga: Hamsadhvani; Tala: Adi; Composer: Tanjavoor S. Kalyanaraman

2. Sogasuga Mridanga Talamu (Kriti) 11:29
Raga: Sriranjani; Tala: Rupakam; Composer: Tyagaraja

3.Taye Tripura Sundari (Kriti) 07:05
Raga: Suddhasaveri; Tala: Khanda Chapu; Composer: Periyaswami Tooran

4. Minakshi Memudam (Kriti) 25:31
Raga: Purvikalyani (= Gamagakriya); Tala: Adi; Composer: Muttusvami Dikshitar

5. Shobhillu Saptasvara (Kriti) 05:17
Raga: Jaganmohini; Tala: Rupakam; Composer: Tyagaraja

6. Ninne Nammiti (Kriti) 35:26
Raga: Simhendramadhyamam; Tala: Misra Chapu; Composer: Mysore Vasudevachar

7. Raga Tanam Pallavi 24:40
Raga: Sankarabharanam and Ragamalika; Tala: KhandaTriputa

8. Bhavayami Gopalabala Sevitam (Padam) 04:55
Raga: Yamunakalyani; Tala: Khanda Chapu Composer: Annamacharya; 

9.Tillana 05:33
Raga: Brindavani; Tala: Adi; Composer: Tanjavoor S. Kalyanaraman

10. Ni Nama Rupamulaku (Mangalam) 00:59
Raga: Saurashtram; Tala: Adi; Composer: Tyagaraja
(followed by Madhyamavati raga)

Place and date: Hitzacker (Germany), 27 May 2002 

Listen to the full concert

Tips
  • Please be patient and wait for the audio files to load in the above player
  • Click the above Play button for continuous listening
  • Click on any hyperlinks or the Forward/Backward buttons for repeated listening to any particular concert item
  • Download and other options are seen on Archive.org >>
Performers

Bhushany Kalyanaraman – Vocal
Pakala Ramadas – Violin
T. R. Sundaresan – Mridangam, Kanjira, Morsing and Konnakkol
Katharina Bunzel – Tambura

About the main performer

SINGLE-MINDED devotion to Carnatic music — that sums up Bhushany Kalyanaraman. Hers is an extraordinary tale, spanning oceans. Born and brought up in Colombo, Sri Lanka, it was a typical Tamil household where her father used to ensure that everyone was awake at 5 a.m., reciting the Tiruvempavai. A renowned musician, her father had won the title “Sangita Bhushanam” from Annamalai University. All her sisters too sang well.

Love of Carnatic music brought Bhushany to Chennai, at 16,to stay and study music at the Government Music College. She went back to Sri Lanka, to teach music at a Jaffna college. The riots in 1982 brought her back to India, drawn by her deep admiration for her subsequent guru and husband, Tanjore S.Kalyanaraman, senior disciple of the legendary G.N.B. […]  

A senior vocalist today, Bhushany has number of students both here and abroad, and many foreign students of Indian origin, who come to live with and learn from her. Many of her foreign-based students have had their formal arangetrams, proving her success as a teacher. […]  

Grateful for everything that music has bestowed on her, she also wishes to do something for destitute women and children “to be able to reach out to people who do not have the luxury of music, people weighed down by pressing basic needs, to survive.” […]  

Bhushany is a fortunate person — she has the best of both Sri Lanka and India, the best gained by besting life’s many odds

Source: Rupa Gopal in The Hindu (print edition), 7 March 2004 profiling “women who have made a career out of their passion”

Credits

Johann Wellendorf and Media Department, University Lueneburg (Germany); recording for the benefit of participants in its distance education course The Music of South India www.carnaticstudent.org

Information about the persons, items or topics

Learn & practice more

What’s the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

At first, this question seems easy to answer: just watch performers from either strand of Indian music and you’ll know Which is Which, merely going by the instruments in use, or how they dress and watching the body language involved: harmonium or sarangi vs. violin for melodic accompaniment for most vocal recitals, and tabla drums rather than a double-faced mridangam.

M.S. Subbulakshmi © Dhvani Ohio
“Even at the peak of her career M.S.Subbulakshmi continued to learn from other musicians”
R.K. Shriram Kumar >>
Young Maestros 2018 © Sangeet Research Academy >>

Even in the absence of other clues, experienced listeners know what distinguishes one concert item from another, in order to immerse themselves in that which endows “classically trained” musicians across South Asia with a deeply felt sense of unity: raga, aptly defined as a “tonal framework for composition and improvisation” by Joep Bor in The Raga Guide.

What binds Hindustani and Carnatic music lovers together is the experience of raga which, given its roots (lit. colour, beauty, pleasure, passion), denotes a cultural phenomenon rather than just a particular combination of notes. This means that raga-based music is more widely shared than one would expect in the modern world due to its capacity to transcend linguistic boundaries. In short, both strands of Indian music, Hindustani and Carnatic music, have absorbed a wide range of regional traditions throughout history. At the same time, “raga music” continues to serve as a vehicle for meaningful lyrics in any conceivable genre in addition to “classical” or “devotional” music. Even when rendered by an instrumentalist or sung without lyrics (as customarily done within both Hindustani and Carnatic recitals) each raga constitutes “a dynamic musical entity with a unique form, embodying a unique musical idea”. […] As regards Hindustani ragas, they “are known to musicians primarily through traditional compositions in genres such as dhrupad, dhamar, kyal, tappa, tarana and thumri. Good compositions possess a grandeur that unmistakably unveil the distinctive features and beauty of the raga as the composer conceived it.” (Joep Bor).

The Carnatic Trinity hailing from Tiruvarur (Tamil Nadu, 18th-19th c.):
the composers most revered and performed by Carnatic musicians
Muttusvami Dikshitar
Sri Tyagaraja
Syama Sastri

Painting by S. Rajam © Sruti Magazine >>
Composers on DhvaniOhio >>

A comparable range of genres is available to Carnatic musicians, including varnam, kirtana, kriti, ragam-tanam-pallavi, padam, javali, tillana with a notable difference: since the 16th century, Carnatic compositions take up more time in order to render the lyrics faithfully, as intended by their composers and jealously guarded by teachers, discerning listeners and critics alike.

It is hard to imagine how such ideas would have worked before the advent of the tambura or tanpura – another feature of Indian music which may explain why older scales and theories have fallen into oblivion ever since – in spite of frequent mentions in text books.

But it’s harder to explain the musical differences in plain language while listening attentively as their respective performances unfold: differences begin to multiply, mostly in ways too subtle for words. Such differences call for probing into the depths of Indian “classical” music in the sense of a particular branch of music that is governed by clearly defined rules as well as unwritten conventions valued by professionals and connoisseurs.

For Indian listeners, such distinctions are mostly associated with a particular region, like the northern Hindustani and southern Carnatic music even if deceptive when it comes to the birth places of noted Hindustani exponents: many famous musicians were born or trained in Bengal in the east, and Dharwad in the south, also known as “Hindustani music’s southern home“. Being associated with a famous regional tradition or lineage is mentioned in most programme notes, like the vocal gharana known as the “Dharwad Gharana” or “Gwalior Gharana” in Hindustani music; and likewise, southern musicians pride themselves for having learned their arts within a bani (“family tradition”) designated by a particular town, for instance Tanjavur (vocal), Lalgudi (violin) and Karaikudi (vina or veena).

Then there are the preferred languages used in song lyrics in the case of vocal music; and certain rhythmic patterns local listeners would instantly feel familiar with or, conversely, associate with “novelty” when first employed beyond their place of origin. The latter is eagerly anticipated toward the end of a recital. In the opening and main parts of a recital, the most obvious differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music include the following traits:

  1. Hindustani musicians prefer “accelerating” almost imperceptibly – from slow to fast tempo – during an alap (raga alapana, the melodic improvisation preceding a composed theme); this preference entails presenting fewer items compared to their Carnatic peers;
  2. by contrast, a typical Carnatic or Karnatak concert opens with two or three items in a brisk tempo, including sections in “double tempo”, before elaborating a particular raga in a slow-to-fast format akin to the Hindustani format known as “imagination” (khyal or khayal) traceable to 18th c. court music;
  3. Carnatic recitals are enriched by arithmetic elements derived from the repertoires of temple and dance musicians, and coordinated by visible gestures (something listeners love to emulate for the sake of self-immersion or as a sign of appreciation); and not surprisingly, rhythmic intricacies were successfully adopted and refined as part of Hindustani tihai patterns, most successfully by Ravi Shankar in the course of collaborations with southern instrumentalists (duly acknowledged in Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar); be it for his solo sitar recitals or novel, mostly temporary jugalbandi ensembles like the one documented on video: recorded in 1974 at the Royal Albert Hall in London: “As far back as 1945, I was absorbing the essence of these from the fixed calculative systems of the Carnatic system.” (To understand their application, watch a tarana on YouTube repeatedly, starting from 3:27) Unsurprisingly this process of give-and-take, once proven successful, has become too common to bother crediting it to any particular source, other than declaring it a “shared heritage” cherished by musicians and audiences all over the world: Unity in Diversity at its very best!

To appreciate some of the aforementioned characteristics in the context of South Indian music, listen to recitals by two of its most beloved exponents:

From the above mentioned differences follows the most important one, namely the amount of time assigned to compositions based on elaborate lyrics: the concise bandish in a Hindustani recital vs. the tripartite kriti several of which occupy pride of place in Carnatic music.

The standard syllabus for South Indian “classical” music is ascribed to 16th c. composer Purandara Dasa of Vijayanagar (modern Hampi in northern Karnataka as indicated on the music map seen below). His method proved so efficient as to provide a common ground for aspiring singers or instrumentalists from many regions and linguistic backgrounds. This may explain how such music invites the convergence of several voices or instruments into one (unison): a soloist accompanied by violin just as two vocalists (popular duos known as “Brothers” and “Sisters”), or pairs of flutes, lutes (vina) and violinists, all capable of achieving perfect alignment at any given moment during a recital; and this not merely for evenly paced motifs but with equal ease in richly embellished passages. For good measure, such feats require neither notation nor lengthy rehearsals but instead combine musical memory with considerable freedom to enrich predictable patterns with one’s own flights of imagination.

As regards inevitable specialization such as a particular vocal or instrumental style, required for mastering certain melodic and rhythmic intricacies and compositions, there is an infinite variety to delve into: variety that explains the evolution of two great music “systems” that kept evolving and intersecting ever since musicologists became obsessed with classifying and validating certain features in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For non-Indian music lovers and students, Yehudi Menuhin’s reminiscences titled “Unfinished Journey” may be a good starting point: the violin virtuoso was among the first to appreciate fact that “Indian musicians are sensitive to the smallest microtonal deviations, subdivisions of tones which the violin can find but which are outside the crude simplifications of the piano (or harmonium)”. His interest in Indian violin music motivated Menuhin to invite the South Indian violin virtuoso Lalgudi Jayaraman to tour the UK and participate in the 1965 Edinburgh music festival.

For a better understanding of what Yehudi Menuhin meant by “smallest microtonal deviations”, listen to the very first composition most learners of Carnatic music have learned – a gitam (didactic song) by Purandara Dasa – in: A brief introduction to Carnatic music >>

Internet search screenshots for Indian music jazz fusion
“The classical music of the West has influenced
our musical culture” – Manohar Parnerkar in
Sruti Magazine August 2019 >>

Since then, musicians from various backgrounds have never ceased to contribute to an unprecedented intercultural dialogue: exponents of western classical, ecclesiastical and minimal music just as jazz, pop and film music, all set to explore new horizons together with their Indian peers.

Tips

  1. to explore the above topics on your own, refer the Indian sources recommended here >>
  2. in order to get a clear idea what this means in practice, listen closely to audio and video contents featuring two prominent families of violinists whose roots lie in South India: one known as the Parur bani (brothers M.S. Gopalakrishnan & M.S. Anantharaman), and the other brought into prominence by N. Rajam (Hindustani violin) and her brother T.N. Krishnan (Carnatic violin)

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Michael Zarky (Tuning Meister) for providing valuable tips and corrections for this post and previous Carnaticstudent courses including those offered in conjunction with university eLearning programmes.

More about the above person(s) and topics

Periodicals and sites included | More resources | Disclaimer >>

“There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart” – Mahatma Gandhi >>
Photo © Ludwig Pesch

Learn & practice more

Flow | Moods, feelings and colours

Colours, moods and feelings have been favourite subjects in the context of raga, literally “colour, beauty, pleasure, passion and compassion”.

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. | Learn more >>

Explore this wonderful realm in imaginative ways – always in accordance with your own creativity and feelings

Suggestions for widening the scope for the “Flow”-exercises offered in this course:

  • Alternate the singing of svara syllables with humming (-m):
    – lines wherein 3-2-3 svaras are highlighted become “3 svaras sung + 2 svaras hummed + 3 svaras sung”
    – lines wherein 8 svaras are highlighted become “4 svaras sung + 4 svaras hummed”
  • Instead of humming (-m), extend the vowel found in the preceding svara variant (-a, -i)
  • As always, “be patient” …

To get going, click on “Details” and enjoy your practice!

Details

Select one of the exercises offered here:

  • 7 notes: Any sampurna (melakarta) raga
  • 5 notes: raga Mohana
  • 6 notes: raga Kuntalavarali
  • 6 notes: ragas Sriranjani & Hamsanandi

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

Here comes another challenge

Details

Designed for anyone in search of new “Flow-” horizons through music:

  • Vary the vowels of svara syllables: –a, -i and -u yield ra-ri-ru, ga-gi-gu, ma-mi, dha-dhi-dhu, na-ni-nu.
  • Examples
    – in raga Sankarabharanam (seven notes, mela 29), the variants sung are: “sa ri gu ma pa dhi nu
    – these variants also apply to many janya ragas like Hamsadhvani: “sa ri gu pa nu” (five notes)
    – in melakarta raga Gamanasrama (seven notes, mela 53), the corresponding variants are: “sa ra gu mi pa dhi nu
    – its janya raga Hamsanandi (six notes) lacks pa: “sa ra gu mi dhi nu
    – other variants apply to janya raga Sriranjani: “sa ri gi ma dhi ni
    – the “parent raga” for Sriranjani (six notes) is Kharaharapriya (seven notes, mela 22) to which the following variants apply: “sa ri gi ma pa dhi ni”